Archives for category: ecology

I did a talk for kids about animal taxonomy yesterday.  We discussed some of the ways we group the different kinds of animals.  This chart helped:

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When I got home, I was inspired by the invertebrates again.  They are so diverse and cool that they really deserve further study.  The class I remember best from my undergraduate years was Invertebrate Zoology at UC Santa Cruz.  Thanks Dr. Kerstin Wasson!  Here’s some notes for my next lecture…

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ImageMore later.  MISSION BLUE, MISSION BLUE!

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earthquake

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This is a quiz for fun.  It skips and dances over four basic themes – identity and self image, the mind and the universe, love sex drugs alcohol & money, and lastly sickness and old age.  These are questions about nature –  human nature, culture and nature, relationships in nature.  There is not one correct answer; you are free to pick any answer(s) that rings the most true for you.  Good luck!

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How did you do?

In our introduction to horticulture class we use a textbook called the California Master Gardener Handbook, published as part of the California Master Gardener Program.  The California Master Gardener Program is run by the University of California, and shares information about home gardening with the general public.  In the first pages of the book is this brief description of plants:

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A view of plants as energy output machines has enabled us to to apply efficient methods of cultivation, and to produce enormous amounts of plant products.  Foods, drugs, fibers, and building materials.  Boxes of oranges, bags of rice and potatoes, piles of folded cotton, and stacks of 2 x 4’s.

On the other hand, Amazonian Indians – horticulturists, hunters, and caretakers of the forest – articulate the perspective that plants are beings, or the abode of spirits.  In some cases, the plants are actually teachers of humans.  The plants teach kinship, symbiosis, humility, and inner metamorphosis.

The time I have spent in the rainforest is minimal.  Nevertheless, I am amazed by the diversity in the jungle, and bewildered by the primeval plant knowledge that enabled human survival for many thousands of years.  Stories passed down by Indian tribes to explorers and writers embody a universe and relationship with nature very distinct from our own.

Inspired by the Secoya peoples, permeated by the writings and old photographs of G. Reichel-Dolmatoff, R.E. Schultes, and W. Vickers, I started to draw some of the stories related to plant lore:

This is the sun father carving petroglyphs with flowers and light on rocks by the waterfalls.  The nuclear reaction that powers our world – the SUN!

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Here are the first settlers of the Amazon basin from the Tukanoan tribes.  They came to the jungle from either the highlands to the west, or from the stars of the milky way.  A cosmic anaconda pulled their canoe.  Inside the canoe were three sacred plants.  Manioc is first; it is the starch and staple of all meals.  I met Manioc as a tasty flat bread and as a plant in an actively cultivated garden plot.  The second plant was Coca, the source of coca leaf.  Coca leaf is a ritual food that provides protein and vitamins.  It staves off hunger and thirst, so that one could work a little bit longer in the forest clearing.  The third plant is Yage, the vine of the soul.  This plant enables the Indians to travel to mythic time, and make contact with the spirits of the forest.

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One of the epic Indian dreams sees the river as a person.  The head is the headwaters, and the feet go to the sea.  When the person shakes their flowing hair, leaves of the yage plant scatter into the river and become fish.

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An important medicinal plant is Kana, Sabicea amazonensis.  It belongs to the Rubiaceae, the plant family whose members also include coffee and quinine.  The commonly used landscape shrub in the subtropics Ixora is in this family, as is the fragrant Gardenia of florists.  Small red fruits of Sabicea are eaten and drunk.  This plant symbolizes the linking and twining of humanity.  Fruits are hearts are people; vines are string are umbilical cords are rivers are time.  We are all children of the sun.

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One of the most important plants to any society is the plant with caffeine.  No caffeine, no work!  Amazonians are partial to Yoco as well as Guayusa tea.  Since I was drawing hollies with caffeine content I went ahead and included mate from Argentina (Ilex paraguariensis), Ilex vomitoria from the southwestern United States used as a purge, and the bitter nail tea holly from Taiwan and China.  Oops, forgot Guarana!  A Yoco relative of the rainforest.  The elfin dudes running at a fast clip have just had their morning brew, their heads are the fruits of Yoco.

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There is this idea of transformation in the jungle.  Of people and basketry turning into animals, plants, and rocks.  The boundaries are not strict.  Consciousness permeates from every substance in this universe.  The whole thing is alive and reflective…!

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oct 3rd ceremony

One summer day in the year 2008, Coyote was dreaming in a hole, underneath an oak tree on San Bruno Mountain’s Owl Canyon.  Flames came roarin’ up through the cherries.  The fire jumped from oak to manzanita, hopped onto fescue, and snuggled with lotus.  Coyote said, “My prized cave!”

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Coyote slid in by some crystals, next to horsetails and ferns, and waited for the fire to pass.

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Canyons of dense green leaves turned into black earth.

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It all went up in smoke.

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After the fire cooled, Coyote followed old trails and ate a few broiled snakes.

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The blackened earth went green soon after the first rains of the fall.

Three years passed.  Blue blossom seeds buried deep in the shade made dense thickets.

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Cramp ball fungus ate dead oak trees.

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Yerba Santa, who hadn’t been seen around these parts in many years,  bathed happily in the sun.

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Fat and ancient black heads of fescues sprouted tender thin leaves.

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Panther’s amanita bulged under the oak trees.

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Coyote smiled at fire’s footprints and remains.  What is Fire?  Fire is mother earth’s gardener.  She rakes clean the leaves.  She prunes the trees and shrubs.  She fertilizes the earth with carbon and phosphorous.  Fire scars dormant seeds and bathes the land with light.  Shady woods open their canopies.  Old trees turn into a fungal feast.  The young burst forth in grasslands rich with diversity.

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Tired manzanita branches are burned to the ground.  The new leaves come up from the base.

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California bay is not dead, just renewed.

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Fire is a chrysalis.  Fire is the light of destruction.  Fire is frightening.  Fire is a being of energy.

Coyote came to an overlook, and saw this strange animal.  Crouched in reverent prayer, or perhaps preying on her gophers?!

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What is so funny?!  This is home.

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Any chance to play with water I am there!  So washing dishes comes easily to me.  Restaurant, home, or camp site – they are all good places to do some chores.  Luckily there is the magical stuff called soap, otherwise the  greasy film on the pots and pans would drive me nuts!  The plastic forks and tupperware containers, boy they really hold on tight to the oils.

The water molecules gather around the tail of the sodium or potassium part of the soap, and keep the soap molecule suspended in the water.  Meanwhile, the other end of the soap molecule grabs onto oils and dirt.  Soap helps make an emulsion – a mix of two liquids that do not usually blend together.  Then it’s off they go to the sewers, treatment plant, bays and oceans.

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Another day I was working in the garden, cutting tree branches.  Saw dust was flying in my eyes, the saw teeth were trying to jump on my arms, and the weight of the branch was starting to pinch.  What is this stuff that is so strong?  When I understood, I drew this picture.  It is all in the structure.  Wood shares some similarities with rebar and concrete, bones and muscles, wood frames and drywall.

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There are organisms that like to eat wood and break it down into tasty morsels.  Fungi!  Some are picky eaters, and they only relish the brown lignin cores.  They are called white rotters because they leave a bunch of stringy white fibers after their feasting.  Here is one of them:

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Fungi comes in many forms and colors, and can be found everywhere.  Fungi loves moisture.  Nature’s house cleaners take care of the dead, and sometimes parasitize the living.  The dry rot that eats my deck is a brown rotter.  It will slowly eat the cellulose (and hemicellulose) until the deck crumbles into little brown cubes.  Arrgggghhh!  Should have used redwood….

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Here is a story about parasites in the Mojave desert.  There are beetle larvae that take up residence in bee nests.  It is a little disturbing, but still suitable for younger audiences.

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This was a story for a kindergarten class that was studying the sea and all its creatures.

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Cartilage, teeth, sand paper skin, and egg cases!