Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The silver lining is that this is maybe a good omen for my interview today. I am interviewing for a volunteer position at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to work in the Herpetology, Ichthyology, and Invertebrate Zoology Department, or H.I.Z.Z. Erik tells me that the job mostly involves cleaning snake cages. I don't mind. I heard that they need someone to specialize in invertebrates, especially arthropods. It is true that I have spent most of my free time obsessing over skinks, reptiles, and tetrapods, but I feel I am ready and able to study arthropods and think that it would be a wondrous path to take. So perhaps the fly is a blessing from the arthropod gods.
Except that I couldn't photograph it, but it seems that I am unable to photographically capture ANYTHING of import of late. All of our photos from Montana I accidentally deleted. And there have been quite a few tender and poignant moments with Micah and Noah lately that I have forced myself, to no avail, to burn into my memory for lack of a recording device. All this is to remind me to live in the moment and be present.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Coated gimp... I couldn't find much in the way of that, but I did find gimp and I did find pyroxylin. Gimp is also called lanyard is also called boondoggle is also called scoubidou. It is that hideous neon-colored "plastic lace" that kids at summer camp use to make hideous keychains. I knew that my fine hippy Dover press book was not referring to such garbage. But they were referring to some sort of pre-runner because pyroxylin is a kind of celluloid coating, used in theatrical make-up as a kind of second skin, simulating wrinkles, scars, or baldness. The fabric tape coated in such material was more leather-like than just straight fabric and cheaper than real leather. Today's gimp is plasticized PVC tubes. Not too "green". I think they manufacture it just for kids crafts! Yikes! Biodegradability factor... zero. Trash factor... high.
So I decided to substitute twine. Just to play around with the braiding and knots. I found the twine in my dad's shed. And following the directions I fashioned a rather crude, scratchy, wabi-sabi kind of bracelet. No way was I going to be harnessed with such a creation. So I took it outside and fastened it around an ironwood tree, down in the hollow. It's just a magic little tree circle spot in our yard that begs to be festooned. I have also placed some stone carvings down there for the spirits. And last week a fall wreath came in the mail for the previous owners that they said we could keep, so I hung that down there on a tree next to a packrat's cholla-laced entryway. The bracelet fit perfectly around a branch that was already decorated with a string of shells, so I interwove the two. Gift for the tree!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I was facebooking when Erik appeared outside the office window with a flashlight, waving his hands at me. I waved back in acknowledgement and he shook his head and motioned the "come here" gesture. I knew he had found some cool critter so I dashed out to the front door, slipping my bare feet into flip-flops just before I ran outside.
"A banded gecko!" he calls out to me.
"No way! Show me!"
My mind is filled with all the images of this beautiful lizard that I have only seen in books until now.
"He might have run away already. He ran pretty fast." Erik warned.
We came upon the path and Erik squatted down next to a good-sized agave clump.
"He went in here." He shown his flashlight around the base of the agaves, among the dried-up, curled brown protective layer at the bottom. Perfect hiding place for a banded gecko.
"I think he's gone. Nope, there he is! See him, Honey?"
I caught a brief glimpse of an ivory tail with chocolate crossbands. "I see him!" The gecko walked a little further into the depth of the agave clump.
Erik stood up and looked down the path shining his flashlight under the palo verde tree and cholla.
"Give me the flashlight! I want to see him!" I pleaded.
"Ok, but be careful of the agave spikes!" My husband loves to be the nature teacher. I let him. It's fun feeling like a kid at camp.
I step over some palo verde branches that have been laid out waiting for either a chipper-shredder or a brush-and-bulky pick-up. Minding the arrow-tips of the agave I squat down and shine the light under the blue, powdery spears. My flashlight finds him and my heart skips a beat.
"Hello there! You are so beautiful!" The gecko closes his eyes from the obnoxious light. I try to make sure only the edge of the light illuminates him, not the bright center.
His skin is the most creamy velvety texture of any other desert reptile I have seen. He looks so soft and squishy, too tender for such a harsh environment as the desert. He has the paired swollen gonads at the base of his tail, so I know he is a male, maybe looking for a female. The skin color is a base of buttery cream with purplish chocolate bands boldly crossing his body. His eye is a soft black drop of ink, with an innocence that makes me feel embarrassed to be so vulgarizing to him. This thought makes me immediately stand up to give him his space back. I smile at Erik and hand him the flashlight.
"Let's see what else is out there."
We continue our walk around the property, stopping to listen to Sceloporus, the spiny lizards, scrambling up a tree upon hearing us. We also note the abundance of tarantulas. As the path reaches the main driveway there are solar lights along the edge. Under one of these lights scurries another Coleonyx! The light was very dim, one of those LED glow lights that looks like a little pagoda lantern. Also under the light, perched on a rock just next to it, was a small green praying mantis, who clearly seemed annoyed at us interrupting his dinner hunt. We turned off the light to watch the mantis. A car drove right by on the road and the mantis turned its head in the direction of the car. Erik tapped the butt of the flashlight on the rock it was sitting on and the creature turned in that direction and looked right at Erik's face. Those things are just like little alien robots. I watched him, hoping to see a strike, but he started cleaning his grabbers, patiently waiting for the lumbering giants to keep on their way so he could focus.
We continued on out to the road to check for snakes. Erik shined his light on a plant that looked like a roadside weed in front of the neighbor-across-the-street's house. The house is up a slope and there is a railroad tie berm along the road to make the ground for the yard and house level. The space the plant occupies is about a five foot gravel clearance between the street and the base of the first railroad tie of the berm.
"I'm so jealous of that plant!" Erik said.
"What is it? I want to see it." I replied.
We walked across the street and up to the plant. "Proboscidea," Erik said, "Devil's Claw."
"Oh, you don't have to be jealous of that! That grows easily and we can get that anywhere!"
Erik bends down to look for a ripe seed pod. The plant is a prostrate form with small leaves, only about an inch across. It is about three feet in diameter. There are no other plants within ten feet on all sides.
"Another banded gecko! A baby!" Erik sputters.
"What? I think I see them too!" I can see definite movement among the fleshy stems of the plant. A hatchling Mediterranean house gecko, Hemidactylus, runs out of the shrub and climbs the railroad tie.
"Awww... they're just Mediterranean geckos. No wait, I see another one! And it has definite stripes. They ARE banded geckos! They're hatchlings! I think they just hatched right now!"
Erik starts looking around the base of the plant for more babies. "How many do they have?"
"I don't know. Leopard geckos have four or five I think."
We confirm two neonates. About the width of a pencil and half as long as your pinkie. They looked FRAGILE! One already was missing its tail. The first thing Erik thought was, "We need to move them. They're so close to the road. Let's bring them to our yard." He started to put his hand down around the one that still had the tail.
"No! You'll kill it!"
"Don't worry, I didn't touch it."
Erik keeps searching around the base of the plant with the flashlight, looking for more babies. There is some cellophane with some movement around it. "This place is crawling," Erik says.
What at first glance appears to be ants, on second thought looks more like termites to me.
"Look! The one without the tail is going over to the termites!"
As he approached the opening in the earth, spilling forth with grub, his posture perked up. He started looking straight down at the insects, and following their movement with little jerks of his head. He circled halfway around the hole, keeping his eyes on the prey. Then almost imperceptably he delicately picked one up in his mouth and mawed on it, turning it around with his jaws and tongue. The next one was a little more deliberate. We watched for one more minute and then stood up to allow the tailed one to join its sibling in one of their first meals.
We pondered the location of the geckos, so precariously close to the biggest killer of herps, the road. Maybe we could bring them onto the safety of our property... No, they had a perfect meal in front of them and that was more important for them at this point in their lives than our perceived sanctuary. Their mother probably laid the eggs close to that food source with her eons of wisdom. The railroad ties probably offered numerous tunnels and hiding spots under them. Perhaps their mother gave them the best possible chance that she could, in spite of it being so close to the road. The road is a reality of life. Maybe there are less predators near the road. Who knows?
As we walked back to the house, sans any kind of photographic record of the event, I pondered the wisdom of the desert. Why does she reveal her beauty in torrential showers, and not it parceled drips. All the times that I have gone hiking, hoping to see some new critter, and come home deflated. And tonight, each time I saw the banded gecko, I thought, "Wow! I want to stay here all night and watch this one. It can't get any better than this." And twice she proved me wrong, pulling back the veils to reveal ever more tender moments. And all so close in time to one another! Like fireworks, spectacular, short-lived bursts of light.
P.S. Last week in one day we pulled a neonate Holbrookia and a neonate Cnemidophorus from our pool filter, each alive. The next day a neonate Hemidactylus. And there are two Lampropeltis getula hanging around our house. Not to mention at least two Crotalus atrox. And a long-nose snake was picked up off the road at my uncle's house a few miles away and let go on our property. And Erik saw a Crotaphytus on a hike and a magnificent foraging Cnemidophorus burti.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
"I really like your new apartment!"
"Thanks, I can't believe I found this place!"
"Did I tell you about my new boyfriend?"
"No! Where'd you meet him?"
"At a club downtown! He's really sensitive and totally cares about me! I love him!"
Beautiful kingsnake found the other night. Looks healthy. Erik let it go on the front patio.
We think this is a Urosaurus. Must be only a couple days old at most. Found in the pool! :(
Big guy. Gorgeous. Erik put it outside.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
One of the things was a file of preschool activities from the 1980s that I picked up as a give-away in someone's yard in Ocean Beach. I was on the track to be a special education teacher back then so I was compiling stuff all the time for my future classroom. I finally went through all the papers and discarded about 95 percent of the stuff. I happened to find this recipe for homemade moon sand.
Noah received moon sand as a present for his birthday this year from Kim and Mia. He loved playing with it, but I only let him do it outside, so some would always fall and get dirty. I would buy him more except that it seems ridiculously expensive for what it is. Here's the recipe:
1 cup sand
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup hot water
Mix the sand, cornstarch, and cream of tartar in an old saucepan. Add hot water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is very thick and can't be stirred. When slightly cooled, make your castle. Allow several days to dry or re-pack into an airtight container. Makes approximately 2 cups.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
What is your preferred sweetener? Lately I'm really leaning toward agave nectar, mostly because agave is a native plant and my husband has taught me so much about being aware of what plants evolved to live in the area where we live. Agaves have a huge starchy center to them which is what is used to make tequila. Yum! The Tohono O'odham harvested the tubers and roasted them. Gardening of agave is usually limited to the ornamental varieties because of how much land would be required to grow a sustainable crop of agave. There are only half as many species of agaves as there are skinks. Yes, it can always come back to skinks!
Erik is drinking rice milk these days because his liver enzymes continue to be elevated! He goes and gets blood tests periodically just to see how high they are. The enzymes are SGOT and SGPT and they can be an indicator of liver damage. He read that dairy and wheat can exaserbate the weakened liver. He might be sensitive to gluten because of his Hungarian ancestry. Whenever he drinks beer he gets the Asian Flush, which 50% of the Asian population has! It means that when he drinks beer he gets hot red blotches like a map on his face. I think Erik was born in the wrong time period. His days should be spent like this:
Except what did the Magyars do when their backs went out? They probably had stronger backs back then. No junk food and lots of exercise. I wonder what the Magyars ate for breakfast? Maybe some horse milk and dried meat? And some plundered sweets, sultanas possibly!
Monday, April 27, 2009
One of my favorite little games to keep kitchen duties interesting is to pick a random ingredient in the cupboard and then to make a meal using it. So far I have made chocolate cherry mace cookies for mace and mini muffins for mini muffin papers (technically not really an ingredient, but equally taking up shelf space). The next ingredient is whole cloves. I found that cloves are native to India, so naturally I want to make an Indian dish. It also just so happens that I am deeply embedded in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. Her tale of the Bengali Gangulis is so sumptuously written that I feel like I am embarassed to know so much about the inner dreams and fears of Bengali immigrants. Since I am feeling so connected to Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, I am delighted to attempt to make Chingri Macher Malaikari before I finish the book. And to eat it while reading and feel that I, too, understand their cravings.
When I read Diane Mott Davidson's first novel, Catering to Nobody, I felt especially connected with Goldy Bear by cooking the recipes that were used in the plot. In ninth grade when we read Homer's Odyssey my friend and I made our project, Cooking the Food of Ancient Greeks, and spent the day making dolmas and lemon chicken soup. Cooking makes me feel connected with cultures and history in a way that is so satisfying for my soul.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The parasitic wasps and ladybugs did move in and make a valiant effort, but not before the population of aphids exploded on my patch of collards. Aphids are literally born pregnant, but that is not the end of the chain. The fetus inside is also pregnant! So each aphid bumbling and slurping up the precious phloem in the plant is pregnant with her own granddaughter!
Aphids that prey on Brassica oleracea (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and kin) can convert the plant's own defense chemical, glucosinolate, into a kind of mustard oil that can deter some predators, such as larval two-spotted ladybugs.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Ants have invaded my reptile cage, the tropical humid one, to be more specific. Ants are in Berman's cage. Berman is a Solomon Islands Prehensile-tailed Skink, also known as a monkey tail skink, Corucia zebrata. He shares his cage with a Solomon Islands ground skink, Eugongylus albofasciolatus. Their tropical climate ecosystem that they call home is like an oasis in the Sahara desert for the Argentine ants. You know which ant I'm talking about. The one that gets in your kitchen trash, especially if there is something wet and sweet in it. The ones that invaded the trash cans in your junior high school. Pretty much the only ant you've ever seen unless you go camping and notice the bugs. Why are they so ubiquitous? Who are they?
Argentine ants (Linepithema humile, formerly Iridomyrmex humilis) do indeed come from Argentina. They have invaded fairly the whole world, probably with the help of people. Wherever they go they tend to displace native ants, which can affect plants that depend on native ants for pollination and lizards that specialize in native ants, such as the coastal horned lizard. But surprisingly, the ants don't pillage and plunder the native ant colonies as they sweep across the praries. All they need... is love.
Argentine ants are so successful because neighboring colonies do not fight with each other, like most ants do. Individuals roam freely among unrelated colonies and help each other with their work. They take each others' food without need for repayment. In this way they form supercolonies that can rapidly spread. Queens intermingle as well, often foraging with their workers. Argentine ants tend to upset the balance of native ants who form more tightly knit colonies that are constantly at war with the other tightly knit colonies. The Argentine ants can outcompete the native ants in searching for food and colony location. And if a battle should break out, unrelated colonies will defend each other. Their sheer numbers coupled with already heavily disrupted ecosystems, such as those along the California coast, create a recipe for disaster, with respect to native ant populations.
When I visited Biosphere II about 15 years ago, the experimental space station built near Tucson, the "scientists" had been out for at least a few years. As a budding biologist, I was fascinated with the idea of living in there, like living in one of my reptile cages! I thought the rain forest was beautiful and the grasslands looked lovely. I imagined how the scientists woke up every day and tended to their chickens and pigs and then took data on the plants and fish. As we toured around the outside of the Biosphere (no one was allowed in) and peeked into the windows, we couldn't help but notice the double row of busyness marching all along the entire base of the space capsule. Someone asked the guide about it and she said that was a recent problem and they hadn't worked out all the kinks yet. Apparently not, as it was one of the few animals to breech the security gate.
What can we learn from the Argentine ant? Give peace a chance and we can conquer the world? Perhaps, and yet... if all the peaceful people succeeded in ridding the world of war, would it be a better world? Maybe we need some warring people to keep us awake. A little bit of yang in the yin! Therefore, enjoy your battles because they may be your last! You might be overrun with boring peaceful people who want to share food and support each other!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
You must do it yourself, you must not leave it to others!"
-from The Courtship of Miles Standish
I read this story to Noah a few times over the past month during evening story time. The book we read out of is called The Book of Knowledge and it was printed around 1915. This quote kept popping into my head today, thinking of President Obama's "A day to act" quote.