Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Saturday: 28 February 2009

More Things I Didn't Know #4  -  @ 08:26:33
But before we get to that, the bottom dropped out of the sky on Friday and the rain continues. As of 7AM CoCoRHaS time, we've had 1.82 inches of rain. Rain will continue through tonight, and then if everything goes right we're supposed to get SNOW from midnight through Sunday and into early Monday morning. Up to an inch accumulation. Bozhemoi!

(By 8AM, an hour later, an extra 0.68 inches. In less than 24 hours then we've had 2.50 inches, with much more to come. Wow!)

1. United States order of precedence

If you should be visited by your governor and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gets the cookies first? Your governor does.

On the other hand you should offer a cold beer to Chief Justice John Roberts before Jimmy Carter, and former President Carter gets one before George W. Bush. That's a mixed nightmare scenario, I know, but since Bush doesn't drink, you have a polite way of offering him nothing at all.

2. CO2 declines and Antarctic glaciation

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Azolla Event, which may have helped to reduce CO2 levels dramatically during the early Eocene 50 million years ago.

Fast forward a bit. You do know that Antarctica wasn't always glaciated, right? In fact, up until 34 MYA, it was subtropical. Then it froze over, and rethawed again over the next 30 million years. Finally, 3 MYA, it really went into the deep freeze when it became thermally isolated as the circumpolar Southern Ocean opened up.

I just ran across reference to Mark Pagani, Geology and Geophysics at Yale, and his measurements of isotopic ratios in alkenones. Alkenones are organic molecules found in marine algae, and sedimentary deposits can give an indication of surface water conditions. I knew about forams, tree rings, and other paleontological proxies of climate, but not alkenones!

Pagani and colleagues have estimated CO2 levels from sediments laid down during the Eocene and Oligocene. They have found that there were large drops in CO2 levels during the latter, from around 1500 ppm to as low as 500 ppm right about the time Antarctica was glaciating for the first time. By the end of the Oligocene, 23 MYA, CO2 was at modern levels 200-300 ppm. (Of course now it's exceeded 380 ppm, and rising at the rate of 2 ppm per year.)

Some interesting fallout from all this:

Up until the middle of the Oligocene, plants used C3 photosynthesis. C3 photosynthesis doesn't work very well at low CO2 levels, especially in hot, dry environments. So with a drop in CO2 the C3 plants couldn't survive in such environments, and the C4 and CAM front-end additions were evolved. This led to the rise of such plants as grasses during the Miocene, 10-15 MYA. Pagani supplies a nice explanation for this, and I hope he doesn't mind that I refer to his image above.

3. Meanders

I've noticed it before but have really gotten into trying to figure out the winding patterns of the "new" part of Goulding Creek. Along the half-mile stretch it changes direction in bending and serpentine patterns. Wikipedia to the rescue. This is called "meandering," and the serpentine patterns are meanders.

Here's one such (all images get bigger on a new page, upon clicking):

Notice that the bank on the right has eroded. This is typical behavior on the outside of the bend. A greater flow rate on that side erodes the bank. The slower flow rate on the inside of the bend deposits sediment, creating a low secondary bank, and you can see that on the left, in the photo above. It's from the eroded side of the meander that we get treefalls across the creek.

In the photo below, Goulding changes direction twice. You can't really see it in this smaller photo and will just have to take my word that the lines I've drawn indicate the direction of flow (check out the larger one). There are two heavily eroded banks at the points of change in direction, accompanied by the deposited secondary banks.

There's so much to learn about meandering! There are abandoned meanders, incised meanders, scroll-bars, rincons, all kinds!

Here's the sediment deposit seen in the foreground of the above photo. I'm standing on the eroded steep bank. Look at that pothole - it's 3 or 4 feet wide.

I'm wondering if this isn't a tiny oxbow lake, created when sedimentation cut off the prior course of the meander. Yes, I betcha. And I see the potential for a new little oxbow lake to form in the right background, too.

I'm sure we will be visiting the subject of meanders in the future!

Thursday: 26 February 2009

Negotiations  -  @ 08:56:26
You might recall last May that we had contacted the manager of the 300 acres of land to our west. We proposed purchasing a modest portion of it (third photo down here). He was amenable to the possibility but needed to get some things in order first and promised to get back to us.

About ten days ago I noticed that someone had put pink tape on trees along the west ridge marking a line that vanished into the adjoining property. A few days later the manager called and asked if we wanted to check out the line he'd marked for a twenty-acre parcel. We did, met at the firehouse, and off we went.

The results are below, captured from Microsoft's Terraserver, with an overlay of the topographical map imposed. My lines are fairly, but not perfectly, accurate. The contours are at 20-foot elevation intervals.

The orange polygon with the yellow square in the middle is the original purchase, in 1985, of 28 acres. The yellow square is the house, which is not quite that big. Yellow dotted lines are unimproved roads or drives.

The red L-shaped parcel constitutes about 12 acres that we added ten years ago, or so. The west portion of the red line runs north-south along the ridge mentioned above, and the south base of the L added a good portion of the creek and saved six old, old beeches.

The proposed parcel is marked off in green, with numbered features. It differs a bit from our fantasy parcel in the first link above. There is less of the access road, but more frontage along Goulding Creek, which will amount to a total of about half a mile.

A large version opens in a new page by clicking the image:

Numbers 1 and 2 are the "decks," higher elevations 30-50 feet above Goulding Creek and the flanking floodplains (3 and 4). Number 5 is a pine woods area (you can tell the difference between the fine dark gray pine areas, and the mottled, lighter gray hardwood areas).

Let's deal with the decks now, Deck 1 and Deck 2. Both are accessible by dirt roads that have one gated entrance on Wolfskin Road close by WFD station. They rise steeply from the floodplain to their majestic heights of 623 and 645 feet above sea level, so get out your hankies if you're prone to nosebleed. I suppose they'd be two islands in close proximity if sea level were to rise 620 feet!

Last summer I made quite a few trips to Deck 1, which adds an environment that we really don't have on the current property. It has been cleared of trees and grasses have grown up to provide a food plot for deer. (The same is true of Deck 2.)

Here's looking down to the access road from halfway up Deck 1. The left view is last April 26, and the right view is a few weeks ago.

The photos below are from the access road looking west. The top is of last May 7, and the bottom, a couple of days ago.

Deck 1 gives way on its west side to a steep slope. A dry creek runs between the decks, northward to Goulding Creek (blue dotted line in map image above). It's hard to give an impression of the steepness of this slope but this does a fair job.

At the upper right, above, you'll see a large old beech tree, doing a typically excellent job of camoflauging itself. It and three others along the slope are of similar size and age to the six that I've written about before. Along Goulding further down this dry creek are an additional three that are of similar stature. There are at least a couple dozen of smaller, but still significant, size.

The slope up to Deck 2 is even steeper, and can't be negotiated in some places. Here is the top of the slope, looking northwest toward Blacksnake Road. The proposed property line runs through the pink flags and then downslope, ending at Goulding Creek.

Sunday: 22 February 2009

Return of the Blob  -  @ 07:16:50
It won't come as too much of a surprise to hear that we didn't get snow last night - we didn't even get rain! In fact, the temperatures rose several degrees from the very early morning on before dawn. Today's conditions are fairly alarming: from late morning to late afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-fifties, winds 16-20 mph, and RH 17-19% we'll have a Class 5 fire day, the highest level of alert.

I introduced this very fungus in Nov 2005, and at the time I didn't succeed in identifying it. It may have emerged since then, but I do pass this way frequently and it is striking enough from a distance that I would likely have seen it. At any rate it's back, and now there are two emergences.

I'm fairly convinced now that this is a young Hericium erinaceus, known as Lion's mane, Hedgehog mushroom, Bearded tooth, Pompom Mushroom, Monkey's head, Bear's head, and probably other common names. It could also be H. americanum; the related species are variable and difficult to identify.

And it could always be something else. If this one just had longer spines I'd be a little more positive, but there are enough websites like this one that show a fruiting body similar to ours. Since these photos were taken Feb 14, I should revisit and see if it has developed longer spines. As for the poor hackberry, it seems to be surviving what must be a pretty massive infection to produce such large mushrooms.

MushroomExpert says this is easy to identify. I'd add: except when it's not.

Saturday: 21 February 2009

More Things I Didn't Know #3  -  @ 09:49:51
1. Usufruct
usufruct (YOU suh fruct, be careful how you say it, that "r" is extremely important!) - the right of using and enjoying all the advantages and profits of the property of another without altering or damaging the substance.

I ran across this legalese term on James Kunstler's blog, where he reflects, in his probably right but certainly one-note song way, on President's Day. Kunstler's usage is nice:
He paid lip service to a murky notion called "energy independence," but to him that just meant finding a home-grown way to maintain extreme car dependency and all its perilous usufructs. The 9/11 tragedy allowed him to pretend to be a man-of-action, but as the various wars and occupations ground on, "W" more or less disappeared into the deep groove of his own limited programming.

Other than that, I'm not sure I can think of an application for this word that is closer to home, but I do note that the terminal part of the word -fruct refers to "fruit," as in "fructify," "fructiferous," "fructuous," and "infructescence." I checked to see if "defructify" might mean picking fruit, but no. Let me repeat - be careful how you say these words. I wouldn't warn you if I hadn't mangled the words myself, to the merriment of any number of students.

Hmmm, it could be that the landowner liability issues I mentioned here might be connected to the idea of usufruct. Someone more familiar with the legal world will have to weigh in here.

2. Spectre of the Brocken

Karen's Rurality presented us with some sundogs yesterday. That took me to Western Washington University Planetarium, on her recommendation. While I had a pretty good idea of what sundogs were, I had never run across the phenomenon Spectre of the Brocken.

This is the name for the apparent magnification of one's shadow, cast ahead in the fog or cloud. It's most often seen on mountains. It's accompanied by a glory around the head, a halo of colored rings.

There are several other neat optical phenomena that I wasn't aware of on this page.

3. Court Jester

Scientists get to indulge in imaginative naming again with the Red Queen and Court Jester models of viewing evolution. These are metaphors designed to quickly envision the driving forces behind evolution in the long and short term. There's a long and involved article by MJ Benton in Science's Speciation issue last week comparing these two models (Science 323, 728-732 (2009)). (Link leads to summary - longer article is behind subscription wall.) I do it no justice by not going into the interesting analyses of dinosaur evolution in the Triassic but that's not what we're here for.

I was familiar with the Red Queen as a concept for speciation. The term comes from Alice in Wonderland, where in the Red Queen's constantly moving land you must run all you can just to keep in place. It is biotic in nature, and operates over short time scales (less than 1-2 million years) and over relatively small geographical scales. Red Queen is associated with interspecific competition and evolutionary arms races. Since competition between species is always happening, Red Queen occurs on a predictable and constantly flowing basis.

I didn't know about Court Jester. Court Jester drives evolution through mainly abiotic means, and it has some relevance here because climate change falls into this mechanism. It drives evolution over longer time scales and over much larger geographical scales. Court Jester is associated with tectonic and oceanographic events, mass extinctions, or smaller extinctions caused by unpredictable and abrupt events.

I'm not sure how far this analogy can be extended: Think of all living things as a "tree of life," with related species clustered together at the tips and genera and families being the branches farther back (including those tips). Then you can imagine Red Queen as being something akin to pinching the tips off with your (biotic) fingers in order to encourage multiplication of shoots. Perhaps Court Jester would be heavy duty pruning of the larger branches with a saw or shears.

This 2006 interview with paleontologist Anthony Barnosky refers (at the end) to Red Queen and Court Jester, although mainly as if these are two competing theories rather than simultaneously operating at different levels. It's primarily interesting because of its focus on climate change, especially as it applies to mammalian speciation.

I would think that coevolution would be an application where Red Queen could lead to an alliance among species that could persist for tens of millions of years. How about insect and flowering plant coevolution? Reproductive efficiency has driven flowering plant evolution for a hundred million years or more. Insects were diverse long before this, but certainly a good deal of diversity in the last hundred million years has been driven by competition for pollination rights. (Usufruct? Maybe!) The result has led to an astonishing diversity for the alliance.

And then climate change comes along, the Court Jester, and changes the whole scene. I'm struck by the idea of human folly as a Court Jester.

Images through Wikipedia, except for the Court Jester, which is of the Mule, from the front cover of Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire.

Friday: 20 February 2009

Everything Today is Far Away and Wee  -  @ 09:01:55
Sometimes it can't be helped.

I've been taking long walks down to Goulding Creek and points south half a mile or so. On the left we have a gray squirrel taking his lunch high in a box elder (Acer negundo). Since the fruits from last year persist through the winter, and since the plants are in flower right now, it's not clear whether he's eating seeds or flowers, or whether he's enjoying a multicourse meal.

Below we have a nice colony of resurrection fern, thirty feet off the ground. They're still in the approval stage after our inch plus rain on Wednesday night.

I revisted the alder (Alnus serrulata) of a few days ago, trying to get a little better photo of the happy family. It's on the other side of the creek, and to right in this photo. You can make out the long male flowers, the much smaller females on the twigs above the males, and a couple of fruits from last year. I wasn't able to locate any other flowering plants along this stretch of Goulding Creek - this appears to be the only one.

Below is not our first butterfly of the year. That award goes to a couple of Red Admirals I've seen in the last few weeks, and a Sleepy Orange I chased fruitlessly around the yard for half an hour. This one is a Mourning Cloak that lighted on the shore of Goulding Creek. I was up the embankment ten feet with no way down.

Thursday: 19 February 2009

Wild Weather  -  @ 11:11:35
We had 1.17 inches of rain, yesterday, mostly in the evening.

I was at work then, and UGAlert came through on CELLPHONES with a tornado warning around 6:15. We rounded up all the students and marched them into the interior smart classroom. Imagine a hundred or so student-athletes all cooped up in a room with seating for 60 for 45 minutes. It seems that I'm the one with the institutional memory - I did know where the safest room in the house was.

Now: imagine a hundred or so CELLPHONES all going off at once, as UGAlert sends the message that the tornado warning has been lifted.

I drove home around 9:30pm witnessing some really spectacular lightning displays, with cloud to cloud forks reaching across half the sky.

The apparent tornado turned out to be south of Watkinsville by a bit. The reports this morning are that hundreds of trees were down and US 441 was closed down for several hours. I may just have to take a tour this afternoon.

Wednesday: 18 February 2009

Zelig of the Blogs  -  @ 10:48:03
From Wikipedia: ...Leonard Zelig, a nondescript man who has the ability to transform his appearance to that of the people who surround him.

Idle curiosity is the devil's plaything. I just know I'm going to regret posting this.

Glenn forwarded me an email from someone who wants to contribute a post on Niches. It seems to have emanated from the writer's post on the top 100 botanical blogs, a list which seems to have included just about everyone. It's a pretty generic email without any specifics that would explain why she would want to post on Niches, or for that matter what she would write. In fact, "Niches," or any other blog name, could have simply been inserted into a form email.

I put the following into Google and was well into the seventh page of results without coming near to exhausting the wealth of guest posts on blogs of every description, invariably introduced by the phrase "This post was contributed by Holly Mc.Carthy, who writes on the subject of...," or, "I am excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Holly McC.arthy..."
+"holly mccarthy" +blog

What do you think? A new form of link farm?

UPDATE: Yes indeedy. A visit here will reveal several other names, all of whom come together in websites like this one. The sites are basically lists, lists, and more lists. So if you hear from Kelly Sono.ra that your blog has been selected as one of the top 100, rest assured that you're in massive company! It's still unclear whether Kelly So.nora,, Kelly Kirkpat.rick, Kelly *Kil*pat.rick, and Holly McCa.rthy are one and the same but they do seem to have a prolific time together.

Tuesday: 17 February 2009

Plant PΦrn  -  @ 06:14:09
Thus we outfox the google site police.

On the bonnie banks of Goulding Creek South the unabashed alders are getting a head start. They're very excited. The leaves aren't even out yet. Mass flow of sugar through the phloem is from the roots to the tips, now, a transient phenomenon soon to be reversed when the leaves emerge and expand.

This is Hazel Alder (aka Smooth Alder), Alnus serrulata, our Georgia Piedmont's only alder.

I'll have to go back and do a little better photography of the individual catkins, because they're really spectacular. What you see most clearly here are about a zillion dangling male inflorescences (go ahead, make the joke. You know you want to.) The females are invisible in this photo. They are smaller, red, and hang on the flowering branches above the males. Last year's "cones" are also present.

Back in the day, 18 years ago when our house was nearing completion, we engaged the services of cabinetmaker Gene Smith. Mr Smith and his family, all involved in the business of cabinetmaking, had the deepest southern accents I've ever heard, and I've heard quite a range of impossible dialects. When we asked what the cabinets were to be made from, he said "awwwhhhld'wood." Only that's a dead giveaway as written - the spoken word was incomprehensible. It was only much later that we pieced it all together. Doubtless the awwwhhhld'wood was of a western species, not this one.

And, speaking of impossible southern anachronisms that emerge from the darkness blinking blindly into the light of a future time, remind me someday to tell you of our visit to the Foundry Street Coal and Mattress company. (Yes, that would be the *Coal and Mattress Company* if you didn't quite catch that the first time around.)

In which the rather young white supervisor directed the elderly black "boy," as he said, to cart our purchases to the car. Or don't, actually, because that's the whole story right there, here in Athens, GA.

Many of our native red maples are now flowering, suggesting that the report earlier of the January flowering of the planted maples was probably not a natural sight. Redbuds, not yet, and certainly not dogwoods.

Monday: 16 February 2009

Resistance is Futile  -  @ 06:52:23

We had 0.29 inches of rain on early Saturday morning as a cold wave moved through, shocking moisture-laden air into shedding a few drops, and elevating our rainfall in 2009 to 47% of normal. It's easy to not notice this deficit.

So I can't swear that this startling emergence didn't happen before; the abundant crop of white fruiting bodies on this dogwood was certainly visible as I passed by yesterday morning. I see shelf fungi on trees all the time but these were vivid and white.

And it turns out they're not polypores at all, whose spores form in tubes, rather than gills. These are actually gilled mushrooms. This is Split Gill Fungus, Schizophyllum commune, where Schizophyllum means "split gill."

I'll have to check the dogwood to see if it's dead, once leaves begin to emerge. This fungus is usually described as growing on decaying wood, so it doesn't fit into a pathogenic grouping (but see below!)

You get the impression that these things are hairy, and indeed they are. The caps are quite fuzzy.

Above shows the gills of the overturned mushroom, and to the right you can see why it's called split gill. The individual gills seem to split longitudinally into two rows, a figment of a nice adaptation. These fruiting bodies are used over and over again, rehydrating as conditions permit in order to produce more spores. Most mushrooms emerge once, for a short time, do their thing, and are gone.

Tom Volk has a great article on Split Gill, Feb 2000. He uses the opportunity to introduce the fungal life cycle, and to write about fungal genetics. This species is interesting because it is about as widespread as it gets. Its range is worldwide, and as Tom points out, isolated individuals from every part of the world can mate with others, so long as the two are of oppositing mating strains. (In fungi we don't refer to them as male and female ; - ) , but they do it too, and the genetics of fungi offer quite a few advantages to that field of study.)

Split Gill is a great opportunist, reinvigorating at all times of the year, everywhere in the world where there is (hard)wood. And on other substrates too: From Tom's writing, this certainly evokes a yuck factor:
Interestingly, this fungus has also been known to cause a human mycosis in just a few cases involving immunoincompetent people, especially children. In one case, the fungus had grown through the soft palate of a child's mouth and was actually forming fruiting bodies (mushrooms) in her sinuses!!!

Just FYI, I ran across other references to human infection, including nails. We'd be talking Outer Limits here, but I'd guess the keyword is "immunocompromised," and that under normal circumstances the fungus doesn't pose a problem.

Sunday: 15 February 2009

The Easley-Pope Mill Dam  -  @ 03:00:00
A few weekends ago our archeologist neighbor Tom Gresham took me to see the remains of a mill dam on the northern branch of Upper Goulding Creek above Lake Oglethorpe. According to Tom, it is mentioned in a July 23, 1796 deed (Oglethorpe County Deed Book C, Page 185) from David Easley to Henry Pope and was probably in commercial operation up until at least 1820 as the Easley's Mill or more likely the Pope's Mill. Deeds after 1820 have not been examined, but it is not mentioned in 1870s newspaper articles or the 1880 Manufacturing Census so it was either privately run or more likely out of operation. Large trees in the area seen in aerial images of 1938 suggest to Tom that it ceased operation by 1900 or earlier. Finally, Tom said the dam was still there but there was no mill.

It was a very pleasant short walk in from the road. As we descended toward the creek we walked past the remains of a raceway and onto a small flat above the stream that could have been the site of the mill. If at this level, there would have been at least a respectable 15 foot drop, perhaps a 20 foot drop, from the top of the dam to the water wheel. The mill would have ground corn, perhaps some wheat, and would also have sawed timber. So its working floor(s) should have been accessible by road from both sides of the creek. After some discussion about on what side of the creek the mill could have been, Tom then pointed upstream. There among the trees and shadows, hundreds of feet away it seemed, was must be the dam. It was an amazing structure, its form completely unexpected. As we walked toward it its mass and size of its central gap increased. To avoid shooting through intervening trees, the panorama below was taken in what turned out be too close to the gap to do justice to the entire structure. The dam runs straight across the gap and the stream, though the image suggests a 25 or so degree bend at the gap. We shall see below just how big the dam and gap are.

Easley-Pope Mill Dam, Oglethorpe County GA, 01 February 2009

A Closeup Panorama of the Easley-Pope Mill Dam

We did not have a tape measure, but enough photos were burned to be able to bootstrap some estimates of its dimensions from the standard unit of measure in the left picture below. The dam is about 16 ft high, counting the late addition of stone to the top on the upstream side of both flanks of the gap (right picture below). Tom says that he has assumed that additions to the tops of dams were done to increase the power of the falling water. The dam is 23 ft deep or wide, and the gap is probably about 36 feet wide.

Easley-Pope Mill Dam, Oglethorpe County GA, 01 February 2009 Easley-Pope Mill Dam, Oglethorpe County GA, 01 February 2009

[Left] The six-foot measure says the dam is about 16 ft tall
[Right] Both flanks have a late addition of stone on their upstream tops

So how was this dam closed? Why have such nice stone facing on what must be hidden stone restraining the collapse of the flanks? Was this just a dam (it should be a dam, remember the deed and the raceway) or a dam with a bridge (no evidence of a bridge or a ford anywhere downstream of the dam). There is remarkably little evidence to suggest any answers.

Before we inspected the flanks, Tom said that dam and mill washouts from floods were very common and that careful builders might have taken into account the inevitable flood in their designs. He also suggested just filling in the gap with earth or stacking timbers on top of each other across the gap. To my mind there is no evidence of how the dam was made whole except for the door jamb nature of the two flanking end pieces. I guessed that some sort of gate was mounted in the opening, probably a two-door gate. Any other solution would not seem to require such end pieces integrated into the dam proper. Although a normal pool would press downstream-opening gates to open, at least they would more easily be opened to release a flood pool then if they had to be opened upstream against its pressure. There is some sign of missing stone on the downstream sides of the top of the dam and on the downstream side of the flanks (see the top photo and the left photo below), though I would have placed the gate midway or to the upstream sides of the end pieces so the masonry tie-in downstream would help resist the pressure of the normal pool that works to sunder the gates, rip them from their hinges, or in this case sunder the jambs.

It might be that the dam was placed so the gates would open in a rock-free place and one can infer where the gates would have to have been from where the rock is not. If too many rocks, then no swinging gates, and attention would then go to earth fill, stacked boards, or some kind of up and down gate as in a 'gate valve'.

Easley-Pope Mill Dam, Oglethorpe County GA, 01 February 2009 Easley-Pope Mill Dam, Oglethorpe County GA, 01 February 2009

[Left] Missing facing rock on the downstream edge of the flank
[Right] The probable mill pool, taken from where the mill might have been

The absence of large rock in the stream at the downstream side of the dam and the missing facing rock on the downstream sides of both flanks suggest that the gate was tied into the downstream side of the flanks and it and part of its jamb were ripped away in a flood. And probably the mill as well. Tom suggests a stacked timber gate, having seen evidence of one in another dam. Below is my understanding of what it would have looked like when half open. Can you imagine going out a storm in the middle of night with lanterns to open this kind of gate against a flood?

Easley-Pope Mill Dam, Oglethorpe County GA, 01 February 2009

A Stacked Timber Gate

Saturday: 14 February 2009

More Things I Didn't Know #2  -  @ 07:23:15
1. "Presidents Who Value Science:"

From James McCarthy, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the February 13 editorial (Science 323,853 (2009)):

Abraham Lincoln was a significant promoter of science. Prior to his presidency he patented an invention to lift riverboats over shoals. He was interested in developing wind power. He established the USDA, the Department of Agriculture, and promoted "a better understanding of what we today refer to as soil science and plant ecology." He established the National Academy of Sciences. And he created the Land Grant College Act, of which UGA here in Athens, as well as many other southern Universities, is a beneficiary.

Viva le precedent!

2. Arizona has a monsoon season

Well, I did have some vague idea of this, but Bev's reference the other day to Richard Shelton's "Going Back to Bisbee" alerted me to look more closely into this. The pattern is actually a southwestern one affecting more than just Arizona. It's called the North American monsoon season. Monsoon rains in the southwest, like those of any monsoon season, come as a result of a seasonal change in wind patterns. In Arizona, in the summer, wind direction changes from the northwest to the south or southeast, bring quantities of water vapor from either the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean. High temperatures (105 degF) create heavy duty uplifting, resulting in cooling and massive thunderstorms.

There are quite a number of monsoon weather patterns. The more famous southeast Asia monsoon rains, which also occur in summer, are due to a shifting north of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the ITCZ, which is the meteorological equator. There are also African and South American monsoon seasons.

Bev recommended taking a peek at the first chapter of Shelby's book, and so do I.

3. The Great Attractor

Again, something else I was vaguely aware of, there was inferred in the 1980s the presence of a massive concentration of ...something... about 200 million light years on the other side of our galaxy. The anomaly has been named the Great Attractor, but may be more probably multiple attractors. By massive, it seems that we're talking the equivalent of 10,000 of our galaxies in mass, or a quadrillion suns. It's sufficiently massive as to warp the expansion of the universe. Our galaxy, along with millions of others, is falling toward the Great Attractor, but such is the enormity of scale here that the expansion of the universe may sweep us away before we approach it.

The Great Attractor, as well as a number of Superclusters of galaxies, is hidden from us by the Zone of Avoidance. That's what the region of the universe we can't see is called. We can't see it because a large portion of our galaxy blocks our view in that direction.

Therefore we have no pretty pictures ; - )  .

Friday: 13 February 2009

In Medias Res  -  @ 06:57:36
A few res:

I declined the invitation to ScienceBlogs. There were no objective negatives that colored the decision and I certainly appreciate the kind gesture. There were quite a few objective and subjective positives, too many in the end, to maintaining the status quo. These were sustained and amplified by the commentary a couple of days ago and I thank everyone for that. Niches will "remain" "where" it is.

Yesterday was Darwin Day and Lincoln's Birthday, a dynamic duo if there ever was one. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and today is Friday the 13th. In medias res indeed! Happy yesterday and tomorrow and good luck today.

For those of us who took note of Darwin's 200th birthday yesterday, doing a google search brought up an unexpected pleasure:

I enjoyed yesterday's celebration of 150 years of the development of evolutionary thinking. There were too many reflections by others to mention here, but I did run across this very simple and dramatic video, The Evolution of Life in Sixty Seconds, from Seed Magazine and Claire Evans. Despite a couple of mistakes, I think it's very provocative and gives a clue as to why I find the *real* Earth history to be so fascinating. I tell students that recorded human history is as thin as the paint atop the Eiffel Tower of Earth's age. There's nothing like a nice analogy!

The other day I ran across a young sweetgum and noticed a couple of strands of spider silk. I looked a little more closely and a tiny spider ran down the branch and disappeared, or so it seemed. I spent a little time relearning the adaptations and development of a twig. I haven't done the calculation but I'd be surprised if the thickness of the outer electrons participating in the construction of a molecule of that paint on the Eiffel tower would encompass the last few days. Happy Darwin Day!

Thursday: 12 February 2009

Oops  -  @ 06:22:13
Something interesting happened at 11:56:00 on Tuesday, the first major satellite collision in space.

The collision took place 800 km above the Arctic Ocean just north of the Siberian coastline. Iridium 33, one of the Motorola satellite phone constellation, and Cosmos 2251, a defunct Russian communications satellite, slammed into each other at probably 1.6 km/sec. I downloaded the elements and ran them through SatSpy. Here's what it looked like at 60 seconds before collision, with the Iridium coming up from the south and the Cosmos heading south.

At 5 seconds before collision, the two are approaching at just about right angles. So it wasn't a head-on collision. This is an overhead view, magnified considerably.

With only one overhead view you can't tell how far apart they are vertically so here's a view from the side, one minute before collision.

And finally, at the moment of collision.

There are collision avoidance programs that take NORAD tracking data and project possible close approaches on a daily basis. For whatever reason, this impending close approach was missed. Mistakes were probably made! The Iridium was functional so with warning it probably could have gotten out of the way.

In the article above, it's amusing to note who is viewed as hitting whom:
According to an e-mail alert issued by NASA today, Russia's Cosmos 2251 satellite slammed into the Iridium craft at 11:55 a.m. EST (0455 GMT) over Siberia at an altitude of 490 miles (790 km). The incident was observed by the U.S. Defense Department's Space Surveillance Network, which later was tracking two large clouds of debris.

It looks like they're tracking about 500 pieces of debris from the collision. Better late than never!

Wednesday: 11 February 2009

Request for Comment  -  @ 14:37:05
Niches has received an invitation from ScienceBlogs at Seed Media to join them. If you read blogs that are oriented toward science, you're undoubtedly familiar with the group. At the outset let me say that I'm flattered at the invitation. Since I have certain reservations, Glenn suggested I post this to see what readers here think of this possible move.

ScienceBlogs makes it very clear that there is no censorship or editorial interference in any way. From what I've seen of blogs that have transferred there (as well as what they write) I have no qualms about that. I've never heard any science bloggers there complain in any way, and I get the impression that overall they're very happy with the arrangement.

However, I've never been much of a joiner (with very few exceptions). I'm sure you've never gotten that impression, so that may come as a shock. Nor am I a self promoter, other than the fact that I do write and that some of it certainly concerns me. But as far as promoting the blog itself, through advertising, or through joining groups, no. I've deliberately constructed and maintained the blog in non-advertising format. That has been important to me to do so.

Increased traffic is a likely outcome, but I've never been motivated by traffic, other than as occasional idle curiosity. Niches has received about 500 hits a day for several years now. More than 95% are singletons, from internet searches for a photo or some bit of information. Whether that's good or bad or mediocre I've no idea. That's ok - that's part of what the blog is there for.

Most of my concerns are fairly nebulous, murky, and quirky. They boil down to two things: I'm reluctant to see Niches disappear as an independent entity unaffiliated with any particular thing; and I'm suspicious that I may not be the kind of person who plays well with others.

Finally, but most importantly, I've come to very much like the folks who comment and contribute, and I'm also aware of a number of folks who don't comment but seem to have enjoyed the writing. It's been a small and cosy, somewhat hidden group, and I've enjoyed that. No reason to think it would change, of course, but it's for this last consideration that I'd like your opinion if you care to give it. If you can think of any questions I can ask that would either transform a vague unease into something more concrete, or for that matter blow the smoke away, I'd like to hear those too. You can leave comments here or email them.

Tuesday: 10 February 2009

Dried Out  -  @ 06:39:13
Given our very dry days of the last week or so, I revisited the resurrection ferns of last December 30.

I've no doubt that they're now down to 90% loss of water!

This little colony was once on a living tree - now it's a fallen ash since a year or so ago. I suspect their days are numbered, but will probably survive at least five more years until the log begins to disintegrate. By that time the little ferns will have dispersed their spores many times so perhaps we'll find some more nearby someday.

It's more apparent in the second photo, but you'll notice how the fronds appear from a line running horizontally through the center. That line is the stem itself - the fronds are just leaves that pop out of the stem. That's how ferns grow - the blades are leaves and very often the actual stem, which runs along the ground, will be underground, invisible. Along that rhizome, the horizontal stem, will be the adventitious roots that supply the fern with water and inorganic nutrients.

Monday: 9 February 2009

Subtle Weather  -  @ 06:57:22
Here's one of those posts that's so navel-gazing and nerdy that it's going to be hard to know what to say. That's fine. I make no apologies, but I'll betcha that no one else has analyzed and commented on all the weather data within 20 miles. Also.

The weather here for the last few days has been fairly interesting, at least as interesting as it can be when we're under a dome of high pressure and superficially nothing seems to be happening.

In fact lots of things are happening. It's been very warm during the days, getting up into the low 70s, with contrasting low temperatures at night, down into the 20s (until last night). The skies, until yesterday afternoon, have been extremely clear and blue, and it has been very very dry during the days. Winds have dropped to virtually nothing beginning after sunset, and then in the late morning have picked up and become fairly brisk during the afternoons. All this screams fire weather, so now you know.

(One of the reasons I claim for paying especially close attention has been that we've been planning for a prescribed burn of 20 or so acres as a training exercise, and so observation of all of these things over the past week has been of some importance. We cancelled the Saturday opportunity because of warm, dry, and windy conditions. In fact, Saturday, there were two brush fire calls in the county, although none to us. When relative humidity is expected to drop below 25%, a red-flag warning is called and no one is supposed to burn. That's been the case since Wednesday.)

Here is something else that clued me off - the difference in temperatures between SBS, our house, and KAHN, Athens, 10 miles away:

I keep an eye on the temperature difference between KAHN and us, and have remarked on it before. But it's seldom so extreme as it was between the nights between Feb 6 and the early morning of Feb 8. For 6 hours on two nights there were temperature differences of 13 to 17 degF, centered around midnight. Contrast that with the Feb 3-6 period, with less than 10 degF difference and generally under 5 degF different.

One of the nice things these days is that you have the access to personal weather station data, and there are a number of these around Athens. For the 24-hour period of Feb 6-7, here are the temperatures everyone recorded. (I don't have a personal weather station - I *am* a personal weather station - we would be the purple line.)

There are just two things to note about this collection of sites: first, that once we're up into high daytime temperatures we all pretty much agree (in fact, we usually all pretty much agree, regardless of time of day). The second is that during the night temperature declines were wildly different, leading to a huge variation in nighttime temperatures in locations that are not all that far apart.

At least some of this can be explained by how fast some locations are cooling relative to others, once the sun sets. We (purple, SBS) win the prize here, and Athens (green, KAHN) cools the slowest, though Lexington (red, LEX) is at least second in terms of slow cooling.

Here's what I think is happening. We were under a high pressure dome, with very dry conditions, after midday Friday, Feb 6. Over the subsequent weekend, the sky was very transparent, and after sunset the winds were very still. Now you might think that under such static conditions everything would be much the same.

But there is one thing that's independent of all this - radiation. I'd say that what's happening here probably represents the purest distillation of mainly radiational cooling, unperturbed by other influences, that I've seen. Without wind, every location was isolated - no warm or cold air was blowing from somewhere else. The drop in temperature was solely due to how fast the location radiates heat away at night. We do it the fastest, of the stations collected here (we're also in the top three of how fast we warm up during the morning).

At least two stations in the other extreme, the nighttime warmest and slowest to cool, Athens (green), and Crawford/Lexington (red), are within urban areas (LEX, admittedly, pretty small potatoes, but urban enough). CRN, the dark green, is somewhat inexplicable, as it is not in a particularly urban area.

Other things don't explain it: elevation, for instance. The topography around here isn't very different on the large scale. We're all pretty much within 600-700 feet above sea level. Neither does error in measurement explain it - these stations were chosen for long-term accuracy (to my eye) and such stations as Dark Corners in northwest Oconee County were omitted. (Dark Corners can report ten degF higher on hot days and ten degF cooler on cold nights, and has done so for the last two years.) A river does run through it: the Oconee River does pass through Athens in three branches, so that could be an influence there.

Sunday afternoon, yesterday, we actually started seeing a few clouds for a few hours, although things were still very dry and breezy. (At this time it's rather alarming to hear someone up past the ridge shooting, or doing fireworks, for two hours. They stopped suddenly, and I'd like to think someone called the sheriff.)

Here are the surface weather conditions for Saturday 5am (left) and Monday 5am (right). The high pressure dome is clearly present on Saturday, and by this morning it's moving away, with clouds along the Georgia-Alabama border. This would presumably explain the more homogeneous temperature difference between Athens and us, at the tail end of the first figure above.

There is one other thing that is probably related to all this, and that's dew point. Until this morning, the dew points were far below the actual temperatures at all times, and that's probably a reflection of the conditions I've described. Then this morning dew points began to come much closer to temperature, and "mist" has been reported in Athens. I don't know what our dew point is here, but there is a slight condensation on the rain gauge surfaces.

Saturday: 7 February 2009

More Things I Didn't Know #1  -  @ 04:52:10
(Images from the indicated Wikipedia articles.)

1. The Sloan Great Wall

The current favorite, since about 2003, for the largest structure in the universe is the Sloan Great Wall. (Or perhaps I should say "structure.")

At a distance of a billion light years from us, it is a distinct filament of galaxies that stretches 1.4 billion light years long. It is such a huge structure that if it were bright enough to see, I figure it would span 70 degrees, or about half of the sky as you looked up. Of course it's too far away for that, as it's about 10% of the way to the edge of the universe.

How can you get your head around things this big? It's arguable, and argued, whether it's a structure as such, since the galaxies are not gravitationally bound. However it's certainly locationally distinct, if only temporarily (in the billions of years time frame), unlike, say, the stars in a constellation, which may not even be close to one another.

Here's a portion of a map of the universe, put together by JR Gott, M Juric, et al. The vertical axis is distance from Earth, and this is the portion from about 40,000 light years on out. It's a logarithmic axis. The horizontal axis is right ascension, the way the celestial sphere is divided up into 24 longitudinal sections.

Notice the beautiful filamentous structures that clusters of galaxies form, visible only at these very large scales. The blue isn't merely stars - oh no, we're a long way from that at these scales - they're galaxies and galaxy clusters.

The "zone of avoidance," that blank rectangle in the center, indicates what we can't see because it's obscured by the matter of our own galaxy.

The philanthropist Alfred P. Sloan, for whom the wall is named, set up the foundation that provided the funding for the Digital Sky Survey.

2. Dennis Meadows - Sustainable Economics

We've talked a bit about "maintenance economics," which conceptually suggests an alternative to the usual constant growth economic ideas. The Japan Prize has been awarded to Dennis Meadows, Professor of Systems Management at U New Hampshire for "transformation towards a sustainable society in harmony with nature." His 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, modeled the consequences of economics as usual.

Note the shoes!

3. The Azolla Event

50 million years ago, during the Eocene, global temperatures were at least 10 degC warmer than today. Carbon dioxide levels were 10 times higher than the 350 ppm they were a decade ago. The Arctic Ocean was not only free of ice, its sea surface temperatures were 13 degC, 22 deg higher than today.

The Arctic Ocean was also mostly landlocked, and freshwater input from continental runoff formed a largely undisturbed freshwater layer atop the saltier ocean beneath. For about 800,000 years a tiny water fern remarkably similar to today's nitrogen fixing Azolla grew abundantly on the Arctic Ocean surface during the Arctic summer. The massive annual blooms died and sank to the anoxic ocean bottom, year after year. This seem to have reduced carbon dioxide levels from 3500 ppm to 650 ppm. This coincides with the beginning of a long decline in global temperatures that eventually resulted in the transition from a hothouse to an icebox world.

Whether the Azolla ancestor was directly responsible for this transition, or whether the Event was only one of several causes is unclear, but massive quantities of Azolla sediment form layers beneath the Arctic Ocean bottom.

The disposition of these sediments, and the possibility that they may have been preserved as fossil fuels, is of considerable interest. The possibility that such preservation represents enough carbon to have resulted in 3500 ppm levels 50 million years ago should also be of interest.

Thursday: 5 February 2009

The Incongruous  -  @ 05:48:33
It seems that the southeast US has made the national news for its low temperatures yesterday and today. Here the temperatures are down in the wee hours to 15 degF, and yesterday they just barely went above freezing. Today they'll go a little higher. It's very dry, the small amount of wetness on Monday having passed, so no snow. That's the story of our lives here - it's either wet and warm or cold and dry.

We've had, and continue to have, red-flag days since Monday, and probably on well into late next week. These are days when the humidity drops below 25%, or when the wind is gusty, and even though we may have low temperatures there is fire danger. In fact, just now at 15 degF at 5:45AM there was a page to Beaverdam FD for a small grass fire. Now that's incongruous!

Always on the lookout for insects, I've noticed a few potentially charismatic flies that I don't recognize, but they've always landed on a book or something when I've happened to be outside without the camera. So I haven't been able to document them. But most often it's the syrphids that seem to be omnipresent, making appearance on the warmer days.

This one, however, was active yesterday around noon when the air temperature was 32 degF. That's pretty heroic. True, I may have scared it up by treading close by where it was snoozing, but the mere fact of its presence right now is worthy of both notice and the subject title.

I haven't looked for an identification of this one. There may be enough wing venation visible here to manage that, but there are so *many* syrphid species! I'm just pleased to see them year-around. They're such friendly flies.

Tuesday: 3 February 2009

Goulding Creek Catches Car  -  @ 06:34:03
I've neglected posting about several fire calls in the last few months. There are reasons for this, not the least of which is my concern that it's another "oh yeah, there he goes again." But a number of neighbors read this blog and so mentioning what we do has some importance in terms of updates that would otherwise never be noticed. The events are certainly important to Glenn and me. It usually takes me several hours to come down from a fire call - I'm practically, hyperkinetically useless during a few hours after returning from a call (I'm ok during one ; - )  ).

So we did have a big one on New Year's Eve, a structure fire, and I never said anything about that. And that was for yet another reason, that there was a familial connection with one of our firefighters, and so I didn't write about that one. Anyway, I will write about this call, though it was primarily a preventative measure that we were called to, and not an actual fire.

This was the focus of our activities for four hours early yesterday morning. This time I drove the pumper to the scene. Fortunately Glenn was home to follow me, and save time by locking the station up. He stood by in the distance ahead, helping with traffic control. Two other Wolfskin folks had gone directly there, arriving before I did, and one was helpful in escorting one of the accident victims up from the creek where she ended up. I should say that the setting is close to the same evil stretch of US HWAY 78, Cherokee Corners, where the helicopter life lift took place in May 2007. People drive crazy on this road - usually 10-20 mph above the formal speed limit, and up to 20 or 30 mph above the speed limit in this particular section. At this time of the morning it's almost inevitable that many are going to be driving while eating, drinking, putting on makeup, talking on the cell phone (maybe even texting), and smoking a cigarette all at the same time. It's nuts to be driving like this, and I absolutely detest driving on this road. It is the place where all bad things come to a nexus:

I always have this urge to take the camera to fire calls, but there is something unsavory to me about photographing the misfortunes of others, so I very seldom do. These are taken with my CELL PHONE, the innate vulgarity of which obviously makes it all ok. (Well, everyone else was doing it. Of course, I'm posting it, which takes it to another level.)

When there's a vehicle accident, the fire department whose turf it's on always gets called. It's generally a precautionary thing in case of a fire. Most of the time it's cancelled early. This time the vehicles involved had had a near head on collision, probably each at 60 mph given the nature of drivers on this road, bouncing both cars off HWAY 78 and down embankments into the woods. The car in the photo ended up in Goulding Creek, actually, way upstream of our stretch of the creek, about ten feet down and it took a long time to haul this car out. That was after it took a long time for Georgia State Patrol and GADOT to come by and make their reports. Then the tow truck broke a cable trying to get this one out and that required another hour to wait for a second tow to make an appearance. That tow truck was actually pulled off its two front feet by the weight of the car on its first attempt to pull it up the embankment.

The person in this vehicle walked away. She was wearing her seatbelt. The other car on the opposite side was on its side, having rolled over. The driver was apparently not wearing his seatbelt. He was considerably damaged and hauled off by EMS, but seems to have survived.

There's something strange and apocalyptic about being on a normally very busy stretch of road, shut down with traffic re-routed, with only a couple of tow crew and county sheriff for as far as the eye can see in either direction. It's kind of cozy, in a way. Very private. In the end, everyone thanks everyone else for being there.

Monday: 2 February 2009

The Month of January  -  @ 06:13:09
The Month of January, Number 36 in a series. The weather will continue until further notice!

From the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of high and low temperature anomalies for the US. That's the difference in the average temperature for this January above or below the average for January over many years, plotted in colors. The anomalies are in Fahrenheit.

This month the colder than usual weather continued in the northern midwest and extended into the northeast. The southern and western half of the US was unusually warm, up to 6-10 degF warmer in many spots. For the southwest that continues the trend from December.

I've been watching the surface analyses closely this month, and the pattern has been repetitive: strong arctic blasts have driven down through the eastern half of the US, but have been largely absent in the western half. The cold simply hasn't been strong enough to penetrate much past the mid latitudes and so the southeast hasn't been affected so much as points north. Much of this seems to be due to the blocking action of a negative North Atlantic Oscillation, combined with a negative Arctic Oscillation. When this happens high pressure over Greenland blocks the eastward flow of cold polar air and diverts it southward over the eastern US.

As for precipitation, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is hiding these plots here, this time. So here is the plot of mean precipitation anomalies for the US over the month of January:

Unusually dry conditions continue from November for at least the third consecutive month. Mexico and the entire southwest US is now considerably affected, and dry conditions were also notable in the southeast. For Florida this marks the third month of unusually dry conditions. The effects of bucketsful of moisture dumped from the Pacific on a periodic basis led to large surpluses of precipitation in the central and northwest. Heavy snows and ice storms in the last part of the month resulted in swaths of green over the central eastern US.

For Athens:

Here is my plot of low temperatures for the month of January in Athens. (It seemed appropriate to present low temperatures this time.) As usual, the black dots are for the 18 years 1990-2007 (black dots), 2009 (green line), and 2008 (red line).

The trend that ended the unusually cold October and November weather continued from December into the first half of January. We did not break any January records, but came close on Jan 5-6 to breaking a century high. The last half of January was more typical of winter here, with Jan 16-17 coming close to breaking record low temperatures. I should probably point out that here in Wolfskin the nightly lows have consistently been 5-10 degF colder than the official Athens records I use here.

We were more than one standard deviation above the mean high daily temperatures on only 3 days in January, compared to an average 4.9 days per January. We had 8 nights more than one standard deviation below the average, compared to an average 4.8 such in January. You might have thought that that would mean January ended up colder than usual for us, but no. Our average high temperature was 2 degF above normal and our average low was right on target at 33 degF. January was a month of periodic extremes in both directions, showing why an average can be misleading.

For rainfall, the figure below shows the Athens data, which are official for our area. As usual the green line shows our actual rainfall, the red shows the average accumulation expected. The black dots are rainfall over the last 19 years, the vast river of peach shows the standard deviation.

As in December, precipitation occurred in the first week of January, and we actually had a blue surplus for a few days in the first third of the month. After that the rain hardly fell at all, leading to quite a number of low humidity red-flag days, when outdoor burning is banned.

We eventually ended up with a significant deficit of rainfall: 2.70 inches compared to normal 4.69 inches. It seemed like a wet month because the rain came in twelve events which were mostly in piddling hundredths of an inch.

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. For us here in Athens, looks like the chances for snow this year are once again gone. But who knows - they've been wrong before!

NOAA's weekly ENSO update confirms that we are back in a La Niña, which is expected to continue through Spring 2009. This is at least part of the reason for our continued dry conditions here, which leave us in a "severe drought" state. The outlook from that prognosticator shows us in the southeast warmer and drier over the next three months.

Relive your favorite weather events of the year 2008, courtesy of NOAA. NOAA has a neat State of the Climate product. By clicking on the year, such as 2008, you can get to monthly and even weekly reports and zero in on regional descriptions that are much nicer than my own.

Sunday: 1 February 2009

Just Pretend It's Friday  -  @ 09:04:44
Happy February 1!

I think we're a little past the dead of winter. There are certainly things going on out in the woods but they're either subtle (the action going on under the leaf litter) or unexpectedly dramatic (29 turkey vultures circling overhead, yesterday afternoon).

Here's something of the subtle. Last year's tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) fruits are persistant - that is, they stay on the trees through winter. They fall mainly when pushed out by swelling buds. Same is true for blackjack oak and beech leaves, and I've been watching for their leaf drop.

I think it's a little too early for that, so tulip poplar fruit was probably just blown off.

Here's something of the not so subtle. I had Gene all locked up and all for nothing - Maxwell trailed me, revealing himself only after I'd gotten too far away to go back.

Max doesn't meow - he honks. All the time. There's no real hope for quiet stalking when Max is around.

A few days ago I was on a very long stalk, very quietly coming up along the ridge west of the house, and far from it. I sat down on a log to check out the treetops with the binoculars and who should make an appearance but the tiny white thing in the center of the photo. Do you see it?

Maybe this will help.

Aforementioned log is a nice place to sit, since it looks out over quite a large vista of the long hollow through which the little creek winds.

As it turns out, Max was following along behind Gene. Might as well go home now!

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