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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Snow, Salamanders and Sinkholes

At nine o'clock this morning, I put a pair of binoculars around my neck and stuffed a small red notebook into my pocket before setting off with a group of four other UCSC students led by UCSC Museum of Natural History curator Chris Lay. I had signed up for this Natural History of the UCSC Campus one-day class last quarter, but it had been cancelled due to rain. Today, even with the threat of snow, the class was still on. It was chilly but fortunately not raining as we set off from the UCSC Recreation Department toward the East Field.

After introductions, Chris asked if there was anything we particularly wanted to see. An environmental studies major named Shannon, who I talked with throughout the hike, said "any mammals other than deer and ground squirrels." We all laughed because moments before we had seen about 25 ground squirrels on the hill by Stevenson College, and deer are ubiquitous throughout the campus. Chris said he hoped today's hike would take us places we'd never before explored on campus; it turned out I hadn't been to the majority of the places we walked to.

The first natural history sighting we had was a Say's phoebe on a fence post (my handheld camera is broken, so I wasn't able to take any pictures from today's hike, hence the photos from other sources. Each photo is linked to its source.)

Chris told us that this bird is a fly-catcher, venturing from its perch to catch flies and bugs with its wide, pointy bill and then returning to its perch. It has a dark head and a yellow-brown underside, and its call can be described as "whiney." Chris remarked that they are often found in open areas, like the meadow east of East Field where we spotted it. The "binos" (birding lingo for binoculars) were a necessity on the hike. Without them, most of the creatures we saw would have been distant dots. My eyes are definitely not trained for spotting birds in the distance, so it always took me a few seconds to determine where to look.

In the same meadow, we also spotted a male Anna's hummingbird performing an intimidation display. It flies straight up, really high, and then dives down in a j-curve. A "zoop" noise at the end of the dive is created by its tail. This hummingbird, one of two found on the UCSC campus, lives here year-round.

Our next sighting was flora. Non-native, weedy wild radish, of the mustard family. Interestingly, this plant's flowers have four petals and six stamen, unique to its family. It has purple, yellow or white flowers and tastes a little like cauliflower.
We continued down the meadow until we came to a gash in the ground, where it looked like the earth was sinking into itself. It was, actually, because it was a sinkhole, one of many found on campus. We ventured into it. It just looks like a depression in the ground, but upon closer inspection, a hole covered with rocks can be seen, no bottom in sight. Sinkholes are not common in most topography. When it rains in a normal valley, the water drains down through the valley by creek or river. In a sinkhole, however, the water just goes through a hole in the ground, like a bathtub drain. There's limestone underneath the whole campus, which was created in the ocean a looooong time ago from the buildup of dead organisms. The San Andreas Fault line, about 10 miles east of us, is bent, and so there is sliding and pushing; because the two sides of the fault are of the same density, this fault created the Santa Cruz Mountains. The limestone under the campus contains calcium carbonate, which is dissolved when water runs over it. When it rains, the water dissolves the limestone and carries it away toward the ocean. Some rocks that had been piled into the sinkhole were put there because, as Chris said, "they don't want it to eat the East Remote Parking lot."

There are sinkholes all over campus, creating a honeycombed rock layer under the soil. When Chris brings a geologist out to this sinkhole with his 2-unit Natural History of the UCSC campus class, the geologist says that he doesn't walk over sinkholes because of their potential instability.

Chris talked about the various sinkholes and caverns around campus that most students don't know about. McHenry Library has been worked on for years; it's supposed to reopen this summer. One reason for this prolonged construction is that when they went to reinforce a corner of the building, they found that there was nothing to reinforce it with: the earth had sunk away from the building. Science and Engineering Library is bridged across a cavern. J Baskin Engineering was built on stilts because of its proximity to a sinkhole. This topography also accounts for the many caves on campus, including the well-known Porter Cave, which I ventured into my first evening on campus.

As we traversed meadows in lower campus, I silently was thankful that I'd chosen UC Santa Cruz over another school like Davis. UC Santa Cruz has the coolest natural history! So many things to discover and so much biological diversity. I'm definitely signing up for Chris's 2-unit Natural History of UCSC winter course next year.

While standing in East Meadow, Chris mentioned how California grasslands have been infiltrated with non-native species over time, due to the introduction of cattle in the 1850s and exotic grasses. I had pointed out plantain to Shannon earlier, and we'd each tasted a leaf. She asked if plantain was native, and Chris said no.

We crossed the road and wandered near the Village and the Farm. The Village is located in an old quarry. The campus grounds had many uses before UCSC was established; originally, of course, it was the home of the Ohlone (I'm hesitant to use this name because I've been researching local Native American tribes for a research paper I'm writing on missionization, anthropology and the effects of colonization of this area on the ability of local tribes to become federally-recognized, and Ohlone was a word created by anthropologists...it's better than "Costanoan," and it is generally acceptable by the local tribes, but I still feel a little iffy using it to generalize the original inhabitants of this land). Seventy-five to 100 years ago, limestone quarries were created on the campus grounds. The limestone was burned to extract the lime, which was used in concrete and other things. To burn the limestone, they clearcutted the redwoods for fuel. The trees reforested themselves, but in the large meadows on campus, stumps were removed for grazing. (The Ohlone used to burn meadows in order to clear out brush for easier hunting and so that native plants would grow with the fertile soil.)

We passed a bay tree and each of us grabbed a leaf and crushed it in our hands. Chris told us that bay tree leaves are related to the bay used in cooking, but that they are much stronger and shouldn't be used in that way. Bay tree leaves are particularly pungent, and something about them causes extreme reactions in certain people.

Up in the sky, we noticed a white-tailed kite, which was kiting, or stopping midair by flapping its wings to look down on its prey (think of a kite standing still in the air). Other birds can kite, as well, but kites don't need the stiff wind others need because of its unique shoulder joints. It's related to the hawk.
Near the Village, Chris pointed out a patch of wild radish. Beside it were some native grasses, then a patch of mud and then another layer of native grasses. On the mud patch were a bunch of little piles of dirt. He cautioned us not to walk over the mud, for it was home to, he estimated, a few 1000 bees. The bees had been hibernating all winter and had come out to get some radish pollen and lay eggs in holes in the mud. After they mate, dig holes, lay their eggs and seal the holes off from rain, the bees die and the babies are born next year. With all the rain we've had, the bees have had to dig themselves out of the dirt, hence the piles. We looked closely and noticed a bunch of bees laying on the surface, unmoving. Chris picked one up. It didn't look like a bee, no yellow and black stripes. It was a solitary bee, meaning these bees are not part of a colony with a queen. The bee wasn't dead, but it was too cold to move around much or fly. To tell the difference between a solitary bee and a fly is that bees have two sets of wings, and flies only have one. The bee has two eyes on the side of its head, as well as three "microeyes" on the top. The bee lay in Chris's hand for awhile and then the sun came out, it warmed up, and it flew away.

We walked through the Great Meadow. I spotted a brush rabbit by a wood pile. It's the only rabbit found around UCSC, and it's a cottontail rabbit, with the white bushy tail. We came across a little alligator lizard under a piece of wood (who was cold and docile until he warmed up), as well as a slender salamander in the defensive posture.

I should really start working on homework, so I will have to shorten my description of the day. On the rest of the hike, we saw: some fungi, a newt carcass, a red-tailed hawk, chickweed, jimson weed, a baby roughskinned newt (which I held! it's cute little hands were fumbling along like a crawling infant), an awesome green Pacific chorus frog, a brown Pacific chorus frog, the mima meadow where crazy, rare mima mounds are found (read about them here!), a coyote, Fremont star lily, a bell-shaped mushroom, Johnny jump up flower, soap root, California buttercups, suncups, and SNOW! It snowed on us as we entered Cave Gulch. The snow was more like snowy hail, but it was incredible! I never thought I'd be wandering campus in the snow at UC Santa Cruz! It was a little chilly, and Shannon remarked when the sun shone through some clouds at one point, "I feel like those bees and lizards when the sun came out!"

By that point, it was already past 12pm, which was when the class was supposed to end. We made our way back to the east side of campus. My notebook is now filled with 9 pages of natural history, and I've learned to identify a variety of different plants and animals. Great way to start off my Saturday!

-- Green Gal

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Passionate anxious freedom toward death.

I'm writing an essay right now. Okay, well not right this minute, but I'm in the process of writing an essay. Topic: Basic tenets of Malcolm X's philosophy compared with Martin Luther King Jr. Supposed to be 4-5 pages. Almost at 5, and I've still got a few more paragraphs about Malcolm X to write. Greeeeat! So I thought I'd share some pictures I just took in my room since that's definitely going to help me reduce my paper length. Enjoy!

Why, yes, those are Egyptian hieroglyphs! My boyfriend is taking a class in hieroglyphics, so he wrote my name for me!



My desk, where I am about to continue writing my essay. (BTW, that white thing next to my Malcolm X book is this awesome tool that keeps your book propped open so you can eat, transcribe or hands-free read your book! You should get one!)


The quote on my white board. My Stevenson Core class teacher, Mr. Schafer, spoke about Heidegger on Friday. I'm enjoying every minute of my finite journey toward death! Yeah life!


Happy Tuesday!
-- Green Gal

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Thoughts

I just returned from the dining hall after eating a delicious omelet scramble. My large brown bear mug is filled with the rich, suprisingly well-made coffee the dining hall serves, and it's sitting here on my desk, wafting wonderful scents into the room. When I got back to my house, I checked on the laundry I'd put in the wash right before leaving for breakfast, and my timing was perfect: the laundry was finished washing just as I walked in. Don't you just love when things work out like that?

After I post this, I will return to my reading assignment that is supposed to be completed by noon today for my Native American studies lecture. We're reading Native Features: Indigenous Films from Around the World by Houston Wood. I have to read to chapter 9, and then I'll move on to Archaeology homework. This book on films is quite interesting, as it describes many of the central themes found in indigenous films, as well as analyzes the issues with stereotype found in films about indigenous people made by non-indigenous people. We've watched some of the movies in class, including Rabbit-Proof Fence and Smoke Signals. I've never taken a class that analyzes film, so it's been a different experience for me to do so in the context of Native American studies. The class isn't only about film, but learning to decode popular media and recognize the dominant discourse and challenge it is definitely a central part of the class. We're learning to see the portrayal of Native American peoples in a different way, to question the accepted notions we have of the "Indian," and to understand why the stereotypes, mascots and iconic depictions are detrimental to Native American people. If Santa Cruz had a Native American studies major, I'd almost definitely be working toward it. The closest major Santa Cruz offers is American Studies with a concentration in Native American studies. I'm leaning toward that over Anthropology at this point, but I don't have to declare any majors until the end of next quarter. I'm also still considering Literature as a possible major. Next quarter, I'm planning on taking another American Studies class (my Native American studies class is American Studies 80E), as well as a Literature class, so I can make a decision about what major I'd like to declare. I could always change it. There are just so many wonderful options to choose from!

But, I should probably get back to my schoolwork. I spent the weekend snow camping in Yosemite, and as a result, I am a little behind in my reading. I went with a group from the UCSC Recreation Department, and we camped about a mile from Badger Pass, on the way to Dewey Point. It was an excellent, challenging, chilly trip. Perhaps I'll post about it on a future blog post.

The weather here in Santa Cruz today is typical...it's the kind of weather students here love. Overcast, but not too chilly. I've got my turtleneck sweater on and my down jacket handy (I definitely learned how to stay warm on my snow camping trip, and I've already put that knowledge to use on campus). My coffee and my reading assignment are waiting for me...

How is your day going? Post in the comments!

Happy Tuesday!
Isn't life awesome?

- Green Gal

---

Breathe in experience. Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This Slug is Taking a Midterm

Ok, so this slug isn't taking a midterm, but this slug (as in ME!) is taking a midterm, at 12pm today! It's a Native American studies class, so I'm actually a little excited since that's one of my favorite topics. Of course, I'd rather take a hike and come across some fellow Banana Slugs, but I am in college to learn, after all.


Have a good one.
- Green Gal

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