Monday, March 31, 2008

Berry Comes to Foothills

Issue 4 of the new plant carnival, Berry-Go-Round, will appear here at Foothills Fancies on April 28th. You may submit your plant-oriented post by emailing subversivescience AT gmail DOT com, or via the automated submission form at Blog Carnival. Deadline for submissions is April 25.

Despite a dusting or two of snow here the last couple days, I plan to go hunting for signs of spring, both out in the wilds and around the blogosphere. By late April, I'm sure we'll all be seeing lots of spring wildflowers. So please send me your own seasonal discoveries for this next edition of Berry-Go-Round. Folks in the southern hemisphere will, of course, be enjoying the fruits of other seasons. However, all posts about plants are welcome. Berry-Go-Round generously allows us to continue to include fungi, so mushrooms and friends can also be included.

Edition 3 of Berry-Go-Round is currently up at Greg Laden's blog, with great reading and new revelations. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hairy Legs Alert

Yes, another arachnid is just around the corner. Bee Lady sent this great photo, taken by her husband Dave in their backyard yesterday.

This little gal/guy was out soaking up some rays in the lovely sunny days we're having of late. Spider lovers, any chance of an ID on this jumping spider? And what was that about big (I want to say pedipalps, is that it?) signifying the males?

How 'bout it Texas Travelers, can you help us out here? Of course, you should click to enlarge this cutie! (Love that brush cut, kinda like my boyfriend back in high school!)

Bee Lady also reports they found pasque flowers up, though not yet blooming, at a foothills park a few miles up the canyon. Two weeks ago we saw buds on the Easter daisies down the trail, and a friend found them blooming on nearby Green Mountain. AND the Squaw Currants (Ribes cereum) and Golden Currants (Ribes aureum) in the backyard are budding to green as we speak. See Shrubs for All Seasons for more on native shrubs.

Even the exotics are putting in an appearance. The oriental elms are in full bloom, witnessed by all who suffer from pollen. Lilac buds are opening, daffodil leaves push up through dead leaves, and all remnants of those late-lying snowbanks have disappeared. All proof that Spring is indeed coming... is here, whatever snows are ahead.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rites of Spring

Arising early, I was surprised to see lights, many lights, out the "usual view" this morning, having somehow momentarily forgotten the sunrise service that would be taking place at the Amphitheatre. The parking lots were well lit, and strings of cars raveled toward them through the dark. As the sky began to lighten enough for this picture, a few Christians, just a bit late, were still making the pilgrimage.

There's no doubt this spot is sacred; this annual modern ritual confirms an ancestral recognition of its power. Latter-day pagans also gather here, I'm told, on the solstices and equinoxes, drumming and celebrating their own sunrises in other ways. This park, known more than a century ago as "The Garden of the Angels," missed being named "Garden of the Gods" by just a few years as a similar spot 100 miles south captured that priority. Perhaps people gathered there to celebrate this dawn as well.

Dave at Via Negativa is honoring the ancestors today, in another way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Urban Disconnect

Lovelock again: "At least 90 percent of us in the first world now live in cities or in suburban areas around them. ... Because our lives are so wholly urban, democracy ensures the election of governments almost entirely out of touch with the natural world."

Now there's a new criterion for judging candidates, unfortunately it would most likely eliminate all of them.

Here's what we've done locally with our little corner of one of the grandest views in North America: the contact between two continental scale physiographic regions, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. That's a car dealership in the middle foreground, and our county seat of government behind it, fondly known locally as "The Taj." A testimony to the sensitivity of governments to native ecology. As are the communications towers on the mountain behind.

Which of our candidates (at any level election) ever spent time in the woods as a child? Which of them remembers it?

(Dare I even mention that most of the trees in the foreground are Chinese elms?)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Caught in the Act!

Ummm, what's this? Tasty?

Yikes! Something's watching me! I wasn't doing anything, honest!

Mom, mom!

Yes, dear? What seems to be the trouble?

Oh that, don't worry about her!

I feel safer hiding here with you, mom...

There, there, dear, it's just a camera!

This little drama transpired right outside the door yesterday morning. Baby was so cute and fluffy I couldn't resist a few photos. A yearling (I'm thinking "she") from 2007, apparently, barely tall enough to see over mom's back. She probably doesn't realize that she'll be getting a new little sibling one day soon.

It's tough to keep the juncos fed on a snowy day without encouraging these guys, but short of turning the dogs out... options are limited.

A double demonstration of why they're called "Mule" Deer...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Intersections of Interest

The Husband and I are reading, each in our own separate book. We are so intrigued by these two books that we even read passages out loud to each other, a virtually unprecedented move. This morning I was struck by a sudden intersection between the diverse ideas that landed us squarely in the realm of human (and especially American) psychology.

He's reading Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food. Pollan illuminates the fat phobia that has driven a massive experiment on the American diet in the last thirty years. In fact, we have changed our diets, and (he explains) not for the better: after adopting the claims of nutritionists, we are no more healthy today than we ever were. Across the pond, James Lovelock argues that we have a similar phobia centered on nuclear power, a phobia he considers unfounded and harmful. In The Revenge of Gaia, he demolishes the claims of "renewable" energy sources and postulates that only by adopting nuclear power can we avert imminent climate catastrophe.

So, it would seem, here we are: our environments, internal and external, are now threatened by habits and beliefs we have been persuaded to adopt only in the last three to five decades. Yes, indeed, most interesting, especially perhaps to a generation that grew up protesting having someone else's ideas shoved down its throat.

Food is our most personal and intimate interaction with our external environments, and no one would question that our food decisions can wreak havoc on the planet. But I particularly appreciated Lovelock's perspective on our fears of nuclear waste:

Wild plants and animals do not perceive radiation as dangerous, and any slight reduction it may cause in their lifespans is far less a hazard than is the presence of people and their pets. It is easy to forget that now we are so numerous, almost anything extra we do in the way of farming, forestry and home building is harmful to wildlife and to Gaia. The preference of wildlife for nuclear waste sites suggests that the best sites for its disposal are the tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by hungry farmers and developers.

Now that, friends, is delightfully perverse. That is, it seems to contradict our intuitive understanding—until we somehow learn that Lovelock is right. Fear, even irrational fear, provides great protection for natural areas.

I wasn't involved in 1992 when the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a Superfund site, became a wildlife refuge here in Colorado, so my enlightenment came later, in the struggle to prevent the commercial development of Rocky Flats. The Cold War was over, and the market for plutonium triggers was crashing. The Rocky Flats weapons plant was situated between Denver and Boulder, high on a rocky plateau. Post-war (II) wisdom suggested it be surrounded by a large "buffer zone" to protect neighboring communities, thus the plant site itself occupied less than 10% of the 6,240-acre (2,525 ha) site. Almost ten square miles of mostly undeveloped land was, and is, a rarity in this part of the Front Range. Developers were eager, to say the least.

In the 1990s, the buffer zone and adjoining properties also became the focus of local efforts to preserve a pretty significant ecosystem, the tallgrass prairie. Encroaching development on the east and mountain uplift to the west pinched this plant community into a narrow zone along the foothills, in front of what we call the "mountain backdrop." Thanks to the rocks, the area had never been plowed (it remains, however, too vulnerable to gravel mining). Chronic, sometimes vicious, winds kept it from being overly attractive to settlement or development. This land surface, the Rocky Flats Alluvium, is the oldest undisturbed surface in Colorado.

We made many field trips, most to a spot outside the official buffer zone, but sometimes we signed documents, gave up our cameras, donned dosimeter badges, and toured the inside as well. What made it a special treat was long views across the expanse of prairie, the opportunity to find new and unusual plants, and, above all, the absence of people and cows. This was grass that hadn't been grazed by domestic stock for more than 30 years! The sense of solitude, and tall waving grasses around us, gave us the illusion of traveling back in time. The guards in the towers with rifles didn't make much difference: they watched us just as closely when we were outside the fence.

By June 2004, access had become easier, and teams of scientists and volunteers conducted a 24-hour Bioblitz in the Rocky Flats area, recording almost 1,400 species of living beings in this 10-sq-mile sample of mixed grassland. Click on "All the Species" at the above-linked page for a list of the results. Don't you wonder what we'd find if we looked at other places this closely!

Soon it became clear that hundreds of acres of native tallgrass prairie, unusual plants, and healthy wildlife populations would not be enough to save this area from development—but public fears of radioactivity could help. In 2005, despite protests, the area was designated Colorado's newest National Wildlife Refuge, with the Dept of Energy retaining management of a central core to mitigate safety concerns. Although people can visit to hike and view wildlife, many of those who commented on the refuge proposal during the years of negotiation will continue to avoid the area because of health concerns. And that's just fine with 1,396 species of plants, lichens, fungi, insects, spiders, other arthropods, birds, mammals, and one fish!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Weather Goes Poikilothermic

What a fun word, that. When we learned it in college biology (or could it have been high school?), we found a mnemonic—it was dubbed "poky," for those abrupt ups and downs you'd see if you graphed it.

Two days in, March is already poikilothermic; probably Colorado weather always is. Yesterday noon it was 72 degrees F here (22C); today it will be about 30 (-1C) at noon, as it is now. Friday it was in the upper 60s F; about 20C. Maybe I should start a graph.

The homeotherms out there (and only homeotherms are out on a day like this) are enjoying the suet and sunflower seeds, not having much of a problem adjusting at all. They were scarce yesterday though, other options for foraging perhaps prevailing. In the "something new" department, nine robins are hanging out in the ash tree, all either fat or fluffed up to stay warm in these mild but blizzard-like conditions. March generally is our snowiest month.

Coming home from errands yesterday, we made a quick stop at the trailhead to check the progress of spring. Dark buds of the Easter daisies, one of spring's first flowers, are tucked tight in the hearts of their tiny rosettes of leaves. They hold a promise, out there under the snow, whispering "soon, soon."

As for colors, there was no "gray light of dawn" this a.m., nor blue either. It went straight to white. I have a picture, but the computer is not cooperating, so I'll add it another time. Doesn't really matter; we can't see anything anyway.