Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California. Another was Charles Love, the son of Wyoming geologist David Love, whose career was central part of John McPhee's excellent book Rising From the Plains. But those individuals only reach back into the 1970s. I've got no idea who was here in the first fifty years of the existence of our institution.
geology programs in the state, and I readily recommend it to my transferring students. The department has a rich history that extends back into the early 1920s, when it was (I believe) only the second such program to be established in the state. For the first thirty years, the department was headed by A.O. Woodford, a legendary geologist in California circles. He continued as an emeritus professor for decades, and I actually was privileged to attend a field trip that he conducted when he was in his early nineties. He lived to be over 100 years old.
Some things are very different as one scrolls through hypotheses about the origin and history of the Earth, but other things remain the same. We may have an incredible theory, plate tectonics, through which we can understand much of the history of the planet, a theory that had not been accepted, nor even conceived in the 1930s (look up what happened to Alfred Wegener for instance). And yet the rocks and fossils are the same. We've discovered many more species, but the drawings my grandfather made look very much like those that my own students will be drawing in just a few weeks. Complex over-arching theories are great, but they have to explain the rocks and fossils or they will come crashing down. Students will always need to know the basic information in order to understand the theories that account for them.
Saturday, February 10, 2018
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
It was just one of those moments...
I was taking my near daily walk along the river trail that lies a mile from my house. It winds for two miles along the Tuolumne River where it emerges from the Sierra Nevada foothills and flows into the Great Valley. I'll grant that for a river like the Tuolumne, it's not the grandest bit of scenery. This is a river that begins in the spectacular high country of Yosemite National Park, flows through a little known canyon that is as deep as Arizona's Grand Canyon (actually called the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne), and then through a network of gorges famous for white-water rafting. Downstream, the river feeds into a floodplain that is part of America's greatest savanna environments, the winter home of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds like Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Cackling Geese, and many, many others.
The trail follows a bench above the main riverbed, and there are a number of spots where one can clamber down and sit by the river. I have my favorite spot about a mile up the trail, and I was sitting there enjoying the sunset and watching a Kingfisher diving into the water for a meal. It occurred to me, sitting there for maybe the 100th time or so (the trail was opened about two years ago), that this was home. I mean, sure, home is usually a place with walls and a roof and all that, but our homes are also a place beyond the backyard. We may have co-opted almost all the natural places, but there are bits and pieces still present, a place where we can comprehend the nature of the land that we live on. The Tuolumne Parkway Trail is that place for me, a spot that I can explore again and again, always with the possibility of seeing something surprising, something new and unexpected.
|Pied-billed Grebes on the Tuolumne River|
|Merlin on the Tuolumne River|
|Common Goldeneyes on the river|
There have been two American Kestrels that have about four perches that they will abandon, one after another, as I walk forward on the trail (I can't walk the trail without irritating them; I keep hoping they'll finally just recognize me and stop fleeing). It's that way with dozens of individual birds that I see over and over.
|American Kestrel above the river, giving me that irritated look...|
As I sat there this evening I thought of how lucky I've been in my life, the privileges I've been granted in exploring some of the most spectacular places on planet Earth. I treasure my handful of overseas adventures in Australia, Italy, Scotland, England, France and Switzerland, my journeys to the Hawaiian Islands, and especially the adventures I've had with my students across the western states of the U.S. (and Canada, too). I was lucky to see so many spectacular sights, but I also know that I will see many of those places only once, and for only a brief time (the schedules must be adhered to).
On the other hand, I have been granted a continuing privilege of getting to know a single place well, learning the rhythms and seasonal changes, being there long enough to take advantage of capturing a fox or otters on video (like the one below). It may not be the most spectacular of scenic places, but it is a small piece of the natural world that still exists just beyond my front door. It's the kind of precious gift that just about anyone can experience. Practically everyone lives relatively close to a river or stream, lake or forest, even in places where such things are not expected. There are some great places to see the natural world in the Los Angeles Basin, for instance. They're worth seeking out. It is a great adventure to learn something new, and to have the potential for making discoveries every time one ventures out beyond their doorstep. It's a cheap thrill, so to speak, since one really doesn't need money to visit many of these places.
I encourage you to seek out those small wild places close to home. They have their very own kind of grandeur, even if the tour guides and brochures would never send you to there. It's the grandness of the home places. What is your place?
Sunday, February 4, 2018
|Great Blue Heron at the entrance to the San Luis NWR|
|San Luis National Wildlife Refuge from above. It lies on the floodplain of the San Joaquin River.|
Many people find the journey an arduous exercise in white-line fever, an endless flat region covered by millions of acres of orchards and fields of crops, or cattle stockyards, or used car lots on the edges of poor-looking towns. I'm willing to grant that it is often not a pretty sight. There is a reason that our cities often wind up last on the lists of "best places to live". Our skies are often the most polluted in the United States.
In the thirty years that I've lived here, I've come to discover a different Great Valley. It's the five percent of the valley that still retains the character of the land that existed before it was co-opted by agricultural development. It's a recurrent theme of my blogging adventures because each of these adventures expands my world just a little bit.
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. The refuges range the length of the valley, providing winter sanctuary for migrating birds, but also providing a last stand for many native species of the valley from the smallest of bugs to the rodents and larger grazing animals to the largest remaining predators, the eagles, the hawks, the coyotes and foxes, and sometimes even mountain lions. The gigantic herds of Tule Elk and Bison have been gone for more than a century, although the elk are protected as a species in some of the refuges, including 60 of them at San Luis. Without the millions of grazing animals, the refuge managers allow limited grazing of the prairie by sheep and cattle to maintain the integrity of the grasslands. I imagined the scene above as a wolf patrolling the margins of a giant herd grazing elk, looking for a weak or sick individual to take down. The reality was the opposite, of course. The dog was watching over the sheep.
I don't see them often, but Mule Deer do inhabit the grasslands. We saw nearly a dozen of them today. I've mostly given up on trying to take decent pictures, but I really liked this one.
|Red-tailed Hawk at the San Luis NWR|
The stars of the refuge are the myriads of bird species that call them home. Some of them only stay for a few days or a few months as part of a long migration, while others stay year-round. Each refuge includes a wide range of habitats, including freshwater marshes, riparian areas (river channels), prairie grasslands, and alkali salt flats. The auto-tours at the refuge sample most of these environments, and several hiking trails are available as well.