Another clueless, airhead model

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ay Chihuahua!

Didn’t botanize too far south, maybe 40 miles. As far as Sevietta National Wildlife Refuge. The Chihuahua Desert is the largest of the North American Deserts (Chihuahua, Great Basin, Sonoran and Mojave). I was at the northern extreme. Creosote shrub was still present but not in abundance like the southern range. Link to this to feed your head:

Botdar was on auto-pilot and set to maximum. When I felt the tug to pull off of I-25 I knew I would encounter species I hadn’t seen in the last month. And there it was – bush penstemon (Penstemon ambiguus). A common desert plant but not easy to see because it was going dormant yet had a few flowers left. Like all desert flora it has evolved to offset the summer heat and dessicating winds. Leaves are small and linear but this is not true for all species. Some plants have a large leaf surface area but if you look close, e.g. at a globe mallow you’ll notice tiny white bumps covering the entire surface. These are “Trichomes”; hair-like structures that reflect solar rays therefore reduceing the amount of surface evaporation. Trichomes may also deter grazing.

Bush penstemon also has a very large and deep tap root. Snake Broomweed has a resinous coating on the leaves. Halophytes (salt tolerant) exude salts away from their cells and many are succulents. The large leaves of stink gourd are hairy and angular which prevent the sun’s rays from striking directly. Trees like the Rio Grande Cottonwood had deep roots and leaves that loosely “flutter” to avoid direct sunlight. The mighty process of evolution is apparent everywhere. The classics of all time are the cacti with their modified leaves as spines and photosynthesizing through their pads (stems). In the cool of the night they take in CO2 but with no sunlight to kick in photosynthesis to make sugars they have to process the CO2 temporarily into Malic Acid. Come daylight the sunlight breaks the acid down into CO2 and from there sugars (carbohydrates) can be made to power cell metabolism. Some guys a lot smarter than me figured this out and received a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

For a few hours I roamed the desert region of Silvietta NWR unencumbered. I was hoping to come across a rattlesnake but the only reptile was a lizard. One jackrabbit. Most animals retire when the sun is peaking; preferring to forage or hunt at night when it’s cooler. I toyed with the idea of a night hike but the logistics weren’t there.

Five more days in New Mexico. Soon I’ll return to sad, depressing Angleton, TX.

Friday, September 25, 2009


My coworker Patrick Donnely and I visited the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado (Alamosa) to participate in a wetland review of one of the state's wildlife management areas.  This review was a brainstorming of experts from many natural science backgrounds.  The intent was to identify species of concern and work out a compatible management plan that would promote habitat/species restoration and economical use of the Rio Grande by the local farmers and ranchers.  It's a political tightrope to walk.  Some families have been farming here for over a hundred years and it's had a telling affect on the landscape as well as driving many wildlife species to near extinction.  Water is thicker than blood in these parts.

We got out a little in the mountains.  Patrick took his dogs one way, I botanized the other way.  Temps were in the mid-30's.  It looks like snow is here to stay for the winter on the tallest peaks.  I wouldn't live in this valley but recommend the Best Western if you're passing through.  Next stop: the northern Chihuahua Desert.

Monday, September 21, 2009

500 miles of plants

The weekend took me on a 500 round trip from Albuquerque to Lubbock. A new route through Vaughn, NM offered a change in the botanizing from the well-reconnoitered route from I-40 to 60 to Fort Sumner. With Fall on the horizon the last of the wildflowers are going dormant and any new species for 2009 will require a trip to south Texas. My species photo list continues to grow.  The Botdar was on maximum setting but the bush penstemon remained elusive.
The mission in Lubbock was to keep Josh on the right path. He's been waviering a little as teenage boys are want to do. I hoped to mitigate the brain drain that come with impressing women and had "the talk" to separate rumors from fact. We had to work around the family events: slipping away to catch the latest installment of "Final Destination". I'm glad I paid matinee price for this one. I'm sure it'll be nominated for a 2009 Razzie.
Next stop: Colorado.

Monday, September 14, 2009

For about a year Chelsea and I have landscaped a monument garden in West Columbia, TX. It's a monument to the first settlement in Texas. All the plants were present in areas of Texas at the time of settlement. A lot of trial and error but we've recieved many compliments and we expect news of this garden to spread across the native plant enthusist community across Texas.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ode to Rosarita

When I was a transient I would scour the earth for loose change to pay for my daily repast of Ramen noodles and refried beans.  Back then you could get a generic can of beans for under a buck.  Some days I would have enough for "Rosarita" refried beans - the gold standard of refried beans.   At $2.50/can this was a luxury but sometimes you gotta treat yourself right.  Today, after a hail storm ran me off the mountain, I thought I deserved that can of Rosarita for dinner.  Here is my tribute to Rosarita Refried Beans sung to the tune of "Evil Woman" by the rock band Spooky Tooth (circa 1969):

Generic beans, thought you were a blessin'
Than I caught you messin'
Generic beans
Generic beans, you ain't got no feelin'
You're just a dirty dealin'
Generic beans
Rosarita, you know that I want you
Rosarita, you know that I beckon you
Rosarita, can't you see that I'm fallin'?
Rosarita, you know that I'm callin' you

Rosarita, when you're inside me
All the hurt just leaves me
Rosarita, gonna let you in
Gettin' under my skin
Yeah Rosarita

Rosarita, you take away my pain
When you step inside my brain
Rosarita, there is no other choices
I hear no other voices 
Thank You.  Just send my Pulitzer in the mail.

Friday, September 11, 2009

You can take the man out of the transient but you can’t take the transient out of the man.

So this is what life in the FWS region 2 HQ is like - sitting at a desk by a window where the view is dominated by an eight story abandoned building. For the first time in years I had to make a major purchase of casual office clothes because no one here wears the FWS uniform. I say this with trepidation because Chelsea may take umbrage that I haven’t bothered to purchase nice clothes in the four years she’s known me.
I’ll dispense with the names to protect the innocent but a number of employees felt I was important enough to want to come by sometime to discuss business relating to my refuge complex. Although I’m the acting regional biologist for TX,OK, NM and AZ I was given an initial assignment to write a white paper on the habitat requirements for mottle ducks on the Gulf Coast. Actually I’m regurgitating what information was sent my way from the coastal biologists. My colleague, Dr. Jennifer Wilson (the Bird Lady of Brazoria), submitted ample information which I thought was sufficient but will have to wait for more from the other biologist if/when they choose to send it. I say initial assignment because now they also want me to look into alternatives to genetically modified crops that were grown on an Oklahoma refuge. Growing these “Franken Foods” brought on a lawsuit.  I've yet to meet the Director of the FWS region 2, Dr. Tuggle, nor am I in a hurry to do so.  Jennifer suggested I pee on his chair to establish myself as the Alpha. 
Something about going back to New Mexico made me think about the old transient days. I know there’s free money here at the plasma center and Ramen noodles still must cost a few for a buck. I can always revert back to the old ways when society breaks down. I have use of an old bike to travel the 3.5 mile route to work. Downhill in the morning and uphill after work. No Tour de France but steep enough that if I stop peddling I’ll fall down within 10 feet. Doing this for 5 day/week allows me to forgo running for the month; something I hate but will never give up. They gave me a hotel room and food money for the duration but why spend the dough at the Fudruckers when when fruit, chips, boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches are just as filling day in and day out? Just like the old transient days. Tomorrow the mountains.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Just how big are those wind generators?

Too many plants missed traveling at 0500 in the morning.

Do you think the residents of the state prison at Eden, TX see the irony?

0730: sunlight at last but only the hardest of wildflowers are blooming in West Texas in August. Others have seeded and these are collected to grow at the monument garden’s desert display: spiny hapalopapus, daleas, green thread, milkweeds. Then the wind generators appear - hundred but just a fraction of what awaits me. How big are these really? I’ve always wanted to know. I would get a hint watching a individual propeller pass by on the big rigs. Now was the time to use my rogue powers to find out. One-fourth mile into the brush gave me the answer and a few more flowers to photograph, a few more seeds to collect without being shot as a trespasser.
Eventually the isolated hills melt into ag land where the miles of cotton are occasionally interrupted by fields of sunflowers and sorghum. Big Spring, O’Donnell, Lamesa and into Lubbock.
Ah Lubbock. That bastion of conservatism. The only reason to stop here is to see my friend Joshua and his mother Andrea. Fourteen years have come and gone since his father abandoned him and I took on the role of mentor. Now he's in the Frienship ISD marching band playing the trumpet. Tonight I watched him at the Friday night football game. Before the game the announcer informs the audience that because of the Supreme Courts ruling there can not be an officially sanctioned pre-game prayer. This ruling was 4 years ago but is still addressed to remind the crowd that the evil fascist liberal infested government took away their right to pray and now there can only be a "moment of silence". Next week the spineless board of education will refuse to air Presidents Obama's speech to the children of Frienship; telling them to study hard in school and strive to be model citizens. How dare he!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

You can't go home

The hills of my boyhood adventures in San Antonio, TX were the perfect escape for many children on my block.  My brothers and I would disappear all day with our parents having only the vaguest notion as where we were.  This was all seasonal and I can't recall ever being so hot that we had to come inside to watch the 4 channels on our TV.  The hills were a limestone formation covered with thorny vegetation and the Salado Creek basin at its base.  Swimming in the stagnant, fetid waters was never a concern.  A small 6 foot dam, old when I was a child, was our jump off point.  At small holes in the creek bank we would entice a crawdad with a piece of bacon tie to a fishing line. After clamping down on the meat the crustacean was slowing pulled up, inspected and thrown back in the creek. A fallen tree in the creek was our sweet spot for small perch.  We threw them back also.  I still remember the day I pull up an American eel.  On the hill ridge there were a series of limestone holes up to 15 feet deep.  We always found a way down into them.  My favorite was a dark hole requiring rope to enter.  Rattlesnakes were on our minds but we never encountered one.  I remember the coolness, the damp musky odor and daddy long-legs crawling on the walls.  My childhood imagination ran wild as I search repeatedly for hidden outlaw gold or a small opening to a larger chamber. 
One night in my early teens I told my parents I was spending the night in the hills.  It dropped to 35 degrees that night but I had a small fire and blanket to survive the night.  I came down with a bad cold the next day.
Today I walked the hills, retracing the steps of my younger days.  I came upon a development that cut a swath 1/4 mile into the hillside.  It jutted right up to the site where I spent the night 35 years prior.  My favorite cave hole could not be found but a little guess put it in the middle of the development, filled in with asphalt and concrete.  
With the houses came the trash, lining the fences that separated man from the boundaries of the wilderness.  I bounded around what was left of limestone outcroppings, botanizing and finding more garbage.  This site contained a species of sedum (a succulent plant) that remains unidentified to this day.  Only a small population has withstood the foot traffic.  I collected this a few years back and it's thriving well in a limestone garden in my front yard.  I may extirpate the last of this species before it's destroyed forever. 
Why so much trash? What happened to this society that "out of site, out of mind" is the norm.  Where is the connection to nature?  Why hasn't this lost generation been taught the simple act of taking your trash with you, to sit on a boulder and take in what has been present for a millennia?  I found a trail away from the houses and for a time I was transported back to my childhood.  Only the distance sound of an airplane and a worn foot path gave any indication of civilization.  Hackberries, elms, oaks and persimmons dominated.  I failed to see any fruit on the persimmons which was uncharacteristic for this time of year.  Not one dried husk or seeds scattered at the base.  Walking further down I leveled out at the creek basin where vegetation was characteristic of those species that survived a periodic flooding: cedars, hackberries, box elder maple.  Invasive ligustrum shrubs made me wish I had a axe and a spray bottle of herbicide. 
Approaching the dam I encountered the garbage again: empty boxes of paint gun ammo and plastic bottles, always the plastic bottles of toxic corn syrup masquerading as soda pop.  At the dam one side was littered with dozens of bottles.  The dam itself hasn't changed but sediment and drought had decreased the water level.  A few mile up or down the creek there are golf courses which suck the life out of this creek to give men in golf carts a vibrant green landscape of non-native, manicured grass.  In return the golf courses give the creek a abundance of fertilizers and pesticides as the water table continues to drop.  A good hike releases the endorphins that for a time offset the despair of what I've seen today.  It doesn't last.  In time developers will figure out a way to destroy the rest of the hills.  In the new houses sluggarts will come home to sit in front of the TV all evening, their children bloating from an inundation of video games and corn syrup. The trash will continue to pile up on the other side of the fence.  The last of my cave holes will be filled in and what species of wildlife that survives will scavenge for food from dumpsters and bird feeders.  The malaise will overtake this city and Texas eventually.  Once again something I cherished has left me.