If Things Go Rather Silent…

…it’s because it’s another winter when my mother declines just that much more. She’s back in the hospital, and they’re talking about electroconvulsive therapy this time. Severe mental illness is a merry go round you can never quite step off of.

Please don’t worry about me. It’s sad and chaotic, yes, but not unexpected, and also something of a relief, as when I saw a call from my aunt on my cell phone, I had a horrid moment when I believed the message I’d hear was that my mother was dead, so to hear she’s safely tucked up in a hospital bed is quite an enormous relief, actually. And she asked for a flu shot, they say. Sign of forward-thinking, that. She’s planning for a future without the flu. This is good news. Or so I choose to look at it, anyway.

I’ll keep you posted, my darlings. Thanks for your understanding.

 

Supercrow and Other Natural Art Stories

Sorry for bugging out on you, my darlings. The sun came out in midwinter in Seattle. Then there was The Hobbit. And basking in the sun with the cat. And then filtered sunlight, but still more than adequate for wandering about photographing interesting ice. Then more basking in the sun with the cat, this time with the cat atop me, and an inordinate amount of photo editing on a rather excessive number of photos. Excuses, excuses – but you may enjoy the results.

I found a new bit of North Creek I’ve not been to yet. It’s tucked behind a business park, and it’s remarkably lovely, filled with birds and assorted wildlife, wonderful examples of waterways, and some fabulous ice. I’ve now folders full of delights, which I shall parcel out as time goes on.

We’ll begin with some efforts at art. I’ve been playing around with photo editing, attempting to turn some of the more boring shots into something rather more interesting. This one started out as a disastrous photo of a flock of waterfowl who took off over the pond upon my appearance.

Flock of Waterbirds over a North Creek Pond.

Flock of Waterbirds over a North Creek Pond.

Now I think it looks vaguely Impressionist. Well, perhaps a drunk Impressionist at the beginning of an attempt at an art career that ended rather soon thereafter.

Black Ripple, Blue Water

Black Ripples, Blue Water

Much of the pond was ice (which means I have enough material for a Ducks on Ice theme for you), but there were bits of open water with interesting water birds, and interesting ripples. I clipped the above ripples out of the 9 billionth picture of some very lovely UFDs that were paddling about. You’ll probably laugh at me for not knowing what it is.

Reflections and Ripples

Reflections and Ripples

The drunk Impressionist strikes again, I’m afraid. Bit o’ some ripples, reflections of branches, bits o’ branches poking out.

Bridge Over Mostly Untroubled But Definitely Busy Waters.

Bridge Over Mostly Untroubled But Definitely Busy Waters.

The creek flowed vigorously, full of water from recent storms. There was evidence that it had been rather boisterous during at least one of the downpours. And with its bridge and its flow, it made a nice study. A little fiddling with filters, and I can play at being Ansel Adams for three minutes.

Yeah, well, I like it.

Ice Lily, Ice Shards

Ice Lily, Ice Shards

So this is a pretty little bit of ice that formed round a stump or some such. I love the patterns that form in ice. I wish I knew more about why they happen.

Circles and Lines

Circles and Lines

I imagine, when I go out there this summer, I’ll be seeing the plants leaving these sticks all over. And there were these magnificent circular ripples with the sun shimmering off them.

Anatinae, reflectere

Anatinae, reflectere

This female mallard (I believe that’s what she is, anyway) reflected so clearly in the rippling waters of the pond is quite wonderful. Alas, I chopped off her upper half. We’ll pretend this is intentional. It is Art.

This next qualifies as an intentional unintentional shot, as I was trying to photograph this particular crow, and thought it hadn’t turned out well, but upon a closer look, it turns out to be rather neat.

It's a Bird, It's a Pla- Definitely a Bird - It's Supercrow!

It’s a Bird, It’s a Pla- Definitely a Bird – It’s Supercrow!

Looks like it’s off to save the world, dunnit? I quite like it.

And, finally, a lovely leaf encased in ice at the bottom of an occasional cascade.

Leaf in Ice

Leaf in Ice

Yes, it has been cold lately. And the cold can do some beautiful things to remnants of autumn. That’s nature’s art, that is. Wonderful stuff. All one has to do is choose it, photograph it, and pick a bit of it to frame.

I do love this beautiful world of ours.

Cryptopod: Black and White

I hope you’re not about to tell me this lovely little pollinator is also an invasive species. I think it’s beautiful. That probably means it’s some terrible import killing off all the natives, knowing my attraction to invasives. Sigh.

It was very busy in the beautiful-yet-awful Japanese knotweed a few Septembers ago. I didn’t even see it at first. Hence, the first photo captures only its butt.

Cryptopod I

Cryptopod I

(Its bottom is in the bottom center, if you were having trouble seeing it.)

These were the early days with the Sony Cyber-shot, when I was transitioning from a person who ignored and avoided arthropods to a person who shoves a camera into their dear little faces repeatedly.

Cryptopod II

Cryptopod II

Now, this black and white worker is undeniably beautiful, but the camera taught me something else: flies aren’t so ugly their own selves.

Cryptopod III

Cryptopod III

The pair of them worked very hard on the knotweed that day. Flies don’t get quite the respect they deserve, in my opinion. They’re useful little creatures, as annoying as they can be. Maggots are used for medical treatment, you know. Flies are pollinators, prey, turn shit into soil, among other things… and there’s that lovely iridescence, the brilliant color you may have been too busy swatting to notice.

Interlude with Fly

Interlude with Fly

The camera reveals beauty in the least-regarded creatures. And it shows us faces we aren’t quick enough to see at the time.

Cryptopod IV

Cryptopod IV

We can see the veins in delicate, translucent black wings.

Cryptopod V

Cryptopod V

And see the creature, whole and complete, hard at work helping the plants have sex.

Cryptopod VI

Cryptopod VI

Hopefully it’s not an invasive (although an invasive species pollinating an invasive species would have a certain symmetry to it). I’ve already got a foreboding feeling you’re going to tell me this is a wasp, and I’ll have to go have a minor freak-out two and a half years after the fact. Wasps worry me. But they can be beautiful and peaceful too, so if you break the news to me, I shall bear it as well as I can.

My state’s official rock is a mineral!

I live in California.  Our official State Rock is serpentine.  The only problem with that is that serpentine is a mineral, not a rock.   Rock consisting mostly of serpentine is called serpentinite.  AAAAGGGGHHHH!  (Jumps up and down in frustration.)  Admittedly, where serpentinite occurs, it’s really, really, full of serpentine.  But still…mutter grumble grumble mutter.

So I’ll talk a bit about serpentine.  It starts out life as olivine, a mantle rock.  Another name for gemmy olivine is peridot, a lovely green stone you may have seen in jewelry.   Olivine is the base rock in the undersea spreading zones where mantle rock is erupted to generate new earth-surface material.  But seawater eventually penetrates the base rock, and then Stuff Happens.  To understand, I have to introduce a little chemistry.  Don’t let your eyes glaze over; it’s simple, really.  Olivine is actually a chemical series: (Mg,Fe)2SiO4.  This means that Mg (magnesium) and Fe (iron) are interchangeable in the chemical composition of the stuff. Where there’s a lot of magnesium, the mineral is called forsterite; where there’s a lot of iron, the mineral is called fayalite.  Forsterite is green, while fayalite is dark brown, the color being dictated by how much magnesium versus iron is in the rock.  But forsterite, fayalite, or somewhere inbetween,  olivine is a dry silicate.  In the presence of seawater, it begins to turn into serpentine, (Mg, Fe)3Si2O5(OH)4  Again, magnesium and iron readily swap out for one another.

Those (OH) molecules make serpentine into a wet silicate.  That means it can survive  a very long time before being scooped up somehow onto the  dry land, most often in a subduction zone where some of the rock gets scraped off the subducting seafloor, and ends up on the land where we humans can study it.  The conversion takes time, though, which is why we find and mine peridot (gemmy forsterite) on the land.  (Beader Karen adds: that’s why peridot beads are so $%#@& expensive!)

I have a lovely sample of serpentinite.  I can’t find the damned thing; this house is so full of rocks it’s bulging at the seams.  However, Blogger Garry Hayes (http://geotripper.blogspot.com/) has an excellent specimen pic he’s allowed me to use:

Serpentinite

Serpentinite

This is better than my sample, which is mostly plain green; this is a mix of mineral variations with lots of different magnesium/iron induced color. Thank you, Garry!

A good field geologist can often spot serpentinite even without an exposed outcrop.  Most plants don’t like serpentiniferous soils.  There’s a place in the Santa Teresa Hills in the eastern part of my Santa Clara Valley where you can be wandering along a park trail, and all of a sudden the plants around you change.  I’m not a plant expert; just about everything I know about plants comes from a gardening manual.  But even I had  no trouble noticing the distinction.  The shrubs living in the serpentiniferous soil were definitely different from the shrubs living in other soil.

Now, a few readers are going to ask, “but isn’t serpentinite asbestos?  Well, serpentine is, sometimes.  Like some other minerals, it can form in long thin, fragile threads; in that state it’s described as asbestiform, and it that form it has a different mineral name, chrysotile.  Chrysotile crumbles easily and you really, really don’t want to breathe it.  Supposedly it isn’t as toxic as other asbestiform minerals, but I don’t recommend taking chances.  However, most of the serpentinite you see commercially is not asbestiform, and it doesn’t pose any sort of health hazard.

Serpentinite is a popular material in the bead trade, where it goes by various names.  Some are fairly honest, like “serpentine”; others are outright dishonest, like “new jade”.  Real jade is one of two minerals, nephrite or jadeite, both of which are much rarer, stronger, and far more resistant to wear than serpentinite.  Buyer beware!  Also, for some unfathomable reason, serpentinite is sometimes sold dyed red, orange, purple…  why take something so pretty and dye it?

Here’s a random sampling of some serpentinite beads I bought awhile back.

Serpentinite beads

Serpentinite beads

The little (6 mm) spotted round beads are from Russia; the others are from China. You can see the variation in colors, mostly produced by variations in the magnesium vs iron content of particular places in the beads. Some of the color differences come from other minerals, too; whatever the seller says, this is serpentinite.

Here’s a necklace I made for a friend,  with various serpentinite beads and peach moonstone (a gemmy version of a feldspar), along with sterling silver:

Serpentinite and Moonstone

Serpentinite and Moonstone

Hope you enjoyed my musings on my favorite rock.

Karen

Friday Freethought: “A Declaration Which Could Only Be Made By One Whose Humanity Was Extinguished By Divinity”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how little things have changed in the last two hundred years.

Mind you, we’ve made enormous advances in science. Since Charles Southwell anonymously published his An Apology for Atheism, nearly every science has seen revolutions: evolution in biology, general relativity and quantum mechanics in physics, plate tectonics in science, to name only a few. And because of those revolutions, our lives have changed enormously.

Yet I can pick up books written by freethinkers written centuries ago and see the same idiotic religious arguments torn apart with the same exasperated patience, over and over again. All that seems to have modernized is the language, and in some cases, not even that. These ideas freethinkers were battling then haven’t stuck around because they’re good or sensible, but because they’re religious. Religion has a bad habit of claiming bad ideas are too sacred to challenge. And it has a terrible problem with evil.

What do you do when bad things happen in a world where a supposedly loving god reigns supreme? What can you do when terrible things happen to innocents, and your all-powerful god has done nothing to stop evil from happening? What do you do but let go of your humanity, and embrace the idea that, somehow, your god must have had a reason, and the victim deserved it?

Even when the victim is a child.

This happened on The Atheist Experience recently:

Tracie Harris (host): You either have a God who sends child rapists to rape children or you have a God who simply watches it and says, ‘When you’re done, I’m going to punish you. If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That’s the difference between me and your God.

Shane (caller): First of all, you portray that little girl as someone who’s innocent, she’s just as evil as you.

Some religious people can’t accept the reality of the god they have made, and make excuses for it, rather than admitting that if it is all powerful and all knowing, it must be responsible for the evil it allows to happen, and it allows evil to happen to those who don’t deserve it. Therefore, they deny their god had responsibility – or they claim what their god did was good, even when a child is harmed or dead. Religion is one of the modes of thought that leads good people to horrible conclusions, and allows them to feel moral in doing so. And religion claims to be unchanging truth, which allows these hideous ideas to be propagated throughout generations. All too often, no argument is allowed. You either believe, or be damned.

Even the children.

Charles Southwell had a little something to say about that:

Witness the character of Him implied in the conceit of that popular preacher who declared ‘there are children in hell not a span long’—a declaration which could only be made by one whose humanity was extinguished by divinity.

Our pulpits can furnish many such preachers of ‘a religion of charity,’ while a whole army of Christian warriors might be gathered from metropolitan pulpits alone, who deeming it impious to say their God of mercy would permit the burning of infants not a span long, do nevertheless, firmly believe that ‘children of a larger growth’ may justly be tormented by the great king of kings; and as ignorantia legis non excusat is a maxim of human law, so, according to them, ignorance of divine law is no excuse whatever, either for breaking or disregarding it.

Then and now, the same horrific ideas.

Eric MacDonald said recently, speaking of how “Gods swallow our humanity,”

The problem is that gods are forever (at least in believer’s minds), and so the values that are vested in them come to be seen as moral absolutes, and while morality has tended to function, traditionally, in this way, based as it has been in systems of religious belief, morality is seldom best understood in so marmoreal and intransigent a form. The pope tends to dismiss those who question the Roman Catholic Church’s unyielding moral laws as relativists without noting that the field is not divided, as he seems to think, into absolutes and relatives, but into principles and their application to complex and nuanced human circumstances in which there is no role for absolutes to play. Of course, the pope thinks that all values derive, in the end, from the absoluteness and infinite wisdom of his god, without noticing that it was he and his forebears who vested those values in their god in the first place. For, despite everything that he can say about moral value, he cannot provide evidence for the proposition that these values are either commanded by his god, or inscribed by his god into the very fabric of human nature. The values are purely human. They have a history.

The biggest problem the pope faces is providing an explanation as to why we should stop that history at some point in the past, and accept, as eternal, human values as understood at that point, instead of recognising that the ethical project has much of its history yet to run. Even people like Beverly Brewster recognise that many conceptions of god are now no longer useful — may even be morally repugnant, as the gods of Jesus or Muhammad often are – and need to be discarded. There is not one conception of god that has stood the test of time. Isn’t it about time that we recognised that gods are human creations, and that, in the end, we are responsible for what we do with them?

It’s well past time. And that’s why I’m glad a new generation of loud, proud Atheists are out there battling those despicable zombie ideas. I hope that someday, religions will be as dead as the ignorant notions we had of how the physical world worked before revolutions happened and our thinking advanced. I hope that someday, the idea that a child could ever do anything to deserve rape, torture and eternal torment in hell is left where it belongs, deep in our past, and considered a shameful mistake that humans will never make again.

"Alone in the dark." Image courtesy D Sharon Pruitt/Flickr.

“Alone in the dark.” Image courtesy D Sharon Pruitt/Flickr.

New at Rosetta Stones: The First Survivors

What started with a bang continues with a roar: our next installment of The Cataclysm explains a bit about how a forest can be destroyed completely yet quietly, and delves into the experiences of some of the survivors. It would have been longer, only it snowed a bit tonight, and I went out to play in it, so I decided for the sake of sleep time to split our story into people in cars as opposed to people on the ground. That turned out to be quite long enough!

Lest you think everything inside cars was fine, look at the heat they got subjected to:

Melted tail light of truck on north side of Spud Mountain at equipment site, northwest of Mount St. Helens. Cowlitz County, Washington. June 5, 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Melted tail light of truck on north side of Spud Mountain at equipment site, northwest of Mount St. Helens. Cowlitz County, Washington. June 5, 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Things got a bit… heated. And sandblasted. And banged up with bloody great stones. Yeow.

While you’re enjoying some volcanism in action, don’t forget to check out Karen’s post on obsidian. Sniny!

Obsidian

UPDATE:  One commenter wanted to know what I do with obsidian beads.  So I’ve added a photo of one of my beaded necklaces at the end of the post.  It’ll be up for sale at http://www.etsy.com/shop/gemmyjoy in a week or two.  /UPDATE

Rocks are my friends.  I especially like the ones I can pick up, look over in my hand ( maybe with a handlens) and say “this is cool!” If it’s something that somebody can make beads out of, so much the better — I’m a beader.  Obsidian qualifies.

Obsidian is an extremely felsic (feldspar/quartz-rich) lava with a chemical composition similar to rhyolite. Think silica-rich.  Really, really, really silica-rich.  But while rhyolite congeals into microscopic crystals, obsidian doesn’t, and has a glassy composition.  For a long time, the “accepted wisdom” was that obsidian cooled too quickly to crystallize.  Anyone who’s ever seen an obsidian dome next to a rhyolite flow (there’s one at Medicine Lake, California) can tell that explanation is a bunch of hooey.  I haven’t kept up with the literature in recent years about new theories for obsidian formation, so if anyone can point me to a paper in the comments I’d be grateful.

There are obsidian domes all over the eastern and northeastern parts of California, my home state.  Most of these are associated with what are still considered active (quiescent) volcanoes.  The biggest obsidian dome I’ve seen, though, is the Big Obsidian Dome at Newberry Caldera in Oregon.

So I’ll start off with some Newberry pics:

Big Obsidian Flow

Big Obsidian Flow

Here’s a shot of the iconic Big Obsidian Flow from Paulina Peak, with East Lake in the background.  There are better pics on the web, but I like to use my own photos; that way I don’t have to worry about infringing on anyone else’s copyright.  Big Obsidian Flow erupted about 1300 years ago.  Note that it doesn’t look black, like obsidian is “supposed” to look; nor is it covered in snow, because this pic was taken in July 2003.  Obsidian flows are pumicy.

There’s a trail leading up and into the Big Obsidian Flow, and the day we visited there was even a docent at the top, answering questions.  Very cool.  So we wandered up the trail, looking at the mix of black obsidian and gray pumice, with ever-clumsy me trying hard not to cut myself on any exposed sharp surfaces.  Here’s an example of what the rocks along the trail look like, with reluctant spouse for scale:

Mike along the trail

Mike along the trail of the Big Obsidian Flow

Lumpy stuff, not very picturesque, with sharp edges that will gladly send you rifling through your purse/backpack for Band-Aids or worse.  But then there are sights like this one:

Obsidian with tree

Obsidian with tree

Gorgeous, black obsidian with white streaks, topped by a little tree trying to grow in the flow.  I was absolutely charmed by this picture.

But so far we haven’t seen any hold-it-in-your-hand samples.  So I’ll offer a couple from our collection.  Note that these were NOT collected at Newberry; Newberry is a national monument and I believe that collecting is prohibited.  Our samples came from domes in California on National Forest Service land where collecting for personal use is permitted.

Obsidian sample

Obsidian sample

This piece is about two feet long.  The blue color is an artifact of the photographic lighting; the piece is quite uniformly black, with a few lighter streaks.  In the upper-right side of the picture you can clearly see the conchoidal (glassy) way the material breaks.

pumicy obsidian

pumicy obsidian

Here’s a more classic sample from an obsidian flow.  A bit of black shiny goodness, with a lot of inclusions and pumicy “stuff”.  This piece fits comfortably in your hand, and doesn’t even have many sharp edges, either!

I did mention beads in the beginning, didn’t I.  So I must show you some from my embarrassingly extensive collection.

Snowflake Obsidian Beads

Snowflake Obsidian Beads

The White inclusions in snowflake obsidian are cristobalite, a high-temperature version of quartz. These beads are about a centimeter and a half in the long direction.

Mahogany Obsidian Beads

Mahogany Obsidian Beads

Mahogany obsidian has red inclusions. I’m guessing iron is involved, but I don’t really know. They do make lovely beads, though, and I find myself using them often when I’m beading.  These are 10 mm across.   Both the snowflake and mahogany obsidian beads are from China.

So — more, and yet less, than you probably every wanted to know about obsidian.

Karen

UPDATE:  Since one of the commenters asked to see my beadwork, here’s a necklace, about 28 inches long, draped over that long piece of obsidian you saw a few pics above.

Mixed obsidian necklace

Mixed obsidian necklace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The snowflake obsidian is cut into to star shapes, which actually works for such a dark rock. The beads between the snowflake and mahogany obsidian are glass. I always string on plastic-coated, 49-strand steel wire; that allows a natural, relaxed feeling to the finished piece, while still being resistant to wear from burrs that occur in the holes of rock-based beads. I always finish with gold-filled or sterling silver crimps, too, on these long pieces.

Caption Contest: Loud Seagull is Loud

There’s a cartoon just begging to get out in this photo sequence. I know some of you are creative and funny – this looks like a job for you! Participants will get posts of their own, and we’ll have a reader vote at the end to determine who wins. And what’s the grand prize, you ask? Well, aside from the praise and adulation of all of us here, you’ll get your very own badge in the sidebar. Are you excited yet?

Yes, you’re allowed to download, modify, fold, spindle or mutilate these photos in your quest for great art.

Right. Off you go. Put words in this seagull’s beak!

Seagulls 1

Seagulls 1

Seagulls 2

Seagulls 2

Seagulls 3

Seagulls 3

Seagulls 4

Seagulls 4

Seagulls 5

Seagulls 5

Seagulls 6

Seagulls 6

Mystery Flora: White Spray

This is one of those prequels that can stand on its own. Observe these wonderful sprays of white flowers and broad green leaves.

Mystery Flower I

Mystery Flower I

In a few days, I’ll be able to tell you what pollinates this flower. More precisely, I’ll be able to show you its pollinators and you can tell me what they are. But first, the flowers. This particular bush is growing up by North Creek, but I also found banks full of them when I went to play by the Snoqualmie River. There’s a tiny trail through them at Three Forks Natural Area, under the canopy of the trees.

Mystery Flower II

Mystery Flower II

They grow fairly tall, as far as bushes go.

Mystery Flower III

Mystery Flower III

If one cares to be fanciful (and one often does, alone in a quiet wood, on a peaceful late summer day), one can almost imagine the trees wearing fluttering green skirts liberally laced with diamonds and pearls. Of course, the designer was rather, shall we say, creative in terms of how things drape. One might almost guess there was no designer, and things have just grown up on their own, willy-nilly, with only a few billion years of evolution to guide matters.

Mystery Flower IV

Mystery Flower IV

I love these sprays of white against the vivid green. And upon further inspection, they’re even more lovely.

Mystery Flower V

Mystery Flower V

How nice is that? They look like something a fantasy artist would paint for a nice scene in Faerie. You could imagine Titania wearing a garland of them, were you prone to imagining such things. Which I rather am, having read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and The Books of Magic.

Mystery Flower VI

Mystery Flower VI

They seem to grow every which way – up, down, to the side. They put me in mind a bit of the sea, waves breaking on rocks in spurts of glittering spray, white against the sun. Even in the shade, these lovely flowers gleam.

Mystery Flower VII

Mystery Flower VII

And they’re so delicate and light that the slightest spider web will capture their blossoms. Fantastic.

All of this looks very disheveled and haphazard, but if you have a closer look at the plants, you’ll see the leaves are utterly orderly.

Mystery Flower VIII

Mystery Flower VIII

I can’t wait for summer again, when they’re leafed out and in bloom, and thanks to you I’ll know what they are. This is among the countless reasons why I love you, my darlings. You always come through. And once you’ve done so on these, we’ll have a delightful duet of pollinators.

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Exterior Decorating

Well, then, my darlings. You got the last nest without breaking a sweat. In my quest to give you a challenge, we’ll try this one. Not only is it a nice nest, it’s in a lovely location.

UFD I

UFD I

Obviously, this isn’t a recent shot. It’s from last spring, when the flowers were creating botanical clouds and there was actually more than five minutes between rain storms. There were birds, and I in fact have shots of one from the spring before, which may or may not be related to the nest. You shall have it soon – but first, we’ll see how superb your nest identifying skills are.

UFD II

UFD II

I love spotting nests. Sometimes, they have got baby birds in them, and that’s delightful. But even when there’s no bird present, they’re a marvel. I love these marvelous little constructions, built by dinosaurs. It’s amazing what the little buggers can do with beaks and feet. I’d like to see us build our houses with only our teeth and our toes.

UFD III

UFD III

Phenomenal view. Makes me wish, to some degree, that I was small enough to fit in a little tree-house with cherry blossoms waving overhead. I’d love to lie back gazing at the patches of blue sky through the flowers. At least I’d like it up until the next rainstorm came in…