Mysterious Cargo

Here’s one for the engineering detectives.

Image shows a large freight train passing another, very short train that has four cyan blue cylindrical objects pulled by a single engine.

Mystery Freight I

We took advantage of a wee bit o’ sunshine last Sunday to head to Richmond Beach. That’s the neato one with ten trillion stairs and trains. The oddest train I’ve ever seen passed us: a single engine pulling four cyan cylinders. Now, before you zoom in and see what we’re dealing with, lemme give you another clue: this train’s headed south.

Image shows the same train. It's almost reached a bend around the bluff.

Mystery Freight II

Now, south of Richmond Beach is downtown Seattle, and then a bit south of that is Boeing. So if you were thinking these looked like airplane fuselages, you were totally right. The airplane lovers in the audience may be able to tell us what kind of planes they’re building.

Image shows one of the fuselages up close.

Mystery Freight III

Apologies for the rather sub-par quality here, but it was a moving target on a cold, windy beach with the sun shining at a very awkward angle. So it goes.

I’ll have some lovely little (well, reallyreally big) mountains for ye soon. They were out in force, and amazingly pretty, and show just how astounding the slow, inexorable force of colliding plates is. You’ll love it.

Cryptopod: Serpentine Butterflies

I’m pretty sure they’re butterflies, anyway. Dunno: you lot are the experts in such things:

Image shows a chunk of gray serpentinite with a bit of rust-red staining, pebbly ground, and two brown moths.

Cryptopod I

I know the rocks they’re on and around is serpentinite, which isn’t always green. At Patrick Creek, in northern California, quite a bit of it is this lovely silvery-gray sheen with fabulous colors splashed through it. Pretty amazing what rocks get up to in a subduction zone. I’ll be going in to that soon, as I have twelve trillion pictures with moths and serpentinite and so will save some for after you’ve identified our beauties.

Image shows a close-up of a butterfly. The body is very hairy. The antenna look like golf clubs. The wings are a mottled brown and gray, with light gray triangular patterns. The underwings are a russet brown.

Cryptopod II

The antennae look like they belong to a butterfly, right? It kinda creeps me out to think of really thick, hairy fliers like this as butterflies – I’ve always associated that body style with moths. Like, butterflies are supposed to be brilliantly colored and fluttery and stuff, and moths are the practical ones. Is that why these butterflies evolved to look like moths? They envied their practical cousins?

Image shows a similar butterfly, facing left, wings folded in more of a wedge.

Cryptopod III

This one looks pretty aerodynamic, like a very elegant paper airplane, folded by someone who actually knows what they’re doing. So I suppose I can begin to think of them as sleek. Then again, one goes and looks like it’s sticking its tongue out at us, and shatters the illusion. Even though it’s a very lovely, curly tongue.

One of the moths on a serpentinite pebble. It's got its wings stretched out like an opera cape, and there's a curly little proboscis sticking out.

Cryptopod IV

Can you blow a raspberry with a proboscis? That one’s certainly trying, methinks.

Here’s the two in a grouping more friendly to photographers. Maybe they’re sorry about being rude.

Image shows two of the brown butterflies together.

Cryptopod V

And as a grand finale, one posed beautifully with a pyramidal chunk of serpentinite, which was utterly awesome.

Image shows a pyramid-shaped chunk of serpentinite with a butterfly balanced on the tip, wings outstretched.

Cryptopod VI

Right, my darlings: hopefully you’ll be able to identify our hairy butterflies who seem to love serpentinite as much as we do, and then I can in the near future regale you with tales of serpentinite, with some more fabulous butterfly photos. They really did a great job posing on the rocks for us!

The Dragon’s Shadow

We don’t tend to get very much sunshine here in winter, but when some does peek through the clouds, it sometimes does wonderful things to my various and sundry doodads. Here it is making my already awesome dragon magnificent:

Image shows a pewter dragon casting its shadow on the wall. It's holding a crystal ball, which is reflecting little sparks of light all over the wall.

Note the flecks of light reflecting off its globe.

Yes, that’s amethyst it’s glued to. One day, when it’s freshly washed, I’ll even show you it better. For now, enjoy the sharpness of its shadow.

Image shows the dragon from a slightly different angle. The outer part of the shadow is blurry, the inner very bright and crisp.

A better view of the shadow. How crisp is that?!

This is one of my favorite things ever in my life. I splurged on it in an airport back when I was a teenager. I could afford it only because it’s missing gems on one of its wings. I didn’t care: it was the most excellent dragon I’d ever seen, and it has been in my room ever since, no matter where I’ve lived, reminding me of the epic worlds humans can create.

I’ve got dragons to manage this weekend. I won’t say slain, cuz I like dragons and don’t think they deserve to die. But they stand for hard work and difficult tasks well enough, so that’s me: dragon manager. I’ve got a maclargehuge book about creationists I’m reading, lotsa posts I’m trying to get finished, and an article to pitch. Also, speaking of sunshine, we’re in for a rare bit, so B and I are going to try to get up to the top of Lord Hill so we can get you some astounding pictures of snow-capped mountains. Like, almost all of them. You can see both the Olympics and the Cascades from up there. This could go very badly for me, as most of my time at home doesn’t involve exercise, but being a cat mattress.

Image shows Misha laying in my lap, looking back at me. In the foreground is my hand holding her tail.

Taking my life in my hands here.

It’s winter. She thinks she’s freezing. So the only exercise I get these days is when I pester her into attacking me. She’s a very unhappy kiddo if she doesn’t get a battle at least once or twice a week, so pestering is part of my job description. It’s a dangerous task. She’s still pretty fast for a twenty year-old.

What’s keeping you occupied this weekend, my darlings? Any interesting dragons to manage or cats to serve/annoy?

Mystery Flora: Amethyst Bloom

Here’s a wonderful little tricorn flower for ye. This beauty was blooming in Icicle Gorge in May of 2013. Made the forest floor fairly pop, I can tell you.

Image shows a short but large flower with three large, spade-shaped leaves and three long, narrow petals. A green bracht looks like a fourth petal.

Mystery Flora I

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the flower-friendly Pacific Northwest. I especially love the way so many flowers grow happily beneath the forest canopy, so that I can photograph them even when it’s spitting rain, as it was that day.

Close-up of same flower.

Mystery Flora II

I love how these petals have white speckles dusted around their edges, and how they ripple like pennants in a breeze.

Whole flower from a different angle.

Mystery Flora III

It wasn’t alone, and as you can see, this one had got rather wetter. I love flowers in the rain. They make the rain seem rather magical.

Overhead view of one of the flowers, showing the leaves.

Mystery Flora IV

A thought struck me as I was editing these photos: I know the age of the schist in the gorge they’re growing in. I know the history of the rocks, at least in broad strokes, from the time they were born over 200 million years ago, to when they were metamorphosed a hundred million years later, through today, when the creek cut a gorge through ‘em. I wonder if we have a similar story for these flowers? When you identify them, will we discover more to their story than just their name and a few facts about their current lives? Do they have a history as ancient as the schist, or are they positive youngsters?

And do we know the stories of the other flowers we find? Or is that still knowledge waiting to be discovered?

I can’t wait for spring. We’ve seen so many treasures in these northwest forests, but there are so many more waiting to be discovered. I’m so glad evolution gave rise to flowers, and gave us a hearty appreciation for them.

How to Determine if You’ve Been Bitten by the Geology Bug

Several years ago, during a movie-watching phase, I put up a pair of posts at the old ETEV describing the symptoms of someone bitten by the geology bug. They never made it over here, so I’ve decided to repost them, with some added visuals. If you recognize yourself in these vignettes, you may be assured you’ve been bitten, too.

Fortunately, it’s not (usually) fatal, and leads to a lifetime of healthy fascination with a gorgeous science. It can also lead to vigorous outdoor exercise, which I’m told is often good for you. Huzzah!

How You Know You’re a Geologist at Heart

When you’re watching a movie, and during one of those beautiful scene-setting shots with the house perched on the sea cliffs, you catch your breath and whisper, “Ye gods, look at that tilted strata! I could live there just for that!” And then you drool over the way erosion has exposed the bedding planes.

Any geologist who’s seen The Shipping News probably knows precisely which shot I’m talking about.


Image shows Julianne Moore and Kevin Spacey flying kites. There are some lovely old rocks around them and a seastack.

Screenshot from The Shipping News showing some moar geology.

Geology Strikes Again

Okay, so you know how in Sleepless in Seattle, they roll the opening credits over a relief map of the USA? Yeah. And no shit, there I was, thinking of the vagaries of plate tectonics. ‘Twas the angle on the map, y’see. It showed with amazing clarity just how flat the Midwest is (where it’s tectonically relatively quiet), how low the mountains in the East are (passive margin), and how mountainous the West is (active boundary, whole lotta squishing going on).

I’m sure I’ll start thinking of the actual movie here soon…

Relief map of the USA from The National Atlas, via Wikimedia Commons.

Relief map of the USA from The National Atlas, via Wikimedia Commons.


How Holy Schist is Created

Something so divine as Holy Schist isn’t created in a single day. It’s a lengthy process that can take months, and is filled with a lot of mystical wotsit and sacred somethingorother. I shall now initiate you into the mysteries!

First, over two hundred million years in the past, volcanic islands must erupt, and their rocks erode into submarine sediment fans. Over the next several million years, the sediments become sandstones and shales. Give them about 100 million years to run into the nearest major continent, another several dozen million years for some pretty intense contact and regional metamorphism to take place, and then another few million years for the mountains above them to erode away and new mountains rise, lifting them up from deep in the earth and exposing them to the elements.

Now that’s all done, you must take a heroic journey across tall and dangerous mountains, alongside a raging river, and then up a creek into the icy gorge, where you will find unhallowed garnet mica schist.

Image shows a whitewater creek carving a narrow gorge in schist.

Icicle Gorge

Collect some of the loose bits the creek has so thoughtfully eroded out for you. Return to your temple. Eventually get ordained into the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Image shows me standing in front of bookshelves, wearing a pirate hat and outfit, holding a framed ordination certificate.

Moi holding my ordination certificate.

Before you perform the blessing, there must be the ceremonial pissing off of the homicidal felid. Your first mate can perform this task.

Image shows B in a black pirate shirt and hat, kneeling on the floor and patting Misha carefully on the head as they rest from doing battle.

B risking life and limb so the kitty can get her desired fight.

After the cat goddess is sated, gather your schist in the Consecrated Colander.

Image shows a green colander on a white countertop, filled with schist.

The gathered schist in the sacred container.

Now, you must start the pastaral pot boiling, and prepared to add the numinous noodles. We are, of course, using angel hair.

Image shows a steaming pot on the stove, and I'm holding a sheaf of pasta, about to drop it in.

Moi adding pasta to the pot.

And, of course, a dash of the sacred sea salt.

Image shows me grinding a bit of sea salt into the pot.

You must have the sacred sea salt.

Wave the schist gently through the sanctifying steam.

Image shows me waving the colander over the pot.

Be very careful not to get scalded.

The drip a bit of the unworldly water on it.

Image shows me letting water drip from the slotted spoon onto the schist.

Only a drop or two, mind. You don’t need much.

Et voila, the schist is blessed. It is now Holy Schist! R’amen.

Image shows a piece of garnet schist in a small jewel box, with a Holy Schist label on the lid.

The holiest of holy schist.

There are still some beautiful specimens available. Grab yours before they’re gone! Crossing the mountains in winter time is right out, I’m afraid, so if you miss out on this batch, you’ll have to wait til summer. Bummer!

The Most Unexpected Beauty

Do you love dendritic patterns? Of course you do – who doesn’t? Do you love thin film interference? You probably do, unless you’ve had to deal with a large oil slick or similar. Everybody loves a good rainbow. Let’s combine the two, shall we?

Image shows an oil spot in a parking lot. It looks a bit like a rainbow rising sun with dendrites instead of rays.

The most lovely leak.

B and I saw that lovely little rainbow burst when we were getting gyros. It looks like the parking lot is trying to dress up in psychedelic patterns.

A closeup of our lovely little burst.

A closeup of our lovely little burst.

I wish I had something deep and insightful to say, but it’s been a Week, and I’m only able to mumble things like pretty and wow. I’m off to rejuvenate my cranium with lotsa food, mindless busywork, and probably Christianist textbooks. Can you believe I miss those things? I do. It’s pretty sad.

Talk to me, people. The world’s been full of ugly lately, and I believe we could use some beauty. Share some beautiful things. Pictures, stories, music, random acts of extraordinary humanity, anything you like. Let’s refresh ourselves, drink deep and renew our strength, so that we can keep fighting to make the world better.

Mystery Flora: Sweetest Bud

How’s everyone? Are my American readers enjoying their weather? I hear most of ya’ll are freezing. Here in Seattle, it’s dark and dreary. Even if you’re in a happier hemisphere, I’ll bet you’d be down with some flowers. Happily, I have some very sweet buds from western Oregon for ye.

Image shows a mossy scene with wee purple buds growing from it.

Mystery Flora I

These tiny delights were gracing the trailside at Proxy Falls, Oregon. I was a little surprised – it was early October, not exactly a notable time for new flowers in the Cascades. I’m wondering if these are super-late bloomers or if they’re confused due to anthropogenic climate change. If ya’ll can figure out what they are from buds and leaves, then we’ll know. Yay, knowledge!

A closer view of the same buds. The leaves are narrow and smooth: the buds are ridged.

Mystery flora II

Shakespeare once wrote that “loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud,” but I don’t think these buds have got anything like that going on. They seem absolutely perfect.

Crop of the previous image, showing the buds more clearly.

Mystery flora III

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Pacific Northwest for both its geology and its flora. It’s awesome to have flowers going on nearly year-round.

Same buds viewed from the top.

Mystery Flora IV

I hope these little lovelies have brightened your day, my darlings.

It’s a Moider! Moider, I Tells Ya!

Actually, it’s a double-feature! We’ve also got Blue Heron Noir. Stay tuned after the film!

B brought turkey over for Thanksgiving. He arrived just at dusk (which is 4 bloody 30 in the pee-em at this time of year), which is when the local crows begin gathering before they head off to roost. The roads, trees, and ball fields begin looking like an Alfred Hitchcock film. B’s never seen quite so many at once, so he came bouncing in wanting to go walk with corvids. I was totally down with that.

So we headed down to the creek, where clouds of corvids flew overhead, and turned the trees black.

Image shows a few crows clinging to the tops of poplar trees.

They even flock to poplar trees, although the branches are super-skinny and it’s really hard to get a grip.

They also fill the ball fields. Alas, it was so close to dark, it was hard to get a good shot, but we tried.

Image shows a baseball field with a murder of crows upon it.

I don’t think they’re playing ball…

We gotcha enough footage for a wee video. It’ll give you some small idea of what it’s like to be walking down a path between trees full of hundreds of cackling crows. The sound is just overwhelming, and the motion as they wheel overhead is exhilarating. It can either scare the shit out of you, or it can make you feel like you’re a little kid again, and leave you nearly screaming in delight.

We might’ve gotten you more clouds of crows if we’d been brave enough to actually agitate them, but we’re not planning on moving away any time soon, and corvids tend to remember people who annoy them. We like to stay on their good side.

After filming our moiderous film, we finished a fairly brisk walk along the creek, and found ourselves coming back in the dark. The ducks had gone to bed. But we heard a rather large-sounding rustle on the riverbank, and a bit of a splash. There wasn’t quite enough light to make out what it was, but B suspected a blue heron. Since blue herons and ducks aren’t reputed to hold grudges against people who piss them off, I decided to risk a wee bit o’ flash photography. I pointed the flash away from the UFD, so as not to interrupt it too badly, and took a chance.

Image shows a vaguely-illuminated heron standing in the creek.

Heron Noir

Blue herons are badass. This one didn’t even twitch. It gave precisely zero shits. I had no idea their eyes reflect like that, but I suppose if they’re out fishing at night, it makes sense they’ve got something to make their night vision better. Is it a tapetum lucidum? My google-fu was inadequate to the task of determining for certain. Perhaps one of you know – ya’ll are better at birds than I am.

I’m arse-deep in books to review, B and I will be working on some fun little geologically-themed gifties for the holidays, and I may brave the crowd at Staples later and see if they have any nifty desktops at a price I can afford. I’ll probably return. Probably.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Carnivorous Plants of Oregon

It’s that time in America where many of us stuff ourselves full of deceased birds and other foodstuffs. Not everyone is carnivorous, but these plants are.

A nice clump of darlingtonia at the Darlingtonia Wayside, Oregon.

A nice clump of darlingtonia at the Darlingtonia Wayside, Oregon.

That, my darlings, is our old friend Darlingtonia californica, the lovely cobra lily. You can also call it the California pitcher plant if you’re feeling boring. Totally understandable if you are. You’re probably completely lethargic. It’s not the tryptophan, mind – it’s the carbs.

Betcha cobra lilies don’t get drowsy after a big meal.

I love those little beards they've got. Well, it also looks like a cobra tongue, right?

I love those little beards they’ve got. Well, it also looks like a cobra tongue, right?

I love the Darlingtonia Wayside. Did you know these are the only carnivorous plants with their own state park in Oregon? Pretty neato.

They love ultramafic soils. Good thing Oregon has so much GDB*, right? Although I think the Wayside is a sphagnum fen. One of these days, I’d do some actual research on that.

A nice Darlingtonia profile, there. I love that sunlight turning the beard such a lovely ruby red.

A nice Darlingtonia profile, there. I love that sunlight turning the beard such a lovely ruby red.

All right, I’ve also got something for the vegetarians in the audience. Prepare to squee at this little chipmunk!

A darling wee chipmunk inna pine tree on the coast. All that's visible through the branches is its face, which has the distinctive stripes that tell us it's not a ground squirrel.

A darling wee chipmunk inna pine tree on the coast.

I have no idea if it’s the Yellow-pine or the Least chipmunk, but it’s adorable either way. It was hanging about in a tree at Cape Perpetua, and of course, I knew I had to grab a photo for you. Because I love you, of course!

No matter where you are, whether you’re celebrating a holiday or having just another day, I hope it’s happy and full of good things and singularly lacking in unpleasant family interactions. If you’re stuck with that horrible relation who insists on forwarding awful right-wing conspiracy theory emails, just imagine them being turned into a bug by their own angry god, and plopped in the middle of a Darlingtonia patch. You swoop in to rescue them just as they’re discovering there’s no escape from a pitcher plant that has got treacherous hairs and false exits galore. They are so grateful to you that they immediately discard all their irrational thinking, and devote themselves to a life of freethought and social justice work. Next family gathering, the only thing you argue about is whether that horrible dessert invented by the relative who had to make do with war rations should continue to be served out of a respect for tradition, or reverently retired, which is exactly the sort of debate that keeps things interesting without raising blood pressure, considering no one eats the stuff anyway. It’s the best family meal in living memory.

Have a happy, my darlings!


*God Damned Basalt. This is the technical term, derived from your sentiments after seeing yet more basalt everywhere you look.