Mystery Flora: Sweetly Symmetrical

When it’s hot in the Pacific Northwest, one has a few options. There are a few restaurants, businesses, and entertainment facilities that have air conditioning. There’s the Sound, which is good and cold and has a few nice beaches. And there’s the mountains, with gorgeous streams cascading down them, cooling the place off on the way.

It got to be around 90 on Monday, so B and I headed into the Cascades. This is one of the best times of year to go, because all of the green growing things are busy being pretty. Such as these little delights from Deception Falls: [Read more…]

Really Terrible Bible Inspirations: Happy Harlot’s Edition

Have I mentioned that Tamar in Genesis is one of my favorite Bible characters so far?

I tell the full story in Really Terrible Bible Stories vol. I: Genesis. But I’ll sum up for ye: Here’s this woman in a patriarchal society, where your value as a female is measured by motherhood. Her first husband gets murdered by God. So, based on the traditions of the time, her father-in-law Judah orders her brother-in-law to step up, do his duty, and knock her up. Only, any resulting children would be considered his dead brother’s, not his, so while he’s happy to use her as a masturbation device, he pulls out so he won’t get her pregnant. God’s quite irate over the wasting sperm thing, so he strikes that dude dead. Now all that’s left is a really young third bro-in-law, so Judah tells Tamar she’s just gonna have to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

When it becomes clear that Judah’s never going to marry her to his son like he promised, Tamar takes matters into her own hands. She waits until Judah’s gone off to deal with his flocks, then cosplays a prostitute and waits by the road. [Read more…]

Yellow-Bellied Varmints! I Mean, Marmots!

Our trip out to Grand Coulee in early May was filled with wonderful wild animals. I showed you the cute fuzzy critter we saw at Frenchman Coulee, and you were able to identify it as a yellow-bellied marmot. They’re so adorable! I kinda wish I could keep one as a pet, but since they’re not domesticated, it’s best to leave them out in the wild.

Turns out they don’t actually gang up on people. I knew danielwilliams was telling us a big ol’ fib. But it was absolutely in the finest tradition of Old West tall tales, so I shall share it here:

Best you didn’t approach… the yellow-bellied marmot is called such because it uses cowardly hunting tactics, luring prey in with adorableness and then the rest of the pride erupts from the ground swarming the victim until nothing is left.

Nicely done, sir!

B and I didn’t think we’d ever see one again, but when we dropped by Summer Falls, suddenly they were everywhere. I spotted this one first, looking yellow-bellied indeed. Well, at least quite cautious. [Read more…]

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: That Little Red-Headed Woodpecker

There was one afternoon in April that was rather astonishing. B and I were taking a leisurely walk along North Creek behind the ballfields, and we heard a woodpecker. Next thing we knew, the trees were full of them. A veritable cloud of woodpeckers seemed to fly by and select individual trees. They took me by surprise, and I wasn’t able to photograph them all. But one landed close to us, and didn’t mind my antics, so I have that lovely little one, with video even!

Image shows a small woodpecker on the trunk of a white tree that has little holes drilled in. The woodpecker has its back to us. It has a brilliant red head, and a gray and black body with horizontal bars down its back and tail.

UFD I

I wish my brain could film what I see and download it direct to the computer, because none of these images of a single little woodpecker will live up to seeing so many swoop by. Still. Isn’t it wonderful?

Another image of the same woodpecker. It has turned its head slightly, and you can see its short, stout beak.

UFD II

I don’t recall having many woodpeckers in Arizona. I think I saw one maybe once or twice. They were rather exotic to me, and of course my understanding of them was filtered through Woody Woodpecker cartoons. Now that I’m here in Washington, I see quite a few different ones, and they’re all wonderful, and none of them have that bloody silly laugh.

The woodpecker has gone back to pecking. Image is zoomed out a bit, and from another angle, showing off the new green leaves and the blue sky forming the backdrop to our woodpecker.

UFD III

I’ve learned to listen for a rapid rata-ta-tat on tree trunks when I’m in the forest. But it hadn’t occurred to me to listen for it along the most populated part of North Creek! I’ve seen woodpeckers along the proper wetland portion, but this is just a narrow strip of water and greenery between commercial buildings and busy ballfields. It seems many of our native birds have adapted just fine to the presence of humans, and are happy to feast wherever, whenever, no matter who’s about.

Still, I don’t often catch woodpeckers along this portion. I’ve tried coming back around the same time of day, but no luck. I suppose they have habits I could suss out if I spent more time there.

Here’s our little darling figuring out what I’m up to before deciding I wasn’t likely to spoil its dinner, and then showing us why those trees have all those holes in their bark. Enjoy!

P.S. The title’s merely a play on Charlie Brown. These aren’t actually red-headed woodpeckers. I mean, they’re redheads, but not that kind. I wouldn’t give it away like that!

Interlude with Soaring Eagles, Colorful Blackbirds, and a Non-Ninja Turtle

After the week we’ve had, it’s time to relax with some neato wild critters. B and I took a healthy walk at Juanita Bay and saw about ten trillion birdies. There were so many ducklings, you guys, and I will have to find more time to sort through them. At the moment, however, we shall focus mostly on eagles, with also some beautiful blackbirds and one awkward turtle.

There were so many eagles, you guys. I didn’t even realize they were eagles at first, because there were bunches of them, and I’m not used to eagles flying in flocks. Then we got a better look, and a gentleman out there with a hyoooge camera lens pointed out the two juvenile balds, and then later we got a good look at the adults, and yep, eagles. Eagles everywhere. [Read more…]

A Saturday Singsong About Butterflies, Starring the Summer Falls Butterflies

We’ll get back to Mount St. Helens soon, I absolutely promise, but after all the news this week, I figured we could use a nice sing-song about butterflies, plus some pretty butterflies, and maybe a waterfall or two. Right? I’m pretty sure I’m right. So: refill your drink, situate yourself in splendid comfort, and press play.

Then enjoy these lovely butterflies, which live at Summer Falls near Coulee City, WA. [Read more…]

Reveal That Metazoan! Frenchman Coulee Fuzzy Critter Edition

Let me tear you away from the slopes and Silver Lakes of Mount St. Helens for just a moment here, and take you back in time to the previous trip, when B and I headed to the dry side. We saw some pretty super-awesome things on that journey. One of them was barely visible. I’d never have noticed it, but B’s brain is really good with the something’s-not-like-the-others game. Let’s see if you can spot it.

Image shows a rocky slope, a few sage bushes, and a barely-visible animal that is probably in the Sciuridae family.

Mystery Metazoan I

C wut evolution did thar? No? Okay, I’ll give you some hints: [Read more…]

Bad News for Hollywood

So, you know those disaster movies where volcanoes explode like St. Helens but also spew fountains of really runny lava like Kilauea on laxatives?

I have really bad news for them, courtesy of Edward Wolfe and Thomas Pierson in Volcanic-Hazard Zonation for Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1995.

Lava flows are destructive but generally not life-threatening because they normally advance so slowly that people can walk or run away from them.

Drat.

Of course, it’s never about realism anyway, which is why I avoid any disaster movie with a volcano in it – I know I’d end up ruining everyone’s movie experience by howling, “That doesn’t happen!” every ten seconds or so. (And no, I sure as shit am not going to see San Andreas – that looks even worse than the volcano flicks, and I’m not interested in dying from apoplexy at my tender age. I will probably eventually watch Pompeii because some of you asked me to years ago, and I can now watch it here at home, where I can scream into a pillow so as not to disturb the neighbors.) I’m not a fan, is what I’m trying to say. Some people enjoy disaster films despite (or because of) the absurdity. I have a lot more fun with reality. I mean, this is the greatest shit ever!

Did you hear that crackling?! Did you see the little pieces of volcanic glass popping up like popcorn kernels in a hot pan? Did you seem them cook burritos and marshmallows on a bloody pahoehoe flow? And hear the squeals of pure science-geek joy? Oh, yes. That’s my kinda flick! You can see the whole video here.

So yeah, those of you who like your volcano disaster flicks can enjoy the ridiculously-funny lava and the volcanic bombs that set off huge gasoline explosions wherever they land and stuff. I’m just gonna enjoy watching geologists amble around the edges of active lava fields.

Image shows a steaming black lava flow oozing onto a grassy field. It appears to have eaten a fence.. A geologist in a red shirt and a backpack skirts close to the edge.

A USGS geologist maps the margin of the active lava flow in an open field west of the town of Pāhoa on Oct. 26, 2014. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

I mean, that is so ridiculously epically awesome – except for the people of Pāhoa: I’m so sorry Kilauea ate your town.

And now Ima go watch my favorite lava lake video of all time.

It’s Also Geek Pride Day. I’m Geeking Out On…

…This amazing Mount St. Helens Lidar image.

Image is a LIDAR view of Mount St. Helens. With all the trees stripped away, the various volcanic deposits and stream incisions are wonderfully clear.

Mount St. Helens lidar
by Vivian R. Queija/USGS.

Oh, people! Those flows! If you look closely (which is far easier if you download the pdf file), you’ll notice the drastic difference in texture between the young, pyroclastics-rich north and the older south side with its stubby flows. Oh so delicious!

I never would’ve appreciated Lidar before moving to the Pacific Northwest. Up here, having a technology that can look past trees is priceless. This is so neato! And yes, I literally drooled when I saw the full file available for download.

What are you geeking out on?

Silver Lake’s Adorable Baby Duckies

Y’know, if it wasn’t for the occasional devastating eruption and house-eating lahar, I think I’d actually love living down by Silver Lake. B and I took a walk there near sunset on our last trip, and in the slanting reddish-gold rays of the lowering sun, it was about the most peaceful and beautiful place on Earth. I could spend hours just sitting on a boardwalk and watching the wildlife, from the insects to the birds and beyond.

I think the lake hosts the fastest ducklings on the planet, too. A mother and her group of babies passed us by at one point, swimming under the bridge, and they moved quicker than I’ve ever seen ducks go. One of them rocketed past its siblings so fast that B dubbed it Zipper. Here’s all I could catch of it on camera. [Read more…]