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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

I woke this morning with a story start in my head, and it’s using up most of my mental bandwidth at the moment. So instead of something new, here’s something old, from a trip journal I took to Latin America in 2000. I’m laughing at the memory now.

April 26
Wednesday
San Jose

I’m late writing again today because we got up at 6:30 a.m. for a rainforest canopy tour and just got back. It was a lot of fun. I was a little worried that I’d need strength, you know like hand-over-hand on a wire, but then the guides started talking about how they’d had an 80-year-old man on tour a while back who was fine. It was a lot of fun (again!).

We drove north 45 minutes or so into the woods, a bit of protected land that’s part of a larger park containing 6% of Costa Rica’s land. We were the only ones on the tour and had a total of four guides. We parked at the “Canopy Adventures” headquarters and were outfitted with harnesses, caribiners (climbing rings), and gloves. We got back in the car with our gear and drove another kilometer or two up a very rocky and steep road. It wound up into the mountains, through a farm and past pastures. After parking at a little turnabout in the trees we proceeded on foot.

The hike was only 20 minutes or so but through the forest and steep. In some parts we walked along a road paved 60 years ago by farmers who needed to get their milk to market despite heavy winter rains. The rocks they used were hauled from a far-off river bed, then set carefully enough that the road is still useable today. The rest of the walk was over a path paved by tree rings, given added traction with metal mesh embedded into their tops. Along the way our guide pointed out different flowers and plants native to the rainforest. I remember the bromeliads (a relative of the pineapple that grows on trees and air), plants to eat if you get lost in the mountains, and plants used to weave coffee-gathering baskets.

Suddenly we were at the base of Platform 1 and the real start of our adventure. Our first task was to climb a wooden ladder up into a tropical oak tree, then out onto the first platform high up in the tree. Each of us carried our gloves and pulley attached to the climbing harness we’d been wearing since HQ. At this point, we were hooked onto a cable with one caribiner, then told what how to move along the wire and land safely. I felt a little like a side of beef, hanging from the wire by my belt and hoping my tippie-toes were enough to keep me on the platform.

We were to travel from one platform to the next along these wires through the trees. At each platform a guide would stand facing us as we held the cable running between platforms. Pulling the cable down in a modified pull-up, the guide held the pulley on top of the cable while connecting our second caribiner to it, just below the cable. Once this clamp was secure the guide unhooked the first caribiner from the cable and clamped it to the pulley, in the opposite direction as the first. Now there was nothing keeping me on the platform but the guide’s hand in front of the pulley. Upon hearing an answering cry of “¡Listo!” from the team at the receiving platform, that hand too was removed. Feet up, head back, one hand on the caribiners and one on the cable behind to brake, and I was off.

There were nine platforms, all fun, with the longest and steepest drop being the best as far as I was concerned. At each I was unhooked from the pulleys, then secured to the tree, which I climbed up or around or through to reach the next jumping-off point. The trees were huge, and seemed to carry the weight of the wooden platforms with ease.

After one or two jumps I noticed that a light touch on the caribiners attached to the pulley would keep me facing forward as I shot through the overgrowth. I also got quite good at braking and had lots of fun zooming at full speed just to the platform’s edge, then stopping right in front of the startled guide. Very fun. They got me back at Platform 9 though. Rather than climbing down from our final jump we rappelled, although the guides controlled the descent. No problema, I thought, I’ve done this before, and I’d be happy to go first. Rope between my legs, hands gripping the locked caribiners, I sat into the harness and eased slowly past the platform’s edge. Humph, I thought, this isn’t too baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddddddd!!!!!!!!! And almost swallowed my tongue as I was playfully dropped half the distance to the forest floor. The guides thought it was funny as hell, especially when all I could say after that heart-thumping, stomach-inspiring drop was “Jesus Christ!” Total free fall, unexpected, scary, and yes, funny as hell. I was still laughing five minutes later.

* * *

Not me but it gives you the idea; I was too busy to take photos for most of this trip.
Photo by Mam NC on Pexels.com

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It’s summer and I’m enjoying a bit of vacation time (yay!) and what do I spot on my new Asclepias tuberosa? A monarch butterfly caterpillar!

 

I’ve seen a monarch or two in the neighborhood this year but not many. (Not like during my childhood down south, when my mother used to pull the car over just about anywhere to find caterpillar-rich milkweed by the side of the road.) There’s a reason why these butterflies are listed as at endangered in Ontario:(

That said, awareness of the issues around butterflies and their disappearing habitat is rising, and it’s not all bad news. I’m happy to see milkweed left to grow by the roadside, to find native milkweed varietals at the garden center, and to watch butterflies flitting in the park. If we had more sun and space I’d plant a butterfly meadow, but for now, we went with butterfly weed. Glad we did:)

As an added bonus, I also saw fireflies in the yard a couple of weeks ago for the first time north of the border:) Here’s wishing you a happy and constructive summer!

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That’s right, today is the summer solstice. At 15:54 Universal Time (that’s 11:54 a.m. in my neck of the woods), summer officially starts in the northern hemisphere! For more on the analemma, or figure-eight described by the sun as it arcs across the sky (think the calendar Tom Hanks etched on a rock in Castaway, or check out this composite photo from NASA). And NatGeo has a nice, detailed piece on the solstice here: What is the summer solstice? The answer might surprise you.

What is summer? So many things, not least light, glorious light to do as you will. Or, you know, mess up bedtime;)

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

Bed in Summer, Robert Louis Stevenson

Have a wonderful summer day!

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Finally!

Today was the last day of snow here at Maison J. Very exciting! Sure, the south-facing neighbors have been basking in the beauty of Spring for ages now (days at least;) but today was finally our day. Snow has melted, cardinals are singing, the trees out front are just about to bud and all is well.

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden 

Also, the Easter Bunny says hello!

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What I’m reading today:

Pretend It’s Aliens
A neat mental trick to understand the climate battle ahead.
By Farhad Manjoo

It’s Valentine’s Day today, and I love this essay! (Also Mr. Man and my family and unicorns, but this I can share:) It’s a genius way of identifying one of humanity’s main flaws when it comes to making change, and then (here’s the good bit) finding a way around it.

…climate change is not war. There is no enemy, other than ourselves. And we are very bad, as individuals or collectively, at fighting ourselves over anything.

This thought chilled me.

Then, one late night after taking a dose of a kind of sleep medicine that is now widely available in California, I had an epiphany:

Pretend it’s aliens.

For years I’ve been saying that if aliens invaded, we’d get over our internecine squabbles pretty damn quick. Sadly, it would also require an actual alien invasion. And while movies of same tend to end with triumphant human victories, they generally don’t show the part where we have to bury all the bodies.

Unless it’s not pretend at all?

Just, you know, saying!

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Today is the autumnal equinox, or the official start of Fall. I like to think of it as the Universe giving all of us here in the Northern Hemisphere a pat on the arm and a kind word to prepare us for that whole Winter thing.

What is It saying? When it comes to the grand workings of the Universe it’s always difficult to be sure, but I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

“Now now, Winter’s still a ways off and hey, you had a good Summer, right?”

(inarticulate mumblings about sunburn and too many mosquito bites)

“Well, not to worry. We know Winter is hard so We try to ease you into it with the likes of apple pie and hot cider.”

(sniffles, with a muffled acknowledgement that pie is really quite nice)

“And remember how much you liked that new recipe for spicy beef stew? Pull yourself together, dear, it will be fine.”

For those who prefer a slightly more technical explanation of the experience on which we are all about to embark, a few more details…

Solstice: occurs when the Sun is the farthest away from the celestial equator, or the imaginary line above the Earth’s equator. This happens twice a year, around June 21st (when it reaches the northernmost point) and December 21st (when it reaches the southernmost point).

Equinox: marks the time when the Sun crosses the celestial equator. Day and night are (close to) equal length. This happens twice a year, around March 20th (vernal) and September 22st (autumnal).

Would you like to know more? Check out Time & Date or Royal Museums Greenwich or EarthSky for additional information, helpful diagrams and fun facts (like Chichen Itza’s Snake of Light).

I do love pie and cider and crisp autumn days and bright red leaves. Today I’m also grateful that marking such astronomical events no longer requires human sacrifice, for the word “phenology,” and for the reminder that in spite of everything, we all see the same sky.

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In honor of today’s eclipse, I’d like to spotlight this piece on Annie Jump Cannon from the funny and informative site Rejected Princesses. Their tag line?
“Women too Awesome, Awful, or Offbeat for Kids’ Movies.”

Hee hee! If you’re interested in quick, clever portraits of some of the most interesting women in history, Rejected Princesses is the site for you.

(Related aside: I’m also pretty sure that popular movies are selling our kids short.)

Why Annie Jump Cannon? Because she fell in love with the stars at a time when most women were only expected to fall in love with homemaking, and then she went and did something about it.

Born the same year President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, she attended college at a time when few women did, and then worked at the Harvard Observatory as a “computer.” (If you’ve seen Hidden Figures, you know what “computer” meant lo those many years ago. If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, I highly recommend you do, stat!) She excelled at Harvard, classifying stars by the hundreds of thousands and building a spectrographic star classification system still in use today.

Ms. Cannon has been called The Queen of Modern Astronomy, but also brought a useful perspective to more terrestrial concerns. And while earthly challenges must continue to occupy our thoughts and energies, one quote in particular seems appropriate for our current times:

“In these days of great trouble and unrest, it is good to have something outside our own planet, something fine and distant and comforting to troubled minds. Let people look to the stars for comfort.”

If you don’t already have eclipse plans but you’re interested in a once-in-a-century astronomical event, NASA has a great site. They’ll help you enjoy the eclipse with everything from maps, safety, activities, DIY pinhole viewers, what to do if you don’t have a viewer but still want to see the event, and more.

Like most people I’ll be outside the path of totality, but we’ll still get 65% coverage. Well worth putting together a pinhole viewer… Oh look, here’s one I just happen to have, hacked together from a shoe box, legal paper, the sticky bits of reusable adhesive you find on the back of various packages, and a phone for easy photo taking:) I’ll cut the lid off to better control the distance between pinhole and paper, then hope for clear skies!

Eclipse: Who? What? Where? When? and How? is a good place to start, or check out the Eclipse Kit for all most of your eclipse party needs (beverage of choice not included:)

Have fun!

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This is a public service announcement for writers and other humans:

If you’ve ever confused stalactites with stalagmites, here’s a hint: mites crawl.

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Need something beautiful in your day? Check out NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. Click through and mouse over the image for more details, but the photo itself is stunning. Aurora + volcano = Iceland!

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It’s Monday and I know I could use some inspiration. Have a picture of a National Park, because wow.

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