also while in California….

I spent a few days with Lydia, my dear friend and long-ago mission trainee.

My Wisconsin-centric brain was so giddy to spend Christmas Eve playing outside in 60 degree weather. I went barefoot as often as I could.

Lydia’s great family and I shared colorful stories, ate mind-numbingly-delicious food, hiked abundant countryside, discussed heart-expanding topics, evangelized the wonders of kefir (which may or may not actually be manna), sweat liters at the Bikram yoga studio, and slept in as long as we wanted. Looking back through my camera, it turns out I mainly just took photos of plants.



Visiting Bri.

Over Christmas break I flew to San Francisco and made a visit to my friend Briana Blackwelder’s grave. Thank you for the great directions, Candice.

For those who haven’t yet visited, here’s a bit of the journey to Fernwood:

That’s her grave in the foreground.

A few small plants have begun sprouting over the freshly-turned earth.

Despite being the winter solstice, it was one of the sunniest days I’d seen in a long time.
I laid down right next to her grave and just started talking.
It felt so much like the last time I saw her, when we’d spent a sunny
April afternoon lounging under the sun.

I believe Bri is doing much more exciting things than lying under the earth,
but here are some photos of the view she’d have from her final resting place:

I felt a lot of peace being there.

Afterwards, my friend Lydia and I scouted out some delicious food
and soaked up the city that will forever remind me of Bri.

Man, I miss you Bri.


Schizocarps!

I found my old nature journal this week. My last entry, dated Fall 2008, inspired me to fulfill a dream I’ve been scheming for some time now. I woke up early Sunday morning to begin gathering schizocarps–those helicopters that fall from maple trees–from around my neighborhood. Thanks to the three friends who helped me gather these wonders throughout the day. I will still need to gather more before our next snow fall, if anyone else is interested in helping 🙂 First I’ll share the journal entry, then I’ll tell you about my dream that will soon become reality…

Fall 2008
I have become enamored by schizocarps. Seriously?! Billions of twirly-birds all falling to the earth in unison?! Billions of winged maples-in-embryo spiraling over the Northern Hemisphere. Billions over BYU’s campus alone.
 
One afternoon I gathered 4 grocery sacks of schizocarps. It took no more than two hours with 2 of us gathering. The street gutters were lined with them. The grass cupped them like children hoarding candy on Halloween. The sidewalks were blanketed with them- all facing the way of the wind.
 
In the half-inch cracks between cemented sidewalk slabs, schizocarps were packed tightly, nose down, just like an over-zealous litter of piglettes all trying to get a mouthful of teat.
 
I like that metaphor: the Earth as a giant mammary gland, a wellspring of mother’s milk. Countless numbers of tongue-like roots pressing earth-ward, pulling in moisture and nutrients, grabbing hold to the solid ground. Filling and stabilizing. Supporting and nurturing.
 
 

My plan is to  find a nice courtyard with high walls from which the thousands of schizocarps can be let loose. While the magical spirals descend, people will dance and frolic. Doesn’t it sound lovely? I’m excited to make it happen.

Let me know if you have a decent pile of schizocarps near your house.

 

a magical childhood.

I had a magical childhood. My family lived in a large old Victorian house, where the ballroom-sized attic and the dungeon-like basement made for wonderful play-time adventures. The house is in a small town in southern Wisconsin, a place where I still know dozens of people when I walk into the grocery store. The small-ness of Baraboo made me feel very important. A large-sized photo of me made it into the city newspaper many times each year– for attending a parade, for reading a book on the steps of the library, for setting up a lemonade stand, for participating in a basketball game or a cross country race, for going to a highschool dance…

Today I was home sick (trying to sooth way a sore throat), and started to feel a little homesick (wishing I could just walk into that old familiar grocery store and chat with people who knew me back when I was an adorable toothless toddler). So, I was grateful that google images could take me on an at-a-distance tour of some of the places and things that contributed to my magical childhood. I thought you might like to join me, so I kept a log of my google-travels.

Here’s a view of one of my favorite hikes and swims, a 3 mile drive from my house. I went here with my mom this summer, and will have to share some of those photos soon:

Baraboo’s ‘International Crane Foundation‘, where you can see all 15 species of crane on one reserve. In grade school we learned how this organization brought the Whooping Crane from near extinction to it’s current thriving population. I felt so proud. It’s a magical thing to see this bird dance and play in the water near my home.

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Aldo Leopold’s Shack is the site of both the writing of ‘A Sand County Almanac‘ and a contributor to my environmental ethic. It’s a ten minute drive from my house, but it took traveling half way around the world to discover how famous both Leopold and his shack are. I’m hoping some day to name a son Leopold.

….

Jewel Weed, Impatiens capensis, was one of my first magic plants. I learned to identify it very quickly because the juice from its stem will instantly remove the burn and sting from poison ivy or stinging nettle. And, to top it off, the seed pods spring out in confetti-like spirals when touched just right.

Devil’s Lake State Park. These bluffs were once part of an ancient mountain range. I remember feeling so proud when I learned that the ice-age glaciers stopped and melted when they reached these rocks. I felt like, if the bluffs could stop a glacier, they could protect me from anything.

Forevertron, a random sculpture behind Delaney’s Junk Yard. I don’t know the story behind it, but I always looked for it when we drove along Hwy 12 toward Madison.

Al Ringling Theater, modeled after a theater in Versailles (palace of the French Sun King). I performed in Cinderella and Pinocchio and numerous band and choir concerts on this stage.

The Circus World Museum: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. In the summer months, you can hear circus music all over town. I used to dream of being a contortionist and running away with the circus. It’s a shame that never happened. But, my mom does use elephant dung to fertilize her garden each summer.

The Ho-Chunk Nation. They treated me to my first pow-wow. Afterward, I begged my mom for fry bread so often that she taught me how to make it for myself.  (That was before I’d learned about the unfortunate and sad history of how fry-bread came to be a traditional food for Native Americans…)


Amish and Minnonites. My grandparents sold their farm to a Mennonite family, and I was lucky enough to become friends with Norma, a young girl my age. I felt sorry that Norma only went to school until she was 15, but I was also jealous of her connection to her community and the land. I still dream of moving back to be a midwife for the Minnonites…one day.

Canopied roads. I love the mountains of the west, but my soul feels most at home in a forest.

Well, thanks for joining that little journey.


Color Migration

(Maple Canyon. Mid September.
 ps- I didn’t even saturate this photograph. These colors are the real deal.)

Fall colors. I guess that’s what they do. Colors fall. Over a month ago I danced in firey trees, but I had to drive high into the canyon to find the most extreme color palettes. In following weeks, the yellows and oranges and reds came dripping down towards me. The lowest skirts of the Wasatch Range were an unbelievable patchworks of lobulate colors, decorating the dips and channels where water flows.

Then the colors flooded down to the valley floor, starting at the upper tips of branches and working inward to each tree’s core. During summer months, plant life agrees on various hues of green. But come fall, each family proudly flags a different color. And the heavy branches reveal how successfully each species reproduced.

Now the high mountain paths are fading to brown and the valley floor is swallowing up its rosey copper meal. Only the lowest tree branches still wear firey gowns. The earth will hold the fallen colors in until spring.

As the earth thaws in spring time, the valley floor will awaken and the colors will travel—in reverse direction now—slowly across the valley floor, up into the tree canopies, and then up the mountain sides. It’s a journey that takes many months. Not until very late summer will the mountain tops again be decorated in a rainbow of flowers.

(Big Cottonwood Canyon. Late August.)

Everything Spins!

If I could marry a dead man it’d be the Italian mathematician, Fibonacci*. In the 10+ years I’ve known about the golden mean, my giddiness at spotting a spiral in nature has not waned at all. In fact, it’s increasing. The consistency of mathematical patterns within the universe are like the legendary sirens to me…only I don’t think this will kill me.

A few weeks ago, at work, I was experimenting with simple motors. I wanted to give the students who were building chain-reaction contraptions multiple ways to get things moving. We had a few options for motors, but motors only produce spinning motions. What if the students wanted to move something up-and-down or side-to-side? After some research, I made a personal discovery. Everything starts with a spinning motion! Even “servos” and “stepper motors”, which produce back-and-forth linear movements, are actually just spinning motors that turn on and off, switching directions each time. I was thrilled to think that every mechanized movement I can think of originates as a spin. That evening I began a brainstorm of every spinning, spiraling thing I could think of.

I decided I had to begin writing about spirals.

You won’t believe this. The first SIX blog titles I chose where already taken. Everythingspins. Spinningworld. Spirals. Spin. Spinning. Spiraling. Taken. Taken. Taken! Actually, “ilovespirals” was still available, but I was miffed at that point. Who (and where?!) are all these spiral-loving people? A brief google search landed me dozens of book and documentary titles. With a deep sigh, I realized my spiral plans had already been carried out. Numerous times over. By people who are much more than just casual enthusiasts for spirals. I decided to table my plans.

Then, a day ago, I emptied some of my sprouting garbanzo beans onto a salad. Usually a garbanzo sprouts’ first root is straight. But sitting there on top of my spinach mount was a cork-screw spiral staring right back up at me. I took it as a sign.

Ok, maybe the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this blog since the first of January is a good indication that I should not start up a second blog. On the good advice of a friend, I will simply use my already-existing blog to broadcast my admiration for Mother Nature’s geometry skills. Here are some spiral photos I’ve taken in the past year:

*note: It is not a Mormon belief or practice to marry one’s self to a deceased person. I recently had some interesting conversations about misconceptions concerning my faith, and what exactly goes on inside LDS temples. Just wanted to hedge any further miscommunication. My tongue-in-cheek fantasizing of a relationship with this brainy dude who lived in the 12th century was just an effort to reel in the attention of my 5 trusty blog followers. But, honestly, my knees do go week for nerdy mathematicians and scientists.


poinsettia are not poisonous

I’ve been admiring the uniqueness of poinsettia flowers, and wanted to share some botanical Christmas cheer.

Poinsettias have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century: the leaf shape is reminiscent of the star of Bethlehem, and the red crown reminds us of our Savior’s blood sacrifice.

Euphorbia pulcherrima flowers are a bit unexpected. To find the flowers, you must look past the large red showy things, which are technically modified leaves called bracts. Bring your nose in close, so you can smell its earthiness. At the heart of the little saplings (which, if given the opportunity, will grow into a full-sized tree…which you can see later in this post) you’ll see a cluster of green bulbous heads, each with a tuft of red spikes topped with yellow powder. Each of these radical hair-dos is actually a full bouquet of flowers. The botanical term for this type of flower grouping is cyathia, which is Greek for cup. Each staminous spike projecting from the cup is really a single flower with it’s own ovary and stamen. That dusting of yellow powder is pollen, akin to tiny plant sperm.

In my photo, one of the lower-right cyathias has one mature flower projecting out of it. Its ovary has grown too large to remain inside the floral cup. My favorite morphological features of this plant are the luscious yellow lips, oozing with honey. These are nectar glands. Usually individual flowers have their own nectar gland, but in the case of poinsettia the whole grouping of flowers shares the pot of gold with the lucky pollinator.

I spent some mindlessly mesmerizing time at work pasting pins onto business cards. The little glue dots reminded me of poinsettia nectar.

Another thing the glue dots and the poinsettia have in common is that they are both relatively non-toxic. I admit that I’ve more than once joined in the rumor that these Christmas plants are highly poisonous, but some recent research reveals it’s just not true. A study of 849,575 plant exposures by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine showed no know fatalities from the plant. Another study predicted a 50 pound child would have to ingest 500 bracts before any toxicity would result. It is true, however, that the plant has a milky latex-like sap that might cause some mild skin irritation. So, if you have an allergy to latex you should probably fore-go the poinsettia rub-down this year. The toxicity misconception probably arose because poinsettias belong to the genus Euphorbia, which contains some truly toxic species.

Even though I don’t have a latex allergy, I likely won’t be serving up poinsettia saplings for Christmas dinner. I just want to prevent anyone from freaking out if they catch a child or pet gnawing on a bract.

Cheers to Euphorbia pulcherrima, and Merry Christmas to you.