Friday, September 25, 2009

Night and Day

I took a drive yesterday to a place some might call the middle of nowhere, but to me it’s somewhere in particular.

After I got out of the car, I had a chance to study my cousin’s collection of critters. She has quite a hand with the farmyard.

(Here you can just about hear me humming “Turkey in the Straw.”)

These honkers were mighty noisy. Maybe they thought I had come to feed them. No such luck.

To get a group of Americans to smile, you tell them, “Say ‘Cheese’!” To get this expression from a goose, you tell it, “Say ‘Foie gras’!”

I was in town for a meeting. After the meeting, I took a side road to have a look at stars. One advantage of being nowhere near anything in particular is that the night sky is clear and dark.

The moon’s buddy here is Antares, a red giant. It genuinely looked red up there.

The lights over the ridge are Las Vegas, about 100 miles from where I took this. To the naked eye, the glow is plainly visible. The camera wasn’t so sensitive to it, but as you can see, it did pick it up.

Red Hot Chili aficionados will be pleased to spot the Pleiades here, the little bunch of stars near the upper right corner. I tried to get a better shot of them, but I couldn't line them up in the camera’s viewfinder, which showed only the very brightest stars.

(On all of these pictures, if you click on the picture itself, you’ll get to see a bigger version with richer detail.)

Jupiter hung up there fat and red and sassy, in the middle of Capricorn. Off to his left is Deneb. If you had an exceptional telescope, you could have seen Neptune in the same neighborhood. (Pluto wasn’t too far off either.)

I was pretty pleased with how these pictures came out, for a first stab. I had a tripod mount, but not a cable release. On most of the pictures I exposed for 10+ seconds at full lens extension, the results revealed a visible drift. This picture was taken at a 1-second exposure length, with the lens at a wide-angle setting (35mm equivalent about 28mm).

Galileo spotted the moons of Jupiter using a 20x telescope. With a very steady tripod, and a good lens, and the right exposure, a halfway decent photographer today ought to be able to pick up something interesting out there. I was shooting in the dark, not sure whether I’d get any decent results, but having seen what I did get, I’m tempted to try again, refining my technique as I go.

Star map courtesy of AstroViewer

No photograph, on film or in pixels, can really capture the depth and majesty of the night sky itself. You can take a picture that shows where the stars are; you can even take a picture that shows how many stars there are. But no reproduction really catches the texture and illumination of the original experience.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


It being a new year, an old friend and I wandered down to the continent’s edge to turn our pockets inside out and throw the missteps of the old year out into the flowing water.

While we were there, we did a little tidepooling.

John Steinbeck’s old friend Ed Ricketts loved the rich intertidal zone, a fertile area of constant turmoil, washed with fresh nutrients at every high tide, left to warm and interact as the water draws back out, creating a steady stream of surplus energy for the next several links in the food chain.

My old friend Susan loves the tidepools, where you can poke sea anemones and watch them squirt.

Different forms of life seem to cling in every crevice here, some hunkering down and hiding in the dry time until the water comes back, others lurking in the water most of the day but darting up onto land for the air they need to survive. Nothing here survives by being all wet or all dry.

All sorts of life blossom and intertwine in this microhabitat, rife with diversity, adaptation, and specialization.

Shorebirds love the band along the coast too, where chum fish school and forage on the tasty nutrients in the shallows.

We saw a couple of different flocks of pelicans swirling over shoals of unseen fish near the shore, diving past each other and splashing often two at a time, feeding as fast as they could drop, surface, and climb back up into the air to dive again.

Much of the abundant life in the intertidal zone is literally neither fish nor fowl, invertebrates of various colors and stripes getting on with life in what modest ways they know.

Having unloaded our misdemeanors from the past year, we headed back to a higher-cultured forage: We heard there was frozen yogurt waiting for us once we got back to the top of the bluffs.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Roadside Distractions

I spent about four hours riding, and about two hours stopped.

I only stopped twice because a hill was fighting back. The rest of my stops were to take pictures, except once when I had to adjust my front derailleur.

I have it on good authority from someone who knows the names of things that this is a California turkey vulture, not to be confused with a turkey buzzard in a pork pie hat. The turkey vulture is one of California’s largest native birds. The bright red face caught my eye as the bird turned. When you spend your mealtimes poking your head into carcasses, you don’t want lots of feathers on your face to catch loose bits.

I was hoping to catch more shots of raptors on the fly, but the few I saw overhead quickly glided away when I stopped and took out my camera. I came upon one big bird getting started on a fresh piece of roadside skunk, but he took off before I could tell whether he was one of these guys or just a big corvid.

One of my goals on this trip was to scout out the roads I’ll be riding in early October. No two hills are quite alike: One has better pavement, another more wind; one climbs in shallow terraces and steep rises, another in a long, slow, steady grind. So it’s good to know what you’re up against. Another goal was to get lots of my picture taking done, so that next time I can ride more or less straight through.

I took all the major hills from the October ride and broke them up into two large chunks, one to ride Saturday and one Sunday.

The next picture is taken from the road just above this tree, looking back down at the spot where I was standing when I took this picture.

I was happy with the hills. Make no mistake: Work is involved here. But the climbs are a rewarding challenge, and I made it over. I’ve got more training to do before I come back ready to take them all in a single day. For now, though, I know that day will be filled with golden vistas and a few screaming downhills.

Fog Rolls Like a Cyclist

I took a short detour to have a look at the fog gathering up on the ocean below me.

If I had followed this road to its end, I would have found myself at Russia’s southernmost outpost in North America, from back in the 1800s.

When you’re over this hill, you don’t plan on coming back up from the other side. You might find yourself building up speed on the way down. The only way out is through.