Fine China

Before: There was not much hope for the Chinese maple underneath this mess.

It will be just fine. The Chinese maple that I mentioned earlier this morning sustained surprisingly minimal damage when part of a bay tree fell onto it. The situation initially seemed hopeless prior to the removal the heavy debris that was pressing the diminutive Chinese maple downward. Yet, the little tree somehow regained its composure, and is expected to recover.

The little Chinese maple was always rather sparse in the shade of the surrounding forest. Also, it exhibited an asymmetrically sculptural form. That is likely normal for the species within its natural environment, where it lives as an understory tree (within the shade or partial shade of larger forest trees). The distinctive form and open canopy were part of its allure.

As the debris was removed, most of the stems of the Chinese maple sprang back into their original positions. Only two major limbs were fractured and needed to be pruned away. Some of the minor twiggy growth was groomed in the process. The main trunk was somewhat destabilized, but not too detrimentally so.

It probably should be no surprise that the little tree was so resilient to the altercation. It is, after all, an understory tree. Within its natural environment, it likely contends with the same sort of abuse. Chinese forests are likely just as messy as forests here are. Gravity pulls all that mess in the same direction.

The little Chines maple may not look like much now that it has been groomed and pruned to be even more sparse than it originally was, but it should be fine. By this time next year, foliar density should be comparable to what it was prior to the incident. The form will remain sculptural, as it grows away from the shade of the forest, and out over the stream below.

After: After a bit of grooming, this little Chinese maple is not so badly disfigured.

Nature Gets Too Much Credit

So much of nature is unnatural.

Vegetation make people feel closer to nature. It is, after all, what most of us expect to see out in the wild. Most vegetation that is observed in forests and undeveloped areas really is natural. Much of the associated insects and wildlife are natural as well. Such flora and fauna know how to survive within their respective ecosystems. They can not rely on any unnatural intervention from anyone.

Naturalized exotic (non-native) species proliferate only because they are adapted to similar environmental conditions. A lack of pathogens that afflicted them within their natural ranges is a major advantage for most of them. Nonetheless, they are unnatural components of what is commonly considered to be nature. Most naturalized exotic species actually interfere significantly with nature.

Vegetation and associated wildlife that inhabits synthetic landscapes is very different from that which lives out in nature. Only some of the vegetation has potential to naturalize. Even less is native. Almost all of it is reliant on artificial intervention for survival, particularly irrigation. Associated wildlife is reliant on the survival of the reliant vegetation. Landscapes accommodate. Nature does not.

With few exceptions, landscapes that emulate nature are impractical. Landscapes within forests are some of those few exceptions that might need no more than what the forests provide. Even in such situations, combustible vegetation and structurally deficient trees should be cleared away from homes. In California, nature is innately combustible. It is messy and potentially dangerous too.

Most urban landscapes of California would still be dreadfully bleak if limited to natural components. Both San Jose and Los Angeles are naturally chaparral regions. They were formerly inhabited by sparsely dispersed trees on scrubby grasslands. Now, relatively abundant vegetation in both regions is more appealing, and improves urban lifestyles, but is nothing like what nature intended.

Nature is simply inadequate for what is expected of urban landscapes of California.

Out Of Step

Watch your step . . . while there is one to watch!

This is . . . odd. It is like something of the Winchester House. It seems that these steps in the picture above should go down to a lower deck, but there is no indication that there had ever been such a deck down there. The steps are well maintained and swept mostly clean of forest debris, so whatever happened to whatever should be down there must have happened recently.

Actually, these steps are for what is above rather than what is not below. The picture below shows that there is a deck associated with these steps, but that it is a considerable distance away, and that the only way to get there is by the cable that extends to it from the upper right corner of the picture, over Zayante Creek. The deck is rather sloped to facilitate arrival.

The cable that extends in the same direction from the middle of the top of the picture is somehow associated with the collective infrastructure, but I do not know how or why. Heck, I do not know how or why anyone would put such a deck so far away while there is plenty of space right here for a luxuriously spacious deck! Apparently, this whole setup is part of a short ‘zip line’ tour.

I don’t get it. It must be fun. It looks terrifying to me. I think that if I were to try something like this, I would rather be terrified someplace with more appropriate scenery, like between the skyscrapers of downtown San Jose! Now that would be RAD . . . and terrifying! In this particular location, I would not want to speed past all this interesting flora without slowing down or stopping to appreciate it.

The lower right quadrant of the lower picture shows young alders. Above and beyond, to the upper right, there are young redwoods with some Douglas firs mixed in. Just to the left of them, at the upper center, is an exemplary bigleaf maple. Most of the vegetation to the left is bay laurels, with some tanoaks, and perhaps madrones mixed in. The undergrowth the lower left is filberts.

I am certainly in no hurry to try this ‘zip line’ tour, and if I do, I seriously doubt that I will be noticing the surrounding flora; not just because of the speed, but because of the terror!

Oh, . . . so that is where these steps lead to!

Vegetation Exploitation

If a tree falls in a forest, . . . it might get recycled.

Exploitation of the vegetation here involves so much more than collecting seed from old bloom, dividing overgrown perennials, or processing cuttings from pruning scraps. It goes beyond the reassignment of lauristinus, canna, African iris, deodar cedar and perhaps others that I wrote about earlier. Flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs are mundanely obvious assets.

The landscapes and forests here do so much more than beautify and provide shade. When a tree falls in a forest (and makes a sound even if no one is there to hear it), it might get processed into firewood or lumber. Some of the foliage that falls in landscaped areas goes to the compost piles. Even debris that gets removed from here gets recycled as greenwaste somewhere else.

Of course, we can not recycle, reuse, repurpose or otherwise make use of everything that falls out of the forests and landscapes. There is simply too much of it. That is how the ecosystems of the forests recycle naturally. Exotic plants in the landscapes do not know that they are exotic, and try to behave as they would within their respective ecosystems. Nature is innately messy.

Trees that fall across hiking trails merely get cleared from the trails, and left to decompose out in the forests. Even potentially useful firs, pines and redwoods can not be extracted feasibly. Their big trunks might remain where they fell, with only a section cut out where a trail goes through. The forests do not mind. Their ecosystems know how to make use of such biomass too.

This fallen fir tree happened to land squarely on top of a few steps in a trail that is cut into a steep hillside. As you can see, it was not exactly cleared completely from the trail, but instead replaced the steps that it destroyed.

Garter Snake

P90525KThis little critter surprised me at work last week. Even though I knew it to be harmless, my instinctual response was to get away from it fast. I have encountered enough rattlesnakes to know better than to take the time to identify a snake before getting some distance from it. Even after identifying a snake as a harmless garter snake, I still prefer to avoid it as it leaves. This one was in no hurry, so got picked up with a rake and set safely aside.
Between high school and college, I took a summer job for a (primarily) retail nursery in Miramar on the coast of San Mateo County. At this job, I sometime went with the maintenance crew to work in a few home gardens. At one such job, just overlooking the beach in Montara, I needed to mow an overgrown lawn. Rather than mow back and forth from the upper edge to the lower, I mowed a concentric pattern inward from the outer edge.
What that meant was that I mowed the edge first, and then just inside the freshly mown edge, and then just inside that second track, and so on, with the intention of finishing at the center of the lawn. What I did not consider was that this technique concentrated the several garter snakes that happened to be on the lawn at the time into the diminishing unmown center. Needless to say, I needed to stop mowing while I chased them off with a stick.
What I also neglected to consider during my Indiana Jones experience was that these were no ordinary garter snakes. They were the more colorful and endangered San Francisco garter snake. I remember their extra pair of red stripes on top. Supposedly, they also had an extra pair of blue stripes underneath. I did not get close enough to notice.

Nature For Sale

P90323KGardening is unnatural. Yes; quite unnatural. So is landscaping. It all involves planting exotic plants from all over the World that would not otherwise be here, including many that are too extensively and unnaturally bred and hybridized to survive for long even in the natural ecosystems from which their ancestors were derived.
Unless they grow on their own, even native plants are not natural. Those that are native to the region may not be native to the specific site. Many that are grown in nurseries are unnaturally selected varieties or cultivars. To complicate matters, much of what seems to be natural out in forests and wild lands are invasive naturalized exotics.
The weather above and most of the soil below are natural, but both are commonly enhanced for our gardens. We water our gardens and landscapes as if the weather is insufficient. Soil amendments and fertilizers compensate for what we perceive to be inadequacies of the natural soil. Insects, deer, raccoons and disease are all natural too, but we put quite a bit of effort into excluding them from our gardens.
Bees and other pollinators are all the rage now, even though many are not native or natural here. We provide them with weird and confusing new cultivars of flowers that likely produce nutritionally deficient pollen, and that distract them from naturally native plants that rely on them for pollination. It all gets so confusing!
These potted annuals and flowering perennials at the supermarket are pretty and might provide the illusion of bringing a little bit of nature closer to the home. Yet, there is nothing natural about them. They are all unnaturally bred and hybridized from unnaturally exotic plants, and were provided with synthetic fertilizers and artificial irrigation, while they were grown in synthetic medium, contained withing synthetic pots.

Wild Turkey

P90224This is a relatively new development. The first few arrived here only two years ago. By last year, a few more arrived to make a significant herd that split into two smaller herds. Now these two smaller herds are quite significant. If they continue to proliferate as they have been, they will become more of a problem. They are already shredding flowers and colorful berries that are within their reach, and digging up flexible irrigation hoses.
They are not really wild turkeys, since they are not native here. They are actually feral turkeys that escaped into the wild and naturalized. They may have moved in from surrounding areas, or they may have escaped locally. Turkeys have been roaming parts of Scott’s Valley and my neighborhood in the Los Gatos Hills for a few years. Much larger herds roam other regions, particularly the Diablo Ranges east of the San Francisco Bay Area.
My former neighbor knew how to select the good ones. They all look the same to me. When they showed up on the road at my home, I could just chase them to the neighbor’s home, where he would take what we wanted. They were so stupid that he probably could have grabbed the good ones rather than shoot them. It is amazing that they could survive in the wild so stupidly.
I suppose that it was good that they survived to keep the meat fresh. However, I am now concerned about how these exotic and prolific birds might affect the ecosystem. Are they taking food from other wildlife? Are they dispersing seeds of the fruits they eat differently from other birds who eat them and fly away to other areas? Are they providing too much food for predators, and allowing them to proliferate more than they should naturally?P90224+

Six on Saturday: Cabin Fever


Seriously! The flu!, or something like it. I was totally sick for days, with an awful fever. As if that were not bad enough, it happened while I was supposed to be relaxing and on vacation!

Neither was planned. Getting sick never is. The vacation was a total surprise too; a Christmas gift from one of the guys at work! It was totally rad, even if I was sick for it.

You see, we work at one of the most excellent places in the entire universe, where people come from all over for restorative retreats. That by itself is totally rad. What is radder is that we can rent unused rooms or cabins for out-of-town guests or for ourselves if we like. It is very affordable, and like vacationing at work. That may not seem like much fun for those who do not enjoy their work like we do, but like I said, this is one of the most excellent places to work in the entire universe.

So, my colleague got me nine nights in what is classified as an ‘economy’ cabin, but by my standards was very luxurious. I had stayed in a smaller newly remodeled cabin for two nights, and a hotel like room for a night, but had done nothing like this; nine nights in secluded luxury! If one must get sick, this is the way to do it!

Anyway, this is where my six pictures for this week came from.

1. This is the upward view from the front door. The black margin at the top of the picture is the edge of the eave. The trees to the left are canyon live oaks and a tan oak. The trees to the right are towering coastal redwoods.p90105

2. This is the same spot. Instead of looking straight up, this is looking outward from the front door. There is no refined landscaping here; only the native trees with the exotic English ivy that is cascading slightly over the old stone wall.p90105+

3. These towering coastal redwoods are outside a bedroom window.p90105++

4. These towering and somewhat darker coastal redwoods are outside the bathroom window.p90105+++

5. The artwork on the interior walls are mostly pictures of the local flora and wildlife. Most are rather artistic. Some are pictures of common but exotic flora that, although probably appealing to those who do not recognize them, are not the sort of subject matter that I would have selected. For example, one of the big framed photographs in the bedroom is a closeup of the summery foliage of London planetree, Platanus X acerifolia. Ick! I took this picture of three pictures that I found to be amusing. On the left, we have some interesting lichens and a bit of moss on what seems to be an apple tree. Okay. In the middle, we have foliage of California bay tree, Umbellularia californica. Odd, but again . . . okay. On the right, we have maces from the exotic sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. Now, I would say that is weird, but it really is a cool picture!p90105++++

6. Rhody was not supposed to be on the bed.p90105+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


P80429Redwood Glen was the ‘camp’ that we all went to in the sixth grade. It was probably our equivalent of what is now known as ‘nature camp’. For most of us, our experience at Redwood Glen was the longest time we had ever been away from our homes and families. We arrived on Monday morning, and returned home on Friday afternoon. It was something that we looked forward to with great anticipation for the few years prior.

While there, we studied nature in a variety of ways. We found animal tracks and made plaster casts of them. We went hiking through a variety of ecosystems, and went on a night hike. We searched for fossils; and I found and still have the most complete fossil of half of a fish. We studied ecology and native flora and fauna. We identified redwoods, Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, bays, live oaks, bigleaf maples and box elders. We collected a few edible herbaceous plants and made our own salads with them. The three leaves that I collected to distinguish leaves with pinnate, palmate and parallel veins was a project in one of our botanical workshops. I described it yesterday at:

For my class, that was back in November of 1978. In 1995, when I went to grow rhododendrons nearby, I became a neighbor to Redwood Glen. I always knew where it was, but never had any excuse to stop by; until now. Some of my colleagues who manage the facilities and landscapes at a nearby conference center toured the site. I was right there with them.

Some of the buildings were new since 1978. Some had been renovated. The big dining room had not changed. What was most excellent about touring the facility was finding the same old cabin I stayed in back in 1978. I think that it was simply designated as Cabin 4 back then, but is now known as ‘PINE’.

Except for a modern roof and windows, Pine looks just like it did when I was there three decades ago. The middle front door was for the counselors who stayed in their own tiny room between the two wings to the left and right. I stayed in the wing on the right. My bunk was the lower of the two just inside the front door to the right. I so wanted to see the interior of Pine, but the door was locked.

I rarely want to see places that I remember so fondly. I prefer to remember them as they were rather than find that they had been renovated disgracefully, or demolished and replaced with something new. I sort of expected to find something new here. What an excellent surprise!P80429+

Pinnate Leaves

P80428K.JPGThat refers to the pattern of the veins in the leaves. Long before studying horticulture and botany at Cal Poly, my classmates and I learned a bit about horticulture within the contexts of studying ‘nature’. While in the sixth grade, we all went to camp for a week. One of the many projects we did during that time was collecting a few leaves to represent three different vein patterns, and mounting them under clear plastic on a cardboard plaque. The three different patters were, ‘pinnate’, ‘palmate’, and ‘parallel’. I do not remember if we all used the same leaves, but for my plaque, I got a blue gum eucalyptus leaf to represent pinnate veins. Palmate veins were represented by English ivy. Parallel veins were represented by English plantain.

These two blue gum trees are the same trees that provided the leaf with pinnate veins for my plaque. This is not a good picture. There really are two trees here. The picture below is even worse, but shows that there really are two separate trees. They probably flanked a driveway to the old house outside of the picture to the right. They are not very healthy right now, and do not seem to be much bigger than they were back in November of 1978, when my sixth grade class was here at camp with them.

This camp happens to be right down the road from the farm. We are neighbors. It is gratifying to see that so much of the camp is just as it was four decades ago. The English ivy that was so common back than is completely gone now, probably because it is so invasive. The lawn around the blue gum eucalyptus used to be much weedier, and provided the English plantain leaves for my plaque.P80428K+