Sunday, August 29, 2010

Uncorked (Sex and Rock & Roll)

Taking a break from the natural world today. I went to a Scissor Sisters concert on Friday evening. To say it was life changing would be an overstatement, but it sure as hell was a lot more than just enjoying a dance band's performance.

When I attended graduate school from 1975 until 1981, my wife and I went out dancing most every Saturday night. She always enjoyed herself, but I was an addict. I've never gotten over it; fully a third of the selections on my iPod are dance music--including the Scissor Sisters. Because SS recently released their third album, I figured they'd be touring so I checked their website on Friday morning and, voila! they were going to be in town Friday night! What timing! I hurriedly called my wife at work and asked if she wanted to go (she likes them, too). She said she'd think about it. Over the years, my wife has become a social "dud," and her response didn't give me a lot of confidence that I'd have a date that evening.

When she got home, she asked if I'd mind going to the concert alone. While I'd hoped she'd come with me, I wasn't going to let her lack of enthusiasm put a damper on mine (at least not this time). So, I hopped in the car, drove downtown, and had a hell of a good time.

The concert was held in a warehouse-like venue with almost no seating. General admission included standing room on the floor or access to a few bleachers in the back of the room. But, who wants to sit down to hear a dance band? The two lead vocalists, Jake Shears and Ana Matronic (not their real names?) were backed up by two guitarists, a drummer, a keyboard player and two female backup vocalists. Shears and Matronic exuded sexiness. Shears is handsome and very well-built, and he performed most of the evening with the top of his skin-tight tie-dyed coveralls stripped down to his waist. Matronic had her bright red hair piled seductively onto her head and wore a very short black leather dress.

It didn't take long until I was dancing my ass off with the rest of the crowd, whooping, hollering, and punching my fists in the air in time with the music. It was tribal; it was great. I honestly hadn't had such a good time in years.

Verging on "life changing...?" Going to the concert and dancing uninhibitedly made me feel young again. It brought back the physical and mental feelings that have lain mostly dormant since 1981. For two hours, I returned to some of the best times of my youth. The concert uncorked a genie that I'd kept bottled up for three decades.

How was the concert itself? Full of energy. A great show. Very, very loud. (Some of the best features of the Scissor Sisters' music are the clever, catchy lyrics, and it was impossible to hear the lyrics over the band during the concert. But who cared? We all knew the lyrics by heart anyway.) Nevertheless, my hearing was seriously impaired for hours after the concert. At the end of the evening, two confetti cannons spewed clouds of Mylar, tissue paper, and faux $3-bill confetti onto the sweaty crowd while laser lights raked the room. For two minutes, I was in heaven.
On a natural note, as I drove to the concert, I passed a huge field planted with native grasses and enclosed in post-and-rail fencing. On the outside of the fence, adjacent to the busy road I traveled, a Great Blue Heron was stalking prey. Grasshoppers? Mice?

Confetti from the concert finale

Friday, August 27, 2010

Perfect Summer Meadows

Took another walk in "our" natural area after dinner and just before sunset last evening. This time, we sauntered through an old farm that has been planted with wildflowers and native grasses to create diverse grasslands that will attract meadow-nesting birds. While the meadows have not yet attracted any of the meadow-nesting birds (except Red-winged Blackbirds), they are spectacularly beautiful this time of year, with a profusion of wildflowers growing amidst luxurious stands of magenta purpletop (Tridens flavus) and russet Indian-grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

At one point, as we rounded a corner in the mowed trail through the tall grasses, we were startled by a group of about 30 migrating Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) that ascended noisily en mass from their hiding place in the grass, flew a few dozen feet, and then disappeared back into the grass.

Summer returns on Sunday with 90+ temperatures and high humidity each day through at least Thursday. It's been wonderful to enjoy this late summer reprieve for the last few days.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Late Summer, Early Evening

We took a walk in "our" natural area last evening. We hadn't been out for weeks because of the unremittingly high temperatures. But the weather has been cool and cloudy for the last three days, and we took advantage of the break to enjoy the late summer meadows. Another heat wave starts this Sunday.

Dozens of Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) were wheeling through the skies, but there was no sign of migrating Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor), which usually pass through singly during the last week of August. The swifts roost in the evening in a tall chimney at a local college. It's a local birdwatcher's hotspot to set up a lawn chair and watch the birds plunge into the chimney at sunset.

Many bumblebees were already drowsy on the goldenrod (which I think is Wrinkle-leaf Goldenrod [Solidago rugosa]). It never fails to amaze me to see bumblebees in the evening clinging motionless to goldenrod, obviously intent on spending the night there rather than returning to their holes. Some were still foraging actively, though.

Jumpseed (Polygonum virginianum) leaf edges always seem to curl up near the end of the growing season. I don't know if it's lack of soil moisture or whether it's just in their nature. This patch reminded me of variegated poinsettias.
The natural area has an old farm pond where children can angle for sunfish with barbless hooks. I think each one of the sunnies in the pond must have been caught a dozen times.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Delaware Canal Towpath Bicycling

Though I love to ride my bicycle, many things conspired this summer to limit my rides--especially the relentless string of humid, 90+ days. My wife had to work all day last Saturday (August 21), so she suggested that I go for a long ride that day. Just recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced that it had repaired and reopened the towpath paralleling the Delaware Canal following devastating flooding in 2006. The ride along the towpath had been among our favorite rides before the flooding destroyed the trail, so I took advantage of the fact that the towpath had just reopened to take a 36-mile ride on Saturday morning (18 miles out and back). The entire trail runs from Bristol, Pennsylvania on the south to Easton, Pennsylvania on the north, a distance of 59 miles. For most of its route, the Delaware Canal closely parallels the Delaware River.
A view across the Delaware River to a knob on the New Jersey side.
The canal was severely damaged by flooding in June 2006. The Delaware River rose up out of its banks, inundated the canal, and scoured away the towpath in many places. The state vowed to repair the trail, and they finally came through after four years. How long will it last, though? There are "high water marks" on buildings, rocks, and bridge abutments all along the towpath, and all of the marks are above the level of the canal.

The canal and towpath traverse some pretty scenic landscapes. Nowadays, of course, the properties are among the most expensive in Pennsylvania because of the corridor's rural character, its proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, and the spectacular views across the canal and the river.

A private residence abutting a reach of the (temporarily dewatered) canal

There are quite a few historic structures still extant, dating from the canal's heyday (1832-1931). The following are views of the Uhlerstown Covered Bridge spanning the canal.
A rebuilt wooden lock gate
A red-girt bridge spanning the canal; there are literally hundreds of of these ubiquitous bridges along the towpath

The canal also supported plenty of inns along its route; many are still bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants.

Indian Rock InnLumberville Inn

The canal was largely built on the floodplain of the Delaware River, so it intersected with many riparian features. Much of the canal corridor is wooded and semi-natural, making for a very pleasant bike ride. Of course, with the area so frequently disturbed, invasives are a big problem.

Cabbage Whites (Artogeia rapae)enjoying purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) flowers

Purple loosestrife and Japanese hops (Humulus japonicus) along the bank of the canal

But many areas are more natural, especially where the canal cuts through backwater swamps.

Duck-potato or wapato (Sagittaria latifolia) growing alongside the canal

While the canal was dewatered for four years for repairs, sycamore seedlings established themselves. Now that the canal has been reflooded, I wonder if these trees will be able to persist, even though they can tolerate some wet feet.

At Mile 46 (north of the southern terminus), sheer 300-foot cliffs rise up above the south side of the canal and the Delaware River. These are the Nockamixon Cliffs (also sometimes called the Delaware River Palisades). The red shales and sandstones that were originally deposited here were cooked into hard metamorphic hornfels by a nearby magmatic intrusion, making the rock extremely resistant to erosion.

Fifteen thousand years ago, when glacial ice dominated the landscape just a few miles north, arctic conditions prevailed on the cliffs. Today, a remnant of those times persists on these north-facing, cooler, and moister rock walls. Roseroot sedum (Sedum rosea), a plant usually found in arctic or high mountain areas, is an endangered species in Pennsylvania known only from two sites along the Delaware River. it was discovered growing on the Nockamixon Cliffs in 1867. Since then, the cliffs have been regarded as one of the most important botanical areas in southeastern Pennsylvania. The cliffs are off-limits to the public, and are virtually inaccessible without technical climbing gear.
Nockamixon Cliffs (a.k.a Delaware River Palisades)

Delaware River opposite the Nockamixon Cliffs

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ohio Reunion Weekend

Deer Lick Run
Cleveland Metropark's Bedford Reservation

My wife and I made a quick three-day weekend trip to Ohio last weekend to attend our 40th high school reunion in an inner-ring Cleveland suburb. Because airfares from our home city to Cleveland are outrageous (we can fly to the West Coast for less money), we flew to Columbus, rented a car, and drove 2-1/2 hours to Cleveland.

As we approached Cleveland late Friday afternoon, I begged my wife's indulgence to stop to photograph Deerlick Run in Cleveland Metropark's Bedford Reservation. She knows that Deerlick Run is my favorite stream in the whole world, and so she agreed. I've featured images of this creek in previous posts, but only in winter and autumn. Now I have images from deep summer, too.

Just downstream from the small cascade in the images above, there is a much taller falls called Bridal Veil Falls. I've tried to photograph Bridal Veil Falls in the past, but the images haven't been great. I explained this to my wife, and she told me to take some pictures anyway. I did, and they weren't great, but the image below was the best I got. The ravine is dark, and the upper falls are bright in the sunlight, making the picture full of contrast.

Bridal Veil Falls
Deer Lick Run
Cleveland Metropark's Bedford Reservation

While we photographed the stream, there was a family wading in the creek. I remarked to them that Deerlick Run is a great wading stream, and the father agreed, saying, "I've been coming here for 35 years!" I told him that it had been nearly 50 years for me.

My wife, who had only been to Deerlick Run once before many years ago, said that the stream was truly lovely, and that she could understand why I had fallen in love with it. She added that, for her, it brought to mind a Victorian landscape painting.

The class reunion spread over three days, with an "icebreaker" at a local bar-and-grill on Friday evening, a dinner-dance in the old high school cafeteria on Saturday evening, and a picnic on Sunday afternoon. We had to get back home on Sunday and skipped the picnic, but attended the other two events. We enjoyed ourselves, but couldn't recognize many of the 100+ folks from our class of 525 who attended the reunion.

Because we had no reunion-related commitments on Saturday afternoon, we visited The West Woods, a relatively new Geauga County park that I had wanted to visit for many years. In fact, in my 1970's-vintage road map book of Geauga County (which I still own), I had made a note that there was a geologic feature that I had wanted to explore, but in the 1970's, the land was private property. I certainly was not above trespassing back in the 1970's to investigate natural features, but in this case I had marked the attraction (Ansel's Ledges) on my map but had never gone to see them. I intended to right that oversight during this trip.

The West Woods is a large park (around 500 acres), most of which is cloaked in dense beech-sugar maple forest. Ansel's Ledges (now called Ansel's Cave) is the main attraction. Despite dense cloud cover and the threat of showers, we set off on the 0.75-mile trail to the cave.

Ansel's Ledges formed from erosion of Sharon Conglomerate. The conglomerate is resistant to weathering, but the underlying shales are not, so the supporting shale erodes away, and then great blocks of the conglomerate crack off, forming modest cliffs and ledges.

Ansel's Ledges in Sharon Conglomerate
The West Woods Park, Geauga County

When we arrived at Ansel's "Cave," we were in for some disappointment. The feature is not a cave in the true sense of the word; it's a very narrow ravine with huge undercut and overhanging conglomerate cliffs that do not fully close over the top of the ravine. The ravine was cut through the conglomerate and shale by an intermittent stream with a small falls at the head of the ravine, but northeast Ohio's unusually dry summer meant that there was no water flowing over the lip of the falls. Lastly, the canopy of a huge tree had recently fallen into the mouth of the ravine, partially obscuring the view up to the spill off at the head of the ravine with a tangle of dead branches. Ansel's Cave in this state was so uninspiring and unphotogenic that I didn't even bother to take a picture.

Boardwalk alongside Ansel's Ledges

Ansel's Ledges
The West Woods Park

When Geauga County Parks established The West Woods, they built an enviable environmental education and meeting facility. The rain showers did not hold off until we returned from our walk, so we stopped in the visitor center to dry off (and cool off, too, since it was unmercifully hot and humid). The center features a long wall with windows looking out over an elaborate (and busy) bird feeding station. There, we watched a Downy Woodpecker repeatedly return to (and aggressively defend) a hummingbird feeder--a Downy with a definite sweet beak, that's a first for me!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

My wife wanted to go see the film The Kids Are All Right; it has gotten generally good reviews, so I was game and we went on Saturday. Bottom line: we agreed that we'd give the film 2-1/2 stars out of 5.

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Benning) have the normal American life in California. They're married, have two kids, and live in a comfortable home. The difference is, of course, that they're both women, and their children Lazer (15-year-old Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (18-year-old Mia Wasikowska) are the offspring of a single sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). As the kids are maturing, they become curious about their father.

The kids set up an initially awkward luncheon with Paul. However, they remain interested after meeting him, and tell their parents, who invite Paul over for dinner. Gradually, Paul becomes an increasingly important part of the family's life--for better or worse.

The kids and Mark are great in this film. Their characters are well-developed and likable, though Lazer is a bit unbelievable (at least to this adult) because of his relationship with his clearly-toxic best friend. Mark Ruffalo's immense charm saves him, even though the way the filmmakers handle his character is insulting.

The real problem lies with the two moms. There are many unaddressed issues between the two--an ubercontrolling personality, alienation, alcoholism--and, while the issues are given lip service, they are never honestly discussed let alone resolved by the end of the film.

The film is almost schizophrenic, too. The first two-thirds are rather light, occasionally funny, and upbeat. Then, suddenly, after a legitimate crisis, the final third of the film becomes dark and somber.

There's a great film buried in the one currently on the multiplex screens, but it would have taken a better set of writers (and maybe actors, too) to bring it to life.

Pileated Progeny

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
Image from Emory University website

I haven't posted in quite a while, mainly because I haven't been outside much in quite a while to observe post-worthy events. Temperatures have been in the mid-90s, the humidity seems like it's matching the temperature, and the mosquitoes are intimidating. We're in the midst of our eighth official heat wave this summer (i.e., three days or longer of 90 degrees or higher). I'm getting cabin fever in the summer.

This morning, I did run across a good friend in the natural area that I frequent. He told me that the natural area's dedicated birders observed an immature Pileated Woodpecker near the creek last Saturday morning, August 7.

We've seen Pileateds sporadically over the years in the natural area, and this year we observed one on a frequent basis. But this is the first evidence of successful breeding in the 22 years I've lived here. The habitat always seemed right, but we could never observe a pair. I guess we still haven't seen a pair, but we've certainly now observed the result of their union.