Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Christmas Story

My memory doesn't seem to function like other peoples. At least, from the way they talk it doesn't. I don't really remember any particular Christmas. All my memories just get all jumbled up together into just one big impression of Christmas.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Early Morning of the Comet

Comet ISON is out in the early morning sky. Back in 2012 when it was discovered, at the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia, the hopes were that it would be a bright and impressive comet. As it has gotten closer expectations have been scaled back. But just recently the brightness increased and it has now become visible to the naked eye.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lodi Crane Festival

Once again I'm back from the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi. It was an odd year, while we did seem some of the cranes, I didn't see too many species of birds. I suspect the warm, dry, windy conditions made the viewing poor. Though maybe it was the end of Daylight Savings Time (one of the great evils of the 21st Century).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Art in Action

Recently (Oct 19th) I dropped over to Ventura for their annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. For those that don't know this is a “race” where people have built human powered vehicles (mostly based on bicycles) and race them through four events.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Give Us 10

We all have stories. Big stories and small ones. Some are things that have happened to us, while others are things that have happened to people we know. Still others are things we've just made up. Not every story is one we really want to share, while others we'll tell to anyone that will sit still long enough to listen to the whole thing. And sometimes we tell the same story to the same people over and over again. Sometimes we don't remember we told them, while other times, we tell the story again because it is important to us.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Moon Rabbit

I write quite a few plays. Most are pretty short, ten minutes or so. So I keep my eyes open for places wanting short plays. Last year I saw a notice for one in Canada and they had a rule that (if you weren't Canadian) you had to have one of the characters say “I see a rabbit”.

Well I let that sort of percolate in my brain. And somewhere back in the dusty file cabinets of my mind an image came up. Like an old Ripley's Believe It Or Not, it seemed to have something about some cultures saw a rabbit on the moon instead of the man on the moon. Well off to the Internet I went and did a search on moon and rabbit. And just like my dusty cobwebbed memory had said, some cultures do see a rabbit on the moon.

So delving into Wikipedia I read up on some of the myths that arose to explain why there was a rabbit on the moon. And two of the stories were remarkably similar. And they were from separate continents. There was an old Aztec tale about the god Quetzalcoatl and a Buddhist tale about Sakra, a Buddhist “god”. Both tales involved the god traveling and being hungry and the rabbit sacrificing itself so the god could eat. And in return the god put the rabbit's image on the moon.

So now I had an image that I wanted to use for my play and after a short time I knew what I was going to do and the play wrote itself quickly. I was able to have a reading of the play at Fiddler's Crossing Open Mic Night a week or two before the deadline to submit the play. With Debbie Martin and Cambria Hynes doing the two parts the play was well received. Though I did notice something that I felt needed fixed, did a very minor rewrite and sent it off to Canada.

Well, to make a long story short, it wasn't picked for their festival, but that wasn't the end of my little play. For some time now Gary Mazzola and I have been collaborating on some projects and he decided that he wanted to make a film of my play. And with the help of some of the actors with Tehachapi Community Theatre the film “moon rabbit” has been completed. The video is available on YouTube. Either go to YouTube and search on “moon rabbit mazzola” or type in the link I think the resulting film turned out wonderfully.

 So go and watch the film and see where my inspiration that came from a dusty old memory took me. But I can't sit back and rest on my laurels. I need to get back to writing. The deadline for our own TCT festival is coming up and I need to get something written for it. I wonder what dusty old memory I can find for that. (If you think you might have a ten minute play to share, go to and consider submitting for the festival next spring.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Time to Begin

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

Summer has finally started for me. One very time consuming project is finished, so it is time to start finding new projects to work on. Or get back to some that have sort of fallen by the wayside.
I've got a book I'm in the process of editing. A mystery novel set in the 30s out in Death Valley. I'm about halfway through the second draft and need to finish that up and get further along the path towards trying to get it published. Then I can consider writing more books with the characters I've begun to develop. As far as I can tell mysteries tend to build collections of books using the same detectives.

Then I've got plays to write. A couple that are already started and just need more work. And some that I've just started having ideas for. And I've got several out being considered for various theatres around the country. Plus it's about time to start working on one for Tehachapi Community Theatre's Playwrights Festival. The festival has been moved to the Spring (so 2014) and the call for submissions is about to be made. Anybody living in Kern County can submit a script, and a 10-minute play is only about 10 pages long. (For proper formatting I recommend the free software Celtx.) So it's something that many of you could try to do. We had some good scripts last season, but I think that we can do even better.

Then one short play I wrote earlier this year seems to be coming back and it is trying to talk me into making it a movie. And it will likely be different that some of the other things I've written that Gary Mazzola has turned into movies. Previously he's taken monologues or short plays and “filmed” them and released them on YouTube. But this will be different, assuming it ever gets made.

Then there's getting ready for the Kern County Fair. Yep, I'm going to try to get another ribbon or two. So that means trying new recipes. Maybe even something with Spam again this year. Yum. And there will certainly be some pies. I've got a really good lemon pie this year, so I'll probably take that one down. And of course keep trying with apple pie. I've got some new ideas there too.

And then there are always new things to learn. I need to try to track down a book on spiders. None of my insect books has more than a page or two on arachnids. And with all the spiders around right now, I'm feeling ignorant. Then I want to find some time to try to learn some painting. Probably watercolors. But I need to set up my computer room with space for projects like that. Why the computer room? Well YouTube has free lessons on so many different things. (Of course some like flintknapping shouldn't be done inside.)

 So summer has barely started and I've got a full agenda already. Hopefully you'll be using yours well too. But you know... Right now I think I'll take a break.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nutty Finalist

This year was Kern County's first Nut Festival. Since Kern County grows a lot of different nuts. In particular: walnuts, almonds and pistachios. The festival was held down at the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield in the middle of the pioneer town set up at the museum. And various booths were set up around the roads and parks in the area.

I was able to go for free, since I was one of the finalists in the Nutty Food recipe contest. You were required to use one of the Kern County nuts in your recipe. There were two categories one for desserts and one for entrées. My entry was for an entrée, Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Gorgonzola Sauce. One of the first things I learned after I entered was that not that many people know what gnocchi are.

Just in case you, gentle reader, are one of these that don't, but are too polite to ask, I'll tell you that gnocchi are a kind of Italian dumpling made, usually with potato, flour and egg. Mine were just made with pumpkin instead of potato. Most people seem to use a silent “g” in the “gn” though I've head at least one pronunciation that gets both letters in.

So I entered the contest and sent them a picture of the stuff. And I was selected as a finalist. It was a bit of a surprise, but most people submitted desserts so the entrée category wasn't quite as crowded. And the next thing I know is that I'm waiting until two Fridays before the festival to take my dish down to Urner's to be on the KBFX morning news show with most of the other finalists. And of course they had technical issues, so we call got just a few moments of screen time. And to anyone who can track down the footage somewhere on the Internet you will discover that I didn't faint or in any other way embarrass myself. (Hooray!)

Yep, I was a Nutty Finalist.
So then I just had to wait until the day of the Nut Festival (June 15th) and do it again for the official Judges. The only problem I had, was, well two problems, getting my dish there and finishing it at just the right time so it would be its best, and as a related issue, not being killed by the Bakersfield heat.
Well they did have a demonstration kitchen for us to use and using two burners on the electric stove, I got the dish done and sat out for the judges to look at with just a couple minutes to spare. Then the judging was delayed while something was waited for and my gnocchi didn't take well to the delay. Oh well. Next year if I do it again I'll pick a less fragile dish.

So, did I win? No, thanks for reminding me. But the dessert category was won by Charlie from Tehachapi (sorry, my memory has failed me for her last name) for her Triple Nut Baklava, which I was able to try, and I do have to say it was very good.

 As for the heat in Bakersfield, I did survive, but it was a very close call. I was very glad to get back up to Tehachapi. Though I did bring back the apron they gave to all the finalists. So now I can proudly proclaim that “I'm a Nutty Finalist.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day at the Beach

In preparation for a long trip coming up, we decided that it would be good to take Moonpi out for a day trip. Now this we faced with some trepidation since he doesn't deal well with riding in the car. In fact, except for really short excursions, a trip in the car usually led to barfing.

So a visit to the local branch of the Google University research library provided a possible way to help him out. Dramamine. Just like people. So we picked up a box of generics, checked dosages for his weight, and gave him a tiny test dose. And he ran around like nothing was different. So no adverse reaction. Though without driving around there was no way to be sure if it was helping.

So the next day we loaded up the car, gave Moonpi a full dose and headed to Ventura Harbor. As far as we knew Moonpi had never been to the beach, though there are several months of his life before he came to live with us that we don't really know much about. And he won't talk about it. But it seems unlikely that he'd gone to the beach before.

And the trip out was fine. Moonpi would certainly have rather been in the front seat, but didn't have trouble with the ride. Even the twists and turns of the mountain roads, not even the stop and go traffic when we left the freeways. He seemed to be getting a bit uncomfortable just before we reached the harbor, but not too bad.

And he seemed to have fun at the harbor. He wasn't terribly impressed with the ocean. (Or maybe he was impressed terribly with it.) But he's never much cared for getting wet. Even trying to avoid sidewalks where the sprinklers were running we we go out for strolls. So even my wading out into the waves and trying to coax him in failed completely. He sat on the beach and stared at me like I was crazy. Since the tide was coming in and a wave or two soaked my shorts, he might not have been far wrong.

But after we left the beach and wandered about the harbor, he enjoyed smelling the new smells, urinating on new things, smiling at new people, and having a few french fries at the burger joint. By the time we got back to the car he was tired and hot and just kept looking for shade to lay in. After a nice drink of water and a little push he was back in the car and we were homeward bound.

The trip back was tougher on him. But he found a way to lay his head on the armrest between the front seats and coped the best he could. Even though there was no barfing, he wasn't happy on the way back, so it seems that he'll need another dose of Dramamine after about six hours. Which is reasonable, that's what the box indicates for people.

And very shortly after getting home, Moonpi was up and bouncing around wanting to play. Me? I was worn out and trying hard not to fall asleep in front of the TV.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wild Kingdom

I have some weird adventures with wildlife at times. A few years back I was back for a visit in Oklahoma and my brother dropped me off late at our parents house. I come in and my mother is shouting at me to get in the living room. I go in and turn on the light to see that she had been sleeping on the sofa and one of the dogs had brought in a small opossum. Well, I stomped my foot and it fell over (playing possum). I picked it up and took it outside.

A couple years later, when I was back for another visit, my nephew came out of the laundry room shouting about a snake. Not believing it I went and took a look. Yep, a 3 to 4 foot long black rat snake. In the laundry room. I had him bring me a coat hanger and I bent it to make an improvised snake hook and took it out front.

Zippy the front yard snake. (Western Yellow-bellied Racer).
Well just this week at my house, the local snake was waiting for me on my front mat. We'd had sightings of this snake for the past few years. (Actually I'm assuming it is the same snake, though haven't any way to be sure.) Well, being a Racer, this snake moves very fast so has been named "Zippy". We try to encourage him since he probably likes to eat lots of the things we don't like to have around. (Though he doesn't seem to eat any of the garden gnomes that are infesting my yard.)

A sack of small bunny.
Then this morning I came out of the bathroom to see a small brown shape run across the bedroom. Small, leaves out Moonpi. Brown, leaves out Bill (the Cat). Then I see the cat chase the shape under the bed. And I realize the ferocious feline has brought in a young rabbit. I make a call to get back up and after removing both Moonpi and Bill from the bedroom, the rabbit round up began. You can surely imagine a more dramatic or comedic version.  (And I think I will.) Since it took only a few minutes to guide the bewildered bunny into a paper bag. It didn't seem to be in bad shape, just drooled on a little. And after a few pictures it was released into the field behind the house.

So there you have it. My own wild kingdom adventures. Now I just need to find a sponsor. Oh and a camera man. Maybe I can get myself on Animal Planet. Or maybe not.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

'Tis the Season

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

Being a displaced Okie I've tended to be fairly aware of the weather back in Oklahoma lately. Of course about half the people in Tehachapi seem to have relatives back in Oklahoma, so I just have a little less separation that most. Back when I last lived in Oklahoma, tornado season, started in March and lasted until June, but this year the season started late (May) and will probably run late (?).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Nutty Food

In just a couple weeks (June 15th) the Kern County Nut Festival takes place. And I'm nervous about it. Oh, not from any real concern about someone questioning my sanity, which the festival is not about, but about the fact that my recipe for pumpkin gnocchi with walnut sauce was selected as a finalist in the nutty foods contest.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Sauce
The idea was that you had to use one of the Kern County grown nuts (walnuts, almonds, or pistachios) in a dish. And I used as inspiration some gnocchi I'd bought at Trader Joe's or at least I think I bought them there, and a walnut apple Gorgonzola pizza I had many years ago. Anyway, it turned out good and I submitted it to the contest. And it was selected as a finalist in the entree category, so I'm going to be getting four tickets to the festival.

But I'm not really too nervous about that. Turning in food to judges isn't that hard. You take it in, hand it over then wander about a bit. No, what has me nervous is on Friday (June 7th) I'm supposed to go to Urner's with the other finalists and be featured on the KBFX morning news program (7-9am). For some reason this has me nervous. Probably since I'm more a sit in the back kind of guy. Oh well, It's almost pumpkin gnocchi making time...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Scotty's Castle

Scotty's Castle
A May 22nd in Death Valley there was a small fire (small in California fire terms) near Scotty's Castle. Power was cut off and tours cancelled until May 30th. But the historic building is again open to the public and last I heard the June organ concert is still going to happen. And there were still seats available, though as I understand it the concert is almost always sold out. (Check out info here.)

Scotty's Castle Organ Room
I've never gone to the concert though. I'm typically too busy in June, and besides it sounds hot. I have heard the organ when I was on the tour a few years back (when these pictures were taken). But just last fall I was dragged out to Scotty's Castle for my Birthday kidnapping. But that time we took the underground tour. While not as beautiful as the rooms that fill the building above ground, the below ground sections of the Castle are filled with things that were able to help keep the inhabitants comfortable. They had plenty of water due to the spring there at the Castle and using water power generated their own electricity and using air circulation and more of the water had basically a swamp cooler the size of a room or two.

After the underground tour I wrote a mystery novel mostly set at Scotty's Castle in the 1930s. I'm in the process of editing the book, though it's slow going with all the other projects, with actual deadlines, that I've been working on. But I will get that novel edited this summer and move on in the process to try to get it published. And like so many mysteries my "detectives" already have a couple more adventures awaiting them. I just need to make the time to tell them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's a Crock

Recently while diving into the freezer looking for something to cook for dinner, I rediscovered some apple juice down in the bottom of the freezer. Now, this was local Tehachapi apple juice that came from a friend's orchard. Last fall, we'd spent a morning in the bitter cold prepping apples for the press. It was a big affair with some folks coming in from miles around to help out.

Which was good since there was a lot of apples to press. And once they had the number of bottles that could be fit into their freezer, the rest went to those of us that had helped. And we made it home with a few gallons.

We drank some right away, but most went into the depths of the freezer. And at the beginning of this year I made a gallon of apple wine. Well, it was meant to be apple wine. I prefer wine that is a little sweet, so attempted to add some sweetness to to the wine. And did not take sufficient care to make sure that fermentation didn't restart.

Yeast busily at work turning apple juice into wine.
So when the bottles were stashed away in March the yeast became active again. I was in my closet (yes, the wine was storied in the closet) looking for something and noticed that in one of the bottles one of the cork was pushed halfway out. I picked it up and noticed that there were bubbles coming up in the wine. Well that meant we would be having apple champagne with dinner. But while I was cooking dinner, the wine uncorked itself loudly. It was later that evening that the cork was found in the living room.

A second bottle uncorked itself in the closet, startling both me and the dog. And of course making a bit of a mess. The remaining bottles are waiting for a special occasion when apple champagne might be appropriate. And oddly those don't come up as often as you might expect.

So why bring this up now? Well, the recently rediscovered apple juice is now being made into wine. It's started fermenting in the crock. And hopefully I learned something last time. No more champagne. But only time will tell.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 I really like portmanteaus. This is where a new word is born by combining parts of other words. Like the word “brunch” coming from breakfast plus lunch. Or “smog” coming from smoke plus fog. The word portmanteau isn't a portmanteau, which is a shame, but instead came about from Lewis Carroll explaining that the word slithy was like a portmanteau, which was a two compartmented piece of luggage. That is to say the word held meaning from two different words, in his case “lithe” and “slimy” (the word appears in “Jabberwocky”, which is filled with portmanteaus).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

False Accusation

The following is a haibun. A haibun is a combination of typically prose and a haiku. (Modern haiku does not require a specific syllable count.)

The Brown Recluse isn't a common spider. Though its deadly reputation strikes fear into vast numbers of people that have never seen one and are unlikely to ever actually see one. Their range is limited to areas around Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, where I grew up. And even in their home range, they are rare enough. But outside their range, like here in California, people scurry from any spider which is unfortunate enough to be brown. Especially if it has anything looking like a marking on its back, since the "fiddleback" is one of the identifying marks of the Brown Recluse. But there have been only a handful of sightings of Brown Recluses in California. And these were all associated with people or things having come in from out of state. From back in Oklahoma, Texas or Arkansas. So many spiders, falsely accused of being a deadly Brown Recluse, are killed, merely for the crime of being brown.

little spiders
no innocence project saving
the falsely accused

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Basket Case

Bill is a basket case.
Bill the Cat (a.k.a Billy, Hurley, Mean Old Kitty*) is an undocumented resident of the house. Now I'm normally the only one that calls him Bill, but I was shaped by my exposure to Bloom County when I was in college, so just about every cat that has spent time with me has exposed their inner Bill at some point or another. So I have decided that T. S. Elliot's secret cat name was "Bill".

So Bill has lived here off and on over the past couple years. But not continuously. He has often been extradited back to a previous jurisdiction. But this time he is living here in exile, due to not getting along with the other inmates of his previous establishment. He doesn't get along with the other four-legged resident in this establishment either, but Moonpi is learning be tolerant (and quick).

Now when Bill lived here before he was an indoor cat. But this time he quickly learned to use Moonpi's dog door to slip out and terrorize the small creatures that visit the backyard. He has also slowed down how fast Moonpi would go through the door. Previously Moonpi
Fuzzy Gray Writer's Block.

would take the door at a running leap and not have his feet touch the ground for several feet on either side of the door. But now, never knowing if that gray ball of meanness will be waiting on the other side, Moonpi traverses the doorway much more cautiously.  Which is safer for the two legged residents.

So now that I have my desk chair back I guess I need to get to work writing. Now what was it today? Oh yeah, "The Hound of the Basket Cases".

* Mean Old Kitty is Moonpi's name for him.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Moonpi and the Morning Routine

Moonpi is a dog. He's a dog that moved in here several months ago, and is here at this house legally. He's got papers to prove it. And over the past several months he has trained me for his preferred morning routine. Here's a typical morning for him.
  • To begin, make sure and start jingling the collar tags at least ten minutes before the alarm is supposed to go off (more is better). This is extra important on weekends when, for some reason, the alarm doesn't go off.
  • Next when the man sits down to put on his shoes, make sure and get in the way as much as possible. If not, he might forget that you're there.
  • Remind him where the cookies are kept. Eat cookies.
  • Sit with man on sofa while weather is being watched. If he seems about to find out what the weather is going to be for the day, roll over and start kicking legs wildly to knock remote from his hand.
  • When man gets up, make sure he remembers that you're supposed to get a treat before he gets on the treadmill. Make sure he remembers where cookies are kept.
  • Stare through window at the man as he walks on treadmill. Make sure to give him the look that says, you know this walk is wasted. There's no sniffing.
  • Once the treadmill stops make sure and greet the man, and remind him that neither of you have had breakfast yet.
  • Show him where the cookies are kept.
  • Stare at the man while breakfast is being eaten to remind him how good eggs are for dogs. Mmmm. Eggs.
  • After breakfast, remind him that he's supposed to go into that room and stare blankly at that screen and make little clicking noises.
  • If he stares at the screen for more than a few minutes, go get tugging towel and make sure he doesn't have any reason to type "All work and no play..."
Oh well. Maybe I'll get more writing done tomorrow morning. Come here Moonpi, let's play.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Little Help

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 I recently had a reading of my fairy tale play that I mentioned here a while back. Now when a playwright talks about having a reading that's more than folks just getting together and reading the play. Unlike most writing, a play is something that will (hopefully) be spoken by a group of people in front of another group of people. The play is something that is performed. So you have to get people to portray the characters and hopefully do it in front of an audience.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Just Awesome

On Saturday (May 11th) I'm going to be headed for Taft. This will be the first event held to showcase the release of the third volume of Taft College's Sharp Piece of Awesome. This year they selected three of my poems to be included. The event will be held at the Black Gold Coffee House in Taft at 5:00 PM.

Being a college magazine/journal, the editorial staff consists mostly of college students. And each of the past two years have seemed enthusiastic and to have really enjoyed the project. Many of them are also contributors to the journal. The variety of what they chose has been really interesting from haunting short stories and memoirs, to some very good poetry. And this year they seem to have picked some of my weirder stuff. Which I appreciate greatly. Sometimes the weird stuff takes more time to write than the more normal fare. I'm looking forward to going and meeting this year's editors and the other poets and writers. Some of our works will be read and faces will be put to the names and writing.

And this year they've added a second reading at Russo's on Saturday the 18th from 1 to 3 pm. And the book will be on sale there.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

First Friday

Some of the crowd at Tehachapi Treasure Trove.
The first Friday of each month the artist community in Tehachapi gets together and wanders around from gallery to studio to museum and so on. There are several locations where the artists (usually) bring in snacks and share them with other artists and patrons of the arts. Many locations will also have live music. While at the galleries and shops there is the hope of additional sales, the museum and downtown church use the occasion to showcase new exhibits and events.

Tehachapi Museum

And when there's a show at the downtown BeeKay Theatre on a first Friday, you might run into costumed characters wandering the streets before the show. And afterwards (unless they happen to have a show that weekend) folks can head over to the local live music venue, Fiddler's Crossing, for an after art walk music and poetry jam.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I have a certain amount of fame here in the small town of Tehachapi. Even though, up until recently, I wasn't getting many comments on this blog, I would get comments in person, since most of my entries were copies of my column in Tehachapi's Loop newspaper. Others had seen me read some of my poetry at various open mics around town. (Brighthouse might have some available on their On Demand channel that were taped at Fiddler's Crossing.) And others have seen and enjoyed plays that I have written that were performed at our Playwright's Festival.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Whispered Secrets

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 Just recently I was back out at the Integratron out in Landers. For those of you that don't know the Integratron is a building with a large wooden dome out in the Mojave Desert. For more information you can check out their web page at One of the big draws for people visiting the Integratron is the acoustics. They have events there called “sound baths” which use crystal singing bowls to create interesting sound patterns.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Accidental Librettist

I've only recently become familiar with what a libretto is. And that is because I have accidentally become a librettist. So despite not particularly caring for musicals (except things like Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Picture Show) I find myself working on one.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Once Upon a Time

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 Lately I have been doing some research and reading on fairy tales. And not just because of TCT Jr.'s upcoming production of “The Princess and the Pea” which opens on April 19th. I've been reading fairy tales because I am trying to write one. Well kind of. I've run across a call for short plays dealing with “fractured” fairy tales.

Monday, April 1, 2013


This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 Well, once again it is April. Which means that it is National Poetry Month. Which means I'm going to once again try to encourage you to think about verse. Now just the other day I accidentally had some grade school students thinking in verse.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Room and Board

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 We don't hear much about boarding houses anymore. Well, except for pets. I did a search on the Internet and besides a restaurant or two all the hits for boarding houses seemed to be for pet lodging. But in the past boarding houses were common.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It Came From the Sky!

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the asteroid that was going to fly by the Earth. Which it did, since we're all still here to read this. But at almost the same time, February 15th, a meteor did come down on Chelyabinsk area of Russia (in the Ural Mountains). And it was big, though not particularly huge, at about 55 feet and weighing in at about 10,000 tons. It was certainly big enough to cause a lot of injuries and damage.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Are You Still Here?

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 On February 15th, assuming you're reading this, an asteroid came close to the Earth without hitting it. In the past several years astronomers have been keeping track of asteroids that come close to the Earth. And 2012 DA14 will come closer to the Earth than any of the others they have tracked before. Just a little over 17,000 miles. That means it will be coming within the orbit of geosynchronous communication satellites.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Old News

 A few weeks back I wrote about Carbon 14 and how it was used to determine how old organic material is. Carbon 14 is created in the atmosphere by radioactive activity from space and is absorbed by living creatures. So astronomical activity is used by archaeologists to date things on Earth. Well now things might be working the other way around.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.
With the recent holiday season mistletoe was everywhere. I ended up with a couple pieces that had been gathered here locally. Now as most of us know mistletoe is a parasite. Of course what most of us know is usually incomplete. Mistletoe is actually only a hemi-parasite. You'll notice that it is green. After all that's typically when we see it, in the fall and winter as a big patch of green in an otherwise denuded tree. And green plants perform photosynthesis. So mistletoe is producing some of its own food. So it isn't a complete parasite.

But it does parasitize its host for water and some nutrients. And especially in dry areas can cause significant damage to it's host. Though most naturalists will point out that for a healthy plant a little mistletoe is not a significant risk to the plant's health. And there might be some that will claim that large amounts a mistletoe is a symptom rather than the cause of a plant's poor health.

However our view of mistletoe's role in the ecosystem is beginning to change. Back in 2001 Australian scientist, David M. Watson, reported on an experiment he performed. For a patch of forest he took all the mistletoe out. Which was a fairly monumental task. It took many months and they removed tons of mistletoe, then went back the next year and removed a bit more. 

And the result? Well individual trees might have done a bit better, but the health of the forest, at least in terms of biodiversity went down. Over a third of the bird species previously found there were gone. Now perhaps you might suggest, this was due to birds that ate mistletoe berries being unable to find food and had left. There are birds that are significant eaters of mistletoe, like our own desert phainopepla. But that wasn't the case. The bird species that were missing were often insect eaters.

His paper reported that mistletoe, not having to do much in the way of conserving its resources, since it was stealing the resources of the larger tree. Was rather free with dropping its leaves which left generous amounts of highly nutritious material on the forest floor. Which would decay and provide food for insects, which in turn fed the birds. So removal of all the mistletoe in an area had a significant impact on the number of different species that the forest could support.

This is an example of what in ecology they call a keystone species. A keystone as you may, or may not know, is the stone at the top of the arch that locks the whole arch together. And a keystone species is similar. There may not be many of them, but they have a large influence on the biodiversity of an ecosystem.
For example, in 1966, the idea was first put forward when an ecologist, Robert Paine, noted that when starfish were removed from an area the mussels quickly push almost all other species out of the area. Biodiversity is gone. 

While many keystone species are predators (starfish are ferocious predators), not all are. In some areas the prairie dog is a keystone species due to their extensive tunnel system having an impact on the environment by providing habitat for other creatures.

We are always modifying our environment we can't help that. But we shouldn't treat it like a game of Jenga® where we go about removing whole blocks and hoping that the whole structure doesn't come tumbling down. So to have the world that we want, we might have to have a few things in it that we don't really like. Our forest might be a bit better off with some mistletoe in it.