Monday, February 27, 2012

Glimpses of Cold and Ice in a Warm Dry Winter

Vermont has continued to see warm, dry conditions this winter, but over the last few weeks, we've had moments of cold and ice.  The stark beauty of winter has not buried Vermont the way it did last year, but you wouldn't have known it if you were in the Green Mountains last Saturday in a blinding blizzard.  In the lowlands, things haven't been as snowy, but winter is still not hard to find.


On an explore in Pittsford, we found imprints of leaves where they melted into ice.  A bit of dye revealed the near-perfect leaf impressions on the surface.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are Big Dams a Good Idea?

This blog is all about slowing down water so it can soak in, be used, saved, and enjoyed.  Rain gardens, rainwater cisterns, natural and created wetlands, and healthy riparian forests all help us attain this task.  But what about huge dams and the reservoirs behind them.  They also slow down water... do they help us conserve water and act as responsible land stewards?

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Coloring Icicles in a (Near) Snowless Winter

Winter has passed it's halfway point and there is no snow on the ground in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.  Most of the winter has been snow-free, or at best we've had 1 to 2 inches of icy slop on the ground.  Some are calling for a snowy end to the cold season, and one computer model even forecasts a nor'easter in the future, but so far the snow remains elusive.

Icicles on buildings form when snow on roofs melts during below-freezing conditions, due to direct sunlight or more often through heat 'leaking' from inside the house.  This year, there has been essentially no snow accumulation, so icicles have only formed after our light snowfalls, and haven't grown very large.

Still, I've found enough icicles to be able to continue my icicle coloring project, albeit on a smaller scale than I hoped for.

Monday, February 13, 2012

In The Darkest Places: an Ecosystem in an Abandoned Industrial Lot in Torrance

This post is part of a series of posts I am creating about finding nature and beauty in the town where I grew up.  For more background info, see the first post in the series.  

The ability of life to survive and thrive in harsh environments is stunning and incredible.  Many offer examples of 'extreme' environments that teem with life, such as deserts and the Arctic.  Instead, I offer a place that is in many ways even harsher - and that has given life much less time to adapt to it - and still supports an ecosystem struggling to survive.

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The map above could be a scene from many places in coastal California.  The white shrub is almost certainly a flowering coyote brush plant.  Around it is a disturbed landscape, but certainly not a heavily-manicured suburban expanse.

Now, please begin zooming out using the map above.  As you do so, take note of natural features you see.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tiny Examples of Water's Effects on the Landscape

With all the thaws we've been having this winter in Vermont, there's been a lot more water movement than we usually see in winter.  While I'd rather have snow to play in, I've found some very neat things happening along waterways as liquid water, ice, and air interact.  One of the neatest things about flowing water is that it works the same way on many scales - from that of a trickle through sand to that of the Earth's largest rivers.

While walking along the river during a thaw, I encountered a small trickle of water flowing into a hole in the ice.  I'd found a tiny moulin!  "Real" moulins form on glaciers, when melting water pooling on their surface plunges straight down into a hole, right to the bottom of the glacier.  Sometimes these plunge downward with such force they erode potholes in the ground underneath the glacier - a process that probably has influenced the terrain of Vermont as glaciers melted away during the end of the Ice Age(s).


My moulin was not nearly as impressive, as seen above (i should have remembered my food coloring!).  In contrast, this photo below, from NASA, shows a picture of a moulin in Greenland as viewed from above.

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Minecraft Landscapes and the Crumbling Riverbank Outside

Ever since I started playing Minecraft, and experimenting with how water flows within the in-game landscape, I've wondered about the possibilities of using Minecraft as a tool to demonstrate features found in the natural world.  So, a while back I created a new world to test out some ideas, and turned on 'creative mode' (a cheat mode where it is possible to fly and create/destroy anything at whim).  I spent a while creating explosives, blowing huge holes in the procedurally generated landscape, and dropping zombies in lava, but when the novelty of doing so wore off, I set off to see if I could use the Minecraft world to create and model realistic-looking waterways and terrain.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In The Darkest Places: Life in a Torrance Ditch

For most of the last week, I have been visiting family and friends in Torrance, a suburb of Los Angeles and the place I grew up.

I have a love-hate relationship with California, but my feelings about Torrance have always been more straightforward - there are some people there who are incredibly important to me, but Torrance itself I have always hated.


There isn't much gained in hating a place though, especially one I will end up visiting again, so during this visit I decided to "get curious", as one person has advised me; to try to understand WHY Torrance is how it is, how its past influences it, what wild plants and free water are hiding in the cracks and forgotten places of the present, and what is possible in the future.  During my latest trip I found several interesting things, which I'll be writing about in a mini-series of blog posts called "In The Darkest Places"