The Lonely Stars

Seeing as I haven’t blogged since January, it seems prime time to write something. This is the first weekend since that last post in which I didn’t feel buried by projects and class. It’s kinda tough finding precisely where to draw that “line in the sand” between personal time and work time when it’s all at home. Especially when you have a really driven husband who says “You just keep working ’til you’re done. That’s when you can stop.”  Gee…thanks! ;)

Anyway, enough about me. There are sea stars feeling LONELY out therein the Pacific!

High and Dry

High and Dry

Joking aside, they are indeed sparsely dispersed. Yesterday, I saw around 7. None of which were touching a neighbor. They were all separated by tens of feet. Maybe they are now avoiding contact with each other for fear of spreading cooties. (Can’t you tell I’ve been inside way too much?! We now return you to your regularly scheduled seriousness. Because, this is actually serious.)

The ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) are suffering from what has been labeled Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. ‘Syndrome’ because for a long time, scientists couldn’t figure out what was causing the disintegration of living sea stars. For some gruesome photos of the chronology of symptoms, click over to the University of California, Santa Cruz’s page.

Just last summer, they pinned down a likely culprit, a densovirus in the large Parvoviridae family, that has been present since 1942. Now, the elusive details are the variables that allow this virus to run rampant through various sea star and sea urchin populations.

While it’s tempting to shrug and say they are just sea stars, just like us, they are keystone species. They are capable of influencing the population sizes of other animals, of who lives where. Mussels serve as their primary prey. Keeping those numbers in check, other, more squishy-bodied animals, like the colonial anemones present in both the below photos, can have a chance at clinging to prime rocky real estate.

Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

While scientists know the population crash is going to have rippling effects, what is unknown is what’s in store for the future. What else will ride in on the tides of change? Here’s likely a sneak peak of things to come: warm water this winter brought us these wandering beauties.

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 2

Lonely Sea Star 2


On Being a Visitor on a Soapbox

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking, stemming from starting a class about conservation and public land history plus having the chance to be on the other side of the Visitor Center desk–in other words, the one with all the questions.

I don’t like the term ‘visitor,’ as in, “You are a visitor to Yosemite National Park,” or “Yosemite National Park has 4 million visitors a year.”

On the one side, using the word ‘visitor’ conveys the brevity that most people experience inside their national parks. At most, a day, maybe a week are spent inside the boundaries. In Yosemite’s case, ‘visitor’ could imply that entering the valley is traversing on land that someone else occupied, a little paradise occupied by a tribe whose home was converted into parkland through an act of force.

While ‘visitor’ might serve the purpose of reminding us that our natural cathedrals were once places many people before us called home, the conditions of present-day conservation ethics might warrant a different term for those that visit THEIR public lands. That’s right, YOU own Yosemite National Park [as much as a monolithic chunk of granite and a valley carved by glaciers can be “owned”]. YOU, with the rest of the nation’s citizens, are responsible for the upkeep, preservation, and integrity of all 401 units of the National Park Service, whether or not you’ve been to them [if that seems like a lot, just think about all the land that’s designated by the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, etc. That’s all YOUR land, as well]. This ownership we have, you see, isn’t conveyed well in the term ‘visitor’. ‘Visitor’ does not say “I’m responsible for keeping this park free of trash,” or “I am tasked with letting others know that feeding the wildlife is detrimental to their health,” or “It’s my responsibility to preserve everything in this park for the people that arrive tomorrow as well as future generations.” All of these tasks can happen in tangible or intangible ways, but they are the duty of every citizen of the United States.

So with that daunting responsibility staring you in the face, what term would YOU use in place of ‘visitor’?
Half Dome

Solitude, but Not Alone

Solitude, but Not Alone

Trying out a new way to post blogs, since I have so much trouble with the wordpress formatter. It will be interesting to see how it pans out with regard to SEO. To me, this manner lets me add more of a personal touch that I can tailor according to how much time I have. Hope you enjoy!

2014-3-29 Houda Point Post


I was just recently introduced to the fascinating world of lichens! So much complexity in such little packages. They are often needlessly vilified and still not fully-understood.

I was also recently introduced to InDesign and since starting the class, I’ve not found much time to blog. I combined lichens and InDesign today [trying to get a feel for upcoming homework] and here is the result:

Nerd-dom on a sizable scale!

lichen Lichen is a complex relationship of different parts. Fungus is one of the parts of a lichen. A photobiont, a living organism that can create food like plants do, completes the partnership. Photobionts can be an algae or cyanobacteria. In most cases, the fungus and photobiont can exist outside the lichen form. Occasionally, multiple species of fungus can exist in a lichen ‘co-op’.New lichen, depending on the species, starts from a piece breaking off and establishing in a new area or the fungus part of lichen releases spores through disc-shaped structures [see right]. These spores, once established on a surface, hope to entangle a photobiont partner already living on that surface. After entrapping a photobiont, a lichen forms!   Lichen can take many forms, from powder that can be removed just by touching it [dustose or leprose], to crusty growths that are completely attached to their growing surface [crustose], to lobes of growth only attached at one point [foliose], and even forms that look like miniature branched trees or dangling bunches of thread [fruticose]. See if you can spot some of these forms in the photos.

Feel free to use at your will.

What Do Rangers Do…?

…In the off-season? Well, if you’ve ever wondered how park rangers hibernate, here’s your all-inclusive, tongue-in-cheek guide to the secret life of a park ranger in the off-season!

Usually, this question comes after a string of questions starting with the basic directional inquiries, like “Where do I go from here?” or “Where do I go to see ____?”  From there, the questions turn more personal: “Where are you from? – How long have you been stationed here?” These questions usually lead into the topic of working seasonally, since a permanent job is as rare as a black-footed ferret.

And then it comes. “What do you do in the off-season?” Uh…well….

It’s as awkward as asking what someone does when they get home from work. It’s personal. It has nothing to do with the surrounding beauty. Did I mention it’s personal?

Since it is a personal question, it, of course, varies from person to person. Some rangers head to a “winter park”–a park that has high enough visitation to warrant people to work in the winter months. Others, if their park can manage it, work for a different division or unit. And some rangers just go home.

I feel lucky that my home is now only 30 miles south of my current park. At one point, home was 1,300 miles away. Another time it was just a less intimidating 600 miles away. [Imagine the headache every time you work at a new park, you have to fill out a new background check. That requires listing the places you’ve lived for the last 7 years–with no breaks and someone as a reference to verify! That’s been at least 11 moves in 8 states for me! I can’t imagine what back-to-back seasonals have to list!]

I know some rangers travel a lot in the off-season. Others go back to school. Some work as teachers, find other jobs to fill the financial gap, or volunteer.

Usually, at the end of every season, I have the custom of making a mental ‘To-Do’ list of things I’d love to accomplish in the off-season. I look forward to all the extra time, the clean house, and the mountain of finished projects. And then at the start of every season, I wonder where in the world all that time went!

In the first off-season here [or was it the second? –It was the second, the first I was still trying online grad school!], I was so antsy to find and train a dog. I imagined visions of grandeur as the dog would complete agility courses and catch frisbees jumping off my back. Eventually, we found an old Pyrenees [look up their trainability-ha!]…That pile of fluff squished those dreams. We took three hour long walks together. She is now perfectly camera trained [I couldn’t ask for a better camera/walking buddy. I lift my camera, she stops, ready for 10 minutes of photographing one flower].

The next off-season, I planned to be domestic apparently, hoping to learn knitting, to finish a couple crochet projects that have been around for years, and to have a full-blown photography business. I managed to partly do the photo business and hike most of the 70 miles of trails in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I haven’t touched my crochet hooks in two years! I did manage to knit a small square, though. And I did a few paintings in acrylics.

This off-season, I was hoping to volunteer at a local wildlife area. Three months, two background checks and counting…maybe I’ll volunteer once before I go back to work! I randomly attend natural history talks and astronomy club gatherings. I enrolled in a class to catch up on the digital media software world. I am preparing for an upcoming talk in April between bouts of homework. Essentially, I gave up on planning anything for this off-season. It’s no use! Fighting reality with my arbitrary goals seems useless – better to just go with the flow, I suppose.

So, how to answer that question, “What do you do in the off-season?,” as you can see, is harder than describing geologic formations, how trees grow, where the ‘buffalo’ roam. I can tell you how many old-growth redwood trees in one acre it takes to make an “old-growth redwood forest”, but I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing next week.

Since, as demonstrated through this case study, predicting what rangers do in their off-season alludes to no set trends or patterns, perhaps guidelines on how to spot an off-season ranger in captivity might be more appropriate.  Off-season rangers will either be reading nature- or history-related books, bird-watching, exploring for the sake of exploring, spending countless hours on, outdoor gear-shopping, or talking to random strangers about the natural or cultural significance of the surroundings. One or more of these behaviors observed together indicates a high likelihood that you have an off-season ranger in your midst.

This concludes this segment of “What Do Rangers Do In the Off-Season”. Stay tuned next April or May for the sequel, “Where DID the Time Go?!”

Did I mention, I fuss about light pollution, too?

Things that Lurk in the Shadows

Like me – and hopefully you, too!

Stalking the stars of the non-Hollywood type has become a lost art, something people did generations ago when light faded but they weren’t ready to climb into bed. Nowadays, we chase away the dark with our electric lights, televisions, and iPads.  The stars, and other things of the night sky, go relatively unnoticed by most. But stepping foot out onto your dark porch might just yield some startling surprises!

Of course, getting to know the night sky can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not a fan of the dark. Where to start: Constellations? The names of the brightest stars? Categories of stars? Deep space objects? It can be all a little confusing, and perhaps not that interesting at first, especially when looking with the naked eye. But give it a little time and I guarantee a few Wow!‘s will be uttered.

I suggest two places to start out, especially if you have a busy schedule. The first place is dusk [or dawn if you’re an early riser], right as the Sun is setting [or rising!]. Look to your east [west if looking during dawn], opposite of the Sun. You’ll likely first notice a pink or rose-tinted glow. This is called the ‘Belt of Venus’. It results from the red part of the light spectrum of the Sun’s light being backscattered, or bounced back toward the source, through our Earth’s atmosphere.  Those orbs you see in ‘ghost’ photographs, weather radars, and those much-loved full body scanners at airports utilize backscatter. As you watch, you’ll notice the rosy part of the sky climb higher and become fainter. Under it, you’ll see a blue arc. This arc is literally the shadow of Earth or nightfall creeping up on your location! Of course, at night, you are in Earth’s shadow. Earth is blocking the Sun from view.  But when looking at the Earth’s shadow, you’re seeing it on the atmosphere of Earth.  I suppose if we had no atmosphere, you might not see the shadow as we do currently, but I rather not see that theory ever tested out. So breathe easy and enjoy the view!

Moon, Belt of Venus, Dusk, Nightfall, Arcata Marsh

The Belt of Venus just below the smallest moon of this year.

Arcata Marsh, California, Mud Flat, Humboldt Bay

This blue line is not the shadow of Earth. It’s not arced, nor in the east. Likely it is caused by a layer of atmosphere saturated in water, like the marine layer.

Belt of Venus, Shadow of Earth, nightfall, Arcata Marsh, California, Bench, Pond

The Belt of Venus and the shadow of Earth


Earth’s shadow, or nightfall, winning out over the Belt of Venus

The second place to start your night sky adventures is the Moon. For many reasons. Listing them all out would use up all of the internet, so I’ll give you one or two and leave the discoveries to you. For one, the media is intensely interested in “Super Moons” right now. You can learn what that means and then snicker, content and secure with your knowledge as others hyperventilate around you and don foil hats. Secondly, life on Earth would be completely different without the Moon, so it’s many influences are worth taking note. And since the Moon is close enough to influence us like it does, it’s also easier to observe than some celestial bodies. You can use a simple telescope, the zoom on your camera, or binoculars to get a stunningly closer look. You won’t find cheese, but you’ll learn that the light and dark patches are made up of two different rock types and discover what can be found in the middle of larger craters. If detail is what you want, you could scope out your local astronomy club to see if anyone has a large telescope they’d be willing to point at the Moon, or you can head over to this website,, and look around at all the tracks we’ve been making in the Moon’s dust.

The “Mini Moon” of 2014. Otherwise known as the Moon as far away as it gets this year.

Happy exploring!

New Year, New Surprises

My long shriek came in several syllables with multiple vowels spilling out. The ocean breakers kept my sounds from anyone else’s ears. I am thankful for that. It’s embarrassing when a squee pops out unexpectedly, especially when it’s something not seriously squee-worthy. An octopus, for example, is squee-worthy, especially if it bites you.

I didn’t shriek right when I found it: a polychaete annelid in the genus Nephtys, I think. That’s lengua scientifica for a predatory segmented marine worm. The guidebook says to squeeze it to see for sure…no thanks! The worm was still as could be until I poked it [I can’t remember what I poked it with even] and Wow! did it move!!! And Wow! did I shriek! Ridiculous for a ranger-type, don’t you agree? I mean, I’ve been pressured into holding large fishing spiders by a frothing group of third graders – you’d think I could handle a wiggling worm!

Marine worm, annelid, polychaete annelid, invertebrate, worm, segmented worm

It gets worse. We moved some stuff around the other day and I came upon a spider. It wasn’t as big as the ones we saw yesterday, but it was large enough and surprised me enough that I noisily bemoaned its existence in my house before moving him outside. Shrieks and rants and raves, a ball of nerves, I was. You’d think I’d never seen a spider in my house before.  Quite the contrary, I keep a mental map of where the spiders live in my house, and carefully vacuum their messes while leaving them undisturbed [weird, I know]. I think one has been living with us for two years. Another was with us for a year and a half before disappearing. If they roam, they get tossed outside. We have a dedicated ‘spider cup’ and paintbrush for moving them. So for me to shriek over a loose spider is just odd, you see?

Spider in a Cup

Looks like a widow, but it’s likely Steatoda grossa, known as a False black widow.

I’m going to chalk up my overexcitability to the fact that I am new to the coffee world, and it does strange things to my brain [this post, for example].  I apparently don’t appreciate some surprises, too.  But surprises are the spice of life, right?

As everyone seems to be required to do this time of year, I looked over my last calendar year to reflect on the year gone by. What stands out the most are the surprises. For example, out of all the beach walking I do, this little things stood out the most. Opalescent squid was the species we guessed. I’m not sure if these poor things survived, but they were a neat find! I threw back as many pods as I could find, but they likely didn’t survive. Some had red eyes, some had black – I’m guessing hinting at their stages of development. They served as a reminder that there is a vibrant underwater community that is often overlooked by us landlovers.

Squid Eggcase

Another surprise from 2013 is how neat the desert is. Not that I gave as much thought to deserts, but there are similarities between my attitude toward prairies and deserts. I used to hate prairies – Kansas in particular. Driving across was torture for my young self – nothing to look at out the window and I always missed the pronghorn. Colorado was so much more entertaining [at least, one half of it]. But then I moved to the prairies in South Dakota and Kansas and my negative words for this biome dried up. Sometimes, while standing in the middle of this dense forest that acts as a 300 foot deep slot canyon of green and brown,  I really miss the openness of the prairies. I guess that’s why the desert appealed to me so much. The biggest surprise was how green the desert was [I believe I am talking about the Sonoran desert in specific]. A really neat place to see if you haven’t yet!


A rekindling of my love for the dark skies and stars happened this year and I also was introduced on a formal level to the world of lichens – something to look forward to for this coming year [you’ve been officially warned ;)]. I’ll spare you the traditional “these things went awesome, these need improved, here are my goals” speeches that come with the new year and wrap this up by saying I hope 2014 brings you all new and welcome surprises in many forms! Here’s to a grand 2014 [with fewer freakouts]!

Stars on the Rocks