Archive for April, 2014

Cupertino cherry blossom festival

April 27, 2014

Sunday, 27 April 2014

After the Jasper Ridge outing, I stopped at home for lunch, then went out on my bike. I had noticed that there was a cherry blossom Japanese festival in Cupertino this weekend. Why not!


As it turns out, there was about one cherry tree with a few feeble bunches of blossoms. Not much of a season, but it’s the thought that counts. And there were thousands of people, all having a great time.




Beer and sake, my kind of town.


There was a big spread of tents, but the most interesting part was the amphitheatre, where the akido school was putting on a demo.


You will not be surprised to learn that she threw him. All choreographed, of course, no anger, not much pain.


I thought these guys might be interesting, but time was dragging a little, so I headed back.


The Don Burnett bicycle-pedestrian bridge spans I-280 here. I have driven under it many times, but never before crossed it. Pretty classy, as they say.



Home in time for a brew, something to eat, and a nap before going to the airport to meet Jacky’s delayed flight from JFK.

Jasper Ridge, Stanford university

April 27, 2014

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Stanford University has its own open space area, Jasper Ridge. They conduct all manner of research and experiments here, from geology to weather to botany to … well, you name it. It’s not open to the public, but you can get docent tours. Today’s was organized by our open space preserve volunteer coordinator as a bit of a reward.


Not visible in the photo is an old compound where Stanford used to keep a colony of gorillas, including Koko. Unfortunately, ground squirrels could get into the compound, the gorillas ate them, and acquired either parasites or diseases, I’m not quite sure. So they had to close it down.

We had two docents, who themselves were very knowledgeable, but the usual suspects in the open space volunteer group were even more so in some areas, so the docents themselves learned a few things.



There were two tours. I was on the early one; here’s the later group waiting for us to get back to the gate at the end.


It isn’t a big wildflower season, but having said that, even a minimal season is pretty special. Nothing big or dramatic, but if you take time to look carefully, very impressive.





Notice the two insects lunching here.



This one is called elves’ clover because the little markings can be imagined to be a face.


We didn’t see that much animal life. Birds, of course, a lizard, and butterflies, most of whom didn’t stop for photos.


This is one of half a dozen wood-rat nests I counted. The rats are packrats, too. The docent said, especially in the day of pull-off tabs from soda cans, you could open one of these and find a nice collection of tabs.
















Serpentine rock comes to the surface here and there. It is far poorer in nutrients, and has a quite different ecology. Here we see a fairly abrupt boundary, the serpentine underlay to the right.




Pretty classy, if I do say so myself.

Mindego Hill, volunteer day

April 26, 2014

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Another volunteer day, this one at Mindego hill, an open area that became part of the open space system a few years ago, but has been closed to public use while they get things sorted out. I always walk out to the closed gate when I hike Russian Ridge. In the early days, a sign on the gate said, “Keep out, unless you can run faster than the brahma bull!”

It is still closed to public use. We are building trails. The trails will need to mellow for a year, but they hope to open them to general use in 2015. One of the nice things about volunteering is the opportunity to see places that are not generally accessible.


Today’s volunteer crew. Ellen is the volunteer program coordinator, white jacket just right of center. Several of the others are frequent volunteers, and as always, there are a few newbies. Welcome, all.


Looking up the hill, we can see the new trail switching back and forth. A shortcut for the motor cart goes up more directly, but it will not be part of the finished project. We need the motor cart to take supplies up the hill.


We car-pooled in a couple of the open space vehicles, collected shovels and hammers and what-not, and started up the hill.


I joined two others installing what are called wattles, these cylinders of straw wrapped in burlap. They are staked down on the broken earth across the steeper grades to retard the flow of runoff, thereby to prevent erosion. The other volunteers were deputized to strew straw beside the trail, also to reduce erosion.


We used up all the stakes battening down wattles, about the time our compatriots used up the straw that had been delivered to a staging point halfway up the hill. We broke for lunch, hiked to the top of the hill.


Terrific views in all directions. That blue stuff over there is the ocean.


We stopped on the way back down to clear out some fennel (much like dill: smells wonderful!), which will take over an area if it gets the chance. Narrow-bladed shovels to try to get the roots out, but as one of the shovelers, I can attest that the roots go a long way down, and sometimes cutting or breaking the roots was the best we could do.


One of the guys discovered a centipede (1 pair of legs per segment).


As a special treat, we went down to Mindego pond, where a USGS master’s degree student told us about his research project on the San Francisco garter snake, found in comparative abundance here.


Abundance means he has caught 17 of them so far. Actually, that’s pretty good.


His snake trap; a long vertical wall uphill from the trap steers snakes and other creatures into the trap. The ball is used to plug up the entrance on days when he isn’t here to inspect and empty the trap, to avoid the possibility that something gets trapped and can’t survive a delay. Next to the ball, we see a soaked green sponge, which allows amphibians that may get caught to avoid dessication.


There are said to be red-legged frogs here, and one of the research topics is whether the frogs eat the snakes or vice versa, or maybe neither or both. We didn’t see any of them, but there were a few California tree frogs around. My colleague’s boot gives an idea how small they are.

Another terrific day.

Windy Hill

April 20, 2014

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A nice day for a short hike. Windy Hill is nearby, easy to reach, and enough work to make it feel worthwhile (short loop 7 miles, 1500 vertical feet). This is one of the parking lots that overflows severely on weekends. But as a morning person, I never have trouble.

I like to ascend Spring Ridge trail, open and steep, good for the cool time of morning. Off to the side, a coyote prowling around looking for breakfast. The wildflowers are out, yellow and pink and red and orange. Nice.

Along the ridge top, I can see fog lying along the coast, but ocean beyond.


The descent is long and gradual, mostly through the forest. I had never particularly noticed before, but it’s true that the wildflowers in the forest tend toward the blue. Not to say there aren’t blue flowers in the open country, and pink flowers in the forest, but there are differences in the predominant groups.

At one point, the ground was peppered with tiny blue flakes, and the overhead was filled with the sound of buzzing. I looked up the embankment, to see the expected ceanothus, surrounded by bees.


I heard a snake, saw the vegetation move to indicate where it was going, but never did get a glimpse of it. Probably a garter snake. Good show!


Guaranteeing a continuing supply of beetles.


On the way back, I stopped for a moment at Sausal pond. A few frogs lurked until it was time to jump away, a lizard froze in hopes I wouldn’t see it, a few dragonflies darted around, quite a few tiny fish prowled the shallows at the edge.



April 20, 2014

We were making good progress on putting down the floor of the new deck. We had just reached the edge of the house when we knocked off work for the evening. Next morning, I was standing at the door admiring the spread, when I noticed that one of the cracks was wider than the others.

This manufactured plastic lumber has a top surface, which is wider than the bottom surface, and sure enough, one of the boards had been installed upside down. Damn! Even worse, it was ten boards in from the working edge, and there is no direct access to the middle of a field. Do I really want to pull up ten boards just to turn that one over?

I spent the morning convincing myself that it was a done deal, it was what it was, not worth the bother, and moomph, moomph, moomph. But now that I knew it was wrong, I also knew I would see that error every time I went out there, forever. Fortunately, it’s all screwed down, but still, pulling up well over a hundred screws over 160 linear feet of span (10 x 16-foot boards) is a fair bit of work. And pulling it apart is the easy part, because I don’t have to worry about spacing or the tightness of the screws.


Saturday I started in the early coolth of the morning to put it all back together. While I was at it, I put chicken wire around the near-side edges (photo above), to keep out the raccoons. (The alligator lizard won’t have any trouble.)

The last of the 16-foot boards dangled out into the bushes in the upper right by quite a bit (angled row of scraps is a visual No-Step area), and the first of the 12-foot boards was only just barely long enough to reach.


I put in two 12-foot boards and ran out of clips. Which was actually just fine, because it gave me an excuse to knock off for the day. It went well, but it’s still a lot of work.

As shown in the top photo, I laid out the remainder of the 12-foot boards to see how they would lie atop the joist frame. The long ends in the lower left of the picture will be trimmed off, as will the diagonal in the upper right.

It’s progress, it really is: even though the last boards are lying loose, this is the first time the entire joist frame enclosure has been dark during daylight hours.

Wunderlich park, El Corte de Madera

April 15, 2014



Sunday, 13 April 2014

Today’s hike started at Wunderlich park in Woodside. Two hours later, I was at Skyline, where a pavilion marked a rest stop for a trail run from Huddart park and back. They told me they expected the first runners to show up around 10, about an hour after I got there. No problem, I’ll avoid the clutter by going over the ridge to El Corte de Madera on the west side. They have closed off the direct diagonal entrance across Skyline, but there is a new connector trail that I haven’t taken before.


The west side gets a lot more water, condensation from the fog, and is pretty and green, far more than the sheltered side. Nice.


Being wetter, there are more opportunities for interesting fungi to find a foothold.



I have been past Skeggs point a number of times in recent years, but never actually stopped here for quite a long time. It’s probably the single most significant staging point for mountain bikies in the north Skyline region, arguably equivalent to Saratoga summit on south Skyline.


An hour or three later, down in the forest, this same group passed me, heading back toward the parking lot.


Nice day, nice scenery. When I got back on the east side of the ridge, I met a fair number of trail run stragglers on their way back. Some of them looking okay, some of them — and this is only the halfway point — looking like it was going to be a long day.

It was a long enough day, also for me. But nice to get out and do it!

Everything hurts

April 6, 2014

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Another volunteer day with the open space preserve. Back to Bear Creek Redwoods, just south of Los Gatos at the base of the hills. A new part of the preserve today, one I haven’t seen before. Very pretty.


There is a lot of broom around, much of it in bloom at this season. We are not ambitious enough to even dream of eradicating it; our volunteer coordinator Ellen wants to protect the meadows from encroachment. So we’ll focus on the meadows themselves, along with their bordering forests.


I worked alone all morning in an open forested area, where the broom had been previously mowed and sprayed. The mowed ones were the hardest: only a few inches tall, they had root systems far beyond their visible size. In damp duff, even some of the larger plants came out with a pull by hand; in hard-packed clay, even many of the smaller ones required the weed wrench.

There’s poison oak everywhere, but I’m wearing long pants and leather gloves, and keeping a suitably paranoid eye out. Boot-high growth isn’t too much of a concern.


By afternoon, I was ready for a change of scenery, so I joined the main crew, a few of whom are visible here. We see impressive piles — waist-high — of broom to the left of the roadlet; these piles continue for a hundred feet or more, as each of us attacks on a parallel front. I had rather imagined wandering around taking pictures, but there was a supersize Extractigator (good name!) not being used, so I added a few large bushes to the pile myself.

These sessions only run 4.5 hours, including a lunch break, but that’s enough. It’s seriously hard work, bending, twisting, turning, crouching, squatting, pushing, pulling.

Sunday, 6 April

So I’m not at all surprised that I hurt everywhere this morning, everywhere but my butt. The implied course of action was obvious, and after 51 miles and 2000 vertical feet on the bicycle, I’m back in total balance.

The end of the tree

April 6, 2014

I wandered over to see how they were doing with the tree. Today, they have worked the bucket in around the wires, and are taking off slices.




Half of one of these slices is as much as a man on the ground can heft into the truck.

Sunday, I went back again. Now it’s down to the stump.


It will be interesting to see if they come back this next week and grind out the stump, so that part of the yard can be reclaimed.

More carnage to the tree

April 1, 2014

1 April 2014

The tree still stands, but considerably the worse for the assault. Where once a man stood to help with ropes, there is nothing but air.


I watched while they took down another 3 feet or so.


As before, much of the time is taken with the rigging, but not as much as before. At this point, it’s mostly a matter of avoiding loud thumps.


The red rope carries a hook; the white rope passes through the pulley and will support the cut piece as it comes down.


I overexposed by a full stop, and it’s still dark. Good thing I didn’t just use the camera’s judgment!



He goes around to the other side to cut the groove deeper. Parallel to the red ropes, avoiding the white one.


With the cut deep enough — we hope — he gives it a hard push to break it loose. The gap opens, but it doesn’t break free.


Not good enough. He tries again.


He moves the bucket around and tries from the side. Still no luck.


He will have to cut from this side. Here we catch him releasing the pull starter rope on the chainsaw.


Standing as near as I could, I got a shower of sawdust on my head.


Once again, a push.





And down it comes!


On the ground, the crew is busy slicing wafers, none of them more than a foot thick. We can see that one wafer is as much as a man can carry.


And they’re not chewing up the wafers, just going to cart them away whole.