Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Last wildflower hunt

I went on my final wildflower hunt on Sunday. This is my last week at work and we hope to be on the road to Yosemite by Sunday at the latest. I don't regret leaving here now as much as I would if it were cooler, but when the temp is in the high 90s and I don't want to be out in it, it's time to move on. I look forward to Yosemite bringing its own crop of wildflowers.

When I found the first big crop of flowers several weeks ago, they were at sea level. The sphinx moth caterpillars have wiped out the sand verbena, according to the park's Facebook page, and what the caterpillars haven't eaten the heat has killed off; March 27 saw a heat record here, at 105 degrees. The air conditioner in the house goes nonstop; I tell people I live in a tin can and it's never more apparent than when the sun makes its way overhead.

Oh, and the a/c? Last week, when HH was in the hospital and family had come for a visit at the same time, and while I was shuttling between the park and Las Vegas, the a/c went out. Not one of the first half-dozen or so shops I talked to would come out to the park. For various reasons I couldn't take the house to them, but I finally found one guy who would come, at $3 a mile just to get here ($225), and then add shop charges of $85 an hour. He arrived, went inside, moved the switch to Air, and I heard it start up. I have witnesses that it wouldn't start for me except for a low hum that lasted less than a minute before shutting off. Two hours later (you do the math) I had a functioning air conditioner and all I know about what was wrong was that there was a bit of loose wiring in the thermostat that I replaced a couple of months ago. So he says. Why it worked all that time and then decided to quit, only to heal itself when faced with a guy with a screwdriver, is one of the mysteries of the ages. That was the excitement for the week.

Sunday I went up the road toward Dante's View, to an elevation of between 2500 and 3500 feet. Some of the flowers there were also on the Valley floor, but there were also some new ones and I am missing the names of just a couple.

First, though, I am fascinated by what I call ants with burdens. I've seen these tiny critters moving, with single-minded focus, objects much larger than themselves - mesquite pods, twigs, a stem from a maraschino cherry, and now flowers. You just have to admire them.

This one was moving fast. I could hardly track it fast enough to get two shots off.

All right, on to the flowers. Keep in mind that almost every one of these is less than a half inch across, even as small as a sixteenth of an inch. The very low growing ones are known around here as belly flowers because you have to get on your belly, hopefully with a magnifying lens, to appreciate them.

This is purple mat, Nama demissum.

I love this little one so much I have three photos of it. I think it's called desert star, Monoptilon bellioides.

When I saw desert dandelion a while ago, it was an isolated plant. This week, I saw them in wide, arcing bands of yellow following the curve of the road, and caught like snow drifts between shrubby plants. Here's a reminder of how pretty they are.

Pebble pincushion, Chaenactis carphoclinia, is a complicated dome of open loops and orchid-like flowers.

Like the dandelions, desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana, was in good numbers here. The petals are interesting - see how they're fringed in sets of two and three fingers per petal?

This is a new one to me, possibly humble gilia, Linanthus demissus.

This is one of the smallest flowers. It is broad-flowered gilia, Gilia latiflora.

This daisy-like flower is larger than many of the others but is still only an inch or so across.

This is desert gold poppy, Eschscholzia glyptosperma.

I thought this was lesser mohavea, mojavea breviflora, but it's not. The fierce-looking spines are soft. I've read that fuzz helps to protect the plant from heat.

This looks like a forget-me-not but is called Fremont phacelia, Phacelia fremontii here. It's also very small, about 1/4" across.

This is a mystery.

As is this one, but it could be a newly-flowering dandelion.

This is a phacelia that's past its prime. The stems of some phacelias will curl into a spiral as they die. I couldn't find any of those but this one is also interesting.

Mojave asters, Xylorhiza tortifolia, are luminous.

Like asters I found on the North Rim, their petals curl like ribbons as the flower dies.

One heck of a different kind of plant - desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatum. I like the inflatum part of the name. The flowers are at the end of slender stems and are no bigger than a speck, as if they know they can't compete with the attraction of the inflatum.

Masses of globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, are showing up along the roads. They were ubiquitous at Petrified Forest, too.

Finally, beavertail cactus, Opuntia basilaris. It looks a lot like prickly pear but has tiny barbed spines instead of the spikes of the prickly pear.

I have a few more flowers from the park, but this is what I found on Sunday. It's all the fun of a treasure hunt when I drive along the road, looking for colors and shapes that I haven't seen before. Regardless of what I find, I always come away with the gold.

Thought of the day:

Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Oh, this would be so much easier if I wasn't color-blind! - Donkey, Shrek


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Behind the scenes at DEVA

There is nothing I like better about museum and archives work than seeing the "man behind the curtain": the levers and bells and the magic that happens to make things go. I've been able to watch three projects in the making here at DEVA. (If you remember, or maybe you never read it, I wrote about the four-character tag attached to Park Service locations. It's taken from the first two letters of the first two words in the park's name, or the first four letters if it has only a one-word name. PEFO for Petrified Forest, TUMA for Tumac├ícori, and I had a good laugh about Carlsbad Caverns being labeled CACA. The Service caught onto that one and changed its name to CAVE, and Lake Mead, formerly called LAME, is now LAKE. I don't know why they didn't call Carlsbad CARL. Anyway, Death Valley is DEVA.)

The first is a rebuilding of a Civilian Conservation Corps-built wall from 1934-1935, constructed of nothing but water and native soil. There are no binders like straw to improve the bricks' durability, and while the years have naturally taken their toll, it's remarkable that any of the wall is still standing.

The Alpine Club worked with Cornerstones Community Partnerships, The NPS Vanishing Treasures Program, and Americorps Blue IV team to make new bricks and stabilize and rebuild sections of the old wall.

Using shovels and elbow grease, the workers filled forms like this one to make the bricks.

Many hours' labor resulted in row after row drying in the sun. If you look at the far right side of the photo and peer through the tree, you can just make out the back end of my house.

In another section of the work area some of the bricks have been turned to dry another side. I was sure I'd straightened this photo so the buildings don't look on the verge of collapse, but I guess not.

Here's a nice straight building with dried bricks stacked and ready for use. The stacks immediately made me think of a description I read a long time ago about how peat blocks dug in Ireland were piled up to dry. I think those were more haystack-like, but the idea is the same.

The first courses of this rebuild section have been laid; the mud is still wet. This run was completely gone.

This is the same wall seen from the other side.  On the far left the new wall was integrated with a part that still stands. Much more of this section has been rebuilt and topped with bricks angled for water runoff. The crews are now gone for the season.

The second project was truly behind the scenes - furniture restoration of pieces built by Manzanar internees, mostly of wood salvaged from fruit crates.

The photo above was taken when the restorer was setting things up for photographs and writing condition reports - assessments of the objects' current state of (dis)repair, such as the dried glue and failing join on this drawer front. The restorer shipped his trunk of magic tricks from West Virginia, where he retired from the Park Service doing just this kind of work.

Some of the restorations were subtle. This is the before picture of a chest of drawers that was removed from exhibit at Manzanar to have the loose board on the top drawer repaired, among other spiffing up.

Here is after:

Some pieces were simple, like this small chest with sliding panels,

and this cabinet with glass doors. This is the before photo.

This is the after. Scratches on the lower right side have been repaired.

I loved this piece, similar to a chifforobe but with shelves instead of hanging space. It's small, maybe three feet high. This is the after photo, despite the gaps in the boards on the drawer fronts. His job was to stabilize the furniture, not to make it look new.

Here it is while being worked on, showing the construction of the side. It also shows the warped top edge of the bottom drawer, waiting to be reglued, and a missing board on the left side of the drawer.

My hands-down favorite piece is this child's vanity.

The veneer on the top of the curved section was warped and split. First the restorer moistened the wood, then gently weighted it to flatten it. See how dull the finish is, too, compared to the completed piece in the photo above.

Once the veneer was flattened it was glued and clamped and left to dry. Nice inlay work on the top.

Then the front edge was put back in place.

I wanted to look at the drawer construction and got a nice surprise when I found this side-opening hidey-hole. Also check out the feet. Pretty.

The third project was made-in-Manzanar jewelry restoration. This is how the box came out of storage, with paint flaking off a few pieces.

The restorer came from Los Angeles and brought with her the tools of her trade, and an intern. I talked to them about how one becomes qualified to do this work. If you've heard it's hard to get into medical school, it's nothing compared to the thirty or so slots open every year to restoration programs offered in just a few schools nationwide. Applicants have to have a portfolio of their work. How do you build a portfolio if you're not yet qualified? Work for free for someone who is. Plus have an undergraduate degree somewhere in the art field with chemistry thrown in. Plus have two years' work experience, post bachelors degree. Then hope a practicing restorer will take you on for an internship.

While the intern was doing paperwork the restorer set up her workspace. Here she was getting ready to stabilize floral tape on one of the brooches. See the green ribbon on the left of the table? She needs to duplicate the color and spent some time mixing and remixing paint.

This necklace was the prettiest piece, in my opinion. When the work was finished she stabilized it by pinning it to a card mounted on foam.

This last is not about restoration but I still liked it. My office mate, another volunteer, was doing lots and lots of photo scanning and had this album from Scotty's Castle. I perked right up when I saw it and started turning pages. Carefully, with gloves on.

Of all the portraits I saw only a couple had names. What a shame. What follows are some of the unknown people who appeared in the album.

I can't figure out what's going on with her hair. Can there be such a glare on it that it looks like it's missing? Could be, based on the girls above. Some Photoshop is needed here.

Aren't they grand?

On another note, it did not escape my attention that yesterday was the second anniversary of my leaving my home in Washington. A year ago it was still raw. This year.... Well, this year I still have a low opinion of Voldemort and the sneaky way he accomplished his deeds, but there are other things that are so much more important to me. My HH was ill this week and is now home with me, safe and sound and not much worse for wear. That's what's important. Life indeed goes on, for which I am grateful.

Thought of the day:

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. - Havelock Ellis