Posted by: Kelly Rae at 9:52AM PST on January 29, 2010
The Winter Hexagon and Lesser Known Winter Triangle. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The winter sky in the Northern Hemisphere contains a generous helping of bright, sparkling stars. Look toward the south a few hours after sunset and you’ll find a number of notable stars spanning from the horizon to nearly overhead.
Some of the brightest stars in the winter sky form a hexagonal or oval shape in the south. These six stars, plus one near the center of the hexagon, are all first magnitude stars.
The brightest star in the sky is the star at the bottom of the winter hexagon and closest to the horizon: Sirius. Sirius is magnitude -1.44 and is sometimes known as the Dog Star because it is located in the constellation Canis Major the Great Dog.
Posted by: John Gould at 10:31PM PST on January 28, 2010
Photo courtesy John Gould
Head for winter
in a land where rivers are frozen
roads begin to flow
on the cobblestones along the river shore
crows hatch out a series of moons
whoever awakens will know
a dream shall befall the earth
precipitating as cold morning frost
replacing the exhausted stars
the time of evil shall come to an end
and icebergs in uninterrupted succession
become a generation’s statues
—Bei Dao, from “Head for Winter,” in The August Sleepwalker
In the early 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution in China, Bei Dao became frustrated and disillusioned with the Red Guard movement.
He abandoned more direct political action and turned to his poetry—using language to question and subvert authority, ultimately choosing to live in exile.
Wednesday January 27, 2010
Posted by: Philip Eager at 12:25PM PST on January 27, 2010
Geese at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California.
Photo courtesy Phil Eager.
Sure, it might be the dead of winter where you are (or just really wet where I am) but that doesn't mean there aren't birding opportunities out there while we all wait for spring.
At this point in the birding year, migration hasn't really yet started. Most of the birds that are wintering here will stick around for a bit longer before heading north for the breeding season, so now is a great time to try and catch up with wintering waterfowl (ducks and geese) and raptors (hawks and owls), or the birds hanging out in your backyard. Gulls? Well, those are a topic for another blog posting (or two or three)!
Speaking of backyards, one fun event that’s coming up in February is the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of Cornell and Audubon. The GBBC is exactly what it sounds like: participants count birds in their backyards (or other local spots), making it a great activity even in cold or bad weather, letting you count and enjoy birds from comfort of your living room, especially if you have feeders up. It can also be a great family birding experience. The website has helpful regional checklists (handy even when not doing the count), and you can easily enter your sightings through the data entry forms on the site.
Posted by: Sophie Matson at 2:49PM PST on January 26, 2010
Posted by: WawonaJamie at 9:43AM PST on January 26, 2010
This car took a hit in last week's snowstorm. Photo courtesy Jon Jay.
"If you’re hungry, the salad is in the freezer and the pasta is on the porch.” I don’t write notes like this to my husband every day, but ever since a storm rolled into Yosemite four days ago, taking out the roads and electricity with it, I’ve taken to doing all kinds of things I never imagined.
When we knew the weather was turning bad, we took all the measures our neighbors had advised. My husband put our chains on, then backed our front-wheel drive car into the driveway and pulled the windshield wipers up to prevent them from freezing to the glass. I spent the morning cooking -- stews, soups, anything I could make in large batches and have on hand. I did the laundry so we’d have clean clothes. I filled a bin with water in case the pipes froze. I went to the library and picked up stacks of books. I recharged phones, batteries, and lanterns. Then I sat down to write this week’s blog and get it off days early … just in case.
Posted by: Kelly Rae at 11:56AM PST on January 22, 2010
The Astronaut Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Seth Buckley
The three greatest disasters to hit NASA’s space exploration program all happened over the course of six days between January 27 and February 1, on three different years.
On January 27, 1967, a launch pad fire took the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The three astronauts were in the spacecraft during a test firing of the rockets on the launch pad when a flash fire enveloped the command module. Despite the tragedy, the Apollo program went on to put the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969.
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke up 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven astronauts on board: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. Due to low temperatures in Florida the morning of the accident, the O-ring seals in the solid rocket boosters became frozen and lost their flexibility. High temperature gas was able to escape the seals, resulting in the destruction of the vehicle.
Posted by: John Gould at 10:47PM PST on January 21, 2010
Photo courtesy John Gould.
Link it, now you too link up what
wants to dawn with each day:
the Word star-overflown,
To each his word.
To each the word that sang to him
when the pack snapped at his heals—
to each the word that sang to him and froze.
To it, to night, the Word
to it the ensilenced Word
whose blood did not clot when a venomed tooth
pierced its syllables
—Paul Celan, from “Argumentum E Silentio,” for Renè Char, in Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan.
How could I not lead off with this at some point in our ongoing conversation about nature and poetry?
Our “link” through language, through poetry, to what is wild, dangerous, overreaching our ability to understand—ineffable—it’s right there.
Wednesday January 20, 2010
Posted by: Philip Eager at 10:46AM PST on January 20, 2010
I just stumbled on this amazing video and thought I'd share it with you (see below) for a little mid-week birding tickle. It's from the BBC show "Animal Camera," and features spectacular footage shot from two tiny cameras mounted on the back of a Golden Eagle in Scotland. It zips through forests and soars over mountainous terrain. Hold your stomach!
On a related topic, I was intrigued by this blog post from Cornell University about how new scientific information came to light when cameras were mounted on the back of a Black-browed Albatross.
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Birding Phil started birding in Cape May, N.J. and Central Park in New York City more than 10 years ago. Since then, his birding adventures (with his wife, Mimi Calter) have included trips to Alaska, Belize, and mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, along with a bunch of other hotspots in the continental U.S., including Florida, Texas, and Arizona). Phil was included in Chris Santella's book "Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die: Birding Experts Share the World's Greatest Destinations," in which Phil talked about Pt. Reyes, CA. Birdwatchers -- head on over and join the Birdwatchers group on Trails.
Posted by: WawonaJamie at 10:11AM PST on January 19, 2010
Tent cabins at Camp Curry, Yosemite National Park.
Photo courtesy Delaware North Campanies.
If the idea of living inside Yosemite National Park sounds enchanting, I can tell you now that the key to accomplishing this feat can be summed up in one word…housing. The challenge? There isn’t any…or at least any that hasn’t been spoken for.
If you work for the park service, chances are you live outside the park. If you work for the concessionaire but you have children, chances are you live outside the park. If you are a private citizen and don’t own gobs of Berkshire Hathaway stock, chances are you live outside the park.
So what are all those homes I see on the valley floor, you ask? They belong to two groups of people. The first is park service employees who are deemed "required occupants." That means that they are essentially on call 24/7. So if you are a law- enforcement ranger -- the type who patrols the roads, or works in search and rescue, or arrests the drunk and disorderly -- you live inside the park. If you are a firefighter, you live inside the park. If you are the superintendent or the chief ranger, you live inside the park.
Posted by: Kelly Rae at 1:58PM PST on January 15, 2010
The terminator region of the moon shows the most graphic relief.
Photo credit: Thomas Pate
The moon makes a good target for photographers whenever it is visible. A full moon rising behind an oak grove or a crescent moon setting in a sky still awash in sunset colors make for gorgeous snapshots.
For amateur astronomers and those who want to capture the moon on film in detail, full moon is not an ideal time. January’s new moon occurs on Friday the 15th. Following new phase, the moon will be a thin crescent low in the west at sunset. Each evening the moon’s phase will grow and the moon will appear higher in the sky at sunset.
Posted by: John Gould at 11:13PM PST on January 14, 2010
Photo courtesy John Gould.
I brush along the side of warm moments,
but I can’t stay there long.
I’m whistled back through space—
I crawl among the stones. Back to the here and now.
Task: to be where I am.
even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation works on itself.
--Thomas Tranströmer, from “Guard Duty,” Selected Poems 1954-1956
Where ever we find ourselves, there is a nascent desire to be awake to the nature of self. Aware of our complicity with creation.
The ocean makes it simple for me. In the water, I am a tuning fork. Trees do it for my partner. My sons are at home on granite. Places resonate with internal spaces, and how we treat them reflects our own compassion, fear, delight, anger, hope.
Late on a Thursday night, I’m thankful for Tranströmer’s lines. I’m tired, sitting at the kitchen table in Oakland. Listening to sirens. And still, I feel the hum of being struck. Of being human.
I am “the place."
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J Gould has been exploring wild places and writing about them since age 6. He was one of the first "beach-watchers" and newsletter editors for NOAA out at Point Reyes National Seashore. He reads sporadically across the spectrum of poetry and poetics, without any discernible pattern, and toils in virtual anonymity as a poet with annual chapbooks and publications in obscure journals -- the first being Toyon at Humboldt State, where he taught and earned an MA in English. Friend J Gould here, and join the Poetry and Nature group to meet others who share your interest.
Wednesday January 13, 2010
Posted by: Philip Eager at 1:15PM PST on January 13, 2010
Hope everyone’s holiday season and New Year’s were happy and birdy. We managed to do two Christmas Bird Counts this year – the Point Reyes event that we’ve done for the past six years, plus the Cape May count (which we only managed to pull off because the original date was snowed out). It was particularly fun to do counts on both coasts, in really great birding spots, to really appreciate all of the differences in bird distribution in the winter.
Speaking of the holidays, I’m guessing that a lot of us got a new iPhone or iPod Touch (or another electronic gizmo) as a gift, or a present to ourselves. Or maybe you have an iTunes gift certificate burning a hole in your pocket. If so, now is a great time to go shopping for one of the cool birding applications for your snazzy new device. Yes, there is indeed an app for that – lots of them.
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 3:31PM PST on January 12, 2010
Photographer Ian Shive. Photo courtesy Ian Shive.
Whether he's nose to nose with a tarantula or capturing hundreds of square miles of a mountain range in a single frame, Ian Shive tells a story with his photography.
In a recent phone interview for Trails, I asked him about the difference in his approach to close-ups and vast landscapes, and his answer got me thinking about how I might improve my own camera work when I'm out in nature.
The images in his latest book , The National Parks: Our American Landscape, were mostly made off the beaten track in places accessible only if you're backpacking -- his favorite way to explore a place.
"I like hitting the trail, going deep into the woods far from the
typical places people see," he says. "That’s the way a great majority of the (national parks) book was photographed. My goal is that in sharing
these places in the book, it inspires people to go out there."
Read my full interview with Ian Shive in our Know How section. If you're used to packing a camera when you hit the great outdoors, he might just change the way you look at things.
Posted by: WawonaJamie at 10:10AM PST on January 12, 2010
Meadow Loop Trail. Photo courtesy Jon Jay.
Here’s what a day off from school looks like in a national park: No museums. No movies. No fast-food restaurants or visits to Chuck E. Cheese. Instead, you gather every child you know and head out on a trail.
That’s when you find out that kids who have been raised in a national park don’t necessarily like hiking. When nature is all you know, nature isn’t necessarily that appealing. The kid who wants to organize a hiking club and walks for miles with nary a complaint happens to be my own. And she was raised in a city. The other kids make it about half a mile and then ask to turn back or beg to be carried or they stop every two seconds for something to eat.
Which brings me to my next important lesson. Think small. When I organized the day, I was thinking we’d drive out to Sentinel Dome, my favorite Yosemite trail. Sure, it’s a long way from where we live but I thought it had all the kid essentials. It’s easy to do with a huge payoff—the views are some of the best in the park. Big news. When you are 4, 6, 8 or 9, as were the kids on our hike, hanging with your friends and throwing leaves at each other is more exciting than staring at Half Dome.
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 1:54PM PST on January 11, 2010
This is some amazing footage of a fox listening for -- then pouncing upon -- its prey through a thick blanket of snow. Check it out:
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 1:19AM PST on January 10, 2010
Trailheads one and all -- If you have not yet taken a look at the entries in this month's photo contest, do yourself a favor and get on over there
When we launched the January contest, we figured the theme of "Light" would bring in some interesting entries. Well it's even more impressive than we expected.
If you want to enter the contest, you have until noon on Friday, January 15, to do so. This month's prize is a Nikon camera.
If you're not a photographer or don't want to enter the contest, you can still get in on the fun by voting for the photos you like best. Just join the group, and then as you peruse the pictures, leave a positive comment on those you like best. It's fun -- and it makes your fellow community members feel great when they get a nice comment on their photo.
Join the group here. And tell your friends!
Posted by: Kelly Rae at 8:47AM PST on January 8, 2010
The moon’s magnitude varies greatly depending on what phase it is in.
Photo credit: Dave Dyet
Magnitude is a term used by astronomers to describe how bright an object appears in the sky. The lower the number, the brighter the object; the higher the number, the dimmer the object. It’s tricky to make a table of objects based on their magnitudes because many solar system bodies’ magnitudes can vary greatly. The moon is a great example. On nights when it is full, it is so bright that it obscures stars in its vicinity. But on nights when it is a slim crescent, it is merely an accent on the starry scene. Planets, satellites, asteroids, and comets also change magnitude depending on where they currently are in their orbits.
Stars do not tend to change their magnitude unless they are variable stars. Some variable stars are intrinsic, such as Mira and Betelgeuse, which have surfaces that can change size or be covered with spots, thereby altering their light output. Other stars are extrinsic variables, such as Algol and Beta Lyrae, which are occasionally eclipsed by companion stars.
Astronomical Magnitude Scale
-13 Full Moon
-6 Crescent Moon
-1 Sirius (the brightest star)
0 Bright stars such as Vega
+2 Polaris, the North Star
+4 Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon
+5 Dimmest stars visible under a dark sky, also Vesta, brightest asteroid
+6 Uranus, usually requires binoculars to see
+8 Neptune, requires binoculars or a telescope
Posted by: John Gould at 12:09PM PST on January 7, 2010
Photo courtesy John Gould.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
--Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
In the depth of winter, with the promise of the new year unfolding, I like to return to familiar things considered anew. And Jorge Luis Borges affords such an experience here, revisiting one of the most recognizable stanzas in the cannon of nature poetry.
"These lines are so perfect that we hardly think of a trick. Yet, unhappily, all literature is made of tricks," says the Argentine writer, essayist, and poet in a series of lectures collected in This Craft of Verse. "But in this case, the trick is so unobtrusive that I feel rather ashamed of myself for calling it a trick," referring to the repetition of end lines.
Wednesday January 6, 2010
Posted by: Matt Kirby at 6:51AM PST on January 6, 2010
Late last December, a diverse coalition of environmental groups, members of the tourism industry, and Alaska Native groups filed a lawsuit to protect roadless areas in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The Tongass, America's largest national forest, was temporarily and arbitrarily exempted from protection under the national Roadless Rule in 2003 by the Bush administration. Unfortunately, the Tongass exemption still exists today and exemplary roadless areas within it still have no protections.
Photography Copyrighted: John Hyde, Wild Things Photography
The forests of the Tongass provide critical habitat for wildlife, maintain clean freshwater for Alaskan communities, and store enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. Much of the forest is old-growth, the final stage of forest development and the one with the greatest carbon storage potential. Additionally, the Tongass is the largest intact temperate rainforest ecosystem on the planet. Protecting the roadless areas in the Tongass is the single most effective way to keep that ecosystem intact and allow it to adapt to a warming world while helping to combat climate change.
The lawsuit filed in December alleges that the 2003 exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule was illegally adopted. The Sierra Club, along with a wide variety of other organizations, is represented in the case by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This post was originally published on the Lay of the Land blog.
Posted by: WawonaJamie at 12:29PM PST on January 5, 2010
Photo of Half Dome courtesy Tom Valtin.
Somewhere on this planet I know there’s a 12-step program designed especially for me. “Hello. My name is Jamie. And I’m addicted to telling people I live in a national park.” I can see it all. The dingy room, the folding chairs, the worn linoleum, the bad lighting. Next to me is a woman who calls the Loire Valley home. Across the room is a guy renting a flat in Istanbul. The leader runs a safari park in Kenya. Together we’ll join hands and admit we’ve hit rock bottom. We can’t help ourselves. Wherever we go, we feel compelled to tell people where we live.
And who can blame us? How many times do you get to bask in the glow, not of what you’ve done, but where you live? I didn’t put Half Dome there or cause Yosemite Falls to thunder down the mountain. Yet I feel special because I inhabit the same piece of real estate they do. It’s the lazy man’s way to ego fulfillment.
Posted by: Kelly Rae at 8:25AM PST on January 1, 2010
Galilean Moons Photo, Credit: Jan Sandberg
On the second day of 2010, Earth comes as close to the sun as it will all year. At 4 p.m. PST, Earth will pass 0.983 astronomical units from the sun, its point of perihelion. Yet this moment occurs in the deep of winter for the Northern Hemisphere. This is a good reminder that it is not Earth’s position in its orbit that causes the seasons but the tilt of Earth’s axis.
On Sunday, January 3, overnight into Monday, January 4, the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks. Look north after sunset toward the constellations of Hercules and Bootes. On good years, the Quadrantid meteor shower can produce up to 90 meteors per hour. This year the shower is just three days after a full moon, therefore the moon will still be big and bright and obscure some of the fainter meteors. Your best bet is to observe before moonrise, which will occur approximately four hours after sunset, depending on your location.