Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mini Fall Break at Lake Texoma

Last week Nicholas' school had a Friday to Monday 4 day mini fall break. Instead of Lake Ray Robert, we went to Eisenhower State Park for a change, for a short camping trip with his friend Ben and family, Saturday to Sunday.

Foliage at Eisenhower State Park

Eisenhower State Park is a small park of 462 acre. It is on the shoreline of Lake Texoma, about 60 miles north from where we live. The 60 miles made quite a difference, where we live the leafs were still green, the foliage was on display already there.

Compared to Lake Ray Roberts Park, Eisenhower Park is quite hilly, and there is no biking trail there. We had to bike on the road way, sharing the narrow roads in the park with fast moving vehicles. So it is not an ideal place for recreational cycling.

It was a windy Saturday afternoon. We flied kite near our campsite for a while until Benjamin's family arrived.  Setting up tents, we started fires for grill. It was dark after we finished delicious BBQ. The night was breezy, pleasant but not with the crispy chill we expected. Kids roasted marshmallow and played fires by the camp fires, parents chatted.

It was a starry night, with a crescent moon in the sky. So we indeed "sleep under the stars, awaken to the cool dawn wind."

In addition to camping, the other main activities at Eisenhower Park are hiking and boating. Due to strong wind foretasted for Sunday, we planed to hike only. 

Around 9:30 am, we went on hiking, the boys and a girl led the way, adults followed. The trail is in a relatively dense woods for about 2 miles, we could barely see the lake on that portion of the trail.

On the hiking trail
Mushroom by the trail 
Autumn sky
Then we approached a cove, mistook it as the Ammoonite scenic point, our designated end point for the hike, we went off the trail, and headed to the rocky shoreline.

We watched two fishermen fishing on their motor boat.  The kids and Ben's dad skipped stones for some time - Ben's dad was really good at it - easily making a stone jumping on the water for 6 or 7 times. 

Caroline built a little statues Nicholas and Ben started throwing stones at it trying to knock it down, and after several tries, they did. They asked Caroline to build another statue and they knocked it down again. they had so much fun, the boys built their own "big" statue for targeting as well.

When they were done playing rocks, we explored the rocky shoreline along the cove; then we noticed that the Ammoonite scenic point is on the other side of the cove. 

It was really beautiful place - it backs up the claim the park made that the area's beauty is captivating!

A cove by Lake Texoma 

Building statues
Statues: Ben and Nicholas built the left hand side, Caroline built the other
Lake Texoma

We stayed on the rocky lake shore for over an hour. It was 12:30pm now, it was getting hot on the trail, the kids were tired. So the mothers took the children to nearby Marina store for snow cones, and the dads went back to the campsite, where Ben's dad started to cook lunch, I drove my car to the Marina to pick them up.

It was a fun trip. 

We only explored about two thirds of the park; the remaining 1/3 is claimed to have more captivating beauty, and some wildlife. We did not kayak or boat on the lake. So we will go back sometime in future to have more fun.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ansel Adams

A couple of weeks ago we went to local library - I picked up a book "The black hole at the center of our galaxy" because I thought that it would help to know the starry sky I saw at Yosemite more; Lily picked another Yosemite related book "Ansel Adams in the National Parks" for me.

"The black hole at the center of our galaxy"  presented some fascinating details about our galactic center which I was thrilled to know, but I was quickly bored of reading it because it has too many details for me. So I picked up "Ansel Adams in the National Parks"  and read it every night for a week until the last page was turned.

Before I read the book, I only vaguely knew that Adams was a photographer who took a lot of black and white photos of nature,  rocks, mountains, rivers ...

My first exposure to Ansel Adams's photos, that I remembered,  was at a colleague's office, which had four walls of large frames of Adams' photos of Yosemite. It struck me a deep impression - the striking beauty of Yosemite in black and white, and I remembered the name since

From then on, I paid more attention to black and white photos, I noticed his black and  white photos of nature from time to time, in office buildings, in art galleries, at schools, and at doctor's offices.... - each time they impressed me, and each time they reinforced my memory of Ansel Adams as a great photographer who likes to take black and white photos of nature, Yosemite in particular.

 Then I saw a lot more of Adams' photos in one place, at Yosemite National Park's Ansel Adams Art Gallery this summer. But I did not really know who he was until I read "Ansel Adams in the National Parks" primarily a collection of 225 of his photos of national parks along with some of his writings, and writings of his friends,associates.

"Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was the most honored American photographer of the twentieth century, ......he was also a prescient and highly effective voice in the fight to preserve America's remaining wilderness".

As a nature lover, I resonate with his photos, and resonate with his relations to nature: "You must have certain area of the world left as close-to-primal condition as possible. You must have quietness and solitude. You must be able to touch the living rock, drink the pure waters, scan the great vistas, sleep under the stars, awaken to the cool dawn wind."

In a small way, we practice what he embodied: "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet" - explore nature, have fun.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Exploring Giant Sequoia Trees

When we first entered Sequoia National Park, we stopped at the first sight of some extraordinarily large and tall sequoia trees along  highway 198 going south to Sequoia. We were amazed by the sheer height and size of the giant sequoia trees -it was extremely hard to take a good full picture of those big trees. We explored approximately ten big trees for about 30 minutes!

Quickly Justin and Nicholas were bored of the seemingly same big trees everywhere in the park, despite the fact that we saw bigger trees later, such as the 275 ft tall, 2200 year old General Sherman Tree, the largest tree by volume, or the 267 ft tall, 2000 year old General Grant Tree, the largest tree by width. It was really hard to appreciate all these world records then and there because the surrounding trees are almost just as big.

However, observation and curiosity made it interesting and fun for  Lily and me.

Giant Sequoia Tree Bark color

Very quickly we noticed that there are differences in color of the barks between the smaller sequoia trees and larger one. The large sequoia trees have a reddish, relatively smooth barks, while the smaller sequoia trees barks are more like regular trees, grey, and fragmented. It was interesting. But I did not think about it further until Lily raised the questions about why there was such a difference.

I hypothesized that it was because that the older trees experienced fires and the surface grey barks were burnt. We tried to find an answer at the Giant Sequoia Museum, but could not. So Lily went to ask a ranger at the information desk. We were told that Sequoia trees' barks change color at around 500 years of age due to chemical produced in the trees - tannin, it is a mechanism for the trees to be more fire resistant and pest resistant....(upon web search at the time of writing - I found another explanation - sequoia tree barks contain tannin. When the lower portion of sequoia trees' bark were burnt, the tannins from upper portion of the trees leaked to coat the surface of the burnt area, giving it the reddish color) . We were really excited to find the answer, and felt like we got a peek at secrets of nature!!

Shallow roots for very tall trees

Most giant sequoia trees are so straight, so it was peculiar to see some leaning trees, especially around Big Tree trail. We saw some fallen trees. Based on my common sense, the very tall trees have very deep roots. How could such big trees just fall?

From the exhibit along the trail I was surprised to find out that Giant Sequoia Trees actually have very shallow roots, 3 feet deep on average for trees 200 - 300 ft tall. But the root system extended extensively in horizontal directions, it can stretch out for 300 ft near the soil surface to take water and nutrients.

 The big tree trail is a trail on the perimeter of a meadow - wet land. As the wet land grows, the sequoia trees used to be far enough from the water's edge gets closer, water flow induce soil erosion. The Giant Sequoia trees lean or fall due erosion of soils in their immediate surroundings.

It is also a wonder that giant sequoia trees can pump water and nutrient 200 ~ 300 ft above its root system. It turns out that "trees draw water from the soil upwards. Their foliage is the main motor driving this movement. During photosynthesis, leaves open their stomata and allow water to evaporate into the air.This transpiration creates suction, which extends to the xylem in the leaf veins. From one cell to its neighbor, then across the xylem, suction draws the water."  All trees pump theie water up in the same mechanism  but I did not give it a thought on how it could be, took it for granted, until now.

Fire helps Giant Sequoia trees
People try hard to fight forest fires by all means. I heard comments on why we should allow some fires to burn but did not really investigate it. At the visitor center's exhibit, I found a specific example of fire's role in giant sequoia's life, from seed germination, seeding,  to pests control, from nutrient creation to kill competitors, ...."Fire is the dynamic process that allows minerals and energy to recycle faster within the ecosystem's operation. In theory, similar decomposer functions are performed by fungal and bacterial action. But these processes are far slower than fire, and it is doubtful whether these organisms have ever played the complete decomposition role without fire. "   Artificial fire fighting slowed the process, and caused some of the biggest fires we ever see!!
Longevity of Giant Sequoia Trees

It is absolutely amazing to see giant sequoia trees can live 2000 ~ 4000 years.

When one gives it a bit thinking, one realizes that  the longevity relates to 1 ) their genetics, which definitely play significant roles; 2) external conditions, such as soil type, precipitation, weather patters, temperature, altitude ..., which must have played almost an equally important role as genetics, based on the facts that not all giant sequoia trees live to 1000+ years; no 1000+year old giant sequoia trees outside the limited areas.

All these mental activities at Sequoia helped me to peek into nature's secrets and to have enormously satisfying and exciting experiences.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

One Extra Hour A Day of My Life - by Lily

As the kids entered a new school year, I started a new job. Since my commute is cut in half, I am essentially getting an hour of my life back every day. It is all mine by myself, without the interruption of the kids. I am totally thrilled by the prospect of this. There are so many things that I have wanted to do for so long, now I finally have time for them. I need some time at the beginning to catch up with the learning for my new job. But I won’t be bogged down by it. And one thing for sure I will not touch is household chores. I want this hour of my life to be meaningful and beneficial for myself.

I have more time to exercise, taking a morning run around the pond,  soaking up the golden morning sun ray, and admiring my white-necked friends trotting and hovering near the pond. 

I have extra time to tend my garden, watching the peppers turn into red and the purple okras shoot up toward the sky, amazed by an uninvited guest, double in size within a day. Hopefully the nest I made for her is good enough for her to turn into a butterfly.

I have time to take on home projects, learn a skill, and develop a new hobby. I finally opened the canvas and acrylic paints I ordered a few months ago and put them to use. It’s a joy to spend some quiet time in the morning mixing up colors and adding a few strokes on my canvas. Slowly but surely the shapes are coming alive. It’s satisfying to see the surprise on everyone’s face when they discovered my little “secret”.