Friday, March 27, 2015

Detective work...

Walking along the trail I casually picked up a rounded pebble.  Every rock has a story to tell – this one started life as a sandy ocean beach – I knew that because all the grain sizes were uniformly small  like beach sand.  It has been compacted and cemented – then running through it lies a vein of white quartz … so it must have been heated to near melting, fusing the sand grains tightly together, it was cracked, and was injected with the liquid quartz; then permitted to cool.  Forces deep in the earth slowly uplifted the mass of rock to the surface, and fragments eroded into a flowing stream, where tumbling in the river, gave it its rounded shape…  Permitted to continue it would have been tumbled and eroded into sand fragments – and washed again into the sea…
My rock!
 So what can I tell about its age… for that I have to look at the surface geology maps for my area?  In my immediate area different rocks are found.  Our most recent rocks are a mere 2.5 million years old – and are deposits of broken down fragments from earlier rocks – so my rock probably belongs to this group.  But where was it originally formed? We have volcanic rocks that go back to 23 million years old… but my rock shows no sign of volcanic origin.  There are sedimentary rocks of the same time period –but they would be simple – no quartz vein.  We also have complex sedimentary rocks from up to 60 million years ago –but these still would not form the vein. But – bingo -The Franciscan formation sedimentary rocks was metamorphosed by heat and pressure… permitting the origin of the quartz vein – and it goes back to about 250 million years ago.  This pebble was here long before me and will continue its evolution of change long after I am… and for now I stand here and bounce it in my hand…
Surface geology map of Northern Fremont  - each color code denotes rocks of a different origin on the surface of the earth in those locations.

So how can we know its age? To understand how radioactive decay of minerals tells us absolute time – go here for a good explanation in simple language…

Northern California is famous for its complex geology – Dominating it all is the vast tilt block of the Sierra Nevada mountains – 400 miles long and about 70 miles wide – the eastern edge is a great earthquake fault that has been tilting slowly upward – over 14000 ft, high in the case of Mt. Whitney. 
Sierra rock - with minerals melted into one mass - this has crystals of quartz, hornblend, and feldspar
The old metamorphic rock that once overlaid the Sierras has been mostly eroded away westward toward the Pacific – except at some locations in the highest mountains it still can be found. The coastal range, also about 400 miles in length, runs parallel to the Sierras – and its mountains are mostly in the 1000-2000 ft range of elevations.  Both of these ranges have been brought about by the continental movement westward caused by continental drift. 
Geologic History of California
The great pressures and tensions of the drift have also caused the formation of volcanoes in Northern California – most famous today for Mt. Shasta, Lassen, and a whole strong of volcanoes expending into Oregon.  Mt. St. Helens is the most recent serious eruption in this chain.  There are extinct volcanoes in the Bay area that are “almost certainly” inactive.  The dominant mountain above Fremont – Mission Peak – has no volcanic connection (contrary to people who don’t know better) – the evidence is in the clam shell fossils found at all levels of the mountain… true evidence of its sedimentary origin. 
Metamorphic rock - that started as a layered mudstone - then was heated and fused
Fremont lies within the Coastal range zone and part of our region has the famous Franciscan formation of rocks evident on the surface. - These rocks - include very dark color volcanic rocks, some of which have been changed by heat, pressure and added chemicals, thick deposits of microscopic ocean organisms shells made of silicon, sandstones, limestones, shale, and metamorphic rocks… Most of the Franciscan is between 150-190 million years of age. After deposition, these rocks were broken up with earthquake faults, folded over and mixed chaotically!

So we have it all volcanic, sedimentary, high-pressure metamorphic rocks all mixed together with the power of earthquakes and continental drift westward.
this nodule shows the clear print of a fern

Many of our rocks do not have an extensive fossil record – due to the igneous or metamorphic nature of many rocks. Ocean fossils are found in many places… and most more recent mammal fossils (saber cats and dire wolves, etc.) … But there is no record of dinosaurs in northern California – due to the fact that at that time much of the area was below sea level.

Southern California has its own geological stories – some quite different that here in the north…

So many of us Californians live in the midst of a fascinating on going geological laboratory – and I’m not alone in picking up stones and puzzling over their origin.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

That is tasty! I'll have just a little bit more...

I can certainly not stand before you as a model of how it should be done.  I love food.  I love good bread.  I love toasted -almond ice cream cones… But much of my life I have fought to keep my eating under some degree of control.  But when I eat responsibly I feel more energy.  If I eat well I control my blood pressure, my weight, and heart health.  I enjoy exercise more and maintain a regular energy balance all day.
East coast soft shell crab
If you would like to get a better sense of how much you eat and what you "should" be eating; this is a site recommended by my Kaiser Medical Plan– I like them better than Weight Watchers and they are free! Follow yourself for a day and see what your numbers look like:  Works for me...  I have found that my eating/weight equilibrium comes around 1400 calories a day.

Judy's apple pie!
Genetics sets for each of us a range of life potentials; what can we do to move ourselves toward the longest and healthiest life possible?

Positive responses: 
The vitamins and minerals you eat need to be in the right amount – not too much – not too little… My favorite source of information of vitamins and minerals is this site – click on a food and see what it contains (Plus they have simple awesome recipes):
Borscht soup w/ sour cream
I have a friend at Stanford University whois involved in the research being done on 'Phytonutrients” These are plant derived foods that contain thousands of natural chemicals.  They aren't included with 'vitamins' - but these chemicals are capable of interacting in positive ways with our body cells. Phytonutrients aren't essential for keeping you alive, but when you eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and enhance the functions of  your bodyto make it work more properly. Keep an eye on this group of nutrients; this is a matter of growing scientific studies by some of our leading institutions. ( check google more )
Czech Kolache
But what changes can lead to improving our life? You know the obvious - The most obvious: smoking tobacco is a definite hazard to your health and all those who have to breath 2nd hand smoke.  3 out of 4 smokers will die of a smoking related disease (this number improves rapidly for those who quit.)     Cancer is only one of the medical surprises awaiting smokers...

Tanzania lunch
And what about food?

Judy and I decided that we want to minimized random chemicals in our diet - We try to buy only organic vegetables and only meat without extra hormones or other added chemicals.  

Peruvian soup

There are 3 great evils as far as food is concerted: 

1. Excess fat and other high calorie foods There is massive evidence to support that being overweight relates to a whole number of medical conditions than can drastically shorten life, and reduce the qualities of a “good” life.  My father’s generation worked hard in the fields and needed to eat a calorie rich diet to replace the energy expended.  Many people today still enjoy the same foods – but without the activity they become overweight.  "You can't have it both ways..."  
"If you knew sushi like I know suchi..."
Plaque deposits ( from a high fat diet ) are formed in the blood arteries; and they reduce the capacity of the arteries and leads to cardiovascular disease'
Being overweight  also triggers : asthma, elevated blood pressure, several forms of cancer...
You gotta read this one:
Afghan soup
2. Excess sugar:
We know that the human body did not evolve to use vast amounts of processed sugar.  - And yet its everywhere - and we are addicted to it.  Corn syrup is one of the most ubiquitous forms!

The fat produced from excess energy from sugar tends to be stored in the waist, hips, and thighs.  Excess sugar reduces the effectiveness of our  immune system, 
The presence of sugar in the body stimulates the body to produce insulin.  The insulin stimulates cells to take in and use or store the available sugars.  With a low activity level the energy of the sugar is conversed into fat.  The rate of diabetes in America is at epidemic proportions today due to overeating.  More than 29 million Americans have diabetes; 1 in 4 doesn’t know.

Studies say that we should also limit our intake of fruit juices because they are high in sugars...Switch to whole fruit - the fiber somewhat mitigates the effect of high sugar in pure juice...
Soup from Central Asia
3.  Excess salt:  The amount of sodium in the  fluid  between your cells helps determine the amount of water your body holds. If your sodium intake is high, your kidneys cut back on releasing water into your urine so you can balance out the excess sodium surrounding your cells. This results in an increased blood volume due to water retention.

Blood pressure: The higher the sodium level in your blood, the higher your blood volume, because your kidneys excrete less water in order to dilute the sodium in your blood. The increase in blood volume, in turn, raises blood pressure.

Korean Pho
So how do food scientists know if a food is good for us or not...  how can it be tested?  The ways to test  are limited.  One of the best is to find a population on earth that emphasizes that certain food.  In parts of Japan tofu is a major part of the diet, in France red wine is consumed freely, in parts of America people eat a high proportion of fried foods, traditional Alaskan Indians ate a very high fat diet (blubber). Vegetarians eat no animal flesh (to various degrees).  So scientists study the health of that population  compared to others... 
Backyard buffet
That's a good beginning but with humans nothing is easy.  In addition we need to know about the person’s whole pattern of life:  What is their activity level, stress level, how much water they drink each day, do they eat whole grains or processed grain, how much sugar is in their diet…on and on…

Then we discover that our response to diet is also influenced by our genetic make-up.  People differ in their propensity to produce plaque in their arteries, where and how they store their fat, rate of metabolism, response to alcohol or caffeine … so all of these factors make the study of human diet problematic. 

Thai soup
Another way to explore the effects of diets is to feed the diet to lab. Animals – mice, rats… but we are not mice or rats so while this can be helpful it also raises questions.  Another approach is the more micro approach of examining cells - making small controlled experiments - working with autopsies, building a database from many sources

Remember the bottom line basic fact of science:  "Our knowledge on a topic is not determined by the results of one study - but by the expanded work that grows out of all of the studies.

The problem is that the press may get one result and they publish the idea on the front page as the final word...the latest conclusion.
Mexican chicken soup with condemnts
Science is a process based on creating a hypothesis - testing the hypothesis - supporting or rejecting the hypothesis - sharing your results with others so that they can confirm, expand, or prove wrong the new idea.  Its slow but it works. Scientists don't jump on the results of one test and immediately throw out all other tests...

These are still lots of unanswered questions -  For years egg yolks, have been on the limited food list. Some recent studies challenge this finding – Others say 'no' they are still not prooven safe  Some studies say that artificial sweeteners are just as bad at stimulating stomach fat formation as regular sugars – others disagree.

Moderation seems the best over all answer - Just like for Goldilocks - the answer is "not to much, not to little, but just right"... But how the heck do I tell that to my craving mind when a quart of my favorite Hagendas Ice-cream is just sitting there  inside the freezer?

Friday, March 13, 2015

How I came to love the new "Great California Desert"

Welcome to the great California desert!  Sunny skies, seasonally warm temperatures, and dry, dry, dry…  So the good news is that we have received 15.76 inches of rain this year

The bad new is found in this graph:

Standard Climate biome determination chart

if you know the average temperature of a location, and the annual rainfall… you can safely predict the type of biome pattern to be found in that location:

For example:  Anyplace on earth that has an annual average temperature of 10 C and receives 150 cm of rain in a year … will definitely be a forest… (natural vegetation before human activity)

Go to this link to find your climate characteristics:

Add caption

So Fremont has 15.76 inches of rain – that's about 39 cm. and our average annual temperature is 60 F = 15.5C.

Check it out on the graph – We are a desert… This is our 3rd year of severe drought… Whatever you call it, climate change is happening to us!

We get along fine when we can count on melting winter snow water in the Sierras - but we are in big trouble when there is very little winter snow...

Interesting comments on how long range climate predictions are determined:  National Geographic:

Plant assemblage in Southern Mexico
Several years ago we were in Southern Mexico – a reagon about as dry as Freemont… and I marveled at the beauty and productivity of the gardens… Then it dawned on me – since early times those local people had refined the art of growing plants suitable for that climate.  I saw no pansies or petunias… no lawns or thirsty vegetable plants… but plants naturally adapted to the available water and climate…and they were beautiful – just different from the classic English and European garden plants that most of us associate with “garden “.  Those local people have also developed methods  of focusing water into the root zone of the plants, and used mulch to slow drying. 

A plant largely unknown to most Europeans - this is the Chayote - found in Central America - grows well in Fremont too...It has squash like fruit...

So I thought – "what plants are suitable to the climate of Fremont?"  I came home and started doing my research.  I discovered that the Fremont climate is a classic Mediterranean biome climate – distinguished by  moderate  temperatures, and minimal rainfall – which all comes in one brief  rainy season.  This same biome  is also found in the European Mediterranean countries, parts of South Africa, Chile, parts of New Zealand and Australia… Plants that have evolved in these locations generally do well here.  I also found a great wealth of native California plants – but beware the term ‘native’ … almost everything is native to somewhere – so I am only interested in plants native to my region… After a lot of trial and error, success and failure, I have developed the maxim – "If it can't live here with the water I give it, I let it die and I replace it with something that can adapt."

One of my cactus in bloom 

If our climate truly continues to be dry for years ahead, as predicted – I am shifting from Mediterranean plants to plants adapted to very low water.  Among some enduring Mediterranean plants, I have a growing collection of cactus and other drought resistant succulents.  When the plants are small they require extra water support – but once established they thrive with littler water.

Garden cactus

Now, the Kansas farm boy in me can't go completely away and I have some raised planter boxes where I add extra water and can grow excellent tomoatoes, green beans, fava beans, kale ( 3 varieties ), potatoes, beets, and squash.  We also have a variety of fruit trees with deep roots  that do OK!  

Now I come to a pet peeve of mine – Why do local nurseries and local garden groups encourage new gardeners to attempt growing plants just not suitable for our climate?I suspect that they try to grow them here because their relatives in warmer summer climates " always' grew them in their gardens.
We have cold nighttime temps in the summer due to air movement off  of the cold Pacific ocean. That limits us in important ways – Both the Alameda Master Gardening association and the  Davis UC  Farm extension program  recommend not attempting to grow peppers, eggplant, okra, or large fruiting tomatoes (like Heirloom types)… we simply don't have the climate for it… The plants will ’grow’ in many cases – but produce poor quality or little fruits.  Why keep doing that which is impossible - grow varieties that are suited to do well our climate!