Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A different perspective...

Seeing Stinson Beach from the mountainside, the town shows itself to be built on a sandbar at the mouth of the Bolinas Bay … Between the open ocean and the estuary, a long salt water lagoon has been formed with homes built on both sides.

Overview of Bolinas town and Bolinas Bay

Driving here, north from San Francisco, we leave the freeways and travel a country road through wild heath land with a thick low growing jumble of California Lilac,Coyote Brush, Yarrow, Seaside Daisy, and Monkey Flower ... and other such plants as can withstand this sometimes moist, sometimes dry, often windy, often swirling fog rising from the ocean. Travel takes less us about 90 minutes… but it is a world apart in the pace of life. Here, the flow of time in set by the pulse of the breaking surf and the call of sea birds…

7AM - looking east across the inner lagoon

We have spent this week with Judy’s brother and sister and spouses in an elegant rented home perched on the edge of the lagoon - We wake each morning to lapping water sounds, clouds on the mountains above us normally melt away by mid morning… Summer daytime temperatures remain in the low 70's. Our days are spent in conversation, walking excursions, exploration of the surrounding area, reading, and eating – a lot of good healthy eating! My wife Judy has been the only one bold enough to swim across the lagoon – and yesterday she swam three cycles, over and back, with form and grace…

Judy - swimming the lagoon

So how does this fog form? - When air is cooler than the water (or soil) over which it passes – fog forms. Think bathtub fog on a cold morning. California coastal summer fog at first glance seems a puzzle – it starts to form at about 1000 ft., but not at sea level. Air sweeps eastward from the cool Ocean surface – The sea is colder than the air, thus, no fog at sea level. But when air is forced to rise up the coastal slope it undergoes a process called adiabatic cooling – Think of a large balloon filled with air at sea level –the pressure of the atmosphere pushing inward is in balance with the normal attempt of the air mass to expand outward. The air mass is in equilibrium as long as conditions stay constant.

Some days the fog persisted

Suppose the balloon rises 1000 ft – the pressure of the atmosphere is now less and the internal air pushing outward is able to expand the air inside the balloon – this outward expansion uses up energy removed from the air mass– losing energy results in reduction in temperature. “Adiabatic Cooling” is equal to -5.5F/1000 ft. The ocean airmass, rising up the mountain slope, has now been made cooler than the ground over which it is passing - and fog particles form – hence clouds/fog.

2000 ft - The fog zone - By traveling higher we later broke into bright sunlight again!

My brother in law, Donald, and I drove up the mountain side of Mt. Tamalpais – up into the fog zone and I saw a phenomenon I have only read about – Fir trees at about the 2000 ft level have adapted to the Pacific coast foggy summer conditions by developing a needle shape that provide surface area for the fog to coalesce. When enough fog particles have collected, a drop of water slides off the needle… the effect under the tree is that of a steady rainfall of fat raindrops. The trees "milk" the fog... Coastal redwoods can also do the same.

Fir trees "milking moisture from the fog

This reminds me a story…Years ago when Judy and I were camping in the country parks in Hawaii we had a partly empty air mattress on the back seat of our car – we drove from sealevel to the top of Mt. Haleakala on the island of Maui. We reached the top, and when I looked in the back seat, the air mattress had expanded almost to the busting point – Expansion due to elevation change and change in atmospheric pressure…

In the moist fog zone the growth is some thick it forms a jungle

Sunday Don, his daughter, two friends and I returned to Mt. Tamalpais – but now the sun was brilliant and the forest was filled with green leaves, sunbeams, and bird songs – it was a marvel! Tracy and her friends are young adults, very comfortable in their San Francisco life style – but with an impressive worldview – We share a deep love of nature, of wild green places, of lichens, and ferns, of the myriad forest plants and creatures… it is such a pleasure to see the forest through their eyes.

Community of lichens:(click to open)

They are involved with a group of young urbanites that in addition to their professional lives enjoy the process of creating community within the midst of the city – It is part of a movement found in other urban areas. I have heard it called “localism”. At regular times, the group gathers as a person's garden and working together, they give it a total creative redo – training and empowering the owner/renter to maintain the garden as a place of beauty and perhaps practical food production. Then after working together they enjoy good food and continue an on-going Kendama competition. To learn about Kendama - go here:

Sunday afternoon we collected samples of windfall lichens and mosses to be used in gardens or terrarium construction. I love the form and variety of lichens and so I have a lot in common with them.

Crustose Lichens growing on an exposed rock

Later in the week Judy and I drove past Muir wood:– It is a beautiful stand of coastal redwood trees only a short hop from the urban centers of the Bay Area … What we saw was unbelievable! It was 10AM, a weekday morning, and the parking lot was full – the large overflow parking area was full – the street parking for a mile in each direction was full. This is a statement about the human desire to relate with the natural world. (The area is quite small so I fear that with these many visitors the pathways would be as crowded as a city sidewalk).

A large bolder of serpentine rock - slopes of Mt. Tamalpais (detail view)

It is also a statement about human population and how it has grown. I think of redwood forests as landscapes where the only sounds are raucous scrub jays and the gentle rustle of wind in the top branches. It is a place of bright yellow 8 inch banana slugs and a whole ecosystem of small plants and animals dependent on the shade and moisture that are part of this environment. I wish all of these people could experience the real beauty and peace of the wild forest in a more leisurely setting...

Pacific Sideband Snail (Monadenia fidelis )

Links of the week;

1. Our national crisis is still unresolved - I recommend the daily New York Times editorials for a helpful perspective: Here is a sample:

2. The budget debate, these past weeks, has sucked all the air out of the news cycle. We are so on overload with one issue that a number of critically important news topics have slipped past us. The issue of changes to our environmental controls can affect our environmental and health for years to come:

I think Mr. Murdock is also thanking his lucky stars that the budget debate took the spot light off him...

3.We are so democratic in this country that we feel that all sides of an issue should be given equal hearing - even when knowledge and reason are lacking from one side... Read this: