Friday, December 31, 2010

go wild in the country

Cambria and Los Osos 12/23 and 12/26

No snakes (at least not this time of year) in the grass but the mushroom show is absolutely free.Are you a nut for fruiting bodies? Do you subscribe to the Cornell University Mushroom blog? (I highly recommend it by the way. Even if you are not a fungus kook the writing is really good.) Does Mycology ring your bell? Then the California central coast after a good rain will make you swoon. Fungi is a ubiquitous presence all over the world, and a true aficionado will know where and when to find the little caps poking up, but the show near Cambria, CA is like seeing the lights in Times Square... any fool can stumble on to it and stand and gawk.A cool windy clear day arrived after a week of soaking rain so we took the opportunity to get out and visit Moonstone Beach. The beach part of our day was detailed in the previous post and I hinted at our mushroom surprise later that day. Though we have made excursions following previous a wet spells specifically to see fungi, we had not been thinking about mushrooms that morning so the show surprised us.All around the public restrooms at one end of Moonstone Beach is a small area wooded with a variety of trees and a thick mat of fallen needles and leaves. The wild colors and assortment of sizes in the mushroom show in this small area kept us busy for at least an hour of gawking.Another favorite mushroom gawking zone near Cambria is the Fiscalini Ranch. It has much more than mushrooms to offer but in the right season apparently the place goes nuts with fruiting bodies. We have not visited yet so I can't give my personal review but Fiscalini Ranch is at the top of our list.When the mushrooms show their heads lots of critters come out to dine including the local mycophagists. Now, I'm too much of a beginner to have any confidence about eating wild mushrooms and I don't recommend you eat 'em without some heavy research and maybe a knowledgeable friend, but there are those who come out after a good rain to find their dinner. So, for the sake of critter and people alike please be kind to the mushrooms you see. Check that itch to kick the white rubbery thing or to mash that orange trumpet. There are critters big and small who would prefer to have some of them on their plate without your footprints on the caps.On our walks we have often seen the telltale trowel marks of the foraging mycophage that arrived before we could rouse ourselves for the morning.A few days (and a bit more rain) after our surprise in Cambria we took a walk specifically for the fungus. This time we visited Los Osos Oaks Park. This ramble through oak trees big and small offered lots of mushroom variety too, and we had a good two hours of muddy shoes to prove it.
The trails in Los Osos Oaks can be confusing and unmarked tracks lead off into the bushes. If you go pay attention, wear a whistle in case you wander off, and maybe bring a compass to help point the direction to the parking area (take note that Los Osos Valley Road is the North edge of the park area).Some of the best stuff comes out of rot, and by the way some of 'em smell good too. There are a few that smell like maple syrup, no foolin'. So go wild and stick yer nose in for a whiff.

oh yeah, and for some nifty time lapse viewing of mushrooms click here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the search for nephrite and jadeite

Moonstone Beach 12/23

A solid week of rain dashed our hopes of seeing the lunar eclipse on the 20th but a break in the heavy rain on the 23rd gave us a chance to get outside. We decided it was time for a visit to Cambria, California and Moonstone Beach. Here are some reviews of the beach and other folks' impressions. Now, if you live in a place that is having cold nasty weather this time of year and are feeling envy just hold on a second. Yes, there are fantastically beautiful days like the one pictured above that come along in winter but you have to take note that those are the only days everyone runs outside to take pictures. The recent wet is nothing compared to freezing rain and snow but don't get the idea that everyday looks so blue. And if you come to visit in the summer, HA! the central coast will likely be socked in with a thick cold fog. These fantastic clear (but chilly with wind) days are often in the middle of winter when the marine layer has been blown away by a storm, and indeed the next day was gray and drizzly again.
So, we took our shot at the pebbles while the getting was good. If you want to go pebble hunting or tide pool gazing be sure to check the tide forecast. Arriving at the beach and finding no beach can be disappointing and tides here can be high enough to completely obscure the pebbly sand and tide pool rocks. I took a look and found that high tide was to occur at 11:40ish in the am and would crest at +6 feet. Gads! good thing I checked. Arriving in the morning we'd be out of luck. Instead we waited until after lunch and had an ever expanding beach to play on, but we'd miss out on the very wide low tide beach that makes for the best pebbling and tide pool gazing.
So, what's all this business about pebbles? you say. Well, Moonstone beach is so called for the jumble of marvelous hard bits of stone tumbled on the shore. The majority are chert, a fine grained sedimentary silica rich stone that is hard enough to resist being pulverised right away in the surf. It comes in an array of colors and makes for dazzling pebble picking. Just a few minutes spent looking near your toes will turn up treasure.
According to the name of the beach there are moonstones to be found. I'm not enough of a geologist or gemologist to know if I have ever seen a moonstone but I hear tell that tossed in with all the chert there are many bits of quartz, nephrite, and rare bits of jadeite. These last two are the source of jade gemstones. Beware, you may be bitten by the jade bug and go ape for the green bits, however I think the melange of colors in the chert (much of which is green too) is more interesting. The pretty green stones are very abundant here but few have the translucent quality that most expect of gemstones. I know that true nephrite is harder than chert and jadeite is harder still so a simple beginners' test if you insist on finding jade is to try scratching the stone with steel. A dull pocket knife will do (it'll be dull soon enough grinding it on hard stones). Bring a loop or other magnifying glass and look at your scratches. If that green stone you've got is cold on your cheek, has some nice sparkly translucence, and when you look close the scratch is actually bits of steel ground off onto the stone then there's a good chance you have some jade. To be absolutely certain you have to get technical and measure the stones specific gravity. Not hard to do if you have a good graduated cylinder and a chemist's balance scale, but all that is beyond me.
I just like lookin' at 'em, and if I end up taking one home it's usually one with wild mottled colors. I'm just not ready to catch the jade bug.

What's the source of all these pretty rocks? Well, the polishing in the surf helps, but all the hard bits of stone come from the Franciscan Assemblage. A geological leftover, predating the San Andreas fault, that is mashed up all along the California central coast. Another favorite pebble spot is Jade Cove in Big Sur. I have not visited this one so I can't vouch for it but I suppose the name is promising. Geologists think that much of this coastal stuff is sedimentary material from the Pacific Ocean floor that was scraped up and packed onto a coast that was at that time riding over a subduction zone. For more on this and other Southern and Central California geology tidbits I highly recommend Geology Underfoot in Southern California.The same day we had another surprise payoff from the week long drenching, a wild mushroom show, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

copper moon

For all you moon gazers out there, be alert, the full moon will turn a deep copper color Monday night as it passes into the Earth's shadow for a total lunar eclipse visible in North America. We're not much as astronomy photographers so forgive the little Pic Shaws cartoon above. There are gobs of pictures of the freaky red moon all over the internet. Just do an image search for "lunar eclipse".

This total eclipse will occur the night of the 20th and the early morning of the 21st. The particular time will depend on your location and I am uncertain of all the places where the show will be visible so do some research. For the west coast of North America the moon will be in shadow from about 10:30pm to about 1:30am with total eclipse beginning about 11:40pm. You'll have to do some research and find your local time for the event. Unfortunately it looks like we in Central California will be out of luck. We are in the middle of a long steady rain and the cloud cover is likely to be total Monday night. Piffle. I'll still go out to take a look. Maybe we'll get lucky and there will be a break in the clouds. The forecasts have been wrong before.

Do go out and take a look if you have never seen a lunar eclipse. The red brown color of the moon in Earth's shadow is weird enough to make me understand how people used to take it as an omen of terrible things afoot. The peculiar color of Earth's shadow on the moon is caused by a small bit of sunlight refracted through Earth's atmosphere and scattered into the Umbra, as astronomers call the shadow area. The Griffith Observatory web page has a good short explanation of the phenomenon.

If you live in North America and you have the luck of a clear sky on the evening of the 20th don't miss the show. It'll take just a few minutes of your time to peek outside before you go to bed and you'll remember the sight for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

gifts under paper garlands

Olvera Street and El Pueblo de los Angeles

Still looking for gifts in Los Angeles? Just a few walkable blocks from Chinatown is Olvera Street, the crowded market of El Pueblo de los Angeles.
my favorite thing about olvera st
This pedestrian street crowded with shops, restaurants, and merchant stalls loaded with wild bursts of color and hung with paper (and plastic) garlands is all that Los Angeles has of its old town center. It may be touristy and pricier that finding this stuff in Mexico but we still love it.
skellie rainbow
The festivals for Dia de los Muertos get crazy crowded and all the kids get their faces painted with a skull's grimace.
lucha libre scary
There's never a shortage of Luchador masks in every design imaginable.
busy altar
The shops overflow with colorful stuff from inexpensive trinkets to elaborately embroidered dresses. From December 16th to the 24th Olvera Street hosts Las Posadas, with processions beginning in the evening at the Avila Adobe and piƱata bashings for the kids. Details and directions can be found at the links above. Don't miss Olvera Street. Even if you aren't looking to shop, the colors and swirls of people will give you a holiday kick in the pants.

Friday, December 10, 2010

gifts under red lanterns

11/21 Chinatown, Los Angeles

If you live in the Los Angeles area and are still on the hunt for gifts, don't forget about Chinatown. During a short visit to LA just before Thanksgiving and in need of a few more little-somethings we took a turn under the red lanterns.The range of possible gifts in the tightly packed shops include the cheesy/fun and the special/expensive. Take the time to visit the markets that at first glance appears to offer only food items. Often these markets have the best unusual gifts hiding in the back.If you see this Lady Fish Paste sign turn around and go up the escalator past the mirrored wall. This will take you to a swell market filled with some marvelous ceramics and a wall of glass apothecary jars full of the most pricey loose teas I have ever witnessed.It was a bright cold morning but the clouds put up a good backdrop for the lanterns and the wild ornate buildings.

If you are unfamiliar with Chinatown in Los Angeles the main drag is along N. Broadway and N. Hill Street just a bit Northeast of downtown. If you are driving South on the 110 freeway take the Hill Street exit. It will drop you right into the thick of it. Finding free parking can be a bear on any day of the week but there are many lots that typically charge $5 or less for the day. Even better, skip the parking and take the Gold Line train to the Chinatown stop. It's a short walk to the shops. And by the way, Phillipe's is in the same neighborhood in case you haven't tried their horseradish mustard.If you don't make it for holiday shopping, don't fret, you can still make the 112th Annual Golden Dragon Parade for Chinese New Year on February 5th, 2011.

**If you are up for some bipedal adventuring, historic Olvera Street can be traveled to on foot in a little less than ten minutes. Stay tuned for an a-go-go take on the pueblo. If you can, make plans to visit next week in time for Las Posadas


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