Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Genetically Modified Salmon... What the Big Deal?

Would you eat something with ethoxylated diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, azodicarbonamine or calcium propionate? You already do if you eat store bought sliced bread. Do you eat any of the approximately 75% of the food found in a grocery store that contains some sort of genetically engineered ingredients? I'm guessing for most of us the chances are high. So when a story comes along about a salmon that has been crossed with another salmon using laboratory techniques to enhances its growth properties, it amazes me how upset people get and start frothing at the mouth while throwing out the term GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) with the same relish as pouring Roundup on the evening meal.

Whether most of us like it or not, GMO's are already here and will be here to stay. It is a reality of increasing populations and less land available which drives the need for alternative ways to create more food with less land. Even our family gardens have long ago fallen under the realm of GMO's with the creation of hybrid vegetables. For hundreds of years, hybrids were genetically modified by selectively crossing plants with desirable traits generation after generation until the desired end result was obtained. Modern times we do the same thing but in a much shorter time frame with microscopes and a laboratory.

So should we be afraid of a genetically modified salmon which has been making the news lately? Not if you are planning on eating it. What we should be worried about and what I haven't seen in the news is what happens when these GMO salmon get out into our food stream unchecked and able to procreate? Granted these salmon would be raised only in specific inland specially designed ponds but mistakes and slip ups happen. What then? Perhaps they will thrive and live in harmony with the fish that they improved upon. Perhaps they become the next zebra mussel or kudzu plant. That should be our true concern.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 3

As we paddled into "The Breaks" region of the upper Missouri, white bluffs of sandstone began to appear separated by slot canyons called coulées. Perhaps the most famous of them all due to the shear beauty and classic slot canyon-like shape is Neat's Coulée. Because we had camped nearby, we got to Neat's in good time and headed up the chilly depths of the canyon still very deep in mornings shade. Much of the time the walls were within arms reach on both sides and towered almost vertical upwards of a 100 feet tall. Several times, the curves and narrowness of the walls prevented us from seeing the sky altogether.

As we got closer to the head of Neat's Coulee, we could scramble out to the bench and see a section of dark shonkinite that intruded into some ancient crack of the sandstone long ago and now remains long after the surrounding sandstone has been eroded away. In places, you could see this vertical line of rock marching for miles in either direction sometimes ending in a dramatic vertical face on one side of the river and starting again in similar dramatic fashion on the other side.

I found myself constantly drawn to the dramatic contrast in colors with the browns and greens against the bone white sandstone. I have half a tray of slides full of similar pictures to the one below.

Our ultimate goal was to hike up Neat's Coulée until we reached a natural arch in the sandstone. For those who didn't know, a natural arch if formed by wind erosion and a natural bridge is formed by water erosion. We did find it but evidently I never took just a picture of the arch without my ugly mug or those of the ones I was with somewhere in the middle. We did hang out for a bit until the heat of the sun drove us back into the cool confines of the coulee and perhaps a nap or two before we made our way to the boats and a quick paddle back to our camp. I did take a picture of the view from the natural arch.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oak Bullet Gall

As I walked by the pin oak trees on the family farm, I almost did a double take. It appeared to have hundreds of thousands of berries on it and though not an expert on all things tree, I did know enough that oaks don't have berries. A closer inspection revealed tiny round wood cysts which after research are named oak bullet gall. This is my first encounter with them.

A wasp called a cynipid lays an egg on the leaf which hatches out a larvae. The larvae then injects the leaf with DNA alternating substances that cause the tree leaf to form a protective gall around the larvae protecting it from the elements while providing nourishment to it. Then in the fall, the wasps chews out of the gall and flies over to the terminal bud and lays another egg. The larvae hatches in the spring and another gall is formed which another wasp eventually chews its way out.

This brief paragraph is what I have obtained from reading a couple dozen websites on the subject but still I have questions. If the first gall on the leaf is to hatch a wasp to lay an egg on the terminal bud which then forms a gall and hatches another wasp, what does this wasp do? Why not directly lay the egg on the terminal bud? The only answer I seem to find is that most sites agree that there is much confusion on the life cycle of the cynipid that forms these galls.

Anyone know more?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 2

Unlike the occupants of the abandoned plane up above, we came to the upper Missouri river valley by a more conventional way but traded that off for the less popular canoe. There were several reasons we wanted to do this. First and foremost with populations ever on the incline, the time when we will be able to go somewhere and find pristine conditions is finite. Although there were already signs of civilization creeping closer like the plane above and a few ghost towns, the river was for the most part untouched and felt like we were just minutes behind the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The second big reason is that we wanted to see the upper Missouri before it all disappears underneath stagnant waters. Sure the Wild and Scenic designation should protect it but so was the designation supposed to protect Dinosaur National Park which is now under the stagnate waters of Lake Powell. Finally, after three successive years of hiking in the mountains and generally fighting gravity one way or the other every step of the way, we were looking to let gravity due all the work for a change.

Like the lower reaches of the river, there are lots of islands to camp on in the upper reaches created from an ever shifting and restless river. To my recollection, we camped on islands a couple times but most preferred the shores of the river which had much less vegetation to fight and less stagnate water to harbor mosquitoes. The bugs were really bad in places along the river during the end of July/early August time frame we visited it.

We weren't completely slaves to gravity this trip and would often stretch our legs by climbing the several hundred feet out of the river valley to the surrounding plateau to take a gander at our surroundings. I'm sure Lewis and Clark both did that quite often as well. We got quite adept at picking out particular suitable places for old Indian encampments on these plateaus and quite often would find 'teepee rings' scattered throughout the scrub. The one pictured above isn't very clear but it was a ring of rocks probably a dozen or more feet in diameter and were one of dozens scattered throughout the area. I spent quite a bit of time scratching the dirt here and there looking for arrow heads, which I'm sure were very illegal to touch anyway, but never found any during the trip.

I don't remember if it was two or three days into our trip but we soon came to a particular beautiful stretch of river that bordered the Missouri Breaks. The 'Breaks' are a badland area of steep white bluff outcropings bordering both sides of the river as seen in the picture above. They were eroded here and there by 'coulées' or slot canyons formed by intermittent streams and millions of years. It didn't take up long to discover the beauty of hiking up these coulées looking for geological oddities or just napping in the refrigerated depths on beds of fine sand. Several times our lunches were followed by a two or three hour siesta in one of these coulées until the sun's intensity lowered just a notch. Cool dry air, a fine sand bed and a good book made fighting gravity a real challenge.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Six Year Blog-a-versary

Six years ago, I was having a not of this world experience.
Five and a half years ago I blogged about the day my great grandmother Ramie died in the back seat.
Five years ago I possibly had a run-in with the American arm of the Russian mofia.
Four and a half years ago I was blogging about my dog Ted.
Four years ago, I was blogging on my nearly four-month-old daughter.
Three and a half years ago I was describing parts of my anatomy in a monastery setting.
Three years ago, I was telling stories about the childhood town that I grew up near.
Two and a half years ago I was up on my soapbox speaking about dam politics.
Two years ago, I declared it the year of the landscaping which turned out to be short lived.
One and a half years ago I attending my own family reunion after a month of bachelorhood.
One year ago, I was blogging about a meal of raw fish.
Six months ago I was showing you a typical Iowa spring.

Today I am reminiscing about a wonderful six years of blogging. I wonder what the next six will bring.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wild and Scenic Missouri River: Part 1

Nearly 18 years ago, we arrived in Fort Benton, Montana at the beginning of a 150 mile stretch of the Missouri River that enjoys Wild and Scenic status. Our goal was to spend the next 14 days paddling a measly 10.7 miles a day on average and enjoying our surrounding. Though we succeeded on the latter, we failed miserably on the former. Despite our not paddling more than an hour on the first evening, we still floated more than 10.7 miles a day and ended up finishing in 10 days. With four extra days on our hands, we made hay out of the situation and spent a couple days up at Glacier.

As with most of the surrounding land, much of this stretch of river is owned and ran by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM. They lease the land to cattle farmers for ridiculously low rates so that beef cattle can be raised and sold at premium prices making the local cattle ranchers very wealthy. To appease people who might object to these practices, they promise to rent out canoes and do some car shuttles. We took advantage of this and after saying goodbye to our car, ate our last food that would be cooked by someone other than ourselves for the next two weeks and decided that we would do an easy paddle in the couple hours remaining of daylight to a more secluded camp spot down river.

After loading up the boats and tweaking the weights to get the boats to ride evenly, we set off down the river drifting often to inspect the flocks of birds that were everywhere. Finally we pulled off only an hour later because we had already gone eight miles, eight miles more than had originally been planned. The reason was that the recent rains had caused the river to be at its highest level in awhile and the current was rolling. In fact, the rest of the next ten days would be spent doing everything but paddling. We just stuck a paddle in the water tilting it this way or that to push us toward one bank or the other. On one particularly dull stretch of river, we even went so far as to lash the boats together and tie a plastic ground sheet to our paddles which we held up in the air. Although we dramatically increased speed, we soon gave it up as it was much more work holding up the paddles and in the end, we wanted to slow down, not speed up.

Being it was a paddling trip with no portaging, weight is not as big an issue as when backpacking. Thus we brought along books that we sometimes read from, we took naps, we watch the scenery go by, we stopped and took long hikes at about every likely side canyon and we did lots of retracing the steps of Lewis and Clark and the settlers that soon followed them. The BLM had compiled a book that detailed events and people and places that occurred at various miles along the river. So with a detailed 7.5 minute topo map and the book, we could read about something interesting that occurred there, pull over and check it out. We tread through former campsites of the corps of engineers, found Indian buffalo jumps, checked out the remains of log cabins of long deceased settlers and many more things. When we grew bored of that, we merely stepped into the canoes and drifted a few more miles downstream to the next likely spot. Once or twice, we even gave up the canoes for an entire day devoting it instead to exploring our surroundings and perhaps catch a few fish, which ever seemed easier.

Because this is pre-journal keeping days for me, I have nothing but a photographic record to go upon. So I will probably make a series of posts as time permits that shows you some of that photographic record and will expound upon a place or two. By the way, I'm not sure what is on top of the cliff in the picture below. I suspect that is why the picture was taken though.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another More Embarrassing Mystery Solved!

The above picture solved a mystery that up until now, I didn't know existed and unfortunately, caught me making assumptions that now are going to make an ass out of me. Above is a picture of my 3rd great grandmother Frances Ann Bolton and her second husband Thomas Heppenstall whom she married after my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker died suddenly at age of 35 for reasons that are still a mystery to me. In the back row from left to right is my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker, his sister Frances Ellen Baker whose future in-laws were the subject of my previous post and the Chicken brothers Robert and Charlie. Robert and Charlie are full blood brothers to John and Frances but for some reason got adopted out to a family with the last name of Chicken. Charles would later change his name back to Baker but Robert kept the last name of Chicken until he died.

In the front row from left to right sits Lena Heppenstall which was the only child my 3rd great grandmother Frances had with her second husband Thomas Heppenstall. Tragically, Lena would die at the early age of 30 leaving her two sons in Frances's care. Next are Frances who went by Fanny and Thomas Heppenstall. Thomas lived in Colchester up until my 3rd great grandfather died suddenly and then suddenly moved to Cedar Falls where the now widow Fanny lived and they were soon married. Since Fanny and Joseph spent several years in Colchester, I'm guessing that Fanny and Thomas knew of each other as prior acquaintances and thus why he didn't waste any time seizing the opportunity to marry her. Probably another good story in there somewhere. Last but not least at the far right of the front row is Mary Baker, the youngest of the five children born to Fanny and Joseph Baker.

But what about the mystery you ask. Take a gander at the picture below which I posted several times previously on this website saying it was obviously a wedding picture and thus I was having a hard time believing it was actually my 2nd great grandfather since he was obviously younger than 45 when he was married for the second time. Um *gulp*, it now is obviously him just dressing up to get his picture taken with his mother, step-father, brothers and sisters. I am suddenly reminded the hard way about the old saying of what assume does to a person.
Which brings me to the second oval picture that has been floating around on this blog quite often of recent times. The one whom I just knew couldn't be John Henry Baker's second wife because she didn't look like her other pictures later in life. At one point I theorized that it might have been his first wife and my 2nd great grandmother Blanche Jessie McKee until I recently proved that wrong.
Now that I have realized my mistake with John's picture, I went back and started comparing this to other pictures of Katie again. I still couldn't get over the fact that all her pictures though similar had strikingly different skin tones than the picture above. Then in the recent trickle of photos, I got another one of Katie with lighter skin tones. Now I have convinced myself that the woman below and the woman above are the same people. Sometime after they got married, the took pictures of themselves previously taken, perhaps one of only a few of themselves that they had since pictures at that time were big luxury items, and cropped them to put them into the oval frames and thus cause great confusion to their 2nd great grandson many years in the future. I think I can sleep better at night now.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mystery Solved!

I really try to not drag these things out in an effort to bore my regular readers but it seems like no matter what I do, it happens that way. Readers will recall several posts where I went from believing that the above couple were my second great grandparents to not knowing who they were at all. Well for the last month after my family reunion, I've been receiving a trickle of photos, descriptions and such and the latest packet of pictures that I received solved several mysteries that I have been pondering on this blog, including the identity of the couple pictures above.

Please meet Andrew Jay Stevens and his wife Flora Celinda Wells Stevens. They are no blood relation to me but do tie into the family that I have been blathering on about on this blog for several years. The first born daughter of my 2nd great grandparents John Henry Baker and Blanche Jessie McKee was Frances Ellen Baker. These fine people would eventually become her in-laws. Frances Ellen Baker married their son Solomon Uri Stevens in 1915. I'm not sure whether this picture was taken before or after their marriage but I'm guessing people with car knowledge might be able to date this picture based off that car in the background.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Chicken Has a Passing Interest But the Pig Is Committed

Hieroglyphics along Salmon River, Idaho

Suddenly I find myself like the pig in the title of this blog and am suddenly committed for breakfast. My wife and I enjoy going to garage sales around town. Being a Filipina which means very thrifty, she loves being able to search among things that are prices a quarter or fifty-cents. She will spend several hours some weekends looking for two or three things that cost her less than a buck out right but six dollars in gas for the car. I make up for that by picking up things that I find, mostly books and carting them home to stash on my four built in bookcases full of books to read at some point in my future. It is like shopping at a small bookstore every time I finish a book and need another one to read. Lately though I have picking up things for my four-year-old daughter which I would never pay for new in a store.

On a recent outing, I dropped my wife and daughter off at a large garage sale being held in one of the county fairgrounds buildings while I went to get the oil changed in her vehicle. When I got back, I found my daughter the star attraction of the place marching around with a drum strapped around her shoulder banging away while wearing my wide brimmed river hat at a right saucy angle. She looked every bit of being a little drummer girl. Inside the drum were a pair of moroccos, a tambourine and a set of bells. Everything you needed to outfit a percussion section of a band. I knew my daughter was smitten with it and their would be no taking it away now without serious repercussions. When I finally found my wife looking over a table, I learned that even had I wanted too it was too late because she had already paid for them. One dollar is what she paid but I'm not sure she figured in the price of a bottle of Excedrin for the inevitable headaches to follow.

So a few garage sales later when my daughter picked up a kids guitar that had lost of buttons, strings, and knobs that played kid's songs for a dollar, I said we might as well since we are already committed. So overnight, my daughter has most of the trappings of her own band and I don't know if this will foster any talent or just induce parental headaches. I guess only time will tell. I did however impress my daughter, wife and an onlooker or two by belting out the drum cadence from my marching band days before drifting off into the drum beats of Eleanor Rigby and coming to a screeching halt when I forgot the rhythm. I'm a little rusty after all these years. If only I had gotten a gig on some rock-n-roll band....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Day I Left My Wife and First Born as Collateral

It's funny how you would never in your wildest dreams imagine doing such a thing as the title of this post. In fact, you probably would swear on your mother's grave that you wouldn't no matter what the reason. Just recently, the day came when I was forced to face that situation and I must say that I honestly left my wife and first born behind as collateral.

I was walking up to the counter of the local, not as good as Los Laureles in the Urban Jungle, Mexican restaurant and reaching for my wallet in my back pocket. It wasn't there. I tried a couple more times to verify I hadn't just 'missed it' and then the opposing pocket. I came up empty on all accounts. Panic sets in briefly but then I soon realized what had happened. Being it Sunday, I had put on my church pants and simply forgot to add the wallet and though it was now lunch time, this was the first time I needed the wallet. It was probably still back home.

Although I'm not a 'regular', I've eaten at this restaurant probably hundreds of times over the years and since this is a small town, I would like to think that the Mexican man who runs the place would know me well enough for me to joke about the situation. So when I walked up to the counter to pay my bill, the following conversation to place.

Me: "Well I forgot my wallet so I'm going to have to do dishes."

Owner: (blank stare)

Me: "I don't have any money to pay you. Can I work off what I owe you?"

Owner: (I could see the wheel start to turn inside his head and I knew he thought I was trying to pull a fast one over on him.)

Me: "Is it alright if I go home while my wife and daughter wait here and get some money?"

Owner: (nods... he is a man of few words and always has been.)

So I left my wife and daughter behind as collateral and drove home across town to retrieve my wallet and went back. I gave him a healthy nearly 50% tip for his understanding and all was good in the world. But still I feel as if I crossed a line and it didn't really feel as bad as I would have thought...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Let Me Tell You About the Bees

A wild swarm of bees being offered a new home.

I have mentioned it quite a bit in the comment section of Beau's blog at Fox Haven Journal and I think even a time or two a couple years back on this one that my parents used to raise around 130 hives of honey bees once upon a time. Being a youth living under their roof, that meant that I spent lots of quality time helping them run the bee business. Mostly that meant that I spent lots of time in winter building hive bodies and frames for the upcoming season and spending the spring and fall extracting all the honey, filtering it, bottling it and helping my mom stock shelves with it on her bi-weekly route that covered a good 100 mile diameter centered about our farm. Among some of my parent's slides, I found these slides pertaining to their bee business and thought I would blog about them.

This picture is of an automatic decapping machine which removed the wax plugs that the bees used to seal their honey into the combs. Most of the years my parents owned the business we did all the decapping manually with a heated knife but towards the latter years when we were at the largest business wise, we did invest in this machine. For the most part it worked okay though we still had to go back and touch up most of the frames since the bees never used rulers to keep everything the same height.

This is our large extractor that held 30 or so frames. Like the decapper, this was obtained later on in the business when things got bigger. For most of the years, we used either a hand crank two frame extractor or a hand crank four frame extractor. My job was to supply the muscle to turn the crank.

This was our bottling station. The honey ran from the extractor down into a pit where it was pumped up through cheesecloth filters into these two tanks set on top of the platform. Then one could comfortably sit on a chair and fill lots of hand labeled glass bottles and plastic bears for resale. Since we raised more honey than we could sale via a delivery route on a part time basis, we also sold in bulk. This steel barrel would hold 50 gallons of honey and I think we often times had six or eight of these full of honey.

This picture is of a wild swarm that while catchable, was more difficult to deal with due to the fence and high weeds in the vicinity.

This is also a wild swarm but much easier to catch. We would set an empty hive body usually with a little honey to help feed them until they gathered their own set on top of a white sheet. The sheet helped them crawl to the hive without getting lost in the grass and white is a soothing color that doesn't irritate the bees as much as bright colors.

Here the bees can be seen in their new homes. The lower two boxes were called brood boxes where the queen lived, laid eggs, and honey for overwintering was stored. Then there was a narrow filter of sorts put in-between those bottom two boxes and the top ones to allow the worker bees to pass through but prevent the larger queen from doing so. This allowed the top boxes to be filled with honey without the added protein of bee larvae and made for a more attractive product to sell.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wind River Memories

I'm not sure I'm comfortable admitting this but I evidently have forgotten how beautiful the Wind River mountains of western Wyoming are. I look at these pictures and though they are familiar, their beauty has faded away from me until I scanned them in. Sitting here at a computer in southeast Iowa, it is hard to imagine how I ever tore myself from that scene to return much less spend my days hiking, fishing and climbing.

Although I have gone on many backpacking trips over the years, I have only gone on four in the Wind River mountains. They were three in a row from 1990 to 1992 with these two pictures being from the second year and a fourth trip in 1994. The top picture I believe is in the region of Baptiste Lake near Mt. Hooker, the mountain with the very shear face in the background. The second one is a little further away probably on our way to the Robert's Mountain area.

Our backpacking trips followed a pretty set formula mostly because it was tried and true for a 14 day outing. We would normally spend two days hiking 'in' to an area where we wanted to set up our first base camp. We would then proceed to spend the next four or five days doing day hikes, climbing a nearby mountain or two (I've climbed both Mt. Hooker and Robert's Mountain) and fish for cutthroat and rainbow trout.

After we grew tired of an area, relatively speaking of course, we would generally load up and move to a different area a day's hike away and set up our second base camp. There we would proceed to spend the next four or five days doing the same thing as our last base camp. Finally, the last two days would be reserved for hiking out though we generally always did it in one because we were A: generally hiking downhill with very light packs and B: ready to just get back to the land of civilization with hot showers and food that we didn't have to catch or rehydrate.

Leaving the mountains, a simple car seat never felt so plush, a cheap motel room never felt so luxurious, a shower never felt so good, and pizza never tasted so good. But sitting here looking at these pictures as my computer scans them, I can't help but think that a warm rock on the edge of a crystal clear lake never felt so plush, a tent with either of these two views never felt so luxurious, a snow melt cold sponging never felt so refreshing, and a minutes old trout fried over a fire never tasted so good.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Botanically Speaking

While scanning through some of my old slides, I found these among the last I ever took. As I recall, I had a roll and a half of slide film that I wanted to burn before switching over to prints and an upcoming vacation so I stopped in at the local botanical gardens and did just that. It was a beautiful day and it certainly didn't take me very long to find enough subjects to photograph.