Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hydrangea: Who Knew?

I've often wondered about my hydrangea bushes.  They can't seem to decide what color they'd like to be when they grow up.  See the lavender and pink flowers?

Well, that's not accurate. Correction: there are purple and pink sepals on the same cluster.  Sepals are modified leaves. It turns out that hydrangea flowers aren't flowers at all.  

Who knew?

I've always thought that hydrangea color is related to the pH levels in the soil.  But that doesn't entirely explain how there can be multiple colors in one cluster.  I decided to dig (HA!) deeper.

The reason for the different colorations is a biochemical reaction involving aluminum ions bonding with the various ions in acidic or basic soils, such as hydroxide or calcium hydroxide. The resultant ion combinations interact with the pigment in the sepals, with different results from basic and acidic combinations.

How much pigment is changed, and with what ions, is the factor that influences color since, it's been discovered, the pH level of each individual sepal is the same, regardless of the color.  pH isn't what changes the color.  Aluminum ion levels do the trick.

Who knew?

If you'd like to learn more, here's an article from American Scientist that explains it all.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Side Trip to Wyoming

I traveled to Wyoming after spending a bit of time in California with my oldest.  I was heading out to meet our younger daughter who had been working at a wilderness, backpacking, and riding camp outside of Dubois, Wyoming, the town which has the most remote post office in the continental United States.  It's one and a half hours east of the Grand Tetons.  Letters from New York to camp take seven full business days to arrive.  The camp entrance is along a road that's often closed well into the spring due to dangerous weather-related road conditions.  Moose and pronghorn antelope graze around camp, sometimes wandering through the cabin and tent clusters.

A view on the way to camp
Some have asked why my daughter -- a suburban girl -- wanted to be stuck in the wild for weeks.  Well, as the infirmary assistant, she was getting great experience.  Right now she'd like to go into medicine and this is in keeping with that plan.  Also, this quote, which she wrote on one of the infirmary white boards, sums up her feelings well.

Despite some of the hardships of the job, she loved it.  She even trained with Guardian Flight to assist in the event of a helicopter med-evac.  Regrettably, she had to leave after seven weeks. She's received advance organic chemistry and genetics school work to do, as well as some online training for her lab job that starts in the fall.  At camp, there's no wifi or cell service, so remote learning wasn't an option.  She had to leave early.  Tears were shed.  She loved the people and the adventure.  But she knew she had to come home.

We had an extra day to explore before heading back to New York and decided to visit Yellowstone.  We had a great day, including a close encounter with a bison.  (I posted this on social media, but I'll share here as well.)

There once was a bison who liked to play follow-the-leader in traffic. All the cars would line up behind him. One day, he saw a dirty red car on the other side of the road and decided to investigate. He got very close to the car so he could look into the window to see who was driving. “Ah”, he said, “Vivien’s driving. I’ll hang here a moment to chat.” For once in her life, Vivien was speechless. He got bored and moved on. The End. #yellowstone #giggledhystericallywhenhehleft

Playing follow-the-leader
Getting closer  
                                        He's right next to the car, close enough to touch (but I didn't)
We saw some of Yellowstone's incredible, bizarre, and beautiful sights.  

A glimpse behind the Upper Terrace in Mammoth Hot Springs

Biscuit Basin

A u-turn in the Yellowstone River
Yes, that's a grizzly digging for grubs.  It's fuzzy because my lens isn't strong enough to get closer .
It'll do; I wasn't getting closer!
The day ended with a dramatic storm over the Tetons. The winds whipped across the fields and the lighting positively crackled.  One large, thick bolt reached down from heaven and danced on the tip of the Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the range. 

You can see the storm coming in from the left
The rain eventually fell so heavily it obscured the mountains
A lovely view as the rain cleared
After three weeks on the road, I'm home.  It's been fantastic, but I'm very glad to be sleeping in my own bed and using my own washing machine.  After a chance to see America in its infinite variety, I'm refreshed and restored, ready to tackle the stacks of mail and chores that piled up while I was gone.  Bring it on.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Farewell, Chicago

At the end of June, I flew to Chicago to help my daughter pack up her apartment.  Movers took the furniture and boxes.  We climbed into a tank of a minivan, with her dog Piper, for the 2,000+  mile drive to San Francisco.

Driving across a significant chunk of America seemed daunting at first.  All those miles.  All those hours. 

I'm so glad we did it. 

I always knew it would be great to spend so much time with my daughter.  We don't have that many opportunities to be together, given that we live  far apart.  I was relishing that aspect of the trip.  The driving, as it turned out, was relatively easy.  The hardest part was fighting scenic boredom at the start of the trip.  Illinois is flat and swathed in hundreds of miles of corn fields.  It didn't get interesting until we crossed the Mississippi, a perfect example of a swollen river.  It seemed stuffed to its limits and about to burst.

The hills of Iowa break up the monotony of the corn fields.  White boxes painted on the highway are a visual aid to help with aerial speed monitoring.  We watched as a helicopter with specially mounted equipment hovered over the highway for just that purpose.  Giant wind turbines speckle the fields.  Did you know that 35% of Iowa's electricity comes from wind generated energy?

At first, Nebraska seemed like a copy of Illinois: flat and overflowing with corn fields.  But just past Lincoln, the highway seems to take a right turn into a new landscape.  The corn fields disappear, and long views filled with bluffs and sage-covered hills emerge.   In a remote town, at least one Nebraskan business owner has a sense of humor.  

The scenery took another uptick in Wyoming. Mountains and carved hills that seemed to have been inspiration for the setting of the Pixar movie "Cars", popped up suddenly.  We spied pronghorn antelope in the distance.  The  windy, mountainous roads were a bit unsettling with a 75 mph speed limit, especially in a van that shook violently at those speeds and pulled hard to the right.  We managed the ear-popping mountain passes safely, but others did not make it home. We saw the aftermath of a horrible crash between two semis that kept us at a standstill for more than an hour.  Road signs abound that warn of driving fatigued.  It was very sobering.

The land around Salt Lake City looks post-apocalyptic.  I can't imagine how the settlers traversed the barren wasteland in 103° heat -- the temperature the day we drove through -- wearing long sleeves and floor length skirts.  The mountains in the distance must have been a terrible tease.  That said, it was also remarkable.  I've never seen anything like it.  From a plane, yes, but there's a completely different feel of it from a car.  I was transfixed, though the view didn't change dramatically.   As we neared civilization, dinosaur "fossil" sculptures seemed to rise up from the desert floor.   Great idea and perfect for the landscape. 

Nevada is beautiful.  Wild, with isolated clusters of buildings that are called towns.  Stallions battle between herds of mares. Pronghorn antelope graze amongst the horses.  The mountains aren't as white-knuckled for driving.  Seeing Reno was a bit of shock after all the open space.

California is breathtaking, almost immediately after crossing the border.  Lush forests sometimes obscured the horizon as we wound around the mountains.  The highway occasionally mirrors the path of the Truckee River; we crossed it numerous times, spying mini-canyons as we drove over the bridges.  I had forgotten that California has strict laws about interstate commerce.  We would have had to surrender any produce we had at the border.  (Puh-leeze. We were snacking only on carbs.) For most of the trip, our fellow highway drivers had been polite.  All bets were off in Sacramento.  The drivers were nuts.  As someone who is completely comfortable driving in New York City, that's saying something.

It was a clear afternoon as we crossed the Bay Bridge to enter San Francisco.  A few more miles and my daughter was at her new home.  That night, we went to the "Off the Grid" Food Truck Friday event at Fort Mason. Welcome to San Francisco.


My daughter's furniture took a much longer vacation.  It arrived 10 days after we did.  Ah well.