Archive | February, 2015

Why You Should Love the Outdoors

A Digger Pine

A Digger Pine

Imagine yourself peering out of a tent, a mountain vista stretching out to a misty horizon, and the giddy cadence of bid song inviting you to get up and explore. Imagine the roar of a waterfall or the gurgling of a mountain brook, or perhaps even a rush of wind through the trees. And despite the noises, it’s still a profound silence, nothing to consider but your place in the natural world, largely free of human alteration.

The more we spend our collective lives in frenzied cities, the more alluring it is to escape in nature. Stepping into the wilderness means escaping the stress of the everyday, connecting with your body and your mind as you remove the albatross of digital devices, emails and tweets. It’s the best cure for stress, anxiety and depression.

Some of us might contribute to wildlife charities, but it takes the hard work and devotion of so many to ensure our wildlife habits are safe. To see the wilderness is to know it’s being protected and that it should be there next time you choose to explore it.

The smells of the forest are subtle and distinctive. Walk through a forest of pine trees or a group of honeysuckle bushes, and you’ll remember what makes the wilderness so special. Even the earth and a rushing river have scents that are unique to the outdoors.

What about the thrill of seeing an animal, not behind fence but free-roaming and perhaps just as curious as you are? There’s something hard to forget about wildlife encounters with elusive animals like deer; but there’s always the risk of encountering potentially dangerous animals.

The wilderness offers the possibility of new experiences, like seeing a spectacular mountain view or a waterfall you’d never see without a two hour hike. The more challenging the journey, the greater the accomplishment; and only the wilderness offers such rich opportunities to test your capabilities.

Let’s not forget the unparalleled beauty of the outdoors. There are the panoramic vistas and picturesque lakes we might expect; and then there are the unexpected and transcendent experiences of beauty that can be so difficult to describe.

There are also the health benefits of avoiding city smog, and reinvigorating your lungs and removing the usual toxins. On most days, we try not to think about the pollutants in the air we breathe. Once in the wilderness, we realize what it is to breathe clean air.

Gazing up at the night sky, you see a wealth of stars, that can’t be seen for the glare of city lights. This might be you, remembering not just your place in the natural world of our ancestors, but in the universe itself.





Model of Endeavour Spaceship

This basic model suggests Endeavour’s permanent exhibit in the future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, which will include the orbiter displayed vertically with full shuttle stack as if preparing for liftoff.

On Wednesday night, February 4, Alex Havasi and Marilyn Fordney went to the California Science Center to have a peek at plans for the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. Projected to open in 2018, this will be the main attraction and final home of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. This major expansion will consist of 188,000 square feet with 70,000 square feet of exhibit space on four levels. The three major galleries, Air, Space, and Shuttle will have approximately 150 exhibits, 100 artifacts, and 10 simulators.

They were welcomed by Jeff Rudolph, Science Center President and CEO, who thanked the donors and those who made it possible to acquire of some of the airplanes. We were able to see small models (prototypes) of interactive exhibits in development that will help visitors understand the science and engineering of flight and space exploration. The main educational goal of the project is:

“Our quest to fly and unlock the mysteries of the universe requires machines inspired by imagination, shaped by purpose, and based on the laws of science.”

Aerospace Curator Dr. Ken Phillips introduced the audiovisual programs, hands-on exhibits and immersive environments that are being considered and showed visual examples of each. Air Gallery concepts included exhibits that let you design a plane and see how it flies, experiment with wind tunnels and wing shape to understand lift, and sit inside the front fuselage of a 747. Concepts for the Space Gallery included exhibits that let you explore how mirrors, prisms and lenses are used in astronomy to bend and focus light, understand how space suits are constructed to protect humans from extreme conditions, or plan a mission to an asteroid, moon or Mars. In addition to Endeavour, concepts for the Space Shuttle Gallery included a massive slide that transports you to the base of the space shuttle and a flown solid rocket booster segment that guests can walk through.

Then the Project Director Mr. Dennis Jenkins, accomplished space shuttle expert and author spoke about the status of artifact acquisitions and their wish list for the project. Recent aircraft acquisitions included a Boeing F/A-18A Hornet, now located outside the Science Center’s Rose Garden entrance; a Royal Navy Harrier T.4 Jump Jet, which was restored and temporarily loaned to the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance; a Republic RC-3 Seabee, an all-metal amphibious sports aircraft; and a Pitts Special Light aerobatic biplane. These new acquisitions expand the Science Center’s existing collection, which already includes flown space capsules from the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury programs; an array of aircraft including a Douglas DC-3; and engineering models of probes of satellites, probes and rovers.

And finally, there was a graphic presentation of how Endeavour will be put into vertical position using a giant crane outside the building and other devices to set it into place–an engineering feat!

In summary, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will attract visitors from the U.S. as well as those from other countries and will inspire future generations of explorers and scientists to go further into space.

Protecting Yourself from Poison Oak

Poison Oak

Poison Oak in October

“Leaves of three, let them be,” says an old cautionary tale. This is because plants like Poison Oak and Poison Ivy grow in clusters of three leaves, two on opposite sides of the stem and a third at top. Poison oak leaves are shaped in lobes, resembling the leaves of an oak tree.

As a common shrub in California at altitudes under 5000 feet altitude, poison oak must be watched for everywhere. Merely brushing your skin against the plant is enough to cause a rash of red pimples and even blisters. Blistering can last from 3 to 10 weeks.

When poison oak leaves are damaged by contact, it exudes urushiol oil which, upon contact with the skin, penetrates to the dermis to cause allergic reaction. The oil can easily be transferred from clothing, pets or inanimate objects to skin at a later time, and can stay active from 1 to 5 years. The amount of oil on the head of a pin would be enough to make 500 people itch.

Poison Oak

Poison Oak in March

On the west coast, poison oak can be seen growing on long vines, or along fences, often forming a dense mass of vegetation. Leaves are about six inches long and bright green in the spring. They turn yellow-green in the summer, and then bright red and dark brown in autumn before falling away in winter. Poison oak produces berries with a greenish-white color as well as yellow-green flowers.

Like poison oak, poison ivy contains urushiol which can cause a highly itchy rash, with allergic reactions lasting from 5 days to two weeks. Every part of the plant remains active even after the plant has died, making even dead leaves dangerous. If you can’t avoid areas where poisonous plants grow, be sure to wear closed shoes, long pants and long sleeves when hiking.

Knowing how to detect plants like poison oak and poison ivy will go a long way to protecting you on hikes in the wilderness.

Deer in Southern California

DeerThe Mule Deer, named for its large ears, makes the mountains and deserts of Southern California its home. Three of the largest local subspecies include the California Mule Deer, the Southern Mule Deer and the Burro Deer, all of which share the same black-tipped tails and forked antlers.

Local deer like the California Mule Deer prefer hilly terrain, taking most of its diet from shrub leaves and grasses. In summer, Mule Deer not only consume leaves but also berries. In winter, they feed on conifers. They tend to forage close to lakes or streams, roaming within a two mile range. Although Mule Deer are most active at dawn and dusk, they may sometimes forage at night in open agricultural areas. Inactivity during the heat of day has helped the deer adapt to warmer Southern California environments.

Rutting (mating) season is in autumn, at which time antlered males compete for mates. Fawns arrive in late spring, remaining with their mothers through the summer and then weaned in autumn. Buck’s shed their antlers in winter, after rutting season, but antlers begin to grow back in the spring, fully formed in time for the next rutting season.

As prey for mountain lions, coyote and even bobcats, Mule Deer play an important role in the Southern California food chain. Run-ins with cars, however, throw off that balance.

DeerAlthough the Mule Deer like the Burro Deer might not be that colorful, its gray-buff color helps blend in with the desert environment, to disguise itself from predators. It’s unique bounding leap, all four feet hitting the ground together, helps reach speeds of 45 mph in a short period of time.

For Mule Deer in the mountains, winter temperatures force migrations from higher elevations to lower ones. For the desert Mule Deer, rainfall patterns may influence migration.

Although Southern California deer have been quick to adjust to the expansion of human communities, populations still decline when habitat destruction is extensive enough.

The Versatile Coyote

coyoteFound throughout North America from eastern Alaska to Panama, the coyote is a highly versatile and adaptable animal that can survive a variety of habits, from low deserts to high mountains, and endure extensive human environmental modification. The coyote, known as the “song dog” by American Indians, is also a very vocal animal, known for its howls which can travel up to 3 miles or more.

Coyotes have a great sense of smelly, vision and hearing, along with evasiveness, enables them to survive in the wild and in suburban areas of large cities. They’re also very agile, easily leaping an eight foot fence or wall.

A coyote’s versatility extends to its diet, which depends on what’s available in its environment. That diet typically consists of mice, rabbits, squirrels, small rodents, insects, reptiles and the fruits and berries of wild plants. Because they help keep rodent populations under control, coyotes play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

coyoteCoyotes, however, become a problem when given access to human food and garbage, at which point they lose their natural fear of humans. As opportunistic feeders, coyotes have been known to prey on unprotected pets in suburban areas.

  • The most important rule – DO NOT FEED COYOTES.
  • Do not approach or try to pet a coyote.
  • Don’t leave small children unattended in parks or yards.
  • Feed pets indoors so petfood won’t lure coyotes.
  • Pick up fallen fruit or berries and cover compost piles.
  • Secure garbage cans so coyotes can’t open them.
  • Secure your pets, keeping them indoors from dusk until dawn.
  • When you see a coyote in your neighborhood, discourage them with loud noises, yelling, hand clapping and flashing lights.

Keeping coyotes in the wild and out of our neighborhoods is the key to coexisting with this impressively, versatile animal.