Archive for July 2011 | Monthly archive page

Standing astride a massive boulder atop Bishop Peak, I watch the turkey vultures fly past at eye level.  As I watch them glide over the sage scrub carpeted slopes, I turn a slow pirouette to scan the horizon.  From up here, you can see all the way to foggy Los Osos to the North, the bulk of downtown San Luis to the South, and a number of agricultural fields, ranches, parks and residential developments in between.  It was worth fighting gravity for the 4-mile trek towards the summit of this rocky volcanic outcrop.

Timing my visit for late spring/early summer, I am lucky enough to be treated with moderately cool weather, a steady breeze, and a riot of wildflowers.  Regardless of which of the two trail heads you choose, you are assured a moderate to challenging hike through several plant ecosystems.  After traveling through this nature reserve’s oak forests, past giant rock faces, through sage brush and chaparral, and up a number of switchbacks, you will feel as though you have gotten your exercise and been rewarded with one of the best views in the county.

How to get there:  There are two trail heads that access the Bishop Peak Trail.  The first is off of Patricia Avenue and Highland amidst a residential neighborhood. This point also allows you to take the less strenuous Felsman Loop Trail, a fairly easy 1.7 mile loop at the North East base of this member of the “Seven Sisters”.  The second approach is located on East Foothill Blvd. between  Los Osos Valley Road and Patricia Ave., and has a small lot for parking near the beginning of the route.

What to bring:  A majority of the trail is exposed to the elements, so during the warmer months, make sure to bring your sunscreen, glasses, hat, a pair of well-soled shoes, and plenty of water.  For cooler weather, long pants and a fleece are most likely the heaviest protection you will need.  For the top of the trail, bring a camera to capture the landscape unfolding before you, and maybe a snack to regain some energy before you head back down.

Stay safe: There are some steep and rocky parts along the trail, so make sure to watch your footing.  There have been accidents at the top of the morro where the weather can become gusty.  Try and stick to times where daylight is adequate enough to navigate some of the most challenging terrain, and if you are heading out during the evening, pack a flashlight just in case the journey takes you longer than expected.  There is a fair amount of poison oak in some of the more wooded areas, and long slacks and healthy amount of attention and respect for the rash-inducing plant are recommended.  (Remember: leaves of three, let it be! …unless it’s hairy, in which case it’s berry …but don’t take a chance with poisonous plants!)  If you are unfamiliar with Bishop’s, take a buddy with you and always let others know where you are going to be and around what time they should expect you back.

This summer, go and take advantage of San Luis Obispo’s natural beauty and make a date for the top of Bishop Peak!

Caddisfly larvae


Humans are not the only species with a penchant for self-embellishment. In addition to animals such as the ever-fashionable decorator crab, caddisfly larvae fashion ornate cases for protection and camouflage.  In the wild, the larvae make due with the everyday construction materials of their environments.  However, a lucky few adopted by nature-loving jewelry makers get the opportunity to build their homes from emeralds, opals and gold.

Caddisflies are insects with small, tented wings, long hair-like antennae, and look similar to moths.  Juveniles are mostly aquatic, and resemble hairless caterpillars.  Larvae can be identified by claws on their thoracic legs and anal prolegs.   They occupy the  order Trichoptera, and there are hundreds of different species.  Most adults do not live long, and spend most of their time in the act of passing on their genes.  Females lay eggs near the water, and larvae develop over the course of several months to a year.  Young caddisflies use silk to spin nets to catch food, and even more interestingly, to form cases in which to hide.  Rocks and other small debris are attached to the silk to act as protection and as a disguise.  Eating litter and detritus, larvae are keys to clean stream ecosystems and provide meals for birds, fish, bats and other predatory animals as adults.

Observing the caddisfly larvae’s habit of using its surroundings as adornment, creative jewelry makers such as French artist/naturalist Hubert Duprat and American Kathy Kyle Scout, president of Wildscape Inc., have taken to use the bug’s natural behavior as way to create beautiful ornaments.   By catching larvae and adding them to an aquarium filled with precious gems, shells, and gold flakes, they allow the animal to generate gorgeous patterns that become fused as ready-made beads.  Once the larvae is finished, it is gently removed and allowed to develop as an adult.  From there, the glittering tubes are crafted into pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and key chains.

Now, before you get too squeamish about wearing a necklace made by a bug, remember that pearls are basically oyster irritants, leather is animal hide, and sea-shells are just old mollusk homes.  Why not accessorize with a cruelty-free, unique piece made by the noble caddisfly? When friends ask you why you have an insect’s home around your neck, you can argue that caddisfly makes a “good case for it”.


Generally speaking, I am not subject to fits of anger.  I tend to keep a level head in most situations, practicing meditative compassion during rush hour traffic and while standing in long grocery store lines.  Walking along gently flowing creeks and a hike in the woods is my idea of a wild time out, and I’ll raise my voice only to get someone’s attention in a crowd or accentuate the punchline of a terrible pun.

However, while watching Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland, I nearly had to pause the film on several occasions in order to march out into the street in a frothing rage to go and hit someone in the face.  Why the almost Hulk-like transformation from pacifist to puncher?  Hydraulic fracturing.

On the surface, harvesting natural gas from deep underground seems like a a good idea.  The United States contains a great deal of fuel-producing shale formations that trap potential sources of energy.  Proponents of natural gas extraction argue that we could wean ourselves off foreign oil by taking advantages of this home-grown alternative fossil fuel.  New York alone has enough natural gas to rival two Saudi Arabias, and extraction sites occur across the most of the south, midwest and parts of the west.

The infrastructure needed to drill, remove and process the gas has the potential to create new jobs and revitalize the communities whose land is leased to drill the fracturing wells.  Industry advocates assure the pubic that the harvesting process is safe, unobtrusive, and an overall benefit to the landowners participating in extraction. As Fox discovers after being sent a request to drill on his creekside Pennyslvania property, “fracking” holds some very hazardous secrets that affect the well-being and health of human lives, watershed ecosystems, and political transparency.

During Fox’s investigation of fracking, there are almost too many violations of decent human conduct to name.  Despite claims of fracking’s minimal impact on the environment, the process of drilling requires over 500 chemicals and millions of gallons of water to break shale deposits, keep the drill well open, and extract the gas.  Many of the compounds are known neurotoxins and carcinogens, and along with the gas they help remove, highly flammable.  Most of these chemicals are not biodegradable and sit in slurry pits, affecting the health of nearby residents, livestock and habitats.

Reports of cancer, brain lesions, fatigue, hair loss, infertility, and a veritable medial text book of other maladies skyrocket next to fracking wells.  Once clean wells become unit for consumption and water must be replaced with expensive alternative sources trucked in from miles away.  Promises to compensate landowners are either met with legal teams and empty guarantees or outright denials of the well’s detrimental effects.  Animals lose their hair or die outright, human beings suffer from permanent and irreversible illnesses, and the value of once productive agricultural land plummets.

As if corporate greed were not enough to stoke the flames of fury, the backdoor deals and creation of big business loopholes will set you ablaze.  Sidestepping the Clean Water Act,  legislation in 2005 known as the “Halliburton Loophole”  allowed the Bush-Cheney White House to let fracking industry forgo environmental impact reports and keep the identity and composition of their “proprietary” chemicals from public review.  The Act was also instrumental in the largest transfer of public BLM land to private interests in the country’s history.

Pieces of national heritage were opened to exploitation and almost irreversible damage without the majority of Americans being aware of the laws affecting their health and the appropriation of their tax dollars.  It may have been at this point in the film that I nearly had an aneurism.  (On second thought , it might have actually happened while watching people lighting their drinking water on fire.  WATER. ON FIRE.)

Now, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s consideration of lifting the fracking ban in New York state, it is time for the nation as a whole to take a closer look at the hydraulic fracturing industry.  How do we as a society want to power our infrastructure?  Where do we draw the line between consumption and safety, and what are we willing to sacrifice or change to be able to live in a healthy industrialized nation?

My tomatoes are travel weary.  By the time they reach the salad bowl, they are hundreds of miles away from their original homes.  Moved in trucks, jostled by countless hands, these little fellows have seen their fair share of highways and packaging plants.  Yet, what if there was a way to cut down on the amazing amount of fuel required to haul my salad fixings and the resources used to package them?  A  compromise between the farmers market and large grocery store?

Brightfarms is a company that designs, finances and builds hydroponic greenhouses on the roofs of supermarkets in the effort to reduce shipping and transportation costs and the pollution inherent to moving items along the supply chain.  With investments from such notable Silicon Valley tech moguls as Ali Partovi, Brightfarms has already signed up with eight chains across the country.  Soon, instead of eating lettuce from thousands of miles away, shoppers will be able to pick up veggies in the produce aisle that have traveled only a few hundred feet.

Not only do consumers and the environment benefit from Brightfarm’s greenhouse model, but retailers do as well. By cutting out the middleman, store owners can see higher profit margins by being able to keep fresh produce on the shelves longer.  Risk of damaged goods is reduced with shorter and more gentle deliveries and shorter warehouse storage time.  The owner is able to ensure a more stable price that free from volatile market fluctuations and can confidently advertise the freshness of fruits and vegetables grown on site.

For neighborhoods situated in the middle of “food deserts”, or areas unable to easily access healthy food, greenhouses atop or near markets might be a great way to help provide fresh produce at a low price and aid in the fight against obesity, heart disease and malnutrition.

Could your local supermarket be improved by adding a greenhouse?


I am sitting on the bus, quietly studying the magazine in front of me.  Many other of the passengers are doing the same with their smart phones, iPods, novels and newspapers, silently wrapped in their own worlds of text and typed conversation.  Glancing out the window, I watch the houses and small corner markets go by, each beginning to start the day’s activities as the sun breathes some energy into the still dozing city.

Suddenly, a harsh cry pierces the air inside the bus.  It shrieks and moans, ending with an almost laughing chitter.   Everyone inside snaps to attention and is dragged out of their placid cocoons, each searching anxiously for the source of the racket.  The haunting wail repeats, and I notice more and more pairs of eyes begin to focus on the space immediately next to where I am sitting.  Again, the wild screech sounds its alarm, and I realize the source of the distress is coming from inside of my purse.

“Shoot.  Sorry, I forgot to put this on silent.”  I reach into my bag and turn down the volume on my cell phone.  For several years, I have been using the call of the Common Loon as my ring tone, a sound file I downloaded from the Center for Biological Diversity’s Rare Earthtones website.  For some reason, I envisioned the haunting lament of the bird to be a unique and humorous way to signal a call.  Usually I get a few laughs and some bewildered glances, but on full volume the effect is admittedly a bit startling.  Luckily, the site has more mellow alternatives, such as the gentle song of the humpback whale or demure hooting of a burrowing owl.

To download your free ring tone, visit the Rare Earthtones site, click on the “Download” tab, and sign up for their email newsletter.  Then, preview the file of your favorite endangered animal, and once you find one that suits your fancy, submit to have the file texted to your phone.  After that, follow your phone’s instructions for saving and dropping the sound into your ringtone library.  Soon, you can answer to the howl of an endangered wolf, croaks of rare frogs, and growls of exotic tigers instead of the mundane buzzes, bleeps and boring jingles on every other phone in the urban jungle.

Turn your Call of the Mild into a Call of the Wild!