Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Weekend Backpacking Trip

I've been planning to go on a backpacking trip this weekend with a couple of friends but our original plan has been thwarted by the lingering snow pack. Seattle may have a mild climate, but the mountains around here get massive amounts of snow and it takes months for them to melt out. We were going to hike up the Dosewallips River on the East side of Olympic National Park to Anderson Glacier but there is way too much snow. We also considered the Hoh River Trail on the West side of the park, but that would be a long drive, long hike, and the last couple of miles up to the Blue Glacier (on Mt. Olympus) are still snowy.

Last night three of us got together to try to figure out our plan but we were almost completely drawing a blank for places that were within ~4 hrs driving of Seattle and would be snow-free or at least almost snow-free. Pretty much everything above 3000' feet still has snow. Jennie suggested the lower Columbia River Gorge and maybe even the first part of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. That jogged my memory about the Eagle Creek Trail, which my dad has and has suggested to me before. I called my dad and he was pretty sure Eagle Creek would be free of snow by now. And he said he loved this trail so much that he has hiked it twice.

After a trip to REI where we thought we would find hiking guide books with more information (turns out they have NO books with information on the PCT!), as well as maps, we were set on taking the Eagle Creek Trail to Wahtum Lake and then making a loop by coming back along Benson Ridge and the Ruckel Creek Trail. It's about a 25 mile loop and it looks amazing - waterfalls and old growth Douglas fir forest. The only down side of this hike is that the first few miles are very popular, being only 30 min from Portland and being one of few trails to be snow free right now. It sounds worth it though.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Raspberries in June

One of the most amazing things about living in this climate (despite the June Gloom everyone is complaining about) is that my raspberries are ripe before the end of June. To give you a comparison to what I was used to in Kodiak, three weeks ago my mom told me that her raspberries were just leafing out - crazy what a difference ten degrees of latitude makes.

I am also thrilled at the overgrown mess that has become our raspberry patch. When we bought the house three years ago we didn't have any raspberries but our neighbor did right on the other side of the fence. We didn't mow right along the fence so that the raspberries would start coming up on our side. Then when the house next door sold, the new owner didn't like the raspberries on his side. I offered to dig them up and transplant them to our yard. After I moved them he couldn't believe that I hadn't left any holes in his yard. He couldn't even find where the bushes had been. I explained that I am an expert at digging holes and then filling them in.

Our neighbor's grapes and our raspberries

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Good habits and partners

Last night I backed up all the files on my computer without Ryan standing over my shoulder making me do it. That was a first. In fact, I had never backed up my computer until Ryan bought me an external hard drive four years ago. And now here I am doing it all by my self! It only took nine and a half years of knowing Ryan for this good habit to rub off on me.

In all seriousness, this is one of the great things about having a partner - he/she makes you a better person. Even thought it's annoying when he asks me for the ten thousandth time if I've backed up my laptop recently, I know that he's making me a more responsible person. And this is one of the many reasons I knew, long before we ever decided to get married, that Ryan was perfect for me.

For my part, I make him eat vegetables. Because he really wouldn't eat any, other than carrots, if I didn't chop them up and cook them for him or put them in his lunch. Unfortunately my bad habit of hitting snooze in the morning has also rubbed off on him. Oops.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Canning Fail

Peach salsa from Food in Jars

Last night I ruined a batch of peach salsa with a really dumb mistake: I read ONE line from a recipe on the wrong page and added two tablespoons of salt to the pot of salsa. After I did that, I looked back to see what the next ingredient was going to be, and realized it didn't call for ANY salt. I had read off the Zucchini and Pepper Relish page by accident. It was definitely too late to do anything about it, so I heaped the salsa into jars and boiled them for ten minutes. I was hoping that two tablespoons of salt could be swallowed up by four pounds of peaches. But it couldn't.

I tasted a little while it was still warm and it was too salty. Still, I was holding out hope that after it cooled, the saltiness would mellow out. I tried it tonight; it didn't.

Even though I'm going to have to throw away 4 1/2 pints of otherwise perfect peach salsa, I've decided I can't let it bother me too much because after almost two years of canning, this is the first real canning fail (baking fails are another story). And I got a really good deal on the peaches at Grocery Outlet.

I'll just be double, triple, and quadruple checking every ingredient against the recipe for every batch of anything I make from now on. That should be fun.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mason Lake Hike

Jennie and Natasha near the Mason Lake/Bandera Mountain Trail Junction

Natasha and Jennie at our first good view point

Low cloud ceiling

Natasha, Jennie, and myself near the top
This morning Jennie, Natasha, and I headed up the Mason Lake Trail in the I-90 corridor. We had originally planned to hike Bandera Mountain, but the weather wasn't particularly great and as Jennie has been there before, she said the climb was definitely not worth it without a view. So we took another fork of the trail intending to head to Mason Lake. We didn't make it all the way as the last mile had quite a bit of snow and other hikers told us it probably wasn't worth it. It was still a great hike though. The weather was decent and this trail is extremely well-maintained and very pleasant to hike on.

We were relieved that is stopped raining shortly after we started hiking as Jennie didn't have a raincoat (how can someone who hikes in the Pacific NW all the time not have a raincoat you might ask???). It's a long story, but she will definitely be getting a new one soon! It was unusually warm and humid today though (and by warm I mean in the 60's) so we were in t-shirts most of the way. Jennie had the right idea wearing shorts - I wish I had too. I'm not used to it being muggy and warm when it's drizzly and grey. In these conditions I always pack like I'm in Alaska. It's hard to get used to the idea that it's not always cold when it's raining!

A raindrop photo - just because I love the macro feature on my camera

Friday, June 15, 2012

Neanderthals did NOT make cave art

The Panel of Hands in El Castillo Cave, Spain
This was all over the news today - news that the oldest cave paintings in Europe are older than previously thought. So old in fact, that they might have been created before modern humans even made it to Europe and might actually be the work of Neanderthals instead. I like to keep up on Neanderthal findings because they're cool (duh) and because I need to stay up to date on the latest findings for teaching. So I read the articles on popular news sites (The Daily Mail and MSNBC) and became a little confused. After I read the peer-reviewed Science article, I was shocked at what all these news sites were saying (and what the archaeologists they quoted were saying). In brief, after reviewing the evidence provided in the Science article and based on other recent publications on Neanderthals, I find that it is VERY unlikely that Neanderthals made any of this cave art. And this is why:

1. Of the 50 Uranium-series dates the authors obtained from the calcite overlying these paintings in 11 caves in Northern Spain, only ONE date was older than about 38,000 years (that date was 40,800 years before present). The rest of the dates ranged from very recently to 37,300 years BP. It is important to remember that these are minimum dates; the paintings could be older, but not younger than the calcite accumulating on top of them (I'll come back to this point).

2. Modern humans (that's us!: Homo sapiens) are known to have migrated into this part of Spain (from Africa via the Middle East) by 43,000-42,000 years ago - in plenty of time to make those cave paintings before 40,800 years ago.

3. Neanderthals were likely extinct in this part of Spain by 42,000 years ago (at least that is the most recently dated site we have for them in this area). (They may have survived for a few thousand more years in other parts of Europe - although the evidence for this is not as secure as we once thought it was).

4. There is not a lot of solid evidence that Neanderthals were capable of symbolic behavior from any other sites. This is a heavily debated topic as it has been reported that Neanderthals buried their dead (and only very rarely), made pendants for jewelry, and used red ochre and feathers for personal adornment. Having read many of these articles, I find most of the claims are very tenuous at best - mostly because the stratigraphy at many Neanderthal and early modern human sites in Europe is complicated - the layers are often mixed.

5. Modern humans were making artwork in Africa long before they ever left and long before the migrated to Europe. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that they began making cave paintings in Europe as soon as they got there.

To summarize, a couple of the paintings that were dated in this study were about 5-7,000 years older than expected. All the dates still fall in the time period after modern humans moved into Northern Spain. However, because these are minimum dates, it cannot be ruled out that some were created by Neanderthals prior to the arrival of modern humans. Based on all the reasons cited above, I think it is extremely unlikely that Neanderthals made cave paintings (or any artwork at all) and I am still shocked at how many archaeologists are claiming that this changes everything we thought we knew about Neanderthals.

That is not to say that I am adamately against the notion that Neanderthals were more like us than has long been assumed. I do think they were eerily similar to us and I do think there is good evidence that we interbred with Neanderthals in the Middle East around 100,000 years ago. But I have not been convinced that Neanderthals made artwork or anything else that indicates the capability for symbolic thought. I would like to believe that some day I could be convinced if solid evidence arose. And I think that some archaeologists are far too invested in this idea, so invested that they can't reasonably assess new evidence as it becomes available.

...and that is a topic for another blog post, one inspired by the book I recently read, The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed our View of Human Evolution by Dean Falk. More soon!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lemon basil surprise

Lemon basil thriving in a sea of grass and weeds

Lemon basil and mint

Our yard was overgrown with mint when we bought the house. We mow/weed whack a lot of it back and just let two clumps grow - one right by the front door and one in the back yard. I actually had a garden near the backyard patch the first summer we owned the house. Despite being in the field for most of the summer, many of the herbs, carrots, and even the tomatoes did surprisingly well. I became disturbed though about a gooey grey substance that was in the soil in this part of the yard. It is a small somewhat raised area that certainly looks like someone had used it as a garden before. They grey substance was weird though and it made me think twice about growing food there. I think the most likely explanation is that is is little chunks of sheet rock. Is that what I really want to grow food in? Probably not. I haven't grown anything in there since then. This area gets totally overgrown with weeds, grass, and blackberries and we weed whack it a couple of times a year.

Yesterday I decided to pick a couple leaves of mint while I was out in the back yard, just to smell. I noticed one patch which was brighter than the rest of the mint, and after I smelled it, I realized why: it wasn't mint. It was some lemon basil I planted three years ago and haven't even looked at since. I had no idea it was thriving back there. Now to start using it!

You might ask why the fact that it's growing in sheet rock doesn't bother me now...I guess it's just because I'm eating the part that grows above ground, unlike a carrot. And I just think it's really cool that this herb has taken off even though we attempt to kill everything that grows in there twice a year.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Food in Jars Book Signing

Marisa signing my book today
My collection of canning books
Today I got to meet the lovely author of Food in Jars - the book and the blog. Marisa writes about canning, using canned goods, and other uses for jars. Her blog has been a treasure trove of information about the technicalities of canning and her writing and recipes have inspired more than a few of my canning/baking successes. Her first cookbook was just published in May and I ordered it right away. It's not only full of mouthwatering recipes from everything from classic jams to carmelized red onion relish, it's a pleasure to read. I don't usually read cookbooks just for fun, sometimes I flip through if they have nice pictures, but read? No. This one, however, I read from cover to cover in one afternoon.

Ryan and I showed up to The Book Larder this morning to watch Marisa make strawberry vanilla jam (a good choice for a demonstration because the berries and vanilla smell delicious as they cook down). She then signed books and we got to chat for a few minutes before tasting the jam and some pickled garlic scapes. Marisa is just as entertaining in person as she is in her writing and I'm so glad I got to meet her!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Volunteering on an Organic Farm

I think this is Kale =)
Mary working on a row of kale (?)
Hilary dropping kale starts
Tommie and Hilary dropping starts

Last weekend my department organized a volunteering trip to an organic non-profit farm called Clean Greens northeast of Seattle. We helped plant broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and lettuce. That is, after the torrential downpour stopped. Seriously, soon after we arrived it started to rain. And then it rained harder. And harder. I came relatively prepared with rubber boots, lightweight rain pants, a rain coat, and gloves, but I was wishing I had brought my Grundens! We all huddled under a little roof off the barn for about 20 minutes waiting for the rain to let up. The farm manager told us that they never work in rain that hard. I'm glad it did let up though because after driving an hour outside of Seattle, I wanted to plant some organic veggies! By the afternoon, it was actually sunny and hot (for my Alaskan standards).

Planting the last of the lettuce
Kathy and Kalani dropping lettuce starts
Clean Greens is a pretty awesome organization. It sounds like they rely on a lot of volunteer labor in order to provide affordable fresh organic produce to families in the inner city who might not otherwise be able to afford it. The farm manager, Tommie, and the other farm employees were very generous with their knowledge of organic farming and extremely patient with us our clumsy planting techniques, even though Tommie told us that "Mother nature is very resilient."

Many of us are planning to volunteer again later this summer. Besides having a great time, Tommie told us that if we volunteer when the garden is producing, we can take fresh veggies home with us - this is great news for a canner! And when I asked about their abundance of blackberry bushes, he said I was welcome to come back to pick berries too.

And, as if they weren't nice enough, Tommie offered us as many free starts as we wanted when we left. I took a couple of tomato plants, broccoli, leeks, chard and squash. I put them in pots on my back porch. Here's to hoping at least some of them survive the two months I'll be in Alaska!

Mary with all the starts she took home

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lucky Find in Lake Washington

Processed Side scan sonar image of the PV4Y Privateer wreck

Side scan data image as seen during data collection

Today while testing our side scan sonar in Lake Washington we came across the wreck of an airplane, a 1956 PB4Y Privateer, that crashed in 155ft of water near the former site of the Naval Station Puget Sound (Magnuson Park). While we did know the general location of the wreck, we did not know the exact coordinates and were amazed by our luck of finding it on the first pass. The wreck appears to be mostly intact. This provides a great example of the impressive images that can be captured using side scan sonar. The upper image is what the data looks like after we process it. The lower image is what our screen looked like in real time as we were collecting the data. We are using a dual frequency side scan sonar so the upper half of the image shows the "high frequency" image collected with 500kHz sonar while the lower half of the image shows the "low frequency" image collected with 100kHz sonar.

Now that we know where the wreck is located I am looking forward to imaging it again on future tests of our sonar.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

From one job to the next

Jack-up drill rig off the coast of Lousiana

Shrimp boats

Well head

Oil platform with a jack-up barge and a flare tower

Launching the magnetometer from our survey boat

Potting a solder joint with resin on the new tow cable
After nearly five weeks in Louisiana I'm only home for two weeks before we start our next survey.  For this next survey we will be working in the beautiful fiords of Southeast Alaska.  The contrast to the Gulf of Mexico could not be greater.  The gulf of Mexico near Port Fourchon is hot, humid, and overrun with the oil industry.  The near-shore waters are a maze of oil wells, oil platforms, flare towers, and work-boats.  In contrast, the waters of the inside passage will be cool and quiet, even with the occasional cruse ship and fishing vessel.

For this upcoming survey we are taking the R/V Ugle Duckling and just about every type of survey equipment we use.  This week I have been busy mobilizing the boat and preparing our equipment.  We purchased a new tow cable which has meant a lot of time loading and unloading cable, testing each piece of equipment with the new cable, and terminating cables with underwater connectors. Both ends of the cable and every piece of equipment must be fitted with a connector that is waterproof.  To attach the connector to the cable it is necessary to solder each wire and then pot the entire junction in a resin that will keep the water out even under extreme pressure.  It's a lot of work and my colleague Rich and I have had to put in a few extra hours to stay on schedule.

It doesn't help that we have moved to a new warehouse leaving us a bit more disorganized than usual.  There has been a lot of "Hey, have you seen this or that?".  I do love the new warehouse and am looking forward to having time this fall or winter to get more organized.