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Explore: March 2011


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19 posts from March 2011

03/18/2011

Year in Yosemite: A Walk on the Wild Side

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My daughter Karis is nine, which means that, when her father is away and there is no one to watch her, wherever I go she has to go too. This past weekend, with her dad in Los Angeles and Yosemite's winter weather mild and warm, I wanted to go for a walk. Not Karis. The mere mention of a stroll had her begging to stay home, which, of course, was not to be. It took some coaxing, but eventually she slipped on her jacket and her snow boots and the two of us headed out the door.

First stop? Puddles. Big, enormous puddles sitting in big, enormous potholes that are loosely connected by bits of mud and make up our sorry excuse for a street. Walking down this mumbly-tumbly road, Karis did the only thing that made sense and jumped into the ankle-high water—again and again and again.

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Chilnualna Falls.

Then we went down toward the one-lane bridge that crosses the south fork of the Merced River. At this time of year the water is pounding over the humongous boulders that cascade down the mountain and line the river bottom. Karis suggested a game of Pooh Sticks, but then, just as quickly, she decided the sticks would be pulverized in the whirlpools. So instead, she leaned against me while we stood watching the sun hit the water and discussed which waterfalls we liked best. Turns out, she liked the one to the left on the north side of the stream, where two jets of water flow side by side to become a double waterfall. Funny thing, but that is my favorite too.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: A Walk on the Wild Side" »

03/17/2011

Separating Moon Fact from Fiction

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A full moon rising over the Arizona desert. Credit: Gayle Lindgren

March 19 is the date of the full moon this month, and it coincides with the closest lunar perigee of the year. This means that Saturday will have the closest full moon of the year, making it looks extra big and bright. Full moon occurs at precisely 2:10 p.m. EDT with perigee occurring at 3 p.m. EDT, as the moon comes within 221,565 miles from Earth.

Contrary to some reports, this “supermoon,” as it has been coined in the press, is not the closest the moon has come to Earth in decades. Another date in which a full moon coincided with the closest perigee of the year was December 12, 2008, when the moon was full and only 221,560 miles from Earth (closer than the perigee this month). The “supermoon” has also wrongly been blamed for the Japanese earthquake. The moon orbits the Earth every 27.3 days. For March, the apogee (the moon’s farthest distance in its orbit) occurred on March 6. On the date of the earthquake, March 11, 2011, the moon was actually closer to apogee than to the March 19 perigee. (Not to mention that the moon hitting full phase on the date of perigee has no significance except in its physical appearance.)

March’s moon is sometimes called the Worm Moon, in reference to the return of birds due to the melting of the frozen earth and the resurgence of worms. Where I live, the first robins have already been spotted and the ground is certainly soft and muddy as it reappears from under blankets of snow.

Sunday, March 20, at 7:21 p.m. EDT, is the moment of equinox and the official first day of spring for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Jupiter can still be spotted in the west after sunset, but not for long. It sets in the coming week and moves into the morning sky in preparation for some notable morning conjunctions in May.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

Nature Art: Yosemite in Eyeshadow

What would you do if you saw a palette of a million tiny eyeshadows on sale at the drugstore? Would you walk right on past to the shampoo? If you're like me you would...and then you'd circle back. Could it really cost only $4.99 for a sampler of every crazy, sparkling color in the world? Would these tiny pots of color work like pastels? 

I had to buy them.

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I contour drew this scene of Yosemite Valley (below) from the Turtleback Dome webcam of the Yosemite Conservancy:

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Then I tried to color it using realistic colors. I rubbed the eyeshadow into the paper with my finger. The shadow was a bit greasy, which made it easy to apply, and the colors were saturated and full of sparkle. At first it was fun to choose colors that would combine to make a gray or a dark green, but the bright colors made it hard to match the values in the webcam.

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If you buy a pastel set, you can choose either landscape colors  (mostly blues, greens, grays) or portrait colors (mostly reds, pinks, oranges). I decided to use unrealistic color on the second painting to give me a chance to try those saturated pinks, reds, and yellows from the eyeshadow selection. My fingers were too blunt to add in the detail I wanted, so I used a purple colored pencil, too.

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Try this at home, maybe using a brush with water on it to make a thin paint! I'll try it for next week.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

03/11/2011

Best Conjunction of the Year

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This conjunction in 2009 featured Venus and Jupiter. Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

One of the prettier and easier sights to see in the night sky is when two bright planets come within close range of each other. Jupiter and Mercury create the best conjunction of the year on March 15 when they lie just two degrees apart in the evening sky in the west. You can start looking this weekend after the sun has set. Jupiter will be the first planet you’ll see because of how bright it is, even though it is low in the glow of sunset. Mercury is the point of light just below it. On March 14, the planets are just a little more than two degrees away and nearly side by side, which is also worth a look, especially if skies are forecasted to be cloudy the next evening. By March 16, Mercury will be the planet farther from the horizon.

Conjunctions are a great opportunity for novice photographers to catch a beautiful image of the sky. No special equipment is needed, and with the event occurring during dusk, there will still be enough light in the sky to provide a scenic foreground.

Another event this weekend is the 230-year anniversary of William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus, on March 13, 1871. As you’re looking at the Jupiter/Mercury conjunction, even farther below them, skimming the horizon at sunset, is the planet Uranus. But because Uranus is so much dimmer and in a still-glowing sky, the planet cannot be seen.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

03/10/2011

Year in Yosemite: In the Flow

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Yosemite after the 2010 storm. Photo by Charles Phillips.

During high school, my sister was an exchange student in Japan. Naturally she returned home with gifts for all of us. Decades later, I don’t remember what she gave me, but I do remember this. One of the most precious things she brought back was this Japanese saying: No expectations. No letdowns. Lately I think of those words almost daily. That’s because, try hard as I might, living without expectations is not a concept I’ve ever mastered. Experience tells me expectations do more harm than good, but, boy, I find them hard to let go of. Maybe that’s why I was so impressed by Diane Reklis.

Unlike her last name, Diane is not reckless at all. In fact, she’s a master planner. I met her by happenstance one Saturday at Badger Pass, Yosemite National Park’s ski area. I was there so my daughter could ski with friends. Since I’m highly adverse to cold, snow and ski slopes, my usual strategy is to retreat with a book to the lodge’s upstairs room. But on this particular Saturday, the usually quiet room was bustling with activity—and girls, more than one hundred of them. Turns out 15 troops of Girl Scouts from Palo Alto were at Yosemite to alpine and cross-country ski, snowshoe and take in the views. The trip is reserved for older Scouts, those who are in grades 6 through 12. Along with their chaperon moms and resident nurse, they numbered 130.

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Fifteen Girl Scout troops.

For the past 13 years, their fearless leader has been Diane. Diane claims putting together the logistics for the care and feeding of all these people is fun, her “giant Sudoku puzzle.”

She says she does it to try and encourage older girls to stick with scouting right through high school. The funny thing is her own kids are long gone from the nest. That she still invests a huge amount of time and energy introducing girls to the wonders of scouting and Yosemite, I find inspirational. But that’s not the reason why she’s my pick for the “Go-with-the-Flow-No-Expectations Queen.”

No. I’ve dubbed her that because a year ago January, three buses left Palo Alto bound for Yosemite. One hour into the trip Diane got a call. Yosemite had had a major storm. Trees were down. Electrical lines were down. All the entrances to the park were closed. Most people probably would have bagged the trip right there but Diane decided to keep going. As she says, “We were already in the buses.” That night, instead of going to Curry Village as planned, they took 32 rooms at the Best Western in Mariposa, and then walked the girls over to the Pizza Factory for dinner. The local merchants were thrilled. At a time when no tourists were making their way to Yosemite, the Girl Scouts seemed like the cavalry coming to town.

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Ahwahnee Hotel. Photo by Charles Phillips.

The next day dawned bright and sunny. The park was open. They boarded the buses and continued only to get another call. Curry Village was closed. Diane decided to head for the park anyway and that’s when her no-expectations, go-with-the-flow attitude paid off. Seems with Curry Village closed, the Delaware North Companies, Yosemite’s concessionaire, had a plan for housing. That night the girls and their chaperones were put up at The Ahwanhee. Needless to say, everyone was thrilled.

When I asked Diane what it was in her personality that let her—with 130 charges in tow—change on a dime, she answered, “Stupidity.” Don’t believe her. The moment she (and the other adults) decided to put their plans and expectations aside and trust that, whatever the outcome, all would be well, they taught those girls a life lesson about the importance of letting go. Seems to me, if there isn’t a badge for that, it certainly merits one.

-- Jamie Simons

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city.(Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)

03/09/2011

Nature Art: Quinces in Bloom

The Japanese quinces are in bloom in California! Winter must be ending...

I found these bright flowers last week in San Francisco, almost a month before they will be blooming out here in Maryland. After their flowers drop, quinces become twiggy, non-descript shrubs. Their thorns are legion, but their flowers are so welcome in March!

The San Francisco mornings were frosty, so I had to draw many flowers before my hand relaxed. Lovely green and yellow finches flew through the quince branches on their way to pick through the lavender, nearby.

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Finally, I got this contour drawing, above. Back home, I mixed cobalt blue on my watercolor palette, wet the paper around the flowers with clear water, and touched the wet paper with a bit of the liquid blue paint. This made the sky.

Continue reading "Nature Art: Quinces in Bloom" »

03/04/2011

Year in Yosemite: On Top of Old Smokey

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Every Sunday, when the weather is good, my daughter Karis and I get up, throw on our clothes and set off to visit my daughter's first true love. Being only 9, the object of her affection isn't a boy. No, it's a Shetland pony named Smokey.

It takes real commitment on Karis's part (and an indulgent mom) to keep this love affair going. Because after we've made our way down the windy mountain road that takes us from our home inside Yosemite National Park to the town of Oakhurst, we're still looking at an hour's drive.

Shawna Dahl, the trainer who owns the ranch where Smokey lives and Karis rides, helped us find a carpool, but often I find myself taking a pass and driving Karis myself. That's because of my own love affair. Like my daughter, it's not with a guy-type person. I'm a happily married woman. But if Karis has found space in her heart for Smokey, I've reserved a place in mine for the foothills of the Sierras.

This is not what I expected. After all, we live in a park that’s one of the 1,000 places you are supposed to see before you die. And with good reason. The view of Yosemite Valley laid out below Tunnel View could easily inspire an entire dictionary of adjectives. If there is a more photographed natural wonder, I'd like to see it.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: On Top of Old Smokey" »

03/03/2011

Astronomy: March Highlights

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Mercury (labeled) in the evening sky. Note also the planet’s reflection in the water. Credit: John Chumack

March may have been named for Mars, but it is Mercury who is the starring planet this month. Mercury makes its best appearance of the year starting the first full week of March and continuing for nearly three weeks.

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, can be found low in the west after the sun has set around March 7. On March 7, note the crescent moon in the west with a bright point of light between it and the horizon. This bright light is Jupiter, shining at magnitude -2.1. Below Jupiter and close to the horizon, setting soon after the sun, is Mercury at magnitude -1.4. Each evening following, the moon and Mercury will climb higher, although the moon will outpace the fleet-footed planet. Soon the moon will not be a part of the scene in the west after sunset, leaving Jupiter and Mercury to dominate this region of sky.

The best evening conjunction of planets this year occurs on March 15, when Jupiter and Mercury appear to lie just 2 degrees apart. After this date it will be Mercury that is found higher above the horizon, with Jupiter setting fast. Mercury reaches what is called greatest eastern elongation (19 degrees east of the sun) on March 22. By this date it will have dimmed to magnitude -0.3.

For more March highlights, see The Night Sky Observing Guide for March 2011.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

Nature Art: Painting Camelias

For me, camellias are the roses of winter.

Between December and March, you'll find me pampering the bush that winters in my front hall, shielding it from drafts, and watering it with warm water. The variety I have, "April Remembered," is slightly fragrant, too, especially when all the blooms are open at once.

Every winter, I practice drawing the shapes of the petals--they are never perfectly oval or perfectly flat.  I started this sketch by making contour drawings of three different flowers, choosing those that looked hard to draw because they were growing at odd angles:

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Next, I added a watercolor wash. I like the random mixing of colors, so I painted over the sketches with clean water first. Before it dried, I randomly painted swipes of alizarin crimson and new gamboge yellow onto the wet paper. Then I let this mix dry:

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This sketch was done:

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But this one, taken from another drawing, needed two more layers of darker color to bring it to life.  When you paint in watercolor, it can be hard to make yourself paint dark enough the first time:

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Play around with your own sketches and see what you come up with!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.


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