I’m Back, and I Come Bearing Purple Death Flowers

I’m baaaaack. My goal is going to be one post a week through the end of the summer. For my first post back from hiatus, I have something special for y’all: giant purple alien flowers that smell like rotting flesh!

While moving my stuff into the house in Walla Walla (yep, no more rural Oregon), I noticed the unmistakable smell of death. Some small animal had clearly crawled into the bushes, died, and was decomposing. We poked around a bit but couldn’t find the culprit so we didn’t think much more about it for the time being.

Not until the next day did we make the connection between the smell and the enormous alien flowers that were blooming in the yard.

DSC_0026 (681x1024)These things are wild. We’d been watching them grow all spring without being sure what they were; they started as tentacle-like spikes sprouting from the ground, then developed the pretty green-and-white striped foliage you can see in the picture, and finally grew enormous two-foot-long buds like alien pod things.

Then the buds opened into spectacular, death-scented flowers.

Turns out that this plant, Dracunculus vulgaris, is native to the Balkans and has variety of expressive common names like Voodoo Lily and Black Dragon. It is (of course) pollinated by flies, which it attracts by mimicking the color and smell of a rotting corpse. In fact, there was a cloud of flies buzzing around the flowers when I was taking photos, although I had trouble getting one in focus.

DSC_0027 (1024x768)The first spring in a new house, when you don’t really know what sort of plants are in the landscaping and every new thing that sprouts is a mystery to solve, is a lot of fun. According to the internet, the rotting flesh smell of our Voodoo Lilies should only last a couple days. We like our weird purple alien death flowers and can’t wait to see what strange thing appears in our garden next.

 

 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Here’s something that isn’t news to regular readers: since I moved out west, changes in my professional and personal life have left me with less time and ability to maintain a blog about my natural history adventures. (For one thing, now that I have a job that keeps me in the office a lot of the time, I’m simply not having as many natural history adventures.) Posts here have slowed from being published several times a week to once or twice a month if at all, and I feel like the quality isn’t what it used to be, as I haven’t been including nearly as many of my own photos lately.

So, I think it’s time to state clearly that yes, Rebecca in the Woods is going on indefinite hiatus. If circumstances change, I might start to post here regularly again, so if you like my writing and photos it may be worth your while to keep your subscription to this blog. In the meantime, there are some other ways to follow what I’m up to:

  • I’ve recently become a monthly contributor to the environmental blog The Ecotone Exchange; my first post is about culling Barred Owls in the Northwest to protect Spotted Owls. To keep up with all of my Ecotone Exchange posts, use this link.
  • Find me on Twitter! I post photos, facts, links, and other snippets there regularly, especially now that I have a smart phone and can easily update it while on the go.
  • While this blog is on hiatus, I’m not going to keep updating the bio and links on the About page, but I recently spent a little time updating and expanding my LinkedIn profile. So if you’re interested in what’s going on with me professionally, you can always check that.

I’ve learned so incredibly much from the process of writing this blog over the past four (!) years, and I do hope to come back to it in the future. But with where I’m at in my life right now, I can’t give it the attention it deserves, and I’m not willing to continue trying to half-ass it like I have been. Take care, lovely readers, and thank you.

Blue Basin Revisited

Last summer I wrote a post about hiking at Blue Basin, an incredible rock formation in nearby John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. When I was there before, I took the loop trail that circles the whole thing, but recently I went back to check out the shorter trail that takes you into the blue-green canyon itself.

If first guess for what causes the amazing color of the rock is copper, well, you’re not alone; that’s what I would have thought, too. However, it actually comes from the weathering of obscure minerals called celadonite and clinoptilolite, both part of the volcanic ash deposits laid down in this area by ancient volcanoes. (Like I said in my last post: my understanding of the geological history of this region boils down to “volcanoes, woot!”)

If, for some strange reason, you ever find yourself driving Highway 26 through eastern Oregon, the Sheep Rock unit of the John Day Fossil Beds is definitely worth a stop. In addition to Blue Basin, there’s a great visitor center with a lot of interesting fossils on display.

Photos in this post by Evan Heisman.

I Learned a Thing About Geology

Photo by Zinneke, via Wikimedia Commons

I have a confession to make: I’m not really a geology person. I understand objectively why some people would consider it fascinating, and I sometimes wish I was one of those people, but whenever I actually try to read a book or watch a presentation about rocks and geologic history my mind starts to wander almost immediately.

Still, occasionally a particular geology concept will lodge itself in my brain anyway, and when that happens I feel very proud of myself for being able to point out some odd rock feature and give it a name. Case in point: columnar basalt. Whenever I’m driving around here and see these odd hexagonal columns of stone, I always think to myself “hey, columnar basalt!” and feel happy.

Basically, these structures form when lava cools relatively rapidly and contracts as a result. From Wikipedia: “While a flow can shrink in the vertical dimension without fracturing, it can’t easily accommodate shrinking in the horizontal direction unless cracks form; the extensive fracture network that develops results in the formation of columns… The size of the columns depends loosely on the rate of cooling; very rapid cooling may result in very small (<1 cm diameter) columns, while slow cooling is more likely to produce large columns.” The fact that these formations are so common around here attests to the area’s volcanic past.

So, to sum up, my entire understanding of the geologic history of eastern Oregon boils down to “volcanoes, woot!” and I’m pretty okay with that. But I really like columnar basalt. Because I know what it is.

“Storm in the Outback”: An Essay

Gasp! A blog post! Okay, yeah, this has been the longest dry stretch since I started this blog four (!!!) years ago, but I’m resurfacing long enough to share with you a piece of writing that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while now. This is a story from the three months I spent in Australia back in 2009, which I’ve posted about previously (specifically regarding echidnas and a giant dust storm). I fiddled around a bit with the idea of submitting this piece to a literary magazine or several, but ultimately decided to just post it here. It’s around 1200 words; let me know what you think. Continue reading

It’s Been Awfully Quiet Around Here

On the blog, I mean.

In grad school, I was very busy but I had a flexible schedule that meant I often worked in the evenings and had plenty of free time during the day to wander around outside and go on adventures and take pictures. I also had easy access to beautiful natural surroundings, with miles and miles of hiking trails through the woods literally right outside my door. I was spoiled rotten.

Now I have a grown up job and I’m working a regular grown-up person’s 8-to-5 schedule. And counterintuitively, despite the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere, it’s about an hour’s drive each way to get from where I live to get to any good hiking. (The land close by is mostly private ranches, and even in the National Forest there aren’t a whole lot of developed trails outside a few popular areas.) There have also been some changes in my personal life that mean that, if I only have time and energy for one expedition with a long drive over the weekend, going hiking by myself probably isn’t going to be it.

All of this isn’t to say I’m unhappy, just that there’s a reason why I haven’t been writing blog posts three times a week (or even once a week) lately. I still care about this stuff, and I’m still going to continue blogging as I have time and material, but it’s probably going to continue to be slow for a while. In the meantime, you can always follow me on Twitter, where I post photos, links, and short updates pretty regularly.

Anyway, it’s December now, so just like I’ve done for the past couple years I’m going to go ahead and write up a recap of my year in nature for you (because that’s not narcissistic of me at all, amiright?).

  • In January I got to hobnob with a famous porcupine. It was a big moment for me, okay.
  • In February I traveled to the winter birding mecca Sax-Zim Bog and added not one, not two, but three owl species to my life list.
  • In March I spotted my first naked-eye comet since I was a kid. (Rest in peace, ISON.)
  • In April I checked another item off my birding bucket list when I observed a Greater Prairie Chicken lek. Woo-hoo! This spring maybe Sage Grouse?
  • In May I got some great up-close looks at a Killdeer nest.
  • Then came June. I drove across the country from Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin to Long Creek, Oregon with all of my earthly possessions crammed into my Honda Civic. Through the looking glass, indeed.
  • In July I joined the twenty-first century and bought my first smart phone, allowing me to post my nature pics right from the field.
  • In August I discovered that some species of butterfly are considered pest insects. Who knew?
  • In September I got to see a real, wild salmon run through the viewing windows in the Bonneville Dam’s fish ladder, and it was AMAZING. Also: lampreys!
  • In October I rebelled against the federal government shutdown by hiking on National Forest land at a time when it may technically have been illegal. I’m still not sure.
  • In November I… only wrote four blog posts, and one of them was just a linkspam. Still not sure what’s going on with this deer’s face.
  • And now it’s December. If you had told me a year ago what my life was going to be like now – professionally, personally, everything – I would have been dumbfounded. Here’s to more adventures in 2014!

Your Sunday Wildlife & Conservation Reading

Here, once again, is my monthly-ish collection of wildlife and conservation links and articles that have caught my eye – plenty of fun facts and interesting eye candy for your Sunday afternoon reading.

As always, feel free to share your own finds in the comments!