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All posts for the month February, 2017

I’ve found an organization called Falling Fruit, which is attempting to make a comprehensive map of places where foragers can find food. One of the things they are collecting is information on public (or publicly accessible) trees and other plants that are edible. San Antonio has a lot of plants that can be used for food, but its representation on the website is really kind of pitiful, with only 160-some things marked on the map. Austin is a lot smaller but has nearly twice as many locations marked.  Falling Fruit is also a licensed charity, so if you are in the United States and want to make a charitable donation, donations to Falling Fruit are tax deductible.

There are prickly pear cactus absolutely all over the place here, and not only can the fruit be eaten, but the pads themselves are edible as well. I certainly wouldn’t want to see the all of the prickly pear cactus being eaten by foragers, but it’s nice to know that it’s there, all the same. And I’m not even listing the thousands of live oak trees that litter the area, even though acorns have been used as food for millennia.

This does mean that I’m going to start revisiting some of the parks that I’ve already visited, to see what I can find there. Today we went back to Phil Hardberger Park and found more prickly pear and a mesquite tree (mesquite pods are edible). There’s supposedly Texas persimmon in the park somewhere, but I haven’t found any yet.

I was about a hundred words into my next My Travel Memories post (on Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta) when I, well, let’s start at the beginning.

In July of 2016, I had pain in one of my molars (#19, for those who care about such things). I had just gotten dental insurance for the first time since 2009 but I didn’t have a relationship with a dentist yet. After this, I got a dentist. She x-rayed the tooth and didn’t see any kind of infection or anything like that, so she decided that it was probably referred pain from tension in the masseter.  She recommended that I take 800 mg of ibuprofen and see if that helped. It did.

Fast forward to his past Saturday (February 18). I was eating apples and almonds for lunch when the pain came back. This time, though, the ibuprofen didn’t help. Sunday night the pain interfered with my sleep.

So I called my dentist to see if she could fit me in for a quick exam. There still wasn’t any sign of an infection, so she concluded that I probably have a cracked tooth and gave me a prescription for painkillers and the phone number of an endodontist so that he can pull off the crown on that tooth and examine the tooth for cracks. She also gave me a prescription for antibiotics, because sometimes a crack can have bacteria in it and the bacteria can cause pain. I discussed it with one of my pharmacists because I didn’t want to take it if I didn’t need to.

The next appointment they had was a full week later. So I got more painkillers and, when on Wednesday night the pain spread up to my ear and was just excruciating. I decided that perhaps the time had come to fill that antibiotic prescription. I took my first antibiotic on Wednesday night and by Thursday morning I was feeling 500% better.

Then I noticed a small swollen area on my gum on that side. So apparently there were bacteria in there, but not enough to show up as an abscess on the x-ray.

I’m feeling much better now, so hopefully I can go back and finish that blog post.  I haven’t decided if I am going to leave those first hundred or so words, or if I’ll rewrite it. Let’s see what it looks like when I tackle it tomorrow.

As an aside, in my paying myself to study foreign languages project, I hit the $100 mark this week. I’m going to add that money to the next CD that I purchase, so that I can continue keeping track of my income from this project. If I were to put it on the stock market it wouldn’t increase at an easy-to-track pace.

Small, Small World, by Nathan Wolfe

Wolfe is a microbiologist, and so in this article he introduces the readers to some of the natural wonders that we cannot see, particularly what is known as the microbiome, which are the bacteria which live within our bodies. There’s a nifty graphic illustration of just how much of our body is made up of bacteria, as well.

John Tobin Park

I passed John Tobin Park, which is just an activity center on a small lot on the corner of Martin and Brazos Streets, on the day of the Women’s March.  I took a couple of pictures as I walked past and told Alex that this meant that I could cross this park off my list.

I may be returning to it, more or less, after all, as it turns out. Tobin Park backs up to Alazán Creek and there is now a greenway along the stretch of the creek north of this section. Will the greenway ever reach this part of the creek? There are no plans now, but who knows what will happen with the greenway project in the future?

Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park

I live fairly close to Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park. And before Alex was born, that area was even closer to where we lived. As a result, for most of Alex’s life, “the park” has meant Walker Ranch.

While I’m still not entirely certain what the “landmark” is (though perhaps the entire park is the landmark, since it si on the National Register of Historic Places?), I definitely can tell you at least some of what the word “historic” is for.

As the park is near the confluence of the Salado and Panther Springs Creeks, humans have lived there for literally millennia. When the Coahuiltecans were the main human inhabitants, they camped there, and once the Spaniards arrived, they began the occupation of that space on a full-time basis.

When Spain colonized the areas which are now Florida, Texas, and Mexico, the law of Spain was that all Spaniards were required to be Roman Catholics. So, in order to count the local indigenous peoples as Spaniards, they needed to be converted. To that end, Franciscan monks moved to what is now San Antonio in the 18th century to convert the local Coahuiltecan Native Americans and they founded five missions. Mission San Antonio de Valero (which is now The Alamo) was the first one founded.

Walker Ranch Park airplane

An airplane flies near the main loop trail at Walker Ranch Park, 2014.

Hundreds of people lived at the missions, and that required food. At first, the natives and Franciscans would raise cattle near the missions, but as the local civilians began to ranch themselves, the groups would come into conflict. The various missions, as a result, founded ranches that were farther out. You can still visit one of these missions, Rancho de las Cabras in Floresville, the ranch for Mission San Francisco de la Espada. The other ranches are now in what is San Antonio proper and, as a result, most of their structures the “context” is gone.

The ranch for Mission San Antonio de Valero (which they shared with Mission de Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna and Mission San Juan Capistran0) was the Monte Galvan. I’m trying to find the exact boundaries, but what is clear is that Walker Ranch Park is within the area that was included in the ranch.

The “Walker Ranch” name comes from the Walker family, which ranched there in the early 20th century. The Walker Ranch is on the National Register of Historic Places (it was added in 1975).

Today, Walker Ranch Park has a playground, portable restroom facilities, a picnic pavilion and several walking/biking paths.  The main path is a paved loop path that goes around a field with a windmill (I don’t know if the windmill was put there by the Walker family or not). In spring, in years when the rain is pretty good, the loop trail is a fantastic place to see wildflowers, bluebonnets in particular. There is also another, unpaved, path that follows Panther Springs Creek, and Walker Ranch Park is also on the Salado Creek Greenway. The Greenway connects Walker Ranch Park to Phil Hardberger Park to the northwest and to McAllister Park to the southeast.

Walker Ranch Park is also a great place to go deer- and planespotting. There is a community of deer that live in the park and they are habituated enough to people that you can see them, but not so used to people that you can actually get anywhere near enough to hurt them. The planes are definitely not close enough that people can hurt them, as they’re overhead. The park is in the landing pattern for the airport, and so planes come overhead pretty frequently. And sometimes, when conditions are just right, and you are far enough in the trees, you can hear the whooshing sound of the wake turbulence. For some reason, we’ve only ever heard it when surrounded by trees and not when near the parking lot. I don’t think that the wake turbulence is blocked out by the noise from the cars, because I don’t even hear it when there are no cars.

Rain Forest for Sale, by Scott Wallace photographs by Tim Laman, Ivan Kashinsky, Karla Gachet, David Liittschwager, and Steve Winter

Wow! That’s quite the listing of photographers. Each photographer was assigned a particular subject area to photograph. Laman photographed primates and birds, Kashinsky and Gachet photographed people, Liitschwager photographed the “microfauna” (which apparently means bugs and things in this case; microfauna usually means things like protozoans and tardigrades) and Winter photographed the people.

Rain Forest for Sale is about the exploitation for oil of the national parks of Ecuador. Wallace and the team of photographers traveled to Ecuador to capture the lives of the people and fauna of the region so as to bring awareness of the plight that the indigenous peoples of the region are in.

One of the things that is highlighted and that particularly appalled me (so obviously their highlighting of the issue worked the way it was intended) is that the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, offered not to exploit the oil in part of this sensitive area if the people of other countries would give Ecuador $3.6 Billion. My initial response was, “Nice park we have here. Shame if something were to happen to it.” I don’t think that’s how a protection racket is supposed to work. I think you’re supposed to protect your own natural areas, not threaten to destroy them if others won’t pay you off.

It didn’t work, by the way. In September 2016, they started drilling for oil in that area of the park.

Into the Unknown, by David Roberts, photographs by Frank Hurley

In 1912, an explorer, Douglas Mawson, sent out eight teams of three men to explore Antarctica. They weren’t trying to get to the South Pole, they just wanted to find out as much as they could about our southernmost continent.

Mawson’s team fell into trouble about a month into their part of the expedition. A sinkhole opened up behind Mawson’s sledge and one of their team members, half of their dogs, their tent, all of the food for the sled dogs, and most of the food for the humans. So, of course, the remaining two members of the team, headed immediately back to their home base.

As they traveled, they lost their dogs one by one (they euthanized each dog with a bullet and then ate the dogs to preserve the remainder of their food). Then Mawson’s human companion died. Mawson buried him in the snow and kept going. As Mawson’s body began to fail, he began to despair, but he kept moving. Finally, he returned to the base camp and found that, while their ship had left without them, some men had stayed behind to look for Mawson’s team. It would take another ten months for the ship to return.

Mawson and Mertz had to get rid of any unnecessary equipment that they carried, which included their camera.

Mawson died in 1958. Frank Hurley, the photographer for this article, was also on the 1912 expedition and, near as I can tell, these are his photos from that expedition.

I have very little hipster cred, so I’m going take the opportunity to do the hipster thing here and say that I knew about the Bell Witch before it was cool. In 1989, my folks and I were driving from Chicago to visit our family in Florida (remember them?). As we passed into Tennessee, we passed a sign that said, “See the Bell Witch Cave” or words to that effect. My folks were always up for a cave (and for a good supernatural story). So, long before An American Haunting, or Bell Witch: The Movie, we heard the story from the current owners of the cave.

I was looking through the photo album of this trip and saw pictures of a cave. “I wonder if that was the Bell Witch Cave. It would be about the right timing for that.” So I searched for ‘Bell Witch Cave’ on Google Images and saw a (considerably less overexposed) shot of this same location on someone else’s website. So I can say with about 90% certainty that this is, in fact, a picture of the Bell Witch Cave.

According to the legend, in the early 19th century, the family of a farmer named John Bell began to experience something that was generally thought of as supernatural. He, his family, and visitors to his home, heard voices. Sometimes it was the voice of a woman, at other times it was the voices of other people. It was reported that the voices, at one point, began repeating the words of two church services taking place simultaneously in two different churches miles from the Bell home.

The entity claimed to be “Kate Batts’s witch.” Kate Batts was a neighbor that the Bells had had problems with over some kind of economic transaction, either the purchase of land or of slaves. Given the time period that this story took place in, my money’s on the latter. At any rate, the apparition was given the name “Kate” and would apparently respond to that name.

In the end, “Kate,” presumably the spirit and not the neighbor (though in my memory, it seemed that the man telling the story was unclear on this point), fled to the cave.  There are several legends of her interacting with people in the cave.

Do I believe in the Bell Witch? I try to keep an open mind about things like ghosts, because I have seen some things that seem unexplainable (and on several occasions I was by myself, so they couldn’t have been practical jokes or anything of that nature). But I do wonder if the Bell Witch was real or was an attempt to slander a neighbor who had a grievance.

Next up: Stone Mountain, Atlanta. I may have to see if there are any public domain photos of the park because I don’t have a single one in my collection.

Now for the National Geographic post I had attempted back on the 12th:

Restless Genes, by David Dobbs

At first, I thought that this would be a rehash of what we covered back on June 29, 2016 or that the magazine would cover again in June of 2013, depending on your perspective. The thesis in that issue was that people take risks because they get a dopamine rush from it.

Instead, though, we talk about the possible genetic impetus and benefits of exploration. Dobbs discusses how unusual homo sapiens sapiens is for our desire to explore and to cover new territory. Other species may travel with us (rats and cockroaches, for example), but it’s doubtful whether those species would have spread out that far without us. Even our other homo sapiens cousins (such as the Neanderthal) didn’t spread out and conquer the world like we did.

We start out with one gene, DRD4, which controls dopamine (this is where I thought the two articles would overlap). A variant called DRD4-7R seems to correlate highly with exploration. But for all of the studies that seem to make that correlation, there are others that refute it.

One of the scientists who discovered the 7R variant believes that it is a collection of genetic changes, not just that one, that leads humanity to explore. We are better-suited than our primate cousins to walk far distances, and our brains take longer to develop but end up larger than theirs are. And even the long time it takes us to mature may help. Our long childhoods lead us to develop imaginations, which feed our curiosity and lead children to naturally become scientists and explorers. Some of us retain those tendencies into adulthood.

And explorers tend to breed new explorers. A community in Quebec spread out into the wilderness and as they progressed farther into the wilderness, the communities they founded had different traits. They married younger and had more children, and those children married younger and had even more children. Lawrence Excoffier, a population geneticist, believes that this sort of sorting happened over and over throughout human history, leading explorers to perhaps have had more children, and thus had a stronger impact on the human genome in general.

We start and end the article, and possibly also the story of human migration, with the population of the South Pacific. These peoples were the descendants of some of the first to leave Africa. Once they reached the end of the continent of Asia going westward, they started moving from through the islands in small canoes, always within sight of another island. But when they reached the end of the chain of islands that were “intervisible,” they stopped until centuries later, when people from somewhere else, perhaps Taiwan, brought a larger boat that could travel farther distances. And after that, nothing stopped them from conquering that entire part of the world.

Crazy Far, by Tim Folger photographs by Stephan Martiniere

We begin this article with a discussion of the NERVA project, which was an attempt to get humans to Mars in a nuclear-powered spaceship. The original plan was to leave for Mars in 1981. Obviously, we never got there.

In this article, we discuss the technology that could, someday, bring that old dream back to life, including nuclear fusion or a giant sail that would catch solar winds (Hey! I was just reminiscing about that Classic Doctor Who episode!)

The article concludes with the idea that before we can build a starship, though, we will need to build a society that will build a starship. That seemed like a good prospect in 2013. In 2017, I think we’re likely to take a big step backwards before we can even start on that project.

No, I haven’t forgotten about this blog. But I’ve been really exhausted after work and have been using the energy that I do have on my language-learning project (maybe I’ll start a topic for that . . .), so I haven’t had the time or energy to spend on reading magazines. Except for Vanity Fair, because I am one of that magazine’s tens of thousands of new subscribers. I’m considering subscribing to Teen Vogue, as well, for their political reporting. There’s apparently also a project going where people are subscribing Republican politicians to Teen Vogue as well (a subscription is only $5 per year).

As for the language-learning project, as of yesterday I have hit the $90 mark, and as of today I’ve finished Level 1 of Rosetta Stone Vietnamese. As far as Spanish goes, I’m apparently somewhere in the midst of heading towards CEFR* Level B1. B1 is a high intermediate/low advanced level, so I can live with that, I think (for now, at least). The only thing stopping me from being at a higher level is vocabulary, so I’m considering adding vocabulary flash cards to my regimen. One of the things that bugs me about Duolingo is that the gold circles (indicating that you’ve completed that exercise) stop being gold after a while (as a prompt to make you practice more). I wish Duolingo would let me specify that I use Spanish nearly daily in my job, so that the circles take longer to stop being gold. Having to do the same lessons over and over because Duolingo assumes that I don’t use the language enough to keep the vocabulary fresh can be kind of frustrating.

I’ve also discovered a new tool, Language Zen, which I’m trying out. So far they only have Spanish for English speakers (and their second plan is for English for Spanish speakers), but if the site takes off, they’ll be adding more languages later. It’s a little translation-heavy (they give you sentences in English and you have to write the Spanish for them), which doesn’t do so much to prepare you to speak the language, but it’s hopefully going to broaden my vocabulary.  There’s an odd “less than (number) words need practice” thing in the corner that I haven’t quite been able to figure out yet. I had 60 words at one time, then worked my way down to ten, and now I’m at 255. I can’t wait to figure out what that means. As I worked on this post, I was working on that site and I’m down to 245. Still don’t know 245 words until what, exactly.

There’s also been a change in plans for our bigger 2017 trip. Alex has a friend in California that he wants to meet in person, so we’re going to be going to Southern California for the week. I have been there four times before (and Alex went once as a baby), but, again, the now-ex (who still doesn’t have a pseudonym) has most of our photos from those trips. So I’ll be taking new pictures of those places to replace the ones that I no longer have. I also hope to make it to a few new places (the Queen Mary and Catalina Island, specifically).

*Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.