Chrissy got some lefsa through the mail. I have not had that for a long time. For those unfamiliar with the food, it is kind of a tortilla made of potatoes, but it is softer and more absorbent. You can use it most place where you might use bread or rolls. Eat it with butter or use it as a wrap for sausages or cheese.

Land ethic &sky islands

A big fire in 2002 destroyed large areas of forest on the upper slopes of Mount Lemmon. Looking at the results more than ten years later makes you think about how/if/why to help nature.

Mountains in places like southern Arizona are sometimes called “sky islands.” The forest systems on the mountains are different from the surrounding deserts. They are often remnant communities, left over from times thousands of years ago when the climate was much cooler. These island are fragile, both because of their limited extant, which makes it harder to regenerate from remnants, but even more because they are no longer really well adapted to the new climate conditions.

An established ecological community can create and maintain conditions that allow it to continue. That means that an established forest may be able to maintain itself, but would not regenerate on the same place if removed. This is the dilemma of restoration.

The idea that we should “let nature decide” is a little silly. We should seek sustainable systems, not strictly natural ones. When I looked out at the results of the fire I noticed the differences. Nature was not deciding; it was random chance. In some places forests had survived, maybe through a lucky change in wind direction. Here the sky island would remain. In other places the holes were too big. They would change. The forest biome would likely be replaced by a more scrub desert environment. Should we let that happen?

Human action could “restore” the forests to the conditions they had been in before the fire. This would not be the natural result, but it could be a sustainable one. It is more a value choice than a scientific one. Science delineates the boundaries of what CAN be done. We decide what should be done within that. I would advocate restoration.

A land ethic tells us that what improves the biotic community is a good thing. It dictates that we act responsibly and with caution. It implies an iterative process, doing, learning, changing doing better. But it does imply doing something beyond “letting nature decide.”

Barrio Brewery in Tucson

Chrissy and I had a couple beers at the Barrio Brewery in Tucson. The beer and the atmosphere was good. I like it that small breweries are popping up all over. They often do it in the old industrial areas, hard to find. But GPS makes them accessible.

Last Day in Arizona

Weather in Arizona was very much like weather in Virginia at the same time. It rained – pretty hard – as we left Phoenix. The night before, we had supper at San Tan Flats. It was a very 1970s type place, reminded me of my college days parties. Just add 50 years to the party goers.

Measure of a cactus

We stayed with cousin Elise and Carl at their house at Dove Mountain. It is a well planned development with natural areas preserved among the homes. I like the idea of mixing humans and nature. It is good for the human soul & allows for the sustainable preservation of nature when done correctly. The pictures are from the natural areas near their house.
You see my picture with the cactus. Carl saw my picture with my pine trees and liked the idea of the comparison. I have become a unit of measurement. This saguaro looks to be about five matels high.


It is hard for me to accept that there can be a mature forest that does not provide shade, but the saguaros qualify as forest and let most of the sun get to the ground. Saguaros are remarkable organisms. They grow slowly and can reach an age of 200. They grow only in the Sonoran Desert and are well adapted to the limited & seasonal rainfall. They soak up water when they can and save it for the dry times which always follow.

The saguaros take a long time to get established. They often grow under the shelter of mesquites or palo verde trees. Later they return the favor by soaking up much of the water and out competing the nursery trees.

Giant Magallan Telescope

Chrissy, Carl Hankwitz & I went to the Mirror Lab at University of Arizona. Arizona is the leading school for optics in the U.S. The Mirror Lab is making mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).
GMT will be ten times as powerful than Hubble. The problem of looking through earth atmosphere has been addressed with adaptive optics. As the guide said, adaptive optics takes the twinkle out of the stars.
GMT will be assembled in the desert in Chile, which is driest place on earth, so the dry air and lack of clouds will make the telescope even better. GMT is expected to see to the edge of the known universe, as far as only 300 million years after the big bang. More information about the universe will be available in the next decades than in all the previous centuries. The challenge is too MUCH information. Astronomers are developing algorithms to help decide where to look.

Science seems to have a half life of around 25 years. Lots of what we thought we knew turns out to be at least partially wrong. The Hubble was the best and was the ultimate in telescopes. Now we will have one ten times better and this is probably not the end of the line.

The pictures show Chrissy with a model of the GMT. The next is a giant furnace. It melts glass into molds that look like honeycombs. The furnace rotates and forms the lens into a parabola for a mirror that focuses light above the array. The last picture is a polisher, that smooths the lens.

Different biomes

One of the few places where you can drive from Mexico to Canada in about a half hour is Mount Lemmon near Tucson, at least you can pass through the biomes on your way up. As you make the vertical climb, you move from the Sonora Desert environment, through mixed woodland and ponderosa pine and finally get to a mixed pine-fir forest near the top. On the first picture you can see the various biomes lined up
The temperature at the bottom was a comfortable 65 degrees. At the top is was 37 degrees. Chrissy and I rented a convertible so that we could see and feel all the differences on the way and and we kept the top down, admittedly with the heater on, all the way up.