California Tortoiseshell

At about 5:30, while wandering around St. John’s Cemetery enjoying the first warm spring day, I saw a number of California Tortoiseshell butterflies flying under some live oaks. I tried to count them but they were moving too fast: at least half a dozen, probably more. They were very active, but some of them settled long enough for me to take their photo. I noticed that the edges of their wings were quite worn.

California Tortoiseshells are migratory butterflies. They hibernate in winter in the foothills of the Coast Range — St. John’s Cemetery could be considered in the foothills of the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains . According to Arthur M. Shapiro in Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions: “When they emerge from hibernation in late winter the males are late-afternoon territorial perchers in classic nymphaline style.” Indeed, the butterflies I saw appeared to be patrolling territories, perching in one spot and periodically circling around a small area, sometimes flying at other butterflies in nearby territories.

I went back to the house to get a camera with a better zoom, but by the time I had returned, the sun was almost below the horizon and the butterflies had gone away.

Risk Reduction Resource Kit

Alex, a friend who works at Health Initiatives for Youth (HI4Y) in San Francisco, told me about their Risk Reduction Resource Kits. These kits contain resources to help teens teens learn about sexuality and safer sex. Alex knows about the OWL comprehensive sexuality education program, and has heard me describe our youth programs, and based on that he encouraged me to put in an application for the last remaining Risk Resource Reduction Kit, and Carol and I went in to JI4Y’s offices to pick up the kit on Monday.

The whole point of the kit is that it’s supposed to be placed where teens can access it without adult supervision, to encourage them to explore the materials on their own. The kit was designed to accompany a sexuality education curriculum developed by HI4Y, but be accessible both to teens taking the curriculum and other teens. So for our congregation, it’s a prefect accompaniment to the OWL unit for gr. 10-12; for those taking OWL the kit will reinforce the curriculum; and it can also serve as an educational resource for those not taking OWL.

The Curriculum Subcommittee of our congregation met the day after I picked up the kit, and we devoted the meeting to talking about the kit. The Curriculum Subcommittee has been exploring ways to be more intentional about our congregation’s implicit curriculum, asking ourselves: How can we structure intentional learning opportunities that are not part of the explicit curriculum, the formal educational programs? We agreed that the kit is a solid addition to our implicit curriculum: Not only does it educate teens about specific sexuality topics, it provides a larger lesson that information about sexuality should be easily accessible and shared without shame or guilt.

Beyond educational theory, we also talked about how best to implement this aspect of our implicit curriculum. Alex had warned us that sometimes the kits get forgotten, and stowed in some obscure corner. So we’re going to provide orientation to the kit for key adults (youth advisors, OWL leaders, ministers, and others) to increase the chance that adults will remember to make the kit accessible. In addition, we’re also going to provide a brief orientation to the kit to teens — both to youth group members, and participants in OWL gr. 10-12 — showing them what’s in the kit, and telling them where it will be located. (When we offer OWL for gr. 7-9 next year, we’ll do another orientation.)

But the real strength of the kit is what it contains. HI4Y came up with some excellent youth-friendly resources, including comics, zines, books, and samples — I’m putting a complete list of what’s in the kit below. The materials are housed in a wheeled nylon case, like airline luggage (actually, it’s a scrapbooking case HI4Y bought from Michael’s art supply). A highlight of the kit is contraceptives samples that youth can examine: condoms of course, but also dental dams, female condoms, and lubricant; HI4Y even has some grant money left to replenish samples when they get depleted. There’s both a penis model (made of wood, not plastic!) for trying condoms, and a vulva/vagina model for trying female condoms. We were able to add one very important thing to this kit: our congregation has a ten thousand dollar bequest that we can use to put books in the hands of children and teens, so we are able to provide copies of the book “S.E.X.” by Heather Corinna that youth can take for their own.

We would not have been able to afford to put this kit together ourselves, and we are grateful to HI4Y for writing the grant and assembling the kit, and to the federal government for providing the grant money. Just in case your UU congregation can find the funding, I’m going to provide a complete list of all the resources in the kit below; at the very least, this list of resources might spark ideas for you.

The Risk Reduction Resource Kit (we added the sign at top).

Here’s what’s in the kit:

Birth control samples and examples:
Dental dam samples
Female condom samples
Female Contraceptive Model (to practice inserting female condoms)
Lubricants samples
Male condom samples
Penis model (to practice with male condoms)
IUD model
The Ring model
The Pill model
The Implant info card
Plan B info card
Birth Control Patch info card
“How Well Does Birth Control Work” info card

Home test kits:
Pregnancy test kits
HIV Home Test Kit information (actual kit is stored separately, per instructions from Health Initiatives for Youth)

Handouts and Miscellaneous:
“Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis” handout
Individual Drug Fact Cards (handouts)
Drug Fact Cards set
Chlamydia Plush Toy
HIV Plush Toy
Youth Clinic Youth Guide to San Francisco and Silicon Valley (list of local clinics that serve youth; includes 1-page summary of California law on youth’s right to treatment)
(We also added handouts from the nearest Planned Parenthood Health Center)

Publications:
“Dr. Rad’s Queer Health Show: Self Exams & Check-Ups” zine by Rad Remedy and Isabella Rotman
“You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs” comic zine by Isabella Rotman
“Not on My Watch: Bystander’s Handbook for Prevention of Sexual Violence” comic zine by Isabella Rotman
“100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents” book by Elisabeth Henderson and Nancy Armstrong
“S.E.X.” book by Heather Corinna
“LGBTQ: The Survival Guide” book by Kelly Huegel Madrone
“Birth Control Top Picks” magazine by Bedsider.org

Lichen

Lichen, Parmotrema species

Several of the live oak trees in the older part of St. John’s Cemetery in San Mateo have branches on which grow bluish-gray foliose lichens with ruffled edges lined with black cilia. The thallus appears to be attached to the substrate mostly in the middle, leaving the edges curling up. On some, small round soralia could be seen (a soralium is where a lichen produces soredia, which are small bits of fungal hyphae and phtyobiont that can be released to produce a new lichen).

Lichen, Parmotrema species

After consulting Stephen Sharnoff, A Field Guide to California Lichens (Yal Univ., 2014), I’d place these lichens in the genus Parmotrema; without doing any chemical tests, I’d guess P. arnoldii Powdered Ruffle Lichen, or P. perlatum Common Powder Ruffle.

Buffy Saint-Marie on colonialism

An authorized biography of singer-songwriter Buffy Saint-Marie came out last year; “authorized” means that it was written with Saint-Marie’s cooperation, and it contains lots of quotes by her. Saint-Marie is a Cree Indian from Saskatchewan, who was adopted into a white New England family, and who later reconnected with her birth parents (probably; the records aren’t entirely clear). She quickly became aware of the ways in which the world was exploitative; this exploitation she identifies this as colonialism. Indeigenous people like herself get exploited, but it goes far beyond that:

“Colonialism doesn’t just bleed Indigenous people; eventually, it bleeds everybody except the jerks who are running the racket.”

I would only add that colonialism is related to capitalism; they co-evolved.

Snow

We had periods of heavy rain and hail on Monday, then when the storm passed it got quite chilly. It still felt downright cold, by Bay Area standards, late Tuesday morning when we went out to the car.

We drove down the hill from the cemetery to where there’s a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay. We both exclaimed, “Snow!” The peaks of the mountains on the east side of the Bay were white with snow, from the mountains around Mission Peak (elev. 2,520 ft.) southwards to the mountains around Mt. Hamilton (elev. 4,265 ft.). Since a good portion of Mission Peak range was white, I figured the snow must have come down well below 2,000 feet.

I dropped Carol at work, and drove south to Palo Alto, periodically marveling at the sight of snow when the mountains across the Bay came into view. When I got off the highway and headed west into Palo Alto, I tried to see if Black Mountain (elev. 2,812 ft.) and the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains had snow; but I had to keep my eyes on the road and couldn’t get a clear view. But a page one story in Tuesday’s edition of the San Mateo Daily Journal said that there was indeed snow on the Santa Cruz Mountains:

“The highest elevations in San Mateo county saw snow Monday night…. Snow fell just about everywhere above 1,000 feet Monday, including in parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with temperatures as low as 32 degrees around that area.”

And according to Palo Alto Patch, not only was Page Mill Road in Palo Alto closed Tuesday due to snow and ice, but:

” ‘One spotter in Morgan Hill said he saw snow at 700 feet,’ [National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mahle] said. ‘It started accumulating … at about 1,000 feet.’ “

When I drove to work on Thursday (yesterday), the Hamilton range was still mostly white with snow; I don’t remember the last time snow lasted that long, but it was several years ago. And there is more snow coming Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service:

The latest models bring snow levels down to around 1,500 feet over the North Bay and around 2,000 feet over the Central Coast during the day Sunday.

This is nothing like the polar vortex in the eastern U.S., but it is unusual weather for us.

Skunk skull

A few months ago, I found a dead skunk in a forgotten corner of St. John’s Cemetery; at that time, all that was left was the skin and the skeleton, and of course a faint smell of skunk. The skunk was lying in the midst of a deer trail. I couldn’t figure out how it had died: did a predator such as a raptor or a Bobcat kill it (Carol has seen a small Bobcat near the cemetery)? or did it die in some other manner? Based on what was left of the pelt, I’d say it was a Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis), not a Western Spotted Skunk, the only other species that lives in this area.

Since I first saw the body, the decomposers have been at work, and as the skin withered and decayed, the skeleton has slowly been emerging. Some of the smaller bones are now missing — it looked like Mule Deer have stepped on what’s left of the skunk — but the skull is now clearly visible. Using a stick, I positioned the skull and jawbone so I could see the teeth.

The dental formula for both the Striped Skunk and the Spotted Skunk is: Incisors 3 per side upper / 3 per side lower, Canines 1/1, Premolars 3/3, Molars 1/2, for a total of 34 teeth. This individual was missing one lower right incisor, the lower right canine, and one upper right premolar.

We have seen Striped Skunks wandering around the cemetery at night. In fact, skunks are the primary reason to not go into the cemetery at night: it would be far too easy to stumble across one as it came walking around from behind a gravestone, and the consequences of such a meeting could be unpleasant. Most of us would prefer to run into a ghost than a skunk.

Fungus

It has been a moist winter, and I’ve been seeing quite a few mushrooms walking around San Mateo. Most of the mushrooms I’ve been seeing are small and inconspicuous, but a few days ago I came across a showy large orange fungus in a hidden location. Today I went back and took some photographs:

I feel fairly confident assigning this to genus Gymnopilus, given the large diameter of the cap (6+ inches / 15+ cm), its orangeish color, and the fact that it is growing on decaying wood (a rotting stump that could be either a conifer or deciduous tree). Based on the description in A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America (Kent and Vera B. McKnight, Houghton Mifflin, 1987), and without examining spores under a miscroscope or doing chemical tests, I’ll venture a guess that this is Showy Flamecap (Gymnopilus spectabilus, considered by some to be conspecific with G. junonius); however, this is an uninformed guess on my part, and it could easily be another Gymnopilus species. According to Michael Kuo, “identifying the species of Gymnopilus, in North America anyway, cannot yet be done with scientific accuracy.” (Laura Guzman-Davalos et al. [Mycologia, 95(6), 2003, pp. 1204–1214] found genetic evidence that the spectabilis-imperialis complex represents a clade, but they did not attempt to resolve the distinctions between species within this subgroup of Gymnopilus.) So it’s best to leave the identification as Gymnopilus species.

(Revised on Feb. 4. Written on Jan. 19 and posted on Jan. 25; I held this post for several days, because subspecies of Gymnopilus junonius from the eastern U.S. and Korea may contain psilocybin. I didn’t want some idiot to find this mushroom and, based on my very tentative identification, ingest it hoping for hallucinations. The mushroom in the photographs is now pretty well decayed, so that danger is past.)

Mushrooms

Even though we’ve had less than half the amount of rain we should have received at this point in the rainy season — we’ve only gotten 3.05 inches, while the normal value is 6.52 inches — nevertheless the ground is damp and mushrooms are starting to emerge. Walking around the cemetery this evening, I almost stepped on a small cluster of mushrooms growing up in the middle of the gravel drive close to one of the mausoleums.

Ground-level view of mushrooms with mausoleum in the background

The caps of the mushrooms are about one half to three-quarters of an inch across, and the stipes are a quarter to half an inch tall. I find mushroom identification intimidating, so all I’m willing to say is that this organism probably belongs in the order Agaricales; perhaps it belongs in the family Agariaceae. When the mushrooms get larger (if they don’t get crushed) I’ll try to get some spores to see what color they are.

Air quality

The poor air quality has been getting me down. On Friday, the Air Quality Index was well over 200 in our area — that’s into the “Hazardous” range. I stay in the house as much as I can, and we have a room air purifier running all the time. But of course I have to leave the house to go to work, and to run errands, and when I do go outside it tires me out.

Whine, whine, whine. Yes, the air quality is poor, and my ongoing recovery makes me feel a little more vulnerable. But I’ve got nothing on the rickshaw pullers of Delhi. The poor air quality we’ve had here in the Bay Area for the past week and a half is not much worse than the usual poor air quality in Delhi. Most of the rickshaw pullers live on the street, so they can never go indoors for respite. They may have to work eighteen hour days. They may have inadequate amounts of food. And there is a bitter irony in their situation, according to a rickshaw puller named Himasuddin: “As a rickshaw puller, I hardly contribute to pollution. Ours is a clean way of transportation. But it’s ironic that we are the worst affected from the toxic smog.”

Here in the Bay Area, rain is forecast for later in the week, and that will end our unusual period of hazardous air quality. I will have experienced minor inconvenience for two short weeks. All I can say is, thank God for strict laws against air pollution.

What it looks like when people are really singing

You are unlikely to see people looking like this when they sing hymns at a Unitarian Universalist church:

I took this photo at today’s Sacred Harp singing in Davis, California. Everybody, even the people who are new to this kind of singing, are in full voice, not holding back, letting the song carry them away even if they disagree with the lyrics.

Unitarian Universalists, by contrast, tend to be of three types: Trained Singers, Overly-polite Singers, and Timid Singers. Many of the Trained Signers will be in the choir, and the rest of the congregation defers to them because they have at least some training. The Overly-polite Singers are the inheritors of Lowell Mason’s Better Music Movement, which swept both Unitarians and Universalists in the mid-nineteenth century: this movement expunged American composers and singing styles and replaced them European composers and bel canto singing. The Timid Singers, usually the majority of people at any given Unitarian Unviersalist worship service, having been cowed by the Trained Singers and the Overly-polite Singers, assume they can’t sing.

Sacred Harp singers don’t fit into any of these categories. Sacred Harp singing is an American tradition (there are both black and white versions, but they’re closely related) that does not sound like bel canto singing. Sacred Harp singers may get carried away with the music. Sacred Harp singers know that they should sing as well as they can for every song, even if they don’t like it, so that everyone else sings along on their favorites. Sacred Harp singing is a distinctly egalitarian tradition that says everyone can sing. And Sacred Harp singers let themselves be carried away with the music, as in the photo above.

(There might also be a fourth type of singer in some Unitarian Universalist congregations: the Popular-music Singer. These are the folks who sing along to various types of popular music. They may not read music, but once they hear a song they can generally sing it. They tend to be more egalitarian than the other three types of singer, and they tend to be more passionate singers. However, they are generally outnumbered by the Better Music Movement Singers.)

I wish more Unitarian Universalist congregations sang as if they were being carried away with the music. I wish we were less polite singers. But I suspect that music feels a little too uncontrolled, too irrational: we want to keep it carefully under control.

Below are some videos of faith communities that let their singing get ecstatic. Probably the majority of Unitarian Universalists will find these recordings unpleasant, and disturbingly passionate. Besides, we don’t want to look funny while we sing. That’s who we are; we don’t want to sing like our lives depended on it.

(Just to be clear, on some songs we sing like we mean it out in my own congregation in Palo Alto; we may not have quite the urgency of Sacred Harp singers in full cry, but we’re not too bad!)