Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer Sea Series...#2, Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish are extraordinary creatures!
I have only ever experienced Cuttlefish in the South Pacific on the Great Barrier Reef,
and in various shallow reefs along the shores of New Guinea. 

And while these pictures show a great variety of cuttlefish -
and many of them are standing out beautifully against their environs -
it is actually quite difficult to spot them.
It is even more rare to spot them laying eggs in the wild!

And no matter how many times you read it or see it in a documentary,
seeing a cuttlefish change colors, thrum and vibrate and even change textures is mind-blowing.  
They literally use their cuttlebone to turn from smooth to bumpy (big bumps!) -
bumps that you can feel!
Even better, watching them disappear right in front of your eyes.  

A distinct memory is swimming gently behind a cuttlefish in a shallow reef system in New Guinea.
I was scuba diving with an 80+ year old Australian heart surgeon 
(I could write a book on all my dive experiences with Australians - lovely, crazy, amazing people). 
I was breathing from a tank, so the bubbles made us rather conspicuous.
The cuttlefish was not in a hurry to get away from us, but was taking precautions none-the-less.  
He/She (it's difficult to determine the sex of a cuttlefish without actually seeing them mate/lay eggs)
darted from coral head to coral head, each time instantly changing color and texture to resemble the coral.  
Then it moved on to sea fans, anemones and even sandy tidal bottoms -
each time instantly transforming and "disappearing".  
I have witness many animals under the ocean use their camouflage, including the infamous mimic octopus -
but nothing can impress you like a cuttlefish!
And bonus, they don't have an octopus's reluctant/grumpy demeanor.  

Another distinct memory was being able to witness a cuttlefish lay her eggs.  
It's extremely rare to witness any cephalopod legs,
and when you do get the chance, it requires a delicate approach, patience and a certain amount of awe.  
And if at all possible, do not be witnessing such a miracle with an Australian diver.  ;)
It took everything in me to hold George (surgeon dive buddy) back from manhandling said miracle.  
But I succeeded and it was wondrous and weirdly meditative.  
George spent most of the time being peeved at me.  

I love a good video to share. 
(warning; cuttlefish reproduction and cuttlefish get eaten by the sea's other cutest animal - a dolphin)

I created a little worksheet for your young marine biologistsm
if you want a bit more "schooling" to do on the Cuttlefish.

(click on picture to enlarge and save to your desktop)

Here is a great infographic I found and wanted to share -
just for fun!

Friday, July 17, 2015

cousins, crocodiles and camera phone pics...

Peter Pan is gearing up in Visalia and it is worth racing down to get your tickets immediately!
we spent a couple of days helping a friend construct the crocodile,
and while it was a dirty job (lots of green paint everywhere) -
it was so much fun to watch all of the kids rehearsing and to see the amazing sets.  
and bonus, Charlie came and helped out (snuck into the dress rehearsal) and had a blast.  

and in our spare time we've had lots of cousin time, swimming, friends over and a few sleepovers.  
it's summer and bedtimes are extended and kids are sleeping in.
it's a bit chaotic, yet magical.  
summer at its best. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Sea Series...#1, Nudibranchs

Over 20 years ago, with a set of gear I bought at the Santa Cruz flea market and barely 14 years old,
I ventured into the world of scuba diving, ocean exploration/conservation and marine biology.
That first summer, I attended a Marine Biology Course with the University of Massachusetts,
both back east and in the Cayman Islands,
studying under some of the great scientists in the fields of deep sea exploration,
ecosystems, ecology and marine biology.
(it was a total fluke that I was there, being so it an experiment on their part)
I returned the next summer to work for the camp
as a cook and studied and dove as often as I could squeeze it in.  
From there, I dove when and where I could 
(mostly enjoying the plethora of sea life one finds in the shallows of warm waters)
And in all those years of diving and studying
 that wondrous world that began just below the surface of the water -
I have yet to be more delighted/startled/entertained than I was by the nudibranchs.  

These Sea Slugs (hiss-boo, what a horrid sounding nickname for such a magical creature),
are most typically the size of a tootsie roll or the top two digits of your pinky finger -
keep that in mind as you view the nudibranchs in the pictures above and the video below.  

As can be said of nearly every endeavor I undertook in the ocean, 
New Guinea surpassed nearly every other body of water I had dove in.  
And on my hunt for the nudibranch, I was overwhelmed every time I stumbled across one.  
There are no words to describe the color and pattern and texture of these creatures.  
It's as if they burst from the mind of a painter, of a child, or director -
and even then, it is unimaginable that they exist, that they are alive
and not just a figment of an extraordinary imagination.  

The following video is of a Spanish Dance, one of the larger/largest nudibranchs in the ocean.  
My first experience with this species was on a night dive in New Guinea.  
We were diving an area that was referred to as "the pillars".
On a personal note, I find night diving very difficult and disorienting. 
Short of diving a wreck with concrete walls and floors and ceilings - 
night diving the wall or reefs is overwhelming,
the ocean suddenly seeming thick, inky black and totally consuming.  
Yet, this night, spent training our lights on these undulating beauties
made for one of the more magical dives I have ever done -
all beautiful flamenco ruffles and oranges and reds, delicate pinks and corals
standing in stark contrast to the leeching black of the ocean at night.
To understand the video a bit better it is important to understand a few things -
Spanish Dancers do not make a habit of "dancing" through the water. 
As with most nudibranchs, the Dancers prefer to be solidly sucked onto a surface, eating away.  
The undulations you see are the way the move through the water until they reach a surface again.  
In person, it is possibly the most mesmerizingly beautiful sights of one's life.  
Another thing to note is that the size is rather large -
When unfurled, I would compare it to the size of a dinner plate, but of an oval shape.  
When held, it will easily engulf an adult hand and wrist
and is frequently mistaken for a sponge on the ocean wall. 

I have tried to include some of my own memories and perspective 
to add a more personal touch to the learning process.
Now is a good time to let your children add their own personal touch.  
I created the following sheet as a starter.
(click on form and save from original size)

From here, one can create all sorts of Nudibranch art projects.  
Charlie and I will be making our own nudibranchs with clay this afternoon.  
I would think oil pastels and watercolor are both wonderful mediums
to use for a drawing of a nudibranch.  

Alrighty, enjoy and have fun learning about Nudibranchs.
I will be posting about cuttlefish, dolphins, rays and more this summer. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

growing up...

he's growing or gramma is shrinking -
either way, these two appear to be meeting in the middle.  

how is this even possible?! 

me and my girl...

this is my buddy (twin, as well) for the week.  
we have big plans.  
a lot of them involve cleaning, sorting, donating and tossing -
but she's game for it if it means we get to pretty her room up a bit more.  

we might also spend some afternoons on the couch listening to pandora and reading. 
it will be glorious. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

our evening out at the ranch...

my aunt and uncle still keep up the home ranch.
it's the strangest thing, but stepping foot on the land, that soft billowing dirty -
and i am home.  my heart belongs to that piece of property, the house, the sheds, the horizons.

so any chance i get to head out there, let my kids explore - 
i jump on the opportunity. 
luckily for us, my cousin Lauren is willing to let the kids ride velvet.
she is going to teach the kids horseback riding for the rest of summer -
and double bonus, i get to hang with one of my favorite cousins (i love them all!).

for old time's sake,
we headed to el sarape for dinner.
it was lovely.  
i love that little hole in the wall.  

i know i curse living in the central valley at times,
make joke after joke at it's own expence -
but man, it is home.  

it's the original hometown.  

quiet days around here...

luke is slowly recovering from what we just found out to be pertussis.
it's supposed to go on for weeks more!
and let's mention that he's been vaccinated for this, sigh.

so, in the meantime we are keeping on top of projects.
nick built three more raised beds for the backyard and i have been cleaning and fixing everything in sight.
we even managed to hang more shelves and clean out and file all of the kid's artwork from this last year.  
but no worries there, charlie has been painting and drawing non-stop to fill in the gap,
all the while spending a good deal of time in the fort she made out of her bed with a fitted sheet.
it's pretty cozy.

life is mellow by circumstance,
but we're enjoying movie nights and hanging out and slowing down. 
it kind of doesn't get any better than this - 
especially with kittens running around being cute 
and then collapsing into even cuter piles of cuteness for their naps!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

tis that time of year...

i have long beds on the perimeter of the yard filled with
the few seedlings that took this year.
and now these seedlings have turned into an overwhelming forest of weeping greens and curling leaves.
they grow taller, thicker and more robust as you stare at them
(in wide-eyed wonder)
and yet, they are producing next to nothing. 
except for the cherry and tiny plum tomatoes.
there are so many of them, piles of them, bowls full of them.

but thankfully a blogosphere friend, katie, made me an awesome apron that i use constantly,
especially in the garden.
but bonus, today i discovered a new use for my beloved apron -
it has the perfect pockets for harvesting gagillions of cherry tomatoes (and a few tomatillos for variety)

it was so handy, that i may only grow pocket sized fruits and veggies from here on out.  ;)
how does your garden grow this year?
our hot winter, cool spring and hot summer have done a number on mine -
but i love the process none-the-less and am already planning my fall/winter gardens.