Saturday, September 27, 2008

Residential Evil

So we have a pretty nice flower garden out front that is slowly beginning to see some age. This past weekend I noticed our "bee" population was experiencing what seemed to be a late season boom. Boogy was trying to catch some but ended up getting stung twice. I also noticed that his activities seemed to attract more...something suspicious was going on with these bees. Upon closer observation and after being attacked at the breakfast table I realized that the offending bees were in fact Yellow jackets. Yellow jackets I usually don't have too much of a problem with, but these guys were being down right pushy and really disrupting the peace and karma in the yard around the house. The chickens did a great job of making short work of the ones in the back but there were just too many. I guess it's just swarm season or something, but when I got stung taking a load of compost across the street to our was on. I gradually determined the location of the nest (easiest during the day) and commenced with operation "Shock and Flame". This operation involved a night ops component and night stalk commando tactics to defeat the enemy. I found the entrance which to my surprise was about the size of a fist. Now the fun part... Steps to vanquish yellow jackets:

1. Apply Gasoline- with a low vapor pressure and lightweight liquid form it does a pretty good job penetrating soil. (2 Cups)

2. Let stand 3-5 minutes- This is the hardest step because it involves waiting with fire in your hand to apply to the gas, but it is necessary. The gas slowly soaks into the hive and the vapors at the entrance begin to overcome the enemy.

3. Apply fire- This is the tricky step. By now there are most certainly some pissed off soldiers in the air. If you turn on your light too long they will seek you out and sting you at night. So you very quickly light a paper towel on a shovel and slide it to the entrance and run like hell. Soldiers in the air are vaporized as well as ground troops trying to escape the vapor of the nest. The most satisfying part about all this is if you've done it correctly every jacket in the next will be dead or severely incapacitated for the final counter attack to come. The burning gas burns the bastards outside the nest and the burning gas in the outer tunnels of the nest effectively pull all the oxygen from it suffocating all the workers inside. Turning over the surface soil for about 5-10 minutes will ensure a good enough burn to dispatch the nest, in most cases.

4. Kill ALL survivors- Dig the nest up slowly making sure you got the oxygen out of every compartment. The air exchange can be a big issue for hives, so odds are everyone is crawling for oxygen on the verge or gone. In any case they will be lethargic and once you see the hive it's time to do a secondary burn to make sure there are no survivors. Dig up the rest of the nest and spread the contents out around on the ground. The birds will take care of the rest at first light the following day. Check over the next few days to see that there wasn't a sub nest or another portion to the original one. Visual of the queen usually gives me good affirmation that the job is done. She'll be in the middle of the hive well protected, but she's noticeably larger than the dudes that serve her.

Yellow jackets love to build subterranean nests around old stumps and particularly underground rocks which ad a bit of security to their nests. This nest was bigger than I had anticipated (About the size of a regulation NFL ball) and they had quite the assemblage of soldiers on the inside.

The initial dig is where the likelihood of night time stinging is greatest.
The Hive

More Hive and Grubs.

An extinguished worker chamber.

How to cook a wallet...

So it’s been busy over the past few weekends and with teaching and school I’ve been swamped. With those excuses I’ll get back to it. Re-cap from the past 2 weeks. Went and volunteered as the wheel truck for a road race in Oak Ridge the weekend of the 6th with Derek.

This Be How I role...

Our View for the next 2 hours of racing...

It was neat watching the races fold from behind and gave me a new perspective on how they work. My volunteer efforts would not go unrewarded however...

Abby and I had planed our anniversary dinner for this night since we were visiting family on the 1st. As it turns out I was supposed to be home around 4 and ended up getting there about 7:15. Needless to say tensions were already high at the Chandler residence. Tycho Derek’s Dog is a tricky little Russian and managed to get into the chicken pen and mutilate but not kill one of the barred rocks.

The Damage

Well this combined with my extremely late arrival in the evening made for a tense period between me getting ready for dinner and getting out the door. As I hopped into the car I asked if the keys were there and was met with a blank yet annoyed stare. I ran back to the house, unlocked it and ran inside to get the keys. Somehow when I was in the kitchen I had to frame of mind to remember we have had several robberies in the past few weeks in the neighborhood. This is where the trouble started I decided I had to get the wallet out of sight from the window, so I threw it in the oven. Now I know what you’re thinking, but it was a dark out of sight place and I thought for sure a burglar would not look there. I mean common how many times does a guy break into a house and say man let’s check the oven for the mother load stash? Anyways so dinner ad the rest of the evening went off without a hitch and everything was fine and dandy.

The next morning I got up fully intending to bake Abby breakfast in bed. I went to the kitchen and turned the oven to preheat at 400 deg. As I walked to the bathroom to take a leak I felt something warm at my feet (and in between my toes). To my horror Boogy had had the worst case of diarrhea I have ever seen mixed with some paste like stool. Retracing the night’s events I seemed to remember hearing some scratching and little bit of whining but I thought surely Boogy just wanted to go outside and look for a cat that had crossed out yard. Not the case. And even though it was an absolute mess I couldn’t help but laugh at the presence of a single paw and poo streak that was left on the back door. It was as if his last act of desperation were in vain. At least he has the decency to go in bathroom where it was easy to clean.

As I was down on my knees doing the Cinderella an unfamiliar odor began to fill my nostrils. That’s when I knew what it was. I ran for the oven opened it and found a cloud of smoke, which quickly enveloped the kitchen and promptly activated the smoke alarm. Thinking only of what was to come I reached for the smoking hot wallet and threw it across the kitchen towards the sink. Of course I missed and the contents went sailing everywhere leaving tracer smokes trails as they evenly coated a kitchen already engulfed in haze. A further check of the area revealed no fire but a burning sensation in my hand let me know that the zipper on her wallet was in fact metal and had been heated to approximately 400 degrees. It toasted my thumb and index finger on my right hand and I knew that our planned ride for later in the day was going to hurt as I shifted.
Serve with white wine and many apologies.

All the commotion between Boogy and the oven awoke Abby who came down and promptly began to laugh at the situation. Me distraught with poop and burns on me must have made for a good wake up call. Anyways I was informed the wallet was old and it was ok since it was a good marshal’s purchase. I was informed if it had been Abby’s Italian leather purse her host mom over there had given her in high school, we would be on much rockier ground now. Thank god for that. The rest of the weekend went off without a hitch and I was glad for that.

The following weekend got a lot of yard work and house work done, mixed in with some school and riding. I was able to finally get my screech owl box up and I’m looking forward to having some tenants in the near future, as Concord has a good population of its own.

The Concord Penthouse complete with backyard flight path and view.

We had screech owls at home when I was in high school and they're super neat. They're vocal and aren't as weary as some other species of humans so sometimes you can throw (scraps) out in the yard and feed them. So hopefully they will like my new placing and move in.

Also been finding some neat end of season spider of unusual size in the garden.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Rewind...Day 4 Honeymoon

Headed to Tower campground, one of my favorites in Yellowstone. Nestled alongside a mountain stream in a high valley and subject to cool breezes, it was absolutely perfect.

Home sweet home complete with man made door mat.

We hard boiled some eggs for breakfast.

This is where you see a lot of buffalo in the park.

Werd up Buff Da Billz.

We got our first dose of many thermal features of the park on the way at Mud Geyser basin.

Mud Geyser

Sulfur smells dominated the air here. (Who farted?)

Dragon's Tongue Spring

A Small mud pot with microbes all around the rim.

This sign constantly reminded us what happened to poor little Timmy, and that being scalded to death like a few people are every year hurts.

Lots of pigments in the guys growing around the springs area.

The walks in Yellowstone are constantly being destroyed by thermal movements, but at least lumber isn't in short supply here.

We set up got ice and supplies for the day and then headed off for our next round of adventure. We decided to hike Mt Washburn from Dunraven Pass. We decided on this route because it seemed that the switchback offered would afford a good view as the climbing was steep and the land would drop below us. Also our original intention to get a little extra mileage out of this out and back, and at 3.1 miles would be our first good test of hiking at altitude. The trail from Dunraven pass was actually an old road grade that in places had progressed to more of a single track hike.

Right from the paring lot this hike reminds you that the grade will be constantly going up.

Up a small valley and Washburn is on the upper right.

Looking back down on where we hiked from steeper terrain.

The final 1/2 mile of trail traverses a very cool spine, somehow like 50 years ago they were able to pave sections of this road. Landslides forced them to make another road up the back of the mtn with a much friendlier grade, so this road is progressively falling off the mountainside.

The horse flies were absolutely awful until about 9500 ft where I was hoping they all asphyxiated and dropped dead. They were slow though so the competition between Abby and I to rack up the insect body count raged on till we were clear of the pesky little buggers.

As we hiked up through the high alpine meadows there were huge beautiful fields of flowers that seemed to stretch endlessly through the valley.

Lots of these yellow guys.

Some blue guys.

Lichens, symbiotic associations of a fungus (the mycobiont) with a photosynthetic partner (the photobiont), grow everywhere even at the top of the mtn these guys were doing just fine.

More flower power.

As we got higher, the occasional rock escarpments gave us breath taking views of the land below to our south, and leftover snow pack was fun to play around in. At the top we toured one of the only actively manned fire towers still in Yellowstone, noting several formation on maps there on our horizon and the big forest fire itself.

These two are for you Dave.

Yes we did take one without sunglasses (for the grandmothers) but we thought this one was cooler.

The southeast edge of the fire.

We learned the ranger lived up there none stop for 3.5 months of the year in between snows and was restocked every two weeks. His abode on top of the tower was packed with many comforts of home to keep him from getting lonely and the daily visitors I think helped cure that as well. Being the geek I was I asked him about some of the equipment he ran and got some good explanations about some of the things’ functions that remained mysterious to me. After a little convincing, which I don’t know how I did it, I was able to get Abby to concede to hike off the backside of the mtn to the road on the other side, with the prospect of hitch hiking back up to Dunraven Pass.

Last year was a record snow year so there was still a lot of snow. Notice the red color in this snow.

The color is caused by a red pigmented cyanobacteria that lives on receding Alpine snows and glaciers. Sometimes refered to as "watermelon snow"

The barron back slope.

Looking back up the ridge you can see the tower and a snow field.

If the forest is going to ever grow back here, it's taking its sweet merry time. There were no young saplings to be seen anywhere.

It was a little shorter to the parking area on this side of the mtn but the terrain was much different. Where there was high alpine forest on the other side this side had only high altitude meadows that stretched quite some distance. Some small groves of trees burnt out as a testament to the fires that swept through here some time ago. Here were pummeled by the sun’s full force in the open as well as winds whipping across the open ridgeline. We arrived at the parking area to find that we had another good mile to go before we hit the main road. This is where the fun began. Hitch hiking is hard, and we tried in vain for 45 min to get a ride as we walked down the improved gravel road. After the first few min I looked back to find Abby just stopping and smiling at cars as they went by and I had to explain the whole thumb thing to her. We tried hiking with her in front of me and back but it seemed people would have none of the two sketchy figures on the side of the road. After making it back to the road I prepared myself for what I thought would be the inevitable 6 mile hike by me to Dunraven Pass to get the Van. We found a pullout for a scenic overlook about ½ mile up the road and made on last ditch effort to get a ride. Finally! College girls and ecology grad students doing research at that, stopped to give us a ride and we couldn’t have been more thankful, as our dogs were barking by now. We had a brief "nature geek out session" in the 15 min drive back to the pass. Abby learned that her shoes did not fit well and that when you feel a hot spot you need to stop. Her reward for trudging through the heat and pain on her foot was a nice fat blister I feared would derail our plans for more day hikes and possibly the summit attempt on Grand Teton the following week. After we found our way to the car we drove to "THE GRAND CANYON" (of Yellowstone) to check out Yellowstone falls via the Uncle Tom Trail, with lots of steps and people freaking out about the heights everywhere.

An awkward pose on a busy platform.

Yellowstone Falls

And again from Artist Point. (we never seemed to hit any light right for the fals we hiked to)

70 down 500 to go.

Abby and I were tired but it was nice to see people that had gotten off a tour bus suffering for a change instead of us with close to 10 miles of hiking for the day. (which we found to be a lot if you hike this amount in sucession several days in a row) At Artist Point we got another good view of the falls and ran into our first tour bus crowd so this visit was brief and we were missing the slopes of a much less populated Mt.Washburn. We stopped at Upper falls picnic ground at the end of the day as the Sun was starting to go down to find it completely deserted…perfect. We took our solar shower and behind the latrine was a tree perfectly suited for a solar shower rinse. After our showers we decided we would treat ourselves so we went back to the canyon village and ordered some huge American Burgers with fries and indulged our appetites. Abby also got a 5 dollar shake much like the one from Pulp Fiction but I only got one sip of that thing before it was destroyed so all I can say is it was pretty good. We met a couple from western Mass at the bar and talked a bit. I did not envy their crowed hotel where they were staying all week and having to drive vast distances. We ended up missing the wolf ranger program at Tower that evening but the burgers were worth it and we own "In the Valley of the wolves" we purchased from PBS last year.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Wow I've been married and year and it's flown by. The wife and I celebrated our weekend at my old stomping grounds back in East TN mtns, accented by road rides with the parental units and mtn rides on some sick trails. My dad in his creative age has decided the vacant lot next to our house had enough room, and has accommodated it with some "house mtn bike trails" which we gladly helped pack down. It's pretty awesome to walk out the back door and ride 100 feet to single track. It wasn't a lot of distance but it definitely has some technically challenging terrain. If nothing else it's a great proving ground to go test out the limits of your equipment and riding style.

Recap on the past weeks happenings...

I ordered some stainless steel fenders with the hope that they would last longer than the two pairs of plastic guys that failed the fatigue of commuting test. The bling value is high but I've also learned that looking into them in the morning sun can be blinding.

Oddly enough the day before they arrived I found an almost complete set of drill bits on the side of the road and claimed my first real commuter prime' in quite some time.

A Colorado LIZZY visits and stirs up trouble in west Knoxville.

Tycho teaches Boogs about planetary motion and how to use G forces to do battle.

Oh...and our chickens started laying eggs the day after we returned from our honeymoon! We're looking forward to some consistent egg laying (size and periodicity of laying) in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for news on the Chandler farm egg bidness.