This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Happy Things


How about some happy news for a change? Yesterday my friend Ed visited and we took a two hour hike in Happy Land-- it was an amazingly beautiful day, and while it was hot out in 'civilization,' it was perfect in Happy Land and remarkably and noticeably cooler-- which makes me think that another reason the earth has warmed is because concrete and asphalt has replaced so much of the naturally cooling grass and trees. Duh, right? But somehow one never hears about that-- only about fossil fuels-- a huge culprit, of course, but not as much of a culprit (believe it or not) as methane from cows-- the best thing each one of us can do to arrest global warming is to stop eating red meat. We'll feel better too. (Gosh, another lecture, when this was supposed to be about good news!!)
Anyway the GOOD NEWS is that we saw shitloads (as my brother Mike would say) of Pink Lady Slippers, our most beautiful native orchid. Once we started noticing them they seemed to be everywhere. Here's some info on them. By the way, it is illegal to pick or transplant these beauties in Massachusetts, so keep'a you hands off. (We did see a few stems that looked like they had been picked.)
Pink Lady's Slipper is a very attractive and popular plant because of the strange and beautiful pink flower. It is also rare and needs to be left alone in the few places it is surviving. The plant is actually an orchid with the alternate name of moccasin flower. The plant has two wide basal leaves that stay horizontal and a single stalk growing to about a foot high bearing the pink flower. Transplanting from the wild is strongly discouraged because of the rarity of the plant and the almost nil chances of success. New plants are difficult to start because of the need for symbiotic fungi in supping nutrients to the seed. It takes years for the new plant to develop leaves for supplying its own energy. The plant requires low pH, nutrient poor soil and other special conditions for successful establishment. The various Lady's Slipper species are grown commercially in quantity and plants can be obtained by that means. One of the growers is Vermont Ladyslipper Company, 56 Leduc Road, New Haven, Vermont 05472-1000 (Web site http://www.vtlady slipper.com). The Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) is another species that is occasionally seen in our area.
More Pink Lady Slipper Images
And in more good news, it looks like the whales have found their way home-- yea!!!

SAN FRANCISCO — More than two weeks after they were first spotted far up the Sacramento River, two lost humpback whales appeared to have finally found their way home Wednesday.
Officials said they assumed the pair returned to the open sea, undoing a wrong turn that drew thousands of admirers and a flurry of rescue efforts.
The unpredictable duo, believed to be a mother and calf, were last seen at sunset Tuesday less than 10 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, after they traveled 25 miles southwest from another busy bridge. The convoy of boats that accompanied them across the bay to keep traffic at a distance abandoned their escort service when it got dark.
Officials believe the whales slipped out of San Francisco Bay to the open sea late Tuesday or early Wednesday, when no one was watching.

"With no confirmed sighting in the bay, we feel confident that it is highly likely that the animals are outside the Golden Gate," said Scott Hill, a division manager for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
To make sure the whales did not take another wrong turn, two government boats were launched Wednesday morning to look for them in the Pacific Ocean. Rescuers planned to rely on reports from commercial vessels and Coast Guard patrols to determine whether the humpbacks still were in the bay.
As the afternoon wore on, producing only a false sighting of two gray whales, officials grew increasingly confident that the humpbacks, which were injured by a boat during their two-week sojourn inland, were on the move and made plans to stop searching for them.
Marine scientists said Wednesday that although they will never know why the pair swam 90 miles inland, the intensive operation to rescue the humpbacks yielded valuable information about the endangered species. It was the first time the same humpbacks were studied in the wild for so long, according to Bernadette Fees, deputy director of the California Department of Fish and Game.
The information scientists gathered includes sound recordings, logs of their behavior and tissue samples from both the mother and calf, which will be analyzed to determine whether they come from a pod of whales that travel between Mexico and California.
"All those things are very hard to get. So what we are doing is filling up the knowledge bank on humpback whales in the wild," said Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the nonprofit Marine Mammal Center, a private scientific and rescue organization. The experience also could prove helpful in approaching other stranded whales, he said.
After the whales were spotted near Sacramento on May 13, officials spent days trying to goad them back to the ocean, playing recordings of other whales, surrounding them with boats, blasting the water near them with fire hoses and banging on metal pipes dangling beneath the water.
Those involved in the rescue effort said they did not know whether the various methods had hastened the whales' exit or hindered it. But they speculated Wednesday that antibiotics given to the whales on Saturday to try to slow the damage from their wounds may have marked a turning point, since the pair began their hasty retreat from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta after that.
"What we ultimately came away with is that many of the techniques had some effect, but none of them could make a whale go in a direction it did not want to go," said John Calambokidis, a scientist with the nonprofit Cascadia Research Collective.
Biologists said the saltier water where the mother humpback whale and her calf had been swimming since leaving the delta helped reverse some of the health problems caused by long exposure to fresh water.
Officials were unsure how much was spent on the rescue efforts, but they insisted the expenditures of time and money were justified, if not required under wildlife protection laws.
"We certainly have a moral obligation as the agency assigned to protect them to do everything practical to get them safely into their natural habitat," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Biologists originally had planned to attach a satellite tracking tag to the mother humpback, but gusty winds and malfunctioning equipment stymied them. Distinct markings on both whales' tails were photographed so they could be identified in the future, Fees said.
They might even make another inland trip someday. Humphrey, a humpback that famously strayed into San Francisco Bay in 1985, reappeared there five years later.
"If we learned anything about these two, it is that they will do what they do when they want to do it," Fees said.
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