Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Molokai-Day 3 (Finally!)

Well, it only took me a year-and-a-half, but here it is.  You may recall that back in November, 2009, I took a promotional trip to Moloka'i, which was generously supported by Hotel Moloka'i, which provided us with free accommodations.  I told you about Day 1 of our trip (which was mostly getting settled into the island and its mellow vibe) and Day 2 (which included lots of activities and the cutest dog on the planet), and I have been promising to tell you about my favorite part, Day 3, ever since.  Luckily for you, since it has been so long, I don't remember a lot of details, so this will probably be more pictures and less words. (In fact, this is an extremely photo-heavy post.)

We got up early on Day 3 to meet up with Bill, our Nature Conservancy volunteer guide.  Bill would take us on some wild four-wheel-drive roads and into the beautiful Kamakou Preserve, which consists of over 2,700 acres of beautiful rain forest and something I had never even heard of before, a mountain bog.  The end of the hike brings you to a valley overlook that is breathtaking.  So, let's begin!

On the way up to the trail, we stopped by this pit in the ground.  It doesn't look like much, but it had some fascinating history behind it regarding the sandalwood trade.  Be sure to ask your guide about it.  

Another stop along the way provided us with a beautiful valley view and a sort of preview of what was awaiting us at the end of the trail.

Finally, we made it to the boardwalk that marks the trail through the preserve.  Wow!  This is much tinier than what I had in mind!  
See the metal grid tucked behind this cool plant?  Notice how it is almost the width of the foot that is standing cross-wise on it?  Yeah, tiny.  

We walked through a lot of rain forest and saw many cool plants, like these:

Luckily, the tiny boardwalk did open up in some spots, like when we finally reached the bog area, which was beautiful, but nothing like I thought it would be.  It was a spectacularly open view and not at all full of swamp monsters and bog mummies like I was expecting. 

(Hikers, not bog mummies)

Our guide, Bill (also not a bog mummy)

There were still some cool plants tucked in to these wide open spaces, like this ohia... 

and whatever this is:

Pretty soon, it was back into the rain forest.


And Dr. Seuss-y.

Finally, we reached the end of the trail and we were blessed with a break in the clouds for a beautiful, sunny view of the many peaks and valleys surrounding us.  It's so hard to capture, but this was truly breath-taking.  

After a nice break for lunch, it was time to head back into the jungle and prepare to return home.

I'm in there somewhere!

After this experience, I can't say enough good things about The Nature Conservancy or our guide, Bill.  He was full of information about the history of Moloka'i, gave us tons of information about the plants that  we saw on our hike, and even gave us a reading list in case we wanted to follow-up on our education.  

Funding is being cut everywhere these days, and organizations like The Nature Conservancy are going to become more and more reliant on private donations.  Please consider supporting them in any way you can.  Even if you can't donate, you can volunteer or even visit one of their projects and spread the word about your experience.  I would love for everyone to be able to come to Hawai'i and experience the beauty here, but The Nature Conservancy is active in all 50 states and over 30 countries, so even if you can't come to Hawai'i, you can probably find something close to home that will give you a whole new appreciation for the place you live. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-March 2011

For once this will be a timely post, but only because I took all of my pictures yesterday in anticipation of possibly having to serve jury duty today.  Luckily, I do not have to report for jury duty today, but I will have to call back in two weeks and check on my status then.  Wish me luck.  For now, here is what I have blooming in my garden.

I have 10 or 12 pots on top of my rock wall, and the only things blooming in any of them right now are these volunteer snapdragons.  I don't know where they came from, but I'm glad they're here!

In a different set of pots, my plumeria is making a rare appearance.  I like that you can see the buds in all different stages here.

March must be the all-phases-go! month for flowers because my lily (Crinum asiaticum) has all stages of flowers too.
From bud...

to just breaking free...

to almost past their prime...

to done blooming and gone to seed.

My Golden Shrimp Plant (Pachystachys lutea) is in various phases of sticking its tongue out.

My lantana has some barely-there, pillow-shaped buds and some full-blown golden blooms that remind me of some kind of candy.

I couldn't get my Giant Bird of Paradise all in one shot.  I had to take this side...

and then go around the back for the other side. Sorry it looks a little drooly--maybe it's teething.

Behaving in a much more orderly fashion are my chives...although, now that I think about it, half of them have gone to seed as well.  Sorry, it's 2:30 in the morning--I'm not going back outside for those shots.  They're not that impressive anyway.

This really is all that's happening on my orchid, Den. Pam Tajima (atroviolaceum 'Pygmy' x eximium).

My Blue Daze (Evolvus glomeratus) has a fair amount going on as well, but that's more of an opening-and-closing-throughout-the-day type thing than a stages-of-development type thing.

I hope you've enjoyed seeing my garden in all it's various stages today.  To see what else is blooming around the world, please visit our Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day host, Carol, at May Dreams Gardens.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Progression Obsession-Puakenikeni

You all know how much I like watching plants grow, which, despite how it sounds, is actually more exciting than watching paint dry.  So far, I've only focused on the more dramatic changes-extreme Amaryllis growth, total color changes throughout a day, etc.  I figured that wasn't entirely fair--just because you aren't a drama queen doesn't mean you don't deserve some attention too--so I decided to turn my attention to other things in my yard.  Today, we are looking at the Puakenikeni, which, oddly enough appears in the Urban Dictionary, so I'm going to send you there to read more.  Also, I'm using this flower anatomy chart and my limited knowledge of plant reproduction for reference.  If anyone sees any glaring errors in my explanations below, please feel free to correct me.

2/20 8:11AM
Here we see a stigma surrounded by five anthers in the center of the flower. 

2/20 3:31PM
The stigma has opened up and the anthers appear to be withering.  I'm not sure if this means that fertilization has occurred or that fertilization was anticipated but never occurred.  The color has also begun to fade from cream to orange.  

2/21 2:04PM
Stigma has opened up and/or enlarged more, anthers withering further.  Insect (syrphid fly?) makes a cameo appearance.

2/22 3:52PM
Flower has gone home, taken down its hair, washed off its make-up, and put on its sweat pants.

Unfortunately, I stopped documenting things at this point because that was the end of the flower's changes.  As I was putting this post together though, I realized that I should have kept following to see what happened next.  So, I went back outside, but as far as I can tell, this particular blossom and all its accompanying parts has fallen off the tree.  Maybe this is because fertilization did not occur after all, or maybe it was more of a drama queen than I thought and as soon as the paparazzi went away, it decided it just wasn't worth the effort any more.  Thankfully, it has some neighbors who were willing to pick up where it left off.  So, we'll pick up the story with these two orange flowers, which appear to be a day or two beyond the one above.

In an effort to speed things along and complete this post today, I plucked off the flower on the left.  Here is what remains:

Here you can see the orange stigma attached to the long style, attached to the ovary.  As long as this doesn't fall off the tree, it will grow into a little green fruit like this:

Then it will turn orange, shrivel up, and eventually end up as debris on my lawn.  I don't have any pretty, ripe orange phases to show you, so we are going straight to shriveled up orange.  As far as I know the fruits are inedible.  I don't know if they are poisonous or simply not worth eating, but as much as I love you all, I'm not willing to do a taste test to find out.  

So, there you have it, the life cycle of a Puakenikeni flower. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What I'm Reading Now-Ape House

Ape House: A NovelApe House by Sara Gruen-I inadvertently reserved the large print version of this from my library.  Something that I noticed while reading was that there is a lot of bold print in this story, which is something I never thought about before, but when was the last time you read a novel that was full of bold type?  I would have never thought about its absence before, but faced with its presence, I thought it was kind of weird.  I figure that this is probably in lieu of italics which, I'm assuming, would be harder to read for someone who requires large print in the first place.  I always assumed the only difference between large print and regular print was the size of the print.  Who knew?

So, Ape House revolves around Isabel, a woman who works with bonobos in a language lab, studying their ability to communicate, and John, a reporter who is doing a story on them.  The language lab is bombed, Isabel is injured, and the bonobos go missing.  Isabel is beyond distraught because to her the bonobos are family and she is afraid that they may have been sold to a medical lab.  John's initial meeting with both Isabel and the apes has hooked him enough to kick his journalistic prowess into high gear, even after losing the story to a rival journalist.  The whereabouts of the apes is eventually determined, and although they aren't in a medical lab, it's clear that whoever is in control of them does not have their best interests in mind.

There were several things I liked about this book.  The first is that it is by the same author who wrote Water for Elephants, which I loved.  The next is this set of quotes at the beginning of the book:

Give orange give me eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you.

Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme more.

I'm not sure who comes out looking worse here, but I think it's a funny comparison.  (Nim Chimpsky was a chimpanzee who was raised in a human family in the '70s as part of an experiment to see if chimps could learn sign language.  His name is a play on Noam Chomsky, an MIT linguist.  You can read more about Nim in this NPR article which also includes an excerpt of the book Nim Chimpsky:  The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess.)

Something that I found interesting was that this is the first book that I've read that I felt handled modern-day communication as a matter-of-fact, embedded part of life.  John didn't insist on sitting down in front of his favorite typewriter to bang out his stories, he didn't rely on the neighborhood kids to help him figure out his darned confusing cell phone.  His publisher sent read receipts, he and his wife used text speak, and there was no assumption that the reader might not be tech-savvy enough to understand what was going on.  I guess a lot of the books I read are not necessarily set in the present day, so maybe authors have been getting it right for a while now, and I just haven't noticed because I was busy cursing out my darned confusing cell phone.  So, am I just late to the game, or has anyone else noticed this shift in modern-day fiction?  

Now that I've got all the little stuff out of the way, the thing that I liked most about this book (aside from the fact that it has a dog named Booger in it) is that it is based on reality.  It would be an interesting story on its own--apes who are able to communicate in a meaningful way with humans--but the fact that it's based in reality makes it fascinating.  John's experience visiting the language lab is based largely on the author's experience visiting the Great Ape Trust.  Not only did Sara Gruen have to receive approval from the personnel, but from the apes as well.  If they didn't give their approval, she was not going to be allowed in to visit them.  Lucky for her, they saw something in her they liked (possibly the back packs filled with goodies like M&Ms and Mr. Potato Heads that she brought with her) and she was granted access.  In the Author's Note, Gruen says:
The experience was astonishing--to this day I cannot think about it without getting goose bumps.  You cannot have a two-way conversation with a great ape, or even just look one straight in the eye, close up, without coming away changed.  I stayed until the end of the day, when I practically had to be dragged out, because I was having so much fun.  I was told that the next day Panbanisha said to one of the scientists, "Where's Sara?  Build her nest.  When's she coming back?"  

In this video Gruen talks more about her experience. You can learn more about Panbanisha and Kanzi and the lexigrams they use to communicate at the Great Ape Trust's web site.

On the surface, this book is just a good story about an interesting topic, but it leads to some difficult moral and ethical questions in the long run.  Language has long been a clear delineator between humans and animals--humans have it, animals don't.  Not only does it help define us, but it helps define us as superior.  The more we learn about great apes and their ability to communicate, in human terms no less, the fuzzier this line becomes.  If we can liken an ape's comprehension of spoken language to that of a two-and-a-half-year-old human child...then what?  We would never consider exposing a human infant to radiation and then locking it in a cage to study the effects--that would be cruel.  I think most people have now accepted apes as close enough to humans that we would be outraged at the idea of doing the same to them, but is being less-close-to-human really the appropriate deciding factor?

What about monkeys?  I don't know where they fall on the spoken-language-comprehension scale, but presumably NASA considered them far enough removed from us to feel OK about subjecting them to such experiments as recently as last year.  As it turns out, enough other people did not feel OK about this that NASA has since changed it's mind.  That's great for the monkeys, but does that mean that we just keep moving down the scale of sentient beings until we find something that can't articulate its suffering?  Just because an animal can't tell us, in our words, how terrible something is, does that mean the experience isn't terrible?    

I'm not trying to sermonize here or tell people how to think; I'm not anti-NASA, and I'm not pro-PETA, but I think humans have a long way to go in realizing that just because something doesn't use our words, it doesn't deprive them of experience, it just means they can't tell us about it.  Heck, I can think of a lot of people who use a lot of our words whom I would gladly volunteer for medical studies ahead of an animal who doesn't.  Maybe then they could put some of their words to good use.

I realize that bringing up things like animal communication, medical experiments, and PETA all in one post opens the door right up for some emotional responses.  Comments are welcome and encouraged, but anyone who can't use their words like a civilized human, or any other great ape for that matter, will be neither welcome nor encouraged.  Please note, comments from any actual non-human great apes will be widely shared with everyone I know.  I'm just sayin'.