Sunday, October 19, 2008

Prebiotic Happenings, Ponder in Awe, Positive Planning, and Peace at 8450 Feet (I'm the drug!)

When I came across this, the muscles in my legs twitched a bit, as if about to pounce in a giddy fit.
Like nearly everything in regards to these subjects, nothing is conclusive and of 100 percent certainty, but it is nonetheless fascinating. The very CREATION of no less than 22 amino acids, all with just a few basic elements and compounds and an electrical charge(in just over 50 years, no less!)
Have you ever heard someone make fun of the "primordial soup" postulation because of its implausibility? ..."You mean to tell me, that you honestly believe that life can come about in some ooozzeee?? Nope, not me!" Well, here you go buddy.

After recently finishing a John Muir compilation, I was at a loss for what to read next. So I went to the library on Friday and I picked up Steinbeck's East Of Eden and E.O. Wilson's Biophilia. I started Biophilia last night and am already very pleased. Wilson, like Muir, has an amazing ability to make the reader appreciate whatever it is that he is writing about. In Wilson's case, a very large portion of his writings are based on the MASSIVE amounts of research he has done on ants (see: The Ants by Bert Holldobler and Wilson. THE definitive book on ants). He spent years studying them all over the world, but spent the majority of that time in the tropics, and made some pretty amazing discoveries in the process. He has written a host of books, won two Pulitzer prizes(including one for The Ants) and a National Medal of Science, among other awards and many other achievements. A very interesting and inspiring fellow.

Anyway, while lazily reading on the deck in the my back yard(in between constantly having a tennis ball dropped in my lap by my Doberman), I was amazed by two brief sections in the very first chapter, one regarding so-called "hitchhiker" ants and the other about the "waggle dance" of the honeybee. I could summarize these, but I think that the awe and appreciation I felt after reading both sections was aided by his presentation. How Amazing This World Continues To Be...Each Mystery Unfurling, Only To Reveal Another Dozen...

...Consider a column of ants running across the floor of a South American forest. Riding on the backs of some of the foragers are minute workers of the kind usually confined to duties within the underground nursery chambers. the full significance of hitchhiking is problematic, but at the very least the act helps to protect the colony against parasites. Tiny flies, members of the family Phoridae, hover above the running foragers. From time to time a fly dives down to thrust an egg into the neck of one of them. Later the egg hatches into a maggot that burrows deeper into the ant's body. The maggot grows rapidly, transforms into a pupa, and eventually erupts through the cuticle as an adult fly to restart the lift cycle. The divebombers find the runners easy targets when they are burdened with a fragment of food. But when one also carries a hitchhiker, the smaller ant is able to chase the intruder away with its jaws and legs. It serves as a living fly whisk.

And the Honeybee account...

...The waggle dance discovered by [Karl] von Frisch, the tail-wagging movement performed inside the hive to inform nestmates of the location of newly discovered flower patches and nest sites. The dance is the closest approach known in the animal kingdom to a true symbolic language(emphasis added). Over and over again the bee traces a short line on the vertical surface of the comb, while sister workers crowd in close behind. To return to the start of the line, the bee loops back first to the left and then to the right and so produces a figure-eight. The center line contains the message. Its length symbolically represents the distance from the hive to the goal, and its angle away from a line drawn straight up on the comb, in other words away from twelve o'clock, represents the angle to follow right or left of the sun when leaving the hive. If the bee dances straight up the surface of the comb, she is telling the others to fly toward the sun. If she dances ten degrees to the right, she causes them to go ten degrees right of the sun. Using such directions alone, the members of the hive are able to harvest nectar and pollen from flowers three miles or more from the hive.
I had always heard of this "dance'' but had no idea how advanced it was. Amazing, isn't it?

Equally amazing is how much my legs freaking HURT after my bike ride on Thursday. DAMN YOU LACTIC ACID!!!! I laid awake in bed far later than I should have, but in my agony-ridden writhing and constant inward thoughts of "why the hell didn't you stretch after wards?!?" I pondered my plans for the next few years, and think I finally came to a comfortable consensus(between myself and myself) about my future...well, at least the future that resides in my RISKY DANGEROUS CARELESS twenties.

By the Fall of 09'- Get back to Sac State and finish that freaking Chemistry class so you can finally get started on the really fun biology classes and focus on finding your niche. Herpetology, Ichthyology, Ornithology, Evolution and Ecology, etc etc...
Fall of 11 or (please please Vishnu please) by the spring of 12', graduate from CSUS with my degree in Biological Conservation. I'm enjoying the school experience and I'm in no particular rush to finish, as I really enjoy taking classes and learning new things even if they don't apply to my field...but come on man, it's time to work toward an end-point!
Within about 9 months of graduation- Have about 1/4-1/2 of your student debt paid off
Within one year of graduation(by the summer of 2013)-PEACE CORPS!!!!!!!!!!!
Late 2015- Come back to a whole new world with whole new eyes, and start life all over again.

Okay, so what's with all this serious shit about amino acids and specialization and life goals and crap, am I right? No one wants to read about that...

///SNEAKY BADGER/// Life Lesson- Be A Sneaky Badger ///SNEAKY BADGER///

So on to the hike on which I embarked...

I woke up at 4am, stepped over my sleeping German Shepherd, threw some clif bars and an apple into my camelback, and hit the road. Hwy 50, East of Placerville and out of the city, is so beautiful in the hours before sunrise. What little moon and starlight that pierces the surrounding conifers leave cool little figures on the road.
I picked up my day use permit at the Ranger Station in Mill Run, and parked at the Lyons Trailhead about 4 miles south of Wright's Lake at about 6:20am, still awaiting sunup.
I headed in just at sunrise, the temperature at about 45 degrees, with a little over two miles just to hike just to get into Desolation Wilderness. But the sights and sounds along the way were worth the hike there. White pines and red firs lined the rocky trail, with the sounds of nearby Lyon's Creek always just off to my left.

Right at the Desolation Wilderness sign (see bottom of page) I was startled by a loud "Good Morning!" Looking just to my left there was a young man, probably mid-twenties, in thermals sipping his warm drink just outside of his tent. Fellow mountaineers are so friendly...

The ensuing hike, about 4.8 miles from vehicle to Sylvia Lake (my intended destination) was very beautiful, even though shortly after sunset the clouds set in, promising to be a mostly overcast day. Stellars' Jays were flying from limb to limb as I passed, while woodpeckers paid no mind.
I arrived at Syvia Lake at about 10:20, approximately 3 1/2 hours after departing.
Once at the lake, I admired the serenity of it all. A silence like nothing I've ever experienced. The reflection on the water so convincing that one feels that they could very well be upside down! And no sooner was I admiring the calm of the water when rain drops began making ripples across the water. Few things can beat eating M&M's while in this wilderness, far from civilization, while being gently graced by the wet gifts of clouds.

From this very vantage point, whilst sitting on the lake's shore and munching on my bag of sugary goodness, I looked up to the peaks above.

I must have been reading too much John Muir lately, or maybe it was just a natural urge that one feels at this particular moment...But I immediately threw everything back into my pack and took off to conquer that mountain.

Heading up for a steep climb, through the brown vegetation still being hydrated by the trickling overflow from the small lakes on the mountains above, I reached a meadow about two hundred feet above Sylvia. It was filled with pygmy conifers of some kind, all densely held together to absorb what little water flows through this wide canyon floor. I got on all fours and was able to clear about 75 yards, at about a 65 degree angle, of unstable granite shards and boulders, nearly falling quite a few times(I'm an amateur, what can I say), and after about 45 minutes, finally reached the ridge(in the above image, it is the mountain ridge you see running along the right side of the picture)
And What A View! The sun surely could not have picked a more magnificent time to peak through the clouds.

Such a young mountain range. To think that all of this was no more than gentle rolling hills just 60 million years ago is astonishing.

Two of the most refreshing moments in my life occurred on this hike, and one of them was atop this ridge. The entire hike had sheltered me from the wind, but the strength of the Southwest gusts at about 8400 feet were apparent immediately upon reaching the top. The gusts were cold, but I had the irrational urge to shed my sweatshirt and undershirt after such a hike...and let me tell you, the feeling of that mountain wind ripping across your sweat soaked body is freaking amazing. It's probably something akin jumping head first into the coldest ocean...I might just have to take up ice swimming now!

The sound of the howling wind running along the granite mountain wall beneath me is something I'll never forget.

After that unnecessary but undeniably rejuvenating break, I left my pack on the ridge and went around the mountain for some photos, and lo and behold...

Another Lake!
This looks to be what feeds into Sylvia Lake after the first summer thawing.

After enjoying the sights and sounds of the top, I did what I knew I had to but wasn't at all looking forward to doing... getting down.
The climb down wasn't as bad as getting up, but all it took was one slip of my foot to realize that I could hurt myself very badly...but luckily I spotted another person at Sylvia, so if I fell hopefully they could hear me scream haha.
Once back down into the canyon floor, I decided to follow another stream, fed from one of the several lakes to the north, back down to the trail.

Jumping from bank to bank, enjoying the music of the water, taking a break on a boulder dividing the stream and letting my head rest underneath the ice-cold water falling from an overhead rock(that second Most Refreshing Moment), and enjoying the several other minor falls for about 1/4 of a mile,

I finally reached the trail, about 100 yards west of Sylvia Lake, and at 1pm, began my journey back. I passed several courteous hikers (I LOVE being there early, I'm always the first to my destination), all of whom stopping to say hi, ask how my hike is going, and other pleasantries...I've never met an asshole hiker. I know, I know...there have to be many out there...but this place has me convinced that there are very few around here haha.

I reached my car at 3pm, 8 hours after beginning my hike, with about 10.5 miles accomplished and some very aching muscles.
All the more motivation to get in better shape to do more of this next year, and every year after that.


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