This pansy was covered in perfect spherical melted frost drops, glisteningin the morning sun. I passed it planter yesterday on my way into work, and actually doubled back to take a photograph. I wonder what microscopic characteristics of the petal surface make it so hydrophobic.
Last weekend I went hiking with some friends to Youngman Stream hut, in the Lees Valley. We came off the tussock-covered tops and down to the beginning of the beech forest, and inhaled the peculiar scent of those woods.
The beech forest has a heady fermenting smell, not disgusting but not particularly pleasant, in an objective way. But that first big whiff was my Delight of the Day, because it means we’re in the NZ east coast bush.
The smell is the mold growing on the honeydew of the particular species of scale insect that coats the trunks of these beech trees. The black mold grows in thick cushiony mounds along the tree trunks and even the ground. Even if I go blind, I’ll love this smell because it means I’m in the New Zealand woods.
At work I’m on a mission to better utilize our waste nutrient water. The latest tool acquired for that mission is the light green nitrate meter in this set. The purple potassium meter is also on order.
I took it out of the packaging yesterday, squinted at the instructions that come in seven different languages printed on crinkled light weight paper, calibrated it with the sleek little bottles of calibration solution, and checked the nitrate level in one of our recirculating fertigation tanks. 730ppm NO3-
I was confused. According to my Mega-Fancy Fertilizer Spreadsheet, I expected that nutrient solution to be at approximately 170ppm N, since the EC was 1.7 I checked it with the nitrate test strips–the reading was off the chart, above 500ppm. Had my spreadsheet been grossly wrong for all these years?!
I went and measured another familiar solution, a “high N” feed at EC 1.6. Again, the answer was way higher than I expected, 640ppm nitrate. I pulled out a text book and looked up that calcium nitrate mixed at 0.84g/L should make a solution with EC 0.8 and 100ppmN, then went to the fertilizer room to measure out the solution. The tester showed 440ppm nitrate. Eh??
Back at my desk I phoned the guy I bought the meter from. I must be doing something wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. We talked about calibration, checking the meter in clear water, using a standard solution….nothing was ringing a bell, until I looked at the container of test strips I was using as a comparison. There were two scales to read: nitrate-N ppm or NO3-ppm. I hadn’t registered that there was a difference, but the scales had different numbers–500ppm NO3- equals 113 ppm nitrate-N. That’s when I figured out my error. My fertilizer spreadsheet is calculated in N mg/L, which is different than NO3- mg/L by a factor of the molecular weight of 3 oxygen molecules. I glanced over at my nerdy wall poster of the periodic table of elements. A molecule of NO3- weights 62g/mole while N itself only weighs 14g/mole, so ppm calculations in NO3- are 4.42 times higher than those in solo nitrogen molecules.
Adjusting for the extra weight of the oxygen, suddenly all the numbers made sense. My Mega-Fancy Fertilizer spreadsheet was still telling the truth, albeit in a different language. SUCH a relief.
Delight of the Day: Chemistry WORKS. Math WORKS. And so does my nitrate meter.
Delight of the Day!
I make a point to never check the weekend forecast for an upcoming tramp before Thursday, Wednesday night at the latest. It’s not a superstition, exactly, more my way to cope with an ever-changing forecast and an aversion to decision-making. Better to see the forecast just once, close enough to departure to be pretty solid, and make one decision about where we’ll go to avoid the rain.
But THIS time the whole of our weekend driving range looked amazingly good. Cold, for sure; it IS winter after all. But dry, sunny, and with calm winds. Carrie and I reveled in the unexpected luck in getting yet another winter tramp in fine weather. We both have kids and partners and jobs, so overnight tramps don’t happen spur-of-the-moment, and if the calendar appointment happens to fall on a good weather weekend, it’s cause for joy.
We opted for Edwards Valley. We had both been there before, but it’s less than two hours drive from Christchurch, and has a snug hut above the tree line, and side trip potential.
The walk up the Edwards starts with crossing the Bealey and the Mingha Rivers, which aren’t bridged, but in low flows are straight forward. I even kept my boots somewhat dry, with the aid of gaiters and a walking pole. The track isn’t technical, but, as we were reminded by a couple staying at the hut, it IS a big step up from the Abel Tasman great walk. The track bounced between a steep wooded path around gorges and stretches of gravelly river bed, but since you’re going up river and the hut is on the river, you really can’t get lost.
“During the magnitude 7.1 Arthur’s Pass earthquake on 9 March 1929, a 900-metre-high section of mountain peak collapsed onto Taruahuna Pass, close to the epicentre. The landslide continued partway up the flanks of Mt Franklin opposite. It then slid about 5 kilometres down the remote valley of the west branch of the Otehake River. The collapsed peak was later dubbed Falling Mountain.” https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/4493/falling-mountain-landslide
I’ve been in the Taruahuna pass several years ago and I remember the landscape–huge rip-rap type boulders fill the entire pass, your entire field of vision for at least an hour of hiking. Can you imagine a land slide big enough to shoot rubble 5 km down the neighboring valley? It did occur to me that one would have to be extraordinarily unlucky to be in the mountains during that kind of event, and of course it’s not unprecedented…. But you can’t live your life worrying about these things.
The hut was unexpectedly busy for a winter weekend; of the 16 bunks, 13 ended up full. Around one table that evening we had cool range of accents, and countries of origin. Chinese, Canadian, German, Kiwi, Dutch, Zimbabwean, American and Australian. The sky was cloudless and the moon hadn’t yet risen; the milky way was more spectacular than I’d ever seen it.
Still, we felt pretty accomplished. Once you’re confident with navigating off-trail, all kinds of amazing adventures open up. Carrie and I are working on building those skills and that confidence, while at the same time being aware that a whole lot can go wrong while making up your own route in the mountains.
Comfort zones nudged out a bit towards more adventure–yay!
“I can’t find a plastic fork….maybe I could use a knife to cut up the noodles and eat them with a spoon?”
If I was a more keyed-in person, I would have realized that my friend Teena was a bit worried about our planned tramp, if she was fretting over the cutlery. But I was blithely unaware, and simply told her I’d throw in an extra fork.
We had had this tramp on the calendar for months, a daintily coordinated weekend date between various other weekend commitments and travels for the three of us, one of whom still couldn’t make it at the last minute.
We met at my house at 7:00, as I was keen to get up to Lewis Pass early. Teena, good communicator as she is, had been clear that tenting wasn’t a preferred option, so I was anxious to stake a place in the popular hut in case it filled up.
“Should I bring one pair of spare socks, or more than one?” “How many pairs of leggings do you wear?” “I’ve got my eye shades, ear plugs, pillow, three jumpers, puffy jacket…..” the gear list sounded extensive, but when I lifted Teena’s pack, I was reassured. It was very practical, probably lighter than mine.
Back at the hut we spent a little time collecting fallen beech branches for the fire. New Zealand beech is a different family than north american beech. It might technically be a hard wood, but my experience collecting it to burn is that it’s nearly always squishily saturated with water. The dead branches must do a fair bit of rotting on the tree itself, and when they fall they encounter deep moss on the forest floor where they somehow absorb even more water, to the point of literal sponginess. It doesn’t bode well for a hot fire.
The trail is a straight forward track up through sheep pasture to the summit. Every year it is closed for lambing August-October, right about when the weather is getting warmer and we’re wanting to plan such a hike, so we squeaked it in just before the closure this time. It really is a better track to do on a clear winter day anyway….there’s no water and no shelter, so it would be a scorcher in the summer.
Last week was the first time someone referred to me (in my hearing) as “middle-aged.” I thought I didn’t deserve that term until I turn 40, but I have to admit that the wrinkles around my eyes and propensity to retire early to bed under an electric blanket all point to the same direction. And, if I admit it, so do our conversation topics.
I remember when other people talked about cranky joints and the pleasure of taking a kid-less outing to the grocery store. I listened to them, smiling, comfortably bemused, wondering what it was like to get old. Ha.
We didn’t grow up with these–winters are too cold in upstate NY–so my first experience with their gaudy abundance was at a Planting Fields Arboretum on the northern shore of Long Island, when I was a student at Cornell’s Riverhead research station. The garden showcased dozens of varieties, with shades varying from white to pink to red, and they seem to really put their heart into the business of flowering, littering the ground with their chunky spent blossoms only to optimistically pop open more buds the next day. They are sometimes pruned to a single standard trunk topped with a ball of color, and they never fail to conjure up the old time Alice in Wonderland cartoon where the playing cards are frantically painting the roses red or white to assuage the evil queen’s whim.
I feel somewhat accomplished to have negotiated 15 years of marriage, including some major life stages.
“Negotiated” is a good word. It means we’ve come through a bunch of obstacles with varying levels of gracefulness, rather like kayaking a whitewater river. A river has stretches of challenging bits that are exhilarating when maneuvered successfully, stretches of wondrous calm bits in high-walled gorges with crystal waterfalls that you feel privileged to experience…. and then there are those rapids that you enter unawares and at the wrong angle, where you miss eddies and get trounced by unforeseen obstacles and you come out the other end drenched and tousled and in dire need of a chocolate.
15 years of marriage puts us solidly in the middle age category, along with hatch-marked wrinkles under our eyes, various joint aches, a mortgage, a decent sense of who we are, what we want, and an increasing skill set to negotiate meeting those needs when they differ. That last bit’s worth celebrating, so we planned a trip to the snowy mountains.
New Zealand is in a privileged position during the this global Covid19 pandemic, and we can travel domestically without restriction. So while we couldn’t jet off to Myanmar for our 15 year celebration (my private wish), thanks to our generous friends’ willingness to have our kids, we could head away to the mountains in New Zealand’s Southland for the weekend.
I have only down-hill skied a handful of times, and not once in the last decade. As kids we cross-country skied, our family not being as willing to spend the money on lift tickets as others might have been. But I’ve ice skated since I was a tyke and I’m a proficient roller-blader, so with a bout of uncharacteristic overconfidence, I declared that I could pick up down hill skiing for the day, no problem.
I still own a pair of snow pants, purchased decades ago, with the latest lift pass still attached (Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe, 2007), and Jeremiah surprise-purchased some shiny new goggles for the weekend. The rest of the gear I rented. I was ridiculously pleased that the boots were pre-warmed in the rental hut.
When I stepped outside to shove my feet into the bindings I was reminded that downhill skis are really only designed to go DOWN. I dusted off the old snow-plow stop and set off to the bunny slope, realizing that I’m not as nimble cornering in skis as I am on rollerblades! I must have looped the bunny slope 10 times before being ready to head over to the chair lift.
There weren’t many different trails down that had enough snow yet, but that suited me fine, I was happy to stay on the green one with the little kids whizzing fearlessly past me. Jeremiah waited for me at various corners, like a gentleman.
Probably race and economic class is more on my mind than usual because of the current US news, but I was struck by the fact that both the ski field and the lodge were nearly all white European-decent kiwis, and the price ticket of this type of recreation and the gear it requires takes it out of the range of many NZ families. It’s a very different scene than the beach, which is egalitarian in its accessibility.
We were having fun, but the wind was starting to pick up so much that the flinging snow made it hard to see and the chair lift was swinging vigorously, so we called it quits by mid afternoon and headed back down to Ohau Lodge.
If you had told me 9 years ago that I’d get good family dinner conversation in a DECADE, I’d have swooned. But now that we’ve been married 15 years, out of high school for 20, we’re starting to count life in decades and can take the longer-term view. May this coming decade be even better than the last.