Monday, June 29, 2009

June 29

Today I am having another one of these.

For all of you who are having a birthday today too, here are some ideas from John, Paul, George, and Ringo about things you can do to celebrate. I think wearing a one-horned bird hood while playing the drums might be my favorite activity.

(The sound is pretty muted, so I suggest turning up the volume.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Apple #393: Journey, Journal, Adjourn

I was thinking about these three words as I walked down the airport hallway on the last leg of my California trip back home. I figured they were probably related etymologically, but I wondered how.

For this, I am going to turn to my trusty micrographically reproduced two-volume Oxford English Dictionary. You can also look up these words on Oxford's website, but you won't get nearly the detail that's in the books.


No, not these yahoos.
(Photo from point 'n' shoot)

I mean something more along these lines:

(Photo by your Apple Lady)

  • Reading the words that journey comes from in reverse chronological order:
  1. journee, French. Day, or day's travel, or day's work
  2. jornada, Spanish & Portuguese. Same as above or also a conference
  3. giornata, Italian. Same as above
  4. diurnata, Latin. Daily (think of the English word diurnal)
  5. dies, Latin. Day
  • Given that this word journey comes from that ancestral vocabulary, so to speak, it makes sense that the original meaning of journey is a single day.
  • It also used to mean a day at some point in the future when a conference or battle was going to happen.
  • The next meaning in the list is a day's travel. In the Middle Ages, the distance you could travel in a single day was about 20 miles.
  • People extended their use of this word by saying things like "two days' journey" or "five days' journey."
  • Then the next variant meaning along these lines is a complete course of travel, from beginning to end, usually over land.
  • Then there are a whole bunch of meanings associated with a day's work, such as a day's labor, the business that happened during the day, the day's battle, or -- this one is pretty interesting -- a certain weight of gold or silver, which represented the number of coins that could be cut from it in payment of one day's wages.


(leather-bound journal from Wealthwood Gifts)

  • From journey you get journey-book, or the log or itinerary kept of the trip. Which is essentially a journal.
  • Journal also comes from a French root which is descended from the Latin diurnal. In this case, the French root is, jurnal, which means day-book.
  • One of the older meanings of journal is a measure of land. That would be the amount of land you could cover on your day's journey, or also the amount of land you could plow in a day.
  • Journal also (obscurely) refers to a part of machinery; that is, the section of shaft or axle which rests on the bearings.
  • But mostly, it means a daily record of events. Those events might be what happened during your day's travel, or whatever commercial transactions took place in your shop, or the public news of the day, or they might be any events of personal interest. While similar to diary, the OED says, journal implies a more elaborate record.

  • This word, too, comes from the Latin diurnal by way of the French. But it's got that prefix ad- on the front of it, which means "to."
  • So, putting the pieces together, this word means "to that day." As in, we'll agree to appoint that day over there as the one on which we'll deal with this stuff.
  • The official definitions say you could defer or suspend the action until that other day, or you could discontinue it completely.
  • Adjourn could also mean to separate with the agreement that everyone will meet at another place.

So, my journey to California, which lasted several days and covered far greater distances than 20 miles per day but did take place over land, has formed the subject of several entries in this here journal. (I'm using that term loosely, since I didn't give you all a day-by-day record of events, but rather a topic-by-topic record.) But now, after several journeys of work, I am going to adjourn this subject.

Now, let us all adjourn to the lanai, as an old friend used to say.

Somewhere in India.
(Photo from LA Times Crossword Corner.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Apple #392: Digger or Gray Pine

The big news of the day are the deaths first of Farrah Fawcett and then of Michael Jackson. I tried to think of some way I could contribute something new to the discussion. I looked for news of an occasion when they had both been together, but the internet is so full of stories about today, I didn't have any luck.

I thought of some things they had in common -- his hair literally caught on fire, her hairstyle caught fire figuratively in that it became hugely popular; he was tried for molestation, she portrayed someone who had been molested; they both hired a well-known Hollywood wiretapping PI bad-ass named Anthony Pellicano. But all that is a bunch of fluff that avoids the shock and sense of loss that a lot of people are feeling over the deaths of these two pop culture icons.

The best I can offer you on these subjects is an entry I did way back in July 2005 about Charlie's Angels.

When you're ready to move on to other topics, I have this one to offer you. It's about a certain type of pine tree I was introduced to during my trip to California.

My intrepid traveling companion/sherpa and I were driving away from Yosemite, back down through the Sierra foothills and slowly wending our way toward civilization. We were talking about how huge the pine trees are around there, and how enormous their cones are. I mentioned that my mom has a basket of super-large pine cones at her house, but I didn't know what kind they were. He said there was one tree that made pine cones so large and heavy that when they fell, if one of them hit you on the head, it would be like getting hit by a missile. He thought that maybe these pine cones were like the ones my mom had.

When we stopped to eat at a little town called Mariposa, he decided to see if he could find any of these particular pine cones. So he went forging into the brush and unearthed from the tall grass not one, but two of them. Both of them had opened only about halfway. The top half of the cones were still closed up tight as a drum, hanging onto their seeds. They weren't like the kind my mom has, but they were pretty magnificent. And they were really heavy. I'm bad at gauging this sort of thing, but I'd say they weighed about two pounds, each.

One of the two Digger or Gray pine cones. I took the photo next to a ruler so you could see that it's about six inches tall. The white stuff on the tips is sap.
(Photo by your faithful Apple Lady)

  • These pine cones belong to the Digger or Gray pine tree.
  • The reason these trees have two common names is because the first is now considered to be offensive. White settlers called the natives in the area "Diggers" because they dug for roots and seeds and other foods, and it was a pretty derogatory term. These native people also ate the seeds of this pine tree, so the tree was named after them, or after what the white people called them.
  • Recently out of awareness of this racist etymology, people have begun calling the tree the Gray pine. But the switch in common names hasn't fully taken hold, and a lot of people still call it the Digger pine.
  • Its scientific name is Pinus sabiniana, after a British attorney and famous naturalist named Sabine who studied the tree.
I packed the two pine cones in plastic bags in my suitcase and took them home with me. When I got home and opened my suitcase, I disocvered that TSA had opened my suitcase and inspected them. I can't imagine what they must have looked like on the security camera. I also discovered that the pine cones had opened the rest of the way at some point during the flight. I expected there to be pine cone seeds and dross all over everything, but I only found two seeds.

Gives you another idea of the size of these things. This is the one that the seeds came out of. You can see the hollow places that held the seeds.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Cones can grow as large as 8 to 12 inches, though they're more often smaller. When they're still fresh off the tree, before they've dried out and lost their seeds, they can weigh anywhere from a half to one and a half pounds.
  • The cones usually open in the fall, in September or October. But it can take several months before all the spines have opened and all the seeds have dispersed. Some cones have been found with seeds ready to fly as late as February.
  • It usually takes 10 to 25 years before a digger/gray pine tree will produce cones.
  • Here's some pine cone terminology:
  1. The things that hold the seeds are called cone scales.
  2. The spiky things at the pointed tips of the scales are spurs.
  3. If a cone has seeds enclosed, it's a female cone.
  4. If a cone has no seeds but only pollen, it's male. Male cones are usually smaller.

The spurs on the digger/gray cone scales are very pointy and sharp. This is one of the distinctive features of the digger/gray cones. When I picked up one of the cones, a spur pricked my finger and drew blood. It hurt like I had a splinter in there for several days. That was over a week ago, and I still have a sore, dark mark on my finger.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Unlike a lot of other pine trees, the cones don't necessarily fall from the tree before they open up and eject the seeds. In fact, even after the seeds have flown the coop so to speak, the cones may still hang around on the tree for quite a long time.
  • In addition to the usual methods of cone seed dispersal -- wind, birds carrying them off, cones dropping to the ground and flinging them about -- digger pine cones are remarkably buoyant. Digger pine cones that had dropped into rivers and streams have been found as far away from their native lands as 25 miles, or within 8 miles of the ocean.

Digger or gray pine cone seeds. I discovered these loose in the plastic bag after I unpacked the pine cones. The one on the right is still in its seed coat (anil, a word I learned from crossword puzzles). Everybody says that these seeds are edible, so after I took this picture, I tried to eat one of the seeds. It was so hard, it was like biting into a stone! I couldn't even make a dent. It left a resiny, piney tang in my mouth.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Seeds generally grow to 3/4" to 1" long, and fresh out of the cone, they weigh about 1 gram (0.04 ounces). That might not seem very heavy, but compare that to other seeds you encounter more frequently, like sunflower seeds or sesame seeds.
  • Men of the Sierra Miwok tribe used to climb the trees and pick the cones when they were still green. They'd roast the cones in hot ashes for 20 minutes, and the resin would come out, which was sweet. The heat made the cones open, so along with the sweet syrup, the Miwok ate the roasted, immature seeds.

Gray pine is a name that suits these trees because the needles are gray. Sometimes they're also called Ghost Pines for the way the branches have an airy appearance.
(Photo from Watching the World Wake Up blog about botany)

  • The trees grow best on rocky slopes, canyon walls, and dry hills -- places where there isn't a lot of moisture.
  • Given how well the trees like dry places, it's pretty remarkable how quickly they grow -- 28 inches per year for the first 8 years, and then sometimes as much as 3 feet per year after that.
  • These trees really don't like shade, though. And because they tend to grow on rocky soils, they can't put down very deep roots, so they usually meet their demise by being blown over by high winds.
  • Another unusual feature of these trees is that, unlike most pines, they don't always have single trunks. In fact, the trunk often splits into two or three, almost like an elm.
  • The trunks are also usually curved and the wood is lightweight, which makes it undesirable for lumber. When cut, the wood often warps. The wood is also saturated with pitch, which makes it smoke when burned, so it's not good for firewood.

A digger pine, all by itself where there's no shade, on a rocky slope, and starting to curve. This tree might look lonely, but it's probably thinking, Aaah, this is just how I like it.
(Photo sourced from Two Small Farms)

  • Lots of online sites sell pine cones, including Digger cones. On most of them, the cones over 5 inches long go for $4 each. Under 5 inches are only $2. Their cones are much cleaner-looking than mine, but I got mine for free. Or for the cost of a trip to California, anyway.

The base of this pine cone, which I'm guessing is a female one, measures about 7 inches across (diameter).
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

How's that for star power?

Robert F. Powers, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, Silvics of North America, volume 1, Pinus sabiniana, Dougl., Digger Pine
Jim Conrad, Digger Pine, Pinus sabiniana, Backyard Nature, October 2, 2005
James E. Cole, Digger Pine, from The Cone-bearing Trees of Yosemite, 1939
National Center for Conservation Science & Policy, Oregon Big Tree Registry, Digger Pine
University of Washington, Campus Public Arts Program, 54. Digger Pine
Coloma Valley, Gray "Digger" Pine
Professor Kevin Murray, Science 226, Lab 4: Plant & animal diversity, University of Montana, Spring 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Apple #391: Yosemite

I know I have been super slow about updating this thing this month, and I apologize. I have been so inspired by all the exploring and tromping around in the woods that I did while in California that I keep running off into the woods around here and neglecting my duties.

I have two more California entries that I want to do, and then it's back to the regular stuff. This is one of the two remaining California topics. Yosemite!

  • The word "Yosemite" was the name of a tribe of Native Americans that lived in the valley.
  • Actually, they were a collection of fierce people who came from lots of different tribes, including a few Paiutes. They were led by a chief named Tenaya.
  • And the name "Yosemite" wasn't the name these people called themselves; it was a name that other tribes called them. The surrounding Miwok tribes were afraid of these people and named them "those who kill," or Yosemite, in their language.
  • (Some white guy, by the way, thought Yosemite meant "grizzly bear," so when he named the valley the Yosemite valley, he thought he was naming it after the bears, not the people. He admitted he didn't really understand what Chief Tenaya was saying, but he went ahead and called it Yosemite anyway.)
  • The Yosemite people -- the bunch led by Chief Tenaya -- called themselves the Ahwahneechee, which means "dwellers of Ahwahnee."
  • Ahwahnee was the name of the largest of their villages, but eventually, that name came to refer to the entire valley. Ahwahnee, sometimes spelled Awooni, means "large or gaping mouth."
  • The reason they called the valley "large or gaping mouth" is because that's what it looks like. It was formed by glaciers over the course of 100 million years.

All the green stuff in the middle are trees growing in the Yosemite Valley. That rock sticking up on the right is Half Dome. This photo makes it very apparent how tall Half Dome is (8,842 ft).
(Photo from Dr. Nicholas Short of NASA's page on geology)

Here's another view into Yosemite Valley. As you can see, there's all kinds of stuff going on down there on the valley floor.
(This map and other larger, labeled, and unlabeled versions also available at

  • Now when people say "Yosemite," they're usually referring not just to the valley but the entire national park. Depending on who's counting, it measures somewhere between 1,100 and 1,770 square miles. That's roughly the size of the entire state of Rhode Island.

(Map of Yosemite from Viridian's travelblog)

  • Mariposa Grove, down there at the very bottom of the map, is where I saw all those sequoia trees.

There's so much to tell you about Yosemite because it's so huge and all of it is pretty much one jaw-dropping thing after another. I'll do my best to give you the highlights.
  • Elevation range: 1,800 feet to 13,000 feet
  • Vegetation zones: 5
  • Species of vertebrate animals that live in the park: 400+
  • Number that are endangered: 40
  • Miles of trails: 800


  • By "rocks," I mean those huge granite formations. Except what's weird is that most of the rocks in Yosemite are forms of igneous rock. That's right, they first came from volcanos. Over time and with huge amounts of pressure or temperature or other shearing, they changed into the granite forms we see now.
  • Half Dome, which I mentioned in that photo caption above, is 8,842 feet above sea level and 5,000 feet above the floor of the Yosemite Valley.

All those Ansel Adams photos you've seen for years, they were taken in Yosemite. This one is of Half Dome. My traveling companion and I happened to be there during a full moon, and it looks exactly like this photo. Except it's a little more silvery and shadowy and otherworldly and incredible in real life.
(You can buy this poster from for $29.99)

  • It's believed that half of the original rock, or its "sibling" once upon a time sheared away and plunged into the valley below.
  • On the way to the top of Half Dome are two sets of waterfalls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.
  • Hiking to the top is a 16-mile trip, and because of the 4,800-foot increase in elevation, it takes most hikers 10 to 12 hours or longer.
  • Part of the ascent includes a 400-foot section where you have to climb using cables.

Cable ascent to the top of Half Dome
(Photo from the National Park Service)

These people have made it to the top of Half Dome and are looking over the edge. The safe way to look over the edge of an outcropping of rock is to do exactly what these people are doing -- lie down on your stomach and have someone hold onto your ankles. That way, if the rock gives way beneath you, the person holding onto you has somewhat of a chance to keep you from plummeting to your death with the rocks.
(Photo from Kevin's hiking page)

  • El Capitan is another granite formation that's a popular challenge for climbers. People on a first-name basis with it call it "El Cap."

El Capitan, seen from Yosemite Valley. I think the water in the picture is Mirror Lake.
(Photo from

This is El Capitan seen from a road that goes through Yosemite Valley. Actually, I'm quite a ways away from the road, on a sort of lawn. I had to lie flat on my back to get all of El Cap in the picture.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • El Capitan is not as tall as Half Dome -- only 3,000 feet above the valley floor -- but its sheer face makes it much more challenging. It takes most people an average of 5 days to climb the "Nose" part of El Capitan alone, and "the failure rate is high." I saw one guy on TV climbing it. He had to use cables and ropes and get a running start to swing himself out over a chasm so he could ultimately get to the summit.

A climber named Matt de Vaal encountering the great roof which is on the Nose of El Cap.
(Photo by Dave Harbourne on Needle Sports)

  • At night, we could see tiny lights from one or two climber's posts on their way up to the summit. Everyone who saw these lights halfway up the side of El Cap said, "They're crazy!"
  • While my intrepid traveling companion and I were tromping around in the Yosemite Valley, I'd look up once in a while at these enormous granite outcroppings. Some of them seemed to be teetering pretty precariously up there, and I kept imagining them coming tumbling down the rockface to us wee people in the valley below.
  • In fact, rockfalls happen fairly often. Park officials estimate that there have been some 600 major rockfalls in the past 150 years of the park's existence. The most recent rockfall occurred on March 28, 2009.

Rockfall just below Half Dome, July 27, 2006
(Photo from the National Park Service)

  • Rockfalls can be caused by the freezing & thawing cycles which make rocks expand and contract with changes in temperature. Or tree roots that enlarge as they grow can shift rocks' positions.
  • But scientists don't know much more than that about the causes of rockfalls. Though most rockfalls occur in the springtime, scientists can't predict when they'll occur. They just tell you to be alert.

  • One of the things Yosemite is known for its its waterfalls. There are 8 major sets of waterfalls in Yosemite Valley alone. When I was there (in May, when the waterfalls are at their peak) there was so much snow melt running down all those granite rock faces, it seemed there were waterfalls everywhere. Everywhere I was in the Yosemite Valley area, there was a constant rushing sound from all the waterfalls in the area.
  • One of the 8 waterfalls, the Yosemite falls, is the world's 5th tallest falls.
  • Actually, it is in three parts, the upper fall, the middle cascades, and the lower fall. The upper fall is about the same height as the Sears Tower in Chicago. All three sections put together roughly equal the Sears Tower plus the Eiffel Tower.

Two of the three parts of the Yosemite Falls
(Photo by your very own Apple Lady)

This gives you another idea of the stages of the Yosemite Falls
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Hydrologists estimate that 2,400 gallons of water per second go over the Yosemite Falls.


  • Home to 300 to 500 black bears. Though they're called "black bears," their fur is usually some shade of brown, from dark brown, to cinnamon, to blond.
  • Because bears will eat almost anything, and they spend nearly all their time eating, and they have a very powerful sense of smell, you have to be very careful about what you bring into Yosemite. The park will not let you keep any kind of food -- packaged or unpackaged, even canned food -- in your car or cabin or tent overnight because a bear will probably find it and tear up your car or your tent to get it.
  • Even shampoo, hand lotion, deodorant, soap, perfume -- anything that has fragrance is verboten as well. If you do have that stuff with you and you're staying overnight, they make you put it in these metal safe-like boxes with special handles that you need to have fingers to open. If they find out you haven't stowed your smelly stuff, they can fine you up to $5,000.

Your basic, everyday view in Yosemite. This is in Camp Curry, near the tent cabins where we stayed. This is what you see when you step outside and look around you: ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and sugar pine, all of which grow about 100-200 feet tall, and in the distance, those enormous granite formations.

If you want to visit Yosemite, this National Park Service page is a good place to start. But there is a ton of information on the web about staying in Yosemite.

P.S. One other thing I meant to say about staying in Yosemite: the people who run this place have thought of everything. You're off on some trail somewhere and you think, dang, I have to go to the bathroom. You turn around, and there's a bathroom. There are all sorts of places to eat, ranging from the fancy and delectable, to the hearty buffet, to the grab-it-out-of-a-cooler-and-go. If you choose to camp there, they have shower houses that are clean and huge enough for everybody and they give you a clean towel, and everything is very well-kept. I give the Yosemite people an A+.

Dan Anderson, Yosemite Online, Origin of the Word Yosemite
Yosemite National Park Information Page
Don Bain's Waterfalls of Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Falls Facts and Geology
National Park Service, Geology, Rock Formations in Yosemite Valley, Rockfall,
Supertopo, The Nose, El Capitan
Yosemite Vacation, Half Dome Helpful Hiking Information

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Apple #390: Dim Sum

I've got more beautiful-nature-and-look-at-those-enormous-trees entries I want to do. But I thought I'd break that up with a little bit of dim sum.

Because I ate dim sum for the first time ever, when I was in San Francisco's Chinatown. Actually I'd had some dim sum items before, without ever realizing it. If you've gotten appetizers at a Chinese restaurant, you might have too.

On the corner of a street that goes into Chinatown. The restaurant where my intrepid traveling companion and I ate was just down the block from here, if I remember right. And that black blob is your mysterious Apple Lady's left shoulder.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Dim sum isn't one food but a collection of snacks. Saying "I ate dim sum" is like saying "I had a lot of appetizers" or "I ate all the hors d'oeuvres."
  • They're usually bite-sized -- or for me, three-bite-sized -- and you usually get three or four of them per order.

Potstickers, or pork-filled dumplings that are pan-fried. Commonly served as appetizers at Chinese restaurants, even if a full dim sum menu is not available.
(Photo and recipe from Blazing Hot Wok, which means hot-temperature, not hot-spicy)

  • The reason they're small has to do with how they originated.
  • Dim sum were originally created to be eaten with tea. For centuries, the Cantonese relished drinking tea, but they thought it was inappropriate to eat food while drinking tea. But over time, people began to realize that not only could tea aid in digestion, but it was downright tasty to eat things while drinking tea.
  • But so they wouldn't overdo it, they kept the food that was to be eaten with the tea in small portions. Snack-sized. Dots of food, so to speak.
  • Hence, "dim sum," which means, depending on your preferred translation, "heart dots," or "a bit of the heart," or "to touch the heart."
  • Most dim sum items are savory, dumpling-like goodies stuffed with pork or shrimp or occasionally beef. They might be fried or steamed.

Steamed dim sum dishes are often prepared and served in steamer baskets like this one.
(Photo from Disney World's Anandapur Yak and Yeti Restaurant. This basket of dim sum for 2 sells for $13.99.)

  • Other items might be sweet, like custard tarts.
  • Or they might combine the sweet and savory, like pork buns, which are like flaky dinner rolls with barbecue pork in the middle and a sugar glaze on the outside.

Pork buns are sort of like doughnuts, but with barbecued pork inside.
(Photo from Century Cafe and Bakery in Manhattan)

  • Gourmands estimate that there are some 2,000 varieties of dim sum that have been created over the centuries. Restaurants that specialize in dim sum might make 100 different types in a single day.

Menu of dim sum varieties available from Furama in Chicago.
(Here is the menu at its full size)
(Image from

  • In most restaurants that offer dim sum, the snacks are served from carts. Waiters push the steaming carts around the dining room, and when the diners see something on the carts they like, they tell the waiter, and the waiter gives them a serving and then moves on.

Dim sum cart in full steam. I saw a lot of photos of dim sum carts that weren't steamy like this one. They were all dished up onto plates, which makes it easier for people to see what's on the cart. But it probably doesn't stay as nice as hot as it would on a cart like this one.
(Photo by Dave H from Yelp)

  • This is what Tess McGill has to do, if you remember, in Working Girl. She winds up pushing the cart around the business lunch herself, and the steam totally gets her face all sweaty and wilts her pouffy hair.
  • Some people say there's an order in which the dishes are presented -- lighter, steamed fare first, then heavier and more exotic treats, and finishing up with the sweets. But other people say that in true dim sum fashion, the sweet and the savory are served in any order, and you are to go back and forth from the savory and sweet as you like.
  • When you're ready for your teapot to be refilled, take the lid off the pot and allow it to dangle by the wire that connects it to the teapot, or balance the lid on the handle.
  • Many dim sum aficionados say that the best dim sum is served in Hong Kong.

A typical table of dim sum, with teapot, in Hong Kong's Central Station.
(Photo from Luk Yu Tea House on picfood)

  • Here are typical dim sum dishes that many people list as their favorites. Links take you to recipes and usually also photos.
  1. har gau - steamed shrimp dumplings
  2. cha siu bau - barbecued pork inside steamed rolls
  3. tsun geun - spring rolls
  4. jiaozi - boiled dumplings with meat or shrimp
  5. guotie - pot stickers (like jiaozi, except pan-fried instead of boiled)
  6. siu mai - (pronounced shoo my) cup-shaped dumplings with the filling, usually pork, visible at the top.

Har gau, as served at Jade Asian Restaurant in Flushing, NY
(Photo by Robyn Lee)

I had all of the dim sum types I listed up there, except for the har gau, I think. They were tasty little freddies, all of them. The best spring roll I ever had, though, was the first one, which was at a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris. Light, crispy, fresh, and slightly sweet, truly deserving of the word "spring." I can still taste it in my mind.

For a lot more recipes, instructions about how to fold the stuff into the wontons, and descriptions and diagrams of how those steamer baskets work, check out Ellen Leong Blonder's Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch.

Rhonda Parkinson,, Delicious Dim Sum - Chinese Brunch, and Delicious Chinese Dumplings
CuisineNet, Diner's Digest, Dim Sum
Global Gourmet, Hong Kong, Dining in Dim Sum Restaurants
Robyn Lee, Serious Eats, New York, Dim Sum Favorites at Jing Fong Chinatown, September 30, 2008 and Dim Sum at Jade Asian Restaurant in Flushing, February 4, 2009
Leo Weekly, Dim Sum touch our hearts, June 11, 2008

Friday, June 5, 2009

Apple #389: Sequoia Trees

One of the things I did on my trip to California was go with a friend of mine to Yosemite. There are many enormous things to see there -- huge rocks, huge trees, huge waterfalls. All of it is so beautiful, you kind of can't believe it. After I was there for a while, I kind of got used to it. I'd be walking along, eyes on the path, and then I'd look up and it would all still be there, and it would astonish me all over again. Still enormous, still covered with gigantic green trees, still sitting there like it was perfectly everyday to be so enormous and so magnificent.

I'm realizing as I type this that I need to do an entry about Yosemite. Since I was introduced to the national park before I saw the sequoia trees, I should do the Yosemite entry first. But a few Daily Apple fans have been clamoring for the sequoia tree entry, so I'm doing this one first.

There are a number of sequoia groves in Yosemite, and the one I went to was the Mariposa Grove, near an area called Wawona. You have to walk into the woods a ways, so that's what we were doing, and then my friend pointed up ahead, and I looked where he was pointing, and I saw the first sequoia tree. My jaw dropped and I said, "Whoa." That was my very articulate, intelligent response. I took a photo or two, stared some more. Then I said, "I know why they call this place Wawona. Because that's all you can say when you see these trees."

The first sequoia I saw. I took two photos of this tree and later spliced them together. You can probably detect the line where the photos meet. I could have Photoshopped that out, but I decided to leave it in. It's hard to convey just how tall these things are. I thought if you could see where the two photos join, that might give you an idea of how much -- or how little -- of one tree would fit into the frame at a time.
(Photo by your Apple Lady)

  • Sequoias grow as high as 310 feet tall. The tallest sequoia in the grove where I was is 290 feet.
  • The largest giant sequoia is over 40 feet in diameter around its base.
  • There are other trees that grow taller (their relatives, the coastal redwoods, may grow up to 378 feet). There are other trees that are also wider around (a Montezuma cypress in Mexico has exceeded 50 feet around).
  • But in terms of total volume, sequoia trees are the largest living things on earth.
  • They are also the heaviest living things. A sequoia may weigh as much as 2,000 tons. A blue whale, by comparison, only weighs 200 tons.

Here's another attempt to give you an idea of the size of these trees. The smallish pink and blue things to the right of the tree are people. Not children, adults.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Sequoias only grow on the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, in about 70 groves.

The trunk of the second sequoia, I think. In the background on the right, very small, are people looking at the tree. The small blue rectangle next to the right of the tree is a van parked behind the tree.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • The trees all had signs, like the one in the above photo, cautioning people not to stand too close. This is because the root system does not extend deep underground like you might thing, but it's all very close to the surface. Sequoia botanists estimate that 95% of a sequoia's roots are within 3 feet of the surface.
  • When the buildup of soil and stuff gets to be too deep and the roots too far below the surface to get necessary nutrients, the tree will send out new roots. Some of those roots extend from the ends of the old root system, but some of them extend from the central base of the tree, but above the older roots and closer to the surface of the ground. It is these fresh, new roots that park rangers are trying to protect by telling people not to stand too close to the tree.
  • Despite the fact that the roots are so close to the surface, the trees don't fall over because the root systems extend far, far from the trunk. Sometimes the roots can reach over half an acre.
  • The bottom part of all these trees was hollowed out, to some extent or other, and blackened. This is where forest fires have burned away the bottom core of the trees.
  • Sequoia trees don't burn as easily as other types of trees because the bark is full of little air pockets.

Around the side of the trunk of the second sequoia. The charred section (burn scar) on this tree is relatively smaller, compared to some of the others. But they all have a similar flame-like shape to them.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • The results look pretty precarious, especially given the height and volume of these trees. But fire is essential to the health and reproduction of the sequoia. Forest fires clear away the smaller trees that compete for sunlight that the sequoias need, and the ash from burned branches and leaves provides nutrients that are essential to the sequoia.
  • Perhaps most importantly of all, fires provide heat. The sequoia's cones will not open and disperse their seeds unless temperatures reach a certain point. So the sequoias need fire in order to reproduce.
  • The cones can be very patient, waiting on the branches for the right fire to come along. Some of the cones remain closed up for as long as 20 years.
  • A large sequoia may have about 11,000 cones. In a year when its cones dry out and open, the seeds scattering everywhere, the tree will disperse an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 seeds. The seeds may fly as far as 600 feet from the tree.
  • The reason that fires affect sequoias in this particular way -- by burning away the lower core of the tree -- is because that inner core is actually dead. The living part of the tree is at its outer edges (called the cambium), just beneath the bark. While the loss of the center does weaken the tree structurally, the sequoia can grow quite nicely without it.
  • I was so amazed by these trees that were standing with no center, just about, that I thought surely they must grow in a different way than other types of plants. How could a tree survive without its middle?

The sequoia on the right is known as the Clothespin tree, for obvious reasons. Yup, this tree is still alive and still growing.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • But I have just learned that sequoias grow the same way that all trees do, which is to say that all the growing action happens in the rings around the very center. The very center is the pith, and not much goes on there. The rings -- the xylem and phloem -- are where new cells that hold the nutrients are added, and the outer layer -- the cork, which we call bark -- expands to hold the innards.

(Diagram of how trees grow from Ross E. Koning's Plant Physiology page)

  • Like many other plants, over time the sequoia also develops another protective layer under the cork (bark) called the periderm. The periderm is made of cells that are very similar to the cork cells, plus they have a special waterproofing capability, believe it or not. The sequoia differs from other plants in that its periderm and its cork are especially thick -- up to several feet thick.
  • The thickness of those tough outer layers is what protects the sensitive growing parts (cambium) and helps the tree keep standing even after fires have burned out the pith.
  • Sequoias also happen to be loaded with tannins, which are a type of antioxidant that plants have. (You may have encountered tannins in wine, which are what give the wine its puckery, almost bitter flavor. Tannins are present in the grapes, especially in unripe green ones.)
  • The superabundance of tannins is what gives the sequoia wood its distinctive reddish-orange color.
  • After the bottom part of the tree gets burned away, the tannins leak down into that burned area and sort of coat it, almost like sap. It's not sticky like sap, but it is moist. To any animals or insects that might consider burrowing into the wood, the tannins taste very astringent and are for some animals toxic. So the tannins help protect that exposed wood against invaders.

What one of the burn scars looks like up close. The glistening areas are where the tannins are leaking out of the tree.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The same burn scar on the same tree, looking up. Judging by how high up these trees get burned, those fires must be no joke.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The dark stuff on the left side of that tree is not a shadow, that's where the bark got charred from some past forest fire. This is another indication of how high those flames must leap. That tree isn't sequoia; I think it's a sugar pine.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The roots of a sequoia that fell over 150 years ago. These trees don't really decay the way most other trees do because of all the tannins in the wood. Fungi and bacteria that normally break down fallen trees do not like the tannins, so they don't go to work on fallen sequoias -- that is, not until after many years' worth of rains and snows have begun to wash off the tannins. You can see some green mossy stuff starting to grow on some of these roots.
(Photo by the Apple Lady. I don't know any of the people in this photo.)

  • Because of their resistance to fire and insects and decay, sequoia trees live for a really long time. The oldest known sequoia is estimated to be about 3,200 to 3,500 years old. When you're talking multiple thousands of years, what's a few hundred, give or take?
  • Fossils show that sequoia trees used to grow all over the place in the Jurassic period -- the time of the dinosaurs.
  • If a sequoia tree still has a bunch of dead branches on it on the lower section of the tree, that means it's younger than 100 years old. Mature sequoias generally shed their dead branches (or the branches get burned off) and are without any branches until about 100 to 150 feet up the trunk.
  • Sequoias survived the logging craze of the late 1800s, first of all because the bark is so thick it dulled the loggers' saws before they could get very far. But when the loggers got the trees cut down, they discovered that the wood is actually very brittle. Most of the sequoias that were cut down were used to make stakes for grape plants in vineyards because the wood was too brittle to be used for much else. When cut into planks, it warps, so it's no good for lumber.
  • The brittleness of the wood is often what causes sequoia trees' downfall (ha ha). In spite of their protection against fire and insects and fungi and bacteria, sometimes the burn scars can be so extensive that the remaining wood can't support the tree as well anymore and when a strong wind comes up, the wood cracks and the tree falls over.
  • The word sequoia comes from the name of the Cherokee man who wrote down the Cherokee alphabet, or syllabary.

Sequoyah, the man who invented the written form of his Cherokee language.
(Image from the National Park Service)

  • During a hunting accident in which his foot was permanently he was given the name "pig's foot," which is Seqouyah (sometimes Sikwayi) in Cherokee.
  • So the sequoia trees are essentially called "pig's feet."
  • But how did this man become connected with gigantic trees? He never even lived in California.
  • Sequoyah was born in Tennessee and grew up to be a fur trapper. After his accident, he couldn't trap anymore, so he learned blacksmithing and silversmithing. He got married and his family moved to Georgia.
  • In the War of 1812, he fought for the United States against the British and the Creek tribe.
  • While he was in the military, he observed his fellow soldiers reading and writing. He was inspired, not to learn English, but to write down his own language. He was convinced if the Cherokee had a written version of their language, they would have more power in the eyes of white people.
  • He experimented with pictographs and tried making new letter shapes based on the symbols in English, Greek, and Hebrew alphabets. After twelve years of hard work and with the help of his young daughter, he had represented all the sounds of his language in 86 symbols.
  • His syllabary caught on quickly, especially because of the way he taught it to others, and it wasn't long before thousands of Cherokee had learned to read and write their own language, which had before only been spoken.
  • He became very politically active on behalf of his fellow Cherokee, and acted as a diplomat on behalf of his people in Washington, DC.
  • His goal was to try to unite the Cherokee nation. He died in 1843 while searching for a group of Cherokee that were rumored to have gone south to Mexico.
  • It is said that one of the ways his memory was honored was by naming the great sequoia trees after him. But I can't find out when the trees were named, or by whom, or why they picked exactly this man.
Now I'm going to stop talking and show you more photos. I saved some of the best for last.

The base of the largest tree in Mariposa Grove, the Grizzly Giant. This photo doesn't give you any sense at all of how big this tree is. It's 209 feet tall, its trunk's circumference is 96 feet, and it was born some time around 700 B.C. This photo gives you a much better idea.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Some of the branches of the Grizzly Giant. That biggest branch at the top of the photo is 7 feet in diameter, which is larger than any of the non-sequoia tree trunks in the entire area.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Better still, here's a very short video I took panning up from the bottom of the Grizzly Giant to the top. You can even hear the wacky birds in the background. Ah, technology!

Sequoia tree tops
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Sequoias like sunlight.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

If you're curious, this is the type of camera I have.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, pamphlet from the Yosemite National Park
Susan D. Kocher, University of California, Berkeley, Why Does Giant Sequoia Grow Here
Economic Expert, Giant Sequoia
Marian Armstrong,
Wildlife and Plants, Sequoia
USDA Forest Service, Sequoia National Forest
Ross E. Koning, Plant Physiology, Wood and Bark
California State Parks, Parks Online Resource for Teachers and Students, Lesson 3, Fallen Giant
Howstuffworks, Sequoia
Wineanorak, Tannins in wine
Manataka American Indian Council, Sequoyah, Inventor of the Cherokee Syllabary
Encyclopedia Britannica, Sequoyah, Cherokee leader
The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Sequoyah (ca. 1770-ca. 1840)
Yosemite Hikes, The Grizzly Giant

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Apple #388: Tiananmen Square

I've been seeing all sorts of news articles about how the Chinese government is restricting access to certain websites in an attempt to keep its citizens from reading about what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

I haven't seen Blogger on their list of restricted sites, though. So on the very far off chance that someone from China might be able to see this -- I'm not sure if anyone from China has ever found this blog -- I'm going to post some information about that event. In an effort to keep this from getting blocked, I'll post my sources later.

  • Just as we refer to the World Trade Center bombings by the date when that occurred, 9/11, many of the Chinese refer to the events of Tiananmen Square by its date, 6/4.

Tian An Men Square in central Beijing.
(Map from the Beijing Centre)

  • In 1988, China had fallen into a seriously bad economic state. Inflation had risen, in some cities as 30%, people were panicking and drawing everything they had out the bank which caused several banks to collapse, and unemployment skyrocketed.
  • Students in particular had trouble finding jobs. What jobs were available were not available to them because of a cultural tradition of hiring family members, not necessarily the best qualified.
  • In the midst of this trying situation, a reformist pro-democracy movement leader named Hu Yaobang died of a seizure following heart attack on April 15, 1989. Students who had known him or his work began to gather in Beijing to mourn his death.
  • Then, according to one participant, as if by instinct, the group of students turned and marched toward Tiananmen Square. Their mourning became a protest. One participant realized this was happening and hastily scrawled some seven requests on pieces of paper. His requests were for things like freedom of the press, an end to corruption, the right to democratic participation.
  • The number of people chanting these requests grew, and soon the crowd was chanting and singing, calling for the people to come together and form a unified China that was truly by and for its people.
  • As the days passed, more students joined those already in the square. The military was standing nearby, armed with clubs and teargas, but they did not use their weapons. They stood still while the students marched around them, chanting slogans.

May 4, 1989, students surrounding soldiers who have linked arms to try to keep the students from getting through, but to no avail. I can't get over the sheer mass of people.
(AP Photo sourced from cryptome)

  • Throughout the protest, the students sent delegations to the office of the then-Premier, Li Peng, to negotiate. But as more time passed, both sides hardened in their positions, and they were not able to reach any compromise.
  • As news spread of the protestors, workers as well as students -- tens of thousands of them -- began traveling to Beijing to join the students in Tiananmen Square. Estimates put the number of people in and around Tiananmen Square at more than a million. Activity in the capital had reached a standstill.
  • According to one person who was there, everyone was friendly, joyous, excited. They were working together toward a common goal. According to one participant, you could ride the subway or the bus without paying. Everyone was smiling. "Pickpockets called a moratorium."

The crowd in Tiananmen Square. In the background is a statue of the Goddess of Democracy, made by Fine Arts students who modeled it after the Statue of Liberty. Just behind that is the image of Mao Zedong.
(Photo sourced from Facts and Details)

  • Some students began a hunger strike. Out of sympathy, residents of Beijing began to join them in the square. Then the hunger strikers began to pass out. Ambulances were trying to push through to those who needed medical attention. The government felt that it was all descending into chaos and on May 20, imposed martial law.
  • When troops arrived outside the capital, students and workers and citizens of Beijing rushed forward and put themselves in front of the soldiers, blocking their way. Some even lay down in front of the trucks and tanks. Remarkably, this seemed to stop the soldiers, or at least slow them down.

Student leader Wang Dan calling for a city-wide march, May 27, 1989. He was only just recently released from prison.
(AP Photo sourced from One Angry Man)

  • Over the next few days, the troops began to filter into the capital. The protestors' numbers dwindled, from over a million to 10,000 or so. Then some distance away from the square, a police van swerved and killed three bicyclists. The news spread quickly to the capital, to the protestors still in the square, who became angry and defiant. In their anger, some of the protestors beat up some soldiers. In response, the government told the military to stop the protest and to use whatever force was necessary.
  • The next day, before dawn on June 4, seven weeks after the students first marched into the square, the military drove its tanks into Tiananmen Square and opened fire. As the soldiers were firing, they were shouting, "Love the people!" Some of the tanks drove right over the students as they sat in the square, refusing to move. One man lost his legs when they were crushed under a tank. According to one correspondent, "many civilians are casually slaughtered for no apparent reason."

One man stood in front of the tanks as they rolled in. As they tried to avoid him, he repositioned himself in front of them again. At one point, he even climbed onto the front of one of the tanks. In the end, he ran off into the crowd. Others who stayed in front of the tanks were not so lucky.
(Famous AP Photo by Jeff Widener sourced from Libbie's site about 1989)
(For those who are not faint-hearted, here are some photos of some of the students who were killed that day, as well as other protests that have happened since then.)

  • The number of students and workers killed is still disputed. The Chinese government says 241 people died. The Chinese Red Cross estimated that 2,600 people had been killed, but later they retracted that number. Human rights groups and family members of those who were killed say the number is in the multiple hundreds.
  • An estimated 30 people are still serving prison sentences in China. Hundreds more are living in exile. They are still passionate about their country, and they look forward to the day when Chinese citizens can speak freely about what happened in Tiananmen Square.

This isn't a happy subject, so it seems to contradict the usual Daily Apple fare. But freedom of the press is a happy subject, and an important one. So I'm hoping to contribute even a little bit to that future, positive goal.