Archive for January, 2019

San Francisco, Part 6.

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

More California Academy of Science! You thought we were done? Not even close.

In addition to Claude the albino alligator the academy has Methuselah. She is, uh, beautiful on the inside I’m sure. Here is a video of Methuselah.

https://www.calacademy.org/explore-science/meet-methuselah-celebrating-a-longtime-academy-icon

One of the best aquariums I’ve ever seen was the Philippine Coral Reef. Cricket has gone on a ton of scuba dives and he said it was spot-on. I spent a real long time sitting downstairs staring at the fish, probably too long. I do not regret creeping people out.

There were great smaller tanks behind the giant tank and I saw an animal I thought I would never get the opportunity to see. Appropriately, I freaked out.

It was a flamboyant cuttlefish.

Here is a video of the flamboyant cuttlefish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51jB8YljliM

Do you appreciate how amazing this is? Do you see that with the stripey-stripeys? It helps to know he is very wee, like the length of my thumb pad. I made a short gif based on a video I took of my wee sweetie.

Since this is a natural history museum they do have a small area of taxidermied animals. It’s pretty small but it has all sub-Saharan animals which is my jam. They had a lot of antelope and a bushbaby and a steinbok. One of the most surprising things was how close you could get to the stuffed giraffes. Every time I’ve seen a giraffe it has been far away. I got to get right up next to one and I never realized that I can walk right under it and the top of my head would not come close to grazing the bottom of the giraffe’s belly. I’m five foot six so that’s pretty high. And that’s just the bottom of the stomach. There’s a ton more midsection above that and only after that the neck starts. The giraffe is massive. At the end of the short dead animal area was a penguin exhibit, live penguins. But because the California Academy of Science is smart as hell the penguins are behind a thick plate of glass because penguins STINK. They stink so hard because, you know, they eat fish all day and then they poop and there you have it. Vibrant, nuanced. But the CAS has installed plate glass which is glorious.

Now here comes the coolest part of the Behind the Scenes tour. We got to go to the specimen rooms. Specimen rooms, in case you don’t know are rooms filled with jars and drawers of nearly organized dead things, a.k.a. my dream place. Here’s an article with all the examples.

https://www.businessinsider.com/museum-of-natural-history-behind-the-scenes-2016-3#and-inside-the-museums-paleobiology-collections-are-approximately-40-million-fossil-specimens-that-span-25-billion-years-of-life-on-earth-including-more-than-1500-different-dinosaurs-11

I only saw the wet specimens and dry specimens. The wet specimens are natural elements in jars filled with ethanol. That prevents the specimens from decomposing. I mean, none of them look good, but they’re still vaguely shaped how they’re supposed to be shaped. The ethanol strips them of all their color so all the animals are gray or brown or black. You can see a picture of wet specimens in the article above, it’s the room filled with amber-colored jars. I didn’t take too many pictures in there but I did take three of significance. One, a big jar full of vampire bats. Suuuuuper dead bats.

A fact I found amusing was when the academy started the jars weren’t big enough so some of the specimens are clearly in former mayonnaise jars.

Here’s the most important pic of the day. In one of the jars was an anglerfish. I had resigned myself to never seeing an anglerfish due to the fact that they live at the bottom of the ocean and when they get to the surface they die because their bladders cannot handle the lack of pressure. Now I was being presented by one, in its entirety, directly in front of me. Aaaaaand for a change of pace, I freaked out. Cricket took a photo of me. The reason my hands are all curled up is because I am making every effort to not grab the jar of anglerfish and run away forever.

I know it’s really dark in the jar so I put that photo in the upper left for reference. You can kind of see her lower jaw in there. I know it’s a lady fish because anglerfish have a very unique way of procreating. Because it’s very hard for one anglerfish to find another, when a male finds a female he latches on to her underbelly (he’s very small compared to the female). Eventually his mouth parts fuse to her body and her blood flow goes through him, but whenever she needs sperm there he is, a parasitic testicle. You could see her fishing lure on her forehead. I loved her. Some of her transparent scales had fallen off so when the jar was moved it was like she was in a snow globe with glitter. I asked the tour guide why it was like that and he said, “She’s fabulous.”

One last photo from the Academy: some scary baby birds.

Here’s another pic that really captures the weirdness.

Coming up next: Ceramics and live beasties. Two things I am very fond of.

San Francisco, Part 5.

Monday, January 7th, 2019

The best thing ever! But first, other things.

An orchid I saw at the Conservatory of Flowers. I’ve never seen an orchid that looks like a hand.

At first I was pissed at the Conservatory of Flowers because it was clearly a “crystal palace” which is like the big ole greenhouse. Here’s the one in NY and London.

See? Clear. Clear glass. Now, at the San Fran building they painted it white. I was confused and displeased.

Uhhh, what the hell is that? So the first thing I did upon entering is ask the ticket dude what possessed them to paint a magical glass facility. Ticket Guy explained that this conservatory’s collection is made up of forest floor plants so if they left the building clear the plants would die. He said once the paint had to be scraped off and repainted and during the time that the panes were bare some of the plants got burn marks on their leaves.

Huh. Well then. I apologize for my ignorant and unwarranted grumples. The plants can have all the shade they want.

The plants were lovely but the facility is small so don’t plan to spend more than 45 minutes total in there until you’re really into pitcher plants. Lotta carnivorous plants. I asked the docent if they need to bring in crickets for the little meat eaters and the docent said no, the plants find enough buggies to feed themselves.

Okay, get ready. We’re going to see the greatest thing I saw on this trip. I was walking to the San Francisco Museum of Art and Design (more on that later) and as Cricket and I turned a corner there it was on the sidewalk chillin’ like nothing.

That’s an owl. An owl. Oooowwlllll. Holy crap, owl. That’s my favorite animal in the whole world. I handled it pretty well, considering.

Closer photo of one of the best things that happened in San Francisco.

I was concerned that Mr. Owl was out during the day so I very slowly walked up to him so I could collect him and we could hang out and go on adventures forever but he flew away. I promptly contacted Snorth and she told me it was a Burrowing Owl. I don’t know all the owls, there are a lot of owls. I know like 25.

Which is correct because Burrowing Owl are diurnal as opposed to nocturnal so it was completely normal for Mr. Precious Angel to be hanging out during the day.

Okay, onto the California Academy of Science. Guys. Guys. If there’s one place you go while you’re in San Francisco, go to this. Most Museums of Natural History have a ton of dead things. This museum have a ton of live things. And take the Behind-the-Scenes tour. Phenomenal. Totally worth it, every penny. You want an aquarium? They got an aquarium. You want a botanical garden? They got some of that. Allow me to take you through some of the exhibits they have there.

1) Let’s talk about the building itself. Apparently the old place fell down during an earthquake and was rebuilt to be crazy environmental. There’s no heating or cooling system, the BTUs of the visitors’ heat and the windows and skylights maintain a controlled, comfortable temperature. Cricket and I were taken up the living roof. The roof is covered with the indigenous plants of the area and it’s someone’s job to go up there and pull out the plants that don’t belong. There are rock paths that provide drainage. And there are big humps with windows on them which help control temperature as well.

In addition to the beautiful flowers there were also whale bones. Why, you ask? It’s because when whale bones arrive at the museum they are greasy and the scientists don’t want to work with them. So they leave them on the roof to bleach in the sun and when they’re done bleaching their not greasy anymore.

The other cool thing is the building is built on four concrete blocks that have springs underneath them so if there’s another earthquake each block will move individually.

2) The rainforest. It’s a 4-story space inside a big dome. There are butterflies flapping around. There are poison dart frogs. There are lizards. There are birds. There are fun facts on plaques. It’s built like the Guggenheim Museum in New York where you walk up a circular ramp that leads you to the top and you take a elevator down. From the top level you can see most of the rest of the museum.

3) The swamp. Claude lives in the swamp. Claude is an albino alligator. He can’t live in the wild because the prey would see him immediately and he’s blind. He was born in 1995. He has been at the museum since 2008. Claude had a girlfriend but they had to be separated because she bit his toe off due to him constantly bonking into her (he blind). There are also large snapping turtles in his enclosure but they don’t bite him much.

That’s it for now. Coming up: More California Academy of Sciences and a bunch of art.

San Francisco, Part 4.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

We’re going to delve into Muir Woods! But first, not Muir Woods.

I got my first coffee with a fancy pattern! And it was at a profoundly hipster coffee shop! I was delighted.

Continuing with the consumption theme I went out for dim sum in San Fran Chinatown. It was awesome. Look at this sampler platter.

I rotated the sampler so you could see the bunnies.

The plants in San Francisco are better. They have a far more temperate climate so they can have bougainvillea, and palm trees, and hibiscus. Their Roses of Sharon look more hibiscus-y than ours.

Okay, Muir Woods. I’ve spoken about it before (you have to scroll down quite a bit, it’s there) but I have new information this time. Let me share this new information with you.

I was in California during the horrible fires in Paradise. It was horrendous to see on the news and people in San Francisco who probably have friends and family in the affected area were distraught, justifiably. The air was filled with smoke. People were wearing bandannas and painter’s masks in an attempt to curb the smoke inhalation but none of them took the major gaps of either approach into their judgment. While a good thought they were useless. The reason I’m mentioning this is my pictures at Muir Woods are particularly beautiful due to the particulate in the air but it’s a bittersweet beauty because you know how much suffering is associated with it.

The trees be old.

I admired their aggressive will to survive. For example, this tree was struck by lightning or burned or something, it’s black and dead. Look in the middle, you can kind of see it. So it made children with its roots and sent them up all around it. I think it’s called a Family Tree.

I also was impressed by the trees that fell over with their roots out of the ground and were like, well, I’ll just grow vertical trees out of my horizontal branch. Send roots down through it. Problem solved.

Look at the size of these clovers! They match the trees in beefiness.

In case you don’t have a sense of the size of the trees, this hole at the bottom could accommodate four or five full-grown adults sitting. Big. Very big. And large. And also tall.

And now the beautiful / sad photos. No photoshop of any kind.

It was nice to see that Muir Woods has signs about conservation and the environment and when you get to their gift shop and cafe they actually walk the walk.

Next post: Art and the bestest thing that happened to me on this trip.