Repelling an Invasion of Bull Thistle

A little neighborly outreach can go a long ways, especially when the neighbors are forest and river.

It was hard to get me to care about invasive species. After all, up until recently, having a yard in western US suburbia meant importing just about everything – sod, plants, trees, and flowers – and keeping it irrigated to survive in a climate that didn’t really have enough water for that kind of thing. With everyone deliberately bringing in outsiders it seemed pointless to me to go into the neighboring hills to try to weed out invasive species of plants along the hiking trails.

Fast forward to having my own little plot of mountain land which came with very natural (read very sparse) landscaping. Me, and most of my neighbors, are foregoing grass in favor of plants that belong in this habitat and take less water to sustain.

A nice US Forest Service Ranger at one of the town events gave me her booklet on invasive species and asked me to be sure my yard only had native plants so that I wasn’t spreading invasives into nearby Tahoe National Forest and the Truckee River Watershed. I agree, thinking it’d be easy with a natural yard.

Wouldn’t you know, I came back from three weeks in Alaska to find my little postage stamp of land covered in weeds!


Most of my weeds turned out to be invasives called Bull Thistle ( or Cirsium Vulagare. Now I probably would have figured out for myself that I don’t want this bad boy in my yard:


What I didn’t know was how to get rid of them without spreading the seeds to my yard and my neighbors – both householders and the National Forest. The Forest Service requests us to Bag and Bake the bull thistle. That procedure entails pulling up all the weeds, getting their flowers and seed pods double-bagged, soaked with soapy water, and left to rot in the sunshine for several weeks. Here’s my bags ready to bake:


A few weeks later, on a weed walk sponsored by the Weed Warriors of the Truckee River Watershed Council I was introduced to one of the most noxious invasives of all in our area, the Spotted Knapweed. What makes it so harmful is that it actually puts out a herbicide that kills the plants around it. Spotted knapweed of course is immune to its own secretions and can produce thousands of seeds to take over an area.

Worst of all, something about spotted knapweed looked familiar. Sure enough, what I thought was a friendly flowering weed in my front yard had the tell-tale dark dots on its bracts.

(Photo credit: Andy Seigel)

Like a good citizen I’ve reported the spotted knapweed to the county. If they are able to spray it, fine. If not, I will be looking for professional help for this one.

Secret Value of Higher Education

An Open Letter to My College Age Friends:

I want to share with you an important secret my college professor spelled out for me. It is: College is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to think.

You’re probably wondering: “Don’t I already know how to think?”

Sure, but you can always do it better. Right now you know what is chill, can figure out your smart phone, and best of all, can drive a car. But the trouble is that none of that is likely to be relevant in 30 years. I want you to have the mental chops to deal with new things coming up and do it better than all the older people you have to help with their smart phones or send to to find out that Bill Gates is NOT going to give them a bundle of cash for passing on an email.

If you’re not convinced that you need to learn how to think even after growing up, double-click into the field of behavioral finance. You’ll get a tour of all the ways us humans are wired to make us poor rational decision-makers.

College helps you think better, not only by jamming on information about various topics, but also in forcing you to think in various ways you wouldn’t ordinarily.

For example, in science-related majors, you cover statistical thinking, which is increasingly useful to understand and predict the outcome of complex processes. And everything is complex now as we understand how things are connected.

Of course there’s the foundation of the scientific method that helps us to add to our knowledge in a structured and proven way. In everyday use, the scientific method leads me to search out reliable data when making decisions.

Having a strong grasp of critical thinking is necessary to figure out what is really going on, and more importantly, form a plan of what you do about it. Hear Malia tell it.

With so much mis-information in media, internet, and even books, it seems that skepticism is a key survival skill. If you get a chance to take a logic and reasoning class I’d highly recommend it so that you can identify an invalid argument when you hear it.

Great literature enhances our thinking too, showing us humanity through emotion, metaphor, allegory, and symbolism. Interestingly enough, reading literary fiction has been shown in scientific studies to increase people’s emotional intelligence.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t know stuff right away. Being able to learn is the important thing.

IMHO, intuition is, at best, earned. After the 10,000 challenging hours of practice required for expertise in most fields, answers may seem to just appear. Before that expert level, (and even after when randomness and statistical processes enter into the game), what people try with intuition is more often “into-wishing”.

Saying IMHO, reminds me how important it is to understand the distinction between fact and opinion. And when considering an opinion it is always necessary to gauge the capabilities of the person making the claim. Sadly, all too often unqualified people state their opinions as fact.
Barriers to Critical Thinking
Partly how this happens to people, I believe, is that they don’t know what they don’t know….in two ways.
1. They simply aren’t aware of the difference between fact and opinion, so they genuinely believe they know something when its really just their opinion because there is not enough evidence to support it as a fact.
2. Secondly, it’s sometimes hard to conceive of how very little we do know and uncomfortable to admit not knowing all that.

Starting in college was when I first learned how to tell when I didn’t know something. Apparently that skill has been growing ever since because every year I realize more that I don’t know!

The saving grace is that with an educated mind you have the tools to sort it out and the confidence to sit with the unknowns until you find your way.

Biking Outside Las Vegas

While in Las Vegas for the MoneyShow last May, I wanted to do something fun outside the Strip. The new River Mountains Loop Trail looked very inviting. The nearby towns have put in a 34-mile paved bike trail that loops along the shores of Lake Mead and through the desert. (Hi-Res Map of Whole Trail)
For me it will be a 22-mile out-and-back jaunt along the main paved trail from Boulder City to the Alan Bible NPS Visitor Center and then on the Historic Railroad Trail to Hoover Dam.
I rented a nice mountain bike (since I like to be upright and the Railroad Trail is not paved) from All Mountain Cyclery. They were very helpful — let me in when I showed up early and got me on my way quickly.
From the bike shop it is a quick uphill on Yucca St to join the trail at Bootleg Canyon Park.
Lots of mountain bikers use the dirt trails in Bootleg Canyon. Here’s some artwork they left behind:
bike rocks
I stick to the paved path which heads downhill in a big way — sometimes sailing down the sluice channel for desert flash floods.
Sluice Ride
The trailhead for the Railroad tunnels and Hoover Dam is relatively easy to spot out of the Visitor Center Parking. What gave me pause was the gate on the dirt trail because the rocks seem to lead the other way and the gate makes it look like a private construction site. But yes, going through the gate is the way to the dam.
Gate to RailRoad Tunnels
The tunnels were constructed for the railroad to bring the materials to build Hoover Dam. Here I am looking forward to checking them out:
tunnel in background
And here’s the view from inside. Nice and cool with no trolls!
At the dam, they make you lock up your bike
 Hoover Dam Bike Lockup
Way up here above the dam.
But the walk down is worth it, and not only for the ice cream in the cafe!
Couldn’t resist a side-trip onto the walkway on the new O’Callaghan-Tillman Bridge across the Colorado River which gives traffic a way to bypass Hoover Dam. Here’s the view back to the dam. Amazing they felt the need to paint that danger warning on the top of the concrete dam, isn’t it?
Finally, its time for the looong climb back to the bike shop. I did this on a sunny late spring day — perfect clear skies and temps in the 70s. Still, a dip in Lake Mead looks very inviting.
I settle for a stop in the shade of a culvert because I fear the extra 1000′ climb up from Lake Mead is more than enough for one day.
Along the way, I get to study the “Trail Closed” signs I flew by on the way down. I wonder what that’s about as I wasn’t the only rider to ignore them. Considering this path is my best route home, up I go.
Back to my car and then a stop at the Railroad Pass Hotel. This old-school casino offered $7.99 prime rib for a hearty refuel after the ride.
They are also right on the bike trail — will remember that for next time.

Pinnacle of a Hike

Our ladies hiking group returned to explore the Pinnacles National Park up, down, and sideways. The park is actually half a volcano which the San Andreas fault pushed northward. The other half was left 195 miles south in Lancaster, which is just north of L.A.
Pinnacles High Peaks Wall

The trail winds through the Bear Gulch Caves at the base of the rock formation. Mercifully, no bears — or bats! Just a trickle of an underground stream inhabits the cave. With several twists, turns, and shimmies, one has plenty of time in the cave to wonder what is the attraction to crawling under the rocks at the base of a volcano on an active fault line…
Bear Gulch Cave at Pinnacles National Park

The antidote to the claustrophobia of the caves is the calm peace of the reservoir on the other side.
Reservoir at Pinnacles National Park

Soon enough, the trail turns upwards.
Climbing the Pinnacles

Rails installed by 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corp help us scale the walls. Nice to get over 70 years of use from that government-sponsored work program. (photo by our fearless leader.)

The reward includes sweeping views of the northern California landscape. You can see the faint thread of a dirt trail in the distance. Soon that dust will be on our boots as we begin the long road home.
long road home from pinnacles

Ski Gear Favs

Back Side of KeystoneIn two ski trips to Colorado and one to Tahoe, my camera rarely made it out of my pocket. This one is from a way backside run at Keystone.

Instead of photos, let me mark the trips with a short report on some of my favorite gear.

Top of my list in terms of keeping me safe is my helmet. It is comfortable and warm. I wouldn’t ski without it.

From now on, a helmet will be worn any time ski boots are on my feet due to the embarrassing fact that my worst fall of the season took place in the ladies room at lodge at the base of the Birds of Prey lift at Beaver Creek.

I keep a second helmet in Colorado so that it doesn’t get bashed by the airlines.

Top of the list in terms of interest from ski lift companions is my smartphone dry bag. I keep the lanyard clipped inside my jacket pocket. In a pinch, I can operate the phone right through the bag. Mostly I slide it out for use.

Pros: Keeps the phone dry and attached to me.
Cons: No headset jack. Break-away lanyard may be fine for wearing about the neck. For my uses attached to my coat pocket, I had to tie it together more firmly.

SmartWool PhD Ski Socks are a must-have for a great day of skiing. Yes, its crazy to spend that much on socks. But it’s less than custom boots.

I love my new ski coat. One of my favorite things about the jacket is the slim pocket on the left arm. Great for holding my ski pass! Not so good for holding reading glasses as the glasses snapped and if you look close at the pic above it looks like my arm bone snapped too!

An Alternate View of Hawaii

You’ve seen the sunny view of Hawaii. Even nightfall comes with a blaze of sunshine.
Sunny Sunset on Oahu
Get ready for something different!

Maybe because I’m blogging on a rainy day again. Or because staying on Oahu where even the west coast — usually the dry side of a Hawaiian island — means a brief shower that put us under a grass mat almost every day.

Anyway, here comes the storm on Oahu.

Here Comes the Storm Oahu

Storm Oahu

We waited out the next storm beside a small harbor off the beaten track:
Waiting the Storm Out

And the storm cleared (most) of the tourists from Hanauma Bay, freeing up parking and beach space for us late-comers.
Hanauma Bay

And how about a little moonshine at the hotel?
Moonlight over Ko Olina

Or over dinner?
Moon Rise from Restaurant

Okay, one last sunset. This with storm clouds carrying the color.
Stormy Sunset

Rainy Days

(Enjoying a March rain from indoors today and catching up on a little blogging.)

Very little rain this year in California, yet one of the storms came on the day of the Walkie Talkie Ladies expedition to Pinnacles.raindrops_at_pinnacles
Bring on the rain gear!
At least the wet brought out the fall colors. (photo by Dr. Marilyn J. August)
Pinnacles color _byMarilynAugust
But we thought better of scrambling over wet rocks…
…and will wait until spring to scale the High Peaks (photo by our fearless hike leader).

Rabies Shots!

Rabies Vaccine for Humans
Maybe this is why rabies vaccine for humans gets a bad name: the nurse comes and dumps an armload of needles on the tray. Sorry for the blurring photo but i think my hands were shaking.

It turns out to be not as bad as the urban legend. Seven shots yes, but not long needles in the stomach. It seems they want to inject into muscle tissue and, I’m sad to report, there is little of that in my abdomen area. So two sticks in each thigh, one in each arm, and one more in the butt for good measure. I have 3 more follow-up visits and it’s done!

This whole thing came about because this little guy zoomed into my RV up at a campground in Tahoe.
Rabid Bat
I didn’t know it at first. I thought the silent dark glider that went in the open window was a moth. Other people said it was a bird. I left the windows open a good time, didn’t see anything when i looked around, and forgot about it.
Next day the poor sick bat was lamely trying to get out the “kitchen window”. I left quietly, shutting the camper door behind me. Left my phone inside though. D’oh!

Many thanks to the animal control office who caught the bat and brought it in for testing. Unfortunately, it came back positive for rabies.

Since we both spent the night in the bat cave, the health department recommended vaccine for me. Here is the bat cave above the cab:
bat cave
And my rented “batmobile”:
Before the health department caught up to me, I had researched the bat as my Native American totem. Various web pages said the bat was viewed as a source of intuition and a symbol of rebirth.

In a shamanic culture, my brush with the bat might be regarded as good fortune and an opportunity to see more of the world beyond this one. So what if it ended in madness and death. We all die anyway.

Being of this culture, and not at all ready to step through the doorway to the next world, I took the shots and (I hope) shut down the possibility of any altered bat states.

Right now, I’m just hoping my superpower will be immunity to rabies.

Life-Changing Book: Mindset

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is one of those books that can change one’s life in a short read. I’m so psyched about this book that I am re-posting my Amazon review here:

The idea of the book is that people who adopt a Growth mindset – believing they can learn to do better – achieve much more than people who think they only have whatever talents they came with.
I like to learn and started the book thinking it would affirm all my growth mindset goodness. From the detailed examples, I could see areas where I really was limiting myself with a fixed mindset.
Now I’ve tried to take more of a growth approach, and am learning more. Best of all, things that were previously drudgery for me are a little easier as I see them in a new light of building skills.
Also useful in the book are tips for parents / teachers / coaches on how to set children on the growth mindset early.
Good stuff! I highly recommend reading this book!