Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strange Red Asparagus

Strange Snow Plant
A snow plant near Yosemite NP, CA.

On a recent trip to Yosemite, I was was so curious about a red thing that I saw sticking out of the pine-needle covered ground as we drove through the forest to our camping spot. Actually, at first I thought it was a piece of garbage or something that was lying on the ground. But then I saw another red thing a few minutes later, and this time I was prepared to look at it more closely as I drove past.

It was so strange. I thought I just saw a red asparagus pushing its way out of the ground! Then I thought, maybe it was a mushroom!? But it didn't look like one because it was more stalky. Of course, my curiosity was building and soon I was actively looking out the window along the ground to see if I could spot another one.

Strange Snow Plant
Another picture of a snow plant near Yosemite NP, CA.

When I finally saw another one, I screamed to pull over on the side of the road so I could get a closer look at what it was! To my surprise, it actually was a red asparagus looking thing, and it was just popping out from the ground, in a small bunch, but pretty isolated. I couldn't resist, I had to poke it to see what it felt like and it was pretty firm, also like asparagus. WTF was it? We took some pictures, and yesterday I got a chance to 'google' it. What I typed into the search bar was "strange red sprout spring near Yosemite" and I actually got some search results that showed a picture of the same red thing I saw. What I learned is that the strange red asparagus thing is called a Snow Plant, named because it pops out of the pine-needle and snow covered ground in the spring, and it only grows in a couple western states in the mountains. The place it is most found is in the Sierra Nevadas in California, and that's exactly where I kept seeing it (while I was visiting Yosemite with my mom and dad).

It is a fungus flower. It doesn't need photosynthesis to live because it takes its nutrients from a network of fungus that attaches to the roots of pine trees. In exchange for nutrients, the fungus fixes nitrogen into the soil for the tree. The ones I saw were just sprouting, about 3-6 inches high, but they can grow about a foot high and bell-shaped red 'flowers' bloom all along the asparagus stalk. Once it gets big, it doesn't look like an asparagus anymore. The US Forest Service has a nice description of the snow plant on their website here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jenn Graduated!

Today was my graduation ceremony for finishing my Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the college of engineering at UC Berkeley. It took me two years - the first 3 semesters I took classes, and the last semester I did a lot of research towards my master's project (but I was still taking some extra classes as well). The ceremony was outside in the Greek Theater, which is like an amphitheater. The ceremony started at 8:30am while it was still foggy out, and there was a cold wind. I wore a lot of layers underneath my graduation gown so I could stay warm, but I was still a little chilly. And my gown had a hood, but I couldn't wear it of course, it was just decoration. After what felt like forever, with all of the speakers, I finally got my chance to walk across the stage! My mom and dad and Romy were in the audience. My mom flew in and my dad took the California Zephyr Amtrak train. Yay - I am officially done with my master's degree!

Master's Graduation
After the graduation ceremony at the Greek Theater at UC Berkeley

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Seeing the Hayward Fault

Looking for something interesting to do while it was all foggy this morning, my mom and I went on a short walk around Hayward to look at one of the best examples of creep along the Hayward fault at the intersection of Rose and Prospect St. The Hayward fault is one of a few faults that separate the Pacific plate from the North American plate and it runs along the east side of the San Francisco Bay along the base of the hills. The San Andreas fault is one of the more famous faults that also is part of the fault system that marks the separation of the two plates.

The Hayward fault has been responsible for large earthquakes in the past, rivaling those caused by the San Andreas, and it has been deemed as more dangerous than the San Andreas fault by seismologists in the Bay Area because it has a higher chance of rupture. We actually live less than a mile away from it! Isn't that scary? It runs right underneath the Mormon Temple up the hill from our place.

Hayward Fault
Sidewalk shifted at Rose and Prospect St in Hayward, CA.

Anyways, at Rose and Prospect St, the Hayward fault runs right under your feet. The sidewalks and asphalt on the road there has been repaired many times due to the constant shifting of the earth underneath it, but one corner has remained untouched since the late 1960s when the concrete was poured. We walked over to that corner to see what the creep did to the sidewalk over the past 40-ish years.

Jenn 5/15/2010
Sitting on the North American plate Rose and Prospect St in Hayward, CA.

As you can see, the corner that sits on the North American plate has slid past the section of the curb that sits on the Pacific plate. When the concrete was poured, the sidewalk was even with the curb! The amount of creep that you can see on the curb is much smaller than the amount of sliding that the actual plates are doing, or want to slide past each other. Therefore, stress is building up and eventually, once the strength of the rock is exceeded, the fault will slip and cause a major earthquake. If you don't believe me, check this page out. It shows pictures of the curb taken roughly every 10 years since 1971. You can see how it moved over time! Somebody painted two black arrows in the spring of 2006 which were touching, but now you can see they have been shifted by a few millimeters since then. Whats crazy is that there are really nice houses built right next to the fault! Who would want to live there!?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

New Garden Section

Yesterday I got the energy to clean up in the backyard after a whole winter of rain, which made all of the plants back there grow like wild. I got out the clippers and the broom and started pruning and clipping. Mainly, the bushes needed to be trimmed, which was pretty easy, however I kind of don't like cutting them down because they worked so hard growing and now I had to cut them off. Well, after a while, I just started pruning without thinking about it, and eventually the backyard started looking tame again. Then I got to the last bush - I don't know what it is but I think its a Californian native which I didn't like much. It has yellow flowers and long skinny green smelly leaves. Its okay as a bush, but whenever I try to prune it, the branches get really thick and hard to cut. The inner parts of the bush thin out, so when you prune it back, it looks bare because the new growth is only on the outside, which I had to cut off. Well, I decided to cut it down completely. Not only because it was a P.I.T.A., but also because it was blocking a lot of light for the other surrounding plants.

I spent the next couple hours with the saw, cutting down the bush, breaking the branches, and stuffing it into the green compost bin. Then I tilled the soil, which was now free of the large bush, and began thinking of better plants that I could put in its place. I got Romy to go to the Home Depot with me to find some native plants or other plants that don't need a lot of water. We ended up getting Lemon Bottlebrush, a Fig Tree, and Grape Vines which will produce red seedless grapes. All of these don't need a lot of water once established, which is good. Then I covered the ground around the new plants with about 2 inches of mulch.

Here are some pictures I took of the new garden section:

New Garden
Bottlebrush in bloom.

New Garden
The other Bottlebrush, not yet in bloom.

New Garden
Red seedless grapevine on a bamboo trellis.

New Garden
Three baby figs on the baby fig tree.

Jenn 5.08.2010
Posing with the new garden after a whole day of work in the backyard. Its finished!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Finished My Master's!

I am now done with my master's. Today was a big day! I gave my master's presentation and got my master's thesis signed by my committee, which was two professors from Berkeley (one from the M.E. dept and one from the E.P.S. dept). I also printed my thesis on special archival paper and got it bound so that it can be placed on the shelf at the library! The only thing left now is to walk across the stage on Sunday May 16th! Yay!
What's next? A summer full of research and a fair share of fun (maybe I should really say a summer full of fun and a fair share of research), a week-long conference in Maine, and then back to school again, this time in a new department for a PhD.
Here's a picture of me with my bound copy of my thesis. I look happy but soooooo exhuasted!

Jenn 5.04.2010
Holding up my bound copy of my master's thesis.