Monthly Archives: March 2013

Roadside Find: Zedonk (or Is It a Donkra?)

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Exotic fauna of Sutter County: a zebroid on the hoof (click for larger images).

We’re in the bittersweet last day or so of our joint spring break (Kate from the demanding world of public education, me from the somewhat less demanding world of public broadcasting). At the beginning of the week, we went on a mini road trip to see a relatively little-visited natural wonder I’d read about in the paper a few weeks (Feather Falls–more on that later). We wound up spending a day driving up to one of the state’s big reservoirs, Lake Oroville, a day hiking, then another day winding our way back down to the Bay Area.

There’s a certain part of the Sacramento Valley I’ve gotten to know from riding a bicycle through it–generally the area on the southern half or so of the valley, from the state capital up to about Chico. The most striking visual feature of that part of the state, almost everyone would agree, is the volcanic remnant rising up from the floor of the valley, known now as the Sutter Buttes. Someone sometime in the distant past–probably Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not, probably in the 1940s–designated the buttes, which rise to a maximum elevation of just over 2,100 feet and cover about 75 square miles, “the smallest mountain range in the world.”

One thing about the buttes: though a piece of the central buttes is now public land, access is across private land and thus only possible by appointment–either on a pre-arranged tour or with researchers (a public-radio colleague, Molly Samuel, got in a while back with some biologists studying an animal I had never heard of before: the ringtail). So what the public gets to do, generally, is drive around the perimeter. So Wednesday, that’s what we did, retracing a path I’ve ridden a few times in the past. West of Yuba City, just outside the little town of Sutter, we had our own exotic animal encounter.

Passing a farmyard, Kate called out, “Is that a zebra?” I missed whatever she had seen, but when I looked over, I saw a couple of llamas (more and more common on ranches here) and, very uncommon, a camel. A camel? A zebra? I turned around to take a look.

The “zebra” was pretty clearly a hybrid of some kind–probably a cross between a zebra and a donkey. She, or perhaps he, certainly looked like a donkey and had the docile, inquisitive nature of a donkey, coming right over to the fence to check out Scout (a.k.a The Dog). We checked out some of the other animals on the premises–some odd-looking goats, a pygmy donkey of some sort, the llamas, a few horses, the aforementioned camel, and a pack of furious dogs that seemed to contain at least one labradoodle.

Wikipedia says zebra/equine hybrids–known generally as zebroids–have a long history and even drew Darwin’s attention. The names for the crosses are many, including zonkey, donkra, zedonk, zebonkey, zebronkey, zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, and zebadonk. I came up with my own term: variegated ass.

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March Flower and Foliage Report

A few years ago, my sister Ann came out from Chicago about this time of year with Dan, my bro-in-law, and her kids, Soren and Ingrid. I don’t think it was a particularly storm winter for them, but there’s no mistaking the “spring” equinox in Chicago for actual spring. You may have a few balmy days under your belt by now, but you also know that winter can come back and dump on you any time (as it is right now well downstate from Chicago).

Anyway, when brother-in-law Dan is a gardener, and I remember how amazed he was to come out from the Midwest, where green stuff is still mostly cowering under cover, waiting for some signal that it’s safe to come out, and see everything that was in bloom at the same time here in our Mediterranean climate. It’s way too easy to get used to: we have a profusion of blossoms, fruit trees galore, odd and exotic species of many sorts, and most of the time I see all that only on the edge of what I’m really looking at–whether there’s a car bearing down on me as I cross the street or where the dog is headed next.

I think I’ve mentioned sometime since Christmas that my kids gave me a macro lens for Christmas. Its fine points are still a mystery to me, but it is a way of looking closer at a lot of the stuff (and flowers and foliage) I stroll past every day.

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Our Awesome Tent

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A couple summers ago, when our minivan was still part of the family, we spent a few days on a car camping trip up in the Sierra. The experience was pleasing enough that we resolved that eventually we’d replace our trusty but musty little four-person tent with something grander. Last year, feeling flush with a big tax refund in hand, we bought a really big car-camping tent from L.L. Bean (I think you’d characterize it as a car-camping tent; if you were going to backpack with it, you’d probably want a Sherpa just to lug the tent).

The tent came in a big box. It sat and sat and sat in that box, all the way through last summer and the car-camping season. Eventually, I opened the box, removed the contents, which were packed up in a nice nylon duffel bag, and stowed them in a closet. And there they sat through the fall and winter.

Now, Kate and I are off for the next week–I schedule my vacations according to the Oakland school district calendar. And we’re thinking we’ll drive up to the northern Sierra foothills, where it’s still pretty cold at night, to hike out to a waterfall we read about recently. But first, we had to break out the tent and pitch it so we know what the heck we’re doing when we reach our campground. So, in our Berkeley flatlands backyard today, we put it up.

Wow–it really is big. I think we’re going to camp out tonight.

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Cathedral Window

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My brother John and I were standing on the platform of the MacArthur BART station in Oakland once, years ago. The platform is set in the midst of a big freeway interchange. It’s got a nice view of towering overpasses in one direction. Since it’s elevated and bounced by four lanes or so of traffic on each side, it actually has an open view to the Oakland Hills on one side and out toward San Francisco Bay on the other. With all the traffic, the soaring, gracefully curved highway structures, the trains coming and going, you’re really conscious of how much industry and energy goes into what we build. And more than that, too. Standing there, John said, “These are out cathedrals.” Not that we build our highways to give expression to our understanding of the divine, but these structures somehow embody both a creative urge and give voice to how we see our connection with the world.

Anyway, yesterday, I was out on a short bike ride (to pick up the A’s tickets featured in another post), and took a bike lane that skirts the Maze, the huge tangle of overpasses and ramps that distribute eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge south toward San Jose, east and south toward Livermore and Stockton and Walnut Creek and Concord, and north toward Berkeley, Richmond, Vallejo and Sacramento. It was a beautiful early afternoon, and what was most striking was the way the highway structures framed the hills and mountains of Marin County.

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Filed under Berkeley, Current Affairs

Cathedral Window

bikelane030913.jpg

My brother John and I were standing on the platform of the MacArthur BART station in Oakland once, years ago. The platform is set in the midst of a big freeway interchange. It’s got a nice view of towering overpasses in one direction. Since it’s elevated and bounced by four lanes or so of traffic on each side, it actually has an open view to the Oakland Hills on one side and out toward San Francisco Bay on the other. With all the traffic, the soaring, gracefully curved highway structures, the trains coming and going, you’re really conscious of how much industry and energy goes into what we build. And more than that, too. Standing there, John said, “These are out cathedrals.” Not that we build our highways to give expression to our understanding of the divine, but these structures somehow embody both a creative urge and give voice to how we see our connection with the world.

Anyway, yesterday, I was out on a short bike ride (to pick up the A’s tickets featured in another post), and took a bike lane that skirts the Maze, the huge tangle of overpasses and ramps that distribute eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge south toward San Jose, east and south toward Livermore and Stockton and Walnut Creek and Concord, and north toward Berkeley, Richmond, Vallejo and Sacramento. It was a beautiful early afternoon, and what was most striking was the way the highway structures framed the hills and mountains of Marin County.

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First, Daylight ‘Saving’ Time; Next, Baseball

I have come to that time of life–or maybe it’s a passing phase–where I really like the apparent extra hour of sleep you get when you turn the clocks back in the autumn. Those sixty extra minutes in bed seem like forever, the luxury coming when you finally climb out of the sack and it’s still kind of early (or at least not noon). The business of turning the clock ahead and “losing” that time–gee, whoever said the forty-seven-hour weekend was a good idea. Yeah, I know it all balances out, and that an hour is an hour, and that the seasonal turning of clocks ahead and back doesn’t add a single minute to our time on Earth, and it doesn’t take a single minute away. (The foregoing rumination is probably triggered by the feeling that, man, do I have a hard time getting the prescribed x number of hours of sleep that researchers say I need to be a healthy, happy, organism.)

Here’s another sign of the turning of the seasons: baseball. Last year, we got kind of involved with the A’s again after years of distance born partly the team’s indifferent performance on the field and partly from disgust with an owner who seemed to be doing everything possible to alienate the team’s fans in advance of moving the team to somewhere else. But last year was really fun. The team dragged along below .500 for the first couple of months of the season, and then with a bunch of rookie pitchers and an unbelievable run of clutching hitting, they started winning and didn’t stop until they ran into the Tigers in the playoffs.

Our enthusiasm was such that we sprung for partial season tickets this year. The team sent them this week. When you buy tickets that way, you generally get a specially printed batch that features pictures of the team’s stars. We got those this year, packaged in a little bit of extra swag–a very cool A’s lunch box. We’re ready for opening day.

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Year of the Snake

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In TV parlance, the term “font” is often used to describe the on-screen titles that accompany graphics during a newscast. In my relatively brief stint in TV news, there’d by someone in the control room assigned to put the titles together, usually following a producer’s or writer’s instructions. It’s kind of an important job, because mistakes show up prominently on viewers’ screens and tend to leave the impression that the people putting together the newscast are rushed, careless, or incompetent. Above is a recent example from what I still habitually call our best local TV news show.

My understanding is that the job of doing the fonts has been handed to the writers, who are also asked to do other stuff–like video editing–that they didn’t used to do. It’s not that mistakes didn’t happen when more people were working on the shows; errors are part and parcel of trying to put out a pile of information on a tight deadline with fallible humans involved in the process. But in the era of smaller staffs and “working smarter, not harder,” the mistakes seem to happen more frequently. And if that’s the case–my observations are purely impressionistic, not backed up by any statistics–you have to think that as long as the shows pull their weight in the ratings and the ads are all sold, the people ultimately responsible for “Chinses New Year Parade” don’t really care too much about what shows up on the screen.

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