City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

January 10, 2017

January 10th

Wooden Noises

3:00 p.m. Last night media was concerned that flooding may occur because of the heavy rain and continuing high temperatures. Most of the snow is gone from south facing slopes and the snow left along the road is saturated with water. It has remained warm, so no crust has formed on the snow’s surface, but everywhere the snow is covered with bits of bark, leaves and dirt from a high wind. There is no sign of the potential flood; the stream has not risen; but, for the remainder of the season the risk of avalanche in the high Wasatch Front Mountains will be high. At higher elevations, this water soaked layer will form a base on which further snow layers will accumulate, and this can form a fracture zone in which back country skiers can be swept to burial. At Guardhouse Gate, a chickadee is sings a bright note. The sky is overcast and gives off a uniform diffuse light. For some stretches of the stream, I see hints of the silver ribbon (Dec. 26th).

Where the snow bank is partially eaten away, the bunch grass is exposed, and the dried tan grass is mixed in with still growing green shoots. Although recently soaked in water, this time the tips of the oaks and maples do not turn red-tinged (Dec. 11th), and the trees make no start at growth in response to the water. Although I had thought that mosses had stopped growing, at the down-canyon end of picnic site 4, I find two trees where on the west side, they are covered in bright orange lichen and on the east side, they are covered in a thick mat of dark-green moss.

From this weather, at picnic site 9, the Bald-Faced hornet nest is reduced to the size of a large grapefruit. At picnic site 1, the hummingbird nest is dissipating. I can partially see through its weaving.

Another storm front is approaching, and at mile 1.3, the wind gusts at 30 miles per hour while six anterless elk graze on a west hillside about three hundred feet away. The Gambel’s oaks creak and groan. Leaves rustle, and a single leaf loudly tumbles across the surface of the snow. There is a fourth sound. Where the wind causes two small branches to collide, they make a subtle dull and hollow thud sound, similar to tone of musical wooden xylophone. In their resting state, it sound as if the branches of trees are empty of water.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 10th, 1957, he records a -8 degree F. temperature with heavy snows that have trapped him at home. He recalls summer. On January 10th, 1858, Thoreau prescribes the snow-covered beauty of catkins as a remedy for winter seasonal affect disorder. He notes that any sight of “catkins, birds’ nests, insect life” is welcomed in winter. He observes a sunset in which pink light is reflected off of snow.


November 30, 2016

November 30th

Filed under: Birds, California gull, People, Sego lily — canopus56 @ 3:19 am

A Thanksgiving to the Utes and Goshutes

9:00 a.m. It is a season of reflection and giving thanks. One story of giving thanks involves the archetypal Utah edible plant is the state flower: the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttalli). It can be found along the ridges on either side of City Creek Canyon and that surround the City to its north and east.

Like most western states, Utah has a state pioneer narrative that has risen to become mythical. In California, that state’s pioneer myth is that culturally diverse group of pioneers came west to commercially exploit gold deposits, built part of a continent spanning railroad, and a powerhouse of innovation. That myth continues to drive California’s narrative and economy today. In Utah, its cultural narrative is tied to the religion of the Latter Day Saints (“LDS” a.k.a the Mormons) instead of commerce, although Utah, like California, was initially built on the riches of extracting precious metals, and not prayer.

The Utah L.D.S. pioneer narrative parallels our shared national mythology that first nation peoples saved the first Europeans settlers from starvation. With a gift of knowledge about native plants, the Utes also saved the first LDS pioneers from starvation. The popular current narrative of the LDS entry into Salt Lake Valley emphasizes that its industrious members plowed and planted fields on the first day of their arrival in the valley, and they then diverted water from City Creek Canyon to those fields. LDS members also celebrate their “miracle of the sea gulls,” in which those first 1848 crops were protected from locusts by divinely sent flocks of California gulls (Larus californicus), and thus, the first LDS settlers were saved from starvation. This event is memorialized by the sea gull being adopted by Utah as the state bird, and a statute was erected in the gulls’ honor on the LDS temple grounds.

The history of this state’s flower reveals that those first crops were insufficient. Notwithstanding the gulls’ intervention, and the first LDS pioneers faced starvation. Early pioneer women may have discovered from watching the Ute or Goshute First Nations peoples already in the valley that the underground bulb of the Sego Lily was edible (Cannon, 71), and the lily’s bulbs and other thistles sustained the first LDS pioneers through their initial hard seasons (id). Later, first generation Mormons served and ate cooked Sego Lily bulbs during the holidays in order to illustrate their privations to subsequent generations, and in 1911 as a remembrance of the tenacity of those first LDS Utahans in the face of hunger, Utah adopted the Sego Lily as the state flower (id, 74).

This season, remember to thank a Ute or Goshute tribe member for saving from starvation your ancestors who were among first Mormon settlers.

A version of this entry was published as a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake City Tribune on Nov. 26th, 2016.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 30th, 1858, he describes a winter setting sun. The low sun is a white-silvery disk. He describes an approaching winter storm seen twenty miles away with snowfall underneath that encroaches on a clear sky.

November 10, 2016

November 10th

Filed under: Avenues, Brown Trout, California gull, Fish, People, picinic site 5, Places, Plants, Seasons, Tamarisk — canopus56 @ 5:24 pm

Last Falling Leaf Day

9:30 a.m. On October 21st, I noted that there are various markers of Fall seasonal change, e.g. – the last flying insect, the last crawling insect, the first freeze, the first leaf fall, etc. Today is the day of the last falling leaf below mile 2.0, or nearly so. There are maybe one-quarter of a percent of leaves left to fall and tamarisks at picnic site 10 still need to loose their top leaves, but I will call it as done and over. The trees are now all bare, and it is the day of last leaf fall. Even so, a canyon of grey, brown, red, and tan sticks has its own appeal. This is especially so, because it is just over a week since cars (except for those of a few water treatment plant workers) have been banned from the canyon. If solace could be quantified or was one of the ancient Greek’s four humours, there is more of it in the canyon’s air.

It is a another beautiful warm, fall day, and I have taken to jogging in the frosted mornings to get some cold conditioning. The warm afternoon weather is making me too susceptible to catching a cold. In the lower shaded canyon, my breath is visible with each step. A professional ski team is doing pre-season conditioning in the canyon, along Bonneville Drive and along 11th Avenue. They are “double-poling” up the two to four percent grade of the canyon on roller-ski blades. This makes each skier do several hundred crunches per canyon mile. I am sure that it hurts as much as doing several hundred sit-ups, but the scenery provides some compensation and must take their minds off of the pain.

As is my usual practice, I stop at those locations that might feature notable insect or animal characters in the canyon, to see what is new with them, and today, at picnic site 5, I am rewarded by seeing trout jumping upstream over rocks. We have all seen representations, that is images on television, of salmon fighting their way upstream over natural rapids or man-made fish ladders, only to plucked from the air by a waiting bear. A miniature version of this occurs at picnic site 5, where the pool has been created by a man-made twelve inch line of rocks. Water pours over the rocks on the down-stream end and makes a mini-water fall. I notice a small splash at the rock pour. A small brown trout spelt is swimming furiously just on the upstream side of rocks. Then a nice 6 inch trout leaps over the rocks and lands next to the spelt. The spelt is swept back over the rocks, and a few moments later, tries again and lands in the pool. This time its vigorous swimming pays off, and it breaks free of the fast moving water near the falls into the calm water at the center of the pool. Although this is a trivial experience, I realize that I have never seen this before in person, but only through media, and it is all the more satisfying because it is a personal and not manufactured experience.

Two California gulls soar above the canyon at milepost 1.5. They are either going from their nesting grounds at the Great Salt Lake for a breakfast of scavenging in the dumpsters of restaurants in Salt Lake City, or they have finished breakfast and are going back to the lake.

In “Four Seasons” on this date, Barnes while describing a walk to the end of the road, provides an extensive list of flowers and weeds in City Creek that bloom during the spring through autumn (id. Nov. 10th).

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on November 8th, 1850, he records the increase in stillness during the Fall.

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