City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 25, 2017

June 25th

Fishing spiders

5:00 p.m. The first mile of road has turned into a green tube, and the garland of butterflies described on June 15th and June 22nd continues. The sky is clear and the air calm. Trees overhang above and views of the stream are obscured by thick underbrush except at picnic sites. The stream can also be accessed at small breaks made by anglers or at small natural breaks. There about ten of these breaks along the first road mile. I force myself through several of the breaks and look down to enjoy the cool, transparent stream. At each I find various types of spider webs: disordered tangle webs, sheet webs hung low just above the waterline, and the circular webs of Orb weaver spiders (Araneus sp.). Paradoxically, I see no spiders today, but their webs are full of hapless arthropod victims.

Lining the stream banks at these breaks are Bittersweet nightshade plants (Solanum dulcamara) a.k.a. Climbing nightshade with deep blue blossoms. These plants hug the stream’s steep banks and vertical rock retention walls, and they grow just above the waterline. At a few places along the first road mile, they incongruously protrude from the understory of serviceberry bushes (Amelanchier sp.), and there they are noticeable because their colorful blossoms are one of the few flowering plants that are left after the spring flower explosion. The Nightshade’s blossoms are either shriveling or extend vibrant yellow cones surrounded by blue petals. In the fall, these will yield bright red fruit.

Looking up from the stream and into the thick green sub-story, there are butterflies everywhere. They are the usual suspects for a canyon spring and early summer: Cabbage white butterflies, Western tiger swallowtails, Mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa). These are now joined by White Admiral butterflies and by Common whitetail dragonflies patrolling overhead. I am used to seeing this floating butterfly assemblage traveling linearly on their feeding searches along bushes on the road’s sides, but here they fly in their natural setting. The butterflies follow large spiral flight paths broken by and traveling through the dense shrubs. In this setting, their frenetic sharp turns and chaotic shifts are necessary to navigate this complicated scene, and this explains these seemingly purposeless motions on their flights over the road. In this manner, the butterflies explore every possible hiding place in which a flowing blossom might be found.

At each of my stops along the stream, I see about five butterflies, and together with butterflies along the road, I estimate that there about 100 butterflies in the first mile road. Two Painted Lady butterflies (Venessa cardui) are also patrolling the roadside bushes. What flowering plant these butterflies are searching in the shurb understory is a mystery. The daytime flowering blossoms of spring are past, and only a few Foxglove beardtongue flowers remain open producing nectar. The only substantial flowering plant left is Yellow sweet clover. But the stands of this weed that line only the roadsides are fading, and on any one plant only one-third of the blossoms found at their peak are viable.

The fierce post-solistice sun begins to affect tree leaves. One or two Gambel’s oaks and Norway maples have a brace of leaves that are browned and shriveled at the edges. Once damaged, their leafs curl up, and the crabapple tree at the upper end of Pleasant Valley near mile 1.7 shows similar signs of stress. But the deciduous trees’ principal defense against the loss of water from heat and sunlight is a waxy layer on the upper surfaces of trees. This is best seen on the leafs of the western River birch trees. At the right angle to the Sun, their canopy flashes dappled green light for leafs titled away from the light and a blinding silver-white light for those at appropriate angle of reflection. University of Sussex ecologist Hartley notes that the waxy layer provides another benefit: it is some tree’s defense against caterpillars (Hartely 2009). Although caterpillars have evolved specialized feet to grasp leaf surfaces, caterpillars have a hard time walking over the wax layer, they fall off, and the plant is preserved. This may explain the caterpillars sometimes found along the road in the last week. I had supposed the caterpillars had crawled onto the roadway, but perhaps they have slipped and fallen from above.

Returning down canyon from milepost 1.5, insects are backlit by the Sun, and this makes them easier to see. At mile 1.1 near the entrance to lower Pleasant Valley, 30 to 40 Common whitetail dragonflies are circling between 50 and 100 feet above ground. Between the road surface and fifty feet, there are none. In cool places beneath the shade of trees, the prey of the dragonflies, groups of up to 100 gnats float. A small, immature desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) scurries into the bushes.

Also mile 1.1, I hear raptor screams, and this repeats my earlier experience of June 21st. They are the unmistakable calls of two Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus). This time I travel back up canyon to get a better view, and below the eastern canyon wall near mile 0.8, more than a quarter-mile away, two peregrines are driving a smaller bird away from the canyon sides. There loud screams travel coherently through the calm summer air. This may be where the peregrines are nesting this season, but that side of the canyon does not have the steep cliffs found on its western walls. I note to watch this area closer to see if a nest can be confirmed.

* * * *

Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 25th, 1852, he sees a rainbow in the eastern morning sky. He opines that younger birds are duller in color in order to protect them from predators. He hears a bobolink and a golden robin. He sees wild rose and butter-and-eggs. He notes that in cool air, the ridges on distant mountains are more distinctly seen. He describes a moon-light walk. On June 25th, 1853, he finds two bushes of ripe service berries and associated cherry birds. On June 25th, 1854, he sees a bittern. On June 25th, 1858, he sees two or three young squirrels playing. He observes how objects including grass and water skimmers cast lenticular shadows on the bottom of a river. He again notes how the lighter undersides of leaves illuminate dark sprout forests.

* * * *

On June 25th, 1946, City Water Commissioner D. A. Affleck closed all lands in lower City Creek and above 14th Avenue to entry in order to prevent the possibility of grass fires (Salt Lake Telegram). Campfires were prohibited in upper City Creek Canyon (id). On June 25th, 1913, City officials plan to inspect the headwaters of Salt Lake valley canyons for water purity as part of a plan to develop more water sources (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 25th, 1896, new silver and lead ore bodies were discovered in upper City Creek Canyon about one mile from the old Red Bird Mine on Black Mountain (Salt Lake Herald). Mining work continues at other mines in the Hot Springs mining district, which includes City Creek (id). On June 25th, 1892, an old, destitute woman who had been living in cave in City Creek Canyon was sent to the hospital (Salt Lake Times).

June 13, 2017

June 6th

Sufficiency and Necessity

5:00 p.m. It is the fourth day of near record heat in the nineties. On the heat of the afternoon, only a few birds are heard: Warbling vireo, Black-headed grosbeak, Song sparrow and American robin. There is one each of this season’s common butterflies: Weidemeyer’s Admiral butterfly, Western tiger swallowtail, Mourning cloak butterfly, and Cabbage white butterfly. Because of the heat, there is no one on the first mile of road, although the parking lot is three-quarters full.

Returning down canyon, an American robin alights in the grass of a picnic site, cocks its head to one side, and then jabs down with its bill to pull out a fat earthworm. It comes and goes in a moment.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 6th, 1852, he notes the season’s first dragonflies. On June 6th, 1853, he records pink corydalis and side-saddle flowers, He sees blue-eyed grass, a flower, in meadows, lambkill, and huckleberries. He describes a slippery elm and hears bluebirds singing. He notes that under the summer sun, the ground is drying out and notes which spring flowers have peaked due to lack of water. On June 6th, 1854, he smells locust trees. He sees a viola by a river and examines the shapes of leaves of various trees. He again reports dragonflies and Sphinx moths. On June 6th, 1855, records seeing blue-eyed grass blooming. On June 6th, 1856, he admires that bird’s nests are well constructed. On June 6th, 1857, he notes leaves and grass dominate, i.e. not flowering plants. He notes dwarf dandelions are common. On June 6th, 1860, he notes that undergrowth foliage is becoming dense. At night, he observes bats in the sky and water bugs on a stream.

* * * *

In a 1995 article, Montgomerie of Queen’s University and Weatherhead at Carleton University conducted a series of controlled experiments concerning the most common of human experiences – seeing a robin pull of worm from underneath the ground. How do robins so expertly perform this task? It seems as if they can somehow see beneath the ground to locate their prey. I like their study because it nicely illustrates how proof of causation can be shown in laboratory controlled experiments and how designing such experiment is a difficult art. Such causation proofs are done using bi-directional “if and only if” implication, and such logic problems are the bane of graduate school candidates who sit for standardized entrance exams.

Montgomerie and Weatherhead suspected that robins use either sight, smell, vibrations, sound or some combination of the four to locate underground worms. In their experiments, Montgomerie and Weatherhead measured the success rate of robins finding mealworms in four artificial environments: First, live scent, sound, and vibration emitting mealworms were buried in the same cage as smell emitting but soundless and vibration-less dead worms. Second, robins were placed on a layer of soil that contained a buried cardboard sheet that covered soil containing live mealworms. Thus, the robins could not rely on visual cues to find their prey. Third, they buried mealworms in a vertical soil containing wall of a cage. Thus, the robins could not feel the vibrations of the buried worms. Fourth, they placed robins on soil containing buried live mealworms but used a white noise generator to mask any noises that the worms might make. The robins could find worms in the absence of sight, smell and vibration cues. They had less success when finding buried worms when sounds were masked with white noise (id).

Proving causation by bi-directional “if and only if” implication involves showing that cause implies effect using propositional logic, that is “If a (C)ause exits, then the (E)ffect occurs” or C -> E in symbolic logic. In bi-directional “if and only if”, the (E)ffect must also imply the (C)ause, or E -> C. The C -> E part is usually described using the language that “C is a sufficient cause for E”, and the E -> C part is described using the language “C is a necessary cause for E”. The mathematics of propositional logic tells us that C -> E is the same as not(C and not E). Conversely, E -> C is the same as not(E and not C). Thus, E -> C, sufficient causes and necessary causes can be expressed as an overlapping butterfly Venn diagrams. Draw two overlapping circles and label the left circle “C” for causes and the right “E” for the effect. Sufficient causes are in the left circle, and necessary causes are subsets of the effect and appear within the right circle. Necessary and sufficient causes appear in the overlapping area. All of this confusing propositional logic is normally reduced to two simple tests for the propose of analyzing causation and taking graduate school entrance examinations:

• Sufficient cause test: Any candidate Cause that is present when the Effect is absent is eliminated as a candidate sufficient cause. This is equivalent to not(C and not E) in proposition logic symbolism.

• Necessary cause test: When an Effect is present when a candidate Cause is absent is eliminated as a candidate necessary cause. This is equivalent to not(E and not C) in proposition logic symbolism.

• Necessary and sufficient cause test: Is the intersection of the remaining results after application of previous two tests.

Finding a necessary and sufficient cause is accomplished by building a table of causes and the resulting effect. Eliminate causes that fail either the sufficient or necessary causation test and take the intersection of the two lists. The remaining candidates are sufficient and necessary causes. The proof that those candidates are the cause of the effect is done. This is best illustrated by Pasteur’s experiment that demonstrates that the fermentation of liquids like grape juice and milk was caused by particles in the air and did not arise spontaneously from particles in those liquids. This was Pasteur’s proof of the germ theory of disease.

To prove that particles in the air causes liquids to ferment and not particles in the liquid, Pasteur constructed flasks with a long-thin neck. Potential causes of fermentation are air in the flask, air in the liquid, and air outside the flask. In his first test, he heated the grape juice (or milk) to destroy any bacteria in the milk and the long-neck excluded outside air. The liquid did not ferment. The result where fermentation is absent shows under the sufficient cause test, that neither particles in the liquid or in the flask’s air cause fermentation. That left the air outside the bottle as an untested candidate sufficient cause. In his second test, he again heated the liquid and air inside the flask to kill all bacteria, but then broke off the long neck that excluded outside air. The liquid fermented. This result where fermentation effect is present shows that under the necessary cause test, air outside the flask contains particles that cause fermentation, but not the sterilized air or liquid in the flask. In his third test, Pasteur heated a tilted the flask so liquid filled the long neck, exposing only the liquid to outside air. Fermentation occurred, and under the necessary cause test, this excluded the air inside the flask as a necessary cause of fermentation. The intersection of the candidate sufficient and necessary causes is the air outside the flask. Conversely, fermentation does not occur spontaneously from particles in the air or liquid inside the sterilized flask.

Applying this type of causation proof to how robins find worms, Montgomerie and Weatherhead thought that there were four candidate causes or means by which robins found worms (the effect): smell, vibration, sound or vision, or some combination of the three. The effect is present when birds found the worms and absent when they did not. In their first experiment involving scent, birds were no better at finding dead worms than chance or than finding live worms, and under the sufficient cause test, this eliminated smell as a sufficient cause. The birds did much better than chance in finding live worms using the remaining auditory, visual or vibration cues, but since smell was also present, no candidate cause was eliminated under the necessary causation test. In their second experiment that removed visual cues but left smell, vibrations and sounds, the birds found live worms better than chance. Under the necessary test, eliminated sight as a necessary cause. In their third test involving vibration, birds were still able to find worms when only vibration was removed, and vibration was eliminated as a necessary cause. In their fourth test, birds were unable to find worms when only sound was removed, and smell, vibration, and sight were eliminated as a sufficient causes. The necessary and sufficient results of their four tests can be reorganized as follows:

• Smell – Effect absent – sufficiency test: Smell-possible, Sight-impossible, Vibration-impossible, and Sound-impossible. Result: Smell was eliminated as a candidate sufficient cause.

• Sound – Effect absent – sufficiency test: Smell-possible, Sight-possible Vibration-possible, and Sound-impossible. Result: Smell, Sight and Vibration are eliminated as a candidate sufficient causes. Sound remained as a candidate sufficient cause.

• Sight – Effect present – necessary test: Smell-possible, Sight-impossible, Vibration-possible, and Sound-possible. Result: Only sight was eliminated as a necessary cause.

• Vibration – Effect present – necessary test: Smell-possible, Sight-possible, Vibration-impossible, and Sound-possible. Result: Only vibration was eliminated as a necessary cause.

• Smell – Effect present – necessary test: Smell-possible, Sight-possible, Vibration-possible, and Sound-possible. Result: This test eliminated no candidate necessary causes.

Looking at the intersection of all of these tests, only sound remains as both a sufficient and necessary cause. Thus, Montgomerie and Weatherhead concluded that, “[T]hese results strongly suggest that the robins located buried mealworms and earthworms by using auditory cues (id. at 149). Their conclusion varied from the only similar prior study that concluded that robins use visual cues to find underground worms.

For most questions involving nature (and economics and sociology), causation cannot be shown in controlled experiments, and investigators must rely only on statistical proof of sufficient causal agents. Both necessity and sufficiency can never be shown due to the multiplicity of causal factors, from ethical restraints that prevent the use of controlled experiments, or excessive cost, and proof of causation is relegated to argumentation from signs (April 27th). For such matters we are forced to rely on humanistic-based judgments when issues involving nature and biology have implications for human society. Much of modern political argumentation is based on politicians intentionally citing only one of several candidate sufficient causes, and then questionably ignoring other obvious, likely causal factors in order to fashion a passably convincing position. The only antidote is an educated citizenry armed with critical thinking skills.

When our canyon robin cocked its head to one side today, it was listening for the buried worm.

* * * *

On June 6th, 2009, three-hundred volunteers pulled invasive weeds like myrtle spurge and toadflax from the Morris Reservoir area overlooking City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 6th, 1993, the Salt Lake Tribune overviews hiking access points along the Salt Lake Valley, including at Ensign Peak, City Creek Canyon, and the Tomahawk Drive access to Little Twin Peaks in the Avenues. The Tribune notes reductions in hiking access as luxury subdivisions, such as the Turville-Robinson development below Ensign Peak, develop the foothills. Salt Lake City has regulations requiring foothill developers to include access points in their plans. On June 6th, 1905, boxer Jack O’Keefe trained by running up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On June 6, 1904, wildflowers are in full bloom on the foothills and in the canyons (Salt Lake Herald). City Creek has Stansbury’s phlox, that has a purple flower and yellow balsam root (id).

April 20, 2017

April 19th

Filed under: Butterfly, Cooper's Hawk, gnats, People, Sounds, Stream, White cabbage butterfly — canopus56 @ 3:06 pm

Biophilia – Part I – Water Meditation

2:00 p.m. Stream water is at its highest under a bright sun with cold air. The loud white noise of the snow-melt engorged stream has remained a constant companion that has dominated the canyon since March 12th. Combined with today’s bright sunlight, these two forces of nature, light and water sound, drive me into a restful sleepy state. Over the last month, I have developed an involuntary reaction to seventy decibel sound of mountain water. Stegner noted that next to the loud sound of mountain water, “it is impossible to believe that one will ever be old or tired” (Stegner, 41), in part, because such water is embodies a continuing renewal of force (id). In its grasp, I must sit in the sun at one of the many benches in the canyon, close my eyes, and slowly drift and meld with its noise. It is a restorative experience. I feel the energy of the stream and sunlight flow through me while at the same time my sense of body and self dissipates. This is how the earth heals both a person’s body and soul. It is in this way in which the life-giving sun and the canyon draws one towards life and away from human activities of city life. I rise filled with love towards nature, and I am not the only one. Two others are sitting on benches near the stream with half-closed eyes.

I have always had an innate drive to be at one with nature, and some of my earliest childhood memories are related to that experience. But where does that inherited drive in me and in others who visit the canyon come from?

Yesterday’s cold rain has set the insects back, and only a few are seen this afternoon. White cabbage butterflies feed on the wild carrots heads that line the road. Two new small butterflies appear, along with some gnats and a small bee that moves to fast to identify. There is new one and one-half inch orange butterfly with subtle black marks and distinct ends to its antennae, possibly a type of fritillary. The second unidentified butterfly is a small black butterfly with jet black wing and a subtle blue-black tinge to its abdomen.

I stop at picnic site 1 and again stare transfixed staring into the water as it speeds by. Suddenly, two Cooper’s hawks land in a tree next to stream. These are the two fast fleeting shapes that I saw skimming over the road a few days ago (April 15th). They are maybe fifty feet away; this is the closest that I have ever been to these raptors; and they have also come to sun themselves. The sit motionless in the high branches lazily opening and closing their eyes. The Cooper’s hawks have a grey backs, molted-brown breast and body feathers, bright white rump feathers and a banded tail. One of this pair has piercing red eyes. It’s companion teases the other, and in response the first plumps up its white rump feathers in agitation. I stand their motionless and have a good ten minutes sharing the sun with these residents.

A group of three mothers are pushing baby carriages down the road. Between the motion and deafening white noise of the stream, the babies are all quiet and content. What impression does the sound make on their unformed, young minds? It has become the fashion to purchase technology enhanced bassinets for infants. At night, sensors detect the infant’s motion automatically rocks the bassinet and floods it with stream-like white noise. Like me, the simulated stream sound sends the infants back to sleep.

* * * *

In 1964, psychoanalyst, humanist and cultural commentator Eric Fromm termed biophilia as one of two competing forces within each of us:

“There is no more fundamental distinction between men, psychologically and morally, than the one between those who love death and those who love life, between the necrophilous and the biophilous. . . . . The full unfolding of biophilia is to be found in the productive orientation. The person who fully loves life is attracted by the process of life and growth in all spheres. . . . . Good is all that serves life; evil is all that serves death. Good is reverence for life, all that enhances, life, growth, unfolding” (Fromm, 37, 47. emphasis in original).

Fromm warned that modern bureaucratic-technological society by separating humanity from nature was driving humanity towards a necrophilous or death orientation. Homo sapiens has become what Fromm called homo consumens (Fromm, 57). Fromm’s notion of homo consumens is analogous to what modern economists call homo economicus, a idealized human who makes decisions based only on rational economic basis concerned only with the experience of life as the act of consumption. Symptomatic of homo consumens is homo mechanicus or gadget man (Fromm, 58), a person obsessed with a life-view defined by manipulation of dead machines rather interacting and participating with life (id).

Fromm viewed humans not as an essence, but as a process flowing from two contradictory facts (Fromm, Chap. 6). First, humans are animals that are part of nature. Second, humans are self-aware beings with reason. The rightful use of reason to satisfy our material needs and psychological motivations in a contradiction draws us away from nature, and this creates biophilous and necrophilous tensions within psyches. Since many of our motivations are unconscious, we can never be fully sure whether reason in service of unconscious desires are destruction or healthy. The best free choice that a man, a woman or a society can exercise is to be aware when making decisions is whether they foster the tendency toward development and life or toward of anal-narcissism and death (id).

Fromm reviews how these two forces have a long history in religion, philosophy and psychoanalysis (id). The Judeaic Genesis narrative is of separation from nature by the exercise of free choice. Adam and Eve did not sin by choosing knowledge, they where given both knowledge and free choice by a creator, and as a consequence there were sent to a life of choices that drive either towards or away from life and development as a full human being (Fromm, 19-20). The Genesis narrative has its parallel in the Greek myths. Recalling that the Greeks viewed the universe as Earth-centered, Gaia was the creator not of the Earth, but of the entire universe, including their cosmology of heavenly Gods that we retain as markers of the constellations. Humans were separated from Gaia by the first female human’s (Pandora’s) exercise of free will in choosing to open the pithos, thus separating humanity from nature.

What draws me back to reunite with nature? Enjoyment of nature is a reminder, in those several decisions that we all must make on a daily basis, to try to choose as much as is practicable that which fosters all life.

* * * *

On April 19th, 1982, Salt Lake City officials declined to act on a Davis County proposal to create a commuter connector road around Ensign Peak and City Creek Canyon (Davis County Clipper). On April 21, 1914, work on widening and improving City Creek Canyon Road was completed to Pleasant Valley (Salt Lake Telegram), but Mayor Heber M. Wells restricted the use of automobiles only up to Eleventh Avenue (id). On April 19th, 1911, City Councilperson J. W. McKinney introduced a resolution to end gravel pit operations in City Creek Canyon in order to improve water quality (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 19, 1907, the City adopted an ordinance establishing a dedicated patrolman for City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The patrolman would be provided a horse and a salary of $2.75 per day. Duties included clearing rubbish from the canyon. Patrolman positions were also established for Parleys and Big Cottonwood and a ranchman was hired for Mountain Dell. On April 19, 1898, the City Engineer, Waterworks Superintendent, the Mayor and four citizen council members toured City Creek and recommended improvements, including repairing caved in seep tunnels and clearing and rip-raping the stream bed (Salt Lake Tribune). In 1898, there was a drought and the city officers were seeking to increase the water supply. On April 19, 1897, Mayor Glendinning toured City Creek Canyon due to flooding of Central City Neighborhoods (Salt Lake Herald).

Blog at