City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 25, 2017

April 20th

Filed under: Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Poison ivy, Weather — canopus56 @ 7:19 pm

Biophilia – Part II – Nature Liking Studies

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Snotel Snow Pack at Louis Meadows. Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2017).

4:30 p.m. It has rained for most of the morning, and a brief interlude of sunlight breaks the coldness. As I start today’s jog, the Sun is replaced by the cloud shelf of the next approaching rain front. It is raining as I start today’s jog; this turns to hail near mile 0.8; but then the returns to a slow drizzle. Even in this inclimate weather, there are about ten people walking or running through the cold spring rain. The rain and snowmelt has surged to a new highest level accompanied by a deafening roar, but at the Zen Rock which I use to determine stream height, in a small rock protected calm near the shore, a single mallard sleeps while the stream gently rocks it back and forth. The stream lulls the bird to sleep. I would have missed the mallard since it was visible only through a thick of trees, but by turning its head around and resting it on its back, the mallard’s iridescent green neck made an incongruous flash of color against the otherwise grey and brown shoreline. The stream’s loudness may not continue because the mid-level snow pack is spent. The SNOTEL station at Louis Meadows, elevation 6,700 feet, reports that the snow pack is gone, but the Lookout Peak station at 8,200 feet near the canyon’s headwaters record about thirty-two inches water-equivalent snow left on the ground, or perhaps as much as four or five of snow feet once the air-content is included. This higher elevation snow might continue to feed the overwhelming white noise of the stream through most of May.

In the glade above picnic site 3 that holds purple Long-leaf Phlox, late blooming yellow poison ivy flowers have opened. The glade is also punctuated by shafts of dark horsetails, and it is framed above by orange complex inflorescences of a blooming river birch tree and on the sides by the new green leaves of small trees.

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In 1984, Nobel laureate E. O. Wilson proposed another explanation of humans’ attraction for nature by re-purposing Fromm’s biophilia term that may also explain my fascination with nature. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis stated that modern humans have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to and to be fascinated by nature, and this predisposition is the result of eons of years of natural selection acting on pre-history humans (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993). Humanoid precursors that paid close attention to nature would have had a higher probability of surviving and of passing their genetic material to latter generations (id). Thus, my attraction to nature and stream noise is driven my genes.

The biophilia theory was subsequently was developed by many evolutionary biologists and in 1993, Wilson, with Stephen Kellert at Yale and Roger Ulrich at Texas A and M published a review of its development (Kellert 1993, Ulrich 1993, Wilson 1993). In that review Ulrich discusses evidence supporting the hypothesis based on studies done by many researchers. Types of studies include biophillic (liking nature and positivistic), biophobic (fear of nature and negativistic), and genetic heritability. The body’s biophilic reactions are more difficult to measure behaviorally and are less susceptible to behavioral conditioning. Thus, biophilic studies provide less definitive evidence for a genetic basis for human attraction to nature. Biophilic studies involve viewing images containing various degrees of natural through urbanized settings. Participants rate their preference for each scene. Several biophilic studies found that across cultures, people express a preference for viewing savannah-like open forests (Ulrich, 90-96). This is interpreted as indirect proof of a genetic preference formed as early man evolved on the African plains. A recent liking study replication reaching similar results is Han (2007).

Hence, I and other moderns are attracted to being in the canyon because our primitive ancestors grew up in such an environment. But liking studies are a weak sign for the genetic liking of nature hypothesis, a point that Ulrich concedes, because it is almost impossible to develop an ethical controlled experiment that tests the theory or that separates cultural conditioning for its genetic component. This indirect proof of a genetic compulsion could just as easily be caused by a purely sociological and psychological reaction where city dweller seek relief from a stressful modern life. Such indirect proofs, although tempting to believe (and I want to believe them), may be what sociobiology’s critics like Stephen J. Gould, called another “just so” story.

A more recent theory that extends and stretches the limits of the biophillia hypothesis is oceanographer Wallace J. Nichols’s Blue Mind Hypothesis (Nichols 2014). The blue mind hypothesis poses that humans are compelled to be close to water because of a genetic predisposition that associates water with survival. And indeed, forty percent of the world’s population does live within 100 kilometers of a coastline. The proof that he offers is mostly of the indirect liking survey type, and simpler alternative explanations exist. For example, more people may live closer to coast lines because the access to a larger economic network that water travel provides makes getting a living easier.

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On April 20th, 2006, Ensign Elementary plans its annual fund raising walk up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

October 18, 2016

October 18th

Hidey Poison Ivy

6:45 p.m. When driving from my home towards the canyon, trees in the domesticated Avenues are now turning and when driving towards Guardhouse gate along Bonneville Drive, all of the Gambel’s oaks have turned. In the far distance on the high west slopes of canyon, groves of Gambel’s oak all look grey and possibly leafless. Towards evening a storm band held back by the heat of the day moves over the canyon and on to the Wasatch Front mountains. The wind comes and goes in pulses, and this strips more leaves off of the trees in an incremental process. As one runs up canyon, if you are lucky, one of these pulses of wind blows twenty or thirty leaves off of a tree, and you then run through a gentle falling “rain” of of leaves. After-work runners and bicyclists, who exercise with purpose and efficiency, have come and gone, and I am alone as I reach Pleasant Valley at mile 1.5. The lower half of the canyon, the part that I am in, is dark and foreboding under the front clouds, while the Black Mountain is in the light of the setting Sun. I am treated to a display of swiftly changing light and darkness as the Sun descends. The upper canyon is in mist, while a single light cloud moves at 30 or 40 miles per hour over the top of Black Mountain. While jogging out in twilight, I surprise two mule deer as they are crossing the road. It is only three days to the start of the main deer rifle hunt.

Western poison ivy along the road has all turned. Poison ivy is a chameleon plant. In the canyon, western poison ivy dominates along the stream bank above the flood line along with scouring rush horsetails (Equisetum hyemale), and now almost all the ivy has changed from its earlier bright red to bright yellow and then to a light-brown. Western poison ivy has an oval leaf that stands either singly or in groups of three on the end of a straight three or four foot tall stalk. Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is also present in the canyon. Eastern poison ivy has the star-shaped, jagged-edge tri-leaves, and grows in creeping flats. This is the ivy that most of us associate with the words “poison ivy”. It is also present in the canyon, but more frequently in the spring. Now, in the autumn across from picnic site 6, one spread of Eastern poison ivy at the base of a Boxelder tree blazes red, and only one vine climbs up and wraps around the trunk displaying bright red leaves. At only one tree in the lower canyon, Western poison ivy has climbed up along the tree’s trunk to a height of ten or more feet, and its tri-oval leaves hang mimicking its Eastern cousin, the vine.

September 23, 2016

September 23rd

Contrasts in Color

5:30 p.m. Yesterday’s storm and cold continues through most of today, and it still rains during this afternoon’s jog. The storm is driven by a low pressure system that has stopped directly over Salt Lake City and the canyon. The clouds that soaked me last night have had time to travel around the circular storm track, and I feel same clouds that soaked me last night have returned for another try.

Some trees respond immediately to the rain and cold. River or water birches (Betula accidentalis H.) turn a bright yellow almost overnight. At the guardhouse gate at mile 0.0, the horsechestnut trees begin to turn. Their leaves become brown around the fringes and the color works towards the center of each leaf. The Gambel’s oaks have begun to turn in response to the cold. When they turn, the leaves go directly to a shriveled tan color.

The rain and diffused overcast light emphasizes the brightest color leaves, and the canyon is a study in color contrasts. The deepest red comes from western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) and a chokecherry tree hidden behind a clump of Gambel’s oaks at picnic site 10. At that location, a sole Box Elder tree has also half turned, and with one-half green and one-half yellow leaves, the tree stands out with a bright light green hue. The brightest red-orange comes from a few select maples. A light blue and light purple are found in a few remaining roadside weeds, including some tansyasters. The brightest yellows come from two immature narrow leaf cottonwood trees and clumps of dried milkweed stalks. Most larger cottonwoods have not yet begun to turn.

It rains continuously through the night and into the half of the next day.


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