City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 6, 2017

May 3rd

Lazuli Bunting

2:30 p.m. The first day of hot weather and the rest of the week is forecasted with increasing temperatures. For change, I go up the Pipeline Trail. Although it is only three days since the peak of Arrowleaf balsamroot, in the sun drenched fields along the trail, the balsamroot flowers are beginning to wilt. This change in season also brings the first migratory song birds. A small patch of Purple milkvetch flowers, which are usually light purple, are a dark rich purple. A set of powerlines parallels the trail, and small migrating birds like to perch on the lines for the first half-mile. The Gambel oak forest provides excellent cover, it is a favorable locations for building nests, and as the heat of summer approaches, the nearby stream provides relief and food. A male Lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) perches on a wooden line tower; a second forages from the tallest tree; and both exchange calls with two other unseen pairs. This is sign that true spring has arrived. Two large raptors, probably Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) float above using the cliff updrafts for power. White cabbage, Mourning cloak and Painted lady butterflies feed on dandelions that line the trial. A new bright yellow butterfly, the Common sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice eriphyle), appears. A small unidentified bee also feeds on the dandelions, and then a large black and white bumble bee circles around me. I have a difficult time making an identification, but my guides suggests the Cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus insularis).

Gambel’s oaks have leafed-out with growing two-inch leaves to about mile 0.5 along the Pipeline Trail, but then there is a curious pause. None leaf for the next 100 yards, before oak leaf-out resumes.

Today, I walk with a friend and two dogs, and in the multitude of spring scents the dogs are in constant motion on, off and around the Pipeline Trail. We are a pack of four, and in their mind, they are the leaders. The two dogs look back and aside at us lagging humans with an expression that says we surely are the most stupid of dogs. But their amicable dog nature shines through, and they each occasionally bound up to us, and their infectious enthusiasm encourages us to follow faster.

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On May 3rd, 2007, the Utah Rivers Council plans to hold a clean-up of City Creek Canyon’s stream bed (Deseret News). On May 3rd, 1994, Utah Partners in Flight plan migratory bird watching in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1919, the road into City Creek was closed for several weeks to allow for repairing the water main (Salt Lake Herald). On May 3rd, 1916, the City commission passed an ordinance for water protection in City Creek Canyon, including prohibiting dogs from running loose, discharging firearms, and speeding in automobiles (Salt Lake Telegram). On May 3rd, 1909, residents were reported enjoying City Creek and other parks during good weather (Salt Lake Tribune). On May 3rd, 1890, the Salt Lake Times, in a travel article, describes City Creek in glowing terms and poetry. On May Day, 1881, University of Deseret students went for an outing to Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald, May 3rd, 1881).

April 26, 2017

April 21st

Biophilia – Part III – Nature Fearing Studies

External Link to Image

Collage of City Creek Wildflowers, April 2017. Source: Author. Plant names are in text.

6:00 a.m. Rain showers including sleet fell last night and through the morning. From the city floor on the westside of the valley, I have a sweeping view up City Creek Canyon and along the mouths of the six other Salt Lake County Wasatch Front canyons. The rain falls in periodic sheets and microbursts that, with the morning light, color the canyon with curtains of delicate and varied gray tones. The canyon and the front are a series of paintings that rival the old Renaissance masters and Rubens.

4:00 p.m. As the front passes, the afternoon has given way to bright sunlight, but the canyon is still empty and full of solitude. Painted lady butterflies play tag, and one follows me up the road for about fifty feet, stops and then resumes its trailing track. It repeats this behavior four times before flying off. Two mallards streak down canyon skimming just above the trees and flying directly above the road. The road is their marker. The sleet has wilted all the long new 4 inch leaves of the horsechestnut trees. The Box Elder leaves are barely effected, and the Gambel’s oaks do not notice because they remain largely in their winter slumber. The water marks on Zen Rock show the stream is six lower than maximum notwithstanding last night’s downpour.

All is green and fresh and more spring wildflowers bloom both along the road and along the Pipeline Trail: Starry solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum); Golden currant (Ribes aureum); Purple milkvetch (astragalus agrestis); Arrowleaf balsamroot; (Balsamorhiza sagittata); and western pink and blue-purple Longleaf phlox (Phlox longifolia Nutt.)

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The biophillia hypothesis has a binary opposite: biophobia. And the existence of biophia also can be proof of the existence of a genetic compulsion to be in and to like nature. Biophobic responses are adverse reactions to threats from the environment like spiders or snakes. Biophobic human reactions provide more definitive results because the body’s automatic response to negative experiences is more pronounced and easier to measure. Human negative responses can also be more easily conditioned in controlled experiments. Biophopia studies involve viewing pictures of threatening predators or poisonous animals while being conditioned with mild electric shock treatments. Psychologists then measure how quickly the body forgets the conditioning. If a person takes a comparatively longer period of time to forget the electro-shock conditioning, this is taken as evidence of a genetic predisposition for enhanced awareness of threats in a natural setting, genetic biophobia, and the biophilia hypothesis. Ulrich summarized many of the biophic studies through 1984 (Ulrich 1993):

* Involuntary physical responses to adverse conditioning when viewing natural threats such as spiders and snakes are more persistent than the response to neutral geometric shapes (Ulrich, 78).

* People exhibit stronger defense reactions when observing others’ fear reaction to threatening scenes like spiders and snakes versus neutral scenes (Ulrich, 79).

* After mild electroshock conditioning, a person’s autonomic body responses to spiders subliminal images of spiders and snakes embedded in films still takes a longer time to unlearn as compared to embedded images of non-threatening settings (Ulrich, 80).

* After mild electric shock conditioning, the autonomic body responses of persons viewing open natural settings are more persistent than when viewing low depth heavily forested scenes. This is interpreted as a genetic remnant of human evolution on the African savannas (Ulrich, 82-83).

There is an irony to these experiments, or its seems as I continue jogging down canyon. Showing a genetic basis of liking nature by shocking people with electric prods as they view photographs of nature in a controlled laboratory experiment seems far removed from the clean spring air and blooming flowers of today’s canyon. But these biophobic studies do lend more weight to the proof of a genetic basis for biophillia than the indirect proof of liking studies.

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On April 21st, 2006, snowpack in upper City Creek is 200 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

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