Yellowstone Amphibian Monitoring

It’s been a while, I’ll admit. Life in the city didn’t have that much naturaleza going on, but that’s all about to change. I’ve given most of my stuff away and driven off in my little red Honda to Yellowstone for a summer of amphibian surveys. There are four species of amphibian we will be searching for: Pseudacris maculata, the boreal chorus frog; Bufo boreas the western boreal toad; Rana luteiventris the Columbia Spotted Frog; and Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum the blotched tiger salamander.

Wandering Garter Snake, Deb Palta

Our crew leader, Deb Palta, is an incredible woman, thin as a rail in her Wranglers, with a lifetime’s experience in the area. We are to be hiking in to catchment sites where frogs and toads and salamanders are likely to breed and see if we can find evidence that they have. Tadpoles, egg masses, singing chorus frogs all indicate that the amphibians are actually using the habitat.

The survey data is entered into a delicate little Dell PDA and uploaded into a decades old database. On the way to our sites we might see Bison in the road, or wolves stalking elk out in one of the meadows. Bear are ever present and we’ve already had hours of training even though Bison injure four times more folks each year.

The season is starting late here, the snows have just melted and the pools are chocked full of mosquito larvae, so many that in a fit of vindictiveness I scooped thousand of their larvae up and dumped them on land. It won’t make a dent in the overall impending clouds of mossies, but it sure was satisfying. Erin, who will be hiking and working with me most of the season, had the same idea and together we might have put some 10,000 or more of the flicking little larvae to death.

This next week will start our surveys, and our first hike should prove to be spectacular.

On the Sacramento

Phil invited me to help him with his research on the Sacramento River. We picked up the boat in Davis and trailered it into the river here at Rio Vista for a beautiful day of fishing and hauling up muddy stinking weights attached to thousand dollar transponders. These watertight radio devices detected radio frequency ID tags that Phil had surgically implanted in steelhead trout and salmon. Some of the detectors had nearly a hundred thousand detections, culled from about a year in the water.

I would hall on the stainless steel cable until the weights finally came up, a backbreaking process (but I’m strong), and then we would stick a little plastic probe into the transponder to download the data into his laptop. Some of the larger downloads would take half an hour, so we dropped some bate in the water in the hopes of catching a hefty striper. And then we’d boat on down the slough to the next cable, haul it up, probe the transponder and fish some more.

At one dock I stepped in to buy a fishing license so that I might touch a rod and this wonderful lady filled out the forms while her feral cat toyed with the screen. I said something about what a kitty and she said it was a cantankerous kitty, and showed me the scratch that ran down her thumb.

Ghost shrimp nor shad pulled any fish, but on one of our hauls we got a little ammocoete, a kind of jawless lamprey looking fish, that Phil stuck on a hook and on his first cast caught a little striped bass. That was to be our only fish of the day. But not for lack of trying.

Sunset found us a tangled cable caught up in a buoy wrapped up in a tree that washed down the river earlier in the year. We cleated it to the boat and pulled it free. It came out surprisingly easy, we got our data, clamped the cable back together and tried one last time to catch a fish before we trailered the boat and went back to Davis. No luck there, but as Phil said, he could spend all night out there on the river fishing.

On ride home Phil speculated that he had at least a million dollars worth of data on his laptop. He estimated we had a half a million detections of tags he planted in some two thousand fish, which would paint a pretty nice picture of what salmonids did in the Sacramento River. Science.

Enallagma cyathigerum/boreale


These two bluest of bluets were also found in the meadows at the base and just west of Dana Peak. I am not sufficiently versed in odonatan taxonomy to tell which one it might be, and since their ranges overlap, do not venture a guess.

There were perhaps fifty of them, flying in and out of the marsh sedge, fighting and mating, with a male grasping a female and flying out over the fishless little lake and dipping her tail repeatedly along the surface of the water where the eggs will develope into aquatic naiads.

(Oncorhynchus mykiss aquilarum)

In a nutshell, the article is going to hinge on this fish: (Oncorhynchus mykiss aquilarum). This year there was a bumper crop of rainbow trout in Eagle Lake. eagle lake rainbow Eagle Lake is a terminal lake, kind of like a miniature ocean, with trout, that, like most salmonids, swim up a stream to spawn. Yet, all Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout are hatchery raised because their stream was razed by dragging thousand of tons of logs down it last century. This year, my friend Gerard got permission to hike in thirty fish, in a cooler, and with snow shoes, to their historic meadow high on Pine Creek. The story I want to write is the story of how all this came to be.

Gerard sent me this email:

I am back to Davis and I am adapting slowly to the slave life of a grad student.

The redds have produced some little guys! Spawning was finally successfull! Yes, I can give you names of people involved with this species with different views.

I (we) have to be carefull since there are lots of interests with these species and people are very sensitive… I have been working out my relationship with some managers for long time and I will not want to lose what I gained with such a hard and political work.

Barcelona is the most fun and fantastic place on earth! You should make an article about trout fisheries in Spain!!!

I hope to make it up there with Gerard before the August meeting of all the Department of FIsh & Game, and the Forest Service, and the academics all converge on the meadow. Maybe fish for some stocked brookies with the Catalonian.

Wet Wednesday night at the Riptide

So on Monday night I went to a poetry reading thing at The Makeout Room for Casba night. It was swell, and friends of mine read poems about work, but just as the belly dancers came out they had to catch a train for Spain, not that they didn’t have to fly some too. And there I saw my local bar tender, Jeff, who reminded me to come to the Riptide and make sure to buy some raffle tickets for this months nonprofit raffle. I think he thinks I like to buy raffle tickets because I won the first raffle for a surfboard there. I did get cash from my friends, neighbors and roommate to buy tickets, but none of them won anything.


The point of this story, though, is that, at the Riptide I ran into Amber, who I used to work with, who introduced me to a Carlos who made a surf movie about a Native American way down in Mexico called Vaquero that I knew. He was talking with Keith who was responsible for helping to put on the fundraiser for the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival and I kinda got to shake his hand by proxy. Turns out Kieth is a retired editor of scientific journalism, and if there was one thing we could agree upon, it is the importance of well paid editors.

I got his card.

the blog

I hate the word blog, it’s not even fun to say, blog blog blog; I mean google is fun, say it like Andrei Codrescu does, google google google, and you can’t help but grin, but blog, it’s like ‘uhg’ and ‘blah’ put together. Maybe since I have an MFA in poetry I can take some of my poetic license and change ‘blog’ on my site to ‘happenings.’ This I have done, wow. But it wasn’t easy, before I could write about the happenings in my life, I had to come up with a domain name.

I’m here to tell you, Go Daddy has the words in the English dictionary all sewn up. Try some one or two at random–‘gam,’ for example, a herd of whales: too short. ‘Lallation,’ the pronunciation of r as l (not useful for my site, since it’s not in Engrish; or is that rarration) is taken. ‘Nesh’ is taken, ‘meat,’ ‘meadow’ and ‘meager’ too. All words taken. That leaves word combos, and since ‘gimcrack’ and ‘gewgew,’ or ‘geegaw’ if you prefer, are all taken; put two together and ‘gimcrackgewgaw’ is available. That’s my favorite, and although it would have been perfect for a site just about language poetry, it wasn’t perfect for me. Seriously, I’m trying to be serious.


So I decided to go with the Linean moniker system, Latin words, Genus and Species, the first one capitalized, like Homo sampiens or Oncorhyncus mykiss aguabonita the state fish of the Golden State. My site would be known as Poematis naturalis. Or, I guess, nature poetry. Seems lame now, but whatever, I needed to move on, so I paid Bluehost $95 for the domain for one year, installed WordPress with one click, and realized I had to then pick a theme.

Since I had written a web page in 1998, in HTML, I thought I’d be smart and stand on the shoulders of some people dedicated to writing good code. Enter WordPress theme. I bought a book, the one for dummies, WordPress for Dummies. I read it; then I felt like a dummy. I should have saved the money for beer. It took me two days to find a stupid theme, the one I liked best was Jaimal’s. Simple and elegant. Veryplaintxt, it was called. But I couldn’t get their other, slightly different ones, to work for me, and I didn’t want to poach off of Jaimal, so I went looking for another theme. Bob came over and cheered me on.


Eventually, after loading a few themes up to my host site, I found one. This is what I learned in 14 hours: A theme is a collection of files that are mostly written in HTML, the code firefox reads, and CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheets and which seems to be a code similar to, but different from HTML, that tells your browser where to put what word with which font in what shade of color. The CSS gives the pages a feel, a style, the HTML writes the content, provides the structure, and all those files of code together are a ‘theme.’ WordPress, ostensibly, makes it all very easy to do. Which they do. And their code is all open source, like mozila’s, which is awesome because anybody can write it, fix it, use it, and it’s free.

The theme I found was called, auspiciously enough, Oulipo. Who wouldn’t want a theme named Oulipo, especially for a site with poetry on it, and it came with a picture of a duck. If it’s free and it’s got a picture of a duck, it has to be poetry worthy, right?. Right, but in order to make the theme do what I wanted it to do, I had to go in and tweak the HTML. Which meant I had to relearn what HTML did. Very carefully. And that is where Sunday and Monday went. To some avail. In the end, I am still not satisfied with the way my poems are formatted, especially with the static page title right above the poem’s title, but I eventually realized, I need to learn a bit more HTML.

They say: Being sedentary is worse for your health than smoking cigarettes. So does that mean hunching over a computer without surfing will make me a hunchback if I don’t smoke cigarettes?

First things first

I have an MFA in poetry. And that’s that. If I make $10 from a poem, I will consider myself lucky. Who knows, I might win a contest. But what I would like to have is a job whereby I can make US$ from anywhere in the world, that takes me to places all over the world, and is both meaningful and valuable. I have an MFA in poetry.


That means I should be able to write. Ostensibly. So if Journalism is to writing, as poetry is to writing, the same way ducks are to floating; then if it floats it’s got to be a duck. And we all know ducks float. Right? Why do I think I can do this?

  • First, I am unemployed this summer–which means I’ve got time.
  • Second, I have an MFA in poetry.
  • Third, I’ve got an idea for a story.
  • So, to get things started, I asked Bob (he goes by Robert now) what it takes to get published in Harper’s. They had recently run an article,The Many Uses of the Daniel Boone National Forest, which had an ecological/land use thread to it so I thought they might be interested in my story, right? Bob suggested I start a Blog, as a, more reasonable, first step. Bob is a reasonable guy. We were roommates together in college, and he told me this for free.

    For a second opinion, there is this guy that lives in my neighborhood, Jaimal Yogis who I know because we sometimes see each other out in the surf. I asked him for his advice. He has a masters in Journalism. He met me for coffee at Java Beach, and he said, A blog is a good idea, I’ve got a blog, check it out. And there it was, with art. He also said, Harper’s might publish something written by a poet, they like that experimental kind of thing, but you should also try some local magazines, like: Sierra magazine, they pay a dollar a word. Then he gave me the names and emails of editors he works with at San Francisco Magazine. He had to go finish packing–he was giving up his room on the Great Highway to go on a book signing surf safari road trip–but he said a couple more things. He said, An old professor once told me, write it like you want it. And that Bluehost has a one step install for WordPress blogs. And then gave me a signed copy of his new book. Saltwater Budha. It’s a real good first book.