Blog Navigation – Sticky Post #1.

January 21st, 2013

Until Further Notice  

(Otherwise Translated As: “Until I Figure Out How To Do Things Properly”  🙂 ) 

If You Wish To Have An Answer To A Reef Aquarium Question, Please Read The Appropriate “Sticky” Post Below. 

My “Regular” Blog Entries Will Be Found Below The Initial Three “Sticky” Posts,

And Will Be Titled With The Posting Date, With 

The Most Recent Post Titled In Red.


Questions Related To Reef Aquaria – Sticky Post #2.

January 21st, 2013

Hi Folks,

I will be glad to attempt to answer any questions related to reef aquaria.


  1. Each single answer – no matter how trivial – will cost a $5.00 fee.  This should be transferred – in advance – to my PayPal account.  A not-so-useful form (which keeps the spammers off the track a bit) of my email address is: ronshimek-at-wispwest-dot-net (and I am sure any reader will convert that into the actual address).
  2. When the fee is deposited in my PayPal account, I am sent notification of that transaction, along with an email address of the person depositing the fee. 
  3. I will reply to that email address, asking the sender what is the question, and the “game” will begin.  In other words, PLEASE DON”T POST THE QUESTION AS A COMMENT IN MY BLOG.  
  4. I will answer each question to the best of my ability, but I make no guarantee that the answer is correct.  Likewise, I assume neither responsibility nor liability for any changes or problems that may occur in your aquarium system as a result of your actions based on my answers.  Other than specified below, there will be no refunds if you are not satisfied with the answer.  As the old carnival talkers would say, “You pays your money and you takes your chances”.

I will read the question before I attempt to answer it, and if the question as sent to me has multiple parts; I will contact the questioner and point this out.   The questioner may then specify which single part should be answered for their fee.

Some questions have no possible answers.  For those questions, I will return the fee minus any PayPal transaction fees.


Some questions may have an “obvious” answer.  For those questions, I will provide the obvious answer, no matter how simple and obvious it seems even if it is not the question the person means to ask.  The moral is: READ your question – as written – carefully.  Make certain you are asking what you want to ask, and do NOT assume I understand what you mean.   One thing that 20 years of answering questions via email or on forums has taught me is that no two people have the same implicit assumptions.  In other words, I don’t understand what you obviously mean to say. 🙂

Any single question may be discussed or explained in detail, but any additional questions will cost more $$. 

I am not going to try to trick anybody into spending money by being devious or dishonest with my answers.  Neither, however, am I going to provide freebies… 🙂

Ecological Observations From Northeastern Pacific Subtidal Habitats – Sticky Post #3.

August 24th, 2012

Series Introduction.

All things must have a beginning, and putting these brief words prior to the beginning of my “series” about my subtidal ecological/natural history observations and “reflections”, is probably as good a place as any to put them.  I hope to add to these tales from time to time, and I hope “the times to times” are more frequent than they have been previously in my blog.

Exiting the water on the south shore of Alki Point in Seattle, Washington.

Here I am exiting the water on the south shore of Alki Point in Seattle, Washington in October, 1982, after doing a dive examining the sea pea bed that was found offshore of that beach (R. Fredrickson image).

That is the plan at least.

If I can do it, I hope to add in this series many of my unpublished and, prossibly, unpublishable, observations made while diving over the period when I was actively doing subtidal natural history research; roughly the period from 1971 to 1993.  There are a lot of reasons for writing this now, but suffice it to say, I am definitely not getting younger and it is possible that some of this material may be of interest to a few other people.  At the very least, they, and the rest of the readership, should get a good laugh out of considering that I would think that it could be useful. 🙂

Nonetheless, I think it would be nice, if it simply did not disappear with my demise.  Perhaps, as well, what I write here will serve as an historical record of what occurred prior to any future wholesale habitat destruction due to climate change or some more directly local human activity.   Of course, the fact that many of the presumed untouched Puget Sound and Pacific NW subtidal habitats had previously been messed up seems to have escaped the notice of many people, researchers and divers alike, working in the region.  I will try to point out some of these communities when the need arises.

On the other hand, maybe all I am doing, however,  is just putting down the garbled memories of an old man.  I guess you get to choose.

I will add these tales, or studies (depending on how seriously one wishes to take them), in no particular order over no particular time frame.  Rather I will add them as my muse allows.  Those readers who have previously read my ramblings will realize I know how fully well that my writing depends upon my personal muse  and how she feels about each topic I try to write about.  If she doesn’t like it… nothing good will be written.  If she loves it… well, maybe the writting will still contain nothing good, but if so, there will be a lot of it!  When she likes the topic, though, my good gawd, how the writing flows.  The gorgeous litle blue-green minx (= my muse)  has been known to change her mind in the middle of an article as well.   That has NOT been a fun experience, but it occurs.  As I am writing here to just enjoy the process, I think she will be the helpful creature she truly can be.

If anybody that reads these pages is a scientist, I will add the advice of “not to hold your breath waiting for any of this to appear in the peer-reviewed journals”.  Trying to publish most natural history information and observations in such venues is a serious waste of time and effort.  And if you have gotten this far, you have read the first paragraph and realize that I feel don’t have that much time to waste.   So…  On with the show!

To examine these posts/articles/essays in this “series” as a group:

Please click on the blog “Category” (listed at the top of the column to the right) titled:


“Ecological Observations From Northeastern Pacific Subtidal Habitats”.



An Update

August 26th, 2014

An update of sorts anyway.  I am alive, if not particularly well.  I hope to be back blogging here very soon.  Hey, after all, its only been about a year since my last post.  😛




I could list all the reasons why I have not been posting here, but that really makes no difference.  Probably the major reason is that I have been posting in my blog at the Reef2Rainforest/CORAL Magazine site  .  There is one major reason for this.  I get paid to do it.   The other reason is that I need to revise this site, and the fellow who was my webmaster has vanished into the aether, and I really don’t know what I am going to do.  Well, I will figure out something.  Soon I hope.

In the meantime, I am closing the registration option.  All that has done is attracted spambots, to the tune of about 1000 bogus registrations per month.  We will see in the future if I reopen it.  If you need to get in touch with me, the other blog will work for that.

I hope more later.

Cheers, Ron

Back Among The Living. – – The Living Bloggers, Anyway

August 10th, 2013

To Date…

Mark Twain said that the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.  And if anyone has actually read this blog in the recent past, and wondered if my lack of new posts meant anything cosmic, it hasn’t.  The lack of new posts has meant nothing more than I have been 1) swamped with work, 2) swamped with medical appointments and, on occasion, 3) swamped with pain.  All of these swampings, bring to mind the old aphorism, that “When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp.”

Well, the swamping with work is a positive thing as it eventually gets money in my pocket.  Nonetheless,  I normally agree with the sentiments of the late Douglas Adams about due dates and such.  Adams said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”  However, this time I gave my word to my editor that I would get some work to him by a deadline, and given that I had gotten into the sloppy habit of letting such deadlines whoosh by on a pretty regular basis, I decided that I would startle the bejabbers out of him by finishing a couple of manuscripts on time.   Well, that was a nice thought, and I did meet the deadlines, but by God’s 3rd left testicle, this was a lot harder than I anticipated it would be.  I think my muse did not appreciate being under the gun, so for a few days, she enjoyed being petulant and not providing her usual help.

The frequency of the medical appointments is dropping back to a more normal level, and soon – next Thursday – I will go for an epidural injection of cortisone in the spaces between some of my neck vertebrae with the hope and anticipation that this will result in a cessation of at least some of the most serious pain.  I went for a new MRI about three weeks ago, and – Surprise, Surprise – NOT– it showed that there has been more degradation of parts of my cervical and upper thoracic spine.  However, also actually surprisingly, it indicated that overall, the neck region wasn’t as bad as it seemed to me.  My previous MRI, done several years ago, was done in an “open” MRI machine.  These open MRI machines are MRI machines where the big doughnut magnets don’t go all the way around you.  As a result you are not in a tube, and claustrophobes can have their MRI without going all wiggly for being in a tiny tube.  I am not claustrophobic, and I used the open machine in my previous MRI because it was available sooner, and I wanted treatment sooner than later.  However, I found out that such open machines really suck at providing good images of some injuries, including my spinal injuries.  In my case, it made a couple of problems appear worse than they were.  So, getting the newer MRI was a really good thing.  Some degradation was worse than it had been, and some was better.  The net result was a push, I guess.  Hopefully, these upcoming epidural injections will work, ‘cause if they don’t, surgery is the only remaining option.

So, anyway, all my medical problems are getting cleared up, and so are my wife’s, so we are getting back on an even keel for the first time in several years, or so it seems.  But, this also means that I/we have a lot of catch up stuff to do.  In my case, my office/lab is truly a mess, and I will have to dedicate a portion of next week to cleaning it up.  And today and tomorrow I am working on power washing our deck so that it will be clean before I can add the weatherproofing oil that I have put off doing for a couple of years.  NOT a good idea, that one.

All-in-all I have a lot of work to do, and included in that will be some more informative bloggings, I hope.

Until then…



16 June, 2013 – Quick Update

June 16th, 2013

Hi Folks,

My absence for the last more-or-less three months has primarily been caused by things medical.  Ultimately, it appears that everything is being resolved.  However, the bottom line is that a lot of my time has been spent tending to my ill wife, or having my wife tend to me, at our physician’s office, or back and forth from said offices.  So, my time for blog writing/posting as opposed to chores and other necessities has fizzled to almost nothing.

I hope to be back in action with posts here within a week or so, and also posting more frequently in my blog on the Reef2Rainforest site.

I just went through and deleted a bunch of spambot registrations, if I deleted your subscription by mistake, I apologise.

Until later,  for some eye candy,  here is a bit of our local dinosaurian fauna.  It appears that we may have as many as 6 pairs of these little beauties nesting around here now.

Western Tanager Male

Western Tanager Male
Wilsall, Montana

Western Tanager Male

Western Tanager Male Perched On A Bird Feeder Post. Taken At Wilsall, Montana.



A Star of The Cowlitz Cacophony

March 25th, 2013

The First Star Of The Cowlitz Cacophony…

 Luidia foliolata

 The winter in the Cowlitz Bay subtidal habitats is a time when nothing much appears to be happening, at least down to around a depth of 18m (60 ft) or so.   If large is bigger than a golf ball, then a lot of such large critters are visible; however, most of them, such as Pachycerianthus fimbriatus, the large cerianthid tube anemone, and the weathervane scallop, Patinopecten caurinus, while quite attractive and morphologically interesting, are sessile, and observing their behavioral array takes special skills or goals. 

A Weathervane scallop, Patinopecten caurinus, .  photographed in the ealry winter.

A Weathervane scallop, Patinopecten caurinus. photographed in the ealry winter.

 While both species do play noteworthy roles in the natural history drama of Cowlitz Bay, their version of a one dive’s act needs some serious augmentation to keep someone’s interest.  Individuals of neither species do much – at least overtly.  The anemone can … wait for it … retract down into its tube; … rapidly.  Wow!!  Golly gee, be still, my beating heart!  Woo… Woo… Impressive!!

Tube anemones or cerianthids are commonly found in Cowlitz Bay.  Here an individual of Pachycerianthus fimbriatus is blowing in the current at about 20 m.  The currents in this bay can common reach about 2km/hr

Tube anemones or cerianthids are commonly found in Cowlitz Bay. Here an individual of Pachycerianthus fimbriatus is blowing in the current at about 20 m. The currents in this bay can common reach about 2km/hr.  This individual was on the top of the relatively steep slope leading to much deeper water. 

These are the "mucus" and "ptychocysts" which are specialized nematocysts tubes which may extend into the sediment for a meter or more.  The animal can retract rapidly into them..

These tubes comprised of  “mucus” and “ptychocysts”, specialized nematocysts, may extend into the sediment for a meter or more. The animal can retract rapidly into them when startled.

And the scallop… well, now.  It may close its shells, an event truly worth a negative number on the excitement scale.  However, if one has been blessed by the fates, a scallop may actually swim (!) by rapidly clapping its valves together a few times.  This actually IS exciting.  Of course, probably the main reason for any excitement is that the behavior happens so rarely and it is compared to all of the other apparently non-interesting things happening in the vacinity.  Normally, Patinopecten scallops are the epitome of dull.  An individual spends its life in its little mud depression filtering water to obtain the phytoplankton it eats.  Of course, a fair-sized clam such as fully-grown weathervane scallop contains a large mass of delicious muscles along with other nutritious innards.  Consequently, the scallop is desirable prey item for any number of predators, including sea stars.  Presumably as a result, natural selection has given the scallop its rather spectacular swimming escape response.  If its mantle edge is contacted by a single tube foot from a sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), the scallop will usually start to clap its valves together rapidly and repeatedly, forcefully blowing water from between the closing valves forcing the clam up into the overlying water where it is blown away by the current.  In a way, calling this “swimming” is overstating the activity, it has no direction and a very limited extent.  However, currents in the area are often relatively strong, and the behavior can work to move the scallop away from the star.  And that is truly worth the show.  And then, after the scallop is done, it can be collected and become dinner for an altogether more lethal predator. 

 Normally, though, to see some interesting action in this habitat in the winter – and actually, through the rest of the year, as well – it is necessary to look for other predators at work.  Fortunately, the array of active predators on the surface, in the sediments and in the waters above the soft-sediment areas of Cowlitz Bay is rich, diverse, and impressive resulting in a lot of opportunities to see “ecology in action”.  The variety of predators ranges from diving ducks to dogfish and various other fishes from sculpins to flatfishes to sepiolid squids, nudibranchs, moon snails, and crabs.  However, perhaps the most commonly seen, abundant, and continuously active predators in the region are sea stars. 

 The most commonly seen stars are Pycnopodia helianthoides, the sunflower star, and Luidia foliolata, the snakeskin star, both of which may attain large sizes.  Sunflower star individuals have reportedly been measured at 1.5 m (5 feet) in diameter, while I have measured the average size in some Vancouver Island populations to be about 81 cm (32 inches) in diameter.   While Luidia foliolata individuals don’t commonly exceed 1 m (39 inches), they are often around 80 cm (31.5 inches) in diameter.  Pycnopodia helianthoides has been the object of a lot research, undoubtedly because of their large size and ubiquitous nature.  They are probably the most frequently encountered, relatively large, subtidal sea star in the region, and given the demonstrated importance of asteroids in ecologically controlling marine communities, they justifiably have attracted a lot of interest.  Luidia foliolata, hasn’t been investigated anywhere nearly as much, and as I spent more than a bit of time watching Cowlitz Bay’s L. foliolata, I thought this post would be a good place to introduce them.

 The Mouth That Roared, Wetly

 Asteroids are one of the most common educational poster children for invertebrates.  Back in those ancient days when I was in high school, some time in a biology class was spent dissecting and examining a poor, rather pathetic, pickled Asterias individual shipped in from the New England coast to Montana where it spent the last of its cohesive existence boring some kids who had never seen a body of water much larger than a small farm pond and who didn’t really care for any animals without fur, fins or feathers.  For those few of us who had a bit more on the ball (or so we thought), the asteroid’s pentaradiality along with its implied strangeness was really a pretty good introduction to invertebrate weirdness. 

 To even the most literate of us, a sea star was a pretty exotic critter; most of us had never seen a living one.  Had the specimen been remotely like a living animal, it really would have been a neat thing to examine, I think.  Unfortunately, the specimens reeked of formalin, and had a semi-slushy consistency resulting from much of the ossicular skeleton having dissolved in the acidic formaldehyde solution in which they had been stored.  Finally, to top everything else off, their normal purplish color had turned to a gawd-awful pale diarrhea brown.  Although the dissection wasn’t too hard, determining one tan glob from another was uninspiring to say the least.  Still… the effort was made to show us sea stars, and point out some pertinent typical features of their anatomy and biology, such as their complete gut, part of which, the so-called “cardiac stomach” could be extended into the clams that they ate, and the suckered tube feet which used suction to hang on to anything.  

 Long years later, I was trying to teach many of the same things to my students.  Fortunately, we were using specimens more freshly murdered “for the cause”, which weren’t a pasty mess.  I hoped the students were able to more carefully examine and “understand” what they were seeing in their specimens than I had been in mine so many years before.  Remembering my travails, I tried a number of different ways to make the important points.  One of these was that they got to examine other sea stars, to become aware of a bit of the diversity in this awesome group.  I always tried to have a live Luidia foliolata available in this exercise, as this was the first of a number of examples I used in my survey course to show the students that the “typical” animals they were learning about were, perhaps, not that “typical” after all.

Luidia foliolata

This specimen of the snakeskin sea star, Luidia foliolata was about 50 cm across the arms.

This close-up image, of the Luidia shown above, shows a patch of green (arrow) due to the presence of a species of endoparasitic green alga.  These infections are certainly lethal in some stars, but the outcome of such an infection is unknown in this species.

This close-up image, of the Luidia shown above, shows a patch of green (arrow) due to the presence of a species of endoparasitic green alga. These infections are certainly lethal in some stars, but the outcome of such an infection is unknown in this species.

To a careful observer, even one unfamiliar with sea stars, Luidia specimens are a bit weird.  When first observed, there is just something about them that seems “odd”; perhaps it is the spines on edges of the rays, or the odd “scale-like” pattern of plates on the top of the arms, or the non-descript brownish-grey color of the aboral surface, but they leave the impression that they are somehow “different”.   And, of course, they are (otherwise the “wily” instructor, aka “the old fart”, would not have put it out for them to examine). 

 Close examination shows that these animals lack the “suckers” or, more correctly, the “adhesive pads”, on their tube feet.  Nonetheless, they are still able to stick to surfaces and hang on to prey.  As is now known, sea stars attach themselves to substrata by a duo-gland adhesive system, not suction.  Duo-gland adhesive systems were first discovered using Luidia, in part because the stars were seen crawling up the sides of aquaria by some students who flashed on the fact that this is a star that lacks “suckers” on its tube feet, and it shouldn’t be able to climb up a vertical aquarium wall.  And if that weren’t odd enough, Luidia do not have a complete gut and do not (actually, cannot) extend their stomach into any clams that they eat.  In Cowlitz bay their primary prey are sea cucumbers, although small clams are also on the menu.  And all of the prey items are ingested.

A Luidia individual burying as it is feeding.  This image was taken in Cowlitz Bay in mid May.

A Luidia individual about 60 cm in diameter is  burying as it is feeding. This image was taken in Cowlitz Bay in mid May.

 Individuals of Luidia foliolata move over the substrate in Cowlitz Bay at a fairly good pace.  Although a big one can move along at about a meter per minute when it is, for some reason, in a hurry, normally their pace is more leisurely.   When they decide to feed, they stop, and start to burrow into the substrate.  The tube feet move sediments from beneath the arms and central disk out to beside the animal and the whole critter just slowly descends into the substrate, taking a day or so to disappear completely.  This activity leaves a large Luidia-sized star-shaped pattern on the sediment surface.   Presumably, as it descends, any potential prey items, such as individuals of sea cucumbers in the genus Pentamera, or small bivalves such as Macoma carlottensis are transported to the mouth and ingested.  I suspect they stop descending into the sediments when the tube feet have not encountered sufficient numbers of appropriate sea cucumbers for a while.  They spend some time, probably no more than a couple of days below the surface, feeding and digesting their meal.  When they are done, they rise up, emerge from the sand, regurgitate the indigestible remains of their meal, and mosey off looking for another place to feed.


This is depression left after the departure of a Luidia foliolata that had been feeding.  Some of the regurgitated indigestible remains of its meal are in the center area, the remainder were probably scavenged by some other animal such a large hermit crab.

This is depression left after the departure of a Luidia foliolata that had been feeding.  Some of the regurgitated indigestible remains of its meal are in the center area, the remainder were probably scavenged by some other animal such a large hermit crab.

 In Cowlitz Bay, the aboral surface of Luidia foliolata individuals is sometimes covered with a layer of the large caprellid amphipods, Caprella gracilior.  More than several hundred may be found on the back of a large star.  When the star buries in the sediment, these amphipods will be seen filling the star‑shaped pattern with a layer of pink skeleton shrimp.  The amphipods remain in place and when the asteroid rises from the sediments, they climb on their host and continue their ride.  What these are doing on the back of the asteroid is unclear.  This relationship has not been commonly reported, and I have never seen it elsewhere, although it was fairly commonly seen on my dives in Cowlitz Bay.  It was just one more thing about this place that made it a worthwhile place to work.


Caprella gracilior on Luidia foliolata.

Caprella gracilior on Luidia foliolata.

Caprellids waiting on the sediment for their submerged sea star to emerge.

Caprellids waiting on the sediment for their submerged sea star to emerge.


A mass of Caprella gracilior on the substrate over a buried Luidia foliolata.

A mass of Caprella gracilior on the substrate over a buried Luidia foliolata.

 The tale of Cowlitz Bay will continue in the future…

 Until later,

 Cheers,  Ron  


4 March, 2013 – “Pop”, Went The Asteroid!

March 4th, 2013

It probably says something pretty deep about my warped mind, but I find myself fascinated by the phenomena known as mass-extinctions.  Mass extinctions are killing events that have removed significant numbers of species from the tally of the Earth’s life.  Probably one of the major reasons I am interested in these awful processes, is that we are in the midst of one, and unlike almost all others, humanity is the cause of this one.  And the truly horrible thing about that is, that we know it is occurring, and that our species in aggregate shows its immaturity by actively refusing to do anything about it.  Ah, well, at my age, my own personal extinction is not all that far off, and there is little I can do about most larger issues anyway, so…

 Mass extinctions are a fact of life on Earth, but strangely enough they have only intensively been studied within the last 25 to 30 years. Back in the bad old days when I was in grad school, the greatest extinction event ever, the end-Permian extinction event, was not even recognized by many paleontologists, let alone neontologists, and although some mass extinctions were known because the faunal changes that resulted from them were used to determine geological time periods, nobody studied those mass extinctions themselves.  This all changed in the amazing kerfluffle of research following the Alvarez et al., 1980, paper proposing that the Cretaceous-Tertiary, or End-Cretaceous,  mass extinction exposition, wherein the (larger) dinosaurs perished, was caused by an asteroid impact. 

 The explosion of fuss and feathers this paper caused, I think, had to be lived through to be believed. Helen of Troy, the legendary face that launched a thousand ships, and the Alvarez et al. 1980 article launched at least a thousand research projects, and maybe ten times that many follow-up articles.  The upshot, of course, is we now know Alvarez, et al. were right; an impact with a large asteroid certainly hastened the large dinosaurs out the door, if it didn’t kill them all by itself.  And the discovery of the smoking gun, er… watery crater, the Chicxulub crater off the northern Yucatan Peninsula, lead to an awareness that the Earth was in a perpetual celestial game of dodge ball, and even though most of the really big rocks appear to have hit the planet long ago, every now and then… 


 And, of course, that means the Earth WILL get hit again, and actually it is getting hit all the time, except the bombards are small much smaller.

 All of this has resonated with me, because I have been a fan of meteors – as small asteroids that burn up in the atmosphere are called – ever since I used to lay out our backyard at night as a kid and see the occasional “shooting star.”  I entertained the hope that one day I would be in the right (?) point at the right time, and see a really big meteor.  I have remained hopeful of that eventuality, but am more mindful now that I might not want to be too close.

 About two weeks ago, what has been estimated to be the largest object to hit the earth since the Tunguska object of 1908, arced over Russia, exploding more-or-less over Chelyabinsk, Russia, spraying small fragments that impacted on the ground west of the city.  From the sequence of things that happened during the event, the object has been since estimated to have been a small asteroid weighing about 10,000 tons and about 15m to 20m in diameter, travelling at about 18 km/sec (40,000 mph). 

 Apparently research that also ultimately resulted from Alvarez et al., 1980, showed that most stony asteroids of that size tend break up and explode rather than hit the earth.  And explode this one did, at an altitude of 15 to 20 km (9 to 16 miles) with an explosion that was considerably brighter than the sun.  Equipment in place to detect atmospheric nuclear tests nicely detected this explosion, and its size was estimated to be in the range of a blast by a thermonuclear device with a yield of about 500 kilotons, the size of a decent ICBM warhead.  Even though the explosion was at a high altitude, over 1000 people were injured and there was extensive damage due to shock waves.

Some closing thoughts, I don’t know if the rock could have held together to explode with that force nearer the ground, but if it did, the damage could have been much greater. Several people have discussed what might have happened if the position of the earth or the rock were varied by a minute or less in the relative orbits – it could have entered the atmosphere at a much steeper angle and perhaps over a larger city or populated area.  Or perhaps the best/worst thought:  Chelyabinsk was a city where a lot of weapons research was done during the cold war.  What would have been the outcome of this rock hitting near there in, say, 1978?

 I grew up in Great Falls, Montana, home of Malmstrom Air Force Base, around which in 1962 the first 150 Minuteman Ballistic Missiles were emplaced in “silos”.  Judging from the palpable tension at times in that community during “Duck and Cover” days, if an asteroid had appeared out of nowhere on a low ballistic trajectory (as this one was described by the Russian military) and exploded 10 miles above that city, I suspect there would have been trails of launching missiles visible from those missile silos for a 100 miles around the town.  I dare say, the same outcome would have occurred on the Soviet side.  The ultimate result could have been rather severely unpleasant. 

Some closing thoughts; rocks of this size are now estimated to hit the Earth every century or so, an estimate that dovetails nicely if one considers the last known impact was the Tunguska in 1908.  However, at least though most of the 20th century, large areas of the Earth, such as much of the Indo-Pacific and Antarctica, could have experienced such a meteor impact and nobody would have been the wiser. Additionally, for example there was the Grand Teton fireball of 1972, which was essentially the same size as this latest impact, but which simply grazed the atmosphere.  So.,.  Such impacts could be more frequently enjoyed events.  In any event, the regularity of such events is a statistical phenomenon, and the next one could happen tomorrow or 531 years from now.

Another Blog

I now have another blog, on the Reef2Rainforest site.  There may be some overlap between that site and this one from time to time, but if so, the material will appear on that site first.


Alvarez, L. W., W. Alvarez, F. Asaro, H. V. Michel. 1980. Extraterrestrial Cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction. Science. 208. 1095-1108.

Until Later…




20 February, 2013

February 20th, 2013

Oh my, the delerious joys of becoming old, and having one’s body decompose whist one is still riding around in it.  I have a number of lower cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae that seem to have decided that the war has been lost.  They have surrendered, thrown down their arms, and started to trek home.  In practical terms, this seems to be that spine in the region of those vertebrae is seeming to turn to mush, and this is resulting in all sorts of pinched nerves.  And this leads to a lot of pain.  And as this is an ongoing “performance” the manifestions of I get to endure change more-or-less randomly.  So, a couple of days ago, I went out to fill our bird feeders and spread a little seed on the gound, mostly for the resident red polls and the huge visiting flocks of rosy finches.

Rosy Finch during the winter in Wilsall, MT.

Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.

Rosy Finches Feeding

Grey-crowned Rosy Finches in a Feeding Melee Around a Hanging Feeder Filled With Sunflower Seeds.


Three Spring Finches: Common Red Poll male (center) with a House Finch (male - left) and a Pine Siskin (male - right)

Common Red Poll male (center) with a House Finch (male – left) and a Pine Siskin (male – right)

I had finished this activity which really involved next to no work, and was walking down my drive way toward the house and my upper back gave a “twinge…”.  By the time I was in the house, maybe 30 steps later, I could hardly stand the pain.  Well, it seems I had better get used to it.   That was three days ago, and it has not gotten any less “interesting”.  At times in the past, I have had epidural injections of a blocking agent for an earlier manifestation.  When those symptoms first arrived I had been doing some heavy labor in our yard and figured I had injured my back that way.  So, we trundled me off to our physician and he referred me to the large magnet down the hall, and I had an MRI.  It showed that what was going on, and that it was a whole lot worse than a transient injury.  Since then, the pain has come and gone.  Until fairly recently, it was mostly ignorable.

I have presumed that at least part of the ultimate cause of this were the many small cases of the bends I got back in my diving days.  We did a lot of our initial diving by using  the old  1956 “U. S.  Navy” diving tables; the old, 60 feet at 60 minutes for no decompression, tables; furthermore these tables were modified by a healthy dose of “that’s close enough”, or “I need just a minute more”.  So we stretched the tables a tad, not a lot, just a bit.  But that stretching was done over (in my case) a lot of dives.  Research, of course, has since shown that such diving leads to a lot of cases of the bends.  I know I got a few minor cases of decompression sickness, aka “the bends”,  but they weren’t serious.  Or so I thought.  Now, I think those “hits”, in turn, have come back to haunt me with the later-in-life problems such as mine.   The MRI showed that while I have a few REALLY bad areas in my spine, the WHOLE spine is affected and in bad shape.  Unfortunately, they don’t have spine transplants yet.

Anyway…  the upshot is that I am not feeling all that mobile right now.  Ah, well, so what else is new?

What is new?  

I am starting to blog on the Reef2Rainforest website.   I will still keep blogging here, particularly for my “Ecological Observations From Northeastern Pacific Subtidal Habitats” series and my weekly or semiweekly blogs.  I have submitted my first blog to the site editor, and it should show up on the site sometime soon.   I hope.

Until later!

Cheers, Ron


12 February, 2013

February 12th, 2013

On February 12, 1809, among many others, two human births occurred and stand out,  C. R. Darwin, and A. Lincoln.   I cannot think of another single day in recent history that was the birthday of two such influential individuals.  Of course, influence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but I am sure any reader would realize the immense, and positive, contributions of these two men.  Another malacologist, a casual acquaintance, sends out a Darwin quote on his birthday.  I think the one she sent out this year is worth repeating it here.

Happy Darwin’s Birthday!
“The lagoon-islands have received much the most attention; and it is not surprising, for every one must be struck with astonishment, when he first beholds one of these vast rings of coral-rock, often many leagues in diameter, here and there surmounted by a low verdant island with dazzling white shores, bathed on the outside by the foaming breakers of the ocean, and on the inside surrounding a calm expanse of water, which, from reflection, is of a bright but pale green colour.  The naturalist will feel this astonishment more deeply after having examined the soft and almost gelatinous bodies of these apparently insignificant creatures, and when he knows that the solid reef increases only on the outer edge, which day and night is lashed by the breakers of an ocean never at rest.”
From: Darwin, C. R. 1842. The Structure And Distribution Of Coral Reefs. Being The First Part Of The Geology Of The Voyage Of The Beagle, Under The Command Of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N., During The Years 1832 To 1836. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 214 pp.
Until later…
Cheers, Ron

7 February, 2013

February 7th, 2013

Hi Folks,

To anybody that happens to actually be following my blog, let me apologise for the relative lack of posts over the last week or so.  I had lots of various chores to work up around here, and there were, as is becoming usual, some health issues.   My basic plan is to add one good sized post and a couple of short chatty posts per week.  If anybody comments, I will reply, of course, if it seems I should. 

After a bit of cold weather in early January, it appears that around here we are having an extended early spring.  We seem to be in a weather pattern having bright days with a high of about 40F (5 C) and a low of about 20 F (-6 C).  This pattern is far different than what it used to be at this time of year.  The highs are typically 40 deg F warmer than in the bad old days.  And our snow cover mostly isn’t.   We have scattered skiffs of crusty snow, but there is a lot of barren ground. 

Such a weather pattern is not good for our local vegetation – trees transpire away their moisture, but the ground remains frozen so they can’t replenish what is lost, and as a result, there is a lot of winter kill.   Also our snow cover is damnably low, which will give us a drought come summer.   But… I’ve got to say, even with all the negatives, I can do without the blistering cold.  Now, we certainly can – and probably will  – get some very cold periods before the definitive spring sets in, but the longer it stays the present version of nice, the better I will like it.

With the nice weather, we have been having a herd of furry birds hanging around eating the seed I put out for birds.   There is little forage for these animals, and I am quite worried about their survival.  About 15 years ago, we had a yearling fawn die of starvation in one of our flower beds, and that was a really sad thing to watch.  By the time she showed up in our yard she was too far gone for me to do anything except provide a quiet environment for her.   And then I had to dispose of the body.   She was less than half the normal weight for that time of year.

So far this year, though… so good.

Mom and her two kids last year's fawns,, resting by evergreens in our back yard.

Mom naps with her two kids, last year’s fawns, all resting by evergreens in our back yard.   This doe has distinctive markings, and I have photographs of her in our yard since 2002, when she was a half grown fawn.


Have a good one, if you can.

More later,

Cheers, Ron

Benthic Natural History In Cowlitz Bay, Waldron Island.

February 4th, 2013

Passing into deeper water from the eelgrass beds found in the shallow nearshore environments of many embayments of the American San Juan Islands, the highly organic muddy sand substrate is typically replaced by a less organic or “cleaner” mixture of sand and silt.  Such a transition is certainly the case in Cowlitz Bay of Waldron Island.  I can verify that the silty-sand substrate continues to, at least, a depth of 50 m (165 feet).   Except for emergent rocky outcrops, this habitat type is likely characteristic of all the deeper water of Cowlitz Bay and the nearby San Juan Channel and Boundary Passages.

The tidal ranges that distinguish this region, coupled with its geography, mean that high tidal currents are the norm, and the volume of tidal water movement is immense.  All of this, added to the dense, rich plankton found in those waters creates a habitat that is probably nearly optimal for suspension feeders.  As a result, virtually all of the hard subtidal real estate is occupied some sort of organism specialized to grab food or nutrients from the water moving past them.  Subtidal rocky substrates are often characterized by dense populations of suspension-feeding epifaunal sea cucumbers.  And, although it may seem unlikely, some of the unconsolidated, silty-sand, habitats are also dominated by dendrochirote holothurians, albeit in this case these cases they are infaunal, not epifaunal.  Infaunal sea cucumbers dominate the subtidal Cowlitz Bay benthic environment below 10 m.    

0 - Pentamera cf populifera 11vii77 6m Cowlitz Bay, Waldron Id. 01 Juveniles

Pentamera individuals extending from the bottom of Cowlitz Bay, 11 July, 1977.  The abundance of the adult animals exceeds 20,000/m2 (about 0.2 m2) is visible.

Pentamera sp. indivdiual with some of the many juveniles in the sediment circled.  Taken 11 July, 1977.

Pentamera sp. adult indivdiual with some of the many juveniles in the sediment circled. Taken 11 July, 1977.  The juveniles become evident in the sediments in early summer, indicating spawning likely occurs in the spring.

Although a few other species are rarely found, the vast majority of these suspension-feeding, infaunal cukes belong to a few species of Pentamera.  The individuals belonging to the different species are relatively similar in size, shape, and coloration making them effectively indistinguishable in the field by non-specialists, so I will refer to them all as Pentamera.  Living buried in the sediments they feed by extending a small portion of the oral end of the body above the sediments.  This exposes just a bit of the animal, primarily the mouth, and its surrounding crown of highly-branched feeding tentacles.   

White, and only about 2 or 3 cm long, these relatively small sea cucumbers are often found in beds so very dense that in the summer, the benthic sediment appears snow-covered due to the many tentacles visible.  In the clear water of the late autumn and winter plankton-free periods, these holothuroids do not feed.  Presumably quiescent, they remain buried under the sediment surface.  During these seasons, the habitat looks relatively barren; with only scattered larger animals, such as individuals of tube anemones, Pachycerianthus fimbriatus, orange sea pens, Ptilosarcus gurneyi, snake-skin stars, Luidia foliolata, sunflower stars, Pycnopodia helianthoides, or weather-vane scallops, Patinopecten caurinus being evident to the casual observer. 

Patinopecten caurinus, the Weather Vane Scallop, about 15 cm (6" in) in diameter. Photographed in the Summer (June, 1977).  Note the visible Pentamera cukes.

Patinopecten caurinus, the Weather Vane Scallop, about 15 cm (6″ in) in diameter. Photographed in the Summer (June, 1977) on the benthic subtrate of Cowlitz Bay; note the abundant Pentamera cukes.

Patinopecten caurinus.  Area as before, except it was photographed in the ealry winter (December, 1976).  Note the lack of visible cukes.

Patinopecten caurinus. Area as before, except it was photographed in the ealry winter (December, 1976). Note the lack of visible cukes.

With beginning of the diatom bloom starting in February, smaller life “returns to”, or more correctly, becomes evident again on the benthos.  The sediment becomes covered completely with a thick and rather ugly, dense dark brown film, consisting of several species of microalgae, primarily diatoms and dinoflagellates. 

Unidentified Polyclad Turbellarian, photographed in April, 1983.  The "black material" is the diatom film that is found in this area in the spring.

Unidentified Polyclad Turbellarian, anterior end to the left, photographed on April, 1983 on the substrate in Cowlitz Bay.  The “black material” is the diatom film that is found in this area in the spring.

By early March, many turbellarian flatworms of several visually distinctive types are commonly found gliding over the brown algal film and sediments.  These small worms, each only a few millimeters long, may be distinguished by their differing shapes and color patterns.  Although common, at least in the spring, virtually nothing is known of their natural history.  Shortly after the worms become common, small caprellid amphipods, otherwise known as “skeleton shrimp”, seem to appear out of nowhere and are soon found covering the diatom film.  These small, about a centimeter (0.4 inch) long, animals reproduce rapidly and soon reach abundances around 1 animal per square centimeter, or a density of 10,000 animals per square meter.  As they become common, pelagic predators, such as ctenophores and chaetognaths, may be observed grabbing copepods off the bottom and swimming back up into the overlying water.

A Sagitta (planktonic chaetognath carnivore) photograph near the bottom, hunting for caprellids.

A Sagitta (an almost completely transparent planktonic chaetognath and a predator normally on zooplankton) photographed near the bottom, where I have seen other individuals grab caprellids.

 By the middle of March, the spring plankton are in full bloom and the Pentamera are beginning to feed.  By moving up and down in the sediment, the resulting bioturbation soon destroys the diatom film, and the sediment becomes relatively clean again.  Snake-skin stars, Luidia foliolata, are common in this habitat where these sea cucumbers are their principal prey.  Caprellid amphipods, Caprella gracilior, and small hermit crabs are often seen on the aboral surface of the stars.  The Luidia-sized, star‑shaped, feeding depressions, along with the small piles of regurgitated remains attest to the star’s feeding habits.  Pycnopodia helianthoides is also commonly found in these beds and may also feed on the sea cucumbers.  Some aspects of the natural history of Luidia in this habitat will be discussed in subsequent post.

 Individuals of the large, up to 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter, weathervane scallops, Patinopecten caurinus, rather rare elsewhere in the San Juans, are found not uncommonly in these cucumber beds.  They are found lying in shallow, somewhat bowl-shaped, depressions probably created over time by the scallops’ feeding currents which might gently displace and excavate the sediments.  Eaten by the sunflower star, the scallops will swim in response to being touched by the predator.  They are not particularly vigorous swimmers, however, nor do they seem to start swimming immediately, thus they could be captured relatively easily.  Their shells are a common feature in this habitat, so presumably some predators are capturing them.  These large shells, either living or dead, provide about the only hard substrate in these habitats, and are often covered with barnacles, algae, or occasionally attached bryozoans or hydroids. 

Maroon more pachycerianthis

Both color varieties or “morphs” of  Pachycerianthus fimbriatus found in the benthos of Cowlitz Bay.

The tube-dwelling anemone, Pachycerianthus fimbriatus, is particularly common in this habitat, and becomes very abundant just below the dense Pentamera beds in the more silty habitats of the steeply sloping areas.  Pachycerianthus individuals may be colored either gray or a dark brown to maroon.  These do not appear to represent separate species, and the different colors have no known significance.  Close examination of the anemones will show some very small epifaunal, possibly stenothoid, amphipods visible as small dots moving over the anemone’s body and tentacles.  During the spring and early summer periods of dense plankton, it is possible to watch the Pachycerianthus catch copepods, and other small crustacean zooplankton, with their long tapering, thin, tentacles. 

An ectoparasitic or commensal stenothoid amphipod on a Pachycerianthus tentacle.  Assuming the tentacles are about the same size (and they are) compare this amphipod to the hyperiid amphipod captured as food by a different tube anemone (next illustration).

An ectoparasitic, or commensal, stenothoid amphipod on a Pachycerianthus tentacle.  Assuming the tentacles are about the same size (and they are) compare this amphipod’s size to that of the hyperiid amphipod captured as food by a different tube anemone (next illustration).

A small Pachycerianthus fimbriatus with a captured planktonic hyperiid amphipod (arrow).

A small Pachycerianthus fimbriatus with a captured planktonic hyperiid amphipod (arrow).

 These slightly deeper habitats where Pachycerianthus is most common, ranging downward from about 10m (33 feet) in depth, have a silty sand substrate.  Pentamera are found in these regions, they are just not as abundant as they are in the dense assemblages in shallower water.  Individuals of the orange sea pen, Ptilosarcus gurneyi, are well represented in these deeper habitats, and although they are not as abundant here as they are in the dense sea pen beds of the lower Puget Sound region, they are nonetheless found relatively frequently.  Occasionally, a different type of pennatulacean, a sea whip, may be found.  In the genus Virgularia, these whips are narrow pennatulaceans, with short “leaves”.   At least two species within this genus found in our waters and they are not terribly difficult to distinguish in the field.  The species found in Cowlitz bay is small, tan to whitish, with small “leaves” and is seldom over 15 cm (6 inches) in height.  The feeding zooids often appear to arise from directly from the central stalk.   The other species, found in other areas, such as Lopez Sound, is larger and more robust, pink to orange, and often reaches heights of 50 or more centimeters.  This species has larger relatively distinct “leaves” with the gastrozooids on them. 

A small, about 8 cm (3.5 in) high, pennatulacean, probably a species of Virgularia.

A small, about 8 cm (3.5 in) high, pennatulacean, probably a species of Virgularia.

 Several nudibranch species are also found in these areas, most of which are probably preying on the cnidarians.  The largest and most evident of these are individuals of Dendronotus iris.  These are amongst the largest local snails; in this area they often reach lengths exceeding 25 cm (10 inches) which is probably due to the high abundances of their preferred prey, the Pachycerianthus anemones.  They approach the anemones by slowly crawling under the tentacle crown, to where the anemones extend from their tube.  They, then, reach up rapidly, bite, and hang on to either a mass of tentacles or even the anemone’s column.  Generally, the Pachycerianthus rapidly withdraws into its tube when it is bitten, and in these cases, it often pulls the predator in with it.  Sometime later, the Dendronotus iris often crawls out of the now empty tube, and may set off in search of another anemone.  The nudibranch may, at times, lay its loosely coiled egg masses attached to the Pachycerianthus tube, bits of shell, or just bits of the sediment.

0 - Dendronotus iris Cowlitz Bay, Waldron Id. -7m 11vii77 WA 01

A 10 cm (4 inch) long Dendronotus iris in Cowlitz Bay. Photographed at a depth about 7 m. This large nudibranch reaches over 30 cm (12 inches) in length, and eats Pachycerianthus. 

Other nudibranch specimens are found in the area, and they can be relatively common at certain times of the year.  Dendronotus albus specimens will be found occasionally, preying on those few hydroids that are found attached to the shell fragments or other hard substrata present on the sediment surface.  These nudibranchs are slender and may reach lengths of about 10 cm.  The basic ground color is white, but the tips of the branched cerata are tipped in orange.  Individuals of another dendronotid, Dendronotus albopunctatus, are often abundant in the spring.  These animals are brown to pink and freckled with small light dots.  They only reaches lengths of 2 to 3 cm (up to about 1.5 inches), but they are recognizable by their somewhat “oversized”, relatively large, “front” cerata, which are often about a centimeter in length.  Little is known of the natural history of this species, although it is likely a predator on small cnidarians.

Dendronotus albus.

Dendronotus albus is a not uncommon, small, about 3 cm, (1.2 inches) long, nudibranch in habitats such as those found in Cowlitz Bay.  It eats hydroids, as this individual was doing when photographed

0 - Dendronotus albopunctatus Cowlitz Bay, Waldron Id. -9m 28iv83 WA 01

Dendronotus albopunctatus, about 3 cm (1.2 inches) long on the sediment of Cowlitz Bay.  It also has been seen to eat hydroids.

0 - Acanthodoris brunnea, Cowlitz Bay, Waldron Id.,  -9m, 13v86  WA 01

Acanthodoris brunnea, about 2 cm (0.8 inch) long, photographed on the sediment of Cowlitz Bay.  Reported to eat bryozoans, this dorid species is found on muddy-sand, a habitat notably lacking in bryozoans.  In this region and habitat, it is likely eating something other than bryozans.

Acanthodoris brunnea is another nudibranch species that is somewhat common at times in this habitat; little is known of its natural history.  These animals are small dorids, roughly the same size as Dentdronotus albopunctatus, reaching lengths of 2 to 3 cm (up to about 1.5 inches).  Their basic coloration is brown; the individuals are covered with distinctive relatively large papillae on the back.   This species is considered to be predatory on bryozoans, but that is unlikely in this region as bryozoans are exceedingly rare in this habitat.

Also found in these areas are pennatulid-eating nudibranchs in the genus Tritonia.  The most abundant of these are individuals of the small white Tritonia festiva, described in the earlier post on sea pen beds.  Here, as well, T. festiva individuals seem to prey on Ptilosarcus.  Individuals of the larger, orange nudibranch, Tritonia diomedea, are also occasionally seen in these areas.  They seem to prefer the larger Virgularia as prey.  

Large shelled gastropods are relatively rare in this particular habitat, although several smaller species can be very abundant.  Perhaps the largest commonly found gastropod, and certainly one of the most beautiful, is the wentletrap,  Epitonium indianorum.  These animals are often found buried near to the bases of the tube anemones upon which they feed.  As with most snails, wentletraps have a feeding organ called a radula; unlike the “classic” gastropodan radula which functions something like a rasp, filing off pieces of tissue, the wentletraps’ radulae are highly modified and look like an inverted thimble lined on the inside with sharp teeth.   A wentletrap crawls up to the anemone and pokes the anemone with its radula everting the “thimble” in the process.  This turns the radula inside out, which in turn, carves a circular hole in the tissues on the side of the anemone.   The lacerated tissues are eaten, and the snail extends its proboscis which has the radula on its tip through the hole and proceeds to use the radula to cut up and eat other internal anemone tissues.  These snails reach lengths of 3 cm or more, and don’t seem to move much once they have found an anemone to feed on.  It is recognized by the distinct axial ribs, the rounded aperture, and the relatively high spire.

 One cephalopod can be relatively common in the lower slope areas, the Pacific Bob‑Tailed Squid, Rossia pacifica.  This small benthic squid lives buried in the bottom during the day.  If a diver is careful, they can sometimes see the slight depression that the Rossia occupies, and then can make out the eyes watching him.  The hole for the siphon is generally visible and if approached carefully, one can see the regular breathing movements of the mantle.  Rossia pacifica reaches lengths of about 10 cm, and seems to live about a year or eighteen months.  They have an interesting, stereotyped, escape response which I have described, briefly, in a previous post.  This small squid preys on small shrimps, crabs, and fishes, and is a nocturnal hunter.

Well, that’s enough for now… 🙂

More later,

Cheers, Ron






25 January, 2013

January 25th, 2013

Today is a day to appreciate the effects the positive aspects of global warming.  Back in the wasted time of my youth I remember many a January day that was blistering cold, and I am not kidding about the blistering.  Windy days with actual temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit can raise blisters on unexposed skin, and the fun part is one doesn’t feel it happening as one’s skin is frostbitten (= frozen) and numb.  Numb like one’s mind is numb if one has dressed so stupidly that such things can happen. It happened to me on a couple of days I thought I could get by without proper gloves.  DUMB!!  What REALLY hurt was that I knew better, too.    

After it heals and some time passes, this type of injury only hurts when it gets cold again, so that it hurts like the dickens for the next 30 to 50 or more years, every time it gets cold, just to remind one how stupid one can be.  Back when I was in high school, for two years our school had double shifts each with about 1600 students while a second high school was being built in town.  So, I opted for the early shift.  Our classes started at 0600 hours and lasted until about noon, when the second shift started in.  To get to the school on time, I had to leave home at about 0500 to walk the 2 miles (3.2 km) or so to school.  Of course, I could have ridden in a school bus by leaving home at about the same time and walking about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the bus stop.  Why bother?  To sit in a cold bus with 30 other kids, most of whom I thought were idiots.  Nope.   

Anyway, in the depths of winter, I was walking to school during the coldest part of the day.  There were a group of us, a few each of boys and girls who showed up at school early.  After arrival we warmed up and socialized before class started; my first class was in a biology class and our instructor was always there early, too, and he would heat up some hot chocolate or coffee on a hot plate.  It was really a pleasant social time.  When the real cold weather started, it was the macho thing for the guys to dress somewhat lightly for the season.  Hey… after all we WERE in high school, and we WERE males.  Well, on day one of the nastiest cold snap, I killed parts of my hands.  But, it could be worse, this was the time of mini-skirts and where some of the young wimmen in my high school got frostbitten… well…  Let’s just say I really couldn’t post the images here.  This nonsense with dressing improperly in such weather lasted about a couple of days into the really cold periods (which were often a couple of weeks in duration) and then all we earlybirds bundled up well, but some other kids didn’t.  Finally, the school administration required the youg women to dress properly for the weather and change after they arrived in school, and they provided time off from the first classes to do this.  As for the guys… the administration seemed to figure if the guys got frostbitten, well, it served them right.  DUH…  

 To give you an idea of the temperature 59 years ago yesterday, as I mentioned in a previous post, the coldest temperature ever officially recorded in the 48 continental United States occurred about 70 miles to the west of my home town.  And the way the wind blew in from the Rocky Mountains to the West… well, it surely didn’t either slow down or warm up much on the way into town.

 Well, those days are long gone.  Today it is close to +50° F (10° C) outside right now, and the wind is almost not noticeable.  In other words, it really is quite pleasant outside.  And, there is nothing one could offer me to trade this warmth for the old cold.  It is possible to enjoy oneself in very cold weather.  It is also possible to easily die in such weather, and back in the bad old days several people per winter would perish in our area due to accidents or stupidity.  One learned rules, like having a box full of winter survival gear in your car at all times.  Or, probably the best one was that if the weather was nasty and one’s car got stuck, one must stay with the car, one should never even try to walk to the farm house one can see right over there.  There was always the occasional death caused when somebody’s car would slide off the road, and they decided to walk about 400 m (a quarter mile) to the nearest farm house.  Most of the time they’d make it, but…   Every now and then the local newspaper would print a picture somebody took of a cow (this is cattle country) that had frozen to death standing up.  Most ranchers would try to get their herds into some sort of shelter during the worst weather but it wasn’t always possible.  Our local air National Guard unit always spent part of each winter bombing isolated cattle with bales of hay.  And it worked.  

More later,