Vintage Views: Mount Diablo – The Great Sun-Dial

Nineteenth century appreciators trended toward the baroque when describing (or illustrating) Mount Diablo, dipping their quills in an ink mixed with equal parts of the fantastical, grandiloquent, and flamboyant to put to paper prose and pencil-lines overly purple in their embellishment. Viewed from certain vantages around the bay area, Mount Diablo’s bulk can loom over the landscape, while from others its settles into the skyline. But it is in those former instances, when the peak puffs out its chest against a cerulean sky braided with clouds, that we can best appreciate our neighborhood mountain.

Avery-Mounte-Diablo_WEB_crop4

In this 1878 engraving by F.S. King, one of many vintage images of Mount Diablo I’ve collected over the last few years in association with my wife and my Vintage Views: Mount Diablo project, author Benjamin Parke Avery celebrates Mount Diablo as a “great sun-dial” and a “spectre” that “looms up in the perspective of every view in all directions around it”:

Behind the Alameda hills rises the double cone of Monte Diablo, very near to the view, but separated from the hills named by the San Ramon Valley, and distant from the city easterly about thirty miles. This peak is three thousand eight hundred and fifty-six feet high. Rising from the centre of a wide basin which runs into the great valley of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, and being the most elevated spot in this region, Monte Diablo looms up in the perspective of every view in all directions around it, and is one of the most familiar landmarks to the citizen of San Francisco, who sees it daily and almost hourly. Its dark blue mass lords it nobly over the brown hills of Alameda, and when it takes on its snowy cap for a few days in the rainy season it is more peculiarly prominent. It is a great sun-dial, for the stages of the coming or going day are marked in bands of shifting color upon its top. Around its base, fertile valleys swell to meet its foot-hills as if they would embrace it, and hold a score of thrifty towns. From its summit one of the most extensive and beautiful views in the Union can be obtained. The great plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, stretching from the northeast to southwest nearly three hundred and fifty miles; the rivers of the same names winding their yellow currents from north and south, meeting at the head of the upper bay; the vast bulk of the Sierra Nevada with its snowy crest, along the eastern sky, from Lassen’s Peak at one extremity to Mount Whitney at another; the isolated ” Buttes ” of Marysville in the centre of the Sacramento Valley; the line of the Coast Range from Mount St. Helena on the north, to Mount Hamilton, four thousand four hundred feet high, at the south, broken into lesser spurs around the bay; the whole scenery of the bay itself, the city, the Golden Gate, the ocean beyond, — all this magnificent panorama, in clear weather, lies spread out before the spectator on the summit of Diablo. The area included within the bounds of this view is probably not less, according to Professor Whitney, than forty thousand square miles; adding what can be seen of the ocean it is much more. It might well have been on such a commanding height as this that the enemy of mankind tempted the Saviour; and an early Spanish legend, to which the mountain owes its name, actually located here a terrifying appearance of the devil to a party of explorers. This legend would seem to indicate a belief that the mountain is of volcanic origin, as it has been said to be by some writers; but it is simply a grand mass of metamorphic sand- stone, flanked by jasper, shales, and slates, with limited coal-beds at its base and deposits of cretaceous fossils. The gap between the two peaks is eight hundred feet deep, and the north peak is nearly three hundred feet lower than its companion. From certain points of view the two peaks are brought into line and have the effect of a single perfect cone. Seen from the upper bay or river, the mountain seems to rise in this shape directly from the water’s edge, and is very imposing in its near bulk. The ascent of it from any quarter, with the ever expanding outlooks revealed, is full of picturesque charm. The nearer scenery of the foot-hills and lower flanks — embracing Graceful wavelets of harvest-land, melting into level spaces, deep gorges filled with ever- green growths, sandstone cliffs weathered into fantastic forms, and bits of charming brooks and grassy springs — is itself a treat to the lover of nature. Sunrise and sunset are the best hours for visiting the summit. At the former, the air is clearest, and one gets the widest view, besides the glorious spectacle of the great round orb flashing up above the crest of the Sierra, bringing its highest peaks of snow into sharp relief. The shadow of the peak is thrown in a pyramidal form over the whole country to the west, across the Alameda hills, the bay and peninsula of San Francisco, and into the ocean beyond, forty miles in length, — a dark bluish triangle of shade that shortens slowly as the sun rises higher and higher, that withdraws by almost imperceptible degrees from the ocean, from the peninsula and bay, from the Alameda range and San Ramon Valley, up the flanks of Diablo himself, and there at last quite disappears. At evening this spectre of the peak is reversed, falling over the San Joaquin Valley, up the Sierra, and even into the sky, at first gradually lengthening as the sun sinks lower in the west, and then losing itself in the general twilight and darkness of his disappearance. Looking seaward then, we observe the myriad lights of the city, if no fog obscures them, and on the distant Farallone Islands the flashing of the beacon set to warn mariners.

Other picturesque views of Mount Diablo and greater California that we’ve collected on behalf of the Vintage Views project are available through the (bio)accumulation Etsy storefront.

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Book Review: The Synesthesia Activity Book

Synesth_CoverThe Synesthesia Activity Book, by Dior-Ian Grey, Feaux•Afield Guides (www.feauxafieldguides.com), 2016, 41 pages, $11.95

As the popularity of adult coloring books continues to grow, so too has the niche market catering to increasingly smaller circles of consumers (like hipsters and neck-beard enthusiasts). The Synesthesia Activity Book – a trendy coloring book that marks Feaux•Afield Guides‘ recent foray into the boutique clinical neurology market – panders to the 1 in 2,000 people suspected of having synesthesia. For synesthetes – those that experience a neurological phenomenon in their everyday lives that involves an overlap or ‘cross-talk’ of the five senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing) – the clockwork is orange, The Green Mile describes their daily commute, and oranges are the new black.

Simply put, synesthesia (also, synaesthesia) is a “union of the senses,” or deferring to a slightly more clinical definition, when “stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an automatic and involuntary experience in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” It means seeing clouds and involuntarily smelling bananas or wet dog; hearing the word ‘Kevin’ and tasting baby powder; or experiencing the calendar or days of the week in colors. Synesthesia is bath salts without the socially-awkward side effect, “user may experience flesh-eating-zombie urges.”

The list of synesthetes that have walked among us may surprise you: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who experienced colors when speaking or reading letters and words; American composer, pianist, and bandleader Duke Ellington, who experienced colors when he made music; and former professional American road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong, who experimented with doping when faced with ordinariness. Armstrong excluded (it’s true, Lance is no more a synesthete than he is an athlete [assthlete??] – I just felt like kicking him while he’s down), the Nabokovs and Ellingtons of the world tend to share the stage with other prodigies like artist Vincent Van Gogh, physicist Richard Feynman, inventor Nikola Tesla, and singer/songwriters Tori Amos, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Kanye West.

Knowing that genius walks among us in synesthete shoes, the normal-Normans and -Nancy’s of the world should be asking themselves, “Why should synesthetes have all the fun?” If your clockwork is as gray as your commute, why should you settle for coloring by numbers when you can number by colors? Enter The Synesthesia Activity Book, whose every page turns those fifty shades of gray into scarlet letters.

Ranging from easy to difficult, this awe-perspiring book’s activities range from the traditional draw-a-line-between-this-and-that to the more challenging complete-the-picture, all with a synesthetic twist. When you are drawing a line, you are identifying the association between a word (“chainsaw”) and it’s corresponding taste (“raw eggs”), the ‘lexical-gustatory’ (word to taste) form of synesthesia. Likewise, to complete the hidden picture, you need only read a string of numbers and apply the subsequent lines that automatically and involuntarily appear in your mind’s eye to the partial picture (a medieval wizard’s hat and sword) using the mind-boggling ‘number form’ (numbers to spatial placement) type of synesthesia. My personal favorite is the number by color page, in which a fraternity sofa magically appears out of a scribble of lines as you replace each colored dot with its corresponding number to connect the dots and reveal the hidden picture.

 

Despite a recent report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse concerning a surge in the abuse of pairing The Synesthesia Activity Book with Mr. Sketch Scented Markers™, a combination known as “sketching” that purportedly results in hallucinogenic episodes that put the fear and loathing in Las Vegas, Feaux•Afield Guides plans to begin shipping additional titles in early April the first chance they get, including Sticker Stencils, Scratch & Sniff Temporary Tattoos, and The Dyslexic’s Ulitmate Wrod Saerch Pzuzsel.

 

For a limited time, these six introductory coloring pages are available for download as .pdfs – get yours today.

{APRIL FOOLS DAY POST 2015}

, , ,

Leave a comment

London Zoo Turtle Exhibit Explores Turtles In the Knife Kitchen

In a move meant to make manifest the real dangers turtles face in the wild today, the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) London Zoo unveiled their new Annam leaf turtle (Mauremys annamensis) exhibit last year. But to tell the raw story behind this turtle’s Critically Endangered status, ZSL bypassed the traditional bucolic exhibit depicting turtles in the lowland wetlands characteristic of Vietnam in lieu of a tell-tale tableau that reveals where they more frequently end up: in a traditional Vietnamese kitchen. The resulting still life of still-live turtles shows the stark realities of the wildlife trade, tapping into the grim fate these and other Asian turtles face from overhunting for meat, not to mention traditional medicine and the pet trade.

Photo by: Ben Tapley/ZSL

The ZSL’s all-too-real exhibit takes advantage of everything and the kitchen sink to bring this restaurant kitchen to life. The only thing more macabre than the axeman’s butchering knife, pendant woks, and bubbling soup pot are the kitchen sink itself and the butcher’s block doing double duty as aquarium and basking platform.

According to Ben Tapley, team leader of the Reptile House at ZSL London Zoo,  “We’ve gone to town on the new Annam leaf turtle exhibit here at ZSL London Zoo, as we want our visitors to really understand the threats facing these animals. Providing a great habitat for these beautiful turtles, with water for them to swim in and a secluded nesting area hidden behind a carefully positioned wok, the creative exhibit tells a serious story.”

Knowing that Asian turtles like the Annam leaf turtle and Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), the world’s rarest freshwater turtle, are close to extinction, perhaps it’s time more zoological institutions explore this morbid mode of storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Rare Pond Species Survey Techniques Workshop 2016

RarePond2014This spring, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and The Wildlife Project are back at it, sponsoring the Rare Pond Species Survey Techniques Workshop, March 19-20, 2016 at the Laguna Environmental Center, Santa Rosa, CA. Workshop instructors Dave Cook and Jeff Alvarez will cover aquatic survey techniques for California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), California red-legged frog (Rana draytoni), and western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata). After-hours field trips will provide hands-on experience with all three species, including dip net sampling, spotlight surveys, and visual encounter and trapping.

Dave and Jeff, whom I’ve known for years, are experienced herpetologists who have logged inestimable hours in the field between them studying these species. Their knowledge is priceless, but the workshop worth every penny.

You can learn more about the workshop by downloading the informational flyer or visiting the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation website.

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle: The Death of a Legend

The annals and magazine of natural history : zoology, botany, anSince January 19th, when rumors about the death of the Hoàn Kiếm Turtle first surfaced, the Turtle Survival Alliance has now confirmed that indeed the lone Swinhoe’s (or Yangtze) soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) that resided in Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hanoi, Vietnam, was found floating dead in the lake Tuesday. The passing of this individual makes the situation even more dire for the remaining three turtles, which together represent the last and only known individuals in existence of this, the world’s rarest freshwater turtle.

The Swinhoe’s softshell turtle had long been famous for it role in Vietnamese legend as the fabled Sword Lake Turtle that inhabited Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Of the handful of Swinhoe’s softshell turtles known to scientists to exist in the wild or captivity in recent years, five had died since the 1990s, leaving only four remaining: one in Hoàn Kiếm Lake, one in the wild in Đồng Mỏ Lake west of Hanoi, and two in captivity, the latter now both part of the Suzhou Zoo’s captive breeding program.

Since 2008, when the Changsha Zoo’s female, “China Girl,” was relocated to Suzhou, scientists at Suzhou Zoo have undertaken a captive breeding program with their older male turtle. But despite repeated bouts of courtship displays and mating between the pair in the years since, the resulting eggs have failed to hatch.

With the passing of this lonely, legendary turtle, it is perhaps fitting to remember it today more than ever through the legend that made it a cornerstone of Vietnamese mythology, a fairytale hero to Vietnamese schoolchildren, and an omen of good luck to all who were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the turtle surfacing in Hoàn Kiếm Lake over the years.

The following retelling is from the 2012 article I prepared on the history and natural history of this species in the journal Bibliotheca Herpetologica, and is excerpted here, below (a citation and link to the full article are provided below).

fancydivider-bot
The Legend of the Sword Lake Turtle

“In the six-hundred years since the Dragon King first guided the farmer king to victory, the legend of the Sword Lake Turtle has evolved in the telling. The heart of this legend roughly holds true to the historical record. Between 1418 and 1426, after enduring years of violent occupation under an invading force of the Chinese Ming, the farmer Lê Lợi raised an army of 500 volunteer soldiers – the Lam Son army – to free their country. Although Lê Lợi’s guerilla tactics demoralized and chipped away at the invader’s forces, the Ming occupation persisted (Trang 2006). It is here that the lines between legend and history blur.

As retold by Minh Trang in “Sự Tích Hồ Gươm (The Legend of Sword Lake)” (Trang 2006; see also Asian Turtle Conservation Network 2008), legend has it the Dragon King – witnessing from his underwater palace the Lam Son army’s struggle – sent forth the Golden Turtle (referred to as the “Golden Tortoise” in Trang 2006) to deliver a magical sword blade to Lê Lợi. Whether by design or by accident (here the legend is unclear on all counts), this blade was delivered, not to Lê Lợi, but to a fisherman, Lê Thận. Lê Thận cast his net three times, each time entangling it in the sword blade. It wasn’t until the third cast that Lê Thận, beguiled by the reappearing blade, tucked it in his belt and returned home. Soon thereafter, Lê Thận joined Lê Lợi’s resistance army.

One night, after stopping by Lê Thận’s quarters to visit, Lê Lợi noticed the blade on the wall, which began to glow in his presence. Inspecting the blade, Lê Lợi saw the radiance emanated from two words etched on the blade: “Thuận Thiên” (“Heaven Approves” or “The Will of Heaven”). Several days later, during a retreat of Lê Lợi’s guerilla army before an anticipated Ming attack, the farmer king again saw a strange glow – this time from the canopy of an ancient banyan tree. Upon closer inspection, Lê Lợi saw that it was a sword hilt decorated in gems and etched with the same divine words: “Thuận Thiên.”

When Lê Lợi and Lê Thận next crossed paths, Lê Lợi asked to see the blade; the blade and hilt were a perfect fit. Seeing this as a sign from heaven, Lê Thận knelt before Lê Lợi, bestowed him the sword, and swore his allegiance to the farmer king that he might save their people and their homeland (Trang 2006).

As word of Lê Lợi’s magical sword spread, his Lam Son army grew (Trang 2006, Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008). Backed by a growing resistance some 350,000 soldiers strong, reinforced with horses and elephants, and – by legend’s score – armed with the magical sword that made Lê Lợi grow tall and gave him the strength of many men (Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008), Lê Lợi destroyed the Ming forces and led his people to victory. After years of oppression, in 1427 the Chinese recognized the Vietnamese people’s independence. One year later, Lê Lợi was declared king under the title Lê Thái Tổ, founder of the Lê Dynasty (Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008).

Not long after Lê Lợi became king, he was touring Lục Thuy (“Green Water”) Lake when the Golden Turtle emerged from the waters to retrieve the divine sword. By some accounts, the Golden Turtle asked for the sword’s return and Lê Lợi respectfully complied (Trang 2006); by others the messenger instead plucked it from Lê Lợi’s belt, inciting the king to retrieve it (Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008). In the end, however, Lê Lợi acknowledged the sword’s return to the Dragon King and in tribute, renamed the waters Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, “The Lake of the Returned Sword” (Trang 2006, Friends of Vietnam Heritage 2008)” (Bettelheim 2012).

fancydivider
Full Citation: Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2012. Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei): The Legendary Sword Lake Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 10(1): p 4-20.

, , ,

Leave a comment