The Cactus Patch
Volume 15       July 2012      Number 07

Chasing the Dragon
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Witnessing an eclipse today may not be the mystical experience it once was, but it’s no less impressive. --Richard Panek Natural History 6/01

We have done a lot of staring at the sky lately. We began on the 5th of May when there was an extra-bright moon. All we had to do was look out the front door at moonrise. Impressive.

Then on the 18th we began a trip north. We started with a short side trip at Fairmead to a new museum just west of 99. The first thing we saw was a huge landfill. We wondered why they built a museum just across the street from it, but all became clear when we learned it was to display the fossils which were discovered when they started the landfill. The most impressive is a large skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth. Imagine if these were still roaming the Central Valley!

We spent the night at Marvin’s in the Sacramento area. Next morning we went to the show and sale of the Carmichael CSS (also in the Sacramento area). I expected a slightly bigger show, but the specimens were good. They also had a large sales area with lots of blooming cacti. I bought one of the used books they were selling for half price: The Native Cacti of California by Lyman Benson (1969, Stanford U. Press)-an oldie but goody.

Then we drove on up to the Feather River Canyon. The cliffs were covered with pale orange monkey flowers. We also saw Dudleyas and Sedums in bloom. The Lewisias were just in bud. We arrived at James’ house in Greenville just in time to go to a Drink and Fine Food Tasting Festival. This included live music and local art. Not bad for a small mountain town.

Next morning I told Michael a dragon was going to eat the sun. I expected him to protest as he is a literalist, but he had no comeback! Matthew was friendly –until I tried to hold him. Each time I tried he screamed. After socializing with the grandkids (and their parents) we all headed up to Lassen National Park on the 20th to see the annular eclipse of the sun. Everyone else had the same idea, so we were told to go elsewhere. After meeting up with John (who was coming back from spelunking [caving] in Oregon, we settled on watching at Child’s Meadow, a resort south of Lassen.

It was not too crowded, but the meadow was full of mosquitoes. Fortunately a friendly fellow shared his repellant. Everyone had a different way to view the eclipse: telescopes which projected onto screens, binoculars, pinhole cameras, welder’s glass etc. We had proper viewing glasses purchased at the park as well as a colander. This latter was impressive because it projected numerous images. It wasn’t as dark or cold as a full eclipse (Polly & I saw one with baby John in North Carolina in 1969 and another with James and Emily in Botswana in 2002), but it was impressive. Michael even surprised me by saying, “The dragon did eat the sun.”

Next day we all went to the Cotton Candy Diner in Chester with its 50s theme Then Polly & I followed John’s bright yellow beetle down to Sacramento, stopping for Jalapeno poppers and stuffed mushrooms at Granzella’s in Williams. On the 22 we returned to Bakersfield.

On the 4th of June I woke up at 3 a.m. (for no known reason) and saw the moonlight streaming down the hall. I went to see if it looked as bright as the month before and found an eclipse just starting. We had not planned on watching it since it was only a partial eclipse and we’ve seen many full eclipses of the moon, but since I was up, I woke Polly and we watched it together.

Our next (and last) celestial observation was on the 5th of June when Venus crossed the sun. This time we only went as far as Russo’s Books here in Bakersfield. Again there was a crowd with telescopes etc. Some even had an enlargement which allowed us to see sun spots as well.

On the 1st of June we saw the film “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” an unusual experience. Fortunately I had read the book as the ending is quite different. Next day our Goldenaires choir sang for a funeral for the son of one of the members. It was interesting with tattooed bikers and their hogs at the entrance and Masons leading the ceremony. Some people lead different lives.On the 7th we heard Stephen McCabe from UC Santa Cruz speak at the Fresno CSS. He has done a lot of work on Dudleyas and showed a wide variety of habitats as well as plants. I liked his approach which admits that there is a lot of variation and hybridization which results in indistinct species. On the 12th, of course, we were at the Bakersfield meeting for the usual wide selection of great food.

A number of people who have impinged on my life have been in the news lately. First there was an article in the insert by Hoffman Hospice about Alice’s friend Rebecca Gottesman. She grew up in a Jewish neighborhood on the lower eastside of Manhattan. Polly and I had lived there quite some time later when I was studying malaria at New York University. There were quite a few non-Jewish neighbors by then, but our son John went to Asher Levy School and attended afternoon activities at the YMHA (H for Hebrew).

Next there was an obituary for blind Doc Watson from North Carolina. We had met him in Malawi when we were Peace Corps Volunteers. We happened to be staying in a Government Rest House in Mzuzu (Northern Malawi) when he and his son were staying there while he performed in town. Unfortunately the son was suffering from Shaka’s revenge and didn’t perform. The Malawians were most impressed by the harmonica (which isn’t even mentioned in the Californian), but I will admit his bluegrass guitar was memorable. Incidentally, my advisor for my master’s degree at Chapel Hill, N.C., some years later was Dr. Robert Watson. (I don’t know if they were related.)

Then there was an obit for Phillip Tobias, an expert on early man in South Africa. Although I did have some contact with the paleontology dept. (as well as the herbarium) at Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) where he worked, I never had the privilege of meeting him. We also visited Sterkfontein Caves where the famous Little Foot was discovered, but it was in a section behind a locked gate at that time.

Finally, there was an obit on Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win a Nobel prize in economics. I did not know her, but I studied Zoology under Garrett Hardin at UCSB. Dr Hardin wrote “The tragedy of the Commons”, which Ostrom countered with her book, Governing the Commons(1999). I wish I had read it before I led a debate on the subject in Botswana (with our friend the Attorney General on the panel.) I probably would have had better arguments to counter Hardin. At any rate, I had had some practical experience in helping villages manage the National Monuments which were the responsibility of the National Museum I worked for. (I suggested this idea since the museum had neither the staff nor the funding to manage monuments directly.)

Carmichael CSS Show & Sale

Three Generations

Annular Eclipse

Michael & Sun Images

Sun Eclipse

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