Beautiful Bar Harbor

Another cloudy day, but Mt. Desert island (pronounced “dessert”) did not disappoint.  The Acadia National Park service shuttles in the park had ceased operation 4 days ago, which made sight-seeing without a car difficult, but we found a 2 hour tour of park highlights that was all I could have wished for.  The fall color was spectacular everywhere, even through cloudy, rainy fog.

a few of the highlights of our tour…

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME

View of Bar Harbor harbor area from the top of Cadillac Mt. 45 mph wind up here!

Lobster traps, Bar Harbor, ME

Lobster traps in the bay

Islands off Bar Harbor, ME

The sun came out just as we were leaving the area!

From steel mill spoils to prairie

What to do on a rainy day in Sydney, Nova Scotia, the biggest little city on Cape Breton Island?  Not enough time to drive all the way to Cape Breton Park, so we opted for a walk in Open Hearth Park, formerly a hazardous waste area created by runoff of coke sludge from the large steel manufacturing plant in Sydney.  The transformation completed in 2013 is impressive, with a clear, fresh water stream flowing through wide expanses of prairie grasses and forbs.

Muggah Creek in Open Hearth Park, Sydney, Nova Scotia

Muggah Creek was once clogged with tar pits that formed from the runoff of coke sludge from the steel mill.  Tailings of coal mines are still visible along the creek.

Sydney produced great quantities of steel for England bound convoys in both WW1 and WW2, but the steel mill finally ceased production in 2001.

Muggah Creek in Open Hearth Park, Sydney, Nova Scotia

Replanted evergreen, birch, and prairie plants has changed the landscape here dramatically.

New England aster at Open Hearth Park in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Several species of aster were blooming in Open Hearth Park.

Prairie flowers at Open Hearth Park in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Wildflowers at Open Hearth Park

Canada Geese in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Canada Geese where they belong…in Canada

Black Duck, Open Hearth Park, Sydney, Nova Scotia

Black Ducks are rarely seen in MN, but are common here.  They look like Mallards but have yellow instead of orange bills, and a black eye stripe.

Muggah Creek estuary, Open Hearth Park, Sydney, Nova Scotia

Muggah Creek is a tidal estuary, largely salt water here at its mouth on the Atlantic shore.

The island of Prince Edward

We aren’t seeing it at its best, on a cold, rainy, foggy day, but in 1864 tiny Prince Edward Island was the birthplace of the Confederation of Provinces that make up Canada.  It has the least amount of wild nature remaining of any of the provinces, and it grows 1/3 of the potato crop of Canada, but its primary claim to fame is as home to fictional Anne of Green Gables.  On a sunny day, biking through the pastoral landscape on the Confederation Trail would have been ideal.  Instead we tried to escape the rain by following a forest path through Victoria Park at the western end of Charlottetown.

Charlottetown. P.E.I. shoreline

The shoreline in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown. P.E.I. shoreline

Not a lovely day at the shore, even the Herring Gulls look depressed.  So much fog, you can’t see across this small bay.

Victoria park, Charlottetown, P.E.I.

There is a mature beech, sugar maple, basswood forest in Victoria Park.

Large basswood tree, Victoria Park, Charlottetown. P.E.I.

An island surrounded by water has a moderated climate. The leaves haven’t started changing here yet, although the huge basswood has already dropped its leaves.

Black-capped Chickadee on Prince Edward Island are bigger than usual

Black-capped Chickadees on Prince Edward Island seem bigger than usual, by about 50%, more the size of a White-breasted Nuthatch.  In addition, they have pinky brown feathers below their wings.  Island races often differ from their mainland counterparts, developing in isolation over generations.

Fall harvest decoration, Prince Edward Island

Fall harvest decorations are also common in Charlottetown, like they were in Quebec City.

Colorful Quebec City

Even on a foggy day with intermittent drizzle, Quebec City shows off its colors with beautiful fall foliage, its festive shops, fall harvest decorations, and incredible fresco artistry on the sides of public buildings.

View from the upper town of Port Quebec

View from the upper town of the port in Quebec City. The walk up a steep cliff and hillside was worth it.  Quebec city’s iconic landmark, the Hotel Frontenac, towers over the rest of the skyline.

View across the St. Lawrence seaway from Quebec City

View across the St. Lawrence seaway from Quebec City shows a lot of fall color in the trees.

Lower town, Quebec City

Decorations on the doorsteps of shops in lower town, Quebec City

Halloween decorations in Quebec City

Halloween decorations in Quebec City were elaborate and found everywhere.

Halloween decorations in Quebec City

Hurluberlu = hullabaloo?  I’m not sure what these decorations in front of the Hotel D’Ville were for…

Wall murals on buildings in Quebec City

Frescos on the walls of buildings in Quebec City were incredibly life-like and tell a story.  You can’t tell where the building leaves off and the wall painting begins.

These frescoes have popped up just in the past 15 years and were commissioned to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding by Samuel de Chaplain.  Most depict some features of the city’s history and its notable landmarks.

Wall frescoes on buildings in Quebec City

Can trees talk to each other?

How do trees talk to each other

Is this artists’ conception of tree communication real?

My apple trees are well synchronized with each other, so I have bumper crops of all 4 trees in alternate years.  Of course I want them to flower at the same time, so there is ample pollen for cross pollination of the different varieties.  However, this year, the trees were unusually productive…

Apple tree fruit production

There are hundreds of apples on my 4 trees, much more than can fit into my canning jars and refrigerator for long term storage.

Honeycrisp apples

Honeycrisp apples are reaching maximum ripeness, and attract passers by as well as the squirrels, birds, and deer that wander by for a sample.

Is it just coincidence that these trees are so well synchronized or do they somehow communicate with each other about their status?  A quick google search led me to a terrific article in Smithsonian magazine from March 2018 on this very question.

One way that trees, and plants in general, can communicate with each other is by way of the mutualistic fungi that entwine their combined roots.

How do trees talk to each other

Exchange of sugar (Carbon) and nutrients between fungi and roots and between trees.

The fungal strands search out and transport various nutrients that the plants need (nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, etc.) from the soil to the rootlets, and the trees pass photosynthesized sugars from the rootlets to the fungi in a very cooperative relationship.  But it goes beyond just the interaction between plant and fungi.

Research by Suzanne Simard (in a very interesting TED talk) has shown that individual trees in the forest are connected in a dense underground web of overlapping and intermingling roots and fungal associations, and this web consists not only of a “mother tree” and its seedlings, but trees of all ages of other species as well. Through these connections trees exchange carbon and other nutrients, paying a small tax to the fungi along the way.

Web of connection between forest trees, Beiler et al. 2010

A diagram of potential connections of forest trees (Beiler et al. 2010).  Large dark green circles are the busiest hubs (mother trees), sending carbon to other smaller trees, as well as their own seedlings (yellow dots) which may be growing in deep shade.

Not only are trees sharing resources in this busy underground network, but they are communicating with each other through secretion of plant hormones and volatile secondary compounds as well.  For example, Giraffes that munch on the leaves of one acacia tree will stimulate the production of distasteful tannins not only in the other leaves of that tree, but in its acacia neighbors as well.  In fact giraffes have learned to forage on the acacias that are downwind in a clump of trees to avoid this kind of response to the volatile chemicals released by the injured tree.

oak forest, Berkeley botanical garden, CA

Oak trees also produce chemical messages when under attack from herbivores, so that nearby oaks get a head start on ramping up tannin content of their leaves. I might have enhanced the “face” on the mother tree a little.  Photo from the Berkeley Botanical Garden, in a Backyard Biology post on Magical Oak Forests.

This kind of changes the way we look at forests, or even small patches of prairie, or garden plants, or shrubs growing together in our backyards.  These plants aren’t as much competitors as they are collaborators, existing side by side, in a mutual quest for light, water, and nutrients.  We could learn a lot from plants about cooperative existence!

Surrounded by granite

Nothing impresses you like hiking up to an immense wall of granite, and immediately feeling very small and insignificant in the greater scheme of earth’s history.

Cathedral lake, Sierra Nevada, CA

Entering a huge granite bowl from a flat meadow landscape, you stumble upon beautiful, pristine-looking Cathedral Lake.

Cathedral lake, Sierra Nevada, CA

Turning just slightly clockwise from the previous view brings the Lake into focus.

There is something pure and almost spiritual about being at high elevation (maybe it’s the lack of oxygen) surrounded by sheer, steep granite.  The landscape begs you to just stand in awe.  How long has it been here, how has it changed over time?  How many people have stood here and wondered?

Cathedral lake, Sierra Nevada, CA

Mirrored reflection of granite peaks makes the landscape, especially the granite, loom even larger.

Sunset at a sunrise Lake, Yosemite, CA

Changing light at sunset adds a new dimension to the granite landscape.

Sunset, Glen Aulen High Sierra Camp, Yosemite, CA

A vast landscape of rock that goes on forever…

alpenglow at moon rise on Cathedral Lake, Yosemite

Alpenglow at moon rise on Cathedral Lake, Yosemite

Mid-summer scenes

Mid-summer, it’s the time when fruits are ripening, profusions of flowers light up backyards and prairies, and we see lots of birds, butterflies, and bees everywhere.  It might be hot and sticky, but this is the time we’ve been thinking about on those cold winter days.

Monarch butterfly on Shasta daisy

Monarchs have made it to Minnesota by July, and begin laying the generation of butterflies that may be the ones to migrate south in a couple of months.

Lake water warms up, and mats of water lilies and duck weed clog the shorelines.

Fish lake, Cedar Creek nature preserve, MN

Warm summer days, scenic Minnesota lakes, one of the more than 10,000.

Butterfly weed with Monarch and Fritillary butterflies

Butterfly milkweed is in full bloom, attracting butterflies and bees.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes may have chicks following them around through the prairie meadows, and occasionally you see and hear them fly overhead.

Fruiting smooth sumac

Fruiting heads of smooth sumac light up the green forest of sumac shrubs. Did you know that the seed heads are high in vitamin C? Crush them in water to make sumac-ade!

Black morph, Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

The black morph of the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly has been visiting the backyard garden this week. It must be relatively newly emerged, with no bites in its wings yet.

Minnesota backyard in summer

What’s not to love about mid-summer days in the Minnesota backyard?

You don’t go to Iceland for the weather…

A familiar phrase we heard from Icelanders during our visit this spring, “you don’t go to Iceland for the weather”.  But you do go for the fantastic scenery, which is often enhanced by the weather.

Iceland coastline at Villa

The weather looked menancing at Vik on the southern most tip of Iceland. But we ate our picnic lunch on the beach anyway, and finished just as it started raining.

Another common saying about their weather we found to be very accurate was, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”, or perhaps a little longer. Rain/sleet showers usually passed over us quickly, and sometimes we drove around them, as weather blew in from the coast and clouds got stuck on the high peaks.

Iceland weather

It looked like it was raining furiously off to the right side of the highway, but was pleasantly sunny where we were.

Iceland weather

Different day, different area of the coast, same weather.

If you like dramatic clouds and big skies in your photos, iceland is the place to visit.

Iceland weather

Usually the mountains were clear in the morning but then started to cloud up in the afternoon, as weather rolled from the coast.

Iceland weather

Why such a curvy road traversing a vast, flat lava field? Keeps drivers awake, appreciating the scenery?  I shot this out the front window of our car traveling at 50 mph, in sunny conditions.

A few minutes later, the scene looked like this.

Iceland weather

The white specks in the photo are the snow pellets raining down on us.

Waterfall extravaganza

There are lots of spectacular single waterfalls in Iceland, but Hraunfossar is a real waterfall extravaganza of 900 meters of water falling over rocks.  I’m standing in one spot, trying to capture the entire length of the waterfalls over the next three images.

Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

Hraunfossar waterfalls form along a stretch of lava bordering the Hvítá River. 

Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

Water from the melting Langjökull glacier streams over a lava field formed when a volcano beneath the glacier erupted about 800 A.D., before Iceland was settled The lava field above the shrubby birches is quite visible in this shot.

Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

Clear, filtered water from the glacier flows between lava layers and turns the river a lovely turquoise blue color. The glacier is just barely visible below the clouds in the distance.

Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

You can find close-up views of these waterfalls in most travel ads for Iceland, yet there were hardly any tourists here.

Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

Another photo favorite of Iceland ads…

Redwing thrush, Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

The only birds we saw here were the Redwing thrushes, which had to sing really loudly to be heard over the roar of the waterfalls.

Lava field at Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

The lava flow is still bare rock in some places. In others, mosses and shrubby birches have covered the top of the lava field.

Hraunfossar waterfalls, Iceland

Further upstream, the lava gorge narrows, and the water thunders through in a giant roar, creating the waterfall known as Barnafosar, the children’s waterfall.

Barnafossar waterfalls, Iceland

The waterfall is named for two children who may have perished when they fell from an arch that used to span the Barnafossar waterfall. The story goes that the children’s mother had the arch destroyed so that no other children would suffer the same fate.

Barnafossar waterfalls, Iceland

The water here flows at an average of 80 cubic meters per second, but can reach 500 cubic meters per second when the river is in flood state. In comparison, the average flow of the upper Mississippi River out of its origin at Lake Itasca (a comparable sized stream) is 6 cubic feet per second (=0.17 cubic meters per second).