Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009

The last photos of 2009, taken on New Year's Eve, 31 Dec 2009.
The last sunset, looking east, with magnificent wave clouds above and behind the Schell Creek and Duck Creek Ranges.
The last sunset, looking west, with our hiking hill barely in view at the bottom of the photo.
The last birds: a couple of juncos braving the cold evening, despite a relatively empty bird feeder.
Certainly not the last icicles of the winter!
The last full moon - a blue moon - not an eclipsed moon in this locale.

Hope you're having a great New Year's Eve. I'm spending mine having a toast or two by myself. It's Friday night on MOH's schedule - that is, it's his last night shift of three, before a couple days off in the middle of his month.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Little House: Winter Birds

Our bird feeder hangs above our snow-covered garden after the partial melting of an early December snowfall. It took a while for the local birds to find our feeder, but after they did, a whole bunch showed up to chomp down on some seeds! (Chomping birds will be seen later in this post.)
Two days after the first photo, we had the big snowstorm of December 13th. A piñon jay chills in nearby bushes.
We mostly get juncos and a few other small birds coming to the feeder, but sometimes a piñon jay tries to get the larger seeds out of the feeder. They always look just a little awkward.
Juncos are nibbling seeds or grabbing grit from an area of ground exposed by our shoveling.
A junco hangs out on some overhead wires.
The sun came out a day or two later, and juncos galore came to the feeder.
Juncos on the ground eat seed spilled from the feeder.
Two juncos argue over which bird gets which perch.
Juncos hang out on the cord running near the feeder. The snow behind the feeder is tracked by little bird feet.
Today, it's been snowing, more than two inches so far - snow we are not supposed to be getting as far as I can tell (slight chance today, none last night when it started).
Here's what our bird feeder looks like against the backdrop of today's snow and some large icicles: one junco peers at me while I take it's photograph. Say cheese seed!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Devil's Miner

Last night, we watched the documentary The Devil's Miner via Netflix online streaming - an excellent movie about two young brothers, 12 and 14 years old, who work in the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) silver-tin mines of Potosí, Bolivia. I highly recommend this movie. It documents the poor working conditions at the mines, the poverty of Potosí, and, in particular, the children who work at the mines. The story is told through the eyes of 14-year-old Basilo Vargas, who started working as an underground miner at the age of ten.

Basilo had to go to work after his father died, an event that made him the main provider for his mom, younger sister, and younger brother. Many children in Potosí start working in the mines at young ages; others work at easier jobs - despite child labor laws - in the city. Both brothers go to school when they can; the older brother has plans to leave the mines in six months and go to work in the city - his long range dreams include becoming a teacher and traveling to the major cities of the world. His younger brother wants to become a civil engineer.

The mines are said to have taken 8 million lives since their inception by the Spanish Conquistadors in the mid 16th century. The estimate, as far as I can tell, came from the book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, and includes deaths from underground hazards, silicosis, and mercury contamination. Life expectancy for miners working during the Spanish enslavement period was less than a year; life expectancy of miners today is 35 to 40 years. Currently, of the 8,000 miners working in the Cerro Rico mines, about 1,000 are children between the ages of eight and twelve (from BBC's History echoes in the mines of Potosí by Becky Branford).

The movie is also about Tio, a god or devil the miners make offerings to underground and at tunnel entrances to the mines. The Spanish Conquistadors, trying to crush an uprising by the enslaved indigenous workers, constructed devil-like idols, then they told the workers that this fearful "god" would kill them if they didn't work. The Spanish word "dios" became "tios" because the Quechan language has no "d," and "tios" later became "tio," the Spanish word for uncle. You can see one photo of Tio here; other pictures can be seen at the movie website by clicking on "Gallery."

While writing this, I started wondering about the potential for bringing in a large mining company, either to operate underground using large-scale, low-cost methods, the way El Peñon does in Chile, or to discover and mine a larger, lower grade deposit using open-pit methods. Bolivia, which runs a state-owned mining corporation, has historically been unaccomodating to foreign mining investment, although they recently entered into a joint venture with Apogee Minerals Ltd on an underground mine property located less than 200 km from Potosí. Also, it turns out that the people living there, proud that the City of Potosí is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are against any open-pit-type mining because they don't want to see the shape of the land changed. In fact, the UNESCO Courier reported in 2000 that 97% of people living in Potosí "would rather starve than see the silhouette of El Cerro disappear and, with it, the World Heritage title." [UNESCO doesn't report the actual survey that came up with this number or statement.]

Hopefully, no matter what the future holds for Cerro Rico, children won't have to continue to become miners, and miners won't have to work in such primitive and unhealthy conditions.

More Information:
Devil's Miner at IMDb

NYTimes movie review: As Bolivian Miners Die, Boys Are Left to Toil

LATimes movie review of 'The Devil's Miner'

City of Potosí - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Xmas at Our Little House

I don't yet know for sure where I'll be on Christmas day, but this is what Christmas decorations look like at our little house. I went out a few days ago and found the tiniest fake tree I could find, decorated it with two tiny-light necklaces designed to be worn to Xmas parties, along with some tiny gift-wrap bows, and there it sits, hanging on our front door knob, on the inside where we can see it. We also have some LED lights wrapped around our elliptical exercise machine, which I haven't photographed. I have a large selection of various lights and decorations at our lake house - including a somewhat larger, though still small, fake tree. I didn't want to duplicate by buying more stuff, hence this tiny tree.
Here's wishing everyone happy holidays, whatever kind you may be celebrating and enjoying!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is (More or Less) a Test

This is a test of the tethered laptop system (TLS), using Verizon. The problem with this test is 1) this laptop may be slower than my usual laptop, 2) the pictures I've uploaded are probably half as small as usual, and 3) the laptop uses Vista not XPPro. The upload of these five photos was, however, exceptionally slow. Maybe this system would be good for an occasional blog post while traveling; it isn't recommended as an everyday thing.
Here's what the snow in Eureka looked like yesterday afternoon before the snowstorm was completely done - big pile of snow in the middle of the street.
The west side of the Desatoya Mountains near New Pass, north of Highway 50, with the yellow light of the sun shining through an overcast sky.
Fairview Peak is to the left, just off the picture, as we cross Stingaree Valley just west of West Gate.
We are looking across LaBou Flat in Fairview Valley, toward the north end of the Sand Springs Range, in the center and to the left, and the south end of the Stillwater Range, to the right.
The light of the sunset is reflected in the lake in Fourmile Flat, just before we round the bend and come in view of Sand Mountain.

This is the end of the test of the TLS.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Early Winter Garden Update

Our outdoor garden behind the driveway of our little house is completely covered with snow right now. Before the snow came, the chocolate mint plants were looking a little dry, so I decided to chop off parts of two plants and bring them inside. That was in late November. One plant survived the transfer. I don't know how the mints outside are doing: they are under snow in the area where we pile all snow shoveled from our driveway. The snow may protect their roots, so maybe they'll make a come back in the spring.
This is how the one surviving indoor plant looked last week.
And here it is this week: the leaves are larger, the two tallest shoots are taller, a third one is coming along, and two tiny new shoots are growing from the roots. The two baby shoots are hard to see, but visible at the base of Shoot Number Two on the right.

Photos taken 15Dec09 and 20Dec09.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Little House: Cabin Fever

I'm sure I've mentioned that we live in a very small house, the place I call "our little house." I've used that phrase with fondness for more than two years, but it seems that the fondness is wearing thin more often than not anymore. Or is it just that winter is here and I have a case of cabin fever?
Notice our recently inherited (found in front of the house) yellow rubber duckie, with walkie talkie and captain's hat. It's sitting mixed in with typical geo stuff, like cupriferous rocks, core, and cholla bones.
Whatever the case may be, in regard to cabin fever, the house is less than 500 square feet - MOH say it's 450 square feet - and that includes an arctic entryway heated only by boot warmers and lit only by a small lamp. Electricity is run into the entryway by way of one or two extension cords.
Besides using the entryway as a place to take off wet, muddy, snowy, or icy boots in winter, we use it as an impromptu, semi-organized, and variably crowded storage area - for stuff like tools and parts, extra towels and blankets, several tarps, boxes of camping miscellany, extra boxes and boxes about to be thrown away, extra house supplies, car and truck maintenance stuff like window de-icer, hiking stuff including fanny packs and hiking sticks, large tools like shovels for ice and snow, salt for large ice masses that accumulate right outside the door, small appliances not currently in use like a crock pot, a few field items like my stash of field teas and my small ice chest, and a folding chair for taking boots on and off. We don't use the room to store much in the way of extra food: daytime temperatures anytime the sun shines (especially in spring, summer, and fall) can be too warm for some things, and nighttime temperatures (in fall, winter, and spring) can be below freezing.

I'm not convinced that there is one ounce of insulation anywhere in this small house. Certainly there isn't any under the floor or on the outer walls of the crawlway beneath the house, where our water lines run unprotected by the winter cold; hence the small space heater we have in the bathroom, designed to protect the pipes, and also designed to protect our feet from the near freezing floors. Likewise, our seven windows are old-style wooden-framed single-pane windows. They don't provide much insulation in summer or winter, and are leaky overall. We could insulate four windows from the inside using the shrink-plastic method. A fifth is quite large and not very accessible from the inside, but could possibly be insulated from the outside. I want to be able to open the remaining two when the house overheats from solar heating (which happens all year long) and when the indoor air gets stale in winter.

This little house has been a good field house - or field office, perhaps - but as permanent living quarters it seems to get smaller and smaller with every passing week. Adding shelves on already crowded walls can add to the already cluttered look, but I've done that in a few places.
The wall above the stove in the kitchen with some miscellaneous items including a small pressure cooker and our brand new, very tiny tea kettle. (Yay!) It boils four cups of water, whistles - although don't go too far away or you won't hear it - and it sometimes needs a potholder because the handle overheats on a gas stove. You can't buy a square potholder in this town - oh, wait, I forgot to check the *other* hardware store - so I use a dish cloth. Just like camping!
The place is crowded because we aren't using it as just a field location anymore; we are living here. We, therefore, seem to want to have on hand (and sometimes need) more things than if this were just a field house or office. I have all of my Nevada publications and maps, lots of my non-digital photos (not all of them), some of my ongoing writing projects, most of my art supplies and some of my paintings, and most of our current and recent financial and tax papers. I won't keep the photo prints or art stuff in our separately rented storage unit for fear of hot and cold temperatures.

We also have quite a bit of seasonal clothing, for use in high summer through deep winter. Some of the extra clothes are in the storage unit, some clothes are in bins under beds, and some clothes get taken back and forth, to and from the lake - though the back and forth happens less often now that we live here. We also have quite a number of books, and more magazines than I like to contemplate. These all get sorted and re-sorted, stacked and re-stacked, with many going back to the lake when the opportunity arises. I'm seriously considering canceling almost all print magazines.

I was saying earlier that I doubt there is much of any insulation in this house. Was any new insulation put into the walls whenever the walls were re-paneled? I don't know. Maybe. The wall paneling could be several decades old but is much younger than the house, which would be a 1940's house at the youngest, and possibly much, much older. Maybe any original insulation - newspapers or other cellulose - was taken out when the "new" paneling was put in, or maybe it has just settled very badly.
And don't get me started about the wiring! At some point, receptacles were changed from the old-style two-prong receptacles to the newer three-prong in a few places: on some interior walls and in the kitchen and bathroom. I don't know if these are grounded circuits, or if they just look that way. And as far as I can tell, none of these three prongers have built-in GFI or GFCI circuit breakers, so we have added a plug-in GFCI breaker in the bathroom.

NOTE: Originally written in early November.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Geology Dream: Some Beers at a Meeting

This is a geology related dream from two nights ago (morning of 19Dec09). Looks like I've been affected by all the recent online talk of #AGU09 and Wired's beer-meeting article.

I'm at a GSA meeting, sitting near the back of a large room, my pack full of stuff. The room is raised like a small auditorium, with the central speaking area toward the southeast. As I stand there (and sometimes sit on the floor), with people occasionally crowding around, I'm thinking it's a pretty boring meeting - these meetings aren't as interesting as they used to be. At some point, I tell some people, including a younger woman, that they need to move because they've kind of piled themselves around my stuff, blocking what I think is my area. They move, but are a little rude about it, like I shouldn't have my own space, or shouldn't care about people crowding it.

Then I'm getting some stuff out of my pack, or am putting something like a notebook or wallet back in, and I have a hard time getting it all to fit. Several small personal electronic items fall out, including more than one cell phone and my digital camera. I get it all back in place, and then it's time to leave via indoor stairs exiting on the northeast side of the large room. The stairs go down and mostly to the east.

The meeting has beer at the end of the day, and I get in a fairly long line behind two guys who are geologists. The line goes past a lower bar tucked away in a corner on the north wall, where they have Pacific Rim beer. The line for that bar area comes up the stairs in front of us, the stairs we are going down. By the time we get to the Pacific Rim area, we've been in line for a long enough time that we don't want to switch lines; besides, we can't see the end of the Pacific Rim line below us. We descend the stairs on the right, while the people in the Pacific Rim line, mostly guys, ascend the stairs on the left. Their line is moving fairly quickly; ours is moving at an average pace. The entire stair well in front of us is at times taken up by people in the Pacific Rim line; they move aside as I step forward, and I think, in the dream, that it's because I'm a woman.

We get to the bottom of the stairs and arrive at a small counter where the beer for our line is awaiting us. It's draft, of an unrecognizable name or brand, in unusually shaped and fairly brightly colored containers (possibly only the labels are brightly colored, including a bright blue and bright yellow). The beer is marked 0.0 or 0.00 on the bottom, and we realize it's 100% free, unlike the Pacific Rim beer, which would have cost us money. Our beer is a deep golden brown. It tastes pretty good for a free draft beer, so although the Pacific Rim might have been better (maybe), the three of us agree it's good we stayed in our line and got the free beer. We then turn around and go back up the stairs.

At about this point, I realize that the guy in front of me looks like a geologist I know - someone who was mapping with me on a job I had a little more than a year ago. I don't remember if I really know him in the dream, or if he just looks like someone, the way people do at so many meetings. Starting back up the stairs, MOH is behind me; he also has one of the unusual-container, free draft beers. (He apparently just appears in the dream at this point, but it's not out-of-place in the dream, just one of those dream weirdities.)

The guy ahead of me, the one who looks like someone I know, now has a whole raft of draft beers that he's somehow holding in encircling, widespread arms (maybe there is a tray underneath the beers?). These beers are all dark, and they are in regular clear plastic beer glasses. He's taking them up the stairs to some friends of his that weren't in line. He says that the Pacific Rim line - which is now gone and not blocking the stairs, maybe because they ran out of beer* - was as long as it was because other people were also getting beer for their friends. (Maybe he said the line was gone because everyone in it was getting beer for a friend, and so the line was shorter by half than it would have been if everyone getting beer had been in line.) He goes up ahead with his raft of beers.

I follow and come to a place in the stairs where two to four stairsteps are made wider by a large, horizontal metal plate that one has to step across to get from a lower step to the next upper step. I manage this in the dream, something that wouldn't be possible IRL. I ask MOH behind me if he can make it, then say, "Well of course, if I can make it you can, too." [I have short legs compared to his long legs.] Then he starts coughing in a way that wakes me up.

*Pacific Rim Brewery closed in 2007; Big Al's opened in the same building in 2008. Pacific Rim Mining Corporation is alive and well - although some of it's opponents aren't.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Year of Traveling Meme

This traveling meme was started by Alice at Sciencewomen, passed to Magma Cum Laude, then to NOVA Geoblog, and on to Geotripper Part 1 and Part 2, and then on to Geology Happens.

January: The famous (or infamous?) International Hotel in Austin, Nevada. This is currently the last recorded visit to this establishment. The beer is okay.
I don't recommend the food.UPDATE 17Jan10: The food on Christmas day was excellent!
February: Great Basin National Park and environs twice (and at least one trip through central Nevada). snow
March: Alaska, for the Iditarod and beers (and more than two trips through central Nevada). turnagain
April: Middlegate Station, Nevada - a good place to eat, has above average beer, and you can have wi-fi in your room. 50 The Carlin Canyon Unconformity (or fault, depending on who you talk to) - and at least two trips through central Nevada.
May: Titus Canyon - the largest breccia fragments are truck sized.breccia Death Valley. The Mojave Desert - granite at Teutonia Peak, part of Cima Dome. teutonia Some mines and properties in western Nevada as part of the GSN spring field trip (and two or three trips across central Nevada, depending on how you define "central."). shack
June: Wheeler Peak in springtime (would you believe late winter?).
July: Back to Wheeler Peak, more than once, where it was looking like spring. wheeler San Francisco, where I didn't get pictures of any famous bridges but did have some good beer. (Also in July, at least two trips through central Nevada.)
August: I made one short trip and completed most of a second trip to Caliente, Nevada, and environs (and made two trips through central Nevada). tuff
September: Reno - that's Slide Mountain on the left and Mt. Rose on the right. slide mtn Our lake house (we have to drive for this view).pelican Lassen Volcanic National Park. (And two drives through central Nevada.) lassen
October: I went to Crater Lake and other points north on the way to the GSA meeting in Portland. crater lake Then, after going here and there, I went to Jarbidge, Nevada, a first for me. (And made only one trip through central NV.) jarbidge
November: I hiked in the southern Egan Range, where I had a great view of Wheeler Peak. Later in the month, I went to Reno for a GSN meeting, but took zero photos. (Drove across central Nevada twice.) view
December: I went to Reno for the NWMA convention, where I once again took zero photos. I drove to our lake house and drove back through snow.snowy road I've been across central Nevada twice so far this month and don't have any big plans for the rest of the month. I've taken care of business, shoveled snow, and watched birds at our little house in eastern Nevada.