Quick Night-Ride-Related Preamble/Ramble
So my full-moon, 5AM mtn bike ride plans this morning were thwarted by heavy cloud cover, but I was awake and had everything ready to go, so I rode anyway. Awesome Wife and Twin B had an early plane to catch for a mother/daughter weekend in San Francisco, so it was by necessity an early ride, starting and finishing in complete darkness, without even a hint of dawn.
The oddest night-rides of all are solo, pre-dawn, total darkness start-to-finish rides. Without any conversational reference point, you have to continually remind yourself where and when you are. No, I didn’t just finish work, that was 12 hours ago. No, I’m not going to eat dinner when I get home, I’m going to shower and get dressed. As I pulled into the driveway I was thinking, OK, I’ll kick back and see what’s on TV, maybe read a little before bed- oh wait I have to get the boys up and ready for school…
Enough Pre-Rambling Already- Give Us the List!
So in this blog, I write overwhelmingly about things that I love: trees, biology, bike racing, mountain biking, road trips and various backcountry adventures. (And when I can, I like to work in mentions of those things I love most- Awesome Wife and the Trifecta.) But here’s something I absolutely hate: shopping. And this is the month that we all get all kind of wacky about shopping. We go the whole year without thinking about- much less talking to or seeing- Uncle Frank, and suddenly, in the next 2 weeks, we have to run out and buy him a tie or a DVD Player or a Chevy Tahoe.
Tangent About My Weird Extended Family: I don’t really have an Uncle Frank, but my Mom did. And she had an Uncle Jay, an Uncle Mike, an Uncle Bart and an Uncle Tony. She was always telling my siblings and me stories about them when we were kids, but we could never keep straight who was who. But I remember one of them burned the house down because he was playing with matches in his room, another spent the money for his little brother’s medicine on candy, and then his little brother had to have his leg partially amputated as a result, another had a beautiful wife who got run over by a car, another would pocket the silverware when he came to your house for dinner, and another got dropped on his head when he was a baby and was always a little “different”, and about a dozen other similarly-odd little tales of questionable veracity, at least one of which involved a giant rat, a hat made out of a paper bag, and a wooden club. But I have no idea which stories go with which uncle. Maybe just Uncle Frank did all those things…
Anyway, I was thinking that if you’re like me, and you hate shopping too, then your best bet is to shop online, and probably the easiest thing to buy on line is books. So, if by any chance you need to shop for someone who’s at all interested in the topics I cover in this blog, or if you want a good book to bury your head in while you’re stuck indoors with extended family over the holidays, here’s a suggested book-shopping list.
Field Guide to Trees of North America – National Wildlife Federation, Kershner, Matthews, Nelson & Spellenberg. What? You don’t have a tree guide? Get this one- it’s fabulous. Easy to use, clear descriptions, great color photos of leaves, trees bark, seeds, cones, etc. , and range maps for all species. Includes not only native trees but tons of exotics as well.
The Tree – Colin Tudge. Identifying trees is fun, but if you want to know something about them, and understand how different trees, and groups of trees, are related to one another, this is the book. Tudge is my favorite science writer; he includes just enough detail to give the reader an understanding of the key concepts, but knows when to back off and not go overboard. I re-read sections of this book all the time, and just love it.
The Ancestor’s Tale – Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has been a great science writer for over 30 years; this latest(?) is his absolute best, and in many ways is the book I’ve been hoping someone would write ever since I became interested in biology and evolution. The book traces human evolution backwards, by way of 39 rendezvous with our most recent common ancestors with other species. So the first rendezvous is-predictably- “Chimpanzee”, but when he gets to rendezvous with things like “Afrotheres” and Marsupials and even Sponges, things get really interesting. Along the way, he relates a story (a “tale”) at each rendezvous, highlighting such wonders as the evolution of color vision in New World Monkeys, the electrical-field sensors in the bill of Platypus, and the surprising kinship between whales and hippos.
Note About Dawkins: Don’t be put off by reviews of Dawkins’ recent anti-religion polemic. Believer and atheist alike will find wonder in “Ancestor.”
Seven Mysteries of Life – Guy Murchie. Almost 10 years ago on a solo business trip in Virginia, I stopped in a bookstore after dinner and stumbled upon this book on the shelf. It is one of the most wonderful, ambitious, amazing books I’ve ever read. It’s a book about, well… everything. But it’s so hard to describe- here’s my best shot: Imagine this blog in book form, if I a) knew what the hell I was talking about, b) could write, and c) were a great artist. “That’s Seven Mysteries.” It’s a wonderful book, unlike any other. Buy it.
Note About Murchie: So, as a bit of a “counter” to Dawkins, I should mention that Murchie was a Theist, specifically (I believe) of the Bahai faith. Again, no matter- non-believers will delight in “Seven Mysteries.”
The Eternal Frontier- Tim Flannery. So what happened in North America between the time when the dinosaurs went extinct and when Europeans showed up? Read this book, and you’ll be amazed at what you didn’t know. A highlight of the book is the fascinating review of the megafauna present here until 13,000 years ago, but it was the earlier times that provided the greatest surprises. Tropical jungle in the Yukon? Carnivorous buffalo-sized pigs? You’ll never look at bacon the same way after reading about Entelodonts.
Natural History of California – Allan Schoenherr. A little-known, but thoroughly ambitious and useful book, this work covers almost all aspects of the natural environment of California, with details from everything from Blackbrush to Joshua Trees to Giant Sequoias to salamanders, as well as all sorts of fascinating insights into that states geology, coastal environments and atmospheric conditions. He has a wonderful section on specific biotic zones within the state, and while it’s not a book you might read front-to-back, it makes an excellent reference, or enjoyable reading as a virtual collection of articles, in a way. This book is a must for any serious naturalist-minded Californian, and even for me here in Utah has been an invaluable resource.
Made For Each Other – Ronald Lanner. I enjoy Lanner’s books so much it’s hard to recommend just one. Made For Each Other is a fascinating review of the relationships between, and the evolution of, Pine Birds and Bird Pines. You’ll look at Clark’s Nutcracker in awe after reading this book. I also recommend Lanner’s “Conifers of California” for residents of, or visitors to, that state, and “The Pinon Pine” for those of you who, like me, love to camp in P-J woodland and eat pine nuts. Check out Ron’s web page for descriptions of all his books.
Mountain Bike Moab – Lee Bridges. OK, I’ll throw in one non-bio/science read for the bikers. Since the advent of utahbountainbiking.com, it’s hard to justify buying a mountain bike guide these days. But if you’d like an actual guidebook for your next Moab trip, this is probably the best, with lots of additional asides and background. I ran into, recognized and met Bridges (super-nice guy) on a ride in the La Sals in 2006. He invited me to his shop afterwards for a beer and we chatted a bit about the book. He swears that the story of the guide and the wet wipes is true. (No, I won’t tell it here- you have to buy the book!)
OK, here are a couple of non-book items that have served me well over the last year, and make great gifts for the outdoor-head on your list.
Kelty Noah’s Tarp. This is hands-down the single best piece of camping gear I’ve purchsed since 1990, when I bought my first Thermarest. I haven’t used a tent in a year+ since buying this. I have the 9’ x 9’ version, but there’s a 12’ x 12’ and a 16’ x 16’ version. Super light, water-proof, way quick and easy to set up. I’ve done everything under it from sleep to cook to overhaul my mtn bike. $55 online at Campmor. (Poles not included, and you don’t need ‘em, so long as there’s a tree or two- or a vehicle- around.)
ExOfficio Quick-Drying Underpants. If you spend a lot of time in the backcountry and or engage in semi-regular foreign travel for more than a week at a time, and you don’t want to huff around a suitcase full of underwear, then these are the shorts for you. Wash ‘em with a bar of soap in a sink, stream, or even with a bottle of water, dry overnight, and you’re popping on clean undies in the AM. They come in briefs, boxers, or boxer-briefs. They also have a women’s line. I picked mine up at REI. A bit spendy ($18 for briefs, $25 for boxer-briefs), but worth it. Plus they look good, so if you’re the kind of guy that spends a lot of time walking around in your underwear, now you can look good while you do it.
Special Gift Item For Filthy Rich Readers - Zeiss 10x40 Binoculars. OK, so I included 1 gift on the off, way-off, chance that any of my readers are filthy rich and looking to burn money. If you’re looking to burn $900, either donate it to cure cancer or pick up a pair of these, the lenses that Rudy Drobnick uses. (Seriously, this is a great time to be donating some money, whether at KanyonKris’ LiveStrong link or to my favorite charitable organization. These guys really help out people who are in a world of hurt. There’s nothing else you could spend a little money on that would do so much good.)
Special Gift Item For Dirt Poor Readers - Winter Biking Gloves. For about 3 weeks I hemmed and hawed over a pair of $60 super-cold-weather Gore cycling gloves at REI. Then I ran across these babies at Wal-Mart and bought them instead: $8, warmest gloves I’ve ever owned, and not too bulky to impair shifting or braking. Just go to their genero-hat & glove wall and hunt around- you’ll find ‘em. Seriously I love these gloves. $8, really. Yeah, yeah I know, Made In China, forced labor, yada yada, I don’t care. My fingers are finally warm.