Thursday, June 4, 2009

3 Excellent Man-Dates, And 2 Cool Flowering Shrubs

June isn’t just a great time of year for being outdoors; it’s also a great time of year for man-dates. For outdoor-heads like me, the extra daylight before and after work provides ample opportunity to meet up with guys you may have met a while back, talked about getting together with for a ride, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Back in February I blogged about a guy I met at a dinner party- let’s call him “Vicente”- the Catalan-Molecular-Biologist-Mountain-Biker, and what a great guy he was. We recently had the chance to socialize* with Vicente and his wife again, and we agreed to go mountain biking “sometime soon.”

*He made Paella- the best we’ve ever had. The guy is not only trilingual, an awesome rider, and a brainiac-scientist, but he’s an expert cook and accomplished handy-man (built his own climbing-wall-shed) to boot. If I didn’t like him so much I would totally hate him for exposing me by contrast as the skill-less schlep I really am…

All About Man-Dates

We did so on Tuesday morning before work up in Pinebrook, and had an excellent time. This type of outing has been labeled (I think first on Seinfeld?) a “Man-Date”, as it has some of the characteristics of an actual dating first date: You want to make a good impression, but at the same time you want to get to know the other person, check them out, and determine whether or not this person is someone with whom you’d like to spend more time. You both go into the “date” with the understanding that, depending on how things go, it might either be a 1-time thing, or lead to a long-term relationship. That’s a Man-Date.

Vicente ManDate But first, before going into the details of our man-date, I want to briefly mention some other, recent successful man-dates, both involving men with the same name- let’s call them “Jason.”

Tangent: Is it just me, or is like every 3rd guy in Utah between age 20 and age 40 named “Jason*?” It’s as if from 1969 to 1989, Utahns just went nuts over that name, then dropped it. I know one Jason aged 15, then none younger.

*And at least ½ the rest are named “Jared.”

Man-Date #1

Monday night I had dinner with Coworker-Jason’s father-in-law- let’s call him “Ji-Jan”. Ji-Jan is Japanese, speaks no English, and is staying with Coworker-Jason and his family for 2 months. You might wonder why I had a man-date with this guy, and the answer is because Coworker Jason , who is Mormon, wanted someone to eat sashimi and drink beer with Ji-Jan. I only have a couple of real “skills”, but drinking beer is one of them. And I love raw fish.

Momofuku Special Note: Regrettably, I don’t have a photo of Ji-Jan. So I’ve inserted a photo of another fine older Japanese gentleman: the late Momufuku Ando, inventor of Ramen Noodles, and a Truly Great Man.

Tangent: This is a great example of a broader observation I’ve made over the years I’ve lived in Utah: Many (most?) Mormons like having a non-Mormon friend. They like the window into non-LDS culture and perspective a non-Mormon friend can provide, and oftentimes they enjoy having a friend with whom they can “let their hair down” a bit with… someone they can joke and laugh and maybe even share a bad word or two with, but whom they won’t see Sunday at the ward. Plus for some Mormons, I think there’s a bit of a feel-good factor at work; having a bit of diversity in their friend-pool makes them feel better about themselves, and maybe even a teensy bit superior toward other Mormons who don’t have such friends. Sort of like a lot of us white people feel about having a black friend…

Coworker-Jason accompanied us as interpreter*, a job that turned out to be exhausting given the range of topics we covered (as well as Ji-Jan’s tendency to increase his rate of speech as he consumed more beer.) We both had a great time. Ji-Jan is a bright, insightful, curious man who’s lived a long, rich and fascinating life. Here’s a quick example: Ji-Jan grew up in a small village about 100 miles from Nagasaki. In 1945 he was 8 years old. One of his earliest memories is of refugees arriving in town by rail. He remembers them walking off the train, their bodies covered in burns. This is a guy who’s seen some stuff.

*Coworker-Jason did an LDS mission in Japan, and is married to a Japanese woman.

Man-date #2


My other man-date was about 6 weeks ago, when Teammate-Jason and I met for a pre-work road ride/climbing workout. Since then we’ve met every Wednesday at my house at 6AM and ridden to the top of Big Mountain Pass (pic left = view from top) and back (32 miles.) Each week the weather’s gotten better, the mornings have gotten lighter, the hills have become greener, and we’ve gotten stronger. It’s a routine we both look forward to. Yes, Teammate-Jason and I are “going steady” now.

Back To The Man-Date (#3) I Started Talking About First Place Already

Vicente and I agreed to meet and carpool up to Pinebrook before work. He’d heard me rave about that trails there and wanted a guided tour.

IMG_0438Mountain-biking man-dates are preceded by much uncertainty. In addition to the basic “will we get along?” issues, one worries about ability. Will I be too fast/slow for him? Will my selected trail be too difficult/easy for him? Will he think my bike/biking-wear is dorky?

Of these, the trail-compatibility issue was probably foremost on my mind.I have a history of taking first man-dates (usually coworkers) to Pinebrook and it almost never turns out well. Though the trails are wonderful, all involve significant protracted climbs, making them dicey for the irregular/weekend-warrior mtn biker.

Tangent: This is unfortunately part of a broader ongoing saga about which I hope to blog one day, in a post entitled something like, “How All My Coworkers Keep Breaking Up With Me.” Over the past 7 years with my current employer, I’ve tried mountain biking, road biking, running and XC skiing with probably close to a dozen coworkers. All have eventually found reasons not to do so again with me. I like to think it’s because I’m just a bit too hard-core, but who knows? Maybe they just think I’m a jerk.

Watcher ManDate But here’s what happened: Vicente loved the Pinebrook trails (We did my “standard” PBX loop) and we ride at almost exactly the same level of ability- climbing, descending, switchbacks, you name it! It was a fantastic man-date, and we’re already planning to make a weekly thing of it.

IMG_0462 I almost changed plans the night before. It rained heavily that night and I knew we’d get wet riding those trails. And sure enough we did. Though the rain had passed, the hills around Pinebrook and Jeremy Ranch were draped in low, post-storm clouds, creating an almost marine fog-like effect. (pic left) And though the trails held up just fine, as we rode the tight trails our arms, legs and feet quickly became sopping wet as they repeatedly brushed against wet leaves. And as cold water soaked through lycra to skin for the umpteenth time, I found myself thinking, “Just what am I brushing against?”

All About Your Basic Wasatch Shrubberies

I was brushing against shrubs of course, of several types. But two were most common, are both flowering right now, and you see them all the time all over the Wasatch: Serviceberry and Chokecherry. Both are green and leafy, large-shrub to small trees-sized,, with ovaloid leaves and white flowers. But the flowers- though anatomically similar- are structurally and visually way different.

IMG_0355 Serviceberry (genus = Amelanchier) (pic left) has small oval-ish leaves with serrated edges. The small flowers have 5 petals, 5 sepals and a bunch of stamens. This guy is just starting to bloom in the Wasatch, and will continue to bloom higher and higher up through most of June.

IMG_0359 Serviceberry occurs naturally in every US state except Hawaii, as well as in Europe in East Asia. There are between 6 and 33 species of Amelanchier. That’s right, between 6 and 33. That’s one hell of a wide range, and the reason is because Serviceberry is a taxonomist’s nightmare.

Amelanchier has all sorts of morphological variations in size, leaves, flowers and more. The genus is full of species exhibiting polyploidy (which we talked about when we looked at Sagebrush), apomixis (which we talked about when looking at Dandelions) and hybridization (which we talked about when looking at Oaks.) It’s a terrible yet wonderful example of how plants, and living things in general, can defy our best systematic attempts to stick things into neat little boxes called “species.”

IMG_9615 Most (all?) of the Serviceberry you’ll find in the Wasatch is Utah Serviceberry, Amelanchier utahensis, and what’s interesting about “our” Serviceberry is that genetically it’s the most distinct from all other North American Serviceberries, meaning that it’s sort of an outlier on the family tree.

Side Note: Frustratingly, though I got my hands of what I believe to be the most thorough genetic analysis of Amelanchier published to date*, I couldn’t locate any data concerning the ploidy of A. utahensis or whether it’s apomictic. By default, I have to assume it’s diploid (34 chromosomes) and non-apomictic (therefore sexually-reproducing) but I’ve been unable to confirm this.

*Yes, that’s right, I do actual research for this project. Though it seems like I just make this shit up, I really do try to figure this stuff out. It’s just the tangents and the half-baked theories I make up.

IMG_0353 Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) leaves (pic left) are also ovaloid and serrated, but they’re bigger, and the serration subtler (smaller teeth.) But it’s the flowers that give it away- like nothing else blooming in the Wasatch*.

*At least not on a big bush.

raceme1 Chokecherry flowers (pics below, right, and again below) are also 5-petaled/5-sepaled, but occur in groups of 15-30 on little branching structures called racemes (diagram left.) Right now you can see blossoming Chokecherry racemes in all stages of bloom around 7,000 feet.

IMG_9877 Here’s something interesting about Chokecherry (range map below, left): its leaves contain compounds called glycosides, which when forcefully combined with enzymes in the leaves- through freezing, chewing, drought (wilting) or bruising- produce cyanide, making the foliage poisonous. prunus_virginiana_map And the reaction is worse for ruminants, because the cyanide-producing reaction is optimized at neutral pH levels. A stomach (human or animal) is highly acidic, but a rumen is relatively pH-neutral. About 20 lbs (or less) of Chokecherry foliage will kill a horse.

IMG_9876 Both shrubs belong to the huge and highly successful Rose family, Rosaceae, which we’ve come across over and over again and includes everything from Mountain Mahogany to Wild Rose. Within Rosaceae there are 7 sub-families. One is Pyreae, which includes the Pome Fruits- Apples, Pears, etc.- and to which Serviceberry belongs. Another is Pruneae, which includes the Drupe Fruits- Plums, Apricots, Cherries, Almonds, Peaches- and to which Chokecherry belongs. So their little berries, which will show up at the end of the Summer, are 2 great native examples of the major fruit architectures we see at the supermarket.

ovaries Tangent: There’s also a real geeky difference in the flower structure between Pyreae and Pruneae, but you have to really pull apart a flower to see it. Pyreae flowers have inferior ovaries, meaning that the flower head is positioned on top of the ovary. Pruneae flowers have superior ovaries, meaning that the ovary sits within the structure of the flower head itself.

If you don’t live near Serviceberry and/or Chokecherry, you can see this same structural difference between Apple (or Pear) blossoms (Pyreae) and Cherry blossoms (Pruneae.)

Note: I’d hoped to dissect and photograph some sample flowers to illustrate the inferior/superior ovary thing, but I’m crunched for time/bandwidth and won’t be back up around the 7,000 foot level to collect samples before the weekend. My apologies.

IMG_0434But the cool thing about these 2 shrubs is how they may be related. Recently we’ve looked at a couple of wildflowers species, such as Cutleaf Balsamroot and a few Salsify species, that appear to have originated through hybridization. There’s some compelling evidence that the common ancestor of all Pyreae came about through such a hybridization event, maybe ~40 million years ago. Some of the evidence is morphological, but a contributing factor to the idea is chromosome counts. Virtually all Pruneae have a haploid chromosome number of 8. Almost all Spiraeeae (the Meadowsweets- another Rosaceae subfamily, consisting of ~100 woody shrubs) have a haploid number of 9. Almost all Pyreae, including Apples and Serviceberries, have a haploid number of 17, further suggesting an ancestral hybridization event between a Pruneae and a Spiraeeae species.

So it turns that those 2 shrubs that get you wet after rainstorms, and cushion your falls when you miss switchbacks, aren’t just boring leafy things; they’re full of history, mystery and danger. I swear, every time I finally pay attention to some little shrub and really learn what its deal is, it turns out to have a totally way cool story. Both these guys are blooming right now all over the place up around Jeremy Ranch and Park City, so check them out. Better yet, check them out on a man-date.


Christopher Taylor said...

Those comments about Amelanchier taxonomy remind me that I really must write about the blackberry situation some day (unless, of course, you beat me to it). The reason why you'll normally see the apomictic blackberries referred to as "Rubus fruticosus aggregate" is that there are a simply huge number of described species, most of them probably near-indistinguishable. I forget just how many, but its certainly up in the triple digits. We were told by a lecturer when I was an undergrad that some guy over in Europe just kept on describing new species, drawing the distinctions between them finer and finer. I'm not sure what stopped him - maybe someone finally hit him with a brick.

KB said...

Just curious, I love reading the details of plants on your blog. I'm wondering if you have a favorite source of information?

I know that we have chokecherry around here but I don't think that it's blooming yet.

KanyonKris said...

I thought I was your next Pinebrook date. But I guess JEM was just a one night stand. My wife warned me about you. ;-)

Fun post, the man-date stuff read like a Seinfeld.

But seriously, I'm still interested to ride the Pinebrook trails. I could do a Wed morning, if you don't mind a 3rd wheel (pair of wheels?).

Good plant post too. My Mom made chokecherry jam a few times - pretty tasty. Looks like serviceberries are edible too, but not sure I've tasted them.

Phil O. said...

White people also like having gay friends.

Watcher said...

Christopher- have at it (the blackberries.) I’m still mentally trashed from trying to understand the taxonomy of this one little local shrub. According to my local botany-professor friend, we have a local species-happy floral taxonomist at the rival university here in Utah (of whom he speaks with exasperation.) The “softness” of the whole definition of species has been one of the biggest eye-openers of this whole project for a layman like me.

KB- whew, big question. I could do a whole post on this one. I usually start with a guidebook or peek at the Wikipedia entry, which gives me the plant’s basic phylogenetic tree. Then I google like crazy, looking for published scientific papers about that plant, and/or google-books excerpts of books I probably wouldn’t purchase (typically a $100+ textbook where I’m interested in 2-4 pages.) A typical search string will be the plant’s latin name, plus the word “chromosome”, or maybe “locus”, “allele”, or “polyploidy” or somesuch. Sometimes I get lucky and find the whole paper (like I did with this post, and the Moose posts last year); usually I just get the abstract (I don’t have access to any of the published journal libraries- Springerlink, JStor or BioOne, etc. ) Other times I’ll find a slide set that some researcher gave at a conference (which helped me with posts on Dandelions, Aspen and Limber Pine.)

Every once in a while, I ask for help. Sally’s been terrific, as have many others who’ve provided help on everything from oaks, pinon, moss and lichens. Bottom line: it’s a lot of work, but I almost always enjoy doing it.

KKris- Yes, Mrs. Kanyon was right about me- I’m a feckless 2-timer. (But hopefully I got some credit with her now that I started putting the PG-13 labels on my spicier tangents!) I’m emailing you now about a time/day to ride Pinebrook. Maybe I can get you up early this Saturday… I almost got into the jams on this post, decided to save it for later in the season, when the berries develop.

Phil- Oh, I have gay friends. It’s black friends that are so hard to make here in Utah. This place is so lily-white, every time I go to the mall it feels like a White Power convention…

Bob said...

Excellent. And funny. I mentioned you in my Mormon News blog,

Lucy said...

Another great and timely post. Last wknd when I was enjoying Round Valley perfection on my bike, I noted two shrubs that were perfuming the air with white smelly flowers, but I could not identify them, for it has been 16 years since my college horticulture class. They must have been serviceberry and chokecherry. Thanks!