Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Triangle Man (and his Self-Help Book)

Back to the Triangle. The 3 vertex stars are Deneb in the Northeast corner, Vega in the Northwest, and Altair to the South. Vega appears the brightest to us, but it’s not so in absolute terms.

Like most constellations, the stars of the Triangle are nowhere near each other in space. Two of the stars, Altair and Vega, are fairly neighborly, at only 17 and 25 years distant from us respectively. But Deneb is a humongous ~1500+ light years away. With an apparent magnitude* of 1.8, it is the farthest first magnitude star in the sky.

*I explained apparent magnitude is the last post. Aw, it’s not that hard- go read it, already.

Triangle1 Technically, the Summer Triangle isn’t a constellation. Each of the 3 stars is in fact the “alpha” star of a separate constellation, each of which we’ll check out in turn as we look at that star.

Tangent: For my lurking coworker readers*, if you think of constellations as Templates in the Reference Architecture, then the Summer Triangle would be analogous to the template map for a specific coverage area. Cool, eh?

*I am speaking here specifically to lurking coworkers at the formerly-independent-but-now-acquired-company**. If you are a lurking coworker of the new/acquiring company, you are not supposed to be reading this- I’m staying in the closet.

**And you- lurking coworkers at formerly-independent-but-now-acquired-company- are not out me to coworkers of the 2nd category. Trent, I am talking to you.

Explanation and Bonus Tangent for Non-Coworkers: So my company sells IT research services. Part of our product is this thing called the Reference Architecture, which is a framework of tools intended to help our clients figure out what to do with 2345_Robison_02 the volumes of research we provide them. [PAY ATTENTION- THIS IS GOING SOMEWHERE]* The framework consists of technology architecture blueprints, specific to certain IT areas – say network security for example- called Templates (diagram left), as well as Boolean constructs (if, then, else, otherwise…) designed to drive them to specific conclusions about the technologies and products we cover in our research, and which are called Decision Points. The idea behind a Decision Point is that we net out the experiences and lessons learned from hundreds of other client organizations to help our clients make decisions about these same questions.

*Seriously, I know that like 99% of the time, people telling you about their jobs is a total yawner. Really, unless you’re an astronaut, movie star or a hit man, who cares? I’ve only met 2 people my entire adult life whose jobs I really wanted to hear about**. I hate it when people ask me what I do at parties. I want to be nice, but what I really long to say is, “Listen- unless you work in IT you won’t get what I do, which means that I’ll go through a long and painstaking explanation of what I sell and why companies buy it, which will be tiresome for me and boring for you. All you need to know is that I make a living, it’s legal, and it pays the bills. Now let’s talk about something else.”

**The first is an honest-to-god sex researcher. I see him about once a year at the holiday get-together of a mutual friend and always make sure to sit next to him, because he’s always working on something fascinating. The other was a former FBI agent who did a long-term deep cover assignment in organized crime. The most remarkable thing he told me was that the vast majority of mobsters were really, really nice guys, people you’d want to have as friends in real life.

There’s a third component to the Reference Architecture called Principles, which are statements about the specific client organization, and its context, requirements and environment related to technology decisions. (For example, is the company a single-vendor shop, or do they follow a best-of-breed approach.) The Principles are almost like the “Technology Ethic” of the client organization.

One of the ideas I’ve had for a while is to use this same model for a self-help book: The Life Reference Architecture. There’d be Decision Points about things like education, career, romance, marriage, child-rearing, LRA Coverretirement-planning, lifestyle, geography (where to live) and such, and Templates to help you map out your plans, goals and progress through whatever stage of life you’re dealing with. There’d also be Principles to allow you to capture your core values, ethics and beliefs and apply them as you used the framework to guide your life. Should you be a lawyer or a botanist?* Should you marry your sweetheart even though he/she has been married 4 times previously?** Should you kick your ne’er-do-well 30 year-old kid out of the basement?*** The Life Reference Architecture would provide a guidance framework for making these tough life decisions. Wouldn’t that be awesome??****

*Botanist. Hello. Have you even been reading this blog?



****Then I would go around the country, giving engaging, high-priced seminars, and making appearances on Oprah and such. I would be like Dr. Phil, except that that my methodology would be process-based, I wouldn’t have a folksy Southern drawl and I would have great hair, like Rafinha Bastos. This thing has Cash Cow written all over it and is far and away my Best Idea Ever.

First Star

So anyway, the Triangle isn’t a constellation, but a helpful map of constellations. The first is Cygnus, the Swan, of which Deneb is the alpha star. Deneb is awesome, a blue-white supergiant some ~1,500+ light years away from us, that is almost unbelievably bright.

How bright? Deneb is the 19th-brightest star in the sky. There are probably in excess of 50 million stars closer to us*, of which Deneb outshines all but 18. The farthest of those 18- Rigel (#6, and which we looked at when we checked out Orion)- is only about half as distant. If you suddenly swapped out our sun for Deneb, it would shine in the sky ~160,000 times as brightly.

*Rough number I came up with by taking the estimated number of stars within 250 light years, assuming similar stellar density out to 1,500 light years, and remembering enough geometry to calculate the volume of a sphere.

Triangle Star Sizes Of course you’d only see it for about a millisecond before you were blinded and incinerated, but you might not even see it so much as feel it; the star is so huge its radius would extend somewhere out to around Earth’s orbit.* To pick a comparison that wouldn’t fry us, if you placed Deneb at the distance of Alpha Centauri, which at ~4 ½ light years away is the closest star to our sun, it would shine down with roughly the light of the full moon, and be easily visible during the day.

*I found conflicting figures on this. Wikipedia says as far out as Earth’s orbit. Jim Kaler says only half that. Whatever- pretty freaking big, in any case.

Extra Detail: Deneb might be the brightest- in absolute terms- individual star you can see with the unaided eye. The other contender is Rigel, in Orion. I’ve found conflicting figures for magnitude and distance for both.

Deneb is the “tail” star of the swan. A somewhat more intuitive way to see the constellation is as a cross, or a kite, right-side up when you are facing South. Cygnus lies smack in the galactic disk of the Milky Way, and is filled with cool stuff, including star clusters*, nebulae** and interstellar clouds. Most of this stuff you won’t be able to pick out easily with binoculars; the background is so busy with stars that it’s tough to make out the clusters, and the nebulae are hard to see even with a small telescope.

*Including open cluster M29, just barely Southeast of Sadr. We’ve looked at 2 open clusters before- the Hyades and Pleiades- before. M29 is several thousand light-years further away.

**These include the Veil Nebula, just Southeast of Epsilon Cygni, which is thought to be the remnant of a Supernova between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago, as well as the North America Nebula (so named for its shape) which lies just a titch East of Deneb. The NA Nebula is an emission nebula, a cloud of gas ionized by the energy of a nearby star, which in this case may (or may not) be Deneb.

Cygnus1 But one of the things I’ve noticed about Cygnus on a clear night away from the city is that if you look at Deneb through binoculars you’ll notice an almost unnaturally dark area immediately to the West of the star that stands out in contrast to the surrounding Milky Way. This is the Cygnus Rift, a huge cloud of interstellar gas, and part of a series of such clouds forming the Great Rift, which lies about 300 light years distant between the Orion Arm and the Sagittarius Arm* of the Milky Way galaxy. From our vantage point the rift appears as a band of darker areas down the middle of the Milky Way, appearing in places to divide it in two. The Great Rift extends Southward through Cygnus and into…

MWay[4] *The Sagittarius Arm is the next arm in from ours toward the center of our galaxy. I explained the large-scale structure of the Milky Way galaxy in this post.

Extra Detail: Sadr, the central “cross-roads” star of the constellation, is partially obscured by dust, and would appear twice as bright if it were not. Through binoculars a small unnaturally dark patch seems to surround the star. BTW, you won’t see these dark/cloud patches I’m describing from an urban area. If you live in Salt Lake Valley drive up to Little or Big Mountain Passes on a moonless night (like now).

Second Star

Vega appears as the brightest vertex of the Triangle, and the 5th brightest star at in the sky. When astronomers first measured the radius of Vega, they found that the star appeared to be significantly bigger than their models predicted. The reason turned out to be that Vega is spinning so fast that its shape is actually distorted, making it “fat” around the waist. Vega is about 25% “wider” at the equator than it is “tall” at the poles.

Pretty much every celestial body rotates. The Earth spins at a little under ½ a kilometer/second. The sun spins a bit faster, at around 2 km/second, completing a full rotation about every 3 ½ weeks. Vega rotates at over 270 km/second, completely rotating roughly twice a day. If it were to spin just a little faster- 290km/second or so- it would start to fly apart.

Triangle Constellations But Vega’s axis of rotation is pointed almost straight at Earth, so the star presents a spherical aspect to us, but of a bigger sphere than it really is. Rotationally distorted stars are brighter at their poles than on their equators due to a phenomenon called the Zeipel Effect, so Vega appears both bigger and brighter than it would if we were to view it “side-on”.

Vega will be an important star in future. In about 11,700 years it will be the effective North Star, as it last was 14,000 years ago, due to the ~26,000 year-long cyclic wobble of the Earth’s axis known as the Precession of the Equinoxes*. Vega is working its way closer to us, and in about 290,000 years will become the brightest star in the night sky. It’s not moving alone; the star belongs to a group of stars headed in the same direction known as the Castor Moving Group, which also includes (of course) Castor in Gemini, Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinis and Aldemarin in Cepheus.

*Which I explained in this post.

Extra Detail: We looked at Castor in detail in this post; it’s now visible in the morning. Fomalhaut*/Piscis Austrinis is way South and not often visible from here, but you can make it out in early evening right now way low in the sky if you have an unobstructed Southern view. Cepheus we haven’t looked at, but is easily visible now in the early evening, North of Cygnus and sort of in between it and Cassopeia.

*I have a soft spot for Fomalhaut; it was the home star of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Rocannon’s World.

Like the sun, it’s a main-sequence hydrogen-fuser about ½-way through its lifecycle. But that life will be much shorter than our sun’s; Vega is only around 400 million years old- remember, big stars burn faster. Given its location and aspect, we should be glad Vega isn’t larger. It lacks sufficient mass to go supernova. With its pole pointed straight at us, we’d receive the brunt of the gamma ray burst, which at that close distance*…

*A nearby supernova is one of the suspects in the Silurian extinction, as I described in this post. Man, it is like I have a post for everything.

Lyra1 Vega is the alpha star of the constellation Lyra, the lyre, which is small but has some cool stuff, including all sorts of multiple star systems. Sheliak for example is actually 2 stars orbiting each other super-closely on a plane roughly parallel to our line-of-sight, Every ~13 days one star eclipses the other, effectively dimming the “star” as we see it by as much as half. Delta Lyrae is a discernable double, but it’s an optical-only double; the 2 stars are really 200 light years apart.

Epsilon Lyrae is a true double that can easily be discerned with binoculars, and maybe, just maybe with the naked eye. It’s like Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper, but tougher. (Bird Whisperer claims to see both components naked-eye.) Each of these 2 stars is in turn double, and then one of these 4 stars is double yet again!

Third Star

Altair, the Southern vertex of the Triangle, is the alpha star of Aquila, the Eagle (which is basically a sideways diamond with a tail). Altair is the 13th brightest star in the sky, but that’s only because it’s so close, at 16.8 light years. Like Vega, it’s a rapid and distorted spinner, rotating at a frenetic 210 km/second, and with- like Vega- a 25% greater equatorial than polar radius. The star rotates completely every 10 hours.

Triangle GCenter Aquila has a number of star clusters under its Western “wing”: 3 open clusters at 3,000 – 5,000 light years and a globular cluster at ~8,000 light years distant. The Great Rift extends Southward from Cygnus, across Aquila and down to the Southern horizon, where it meets Sagittarius, which is also now visible in the early evening. The 5-star “wedge” which comprises part of (?) the “bow” of the constellation* is easy to make out. Just to the West of the bow is the Galactic Center, thought to be a super-massive black hole of some 3 million+ solar masses.

*Or the main body of the “teapot”, which is a bit easier to make out than a centaur drawing a bow. In any case, I just look for the “wedge”. Sagittarius is a cool constellation and I’m sorry to short-change it just for a quickie skymark, but I likely won’t get a chance to post about it before it disappears from the Southern sky until next year.

East8PM[4] In the morning before sunup, Auriga is visible again in the Northeast. So right now you can check out the Galactic Center before you go to bed, and the Anti-Center when you wake up. It’s probably the best time of year to see the whole galaxy, and the Summer Triangle’s the best way to get started.

Note about Sources: Many of the same sources as for the last post, specifically Jim Kaler’s STARS site, Atlas Of The Universe and, as well as and the Daily Kos. Additional info from Wikipedia. BTW, didn’t the book cover turn out awesome?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Northern Crown

Note: This one is kind of geeky, but the graphics are awesome, so stick with it.

The other morning around 6AM as I was fumbling around with the paper and the coffeemaker, Bird Whisperer appeared in the kitchen, uncharacteristically early. Up as we were before the sun we stepped out on the back deck to check out the stars. The Pleiades were up at the top of their arc, Taurus, just behind, and Orion, Auriga and Gemini all rising from the East. Our old friends, the same cast of characters we started watching the sky with last Fall, are back.

My original Astro-goal for this blog was to track a year-long progression of constellations all the way around the celestial globe. It didn’t happen. The short nights of summer, combined with early nights to bed to accommodate early-morning biking, minimal camping and a busy work schedule all conspired to keep my interaction with the summer night-sky at a minimum. That’s a shame, because the summer sky is filled with wonderful stars. But though Fall is here, some key middle-of-the-night summer constellations are still visible after dusk, and so I’m going to jump back in this week and try to get us back on track.

Side Note: But I didn’t miss the goal by all that much. One post on Hydra would’ve kept the chain going…

The easiest ”skymark” to pick out right now straight overhead in early evening is the Summer Triangle. It’s probably the simplest and best thing to be able to pick out in the Summer sky, and we’ll get to it later this week. But before we do so, there’s another Summer constellation, a real favorite of mine, that’s still visible and worth checking out over the next couple of weeks: Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown.

The Northern Crown is spectacular in mid-summer, though it’s a questionable pick for Fall in the valley. It has no first-magnitude stars, and is largely drowned out in a light-polluted area; BW and I have needed binoculars to make it out clearly the last couple of nights. But it’s so cool, and so great to recognize on clear backcountry nights that it’s definitely worth a post.

South view stars First, let’s get our bearings. Go outside at ~9PM. Look straight up. You should see an obvious large, not-quite-“right”*, triangle of three bright stars overhead. That’s the Summer Triangle. Now look to your left/East, and you’ll see a huge obvious “star” riding up over the Wasatch. That’s Jupiter**. Now look over way to the right/West, toward the Oquirrhs. The bright orange “star” up about 30 degrees in the sky is Mars.

*“Not-quite-right” in this context means that the triangle does not quite have a right (90 degree) angle, as opposed to “not-quite-right” as you might use it when describing your weird uncle.

**You’ll see it shining brightly in the Western sky when you go out for the paper at 6AM.

Now start arc-ing upward/Eastward from Mars, toward the Westernmost vertex of the Summer Triangle (Vega). About ~1/3 of the way there, your line will pass by a fairly bright star. This is Alphecca*, the brightest star in the crown. Look at it through binoculars, and you’ll easily make it out, like a backward “C”, opening to the upper right/North as you view it to the West.

*Also known as “Gemma”. I’m just using “Alphecca” because I like the way it sounds.

South view constellations The Crown is small in “sky-space”, but distinct and recognizable; on clear summer nights it’s an easy beacon, and it’s got some cool things going on in it. Let’s start with Alphecca.

Like the vast majority of constellations, the stars aren’t anywhere “near” each other; they just happen to be lined up relative to us. Alphecca is a white, hydrogen-fusing star, 75 light years away, about 2 ½ times the size of our sun. It’s a binary system with a smaller companion about the same size as our sun. The 2 stars orbit each other in an eccentric little orbit between 12 and 25 million miles apart*. Relative to Earth the 2 stars eclipse each other about every 2 ½ weeks, causing minor variations in its apparent magnitude.

*For reference, Mercury is ~36 million miles from the sun.

CBorealis captions But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that Alphecca is part of the Ursa Major Moving Group, the gang of 13 (maybe 14) stars around 75-80 light years away, all about the same age, composition and moving in the same direction. The group includes 5 of the major Big Dipper stars, so glance up to the right/North.

This is one of the coolest things in learning about stars. When you look at the night sky and learn some constellation names, you see some “optical” groupings. But when you learn about stars their distances, characters and relations to one another, you can come to recognize “real” groupings. Sometimes- as in the case of the Hyades and Pleiades- a “real” grouping is also “optically” grouped, but non-obvious groupings, like the UMM Group, you can’t pick out till you know something about the stars. We’ll touch upon another non-obvious moving group later in the week.

Several other stars of the “crown proper” are also interesting. Gamma Coronae Borealis, the 3rd-brightest star of the crown, is also a double, but the stars in this case are much farther apart with a wildly elliptical orbit. At their closest the 2 stars are about as far apart as our sun and Uranus; at their farthest as far apart as the sun and Pluto. Orbiting each other every 92 years, they’re right now getting closer together, and will reach their closest point in another 14 years.

Inside the crown proper is R Coronae Borealis, a really weird star. This one is hard to see; from the valley you’ll definitely need binoculars, but on a clear night away from a city, you might spot it if your eyesight is excellent*. RCB is really, really, really far away- about 6,000 light years. That alone is pretty cool, but what’s way freaky is that every once in a while- several months to several years- the star effectively disappears for a few months and then gradually reappears. Well, actually it doesn’t really “disappear”, but rather fades, from an apparent magnitude 6 to as low as 14.

*I needed binoculars to make it out from Little Mountain Pass. BW could barely make it out naked eye from same location. Stargazing with him BTW has been a rude reminder of just how sharp his vision is and how crappy mine is getting.

All About Apparent Magnitude

When talking about the brightness of stars, astronomers use the term “magnitude”. Absolute Magnitude is a measure of how bright the star really is, while Apparent Magnitude measures how bright it is to us here on Earth. So apparent magnitude is a numerical value for describing how bright a star appears in the sky.

Extra Detail: It’s actually more complicated than this, because our eyes see some colors better than others…

Now you might think, that if someone were to design a scale of star-brightness, they would use an intuitive scale, say 0-10, where 10 was the brightest thing imaginable (say the Sun) and 0 was, well, dark. But it doesn’t work that way. The scale has had several incarnations. Originally the ancient Greeks defined the brightest stars as magnitude 1, and the faintest as magnitude 6. Later versions modified the scale considerably. The modern system is based Pogson’s* ration, which defines a magnitude 1 star as being 100 times as bright as a magnitude 6 star.

*Named for English astronomer Norman Robert Pogson, the guy who came up with it.

The system is based on Vega (of the yet-to-be-blogged-about Summer Triangle) which is set at magnitude zero. Polaris (the North Star) is (roughly) magnitude 2. The faintest stars we can see with the unaided eye are magnitude 6. With binoculars you can see down to around 9.5, which is why the sky suddenly seems so packed with stars when you use them. With a telescope, well… that depends on the scope. The Hubble Space Telescope can see down to around magnitude 30.

The weird flip-side of this scale is stars brighter than Vega have negative apparent magnitude. Sirius, for example- the brightest star in the sky- has an apparent magnitude of -1.4. Venus has a maximum apparent magnitude of -4.67. The full moon is -12.74, and the sun- which is nearly 400,000 times as bright as the full moon- is -26.74.

Back To The Crown

RCB, a yellow supergiant, is a type of star known as an R Coronae Borealis variable star. These stars periodically fade at unpredictable intervals, apparently due to a buildup of carbon dust (carbon is the product of helium fusion in larger, later-life stars, as I explained in this post.) which blocks/dims the star’s escaping light by between 1 and 9 magnitudes. The exact cause and mechanism of carbon dust building in RCB variables is unknown, as is the relative positioning/placement of the dust. One hypothesis is that the dust build-up is in the photosphere of the star itself, while another is that the dust accumulated in a spherical shell around the star at a distance of about 20 radii from the star. In any case, RCB variables seem to be very rare; only about 30 have been discovered in more than 200 years.

Just outside the open end of the crown are other interesting stars*. Kappa Coronae Borealis and Rho Coronae Borealis both have planets. Kappa CB is the brighter of the two, though twice as far, at 102 light years. It’s an orange sub-giant, and its detected planet, which is nearly twice the mass of Jupiter, orbits at about the same distance from our sun to the asteroid belt. Rho, at a neighborly 57 light years, is more fascinating. It’s a type of star called a “solar twin”, meaning that in mass, color, and rotation it’s very, very similar to our own sun. But this “sun”-like, “normal” star has a massive planet in orbit. Imagine if Jupiter were 50% bigger, and orbited the sun at only ½ the distance between the sun and Mercury. That’s exactly the deal with Rho CB and its planet. The star is also surrounded by a dust-disk extending out about as far as Eris from the sun, which may be analogous to our own Kuiper belt, full of dwarf planets and chunks of frozen comets/what-not.

*The remaining 3 stars in this post I was able to spot only with binoculars. BW spotted all 3 naked-eye from Little Mountain Pass with a ¾ moon.

Extra Detail: Since astronomers began detecting planets ~16 years ago, they’ve found a number of these close-orbiting Super-Jupiters. The existence of such planets doesn’t match current theories of planet formation, and so it’s been suggested that their placement is the result of a) past interaction/collision/near-miss with another planet/body, or b) gravitational interaction with disk of gas/dust. Or maybe the current theory’s just all wrong.

Just a titch to the South of Rho CB, Sigma Coronae Borealis is perhaps an even more fascinating instance of a Solar twin- or twins as it turns out. Sigma CB is a double. Sigma CB 1 is solar twin, but Sigma CB 2 turns out to be two solar twins, separated by only 6 solar radii(!!) and whipping around each other roughly once a day! Think about that: imagine if the sun had a (virtually) identical twin that whipped around it once a day, set only 3 sun-sized virtual “disks” apart! The 2 stars orbiting each other so closely create all sorts of crazy sunspot-type disturbances, flares, etc.; if the Earth did orbit the pair, it’s not likely it’d be very hospitable.

But, as Jim Kaler points out on his absolutely wonderful STARS site, there’s no reason an Earth-type planet couldn’t be supported by Sigma CB1. Sigma CB1 orbits the feisty Sigma CB2 pair every ~900 years. The orbit is crazy-elliptical, with the stars as much as 4 ½ times as far apart as the sun and Pluto, but never closer than (roughly) Uranus is from the sun.

If an Earth-type planet did orbit Sigma CB1 at an Earth-type distance, the sights in the sky would be remarkable. The twin second/third suns would light up the night sky half the year.

Agrarian Planet of SCB1 Over the centuries, the “Night Suns” would slowly grow to something like 7 times their smallest size, then slowly shrink again. On “average”, midway through the strange, millennial cycle, they’d shine down each about 70 times as brightly as our own full moon.

Orwellian Planet of SCB1 Sometimes our own night sky sounds kind of boring.

Tangent: Years ago, when I lived in Colorado and knew nothing about the night sky (or plants or birds or bugs or geology or, well, anything, really) Wife 1.0 and I went camping somewhere high up in the mountains with another couple, an “older” couple. (They were ancient; I mean they must have been like in their forties or something…) The woman was a friend of Wife 1.0, and I’m embarrassed that I can’t even remember their names. But I remember the woman knew all about stars, and she pointed out 1 constellation after another to us. I remember clearly when she pointed out the Northern Crown to us, and thinking, “Hey I should learn something about stars, so I know what the deal is with that crown…” Now, 16 or 17(?) years later, I finally know what the deal is with it.

Everything we’ve looked at here- which has covered just a fraction of the stars of the constellation- is packed into an area of 179 square degrees, one of the smaller recognized constellations. There’s still more that we can’t see; in the Southwest corner of the Crown there’s a cluster of some 400 galaxies about a billion light years away, the brightest of which ha san apparent magnitude of only 16. Everywhere you look the night sky is loaded with amazing stars with amazing stories. And we haven’t even got to the big triangle yet…

Note About Sources: My favorite star source (and most helpful for this post) is always Jim Kaler’s STARS site. If you’re at all interested in the night sky and haven’t checked it out, you should. Other helpful websites included Night Sky Atlas, Atlas Of The Universe, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, and Additional info came from The Planet Orbiting Rho Coronae Borealis, Robert W. Noyes, et al, and the Audubon Society Guide to the Night Sky.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Filler: Fire Moon and Falling Leaves

Last night Bird Whisperer and I drove up after dark to the top of Emigration Canyon to check up some stars for a couple of Astro-Posts I’m hoping to do this week*. A big wildfire was raging down in the South end of the valley, obscuring the sky with smoke.

*Here’s a great tip. If you are the parent of a kid approaching puberty who is showing the typical signs of being-more-into-his-own-thing**-than-hanging-with-Dad/Mom, a great thing you can do together is go stargazing after his/her designated bedtime. BW was way into it; we’ll probably head up again tonight.

**Which right now is- I am embarrassed to say- Dungeons & Dragons***. He’s obsessed with it. To be clear, he’s had obsessions before- he’s sort of a Serial Obsessive. First was Thomas the Tank Engine, then it was dinosaurs, then it was wild animals in general (mainly carnivores), then Pok√©mon, then Yugi-Oh!, then birds, then back to dinosaurs, and now D&D. But this D&D obsession seems deeper than any of the previous ones. Oh well, as AW points out, the upside of your kid being a D&D geek is you don’t have to worry about him getting anyone pregnant anytime soon.

***Full confession: I was a D&D nerd for a couple of years, though my obsession didn’t start till around age 15. I was into it until I got a motorcycle and a girlfriend.

Fire Moon

Though we only climbed ~1,400 feet, it was enough to put us up above the bulk of the smoke. Here are contrasting shots of the moon from our back yard, and then 20 minutes later at the head of the canyon.

Moonviews Side Note: Yes, I know these shots suck. That’s not the point. The point is the color. Isn’t that “Fire Moon” wild? What’s interesting BTW, is that my daytime-only camera was better able to handle the contrasts with the muted “Fire Moon” than the (relatively) un-obscured moon. On the “Fire Moon” shot you can make out actual features on the lunar surface…

Anyway, stay tuned for a couple Astro-posts this week.

Falling Leaves

Also, while I’m doling out filler, I’ve decided that the Wasatch fIMG_7369oliage this year is so freaking spectacular that I’m going to include gratuitous foliage shots and clips in my posts whenever I feel like it, completely a propos of nothing (pic right = Twin B in front of Bigtooth Maple Sunday @~7,500 ft). In Friday’s filler-post I mentioned the colors of the forest understory. Especially stunning in spots is the contrast between the typical understory yellows and the occasional blood-red of the Ninebarks. Usually the reddest thing is the Wasatch right now are the Bigtooth Maples, but occasionally the Ninebark will outshine even them, with a deep, blood-red unmatched by any Maple. When you encounter it trailside contrasted with yellow- such as in this patch mixed with Snowberry (along the West Perimeter trail in Pinebrook) it’s fantabulous.

9bark Snowberry 9 19 10 Later in the same ride, I caught this nice helmet-cam clip toward the bottom of “X” trail*. Pay attention (and play it in high-def/720p) - golden maple leaves are floating down onto the trail as I ride through.

*”X” is really what we call it- I’m not being coy about the name or anything. Many of the Pinebrook trails my friends and I have named ourselves over the years, as we’re ignorant of what “real” names, if any, they may in fact have. The “X” in this case refers to the X-like junction with Mid-Mountain trail, visible at the very end of the clip.

Next Up: Back to the sky!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blue. Check.

IMG_7301 I finally came across blue elderberries this morning* (pic left), in a place where I least expected them: at the very bottom of the Death Climb across from the zoo, right at the start of the “tunnel”. There they were, hanging down in big bunches.

*Because I had completely given up looking for them, and I am the kind of guy who can only find things when I am not looking for them.

I noticed BTW, that the “tunnel” is kind of interesting botanically. I don’t think I’ve ever really looked around there before because I’m always heads-down, granny-cranking up while trying to work back and forth across the trail-centered perma-gully without spinning out. Need to just go back there for a stroll…

TUNNEL DC Map cut Somebody flipped the switch this week on the Maples up in Pinebrook. Wow. And the understory’s started getting all bright and yellow, almost glowing, like it’s lighting up the forest from below.

The last 15 seconds of that clip are my absolute favorite stretch of Mid-Mountain. Love that spot. Might be my new "Ash Spot".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stuff (Specifically Some Shrubs) That You Fall On, And My Sewing-Crush

The berries I posted about in the last post are all products of plants I’ve blogged about previously, but this next berry is something new.

When I started this project I was mainly interested in trees. IMG_7139The first year I paid attention to smaller shrubs mainly either in a) the absence of trees, such in desert areas, or b) if they happened to sprout interesting flowers. Last year I started noticing shrubs here in the Wasatch, but gravitated toward the larger, shree-like shrubs. Not really until this year did I start paying attention to the smaller shrubs carpeting the floor of the Wasatch forests.

It’s funny; people hardly ever pay attention to shrubs. Here’s a quick thought experiment: Have you ever been to see the Redwoods? You know, like at the national park, or Muir Woods? Even if you’re completely plant-blind, you know what trees you saw there- (Coast) Redwoods. OK, so what was growing on the ground? This is true even for reasonably tree-aware people. If you went on vacation to say Western Montana or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or Lake Tahoe and know even a little about trees, you can probably tell me some of the trees you saw, but chances are you’ll come up short when I ask you about the shrubs.

Yet we’re likely to have far greater contact with shrubs than we are trees. Unless you’re Steve Sillett*, you probably never get up in a tree as an adult, but if you spend anytime out-of-doors, you likely brush against, bump into or trip over shrubs all the time. And if you’re a mountain biker, you fall on them.

*Just curious, anybody else read The Wild Trees? If so, didn’t the in-the-hammock sex scene seem a little gratuitous? Don’t get me wrong- I liked the book. Just not sure that part really added all that much to my knowledge of old-growth Redwoods.

My earliest interest in shrubs came from falling on them. Long before I knew anything about plants, I knew there were some shrubs that were better to fall on that others. For instance, in my first month in Utah, I learned to avoid falling on Scrub Oak.

Tangent: Here’s another thought experiment: think about where you live. If someone told you they were going to move the place you lived, and you could give them just 1 piece of helpful information, what would it be? I know what I’d tell them about Northern Utah. Oh sure, you think you know already. You think I’d tell them about the Church or polygamy or the liquor laws or the Osmonds* or something. But that’s not what I’d tell them about at all. No, I’d tell them about Scrub Oak.

*That reminds me. One of these days I need to work in a Marie Osmond tangent.

Scrub Oak (pic left = Q. gambelii-covered hillside in South Fork of Dry Creek) is one of a Utah outdoorsman’s greatest challenges between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. SOak shotIt forms closely-knit, super-scratchy impenetrable thickest/walls that slowly bring you to a halt as they tear at skin and clothing. Frustratingly, they don’t present just a uniform wall, but rather a maze of apparent openings and paths that lure you in or under, continually presenting (real or imagined) glimpses of the far side of the thicket, before closing in on you. These thickets are particularly problematic for know-it-all Type A hikers/bikers like, er, me, who never want to admit they’ve made a bad navigational choice until they are exhausted and bloody and absolutely stuck.

Tear Nested Tangent: Scrub Oak is top of mind for me at the moment. Sunday morning I was mtn biking in Park City with Coryalis, Young Ian and Single Mike*. I was working my way down one of the twisty side trails on Rossy Hill, when an oak twig snagged my brand-new Pearl Izumi cycling jacket….

*No, he’s not a singlespeeder, he’s just single.

I don’t usually buy this kind of high-end cycling wear ($90 retail) but I picked it up on sale (60% off) and found that I really liked it.

BONUS TIP: A great time to pick up bike gear in late August/early September is from seasonal bike shops, the kind that turn into ski (only) shops for the winter. They dump their inventory at the end of the season at or close to cost. There’s one near my office I hit every year. (No I won’t tell you which one because I don’t want you getting there first and buying all my stuff.)

So kind of a bummer, but the story has a happy ending, which is in fact a…

IMG_7274 SECOND BONUS TIP: There is a super-good, super-efficient, super-cheap tailor/alterations place right by my office- Elite Alterations. It’s a 1-woman show, run by a very helpful Asian* lady.

*I’m pretty sure Korean, but I never ask. That whole assuming/guessing-the- wrong-Asian-country thing is a total minefield.

Repair Anyway, she’s fixed all kinds of pieces of clothing and sports-related wear for me- ski-pants, wind-vests, camping gear- you name it. She completed this excellent repair to my new jacket in 1 day for just $5.39, including tax. She is totally awesome*, and I strongly recommend her business.

*In fact I think I am starting to get a little sewing-crush on her. If AW ever leaves me I am going to woo her, win her over and run away with her. Maybe we’ll move back to the old country, wiling away our golden years together sitting on the porch, sewing and snacking on kimchi, as we gaze at the sunset over the DMZ. (I’m kidding over course. Even I know that to watch the sun set across the DMZ, you’d need to be on the North side of it.)

Anyway, Scrub Oak can be problematic. More to the point, it’s not great to fall on/into. It generally won’t break any bones, but it’ll scratch the bejeesus out of you. Whatever you do, close your eyes before you hit.*

*Even with eye protection; the twigs can work their up behind the glasses from underneath.

First New Shrub (already)

I never like falling, but when I do fall, my favorite shrub to fall onto is Snowberry, Symphoricarpos spp. IMG_7282 Snowberry is probably the most common Wasatch shrub- particularly in Aspen forests- between 7,500 and 9,000 feet. It’s around 1-3’ high, and has small, ovaloid leaves. When I first noticed it I thought maybe it was some kind of little Serviceberry, or something related to it, but it’s nothing of the sort, not even part of the Rose family. Snowberry belongs to the Honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, which I haven’t blogged about before, but includes things like Honeysuckle and Twinflower (also common in the Wasatch) and is fairly closely related to Valerians. There are somewhere around 15 accepted species, and another coincidental-thing-in-common with Serviceberry is that telling the various species and varieties apart can be a pain. The most common species/variety here in the Wasatch is Mountain Snowberry, Symphoricarpos oreophilus.

Snowberry stages Snowberry grows by root-cloning and forms extensive clonal stands beneath the (also clonal) stands of Aspen. Its foliage and branches are soft and forgiving, making it one of the best things to crash-land into. Back in June it sprouted pretty little pink flowers, but with everything else blooming in June they can be easy to miss. Now they’re a cinch to ID. Snowberry drupe dissect Snowberry is one of the few plants around with truly white berries. They’re actually drupes, but each one has 2 pits (pic left). The “berries” are a prized food source for all sorts of birds- grouse, grosbeaks, robins- but probably not for us. Though technically edible, they supposedly taste like soap and are toxic in quantity, inducing everything from diarrhea and vomiting to lethargy.

Extra Detail: There’s a better reason not to eat them- IMG_7283you might confuse them with other white berries, which are overwhelmingly inedible/poisonous. An old rule-of-thumb I’ve heard (for which I can confirm neither source nor veracity) is that 90% of white berries are poisonous, while 90% of blue berries are edible. Red berries are 50/50. Another Utah native with white berries BTW is Poison Ivy.

Tangent: Snowberry is a good plant to be able to ID in the Wasatch because it’s sort of a “key puzzle piece” in the Aspen forest understory. Before I recognized it, the understory was a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t recognize interspersed with things here and there that I did recognize. After I learned to recognize Snowberry, the opposite seemed to be true.

Second New Shrub

There are of course lots and lots of other shrubs in the Wasatch; another common one that’s also OK to fall in is Tobaccobrush, Ceanothus velutinus. Tobaccobrush also grows in clonal stands, a little taller than Snowberry, usually 2-4’ high.

September TBrush It does well in open, sunny exposed spots, on dry rocky outcrops and/or on gravelly soils. The leaves are shiny, waxy and tough. Its common name supposedly comes from its past use as a tobacco substitute. In the early summer it produces large bunches of delicate tiny white flowers, lending to another of its common names, Snowbush.*

*Which I avoid using due to possible confusion with Snowberry.

Flowering TBrush It doesn’t produce berries of any sort, but rather a small dry capsule, with lobes containing the seeds. Its leaves appear to be practically inedible to cattle. Deer and Moose eat it, though it’s not their first choice.

TBrush Fruit3 Cool Things

Ceonathus is a genus of ~60 species in the Buckthorn family, Rhamnaceae, all native to North America, and there are several interesting things about it. The first is that the center of its evolution appears to have been California, where the greatest diversity of species exists. Over millions of years populations have diverged, speciated, spread East, North and South, and then in some cases hybridized as they’ve later re-encountered one another. It’s a wonderful example of the botanical fantastic-ness that is California.*

*Seriously, California is botanically incredible. If you live there and are into plants, you should count yourself fortunate. If you live there and are not into plants, you should definitely get into them, because the plant scene there is way, way cool. Or else you should move someplace else and make room for Cool Plant People to move there.

A second interesting thing is that it’s well-adapted to fire. Burnt to the ground, Tobaccobrush quickly re-sprouts from its roots, and is often the first colonizer of burnt ground. Its seeds will only naturally germinate following a fire; you can force germination by boiling seeds for a few minutes. IMG_5971 But here’s the cool thing: the amount of time for which you need or can boil seeds to induce germination varies not only by species, but by population. In other words, a heating time/temperature that would be ideal for the seeds of one population might well kill the seeds of another population and yet be insufficient to induce germination in yet another population. Different Ceanothus species and populations are adapted to different wildfire intensities, which means that as climatic and fire conditions changes over thousands or millions of years, different species/groups will fare better or worse, expand or decline in range, possibly encounter other species, hybridize, etc., etc. The seeds BTW can remain viable for more than 20 years, depending on the species. Also BTW, Ceanothus species, including C. velutinus, are nitrogen-fixers (which I explained in this post), which aids in their role as pioneers in burnt or disturbed areas. (I guess this is a 4th cool thing.)

The third cool thing about Tobaccobrush is that- like Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany or Creeping Oregon Grape- it’s an evergreen angiosperm in the Wasatch. IMG_7219 In cold conditions, not just in winter, but on cool mornings, the leaves will be rolled up in little tubes, like Rhododendron leaves. Late, late in the fall, when all the other leaves are gone, stands of leafy Tobaccobrush will remain on outcrops and ridges, islands of dull green in a sea of brown. And just a few months from now, in the dead of winter, when you ski or snowshoe across windswept rocky peaks and outcrops, you’ll sometimes see its dark leafy branches poking out of the snow, a little reminder of the green world sleeping below.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wasatch Berries, Trails and Food Storage

So it’s the end of the summer already. How did that happen? While I was blogging about the Grand Canyon and the Paunsaugant and the Markagunt and Idaho and Montana and Maine and old girlfriends and strange neurological conditions and South American megalopolises, the summer here in the Wasatch just zipped by. I haven’t done a real Wasatch post (excepting the Gumweed/Darkling Beetle/Wolf Mouse post) since June!

I’m actually OK with that, because I’ve done a half-decent job covering a lot of the Wasatch stuff the past 2 summers. In 2008 I covered most of the major trees of the Wasatch, and in 2009 I hit the wildflowers in a big way. This summer- well this year, really- has been a bit different, as readers who know me in real life know, and so I’ve “coasted” a bit on the Wasatch in recent months.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been out and about in the Wasatch. Over the past couple of weeks and weekends since I returned from Brazil I’ve been camping and biking with family and friends. Here’s a quick clip from Sunday along the Wasatch Crest, which follows the ridge dividing the Big Cottonwood and Park City- side drainages.

Tangent: I’ve also explored a couple of “new” trails in the Wasatch recently. New to me, anyway. One very nice stretch is the connector between Guardsman and Scott’s Passes.

Another is the modest network of trails above Summit Park. Most of the easily-bike-able trails are pretty tame, though they pass through nice long stretches of Douglas Fir forest. This would be a great place to ride/hike in the heat of summer. The “recommended for hiking” trails are lot sketchier on a bike, with many mandatory hike-a-bikes, but they get to some really cool, remote-feeling places. Here’s a stretch along the ridge separating Summit Park from Toll Canyon, a ridge I’ve driven below hundreds of times without ever knowing what was on top.

When I hike or bike a new trail in the Wasatch, as often as not I mentally kick myself. “What?” I’ll think, “This cool place has been here all this time and I never got around to checking it out all these years? What’s wrong with me?” Next summer I’m checking out more new places in the Wasatch…

Being back home in the Wasatch has reminded me of something that I meant to blog about- but missed- the last 2 years: berries. All these flowers I bog about all the time- what happens to them anyway? Well, assuming they get fertilized, they turn into a fruit of some sort. Many of those “fruits” are achenes or follicles and not all that eye-catching, but several common Wasatch shrubs produce brightly-colored “berries” and right now is a great time to check them out.

Side Note: There are still flowers blooming, mainly Negative Daisies, Showy Goldeneye, Rabbitbrush, Snakeweed (lower down), Sunflowers (lower down), and patches of Common Yarrow. But none of these flowers will produce anything remotely berry-like. Anything that was going to spend the summer growing berries necessarily bloomed back in May or June.


For about the last 3 weeks, if you’ve been hiking or riding down lower in the foothills, you may have noticed “blueberries” ripening on the floor of the Oak-Maple woods. This is Oregon-grape, which I blogged about last Fall. The Holly-like leaves are evergreen, so these patches up green will linger long after the oaks and maples are bare.

Oregon Grape compare The berries- which are not grapes- are edible, but are extremely tart and have big seeds inside. They’re sometimes made into jam, or even wine.

Another “blueberry” all over the place up around 7,000 feet and up right now is Serviceberry, which I blogged about last summer. Finesse Trail outside of Pinebrook, which was carpeted with delicate white blossoms back in June, is now covered with ripe serviceberries. IMG_6912 These berries are also edible. Like Oregon-grape, they’re full of seeds, but the flavor is way less tart. The key to snacking on them is to pop a couple into your mouth, gently mush them up with your teeth and tongue, and spit out the seeds. Some tasters describe serviceberries as tasting faintly of apple, cherry or almond, and in tasting the ripest I sometimes think I pick up a hint of apple, but that may be self-suggestion… Incidentally this year I finally figured out how to pick sweet serviceberries: they’re the ones that look just about to go bad- deep purple and starting to wrinkle. Any younger/fresher and they’re too tart.

serviceberry compare Over the next couple of weeks up around the high rangelands bordering the brush around Park City and Kimball Junction, the trails will start to be dotted with little purple poops. I’m not sure which animal(s)’ scat it is, but it’s all over the place, and critters chow on the berries. Speaking of which, a serviceberry is not actually a “berry”, but a pome, like an Apple or Pear, to which Serviceberry is closely-related. A pome is not a “true” fruit, but rather an accessory fruit, which I explained when we looked at Strawberries. (Though a pome is a very different type of accessory fruit than a strawberry.)

In shadier areas around the same altitude, you’ll see downward bunches of slightly larger, almost cherry-like berries. These are Chokecherries, which I also blogged about last summer. The fruits are “true” fruits, but they’re not berries. Like real cherries, they’re drupes, with a hard stone or pit inside that has grown out of the ovary wall of the flower. People make pies and jellies out of chokecherries.

chokecherry compare They’re also edible raw, with a bit of a caveat: the seeds can contain high concentrations of the poison hydrogen cyanide. You’re supposed to avoid eating the seeds, and optimally, any cherries that taste too bitter. In past years most all chokecherries I’ve tried randomly taste “too bitter”, but this year I’ve found plenty that taste nice and sweet, with only a hint of tartness. I suspect that an early frost sweetened up both the chokecherries and the serviceberries.

Serviceberry and Chokecherry both belong to the Rose family, and another family member in the same locale that’s fruiting now is of course, Wild Rose, which I first blogged about 2 summers ago. The fruit of Wild Rose is the rosehip, which is actually another pome fruit. Eaten raw they’re supposed to taste like extra-tart crabapples, and are also alleged to sweeten up a bit following the first frost, like other wild fruits. Rosehips are used in jams, pies and herbal teas, and are packed with vitamin C. Supposedly in Hungary they make a brandy out of them.

Wild Rose compare Kitchen-Craftiness & Food Storage

Tangent: The only jam I ever remember my mother making was Rosehip jam, which she tackled after coming across a bunch of ripe hips during a late summer weekend on Cape Cod. I must have been maybe 6 or 7, so my memory of the event was a bit foggy. What I do remember was 1) picking them seemed to take a long time 2) making the jam seemed like a huge, complicated, labor-intensive production, and 3) the jam tasted awful, but that may have been because of my age.

Nested Tangent: That’s probably because, growing up, my family wasn’t very, er “kitchen-crafty”, I guess. When I moved out to Utah, suddenly I started meeting all these people who were making jams and jellies and bottling and canning and making sausage out of things they had killed and what-not. Seriously, it’s like everybody here grew up on The Waltons or something. We never did any of that. We ate tuna casserole, frozen veggies, and once a month we went to Friendly’s. Sometimes Mom would make chocolate pudding. I imagine part of the kitchen-craftiness out here is the more recent connection people have to agriculture in this part of the country, but I think the big driver is the whole Mormon-food-storage thing. Which I should say doesn’t sound like a bad idea. About once a year or so I think, “Hey, we should store a year’s supply of food…” But I’m not about to start canning and bottling and all that, and when I envision myself in the supermarket checkout line with 300 boxes of instant oatmeal and 500 cans of kippered herring, I always start to feel embarrassed and put it off another year…

IMG_7251 But rosehips have frustrated my snacking attempts to-date. Supposedly you just slice them in half and remove the hairy-coated seeds. But with this many seeds, what does that leave you? The skin and a bit of rind (pic right), both fairly tasteless…

Side Note: Speaking of the Rose family, plant-aware and/or long-time readers may wonder what’s up right now with our other 2 common Wasatch shrees in the family- Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany (CMM) and Ninebark.

CMM produces achenes, so no jams or jellies to be made there. Earlier in the summer the long, feathery plumes of the achenes give the trees a sort of light and hazy look as I’ve posted previously. Now only a fraction of the feathery plumes remain on the trees; it’s as if CMM trees come back “into focus” as the summer wanes. Stop by one though and you’ll notice the ground below littered with small “feathers”. And looking closely at the trees branches you’ll see countless empty “sockets” where the wind has picked up and swept away the achenes.

CMM captions Ninebark fruits as a cluster of follicles, which is a type of dry fruit containing multiple seeds which splits open to release them. Larkspur, Milkweed and Magnolias are some other plants with follicle-fruits (all of which have evolved them independently.)

9bark follicles caption Before leaving the Rose family, there’s one more berry blooming right now that’s actually kind of tasty. I first blogged about Thimbleberries 2 years ago, but didn’t manage to come across (and eat) ripe ones until about a week ago. They look like little raspberries, and like them their fruits are actually aggregations of multiple separate fruits, each one of which is a little drupe, or “drupelet”*. (So a raspberry/ thimbleberry/ blackberry is sort of a cluster of micro-cherries…)

Thimbleberry compare I’ve been tasting them regularly over the past week and a half or so. Most are still a bit tart, but every third or so one I pick is nice and sweet, like an extra-fine little raspberry.

*No that’s not a made-up Watcher-Word. It’s a real botany word.

Extra Detail: An easy place to find and pick Thimbleberries right now is in upper Mill Creek Canyon. Take the Big Water trail up from the lower trailhead. Immediately after the 1st switchback, there’s a big patch on the uphill side of the trail. Several more patches occur over the next ¼ mile. Probably 500 hikers/bikers pass by here every Saturday, but no on else ever seem to stop and pick them…

So what else is fruiting? For nearly a month now the Wax Currants have been ripening. I blogged about them first last summer down in the Henry Mountains, but this summer have been noticing it more and more around Jeremy Ranch and Pinebrook.

wax currant compare It seems to do well near rocky, open outcrops and minor summits. The fruits- which are real berries- are edible, but pretty tasteless. Indians used to mix them with dried meat to make pemmican.

More common though- all over the place right now- are these clusters of red berries. They’re Elderberries, which I blogged about last summer during the Steiner100. IMG_6916 We have 2 kinds of Elderberries here in Utah, Red (pic left) and Blue. Blue elderberries are edible, used in jams, candies, sauces and even wines. But all the berries I’ve seen around her are red (or orange-turning-red) and they are definitely not something you should go around snacking on, as they contain cyanide. Some sources I’ve read say never to eat red elderberries, period. Others say they’re OK to eat after boiling (which is also recommended for blue elderberries.) But all the really good elderberry stuff seems to come from the blues (or blacks.) If you do manage to ingest elderberries without poisoning yourself, they’re rich in vitamins A and C.

Red Elderberry compare Elderberries BTW aren’t true berries, but drupes. Elderberry used to be considered a member of the Honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but is now broken out into a separate family Adoxaceae, all of whose members have 4-petaled flowers and drupe fruits.

And speaking of the Honeysuckle family, there’s another super-common berry right now in the Wasatch up around 8,000 feet. It’s lower down, on a small shrub, so easy to overlook, but once you start looking down, it’s everywhere. And this berry’s easy to pick out, because it’s bright white.

Next Up: Stuff you fall on.