Category Archives: rambles

invasion of the crabs

Happening now on our local coastline: Tuna crabs roiling in the surf and washing up in huge numbers on the local beaches.

Tuna crabs_Ocean Beach_washed up with eelgrass

Pleuroncodes planipes lives in the warmer waters in shallow water off the coastlines of Mexico to Chile. But given special ocean conditions its range can extend up into California. It’s been an unusual year weather-wise, and the mass arrival of these crabs is being seen as a harbinger of the next coming of the El Niño weather pattern to California. I’ll take an invasion of crabs as a part of meteorological prophecy instead of a plague of locusts any day!

Wikipedia gives “tuna crab,” “pelagic red crab,” and “langostilla” as alternate names, and tells you it’s a “squat red lobster.” A common question among those with a certain relationship to nature has been, “Can you eat it?” (Yes, and no. It’s “used interchangeably with lobster meat in empanadas and enchiladas,” according to Karen Hursh Graber. But the little critter also might eat toxic algae and pass on the toxins, according to a local report in the U-T.)

Here’s a small gallery of photos from the local beaches yesterday, from either the area around Ocean Beach Pier or Sunset Cliffs a half mile to the south, both in the city of San Diego:

People checking out the crab invasion
People checking out the crab invasion
Tuna crabs in the water
Tuna crabs in the water
Tuna crabs in the surf
Tuna crabs in the surf
Tuna crabs on the beach near Ocean Beach Pier
Tuna crabs on the beach near Ocean Beach Pier
The little bluffs at Sunset Cliffs, with some red-orange in the water from the swarm of crabs
The little bluffs at Sunset Cliffs, with some red-orange in the water from the swarm of crabs
Tuna crabs washed up on the Ocean Beach shore
Tuna crabs washed up on the Ocean Beach shore
"Help me. Save me. Put me back into the water," said this still-alive crab. Or was I confusing the scene with the final frames of _The Fly_?
“Help me. Save me. Put me back into the water,” said this still-alive crab. Or was I confusing the scene with the final frames of _The Fly_?

autumn migration

Autumn Migration GraphicMigrations are in the air. East of here, along the Pacific Flyway, birds have been aerially changing their zipcodes. With impending winter and shortening days, my own mind shifts towards changing things up.

This blog has been on hiatus of late. Part of it’s been my distractions into other, shiny directions. But a significant part of it is my web hosting service that has sunk from being one of the brightest options seven years ago to becoming a quagmire that has left me unable to post or even maintain the back end of the pages for many months. [Insert frowning, exasperated emoticon here.]

[ Lost in the Landscape ] however now has a new home on new servers, and it’s got a new look. I enjoyed the chance to update the visuals a bit and move to a theme that’s more friendly towards mobile devices. But along the way a few things have gotten broken.

  • If you were a previous subscriber to email notifications of new posts, you will need to renew. Unfortunately the old system won’t let go of the hundred-plus names that were on the subscriber roles. The new system here is way more sophisticated, and allows you to unsubscribe as easily as it was to sign up. Just click on the “Subscribe” tab to get started.
  • If you received post notices via RSS feeds, you’ll need to re-subscribe using the link in the left panel.
  • Many of the older posts contain links that no longer link. That goes with the territory of anything of any age on the web, but the modified architecture here has caused some of the links to internal blog content to stop working. I will be going back and spot-fixing what I can, but feel free to let me know if you spot anything particularly egregious.
  • The old blogroll is gone, but I’ll be bringing it back, refreshed and more current.

I’ve also sprung for a blog domain name after–what?–almost seven years? No worries. Once I complete the transition of the entire site the old address should redirect automatically to this one. And the new one should be easier to remember. That will probably take a few weeks to complete. will bring you here immediately. (UPDATE November 21: The redirect to this domain is already working.)

I’ve mentioned it a few times recently, I’ve been meaning to get back to posting at least occasionally. Things are happening in the garden, and a whole new season is on the way, and garden tours, and cool art stuff…


san diego county native garden tour exclamation point

Come make history this weekend: Here’s your chance to join the inaugural native plant garden tour for the San Diego chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Two days, 27 gardens, native plants, cool gardens, big gardens, small gardens, residential gardens, gardens for an art institute–you name it!

Get more information [ here ]

I’ll be helping with docent duties on Saturday the 28th at a residential garden in Lemon Grove that should be a great real-world demonstration of what you can do with native plants without having multiple acres that extend out with views that stretch to the edge of the continent. (I think that describes many of our gardens.)

I hope to see a few of you there! I’ll be wearing a t-shirt with this photo on it. Others may be wearing one too, so not everyone wearing this tee can discuss garden blogging with you. But the ones who are docents should be able to tell you plenty about the great plants in all the gardens.

i was hacked

You might think of gardens and even garden blogs as little zones of quiet in the hubbub of life beyond. But try as you might the outside world always seems to find you. Some of the dark forces in the world found this blog and tried to mount a quiet takeover in the form of the WordPress Pharma Hack.

Diana of Elephant’s Eye was the first to notice when several weeks ago some of the search results for this blog were being hijacked with an offer to buy pharmaceuticals online without a prescription. My blog? Pimping Viagra and Tramadol? How rude. The situation continued to get worse as more results showed signs of the hack, and reached a point in Google Analytics where the word “pharmacy” was indexed twice as frequently as the word “plant.” I had no idea what was happening.

Eventually I tracked down the offending hack. Better yet there were several sites showing ways to make the beast go away. Fortunately this wasn’t the sort of hack where all the data vanishes, and at no point were any readers harmed by visiting these pages. But removing the problem required a lot of time checking out individual files and database entries in the secret inner sanctum files behind the scenes.

If you blog at or Blogspot you’re probably safe from ever encountering this. Both services have tech staff way more on the ball than I’m able to be.

If you host your own instance of WordPress, as I do, then you need to be on the lookout for it. The Pearsonified blog offers some useful ways to deal with the attack, as do several other resources. Just search for “WordPress pharma hack.”

At this point I think I’ve got it beat. Results on Google still show a few offending search results, but overall things are looking better as the robots spider through the content. So recovery from this hack is like recovering from a bad bout of the flu.

Some handy things to avoid getting hacked, or to quickly find out about a hack with it if you are:

  • Blog at one of the main blog platforms unless you have a need or desire to exert more control over your blog content, display or delivery.
  • Google yourself frequently, and Google your blog content. It’s not just for vanity anymore.
  • Keep your WordPress version current. Updating will take less time and hassle than righting the wrongs of a hacker.
  • Check your blog stats often. A big dropoff in traffic might signal a big problem with the blog.
  • If you see another blogger’s content being hijacked, point it out to them. The symptoms of this attack are invisible if you’re just viewing pages or writing content. It’s only when you use a search engine that you notice this particular hack.

So…hopefully that’s the end of this headache. Relieved of the need to figure out the prescription for the problem, I actually accomplished some gardening today–and blogging too. Life is much better now.

Stay safe!

bomb-sniffing petunias?

Thanks to She Who Would Not Want To Be Named for sending me a link to a really interesting story in yesterday’s New York Times: Plants have been engineered through the dark arts of gene splicing to detect TNT at a level of sensitivity one hundred times greater than bomb-sniffing dogs.

In the presence of TNT vapors the leaves of the engineered Arabidopsis and tobacco plants blushed from green to white as chlorophyll drained out of the leaves. The process took several hours, so just imagine how slowly an airport check-in would move. Still, I think I’d rather be scanned by a plant than a radiation-emitting strip-search machine.

The research was published Wednesday in PLoS ONE under the catchy title “Programmable Ligand Detection System in Plants through a Synthetic Signal Transduction Pathway.” (Somebody please help scientists come up with titles that make sense to the rest of us.) The title in the Times is maybe even worse, in an insulting way, “Plants that Earn Their Keep.” Do plants have to justify their existence? Why does a plant have to “do something useful” in order to earn a place on this earth? Grrrrrr. Arrogant humans!

Anyway, airline travel has been at the front of my mind recently as I brace for a trip in a few days to Philadelphia. Monday I was brave enough to add the weather report to my desktop. Yikes! I’m not sure that I even recognize the weather icon for last Wednesday. It’s definitely one that’s never appeared on any San Diego forecast I’ve been around for!

In the general Philly area both Longwood Gardens and the Morris Arboretum have conservatories. Unfortunately I’m not likely to have much time to do sightseeing, but it’ll be interesting enough to see what some people call winter. But if there’s anything on the “must see” list, let me know.

Let me finish my ramble by returning briefly to the unpleasant topic of airline terrorism to say a couple words about these photos that were in the news a year ago that many of you recognize.

[ source ]

These are shots of the alleged “underwear-bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, probably taken during while he was attending school in London. I looked quickly at the main subject–really, what can a photograph tell you about a person? Maybe that a seemingly normal-looking person can attempt to do some awful things? Maybe that this person was not so isolated as not feel the peer-pressure to buy a hat with a Nike swoosh?

What I focused on next–and some of you gardeners out there have already guessed it–is the amazing backdrop of colorful foliage. What are those plants?, I asked myself. Then my brain wandered off into other areas: Did the suspect enjoy plants enough to think that this would be a scenic location for a portrait (on at least two occasions, looking at his change in clothing)? Or maybe the photographer dragged the resentful and unwilling subject out into the cold, into these spots with the colorful backgrounds?

[ source ]

I don’t know. The only possible answer I can pull out of all this is that the backdrop is the kind of foliage that people in areas of the world colder than mine get to experience.

Other than that I’m left with questions, only questions…

owning the weather

I had the chance to fast-forward through a documentary that I hope to sit down and view all the way through within the next few days. Owning the Weather, a 2009 film by Robert Greene, looks at the queasy science of geoengineering, in which scientists and charlatans attempt to modify the earth’s weather.

As one cautionary tale the films presents the story of rain-maker Charles Hatfield who was hired by my city of San Diego in 1916 to bring it rain after four years of drought. Hatfield set up his apparatus on the eastern edge of town and got to business seeding clouds. Within a month it had rained 35 inches and 14 people were dead in the ensuing flooding. [ Edit, April 28: This story might well be a case of a charlatan taking advantage of a natural weather occurrence. Whether this sort of weather modification actually makes a difference in practice is in dispute. ]

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, is interviewed and gets some of the better lines in the film:

“One of the great sadnesses and proofs of the extent to which which we’ve let global warming get completely out of control is [these geoengineering proposals] don’t sound quite as crazy anymore…

“The 20th century taught us a lot of things. And one of them is that scientific hubris can get us in a hell of a lot of trouble. Any sort of solution that we could introduce that was actually going to lower the temperature of the world several degrees—you know, whatever geoengineering solution—is inherently a big scale scary as hell.”

Interestingly much of the film is shot indoors, where there’s human-made weather, or looking out at the world from the climate controlled space of a car interior. All that reinforces one of the film’s points that we’re a culture that has cut ourselves off from what the environment brings us naturally.

I spend four days a week in a large, climate-controlled, open office. Some people are always cold, some always warm. No one can agree on the perfect temperature. Just extrapolate that out onto the entire earth and you can see that coming up with a scheme to modify weather so that everyone is happy is bound to be an impossible task.

What if Siberia decides it wants to grow tropical mangoes and geoengineers a frost-free climate? Or what if Dubai decides they want snow to ski on? What happens to the rest of the world?


Boy was that a shaker… 6.9 on the Richter scale, centered about 120 miles away. The one that devastated Haiti recently at 7.0 was just a tad stronger, but fortunately ours struck in the sparsely populated desert in Northern Baja. [ Edit, 5:12 p.m.: The quake was upgraded to a 7.2. ]

This was just a little over half an hour ago and it brought the neighborhood outdoors. Some people were actually outdoors because they didn’t feel safe inside with the shaking. Others were out to talk to the others. “Did you feel it?” everyone was asking. We all knew the answer but it felt like we needed to be outside to decompress. We were hoping nobody got injured.

I was back in my studio, working on an image in Photoshop. As the shaking got worse I decided it’d be prudent to dive under the desk as my little desktop speakers toppled. When I got up I checked the ugly back-of-the-fireplace wall I’m still trying to decide what to do with. Part of it is unreinforced brick, so a strong local jolt would probably bring part of it down. This shaker was far enough away it didn’t happen. Darn.

Oh we just had a little aftershock, a 5.1, 90 miles away. And yes, the ugly wall is still standing.

into the wild

On my last little outing to my city’s largest open-space park, before the recent rains, while I wasn’t busy looking at sycamores, I was heading up the trail to Fortuna Peak, one of the highest point in the city limits. At 1291 feet in elevation and with good trails all the way, it’s no serious mountain climb, but the view from the top gives you views from the ocean to the west to the first ranges of real mountains to the east.

Many of the local wild parks have signs warning you about the dangerous fauna in the area–mostly rattlesnakes. Here the sign cautions hikers about the mountain lions that live here on the park’s more than 5000 acres and in the adjacent open space.

I’m used to being the top predator almost wherever I go. Even confronting a sign like this, I still manage to don that cloak of invincibility stitched through years of never confronting anything that might challenge that sense. I’m also a pretty statistics-driven person. I might think about how you’re many times more likely to meet your end by lightening strike on a golf course than hiking through land like this. Many more people die from smoking than they do through mountain lion attack.

For me, knowing that there are mountain lions in the vicinity adds to the adventure. Somehow this park feels more authentic, more alive, more complete because of it.

It brings to mind the only solo backpacking trip I’ve taken through Utah’s Cedar Mesa backcountry. Five minutes after entering the wilderness area I encountered the only human I was to see for the rest of the trip as he was leaving. Ten minutes into the trip I was crossing a stream bed still moist from an afternoon thunderstorm. As I stepped into the sand I noticed one immense, perfect paw print next to my boot. A mountain lion had passed this way in the last few hours. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a quick stab of fear at that moment. Welcome to the wild.

Maybe that’s a bit too much macho posturing on my part. If I were attacked by one of these cats, the first thing the authorities would do is to go after it. People would demand it. My recklessness would lead to the destruction of one of these elusive creatures. But I’m not a mountain lion’s favorite food, and these signs always seem like a park authority trying to limit their liability. Really, what are the odds of suffering any harm?

The wilds today didn’t offer anything so dramatic as mountain lions. A few other hikers were out, some of them totally fit and practically running, others looking like they were there because of a New Year’s resolution. Almost nothing was in bloom, but white-flowering currant (Ribes indecorum) provided bright accent marks along the trail to the top.

Once on top the view expands all around you. Look north and you see open chaparral and the runways of Miramar Air Station several miles away. Military installations may take up a certain amount of a city’s land, but they often manage to preserve open space in ways that suburban sprawl doesn’t.

Turn a little east and there you begin to see the ranks of foothills leading up to the Cuyamaca and Laguna ranges that divide the county, coastal region on one side, desert on the other. Yerba santa and black sage provide the foreground.

After I returned home from the hike I finally opened up the latest issue of Orion Magazine. One of the pieces, “Spectral Light” by Amy Irvine, describes a city family that has moved into a area in the Southwest as they come to grips with living in an area that is wilder than they ever imagined. Definitely got me thinking. It’s worth picking up the January/February 2010 issue to read it, or you can listen to the author read her piece or download the podcast [ here ].

twittering tomato

It must be the season for oddball science studies to be published. The latest one is about the development of a method to let plants send text messages. The idea is that a sensor attached to the plant could let you know when the plant needs something. With technology like this, soon you’ll never need to step into your garden again to check on your plants. Somebody tell me why this is a good idea.

Will it be long before tomato plants have their own Twitter accounts? Actually, the future is already here. And in fact the future happened way back in June of 2008. That was when a tomato plant in Boston began to tweet. (If there are piles of poodles with MySpace and Facebook pages, why shouldn’t a tomato twitter? A tomato plant’s keyboarding skills are probably no worse than a poodle’s, so it shouldn’t require any more assistance from its owner.)

This particular plant’s tweets didn’t last two weeks. It was a stunt of course. But if you were to take the tweets seriously and do a forensic study back through the tweets, it’s pretty clear what killed the plant: overwatering.