In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best -- and therefore never scrutinize or question. -Stephen Jay Gould

1.   A Tale of Two City Butterflies, by Liam O'Brien Sept 20
2.   John Cage - born 100 years ago yesterday
3.   Feedback: gardening for birds/Cost of Chicken Project
4.   SciAm:  Hygiene is a mixed blessing
5.   The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds celebration Sept 12
6.   Sunday Streets returns to Western Addition, Sept 9
7.   Rare Plant Survey Workshop & Community Research Sat 8 Sept
8.   Perfumes, Pigments, and Poisons - information/and program TONIGHT
9.   Supervisors fail to repeal waterfront height limit increase
10. NERT training in Sept - Oct
11.  CA Fish & Game Climate Science program to increase climate literacy
12.  Botanical Illustration Classes October 8 - December
13.  Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour activities for Sept - Nov
14.  To see ourselves as others see us/AND see others as they see themselves
15.  Notes & Queries

1.  Sierra Club Dinner w/ Liam O'Brien
"A Tale of Two City Butterflies"

San Franciscan lepidopterist Liam O'Brien will be the guest speaker in next month's Sierra Club dinner, held at the City Forest Lodge
on Thursday, September 20th at 6pm. Known for his creation of The Green Hairstreak Project and conservation efforts with the endangered Mission Blues on Twin Peaks, Liam will focus his talk on two of the counties largest residents: the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) and our only true migrant - the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). In addition to the amazing stories of adaptation waiting to be told, Liam will also propose radical new ideas this night that our species might consider to make the city better for these species.

To attend, please send a check for $15.50 (per person...a bargain!) made out to: Sierra Club, S.F. Bay Chapter to:
Gerry Souzis
1801 California St. #405
San Francisco, CA. 94109

Checks must be received by Friday, September 14th. Please indicate the program date, number of guests, and your phone number.
Non-members are welcome. Bring your own wine or soft drinks. Glasses and ice are available. Let us know if you are a vegetarian.
Questions? Contact Gerry between 6 and 9pm at (415) 474-4440 or:

Liam O'Brien

"Only if we understand can we care.  Only if we care will we help.  Only if we help shall they be saved."  - Jane Goodall


2.  Born 100 years ago yesterday:  John Cage 5 Sept 1912 – 12 Aug 1992

Received from someone (don't remember who) several years ago:
My words of wisdom for the day come from John Cage via the NYker article by Harold Ross, which I found fascinating. Even though I never could really connect with his music, I always thought he was a truly remarkable person. In 1928 he wrote:

"One of the greatest blessings that the United States could receive in the near future would be to have her industries halted, her business discontinued, her people speechless, a great pause in her world affairs. . .. We should be hushed and silent, and we should have the opportunity to learn what other people think." 

It echoes Thoreau, but it came from John Cage's own experience--I can tell, because it sounds exactly like him.  JS

Some more Cage:

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful.  And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." 
"I don't know why people are frightened by new ideas.  I am frightened by old ones."


3.  Feedback

Sharon Beals:
Jake, re the gardening for birds: I planted a Toyon as a street shrub (we have a very large box) and it is thick with bushtits and sparrows. I think they are gleaning the insects.I would add that not just the fruit and seed bearing plants, but local native plants that insects can eat. I also planted nettles, boy were they popular. I will send a photo of my street shrub/tree, maybe I should just use my first name, since I had no permit to plant it.

Good reading about the gardening for birds is Douglas Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home. You can listen to him here:

His book is biased towards the East coast, and the plant lists for California are incomplete, but it is a good reference for gardeners who might want to persuade neighbors to collude on creating habitat.

Olga Werby:
Dear Jake,
I just wanted to tell you how the post about Cost of Chicken project in your newsletter (JS:  August 25 newsletter) played out in terms of visits to the crowdmap... It didn't really make any difference! In fact, not a single data point was entered. And I couldn't see a bump in the stats of the crowdmap. Very disappointing. But perhaps, the readers of this newsletter didn't find the topic of food anthropology and sustainable eating and food shopping behavior interesting... Oh well. It was worth a try. Thank you for sharing the project with your readers.

On Sep 4, 2012, at 10:54 PM, Leonora Ellis wrote:
London Plane is, of course, not a(n) "SF Native Species Tree".  Always happy to see trees saved, whatever the species.

No back yard is too small to support a bird nest.  I had a cowbird lay an egg in the nest a house finch built in a hanging basket plant at my front door! (Yes, I admit that I did intervene and removed the alien egg)

I spotted the "SF Native Butterfly" but not the "SF Native Species Tree".  Actually, the syntax was so creative throughout (plus in all her other communications with me) that I decided not to try to clean it up and just post as is, although I wouldn't let that native tree business slip through if I'd noticed it.  For a language cop I occasionally stumble and even go soft.  She's an artist, and it seems to go with her personality.


4.  Scientific American

FAST COMPANY: Would You Infect Yourself with Worms for Better Health?  Hygiene is a mixed blessing


...Jim Lahey, founder of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, fosters an obsession with microorganisms. Yeasts and bacteria give rise to his leavened sourdough breads--and he recently infected himself with intestinal worms to stave off a wheat sensitivity he attributes to working around flour dust. "These worms are meant to be in our bodies as part of human evolution."

Lahey may be taking the experiments further than most, but he is not alone in thinking that a modern, industrialized world may be making us sick because our good, clean standard of living is too easy on the body. Hygiene is a mixed blessing: Washing your hands, drinking clean water, and eating safe, refrigerated foods comes with vast reductions in childhood mortality. Yet, the hygiene hypothesis--an idea first put forward by epidemiologist David Strachan in 1989--suggests that chronic underexposure to germs and pathogens also corresponds with the rise of allergies and chronic inflammatory diseases.


5.  Audubon and Heyday invite you to celebrate the launch of John Muir Laws's newest book,  The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds.

Wednesday, September 12, 6-8 pm
Lyford House ( map)
Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary
376 Greenwood Beach Rd., Tiburon

Discussion and Drawing Demonstration
Drawing is a way of training yourself to see. Drawing birds helps you to slow down and observe nature more carefully. In his presentation, John Muir Laws will discuss nature study, birding, and how to improve your observation skills. He will lead a hands-on demonstration on how to simplify the shape of a bird in order to transfer it to paper and how to focus on some key details that will make your drawing come alive.  There will be light refreshments before the program and a book signing after the program.

RSVP by September 7 to Lillian Fleer at Heyday: or (510) 549-3564, ext. 316.


6.  Sunday Streets Returns to the Western Addition, September 9th!

Sunday Streets is heading back to the Western Addition, and we couldn't be more excited! From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the streets will be transformed into car-free space where people from all over can walk, bike, hula hoop, dance, and just have plain ole fun in the streets.

There will be all kinds of activities happening: The REI climbing wall; St. Cyprian’s Church is hosting kid’s activities; Free bike rentals by Parkwide LLC; Free bike repairs by Mike's Bikes, Sports Basement, and REI; Zumba lessons by Brenda Perdue, The BBoy Connection's Hip Hop dance lessons, fresh from the playa, Black Rock Roller Disco; and tons more! Visit our website for more information.

Sunday Streets is collaborating with Independent Artist Week!
On Friday, September 7, Independent Artist Week will host The Fillmore Art Walk. “The Fillmore Art Walk” is a multi-location art celebration and assortment of one-night-only pop-up galleries along Fillmore Street featuring live painting, video/DJ Showcase, live music, supplemented by food and drink specials from the restaurants and lounges along Fillmore Street. This event takes place on Fillmore St. (between O’Farrell and Eddy), from 6 to 10 p.m. *$5 Wristband to participate in discounts for select restaurants*

The Community Creates a Center at Turk & Lyon
This year St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church launched a new community center at Turk & Lyon Streets called Cyprian’s arc – a center for the arts, resilience and community. Now it’s one of the busiest corners around.

Since January, community events at Cyprian’s arc have attracted hundreds of people who registered more than 3000 visits. But more importantly, participants talk about the sense of community they find at the new space.

Located in the newly-painted gold, green and blue St. Cyprian’s building, Cyprian’s arc offers monthly concerts, kids art classes, free community dinners, free lunches for seniors, Parent’s Night Out, women’s exercise, urban biking classes and excellent meeting space for community groups.

Check out our September/October events and sign up for cyprian’s online newsletter; and see us on Facebook. Info on programs and services at St. Cyprian’s:


7.  Rare Plant Survey Workshop and Community Research: Mapping the Endangered Birds-Beak
Saturday, September 8th, 830 - 11AM

We will be conducting an introductory rare plant survey and community monitoring project.  Our goal is to teach the fundamentals of a basic field monitoring method with the goal of collecting data for the conservation of an endangered plant.  You as the participant will get to explore a rare alkaline environment and volunteer time to collect invaluable distribution and reproduction data.  No prior knowledge needed. Email to reserve a spot and to get additional directions.  Space is limited, in order to protect the habitat.

Wear long sleeves and pants, and sturdy shoes, and bring water.
Location: Livermore Springtown Wetlands Preserve. More detailed instructions will be sent with an RSVP.

(JS:  I re-post this because the book's author, Margareta Sequin, is speaking--and signing copies of her book, which is on sale--tonight at the San Francisco County Fair Bldg, 9th Av & Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park, 7.30 pm.  It is of more than usual interest to those with curiosity about plants, about our food, drugs, and nutrition, and about invasive plants and restoration.)

Perfumes, Pigments, and Poisons - Feb 2012 EBRPD newsletter

Have you ever wondered what makes the petals of California poppy so brightly colorful, what gives the blossoms of cow parsnip a slight off-odor that attracts flies, what makes pine cones sticky, or what adds the sharp taste to mustard seeds? While we can experience the smells, the colors, and the tastes, we cannot see with our own eyes the amazing molecules that compose the many different plant substances. We can imagine instead that we have the use of a microscope with such enormous magnification that we can view, beyond cell structures or the shapes of pollen, even minuscule structures like molecules. This leads us to the chemistry of plants!

Resinous cone of bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva).


The water plant Elodea producing oxygen bubbles

Unfortunately, chemistry is often viewed as an abstract science, disconnected from the living world. Far from the truth—plants are most amazing chemists! For millions of years plants have evolved huge numbers of highly diverse substances that help them stay alive and reproduce. Most importantly, plants contain green chlorophyll, capable of trapping portions of sunlight. With the help of this pigment, plants generate the basic chemicals that we depend on (and could not live without!), like oxygen, sugars, fats, amino acids, and vitamins.

During many years of teaching a plant chemistry course for nonchemists and of leading docent tours and field trips, I found that people interested in plants were fascinated by plant chemistry tidbits, yet often did not have enough knowledge of chemistry basics to appreciate plant molecules. My love for plants and my training as an organic chemist (another passion of mine) made me collect materials for an understandable introduction to plant chemistry. This was assembled in a book, The Chemistry of Plants: Perfumes, Pigments, and Poisons, to be published in summer 2012 by RSC in Cambridge. It is a paperback and is amply illustrated by plant photos that accompany chemical structures and explanations.

With a bit of training, nonchemists can soon recognize whether a structure represents a fragrance that evaporates easily, a colorful pigment, or a plant substance that dissolves in water. In order to make the chemical structures understandable, the book begins with an introduction to chemistry concepts as they relate to plants, which may be a review or new learning. Questions like: “What is the significance of 'organic' in this context?” or “How can we understand the meaning of all these lines, rings, and letters in molecular structures?” are answered there. The book then progresses to the fascinating organic structures of plant scents, pigments, and toxins. Chapters on human uses of plants, like plant foods in general, herbs and spices, vitamins, plant medicines, fibers and dyes, and perfumes for people conclude the book. The particular chemical composition of a plant always contributes to its usefulness to us!

Composing the book has been an intense, exciting adventure. Exploring where specific compounds are found in plants and finding relevant plant examples have brought me many discoveries and much learning. As a break from the writing I enjoyed going on photo expeditions to take pictures of characteristic plants that contained a particular plant compound. This delightful type of detective work made me explore many plant habitats and hunt for special plant patches (like the Datura plants at Lime Ridge near Walnut Creek, CA; Datura contains scopolamine, a toxic alkaloid that has found applications in medicine). It made me frequently wander through botanical gardens or visit the bountiful gardens of friends. Very knowledgeable plant people (and chemists) supplied ideas, and new contacts and friendships were formed. I gratefully acknowledge the helpful tips from the director and the staff of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden.

The Chemistry of Plants is not a coffee table book, but requires careful reading. It is designed to be useful both for readers who proceed chapter by chapter in order to increasingly build an understanding of organic plant compounds and for those readers who decide to select chapters of special interest. It is a book for plant enthusiasts who want to gain more in-depth knowledge of plants. Knowing more about the amazing molecules in plants gives us even more appreciation and admiration of nature in general!
--Greti Sequin


The referendum on whether to allow the waterfront height limit increase was officially placed on November 2013 SF ballot.  It will be the  first referendum vote in San Francisco in over 20 years.

Despite polls showing strong citywide opposition to increasing height limits on the San Francisco waterfront for the 8 Washington luxury condo project, the Board of Supervisors by a vote of 8-3 this afternoon decided not to repeal their June decision to approve the height limit increase.  The No Wall on the Waterfront coalition of neighborhood leaders, seniors, tenants, homeowners, and environmentalists collected more than 31,000 voter signatures in 28 days this summer to officially qualify a referendum for the ballot challenging the waterfront height limit increase.  Now that the Board of Supervisors has not changed its postion afer taking the “Do-Over Vote” on the height limit increase required by state law, the referendum will be put before voters on the November 5, 2013 city ballot. 

“The question of whether San Francisco’s waterfront remains unique and vibrant or whether it becomes a closed-off wall of luxury high-rises, condo towers, and huge hotels like Miami, Florida is now out of the hands of City Hall and up to the people of this city to decide,” said Jon Golinger, Campaign Director for No Wall on the Waterfront. 

The voter referendum seeks to overturn the Board of Supervisors’ approval in June of an ordinance increasing the existing height limit at the 8 Washington site by over 60%, from the current 84 feet height limit up to 136 feet.  A poll of 400 San Francisco voters conducted by David Binder Research this summer asked voters the likely referendum question, “Shall the City and County of San Francisco amend the Zoning Map to increase the allowable building height limits at 8 Washington Street from 84 feet to 136 feet?”  The poll found that more than 2 to 1 margin of citywide voter opposition to the waterfront height limit increase. 

“The waterfront is where San Francisco began and it’s a deeply integral part of who we are as a city,” concluded Golinger.  “That’s why we are confident that the people of San Francisco will vote to protect our waterfront next November by rejecting this huge high-rise height limit increase at the polls.  Our campaign to win begins now.”


10.  Hi Jake,
As volunteer for the SF Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), I ask you to publish training information for September and early October in your next issue.

The NERT program, a 20-hour course over 6 weeks (or intensive two-day training's), is FREE to all citizens who live and work in San Francisco. . Our Program Coordinator, Lt. Arteseros, and our instructors, active SF Fire Fighters, teach us how to be safe and how we can help our neighbors.

The NERT program began just after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 when residents of the Marina District approached the Fire Department to start a program to teach people how to be prepared. NERT is a recognized State CERT program.  To-date, over 22,000 people have gone thru the training.

Individuals learn to be ready to shelter in place, and to take care of their families, neighbors, and friends. Acquiring this knowledge, we have the ability to use these skills which help us to prepare, mitigate, respond, and recover after such an event. The news of these tragedies from around the world shows us just how much we need to be prepared and ready.

You may ask if this is about nature. It is the backpacker in me. After a major event such as an earthquake, we will be up to our ears in nature. We may have to camp out, cook, clean, etc. outside of our homes. As you may or may not be aware, an earthquake is predicted, based on Earth science, to hit the SF Bay Area within the next 30 years.

Diane Rivera

Fisherman's Wharf Sept 21, 28
Excelsior - Epiphany School Sept 27-Nov 1
SF State University Oct 9, 16

To enroll or Recertify - Call 970-2024. Provide Name, Phone Number, Location and Start Date of Class. Sign up on Line.  See the SFFDNERT web site for more information -–


11.  California Department of Fish and Game’s Climate Science program is launching a Climate College to increase climate literacy.

DFG Launches Climate College to Better Understand, Address Climate Change

The 10-month training course is open to DFG employees and the general public and will increase participants’ understanding of climate change and its impacts on natural resources in California.  <>


12.  Botanical Illustration Classes

Announcing three different Fall class series' for those interested in exploring the world of Botanical Illustration. The first class series, Beginning Watercolor Techniques 2, continues to build a foundation of specific techniques for controlling water and high quality watercolor pigment to create the illusion of the rich glow of growth in all plant matter. The second class, New Master Class in Botanical Illustration is a continuation of the summer session's work on a full sheet painting with  strong graphic elements at it's core. The third class, Master Class in Botanical Illustration, will continue working on color mixing for luminosity, variation for complexity, foreshortening and layering for perspective, and design and layout for dramatic presentation.

Permission of the instructor required prior to registering for these classes. 

To register or learn more about these classes, click here.

Email Mary if you have questions at or visit her website at

This year, for the first time, the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour has coordinated a series of events that will take place throughout September and November.  Read on for details!

The first fall Native Plant Sale Extravaganza and Open Garden Day will take place on Sunday, October 7.  While the event is free, pre-registration is required. From 10:00 – 4:00 natives will be sold at eight locations (Berkeley, Concord, Moraga, Oakland, Orinda, Richmond, San Lorenzo and San Pablo). Take advantage of this opportunity to purchase a great selection of hard-to-find natives, just in time for fall planting. Experts will be on hand to answer questions.

Also on October 7, three private gardens will be open for viewing. These include Al Kyte's forty year old garden in Moraga, Elizabeth O'Shea and Richard Howard's beautiful garden in Orinda, and, for the first time, my own garden in San Pablo, where you can not only purchase native plants and grafted fruit trees, but also lunch and baked goods, all supplied by students from the East Bay Waldorf School. (Guarantee your lunch by pre-ordering; check back for details!)

Garden talks on Oct. 7 include those given by renowned designer Michael Thilgen, and gardening for wildlife expert Glen Schneider. In Berkeley, the U.C. Botanical Garden will offer free admission, talks by native plant experts, and docent-led tours to those with Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour tickets (register now!).

At Oakland's East Bay Wilds Native Plant Nursery, Oakland residents can sign up for a free rain barrel, as well as purchase some of the 400 kinds of natives available at this nursery.

Bring your children to San Lorenzo High, where they can play Native American games such as spear-throwing and walnut dice, or pound acorns.  (You can, too! Or you can attend the Native American medicinal and culinary uses of California native plants talks that will be given throughout the day.)

On October 7 volunteers are needed to work as Greeters at the plant sales and as Greeters and Garden Assistants in the open gardens. If you have been a volunteer before (volunteers must have their t-shirt from a prior year) and can lend a hand that day, please send me an e-mail.

This year eight Select Tours (small group, guided tours to inspirational native plant gardens) are offered throughout September and October. Each runs from 10:00 to 3:00; tickets are $30. Visit the website for full details, and to register.

Sept. 16: Mow no Mo' (how to remove your lawn) - Livermore gardens, led by Kat Weiss and Kathy Kramer

Sept. 23: Meet the Designer: Liz Simpson - Oakland, Pleasant Hill gardens

Sept. 29: Water-Wise Home and Garden (how to design and install gray water and rain water systems) - Berkeley

Sept. 30: Meet the Designer Kelly Marshall - Walnut Creek, Concord, Clayton gardens

Oct. 14: Meet the Designer: Michael Thilgen - Castro Valley, San Leandro, Oakland gardens

Oct. 20: Designing Native Gardens for Year-round Color - Castro Valley, Oakland gardens, led by Pete Veilleux

Oct. 21: Mow no Mo' (how to remove your lawn) - Lafayette and Concord gardens, led by Kelly Marshall, Chris Dundon, and Kathy Kramer

Oct. 27: Gardening with nature in mind (rainwater harvesting, chickens, pond, and more) - Walnut Creek gardens, led by Judy Adler

This is the last call for new gardens for the Sunday, May 5, 2013 Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour. If your garden contains 60% or more native plants, is free of synthetic pesticides, and is located in Alameda or Contra Costa counties, please send me an e-mail, and I will forward you the application.  Garden visits will conclude in September, so please contact me right away if you have a garden to offer.

Follow (and "like") us on Facebook to be kept up-to-date on Garden Tour events, find out what to do in your native garden each month, or read interesting articles. (Did you see the article from the LA Times, where an urban elementary school ripped out concrete and lawn and planted native flora?  The kids learned so much from this garden that their science test scores increased six fold! Check out this article, and more, on our Facebook page.)

"To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves," from Aldous Huxley appears to expand on an earlier idea of Robert Burns

To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church, Robert Burns
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us                And would some Power the small gift give us
To see oursels as ithers see us!                    To see ourselves as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,                It would from many a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:                                       And foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,            What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
An' ev'n devotion!                                       And even devotion!

In this poem the narrator notices an upper class lady in church, with a louse that is roving, unnoticed, around in her bonnet. The poet chastises the louse for not realising how important his host is, and then reflects that, to a louse, we are all equal prey, and that we would be disabused of our pretensions if we were to see ourselves through each others' eyes.


15.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

Where is the sport in Olympic shooting events?

It is just a change in technology. The original Olympians hurled thunderbolts. 
Daan Zwick, Rochester, New York, US

• At least one dictionary has the definition of lovemaking for "sport". So it's all in the weapon-handling!
Alan Williams-Key, Madrid, Spain

• At different arenas far away from the firing line.
Paul Lloyd, Swansea, UK

• After the starter's gun is fired.
Paul Burgess, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

• That shooting featured in the first Olympic games of 1896, and regularly thereafter, was in no small respect due to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the then French pistol champion and founder of the modern Olympics.
David Tucker, Halle, Germany

• "Sport?" And here I thought the Olympics was only about jingoism and commercialism.
Peter Vaughan, St Senoch, France

The end of domination

Why is religion so aligned with patriarchy? What would happen if they were uncoupled?

Religions, mainly begun by men, perpetuate the Old Boys network. If they were uncoupled, we would have a lot less of their main progeny: war.
Bob Sherrin, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

• An unmarried Godmother.

Noel Bird, Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia

• Domination would cease to exist.
Heiner Zok, Schiffdorf, Germany

Hair turned gold with grief

What is a widow's peak?

About three years after her husband's death?
Mike Swift, Montpellier, France

Scraping off the wildness

Why do men shave?

• For exactly the same reason they wear business suits. To appear bland, non-threatening and conformist, in contrast to the male of any other species.
Kevin Young, Whangarei, New Zealand

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