Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Green Tobacco Hornworm: Our First Pet

Let me tell you a story about our first family pet.

The kids and I were outside, watering and checking on our monster tomato plant. I was right up in it, crouching under a mass of branches trying to water directly at the roots when I glance over a notice a huge green caterpillar munching away. "OH NO!" I exclaimed.

(This, I think, did not set the tone of 'nothing to be afraid of' to poor Bennett, who has a very strong shudder reflex.)

(Not my photo - it's from the web)

I bring the kids over, June is immediately worried about its well-being and Bennett is immediately shuddering and looking at it with trepidation. I can't blame him - these caterpillars are big (about the size of my middle finger) and have creepy markings on them that look like they have 30 eyes.

June and I spring into action, grab one of my quart-sized canning jars and make a little habitat for the guy. We have a pet! How fun! Let's see if he turns into a butterfly!

We step back outside and notice another caterpillar. And another. And another. Oh no.

I know I can't leave these things because they'll demolish my plant, so I task the kids with finding them (Bennett was shockingly good at spotting them) and I picked them off. June worries about them,  so I tell her that I'll put them in our green waste bin and they'll have a grand time in there. I couldn't just kill them in front of her and, to be honest, it was giving me the heebie jeebies.)

So they went off to that Great Compost Heap in the Sky.

So now we have a worm and a habitat. 

On basically day two of kindergarten, June comes home telling me that her teacher says she can bring her caterpillar to school. I can't send a glass container, so now I've got the drill out and am making holes in the lid of my biggest tupperware container. I'm building a canopy of twigs to keep the caterpillar away from its waste, which was plentiful

In case it's unclear, I'd become fully invested in this thing by now. I'm reading up about what kind of caterpillar it is, what its stages would be, what it should eat, etc.

The kids loved it too. Their best friends had recently gotten a dog so I think June and Bennett took their new pet as seriously as ol' Delta the labrador. 

(June did take it to school. Apparently all the kids got to touch the caterpillar and I just felt this overwhelming sense of appreciation and pity for this long-suffering creature.)

My parents visited and those two dear souls indulged me and my obsession. "Should we try feeding it a tomato? I think we should!" and "I think it's entering it's roaming stage!!"

I read online that, when it's almost ready to pupate, it would stop eating and almost manically crawl around its enclosure, living out a biologically programmed need to move away from it's host plant. It did exactly that, so I lovingly cut up some paper towels for it to burrow into when it was ready to become a pupa. 

See how it got darker?!

I couldn't tell if it was dying or truly becoming a pupa, so I darkened its environment by hanging a rag over it and enclosing the bottom with a removable black paper sleeve.

Sure enough, after about a week I could see that it was a fully-formed pupa, so I removed the paper towels. (But had to keep a mouse paper towel in there to keep humidity up!)


I showed this to anyone and everyone who would look. Babysitters. House guests. People in my contacts list in my phone. I'm not sure if my mother truly cared about this thing as much as me, or if she was just humoring me, but she would diligently respond to all my texts asking about her 'grand-pupa.' LOLOLOLOL. Could I love her any more? The answer is no.

So we left it in there for a few weeks. I read that, when it comes out of it's pupa, it needs something to climb up onto to let its wings dry out and harden, so I hung up a dry paper towel. (I also read somewhere that they don't have an awesome rate of survival, so I worried that this was the end of him.)

But one morning I lifted the dish rag, peeked inside and saw a large black mass contrasted against the white paper towel! 

I wish I could have recorded that moment. Michael and I were so amazed, we immediately showed the kids. Bennett could tell from my excitement that this was big, but I don't think he truly understood because he just kept making loud outbursts of words.

"Bennett, do you see the moth?!"
"Look! The caterpillar came out of his cocoon and is a moth!"

June was thrilled. Luckily we had drilled it into her that we'd be letting it go immediately, so she didn't put up a fight on that one. We rushed through the morning routine so we could let it go before heading into school.

We opened up the lid and got another great view at our lovely, large Sphinx Moth. He didn't fly away all day, but when we checked on him the next morning, he was gone. (They're active at night.) 

So there you have it, our first pet. From larva to pupa to moth. He was a cool, educational pet.

And just yesterday I took some pictures, the habitat and the old pupa shell in to June's class to show them what had happened to the caterpillar they petted. So he just keeps giving!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hiking the Narrows with the Kiwi Crew

Maybe the most well-known and highly recommended hike in Zion is the Narrows, a gorgeous, surreal hike up a canyon by way of walking the river that cut through it. We knew we wanted to hike it, so we saved it for our second full day to be able to start early. We woke up early enough to have coffee and gorgeous views at sunrise.

Made the drive into town and hopped on the shuttle. We rode to the final stop on the shuttle, and even the views just from the bus were some of the most beautiful ones I've seen.

We were ready! Some of us had rented special river hiking boots (Annie and I wore Keens with rented neoprene socks), our packs, rented walking sticks and some warm sweatshirts. We had been warned that Zion could be hot in September, but we started our hike so early, and the shade and breeze in the Narrows kept us comfortably wearing sweatshirts most of the way!

There was a one-mile paved walk to get to the spot where you start in on the river. We were so excited! I'm so glad that we started so early because, while there were plenty of other people there, there were also lots of times when there was hardly a soul around - especially the further we got. On our way back, the crowds were getting big!

It was gorgeous. Of course pictures don't truly capture it. There were times where the canyon walls were only about 20 feet across. There were areas where water dripped down the walls, allowing hanging gardens of ferns and moss to grow. I wanted to take a thousand pictures just of the shadows that formed from the waves of rock in the walls that were a thousand feet high.

Walking in the river was challenging sometimes - the water was opaque so you couldn't see most of the large stones at the bottom. I read somewhere that "hiking the Narrows is like walking on slippery bowling balls" and I found that comparison pretty apt. 

It was more difficult to walk in the water, but I found myself doing it even when there was a shore, just because it was so cool and unique. 

We hiked all the way up to an area called Wall Street, which is supposed to be one of the most narrow areas. It was a few hours up and a few hours back. The water was so chilly, and the breezy shade in the Narrows made it so we were comfortable in sweatshirts for most of the way. (This was a nice change from the day before when we all baked on a normal hike.)

Anyway, I felt like it was one of the coolest things I've ever done. Absolutely an incredible hike and a wonderful adventure with these girls.

After a shuttle back into town, we picked up some groceries at a store and headed back to our house. This is our driveway... so remote, not a soul to be seen!

You can see two little rectangles near the middle of the far right of this picture. That is our house (on the right) and the one right next to it (which was empty).

We made tacos and had dinner on the porch, stopping to take some great photos. We all put on our flannel shirts that we coincidentally brought, but since Emily didn't have one she had to wear a flannel place mat.

And of course jumping photos.

Then it was time for wine and board games and laughs, and all piling into the one huge room with 3 bunk beds in it.

These girls are the best.

Friday, October 7, 2016

NZ Reunion in Zion!

As most of you know, 10 years ago I went on a 4 week-long trip to New Zealand with 41 strangers from across the US and Canada. On that trip, I met 5 girls who were just my tribe, you know? Just awesome girls that I loved and got along with so well. A couple of shots of us together in NZ:

(One of the cabins we stayed in during the environmental conservation portion of the trip)

One of my favorite shots is this one from the very first day on the trip. Our giant group walked down to the local beach, and at some point we just grabbed whoever was standing nearby and snapped a picture. What a coincidence that we just happened to grab the exact 6 that would become so close later!

Our group has gotten together about 6 or 7 times since that trip as little reunions, sometimes for a wedding. We've done Phoenix a few times, Chicago, Napa and San Diego. For our 10 year reunion, we decided to up the ante a little and do something outdoorsy as a nod to the trip that brought up together. So after some deliberation, we decided on Zion National Park in Utah!

After some flights and some driving, we arrived at our rental house just outside of the park (as opposed to staying in a lodge in the park or something). While it did mean a 30 minute drive in and out each day, the view was gorgeous and it meant we had unbelievable seclusion and awesome views. We planned our day around the ability to sit on the porch for our morning coffee and cocktails in the evening!

After the drive into the park, we parked the car and took a shuttle up into the canyon (during high traffic months, they don't allow cars into the canyon and you must take the shuttle).

Then it was time for our hike! 

If I had to describe this hike in one word, other than 'beautiful,' it would be 'up.' As in, I felt like I was climbing up for 2 miles. And not just like a gradual switchbacks, burning muscles and the relentless sun.

But it was so fun to be with these girls and really great to catch some incredible views.

We started a part that was so steep that chains had been driven into the cliff to allow people to hold onto. Right next to where I took this photo, there was a sign cautioning people to be careful of the cliff off to the right since 6 people had died there since ... 2012? I think?

Anyway, we went up a bit, but eventually we all turned back and ate our snacks on the top of this little bluff.

Our delicious dinner and drinks on the patio looking up at these mountains was so good, and felt well-earned!

Part II coming next... I could not bring myself to cram all these photos into one post!