30 November 2007
Dear Friends and Family,
I am starting to write this
letter on my birthday, on a flight from
It’s been a very stimulating and
enjoyable year for us, and we have settled in nicely to living in the
As usual, Eileen read a number of books this year, of which some of her favorites were: Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and the March to Civil War, by William and Bruce Catton; Nobody’s Horses: The Dramatic Rescue of the Wild Herd of White Sands, by Don Höglund; Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party, by George R. Stewart; and The Bear in the Attic by Patrick F. McManus.
My job is going very well. It took about five months for me to really settle in and feel that I understood how to have an impact in the company. But since March or so, I have been involved in a series of interesting projects and efforts in which I have been able to make unique and valuable contributions. These have involved a nice balance of using my existing expertise and learning new areas. I’m starting to have a fair amount of interaction with customers, as the marketing organization actively seeks involvement from research staff in technical discussions. I have particularly enjoyed the amount of time that I have been able to spend writing software using the Matlab programming language, and the fact that I have no responsibilities for other people, and a negligible amount of time spent on “overhead.” I finally got a viewing laboratory set up with a large liquid crystal display and good lighting, and it has been seeing quite a bit of use by me and others. I’ve gotten used to the commute, if not totally reconciled to the time it takes (50 minutes each way); it’s been a lot easier since getting a new car, a Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid that handles well on mountain roads. We also replaced Eileen’s badly rusted Subaru after almost 15 years of service; she got a Toyota Yaris in a pretty pale green color.
We’ve now seen 57 species of birds on our property, most recorded while eating dinner out on the deck, which we do virtually every evening we’re home from April to September. We do it when we can the rest of the year as well, but usually I am home too late to have any daylight left after finishing my run. Perhaps our most exciting bird to date was a peregrine falcon that came tearing over the deck and sounded like an artillery shell speeding past. Other nice species include Vaux’s swift and hermit warbler. A slate-colored junco, an eastern subspecies, recently showed up for his second winter. Raccoons and striped skunks frequent our feeder and water dish at night, and we’ve enjoyed listening to the bats that are present most warm evenings, using a ultrasonic bat detector that shifts the frequencies down so that they fall within the audible range. Our most exciting reptile to date was a 3-foot pacific rattlesnake on our front walk one afternoon when I got back from a run. We’ve not yet done a real plant inventory of the property, but a brief walk one day yielded about 40 native species, including two rare manzanitas and an unusual saprophytic species, gnome plant, that looks like a mostly buried tennis ball covered with small pink flowers.
One area of major focus this year has been getting our house and property fixed up to our liking. We had a pretty long list of items to be addressed, based on the house inspections when we bought, and our own desires The major items finished this year by contractors were: adding a small deck to the front of the house; replacing the rotten lower deck in back; fencing in an area for a garden; replacing the windows on the main floor; adding extensive lighting to the house; and pouring some concrete for better drainage near the house and safer steps. The front deck was the most challenging project in terms of design and execution; our final solution was a narrow deck with an elastomeric (solid, waterproof) surface, which served three functions nicely: (1) provided a sitting surface nearly always in shade, as it is on the redwoods side of the house; (2) creating a roofed entryway underneath, which is out of the rain; and (3) breaking up the 3-story vertical front face of the house, which looked somewhat barn-like (especially with the house painted a typical barn red color).
Eileen did a lot of work painting and staining the new construction, and we both put in quite a few hours digging up the garden area, sifting the sandy soil free of rocks, and adding addenda to enrich what was essentially sterile fill. As soon as the winter rains start, Eileen will begin planting, and our last major planned project will be underway.
As planned, we did little distant
traveling this year, to spend time exploring our more local area (within a
5-hour driving distance), and to accrue some vacation time. The one significant
exception was a 13-day tour in the camper to northeastern
Some of our favorite “local” areas that we have visited repeatedly include Elkhorn Slough, an hour away, which makes a perfect full day paddle with sea otters, harbor seals, and many birds; Pinnacles National Monument, about 2 hours away, with interesting geology, bats, reintroduced condors, and nice hiking; Yosemite, 4 hours distant, and needing no description; the coast north of San Francisco Bay, about 4 hours away, with excellent birding at Pt. Reyes, Bodega Bay, and elsewhere; and Napa Co., 3 hours away, where Mike and Sally Parmeter kindly put us up and we can explore with Mike and fellow botanists the fascinating flora of serpentine area. Serpentine and other ultramafic rocks are low in calcium and high in magnesium and nickel, precluding growth of most plants; the species that do grow there successfully have often evolved to specialize in the habitat and do not grow elsewhere.
We’ve also taken advantage of
Other mammal highlights of the
year (but not on pelagics) included 4 bobcat sightings, alpine chipmunk above
timberline in the Sierras, Townsend’s big-eared bats at a cave roost, and
Sonoma and redwood chipmunks, the three latter species being lifers for both of
us. Miscellaneous bird highlights included Brown Booby in
A major focus during this year
was starting to learn the flora of central
We managed to see a good fraction
of our relatives this year. On the way out to our northeastern
Eileen and I hope that you and your families are doing well. We always like to hear from people or have them visit if in the area; our contact info is given below. Happy holidays!
Brian and Eileen Keelan