Tag Archive | California

FireDrums 2016

RB: Hi All! So as aforementioned, we’ve started a travel section to the blog. Our first entry is not a long one.

We went to FireDrums 2016, which was located at the Blue Mountain Event Center in Wilseyville, CA. The event took place from June 2-5, 2016.

We personally drove up to a friend’s house through Tuesday night, slept there Wednesday and were off for the location on Thursday morning! What is FireDrums, you may ask? For that, we should ask our fellow author, inspyred!

inspyred: Deep in the woods of Northern California, a mix of casual hobbyists, professional performers, students,and teachers gather to shed the standard mechanics of their normal lives, dust off the parts of our mind that we were told should be put away after childhood is over, and come out to play.

FireDrums is one of the biggest fire festivals on the U.S. West Coast, hosted by the Flow Arts Institute; 2016’s festival was from June 2nd to the 5th, and it was my fourth in a row. The primary focus of the festival is the learning, teaching, sharing, and celebration of Flow Arts. The flow arts which I personally practice are primarily ball and club juggling, poi, rope dart, and have recently assembled a pair of fire fans that are much harder to use than I had expected.

The daylight hours of the festival are filled with workshops featuring a huge variety of topics, from specific genres of prop manipulation to discussions of culture to group meditation sessions. I enjoy attending whatever prop manipulation workshops pique my fancy, though many people simply wander around sharing circus tricks, socializing, reading, writing, drawing, swimming in a nearby stream, exploring the forest, or whatever they may feel inclined to do at the moment. There are also a host of vendors of props for manipulation, as well as food, clothing, and various artistic creations. For me personally, the biggest draw of the event is the radically free social atmosphere.

At night, however, the main attraction shifts to the fire circle which is set up in a large clearing, surrounded by fire pits and volunteer fire-safeties holding fire blankets (a duvetyne cloth treated with fire retardant) focused on keeping everyone safe. The festival is largely free-spirited in terms of how you wish to enjoy it, but fire safety is one of few things taken extremely seriously. Any open fire outside of the designated areas are explicitly forbidden, and this policy is rigorously enforced, with the fuel dump of the fire circle being brightly illuminated and very plainly distinguished from the surroundings with bright orange partitions. Once their props are dipped, each spinner takes to the fire circle and joins in the collective celebration of fire, everyone deliberately dancing with the deep, primal instinct of aversion to fire, to the sound of various electronic music artists (as well as the Humboldt Drummers) played out of speakers with the bass often heavy enough to reverberate in my chest from anywhere in the campground.

Here’s a video taken of Nicky Evers (a.k.a. DJ Nevers) in the fire circle while Kevin Axtell announced the closing of the fuel depot on the final morning of this year’s Fire Drums. Many (myself included) stay up until sunrise on Saturday night.
I have found that, as much as I could develop my prop manipulation skills on that night with so many other incredibly skilled people (though I did spin some fire), my favorite way to spend it was walking around and simply striking up conversations with people, as well as keeping a notebook with me and writing whenever inspiration strikes… which tends to happen at fire festivals.
Most others seem to either alternate between spinning fire and watching everyone else spinning fire, or just simply hanging around, socializing, some painting, some writing, others simply dancing to the music… everyone so clearly happy to be there, in a very contagious way. I look forward to next time… hopefully next year for us.

RB: So over the duration of the trip, while inspyred was doing his workshops, I was exploring the area and lounging about with my book! Here are some photos:

By the time Day 3 (Saturday) came around, we were burned out (a good pun by the way), and decided to do some exploring! We went off the campsite, and hiked to a river, where we ended up jumping in with our clothes on! The water was frigid, but it was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so the cold was welcome. We explored the bugs in the area, learned about different kinds of larvae (dragonfly and mosquito), and then headed back to the campsite! All in all, a beautiful trip!

Elephant Seals – Worse Than Your Akita’s Shedding

As aforementioned, I’ve currently become deeply invested in podcasts. One such podcast is “Science Friday” hosted by Ira Flatow on Public Radio International. On a recent jam-packed episode, an exciting topic came up – Elephant Seals [1]! These (not-so) little guys have been causing lots of problems for the last couple of decades; and we’re only finding out now!

First, a little bit about Elephant Seals. There are two breeds of Elephant Seals – Northern and Southern [2]. In this study, we focused on the Northern breed or Mirounga angustirostris. The Southern species is not only significantly larger, but also lives longer than its Northern counterpart. The Northern species lives only along the Pacific coast of Northern America. In terms of IUCN status, the Mirounga angustirostris is a success story! Once thought to be extinct due to over-hunting, this guy has made a comeback and is back up at around 120,000+ [3].

In case anyone was wondering why they're called

In case anyone was wondering why they’re called “Elephant” Seals… (Mirounga angustirostris)

Mirounga leonine (Southern Elephant Seal)

Mirounga leonine (Southern Elephant Seal)

Elephant Seal shedding

Elephant Seal shedding

Elephant Seal puppy

Elephant Seal puppy

For several decades, scientists have been noticing severe mercury spikes in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The case was unknown for years until an exciting development came along in science – using DNA mapping technology to map the DNA of the ocean! What was the result? This mercury was coming from the coast? Lo and behold, we find shedding Elephant Seals on the shoreline!

During a recent study (which can be found here [4]) at UC Santa Cruz, it was discovered that during the molting season, levels of methyl-mercury – one of the most toxic forms of mercury – was 17 times higher than normal (as if it wasn’t dangerous enough in the body already). And it’s in fact precisely because of the mercury’s poisonous levels that Elephant Seals try to shed their hair. The Seals will cumulate the mercury in the hair on their bodies, and then shed the hair to rid the body of the toxin [5], in a process called Catastrophic Molting [6]!

One might ask how we know that the mercury is coming from the Elephant Seals fur and not from their feces or other fauna altogether. The answer lies in newborn Seals. Because mercury is so easily absorbed into the system of living creatures, it stands to reason that pregnant mothers would “infect” their unborn children as well. In fact, pups born to contaminated mothers showed high levels of methyl-mercury in their “natal coal” or the hair that they are born with [7]. So, we can extrapolate that the seals coat is to blame for increased ocean methyl-mercury levels.

Now you might not think that this is a problem, but the mercury in the hair gets washed up back into the oceans, digested by microbes in the water, and moves its way back up the food chain, until it may have serious consequences for humans, Elephant Seals, and the ecosystem overall. The levels found around Seal molting grounds are higher than those found in highly urbanized, contaminated coastal towns. This problem is further accentuated by the fact that industrial pollutants in the water have already significantly increased mercury levels in the oceans.

What makes the situation worse is that mercury doesn’t degrade either, which means that overtime, it’s going to concentrate itself more heavily at the top of the food chain, with unknown consequences. This process is known as biomagnification.

So, do we know anything? Well, yes. We know the harmful effects that methyl-mercury has on the human body. According to the EPA, methyl-mercury has significant effects on humans, including but not limited to: neurological development in infants, “impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness” [8] and even potentially death. One such extreme case of mercury poisoning was in Japan, from 1932 to 1968 [9]. A factory that produced acetic acid discharged its waste into Minamata Bay, where nearby residents consumed contaminated shellfish for years. What was eventually known as Minamata disease caused “brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium” in over 50,000 local residents.

So, how do we stop all of this? Scientists aren’t quite sure, but one thing is for sure: we need to reduce our pollutant footprint if we want to keep these cute guys around, and other apex predators; especially if we want a chance of surviving a healthy human life, for us and generations to come.


  1. http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/09/11/2015/testing-ocean-dna-americans-pass-a-science-quiz-and-polar-bear-diets.html
  2. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/elephant-seal/
  3. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/northernelephantseal.htm
  4. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/09/02/1506520112
  5. http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/environment-and-nature/20150917/molting-elephant-seals-recycle-mercury-back-into-seawater
  6. http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/elephant-seals-are-raising-mercury-levels-california-beach
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/12/9313363/mercury-molting-seals-fur-California
  8. http://www.epa.gov/mercury/effects.htm#meth
  9. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs361/en/

Seals – I don’t have an interesting title on this one…

Hi everyone! Its been a while since I’ve written anything, sorry about that. Busy with college and what not. But I’m on break now, and i’d like to take a moment to discuss something no one most likely thought i would discuss – Seals. Specifically, animals that ARE NOT endangered! I know! Crazy stuff!!
At any rate, the specific category of seal i’ll be discussing is the California Sea Lion, or Zalophus californianus. So to clear up the confusion, what’s the difference between a seal and a sea lion? A sea lion is a seal but a seal is not a sea lion. Yup, nice and simple haha.

These little guys are rated as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, and if anything, theres actually an overpopulation problem. They live along the Western coast of North America, most abundantly found in – you guessed it – California! Although they are considered a tourist attraction by some cities, they’re generally considered pests, which breaks my heart considering the new found obsession i have with them. Recently, seal hunting has actually started up again. A huge reason for this, other than their inconvenience to fisherman and what not, is that part of their diet is actually an endangered salmon. And because their population levels are so high, there is a serious threat to these salmon. An interesting fact though: this breed of seal is one of the only few mammals whose milk does not contain lactose! Isn’t that fascinating?! Probably the bio-major in me coming out again. Furthermore, this species of sea lion is what is typically associated with “circus” seals.

So, i really just wanted to rant about my love of seals and there really isn’t a final message here. Obviously, they’re not endangered…but don’t go around shooting them either, ok? 🙂

Female Sea Lion Balancing a Ball

California Sea Lion pup

Sea Lion Swimming

Prop 19 – Bringer of Good or Advocate of the Devil?

Hi everyone! So i realize that Prop 19 in California didn’t get passed. For all of you out-of-state readers, if i have any, Prop 19 would have legalized marijuana. However, I believe that Prop 19 should have passed. Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely hate any sort of drug, and even avoid taking Advil when i have to. I am also of the strong opinion that any natural particle, including marijuana (i don’t care if it comes from nature, NOTHING was intended to be smoked, except ham! haha!) cause severe damage to the body. Just because they haven’t found any “conclusive evidence” doesn’t mean much if you ask me. Therefore, i actually think ALL drugs should be 100% banned. But, even after these strong opinions, i voted yes on legalization. Why you ask? Because there is a HUGE problem with the train of thought i had, not morally or physically, but feasibly. MORE people die in the world, not from overdosing on marijuana, but from the drug cartels that kill innocent people, or get in gang wars over, or territory disputes over who gets to sell what drug. In essence, the problem lies with drug cartels. They make HUGE profits off the drug, but end up killing hundreds of people every year. And frankly, it is a waste of time and money for the police to be going after druggies, who aren’t going to change their mind on smoking anything, even if you provide them with the most conclusive evidence in the world. When they start, for the most part, these druggies know what they are getting themselves into. So why do it? It is of my opinion that they simply have a “parent complex.” In other words, when your parents tell you VERY specifically NOT to do something, you want to do that thing EVEN more! Likewise, BECAUSE the drug is illegal, these smokers want the drug even more! Where’s my evidence you may be asking? A few years back, Switzerland lifted their ban on marijuana, and do you know what happened? The rate of users went down some 16%, practically making the usage of marijuana non-existent. So, we can conclude from this, that most druggies simply smoke to “prove a point” – that they can do whatever they want.

So, why NOT make marijuana legal, destroy and chance of survival the cartels have, and then when people have stopped caring about marijuana one way or another, you can make it illegal again, and it won’t make a difference. Of course, there’s always the positive of the state making some money off of a business that COST us huge funds before. But whatever floats your boat i suppose.


Congratulations California! In response to the article i wrote a few days ago about gay rights, and going along with the buzz everyone else has been talking about, i would like to congratulate California on the first CRITICAL step towards homosexual equality – PROP 8 has been REPEALED! I am so proud (now) to call myself a Californian, when finally some part of america has REALIZED that denying homosexuals the right to marry is not only hypocritical, but as aforementioned, is another Christian excuse to not allow gays rights. I for one, am incredibly happy that Prop 8 has been repealed!

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