why coyotes laugh at you

We headed up to Mount Diablo on Friday evening, part of an ongoing search for the perfect oak tree. (And there are some beautiful examples up there.) But we were sidetracked by a glorious sunset and the presence of a couple of coyotes, one of which was kind enough to strike a pose while silhouetted by the setting sun.

Native American legends say the coyote is a trickster, often causing trouble for the sheer malicious fun of it. Kinder interpretations say that the coyote's mischief is meant to make you laugh at yourself, and thus you acquire wisdom in the process.

Flickr pal Diane Dobson sent along something from Mark Twain on the topic, from his short story, "The Mysterious Stranger." In the story, she says, young Satan (the older Satan's earnest angel nephew) says to the main "human" character:

"The ten thousand high-grade comicalities which exist in
the world are sealed from [your] dull vision. Will a day
come when the race will detect the funniness of these
juvenilities and laugh at them? For your race (human), in
its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon
---- laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication,
persecution ---these can lift at a colossal humbug -- push
it a little --- weaken it a little, century by century; but
only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand."

So, the next time your out and about and come across a coyote, have a laugh. At yourself and the world.

Oh, and if you have your camera with you, it'd help to have a long lens, too. For this shot, I was using a moderately long, but fast, Canon 135mm 2.0. It's a fine fixed-length lens with beautiful color rendition. It doesn't have the reach of the more popular 70-200mm zoom, but there are ways of making it longer. You can maintain all the autofocus and exposure controls with either the Canon 1.4x extender, or you can double your reach with the 2x extender. (You pay a price for the reach, though: The 2x reduces light by 2 stops. But with the 135mm 2.0, you'll still have a pretty fast 4.0 maximum aperture available with the 2x extender attached.)

I wanted to maintain detail in the sunset, so I took a reading off the sky, then lowered the exposure a couple of stops. That let the light in the photo look very natural, and it put the coyote in silhouette.


Did you know that the botanic community is split on the issue of butterflies? We didn't either, until we visited the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens on a field trip.

We were there for a screening of a documentary about the life cycle of butterflies called "In the Company of Wild Butterflies." The film was presented by Sally Levinson, a docent for the gardens who's also known as "The Caterpillar Lady."

Different kinds of butterflies need specific kinds of chemicals to survive, and they find them in specific kinds of plants. Swallowtail butterflies , for example, thrive on yampah. But there isn't much yampah around anymore, because marshes have been drained and houses have been built and development has wiped out its natural habitat.

The swallowtail found a replacement for yampah in fennel, but therein lies the problem. Fennel is a non-native, invasive weed, the kind of plant botanists are not at all fond of. So while the butterfly people would love it if you let that fennel stay in your garden, the botanists know that it threatens native plants.

What to do? Andy Liu, a landscape engineer who also volunteers at the botanic gardens, says that you can control fennel without eliminating it entirely. You just have to make sure that it doesn't spread. So if you'd like more butterflies in your garden, let a few weeds join the party.

Bring your macro lens with you. And go for details; zoom in on a little piece of the action for more drama.