Election Day 2016

This morning I cast my ballot moments after the polling site opened its doors. It was a pen and paper ballot, which I am adjusting to as a Californian. I try to do my best to be an educated voter, which means researching candidates and propositions. In California we try to get the most out of ballots at every election by jamming them full of propositions. Today the propositions ranged from capital punishment to plastic bags, with taxes and marijuana and pornography and bonds thrown in.

I didn’t wear my “I Voted” sticker today. I put it on the sample ballot I carried with me to make sure I filled in the circles to support my research conclusions. It has spent the day in my car.

As a professor I’m careful about politics in my classroom. My goal is to promote critical thinking and civility. It saddens me that campaigns in the United States involve attack ads and undermining opponents. As I try to promote civility in the classroom I am fighting a difficult battle. Politics and culture promote a combative attitude. Us versus them. We are enlightened and they are benighted.

Civility begins with respect. Respect for others and yourself. It also involves humility, understanding you might not know everything. Along with respect and humility, confidence (e.g. security) goes a long way in promoting civility. Aggressiveness and hostile posturing is frequently an offensive move driven by insecurity.

What saddens me about political discourse is that it frequently refuses to admit problems may have multiple solutions or that well-intentioned people may be on opposing sides. I made the image below in Paint to illustrate a point. If we must go from the current position to the star, and two parties suggest the outlined routes, it will not be long before each side demonizes the alternate route (and the people proposing the route).


May we find ways to discuss routes in a constructive fashion. May we leave insults and pettiness out of discussions.

I find it telling that Jesus lived in a time when Roman rule was supreme and did not align with the ethics He promoted. Despite this, Jesus did not call for political revolution, He called for His followers to live lives of submission and love (a revolution of another type).


Leave a comment

Filed under General

Reading in 2016

Last December during a conversation with my sister Rebecca, she mentioned being intentional about reading in a busy season of life. The thought stuck with me as 2016 began; I decided to target reading a book per month in 2016.

I’ve always loved to read. Book sales and book stores fill me with happiness and sadness. Happiness that so much information, opportunity, and entertainment lie before me. Sadness because I can’t read them all. At one point in my life the idea of reading one book per month would have been appalling. How can one book last an entire month? Right now that’s about all I can handle.

A recent study (media summary  link or actual study link) conducted by researchers at Yale showed a correlation between book reading and survival. While cognitive engagement may promote life, I suspect there are other variables at play as well. Regardless, I fully believe a life with books is fuller and richer.

I’m planning to post short reviews or thoughts on the books I’m reading this year. Just in case that never happens, I thought I’d start with my list so far. It’s not an elitist list, just books that I’ve wanted to read or have been recommended. As mid-August approaches I have fallen a little behind, I’m just finishing my July book:

January: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Malcolm Gladwell)

February: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Daniel James Brown)

March: The Martian (Andy Weir)

April: Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind (Henry Hobhouse)

May: Silent Spring (Rachel Carson)

June: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Michael Lewis)

July: The Black Tulip (Alexandre Dumas)

Here’s to savoring words and turning pages. . .

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, General

Summer Road Trip 2016: California, Oregon, and Washington

When Pam and I were discussing summer plans (long before the summer), we decided on a northwest road trip. The trip was designed to allow us to catch-up with family and friends, see part of the country we had not seen much of, and scout out places for longer vacation stays in the future. We elected to drive to San Francisco and stash our car, rent a car to drive north, then fly back to San Francisco to drive home. It was a vacation of planes, trains, and automobiles (you’ll see the train part soon).

Travel map

A rough outline of our road trip route.

Our first stop was in San Francisco to visit Chris, Esther, Liam, and Aleksey. We had a great time catching up with them and going to a Giants game. On Saturday we walked to McCovey Cove, played some baseball on the little field by AT&T Park, and Chris made some excellent pizza–a good day.

Baseball 2

Hanging out with the nephews by McCovey Cove.

From San Francisco we headed north. We spent one night at the Union Creek Resort. It’s a little collection of cabins, a lodge, a cafe, and an ice cream shop. In the past Zane Grey, Jack London, and Herbert Hoover have called this little place a favorite vacation spot. It was drizzly and overcast when we arrived. Despite the rain, we got in a short hike. After the hike we got very berry pie at Beckie’s Cafe, which could also be called very good pie.

Union Creek Resort

Our cabin in the woods at Union Creek Resort.

The next morning we went to Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is very blue.

We wanted to hike to a lookout post on a peak, but were rebuffed by snow. The drifts were impressive. It’s the first time I have seen snow drifts 8 ft tall in July.

Crater Lake 3

The peak we hoped to hike (note the structure at the top, our intended destination).

After Crater Lake we saw the Pumice Desert, Clearwater Falls, and Watson Falls. From there we went to Bend and had lunch at the Deschutes Brewery Public House. Then it was back on the road, bound for Beaverton. We had a couple days to catch-up with Andy, meet Miranda and James, and see Portland. I was thrilled to visit the Portland Rose Garden. The plant selection in Portland was great. I saw familiar and new faces, and almost everything was thriving–especially the roses (and some locals were apologizing for the roses, saying they weren’t looking up to standards).

We had some excellent Korean food, watched the All-Star game, went to McMenamins Edgefield Theater, saw the Columbia River Gorge, and visited two waterfalls.

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge on a cloudy afternoon.

Multnomah Falls 4

With Andy and Miranda at Multnomah Falls.

Our next destination was the Olympic Peninsula. We stopped briefly in Forks. I shared all my secondhand Twilight knowledge with Pam, then we read the wikipedia plot summaries.


In Forks.

We saw the biggest known sitka spruce in the world.

Sitka Spruce

The sitka spruce world co-champion. I am in the picture for scale.

We stopped to look out at the Pacific Ocean.

Olympic Peninsula

Looking at the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed in Sequim at the Red Caboose Getaway. The B&B rooms are restored caboose cars. The owner, Olaf, has carefully preserved many of the features of the cars, hid electrical and plumbing lines, and developed a charming operation.

Red Caboose Getaway

The Lavender Express at the Red Caboose Getaway.

As our journey continued we stopped to pick some lavender and see more plants.

Lavender Farm

U-Pick lavender at Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

We caught a ferry to get to Seattle, where we met up with Matt and Lauren.

Seattle 1

Headed toward Seattle on the ferry.

Over the next few days we had great food, saw a baseball game at Safeco Field, visited the Washington Park Arboretum, stopped by the UW Conibear Shellhouse, went to the Pikes Place Market, did the Seattle Underground tour, and had a great time.

Safeco Field 2

The view from our seats in Safeco Field (note the Space Needle left of center).

Our flight from SEA –> SFO was delayed due to high winds and fog at SFO. We got to our car a little after midnight, then did the overnight drive home (and back to work).

It was a great road trip. I’m looking forward to spending more time in the Pacific Northwest.

1 Comment

Filed under General

Camping and Hiking at Cold Springs

Last weekend Pam and I went camping and hiking at Cold Springs Campground in Sequoia National Park. We were joined by our friends Jason and Lina. The campground is in the Mineral King Valley, a beautiful area that the Walt Disney Co almost turned into a ski resort. The only way into the valley by car is via an old logging road. It’s slow going, with hairpin turns, narrow passages, and no guardrail–though I would not describe it as harrowing or terrifying like I’ve read on some online reviews.

Pam and I arrived on Friday in the early afternoon. We claimed a site and went hiking on the Nature Trail. It winds across the bottom of the valley, somewhat following the East Fork of the Kaweah River. The plants are wonderful: quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), redstem dogwood (Cornus sericea), false hellebore (Veratrum californicum), and streamside bluebells (Mertensia ciliata) to name a few.

Quaking Aspen

Hiking through the quaking aspens in the Mineral King Valley.

We saw some mule deer along the trail, very close to where we saw mountain quail as well.

Mule Deer

A mule deer with antlers in-progress.

A mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus) picture from a hike last weekend in Mineral King.

A post shared by Benjamin (@barre7) on

The late spring and early summer are prime marmot season in Mineral King. The furry little rodents emerge from the ground and chew on things. They have been known to destroy cars by targeting brake lines, fan belts, wiring, insulation, and basically anything they can chew. The park service recommends wrapping cars in tarps in the worst marmot spots during this time of year (the trail heads are the worst locations). We hiked by a trail head and saw many wrapped cars.


Three out of four cars are practicing marmot protection.

On Saturday we hiked along Mosquito Creek, which took us up toward Miners Ridge. Just below the ridge sits the first Mosquito Lake, which was our destination. By direct line the hike was 1 mile, though in the Sierra Nevada a direct line is rarely possible. We took a route that appears as 1.5 miles on a map, however that route involved many switchbacks that stretched the distance out beyond that. I think it involved ~1,800 ft of elevation gain, with Mosquito Lake sitting at 9,065 ft.

Hiking 6

Hiking near Mosquito Creek.

Hiking 2

Stunning views in Mineral King.

Hiking 7

I was happy to see Dicentra pauciflora in bloom.

Hiking 5

I was fascinated by bush chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens ).

Hiking 3

The high elevation meadows were very cool–notice the snow.

Group Pic 1

The hiking party at Mosquito Lake.


Three out of four hikers went swimming, the fourth was not swayed by peer pressure.

From what the rest of the group told me, the water in Mosquito Lake was very cold. I was content to sit in a hammock eating bison jerky while they shivered.

Ben and Pam

Posing with my hiking buddy on a ridge in Mineral King.

On our hike back from the lake I was watching for animals. I really wanted to see a bear. And I did. It was watching us intently through the trees.

Bear Watching

The curious bear.

A good day of hiking makes peanut butter and jelly, jerky, and an apple taste like a feast.

On the way home Sunday we stopped in Silver City. We had sandwiches and pumpkin pie at the little store/cafe. The pumpkin pie is usually not on the menu, but they had hosted a wedding that morning and sold out of their famous fruit pies, and the pumpkin pie was leftover from a wedding request–so we got it.

It was a good weekend in the woods.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

The Spring Quarter Draws to a Close

Final Exam week is this coming week at Cal Poly. As the academic year winds down I am planning my summer. I have many things to accomplish and do, yet I also want to recharge.

In the spring quarter I’ve run a few experiments that are repeats from last summer. The char effects appear relatively consistent with the ones I saw last summer, so one of my summer projects is to see if I can develop a manuscript from this data.

Ajuga Photo

Ajuga cutting rooting responses to char treatments (bar = 1 cm).

I’ve been adding to my large collection of plant pictures in preparation for teaching Plant Materials I and II in the 2016-2017 academic year. One of my summer goals is to create the framework for the class and fill in as much as I can. Building the class will make the fall and spring extra busy, but I’m excited about the opportunity to do it. Recently I was walking through the Leaning Pine Arboretum and I saw several monarch butterfly larvae on an Asclepias.


One of the future monarch butterflies munching on Asclepias.

Back in March Pam and I went camping in Big Sur. It was a fun trip. We were nestled in among the coast redwoods, with amazing numbers of wild irises around us.


Our campsite in the forest.


An exquisite iris in the forest.

Leave a comment

Filed under General