The Constant Apprentice is a place for curious humans to explore craft, visual arts, writing, nature, food, and all things classic, then and now.
{ Curators: Roseann & Jonathan Hanson —> }|{ Craft }|{ Classics }|{ Travel }|{ Food }|{ Nature }|{ Science }|{ Writing }|{Visual Arts}

Random Kenya (2)

Maasai dogs; a distinct breed, with an ancient relationship with the pastoralists - especially young boys. The dogs guard the cattle, as well as run down game individually or cooperatively.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Random Kenya (1)

Dawn over the Great Rift Valley. Olkiramatian, Kenya.

Drought aid for education - South Rift Valley

School near Magadi, South Rift, in September 2008 - happy kids with new t-shirts from Earth Expeditions program.

The same school this month - boarded up, deserted.

The widespread six-month drought in Kenya has devastated wildlife and cattle, bringing much of pastoral Maasai and Samburu people to the brink of true disaster - losses are staggering. But another victim of the drought is lesser known: education. Most families can no longer afford school fees (school is neither compulsory nor free in Kenya). Children of critical age - early education - are being pulled out, schools are closing. Elders have shared with me that in the 1960s they went through a similar drought, and they were pulled out of school. Most never returned. In order for conservation to succeed, we must support education of the next generation. Without education, the future is lost. Conservation is lost. I've helped establish a fundraising campaign to keep 40 schools open across the South Rift for three months, which will cost approximately $23,000. We've succeeded in bringing in a $10,000 matching grant from Cincinnati Zoo, and in just 2 days have reached halfway. Please join us in helping this important effort. See

Rain comes to the Rift

Blessed rain arrived yesterday in the South Rift . . . A real life saver. We saw newborn giraffe and 2 lovely cheetahs. On the way back to camp the mud was incredible and it won out -- we were stuck for 5 hours. Did not get back til 1am. Life in the bush!

-- Posted from my iPhone

South Rift Resource Centre

After a week in Nairobi in meetings for African Conservation Centre, I am now out in the South Rift visiting the Resource Centre, one of the projects I am assisting with fundraising and development. This is Tom Sayiaka and Loserim, Maasai resource assessors, and Samantha Russell, site coordinator. The Centre is the first community research centre of it's kind in the region. We have been discussing fundraising and networking opportunities as well as safaris.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Fall is here

We've had an interesting hummingbird migration change in the last 4 days ~ for more than a week prior to Labor Day we had almost entirely Black-chinned Hummingbirds dominating our 3 feeders, as many as 10 - 12 birds. Then from September 9 - 10, the activity dropped to just a couple Anna's males, who sat and sang and sparred a bit. But then today, a few late Rufous migrants roared in and we have 6-8 birds zooming around madly again. Fall in the Sonoran Desert!

Weather continues to be unsettled for September - we had a wonderful hard rain last night.

I'm leaving tomorrow for Kenya for a couple weeks, to do some work there with the South Rift Association of Land Owners and African Conservation Centre. I will post images and video as I can - I'll be surveying and reporting on much of the drought, which is devastating.

Nature journals at the Getty

The Getty has two wonderful
exhibits this month of interest to journal keepers. There is a display of sketches and field journals of 17th century French landscape artists, and a breathtaking exhibit of illuminated manuscripts, many of which depict nature scenes.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Off to Los Angeles

We will be in southern California for a few days, picking up my biodiesel-powered Land Cruiser. It will be interesting to see the extent of the fires. We will also try to spend a day at the Getty museum. Meanwhile the view right now is classic I-10.

-- Posted from my iPhone

Royal Geographical Society

Today I got the wonderful news that I have been selected as a Fellow with the Royal Geographical Society. The Society was founded in 1830 as an institution to promote the advacement of geographical science. It's an honor I'm really excited about and will use the affiliation to promote the conservation and ecotourism projects with whom I'm working.

The history of the Society was closely allied for many of its earlier years with ‘colonial’ exploration in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the polar regions, and central Asia especially. It enshrines such famous names as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary. The Society also devoted much attention to education and was responsible for both the incorporation of the study of geography in schools at the turn of the 20th century and for the first university positions in the discipline.

With the advent of a more systematic study of geography, the Institute of British Geographers was formed in the 1933, by some Society fellows, as a sister body to the Society. The RGS and IBG co-existed for 60 years until, after several years of discussion, they merged in January 1995 to create the new Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

Today, with 15,000 members, the Society is the largest and most active of the scholarly geographical societies. It advances geography through supporting geographical research, education and outdoor learning, public engagement and policy.

Vin de noix ~ Green walnut wine (2) ~ done

I decanted and tested the vin de noix (green walnut wine) that I wrote about in August, after gathering green walnuts in New Mexico and trying an ancient European recipe for a fortified summer wine. The wine is deep, dark walnut-brown with a hint of red . . . the aroma is wonderful: warm, spicy. And the taste? Very nice, not at all bitter and only a tiny bit astringent. A delicious, rich aperitif with hints of citrus and spice. I decided to stop the steeping now and bottle this batch. A fun and successful experiment.

New ConserVentures class and trip offerings

A quick advert that ConserVentures has some new class and trip offerings in northern Mexico - a "Sonoran Safari" and a Gran Desierto adventure - and a classic overland safari in Kenya. Trips include natural history guiding, overland educational modules, and, as always, some time to work on personal journals, photography, and art.

Please check them out here.

Making pigments from local materials (3): cochineal beetle

In the deserts of the Americas you might notice that the prickly pear cactus plants (genus Opuntia) sometimes are covered with what looks like white spit-wads. If you look closely, or touch one of the deposits, it's silky white web-like material. This is actually a protective covering of a little insect called a cochineal (Dactylopius sp.), which is a parasitic scale insect. The insect itself is tiny, about 3-4 mm across; their bodies contain carminic acid, which is a vivid purple-red color - presumably nasty-tasting to discourage predation. If you even gently bump one of them, they ooze this red liquid, which instantly will dye your finger.

I had read that cochineal was one of the earliest and most valuable sources of red dye. Aztecs and Mayas cultivated them; and during the time of the Conquistadores, cochineal dye powder was the second most important economic export after silver - that is a lot of insects!

Because of my interest in natural dyes and inks (see labels for those subjects), I have been looking for a colony of cochineal so I could experiment with using their pigment for coloring in my journal. Earlier in August, visiting my parents in southwestern New Mexico, I was delighted to find some infestations by this sessile parasite. I collected about 20 of them in a margarine tub:
You can see the bright magenta color. I did some research, because I had initially read that the color they produced was red-red, as in the British redcoats, and in Betsy Ross' flag. The original dye preparation involved adding an acid, so I added a little vinegar to a bit of cochineal liquid, and voila, it turned a rich red.

Right now my insect bodies are drying, and I will grind them and add an acid - either vinegar or lemon juice - and see how it goes with use as a pigment in my journaling.