Thursday, April 25, 2013

Answer: What kind of trees are those?

Yesterday's questions should start to look familiar by now.  When given an image and asked something about it that sounds a lot like "location-specific information," you probably want to first check it for EXIF metadata.  

1.  What kind of trees are these?  (No guessing.  You should be able to figure this out definitively.)  
2.  When I took this picture, I could hear a bell ringing in the distance.  Why was the bell ringing?  (Hint:  It wasn't from someone's house.  This question is a little harder, but you should be able to find the answer.) 

So I downloaded the image and extracted the metadata from it.  

First, let's start with the lat/long.  I found that it was (37.3648083333333, -122.146610833333).  

I wanted to start by taking a look around that location, so I went into Google Streetview, put in the lat/long as the searcy query,  and just looked around a bit.  I found almost the exactly same image in streetview: 

Since Streetview gave me the estimated street address, I tried searching with that, but didn't get especially far.  

But when I kept rotating the view around, I DID discover a sign at the entrance to the gate leading up to the house.  By using the Streetview + tool to zoom in on a portion of the image, I was able to read the sign quite clearly. 

And if you're given a clue in the form of a name like that, you've got to do the next obvious search.  My next search was for:  

    [ Taaffe House Los Altos Hills ] 

Strategically, I wanted to find out a bit about the house on the hill, assuming that it might have something to do with the grove of trees in the foreground.  

It worked beautifully.  Wikimapia has a brief article on the house, which is on the estate of former Hewlett-Packard CEO David Packard.  This article also mentions that the trees are apricot trees, but this seemed to neat, fast, and remarkable.  (I mean, what were the chances that the random picture I took of fruit trees while on a bike ride would turn out to be those of a Silicon Valley giant?)  

I wanted to second source this information from a trusted source.  So I did follow-up query: 

   [ Taaffe House William Packard ]

Sure enough, in these results I find the Packard Foundation itself discussing the Packard house on Taaffe Road (now a conference center).  And a bit further down in the results, there's an entry in an architectural data base that describes the Taaffe House as having "70 acres of apricot trees."  That just about lines up with my visual estimate of the size of the property.  

Answer to question #1:  Apricot trees, found on several different sources.  

The second question is a bit harder.  WHAT could possibly be ringing a bell in the afternoon?  (Given that it's not a house.)  I wasn't sure what I was looking for, so I went back the Google Map of that area and did a search for: 

     [  *  ] 

Yes, searching for as asterisk will put all of the "known entities" for all of the visible map as red dots and push pins (A through F in this illustration).  

I figured I was looking for a church or a school (the most likely institutions to ring bells).  I see that Foothill College in the lower right is there, but they don't ring bells.

There's a church (St. Luke's Chapel in the Hills, pushpin H) and there's "Poor Clares Nuns" at pushpin F on this map.  

A search for: 

    [ St Luke's "Chapel in the Hills" bells ] 

reveals that the Chapel's web site only talks about the use of "sanctus bells" during Sunday Mass at noon.  (I did a background lookup to verify that "sanctus bells" are small, handheld bells used in a church service--unlikely to be heard at a distance.  So the bells I heard probably aren't from St. Luke's.)  

A quick check of the EXIF metadata shows us that the photo was taken at 2013:04:04 16:35:18  (or, decoding slightly:  April 4, 2013 at 4:35PM)  

I checked the bells at Poor Clares with the query: 

     [ Poor Clare's Los Alto Hills bells ] 

and found the sisters' blog with their daily routine and a listing of times when they would ring bells their practice.  

Answer to question #2:  4:30PM is roughly the end of what the nun's blog describes as "Rosary, Vespers, collation"--so I'm willing to bet that's what it was.  A bell marking the end of that step in their daily ritual.   (For what it's worth, I also had to look up "collation" and found that it's a light meal.  I could imagine that the bell might signal the transition.  But it's a little unclear if it's the end of rosary + vespers + collation, or from rosary + vespers to collation.  Nevertheless, it's somehow signaling rosary + vespers.  

In any case, given that the afternoon wind is usually in a south or southeasterly direction in this part of Silicon Valley, it was mostly likely the "Immaculate Heart Monastery of the Poor Clares."  (This name is taken from the image of their road sign on their web site.)  

Here's an image I made from one of the pictures on their web site.  (I just cropped and zoomed in a good deal on their original image.)  You can actually see the bell that's used to signal events during the sister's daily routine.  

I found it striking that this lonely sound of devotion would drift across the hills over Silicon Valley and be heard by Packard's apricot tree.  But it's also a great thing that you can figure all this out with just a few minutes of searching. 

Keep searching on! 

Postscript:  Interested in the bells, I've ridden my bike up there a few more times around 4PM and ridden slowly up and down the street in front of the monastery.  Sure enough, the bell rings repeatedly every afternoon about 4:30, sometimes a bit earlier, sometimes a bit later.  But since they're a cloistered order, I don't know that I'll ever find out exactly what the bell signifies.

1 comment:

  1. I go on retreat to a local monastery at least once a year, so I can help you with the bells thing as it is pretty standard from monastery to monastery. Rosary and vespers starts at 4:05 there. Rosary typically takes about 15-20 minutes and vespers about 10-15 minutes. Also monasteries ring bells to tell the monks or nuns when they are supposed to go somewhere, so they wouldn't do it at the end of something (such as collation). I think we can safely assume the bell you hear is the dinner bell.