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Short Takes

January 15, 1989|DICK RORABACK

Follow Along--if You Get His Drift

You don't have to be bowlegged, but it helps. For outdoor types lusting to mush around in the snow but loathe to linger in lift lines, here's Chuck Reynolds with a brand-new old idea: snowshoeing.

Reynolds, a Redlands adult-education teacher who doubles as college instructor in canoeing and backpacking, has found his ideal outlet "for the months when it's too cold to canoe." He moonlights--literally--as snowshoe maven.

This Friday's typical class--"Moonlight Snowshoeing" for Cal State San Bernardino's Office of Extended Education ( (714) 887-7527)--ascends the Palm Springs aerial tramway, learns the rudiments of snowshoeing in a trice, then sets off through the forest primeval. After an hour or two, the group adjourns to the tramway restaurant to swap lies. Dinner, tram, 'shoe rental and instruction all included in a $45 fee.

"It's a fun evening," Reynolds says, "an end-of-the-week getaway for people who want to get outdoors with a minimum investment in time and energy. I can clamp the 'shoes on your feet and get you going right away. New skiers are going to be falling down a lot, but snowshoeing is like walking on tennis rackets."

Even footwear is somewhat optional, though Reynolds advises tyros to bring Saranwrap and duct tape to wrap around feet as a snow repellent. "They used to use ash frames and rawhide," he says, "but today's 'shoes are mainly aluminum: lighter, less breakable."

Still, "If you're grossly out of shape, you're in trouble. It's not just the walking, it's the altitude (8,500 feet). But it's great fun. Snowshoes are like a four-wheel drive: You can bushwhack; you can cover terrain where even cross-country skiers fear to tread."

Giving Back to Nature

It's a particularly felicitous acronym: GIFT, for Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer. It's a relatively new technique in alternative fertilization, but for Dr. Bill Yee, it's also a gratifying pay-back to the animal kingdom, a "gift" of life to endangered species.

GIFT is a high-tech fertilization method, differing from the in-vitro technique in that egg and sperm are placed directly into the Fallopian tubes to fertilize, rather than in a lab dish for future implant. Yee is a reproductive endocrinologist at Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach, with one of the best fertilization success rates in the United States--a natural choice to be consultant to a group of veterinarians and zoo officials interested in fertilization of primates.

"There are a lot of animal-rights groups against animal research," Yee says. "This is kind of flipping the coin. We're using procedures we've learned from humans and applying them to animals!"

In 1988, Yee headed panels of experts that tested GIFT techniques on four gorillas in zoos in Dallas and Colorado Springs. From the first gorilla, which had cancer, retrieval of eggs was accomplished. GIFT was actually performed on the second, a comely 32-year-old named Becky, who proved, Yee thinks, to be too old to bear. A third "had already ovulated. There's still a lot of guesswork; you can't exactly have pre-op consultations with a gorilla." An egg from the fourth was fertilized in vitro, then frozen: If this technique is successful, "We can save the embryos for genetic diversity," Yee says. "Zoos' problems are not always breeding, but often inbreeding."

Yee, meanwhile, sees no reason why the process can't be applied to other species: "The National Zoo is looking at domestic cats now with an eye toward eventual fertilization of tigers, leopards. . . ."

"The only drawback is financial," Yee says. "We donate our services, but there are expenses for travel, for drugs. Becky was chosen mainly because her zoo had the money for reproductive research. That's the biggest problem. Gorillas don't have any insurance."

Cases of Grape Expectations

Come the first of March, somebody out there is going to have him- or herself the makings of a really first-rate wine cellar--30 cases (360 bottles) of some of the finest, costliest California vintages.

Simultaneously, the arcane lexicon of wine, a tongue all its own, will be richer by a single word, one local vintners hope will become as evocative as, say, "Bordeaux."

Syndicated wine columnist Jerry Mead, who also edits the Wine Trader and frequently travels the state speaking to wine groups, explains:

American wine makers "made the mistake of spending 50 years telling people that the best wines have varietal names," i.e. names of the grapes from which they are made: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. "In California, this was true 20 years ago, (but recently) vintners have been making wines of ever greater finesse, complexity . . . and experimenting with the Bordeaux technique of blending several premium grapes." (Burgundy wines, meanwhile, continue to be 100% varietal.)

Now, to avoid making blended-wine labels a hodgepodge of hyphenation--"Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet France-Malbec"--a group of top California wineries has sponsored a contest to name a blended type the vintners all produce. Temporarily, the group calls itself The Assn. in Search of a Name. In March, it will name itself after the winning entry--"out of more than 2,000," marvels Angela Bortugno, executive assistant for Chalon Vineyards.

Mead, who covets the prize of the 30 cases of wine himself, now admits (after the Dec. 31 deadline) to having submitted several names. His favorite? "Collage." Mud in his eye!

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