Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cataract Creek

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The other day I got an email notice from the library that my request for Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Living With A Wild God, was ready for pick-up. I didn't start reading until early that afternoon, but I'd finished it by early evening. I love a book like this.

"Like this" means a personal account by a modern, rational person of their own first-hand experience of the transpersonal, the mystical, the holy. My "hero" in this regard is Joseph Campbell (of course!) who best puts the subjective experience into its wider context.

Because the myth of scientific explanation is so powerful today, I especially liked how Ms. Ehrenreich worked her way through the possibility that such experiences are reducible to something like electro-chemical brain farts. 

I also liked how Ms. Ehrenreich's experience occurred in the Eastern Sierra, during an unplanned trip to Death Valley, and that even though it came while she was not yet an adult, she protected it -- without consciously knowing why -- until she needed it much later in her life. A hurricane in the Florida Keys might have wiped it out. But it didn't.

Speaking of needing something later, I was wondering what the big water tank at Rock Spring is used for. It appears to be full, judging by the leak springing forth from a fitting near the top of the tank.

I don't believe I've ever seen so many iris on and around Mt. Tam as I have this year. Ditto for Amanita pantherina mushrooms. It's almost the only mushroom species I notice some days, and other years have passed where I don't recall seeing a single one. 

We had an interesting year, weatherwise, and it would probably be imprudent to believe there's no connection between the unusual weather and nature's unusual reaction. If only I had a few hundred years of circumannuations to review.

I was prepared to find that Cataract Creek was no longer flowing today, but it's still moving, gently, even high on the mountain.

I hiked down past Laurel Dell to the topmost drop of Cataract Falls. The pit toilets at Laurel Dell are broken -- a fact made plain in two non-mystical ways: by the "Out of Order" signs on the doors, and by the dozens of little piles of toilet paper behind the structure.

Cataract Falls in the second half of April. Not bad for a drought year.

I had once again forgotten my water bottle, and although I had loaded up on coffee and guzzled from a gallon jug of water before leaving the Jeep at Rock Spring, I was a little thirsty when I headed back up the trail and was making good time, stretching my legs toward home, when I spotted this caterpillar dangling in mid-air. 

On my "Return to Rocky Ridge" hike, I'd drunk creek water (or "wild" water, as I like to call it), half-wondering if I'd experience the dreaded giardia a few days later while camping at Steep Ravine. I know clean water can mean the difference between a healthy community and an afflicted one, but I can't help wondering if the water-purifier companies have made us unduly afraid of wild water. Water filters occupy the same space in my mind as bike helmets. I got by without them for so many years that I simultaneously hold them in suspicion while almost always choosing to use them.

Anyway, back to the caterpillar, which was dropping from a tree branch high above, length-by-length, along a silken thread of its own making. I realized it was moving too fast to get my camera out, the lens changed, the correct ISO set, before it would reach the ground. 

So I snagged the thread in my hands and let the insect drop onto the side of this fallen tree. I figured it was falling head-first, its thread emerging from its hind-quarters, but it was the other way around, falling tail-first. It remained motionless for a while after reaching the ground, presumably gathering back its strength, before turning to and setting off into the unknown. I watched the inch-long insect for some time as it moved, peristaltically, both left and right, before settling on a trajectory toward the west, along a slight incline, toward the uphill end of the log. 

To what end, I wondered. To feed some more? Then why come out of a tree full of tasty leaves? To find someplace to form a chrysalis and metamorphize into a creature that can fly? Then why drop to the earth? Alas, my curiosity about its intention wasn't strong enough to continue watching for long.

I eventually left the caterpillar to its own devices and returned to the Jeep, slaked my thirst, and drove out along Bolinas Ridge, just to take in the view. As I was heading toward a vista point with just my binoculars and no camera, I almost stepped on a gopher snake stretched out across the trail. I turned and jogged back to the Jeep to get my camera and almost stepped on it again when I returned. Very good camouflage! 

The snake was very clean and shiny. Maybe it had recently shed its old skin to begin life anew. Heck, snakes do it all the time. Why can't we?

May the irrational, but no less real, spirit of renewal fill all your water jars to an overflowing refreshment on this mystical, mythical, holy day -- a day, in the end, like all others.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Redwood Creek

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The plan was to spend the morning exploring the valley bottom along Redwood Creek, including the creek itself. I was going to bring my aqua slippers so I could navigate the creek, but I decided to leave them home at the last minute, thinking it hadn't been so hard to access the creek on my last visit.

I started out in the shade where I found some impressive cow parsnips, some of which were as tall as I am at six feet, but was drawn into the sunshine by some nice morning light streaming onto the landscape from the southeast.

Although the landscape was gorgeous, I couldn't find an interesting way to photograph it. A cooperative bobcat would have been nice, or even a big, flower-filled bush lupine.

I satisfied my sun-seeking yearnings with Indian paintbrush and morning glory.

During the walk over to the sunny hillside I passed some impressively gnarled old trees and made a note to get back there before the sun filled the whole valley. 

You can't be everywhere at once, though, and one of the trees I'd hoped to photograph was already sun-blasted by the time I got to it. Luckily I got to this great old bay laurel in the nick of time. Speaking of bay laurel, Pam and I saw some fantastic old grandfather bay trees along the Earthquake Trail in Pt. Reyes.

This bridge seems to get a little more rickety every year.

The contrast between Redwood Creek now and back in late December was pronounced.

The creek is no longer stagnant. All the trees have leafed out. The California buckeyes are full of flower buds.

And stinging nettle is growing everywhere. All my previous creek-access points were choked with the stuff. I should have brought my aqua shoes after all.

I had to console myself with trailside foliage such as these chickweed plants growing among hairy-leaved hedge nettles.

It's been so long since I spent much time in this area that I'd forgotten what this berry bush was called, but I did remember that the berries it produces are poor eating.

The sun finally reached the valley floor.

I had returned to the Jeep and just turned on the ignition when some quail trooped out in front of me, so I switched off the motor and tried my luck with them to little avail.

I thought it would be interesting to transition from shaded, wet-loving plants in the creek bottom to sun-loving plants on exposed serpentine areas higher up the mountain. The sickle-leaved onion is one of my favorites because the flowers are so colorful and the plants themselves so pungent.

While I was poking around, trying to find a good angle on some Linanthus, I spotted this yellow flower spider from maybe twenty feet away. I couldn't see it clearly, mind you, but a bright yellow ball in the middle of a hog fennel umbel could have been nothing else. It appeared to have recently captured an unlucky hoverfly for breakfast.

The cream cups, a member of the poppy family, are usually still closed when I see them. They don't open until they've been in the sunshine for a while. And by that time it has often become too windy to photograph them. 

Cream cups again, showing their hairy stems.

Also out on the serpentine is this little Phacelia divaricata.

I took this picture on Wednesday as Pam and I returned from our camping trip at Steep Ravine. It's a memorial for Magdalena Glinkowski ("Our Hiking Sister of Mt. Tam"), a woman who died while hiking from this location at the end of March. This morning I learned that a second hiker, Marie Sanner of Marin, had died after possibly suffering a fall along the Matt Davis Trail between West Point Inn and Mountain Home Inn. The authorities still had the area cordoned off when I drove by on the way to Rock Spring.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Steep Ravine Camping

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It's not often that I go to Mt. Tam and photograph striped shore crabs (Pachygrapsus crassipes). But, being low tide and all, and having our tent set up on the bluffs above the coast at Steep Ravine Campground, shore crabs were the main wildlife attraction down at water's edge.

We showed up at the locked gate just before our 2 p.m. check-in time. There are two locks on the gate, a combination lock and one which requires a key. The park concessionaire gives you the combination over the phone, but they hadn't said anything about a key lock, so we waited outside the gate expecting someone to show up with the key. When two o'clock passed with no one showing up, I opened the combination lock and tried the gate. It opened! We had passed the first test.

Arriving at the campground at the bottom of the hill, we found a small parking area and soon realized we'd have to park there and carry everything to our campsite. I spotted a couple of wheelbarrows next to some bundles of firewood ($8/each), so we carried and trundled most of our gear to campsite #5 (Kelp). 

All the tent sites were pretty nice. We left the cooler in the Jeep since there was no "bear box" at the campsite, just a small wooden cabinet with shelves. We kept our wine in there since mice can't chew through glass, at least not in one night. 

There are two flush toilets (with sinks) near the cabins and a pit toilet near the tent campers. You can expect to wait in a short line in the morning at the flushers. There was a single freshwater spigot where I often saw kids washing dishes, but we had brought our own drinking water.

Although a cabin certainly has its attractions, it was beautiful to stay in our tent and be closer to the sounds of chaparral birds, shorebirds and sea birds, the rhythmic surf and the harmonious chorus frogs. I really felt like I was spending a night not just on the mountain, but with the mountain. 

Although fog came and went our first day out, I stuck my head out the tent sometime after midnight to see the sky directly above us was absolutely clear. Nothing to see but stars -- and a total lunar eclipse, the planet Mars just a tad to the north.

We treated ourselves to dinner that night (and the next) at the Parkside Cafe in Stinson Beach. Good food, and Epiphany Amber Ale on tap. We spent most of the day Tuesday driving around Pt. Reyes National Seashore, heading out to Pierce Point Ranch to stretch our legs and take in the profusion of Douglas iris (and cow parsnip) blooming on the verdant hills. That's Tomales Point in the distance above. 

We also drove up Mt. Vision and stopped at North Beach and Drake's Beach, where it was so windy that we ate our lunches inside the Jeep. The Drake's Beach Cafe was closed, and a ranger at the Bear Valley Visitor Center later told us it isn't just closed for the season. The cafe folks pulled up stakes. (Even the Point Reyes Light newspaper seems to have nothing about this online.) 

After strolling up and down the main drag at Point Reyes Station, then hiking the short (1 kilometer) Earthquake Trail at Bear Valley, we drove back down the coast and paid a visit to the town of Bolinas. We parked at one end and walked through the commercial center until we spilled out onto the beach. Being a weekday, the museum was closed, which was too bad because they were showing work by Walter Kitundu, whose skillful artwork is always fun to check out -- imaginative and beautiful.

Whether driving the Panoramic Highway over Mt. Tam, or Hwy. 1 out to Point Reyes, or just hanging out in camp, we were treated to April's finest verdure. Hard to believe we woke up in such a beautiful place just this morning.

Steep Ravine was a great "staycation" spot. We could see the lights of Half Moon Bay in the distance at night, but we never felt like were just a few minutes away from home in the city. Yet when it was time to leave, the drive home was short and sweet. I will say that we were lucky to have such great weather. We made the reservation months ago, and I would generally choose to camp here in April, with October as my second choice for tent-camping.

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Stinky Spot

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The first frame was just the deer's nose.

The camera-trap spot stunk, but not because of the striped skunk. 

I was actually happy to see that I'd captured a skunk since it's my first on the mountain. The spot stunk because it caught so many hikers. Two four-legged animals and eight two-legged critters. One of the hikers obviously spotted the cam, but I'm not sure he knew what it was. He proceeded to squat right in front of the camera and fool around with something in his knapsack for ten minutes, setting off the camera many times.

I set the camera out on April 4, attaching it to an oak limb that was covered with lush green moss. When I picked it up this morning, April 16, the moss was already dried out, its color faded (and the cam stood out like a sore thumb). I caught the hikers on April 6, 7, 10 and 13. The set was on the edge of the woods next to a meadow, just off the Coastal Trail.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Magic Mountain

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I recently learned that a co-worker was a poet after I asked her about the book she was reading, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I made a half-hearted attempt to read it once, maybe 20 years ago, after learning that it was one of Joseph Campbell's favorites. Joseph Campbell is one of my favorites, but he reigns beyond my capacity to emulate. Finnegans Wake was another of Campbell's favorites (Campbell studied the book for years and wrote A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake). I knew a Harvard English graduate who couldn't read it, and the Skeleton Key is about as far as I ever got. Who knows, though. One of these days I might find the right speed of life to be able to enjoy and comprehend the art of Mann and Joyce. Until then, I'll savor the more visceral art of Mt. Tam.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Return to Rocky Ridge

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With the circumannuation just seven weeks from completion, I'm trying to make sure I don't leave anything out -- any part of the mountain, that is. Probably not possible. My biggest disappointment has been going all year without a good bobcat encounter. There's still time to get lucky, but the most likely time of year for sightings has passed.

Today I enjoyed a beautiful spring hike, heading up the Rocky Ridge fire road and turning off at the Stocking Trail to pick up the Kent Trail down to Alpine Lake and closing the loop back where I'd parked at Bon Tempe Lake.

The Douglas iris were still going pretty strong, so I thought I'd create a theme for the day of showing the iris in various beautiful settings, but these first two settings were unmatched the rest of the way.

Hiking up Rocky Ridge, my thoughts kept turning to Magdalena Glinkowski, the young woman who was reported missing a week after she'd come up for a hike. Since so much time had passed before anyone started looking for her, it seemed certain she was either nowhere near the mountain, or was beyond help. According to the Marin IJ, a body was found this morning south of the Bootjack parking area where Magdalena's car had been found, and where she'd been photographed by security cameras.

A trail runner reported having seen Magdalena the day she disappeared, giving searchers a place to focus on. The authorities say there's no obvious sign of foul play. Hopefully they'll be able to figure out what happened. To die in such a beautiful place, a place whose dangers seen so benign -- a touch of poison oak or stinging nettle, or maybe a tick bite. Though the trails are many, it's hardly conceivable that someone could become so lost that they'd never again be found. 

But it sounds like she was found close to where she started. So sad. My prayers go out to Magdalena and her family.

This is Hidden Lake, along the Stocking Trail.

I couldn't resist photographing this gorgeous Amanita right along the Kent Trail. A couple of botanizers passed me here as they were heading uphill and the woman told me I should send the picture to the BioBlitz folks at iNaturalist. I actually knew what she was talking about.

Once upon a time I had more interest in collecting species photos. I put a lot of energy into getting IDs and uploading pictures to Calphotos. But somewhere along the way I lost interest in the enterprise. You never know about these things. The interest could return.

Or I could get sucked into using a 4x5 view camera exclusively and being much more selective about the subjects I photograph. I shot 94 frames today (including frames combined for exposure blending and focus-stacking), which is not a lot, even for me, although I usually shoot less when I'm actually hiking as opposed to just poking around somewhere. But 4x5 shooters sometimes come back from an outing having shot nothing at all. The whole process is so different from 35mm work.

For a project like the circumannuation, a project where exploring the biodiversity of a place is a large part of the work, the relative ease of 35mm is just right.

I was surprisingly tired by the time I reached Alpine Lake. Tough week, I guess. I'd planned to just enjoy the hike back to the Jeep without stopping to set up the camera again, but I couldn't resist when I spotted this red waxy cap mushroom growing at the base of a hollowed-out redwood trunk. In a normal, wet winter, we'd have seen these guys by the dozen already, but this might be the first and only one I've seen this season. People on the trails around Mt. Tam have often approached me when I'm photographing mushrooms. "I saw this bright red mushroom. Do you know what it was?"

Although blue sky was breaking out farther inland, heavy fog was still blowing thick and cold up on Bolinas Ridge. I was going to drive home that way to check up on the trail camera, but I was too tired to make the hike so I headed back the way I came, through Fairfax, San Anselmo, Kentfield and so on. Hopefully the trail camera will keep. I'm still running the same set of batteries I started with back in September.

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