Sunday, March 2, 2014

South Side Ramble

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I finally realized I'd been accumulating a little too much spleen when I got only a couple hours' sleep Thursday night and had to call in sick on Friday. Life-in-the-city chilblains. I was feeling a bit like Ishmael at the beginning of Moby-Dick, requiring a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off. When so affected, I account it high time to get to Mt. Tam as soon as I can.

So I drove on up, planning to start at Muir Woods in case there were any spawning coho salmon still to be seen (I didn't find any). Driving down the steep, wet and narrow winding road toward the park entrance I kept wondering if the idiot tailgating me was actually going to whack into my bumper. That's the problem with Muir Woods. It's mostly city people who go there to stroll among the scenery on fenced, paved trails. I wasn't escaping anything.

The tailgater turned out to be a park employee.

I kept my eyes and ears peeled for splashing coho as I walked along Redwood Creek all the way to the back of the park, beyond the pavement and fences. I didn't really feel like I'd left the city until I entered the state park at the bottom of the Bootjack Trail.

Finally far enough into the forest to take a deep breath and calm down, I started to feel good enough to enjoy the beautiful trees and wildflowers, the creek pouring through the canyon, Pacific wrens trilling, everything smelling fresh with rain -- even the two bewildered tourists who couldn't square their map with the terrain. 

I spent a fair amount of time out there, beyond the point where I saw spawners in December of '06, but still near an area that looked like it would have been the perfect place to create a few redds. Listening, hoping, shrugging my shoulders and looking for ways to photograph trillium that I haven't tried before. Getting my knees good 'n muddy.

I finally decided it was time to walk back through "town" and head higher up the mountain. Back near the Jeep, a couple, a man and woman, were heading toward the park entrance along the muddy path. The man held the woman's arm to guide her around a deep patch of squishy goodness. I noticed her footwear and wasn't surprised at all. She was wearing a cute pair of golden ballet flats.

Dipsea Bridge is Out

Does Stinson Beach get like this all the time? Can you get insurance for a house like that, or do you just have to take your chances? This shot was taken about a half-hour before the peak of a six-foot high tide.

I continued up to Rock Spring to check on the camera trap. While I was poking around on the Simmons Trail I saw this colorful chunk of polypore pinkness. I saw it last week as well, but felt too tired to get down and dirty with it at the time. It was growing on a stump near the bottom of a steep, muddy bank and was crowded by forest debris of every kind. It required a fair amount of effort just to get the tripod in place, and I was hunkered down so low and for so long that my right knee almost refused to un-bend when I tried to stand up.

I learned a long time ago that just because a shot is difficult to make, it isn't necessarily any good. In that lesson, I had clambered up a crumbly rock face, tripod and camera in hand, to photograph a beautiful wildflower. "Wow," I thought. "I'll bet nobody's photographed that before." I actually got stuck up there and was contemplating throwing my camera gear to the ground and trying to jump into the crown of a nearby tree when a hiker came by who saw my predicament and talked me down. I think that was also when I first learned it's easier to climb up than down. Anyway, the picture I got was unremarkable, and I later saw plenty of the same wildflowers in much more accessible places.

After finally getting a decent amount of rain, the Doug fir suillus, or slippery jacks, are popping. It seems like they're one of the first mushrooms of the season in a normal rain year, coming up in November. I set the camera directly on the ground for this shot, propping up the lens with a fallen fir cone.

This jack was still in the process of bumping up through a layer of moss, sprouting from its mycelium in the darkness below. This species is mycorrhizal, making itself at home inside the roots of Douglas fir. If it wasn't for fungi, there would be no forest. It's one of those John Muir things: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." (Check out this Paul Stamets TED Talk on how mushrooms can save the world.) 

This is a very pale specimen, and I didn't have the heart to yank it out of the ground to see if the base of the stalk was yellow since it was the only one around, but I think it's Gomphidius glutinosus, or "hideous gomphidius."

I noticed the mylitta crescent butterflies flitting around the pungent hog fennel patch last week, right around the place where I set up the trail camera. I didn't have my long lens with me at the time and didn't think my chances of getting shots with the 105mm were very good, so I didn't try to photograph them.

Maybe it's better to try to find butterflies in the early morning, before they get souped-up by sunshine and acquire a perfect sense of timing, flying away the instant before I trip the shutter. The 300/4 AF-S is a fine close-focuser, though, even with the 1.7X teleconverter, and it gives me a bit more working distance for flighty fare. Still, I've never matched the buckeye photo I shot in the Santa Ynez Mountains with a 50mm lens, an extension tube and a macro flash bracket back in 1985.

Uncropped, too. Probably Kodachrome 25 film with a Nikon F3. I still remember how amazed I felt to get so close, on my belly, without the handsome devil flying away.

I know that every tiny mushroom growing in a bed of moss isn't a Mycena, but I'm going to guess that this one is and leave it at that. I suppose it might be part of the Mycena capillaris group, the "miniscule mycenas," but I will not be taking a spore print. I will not be checking to see how the gills are attached to the stipe. I will not be exposing the spores to a solution of iodine and Melzer's reagent to see if they're amyloid. I will be taking the picture and moving on. (If you're interested in mushroom microscopy, check out this 20-minute presentation on YouTube.)

Did you hear about the couple who found a treasure trove of 19th Century uncirculated gold coins buried in cans on their property in the Sierra Nevada? Well, this is kind of like that, except I found a golden oak leaf right here on Mt. Tamalpais.

I've been reading The Daybooks of Edward Weston lately. There are so many little gems in there, but I borrowed the book from a friend, so unfortunately I can't mark it up with highlighters, dog-ear the page corners, or even make a few light underline marks in pencil to save for later sharing of all the bits I find. 

One of the things I love is how excited he would get about ordinary vegetables. He's most famous for his peppers, but he loved even celery too, and he thought "squash" was a horrible name for such a beautiful object. He took joy in revealing ordinary things to people in a way that made them really take note and share at least a hint of how he himself felt about such wonders. Along with his famous cypress images, he'd also been thrilled by bits of kelp on a pebbly beach, and when someone introduced him to tidepools he fell in love with starfish. 

That's really the ticket in photography, when I fall in the love with the subject. It helps me fall in love with life again.

Walking through the forest -- free to walk off-trail and with no fences in sight -- I fell in love with the newly rained-on landscape. Finally. Creeks are on the move, ferns are unfurling, fungi are pushing up through the earth, calypso orchid bulbs are starting to sing themselves awake.

After I swapped out a new memory card in the trail camera I headed back to the Jeep to take a drive out along Bolinas Ridge, where things are finally greening up.

There were rain squalls all around, but few passed close enough to give me a sprinkle. When it did rain on my position I opened my portable shelter (a large golf umbrella) and sat underneath it, taking in views such as this one. 

Thirty miles out to sea, the Southeast Farallon Islands were being buffeted by wind and wave. A smaller set of the islands to the north was even more dramatically affected, yet it was quite peaceful on Bolinas Ridge. The rain came in at a slight angle, but my umbrella didn't try to fly away.

I was disappointed to see that my camera trap caught only a dog and a hiker -- and this camera-totin' galoot -- all week. It's pointed just a bit too high as well. Only the top of the dog was caught. A bobcat could walk by without being caught at all. I drove back up Sunday morning to set the camera at a better angle (so glad I did photography on Saturday since Sunday was a foggy, windy, drizzling mess). 

I'm still hopeful this spot will be productive, but a negative result will be interesting as well. It seems like a natural thoroughfare, right along a forest edge and connecting a couple of large meadows. In any case, I'll probably move it next week just to try a new spot.

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  1. Love those 'shrooms! Nice to read about all your trials and tribulations on getting the shot. I feel better, even knowing you too have trouble getting the kinks out sometime. Regarding the couple finding the coins, did you read where the Feds and State are claiming nearly 50% of their find in taxes? Crooks!

    1. I did read that! What a bummer. I can't believe there isn't anything the taxman won't go after. And the taxes are due the year of the find, so you don't even have much time to get the funds together. Ridiculous. Maybe I should cut the oak leaf in half and send it in with next year's return.

  2. Nice set of photos. Especially liked the mushrooms, butterflies, oak leaf close-up and well-dressed oak.

  3. What was it about last week? I, too, had a couple nights of only 3 hours of sleep. Made me very grumpy. The rain was heavenly and I got right out in it as much as I could. Funny what you say about mushrooms, 'cause I posted this Mycena from last month: Could you take a look and make a guess as to what it might be?

    ps - What does "accumulating a little too much spleen" mean?

    1. You got a great shot of that little patch of Mycenas! I wouldn't hazard a guess on the species. I'll refer you to Yahoo Answers for the spleen definition:

    2. Oh, maybe that's where the "don't split your spleen" comes from, too? I thought it had something to do with Asian herbal medicine.

    3. All I know is what I learned reading Moby-Dick. :) Although it also sounds like something I might have heard in a W.C. Fields movie.