Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fading Season

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The day after the Sound Summit concert, all was quiet on the mountain again. Patches of California fuchsia provided the only wildflower color, exuberant among dried-up grass stems.

I spooked a few deer browsing below the fuchsia and, a little higher up, a smattering of skinny-looking, nearly colorless wild turkeys as I watched the fading harvest moon sink between the crowns of Doug fir trees. Up near Rock Spring, a pileated woodpecker was working the old Doug fir snag where the Cataract and Benstein trails diverge.

Down along the creek there was no running water for quite a ways. Just a few pools with clusters of water striders on top and a darting fish or two below. Bees buzzing down along the stream's edge looking for safe places to land and take a drink. A blue dragonfly hawking through bugs whirling over the water, its wings pattering like the sound of dry paper.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dark Thoughts, Light Heart

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Last night I finished the book, Untamed, that I mentioned in my last post. One of the hallmarks of a great storyand this is also a true storyis that it leaves you choked-up, in love with the cast of characters (good and bad), and with plenty of food for thought.

One of the great conflicts in the book (without giving away too much) involves humanity's insatiable appetite for wild-caught seafood, even when it involves a lot of collateral damage, or so-called bycatch. We are great at thinking up ways to turn wildlife into food and money, and Untamed was a good reminder that a lot of peoplemaybe even mostgenuinely don't care about the cost to wild nature as long as they get what they want from it. 

I can see their point. It's harder to care.

It's hard to admit that wehumanity in generalare doing all that killing. We are a diverse bunch: vegetarians and omnivores, peaceniks and roughnecks, rich and poor, lovers of life and miserable sonsabitchesand everything in between. We treat our beautiful, bountiful planet as if the shelves of the local store had plenty more of them. Earth all filthy and used up? Buy another one!

Not to mention that today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I don't think any event in my life has made me feel more patriotic and vengeful. What a world.

I feel lucky to be able to let it all go, to lighten my heart, even if just for a day, by heading out into nature. A day of recreation on Mt. Tam puts some distance on all the problems in the world. I can ruminate on the troubles out there (as if solutions will pop into my head!), only to get side-tracked by a carpet of tanoak leaves, the laughter of acorn woodpeckers, the movement of a squirrel, the scent of bay laurel leaves or sunkissed grass, a patch of rosinweed at season's end.

This is a shot of the same tanoak that appears in the picture before it, Tanoak Cornucopia. It's one of the tanoak's seven trunks. All those fallen leaves and catkins in the previous image are gathered in the hollowed-out middle of the seven sisters. I stopped at first because I've stopped at this tree many times in the past. Back in 2003 I made a photograph of the forest floor under the canopy of this tree, and I always remember that shot when I walk by. 

I was on my way to Potrero Meadow to look for milkweed plants and monarch caterpillars. I don't think I've seen milkweed at Potrero Meadow since 2011, and I haven't seen a monarch caterpillar on a Mt. Tam milkweed since 2003. 

I might not have thought a manzanita branch could still capture my interest after all these years, but what do you know. You never get tired of some things, I guess.

After I rounded Potrero Meadow (no sign of milkweed or even jimsonweed this year) I looked up at the edge of the forest and zeroed in on a nice fat acorn. It seemed as beautiful as a ripe peach, as if some primordial memory from my species' hunter-gatherer past had just discovered a treasure. I knew I wanted not just to photograph it, but to hold it in my hands for a while, so I carried it with me as I hiked back to the car. Wondering why an acorn would be fuzzy....

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Ode to Sutro Sam

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The October-December issue of Bay Nature magazine’s feature on river otters got me thinking about good old Sutro Sam, who delighted a lot of people during his brief stay at Sutro Baths in 2012. Sam eventually ate all the fish in the tank and had to move on to greener pastures.

I’m reading a fascinating and beautifully written book called Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island, where author Will Harlan states that only relatively recently in human history did we lose the ability to live within our resource limits. As many others do, he implies that we lost a wisdom that we once had. But as I wonder about that I have my doubts. As hunter-gatherers we spread out over the globe in search of greener pastures, just like Sutro Sam, until we learned that through agriculture and animal husbandry we could stay in one place and even continue to prosper as our numbers grew. In one respect, our survival strategy as hunter-gatherers didn’t change. In an agricultural society, resource depletion just takes longer.

By 2016 agricultural society has almost entirely supplanted hunter-gatherer societies. Human populations and markets have become so huge that we’re faced with the possibility of whole aquifers and even whole resource stocks being entirely consumed. People are just trying to make a living, but the resource—even when it’s in an ocean—turns out to be finite. The ocean is amazingly productive, but it isn’t magically so.

Maybe we’re a lot more like Sutro Sam than we like to admit, taking care of our immediate needs with little or no thought about where it all leads.

Harlan also mentions in Untamed the observations of NASA scientist James Lovelock, who noticed self-regulating systems in the earth’s atmosphere and in other natural processes, and way back in 1969 “came to a startling conclusion: the earth is alive.”

“He proposed,” Harlan continues, “that the earth is a superorganism—one giant living system that includes not just animals and plants but rocks, gases, and soil—acting together as if the planet was a single living being.”

I like the analogy, but it’s too bad the earth doesn’t reproduce! Then we would have greener pastures to move into. On the same page as the rest of this stuff, Harlan quotes the “wild woman” who is the subject of his book who says, “We cannot grow infinitely on a finite planet.” It’s such an obvious and simple fact that surely everyone sees it. Yet we keep chowing down like Sutro Sam, with no more intelligence or perspective, no more forward-looking consciousness, than a river otter’s.

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Beach of Mystery

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I haven't done an early rock-n-roll session in a long time -- getting up early enough to be somewhere by sunrise, that is. I kind of got faked out by yesterday's clear weather. I could see stars out when I woke up on Friday morning. Not so much on Saturday. But I was kinda sorta up early anyway, so I went for it.

You never know what you're going to find when you go someplace new. And sometimes you don't find the new place right away because it's still dark out. I overshot my main destination and had to hang out somewhere else until it got light enough to see my way around.

Sunrise came a little before 7 a.m. today, and low tide hit just past the hour. I was excited to find sea palm exposed on an accessible reef. I've never been able to walk right up to sea palm before. I've seen it at Salt Point in the past, but it was gone the last time I looked for it. If you're thinking I get excited about sea palm because they remind me of Hawaii, you'd be only partly right. Okay, I'm kidding. They do not remind me of Hawaii. What they remind me of is sea palm strudel, which I've had at one place only, Ravens Restaurant in Mendocino.

Very nice reef for tidepooling, but I didn't try to do any photography of tidepool critters because it was still too dark. Also, the total lack of starfish has got me down. Tidepools should, at the very least, have a few starfish just to give your reef-roving eyes something fun and easy to catch once in a while. The poor bastards are still fighting the wasting disease, a viral infection that turns them into mush.

I'd love to see a timelapse of tafoni forming.

Interesting tidbits in the pebbly sand include a couple of baby sea urchins. I couldn't tell until I got home and viewed several frames in succession that the smaller urchin was moving.


Here are the tafoni pits full of little pit-forming denizens.

A closer view of the tiny beans that scrub out the hollows.

You pretty much notice the dead whale right off. Even if your eyes are closed. I was interested to find the backbone exposed like this since I'd never seen anything like it before on a beach. Turns out some biologists from the California Academy of Sciences came down and did some harvesting. They determined, among other things, that this was a juvenile female humpback whale that was likely killed from a head injury sustained when it collided with a ship. It washed up less than a couple of months ago, on July 24. The remains were still being pecked at by numerous gulls, and a pair of fresh coyote tracks crossed its path. Where the tracks met the carcass, the remains looked like a beached carpet. I suspect the coyotes did not dine or linger.

Although I saw no stars of the sea, I did see a comet made of limpets.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Back to Nature

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"You must go in quest of yourself, and you will find yourself again only in the simple and forgotten things. Why not go into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in books."

--Carl Jung, in a letter to a colleague (from The Earth Has A Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life, edited by Meredith Sabini, 2008)

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"Civilized man . . . is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct -- a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely manmade environment. This loss of instinct is largely responsible for the pathological condition of contemporary culture."

--from Jung's Collected Works, in the same book as above

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The practical advice Jung gave for remedying the loss of contact with Nature, within or without, is not much different from what is widely available today: to live in small communities; to work a shorter day and week; to have a plot of land to cultivate so the instincts come back to life; and to make the sparest use of radio, television, newspapers, and technological gadgetry. The purpose of doing these things, however, is not to repair Nature, but rather to let Nature affect us. 

--from the editor writing in the same book as above 

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