Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Piedras Blancas

When I shot this sunset in 1995 the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas was fairly new and only beginning to get noticed by people driving by. There was no boardwalk, and Friends of the Elephant Seal was still two years away from training its first docents. 

The first boardwalk was built eight years after I shot the sunset photo, with another boardwalk opening in 2010. These elephant seal shots were all taken in April 2008, two years before the north boardwalk was built.

Thanks to the boardwalks, Piedras Blancas is a great place to view elephant seals. I came here once in the winter during pupping season and was astounded by the amazing experience of raw nature as seals gave birth right before our eyes and gulls swooped down to feed on placentas.

In these April 2008 shots, the seals were much more subdued.

Subdued like this seal, whose expression reminds me of my own when on Friday I went up to Mt. Tam to swap new batteries into my wildlife cams, only to find I couldn't get access. The gates are locked at Bootjack and Pantoll, as well as above the Alice Eastwood Group Camp, and even the parking pull-outs along the road are closed.

I'd like to think we're going to pull through this very soon and go back to the days of innocence, lying on the beach in the warm afternoon sun.

But I'm staying prepared for a much longer haul, like an industrious California ground squirrel in spring.

In addition to the numerous ground squirrels, the parking area at Piedras Blancas is also a good place to look for brush rabbits after you've had your fill of elephant seals.

Sometimes there's little else to do than simply enjoy the comforts of home and wait things out. 

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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Big Sur

Coastal Poppies

Redwoods and Pico Blanco

Big Sur Sunset

Big Sur Coast with Echium

Partington Creek

Lupine and Owl's Clover, Fort Hunter Liggett

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Time Flies

Buckeye Butterfly, Santa Ynez Mountains, April 1985.

Chorus Frog on Granite Boulder, Santa Ynez Mountains, April 1985.

California Fuchsia, Santa Ynez Mountains, April 1985.

This might be the first time I've actually viewed the California fuchsia image since I now see that it's not a very good scan. Funny to think back to when I took these pictures using a Nikon F3 and a 50mm lens with extension tubes. The film was probably Kodachrome 25. Velvia was still another five years in the future, and I wouldn't switch to a digital camera for another 20 years. 

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Friday, April 3, 2020

April Plain

Fiddleneck Sunrise on the edge of Soda Lake.

What an "extreme drought year" looks like on Carrizo.

Interestingly, the following year was also an extreme drought year, but it didn't look quite so parched, at least on this part of the plain.

Not too bad for an extreme drought year.

On the other hand, it seems that "extreme" in 2008 didn't mean quite the same thing by 2013, when I took this shot of wind blowing across Soda Lake.

This twisty little devil formed on Soda Lake during one of the driest periods in state history: 

"The 2011-2017 California drought was a persistent drought from the period of December 2011 to March 2017, and is one of the most intense droughts in California history, with the period of late 2011 through 2014 being the driest in California history." (Wikipedia)

So one year I was passing through when I spotted a lone pronghorn lying on the plain. I pulled over and got my camera out, and after a few minutes he stood up. I figured he would wander off, but he was the curious type.


He got so close I had to switch to vertical format.

And then he got so close I snapped a head-and-shoulders shot.

And finally he came in for a portrait. 

It was just the two of us out there as far as the eye could see. 

His curiosity satisfied, he finally turned and ambled away.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Gimme Shelter

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As I do my best to hide from a virus I can't see, I take a few phone snaps here and there to remind me it's not all bad. Sheltering in place and working from home can be a drag, but it also means:

Having time to eat an awesome breakfast.

Reading a fat book.

Drinking quarantinis.

Going grocery shopping and wondering if now's the time to find out what a $9 jar of pasta sauce tastes like.

Going for walks in the neighborhood.

Stopping to smell the spring blossoms.

Doing sketchfest with friends online.

Making hummus and avocado toast with Sriracha drops.

Spotting San Francisco wallflowers at your local park.

Sitting with a friendly neighborhood cat.

Arranging your pantry.

Taking more neighborhood walks.

Going into the office one day and being the only person on the whole floor.

Checking out the mad lunch-hour rush (it's Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in this shot).

Visiting Pier 39 (taking the long way home from the office).

Walking in the street to keep your distance from your neighbors.

Making awesome vegan mac-and-cheese.

And there's always ... taking another neighborhood walk.

When I go for my first walk in the early morning I'm always surprised to see people getting in their car to drive somewhere. For those of you who are going to work at great personal risk to bring us our food (from the growers and farmworkers to the truckers and grocers), to the folks who keep the water running, the lights on, and the internet connected, and to all the medical staff on the front lines of this health crisis, I salute you and thank you from the bottom of my heart!

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Adios, March

Anise Swallowtail on Checkerbloom

As we say "Adios" to the most surreal March of our lives, I thought I'd post some favorite bird and butterfly images -- the lighter side of nature -- from the month of March in years past.

Townsend's Warbler

Green Hairstreak

Fox Sparrow

Pipevine Swallowtail

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

White-Crowned Sparrow

Allen's Hummingbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Scrub Jay

Long-Billed Curlew

Although my wife and I are both working from home, there is enough down time even during the workday that it's good to have a book to pick up. On my wife's recommendation I started sheltering in place with Frank Herbert's Dune. I finally finished it on Saturday, and we streamed the movie that night after a dinner of rice with baked tofu and broccoli, generously spiced.

On Sunday I picked The Forest Unseen, A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell, which I'm re-reading. I was going to photograph it on the ground in our garden, but it was too wet. The bird bath, with antler and quartz crystal from Mt. Tamalpais and Buddha from a friend, seemed appropriate because the book starts off with a description of a Tibetan sand mandala and segues into the circle of life that the author will study for a year. 

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Agony & Ecstasy

If you've ever felt the ecstasy of being one with nature, one with the universe, you may also have felt the agony of being unique, separate and alone.

Two sides of the same coin, as the saying goes. We each carry these polarities, if only as potentials that graze our conscious selves like tangents on a circle. 

Would we trade the bliss of ignorance for the torture of clarity? Or, better yet, marry them together?

I like to think we're drawn to frontiers, to edges where the land meets the sea, because they tune these polarities within us, bring us into harmony.

We're all one, all born of elements formed in exploding stars, born of a virgin that science calls a singularity. From that unique mother of the universe comes a family of forces and elements, of life and consciousness.

Spring is a great reminder of the mystery of life.

And I don't just mean mystery in a religious, poetic, or mystical sense, but an actual mystery that has scientists completely flummoxed.

All the insights we've made into physics and biology remain fragmentary knowledge, as yet unsynthesized into a coherent story of the mystery of life.

This all came together for me as I was reading an interview in Quanta Magazine with the physicist Nigel Goldenfeld and was struck by the following passage:

“It’s in that sense that I think our view of evolution as a process needs to be expanded — by thinking about dynamical systems, and how it is possible that systems capable of evolving and reproducing can exist at all. If you think about the physical world, it is not at all obvious why you don’t just make more dead stuff. Why does a planet have the capability to sustain life? Why does life even occur? The dynamics of evolution should be able to address that question. Remarkably, we don’t have an idea even in principle of how to address that question — which, given that life started as something physical and not biological, is fundamentally a physics question.”

I like to believe that humanity will someday be able to address that question, to tell that story. And maybe in doing so, become able to address the ability of a virus that's just following the laws of nature to jam up our life systems, not just individually but extending to the entire tribe of human beings throughout the world.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Hooves & Feathers

Anyone else remember the break of, I don't recall how many years, when dairy cows were gone and tule elk had the D Ranch pastures for themselves? That was good times for wildlife viewing. My heart sank a little when I went back out there some years ago and saw that cattle ranching was back.

March is a good month to spot baby blue egret eggs in a pine tree full of feathers.

Alert and frisky in the fields of spring.

Willets foraging in the pickleweed.

One bull still hangs onto his antlers while three others have already shed theirs and begun sporting velvet nubbins.

A black turnstone walks the tide line.

Deer take an early morning break at Chimney Rock.

A raven pontificates in clatters and clicks.

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