Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day

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In honor of the special day I decided to visit the planet Earth, and an especially lovely corner of it situated on the outskirts of the town of Larkspur near the base of Mt. Tamalpais. The place is called Baltimore Canyon. 

When my family moved away from Hawaii the first time, I was about seven years old, and we went from Honolulu to Towson, just outside Baltimore, Maryland. It was the year of the "blizzard of '66" for this Island boy, and I still remember two years later worrying about my father as he drove off to work in Baltimore during the riots that broke out after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968 .

So how, you might ask, did the name of Baltimore end up in this pretty little canyon at the base of Mt. Tam? According to a Wikipedia entry on Larkspur Creek, a sawmill was transported down the east coast of North and South America, around Cape Horn, then up along the west coasts of those two continents -- all the way from Baltimore to Larkspur -- in 1849:

Secretary Daniel Taylor of the Baltimore and Frederick Trading and Mining Company recalled in a 1914 newspaper article, “When we arrived at Larkspur, there was no one to meet us. The country was a wilderness, with wild geese in abundance." The sawyers denuded Mt. Tamalpais of old-growth redwoods in short order. Said Taylor in 1914, "I can picture the majestic redwoods that covered the flat where Larkspur stands today. Some of the trees were eight feet in diameter and lifted their immense bulk 300 feet upward.” 

You can still find a few redwoods along Larkspur Creek. In the photo above that shows multiple trunks rising in a kind of circle together, my guess is that they are all sprouting from the same burl, or underground fruiting structure, that once supported a single giant redwood. Larkspur is no longer a wilderness, but it seemed like a cute little town as I drove through it. 

I got a stiff neck looking for California spotted owls but didn't have any luck. I photographed this semi-snoozing owl about this time two years ago.

I was surprised to see a fruiting of Panus conchatus on a decaying bay laurel that had fallen across the creek. I didn't even notice the slug gnoshing on the old specimen until I viewed the image back at home.

I drove out of Larkspur along Magnolia Avenue to Sir Francis Drake, then out to Fairfax-Bolinas Road which finally reopened earlier this month. This velvet-antlered buck was grazing on the edge of the road across from the Meadow Club Golf Course.

This might have been his younger brother, kicking back. It was great to see so many deer out and about again. Seems like it's been a while. 

Up near Azalea Hill, a California poppy emerged from its tissue-like calyx.

Several cream cups (Platystemon californicus), bloomed around their orange brothers in the Papaveraceae.

Due to the road being closed most of the winter, I hadn't been to the Lily Pond in ages. The non-native lilies were in bloom, but I was more interested in these slime mold fruiting bodies, which I presume to be wolf's milk (Lycogala epidendrum). There were a few bright red spots nearby which apparently is what the slime mold looks like in its plasmodial stage. Now I'm sorry I didn't photograph them.

A little farther down the trail I found a nice fruiting of spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata), a plant that doesn't produce chlorophyll. Instead of photosynthesizing, this member of the orchid family parasitizes the mycelium of fungi in the Russulaceae. Now that I think about it, there were quite a few black-spotted banana slugs in the same vicinity. One of the slugs was feeding on a very old, entirely black and decayed mushroom that was probably among the last of the above-ground fruitings of a russula.

As I walked back toward the car, this little Pacific chorus frog hopped across the trail and landed on a log that seemed a perfect match for its camouflage. I fired off two frames before it hopped off and scuttled into a nearby pool of water where it disappeared.

Once again, another happy day on planet Earth.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Blue and Gold

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Sometimes it feels like it's getting harder to enjoy nature, to get close enough to it that our senses and aesthetic consciousness become engaged, close enough to experience that magical loss of boundary between us and the world. To find a virgin patch of wildflowers that hasn't been trampled confers a responsibility to try to  leave it that way for the next person to discover, to say nothing of the specific needs of insects and the general interdependence of the ecological web as a whole. A patch of wildflowers can take only so much of that up-close-and-personal love. 

Meanwhile, the more we turn the planet over to cities and suburbs and food production, the more we impoverish our heritage of wild nature. You know the end is near when nature becomes akin to a museum diorama--look but don't touch--instead of something intrinsic to our lives, part of who we are.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sky's the Limit

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Eight cars at the gate and the ranger was late. I think instead of squeezing in front of the gate with the one or two smoggers who don't turn their cars off I might just pull into the Pantoll parking lot when I arrive on the early side. Better yet, just leave home a few minutes later.

I guess it must be spring break because there were tons of early arrivals this morning.

Everyone seemed interested in watching the rising sun, but I had a hunch the photography would be better out the other way.

I'm not sure I was right about that, but it was probably a pretty great morning no matter where you were. Way out in the distance in this view, you can just make out where my home is buried under a blanket of fog. Even in the wind, it was shorts-and-t-shirt weather in the mountain sun.

So the sky lupine are out. Among the lupine I also saw lots of individual ladybird beetles, a flower spider, and numerous plant bugs. It's kind of humorous to try to get your camera close to a flower spider or a plant bug and have them see you and run around to the other side of the stalk or flower. Like that will save them.

The wind came up very fast this morning, making it impossible to photograph most of the wildflowers around the Serpentine Power Point.

Instead of doing focus stacks I just went old school, firing off single frames.

Along with the sky lupine, the lizards are back out.

This tail-less one might already have had a run-in with a predator.

I wish I could have found a bobcat that was as cooperative with a photographer as these fence lizards.

I didn't have a lot of time to hike around, so I just poked around near a couple of pull-outs. It was kind of a random morning.

Back in San Francisco I was just a block from home when I drove past this guy smoking a cigarette. I thought his dog had gotten away from him and was cantering down Ortega Street in front of my car. It took about one second to realize the dog was actually a coyote! It headed downhill on 11th Avenue, creating a bit of excitement for me and a neighbor who was out walking his dog. The coyote headed down the sidewalk toward a small boy who was pushing his scooter up the hill, but crossed the street long before the boy even noticed. I think the coyote took a right at Noriega Street, perhaps trying to get back to the other side of Laguna Honda.

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