Wednesday, October 14, 2020


Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur. A seemingly random assortment of elements that followed laws of nature that we have yet to fully comprehend, and by doing so, came to life. Look at yourself in the mirror and know that you are composed of elements that were formed in exploding stars and sent soaring through outer space. Now they have come to reside in you, a living being with an inner space.

It wasn't that long ago--a few hundred years--that European philosophers believed the most fundamental elements were earth, air, water, and fire. Classical Chinese philosophy included those four, plus metal, to make five basic elements. In John McPhee's 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Annals of the Former World, the author mentioned there were 92 naturally occurring elements (with uranium at 92). That number has since increased to 98 (with californium at 98). The other 20 listed on the periodic table of the elements have been created by scientists but have not been found in nature.

Elementals is another name for nature spirits, but I like to think we're all elementals, tracing our lineage to a moment when time itself mysteriously began almost 14 billion years ago.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Art of Tracking

I've had Louis Liebenberg's out-of-print book called The Art of Tracking in my Amazon wishlist for years. It stayed there because the only copies were going for more than $300.

Amazingly--and thankfully--it is now available for free download, along with Liebenberg's 2013 book, The Origin of Science. His introduction was timely in 2013 and even more so now that huge numbers of people seem to be losing the ability to think rationally, to follow sign all the way to its source the way our ancestors did in order to survive.

I look forward to finally being able to read these books!

From Liebenberg's introduction:

In this book I will address one of the great mysteries of human evolution: How did the human mind evolve the ability to develop science?

The art of tracking may well be the origin of science. Science may have evolved more than a hundred thousand years ago with the evolution of modern hunter-gatherers. Scientific reasoning may therefore be an innate ability of the human mind. This may have far-reaching implications for self-education and citizen science.

The implication of this theory is that anyone, regardless of their level of education, whether or not they can read or write, regardless of their cultural background, can make a contribution to science. Kalahari trackers have been employed in modern scientific research using GPS-enabled handheld computers and have co-authored scientific papers. Citizen scientists have made fundamental contributions to science. From a simple observation of a bird captured on a smart phone through to a potential Einstein, some may be better than others, but everyone can participate in science.

Today humanity is becoming increasingly dependent on science and technology for survival, from our dependence on information technology through to solving problems related to energy production, food production, health, climate change and biodiversity conservation. Involving citizens in science may be crucial for the survival of humanity over the next hundred years.

Scientific reasoning was part of hunter-gatherer culture, along with music, storytelling and other aspects of their culture. Science and art should be an integral part of human culture, as it has been for more than a hundred thousand years.

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Sunday, October 11, 2020


I wonder how long this mountain gnome will stick around. There was a notebook inside the white mailbox, but I didn't look at it. There was something slightly uninviting about reaching into the dark box to pull out the large dark notebook. I figured it was either a geocache or some other kind of visitor's register. I'll check it out next time I'm up there and slip a print of this picture in there.

Earlier in the morning I'd been watching the rising sun as it tried to break through thick layers of fog and cloud. The woods were dripping enough to make the ground wet, creating water shadows beneath the trees. Where there was no drip, the ground was dusty and dry. Where the drip was captured by moss, the moss had turned bright green. Beneath the dripping trees at Rock Spring, a banana slug, straight as a pencil, glided slowly over the surface of a picnic table.

The moisture, the moss, and the banana slugs were an intimation of wet weather to come. Hopefully we'll get the real thing before the month is out.

Last week all the news outlets eagerly announced that the season's first rain could be on its way. It's a great reminder of how complex nature really is, when the most modern meteorology, despite all of its measuring devices and supercomputers, often can't predict a change in the weather more than a day or two in advance.

Going through my past October images from Mt. Tam, there was a good amount of moisture on the mountain in 2010, '11, '12, and especially the latter part of the month in 2016. It's not that often that Cataract Creek is running while there's still fall color in the canyon maples.

On Friday I spent a lot of time chasing fogbows and hoping to find Inspector Brokken, but the right conditions didn't materialize.

Despite having no luck on that front, there was still a lot of beauty in the landscape.

A large covey of California quail also diverted me for a while.

They were difficult to approach, but if I remained still for a while, they'd slowly venture within camera range.

Surprisingly, this lovely, blue-tinged mourning dove didn't fly away when I staked out a quail-stalking position just a few feet away.

Not long after I left the quail, I saw a cooper's hawk down in a ravine. It hopped up onto a rock and fluffed its feathers awhile before flying over the ridge toward Bolinas. The sun broke through as I walked down a trail where the hawk had been. Its warmth lit up a couple dozen or so fluffy balls in a thicket of coyote brush that turned out to be white-crowned sparrows.

These deer were too busy browsing in the grass, so beautifully lit, to be overly bothered by my presence.

They eventually crossed a few feet in front of me to enter the woods through a little gnome hole in the branches. I walked over to look at the trail to see their hoofprints still sharp in the dust.

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

Mono Lake


I always love going to Mono Lake, but I'll admit I like it best at dawn and sundown, and even in the middle of the night. I like it least in the middle of a hot and cloudless day. Mid-day is a good time to go have a picnic and siesta where shade can be found up at the County Park.

Photographers spread out along the shore in October 2008.

One of my favorite shots on that trip was taken far from the shore with a long lens. 

A herring gull makes a snack of brine flies.

Rabbitbrush near Black Point, with the volcanic domes of the Mono Craters area in the distance.

Migrating monarchs enjoy the nectar of rabbitbrush.

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Friday, October 9, 2020

18 Minutes

Fall color along the east side of Tioga Pass, 6:03 a.m., Oct. 7, 2008.

Eighteen minutes later.

Too smoky to drive all the way out there this year. 

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Over the Pass


They say we're heading into a La Niña year, which supposedly could spell d-r-o-u-g-h-t. Shhh. Maybe if we're quiet, the beast won't awaken.

I made these photos crossing Tioga Pass in October 2008, during the "strong" La Niña season of 2007-08, when Sierra snowpack was well below average. Interestingly, we had another "strong" La Niña season in 2010-11, when snowpack was well above average. With any luck we'll get some fresh snow in the mountains this weekend.

Interestingly, snowpack was way below average during the "weak" El Niño year of 2014-15, and in 2015 the snowpack was basically nil at 5 percent of normal, a 500-year record low.

Like pikas living in the scree along the Nunatak Nature Trail, we'll just have to harvest what we can and hope we get through the winter okay.

You find treefrogs in the strangest places, such as here in High Country pika territory. I've also seen them in the desert. As long as there's a wet spot nearby, they are right at home.

If I remember right, this is Ellery Lake. The rabbitbrush is pretty much done at this altitude, but monarch butterflies are sipping nectar from their flowers down the hill.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Fresh Air


Phone snaps from our Sunday hike. I'll take fog over smoke any day.

Funny how it was so hot up there--baking hot and dry--and yet soon after we got back into the fog at home we had to turn the heat on to warm up the flat.

Sunday morning at Rock Spring, and not a single car.

View of East Peak on the way back down the hill.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Coyote Stories

I've got a lot of video clips from the month of September, but not enough time yet to put them into a single video montage. The coyote only wandered through the camera traps once all month, pausing to lap up some creek water from the little (and still shrinking) pool.

I like to remind myself that coyotes, and all other wild animals, live without agriculture. They find what they need as they travel about, roaming the Earth like Jules in Pulp Fiction wanted to do. 

The gate to Rock Spring was closed all weekend, but you could still park and hike in. Pam and I were surprised and a little pissed off to encounter about a dozen mountain bike riders illegally descending the very narrow Old Mine Trail. Farther up the hill you could see where bikers have been abetting the erosion of a hillside by carving their own routes. Even on the trail, they managed to knock out a couple of wooden water bars, abetting erosion there as well.

It was smoky when I drove up on Saturday, but the air was supremely clear when we hiked up on Sunday. Despite the lack of smoke, the fire danger remained. 

Speaking of fire danger, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry last night when I watched a 60 Minutes segment where a scientist put in layman's terms to the President of the United States a very clear and rational explanation of how global heating works and the dangers it presents to our way of life, and the President's response was that the Earth will cool off soon. Does he mean because winter is coming?! Is he telling us some kind of inscrutable coyote story? To see the President of the United States engaging in magical thinking to guide national policy on the defining threat of our time was just mind-blowing. 

Anyway, I'm glad I was able to spend a little time in nature this weekend. This new camera location turned out to be pretty good. I'd already seen that deer had been browsing on the plants, but I couldn't tell until I saw all the camera footage that they were continuing to do so. The most obvious sign had been some Indian hemp whose leaves have been gnawed down to its tough stem, but the deer have also been eating the sedges, the ferns, and even the thorny blackberry plants.

I had to take this kestrel frame off the video footage since I didn't get a still shot. The kestrel somehow triggered the camera to shoot three still frames without getting caught, but when the video kicked in, there it was.

Before I left the area last week I placed a couple of windfall bay nuts on the log. This video clip shows who got one of them. I'd placed the other one in a nook, and it was still there. Maybe it'll sprout next spring. This time I placed several acorns on the log. 

The water hole has shrunk quite a bit. I hope it lasts until the rains come. The pool was so small that I moved the camera to a new spot, thinking this viewpoint wasn't going to work much longer.

It was nice to catch the gray fox with the new camera location. If you look behind the fox you'll see some branches that I placed across an opening in the hope of steering the critters between the two rocks in the center of the frame, but the critters often wriggled through the branches instead, probably preferring their usual route. 

I don't know why this honeysuckle decided to hog the camera on the final day of the month, but I wish it would have waited until after the bobcat came by to drink from the pool.

And the owl too. I've been catching this owl for a while, but the old camera location was too far away to see it very well. Unfortunately, I don't know owls well enough to do more than hazard a guess as to what this guy is: screech owl? saw-whet? spotted? I doubt I'll ever get a daytime image of it, but hopefully I'll get another chance without a honeysuckle vine obscuring the view.

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Friday, October 2, 2020



Does a Great Egret ponder its reflection or reflect on its ponderings? I wonder how long it takes a young egret to learn how to compensate for refraction when hunting.

I was having a brain-freeze and tried to google "who pondered his reflection," only to be disappointed by the results. None of them answered my question. It only worked when I added the contextual word "mythology." Of course, if I had queried "who fell in love with his reflection," I'd have gotten right to it, but I couldn't even remember that Narcissus didn't ponder so much as swoon.

A Brown Pelican swoops over its reflection, having too much sense to swoon over it.

A sleepy looking Mew Gull also appears to be in a reflective mood.

It's been so long since I went out to photograph shorebirds that it took me a minute to remember that this is a Willet. All of these photos were shot at Crissy Lagoon one October day in 2007, eight years after the marsh was connected to San Francisco bay to expose it to the tides.

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