Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Lagunitas Creek Sunrise


I hadn't planned to be anywhere in particular to photograph the sunrise, and in fact had only brought my camera gear on the off-chance I'd want to use it. I just haven't felt fired up to do much more than phone-snaps for quite some time. The workweeks are long, and the weekends short. I've found that I enjoy being out in a different way when I don't have my camera gear with me, when I don't have the same drive to acquire an image. Instead I just enjoy being out and about. This time, though, the scene just kind of fell in my lap.

By the time I passed through Point Reyes Station I realized I needed a bathroom, and I knew there were porta-potties at the turn-out for White House Pool. I almost missed the entrance in the pre-dawn darkness, but once I was there I figured I might as well set up my camera for the coming sunrise.

I was surprised how quickly the blaze of color came and went. You don't get very long to bask in the color this time of year, whereas in December you get so much time you can hardly believe it.

A kingfisher chattered from upstream, then finally flew downstream along the opposite bank. It was cold out there, and I was glad I'd chosen to wear jeans instead of shorts. I even had jacket and gloves on until after the sun broke out. It was beautifully quiet out there, and the reflective surface of Lagunitas Creek lent itself to a contemplative frame of mind. 

I've been reading a couple of those "Best Science and Nature Writing" anthologies, downloading them to my Kindle from the library. With all the amazing science going on, I'm still in awe of the fact that we don't know what the "life force" is. I mean, we know all kinds of things about physics, chemistry, and biology, but we still don't know how the elements that formed in exploding stars found their way to becoming living plants and trees, kingfishers and human beings. As one astrobiologist put it, the theory of evolution should be able to address how supposedly dead matter comes to life in the first place. I hope I'm still alive when (or if) we figure that out.

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Monday, November 8, 2021

First Porcini

Giacomini Wetlands Overlook

Sometimes I wonder why I bring my bulky and heavy Nikon at all since it's often enjoyable to just whip out my smartphone and fire off a few frames. I did bring the Nikon on this trip, but I was a lot more picky about my subjects. It's actually great to have the smartphone for quick snaps, plus the Nikon for when I want to be more contemplative in my photographic work.

The Giacomini Wetlands Overlook was nice, but it's gotten a little overgrown for scenic purposes since I photographed it in 2015. I don't think the shot I made then would be possible now.

Giacomini Marsh in 2015

First Porcini of the Season

I found this porcini in the first two minutes of my mushroom-hunt on Mt. Vision, and it was in great shape. My wife and I ate it that night. I poked around under the bishop pines for another hour-and-a-half or so without finding any others. All I found instead were a few holes in the pine duff where it appeared that someone had beaten me to the goods.

Raggedy Amanita

While I was in the woods I also found this apparently rain-soaked amanita with its raggedy veil remnants hanging off the cap margin. I suspect the top of the cap wouldn't have been quite so white if it hadn't been rained on.

Curlews on the Beach

Along with Mt. Vision being open again, it was great to see that Drake's Beach was too. The parking lot and marsh restoration look nice and new.

Estero Bird Overlook

The Estero Bird Overlook at the edge of Schooner Bay beckoned with its mirror-like reflections. As I made this phone snap I caught some movement in my peripheral vision and was surprised to see a river otter preening nearby.

Resting River Otter

I hung out while it carried on without paying me much mind. The otter really seemed to like using the rolled straw wattle at the base of the riprap as a comfy platform to preen from. A car drove by as I was hanging out, then stopped to turn around and park. I had tried not to bring attention to the otter, but apparently a sharp-eyed photographer had spotted me watching it, and I felt a little bit like I'd betrayed the otter. I walked back toward my car and said hello to the photographer, who said, "We must have seen the same thing, eh?" I must have given him a slightly quizzical look because he added, "The reflections." Oh yeah, I said. He had some kind of Brit or Aussie accent and I liked his demeanor enough to tell him about the otter. Thankfully he just went over to pay his respects from a distance without the otter being bothered in the least.

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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Change of Season

On the one hand, it's great to finally be getting some rain. On the other hand, I had to postpone my dental check-up this Tuesday because I didn't want to show up like a soggy dog after biking downtown.

I took the day off to drive out to Pt. Reyes yesterday to beat the weekend crowds. I drove up through Lucas Valley where there's still a traffic light where they're doing roadwork on a tight bend in the road. I drove home on Hwy. 1, the Shoreline Highway. I'd planned to climb up the northwest side of Mt. Tam via Bolinas Fairfax Road, but the gate was closed, so I enjoyed the drive along Bolinas Lagoon instead. It was pretty much high tide at the time, something like +6 feet. Definitely no dry land for basking harbor seals or foraging shorebirds.

I shot these three scenes along West Ridgecrest Road, near the intersection with Bolinas-Fairfax. It kind of looks like I could have made these shots yesterday, but they were made back in early July, when ferns and redwoods live off the sometimes prodigious summer fog drip.

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Friday, October 29, 2021

Spartan Accommodations


October Sunrise with Mt. Diablo

“Man is a creature who can get used to anything, and I believe that is the very best way of defining him.”—Fyodor Dostoevsky

The quotation comes from a book about life as a prisoner in a Siberian prison camp, but I read it in a book about wilderness survival, in the context of a story about a couple of people lost at sea (Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales).

It’s a sentiment I’ve shared for a long time, ever since I heard about crowded Japanese subway systems where people are pushed into packed cars. The pusher’s job title was oshiya, and as Wikipedia reports, “In 1975, oshiya packed commuters into rush-hour trains that were filled to an average of 221 percent of designed capacity.”

Apparently it’s gotten somewhat better since then, and the pandemic’s effect on mass transit has been, and will likely continue to be, considerable. Nevertheless, the image of people being crammed into sardine cans remains indelible in my mind, and has long stood for the humorous, sad, and inspiring fact that we always adapt to the various impoverishments we experience in our lives, from environmental degradation to urban blight, from price inflation to wage deflation, and from calling money “speech” and corporations “people” to the gaslighting of common sense.

Sunrise from Mt. Tamalpais

When I began this blog in 2007 as a motivator and creative outlet for travels and explorations around natural California, I’d been working for environmental non-profits for nearly ten years. Despite my daily exposure to the myriad ways in which civilization degrades wild nature and human health, I still felt upbeat about our chances to fight back, and I felt lucky to have such an interesting and biodiverse state to explore. I put thousands of miles on my Jeep Cherokee with no thought of my "carbon footprint," a term rarely used at the time.

Half-way into 2013 I decided to “wipe the slate” on all that travel (including the blog posts) and concentrate instead on making a deeper exploration of Mt. Tamalpais, which is fairly close to my home in San Francisco. (I can see East Peak from my living room window, although someone’s trees down the block have been growing and obscuring the view over the years.)

I’ve been visiting Mt. Tam for thirty years now. In the beginning there was an off-trail area I used to explore, a place I called Bobcat Hill. It offered an emotional salve, even salvation, to a nature-loving guy who lived and worked in the city. I recently hiked back up to Bobcat Hill for the first time in well over a decade and was surprised to see that all my old landmarks had been overgrown. The meadows and animal trails had been smothered by coyote brush. Even the forest understory was dark and sterile-looking.

Turkey vultures warm their wings at Vulture Rock, up on Bobcat Hill, in 1996. On a recent visit I couldn't even find Vulture Rock, now completely obscured by chaparral.

In the Bobcat Hill days I often felt like I had the mountain to myself. Then came Twitter's arrival in downtown San Francisco to usher in the latest tech boom, a boom that would eventually draw many other people like myself to the mountain, people who needed salvation from the city. 

In 2013-14 I would often show up at the Pantoll gate on Mt. Tam before the park ranger arrived to open it at 7 a.m. I would park in front of the gate to wait, roll down the windows, turn off the motor, and listen to birds singing the new day into life. When the ranger opened the gate I would have the mountain to myself for quite a while. I called that blog project A Circumannuation of Mt. Tamalpais and brought my photography gear up to the mountain to explore pretty much every weekend for a year. After the year was over in May 2014, I took an intermission from the blog for a year or two (with very few posts in 2015) and allowed myself to arrive for hikes or photography well after the gate-opening.

The next time I showed up before 7 a.m., I was surprised to have so much company. I actually had to pull in behind a line of cars already waiting. To this day it remains that way. Lots of new Mt. Tamophiles. (It would be another few years before  crowded conditions led to reservations being required at Muir Woods.) I was recently first in line at the gate and thought the pandemic might have shifted visitation back to before the latest wave of tech workers, but several more arrivals soon disabused me that notion. Anyway, it’s not like Mt. Tam has become too crowded, at least not in the manner of Japanese subway trains.

Sunrise with San Francisco Skyline

After the Mt. Tam project was over I decided to do the same kind of thing out at Pt. Reyes. I traded the 17-mpg Cherokee for a Mazda 3, doubling my gas mileage, but even then I was probably concerned more about the price of gas to me, personally, than I was to the price of gas to our climate. Like the parable of the slowly cooking frog, I’ve been getting used to things heating up so slowly that I just accommodate it.

Back in 2007 I didn’t really think about the term “carbon footprint” which, according to Wikipedia, “was popularized by a large advertising campaign of the fossil fuel company BP in 2005…. The campaign was intended to divert attention from the fossil fuel industry onto individual consumers.”

Occasionally I will ride my e-bike up to Mt. Tam, but I do still drive there in a car from time to time. And although I’m a little bit proud of the fact that after more than seven years I only have 40,000 miles on the Mazda, I do look forward to soon using it to re-explore the world of natural California, which means lots more gallons of gas to burn. (An electric car is only as clean as the powerplant you charge it from, and I can't afford one anyway.)

I can only wonder what I’ll find as I re-discover natural California. Will it become a place of drought-stricken and impoverished landscapes, burnt forests and dry riverbeds, smoke-filled air and blazing summer heat? Has the California I explored in the 2000s already disappeared forever? 

If so, I guess I'll just have to get used to it. Like those Siberian prisoners and shipwrecked castaways.

Sunrise with Ridge Silhouettes

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Bird Bath

Here's a little bird action showing some of the diversity of species that have been visiting the little water pool. I was surprised no wild turkeys showed up on the cam. When I went down to the pool recently to collect the SD card and swap in some fresh batteries, I spooked up several turkeys who immediately but casually mosied out of the area. Probably the most frequently captured bird has been the screech-owl. The owl visits often and tends to stick around awhile. In contrast, the band-tailed pigeons, who are also frequent visitors, are usually in-and-out during the span of a 12-second video clip. 

Acorn Woodpecker

Black-headed Grosbeaks

Band-tailed Pigeon

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Downy Woodpecker and Western Tanager


Flycatcher (?) (It didn't land.)

Great-horned Owl

Pacific Wren

Pacific Slope Flycatcher



Spotted Towhee

Steller's Jay

Townsend's Warbler

Varied Thrush

Western Tanager

Wilson's Warbler

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Monday, October 25, 2021

Saturday Snaps

Took a few phone snaps while I was on Mt. Tam to check my camera traps on Saturday. I climbed a nearby hill where the sun was trying to break through the clouds in what promised to be a stunning display of backlighting, crepuscular rays, glories, and brocken specter, but the fog rose too high and the sun was blotted out. A raven joined me, glad for a little company. In recent weeks the bay laurels have been bustling with ravens feeding on peppernuts, but the frenzy seemed to have died down.

There was lovely fall color in patches of poison oak, and in just the past week, all the dry, stony creekbeds with their shrinking pools had filled with the rush of singing water. I hadn't really expected to find fungi just yet, but a large dyer's polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) surprised me, and some young oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) promised edibles to come.

Happy Halloween Tree

Fall Color in the Poison Oak

The Twin Snag at Rock Spring

Climbing Poison Oak Vines & Creek Dogwood

Dyer's Polypore

More Spooky Stuff

Oyster Babies on Mossy Log

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Friday, October 22, 2021

Building Blocks


Sand Tufa at Mono Lake

They thought physics was dead more than a hundred years ago. Before Max Planck postulated the quantum. Before Einstein explained the photoelectric effect. Long before dark energy and dark matter. And way, way before double-charm tetraquarks!

From Quanta Magazine: “The unexpected discovery of the double-charm tetraquark highlights an uncomfortable truth. While physicists know the exact equation that defines the strong force … they can rarely solve this strange, endlessly iterative equation, so they struggle to predict the strong force’s effects.”

I love it that physicists are stuck with an equation they can rarely solve, that physics is not dead, and that nature is still bending minds, thank you very much. The writer goes on to explain that the tetraquark they discovered was surprisingly stable—because it lasted 12 sextillionths of a second!

And here I am thinking a flash sync of 1/250th of a second is blink-of-an-eye fast. Of course in the context of atomic physics it would be ridiculous to even call a blinking eye “fast.” Anything that took as long as an eye-blink to happen would probably put a particle physicist to sleep!

A tempting internal hyperlink in the above article took me to a page about protons, which reminded me of a Star Trek: Next Generation episode that I recently watched on Amazon Prime (“When the Bough Breaks”). When this kid who’s maybe 12 years old was scolded by his dad for ditching his calculus homework, I hoped that they would eventually show the kid why calculus is useful. Alas, they missed their chance. Maybe the writers themselves didn’t know either.

Not only did we not learn calculus when I was in 7th grade (the year after Apollo 11 landed on the moon), we didn’t learn about quarks either, much less tetraquarks. An atom was a neutron, plus protons and electrons, and that was that. So I thought it was funny when the linked article started out saying, “We learn in school that a proton is a bundle of three elementary particles called quarks—two ‘up’ quarks and a ‘down’ quark, whose electric charges (+2/3 and -1/3, respectively) combine to give the proton its charge of +1. But that simplistic picture glosses over a far stranger, as-yet-unresolved story.”

I love that the proton story I learned about has become passé, but you’ll have to read the article to see how mind-blowing the “as-yet-unresolved story” is. How intricate and mysterious this beautiful world is.

October Sunrise, Mono Lake

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Town & Country

I've been getting lots of raccoon activity out back recently. I believe this is a family group, and that it is the same group whose younger, smaller members I saw trooping around maybe a month or so ago. I keep a bowl of water out for the local wildlife, birdlife and neighborhood cats, and I can always tell in the morning when the raccoons have been around the night before because the bowl will be empty of water and full of sand (from putting their paws in the water).


Town Raccoons

Country Raccoon

Town Skunk

Country Skunk

It's not unusual at certain times of the year to see a hermit thrush poking around out back, and they frequently show up on the Tam Cams also.

Town Hermit Thrush

Country Hermit Thrush

Okay, it's not exactly comparing apples to apples since the town and country rats are different species. In fact, the Old World and New World rats are even in different families. I had to go way back to February to find a rat picture, partly because I don't retain all the rat captures, but also, I suspect, because my next-door neighbor recently hired a rat-exterminator.

Town (Norway) Rat

Country (Wood) Rat

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