Archive for the ‘plants’ Category

Contumaza, Peru

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I am in Contumaza, a small agricultural town in the northern foothills of Peru in South America. The landscape shares similarities to the southern parts of California, particularly the San Bernardino mountains.   Beautiful flora and fauna, of which i am completely unfamiliar with. A whole family of what appears to be Cactus Wrens, stark dark brown a nd white in color and rather large in size, building a nest in a cedar tree. Skunks, perhaps striped skunk,  the same size as ours in the US.    Amazingly colored hummingbirds, bright green, and huge, the size of a North American Bluebird, (kind of scary).

Some kind of black and white hawk the size of a redtail but shaped a  bit differently. All black wings with white wing patches beneath toward the outside of the wings. White tail with a black bar. Hovering over the mountain landscape.    Rabbits, maybe jackrabbit, rats and mice.

Getting off the plane into this new land  I decided  i wanted to see what the mountain lions where like on this continent. I am not sure if there actually are any where i am here, its very open with lots of farmland, but turns out there is a local zoo, “Hermita”, with all these amazing animals either out in the open or behind structures that are very accessible. I usually feel pretty sad when i go to zoos so i try to avoid them, and this one was no exception, but it was so close and i was exploring. He just paced back and forth impatiently in his twenty by eight foot cage. It was quite fascinating however to be able to watch him move, walk, urinate, doing things i have always seen in track and sign but never actually live. Quite  revealing.  People, mothers with children, just walked by, obviously quite used to “La Puma”.

The Vicuña is a beautiful mountain mammal similar to the Llama, but more slender and agile. It flows over the landscape like a dolphin on the water, graceful and completely at one with the terrain underfoot. I meanwhile stumbled and slipped quite clumsily in comparison as i chased after it. They put me to shame in how fast they could move over the  mountainside. I also couldn’t breath very well as i was somwhere around ten thousand feet above sea level.

I had arrived during their annual Vicuña shearing festival, in which they capture these wild animals and steal the fur right off their backs in the middle of an alpine winter. They then sell it for a rather high price to folks in Europe and North America.  It was a community affair, in which hundreds of people gathered to capture, cook, shear, clean and spectate.

In the cold hours of dawn, while it was still dark,  we gathered under the yellow street lamps to wait for the bus. About sixty- plus men and women piled together in the back of the open, wooden bed of a small semitruck, and proceeded to drive up what i would hardly call a road, for the next two hours. Winding over rocky switchback after rocky switchback, we bumped up and down, side to side, like livestock in the freezing mountain air.

Upon arrival to the camp we were met with hot “Mote” soup, a traditional Peruvian corn soup with various animal parts in it. It was very welcomed after the bitter ride.  The men then proceeded to juice up on coca, a native plant that can give one energy and relieve altitude sickness, and is also what the recreational drug cocaine is made out of.  We split off into smaller bands and made our way across the wide valley where the animals were grazing, eventually forming a line with each person walking over the grass and rock about twenty to fifty feet apart.

The goal was to corral the animals through the valley towards a fence that had been set up specifically for this event. The fence was arranged to funnel  them tighter and tighter into an enclosed pen. I read that this was how ancient cultures in Northern America captured wild ungulates such as deer, in their case to eat them, so it was interesting to actually participate in it being done successfully.

I kind of feel like i am dreaming sometimes when i am here as i find myself in such bizarre situations. Everytime a pack of Vicuña would come toward the line we would scream and wave stuff about to frighten them the other way.  Lookout men would stand up on the highest elevations and shout out orders to us, ”  Advance!”, “Stop!”, “Duck!”. Sometimes we would crouch and hide in the grass to let a few run past us.

"Calypto" Eucalyptus leaf

They had what must have been close to a thousand feet of rope with multi-colored plastic flags tied to it (they use alot of  plastic here), which they all held together and marched across the landscape with to further condense the frightened animal population.  At this point i realized why they had all been downing so much coca that morning. They were all running up these steep slopes in the thin high altitude air, holding  this rope, while screaming at the animals, while picking the line up over rocks and other snags. This was some kind of  intense athletic training . I barely kept up.

Vicuña tracks in mud

I have not been impressed with the way folks treat animals here. I have seen way too much animal cruelty in the past two weeks than i care to mention. Voice hoarse, body sweating  and exhausted,  we finally got these animals into the pen, at which point they went into a frenzied panic. The men could have at this point respectfully apprehended and sheared these animals, but they didn’t. I wasn’t feeling the love.  They would put them in a headlock, pick them up by the tail,  strap them against the ground and then shave off what i assume they needed to survive the zero degree temperatures up there. Blood dripping from their mouths and legs after running full speed into these metal fences, the men laughed and cheered as these inspector people seemed to fail to notice that ther were actually living animals underneath the fur they scrutinized for quality. You could almost see the dollar signs floating above their  heads. I have pics of all this but perhaps i won’t post them.

I wondered what would be the appropriate thing to do in a situation such as this? Tear open the fence to let them free and have an entire Peruvian village murder me? I eventually just walked back up to the bus to wait for our departure.

Wish i could have gotten a pic of the sunset glowing red as it set over an endless horizon of silent, completely uninhabited mountains but the  batteries for my camera died.  As i lay in the back of the truck, packed on either side with human bodies like loaves in a bread shop, i stared up at the crystal clear skies with the milky way winding it’s way through and tried to forget the day and just revel in the  pure awe and joy of the moment .

Fire and Ice

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

  Some cool ice formations i came across on the gravel road one chilly morning at Donner State Park in the Sierra Mountains of California.  Frozen in time, gone by the afternoon’s melting sun.  What hidden messages does the crystallized water have for a wandering wayfarer? 

   I was reminded of the poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost, which my English teacher had us memorize in high school. I thought it was a cool poem then but i remember she was kind of excited sharing it with us at the time. I never really got why she was so excited, but reading it now i get it. It  talks about Nature and Destruction. Nature and Destruction are Awesome!!

                               “Some say the world will end in Fire

                                                  Some say in Ice

                                   From what I’ve tasted of desire

                                 I hold with those who favor Fire.

                                        But if it had to perish twice

                                     I think I know enough of hate

                                    To say that for destruction Ice

                                                    Is also great

                                              And would suffice. “       

  Now i even get why she accented and spaced the words the way she did. Adults are so…………. entertaining. 

   Robert Frost spent a significant portion of his life in New England, writing, teaching and walking about in the woods among other things. Many of his poems are about Nature and his interactions with Her.  I guess in this poem he was linking two human qualities that would tend toward the dark side of our beings, with elements in Nature, and then personifying them.

 

Wandering bears in the snow, flocks of Hooded and Common Mergansers, (lophodytes cucullatus), chattering kingfishers, minks and beavers. This well- used beaver trail connects a pond with a nearby mountain stream. It rises right over a well used hiker and auto trail. 

 

  

 You can see the hand-like beaver tracks intersect with the tire prints. I figured the beavers used the trail to drag brush from its foraging area, pond, to its burrow/lodge  in the bank of the stream.

  The interesting thing about this park is that it has a railway  going directly through it. So all of a sudden you will be hiking along and a giant freight train blazes by with much ferocity and clamor.

  A downed, weathered Pine, with accompanying beetle trails, a mysterious and silent melody written on the staff of Life, now past and dead.

Lutra Canadensis

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Northern River Otter

  These tracks are somewhat difficult to see, but if you look in the upper left corner of the photo, you should be able to make out an arc of toes and a palm.

  This is the track of the playful, aquatic weasel known as the River Otter. I have lived in Nevada City for over three years now, a couple miles away from the South Fork of the Yuba river. I have spent considerable time along the banks of the Yuba swimming, exploring and observing wildlife. Never once in all this time was i aware that otters frequented this riparian habitat. I even thought to myself, ” i am bored , i know all the animals in this area too well.”  Hahahahaha.

   That’s what is great about tracking. It’s humbling. You get to thinking you know all that and then something pops up that reminds you how abundant and prolific the life is in this vast Universe.     

otter scat

  Here’s some otter scat. Check out the crayfish shell remains in it.  I was sitting with a friend along the side of the river when she suddenly exclaimed, ” Look!” I had my back turned to the water. I turned around but missed it. She said a slick, dark, cat-like- looking creature slipped down a crevice in the rock into the water. From her description it seemed that she had seen an aquatic mustelid, a mink or a weasel. ” But we don’t have those here.” i explained.  The next weekend i went out to investigate and scoured the banks of the river for an afternoon. Low and behold, an otter haul-out. Scat, tracks, fishy smells, everything.

  Perhaps part of the reason that i wasn’t more earlier aware of their presence was the fact that the banks of the Yuba look like this :

 All smooth stone. Very little substrate that i can track in, such as mud and sand.  But it got me to thinking: mammals will usually follow very defined trails, just as us humans will follow the same exact road to work everyday for years. It’s convenient. The otters trail is the river. That’s why , in this case, the sign was more difficult to spot. The tracks were left behind in the whirls and jettis of a rushing mountain stream, gone downriver just as soon as it appeared. What else in our lives is there, yet invisible to us for years on ened until someone points it out?

  Otters are brilliant in the water, like an underwater, professional dancer. They have webbed feet which you can kind of see in the top photo.  And very bulbous toes. If you see some very fishy smelling scat along a body of water along with a flurry of small grapefruit sized tracks and a whole messy flattened out area, you have the tell- tale sign of the river otter.

  And some amazing flowers found along the way.  The blossom did this fascinating thing where it would fall down the stamen after it was done flowering to hang upside down below the new growth.

Donner

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Cool bridge up at Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada where i went wandering yesterday. That’s Donner lake in the background. It’s like an adult playground up there. A high mountain playgound. Everyone goes up there to ski, hike, climb, paddle and party. Its kind of ridiculous.

Gorgeous granite bulb-giants sticking up into the skies like strange alien rocket ships emerging and then freezing in the mountain air.  Here’s a close up of the granite. Beautiful dark-black flakes mixed with white and a hint of peach.

Incredible black, white and neon green lichen covering the rock surface. Lichen is an incredible organism that lives on surfaces such as stone or bark, absorbing the moisture and nutrients from the soil,dust and debris it finds there.  Scientists have found that some lichen can be thousands of years old. They are super hardy, which is why they can live so long.

Fat sheets of rippled ice slowly marching down the face of the rock. Despite all the frozen water, it was quite a warm day.

Looking closely at the intricacies of Nature’s creations, one sees a brilliant mastermind, artist-architect at work.  The Beauty-Intelligence of the universe. One that makes the geese to migrate across vast oceans, the buds to open up to the sunshine in the spring, our blood to pump continuously through our bodies.  We have yet to fully understand and grasp it all. Even the sharpest scientists of our human species. A mystery. A mystery that whirls and rotates and rises and falls in perfect time, all around us.

Yuba Pass Meadow

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Columbine

The Crimson Columbine, aquilegia formosa, an incredibly gorgeous Sierra wildflower that accompanied my sit one morning in a meadow at Yuba Pass, a pass over the high sierra a bit north of Tahoe.  It was an absolutely INCREDIBLE morning. The beauty was ridiculous.  I am starting to get why John Muir wrote about the Sierras the way he did.

Lupine

As the sun rose i sat amidst the rich , moist green of the high-mountain meadow, colorful flames of flowers spread throughout, soaking up all the beauty.  The Hermit Thrush was singing its other worldly song, perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious of bird songs i’ve heard.   I was in awe at how ridiculous it all was. It almost seemed kind of fake. Like those flowers at the flower shop that look too colorful to be real.

The Broad-Leaved Lupine, lupinus latifolius, a purple tower of a plant. Quite splendid, mixed in there with some Corn Lilies.

snow plant

Snow plant,  sarcodes sanguinea. This guy was just popping up all over the place quite randomly, not even in the meadow. Kind of like a friend that just shows up on your doorstep uninvited yet quite welcomed.

I find the beauty of Nature sometimes to be kind of ridiculous. Like you see it and you think, ” Wait a minute…….. whats going on here?”

old dried up Yellow Pine

Ursus Americanus

Friday, May 28th, 2010

ursus americanus (black Bear)

Talked with my neighbor who has lived here for thirty years. He knows the land very well and also saw the dead coyote. He also thought it was the mother of the pup. But a another friend I talked with said he thinks the pup survived. That was just his hunch. I hope hes right. Otherwise I’ll be heartbroken.

Anyways its been raining on and off for the past week or so. Went out for a bike ride yesterday and followed an old mining road down to the stream. It had bee raining all daybut there was no precipitation for the moment . I stopped my bike when I noticed the track above.  Thats a regular ball point pen for size comparison. I was amzed to see completely fresh bear tracks. The rain had just stopped and these tracks had absolutely no precipitation marks in them. The tracks were very fresh and I thought that I  had probably scared him off. The trail was going up the road and then it turned around and headed back down the road. He had probably heard my squeaky, wet breaks, turned around and bolted.

bear front and hind

Perhaps these prints are easier to see. Thats the front-left track of the bear below with the hind-left track above in a walking gait. Some natives of america called the black bear “brother”. For those who have seen one up close walking around you can see why. But unlike us,  bears have a foot structure where the smallest toe is on the inside as apposed to our foot where the Biggest toe is on the inside.

can you see the trail?

As I followed along the road here’s what the trail looked like at times. Perhaps its tricky to see. Can you see the alternating footsteps of the trail, showing up as light splotches in the grass? Because evrything was so saturated with moisture from all the rain, the tracks were showing up in many different substrates:   soil, grass, leaf debris and gravel. I followed him ( or maybe her?) for about a quarter of a mile and then lost the trail when it came down to a riverbed.

debris

Perhaps it’s too difficult to see in the photo but can you see the bear track taking up a significant portion of the bottom of the picture?

right-fore black bear

See the tiny inner toe? These tracks measured about six and a half inches in length with the claws.

Cross Country

Friday, March 19th, 2010

field in Maryland

I first landed in Maryland on my venture west. I drove through New York and Pennsylvania and spent the next morning taking in the countryside. The pictures above are from that morning. An old corn field and some red fox tracks in the frozen mud of the field.  Well, part of it was a corn field. A bunch of woodpeckers making alot of noise, perhaps Red-headed? And a giant flock of Grackles, swarming the sky. There was also a huge flock of crows that stretched across the sky at evening and during the next morning. Probably going to and from their roost.

DAWN-MD – Audio sample from Maryland, USA.

here is a sound recording fom that same field.

Tennessee Sunrise

Next i landed in Tennessee, surely one of the most special places ever. Driving through Virginia was incredible. The Shanendoas are magical and i wanted to stop and just explore, but another part of me just wanted to drive. I can’t beleive how cool Tennessee is. The smokeys are so amazing and Nashville is unbelievable, the people, the music, the land, the southern warmth. Just awesome. i listened to gospel the whole way through and was converted. Thats that!

I got the sense that Tennessee is a great gift to the world.

Here’s an audio sample from Tennessee. Recorded in the same horse pasture as where the picture above was taken:

DAWN-TN – Audio bit, Tennessee.

Arkansas Swamp

After i hit Tennessee i turned and headed west! Woohoo! That night I got to Arkansas (Tennessee is a really long state!) Driving over the Mississippi was awesome. Trees of some sort growing out of the water and tons of white egrets. there were these strange little mud- minture, animal houses of some sort in the mud of the swamp. About two inches high and 2” across. Like some sort of insect house in the mud. It had a hole at the top abouthalf an inch wide that ran all the way down into the ground. Pretty cool little huts.

Open Road in Texas

Texas was next on my pathway. Texas had the nicest rest areas. The one i saw was huge and fancy, kind of like some fancy outdoor arena. Everything in Texas seems to be huge. The cars, the wide open land, the people. Some hellish cattle lots though, which was really horrible. the worst part was that the one i saw was the same on that was there when i drove through there six years ago. Texas was Frigid! It was mostly the wind. there are just no wind blocks and everything is so open, the wind just rips across un-blocked.

Here is an audio recording of roadside Texas. The bird is a Western Meadowlark, one of a few that was  serenading my morning:

DAWN-TX – Texas audio sample

Albuquerque New Mexico

Nest stop was the high desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a truly majestic place. i was fortunate enough to visit a friend there were i could rest and recuperate for a few days.  He showed me around the desert which is a tracking heaven! Unbelievable. here is a buck rub on a small sapling in the desert:

Antler rub, New Mexico

Male deer will thrash up saplings in the spring by rubbing their new antlers  in an attempt to remove the velvet fuzz that covers them. I guess it itches pretty bad which makes them want to rub. Tracks of Coyote, Bobcat, Skunk, deer and many more.

MRNG-NM – audio sample, New Mexico

(Thats a Canyon Towhee trilling)

Albuquerque was bloody cold. It was warm once i hit Tennessee and I thought it would be warm there on out but I was mistaken. New Mexico is high and dry. It was snowing on and off most of the time i was there. Or rather a kind of hail thing. It was weird as it would often be completely sunny and be hailing/snowing at the same time. Usually from a cloud that covered only part of the sky. The cool thing there was that it was so expansive you could see a couple different weather events as you looked out across the landscape. Snowy, sunny, snowy, etc.

Back on the road. A long drive, an incredible, undescribeable drive, going through some of the most beautiful landscapes, to California. My body started to hurt at this point from being stuck in the same position for a week. My elbows started to hurt. weird. Desert. cactus. wildflowers. bikers. green rolling hills. Rollercoaster like road. Oil mines. Incedble land. beauty. excitement. Pacific Ocean. California. It felt awesome and weird to be back in California. Awesome cause it was beautiful and weird cause this was the first time i had driven solo across the counrty, so suddenly i was on the other side of the world.

i drove to Morro Bay a stunning seaside tourist town north of Los Angeles and baptized myself in Mother Ocean. A Volia’ :

Amazing Morro Bay , California, USA

MROBYCA – some seaside music

Ground squirrels scampering among the rocks, Black Oystercatchers calling loudly and feeding at the waters edge, Brown Pelicans, Surfers riding the waves, a Sea Otter floating so contently in the channel on his back feeding on something i couldn’t see, And a huge stunning tan-brown dome rock rising right out of the water. Gulls nesting all along the cliff edge and sparrows singing lush-ly.

Awesome. I drove up Hwy 1 along the coast and soaked in the expanse of ocean. Picked up some young hitchhikers who were also headed to the bay area. The girl was quite the talker and informed me of a great number of things. Many words. I was glad for the company. Got to San Francisco late that night and woke up the next morning to watch the sunrise on the bay. Gulls, a harbor seal, A kingfisher  (which was awesome seeing as i had never seen one there before) and of course the everpresent homeless people, of which, technically, I was, this time, one of.

Thanks United States of America! The trip was truly stunning and life changing. I feel alittle differnt in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint yet having driven across the county. Some sort of Independance or something like that.