Archive for the ‘mountains’ 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 .

Pine Marten Pair

Monday, March 18th, 2013

 

  A Pine Marten, martes americana, in a bound (a fast sprint using four legs).  Two Marten trails wove in and out of each other through the alpine wilderness near Tahoe , California. The distance between their trails would widen and narrow, and at times speed up or slow down in relation to what I assumed was  the plentiful population of Douglas Squirrel that frequented the forest area.  One trail held footprints slightly larger than the other, which led me to assume I was following a male and female of the species in the process of acquiring sustenance not only for themselves but for a soon to be embryo, young that would join their wild family sometime this month or in April.

 In the background you can a second Marten trail intersecting it’s companion’s, along with some Douglas Squirrel tracks, likely the sumptuous dinner they feasted on that winter day.   

   A “sitzmark”, where an animal lands in a deep substrate from a height , causing it’s body to register more than just  feet.  In this case a small pine tree, no doubt harboring a terrified squirrel, was the object from which the Marten returned to the ground.  Notice the impression of the belly, neck and what appears to be muzzle in this photo.     

  The enormous leaps of a Long-tailed weasel trail looks surprisingly similar to that of its tree-bound cousin, only mini.      

Martes Americana

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

 

  

       Martes Americana, or the American Pine Marten.   

     It’s amazing how the weasel family has adapted to cover all sorts of terrain and habitat. The Long -Tailed and Short -Tail weasel have taken to the marshes and wetlands, the Mink and Otter to lakes and stream, the Badger has gone underground, the Wolverine took to the harshest of alpine and tundra climates, the Sea Otter to the salty ocean and the Fisher and Marten to the trees.

   Both Fishers and Martenshave a unique foot structure which allows their hind feet to turn around in a complete 180 degree half -circle. This affords easy movement up and down the trunks of trees. This is helpful to the Marten who wreaks havoc on the squirrel population as he hunts though the canopy in pursuit. I always wondered why the red and Douglas Squirrels where such tense little creatures, often alarming at me as i walked afoot, to the point of significant frustration.   They have giant ferocious weasels crawling after them through the trees, ripping them and their young right out of their hollow-tree trunk nests!! Nowhere is safe. No wonder they are on edge. 

 

 

       Here is my wrist watch next to the trail for a size reference.The tracks where in between the size of a Mink and a Fisher, about one and a half to one and three quarters inches long. Its bounding trail paralleled that of the Douglas Squirrels all day long, leading in and out of root cavities and entrances to various underground spaces.  Supposedly they can spend a significant portion of their time  underneath the snow in certain areas.

   I got the impression that the Marten was a smaller, cuter version of the Fisher. But more alpine. They moved very similarly, bounding about in between a 2x and 3x lope.

       Towards the end of my sojourn the Marten left a scat right atop a much larger animal trail. It looked like a dog trail but was moving about in a lope. It kind of reminded me of Fisher but bigger. I dismissed it as a local dog, but now i wonder what it was. 

Pine Marten atop a Snowshoe Hare trail

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.

Northern California Autumn

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

  A gorgeous Autumn here in Northern California.  The Black Oaks are a rich yellow to gold, which mixed with the bright greens of the Pines and Madrones, turn the hills and canyons into an artist’s palette, the brush of the brisk breeze making the colors dance  in a symphony of worship to the bright Sun-God above, sitting regal in his azure palace. 

    I enjoy Northern California because it shares some similarities to my home in the Northeast; snowy winters, somewhat of an autumn, deciduous trees, yet lots of sun and a Mediterranean climate.

  Some nice rounded stones on the shores of Lake Tahoe. A red glowing sunset over the snowy mountains. Chipmunks scurrying beneath the downed logs. Gulls lazily transversing the air overhead as people walk their dogs and search, beset with anguish, over their lost portable communication devices.

Beckworth

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Beckworth is a rocky peak that sticks up into the sky outside my apartment window here in Portola, California. My roommate and i have been wanting to climb it so today we finally ventured out. The very top one hundred feet is a rocky crag that somewhat resembles a curved dome. I walked right up to it and found the most amazing lichen covering the stone.

I felt like i was in some kind of underwater tropical reef, it was so colorful. With the Sierra Valley spread out below and the sweet smell of some kind of scented bush below me, it was quite spectacular.

I scaled the wall to the top and found Woodrat scat -latrines and a nest fifty feet up the cliff! It was amazing to see a non-winged creature living in such a dangerous environment. I thought that the potential benefits might be that they could avoid predators.

One interesting thing about climbing is how mindful and present it forces you to be. It is a rare situation in which moving your foot two inches to the left results in death. When’s the last time you were sitting at a table having lunch and you were afraid to move your hand cause you didn’t want to die?Never. Minus the “afraid of falling to my certain death” part, if i could feel the way i felt seventy feet up that cliff every moment of my life, i would be all set. Complete and utter focus on the task at hand. Complete and one hundred percent conscious movement of every foot and forearm.

The cool thing about Nature is it can serve as a blueprint for the human mind as to how to be, meaning how to be alive in this world. You go out in the wilderness and you look around. The trees are not worrying about their bills they have to pay. The stones are not worrying about finding their soul-mate. The birds are not angry that their colors aren’t bright enough. You look around and you see that the essence of these creatures is stillness and peace. And you get to match up your own mind and soul with that essence. In this way connection with Nature serves as a spiritual practice.

The Ponderosa Pine is such a magnificent tree. Long green needles stick out in every direction forming wispy green orbs at the end of each branch. The bark has the most amazing Vanilla-sugar smell when it’s warmed by the sun, that brings me back to a flour-covered counter-top in the kitchen of my childhood.

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

John Muir

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

john muir

I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the person known as Mr. John Muir.

Here is a person who is one of my idols. He is accredited as being the father of the conservation movement and as being responsible for the birth of the National Park system in our country which preserves huge tracts of wilderness.

This guy was intense. Almost not even human. He was so into the outdoors he would walk around in the mountains for days with little more than a loaf of bread, some tea, and his journal. He would walk out into the middle of storms and just hang out, enjoying the power of it all.

i have never heard anyone write the way he does. He has no doubt inspired masses of individuals to wonder at the beauty of Nature through the writings he left behind.

Who was this guy?

I have spent time with many naturalists throughout the country over the years. And I have been inspired by many of them in powerful ways. But to be perfectly honest, a good number of them exhibit massive displays of ego. This can be very confusing. It also produces suffering.

i recently revisited John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra”, an account of his time spent in Yosemite working as a sheep herder. Reading it i was literally blown away. The way he glorifies Nature completely lays to waste any kind of ego energy in me or any of these other outdoor people i interact with.  here’s an excerpt:

“From garden to garden, ridge to ridge, I drift enchanted……..In the midst of such beauty, pierced with it’s rays, one’s body is all one tingling palate. Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.”

Hahahaha! What a crazy man. Some kind of alien for sure.

i’d like to see a John Muir Day as a national holiday in which everyone takes off work to go to the mountains or a local wilderness area to explore.

the Man

bear trails

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

a walk in the snow

The walking trail of a black bear (ursus americanus) near Yuba Pass, one of the passes over the sierra that highway 49 uses.  This particular trail was less than forty five minutes old, likely minutes old. Sun was melting the snow pretty fast that day and these tracks were crisp. Plus he walked right on top of my trail that i had made forty five minutes earlier.

It was a stunning walk. All the snow reflecting the light like some kind of brilliantly lit lab room. I walked in the slush for a few miles out then turned around and came back the way i came only to find the sign of this wandering omnivore. He broke into a run just a few feet up from the photo above. I was singing pretty loudly on my return walk and i wondered if that is what scared him. I am saying him just cause of the size of the tracks. Not actually sure of the sex.

little one

Here’s a smaller one that crossed the trail earlier on my walk. That’s an AA battery for size comparison. I wonder how old this guy was and why he/she was alone.