Donner

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.

Calusa

January 30th, 2012

Didelphis virginiana

The walking trail of the Virginia Opossum along the Sacramento River in Calusa State Park. The opossum is a curious creature. One can see them waddling through the fields and woods at night somewhat awkwardly, in search of delicacies.  They have a human-like track with five toes and an opposable thumb on the rear foot. This can be seen in the photo above.

That’s a trail of the common Killdeer in the upper left. A gorgeously marked shorebird found along rivers, streams and lakes ,that boasts a stark black and white neckband.

Once i was sitting, leaning up against a hemlock tree in upstate New York enjoying the night when i heard a shuffling though the leaves behind me. I turned around to see a pale ghostly mammal making its way towards me, unaware of my presence.  It was a possum out for its nightly forray.

Possums are our countries marsupial, meaning they have a pouch that the young spend time in just like kangaroos. Pretty cool.

castor canadensis

A flurry of beaver trails dragging branches and vegetation in and out of the water.

Planets

January 8th, 2012

Sunset from my home. I believe that’s Jupiter, our planetary neighbor and fourth brightest object in the sky. Been watching the sunset quite regularly. Its so often stunning.

And that’s Venus, i believe, with the moon. Aphrodite, goddess of love, as it was called by the ancient Greeks. The planet is so bright because it is entirely covered in a cloud layer and so reflects light quite well.

Beckworth

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.

New England Lion

August 22nd, 2011

A mountain lion (puma concolor) was struck by an SUV near Milford, Connecticut in June. DNA samples showed it had come from South Dakota! Pretty wild. Folks have been spotting and tracking lions in New England for years. They used to be native to the northeast before all the development.

Yuba Pass Meadow

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

Kestrel

July 29th, 2011

falco sparverius

Here is a female American Kestrel, falco sparverius, that was killed on the highway by my home.  Such an incredibly beautiful being to look at up close despite its tragic death. As i studied it, a male kestrel alighted on top of the pine across the highway from where i sat, making its shrill “killy-killy” call.

talons

Here’s her underside.  The male is a sight to behold. An incredibly rich blue on the wings and head. Its quite a beautiful bird. In general, males are more colorful than females in bird species.

John Muir

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

Feather River

June 25th, 2011

Mustela vison

The American Mink, a weasel found often  in waterways throughout North America and beyond. I walked along the feather river in Portola California today in search of wildlife. Some co-workers said the river has otter. I wanted to find out. I found some otter-like scat, but i couldn’t ID it for sure. I did come across the other riparian weasel however. His trails and scat were all along the banks in the mud and up on the rocks. The scat was almost entirely filled with crayfish remains.

Yesterday I picked up John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra” for the first time in years. I opened it up and was absolutely blown away. Everyone remembers him as a mountaineer, but honestly, I have never heard anyone else write like that. The mans mastery of words is phenomenal.  He makes Nature sound like Heaven. I’ve never heard anyone write about Nature like that. He was so enthralled by the wilderness and conveys it so well in his writings, I almost couldn’t relate, and i’m a naturalist. That guy was some kind of alien or something. Truly inspiring.

Castor canadensis

The Beaver, also a common resident of rivers, ponds and almost any place with water. If you look in the top right portion of the picture you can see a fairly large three-toed track that looks like a giant bird track, that’s the hind foot of the beaver. The hind left is also in the photo in the bottom left, but it’s jumbled up amongst other animals tracks and is harder to see.

The beaver has five toes on its hind feet, but usualy only the outer three show up. Not sure why honestly. It probably has to do with the fact that they spend a significant amount of time in the water swimming as apposed to travelling about on land.

Spotted sandpipers, ospreys, and a green-tailed towhee shared the banks of the Feather with me. The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, makes a unique kind of shriek-call as he flies, that makes him sound like the dominant resident of the river.

bear trails

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.