Friday, September 12, 2014

Diamonds in the Night

I see the glittering diamonds in the dirt, among the dead grasses, and peeking out from the fallen oak leaves. Strange bright sparks like tiny rainbows flash at me from the flat, dry brown of the cooling earth. These multifaceted gems sparkle in the night as my flashlight skims across the ground on my pilgrimage outside once the sun has finally retreated to the back side of the planet.

Stars on the ground seem upside down, but indeed they are there. The intermittent blinking and twinkling as my beam shines to light my path reveals the small constellations at my feet.  As wide and vast as the stars fill up the nighttime sky, these stars in opposition seem to shrink away with my presence, hiding from the universe at large.  

I have seen the jewels come out like clockwork when it is their time.  I marvel at the fireworks in miniature, this micro world unbeknownst to many.  I know who the diamonds are and they know me too. I am not afraid but I probably should be scared of these stars.  I just can't let fear find a foot hold in the dark.

I have known about the alternate universe of stars that are grounded on the earth for many years, but never have spoken with another about its presence.  I know of them because I have looked closely and frightened the shiny rainbow orbs back into the nooks of their microworld where my light can not reach and the colors reflected by their eyes disappear. The long brown legs hunker close to the ground to give the appearance of simple sticks or twigs.  But I am not fooled. 

Simply stated, these stars are composed of an assortment of fiercely aggressive arachnids which inhabit the realm of my land. I am lucky to see the eye-shine from the many, many eyes of the spider world on my evening walk. The creepy crawly, spider family is represented by numerous aunties, uncles, moms, brothers, sisters and fathers. These predators seek small morsels of prey in the coolness of the summer night as is their right on the earth. Brown with thick legs, black with fangs, mottled with fur they come in all shapes and sizes to frighten one and all.  

How many eyes have been watching my progress tonight I wonder.  Have I stepped on someone?  I hope not.  And I always worry, "Do they get angry at the beam from my blinding headlamp?"

For all the little lives we don't even know exist.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Staycation


With a short drive to the Pacific Ocean, I had a relaxing and picturesque day at Moss Landing Beach and Elk Horn Slough with the kids during their vacation week.  The lighting at the beach always seems to be right and the contrasting elements of white surf and darker sands sets up so well for photography.


The waves kept coming and Ella asked, "Why are there waves at the beach?"
"Well," I said, "It's because of the moon pulling on the ocean water with its gravity."

Once we were settled in the perfect spot, Ella got right to work digging random holes in the sand.

A good kind of kid fun with shovels and sand in February.  It's a warm winter in California this year.  This summer will probably be torturous with heat and drought.


Leaving my dreadful thoughts of impending summer doom to be blown away by ocean breezes, I watched the sanderlings dash back and forth along the shoreline seeking small crustaceans and snail like critters in the sand.


As the tide receded the feeding frenzy began.  I was lucky a group stopped right in front of us to work on this section of shoreline habitat.  With my long lens on I got some interesting pictures of these little birds in action.


The small flocks foraged along the beach front while my kids played against the dunes behind me.  Everyone was entertained.

An occasional stranger was welcome among their midst.  This curlew was swept away, down the beach with the little birds as they dashed from some invisible threats within the waves.  I think I heard him squawk, "If they're running, I'd better be running too!"


Wyatt the builder was about constructing a small fortress with drift wood and seaweed.

He was able to recruit Ella to harvest dead sticks in the dunes and I watched them gallop back and forth on the low hill behind me.  I reminded them, "Pick out only stuff that is dead already!"

And Ella was observed taking a moment to draw letters in the sand.


Wyatt had no problem building a metropolis with little bits of this and that.




We packed up after about and hour and a half since we had been out canoeing in Elk Horn Slough for the hour and a half before beach time.  On the way back out to the road we stopped and watched the sea otters for a time.  They come into the protected and more quiet waters of the slough during the day and sleep in rafts.  They are sure cute in action, but I found they are not so easy to capture well on my camera.  They just look like a furry mess! 


And as we were ready to depart, a white crown sparrow popped out of the bushes to wish us good bye.  But upon reflection of his aggressive chirping tone I almost think he was saying, "GO HOME!"  And so we did . . .


Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Canoe on Cosumnes River

Happy New Year and all that . . . but I'd like to rewind briefly to Christmas 2011. This is what "Santa" brought for my present. I don't know if this means I was a good girl or not. A bright red, two-seater canoe complete with paddles and a low profile dolly that you can use to drive it to and from the car and dock. Good stuff right?!


So fast forward to New Year's Eve and see the two victims pictured below. They were destined for a trip up a river, the Cosumnes River, in the dead of winter, in the confines of a small plastic boat. One looks surprisingly happy, while the other no so sure of what is coming next. It could just be the wedgie from his life vest or the unpleasant thought that future girlfriends may see this picture of him wearing the wedgie vest. Either way Mr. Grumpy Pants was ready to go whether he liked it or not.


Then there was the husband lying under the canoe for some inexplicable reason. The canoe weighs only 75 lbs so I had no fear of eminent danger for him, but it was a strange place to see him so early on in the trip. Was he taking a nap? Did he need shade? Did he trip over the rather large red boat in front of him?


Then Ella talking to Grandma was probably asking, "Grandma, why is my Daddy so strange?" To which Grandma replies, "Ella, I have no idea."


After extricating my husband from the underside of the canoe we started driving to the boat launch located just a short stroll from the parking lot. Wyatt, of course, was asserting his manly ways by insisting on "driving" the canoe.


At the end of the path the boat launch awaits our motley little crew. Three generations were embarking in an adventure within new water.


At the boat launch the grimy water critters had been pawing and clawing all over the banks of the slough channel. The boat launch (not pictured) is mostly standard with aluminum decking that floats over the water and is boring . . . but otter and beaver tracks, now that's exciting stuff. I am guessing once the sun goes down it's party central at this murky hot spot.


To prevent a camera fatality, I stowed "my precious" in the backpack and boarded my floating bathtub. And it did not sink! Small favors.

As to the boat crew allocation, I was blessed to be the pilot with my two very docile and passive wild and loquacious children in the front of the canoe. Grandma King and Mike (her youngest son) were enjoying the quiet solicitude of paddling in their own boat. Note the far distance between our boats. We (I) was abandoned.


As captain of my vessel, I commanded, "Paddle! Paddle Wyatt!"

And Wyatt paddled.

Sometimes . . .


Using my superior paddling technique, I was able to keep up a slow pursuit, even with the handicap of Wyatt putting his paddle against the direction of our trajectory.

But the oak riparian forest on the banks of the Cosumnes River was lovely even while lacking it's leaves. The naked branches and spreading tips reaching skyward against the cool blue haze was something to behold. It always is in any season.


Soon we had an "emergency" potty break which required pulling off the river for the kids. During our brief landing, Ella elected to embark with with Dad and Grandma. She is a rather smart woman. I thought that the three of them looked like some strange winged beast awkwardly slapping their wings against the water.


Paddle Ella! Paddle Ella!


Here's my favorite picture of a valley oak tree overhanging the river. I am surprised it has lasted this long without getting ripped out of the bank. But the riparian trees along the river must have some meaty strong roots embedded in the soil to stay put.


Then just to prove I was there I took a self portrait.


Some of the only "greenery" in the trees was the mistletoe hanging from the upper canopy branches.


After yet another potty break, we mixed up the canoes once again and split the crew between boys and girls. Them Mike got a feel for what it's like to paddle with Wyatt up in front. It's a real treat . . .


On the way up stream, I was working hard paddling to keep up. But heading down the river I was afforded the opportunity to photograph the train bridge over the Cosumnes River. It's a simple, gray steel bridge with bolts and I-beams and wooden ties. In contrast to the riparian vegetation it looks out of place with it's industrial appearance.


Quite a bit of workmanship went into constructing this bridge. Cross bracing and angles and metal - all suspended over this simple little river.


Then on the way down river I noticed that someone had a bad attitude about paddles. Ella felt it best to give Mom the evil eye even though she was in danger of being splashed by the cold river water. I guess she is practicing for being a teenager.


Then Dad came paddling along and unfortunately gave this little pouty-faced, spoiled little person the particular paddle she wanted. Let's just say she knows who she can work and who she can not.


I kept telling Mike, "You're spoiling her. She's working you!!" But then he told me, "You're the best at steering the canoe, Dear." I know his complement was simply an attempt at distraction from my wrath and due to his guilt in perpetuating the "Daddy's Little Girl" syndrome. You see my thrilled appearance once again via self portrait.


Then upon getting back to the launch I snuck a picture of Grandma.


So, no one fell overboard and our boats did not take on water. We saw western pond turtles (very surprising in the middle of winter), valley oak tall forest, great blue herons, great egrets, belted-king fishers, button willow, sandbars, and fish jumping. All-in-all it was another good trip to log into the books since as a family we managed to canoe without bickering for over two hours and have fun with nature! Bonus.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blackhawk Creek - An Adventure in Creek Walking

I rediscovered a little creek which flows in the canyon below my favorite hiking trail a few weeks ago. As I huffed up the steeply sloped, redwood-forested trail, I looked down the hillside and spied the rocky channel of Blackhawk Canyon Creek below.


I had one of those AHA!! moments when I realized that it still had really good water flow, uncharacteristic for this time of year. All the late rains this year had prolonged the drainage from the nearby mountains and I could see an inviting brook in the canyon which I had hiked over but never "through."

At that point I knew I'd have to take my kids up the creek on a hot day since it is totally shaded and would provide a great distraction for them and ME when the temperatures soar around here. And that day came only a few days later when the mercury read 101 at my house and I thought it was time to pull out the emergency arsenal.

Obviously my kids thought it was pure torture.


We entered the base of the canyon in single file avoiding the poison oak which liberally grows around the trail head. Both my kids know this itchy plant by heart as it was one of the first plants I taught them as we began to hike when they were a little younger.


A single track foot path occurs on the bank of the creek above the ordinary high water line and where possible we followed it up the trail. I wanted to minimize disturbance to the clear and semi-pristine waters that were flowing down the creek's channel. I had suspicions about what may be living in the shallow creek flows and thought to protect their home.

Right away Wyatt noticed the big leaf maples and saw the samaras which had fallen earlier in the spring. He got the little "winged-fruit" to "helicopter" in the wind and readily recognized the big palm shaped leaves crying out, "Look Mom! Big leaf maple!!" each time he saw another tree along our march.


The Acer macrophyllum were common and beautiful in the filtered sunlight below the dense canopy.


Further along the trail, Wyatt said, "Look Mom! We can see a spider spinning it's web in real nature." Cause apparently the spiders at our house don't live in "real nature." And I keep thinking we need to be more civilized at home....


As we meandered along there were many questions and observations that went outspoken as we walked. The kids burst out with their declarations or questions and I dutifully sounded back.

For example Wyatt would squat and look intently at a pool and say, "Mom! It's a salamander."
And I would return, "Good eye Wyatt."


Ella exclaimed, "Mom! The "Cal-E-forneya" bay smells much better than it looks. (Say California like Arnold does.)"

I would reply, "Goodness, that is a great observation Ella. You are totally right."


"Mom, can we walk in the water?!?"

"No." I'd say, "Walk on the edges of the stream, on the rocks or on the bank. Only walk in the water where we have to cross over."


Then a few feet later.... "Mom? Can we walk through the water now?"


Sticking to my original edict, I told them, "No. Let's take a careful look at the water here kids. It looks deep enough to be home for something. Yep. See that flash of silver-green. Look very closely. They're fast."


And then we spotted the fingerlings. Steelhead babies that were living in the shallow pools of the canyon. With the water being especially plentiful this year there were many to see.

I knew they could be there, but had never tried to find them before. About 8 years ago a small reservoir called Sprig Lake was maintained just below the trail head, but it was decommissioned since it was believed that the impoundment was preventing steelhead spawning upstream. And it was apparently true! I was originally disappointed that the small lake was allowed to drain since there were many western pond turtles using it, but the regulatory agencies deemed the survival of steelhead more important. It's hard to me to weigh the value of one rare native species over another. Hopefully the turtles moved downstream...

Regardless, we had fun looking at all the pools for fish and that occupied us for a good chunk of time.

Then we continued our climb up the creek. In some locations the debris rack across the channel required climbing.


But mostly we stayed to the edges where there was good room for walking without disturbing the creek's critters.


The conversation varied like the dark shadows were were walking beneath.

"Mom! Are we done yet?" said an anxious Ella. "Mom, I'm tired."

"No Ella, keep marching. We're almost to the end of the hike," I said maybe 5 times.

I growled, "Ella! Stop ripping my arm off." As Ella held my hand whilst climbing over big rocks and logs.

Then I demanded, "Ella! Stop using my arm like a rope swing."

I pleaded with my son, "Wyatt! Can you please not cut off your sister?" As the boy's goal was to be first everywhere....

Wyatt shouted, "LOOK! There's a banana slug!!"

Ella exclaimed, "Mom! It's another mushroom!"

Ella spotted, "Mom Stop! It's a SNAKE!"

And it was....


A little racer was quietly sunning its self on a mossy rock next to the creek. Wyatt and I walked right past it, but Ella who is closer to the ground spotted it right away. It sat perfectly still while we all examined it. Three huge beasts staring eye to eye at a snake making its way in the dark bottom of a canyon. Strange indeed. Strange for all four of us.

With such little light reaching the stream channel it was surprising to find the little gray-green reptile, but it was there. And we were there invading or enjoying his world, depending upon how you look at it.

Hopefully, he did not mind, and the fish did not mind, and the salamanders did not mind, and the others not seen did not mind, for we walked carefully and respectfully through their territory, trying our best to minimize our foot print.


As a special present to us and them, we brought a white plastic bag - maybe like a flag of peace - to collect the garbage left behind by other humans in the creek. There was not too much, a few cans and bottles, scraps of paper and plastic wrappers, but enough was gathered in that white bag to show we made a difference out there. And better yet to make a difference in the mind of two impressionable kids is the best of all.