Place Intimacy

One of the lessons in self awareness from last year's 3 month, 8,500 mile, cross-country road trip that surprised me the most was the realization that I prefer to sit back and stay for a while. Don't get me wrong, I love adventure and exploration beyond---the life of a field biologist over the last decade and a half has carried me to the most remote of places and has cloaked future destinations and projects in mystery. Despite a certain unpredictability about where "home" might be, I have consistently circled, traversed, and nested (even if fleetingly) along the central California coast---my truest of loves. I was first introduced to iNaturalist when stationed at the Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve in Cambria, in San Luis Obispo county, which is part of the University of CA's Natural Reserve System. I was there to study sea otters, of course, but I immediately became devoted to exploring the reserve's rocky intertidal, grasslands, coastal chaparral, and Monterey Pine forest (which is among the few natural stands remaining in the state) and posting what species I could manage to photograph on iNat, guided by the various species lists for the reserve and my friend and reserve manager, Don Canestro. While I am interested in the many wild places SLO county has to offer, my greatest joy comes from knowing this particular place deeply. Identifying a new algal species is good, if I've found it at Rancho Marino, it's better. So far, I have only scratched the surface of this place's rich biota: http://www.inaturalist.org/lists/295074-Wildlife-of-Rancho-Marino-Reserve . I am no longer a full-time resident of Rancho Marino, but I am fortunate that my work still takes me back at least monthly to revisit well-known species and discover new ones. My most recent return saw me armed with a new field guide to mushrooms and, if not the knowledge to identify them, at least a better understanding of what parts I needed to photograph. It was like seeing the woods all dressed up in a new suit!

In Monterey county, where I currently reside, I have found a second place to love in a small, humble regional park in Prunedale, just a mile down the road. I first met Manzanita Park while searching for trails I could share with my beagle, Harry, but as I followed its rambling main trail through manzanita and oak woodlands I knew it was going to be more than just a place to walk my dog. The main vehicle access to this park is gated and controlled by the local youth athletic league and on weekdays hikers must walk up a short incline to reach the trail head, an obstacle I feel has limited the use of the trail and protected some of the more interesting flora. At the center of the main loop is a web of narrow paths through manzanita thickets and willow and cottonwood riparian zones. In 15 months of hiking these smaller paths several times a week, I have rarely encountered another human. With the Calflora "What Grows Here" polygon bookmarked on my browser and a stack of field guides, I set forth to find and photograph the park's residents and transients. I have a standing date with Manzanita now, walking the trails across seasons, seeing the blooms and the butterflies come and go. If you hike the trails with me today I can point out where the Monterey Spineflower, Chorizanthe pungens, will carpet the trail margins with pink, and the corridor of Pajaro Manzanita down which I've fruitlessly followed a duskywing in hopes of a definitive species photo. I might ask you to keep an eye out for the Pellaea mucronata I have never found and, until recently, would have tried to enlist your help in finding a patch of the rein orchid, Piperia yadonii, for which the the park is known. For over a year I have scoured the brush for signs of leaves, flowers, or dried stalks depending on the season, examining countless sprouts in the hopes that they were other than the ubiquitous soap plant. Just this week while exploring one of the paths less traveled, I found an impressive patch of shooting stars that I had missed last year. While belly down in the trail photographing those, I noticed the classic paired, fleshy leaves of an orchid just by my elbow. As my focus shifted I found myself kneeling beside an abundant patch tucked within an alcove of Hooker's Manzanita. With a deep intake of breath, I felt joy akin to that of a great first date----Manzanita had gifted me the discovery of his orchids.

And so what's the point of all of this? I wanted to share my love and passion for exploring a few places deeply and lovingly. I see it in many of you---the reefs of Pillar Point, the peaks of Pinnacles, the fields of the Presidio---places of love and devotion, all of them. I will continue to explore beyond, experiment with new place relationships, but will keep coming back to Rancho Marino and Manzanita Park to walk familiar paths and watch the seasons change.

I'll close with an invitation: my list is short on invertebrates and herps. If anyone is interested in helping me add to the list where it is lacking, I would be thrilled to introduce you to Manzanita Park and I don't mind at all sharing the trail.

You can see my list for Manzanita Park here: http://www.inaturalist.org/lists/295071-Wildlife-of-Manzanita-Park

Each of these are iNaturalist Places:

http://www.inaturalist.org/places/kenneth-s-norris-rancho-marino-reserve

http://www.inaturalist.org/places/manzanita-regional-park

Posted by gbentall gbentall, March 02, 2016 03:28

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Padre's Shooting Star Primula clevelandii

Observer

gbentall

Date

February 28, 2016 04:43 PM PST

Description

A first for my list for this park (I missed this trail last year this season), and there are no prior records for this park on Calflora.

Photos / Sounds

Observer

gbentall

Date

February 28, 2016 04:47 PM PST

Description

This park is known for a rare variety of Piperia, P. yadonii, as well as the more common P. elongata. I did not find them last year but have been lucky to find a couple spots this week--both times accidentally while photographing something else. I won't be able to distinguish the species definitively until they bloom in May. Apparently only 10% of plants bloom in any given year. I'll follow the appearance of flowers in my observations.

Comments

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts; I couldn't agree more about intimately knowing a place. Right now my special place is my neighbourhood, where I've been since the end of 2011. I love how every time I walk through it more is slowly revealed. People who don't know any better say we don't have seasons, but we do. They're just more subtle.

Posted by flygrl67 over 4 years ago (Flag)
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And it's just outside your door! Observing the phenology of plants and animals has been my favorite part of exploring these favorite places. This is my second spring visiting Manzanita Park and its so fun to see the succession of bloom again. You're right, we may not have snow, but a closer looks reveals a lot of seasonal change.

Posted by gbentall over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Be glad you don't have snow. An all-year-round growing season is great!

Posted by susanhewitt over 4 years ago (Flag)
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I have lived in Central Nevada for over 30 years and it has been just recently my eyes have opened up to the beauty that lies in every plant, rock, wood, and animal. Maybe that unassuming weed in my backyard that is usually pulled. I have been taking a second look at the flowers with the help of my small digital camera. Macro is a wonderful thing. That close up look at that pesky mustard flower reveals a flower so beautiful that I don't have the words to describe. Up in the mountains I have learned there are many varieties and colors of Buckwheat and once again the flowers close up are magnificent. Until recently I never knew what all the Native wildflowers I see were or barely even gave them a second thought. My loss, all these years but I will have fun catching up. I have found myself scanning the high desert for a new varieties of cacti, other then the common Cholla and prickly pear. I am learning where these cacti species like to hide and they to also hold qualities, close up, that are mindblowing. I am always scanning the ground for different rocks and am finding I am getting good at singling out that special one. I walk the Toiyabe forests enjoying the peacefulness below the many species of trees that reside there. I look at fallen branches below their boughs and see ways to create them into lovely wall hooks or natural towel bars for the home. These tree branches have ignited a new passion and has become my only income, and I love it. I know this newly found awareness of where I live and what lies within it has been woken up in me because of my sister's influence. Following her around on walks on the beaches of Central California to the woods and fields of Rancho Marino reserve to the explorations of new and old locations within the High Desert/Great Basin in Nevada. She is the one that has shown me that there is so much out there worth taking that second look at or trying to find for the first time. Thank you Gena! Love your passion and love you. You are the best sister.

Posted by lisakilgore05 over 4 years ago (Flag)
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@lisakilgore05 I am so glad you you caught this bug from me (although I think you had it all along--it just needed encouragement). I need to pay a spring visit to Nevada soon!

Posted by gbentall over 4 years ago (Flag)
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One of the most surprising places was last year up Ophir Canyon. The wild flowers were so abundant and it was hard for me to ask Dave to stop the Razer so that I could go take observe and take pictures. Everytime he stopped for whatever I took advantage of the opportunities. I think you would love this place. It is heavily covered in snow right now and impassable. The flowers were flowering there more into summer like around mid June. Would love to have my rock hounding partner visiting. I think I am going to have to come visit you too.

Posted by lisakilgore05 over 4 years ago (Flag)
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Sounds like I'm one of the few whose favorite places are not covered with snow!

Speaking of favorite places, I'm taking a trip to San Nicolas Island mid April to count sea otters. This is the no-contest winner for the #1 spot in my heart for places. Posting photos is tricky out there because its a US Navy landing field and they like to control what gets photographed and shared, but it's springtime on the island, and I plan to get my photos cleared for iNat.

Posted by gbentall over 4 years ago (Flag)

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