Journal archives for March 2016

March 02, 2016

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 on March 02, 2016 03:28 by gbentall gbentall | 2 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment