Journal archives for August 2011

August 01, 2011

Joy of Bears

One of the traditions of my PCTA crews campouts is to listen to Ranger Keith Dawley's Black Bear advice. These iconic creatures are pestiferous in most of our high country parks and national forests; and any party may well be visited... In defence, we clean up and defend any trash, box all food and scented items in iron boxes, never have food where we sleep, and even pour dishwater into sumps. Net result is that they may still come for a visit: this year a juvenile dug up our sump in broad daylight to eat what tiny scraps persisted in the pumice sand. On another trip a mature specimen stuck his head into a young woman's tent. My question was: even with more than a decade's escalating enforcement of suchlike precautions, what progress do we see? Realistically, for every careful--and carefully supervised --group like ours, there are 20 less diligent gypsy camps around gigantic RV's sagging on their poor suspensions with oleaginous snackfoods. As Lorne Greene would intone, were he still able: 'Palm Oil! It's Bears Natural Food !'. Certainly it will serve to restore the adipose tissues quickly after a long winter's fast.
This is on top of the impact of settlements like Mammoth. A Local Guy from June Lake told me that it's much more together in that much smaller town; where the citizens might quietly shoot any troublesome beast. Both Law and Sentiment preclude any easy recourse to suchlike efficacious response in Mammoth. And Mammoth is the norm. It accordingly seems hopeless.

But I'm still so impressed with the difference in the Mendicino Highlands. In 25 years hiking there I've seen hundreds of Bears; but always briefly, as they flee in terror. Twice I've inadvertently been close to a Mother and her cub--and seen her far outstrip her progeny in running away. The last time, the poor baby was left behind and climbed a tree. I backed off 50 yards, and in 15 minutes she crept back to retrieve her child.

What makes the difference, in my speculation, is the occasional presence of Hunters. Likely very few of these--with the very important exception of a small number of poachers--bag their trophy. To anticipate the howls of rage: there are markets for bear components, and money lying on the ground for the ruthless to pick up. But we can live with Bearclaw Adornments, we can in fact thrive without consuming ursuline gallbladder; so these nimrods could be properly discouraged. Limiting the hunt to the incompetent would put only the tamest bears at risk, while merely edging the wary ones a bit deeper into the woods.

I am sensible of my regrettable tendency to risk giving offense in my posts; so I shall apologize in advance. But if you are appalled , please outline your alternatives. One of my patients--an old cowboy, a skillful and successful hunter-- once told me with a quaver in his gravelly voice about the culmination of his first and last bear hunt. After hanging his kill to clean and skin, he removed about 1/2 his new rug before being shocked at how much it looked like one of his children. He wound up putting it back together and burying the restored carcass in a proper grave. So there! But would you rather see hundreds of these harried about our urbanized parks, only to be euthanized in the back of a Forest Service van?

Posted on August 01, 2011 15:53 by icosahedron icosahedron | 1 comment | Leave a comment

August 26, 2011

Monarch Summer

I've not been contributing to iNaturalist recently; partially because my camera is offline, mainly because I've been so involved in my garden and other projects that there's no time. Tomorrow I will be helping my daughter volunteer at a local preserve, and that brings my thoughts back to these matters. And what I'm likely to think of as a Sonoma August wanes and the September heat burgeons is: Monarchs.

One of my obsessions--and a rare one that my loved ones seem to tolerate with good humor--has been the growth and metamorphosis of these fine insects. The striking caterpillars are easy-once you've located the milkweed(never easy)- to find and raise. The exquisite crysalids can be transferred from wherever they are found by grasping the silken 'pillow' that they lay before their ecdysis to attach to whatever substrate, and fixing it to any convenient branch. By teasing loose a few strands of silk from this pillow, you can attach it merely by winding same around a thin branch; I often place a drop of white glue there to increase security. In many years, I've never had one fall off... My longtime favorite is to get a few branches of last year's dried anise flowers, and fix three or four insects to some of the radiating flower 'spokes'.

So what's the point of this intrusive nonsense? The point is to share the love with your ignorant fellow citizens. How many of these know more that two local lepidoptera? To reiterate(sorry, I'm old)a prior rant, this is what kills me about the 'butterfly garden' conceit: unless we pave them all, they have been given us gratis for free. So, one of these little displays can powerfully induce a sense of wonder; as well as a bit of salutary regret at living here scores of years without seeing a wild monarch's young life. How can we expect these folks to preserve what they've never known?

One idea, that is to pick a formed crysalid from the wild, must be mentioned only to disparage. Despite the fact that these very bright green items are found attached to pale yellow dried grass, or some dried woody stem or an old fencepost, they are invisible. The great Sue Hubble mentioned this in one of her digressions, and it's as true here as in her Eastern US stomping grounds. I have found one (1) in more years than I can remember. If you want to show crysalids, you have to raise the 'pillars'... period.

Even better, these babies have the unusual property of suddenly becoming transparent the day before emergence. The crysalid turns from it's initial luminous jade--fading slightly in the second week to mere apple green-- to what seems jet black; until a closer look finds the orange/black forewing in minature forming the wall of baby's cradle. The next morning, with only slight luck, you can witness the astonishing emergence.

I used to supply these things to a few elementary teachers. One time I did so I said that the butterfly would come out around ten o'clock...
darned if I wasn't taken literally so that a circle of expectant children were gathered by 9:55 around the table; with a lady Monarch emerging exact to her time at 10:00. When I heard later of my uncanny accuracy, I hardly knew what to say... And since this particular wonder takes so little time, even the iPad clones find it no strain on their micro attention spans. But that's ingenerous: I apologize . I suppose even H. Fabre was impatient as a child; perhaps something like this was the seed that sprouted to produce the "incomparable observer" of his maturity. We must hope.

Posted on August 26, 2011 14:58 by icosahedron icosahedron | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 27, 2011

Monarch Summer, the poem

By Ray Parsons, 1995

Not much summer where we live, in coastal mist.
It tries; but the harder the sun shines,
the thicker the grey billows.
Green tomatoes, sour grapes and more fancy lettuce
than you really want.
Good for Redwood, in the day.

Not until late September, and Monarch Summer
is this much like California.
Then, with the return of the great travelers,
the fog fails and the heat holds for a while.
Now the window ACs, rusting on their props
grind all day against the baking sun;
Windsor and Rohnert Park, Penngrove and Cotati.

Time now to walk the right of way,
snaking between scented field and storage yard;
retail mall to the Palace of Fruit.
Childrens' toys, scattered across the valley,
so soon broken and unloved...
About all this--the Monarch doesn't seem to mind.

So I stutter walk the uneven ties; head bowed,
smelling creosote, crunching gravel,
look up now and then.
Dried summer growth, flotsam, sweet anise.
I look to find the milkweed.
The Monarch is looking, too.

Tropical herb, moving north over ages past,
veins full of emetic sap;
mothers' milk to the great insects.
Eschew all else and fly boldly among
the feathered assassins;
stroking gorgeous wings with arrogant joy:
We were here first-- do your worst!

Every year the earth tilts,
weed and butterfly make this odyssey.
Dusty Mexico to sodden Canada,
until the equinox turns.
The very breath of the warm south,
lords amongst their drab and feckless cousins:
Satyr and Question Mark.
Ringlet and Sister,
Buckeye and Frittiliary.

Until their swarms ebb away from
the gathering frost,
and the milkweed wilts into the cold ground.
Away to cool groves to bide their time
and brighten many a warm day with their rustling.
Sleepy fluttering in the milky sunshine;
dreams of spring in Bolinas.

How to find Carmel on a butterflies' wings
is the part I don't see.
Birds do this kind of thing---
it's a wonder too--
but they have brains like mine,
many keen senses,
and manic energy.
Must be led by some swift God;
Hermes' golden sandals flashing in their flock.

So walk with me on the tracks this year,
my paradise of trash and weeds.
Rest by that dusky Oak,
Mop your brow;
you've had your fill of October heat...
Still now...
feel the good earths' mighty pulse
in the slow beat of tattered wings
touching down... here and there
leaving their golden eggs.

Posted on August 27, 2011 04:56 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment