Flowers

Spring Flowers in a Mountain Forest, May 2019

Skyline Trail in May is a dreamscape. Despite the absence of patched medieval castles, squat thatched-roof villages and stolid Norman churches that I acquaint with fairytales and fantasy, the trail was magical. What wonderful stories the Native Americans of this region must have told of the flowers that bloom in these tall, moist, canopied forests in the springtime!

Taking our cue from blogger David Baselt, who describes patches of old-growth redwoods along Skyline Trail in his blog, Redwood Hikes, we explored the southern section of the trail, having already explored the northern section. The southern section is tricky to find because the trail head is not marked. We had a few false starts as we drove along Skyline Blvd (State Route 35).

In the 1920s, the road’s chief engineer described Skyline Blvd as a highway that “combines the beauties of the mountains, the sunsets of the desert, the fogs of the ocean, and the panorama of the bay.” For about half an hour, we looked for openings in the wire fence that blocks access to the trail from the road, until we found an entrance near Swett Road.

There wasn’t another soul on the trail, although we did wonder if the little fellow who dug these ⬆️ mole-sized holes wasn’t nearby. The holes connected to a ridge that followed the trail for miles, a service road for four-footed friends.

We think Hairy woodpeckers (Dryobates villosus) made these holes. The National Audubon Society says that, “In its feeding Hairy woodpeckers do more pounding and excavating in trees than most smaller woodpeckers, consuming large numbers of wood-boring insects.”

Some industrious, winged blokes occasionally broke the silence.

But otherwise the forest was quiet.

Seeing this new-growth redwood growing beside a second-growth redwood caused us to recall that trees are 95 percent carbon dioxide.

Time slowed down. Instead of minutes, we measured its passing in the moments between discovery and contemplation.

Pastel-colored baby redwood needles.

Victorian author George Eliot wrote that “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart-beat, and we should all die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

California wild rose (Rosa californica)

On the other hand, biologist T.H. Huxley said that “To a person uninstructed in Natural History, his country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.” Skyline Trail is a gallery well worth studying.

California wild rose (Rosa californica)

California wild rose (Rosa californica). They were everywhere!

Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) learning to crawl

Et voila, Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) has found its feet!

Mature California blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

California blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

Margined white (Pieris marginalis)? I wish I knew the name of the flower it was sipping on.

Fork-toothed ookow (Dichelostemma congestum)?

Crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

Starflower (Trientalis latifolia)

Broadleaved forget-me-nots (Myosotis latifolia)

Resources Consulted:
Douglas Iris, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Hairy Woodpecker, Audubon Guide to North American Birds
Margined White Pieris marginalis Scudder 1861, Butterflies and Moths of North America
Rubus Ursinus California Blackberry, The American Southwest
Second-Growth Forests and Restoration Thinning, Redwood, National and State Parks California
The Making of Skyline Boulevard, Mobile Ranger
Where Do Trees Get Their Mass?, Veritasium (March 2012)
Wild Plants of Redwood Regional Park Common Name Version A Photographic Guide, East Bay Regional Park District – this pdf is an awesome resource

La Gloria Road and the Bold Cow, Apr 2019

Cycling La Gloria Road to the summit of Gabilan Mountain Range (it’s highest peak is 3,455’/1,053 m), in San Benito County, is one of my favorite California adventures to date. On the way, we stopped at CalFire Bear Valley Station (famous for its helicopter), near the turn off to La Gloria Road, to ask for advice regarding where to park.

The friendly firefighters said we’re welcome to park at the fire station when they know they won’t need to leave the station, which requires them to lock the gate to the parking lot and helipad. But they did have to leave the station that day, and so recommended finding a place to park on the side of La Gloria Road. I was glad we did, because the initial ascent up La Gloria Road is pretty steep.

The 1 1/2 lane, graded dirt road has been in use for over a hundred years. It had recently been graded, but there was already some washboarding, as well as tree roots, rocks and snakes to avoid – all of which added some fun, technical challenges to the ride.

Gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer)? It was about 4′ (1.2 m) long.

The road was perfectly quiet. Over the course of five hours, we saw a handful of trucks – the inhabitants all smiled and waved, and gave us plenty of clearance – and an SUV with fishing rods poking out of the back.

Flame skimmer (Libellula saturata)?

The ride to the summit was easy and the ascent gradual, but the ride back required some skill. The biggest challenge was remaining in control on the bends, where it was easy to skid out of control in the loose dirt.

We had carefully selected a sunny, spring day for the ride. It was 20°C (70°F) with a gentle breeze, and as we approached the summit, the cooling effect of Monterey Bay added a freshness to the air that we could feel in our lungs.

Golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California’s state flower.

The landscape was breathtaking – pristine, unusual, diverse. At the summit, a meadow stretched across the horizon. And it. smelled. heavenly! Every so often a breeze would waft a fragrance resembling Old Spice cologne across our noses!

It was past peak wildflower season in California, and yet sections of this meadow were blanketed with flowers.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the ride was an encounter with a cow. As a kid, my brothers and I would fall over laughing at my dad’s animal noises. His cow-noise was the best. Far from sounding like the consonant+vowel phoneme pair kids growing up in Australia in the 1980s were introduced to in their first few days of school – i.e., “moo” – my dad’s cow vocalization tapped into a phoneme rarely used in the English language. His cow-noise is a very French-sounding “mœ.”

Gauthier had just left to scope out some more of the road, when a little, black cow head appeared above the grassy trench where we were picnicking. Naturally I greeted it with my most charming “mœ.” “Hello cute, cow fellow,” I hoped to communicate, “You have the most lovely pasture. I hope you don’t mind us sharing it with you.”

The cow came closer, and we talked some more. I should say, I talked some more; the cow was silent. I’m not usually so gregarious, but it made constant eye contact, which I took to be a sign of encouragement. Then all of a sudden hoof beats, like the sound of powerfully undulating helicopter blades, approached from the distance.

The herd slowed to an amble as they neared the fence separating Oliver (who was far more interested in where Gauthier had gone than the cows), and I, and our new cow friends from them. Their vocalizations possessed a tone of authority. “What’s going on here?” they seemed to demand. “Mœ,” I said to them – and barely attracted their attention. So I opened up my diaphragm and let out a long, deep “mœ.” To see their heads whip around in unison and stare, you’d think they’d never heard a human say “mœ” before. I let out a couple more assertive “mœs,” intended to communicate that “we are all friends here,” and the herd collectively decided to depart, and trotted away.

The wire fence offered new insight into the character of our new friend. “Now why was the herd on one side of the fence, and this cow and her companions on the other?” I wondered to myself. I looked around. The fence was definitely intended to restrict the cows’ movement to a fenced-off enclosure. “A bold and artful escapee and her nervous followers,” I reasoned.

What the cow was musing – or mœsing – I cannot say, but apparently her thoughts led her to the conclusion that it would be safe to advance farther. As she rounded the top of the trench, her shiny black coat came into focus, as well as an alarming quantity of offal attached to her rear end, and a host of flies.

When we were finally face-to-face, she paused for a moment, then broke eye contact and looked over my shoulder towards the road. Then with a swish of her tail, as if to say, “See ya later,” she continued walking. After pausing again to give her companions – who had avoided me by taking a long, arced route across the trench – time to catch up, she turned left towards Soledad and sauntered down the road.

Resources Consulted:
AA Roads Forum, Topic: La Gloria Road
Commonly Encountered California Snakes, CaliforniaHerps.com
Flame Skimmer, International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species
Gabilan Range, Revolvy
Santa Cruz County Amphibians and Reptile

March Rains in San Mateo – Thornwood Open Space Preserve, 2019

March brought rain to San Mateo County, and the rain transformed the landscape. Colors became more vivid, new scents filled the air, quiet streams grew noisy with churning water, rivulets appeared from out of nowhere, and puddles, which are habitats for frogs and salamanders, formed everywhere. Being a shy introvert, frogs and salamanders are my favorite kind of company, so out into the rain we went!

Isn’t he beautiful!? Could it be an oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)?

Witch’s butter (Exidia glandulosa)?

An innocent-looking death cap (Amanita phalloides)?

Lipstick powder horn lichen (Cladonia macilenta)?

Can you spot the Turret spider burrow?

Lots of turret spider burrows!

Do you think it was staring back at me?

Terrible photo (the little guy wasn’t in the mood to pose for pictures), but what an interesting spider. Can you see it? It’s shiny and black with at least five white, chevron stripes on its abdomen, and was maybe the size of a quarter (about 25 mm diameter).

Xystocheir dissecta. This guy has a secret… he glows under black light!

Periwinkle (Vinca major)? It’s always dismaying to find out that a pretty flower is invasive. The California Invasive Plant Council lists the Vinca major as invasive.

Resources Consulted
California Fungi—Pleurotus ostreatus, www.mykoweb.com
Cladonia macilenta, CalPhotos photo database
“Glowing Millipedes Accidentally Found on Alcatraz,” by Douglas Main for Live Science (27 March 2013)
“Mushroom Hunting for Beginners,” powerpoint presentation by Drew Drozynski (3 March 2018)
Thornwood Preserve, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space
Vinca major, California Invasive Plant Council

From the Downs to the Sea – Day 1, Apr 2017

Our second cycle tour of the UK took us to the South Downs. We followed South Downs Way, a 100 mile (160km) off-road National Trail that connects Winchester, the Saxon Capital of England, with the white cliffs of Eastbourne. With a total of 3,800 metres, or 12,600 feet of ascent, it normally takes 7–10 days to walk, or 2–4 days to ride. We set out early one Saturday in April to do a one day tour, starting in picturesque Petersfield and ending in Emsworth, via Buriton Chalkpits and Limeworks, West Dean Wood and Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve.

The trail through Buriton Chalkpits and Limeworks was shady and quiet. A couple busy roads intersect it, which seemed a bit dangerous. West Dean Woods was spectacular with hazel coppices and fields of purple violets. It’s also the home of the Andy Goldsworthy chalk balls, located along the aptly titled Chalk Stones Trail. Kingley Vale Trail takes you through an ancient yew tree reserve. Some of the reserve’s yew trees are the oldest living things in Britain!

The grassy, round hills were a treat to ride. The ascents and descents were gentler than those of The Ridgeway, although I will say that we thought we’d hit the final hill five times before we actually climbed it. We saw quite a few mountain bikers and backpackers, but, strangely, no other female cyclists. And we added another word to our British lexicon: “hiya.” Unlike in the US, where the same expression sounds the way it is written, over here it sounds like “howareya”; it means the same thing, though. My dad, an Australian and long-time resident of the US, says hiya like the British do and always gets the response, “Good thanks; how are you?”

Petersfield

Brilliant graphism. These labels very effectively placed us in space, time and history.

This little fellow entertained us as we at our lunch.

This was our view from Harting Down as we ate our lunch.


Andy Goldsworthy chalk stone

Notice the hazelwood fence

Yew tree

Chichester in the distance

Racton Monument, completed in 1775; a folly (i.e., not a real ruin) commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Halifax, possibly as a summerhouse or a lookout so the Earl could watch his merchant ships dock at the nearby port village of Emsworth.

A bridleway overlooking Racton Monument took us through a small paddock full of sheep.

Resources consulted
Chalk Stones Trail
Guide to the South Downs National Park
Kingley Vale Trail
Racton Monument

Off the Beaten Path, Dec 2012

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, 1200 Crandon Boulevard, Key Biscayne, FL 33149
25°40’27.02″N 80°09’29.55″W elev 1 ft

Among the long overgrown campsites where only forgotten trail seekers dare to go…

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Giant Zebra Long Wings are everywhere.

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And so are Golden-Silk spiders, also known as banana spiders. This one was about 4 inches long. Their bite is less painful than a bee’s, and apparently, “In the South Pacific, females are induced to build webs on bamboo frames, which are then used as fish nets. The natives also relish the gravid females as a protein supplement, eating them either raw or roasted. Different reports say that the flavor is somewhat like mixed raw potato and lettuce mixed, or nutty flavored like peanut butter with a sticky consistency (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/golden_silk_spider.htm)”.

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Ficus roots give Ollie a height advantage.

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The sable palmetto is not just a tree, it’s a habitat.

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One of South Florida’s many thorny vines…

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Is no match for Gauthier as he takes a photo of a dragonfly with his Lytro.

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A lizard (Eastern Fence?) with a skull pattern on its head reminds vagrant hikers of the dangers of hiking off the beaten path.

Slogging the Florida Trail, Jan 2013

Florida National Scenic Trail (Southern Terminus; Loop Road access point)
25°45’32.27″N 81°02’52.61″W elev 4 ft

The trail was 60% mud, 20% water, and 20% dry grass. I was not prepared for how exhausting walking in the mud, or "slogging," is.

The trail was 60% mud, 20% water, and 20% dry grass. I was not prepared for how exhausting walking in the mud, or “slogging,” is.

See, muddy!

See, muddy!

About a mile into the trail is a pine hammock that was just full of wintering songbirds, inlcuding the Eastern Bluebird. It was really incredible how fearless they were; they darted about us, close enough to touch, as if we weren’t even there. They were so tiny and so fast that I wasn’t able to get a good picture.

The trail runs through a forest of “old growth” Cypresses. I think these are Dwarf Cypresses. Despite how small they look, they are hundreds of years old! They look kinda spooky in the winter without their needles.

There were air plants everywhere!

Tillandsia utriculata, the “Giant Air Plant”!

This itty bitty guy was about the size of a quarter.

The eerie Tillandsia paucifolia, small and silvery from being out in the sun. The Institute for Systematic Botany has digitized some images of Tillandsia paucifolia here http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/SpecimenDetails.aspx?PlantID=611

Isn’t he a cutie! Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper: 2 1/2″; flightless; slow-moving. Emits foul-smelling secretion when distrubed (National Audubon Society, “Field Guide to Florida”).

A crayfish. Isn’t he funny looking?! He was about 5″ long. He remained in this position for several minutes, then submerged himself in the mud.

Bartram’s Sabatia

Blue-Eyed Grass

Blue-Eyed Grass

Old Field Toadflax

Old Field Toadflax

Ollie’s picked up a scent! The air along the trail was delicious!