Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Path-Marker

"My eyes are in my feet..." -Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (1977)

My dad walked the same path every night of my childhood. In all seasons. He dressed for winter snow storms, for sleet and rain. On clear nights of summer or spring and in the winds of autumn, he would go out into the night for a two-mile walk through the protected wetlands.  My parents moved to Minnetonka in the early 1980's, after the city acknowledged the importance of preserving the wetlands. 

Roughly 20,000 years ago, the area I grew up in was at the edge of a glacial lake. As the glaciar melted, piles of dirt and blocks of ice were deposited and left depressions in the landscape. The shallow depressions my father walked through, and I later on, followed cattails and rushes. I got to know my dad by joining him on his walks at night. I also got to know my self, and the topography of my inner and outer worlds. 

In "The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot", Robert Macfarlane said, quite simply, "Path's connect. This is their first duty and chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension, they relate people."  

The topography of the self is shaped by landscape and the paths we walk early on. I navigated wetlands-shallow depressions, seeps and swales and rushes and cattails, oaks, maples, and elms, and of course, mosquitos. Close to water and submerged- storing, recharging, housing. 

Minne-tonka, my home town, meant water-big to the Dakotah Sioux. To settlers in the mid 19th century it meant a township, it meant farming and a sawmill and furniture shop. Since WWI and to my family, it has meant suburbs where people can live and go to work and raise their kids.  

We internalize the features of our individual path-filled landscapes. They shape the form and function of our everyday hopes and longings. Projected into us early on are landscapes, and we create maps to navigate inward and outward terrains. 

We speak of places in terms of what we make of them-it seems more difficult to say what a place makes of us. 

In our culture, the holidays, the winter solstice, and the new year act as way markings, or path-markers, just as a cairn, milestone, mile-marker, boulders in a river, or blazes on trees mark paths. 

My dad followed the path in the wetlands every night as a meandering river with a singular necessity-to keep in motion.

The marker leading into 2013 draws my eye. 

My feet eyes are watching.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Drop the finger, pick up a mirror

Here is a story. 

Twenty-eight children sit in a classroom. They have hung up their coats in their individually decorated cubby holes lining the wall, beneath their artwork and drawings. They each pick up the Science book from the back shelf, take their seats and wait for the lesson. The teacher begins. They talk of stars and the solar system. The teacher talks about the Universe. They are twenty-eight small people listening and reading aloud and making spit balls, and picking their noses. And then, time stops, and the twenty-nine people in the room freeze at the sound of a loud noise.

You know, like a bang, or crash, or maybe a boom. A sound wave at first, but once it reaches the ears, a process in the mind rushes to make sense of it. And before the mind can make sense the room is changed, the world and universe and stars and planets all flip, and something unnamed is gone, but somethings are at once left behind.

And the people left behind are caught in the lessons of society's how's, and yet are oblivious to the why.

What of the students who now go home and ask their parents the why. And of the parents who can't talk to their children whom have been taken as pieces from the now to the who knows when. And what of the people trying to make sense of the why.

What of the tragedies that go unnoticed and under the radar, unlearned.

A mortician publicly discussed the importance of talking to children about violence and death. When they ask the why, do we tell them we know why?

We could say, our culture has violence and that violence has meaning. But beyond that, we can not say.
We can look into the barrel of a gun as if into a mirror. Yes.
Or, we can feel powerless-up against a force of nature.
We could say it is out there and there are bad people, and it's scary and uncertain, and one day somebody could happen to pass through your life, and they could take it.

We are those children. Caught in the how, and oblivious to the why, we are torn between bitterness and hope.

And we look to the ones we fear most, as if they are the why. We look to the other, the stranger, and they are the why.

We need the why. The why is the space where our bullet-holed hearts and minds mingle to tell us the meaning for our pain.

According to Webster Online,

Massacre is:
 1. a) the indiscriminate, merciless killing of a number of human beings
     b) large-scale slaughter of animals
2) Informal an overwhelming defeat, as in sports

Multiple messages occupying the same space. And in that space a construction, a meaning about right and wrong, black and white, good and evil, and where we all reside is formed.

What happens when multiple meanings crash into each other? Is it like a boom, a crack, a fizzle, a snap? Can we hear it?
Is a massacre of others a crime against the self? Does this construction lead to an irresolvable world?

Mark Twain said,
“By trying, we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.”

In jest.

I sift through the recesses of my heart for a reminder of beauty where no beauty seems possible, for a reminder of kinship when isolation feels inevitable. I ache for the reminder that lonely does not mean we have to pretend to be someone we are not, and that my actions towards those around me are the most significant force constructing the world I live in.

Researchers in primate behavior study aggression in chimps. They try to make sense of inter-group violence. Jane Goodall spoke in an interview with Bill Moyers about how she reconciles a world which equally contains cruelty and violence communally with solidarity, and ultimately, love. She said, “ I reach the conclusion that I do believe we have brought aggressive tendencies with us through our long evolutionary path. I mean, you can't look around the world and not realize that we can be, and often are, extremely brutal and aggressive. And equally, we have inherited tendencies of love, compassion, and altruism, because they are there in our closest ancestors. So, we've brought those with us. It's like each of us has this dark side and a more noble side. And I guess it's up to each one of us to push one down and develop the other.”

These are the conflicts of multiple forces which rage within us. Within us and against us. Against us and within us.
Perhaps the need to answer the why is to escape. To escape the scariest story of them all. Not the story of crimes of others, but of the brutal massacre of the self.

All our secrets are the same.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to become, seemingly invisible

Octopuses imitate color even though they are colorblind.

They distinguish between objects which are black and white from objects which are different shades of grey.

Distinguishing between different polarizations of light allows them to sense the slightest contrasts between different colors, so they can adjust the texture and color of their skin until they exactly match the shade they seek to blend in with, and become, seemingly,


Friday, December 7, 2012

Experimental Flips

wanting to stick
to the moment right before
wanting it to begin

full-fledged crows

circle jack in the box
to shout at cars

midnight rat

chewing her toe callus-is there
really a point in life?

alternately off

then on-lipstick
for a contrast

smell of victory

is napalm-he said while
remembering burning flesh

the loud crow woke me

from my walking dream
of walking away from myself

An important man can

skip stones over words-as he
jumps from boat to boat

Thursday, December 6, 2012

True Story

A message is not the whole story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Another True Story

When the time comes to actually get paid for writing words, that others deem somehow valuable enough to print somewhere, a person needs to know about something called an Invoice.

I was not a person who knew anything about an invoice, and when it recently popped up in an email with someone who was in charge of actually paying me for writing,  I realized I needed to enlist the help of Google, and Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia: "An invoice or bill is a commercial document issued by a seller to a buyer, indicating the products, quantities, and agreed prices for products or services the seller has provided the buyer. An invoice indicates the sale transaction only."  

Do not laugh at me random one or two or three people out there who read this (Hi LING! AND KAVISA! AND ROCKIN'! and...)

I am not all caught up with the work-for-yourself lingo and this world of commodities.

My 8-year-old self had a better idea about buying and selling and products and quantities and agreed prices for products and services and sales than my now 28-year-old self. 

I had a cookie business once.

And a lemonade stand.

Those businesses did not require an Invoice.

Anyway after googling, and asking Jacob, he said I just needed a template, and fortunately as a Mac user, I can get a free template from OpenOffice.

So that's just what I did.

Woohoo for templates, and I guess, invoices, because it means I'm officially paid as someone who strings words into sentences. 

True Story

Catfish are giant swimming tongues.

If you touch a catfish, it will taste you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Eye in a tunnel

"Pitter patter is the angel on my shoulder...tick tock,  the clock is getting louder..."

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to: murder my darlings

Reluctant public disclosure: I'm applying to graduate school.

The process is murky. I find it hard to write a personal statement or statement of academic purpose. 

Perhaps my problem is that word: purpose.

Fortunately, I've enlisted the services of a willing critic-whom has provided an absurd level of patience with my crappy first drafts.

The response to my first draft:

"This meanders and ambles too much. Remove the affective and chatty sentences. Send me the next draft."

The response to my second draft:

"It is painful to read this sort of jargon and corporate speak from a person with your background. Try again."

Next draft response:

"The voice is the voice of the village. Use it."


"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English-it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them-then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice." -Mark Twain Letter to D.W. Bowser, 3/20/1880

"Style is not-can never be-extraneous Ornament. Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it-whole-heartedly-and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."
-Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944). On the Art of Writing. 1916.

Last draft-finally nailed it, at least for this critic. 

Next task=write an Academic Statement of Purpose. 

I am walking in a fog of mental murkiness with a machete. And I need to murder my darlings. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Girls are 

the arc of the world.

Wide open

stretched arms and legs - 

soft, strong and ambitious.

Curious well of conscience and confidence -

sprouting fledglings and birthers 


Expectations are daunting. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The homeless American President?

Right. Election is over. Obama for four more years. I am okay with that, although I'm pretty darn happy that now I don't have to hear everyone talk about how everyone else is a liar for a while. That's nice. Went to the library and there is apparently a small population of homeless people in this here google-town, Mountain View. A guy pulled up on a bike, talked to another guy who was sitting at the bench next to me waiting for the library to open.
Guy on bike was wearing sandals, blue sweats and had a head piece attached to a tape recorder. First thing he says,

"So I'm sick of all these googlers who don't even know where Escuela Street is. I mean, they move here, drive to work everyday, back and forth, and never even know what street they are on. So much for google maps."

"Yeah, man, I know what you mean." Says guy on bench.

"I'm tired of it. I mean, they can't even figure out where their polling station is. How stupid can you be? Get out and look at where you live!" Recorder guy's peripatetic eyes scan the passerby's.

"Did ya vote?" guy on bench glances up from his copy of the November 6 Daily News

"Yeah, I did. No good choices though. I wish it were like the good ole days. You know who my favorite President was? The ONLY President who never had an address, who parked his horse right there outside the White House."

"Who was that?" Inquires guy on bench.

"Zachary Taylor. Now that's a man I would vote for. The guy actually knew what it was like to be a person in this country."

Guy with tape recorder says,

"You know, I voted yes on Prop 30 because I trust Brown [Governer Jerry Brown]. He's the only one in Sacramento who drives around in an old beat-up truck like a normal human being. I trust a man like that.'

Guy on bench jumps out of his seat, throws down his newspaper and says, "What! You like that idiot! None of these politicians can be trusted!"

"Yeah, man, I mean, he's not so bad." Guy with tape recorder leans forward to get it all on tape.

Guy on bench simmers a bit, and asks, "Where's the sign on the back of your bike? You get rid of it?"

"Oh, I stopped putting that up a while ago, helps me find places to sleep at night, because people don't follow me around now. I have a really slick system now. I stuff this sleeping bag I found into the back of my shirt, so I'm all stealth now. I can sleep anywhere."

Guy on bench, "Oh, that's nice. I miss your signs though."

Taperecorder guy, "Yeah, this town isn't the same that it used to be."

Guy on bench, "No, it's not. Rich googlers. That's what we have now."

Both walk into the library as the doors are just opening.

I like public places. Like libraries.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Diablo Trail Race-after thoughts

Jacob and I ran with his dad in the Diablo Trail Race 10k yesterday. His mom was volunteering so signed us all up. I haven't been running. Not really at all. The only run I did was last week when I went out the door and ran on a north/south paved trail near our place. After the 50k trail run last June, I half-heartedly would go out a few days a week in the desert this summer, and could manage like 30 min before the heat would eat me. 

So yesterday was the first trail run I've been on in a while. 

It was hot out, and over 1,000 people turned up, clad in spandex and the lavish lululemon clothing line. On the trail to keep my mind off my lungs I kept track of how many women around me were wearing that logo. I estimate around 75% were. Not sure if it was a large enough sample size, but still. That's a lot of high-priced yoga/running gear. I guess I just don't get lululemon, nor the cult following. I was also really surprised to see such a large search and rescue team out there.  They wore really spiffy costumes. Reminded me of the TSA thug who stole my peanut butter. Something about the way they were just all standing around, waiting for something to happen and something to do. I don't know, didn't make me feel any safer.

Anyway, the route was pretty awesome, winding up near Diablo from the North side. The first two miles were a steady wide trail, followed by a narrow foot path where a single file line bottleneck forced you into going whatever pace as the person in front of you. I had heard that the record at the beginning of the race was 50 min for women, so I decided at the start line I was going to shoot for that. Which meant 8 min splits. I managed that in the first 2 miles, but that dropped the 3rd and 4th mile when the bottleneck happened, the route followed a steep incline up the mountain, and my lungs started hurting. I hadn't trained, so was sort of tired.

After traveling up and then down, the last 2plus miles were pretty much downhill. My splits in between were something like 12 and a half min miles, so I pretty much gave up on the making it in 50min, because that meant I would have to run like 4 and a half minute miles. Nope. I'm not that fast, nor am I that great of a runner. So I just decided to run and play, and look around, and try not to fall.

I had been off and on around a young woman in swishy warm-up pants (one of the 25% not in lulu attire), and was sort of trailing her because she set a good pace. The rhythm of the swish was also meditative. At one point I said, "great job!" and she just kind of huffed at me. I don't think she really wanted to chat. But I know how nice it is to get encouragement, so thought I'd try it. I thanked her later on for setting a nice pace. She still wasn't that excited to chat. Ah well.

J's mom, Rosalie was there at the end of the race, and that was nice. J and Dan didn't share my desire to attempt 50min time for the race, and so came in a bit after me. I finished in 1:05, felt good about it. And I guess it's pretty cool that all those people wanted to spend their sunday on a trail. I think 15 min is a lot to shave off over 6.2 miles, so I'm not sure if my goal of 50min is really that realistic. Maybe if I train? Who knows. I guess it's not really the point, and I'm actually going to start running again because it felt good.

Happy to report I haven't had to invest in any "running gear", aside  from a pair of Vibram five-fingers I bought in Seattle late last September which have continued to work through, I don't know, a lot of miles. They are only starting to tear on the cloth between the toes, but other than that, have turned out to be really reliable and worth the investment.

I still like running on trails, not in races, when it's just me and maybe another person, and you don't really worry about time or distance, and you just sort of go. But it's nice to do races to provide an impetus to start.

Friday, November 2, 2012

True Story

...we all have a lifespan.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sometimes I run

...without direction

Monday, October 29, 2012

To the Naysayer on my shoulder

To you, naysayer on my shoulder,

You don't have my shoulder to shout on, no, not anymore. You can't sit there, so pompous, self-righteous and destructive. I flick you off my shoulder. You can take that bullying and shove it up your celestial ass. I'm not going to listen to you.

Naysayer, you and all of your little friends, are the bitter toxic voice who shouts, “I suck. I'm a failure. I can't finish anything. I'm mediocre.”

I'm not.

I say fuck you.

I'm going to write, and I am a writer. It's what I do, and what I need to do. 
I write because I feel joyful when I do, because I like how it feels to see something new. 
I write because I'll always have a friend to talk to. 
I write because I like the belly of things, I like the gut. I like the muddled, messy, subterranean underworld of thoughts/ideas/feelings/truths. 
Where life and decay collide. 
I write because I feel alive when I do.

Naysayer, I'm not going to make any more promises to you, or anyone else. I make a promise to myself. I promise to make tiny changes. I promise to try, for the somethings that get carried on when we are all gone. I promise to listen and to speak, and to shout and to cry and to be and to write about it all.

The world doesn't owe me anything, and I don't owe anything to the world.

But this is the work that means something to me.

The work of my own subterranean underbelly.

You and your sidekicks, i.e., money, success, perfection, recognition, you can all go and have your own little naysayer party.

I'm working to try. I need some creation, and I need to believe in courage and love, and hope. So I'm going to write. And try to make small changes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Plea to Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

I'm writing a plea to you, because I am going to cast my vote for you in the upcoming election. Along with everyone else on this planet, I just got here. And I feel lucky to have been born in this country, even though I certainly had no choice in it. I realize how fortunate I am, being able to vote, and I hold that privilege very dear.

But I'm pleading with you, because while I think you do listen, and I think you are a thoughtful person, I've struggled, and still struggle, with supporting you as our leader. I'm saddened and angry about your decisions in office, specifically with regards to catering to Wall Street, your degradation of our civil liberties, your support of domestic oil and gas production, enacting indefinite detention without trial, decriminalizing torture, and drone strikes. I just think war is stupid and sad. And we all have too much blood on our hands.

I recognize you have a tough position, but I'm tired by the choice I face this November, choosing between not the lesser of two evils, because there are many evils, but feeling so utterly helpless in this position.

I'm more terrified of a Romney/Ryan administration. Terrified of what they will do to this sweet life-supporting planet we are all on, what they will do about health care and women's rights, what they will do about pushing back on the strides we've made on one of the biggest civil rights and legal issues of our time, what they will do about increasing our already over-zealous military/industrial complex. Unfortunately, my vote won't really decide whether or not Romney/Ryan will be free-wielding power for the next four or eight years, I'm not in a swing state.

But I'm saddened mostly by what I interpret as a hardening of the peaceful part of you.  In the debate last night, I watched as both you and Governor Romney battled it out, trying to convince We the People who is a stronger leader on National Security. I think you've been pulled so far into the fight of the baddest of the bad guys, and have forgotten what Just Peace means. I couldn't tell much of a difference between the two of you and what was being said.

Being just and peaceful doesn't mean being weak, it doesn't mean not standing up when it's a necessary fight, but it is rooted in what one of the most well-known socialists in human history preached, the Golden Rule. Because the personal is the political, and this becomes even that much more apparent in an election year, I hope you remember that Just Peace isn't just about battling and fighting, it is a way of conducting our lives which creates the conditions for human flourishing-joy and sustenance for peoples of all nations, as well as flourishing for the natural world.

 I guess I'm just concerned that a part of you may have died.

Governor Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republicans have a severe lack of respect for the intelligence of the people with their continued political prevarications. Romney also demonstrates a severe deficiency in moral intelligence. I think you have it, but it's been lost or buried somewhere along the way.

I still believe in the power of Truth-Telling, even when we can't know it all. Even though it may be mightily tested in our times, I still believe our system is salvageable. I'm not blind to the inherent vulnerabilities, but I need to believe in the strengths.

And I plea to you to be a truth-teller, and to find the Just Peace part of you. I urge you to have the courage and love to speak to us, and also listen to us, regardless of the outcome of the election.

That's all, I just had to get that off my chest, Mr. President.

And good luck.

As Ever,


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

And So We Go

Well, I like to think we will go. Go where?

On another long-hike, of course.


Where else would Jacob and I go when we GO?

Right now, I'm sitting with Margaret Thatcher, Kurt Vonnegut, and Frank Clifford.

I'm rereading A Man Without a Country and And So It Goes, because KV always seems to pull me out of any kind of funk.

"I wanted all things to seem to make some sense, so we could all be happy, yes, instead of tense. And I made up lies, so they'll fit nice, and I made this sad world a paradise."

Most lies aren't intended to make this sad world a paradise, but I believe KV when he tells his lies. Not sure why.

Jacob woke up earlier than I did this morning and when I came out he was sitting in front of his computer screen. Lately when I look over his shoulder I've seen a black background with little colored boxes being moved surrounded by a green fence like thing. This is the world of Dwarf Fortress. 

However, this morning instead of Dwarf Fortress, I saw a map of New Mexico. And then I saw a trail which travels along the Continental Divide. And he said, "I want to go hike."

I was jumping for joy! Yay! He wants to go, again!

I've been trying to plant the seed now to go on another hike for a while. Like a few months. But I know he actually kinda likes what he's doing at work right now, and I don't really like what I'm not doing, which is not working on anything really that important except learning about how other people write, and how much crap there is on the internet.

So I didn't want to push him.

But he wants to go!

Maybe next Spring? I don't know. But we will, one day, hopefully, go.

Frank Clifford, an LA Times writer and editor, who is also by my side, wrote the BEST portrait of the west I've ever read in The Backbone of the World. 

"Progress may have liberated us from the need to work the land, but it has not freed us from the impulse to do so. Disconnected from nature, we become strangers to our senses. But the senses are like smart dogs that grow restive when they are ignored for too long. They need work to be happy. Pay is not the issue. It is the experience that matters."

Also, "The trail provides the sort of organizing principle you need when you are looking for an excuse to drop everything, lock the door on your life, and light out."

But unlike my husband and I, Clifford was less interested in hiking the trail than he was in the Divide country and the people who lived in it. He was interested in spending time around people who have tailored their lives to fit into exposed places, where travelers spend a night or two. He wanted to write about their stories, not those who pass on by, before they are all gone.

Through his reporting, and clear cadence, we meet ranchers, a sheep herder, a Yellowstone Park Ranger protecting elk and grizzly bears from illegal hunters, and a group of Blackfeet Indians in Northern Montana.

I am in love with this book, and the people who are in it, and the contradictory frontier values.

And now I'm ready to go hike.

And So We [will maybe?] Go.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Less resistance on the backstroke

This summer a naturalist in the Kern River Valley was talking to a bunch of us field tech's about the mysteries and evolutionary feet of feathers. Jon Schmidt had been collecting feathers since he was a kid, and taught us the basics of identification, and started to get us to think about how this particular vertebrate body covering contributes to the incredibly diverse form and function of birds. In short, feathers are a marvel. They are amazing; with a capital A. 

Feathers are downy soft, or stiff. They are fused, fringed, barbed, or flattened. They can be as small as a pencil point or larger than a human body. They can be vibrantly colored, or dull and lackluster. They are used to attract or repel members of the opposite sex or predators. They can hold in water, or repel it. They can whistle, snap, vibrate, hum, snap, or bristle.

Again, capital A.

Since I find myself with a more than usual abundance of free time as of present, I was excited to stumble across Destin's Smarter Every Day: a youtube series this guy interested in science decided to create and use as a conduit for doing cool science shit, and it is pretty sweet.

In How Bird Wing's Work, Destin debunks popular conceptions of bird flight using computational fluid dynamics. Essentially, the bird wing is a biomechanical check valve; on the downstroke feathers overlap to create a boundary layer where air can't pass; but on the backstroke, wings separate, feathers turn, and a space is created where air flows through. 

I never knew there was less resistance on the backstroke. 

If you look up to a bird in flight, watch for that moment when the sun peaks through during the backstroke, that moment when the wind whistles through, the moment of least resistance. A moment brought on by an adaptation to body covering. 

No wonder Darwin devoted four chapters to feathers in Descent of Man

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shimmering Balaclava

Anna's Hummingbird (male), Calypte anna

I went on a bike ride along the shoreline of the bay, and was distracted by the iridescent emerald feathers from a hummingbird perched nearby. I hopped off my bike and moved delicately towards this little guy. 

He sat, and posed. 

I would too if I had a shimmering rosy-red balaclava like him. 

So pretty. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Song birds migrate at night

On a whim a few weeks ago, I applied for a couple of summer field work positions. I like being outside (clearly), am interested and curious about Earth's creatures and their interaction with their environment (wildlife biology and ecology), and I wouldn't mind delving deeply into a particular piece of the larger puzzle. 

I heard back from two postions the same day I sent in my applications. The first was working as a field tech aid on a pilot project in Alberta surveying and monitoring Grizzly Bears. The key qualifications were walking for long-distances in rugged and backcountry terrain with no supervision, having navigation skills, and an interest in learning about wildlife biology. I heard back from the head researcher of the project, immediately connected with her, and was seriously considering it aside from the downfall that I would have to be away from Jacob for 3 months, and probably we wouldn't see each other. 

I also was waiting to hear back from a field assistant position studying the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher population at the South Fork Kern River Valley, and last week was offered a spot on the small team for this summer. I'm eager for the chance to gain practical field work skills and experience, to learn more about migratory bird ecology, work on basic and applied research, and gain more insight into if, in fact, I would like to go back to grad school. Admittedly, I'm a bit apprehensive seeing as I have no experience in avian biology, have not been trained in monitoring nests, nor do I have any additional specialized experience. I was reassured that these weren't prerequisites, and upon talking with the head researcher of this program, was told that she actually likes to give people who may not have direct experience a chance. And finds many times, that the lack of experience can be a useful asset. 
So... on to a new adventure! 

Project Summary:

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) is a migratory passerine (perching bird) and is an endangered subspecies of the Willow Flycatcher. They breed in riparian areas of the Southwestern United States (thus the name), and winter in neotropical areas in Central America and Mexico. This subspecies is part of the larger general trend in declining migratory bird populations worldwide. Habitat destruction from anthropomorphic activities (read: Human Impact), and brood parasitism from Brown-Headed Cowbirds are thought to be the primary reasons for this subspecies endangered status. The native willow/cottonwood habitat in the South Fork Kern River Valley harbors a population of Southwestern Willow Flycatchers. Since 1989, the team at the Southern Sierra Research Station have surveyed protected areas in the valley for flycatchers, have monitored the reproductive rates and survival successes of this population, and continue to try to understand the factors that control the size of the breeding population.  

More info about Southwestern Willow Flycatcher here.

More info about where I'll be, here

This means I'll be spending a very large chunk of my day going through dense riparian forests, sampling vegetation, and assisting with the management of the Cowbird population, and other various tasks which keep the project moving. 

I was asked if I like to be alone outside in variable terrain and inclement weather. 

Yes, and yes. 

As for the part about learning more about a migratory songbird, of course I'm interested. 

Song Birds Migrate At Night

They travel up to thousands of miles twice each year, 

Alone or together, 





Through storms and under the blanket of night, 

They follow the stars, 

Up and down, 

not round and round.

How do they know when and where and why to go? 

They perceive magnetic fields, 

and they once walked the earth as Dinosaurs.

Fossilized is a dino-bird, 

Shouting at us a simple, ancient something, 

About what it means to be one thing,

becoming another.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Building a Nest

Bewick's Wren (Thyromanes bewickii) building a nest
I was walking along by a thicket of dense oak and scrub, and just under the bridge I spotted a brown and white blur hopping about.

Upon closer inspection, I was struck by bold white eyebrows, a long tail, and soft brown back, white throat.

I carried A Field Guide to Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson because I don't know my birds, and learned this little lady is a Bewick's Wren. She was carrying small feathers and twigs to deposit them in a cavity in the footbridge.

I thought of the Earth Wind and Fire song, Build Your Nest...

Build yo nest

Build yo nest on tenderness...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

More Signs of Spring: Newt Xing

What is cute, small, brown, moves at the pace of a drunk snail, and secretes a particularly potent neurotoxin? 

Rough-Skinned Newt, aka Taricha granulosa

Why did the newt cross the trail?

To breed on the other side...

I've been tempted to make a sign alerting people to keep an eye out for Newt Crossings, which are a regular occurrence these days. Some newts in this particular area have been alerted by celestial cues that it is time to migrate.

Aside from being my chosen trail of choice for training runs, Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve is home to both the Rough-Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) and the California Newt (Taricha tarosa).

I'm fascinated by these amphibians. They are so clearly in their own world, meandering along, searching for the perfect water spot to get it on. They blend in really well with their habitat, so it's actually quite dangerous if they migrate through a heavily trafficked area. Wildcat Canyon trail, which follows an oak-lined canyon leading up to the west side of Black Mountain in the preserve has heavy traffic. And the other day, I came across a few newts who didn't make it.

What do you think, a big yellow sign that says, Newt Xing?

A few fast facts:

1. Newts are able to regenerate body parts. Yes, cut off a leg, and they will grow a new one. Not only that, you could poke out their eyes, break their spine, rip out their heart, break their jaw in a fight, or if you were really mean, take out their intestines, and it wouldn't phase them. Ok, well, maybe it would phase them if you did that all at once. But they have cells which are able to de-differentiate at an injury site, reproduce, and re-differentiate to grow new limbs which retain structure and function. Pretty cool, eh? So, don't go dissing the newts.

2. Newts, particularly the Rough-Skinned Newt as seen above, secrete neurotoxins called tetrodotoxin and terichatoxin. The former of these is  more poisonous than potassium cyanide. Similar to pufferfish and other animal species who secrete these chemicals. If ingested, the poison binds to sodium channels in nerve cells and leads to paralysis, and if in high enough doses and depending on the victim, death. Humans usually don't have a problem when handling newts, but should be careful to wash after. Probably humans handling newts cause more damage to the newt because they have semi-permeable skin, and we have chemicals and oils that could make their lives rough.

As members of the Salamander family, these particular species have a range from the coastal areas of California, inland to higher foothill elevations and extend up to Alaska. They like cool waters from ponds, lakes, streams, and slow-moving rivers. Terrestrial adults like to hang out in grasslands, woodlands, or coniferous forest beds, under rocks, leaf litter and beneath fallen logs. They eat crustaceans, insects, snails, leeches, worms, or other larvae and are estimated to live for up to 20 years.

Salamanders, like other amphibians, are sensitive bioindicators, providing insight into water quality and watershed health. California newt populations in Southern California are considered by the California Department of Fish and Game to be Species of Special Concern. Populations have declined due to introduction of non-native species, pollution, and human development. 

Next time your out in Newt habitat keep your eyes peeled for these incredible creatures.

Now that I got that out of my system, just a few more pictures from a hike I took today out on the trail. I  decided to give running a break, and carried a notebook, camera, and moved slowly, like a newt. I saw black-tailed deer, western scrub-jay, california quail, *heard and saw* wild turkey, a bees nest, various species of mushroom, and pretty little wildflowers in bloom.

Black-Tailed Deer

Steen, Sue, can you ID?

Wildcat Canyon Trail

I was told this is a "Jack-O-Lantern" Mushroom by a fellow mushroomer.  Neat fact: it is bioluminescent. 
water droplets in a web

Caught in a web

So pretty, yet so uncomfortable. I love to look at Poison Oak this time of year

Ghost Spider (as dubbed by me)