Friday, April 27, 2012

Edgewood Preserve

The empty fire trail is always a siren call, pulling me deeper into the hills. I never want to turn back, I want to keep on going, walking faster and faster, delving deeper into the hills. A swath of meadow gold & tidy tips, always on the next horizon, teasing me on.

I am allergic to the concept of putting nature under lock and key barring the path. No trespassing is not  a concept I adhere to. The cyclone fence between me and my desire was plastered with myriad no parking, no trespassing, no loitering signs. That's a new one: loitering!

I loitered long and I lingered even longer. I loitered and looked long and hard and took hundreds of photos, though the light was low. I defied someone to arrest me for loitering amid the wildflowers. The land should not be held prisoner. However, I begrudgingly have to admit that this rare wildflower meadow is in pristine condition because of the lockdown stewardship of the San Francisco Water Board. Cattle and humans impact the fragile serpentine soil and disrupt the wildflowers.

So I skirted the cyclone fence looking for openings—this one was too tall to hop over, and I stumbled upon a footpath. I had no idea where it went but it skirted the object of my desire. Access to the wildflowers on the serpentine ridge. A half mile later, the trail led me to the Edgewood Preserve. Imagine my delight. The way was carpeted with wildflowers leading me ever onward into the hills.

The paradox is that the farther (and faster) I delve into the hills, the closer I approach civilization. There are few places left where you can escape the ravages of civilization. Reminders everywhere. Distant hum of Highway 280, like the ocean's roar. The flower-painted ridges marred by flight markers and tall pylons carrying electricity to Half Moon Bay over the next ridge. I am always honing my eye like a split lens to see the landscape how it might have looked a century before.

A brooding storm front was building. The air was charged with the acrid odor of negative ions. The sky spitting. The bluebirds flew low to the ground, landing it front of me as if to tease me with their color. Escaped bits of larkspur petals let loose into the air.

The park volunteer I met near the trailhead was pulling out invasive weeds—Hawk's beard, or something. Looks lke a dandelion, but bigger. He said it was a pity that I wasn't at the preserve on Earth Day as the flowers were all ablaze—they've closed up because of the storm. Sure it would have been lovely being here on a clear day when the riot of flowers rivaled the sun in yellow and orange cadence. But oh, what a sky! If it was clear, would it have been this dramatic?

Besides, if I had been here on Earth Day there would have been scores of people there, crawling all over everything. I prefer my landscape neat, straight up and unpeopled. This way, I had the entire valley to myself.

I spent my childhood in coastal hills like these, also on the San Andreas Fault. They're an admixture of Franciscan strata, serpentine ridges and limestone reefs—creating a mecca for wildflowers where nothing else will grow. Sort of like the Burrens in Ireland—a limestone reef. The serpentine is inhospitable or toxic to most plants and grasses, creating an oasis for a few hardy wildflowers that have adapted to the unique soil, if you can call it soil. Serpentine soil is celadon green. Franciscan soil is burnt sienna. Seeing patches of the two side by side makes your eyes blur.

The clouds grew ominous. They began to spit. I hurried down the trail and around the corner, I disturbed a young rabbit at his dinner. Not a jackrabbit, but a cottontail I noted to myself, as he disappeared in a flash, his white tail, a flag of surrender. We only had jackrabbits in West Marin—they are large hares, not rabbits.

On the Pacific Plate on the other side of the reservoir lake, full climax forest. Granite enriched soils give way to oak and pine. Like San Geronimo, or Inverness Ridge. On the exposed serpentine escarpment, there was even a pygmy oak forest where the San Andreas Fault discects the rift.

The photos were taken at the half way point where I couldn't see the beginning or the end of the trailhead. So I was at my happiness point.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day & Squirrel

OMG! I can't believe I missed international squirrel day. Look what I found perched in the lemon tree for Earth Day! She kept clutching her paw to her chest, and flicking her tail. The tail, a sign of aggression? The paw, appeasement? In some pix, she's twitching her tail so fast, it's a blur.

The squirrel and I, were not quite seeing eye to aye. She was jealously guarding her fairy coach pumpkin that I had bought for Halloween, so it was a turf war thing. I had kept the enormous red striped squash intact through the winter and planned to plant the seeds. She drilled a hole in its tough hide, and was mining pumpkin seeds from within the cavity.

Whenever I approached her to try and save some seeds, she kept gesturing at/to me. It was a soft, self protecting hand gesture. She did it over and over again. Probably means something like: "I'm harmless, please don't eat me." Damned cute. Clearly, I don't speak squirrel sign language. So she kept repeating the gesture, thinking I'd eventually get it. The tail thrashing needed no translation.

added & rev. 4/22/2016

Fresh snow, Earth Day, Mt. Charleston, Clark Co., NV (photo)

Mt. Charleston, Clark Co., NV © Maureen Hurley 2012 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sunrise Mountain

Sitting at the base of Sunrise Mountain
watching the last light leave the peak,
everything all rose and dusk.

Sunrise Mountain, part of the Great Unconformity, is above east Las Vegas, toward Lake Mead. I can see the strip in the distance. The Needle like a drill captain leading the band. Las Vegas is better this way, seen from a distance. Such extremes. We went up Mt. Charleston. Alpine landscape. Snow!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Musician's Special

I'm stealing wifi, poolside at the Golden Nugget (can't get on via their room wifi). Remodeled rooms are a darned sight better than 4 years ago. They stuck us in a time capsule of a dingy corner room off an old mezzanine, that was built in the 40s, replete with sagging mattress, chenille bedspread, in battleship gray decor redolent with the odor of stale cigarette smoke and spilled beer left over from the days of Bugsy Malone. The lone window overlooked Fremont Street, it was like a bad movie set. We were horrified, I slept on the balcony, rather than spend one night in that room. We couldn't complain. The contract said a room, It didn't say what kind of room. A real Musician's Special.

rev. 4/2016

We're at the very bottom of Fremont Street. No sign of the flying Elvises—but the sling-line's as close as we're gonna get to flying. Last year, men in kilts on the (zip) sling-line, was a sight to behold. Talk about galloping bollockitis! The weekend is young.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Enroute, Las Vegas

We went up the Tehachepe train circle at Keene and saw the incredible train grade—the engineer tooted to us as he went round and round two times. Carpets of flowers everywhere. 

The Mojave Desert is in full bloom—a riot of color every which way you look. As if God had painted yellow, orange and purple carpets between the creosote and sage. I'm SO allergic, I thought I was sick. The air is heavy with honey.

Enroute to Las Vegas, we went down Zyzzyx Road bear Baker, and I showed Neil the remnants of Lake Mojave. A millenium later, blackbirds still whistle in the remnants of bull rushes—growing out of salt pan. Tule rushes and cattails have adapted too. Incredible white cone asters. Tiny chub acting all pupfish. 

We walked out on the evaporating lakebed, squishing alkaline mud between our toes. They moved the old boat to the CSU research center. Coots clacked at us, patrolling the oasis pond with fierce attention. The rock walls were turquoise and desert varnish. Incredible.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Last night it snowed on the Tehachepes
but the Grapevine was open.
Driving down I-5, we saw vast
angel wings of hail and snow falling from the sky,
and a massive cloud column or tower—
I joked that it looked like a budding tornado.
not that I have ever seen a tornado.
It had lightning, and a rainbow! A real tornado.
From the heights of Hwy 33, 
you could see how the cloud tower
came all the way down to the ground 
in a wide pillar, pulsing and swirling.
A cloud show of biblical proportions
suckling everything in, 
including the last remnants of daylight.

rev. 4/11/19

Monday, April 9, 2012

Anti-virus wars

Last night was rough. Fever & sweats left me wrung out. Canceled art teaching today. A good thing too. Still hoarse as a debarked dog but I've got small islands of voice coming back. Woof! Er, meow? Occupational hazard withing with kids, and at a market too. Extreme sports viruses. I've learned not to touch their pencils in poetry, but in art classes, I do need to collect my art supplies! People assume we have weak immune systems—not accounting for the sheer volume of people we see (and handle their items) each week. At the retail job, money, items, and customer trash—huge germ pool. Nurses must have it worst of all. I had to cancel. I'm a much more interesting art teacher when I'm not fighting a virus! The kitties don't seem to mind that I'm sick. They're piled all over me. Fur jacket nurses.

Kitty & Turtle-sitting Journal

Kitty & turtle-sitting journal: Turtle wars! I gave the big fellah a broccoli stalk after his avocado bit, as the little one is not culinarily adventurous and won't come out of his pond. Rattle and commotion—two turtles banging against the glass fighting over a broccoli stalk. Shredded broccoli florets all over the tank. They fought like two dogs over a large bone. Hysterical. It was all about the bright green stalk. Forget the good bits. Never seen turtles that active. They also like bananas. Apparently broccoli is the new banana. They're red-eared sliders. Serious personalities on those two. Who knew? They're jealous, greedy, ambitious, attention-hungry, and curious. I gave them a 2nd stalk of broccoli—they're so over it. Turned their noses up at it. They did. It was about the turf. Surf & turf wars?

Housesitting for Leah on Cleveland Ave

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Daddy-longlegs and woolybears

Growing up in rural Forest Knolls, I had few friends my own age, but I befriended many odd crawly pets. My favorite insects included purple rolypoly pillbugs (or sowbugs) that dwelled in the cracks of the cement slab that served as our front porch. I'd get them to tuck up and used them in tiny rolling games on the tiled floor until they got tired of it and staggered off into the garden.

There were big black stinkbugs that trekked across the hardpan driveway at dusk (the cats found out that they're best viewed from afar after they've hoisted their butts skyward). Ladybugs and manbugs (the green beetles) were super good luck—and you could make a wish on them if they landed on you. Potato bugs were just too weird. I tried to like them but they looked like little babies rooting in the compost heap.

Of course, I loved the hoppers—when I could catch them in the grass. Crickets could tell us how hot the night was by how quickly they rasped their hind legs together. As if you couldn't tell if it was hot or not by yourself.

Grasshoppers were easier to catch. They would stare at you with their strange big eyes, and sometimes took a nip out of you to see if you were edible. Beautiful dragonflies darning the stems down by the creek also bit you.

The squat furry black & russet jumping spiders that inhabited the lower field by the oak tree, never, ever bit you. I didn't know about the scorpions. I kept clear of the massive, shaggy grey wolf spider that lived in the basement. He was too big—the size of your hand—and far too scary. Like a tarantula. But we didn't have them in Forest Knolls.

I didn't know about the scorpions in the crawl space in the basement until much later, either. A case of blissful ignorance as I often crawled up there to catch the cats who ran away, dressed to the nines in my doll clothes.

To my grandmother's dismay, I adopted all silverfish I found on the bathroom floor or under the newspaper lining the bureau drawers—that made them practically literate eating all those words. I was busy making similes, creating my own world order.

The silverfish reminded me of small metallic seals with long horns. Silverfish can hop amazing heights relative to body size. Sometimes called silverfish moths, these long-lived wingless pests (who knew that they lived 5-8 years). They didn't bite but loved to eat old books, wool and silk. My idea of a bookworm was a silverfish.

I especially liked the orange & black woolybears, and other caterpillars that dwelled on the cherryplum tree at the corner of the shed each spring. Someone said woolybears were like groundhogs—they could predict the winter by their color—a wider black band meant we had to stack more wood.

Ornate Tiger moth, Nicasio. CA
What I didn't know was that their relatives hatched into mosaic-striped tussock moths, or tiger moths that favored the back bedroom in summer, and their rarer cousins: striking white moths with black spots, black eyes, feathery black antennae; with a red bib and underwing near the thorax, black legs covered in little furry red pantaloons—sort of like this fellow pictured here.

I hated the tent caterpillars. One year they ate every leaf off our wild cherryplum. Destructive little buggers. No fruit that year. But they were fascinating to watch, always busy following the caterpillar in front of them like little runaway trains going clackety-clackety down the branches, hellbent for the ends of the earth.  Or the end of the branch. Talk about terminal. Their tents were death shrouds for the fruit trees.

My favorite pests were the daddy-longlegs that inhabited the living room corner by the swank '50s pole lamp. Sometimes a cluster of daddy-longlegs would face the light, link legs, then hover and bounce in unison in the corner of the ceiling near my grandmother who was reading on the couch. She'd mutter and swat at them with a newspaper if an adventurous one got too close, but she never killed them (or mosquitohawks either). That was bad luck.

I tolerated the skeeterhawks—often distinguished by their droning tap when they were trapped in windows and corners (but definitely from afar—they could, and did bite). From my grandmother, I learned that beneficial creatures came in small stinging sizes too.

When I was in my late teens, I was in bed reading, one adventurous daddy-longlegs, that I dubbed Trackstar would come scurrying over for a daily visit. Sometimes he'd observe me with his two beady eyes that can't form a coherent image, tapping at my skin like a blindman with front legs that double as arms, tongue and feelers. Then he'd bounce on his long legs like a trampoline—clearly he was communicating something. But what? Not like a bluebelly lizard doing pushups and strutting for a female.

This weird behavior went on for months. I was fascinated by the 'spider." He was probably feeding on crumbs and dead skin cells. I was his veritable banquet hall. If he found a tidbit, he'd wash his legs like a cat.

Daddy-longlegs are fragile creatures, we learned to let them roam on us at will, but we had to be careful because their sensitive legs (that serve as eyes, ears, nose and mouth), will fall off and then twitch away like decoy lizard tails—long after the creature has hobbled off to safety.

Alas, one day I jumped out of bed too quickly and stepped on him. I didn't realize he made his daily trek across the floor from the area of the closet. I mourned that silly "spider." An impossible pet to keep.

He was definitely not a cellar spider. Daddy-longlegs aren't spiders at all. They're opiliones. Arachnids, yes, like scorpions, but not spiders.

Opiliones are sometimes called harvestmen—because they congregate en masse during the fall. According to fossils found in Scotland, they haven't changed very much in 400 million years. They have oval bodes. Like a dark little pill with geometric brown markings. Up close, you can see that they're very unspidery looking creatures, other than their legs. More like a tiny crab. The male has a much larger body than the female.

Someone, perhaps jealous of my fascination with daddy-longlegs, once told me that they were one of the most poisonous spiders in the world, but their fangs were too short to bite humans. The venom thing is utter rubbish. However, I was pretty disgusted with my friend for believing such nonsense.

Maybe they meant the long-legged wood, or, cellar spiders, that really are spiders, and are often mistaken for daddy-longlegs, were poisonous. I gave them wide berth as spiders like me a little too much as fodder. These delicate daddy-longlegs have no venom or fangs or silk glands. Just tiny little arms they use to ferry crumbs to their impossibly small mouths.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

dread virus woes, or teaching while voiceless

Sick again. Ugh. Feeling a little better this AM—nasty virus kneecapped me on Sunday. "Course, I haven't really gotten up yet. So all seems good. I really felt it this afternoon. Did too much. Not horrible, just sickly. Cough cough. Taught oil pastels to 3 classes of 4-5th graders in San Jose—part of a CAC AIS grant. Very tired. Need to jump on it and get into the wind (as James Byrd would say). For I have miles to go before I sleep. CROAK! Now I'm completely voiceless. Neil O'Neill likes this. Maddening in that Neil kept asking me how I lost my voice, as if I was careless and left it on the bus or something. Think I'm going to try another shower to see/hear if that helps. Still hoarse, sound like a hoase debarked dog. Throat is killing me. I have little islands of voice back... still unpredictable. But every once and a while I can actually make a normal sound. Hit a note or two. Maybe I should try singing in order to speak.