Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bye Bye June and Junior

Waxing Gibbous Moon

All gone, June is done and 2020 is mercifully half over. I celebrated the end of the month with an 8-mile walk on the De Anza Trail, bringing my 6-month 2020 in 2020 Challenge total to 1,016 miles. That means I would be slightly ahead of schedule if this was exactly half of 365 days, but I am too lazy and too tired to look that up right this minute. Pretty sure it will work out okay, though, if I stay healthy.

Today was all about big weird trees and sorta spooky forest on the trail. 

In case you were wondering, here is a little Baby Northern Shrike update. Mom and Dad are gone - they flew the coop - maybe to Baja for a vacation? (That was fast). There are no more cute little shrike peep sounds up in the redwoods and there is nary a trace of the little one. I did, however, find fresh skunk poop at the base of the redwood where Junior was last seen. My guess is that Pepe Le Pew is the culprit.

What a way to go - scarfed by a stinkin' polecat. Did you know you could look up pictures on the internet to see what skunk poop looks like? Neither did I. No, sorry, I am not going to put a skunk poop jpeg on my Palomino Dream blog. You can look it up for yourself if you're really scat interested.

However, here is a reasonable facsimile of Pepe the Nocturnal Shrike Eater.

He's so smug, I want to slap the stink right off him. 

Peace, Love, and July,

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Bouncing Baby Boy

First Quarter Moon

Two days ago I was working on my laptop in my trailer when I heard the following:


The thud was something hitting my roof, the swoosh was something sailing down and off my awning, the thump was something bouncing off the hood of Spugly, and the crunch was something landing on the gravel pad of my campsite.

From my table, which serves as a desk among other things, I have a clear view of Spugly's hood and the gravel pad landing zone. My initial thought was that an owl pellet had fallen from one of the redwoods behind my trailer. I find them all the time back there, but usually they are about the size and heft of a golf ball - maybe slightly bigger. Whatever that thing was that crash landed in the gravel, it was bigger than an owl pellet, roundish and gray - maybe the size of a peach.

I was pretty engaged in what I was writing so I didn't check it out right away. But when I came to a stopping place, I got up and went outside to investigate. To my surprise, it was not an extra large owl pellet. It was a normal size fledgling bird. It's tiny training wings were just too little and weak to do much of anything. When it set sail from wherever it started, up in the branches of a redwood, it plummeted pretty much straight down onto my roof, etc., etc., etc.

This little bouncing baby boy (come on, it had to be a boy, girls don't do dumb stuff like that) was upright, but stunned, blinking at me like whoa, that hurt. When it comes to most plants and some animals, I am not the most empathetic kid on the block. I see accidents like these as part of nature's grand scheme more often than not. The mean old feral calico that passes by my camp every evening would probably snatch this little bugger up PDQ, end of story.

But, no, this time was different. During the whole COVID quarantine time, I have been shaking out the tea towel I use as a bib every afternoon when I snack on peanuts-in-a-shell. I am a world class peanut sheller. When I snack, my hands are a blur. The hard shells fly into my camping pot and the little brown flaky things that surround the nuts burst up and land on my bib. After ten minutes or so of this shelling fury, I am sated with respect to peanuts and a good sized flaky mess has been made upon my chest.

What do I do next? I fold up the tea towel bib, thus capturing all (well, most) of the brown flaky husk-things and carry the whole package outside. On the gravel in front of Spugly (where the bouncing baby bird happened to land two days ago), I shake out the towel/bib onto the gravel and head back inside. From my window, at my table, which then serves as my bird-watching blind, I can observe birds coming and going, sporadically feeding on peanut stuff. Cheap thrills.

Over the past few months a succession of bird types has taken advantage of this AYCE buffet. First it was robins, then doves, then more robins, and lately, it has been a rotating set of northern shrikes. (I did not know that people called them northern shrikes until yesterday when I bothered to look them up on the world wide web).

Anyway, this little stunned birdie was a fledgling northern shrike. I could hear and see its parents up in the trees making their distinct little sounds and hopping from branch to branch. They seemed to be asking me not to step on or bite their dumb ass little son. I was, to tell the truth, surprised that their calls were not more urgent. They made sounds like old people make when they are trying to suck a little shred of chicken from between their teeth - hardly a cry of pleading desperation.

Try it. Try making that sound. I'll wait.

Okay, you done? Now you know what a northern shrike Mommy and Daddy sound like when their dumb ass son tries to fly when his wings are like three-eighths of an inch long.

In deference to Mom and Dad, I pulled a plastic take-out bowl out of my recycling cache and scooped Junior up out of the gravel. I remembered hearing sometime way back in the 20th century that you aren't supposed to touch a dumb ass bouncing baby boy bird lest the parents abandon it in favor of early empty nest status. That status could have practical advantages, I am sure.

Then I moved over to the redwoods where the parents were watching me and sucking their teeth and I lovingly plopped Junior into the duff at the base of a very cool tree - one of my true favorites, actually. Could Mom and Dad grab Junior by his stunted little baby wings and fly him back up to their nest? Hell, no, but neither could I. So Junior was gonna have to face the music on the ground from there on. I was empathied out.

Later that day after dinner, curiosity got the best of me and I went out to check on him. I peeked around the corner and saw the parents on the ground with him, but as soon as they saw me, they zipped up into the branches, sucking teeth again. Junior just sat there in the duff, blinking at me. I began to wonder if it was the thud-swoosh-thump-crunch that created this dumb ass look or if all northern shrike boys look like that. I tossed some peanut flaky things out for family dining and hoped for the best.

The next morning I looked for him and by some miracle he had survived the night. He had moved about six feet away to another tree and the parents came down and landed, one on a nearby stump, the other on a fence post. They looked right at me, as if fully expecting me to perform some kind of St. Francis friend-of-the-northern-shrike miracle. I had zero ideas, bird fans. All I could do was talk to them in my friendliest Walt Disney cartoon human voice. I expressed my sincere happiness that the mean old feral calico had so far missed out on this easy meal and hoped that they and Junior would stick around for a while. I truly enjoyed feeding them flaky peanut leftovers after all.

In the afternoon, I was leaving for a walk and I noticed that Junior had left the safety of the redwood duff and ventured out into the empty dirt space next to my camp. That boy was obviously stark raving crazy and a dumb ass to boot and I told him so. This caused him to flee toward the street (like a dumb ass would). I was briefly impressed that he had gained a little foot speed since the crash landing. I could no longer easily scoop him up in a bowl and I was not about to chase him at my advanced age. So I employed the herding instinct of the wily border collie instead. Where I got that idea I will never know, but it worked. I circled around him and flushed him back into the trees. I felt very good about that. I nearly barked and wagged in glee.

Junior was still in his spot when I retired to bed last night. Alas, though, I have not seen him since. I fear that nature has run its course and the time for northern shrike family drama has passed. It's kind of too bad really. I was starting to hope he would grow some sturdy little wings and learn to suck his teeth like a grownup shrike.

It was not in the cards. RIP, little dumb ass, RIP.

Peace, Love, and Destiny,

Thursday, June 4, 2020

To Be Spacific

Waxing Gibbous Moon

I finally gave myself permission to drive twenty-five minutes west to Moss Landing State Beach today and worship-walk for three hours along Monterey Bay. It was a Spacific Oceanic sandy surfy religious experience. Seraphim and Cherubim and Ophanim and Archangels and pre-rebellion Beelzebub and legions of unnamed relatives of minor league angels danced in my head the whole time. I would periodically stop and shout "Hosanna in the Highest!" or "Ad deum qui laetificat!" or "Juventutum meum!" or "E pluribus unum!" or any other churchy-Latiny words I could think of from way back when church was fun because you didn't know what the heck anybody was saying. "Ora pro nobis!"

I loved saying "Ora pro nobis!" when I was a kid. I hope it doesn't translate to anything too nasty.

Today was the most fun I've had by far since the whole SIP thing kicked in. When the waves are crashing and the breeze is blowing and you have walked way past where the normal people stop and plop down their chairs and their EZ-up tents and their 4-wheel drive ice chests, you can yell whatever you damn well please into the wind. And I did. Mostly in Latin. With feelin'.

This beach is the one that I spent a whole summer cleaning up in 2011 after Fukushima went haywire and trash started washing up on our coast from Japan. I have glowed in the dark ever since, but other than that, I feel fine. Since then, Save Our Shores, a local environmental group, has been taking good care of the beach. But I guess they took a few months off due to the covid closures because there was quite a bit of trash buildup. Litterbugs never give up in their dastardly quest to dump on America.

There were also several of these mysterious ghoul carcasses strewn about one little stretch of sand. Everybody has to go sometime, poor ghouls

Also, I may have discovered Atlantis. Or maybe Canyon de Chelly west. News at eleven.

Mostly, though, it was sand, surf, and birds - a very nice morning.

Peace, Love, and Escapism,

Monday, June 1, 2020

2020 in 2020 Update Update

Waxing Gibbous Moon
Nature is orderly. That which appears to be chaotic in nature is only a more complex kind of order. – Gary Snyder
Despite the fricken orderly chaos, I continue to work on the never-ending twin causes of self-improvement and world peace.

The 2020 in 2020 Challenge might be the only thing keeping me sane. 848 miles and counting, mostly on country roads near my camp. I am walking the roads because most of the local trails are either closed or crowded with SIP refugees who walk in clumps of 4-7 and talk unmasked non-stop. This clump-and-chirp technique is not conducive to world peace, fledgling hikers!

I have finished the first draft of my book chronicling my piecemeal 2,661-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail between 2001 and 2009. I will attempt to complete all the edits by the end of the summer. I still haven't settled on a title yet. If you have any good ideas, let me know by email and I'll add them to my working list. The book combines my trail stories and historical references to indigenous bands who once occupied lands now crossed by the PCT from Mexico to Canada.

Peace, Love, and Justice,

Friday, May 29, 2020

This House

First Quarter Moon

Most of the time on these pages I just play around with my preoccupation with true love, i.e. the freeing concept of being in tune with, in concert with, in love with the natural world. At the root of this true love is science, the connective link between what makes up my being and what makes up all else, going backwards through birth, conception, ancestry, the formation of planets, star cycles, the expanding universe, to the Big Bang, creation. And going forward to living this life, death, decomposition, rejoining the processes and cycles of the portion of reality we can reasonably understand and measure. This true love keeps me, for the most part, locked into the present tense and happily aware of/protective of my surroundings and fellow creatures.

I allow for the possibility, if not the probability, that there is more to the picture than meets the eye or the electron microscope or the Hubble Space Telescope. Simply put, in my experience, there is a lot of stuff that I don't understand and I cannot explain. I choose to love it anyway to the extent that I am able. All of it, every bit of it, is real, even if I don't understand it. The part that I do understand places that other stuff in context. Usually.

Some days, though, it becomes crystal clear that there are lots of people who just don't get the connectivity thing. They seem to think that they live in a bubble separate from the natural world. They see everything in terms of themselves, their boundaries, their possessions, and their unnatural fantasy, fighting Everything Else. From this stunted viewpoint erupts racism, hatred, war, sexism, bigotry, discrimination, economic injustice, and systemic misery. This nonsense happens despite the warnings and teachings from all of history's prophets and philosophers that the imagined bubble is evil, unnatural, immoral, self-defeating, and dumb.

I believe it is important to call b.s. on this evil, unnatural, immoral, self-defeating, and dumb outlook. Last night I saw a "meme" (I will call it "This House") posted on Facebook by one of my favorite local citizens, a young mother and wife in a family closely in tune with nature. To me, "This House" represents true love with respect to human beings. It struck me as right and freeing in juxtaposition with the unhinged images of murder and suffering I watched last night on my television.

Mr. George Floyd was killed by someone who most likely would never approve of "This House."

I'll break it down, briefly, as I see it.

Black Lives Matter

A defender of the killer would most likely reply to the phrase "Black Lives Matter" with something like "All Lives Matter," thereby whitewashing the issue of real suffering, oppression, and death on the part of Black Americans for centuries at the hands of (mostly white) authorities. Of course everybody matters! Duh! But not everybody gets murdered by rogue cops in broad daylight. Frequently, Black Americans (men in particular) do.

Love is Love

A defender of the killer would most likely be offended by the phrase "Love is Love," which is associated with the LGBTQA+ community. You don't have to be lesbian or gay or bi or trans or queer or ace or anywhere in the range of these gender identities to understand that human beings are not all the same and that everyone deserves love, respect, and equal opportunities for happiness. I, clearly, am getting old. I didn't grow up with any of the knowledge about gender identity and sexuality that is available today. I learned most of what I know from following the lives of some of my most honest and dedicated students, ranging in age from 19 to 46. In recent years, many, I mean MANY of them have publicly and proudly identified as being somewhere in that spectrum. I loved them before that and I love them even more now. They have more courage than any of the bad cops (four on one) who pinned that handcuffed man to the ground, collapsed his lungs, and blocked his trachea until he suffocated.

Science is Real

A defender of the killer most likely has a selective interpretation of the phrase "Science is Real." As long as the technology that stems from scientific research keeps providing better and better toys to play with inside his or her bubble, science is cool. Star Trek? Way cool. But the anti-intellectual rally cries against public education, climate science, and public health policy belie their destructive ignore-ance and selfishness. Not to mention basic dishonesty.

Feminism Is for Everyone

A defender of the killer most likely is a fan of old school patriarchy and misogyny. What is feminism if not the advocacy of equality and freedom of choice for all? Either you believe in equality and freedom or you don't. If you don't, you live inside your bubble with a false sense of authority and privilege and you talk out of both sides of your mouth about patriotism, duty, and the Constitution. Your life is a sham and you are a fool.

No Human Is Illegal

A defender of the killer most likely thinks real history began in 1776. Where I live, the ancestors of most of my neighbors were here long before arbitrary state and national border lines were drawn. Lots (most) of those ancestors were murdered or enslaved or poisoned with pathogens. There was no equality then and there still isn't. Now so-called "illegals" bust their humps every day to grow the food everybody eats to survive. They live among us but they are treated like strangers by most and criminals by many. There is no coherent governmental policy to address their needs or those of their children. Their choices often come down to field work, deportation, or prison. To these human beings, it must seem that all of America lives in a bubble.

Kindness Is Everything

A defender of the killer acts tough and talks rough - as though doing otherwise is a sign of weakness -  like they know deep down that their bubble could and will collapse any minute. Kindness is not weakness. Kindness is an instinctive human reaction to discovering true love for the natural world - to living in peace within "This House."

I believe that all those flimsy, temporary bubbles will burst or at least float away into the cosmos if enough folks in "This House" stand up and be counted. Truth is strong. True love wins.

Peace, Love, and Connection,

Thursday, May 21, 2020

May Flies

New Moon

San Juan Bautista in San Benito County, CA, where I currently reside, began Phase 2 of the Grand Re-Opening this week. Restaurants have welcomed people inside for the first time since March (with restrictions) and so have the art and antique shops. Being of THAT AGE in a high risk demographic, I am still lying low, emerging masked from my camp only to exercise, get groceries, do laundry, and snag takeout once in a while. Fortunately, the weather has been pretty doggone nice for the most part. Some really awesome clouds have passed by lately - biggo cloud days are my favorite.

The County qualified for free COVID-19 testing recently. I tested negative for the virus on May 10 as expected and I would like to keep it that way. So I was pretty alarmed when I walked into town Saturday to find the usual motorcycle clubs and Mission tourists bouncing around without masks as if nothing ever happened. Apparently, for some people, ninety-some-thousand dead folks don't amount to much. I am generally an optimist, but it is hard to imagine how this virus will not do more damage if people slack off for the sake of a few beers.

To assist the small businesses, a program called Great Plates was initiated here using money from the state allotment of the CARES Act. The program pays the restaurant to prepare and deliver meals to seniors who qualify based on income. Here is where being dirt poor and old as dirt combine to create good times. Last night I received an amazing meal ("contactless delivery") from a restaurant in Tres Pinos (~15 miles from here) free of charge (to me) just because I am otherwise (except for my Adopt-a-Highway work) a fairly worthless citizen. The biz got paid and I got fed - win win! That is better than a stimulus check if you ask me. The owner dropped off the food in person and you could tell how happy it was making him to stay solvent and to help people, too. The food was great and I did not miss my beans and rice last night at all.

The 2020 in 2020 Challenge is in full bloom. I will edge past the 800-mile mark tomorrow, feeling healthy and strong. One of the coolest things I have kept track of on my walks is the progress of the Coke Farm organic artichoke field across the road from my camp. This week, it exploded with 'chokes and the harvest is on!

I have also made friends with a palomino on a nearby ranch - not a real talkative horse - mostly into eating grass and getting scratched behind the ears. I can relate.

The four mile section of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail that starts about a mile away from here provides a consistently challenging climb for me a few times a week. Sometimes I do the whole trail (8 miles round trip), but mostly I climb to the crest (2.7 miles) and back to my truck to get in my cardio. I have made friends there, too, mostly with blooming and decaying trees. The buckeyes are going crazy right now. And I'm always on the lookout for unusual shapes and expressive tree forms - it's a cheap hobby.

Most of the time, though, when I start to gain some elevation, I have my eyes on the long views. When the wind is blowing and I'm breathing hard, sweating like a workhorse, I get a thrill from taking a minute just to stand and stare. This land is my land, coast to coast, border to border, rain or shine. I belong to it, on it, and with it.

Peace, Love, and the Best of Health,

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Adios April

First Quarter Moon

Just like that, 2020 is one third finished. This shelter-in-place, social distancing thing has been pretty good for me. It has encouraged self-discipline and fostered self-improvement and, digitally at least, brought me closer to family and friends. The 2020 in 2020 Challenge (walk 2,020 miles this year) has been key to staying focused. As of today, I have logged 674 miles with no days off, just by staying consistent and, so far anyway, injury free - knock on log.

I am 350-odd (very odd, some would say) pages into my next (as yet untitled) book. I am attempting to combine an edited version of my Pacific Crest Trail journals with highlights of my research on trade routes, customs, legends, and myths of the tribes who once lived in the areas crossed by the trail from Mexico to Canada. It's a ton of work, but I think I will be finished with the first draft by June. Maybe it will be complete by Fall.

To me, the hardest thing about writing books, even silly ones like mine, is knowing when you're done. Did you make your point? In grad school, you write a thesis proposal, it gets analyzed by your advisor, you make corrections, more red ink gets spilled, over and over until it gets approved. I jokingly bought Jan Gillespie, my thesis advisor, a box of red Bic pens when I first handed in my proposal, not knowing she would actually use them all.

Then you write the first draft of the actual thesis and your work gets crucified, I mean, baptized with more red ink. That happens a few more agonizing times until finally it gets accepted long months later. I don't know how many times Jan wrote "You have to SAY it!!!!" in the margin when the point I was trying to make was not clear enough. It really is hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes, especially when you are working full time, taking classes at night, doing field work on weekends and holidays, and writing whenever you can squeeze it in. At the end, it is kind of hilarious when you get pronounced "Master of Science" after being (rightfully) humbled for a few years. In truth, though, it was the best of times. Pressure makes diamonds.

So this summer, I will put on my Gillespie hat and try to do that kind of gritty analysis for myself. I want this thing to be good. We'll see how it goes.

Late yesterday evening I got a little antsy so I jumped in Spugly and drove most of the way up into San Juan Canyon near my camp. I was following my instincts that told me it was going to be a good sunset. Up near the top of the canyon almost to Fremont Peak State Park, I pulled over and walked up a little dirt hill where I could get a good view in all four directions. And thank goodness I did - it was just what the doctor ordered.

On the way home, I stopped before turning into my camp and snapped one more picture just for fun. 

I have to say it - hey! you! don't worry! be happy!

Peace, Love, and Sundown,