Wilderness Training, Part II

How We Sleep at Night
How We Sleep at Night (Four to five of us will be sleeping under this tarp, sleeping bag next to sleeping bag.)

Day Two, Henry Coe State Park:

Michael and I are leading today’s hike. Our first stop will be China Hole which is about five miles from our current camp site, Manzanita Point. I’m not liking the title of this stop: It sounds very politically incorrect to me. I wonder what meaning lies behind the name?

Manzanita Point to China Hole will be a strenuous hike with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. Michael takes the lead for the first part of the hike; I will lead after the China Hole stop.

Here Michael and I are conferring about the route we will be taking. This is after Michael missed the first turn. Luckily, the sweep (me) was paying attention and so, saved us extra time and miles! Oh Alicia, maybe you oughtn’t to be so glib. Do you trust us to get you to tonight’s camp site after that first wrong turn?

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From left to right: me, Michael and Alicia
China Hole at last! This is a popular swimming spot at the bottom of a large canyon. This means we are going to have to climb out of that canyon and head uphill for a seriously steep climb. Oy vey!

A little out of the canyon, heading up towards Lost Spring, newts and banana slugs crossed our path. This guy was curled up, probably trying to get warm. I wonder what kind of snake it was and was it harmless? Unwilling to test our luck, we gave him/her a wide berth. Ben, our designated photographer, stopped to take a photograph while most of us kept on hiking. The terrain here was rough, rocky and steep.

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***           ***          ***

It is now lunchtime. We have stopped at a junction near Lost Springs, tonight’s camp site. The land has leveled out here. I hope there are no more hills to climb before we get to camp.

8 -2014-02-02 03.39.57About twenty minutes after leaving our lunch spot, we find water in what looks to be a cow trough. We fill our empty bottles, add a few drops of iodine to each, burp all our bottles and pack them away.

Back on the trail we go, water bottles jostling about in our packs. The iodine has begun the process of purifying the water. In about thirty minutes it will be ready for drinking. But this isn’t all the water we carry. We are also carrying three full water “bladders” that hold the water we will use for cooking and for cleaning our hands and pots. No need to purify these as the water, once boiled, will become germ free.

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Ten minutes after filling our water bottles, we realize we are lost. This camp site, Lost Spring, is aptly named: We cannot find it!

Here are Michael and I, checking our map to see if we can find the place, but no, it doesn’t seem to exist. Now we give the orders — We send two people to the left and two to the right, to scout. No sense all of us getting even more lost and tired. Leading is not all it’s cracked up to be. When you are in charge, everyone depends on you to find the wretched camp site that refuses to reveal itself.

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Ben, one of the four scouts, comes back with a photograph of an out of order outhouse. The rest of us joke that maybe we will have to sleep in it tonight.

11 -2014-02-02 06.23.25We eventually find the site which we blithely walked past earlier — It looked nothing like we expected it to. Now it’s time to set up our living areas, kitchen, sleeping, hand washing station, etc. Our regular routine is that two different people cook dinner each night. Tonight we’re having red quinona.

12 -2014-02-02 07.55.33It has gotten very dark. Here is Cordelia cooking by the light of her head lamp:

16 -2014-02-02 52- 07.54.58While the cooks cook, the rest of us pitch the tarps under which we will sleep. Each tarp sleeps four to five people.

13 -2014-02-02 10.08.57Next morning’s lesson, by Jason, is about risk management.

14 -2014-02-02 22.29.14Having cleaned up our camp site, we are ready to begin another day’s hike. Today we’re off to Coit Lake. And if you are wondering, nope, we are not responsible for the remnants of that fire in the photograph. Whoever made that fire is crazy. There has been a “no burn” policy in California for months now, because of the severe drought. We have only used our very controlled, “whisper stoves.”

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Ten of us are in the photo. The eleventh member of our group is taking the photograph. I am third from the right, in a red jacket and navy and red hat.

(You can read “Wilderness Training,” Part One, here.)

Except for the China Hole photograph, all photos, credit of Ben Njau.

Of Water Temples

temple 1
Sunol Water Temple

Sunol Water Temple

In a canyon in Northern California sits the classic marble pavilion, the Sunol Water Temple. Built in 1910 by a private water company, it now belongs to the municipality of San Francisco.

you'd be surprised how loud the roar of the water is inside the temple
Three subterranean water sources meet in Sunol

More than half of San Francisco’s water used to pass through Sunol. Now most of the Bay Area’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Water System  nearly one-hundred-and-sixty miles away in the Yosemite valley.

Hetch Hetchy Water System

Water comes from far away Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite to San Francisco

Pulgas Water Temple

Pulgas Water Temple (photo, Wikicommons)

Another water temple, this one made of cast stone, is on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. Twenty-four years younger than its Sunol counterpart, the Pulgas Water Temple (in Redwood City) was built by the municipality of San Franciso to commemorate the completion of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. Compared to the water temples of Bali, however, these two are babes, aged as they are at seventy-eight (Pulgas) and one-hundred-and two years (Sunol).

balinese water temple (painting by U)
Temple on Bratan Lake, Bali, Indonesia (painting by Udit Mathur, India)

Balinese Water Temples

There is an ancient ritual of water management – irrigation – that has been practiced on the volcanic slopes of Bali for over a thousand years. This is subak, a custom built around water temples. It is/was at the heart of Balinese rice paddy/terrace farming. I wonder what materials are used to make these water temples. With their subdued color they blend into the landscape in a way that the California ones don’t.

The Essence of Subaks

In the subak system, priests apportioned the water for farming. Different communities (subaks) planted their crops at different times and allowed their  paddies to go fallow simultaneously. Rotating the cultivation was an effective means of distributing and conserving water; letting fields go completely fallow controlled pests.

Jatiluwih Rice Terrace (© Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia)

Challenges to the System

The thousand year old subak system came under pressure when Asia embraced the Green Revolution in the 1970s. Conflicts between government agencies and subaks, plus a steady increase in tourism, significantly altered the Balinese landscape. In 1999 there was about 1,500 subaks on Bali (with about two-hundred members each), covering an irrigated area of more than 90,000 ha.* In 2012 when UNESCO gave subaks its national heritage designation, there were five rice terraces (and their water temples) covering 9,500 ha.** Although some of these changes can be attributed to post-colonial migration, much of it is due to the pressures of tourism on land use. Today, the remaining subaks still meet at water temples to discuss community farming decisions.

*Traditional Water Management in Bali, by Suarja and Thijssen, 1999.

**Cultural Landscape of Bali Province, UNESCO, 2012.

Ritual Rice Field (© Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia)
Ritual Rice Field (© Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia)

Purisima Creek Redwoods — All the World’s a Stage!

In the opposite direction from Half Moon Bay, off Highway One, is the Higgins/Purisima Road entrance to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Hike through this peaceful canyon with its magnificent stands of old redwoods and enjoy an unspoiled Northern California gem. By the bridge to your left, not too far from the entrance, is a stately pair of red alders standing guard by the creek. These wind pollinated beauties have both male and female parts. Red alder trees are usually found at elevations below 2,400 feet and within 125 miles of the ocean. The beautiful silvery-white patches that you see all over the trunks are lichens. The barks of these trees are actually a deep tan color but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their mottled, distinctive silvery-white lichen laced trunks.

Many natural delights reside in this canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The red alders with their attendant lichens are but a few. The redwoods for which the preserve is named are the real stars here but beauty abounds elsewhere, like for example, in the red elderberries (toxic), stinging nettle (with its heart shaped leaves) and the California bee plant (part of the Snapdragon family).

coast pretty face
California Bee Plant (watercolor sketch)

I didn’t come across any bees during my recent hike but l think I recognized the leaves of the bee plant close down to the ground. You should definitely start seeing them a little after New Year’s. For soon, very soon, after the first good rains — and we have already had a few of those — the bee plant will come alive. By March it begins to bloom and will continue doing so way into July. Hummingbirds, bees and deer love this plant with its reddish-brown stems and eye-catching red flowers. Look for it while you hike in Purisima. You can also find many of these plants in Montara Mountain just outside of Half Moon Bay.

Bugs in the Sun and Other Creatures

A little up the trail, along the creek, I encountered a burst of sunlight, a sun hole, that managed to pierce through an opening in the dense redwood canopy. Many flies, all male and of the same specie, danced about in their territory in the air. These were probably dance flies doing a lek/breeding display.Similarly, you can see this lekking behavior in the Monarch Butterfly when it over-winters further down the coast in Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay.

Down on the forest floor were two clown millipedes, easily identified by the yellow markings down each side of their otherwise all- black bodies. Millipedes don’t really have one-thousand legs. The clown millipede, for example, has about twenty body segments with two pairs of legs on each segment. That is far less than a thousand legs. Yellow lines with black is generally a warning in the insect/bug world. Think, for example, of the lines and colors of bees and wasps. Sometimes this pattern is merely a camouflage but in millipedes, it is not. Centipedes are different; they are harmless. But millipedes are poisonous. The clown millipede, for example, produces a cyanide gas when threatened. As always, do not disturb the creatures in any of the preserves. They are protected by law.

The funniest bug I encountered on my walk was a spittle bug, a baby frog hopper. Overall, it is pretty harmless. It drills a hole into the phloem of a plant and sucks out the liquid, bubbles it out of its back part and forms a bubble house around itself to protect it from birds and other bugs.

Ode to a Spittle Bug

You! Frog face spittle bug

Sitting on that sage

What do you think you are doing?

Oh, you think you are so clever

hiding there in plain view

I want you to know spittle bug

I am on to you.

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