Oh Bay Area, You are Crazy!

1Beaches with tsunami warnings? Check! Building with furniture hanging off  of it? Check and check! Kids texting with post its? Check and double check! Homeless people encamping at City Hall? Check, check and check!

There’s nothing quite like going to the beach and seeing an “in case of tsunami” warning by the steps leading down, down, down! Go to Cowell Ranch Beach (south of Half Moon Bay) and that is what you’ll see. Sure, it’s a beautiful beach with lovely views but why dig steps down a steep cliff to create beach access in what is a potential tsunami zone? Crazy!

Then over in San Francisco, South of Market Street Area (SOMA), there is this, a building fitted out with sculptural installations called “Fenestration.” I love the arm-chair on the roof. My imagination takes me to nightly happenings with ghosts fighting over who gets to take a ride in it and the red chair too. Can’t you picture the famous (infamous?) Bay Area fog rolling in and completing this picture? Wooooooooooooooo.

Photo credit: BalderdashNYC

Recently, there were the kids sending “text messages” across buildings to one another and playing hang-man too, with posts-its. I especially like this post-it building message, “Leland Yee is my uncle.”

View image on Twitter
Photo credit: SFGate, 4/4/2014

The last time I was over by City Hall in San Francisco was when I was waiting with the Quiet Lightning guys for Chicken John’s bus. There we were, congregating on the sidewalk, when a homeless lady came up to us and said, “I’d like to get by but you are blocking the sidewalk. Shame on you!” The homeless in this area are a bit colorful, to say the least.

And finally, here is a draft of my poem about the Fenestration sculpture/building. I wrote it for my Kearny Street Workshop class about the area South of Market Street.

Escapees

Out the windows

down the walls

atop roof

mid-air, they wait.

Decaying, distorted

levitating above graffiti

by sidewalks busy with

homeless denizens

Together they hang,

numb, waiting.

When darkness comes,

green couches, orange tables and chairs

join with grandfather clocks

and set themselves loose

from windowsills and roof

take flight from walls

into the night.

Along skies they walk

upon foggy air

toward water they fly

on darkened wings

free of Howard and Sixth

and fenestration.

Barefoot at Pomponio

Barefoot day, Pompinio State Beach (5/3/13)
Barefoot day, Pompinio State Beach (5/3/13)

Of Polliwogs and Red Winged Blackbirds

I spent most of yesterday (okay, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) removing invasives by a pond at Driscoll Ranch, one of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District’s preserves. Ooooh, there were lots of red winged blackbirds darting about as we made the ascent up over the hills. (A four-wheel drive was necessary!) Numerous cows lazed about near the large drinking hole (an enormous man-made pond fed by underground springs) while deer watched our caravan of three pass by.

No Sugar Cane Here

Down by our little pond (a small man-made one, fed by a trickle from the mountain above), there were polliwogs galore! Seeing them took me back to my childhood in Jamaica, to a year spent playing by the gullies that irrigated the cane fields. These gullies were a treasure trove of tikki tikkis (baby fish) and polliwogs. A little girl and boy, could and did, lay side by side on the  banks of the gullies catching tikki tikkis and tadpoles, then releasing them back into the water. When we got tired we’d watch clouds drift overhead as we chewed on freshly broken cane.

There is no cane growing at Driscoll Ranch but just as on the plains in Jamaica, the mountain heat here is unforgiving. One of the nearby ponds had completely dried up leaving behind a landscape scarred by fissures. Any polliwogs remaining in that environment are all dead by now. Hopefully, the adult frogs were able to make it to a pond filled with water like this one.

Saving the California Red-Legged Frog

Most of the tadpoles here are the babies of the rare California red-legged frog. They are the reason my fellow volunteers and I were breaking our backs under an exceedingly hot sun, to remove invasive plants and restore this riparian habitat. How did the slaves do it? How did they work from sun up to sun down, seven days a week? Some of us were on the brink of heat stroke yesterday, and we didn’t even put in a full day’s work! With my volunteer work done at around 2:30 p.m., I headed down to the beach to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

(Note: Driscoll Ranch – near the town of La Honda – is not yet open to the public.)

Pomponio State Beach

Where: On the San Mateo Coast (a few miles from the towns of San Gregorio and Pescadero)

Notes about Pomponio 

  • Pomponio State Park is a refuge for the: barn swallow, blue heron and kite; and deer, fox, racoon, skunk and weasel.
  • The park is named after Jose Pomponio Lupugeym, a Coast Miwok who fought against Mexican rule and the Mission system. He was captain of a group of outlaws called Los Insurgentes. Pomponio died before a firing squad in 1824. (California was under Mexican rule then and Pomponio, along with many other First Peoples, was forced into the Mission system.)
  • You can connect to Pescadero State Beach on the south and San Gregorio State Beach on the north from Pomponio. Only do so during low-tide; it is extremely dangerous at other times.

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ACTIVITIES: Hiking trails, beaches, picnics (has charcoal barbecue grills by parking area) bird watching.

REGION: San Mateo County, on Highway One (not too far from the intersection of La Honda Road/Route 84), San Mateo County

HOURS: 8:00 a.m. to sunset

COST: $8.00 per vehicle; pay at the kiosk during the summer months; self-pay at other times of the year

LOCATION: Pomponio State Beach, Highway One, San Gregorio, CA 94074
Latitude: 37.299814
Longitude: -122.405216

Calypso Orchid, Big Deal!

Calypso orchid
Calypso Orchid (photo credit: Charles Russo)

Where:  Pescadero, CA (25 miles south of Half Moon Bay, and 35 miles north of Santa Cruz)

Note: The Calypso Orchid blooms only in the spring. It tends to bloom from the middle to the end of March in Butano State Park, Pescadero.

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Seen last weekend at Butano State Park, the tiny Calypso Orchid (also called Fairy Slippers). When John Muir came across these rare plants in the 1890s he wrote:

“I never before saw a plant so full of life, so perfectly spiritual, it seemed pure enough for the throne of its Creator.”

Calypso bulbosa, you are beautiful but you failed to bowl me over. Perhaps it was the idea of finding you, rare as you are, that colored Muir’s reaction. Look! You are barely visible, hiding as you are in the underbrush on the forest floor.orchid, spying one

Butano State Park

Sitting in a redwood filled canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Butano is one of the lesser known parks in the California State Parks system. It is located three to four miles from the San Mateo Coast and offers the hiker over seventeen miles of uphill and downhill trails. If you wish to get a good view of the ocean from inside the park, hike the Mill Ox loop. You won’t be disappointed (unless the coast is blanketed in fog). The campgrounds, closed when I visited, are open from April through November. There are also guided nature walks and weekend programs at the campfire center during the summer.
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ACTIVITIES: Hike, camp, dog walking (dogs are only allowed on the paved roads and in campsites; they should be leashed at all times)
REGION: off the San Mateo Coast
HOURS: Day use area from 8:00 a.m. to sunset; overnight camping
COST: $10 day use fee; $35 overnight camping fee (Book reservations via reserveamerica.com or by calling 800-444-7275. Dogs are allowed at the campground but not on the trails.)
LOCATION/VENUE: Butano State Park, 1500 Cloverdale Road, Pescadero, CA 94060 Phone: (650) 879-2040
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Kalypso Calypso

Sensuous Kalypso
blissfully isolated
beneath giants
roots skirting,
writhing, touching
until lovingly you emit
just one single bloom
before withering,
dying, falling
backwards
into self.photo 1

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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