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

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.

Another Christmas

16
on walden pond

Two things are certain

You get into the homestretch,

head for Christmas,

and undoubtedly

there will be fighting

in the Middle East

and Apple,

Apple will launch

yet another product.

But I am no longer

keeping track.

A Bay Area Year

Ode to the Seasons

From the East Bay, to the peninsula, to the foothills and into the Santa Cruz Mountains, it has been a glorious year. Winter is now just around the corner. Let’s hope there will be lots of rain from now on in.

The Bay Area had its first significant end of year rains, a small storm, in October. This ended our normal six-month dry spell. Fire season, typically over by October, November, is but a distant memory, or at least so one hopes.

The second set of rains came along this weekend, causing M. to cancel our hike across the Monte Bello ridge. I guess she knows best. She, after all, looks into a foggy mountainside while I enjoy a sunny, no-fog drip in my corner of the Bay Area. A walk in the mist and fog would have been muddy but fun. Oh well, soap-making and a walk around the farm were equally fun and muddy.

The above photograph of a persimmon tree laden with fruit was taken today at Hidden Villa. The tree stands like a lone sentinel across from an outdoor kitchen. It is now mid-November, and it is a misty, alternately sunny and cloudy, slightly chilly, wonderfully wet day here in the Los Altos Hills. Little squirrels, why so lazy? The persimmons are beginning to rot on the tree. Why don’t you get to work and eat them up or is it that you are waiting for the interns to harvest and feed the fruits to the farm animals? Hmmm, I wonder if persimmon would be a good addition to the next batch of soap?

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A Painting for Each Season

There’s a New Palette on the Landscape!

The rains have begun. Small streaks of verdant green are beginning to show through brown and golden grasses on hillsides and mountain slopes. There’s a new palette on the landscape. Goodbye summer sounds and colors. I will miss you. But there’s new joy to be found in the outdoors.

Tick season is over. No more checking your clothing, hair and skin for ticks after a good tromp through the woods or alongside stream banks, lakes and ponds. And the bird sounds I’m hearing now are different too – less querulous – methinks. Summer browns and gold, you were beautiful while you lasted. See you again, same time next year?

Last Saturday’s swath of golden grass along Monte Bello Ridge is, I’m guessing, already becoming less brittle, less gold. Little field mouse and rabbits that I encountered on my walk last weekend, have you found shelter from the rains? Are you as happy as I am to revel in this new season? Do you see the splashes of green that I imagine are starting to color your world?

Photo by Jack Kelly Clark.

There are olives to be picked before olive fruit flies get into the crop. Little pests! You arrived here about twelve years ago. How did you get here and why are you so destructive? Maybe this year I’ll join in harvesting the fruit before you invade the crop. Perhaps I’ll even learn how to remove the tannic acid from the olives to make them tastier and sweeter.

This fall is already shaping up to be a very busy one. There are several unfinished paintings in different stages, spread out around my studio. And there is the old camera I bought that I haven’t yet taught myself to use. But who’s complaining? Not me!

Up and over the hills at Rancho San Antonio, habitat restoration awaits: We will be installing protective cages around oak trees as we try to give them a chance to grow. Along Jasper Ridge a long awaited hike is finally taking shape, thanks to a lovely, yet unseen Stanford sophomore. Thank you, Laura!

Before I go, two sobering thoughts:

My beloved New York City – along with an extensive stretch of the eastern seaboard – and my old island home of Jamaica are still trying to recover from last week’s hurricane; and it wasn’t so long ago that we were buying and selling human beings in this country. Last week an American friend sent me a copy of this 1830s “For Sale” poster. It is a sobering reminder that in another time, in this place, President Obama never could have become president and he and I would have both been slaves.

For Sale

Still Life, La Honda Creek

photo-collage, “Oh, the finds you find!”

Turret spiderwebs, fantastic vistas, faces between trees, oh my! These are some of the things I saw as I recently walked along the trails and spaces of La Honda Creek.

The feathers and leaves, the patterns and colors, may all wend their way into my art. Oh! The things you find when you look, listen and smell along a walk.

At La Honda Creek there were the smells of: coyote brush; a fading whitish plant giving off the scent of maple syrup; pine and other evergreen trees; and scorched summer earth and grasses.

Still life, i (What is this animal?)

On the forest floor I came across this little guy, truly a still life for he was dead. I know not what this creature is but I am guessing it and others like it are responsible for many of the holes I saw along the paths. Its little snout is probably good for ferreting and making holes. Then too, there were the spider holes from the turret spiders, so ethereal in the sunlight. These I encountered before I entered a grove of mixed evergreen and oak trees.

Turret spiders are only to be found in California, in moist woodlands. They almost always make their homes along north-facing slopes. Look for them as you walk the hillsides and trails and as you walk alongside rivers and creek banks. Although their webs are easy to spot, they are not. The only time I ever saw one is when I was on a night hike at Monte Bello Ridge. It was up by the headwaters of Stevens Creek. A fellow hiker, using an infrared light, pointed it out as it nested in its hole. That picture may also find its way into my paintings.

Here are more photographs from my hike. I hope you can see the  outline of a face between the tree trunks. A perfect end to the day was a stop at Alice’s, in Woodside, for a Laguanitas. California has such interesting beer names: Laguanitas, 21st Amendment, Old Dirty Bastard, A Little Sumpen Sumpen (not sure of spelling but it’s good!). Check out Alice’s if you are ever up Woodside along Skyline Boulevard and Sky Honda/La Honda way. If you are not a vegetarian, try their Kawasaki burgers and their Teriyaki Skirt Steak. I also recommend their sweet potato fries. Here is Alice’s Web link: http://www.alicesrestaurant.com/.

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I’m Late! I’m Late!

Mini Ghirl, up at Russian Ridge

Day Hikes

Mini Ghirl doesn’t handle right: She needs new tires. We’ve done twenty-one thousand miles in twenty months, mostly up and down the Northern California mountains and coastal areas.

From East Bay to PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, i.e.), to Santa Cruz (and places in between), to Yosemite (Aah, Yosemite, I’m coming back to you soon), to Mount Diablo in Clayton and Mount Tam in Marin (Don’t get jealous of Yosemite, Mount Tam! I’m going to check out one of your pancake breakfasts next spring and your play in the woods next summer), to Point Reyes Seashore, to San Rafael. It’s no wonder my poor little birdie has worn out her threads!

Then there were trips up and down Alpine and Page Mill Road, Skyline Boulevard and Highway 17, into lots and lots of lovely Open Spaces (mostly the MROSD’s). That’s a whole lot of miles and plenty more to go!

Skyline Ridge (looking towards La Honda)

Thanks to my friends over at Petrol Blog, I’ve learned about the Michelin Super Saver+ tyre. But why can’t I find it here in the United States? Michelin is an American company, isn’t it? And we here in the Bay Area try to be environmentally (i) friendly, (ii) conservative, and (iii) aware. All the better, when you save money by reducing gas (petrol) consumption.

So Michelin! Why the lower level/standard energy savers in America??? I want my American resident Mini Ghirl to have what her European cousins have: super saver, energy saver tires. Do something about it, Micheline Man!!! I’m late! I’m late! My Mini wants only the same things you offer to Europe — the best energy saver tires/tyres that Michelin makes. And just so you know, mountains and coasts up Mendicino way and beyond, and as far afield as Oregon and Washington states are calling meeeee! (There is the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon Coast, for example, just waiting, waiting for me and Mini Ghirl!!)

Oh, the places I have been

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Up to Black Mountain (Monte Bello Preserve)

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Day Hike

Some excellent views are to be had at Monte Bello Ridge. If like me, you start out late (around 5:15 p.m. on a mid-August evening) and want to reach Black Mountain summit, it is best to take one of the shorter routes. The preserve, like other California open spaces and parks, closes to visitors a half an hour after sunset. Sunset was at 7:00 p.m. the evening that I was there. This meant I would have to do the round-trip within two and a half hours. Doable! I would still have time to stop at the summit, take in the view and take some photographs.

I started out at the main parking lot on Page Mill Road and headed towards Bella Vista Trail. Soon I came to a sag pond, densely populated by cattails, under the shade of several oaks. (Take this route and you can make the hike from the parking lot to Black Mountain summit within an hour.) Here by the sag pond is a  marker explaining the concept of ecological succession. I enjoyed the shade, knowing that soon I’d be back skirting open meadows in an unforgiving sun.

I hiked past wide open grasslands, and sections of trail shaded by trees, listening to the garbled sounds of birds and the wind rushing down the canyons. Even after 5:00 p.m. the sun was parching hot. I drank almost an entire liter of water on my push up to the summit. The faraway sound of motorcycles on Skyline Boulevard could be heard at intervals but didn’t manage to detract from the solitude and beauty of the ridge. I half expected to encounter a mountain lion or bobcat along the way as there was scat on some areas of the trail; there wasn’t a sign of either animal anywhere.

About a mile and a half into the hike I came to the Black Mountain backpack camp where visitors can stop overnight (with special permit from the Midpeninsula Regional Outdoor Space District (MROSD)), for a maximum of two nights. This is the only MROSD preserve with camp grounds. On its toilet door was a recently posted sign that warned of a rattlesnake sighting. I didn’t bother to stop!

Golden light at the summit, time? 6:23p.m.

Not too far from the backpack camp was my final destination, Black Mountain summit. Here there are strange looking outcroppings of Calera limestone boulders, quite out of character with the rest of the place; so too, was the power station over to the left, and the steady stream of overhead planes. But the views were spectacular and so I didn’t mind too much, the intrusion of the outdoor world upon this natural space. Here, at an elevation of 2,800 feet, one could look out at Skyline Ridge and Butano Ridge to the west, the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south and dense fog banks over the Pacific Ocean. Directly below the summit was an equally spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay and the surrounding cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, etc.

If you want to learn more about the land and human succession in recent times, read about George Morell, an old Stanford alumni who purchased the place and later turned it over to the MROSD. Here is a decent link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Monte-Bello-Open-Space-Preserve/137705576250404?sk=info. Another good read is one about “The Land,” a hippie commune that was on Monte Bello at the time that the MROSD acquired the land from Morell. Details are here at http://theland.wikispaces.com/.

Waiting for Elephant Seals and Other Delights

Day Hike

Oh, the Bay Area! From the mid-peninsula region up over Skyline Ridge, to lower Purisima Creek, across to Ano Nuevo where the elephant seals roam and back across to the East Bay, you will see such colors, such creatures, such beauty! Here is a lovely golden yellow banana slug! When this hermaphrodite has sex it fertilizes its partner and is itself simultaneously fertilized! You will find this brightly colored slug creeping about the floor of the Pacific redwood forests. I photographed this one earlier in the summer at lower Purisima Creek Redwoods which is close to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, on the central California coast. Today (7/14/12) was a lovely day for a hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At 10:00 a.m. the fog was low and the air cool. By 3:00 p.m., around the time that these pictures were taken, the day had heated up considerably. These three photographs were taken along the Skyline Ridge section of the Mid Peninsula Open Space Preserves.

View from Skyline Ridge
Amidst the native grass, Skyline Ridge

This is Grace sitting in a field of native grass that I helped to plant two years ago during a habitat restoration project.

Black Oak tree (in the background)

California black oaks can grow as high as about 60 to 80 feet. They are excellent shade trees and are the habitats of many forest animals including squirrels and birds. At one time their inner barks were used for their tannin (to treat animal hide) and to make a yellow dye. This beach below is empty of elephant seals right now but come mating season, it will be full of male seals battling one another for mates.

Ano Nuevo, Central Caifornia coastline (7/7/12)
Waiting for the Elephant Seals? (Ano Nuevo 7/7/12)
Driftwood and river rocks, Ano Nuevo
Shadow ghirl, Ano Nuevo

And finally, back home in the East Bay, just in time for the sunset.

Last night as I walked the dog
East Bay sunset

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