Thursday, September 29, 2011

I've now walked over 200 miles this month, and ended up being on the same trail at mile 200 that I was walking on when I reached 100 miles a couple of weeks ago. This time, Jeanine was with me. She has walked a little over 100 miles this month, so that brings our combined total to over 300 miles. We found a couple of snakes too, the first being a tiny little Gopher snake stretched out in the middle of the trail, and the second being a little Striped Racer. Jeanine spotted it off to the side of the trail, and I caught it to take a few pictures. I haven't seen one of these in the wild in over 20 years, and I think I've only ever caught one or two of them, so I was pretty happy to finally get to take a few pictures of one. It was a nice 200-mile present.

On my evening walk yesterday, I saw at least 10 Night Herons, all patiently waiting for dinner along the shores of Vasona reservoir. The last one I spotted suddenly thrust his head forward, looking intently at the water for a moment before striking and snapping up a 3 inch fish. Nervous about being observed, it hopped into some nearby low branches to finish its meal. Earlier in the same walk, I spotted the little brown face of a mouse peering at me out of a little brown hole. It froze when it saw me, before some tiny movement on my part caused it to vanish as quickly as it had appeared.

I'm tired today, mostly because our morning walk preempted my morning nap. I split my sleep schedule during the school year, catching a few hours of light sleep at work (if the kids are all snoozing) and usually coming home in the morning to sleep until noon. My apartment stays nice and cool on hot days, and retains warmth pretty well on the cold ones, so sleeping during the day is pretty easy.

Currently listening to: Comus "East of Sweden"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unseasonal Slump

It's another warm week this week. After a couple of cloudy days, the sky has reverted to a bland blue. It's not quite as warm as last week though, so the kids at camp are sleeping more soundly, if occasionally a bit weirdly. Yesterday, as I was waking up the kids, I noticed that one boy was sleeping through the bunk bed ladder, with his head and chest on the floor. That couldn't have been comfortable. This morning, his bunkmate on the top bunk was sleeping under his mattress. I asked him why, and he responded that he was cold. His sleeping bag was on the floor at the foot of the bed, but rather than climb down and get it, for some reason he thought that using his mattress as a blanket was the best way to go.

I'm nearing my goal of walking 200 miles this month, with only 12 more miles to go. Yesterday, I lanced my blisters and bandaged my feet, which made walking much easier. I even walked a couple of miles chaperoning for Willow's field trip to the Youth Science Institute, where I got to see several of my old co-workers. Willow had a fun time, liking the nature hike the best

I'm not feeling very motivated this week, possibly because of the warmth. Next week the forecast mentions the possibility of rain. That will set things straight.

Currently listening to: Simon Finn "The Distance Between Stones"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Things I've Noticed While Walking

There is an orange cat who seems to live on top of the sign of the Seventh Day Adventist church. I've seen him a couple of times now, and he always lifts his head to watch us walk by.

A while ago, a bunch of "lost turtle" signs went up around the neighborhood. There was a $200.00 reward for its safe return, but I would have kept my eye out for the turtle even if there hadn't been money involved. I worry about turtles. Their little shells don't protect them from cars. Willow has been worried about the possibility of the poor turtle getting run over too. Yesterday, I noticed that somebody had taken the time to write "FOUND!" in red marker on every single one of the signs. I can't help but wonder why they didn't just remove the signs, but I'm happy that the turtle has been found.

There was a guy sitting by the Los Gatos Creek Trail yesterday, his fingers flying so quickly across the frets of his acoustic guitar that they seemed a blur. Maybe he was playing for the tired groups of runners training for an upcoming leukemia event, or maybe he was simply playing for himself. Either way, it was nice.

Today, while out walking with my friend Les and his daughter, we were told by a couple of women on horseback that they'd just seen a bobcat the size of a coyote. I figured that since I'd forgotten my camera, we'd see it too, but we didn't.

I have a blister the size of a silver dollar on the heel of my right foot. It's squishy, and I keep envisioning it popping if I stomp my foot hard enough. The one on the side of my heel popped yesterday. I need better shoes, and I've just purchased some insoles and moleskin as a stopgap remedy.

I've now walked 175 miles this month.

Currently listening to: Steve Von Till "Breathe" from "If I Should Fall to the Field". Happy Autumn. Don't forget to breathe.

Friday, September 23, 2011

We're two weeks into the 2011/2012 outdoor school year now, and these two weeks represent opposite extremes, at least from my perspective as night supervisor. The first week was a dream week (literally, since all of the kids slept well, and presumably dreamed). On weeks like this, my job is easy, since my main function is to help with any emergencies or other problems that occur at night. The second week, which ended yesterday (most local schools aren't in session today), was rife with restlessness. The temperature had a lot to do with this, I think. Kids were up and down all night, many with bloody noses and other minor complaints. One night, at 3:00 AM, suddenly there were three policemen outside the camp office door. They were responding to an alarm nearby (probably the old hostel, which has recently been alarmed and is currently awaiting a change in function) and apparently don't know how to read addresses. There were a few other student-related issues during the evening and night as well. The daytime hours weren't immune either, with a branch falling from a tree and hitting a student (after being checked out at the ER, he was given a clean bill of health). This time of year, when the forest is at its driest, branches tend to break and fall. This is the first time I can recall one actually hitting someone though.

During the day, Jeanine and I have continued our walks. We've been referencing the Santa Clara County Parks Healthy Trails pamphlet to guide our destinations. This week, we went on a short hike at Calero reservoir, which ended up being really nice. I even caught a mysterious little snake, which looked for all the world like a tiny Gopher snake but seemed a bit too slender and quick to quite fit the bill (see photo above). Still, not knowing what else it could be, I tentatively went with that ID until somebody online said he thought it looked like a juvenile Racer. It turns out he was right. I'd only ever encountered adult Racers (and even then, it has been years since I'd seen one), and had no idea that the juveniles were so markedly different. The adults are a nice olive green color, with yellow bellies. The juveniles, as can be seen above, are very similar to Gopher snakes in both markings and coloration. I also found a beautiful little Mountain Kingsnake on the driveway at work. It was peeking out of the drainage ditch and I saw it in the glare of my headlights. Being me, I jumped out of my van and caught it, since I knew it would be a nice addition to the reptile party I was facilitating later in the week. It was, although it got a little snappy as we were preparing to let it go again. This was the first of two reptile parties I'm doing for people who put in winning bids during our summer camp silent auction to raise money for the camp. At the moment, our new science lab is under construction and coming along nicely. The end result of all of this fund raising and new construction will be a site upon which very few of the original buildings from the 1950s are left standing. After letting the Kingsnake go, we went on a short hike and discovered that one of the rattlesnakes in the chaparral had recently given birth. There were two very tiny little babies, although they quickly vanished back under rocks after we discovered them. The mother was a beautiful golden color, but the babies were much more grayish.

Later today, I plan to walk over to the Retro Dome to watch Stand By Me. It seems like a fitting thing to do. Jeanine was going to walk and meet me there, but her daughter balked at the idea, so she'll be driving. Currently, I've walked 144 miles this month, and hopefully I'll be able to break 200 by October.

I can't close this post without wishing everybody a happy Equinox. It still seems very much like summer outside though. In fact, this past week has seemed much more like summer than any other week this year. I'm looking forward to clouds, cooler temperatures, and rain, rain, rain.

Currently listening to: Natural Snow Buildings "Night Coercion Into The Company Of Witches"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Before the Heat of the Day

Even before many of the local birds are awake, The Los Gatos Creek Trail is full of activity in the morning. It's mostly joggers, although there are clusters of elderly walkers, and a few bikers thrown into the mix as well. It amuses me to watch people (usually Los Gatos moms, pushing jogging strollers ahead of them) talking on the phone as they fly by. Despite being burdened with a stroller, they still manage to find the time to gesture as they talk, which is an interesting little demonstration of one of the reasons I hate phones. Human communication has always been partially visual. I'll have to admit, I'm pretty visually oriented, so maybe this kind of thing bothers me more than most people, but I'm sure there are many other people who dislike talking to invisible people as much as I do. It is definitely amusing to watch people subconsciously gesture to their electronically removed conversational partners though, especially when gesturing is kind of an inconvenience because they're simultaneously pushing a stroller (or riding a bike, or...).

As for the birds, they were just waking up. A Great Blue Heron balanced near the creek, and most of the ducks still had their heads tucked warmly under their wings. Further along, I finally discovered the veritable forest of spiders that Jeanine had told me about. The reeds and trees were thick with the webs of Garden spiders. Nearby, members of the well-established invasive population of Red-Eared Sliders slid into the still water at my approach. We did once come across a native Western Pond Turtle nearby, but it seemed to be blind. Today, the water belonged to the Sliders and waterfowl.

I've now walked 120 miles this month.

Currently listening to: Tor Lundvall "Empty City"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Not Idling In Traffic

This was my view as I completed my 100th mile in my quest to walk 100 miles this month. I managed to do it in half the time, and now I'm going to see how many miles I can add to my total during the next couple of weeks. I've gotten Willow interested in walking too, and she has already racked up 50 miles since she started keeping track. I think one of the main reasons I like walking, other than the obvious health benefits, is that I notice more of the little details in the world around me. Of course, walking in suburban neighborhoods, the details often end up being trash and graffiti. Not always though. There is a lot of wildlife and occasionally, interesting free things sitting on curbs. Personally, walking is a reaction against the laziness I see around me. Near the top of the list of things that irritate me are people who spend extra time driving around parking lots waiting for a space to open up right in front of the store, rather than simply parking at the other end of the lot where spaces are plentiful. The same goes for the long line of SUVs idling in front of every school at pick up and drop off time as lazy parents wait for their kids to run into traffic to climb aboard. There are always plenty of parking places within a block or two to the school too. Think of the gas people would save, and think of the positive change in local air quality if people left their vehicles of unusual size at home, or at the very least, parked them and walked a few extra feet. Irritation is a powerful motivator, apparently.

Speaking of irritation, or at least irritation coupled with amusement, while Jeanine and I were walking the other day, we passed a shopping center where a couple of major businesses, a video store and a grocery store (Blockbuster and PW, if you must know), had recently gone out of business. Next to the two empty storefronts was a tanning salon, its garish neon sign advertising that it was open for business. It's interesting to me that a grocery store, which provides something that all people need, would cease to exist while a tanning salon, which provides something you can get for free by STANDING OUTSIDE, would succeed while the grocery store next to it failed.

Go figure.

Currently listening to: Whip "Timesbold"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Walking and Working

I'm nineteen miles away from walking 100 miles this month, and I'm thinking I might as well try for 200, although this type of challenge is somewhat time-consuming. Today, I spent around 45 minutes walking through the warmth of late summer suburbia. Later, Jeanine and I hiked the section of the Los Gatos Creek Trail leading up to Lexington reservoir, followed by dinner in downtown Los Gatos. I still feel like I could walk more today, but I have to head out the door to work now. This will be my second night of the 2011/2012 outdoor school season, and so far the energy is good. This morning I was greeted by the sinking moon and cascading fog. In the distance, the fog erased patches of hilly horizon, making it look like the world was being eaten away by whiteness.

Currently listening to: Fire On Fire "The Orchard"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summertime, When Writing Tends Not To Happen

Way back in June I wrote that I was going to post at least once a week during the summer. Obviously, that plan fizzled out in a big way. I should have remembered that I feel less inclined to write during the summer months. It's either because of the warm weather or increased outside activity. I'm not a fan of warm weather, and I think it takes its toll on my creative juices, causing them to evaporate into near nothingness. That doesn't mean I don't take advantage of the situation and do the usual summer kinds of things, but there's just something about inclement weather that inspires me to reflect and write.

At the moment, I'm on the cusp of the 2011/2012 outdoor school season, ready to go back to my nighttime schedule overseeing sleeping science camp kids. We just had our set-up week, during which we transformed the site from a summer camp to a science camp, digging things back out of storage, renewing our enthusiasm (and our CPR/first aid certifications) in preparation for the first group of science camp kids, who are due to arrive tomorrow.

Before that, I had two weeks off, during which I barely did anything productive. I finished a couple of novels, slept in late, went on a whole lot of walks with Jeanine, and saw some movies, but paperwork piled up, my apartment got messy, and other projects languished. I guess the walking counts as being productive though. Jeanine and I are in the middle of a challenge in which we are trying to each walk 100 miles during the month of September. I've already walked 61 miles this month, 10 of which I did yesterday when I walked to and from Willow's first soccer game of the season. Willow is back in school too, of course, and is one of the only kids I know who is actually happy about that.

I'm also renewing my attempts to teach myself guitar. I slacked off during the summer because I broke a string and it took me weeks to get around to buying new ones. I've got a long way to go before I'll be able to call myself a guitarist though.

As for the summer, it is well documented in photos, but I never did make time to write about it. I worked 8 out of the 9 weeks of summer camp and saw a lot of familiar faces among the campers and volunteer counselors. Some campers have moved up to become counselors now, and they were welcome additions to the program. Due to an increase in paying campers (we went from 150 to 162 campers a week), I was limited in how many weeks I could bring Willow and her siblings to camp (excepting Alex, who is now a counselor, and a good one at that). Willow, Sophie, and Nathan only got one week each, but in some ways that probably made their camp experience more special (as a decrease in quantity tends to do). The Summer was another relatively cool one, and it even rained once (the day I rode my bike of course). There were no more critter discoveries to match the finding of a Snapping Turtle in the pond, but there were a few really cool finds, the best of which was discovering a large Pacific Giant Salamander in the middle of eating a Banana Slug, something I'd heard they did but had never witnessed before. I found a large Mountain Kingsnake stretched out on the trail too, and a big pile of Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes under a rock up in the chaparral, not to mention various other reptiles. The reservoir was so full of frogs and tadpoles that when we got close to the water, their rush to deeper regions made it look like the water was boiling.

The highlight of the summer for me was the vacation week. Last year, Jeanine and I took Willow and Eva to Disneyland, so this year we went in the opposite direction, heading north to Lava Beds National Monument. We stopped at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo so the girls could get their amusement park fix, and then visited my dad in Citrus Heights, staying in a couple of crappy Motel Sixes for the overnights. Then, it was a straight shot up to Lava Beds where we spent several days exploring the high desert and crawling through lava tube caves. I hadn't been sure how the girls would like doing this, but I needn't have worried because they loved it, worming their way through holes in the ground like gophers. We used bicycle helmets as headgear, except for Willow, who used her softball helmet. There is something really appealing to me about caves. Strangely enough, I feel quite safe underground, almost like I'm calling up an ancestral memory that equates caves with security. The geography of the region is compelling too, with acres and acres of lava creating alien landscapes, and frozen drips of lava creating a chocolatey veneer to the insides of many of the tubes. One cave had a wide opening and seemed to end, but after seeing a couple of other people disappear down a small hole at the back, we followed and discovered a sub-cavern floored with ice. On a couple of occasions, we entered one cave and wormed out way through crawlspaces into another cave. The only developments or modifications done to the majority of these caves were entry ladders or stairways. A few of them had bridges or internal stairways too. One had ancient paintings on the rocks. Only Mushpot Cave, near the visitor center, had any sort of interpretive materials and lights. At night, the stars glittered in their thousands, and the Milky Way swept from horizon to horizon. I finally found a Solpugid in the wild (in the bathroom, strangely enough) and witnessed a Jerusalem Cricket attack and eat a scorpion (it happened while I was trying to photograph the scorpion). We subsisted mainly on road trip food until we finally broke down and drove 40 minutes into town to buy additional supplies. We also surprised a Pronghorn Antelope, which barked at us in disgust. At Petroglyph Point, a cliff covered in ancient petroglyphs made when nearby Tule Lake licked at its base, we discovered the ground carpeted with rodent bones and owl pellets. A woman with a spotting scope showed us a Barn Owl sleeping in a crevice in the face of the cliff, and we found a fledgling raptor dead on the ground as other birds, ravens and raptors, wheeled above us.

On the way back, we visited Shasta Caverns, which were impressive but not quite as fun since free exploration is not allowed. The tour guide was good though, much more entertaining than the guide who led us on the one guided tour we did at Lava Beds (there is a big difference between being led by a college intern and a professional tour guide). We had intended to camp in Calistoga, but when we arrived we discovered that our chosen campground was full, so we ended up staying at a really nice bed & breakfast called Mountain Home Ranch, which had a hippie utopia vibe to it. The cabins reminded me of science camp and the breakfast was fantastic. The girls spent a lot of time feeding the farm animals, including one rude horse who kept violently chasing the other animals away. The girls weren't as impressed with our visit to the Petrified Forest, but Jeanine and I were really into the fossil Redwood trees. We also visited Calistoga's Old Faithful geyser and found some letterboxes in the Pioneer Cemetery before hitting the long road home. My mind is already churning with ideas for next summer, or maybe even before then. I want to explore more caves. As a friend recently posted on Facebook, "someday is now". Inspiring words. The trip was photographically documented, of course.

Hopefully it won't be months before I update this page again. There is Autumn energy in the air though, so I have a feeling I'll be back here typing away sooner rather than later.