March 20-26 California dreamin’

When I first decided to keep this journal, I knew I would spend part of this year traveling, as I do every year. I had to decide whether to continue to record nature observations while I was in other parts of the country, or keep it fully focused on central Virginia. It is important to me that this blog is about what’s going on around me in the natural world, rather than “about me,” and I certainly don’t want to turn it into “Ezra’s travelogue.”

With that in mind, I think I still want to share some observations and photos from my recent trip to California, which I returned from just this morning. I went out to see family and friends, enjoy springtime on the west coast, and use up a travel voucher that was in danger of expiring. I enjoyed a week of the most glorious springtime weather that I could have possibly hoped for– seven days of sunshine, cool ocean breezes, flowers and green hillsides, good food, good times with family and friends, and the chance to explore some natural areas quite unlike my Virginia home.    Some photos and random thoughts to follow…

Flying over Mono Lake east of the Sierra Nevada.  Unfortunately, most of the flight out west was cloudy, especially in the more interesting mountain areas, but I got some cool views of the western deserts.Image

On my first day in San Francisco, I went with my mom to the botanical garden in Golden Gate Park, where I was fairly blown away by the overwhelming sights and smells of springtime.  The nearly-instantaneous transition from the very beginnings of spring in Virginia to the full-on floral abundance of plants from all around the world, all blooming at once, left me drunk on flower-scented air.  Here, my ma is enjoying a Japanese cherry tree in glorious bloom.Image

This “Chilean rhubarb” (Gunnera tinctoria) was another amazing huge-leaved plant, which looked like something out of dinosaur times– this photo doesn’t really do it justice.Image

A couple of days later, I was with friends up in the Sierra Nevada, spending time at Donner Lake, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the snowy region around Donner Pass.  I didn’t take out my camera very much, but did get a couple of photos of this most un-Virginian landscape.Image

From there, it was on to Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, where I spent a glorious couple of days being shown around the farms, redwood forests and coastline of this beautiful part of California.  The artichokes weren’t quite ready to pick and eat, but the plants were strikingly attractive.Image

In a redwood forest near Guerneville, I spotted this giant banana slug, part of the charismatic megafauna of this ecosystem.  I don’t know if it’s pooping or if its guts are coming out of its head or exactly what is going on here.Image

I liked the pattern of the bark on this madrone tree.Image

Root system of a giant redwood that had fallen over at some point in the past.Image

Does this look like a spooky skull to you?  Because it looks to me like a spooky skull.Image

Later, I made my way out to the Sonoma Coast, where the irises, which were among my favorite wildflowers when I lived in California, were blooming in great profusion.  When I lived here, I would make special efforts to go hiking near the coast at exactly this time of year to enjoy the wild irises, and I seemed to time it perfectly on this trip, as they were blooming all throughout the coastal grasslands.Image

Exploring tidepools along the Sonoma coast, I spotted lots of anemones, starfish, and a group of crabs that was crushing mussels in their claws to pick out the soft flesh inside.  Taking inspiration from the crabs, I harvested with my bare hands as many of the mussels as I could fit in my pockets, and feasted that evening on some shell-fishy bounty!Image

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Day after day of blue skies, bright green grass, trees–some of which were fully leafed out, and some of which were just starting to grow leaves.  Late March truly has to be the most scenically satisfying time of year in the Bay Area.Image

One photo from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, which I had the pleasure of touring.  My home community of Twin Oaks certainly could learn a lot about aesthetics and artistic awareness from this place, which blends the natural and built environment to create a place of incredible beauty.Image

On my final day in San Francisco, I traveled out to Ocean Beach to visit with more of my extended family and take advantage of one last glorious California spring day.   The air was warm and clear, with a gentle breeze blowing off of the Pacific.  I could not possibly have asked for a better final afternoon in California.Image

California poppies, another one of my favorite wildflowers, growing alongside invasive Oxalis, one of my least favorite.  Still, even the obnoxious yellow flowers of the oxalis was pretty on a day like this.Image

Later in the afternoon as I relaxed on the beach, I spotted a whale, which by size, shape, location, and time of year, I’m guessing was a migrating gray whale.  It was too big to be a dolphin, too small to be a humpback, and not shaped right for an orca.  As I watched, it swam from south to north, repeatedly spouting, kicking its tail up, and then breaching entirely out of the water over and over– I counted six times before it had swum out of sight!  I tried to get a good picture, and this was the best I could do, catching the whale just as (s)he was beginning to leap out of the water.  Funny enough, even though there were many other people enjoying the beach, I don’t think anyone else (other than my ma and I) saw it. A perfect end to a pretty damn perfect trip.

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If I’m looking relaxed in this photo, it’s because I am.Image

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