Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category


Friday, February 6th, 2009

At some point this week Seth told me that he has two favorite colors pink and red.  Pink is his primary favorite color, and red is his secondary favorite color.  This more or less resonated with the Seth I have known from spirit to flesh.  Seth’s energy has always seemed red to me sometimes even magenta, pink fits neatly in that spectrum.  After all, if he was always red then he would never vary from his basic mold.  Add a little white and you get shades of pink, a glimpse of character and self-definition.

Pink is all around us here in our California February.  For all intents and purposes it is spring here.  It is not the spring fever spring that overcomes the cloistered New Englander after mud season.  It is the “oh if you insist” spring, coaxed by temperate zones who can’t be bothered with the cold.  These are the zones that endure the long dry tedious summer in exchange for the miraculous few green months with winter relegated to absentia.  I’ve been to parties festooned with pink camellias.  I’ve idly observed the kids busy in the cradle of green grass and oxalis.  Gradually I’ve been toying with revisiting a memory.  If it were “wicked cold” here maybe the urgency of writing this would escalate.  Is it possible that flowers as lazy as camellias and banal as oxalis could provide insight into the core meaning of my life?

On a sunny February day at approximately one o’clock in the afternoon I sat down to play in the sandbox on our back patio.  I remember feeling weary of the humans that I was forced to endure in Kindergarten, how my mornings of stimulus gave way to the blessed, quiet afternoons at home.  The light was bright as it reflected off the bits of mint green paint that still clung to the 1950s cement.  I ran water from the hose and marveled at the crystalline nature of the substance.  I gathered camellia flowers and the impossibly yellow oxalis blooms.  After much organizing, the sand box transformed into a landscape of rivers, punctuated by floating flowers and constructed beauty.

Perhaps this process was the same as the many repetitions that came before it.  It may have taken many hundreds of hours in the sand box to get to this day but there it was, my first “ah-ha” moment.  People often refer to the “ah-ha” moment where a design is just right, just as it is – effortlessly absolute.  Well this was it for me, my first taste of creative satisfaction.  My first understanding that materials can be architected to bring about an aesthetic that mirrors exactly the vision the creator had in mind.  For an artist this cognitive realization is a moment that shapes our entire lives, we strive for it always.  Wither we are conscious of it or not “ah-ha” drives us toward meaning.

In the process of raising a child I have born witness to the hot bed of cognitive development that is the sandbox.  Although Seth consistently has an agenda I wonder if someday soon he will have his “ah-ha” moment.  Or perhaps his mind works at a different pace.  He seems to have hourly “ah-ha” moments where he pops up in joy and shouts something like, “Ya concrete!  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”  Perhaps he is just more social than I ever was, and his creative play develops mitigated by interaction with others.  My own ideas and self-awareness were only reflected by nature.  Our sand box experiences may shape us to become very different people.

Seth won’t have the same experience as I did.  I’ve been reconciled to that from conception.  However, I can wish Seth the joy of “ah-ha” moments.  I can studiously make note that he refers to oxalis blossoms as “bell flowers”, and I can quietly indulge his love of the color pink.  I try to encourage Seth in his explorations of pink.  It may get beaten out of him later, but today he is standing his ground and keeping pink as his muse, his chromatic guide to the world of beauty and joy.  It sounds something like this ~ Ah-ha mommy!  I know…we should paint it…PINK!

I took these photos of our ornamental kale in December.  The deepest pink in the shadowed crevasses is the color of the camellias that grew next to the back patio of our 1953 tract house.  The inspiration for this post came from Carolyn Fosters writing exercise Root Memories.

Natural Bridges, This Time with Friends!

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

It’s raining today, but on Tuesday it was sunny.  We hitched a ride with Martina and hit Natural Bridges running.  When it’s 75 degrees on the beach in January it’s hard not to take advantage of the unexpected weather and play hard!  The jist of the day looked something like this.

The children came and went, but Teacher Laura held strong at the edge of the surf.  Every time children switched in and out of the chain the dynamic changed.  I was particularly fond of this moment because it showcases Seamus in his shining role, as mayor of the 3/4s class.  Seamus is a natural at facilitating social interaction.  His grandfather like charm combined with his bemusing stories make him a lovable leader.  Everyone is at home around Seamus.

Teacher Laura has a knack for getting right in there and playing with the kids.  This is helpful, because it gives me a chance to disengage and observe from a distance.  So often I am in the thick of it with Seth, asking questions, answering questions.  Instead I got to wander around with a camera and a clear head.  I guess I should have paid more attention to the incredibly sweet collaboration in front of me…

But instead I kept looking at this…

Lily.  Lily in her own world.  Occasionally she stopped to look at the action, but the frolic was not for her.  Lily is an artist at work.  She tries to engage, but often it seems that the very act of joining the other kids is too much for her artistic temperment and she cries out in dismay.  I get the feeling that Lily sees things I don’t see.  Maybe see’s a world I used to see when my life was ruled by imagination.

I want to join her in play.  I envy her contentedness there on her own.  Often times I find myself on the fringe of “real life” in my own artistic world.  Given a moment alone I revert to my inner Lily, and I too get grumpy when society demands that I disengage.  I try to tempt her with a bumble bee that I found in the wet sand.  I find that bugs are about the only thing that Lily will stop what she is doing to look at.

Not today.  I will have to be content outside her shell for now.  Perhaps someday she will let me in.  Maybe when she is older and makes artists books with enigmatic metal medallions.  Maybe later when she…I love to speculate about the future paths and careers of the kids.  It’s in my nature, my imagination is not all gone, just channeled.  I often catch an essence and can’t let it go.  I am compelled to spin the yarn, even if it is my own private projection.  You can take the Barbies out of my grasp, but you can’t take their stories out of my psyche.

Another “own world” one is Charlie.  Charlie is self propelling.  His own drum is so loud that he can’t really hear you, so don’t take it personally if he does not even register your existence.  I came across him burying his nose in sand.  He seemed to find it funny, although no one was there to watch.  It’s nice when children find humor all on their own.  Self entertainment is a good trait, and key to self preservation.

I love this shot.  I don’t care how cool you are Charlie will win you over with his completely unpremeditated antics and clear soul.  Charlie is what adult comedians strive to be, a straight shot to the funny bone, it’s in his marrow.

Well, back to the rain.

Love + Mommy Alis

Reject Beach

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Today we went to Ano Nuevo to see the Elephant Seals.  Mommy was not smart enough to make reservations for the proper observation area, so we opted to try our luck on the beach.  As soon as we got down the little stairway trail we almost ran smack into a sleeping Elephant seal.  As luck would have it this is the beach where all the reject males snooze.  I guess all the bulls that are not tough enough to wrangle their way to the breeding beach are relegated to nap here and nurse thier wounds.  The marine mammal action was pretty drowsy, sans the occasional sand flip.  Needless to say we kept our distance and Seth used extreme caution around these ton size monsters.

Every once in a while one of the bulls would roll over, or perform some interesting flipper acrobatics.  Once I got used to their size and the fact that they were not really moving, much less giving any humans the least notice I relaxed a little.  Beyond a few elephant seals was another seal.  This animal was much cuter and frankly more interesting, especially in the fur department.  Seth was thrilled to observe her because, “Orcas eat harbor seals.”

Frankly I can understand why everyone was asleep on the beach, it was hot!  We set about making ourselves at home, building sand castles, beach combing and taking in the scene.

…Until the fight broke out!  Two males were having it out down the beach.  It was a fierce, bloody splashing mess.  Of course all the humans on the beach had to go and watch.  At one point I could see fighting Elephant seals in the distance and frolicking naked 2year old in the foreground, a nice juxtaposition of species (Mia as it turned out her name was, graced us with her presence later on while we dissected kelp seeds with our pink pocket knife scissors).

The whole affair was rather upsetting.  The winner flounced about in the surf gloating.  The looser sort of washed up on the beach and lay there looking forlorn surrounded by curious humans.  It was all very undignified and I tried not to stare.

Seth was binocular man today.  He preferred to use the very old heavy binoculars that apparently belonged to his great grandfather Clifford (they said so on the side).  Even though the magnification was about 3 times weaker than the other pair, and weighed about 3 times as much as the other pair they seemed to lend an air of “serious business” that Seth was all about today.

In the end of the trip we doubled back to the interpretive deck at the freshwater pond.  The second time around I had a chance to admire the willows without the pressure of Elephant Seal pursuit bearing down on me.  I get so much joy out of willow stems in the winter time.  Although at 75degrees, one could hardly call this winter.  None the less, the willows pretended it was cool out and showed off their amazing palettes.

Wear Patterns

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Dear Seth,

You are sitting next to me watching the scarry Noah’s Ark video narrated by James Earl Jones.  You just told me that the story is very sad, all the animals died, but you like it anyway.  You asked me to write you a letter that you could read later when you can read.  So I am sharing some of the details of Mountain School that perhpas your child eye has missed.  When you are there you are so busy.  Engrossed in the many obvious things that need to be done.  Rarely do you wander out to confer with the chickens.

This is usually what school is like, someone running, someone hammering, someone crying.  In this instance you were the last kid to come for cooking time.  You refused to leave your nail till it was pried out of the board.  I am proud of you for staying focused, even with the prospect of mouth watering fruit skewers inside.  You spend a fair amount of time here at the tool table.  It’s hot spot for concentration.  Your energy always spikes here, your synapses are almost audible (at least to those who are listening – me).  When you are not here I look at the wear patterns.  The unintended marks of children at work.  A little artistic blessing for me to pass along.

Love + Mommy

Natural Bridges Renaissance Day

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

It’s been about nine months since we visited Natural Bridges. I forgot how convenient it is to have a kid day there. We parked our stuff on the beach and took excursions to the tide pools, the inland pond and the butterfly hollow. When we first arrived the beach was short on humans and full of birds. As the day progressed many more humans arrived, but pretty much all the birds stayed.

It was a renaissance sort of day for me. We have been doing more city things, and less days in nature. I miss this. Spending a day watching the natural world is core to my well being.

Seth was very concerned about me getting too close to the edge of the tide pools (for good reason), so I got an earful about safety. Regardless he did have a sense of wonder and expressed many times how amazing this was.

It was high tide so the deep water came right up to the rock shelf where the tide pools were. This gave us a chance to experience the way the deep water moved without having to be in it. We also go to see a pelican out fishing.

Watching the pelicans fly over was a big treat because they all have different patterns on their wings and their coloring varies radically. I love the tip feathers on their wings.

All of our excursions were punctuated by sand play. Without the distraction of anything other than sea birds and a fancy camera today I really paid attention to Seth playing. Or rather I listened to Seth playing. I knew he sings to himself when he plays. However, today I realized he is singing work songs, kinda like if Merle Haggard sang Zippity Do Da – a real “labor” vibe.

After the beach we hit the Long Marine Lab. Seth got to meet his first Rockfish in person. This seemed more exciting to me than to him. I think he was tired and the Leopard Shark sort of stole the show.

At the hands on area Seth kept taking starfish from this girl. I thought he was just throwing his weight around, but I was wrong. When I went over he gave me a long starfish stewarding lecture on how the starfish did not want to be out of water for too long or they would die. Every time I held one, he was anxious to get it back in the water lest it expire ~ snarf!

Finally out on the deck Seth found something that really caught his attention – a tool! I find he likes all activities to be punctuated by tool usage of some sort. He likes things that “work”, they bring him joy.

I like immense whale skeletons. They bring me joy. Look at the way every piece fits together and the angle of repose. This would be a great plein air subject, maybe I should roust Steph. The pelicans flew by one last time in the setting sun, a perfect ending shot.

Best In Show

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

So what do you do on a Saturday sans kid? You go for a big long hike! Yesterday we hit Russian Ridge. We were not 15 minutes into the hike when this casual coyote ambled up the trail. Russian Ridge is a great place for coyotes to live because there are no dogs allowed, so there is no one to wreak havoc on their leisurely lifestyle. In fact, the pair that we observed seemed perfectly at home with us. They didn’t seem to mind us taking photos of their afternoon amble come hunting spree.

The immediate consumption of prey sort of set the mood for the rest of the day. I forget how sudden death is in nature. One minute you are a conscious gofer and the next minute “you” no longer exists. In a matter of seconds your entire frame is crushed and stomached. Your existence is gone in the blink of an eye. It’s hard for a slow moving human to get her head around this concept. I know death happens to humans in an instant also, but it does not mean I am equipped to process that experience. I harbor the illusion that time is on my side to process all things, but it’s not.

Presumably the consumed looks something like this on the other side.

Other things on the hike had more time on their sides. The ancient oaks always cause me to pause and ponder time. Although they can be snapped up by chain saws or fire, their usual mode of existence is slow and long. I wonder about their consciousness. I wonder what they feel. How they pass their time, sacred as it is.

The terrain of Russian Ridge really emphasizes the fine line between earth and sky. That kind of place where you feel the urge to jump and fly, but are just a little too reserved. What if the chance was really there? Would you take it?

Days like yesterday are full of great light. Who needs a bright sunny day when you can have a moody, ambiguous, unpredictable cloudy day. I told Ryder that it was the kind of day where I wanted to come home from my hike, curl up with a cup of tea and read about dragons. Goddess bless I will get lots of chances to do this with Seth. There is nothing that gets the imagination aroused more than a cloudy day with unexpected colors and textures – a visual passage to the realm of fantasy.

Marek-Seth Communication Breakthough

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Marek sent me this vignette on Dec. 5th.  However, I forgot to post it.  Thanks for the contribution Marek!

Thought you’d enjoy hearing about a breakthrough your son and I had this morning — they stopped over last night on the way back from Saline Valley — but it needs a short explanation …

For a while now I’ve been telling Seth that I’m going to “manhandle you like a sack of potatoes.”

And Seth would invariably reply (in a loud voice): “I am NOT a sack of potatoes!”

Several times I’ve explained to Seth (mainly for my own amusement) that I wasn’t calling him a sack of potatoes but comparing him to one. (And being absolutely certain the sublety sailed way over his tiny head.)

Well, today, the tyke floored me. We were hanging out by ourselves in the kitchen when Seth looked up at me and said, “Uncle Marek, I know I’m not a sack of potatoes. But I want you to carry me like a sack of potatoes.”

Needless to say he got his wish.

Bob the Builder Meet Frank Gehry

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Dear Seth,

Monday was the first day of school (observed by me). It passed uneventful in a haze of redwood dust and lady bugs. I was a little too prepared to remember the camera, so I’ll have to document you another day. The afternoon proved to be one of our best play days yet. As soon as you got out of the car you were ready to expend some energy. I came out to find you busy at work rearranging the dirt pile with a mop. When I asked you what you were doing you told me, “I’m excavating for the lost castle and lost village”. I sighed to myself…another obtuse island of Sodor reference – parenting can be so banal.

Wiping the sweat from your brow you declared, “This is hard work”. Next you picked up a rake and decided that the best way to spend the next half hour was to whack the crap out of some cardboard. I guess you just needed to get that out of your system. It was pretty entertaining because you discovered that you could loft the refrigerator size boxes up in the air with the rake. Its fun to see destruction and laughter intermingled. Adults are so compartmentalized in our lives, we need to mix ingredients more, and definitely bend the rules along with some rakes!

The cardboard beating episode seemed to help you focus, because you turned on a dime from crazy whacker to engrossed builder. Apparently Francis had given you “specs” for a building, and you set to work arranging cardboard in a very orderly fashion.

There were rooms for tools, rooms for trucks, and even a room for you!

The end result was very impressive. We lingered on the picnic table admiring our work and discussing the various attributes of the different architectural features. The effect was actually rather aesthetic – Frank Gehry eat your heart out.

In time we drifted to the play house and you instructed me to be the wolf and to come and try and eat you. I was very threatening, but you came up with all sorts of ingenious reasons for me not to eat you. Most notably that I should eat Mango instead because she was really a sandwich. You seemed to be working out some sort of boundary setting. You encouraged me come and threaten you, then you very firmly told me in an all too familiar tone, “no do not eat me Mr. Wolf, you find someone else to eat”. I am glad you are working this out for your self. I want you to be as prepared as possible to communicate with others and live a productive life – ack there I go with those “Island of Sodor” morals again.

Love + Mommy

Disengaging Saturday

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

A few more indulgent garden shots before I go. It was my dream house, and my first vegetable garden.

I just loved the way the switch grass intertwined with the pumpkins. I had to untangle them today. I can’t quite think of the metaphor, but it wasn’t easy.

I think this is how I will always remember this house. Lots of blue sky.

Perhaps I will sow these somewhere else.

Can’t beat the morning light here.

For such an arid location, this garden was always alive with toads. This one came out to say, “goodbye”. Or so I am speculating.

The Summer of the Turkey

Monday, August 4th, 2008

The first summer we moved here was the summer of the deer. Dozens of them would hang out under the apple trees at night – the old guys would hack and cough and trip over all the young does. Last summer was the summer of the mountain lion, complete with a confirmed kill practically in our back yard (no deer to speak of that summer). This summer is the summer of the turkeys. They have made their home in the field and I must say they are delightful to have around. We spot them at least once a day Mommy, Daddy and brood foraging for insects and seeds as if it is all they could think to do (humm?).

We see them in the woods too, trying to look inconspicuous but without much luck. The other day Seth and I came across some of their tracks in some soft dust. Their feet are much larger than you would expect. And their legs are so strong. I had this sort of Plymouth Rock image of turkeys, but these are lean bodied long haunched birds. I think they are part Emu.

I’ve gotten used to having them around. I find it comforting when they cruise by in the early morning and keep me company while I water. They seem to know it’s me and don’t get too ruffled about my presence. Often times one of the young will dart off to far after an insect and one of the parents will have to herd it back. The kids are almost the same size as thier parents, but apparently they still do not have the know how of survival down pat.

They like to roost in the lone apple tree in the middle of the field. I went over to investigate and found it littered with these lovely feathers.