Toad in the Hole

July 23, 2004

Mount Lassen Trip

We spent most of last week at Mt. Lassen, frolicking (for very subdued values of "frolic") among the red fir and posies and pumice. It was the first camping we'd done in years, and the first time back at Lassen since, oh, 19-something.

So let's see: the propane stove still works fine; we have enough space in the two soft-sided coolers for a week's worth of beer, milk, juice, and yogurt thingies for breakfast; that bent tent pole we keep forgetting to replace works well enough if it isn't raining; we do have enough tent stakes after all; we really should get a smaller tarp for an under-tent cloth; the ground is still lumpy but the big fat air matterss helps a lot; we forgot the Jack Daniels but in the course of packing found the lost pair of shotglasses (one is sterling, and I was upset at losing it; the other's pewter with a Celtic design and we did replace that, so now we have a matching pair); the foot pump for the air mattress developed a leak and the tape patch lasted just long enough for one inflation, so we need a new one; the 20+-year-old camp pots are getting a lit-tle bit fonky; we forgot the rice, but the Tasty Bite boil-in-bag curries still taste good; we need a bigger rag rug outside the tent door and a better sleepingbag liner... Definitely a shakedown cruise.

Now I have to make rice pudding with all this cooked rice.

The trip was merely pretty good for birds, except for the flock of white-faced ibis in a rice field off I-505 north of Sacramento (and off I-5, farther north, on the way back). I was standing by Summit Lake in Lassen Park, said, "Well, gee, no spotted sandpiper..." when a spotted sandpiper showed up on cue and flew with those funny syncopated stiff wingbeats across the lake. It did the same thing every time we walked to the lake, which bordered the campground -- every night, and twice some days. No black-backed woodpecker this time, red-naped sapsucker only by ear...

Let me interrupt to sing the praises of technology. When we bought Ray's late father's RAV4, it has 8,000 miles and a really nice sound system to its name. (We bought it partly for the air conditioning, which is of late a necessity if I am to drive through the Valley without passing out at the wheel, and partly because it has honest passenger seats -- and our beloved pickup had developed a pinhole leak in the radiator.) The CD player isn't something we'd have blown money on on our own initiative. But I love it. It sounds great, and tooling across Arizona with the A/C on and the speakers blasting virunga or mqashiyo or the Stanley Brothers is quite nice -- and a good way not to fall asleep at the wheel too. And we can play birdcall CDs right on the spot, before we forget what that yawp in the woods sounded like.

OK, decent birds like western tanagers all over the place, mountain chickadee, black swifts at Burney Falls, Clark's nutcrackers and gray jays, migrating rufous hummers firing past us like near-miss bullets in an old Western movie. Nifty bugs, notably a sheepmoth in one of the wet meadows. This one was blacker than the ones in the fieldguide, evidently (from the notes in the text) a population variant of the area, big -- the size of a monarch butterfly -- and with a very distinctive stained-glass effect, with yellowish-orange forewings and deep-salmon hindwings dorsally and the reverse ventrally, which was startling.

Great flowers -- there were still serious snowbanks, and spotless fawnlilies in great masses on barely-thawed spongy dirt; three kinds of paintbrush and more of penstemon, two of bog orchid, marsh marigold, monkeyflowers, violets, yadda yadda -- it was flower season, folks. Lots of things I still haven't ID'd, and {clink} here's to another piece of tech, the digital camera, with which one can take zillions of pix without worrying about wasting film. Put it onscreen and look it up, easy.

We had another interesting encounter. Walking through the campground with the badge of office -- binocs -- dangling from our necks, we were greeted by a fellow camper: "Seen anything good?" (This is the birders' secret handshake.) We mentioned the ibis, and Swainson's hawks too; he asked where we'd driven from; we said Berkeley; he said he'd come from San Francisco.

We got to swapping info, and he recited his email address, which included an abbreviation of his name and an institution we were familiar with. We both did doubletakes: "You're John Muir Laws??"

Yeah, that's his name; blame his mother. Joe had just written a glowing review of this guy's new book, Sierra Birds: A Hiker's Guide, for the Berkeley Daily Planet. Laws writes a naturalist's notebook column for Bay Nature too. So we had lots of gossip to swap. Then he handed us a draft copy of his next guide, to Sierra mammals and fish. We fieldtested it for the next few days -- very good on chipmunks and ground squirrels. We had a few suggestions, too, like specifying that some of the fish were invasive exotics. (He'd done approximately that with some.) The cover portrait of the bear will be worth the book price. Handy, pocketsized, very good for beginners and still useful for us. Collaboration between Heyday Press and the California Academy of Sciences.

On the way back we stopped for a look at the Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River in Redding. A gimmick but a pretty one, and nice gardens taking shape around it. And it does keep decent time.

Posted at July 23, 2004 06:50 AM


Ron--thanks for the heads-up about the Sierra mammals and fish guide. We're heading up to the Eastern Sierra in a couple weeks for a long-delayed honeymoon (I had a mishap on our wedding day last year and couldn't do ANYTHING, let alone camping, for a few months). I'm very excited to get back into more regular camping now that we have a vehicle that will get us there reliably. Your Lassen trip sounds excellent and has inspired me maybe to go up there looking for grouse in April!

Posted by: Pica at July 23, 2004 02:57 PM

Lassen's a great place. I recommend the South Summit Lake campground for birds -- we saw our life (two lifelists, same bird) black-backed woodpecker there, after 20 years of trying -- and lots of bug repellent.

Happy honeymooning!

Posted by: Ron at July 25, 2004 01:34 AM