Toad in the Hole
July 30, 2005
I Am a Part of All That I Have Met
Thereís a spot we like to hit every year Ė Iíve mentioned our recent trip there: Yuba Pass, north of Tahoe Ė thatís handily central to a high basin of little lakes and a slightly lower, larger mountain-marsh-and-sagebrush-semidesert bowl, Sierra Valley. Yuba Pass itself is interesting; there are wet spots and red-fir forest, a combination that houses lots of nifty flowers and birds.
The birds breed there in abundance largely because the bugs do, too, with all the wet spots, marshlettes, ditches, snowmelt ponds. The birds feed the bugs to their nestlings and eat them themselves in various combinations. Bugs are high-protein, high-fat, high-energy nutrition.
To many of the bugs, so are we. Any place like that fosters, along with mayflies and dragonflies and damselflies and stoneflies and robberflies and craneflies and caddisflies and scorpionflies and soldierflies and beeflies and droneflies and deerflies and blackflies and just plain some-fly-or-other-flies and assorted bugs and beetles, bees and wasps, large populations of the dread mosquito. Mosqitoes bite us. Only female mosquitoes bite us, and only when they want to breed; our blood (like that of other mammals, birds, I donít know -- maybe even herps) is a supplement that lets them grow eggs.
We wear bug repellent, swat a lot sometimes, and scratch and apply various kinds of soothing goo later. But weíre resigned to being bitten, and when we have the time to get philosophical about it, we consider that after all, itís a matter of paying the rent. Weíre up there along with our interesting brethren, and we all pay the same fleshly dues somehow.
Weíre all part of the place, the "ecosystem," and thatís a physical, literal fact. We take up space, take oxygen and leave carbon dioxide the those grand trees use to build themselves, generally leave our waste where it will be collected and taken out of local circulation, but also bring in most of what we consume, from some other watershed. (At Yuba Pass, that often includes the water; the plumbing there has never been reliable.)
In return for the places we flatten with paving and tent and footprints, for the odd berry that ripens early or leaf sample or scented bit of resin we collect, we leave a drop or two of blood. The aftermath of collection is annoying enough, but the payment itself is only fair.
And I really like the idea that there are a few molecules there that Iíve collated and cobbled together and had brief custody of, a bit of the real me in that ditch with the orchids; in that meadow of corn lilies and elephantsí-heads, blue camas and red columbine; among the waterlilies and odder aquatics around the steel bridge that sits in the middle of nowhere, somewhere we see bald eagle and white pelican, ruddy duck and black stilt, bittern and yellow-headed blackbird, a bustling polity of birds and the occasional mammal.
Years ago, when we lived on Derby Street in a ground-floor flat, I had the habit of cleaning my hairbrush and dropping the tangles out the bedroom window into a bed of wild ginger where no one walked or saw and the hair vanished under the leaves. I figured that bit of sequestered nitrogen might eventually do some plant some good.
Late one summer we cut back the pink jasmine vine that ran up alongside another window. We knew the local housefinches had nested somewhere very close, and raised two clutches that year. When Iíd cut away a couple of tangled layers of vine, I found the housefinch nest, woven of grass straws, little twigs, and, most visibly, my hair.
That reminds me of a favorite quote by John Muir:
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
Posted by: Via at August 6, 2005 04:20 PM