Toad in the Hole July 2004 Archives

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July 30, 2004

Hunting for Bear

On one of those whims that we've vowed to honor since Joe retired, we drove up to the Sierra foothills towns of Jackson and Ione Wednesday. The objective was a copy of Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat, copyright 1950 by Morrell Gipson.

Got it, too. Bookfever has a stall in one of those collective antique stores in Jackson, and as they'd advertised at least two copies of the book on their site, I figured a smart marketer would have one there. Evidently the main physical location is a house on a dirt road off a side road off a highway between Ione and Jackson; there's a flock of wild turkeys visible in the Web site photo. As visits are by appointment, I'm lucky to have found my quarry in Jackson.

Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat is one of those childhood dents I was amused to find I share with Gary Larson. The Little Wonder Book copy I has as a kid in the '50s is long gone, pulped or atomized in the general household maelstrom generated by six kids, some of them fairly destructive. (I still hold a grudge about my Farfel dog, with his moveable mandible. I have no one but myself to blame for the awful demise of Amosandra(tm), though; she was rubber, and sitting on my desk in the sunshine eventually caused her to collapse in a truly grotesque manner. I've never seen another like her, oddly. I'm afraid to Google for her, as then I'd find one and it would cost an arm and a leg and, oh, you know.)

We used to play I'm Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-FLAT!! sometimes, a game that involved sitting on each other the way Mr. Bear does on the teeny forest homes of the teeny forest critters in the book. I kind of had an advantage there, though my first younger brother was nearly as big as I was, so it wasn't much of an advantage. No bones were ever broken. Hey, kids were easily entertained back then. I guess.

I'll leave the Surprise Ending as a surprise except to mention that it involves technology, in a recycled way.

We're finding that the hardest part of getting out of the Bay Area for these trips -- Pescadero, Sonoma, the foothills, Lassen -- is getting out of the Bay Area. I-80's a mess no matter when we use it, and 205-580 through Stockton and Livermore was no better. I could froth on for paragraphs about the sprawl outside Tracy and Stockton and Livermore, but some other time. Dang but it's hard to see perfectly good habitat, including the residences of birds and beasts and plants I've known personally (with their families) over the years, give way to rank upon rank of stucco clones built to the lot lines.

Nina Paley has a point.

Posted at 11:10 PM | Comments (1)

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 06:50 AM | Comments (2)

July 13, 2004

San Mateo Coast

We took a jaunt down the coast to Pescadero last Thursday, and didn't see the little gull (make that Little Gull) that's been reported there -- gives a certain something to the day, having to look twice at every damned gull. Just the usual gull suspects, though that includes Heermann's gulls along with the brown pelicans, so I guess it's summer. There was a marbled marbled murrelet, always a pleasure to see in the nominate summer plumage, way out at the limits of the spotting scope's resolution, bob bob bob bob bob bob on the waves. Windy as all get-out, hawks and gulls going sideways; we had to use the scope kneeling sometimes.

We saw a pair of black oystercatchers with a chick, right on the rocks below the Pescadero Creekmouth overlook. They must have nested and hatched it there; it was barely mobile, still all downy and wobbly. Those rocks are accessible from land, so there was luck involved. Funny-looking thing, chunky and blockheaded, its head looking almost as big as its body; pink oystercatcher legs but a more generic dark little bill.

It's fall, too; little flocks of shorebirds gathering already, whimbrels and such. Fresh peas and tomatoes at roadside stands, and we got some beans from the bean zoo at Phipp's Ranch and pie at Duarte's and a loaf of garlicky artichoke bread at the Archangeli grocery in Pescadero. There's a big lot for sale right at the junction of Route 1 and Pescadero Road, overlooking the ocean, and if I had 15 million bucks in my pocket I'd buy it this minute.

Posted at 04:38 PM | Comments (1)

July 03, 2004

Field Trip!

The damnedest show, BodyWorlds, just opened at the ScienCenter in LA. (OK, points off for kreativ spellllinge of the institution.)

I've seen all sorts of reactions to this, well, art? science? communication? ultimate teaching medium? project, but it's another of those things that just hit me where I live, a completely immediate artistic knowledge hit, pow, right in the midbrain. It's a set of interestingly done dissection mounts, formerly live human bodies shot through in various ways with plastics that serve as revealing media. My immediate reaction, after the Wow!, was to look for a way to be a donor myself -- assuming both it and I are longterm projects.

You know that old quote that love casts out fear? Well, in my experience, so does knowledge. I lost all residual fear of spiders when I researched them for a Chronicle piece awhile back. Looking at things from their point of view was just too interesting to go on being all ooky about them. Now I find myself moving those pumpkin orb-weavers around the yard by their web supports when they insist on building onto, say, the car, and watching them grow from orange pinheads to respectable size over the summer.

I've never been very patient with phobias, and that includes my own. I reserve thee right to Just Say No to things I don't want to do, like have my picture taken. I wonder if the EeewwwIckyEEEEEEK! thing isn't often a way to enforce one's preferences without having to own up to being an agent.

So yeah, the other day I repotted a plant on the porch, resident centipede and all, as fearlessly as I could. Gotta work on that one. But they just seem so much more mindless than spiders. Fast, too. Fast and mindless, bad combination. Insert obligatory cellphone-freeway joke here. Still... I did it.

Way back when I was a student nurse, we watched an autopsy by Kaiser Oakland's pathology chief. There were just four or five of us watching, all rather apprehensive, and one of us was sure she'd faint, she was so creeped out. She stood by the door so she could flee, or at least not fall onto the dissecting table -- the very caricature of terror, teeth clenched, eyes all sanpaku, back to the wall, on tiptoe. But this pathologist was a gifted teacher with serious respect for his work (and the subject) and by the time he was finished opening the Y-incision in the guy's torso, she was hanging over the table with the rest of us, utterly fascinated.

Posted at 12:39 AM | Comments (0)