Monday, January 30, 2012

Yosemite Nature Notes

Steller's jays are related to the eastern blue jay and to Clark's nutcracker, which is black and white.  Go figure.

In the late 1800s Sir Joseph Hooker said he had never seen a coniferous forest that rivaled the Sierra's because of the grandeur of its individual trees and the number of its species. 

The prime growing area for the ponderosa pine is in the Sierra. 

Incense cedars and sugar pines are California trees. 

The gold cup oak is also known as the canyon live oak. 

There are two tree problems for Yosemite.  Black oaks need fire to thrive, which they don't often get, and they love moist earth.  Cedars and pines like dry earth and are suffering root-rot because of ground moisture. When the settlers drained the swamps in the valley, pine trees began replacing the oaks.

Coyotes mate for life.

Mountain lion kittens are born from April to August.

The Western fence lizard is the one that does the pushups.

The western gray squirrel stays under the oak trees, and in autumn buries its food in many small holes.  This leaves the conifer forests to the Douglas squirrel, which buries its food all in one place.

Male deer travel around in "bachelor" pods most of the year.

I had been thinking that a "quidoquidoquido" sound in the trees was being made by a squirrel.  But I found a Steller's jay making it; finally something pleasant to go with its irritating "squawk."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snow Falling Along the Merced River

Snow begins falling while I'm sitting by the river that winds its way through the middle of Yosemite Valley.  Birds splashing in the water along its edges don't seem to notice, although some begin to play with a little more excitement.  The large flakes quickly change the landscape, covering the rocks and trees, and unifying everything in a common blanket of white.  My thoughts turn to the Ahwanechee who used to live in this valley.  Did Chief Tenaya's band gather inside their shelters during heavy snowstorms to share stories, traditions, and concerns?  Or did they go out and play?

I think of friends and their struggles with illness, poverty, failed vocations, or troubled relationships.  I sense that if we all lived here our sorrows would not strike as deeply because our community would be close by to share the burden.  Our expectations would be simple -- to live this day as best we could.  Living in harmony with nature, our basic needs of food and shelter would be met. 

Black Hawk, chief of the Sauk and Fox, spoke of this sense of community:

We always had plenty; our children never cried from hunger, neither were our people in want....   The rapids of Rock River furnished us with an abundance of excellent fish, and the land being very fertile, never failed to produce good crops of corn, beans, pumpkins, and squashes....   Here our village stood for more than a hundred years in the Mississippi Valley.  Our village was healthy and there were no better hunting grounds.

The call of a Steller’s jay brings me back to the storm.  I must have been thinking for some time because now I'm covered with two inches of snow.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Quotes to Ponder

The landscape of one’s home is always sacramental. It molds our character and it’s the soil out of which we grow. It’s where we either encounter the divine or we never make the connection. -- Seamus Heaney

If you have no relationship with nature, you have no relationship with humanity. -- Krishnamurti

The upshot is that if we don’t connect to the landscape where we grew up, then we won’t be able to nurture relationships with others. We won’t believe in a higher power but think that we know what’s best for everything. And we won’t care about what happens to the environment and will regard trees as only wood for building houses and rivers as conduits for getting water to our homes and factories.

If we don’t connect to nature, then we will exploit the land, each other, and religion in order to make money. And when we die, we will be alone, depressed by the too-late realization of our limitations, and closed up in hermetically-sealed rooms.

Send your children outdoors to play before they become bitter.