Apr 29, 2020

More snakes!

The gartersnakes from Saturday have stuck around  in the upper yard and more have joined the party. Apparently it is quite common for there to be many males and one female. So far I've seen four males and the one female. Pretty sure there's another male or two under the tarp. I also read that they breed in their hibernation sites so I guess they were hunkered down for winter in the wood pile or under the boards.

Anyway, these videos were amazing to take. I get so excited that I forget to turn my phone horizontal. It's amazing that I get any video given how quickly they move when they're active. The female is coiled in the first video toward the left of the mass. In the photos she's in the lead, probably trying to get some space! She's also a little bigger and a little blue/grey underneath. If you click the photos, they get bigger.

Apr 27, 2020

A tangle of snakes

When I was a little girl I was deeply afraid of snakes, despite being a barefoot, clay-stained tomboy. My fear didn't keep me out of the woods - or even persuade me to put on shoes - but I was known to do a 180 and run at the first sign of a snake.

Georgia has very few rattlers, but there are cottonmouths and copperheads around. In my mind, every land snake was probably a copperhead and any snake I saw in or near water was a cottonmouth. I was raised on a trembling tale my mother used to tell about a copperhead repeatedly striking the front door of her childhood home. She could spin some yarn, especially if it was dark and twisty yarn.

I finally became mildly comfortable around some snakes in my late twenties. I kept running into garter snakes during my thesis field work. I counted them, estimate their length, and took notes on their behavior. I was studying plants but observing the snakes I ran into made them less frightening.

Thanks to those experiences, I didn't do a 180 on Saturday when I saw Nettie behaving oddly in the yard in a way that could only mean snake. Anything else would have gotten away from her as she sniffed and sprung into the air repeatedly. I wish I had a video of my cowardly dog in this moment, but all I have is the aftermath.

Two sizable gartersnakes were zipping around above the airstream retaining wall along a few boards. I was surprised they didn't dash off when I sent the dog to the porch. Instead they slithered back and forth, under and over a bag of debris, around the retaining wall, up the slope, down the slope. They were sticking close to each other, often overlapping. I turned to see a third snake come around the retaining wall, just as quick and determined. Not scared enough of me to retreat entirely.

After about three or four minutes I realized that's not typical behavior. Snakes usually move off when I try to watch them. I also don't usually see a bunch of snakes together. Curiosity somewhat satisfied, I realized they were probably looking to breed so I backed off to the stairs.

All three snakes came back down to the shady boards where Nettie had originally found them. First two entwined themselves together, and then the third joined. I couldn't get a great photo without disturbing them, but I sat with binoculars for about an hour watching them barely move. Just one tail occasionally twitching. The other male was somewhat sidelined, and remains so three days later as these three snakes continue to vamp in the yard. I should say that the second male had some time with the female in the second hour that this little huddle of three snakes stayed on those boards Saturday. A fourth garter snake appeared upslope at the fence line, but never came down. I'm hoping that wasn't because of me and my binoculars.

Right now the three snakes are crowded into these drain holes in the retaining wall behind the house. I see them around the upper yard during the day, near or in the holes. The female is rarely out of the hole here, where she's the lower, slightly larger head. Tonight at dusk her buddy climbed in with her as a I set a rat trap around the back of the house. (Please eat rat babies, my new snake friends. I need your help.)

These snakes are coast garternsakes, or Thamnophis elegans terrestris. The female will have a litter of something like 6-12 live young in about two and a half months. Yep, live young. Not eggs. Snakes coming out of snakes. As much as I'm enjoying these three healthy adults, I kinda hope she has her babies somewhere else.

Apr 24, 2020

Let me see you

Early this week I heard broken bits of your song, a few notes at sunset toward the river. I wanted to know you were really back before I let excitement take hold, but I can't deny the warmth I felt, Swainson's thrush. Last night when I heard your full song, I stopped. Gripped by your ghostly tones. They never get old for me. You can sing for hours while I'm hiking or working, and I feel every ascending twirl. Even when you're joined by other birds, like the vibrant Pacific wren punctuating your measure in this audio, I listen for you.

Thank you for coming back and sharing your textured song. I read somewhere that it's important to acknowledge the gifts of other creatures, to see you as having personhood. You're not just a (likely male) Swainson's thrush. You're an individual along Austin Creek, who's made a long journey to breed. I want to say something like, "I see you"... but I haven't, despite hearing you for years, here and elsewhere.

While I was once convinced you're invisible or exist in liminal space between the dimensions, evidence on the interwebs would suggest you embody a material form in this plane. I've sat on the gravel bar staring at alders and willows with binoculars as you cast your notes. I've gotten up at dawn, thinking that might give me a better shot. I've watched the same spot for nearly an hour with no luck. I've done this several times over several seasons. I've never seen your little brown and white person.

Can we do something about that? If you're reading this, please don't be alarmed by my confessions of stalking. I mean you no harm. I'm pretty slow and also vegetarian. You're safe with me. I won't try to get close - that's not a thing we do anymore anyway.

Even if I never really see you, I hear you. Thank you for the gift of your vaporous song. For showing up on time in a crazy world where time feels nebulous. For bringing wonder in every note.

Apr 13, 2020

Roadside Attractions

A warm afternoon drew me out of the forest toward the coast with the dog. Ignoring closure signs at Highway 1, I pulled onto the road toward a preserve that I often think of as my church. Barricades and caution tape... whatever, I need this sunshine. I need this spring.

I know I'm not the only one who needs spring and sunshine, so here are a few photos from our walk down the road. (The preserve is a State Park. Although I walked past the barricades, when I take the dog, I usually stick to the road because those are the rules.)

Ninebark - Physocarpus capitatus

Giant white wakerobin - Trillium albidum
These flowers have strong notes of cheap perfume with just enough warming citrus undercurrent to be quite pleasant. The flowers were really fresh and fragrant, scattered in little clusters along the road here and there. Quite the treat.

Salmon berry - Rubus spectabilis 
Lots of rosy brambles and shrubs blooming today. 

Twinberry - Lonicera involucrata
My phone couldn't really capture the glistening nectar on the stigma of these flowers. I was really excited to see that nectar because it reminded me so much of the Japanese honeysuckle back in Georgia. We'd pull those same structures back through the flowers and drink the nectar when we were kids. I've never even thought of trying that with this flower. It always looks so hairy and dry, which is more of what my camera caught than the nectar.

I heard a lot of birds, too. I bird by ear a lot since I often can't see the birds. Lots of great chatter at one of my favorite meadows convinced me to sit in the road for a bit to watch and listen. Nettie fell asleep in the sunny gravel. I zoned out, listening and occasionally trying to see what I was hearing. Wilson's warblers, bright like Meyer lemons in the willow. Marsh wren giving me a talking to on the cattail. Pacific slope flycatcher, somewhere behind me - pee-WEET! Wrentits bouncing balls in shrubs upslope. Song sparrows in every blackberry tangle. Lesser goldfinches - the R2D2 of birds - dashing from willow to alder. California towhees doing their abrasive TINK TINK TINK Trrrrrilllll. A black phoebe below the alder line by the creek.

Apr 9, 2020

Dogs of Austin Creek!

I've brought client dogs, foster dogs, and Nettie out to Caz over the years. Looking back, I pulled some of my favorite photos from those trips. Somehow I don't have any photos of the wonderful dogs from the family that owns this place. I have pics of them elsewhere, and even brought some of them here myself, but can't find any evidence.

If you click on the photos they get big and you can view it like a slideshow. In no particular order -


Lulu and Buna!
I have a zillion shots of these ladies wrestling in the yard, but they're all blurry. Buna was my foster and Lulu belongs to good friends. Long live Lulu and Buna!

Donovan and Buna -  Both fosters

 Donovan, in all his brindle glory. I brought him home on a whim when he was skinny and wormy. I remember telling him I'd never fall in love with him - which was important because I was crazy for Buna. Donovan was really high drive and quite a challenge at first, but he eventually rolled out of my care into a home with a small dog and got his Canine Good Citizenship cert. Some of my finest work. And I totally fell for him. If I could go back in time, I'd keep him.

Donovan and Buna enjoying a downed Doug fir as one big stick!

Harpo, the flashiest foster. I have dozens of gorgeous photos of this guy. And several photos of dogs on this particular redwood in Austin Creek. I revisit several perches and spots with the dogs. Same watering holes, downed trees, swimming holes.

Jilly, aka the Jillyfish, a weekender foster dog. With the support of a pit bull advocacy group, another woman and I got Jilly and 6 other pit bulls from a hoarding case in Texas in 2012-ish.  That was a long drive! Jilly waited a long time for a home. This was a trip to give her some one on one time as she waited. Jilly took to the water faster than any pit bull I've ever seen. She was in heaven here. 


 Robin - another foster. happier here than anywhere.

Beast - another foster, overlooking the Russian River valley. Heartbreaker.

 Beast in Desert Hot Springs... Not on theme, but this pic is hilarious!

Chula - cuz not all of my foster dogs have been pit bulls. This little lady was special. She was in a litter of puppy fosters when I did a house sitting stint back at Pooches' Playtime after grad school. She was adopted out, and then ended up stray and back with Pooches'. Eventually she came to stay with me until she was adopted again to a great family. It was cool to be able to give them pictures and videos of her as a spunky puppy. She was the star of her litter. Chihuahuas forever!

Nettles, the keeper, AKA Princess Baby.
If I'd kept Donovan or Beast or Buna or Chula, I wouldn't have this little gem. She loves the redwood sticks and sun on the porch in the afternoon. She's got the hand-me-down alien toy from the pic with Robin on her flirt pole in the yard. And old toys and sweaters from this whole crew of dogs that came before her.

It was fun to look back at the foster dogs of the 2010's. There were several more, but they either didn't come out here or I can't find the pics. I've been trying to get into a housing situation where I can foster again. Maybe with all this change, something like that will shake loose.

Apr 8, 2020

Duets and Other Pairings

The moon is bright and full through the trees, washing out most of the stars up there. I'm in a forest so there isn't much open sky, but I enjoy the stars on clear nights, and the way the moon casts light through the trees.

I'm not the only animal reveling in the bright night. A pair of barred owls struck up a long duet right behind the house tonight. The most prolific of the two started out a bit downstream but made his/her way back upstream toward a second owl perched in the trees just above the house. As the downstream owl came into the trees behind the house, something fell from them and hit the forest floor, either because the owl dislodged it or another creature made some noise as it fled the incoming predator. The speck of light at the end of the video is the moon. 

I spent time observing a pair of common mergansers earlier in the day along the creek. The female kept swimming upstream, pressing her head under water to make herself into a flat line on the surface. At times she dived all the way under, presumably looking for fish to eat. The colors in this video aren't right, but the I enjoy watching the birds move. I also like the sounds of the creek and surrounding birdsong. You can pick out robins, spotted towhees, stellars jay, chestnut backed chickadees, and the male merganser himself as he swims past. Also one bark of a distant dog and Nettie's tags!

Apr 5, 2020

Night Noises

Who cooks the food? 
Who cooks for youuuuu?

I was surprised to hear this call upstream from the porch tonight.  The next time it rang out, the owl was a bit downstream. Once more, farther away, toward the river. I know the barred owl is bad news for northern spotted owls. And I felt that disappointment when I first heard it. But I quickly moved on to a giggly memory of playing the call for my niece and nephew on a walk. We laughed a lot, trumpeting the exaggerated call back and forth a bit. If you don't know it, it's a funny sound.

I'm not sure you'll be able to hear it on the video above. It comes as soon as the clicking stops (typing). I can hear it well on my hone but not so much on my laptop.

Although my recordings of the barred owl are pretty quiet, I managed to record another bird heading downstream a few minutes later. It's in this clip at 00:11, 00:34, and 00:54.  I'm going to have to work on figuring out what this one is. Pretty sure it's a bird because it moved down the creek like the owl. A naturalist I know suggested it's a frog, though. Guesses welcome.

Mar 29, 2020

Steady Now

Turns out we got some steady, if not pouring, rain today. 

I'm on the porch again. I saw this guy on my cooler out here after the rain stopped. It's still perched there. It's a western tent moth. (Thanks Liam!) They make nests of caterpillars, which is something I used to see back in Georgia as a kid. I would put hundreds of them into plastic containers, which drove my mom nuts. She would gin up stories about how they were going to make me sick if I didn't put them back. Effective parenting to some degree because I always did put them back...

Three bats have flown out of the eaves of the house as I've been sitting here. I didn't hear the first one at all, just barely saw its dark outline flash past me. I heard the second two brush the wood of the house as they set into flight. Stealth.

Drip Drop Drizzle

The sun’s setting behind a gray blanket, long below the treeline. A robin lifts a final song in the same direction, quite cheery for a lullaby. Behind a thin layer of clouds, the moon hangs a faint, lopsided smile over the redwoods. I’m enjoying the light patter of rain on the canopy of a small bay laurel. Sitting under a few well-pruned stems, I only feel occasional drops. Shuffling my chair crushes a few leaves, sending up that familiar bubble gum scent of bay. Deep breath.

The first time Blake and I came to this house about 14 years ago, it poured for a week. We spent spring break piecing puzzles together and drinking gallons of hot tea from oversized mugs. The creek rose well into its floodplain, threatening to reach the road. Rain pounded the skylights day and night. Sometimes I thought the steep slope behind the house, which still had sizable tan oaks back then, might let go and fill the house. It didn’t. It just poured.

I wish it would rain like that now. A heavy rain can’t wash away our troubles, but it might release some pressure. Whatever rain we get will raise the creek a bit over the next couple of days as side channels drain down, down, down. Stronger flows, changing sounds.

Mar 26, 2020

Creek Walks in Crazy Times

We’re well past bud break on the box elders, whose furry pink filaments drape in tassels that remind me of something older than myself. Some 70’s relic from my childhood home. I can’t place it but find it somehow comforting. Some of the trees are still pushing out fresh flowers on the shadier side of the creek while the others look tattered after the rain. As I walk Nettie in the afternoon sun the clusters of trees are shimmering pink beacons. For me at least. Sniff, sniff, mark... Nettie's in no rush. When we finally get to them, the flowers draw me in. I notice pipevine winding through the branches, too.

We cross the bridge where we can hear the sound of the creek flowing. It’s low. Really low. But the flow is soothing, calling us closer. It doesn’t matter today if we trespass a bit, I hope. I have to convince Nettie to hop the barricades to get down to the water. A wide riffle spreads out at the tip of the gravel bar. The flow has a constant, ever changing quality in light and sound. The sky’s blue to the south as the creek rushes to the river. No killdeer tonight.

Walking back, I catch sight of the swallows' exacting flight in the reflection of a puddle on the road. They’re set against puffy grey clouds poking out of the blue. The reflection's starkly clear despite the deep mud in this puddle outside the quarry. I hear a woman across the creek belting along to an older love song that’s sort of familiar. She’s feeling it, and her voice is rich so I stop to listen. The swallows are in a fully chaotic dance for dinner overhead. I will go down with this ship. The redwoods lining the road signal strength to my worries. I won’t put my hands up and surrender. The tight beginnings of inflorescenses rise on a few branches of a buckeye across the road, promising a future.

Apr 7, 2011

Flowers are my fiction III

 Some of the flower parts in this batch are positively inter-galactic.