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    Friday
    May272016

    Wildcat Canyon Park at Dusk and History Eclipsed

    If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.   

                                                                                                     -Jean-Paul Sartre

    We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

                                                                                                     -Oscar Wilde

     

              Here are a few pictures taken on a solitaire sundown stroll through Wildcat Canyon Park near Berkeley, CA.   Despite the park’s proximity to the populous metropolitan hives and suburban hubs in the Bay Area, the only other animals I saw on this hike were cows, vultures, wild turkeys, and quail.   The park trails are lined by magenta thistle and the slopes of the chocolate hills are covered in tall grasses and dotted by yellow and red wildflowers.  Looking west from a hilltop one can see the distant Golden Gate Bridge which spans the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and connects that electric city to the North Bay where the prevailing rising landscape feature there is the formidable Mount Tamalpias.   Mount Tamalpias is situated on the Pacific Plate side of the San Andreas Fault, the tectonic boundary of which divides the Pacific and the North American continental plates, the latter of which Wildcat Canyon is located upon.  The North Bay is linked by the Richmond Bridge to the East Bay which, at dusk, is sprawled out before you like a giant circuit board glowing with artificial lights beaming beneath the setting sun.  The most noticeable manmade feature observable in the immediate East Bay is associated with the steam rising up from the cooling towers of the Chevron Richmond Refinery, which is probably located a little too close to the San Andreas Fault Line. 

     

             At the bottom of Wildcat Canyon lie freeways, streets, and parking lots overflowing with cars driven by people whom, like myself, are buzzing across the surface of Earth like frenzied and bloated microbes in a globulous petri dish that becomes ever more polluted and populated with each passing day.  The East Bay cities and towns have swallowed up much of the marshland of the bay, and obscene housing tracts are stacked throughout the hills and valleys.  Further east, in the dry hills of Contra Costa County, bulldozers are tearing apart the grasslands to make way for monstrous suburban housing developments and soulless strip malls, further guaranteeing an intensified stress on water resources in a state that has just experienced it’s most severe drought in 500 years.   These houses will be filled with people whom, not unlike myself, unnecessarily consume vast amounts of resources and energy for mindless purposes.  These houses will be tiled and carpeted, air-conditioned and insulated, furnished with smart refrigerators and freshwater toilets, and connected 24/7 to the worldwide web thereby in effect eliminating the need for residents to ever leave the comfort of their sterile homes to enjoy the natural world, which they may instead experience through virtual reality.  They will read few books and watch copious amounts television.  They will take fewer walks at dusk to view the bloodred sun and glorious bay, the lenticular clouds and evening stars, the ancient mountains and full moons tugging at the ocean – incredible geologic and astronomical events which eclipse our lives, civilization, and history itself.   We think we are unstoppable.  We take more than we need  (unlike all other animals which are born and die naked) and feel that we are entitled to it all, and because of this insatiable greed we are doomed.  And perhaps rightly so.  As much as I want us (me, my family, and posterity)  to stay, I look around and see the way we are mistreating this planet, at the way we disrespect all forms of life (ourselves included) inhabiting Earth, and I can't help but wonder: wouldn't the natural world be better off humans closed-up shop (shutting down the nuclear power plants, dismantling nuclear weapons) and died?  I don't want that happen, but sometimes I wonder...

     

    Saturday
    May212016

    The Belize Barrier Reef - Part II

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree:
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.

                                                                                                                                 -Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan


              The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.

                                                                                                                                  -George Orwell, 1984

               In the course of our mosquito studies we had found that each different species had its characteristic flight habits. Some kinds were found only near the ground, others only high in the trees; some that were most common high in the trees in the morning or afternoon would come down near the ground during the midday hours, showing a sort of daily vertical migration.  While I was explaining this to my friend, it struck me, that this is just the way animals act in the sea.  Most life is near the top, because that is where the sunlight strikes and everything below depends on this surface. Life in both the forest and the sea is distributed in horizontal layers.

                                                                                                                                 -Marston Bates, The Forest and the Sea

     

     

                It is my pleasure to share with you the following pictures that I have had the privilege of taking while diving in Belize last month, but first, a glimpse into my writing process, or lack thereof.   I often fail to live up to the writing responsibilities I have bestowed upon myself because, as my mom says, I lack discipline and courage, and this is a tragedy of the highest order of magnitude and biblical proportions for I am depriving humanity and posterity of my ingenious insights, exceptional writing capabilities, superlative stories, and the potential game-changing impact they would have on the fate the Earth, not to mention the literary world which is currently suffering for want of good writers who have important things to say.  (That was a sarcastic remark, for I have read and can list myriad books authored by living geniuses whose writing accomplishments I shall never hold a candle to, The Invention of Nature, about the stupendous naturalist, scientist, and explorer Alexander Von Humboldt, being one of them).  The initial part of my writing process is writing notes in the notepad that I keep in my pocket or accessible whenever possible.  Because it is not waterproof, I didn’t bring it diving with me, but once I got back onto the boat I would saunter over to my backpack, take out my notepad, and jot down the things I had shelved in my brain while diving.  Thus, I had recorded the thoughts (which, in the case of my diving experiences, are just a few descriptive words of what the things I saw reminded me of or how they made me feel) for later transcription which doesn’t always happen as demonstrated by the conniving pile of sneering notepads that are stacked on my desk conspiring against and derisively mocking me for not transcribing the snide little bastards.  In the rare event that I actually transcribe onto my computer the notes pertaining to something I want to write about, I can then proceed to write about it, which is precisely what is going to happen right now.  One more thing: I would like to express the guilt I have about my journal entries and how I spend my time and resources in life in general.  I come to the altar as a sinner.  I am painfully aware of and readily admit the hypocrisy inherent in my decisions and actions.  I incessantly rail against the way the elite are satanically ravaging the natural world and are oppressing or killing, at this very moment, innocent, defenseless, and voiceless civilians whom weep in agony in a world of rubble, and then I spend two thousand dollars on a ten-day vacation in Belize and a much greater amount of resources sustaining my luxurious and decadent lifestyle in heavenly Northern California.  I realize the contradiction here, and for this I am sorry to all those I am hurting as an American taxpayer not revolting against the despicable policies of my own government.  If there is justice in universe, unless I change my ways, then I will have hell to pay in some form or another, in this life or the next, and fully accept the retribution awaiting me.  Now on with the writing…

     

              What follows are slideshows of photographs taken on my second trip in as many years to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef.  I feel no immediate need go back (although I hope to do so one day), because I have seen all that I wanted to of the reef for now, and would like to explore other reef systems on Earth while they and I and exist.  Rather than lament the grim prospects of survival that coral reefs are facing worldwide (that comes later), this blog entry will celebrate the uncanny and surreal beauty of these breathing underwater ecosystems that are teeming with life.  The first slideshow features wide-shots of various parts of the Belize Barrier Reef (Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef, and Turneffe Atoll).    In these photos I have tried to capture the scale of the reef and present a panorama of the diverse coral formations that comprise it.   Coral reefs are like forests in that they are conglomerations of interconnected organisms (in this case coral colonies) which support an abundance of other wonderful creatures and are dependent on sunlight for survival.  They are highly active marine environments that are pumping and reverberating with observable lifeforms as miniscule as the tiny polyps of branching sea whip corals that close shut upon the brush of your fingers, and larger than the blacktip reef sharks and giant groupers that drift along the wall of the living reef.  The wall gradually descends into an indigo and sunless abyss where very few coral species can live because the planktonic zooxanthellae (algae) which grows in symbiosis within most coral species cannot photosynthesize due to the lack or absence of sunlight in the fathoms of these deeper realms.  (P.S – I have no idea what I’m talking about.) 

     

              One reason why I love coral such much is because of how strange they appear.  Different coral species compete for space and sometimes merge in such a way as to give the impression that they’re the giant faces of grotesque, muppet-like sea creatures that, while benign, seem humorously startled by your presence.  Whilst diving one is surrounded by these bizarre coral formations that are reminiscent of Gary Larson animal caricatures or a SpongeBob SqaurePants cartoon backdrop.  Swimming though these aquatic dreamscapes is like swimming through a Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, or Yves Tanguy oil painting – rich in color and fantastical in shape so as to induce the feeling of a flying dream or mild hallucination.  Some coral species are florescent and glow bright blue, red, or yellow.  Upon closer inspection of one can see thousands of tiny coral polyps extending their tentacles to catch floating zooplankton.  Nature expresses itself in replicative patterns, and many coral species resemble mushrooms, moss, and lichen (which is a combination of fungi and algae) found in forests, while other coral resembles anatomical features such as the cortex of the brain or the ventricles of a heart.  Isolated colonies of sea rod coral rise from the sandy seafloor like cacti in an underwater desert, the skeleton structure of sea fans parallel the vein patterns of leaves, tube and basket sponges are filter feeders that look like carnivorous pitcher plants, and lengthy sea whips hang from coral walls in great tangles resembling willowy liana vines. In other words: things look like other things.

                While coral reefs and the behavior of their animal inhabitants exhibit many similar characteristics to the flora and fauna of tropical forests, they also remind me of ancient temples, medieval castles, European fortresses and cathedrals – an encastellated kingdom where singing mermaids collect human artifacts and mermen kings are armed with golden tridents that can magically fire destructive energy bolts.  Although they are natural and free-forming, coral patchworks are like organized underwater cities, bustling with caravans of blue tangs commuting through coral highways as though they had some important fish meeting to attend on the other end of the reef.  Spotted-eagle rays and alien-eyed loggerhead turtles shuttle themselves over the reef with flat-headed remora hitchhiker fish in tow.  Moray eels weave lithely through coral crevasses where armored spiny lobsters and Caribbean-accented channel crabs filter sand through their mouths in a relentless sift for food.    In this phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of life where sunlight shimmers though the prismatic water like sequins, rainbow parrotfish dart from coral to coral, pecking at the polyps with their beaks like birds.  The incredible flying fish soars above the surface of the water, gliding further than any dolphin can ever dream of jumping.  There are camouflaged fish that have evolved to disguise themselves in the small coral colonies or seaweed patches in which they ride out the entirety of their beautiful and seemingly simple lives.

             Coral reefs are extremely delicate ecosystems, their survival is dependent on innumerable variables remaining constant in order to maintain the conditions necessary for life in a healthy reef.  Occupying a slim echelon in ocean, these vast organisms, magnificent unto themselves, harbor forms of life that are so remarkably stunning and unique that they take the breath away.  The beauty and wonder possessed by coral reefs and the diversity of creatures they support lies almost beyond the realm of comprehension.  As they continue to decline worldwide, their future is not promising.  Time is running out to save the coral reefs and arrest the ecocide humankind is perpetuating against the seas.  If they disappear into extinction, this planet will have lost one of the greatest and most fascinating jewels to have ever graced the solar system.  Alas, the sad truth is that as with the death of a family member or friend whose presence we failed to cherish in life, humanity will not realize how vital the coral reefs are nor understand how much we love them until they’re gone forever.  May they rest in peace.   

    Wednesday
    Mar302016

    Mono Lake, Fern Lake, and Travertine Hot Springs

              If you cut east from San Francisco and drive through the Central Valley past Sacramento and into the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range, you’ll hit Route 395 at roughly 6,000 ft. elevation.  Head south toward the ancient Mono Lake, which, at 760,000 years old, is one of the oldest lakes in North America.  Huge and blue beneath the winter sky, the alkaline water is twice as salty as the Pacific.   Twenty species of sagebrush populate the area surrounding the lake, which hosts eighty species of migratory birds over the spring and summer (in July and August upwards of 100,000 phalaropes, which winter in South America, can be observed frolicking and fornicating), and pinyon, juniper, and conifer trees climb the foothills of the Eastern Sierras from which the water flows that feeds the lake.  Many of these streams were diverted beginning in 1941 to slake the thirst of the burgeoning and still bloated population of Los Angeles.  As the lake’s water level dropped, the tufa towers were exposed.  Tufa towers resemble stalagmites of frozen, craterous bodies of liquefying mud.  These vertical limestone fairy chimneys form in the lake as a result of the underground calcium-rich fresh water spewing up against the carbonate-rich alkaline lake water.  According to the brochure, “This tufa-forming reaction happens only in the lake itself.”   Here are some pictures of the lake followed by a scanned slideshow of the California State Parks Mono Lake brochure.

     



     

            Fern Lake is a lesser known lake also fed by the mighty Sierra Nevada streams and supported by the hydrological cycle in general.  Fern Lake lies upon the more fashionable June Lake, and in the snowy winter one can rent snowshoes for $20 a day from Ernie’s Tackle and Ski Shop and then go snowshoeing in the mountains.  It’s a liberating experience which enables an abled-bodied person to explore winter wonderlands and the icy reaches of mountainous crests as though he or she were a non-hibernating animal such as a wolverine, polar bear, or yeti.  UFO-shaped lenticular clouds above soar above the mountain peaks and below lies a frozen patchwork of ice and rock and June Lake condominiums.  What follows are is a slideshow of the snowshoe trek to the frozen Fern Lake (which I overshot and ended up above), as well as the geothermal Travertine hot springs east of Bridgeport.

     

    Thursday
    Feb042016

    The Flatirons, Layers of Earth, and the Excavation of Civilizations

    Twilight fall upon all souls
    Darkening our skin and bone
    Soon I’ll follow Prudence home
    Until then, just let me chase this sun
    Soon enough I’ll go, a winters way
    Soon enough, though not this day…

                                          -Autumn, Puscifer

     

               The Flatirons is the name given to a several slanted slabs of rock that tower above Boulder, Colorado.  The gradual upheaval of the Flatirons resulted from a highly confusing process of tectonic plates colliding on the Earth’s crust and upper-mantle in the age of the dinosaurs 35 to 80 million years ago.  (The Late Cretaceous period abruptly ended, and I suspect that had it not there would be metropolitan dinosaurs carrying briefcases and headed off to work on Earth at this very moment.)  The plates and microplates of Earth’s crust (which reach a depth of 25 miles) and upper-mantle (a thousand miles down) lie upon the lower-mantle which is comprised of dense rock that has the consistency of asphalt.  Driven by internal convection currents, the Earth’s mantle flows slowly, shouldering the rigid crust above it.  As the continental and oceanic curst separate and merge over the eras, mountains and seas are diminished and formed.   2,000 miles down, beneath the lower-mantle, lies the outer core of the Earth, which is made up of nickel and iron and flows in a liquid state, touching the edge of the inner core at 3,000 miles.  The core of the Earth, 3,000 - 4,000 miles beneath of our feet (at 4,000 miles is you’re at the center), is so highly pressurized that it is solid, and it is hotter than the surface of the sun.  (Some people say that if you were there you’d be floating or that you’d be squeezed to the size of a marble.  These are irrelevant points because the temperature of the Earth’s core is 9,000 Fahrenheit and the pressure is three millions times that of the surface, so humans will never get there; the closest we’ve dug is 8 miles down.  Our data about the nature of the layers of the Earth is scientifically inferred.) 

    File:Geological time spiral.png
    USGS Geological Time Spiral

                 The Flatirons are located 30 miles northwest of Denver, and when one gazes southeast across the winter farmland toward the mile-high city you wonder what it would be like to watch a nuclear bomb detonate over that capital.  There would be a bright flash followed by a billowing mushroom cloud, and general chaos would ensue.  Survivors of the blast would most likely attempt to leave Denver, probably walking on highways toward the Rocky Mountains, the nearest source of fresh water.   The reaction in the towns on the outskirts of the city would be mixed.  There would be crews of good Samaritans rushing to assist the survivors of the blast, while others, fearing the effects of the radioactive dust particles and impending nuclear winter, would pack up and head west in a frenzy.  Depending on the strength of the weapon, Boulder would be left intact, and the Flatirons would still prevail above that quaint college town on the foothills of the Rockies.  

                The hike to the top of the Flatiron is strenuous.  In the winter the trails are covered in ice and the buzzards wheeling above the rocks are just waiting for you to slip and crack your skull.  Pine tree forests surround the Flatirons and grow through the cracks of the lichen-covered rocks like bonsai trees. Above the canyons and steep hills and among the giant stones, the view from the top is extraordinary: Boulder and small towns are visible upon the vast plains that extend toward the eastern horizon, cold white clouds churn about the formidable snow-capped Rockies that dominate the western panorama, fairy-chimney rock formations rise up from the spectacular foothills stretching north in a range so beautiful that one could walk them forever. 

                I watched some people climbing along the tops of the Flatirons.   These impressive individuals were higher up than I, and I could not help but think that I was missing an adrenaline rush and better view by not being up there.  To assuage this frustration I told myself, “You go diving, and I’m assuming they don’t, so they’re missing some things you get to see and experience.”  (Although I’m sure there are plenty of divers who know how to climb.)  An estimated 350,000 people are born each day (an estimated 150,000 die each day).  The natural wonders of the world are inevitably being thoroughly explored and regularly visited, direct flights to places like New Zealand and Tahiti are increasing, remote diving locations that were formerly virtually unknown are becoming increasingly popular, Mt. Everest is being covered with trash and the dead bodies of climbers.  Certainly this is fine, so long as the environments of these places can be sustained, which is questionable but possible.  (Ecotourism in on the rise in places like Belize, but the cruise and cargo ships keep crashing into the reef.)  How wonderful it would be if we could strike a balance so that posterity of humanity and all species in the natural world would be given the chances and opportunities for happiness and survival similar to that of their ancestors.  But it may be that our species will have to start again, and our modern cities will be re-discovered and excavated by future humans just as humans have excavated the lost cities of ancient civilizations in places like Angkor Wat, Manchu Picchu, and Rome.   The way this folds out will be largely dependent on the way we treat each other.  During the war in former Yugoslavia American fighter pilots would take off from Air Force bases in Maryland to bomb people in Serbia and then fly back home in time for dinner.  We can use or technology to communicate and travel in effort to talk out our differences, or we can bomb the shit out of each other.  We chose the latter route in the last war in Iraq – a country which we have been bombing for twenty-five years now – and in doing so we squandered a chance to for dialogue and peace.  Now that region is in flames and their ancient cities are being bombed to dust.  If we continue on this destructive path there will be nothing left for future humans to excavate, not even Denver, but in spite of our actions, the Flatirons will likely remain for millions of years to come. 

    Tuesday
    Jan052016

    Diving in the Monterey Bay and Falling in Love with Whales

              Here’s some footage and pictures taken while scuba diving off of San Carlos Beach in the Monterey Bay.  The footage at end of this post is of a raft of sea lions (they can also be referred to as a pod, or as a colony if on land, or as a rookery or harmen during breeding season, depending on their mating and lady situation), which are incredibly cute and curious, the latter trait of which is in itself curious considering they must see divers everyday but still appear eager to investigate each person individually.  They remind me of happy dogs and are very agile in the water.  One of the slideshow photos features the rear-end of a harbor seal torpedoing through the water.  The harbor seal moves in a more linear fashion than the sea lions (one way of distinguishing between a seal and sea lion is that seals have holes where their ears are, and seals have protruding ears).  One of the coolest things I saw during this dive was a cormorant that had dived into the water, swimming at least fifteen feet down.  For a moment my land-based brain did not compute what was going on, for here was a bird swimming in the water, but clearly they know what they’re doing.    

               Other than the sea lions, the pictures in the slideshow are mostly of a variety of more stationary sea creatures: an opalescent nudibranch, a fish-eating anemone, a warty sea cucumber, sea hares, a gumboot chiton, dungeness crabs, jeweled top snails, sea lemons, spiny brittle stars, a decorator crab, and many other beautiful things.  I find that they nudibranchs (sea slugs) are the most mesmerizing to look at, for their skin patterns seem to weave and pulsate across their flowing bodies which glow in the pale light of the sea.  They make me wonder what types of other marvelous creatures must have existed on Earth and that we will never know about (for instance, I can imagine a gigantic underwater polyp with tentacles – like a cross between an anemone and an octopus -- that snatches up prey like feather duster worms).

               After the dive, we drove to Point Lobos in the afternoon.  We walked through a forest of lichen-draped pine swaing in the coastal breeze.  The sun illuminated the pine tree canopies and cypress trees that grew along the cliffs.  Fleets of white clouds sailed like naval armadas across the blue skies above the vast ocean to the west, and the redwood mountains of Big Sur prevailed to the south.  Beyond the cove where the sea lions barked, the waterspouts of humpback whales sprayed into the air as the whales breached.  At least thirty whales were swimming off the coast, headed south from Alaska to Mexico to feed for the winter.   They are the most amazing and inspiring creatures I have seen.  I thought to myself that clearly the most logical thing I could do in life would be to abandon every trivial, superficial obligation I have and to get on boat and follow the whales because they know what is truly important in life and how to live.  As we drove back north on Highway One, beneath a epic nuclear armageddon sunset, my mind went constantly to those heroic whales and the uncertainty of their fate which is directly linked to ours.  I wish them the best and vow to do more in my life to help them.  I think about them everyday and hope that this remains the case for the rest of my life.