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    Wednesday
    Jun212017

    Yosemite National Park

    In my quest to expand my ecological footprint as much as humanly possible, I made a brief but worthwhile trip Yosemite National Park last week.  A standard tour consists of driving through the Yosemite Valley to and then up to Glacier Point.  Both these areas offer visitors the chance to take short walks which grant them superb views of some of the spectacular granite cliffs and waterfalls that dominate the park.  While such sights are awe-inspiring and their accessibility is convenient for those who are handicapped, elderly, or intoxicated, the dense throngs of visitors creates a Disneyland theme park-like atmosphere in many of the viewing areas.  If isolation is what you seek, you will not find it in Yosemite Valley or in the lofty granite peaks of Glacier Point.   The expansive Yosemite Wilderness is a more suitable environment to attain solace away from the crowds that populate the paved roads and campgrounds.  But for now, with the compound fracture of my tibia and fibula still healing, I’ll have to stick to the main roads and contend with the crowds, saving the wilderness for later. 

     

    Wednesday
    Jun212017

    The Northern California Coast from Highway One

    Beyond the shores of Earth lie the endless seas, surging with mystery and ancient lifeforms which, in the darkness of the ocean and of the night, drift beneath the faraway stars around which may revolve other worlds with primordial seas unto themselves, inhabited by creatures whose bizarre constitutions are beyond our wildest imaginations.

                                                                                                               -Walter Lloyd Waterson, On the Possibility of Life on Distant Planets


    If you take the California Highway One north from the Russian River on a clear day, you will gaze west from an elevation of six-hundred feet and see the vast and glorious Pacific Ocean.  The volume of water in the panorama before you is unfathomable and humbling, for it is so immense, timeless, and powerful that your existence is made diminutive in comparison to this massive aquatic force of nature.  The coastline is rugged and pristine, and sheer cliffs drop down to rocky shores where waves crash against boulders and stones that crackle as the gurgling water is drawn back out to sea.  I am blessed to be able to explore the wonders of the eastern Pacific coast in as an adult, and have formerly thought that elderly people who first venture to this coast in their old age must kick themselves for experiencing it when they’re week and feeble, but who knows what fantastic adventures they may have had in their lives, and perhaps I’ll be kicking myself as an old man with limited mobility if I ever visit the coasts of South Africa, Patagonia, or Western Australia.  Since I cannot yet visit those places, I will take what I can get, and am eternally grateful that I am free to explore tidepools, collect shells, hike along cliffs, watch whales swim off the coast, see the reflection of the moonlight on the water at night, and, if I so desire, to throw on a wetsuit and dive mask and peer at some of the wondrous array of wild and weird sea creatures that inhabit the saltwater world.   

     

    Sunday
    Jun182017

    Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

             Below is a slideshow of photographs taken at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, south of Monterey, California, and north of the Big Sur wilderness, the boundless beauty of which calls to any man whose spirit yearns to venture beyond the beaten path and extricate himself from the confines of the artificial, indoor screenworld – where we languish in air-conditioned prisons fondling our dingalings and playing with our fidget widgets – and immerse oneself in the subliminal beauty of green mountains that slip into celestial blue seas where otters sway in the canopy tangles of kelp forests and whales, compelled by universal biological and evolutionary demands for survival, journey thousands of miles in a never-ending migration dictated by feeding and breeding.  Point Lobos State Reserve is largely a tease due to the fact that visitors are required to stay on the trails which grant you limited access through the park.  This is good because it means that people are discouraged from wandering off trail and harming the outlying fauna or stomping their way to a pristine beach, thereby flattening the entire park, but at the same time the inability to deviate from the designated path can be frustrating for those whom seek greater solace and adventure.  Alas, for one’s adventurous spirit to be satiated, you will most like have to travel away from the park, and from Point Lobos the most alluring place to do so is Big Sur.  But the road to Big Sur from the north is currently blocked by a massive 550-meter  landslide which is expected to take a year to clear. 

     


                My first reaction to walking around Point Lobos was, “I can’t wait to come back here.”  I knew I had limited time and did not intend to cover much ground, so my mind leapt to the future prospects of returning.  While my excitement was understandable, I reprimanded myself for thinking this way and not enjoying the present.  I did not know (and still do not know) if I was ever going to return to explore the greater Big Sur area for a longer period of time, but at that moment I was certain that I was there and that I should cherish my presence instead of obsessing about how I would return one day.  There is a fallacy amongst many people in that we have a tendency to think that in the future things will be better: that we’ll be richer, healthier, more productive, more knowledge, more accomplishment.  While it is good to think ahead, even if the projections on your vision board are slightly unrealistic, to do so at the expense of appreciating the present can be detrimental.  It important to appreciate what you have when you have it, because you never know when it will be taken away from you, or when you will be taken away from it.  

    Monday
    May222017

    Russian Gulch State Park, Wasting Syndrome, and the Way the Human Race Ends

    Sea stars along much of the North American Pacific coast are dying in great numbers from a mysterious wasting syndrome. Similar die-offs have occurred before in the 1970s, 80s, and the 90s, but never before at this magnitude and over such a wide geographic area. 

                                                                                                   -UCSC Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, April 2017, Sea Star Wasting Syndrome
     

    Explorers along the west coast of North America also found new stocks of coastal whales.  On his 1786 voyage that took him to Monterey Bay, California, for example, La Perouse remarked, “One cannot put into words the number of whales that surround us nor familiarity; they blew constantly, within half a pistol shot of our frigates, and filled the air with a great stench.”

                                                                                                                                                                                     -Callum Roberts, The Unnatural History of the Sea
     

    No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                         -H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds 

     

               Below are two slideshows of some photographs I took while hiking and kayaking around Russian Gulch State Park along the beautiful Mendocino coast last week.  Something you won’t see in the pictures are sea stars, which apparently have all died-off in a phenomenon called wasting syndrome that began around 2014.   Possibly associated with a virus called denosovirus or a spike in eastern Pacific Ocean temperatures during the last Pacific decadal oscillation, sea star bodies began to liquefy or turn to mush and melt away, limb after limb, asteroid after asteroid, from the Gulf of Alaska to Baja California (click here to view a sea star wasting map).   I remember witnessing wasting syndrome take effect and decimating the sea star population along the Northern California coast where, while they never appeared in abundance, their presence seemed to a regular fixture and expected part of the tidepools and rocky offshore outcroppings, often eating the flourishing aggregations of mussels covering the rocks.

     

    diseased pisaster ochraceus a
    Wasting Syndrome, Photo Credit: Christy Bell (right), Rachael Williams (left)


            I once had a conversation with a friend in which I remarked that I would love to have been able to see what the coast looked like a century ago because there must have been a significantly greater abundance of incredible sea life and animal species that are no longer around today (just imagine the beachcombing opportunities in the 1800s).    My friend wrote-off my point with the rejoinder that in a century from now people will be nostalgically longing to see the presumably healthier former state of the coasts of 2017.  While my friend was not wrong, I don’t think I was altogether wrong either (though had I traveled back in time a hundred years from now, it’s probable I would have seen even less of many species of whales and other marine mammals, such as the Northern elephant seal, that were hunted to the brink of extinction in throughout 19th and 20th centuries).  If one were to go back in time, century by century, with the purpose of examining the array of life on land and sea, their voyage would be brimming with a cornucopia of bizarre and beautiful plants and animals.  It’s not clear if the same can be said if one were to go forward in time, century by century, for our planet may eventually be transform into a desiccated, scrubbed down, barren, lifeless rock, like Venus, but who knows what Venus will be like one billion years from now.  Perhaps it will be like Earth. 

    Image: Whaling on Dannes Island, Abraham Speeck, 1634

             My friend’s broader point was that our reality is defined by what we think we know and that our perspectives are relative.  Humans a hundred years from now may perceive the state of the environment in which they live much like many present-day humans: with a sense of yearning for the edenic, biologically-rich past (although I wouldn’t want to venture too far back, for anything prior to the Neoproterozoic Era, one billion years ago, with its acid green skies, barren primordial seas, and frozen desert supercontinent seems like it could be pretty harsh) and apocalyptic dread for the future.  In a thousand years from now humans may view those who are alive today similar to how modern man largely views those who lived in 1,000 A.D. – as superstitious peons who were uninformed about the nature of reality due to restrictions (by no fault of their own, but imposed by time and history) related to knowledge, technology, repressive religious ideologies, and political constructs which limited their ability to scientifically appreciate their stations in life (although I think it would be difficult to make the case that those erstwhile denizens of Spaceship Earth were any less intelligent than many people are today, especially those holding political office).  (Many in developed societies probably see contemporary indigenous cultures in this light – as primitive, inferior, and backward, lacking internet technology and thus an accurate grasp of the how the world operates and who they truly are.)   The ignorance exhibited by our ancestors led to them to form incorrect conclusions about the shape and geography of Earth, as well as their position in the universe.  As highly-informed members of a technologically-advanced space-faring civilization, we consider ourselves to be more intellectually evolved than our predecessors (although most of must simply accept facts as truth without knowing why they’re facts; if the average person were asked to independently verify that the Earth is round or how they know that there are over 100 billion stars in Milky Way galaxy, they may have a hard time explaining this.)   It’s possible that in a millennium from now humans may look back at us with pity for our pathetically minuscule understanding of the extent and operations of universe (or universes).  Perhaps an alien species is already looking down upon humans now as we look down at colony of ants that perceive their domain to be the center of the universe, but are sorely mistaken. 

     

           
                Early last year, when the Zika virus made a splash, I was curious if it would infect everyone across the planet in a global outbreak of microcephaly.  I thought, “So this is the way humanity ends, with a virus that makes our heads small.  How fitting.”  This clearly did not happen, but it demonstrates that despite all the incredible and miraculous progress in combating bacteria, diseases, and viruses, humans remain susceptible to microbes, and the potential exists for our species to be wiped-out by an infectious particle or spore.  Some insects can be infected by a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps, of which there are over four hundred species.  When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, mycelium infects the insect, (sometimes neurologically, thus affecting its behavior) killing it and growing a fruiting body from the host.  The Jungles episode of the BBC’s Planet Earth series has a hauntingly beautiful montage (above) of various Cordyceps species and the insects they’ve infected and killed.  Is it possible that Cordyceps might one day evolve to infect humans, laying waste to us en masse via mind-controlling spores that drive people mad and produce giant fruiting mushroom bodies that erupt from our corpses?  Is there a chance that a wasting syndrome-like virus may one day lead to mass mortality among humans, liquefying our dismembered limbs and causing our heads to melt off, just as it has among the devastated eastern Pacific Ocean sea star population?  Since Cordyceps only infect arthropods, and the densovirus only infects only echinoderms, it is unlikely that these microscopic agents will induce a plague among humans.  But this is not to say that an epidemic could not appear in some other creative form that Mother Earth will have fashioned solely for us, and perhaps she’s simply waiting for just the right moment to show us what she’s got.  

    Russian Gulch from Land:



    Russian Gulch from Sea:

    Wednesday
    May102017

    Two Paths and Why Should I Care? 

    I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.

                                                                                                                                                                          –Deuteronomy 30:19 

    How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

                                                                                                                                                                          –Anne Frank


    Life is short, life is very short.  I like life, I like it.  I feel like that even if it ends up being short I got lucky because life is an amazing gift when you think about what you get with a basic life –not even a particularly lucky life, or a healthily life.  If you have a life it’s an amazing… Here’s your boiler plate deal with life, this is basic cable, what you get when you get life: you get to be on Earth – first of all, oh my God, what a location!  This is Earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks so bad, it’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head cause’ it sucks so bad.  You get to be on Earth and look at shit – as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is – you get to be here! 
                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                           –Louis C.K

     

                  Here are some pictures I took last week while visiting my go-to beach along the Northern California coast.   I’m extremely grateful that I have the luxury of time and the mental and physical faculties necessary to appreciate the multifaceted beauty, both on a macro and micro scale, of this incredible landscape.  When I think of my future I think of two different prospective roads that I can go down.  The less promising one is the dark road which involves me giving-in to my impulses and succumbing to bad habits.  This is the road of instant-gratification and selfishness, and leads to me becoming detached from nature, distanced from my loved ones and true friends, out of touch with reality, inarticulate, lacking confidence, unhealthy, unread, absent-minded, unproductive, stationary, feeble-minded, lethargic, and unable to properly and acutely interpret the world around me.  It is road of sorrow.  The other road, which is the one I seek to travel down, is a road filled with challenges, adventures (namely hiking, diving, and kayaking), sunrises and sunsets, a steadiness of mind and spirit, will-power, self-control, stability, courage, compassion for nature and my fellow man, love for my future-wife and family, good books to help quench my insatiable thirst for knowledge, and good beer to help quench my insatiable thirst for beer.  This road is filled with completed writing, drawing, and art projects, lined by redwood trees and coral reefs where pods of dolphins swim and cast their wild dreams into lapis lazuli seas beneath the full moon and twinkling stars, and on this road I am always striving to gain a better understanding of the world around me by closely studying the natural world, as well as an appreciation for our position in the universe by gazing at the night sky and contemplating the cosmos even if I can barely comprehend an infinitesimal fraction of it.  That I am freely able to make the choice as to which path to embark upon is a gift beyond belief, just as it is a gift to drive to the coast on a sunny California afternoon, pick my way down a steep bluff decked by colorful wildflowers, and wander through tidepools brimming with life.  To be able to simply look at such beautiful objects – be they living sea anemones, turban snails, or shore crabs, or be they the discarded calcium shells of bygone mollusks or the sun-bleached and desiccated exoskeleton remnants of sea urchins, chitons, whelks, or abalone – is something I am eternally grateful for.  To be able to sit still and see these phenomenal expressions of nature – fresh pines growing from a tips of tree branch in spring, turquoise waves crashing a rocky shore, the rising moon and setting sun – is truly a blessing that no man or woman whom is physically free and mentally capable should ever take for granted. 

     

               Not that I am some intrepid or trailblazing explorer venturing into the deep recesses of Earth or across the frozen hinterlands of Narnia, but I like to think that I have proclivity to venture off the beaten path whenever I can and often do so alone.  Without a doubt, I have rarely, if ever, regretted doing this.  The rewards for going somewhere new and unknown, even if it is as simple as down a road which leads to an unknown destination, has almost always resulted in a positive outcome. (I acknowledge that theoretically had I pursued an alternative course in these instances the outcome could have been even better than the one that I proclaim to be retrospectively favorable, but what I’m trying to say is that when I throw caution to the wind, it usually works out well.)  Furthermore, the rewards of staying in shape and exploring new places is that you will most likely live longer and be able to see more amazing places.  This is evidenced by the numerous older folks (usually German men) that I have crossed paths while backpacking through various national parks through the country.  They have adopted a lifestyle of exploration and challenge, and their reward for having done so is that they get to live longer and see more cool shit.

     

              I feel guilty that I take the time to routinely visit the same beach and collect shells, thereby neglecting a rapidly increasing mountain of personal projects and responsibilities that I should be attending to immediately, and also while millions of people are enduring nightmarish conditions that I will never be able to wrap by head around.  Moreover, I feel guilty that I have seem to have stopped caring about the state of the world, about the Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, Somali, and Yemenis civilians burning the in hellfire of the bombs that rain upon their homelands and are suffering for want of food, water, and medical aid in the aftermath of an arguable quasi-genocide and hellish conditions induced and subsidized by my own government.  I really want to care, I even want to pretend to care, and I used to care, but what happened to me?  Why do I care more about going to the beach to collect shells than I do about helping to improve situations of deprivation and destruction in the world?   Rather than getting into the reasons as to why I stopped caring, let me tell you about a way of thinking that would facilitate my caring again about the world, and to once more partaking as person who helps the planet and humanity as opposed to a spectator, a removed observer who is merely commenting on the creative ways humanity destroys itself and the environment.  The newfound approach to thinking (which is a perhaps a belief that I once held but had forgotten) is so rudimentary and obvious that is it admittedly stupid.  It is simply this: that it is not fair for me to go around enjoying the tremendous beauty of life on Earth and existence in general without any consideration for future generations of people (and other lifeforms) to do the same.  It is not fair for me to be taking regular excursions if I am not doing anything to balance out the detrimental impact me and my ilk are having on the world.  I want my little niece and whatever posterity associated with her and following her to be able to see things of beauty tantamount to that which I have seen.  She deserves to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, to experience the thrill of falling in love, the adrenaline rush of engaging in whatever crazy outdoor adventure she decides to take on.  She deserves a chance to be able to go to the beach, pick her way down a bluff, and collect shells.  In this sense, my niece is a metaphorical representation for all of posterity, whom we should be fighting to preserve the natural world for, and for whom we should ideally be working together as brothers to leave this world in a better state then when we as individuals arrived on the scene.  If we can do that as a species, if we can only choose the right path, we may be able to ascend above the quarreling and unsustainable environmental destruction presently afflicting humanity and the natural world.  If our species could only choose preservation over destruction, knowledge over ignorance, compassion over intolerance, love over hate, life over death, then what will the reward be?  I believe the reward would be that we would get to live longer and see more cool shit.