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    Beachcombing and Tidepooling in Northern California 

             One the best and most accessible places to explore tidepools in Northern California is Point Montara.  There is a lighthouse hostel which overlooks the ocean and from the hostel a trail winds down to a sandy beach.  During low tide the waves retreat and the extent of their former reach is indicated by the line of organic marine debris (shells, algae, fragments of dead crustaceans and mollusks) that has accumulated on the sand.  While this aggregation of marine debris may appear uninteresting, it is among this collection of material that one can find a galaxy of sea creature remnants that, if larger, one would marvel at, but because they are miniature they tend to be overlooked.  These miniscule dead sea creatures are visible to the naked eye if you get close enough, but their small size almost warrants a magnifying glass to properly observe their fascinating details.  And while it is possible to collect these tiny arthropods and mollusks with your fingers, it would not be unreasonable to use a pair of forceps in order to pick them up and transfer them into a mason jar.  (Whenever I go beachcombing I am reminded of Steven Millhauser’s beautiful short story, In the Reign of Harad IV, about a court miniaturist who sculpts impossibly small dioramas.)  Upon closer examination it becomes clear that many of the small shells are essentially baby snails, clams, limpets, mussels, chitons, crabs, or urchins that have died and washed ashore.  Although tragic, their deaths need not be in vain, for most shall disintegrate into the sand which forms the beaches of the shoreline, and some lucky exoskeletons may even be taken home with me and become part of a sculpture if I can get organized enough to not take the easy way out by going to be coast whenever I have free time and instead actually staying at home to work on my personal projects.


              The tidepools are a temporary world unto themselves, nearly each one a microcosm bursting with colorful intertidal sea life which changes with the cycle of the tides.  Of course, many intertidal residents will remain in their given tidepools longer than others: barnacles and sea anemones (which can live up to three-hundred years and can clone themselves, literally dividing their own bodies to reproduce asexually) are affixed to rocks more permanently than chitons, which graze on algae, or the numerous snails (some of which can live up to a hundred years) that seem to glide over the rocks in the tidepool.  In a healthy tidepool, the creatures inhabiting the intertidal zones compete for precious space the on the rocks, which can sometimes be entirely enveloped by lifeforms so as to appear as though the rock itself is single living organism capable of getting up and walking around on its anemone legs.  The sea anemones are some of the most striking creatures in tidepools.  Their phosphorescent bodies and tentacles (which contain the stinging nematocysts cells used to stun and capture their prey) seem to glow in brilliant hues of green, red, purple, and pink.  They are a reminder of how marvelous life on this planet is, and because they require a stable and clean ecosystem in which they are not stepped on in order to survive, they are also a reminder how fragile life on Earth is as well.


    New Zealand – A Smarter Way of Doing Things

                 What follows are three slideshows from a two-week trip to New Zealand I made last month.   Instead of explaining what the slideshows feature and where all these pretty pictures were taken, I am going to delve into a few notable aspects of human operations in New Zealand that puts Kiwi society on a more intelligent plane that most other modern societies which may find adopting and implementing the following ideas and practices advantageous.   One intelligent thing that New Zealanders do relates to their currency (instead of dead heads of state, the cash bills depict plants and animals): they have discarded the smallest coin denomination (the American version of which would be the penny) from their monetary circulation so as to curb the quantity of loose change in their pockets or on their shelves.  They simply round up or round down in the cost of purchases.  (Incidentally, the American cent actually costs more than two cents to make, and the primary reason that it has not been removed from circulation is because zinc industry lobbyists profit from its existence and exert pressure on American government representatives to not legislate its abolition). 


              The second observation pertains to driving.  New Zealand highways are very dangerous to drive on because of the curvaceous nature of the landscape the and successive variations in elevation (at least on the North Island).  The danger level is amplified by a minimal factor of two if you are not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road and in a car that has the steering wheel on the right.  The switched steering wheel affects one’s perception of the car’s dimension and position on the road (leading one to sometimes become off-centered and swerve a little too far to the left).  Regular mental reminders to stay on the left are necessary in to order become conditioned to this and to avoid doing what I did at least three times while pulling out of a parking lot and instinctually driving on the right.  In order to remind people that driving on New Zealand motorways is dangerous, the government has prudently installed road signs along the motorways to warn people to stay alert, pull over if you’re sleepy, that you’re entering a high crash zone, and so on.  Also, in lieu of intersections with stop lights, New Zealand for the most part has roundabouts which obviate the need for stop lights and keep the traffic flowing.  Separately, New Zealand society is much more safe, polite, and trustworthy than most others.  This is demonstrated by the fact that you pump your gas before you pay for it at the gas stations. When I rented a car but had to arrange to pick it up after hours I was instructed to walk to the rental car office from the airport, find the car with my name on the dashboard, and that it would be unlocked and the key would be in the glove compartment.  Those things would not fly in America because we are excessively distrusting of members of our own communities, live in fear (due in part to an vicious cycle perpetuated by an entertainment industry and government which advocates and exercises violence which is then used to justify measures to sustain a police state to ostensibly tackle the systemic problems created in part by the same criminal elements of our government who purport to resolve them.  This process is known the Hegelian Dialectic, where an entity creates a problem then proposes a solution which is implemented serving to benefit the party that has created the problem in the first place), and are raised in environments conducive to being afraid of each other, the outdoors, and the dark. 


               The last noteworthy items pertain to the conservation of natural resources.  For the most part, major cities in New Zealand (especially Auckland and Wellington) have not leveled the forest to make way for the city.  There are woods and parks throughout the city, and the residential roads are bursting at the seams with trees and vegetation.  This is especially noticeable from an elevated perspective, such as Auckland’s One Tree Hill, where a panorama of the city and its glorious preponderance of greenery can be appreciated.  The respect for the trees in New Zealand transfers to public restrooms where all paper towel dispensers have been banished and replaced with hand dryers in effort to conserve paper.  Tangentially, showers in New Zealand are built to be wholly enclosed so as to contain the steam from the hot water within shower unit, thus preventing the evaporated water from escaping into the greater bathroom and turning it into a sauna.  In a future journal entry I’ll attempt to cover some of the beautiful aspects of New Zealand’s many ecosystems. The slideshow photographs were mainly taken in Coromandel Forest Park, the Northland, Mt. Cook, Saint Bathans, and Poor Knights Islands.   Poor Knights Islands is a massive marine reserve northeast of Auckland and are the eroded remnants of a supervolcano.  During the nudibranch mating season, numerous of these psychedelic sea slugs can be observed in the sub-tropical waters.  Some of the nudibranchs I saw were clown, variable, gem, and tambja nudibranchs.  The photographs in the slideshow below also feature bluebell tunicates, pillow and encrusting sponges, and jewel anemones.  


    Muir Woods and Mushroom Clouds

    Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us. There are not yet any obvious signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours always rush implacably, headlong, toward self-destruction.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      -Carl Sagan, Cosmos

    What follows are several gritty photos taken on a walk in Muir Woods with two friends during a break in the first major downpour of the rainy season.  It took place last Sunday, away from the infernal noise of the city and the desultory crowds of people confined indoors and hollering like lunatics at football games on televisions.   The forest was socked-in with clouds and mist condensating on old-growth redwood trees dripping with water.  In the darkening solace of the forest I could not shake from my mind the terrible feeling that humanity is entirely and utterly fucked, and that all our individual dreams and common aspirations would soon come crashing down because we are incapable of curbing our consumption and waste, and because America seems hell-bent on drawing Russia into nuclear war.  I acknowledge that every generation since humanity’s inception has felt (in many cases with greater justification) that they were living in the end-times, but when you walk through a primeval forest at a time when there are more people (7.1 billion) on Earth than ever people, more ecosystems in decline and species going extinct than ever before (discounting the destructive aftermath of massive impact meteroites eons ago), and when the United States and Russia are preparing to launch nuclear warheads against each other without significant outcry from their citizens – you begin to worry about the fate of humanity, yourself, and everyone and everything you love, including the forest itself, which has outlived all of us and is sacred (I wouldn’t have been surprised if during our walk diaphanous orbs floated unseen in the redwood canopies above our heads or if legendary spirits drifted across the forest floor just beyond our field of vision).

    My friend asked me what I would do in the event of a nuclear war.  I said it would depend on how many bombs would be dropped and where.  Modern thermonuclear weapons are exponentially more powerful than the atomic bombs that the United States deployed against Japan seventy years ago, and proportionally there would be far less survivors in the blast zone of an H-bomb compared to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The outcome of an individual’s life after a nuclear war is dependent on a myriad of unknown factors and variables (the numerical amount and megatonnage of the bomb(s) dropped, the locations where the bombs would be dropped, the extent of the radioactive fallout, the length of the nuclear winter, the degree to which infrastructures, economies, and social and agricultural systems would collapse), so my simple answer to his question was that I would try to make peace with myself and lament the downfall of humanity.  I would regret the tragic failure of our species, which has come so far and exhibits so much promise, to live up to its responsibilities as stewards and caretakers of the natural world from which we have originated and evolved and that we rely upon for survival.   Assuming that Earth would be made uninhabitable in the aftermath, a nuclear holocaust would represent the suicidal climax of our cumulative insanity – an insanity that is demonstrated by our relentless consumption and myopic selfishness, by our inability to look ahead and empathize with other people and creatures – for we will have swallowed whole this planet that we are already sucking dry due to our avarice, hedonism, and insecurities.  Humans have demonstrated a suicidal propensity toward stockpiling nuclear arms and perpetrating irrecoverable environmental destruction.  With reckless abandon we are bringing the rest of the biosphere down with us in our careless descent to hell.  A nuclear holocaust would be a haunting manifestation of our role and legacy:  that in our insatiable lust to consume all the natural world that we felt entitled to, not only will we have destroyed ourselves, but we will have made of this planet an uninhabitable wasteland upon which nothing alive shall ever exist.


              There is a direct connection between modern warfare and the health of the environment.  Exorbitant military spending and wars of aggression by imperial nations present a multifaceted assault on the environment.  Trillions of dollars are poured into the highly resource-intensive process of manufacturing and maintaining weapons as well as stationing and maintaining forces.  Thus, militaries across the globe are stripping the Earth of finite raw materials and fossil fuels to prepare for and conduct war.  Not only should these natural resources be used more intelligently and conservatively, but the vast sums of money spent by governments on militarism should be redirected into resolving the most intractable problems currently jeopardizing the overall health of humanity: poverty, disease, pollution, and other critical threats to the environment.  But beyond the monetary investment and natural resources extracted and burned to fuel the world’s military machines, the application of these weapons in theaters of war constitutes one of the greatest threats to Earth’s ecosystems.  War requires an almost incomphrensible quantity of gas-guzzling vechiles (tanks, jets, drones, aircraft carriers, support vechiles), and the environmental impact of constantly dropping bombs, firing missiles, and testing weapons results in a poisoning of the environment in conflict zones.  A nuclear war would make the present threats of rising sea levels and climate change look like a day in the park compared to the devastating impact a hydrogen bomb slugfest would have on planet Earth.  Today, nuclear weapons - not meteorites - threaten to wipe out all life on Earth.  And if the megalomaniacs and pathological liars in power continue to drag humanity down this current path of hatred, fear, and war, then a nuclear holocaust shall be made all but inevitable.


    On Olympic National Park and the Descent of Man

    We’re Johnny-come-latelies. We live in the cosmic boondocks. We emerged from microbes and muck. Apes are our cousins. Our thoughts and feelings are not fully under our own control. There may be much smarter and very different beings elsewhere. And on top of all this, we’re making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves.

                                                                -Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space 

    The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there.

                                                                 -Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Give me silence, water, hope
    Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.

                                                                 -Pablo Neruda

    Hey, put the cellphone down for a while
    In the night there is something wild
    Can you hear it breathing?
    And hey, put the laptop down for a while
    In the night there is something wild
    I feel it, it's leaving me...

                                                                  -Arcade Fire, Deep Blue


                       Preface:  Due to a discombobulation in the time-space continuum I have not been writing, reading, nor drawing as much as I was in my prime.  I yearn for the days of yesteryear, when I would force myself out of bed at 4am (a time that separates the men from the boys), brew some coffee, sit down at my desk, and then write in the room I lived in in the country under the morning stars.  God was it beautiful.  I am determined to return to that physical and mental place in my life, and hopefully do much more to help those in need, but until then, my mornings shall remain as such:  roll out of bed at dawn, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, slap myself in the face and say, “Let’s go,” then I’m out the door, flying away on my motorcycle. 

                The following slideshows present photographs taken in Olympic National Park (ONP) over a week in August, 2016.  Within the contiguous United States, ONP is the 6th largest National Park – after Death Valley, Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Glacier.   Visiting in the summer is worth contending with the crowds, and they can be beaten or altogether avoided if you wake up early, hike beyond the one-mile Visitor Center parking lot loops (at Hurricane Ridge or Hoh Rain Forest, for instance), or visit the park on a weekday.  I did all of those things and within an hour of hiking away from the car and into the backcountry there were few people to be seen.  The entrance road on the north side of ONP originates from the town of Port Angeles and leads to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, about a half-hour drive and 5,200 ft. increase in altitude from town.  The Visitors Center resembles an A-frame alpine chalet and offers spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is the aquatic political border separating Washington from British Columbia, and the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding Olympic mountain range.  After driving to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center parking lot from Portland in my aunt’s car (a five-hour drive if you include a detour to get a better look at the incredible Mt. Rainer), I watched the Perseid Meteor Shower peak and then fell asleep in the car in the parking lot.  In the morning I drove along the seven-mile unpaved road (closed in the winter) to Obstruction Point, where the trailhead begins.

              The Olympic Wilderness is an immense landscape of ecological extremes and diverse micro-climates possessing such jaw-dropping beauty that the allusion to the mythological home of the Greek Gods is apt.  The Badger Valley Trail from Obstruction Point to Moose Lake (moose sightings: zero) starts at a trailhead that is surrounded by martian slopes of splintered shale and red tundra harboring endemic plants – geographically isolated flowers and succulents that took root and evolved in the Olympic Mountains after being ferried around the poles during the last ice age (1.8 million to 12,000 years ago and known as the Pleistocene Epoch, a fact that that will be discarded from by brain by the time I finish this sentence).  Patches of snow hug the sides of black basalt ridges and the gradual snowmelt feeds little indigo ponds that have pooled up on the mountainsides.  The trail straddles the spine of a mountain where elfinwood pygmy forests are sporadically perched on various promontories that slope down barren ridges of shattered rock transitioning into dense forest valleys further descending and bottoming out into subalpine meadows and turquoise lakes nourished by cascading streams from melted snowpack.  In the summer a galaxy of colorful wildflowers dot the many meadows humming with bees and other pollinators (butterflies galore) feasting off the nectar of the flowers, which are like dainty ballerinas curtseying toward the sun arching overhead before they close shut as the sun slips beyond the rim of the mountain and the gargantuan moon rises at dusk.   The storybook trail leads through beautiful pine forests of such undisrupted tranquility that had Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, or Snow While and the Seven Dwarves come walking down the path I would have casually stepped aside and made way for them to pass without blinking an eye because I would have thought: yes, naturally, they live around here, that makes sense. And then I would have proceeded with the hike.

              The hike from the Hoh Rainforest Visitor’s Center to Hoh Lake is fifteen miles long.  You can break this up into a two-night camping trip and walk away with having seen some of the most gorgeous serotinal flora and mountain ranges in North America.  One of my goals this trip was to see bears, and after having pitched my tent at Hoh Lake I went on a hike to find them.  Admittedly I was intermittently scared hiking alone on the ridges above the lake because I knew I was in bear country for their shit was everywhere (I would lean down to touch it to ascertain its warmth; I have never touched so much bear shit in my life) and, even though there are only black bears there, I didn’t want them to get the jump on me.  I walked for hours across pristine and sacred hills, ridges, and streams of hitherto unimaginable beauty (the descriptor words I wrote done in my notepad were: Edenic, Elysian, heavenly paradise, followed for some reason by the words Pokemon, pressure washer, weedwacker) but as I wandered around an unrecognizable mountainside far from my tent and the sun began to set I decided to call it a day and return to base camp.  On the way back I saw a bear foraging along a nearby slope.  I was happy because not only had I accomplished my goal, but I did so from a very safe distance.  I pulled out my camera and then there was another bear, this one about a hundred feet away – another safe accomplishment.  Then, I heard a rustling in the trees before me, and a black bear appeared about fifteen feet away.   Like the other two bears, he didn’t pay any attention to me and was strictly focused on what he had been doing the entire day: eating one berry after another.  I backed away as I watched him eat and felt an extreme degree of appreciation toward him.  Ever since this bear was a cub, all he wanted to do was eat berries all the live-long day and then go to sleep under the endless stars strewn about the night sky.  Of course intermittent mating, hibernation, aggression, territorial defense, and injuries were natural parts of his life, but for the most part he was harmless and he just wanted to eat berries all day every day.  I thought about him as a little cub growing up and playing in the mountains, and here he was now, asking simply to be left in peace so he could eat as many berries as possible for the rest of his life.  I imagined him continuing to eat berries until he becomes old and frail, and one day, perhaps under a night sky filled with the stars of cosmic galaxies and solar systems harboring other forms of life, the old bear, having lived his life, will slump down on the grass and breathe out the ectoplasm of his last bear breath beneath the stars, and everything he knew and understood would disappear into a dark and unknown realm of utter mystery and nonexistence. 

                  Instead of attempting to describe the fantastic beauty of the Hoh Rainforest and the mountains surrounding Hoh Lake, I will take the easy way out by drastically switching gears in order to generalize millions of individuals in urban populations and rail against the negative impacts that advanced and digital technology is having on modern man.  While the following commentary about the detrimental effects of phones and computers on the majority of people in the first-world is by no means novel, such thoughts did occupy a substantial portion of my thinking as I hiked backed to the car on the final day of the trip.
               Computers, cell phones, and the internet are primary forces leading to the devolution of mankind.  As of result of our addiction to these devices we have become more obsequious, complacent, absent- and narrow-minded, distracted, clumsy, sheltered, and apathetic. Our sense of gratification has shifted from accomplishing physical and tangible tasks to virtual ones and depends on the availability of a computer and the internet.  Our sense of purpose requires social media affirmation via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube “likes” and views.  Our dopamine levels spike when we receive text messages in our phones and emails in our inbox.  We feel comforted when we see familiar contacts logged-on to internet chat forums or Skype.  We feel a sense of accomplishment and conquest after we have made an online purchase such as a movie, concert, or airplane ticket – purchases which are shared on social media in order to draw attention to something that we’ve done, are doing, or may do.  Social media posts are often mundane or inane, or are motivated not by a genuine desire to share unique experiences with family and friends but to make the members of your social media network (sometimes comprised largely of people whom you do not know nor are truly friends with) envious of your seemingly productive and fulfilling lifestyles.   In truth we are all too often not living productive and meaningful lives partially due to our time-consuming internet technology addiction, yet nonetheless attempt to present an illusion that our lives are grand and to persuade others of such by using the same time-consuming social media and internet technology platforms that have contributed to the problem of being unproductive and feeling unfulfilled in the first place.  
                  The digital technology addiction epidemic has afflicted hundreds of millions of individuals in society, and has shifted so much of our attention to the screenworld that we lack the time and interest to focus on our immediate physical surroundings or think about something without looking at a screen.  The negative effects of this over-dependency on digital technology are multi-faceted, complex, and profound.  Our efficiency and ostensible happiness has become dependent on the functionality of computers, mobile phones and the internet, and as a result of this dependency the schism between man and nature has rapidly expanded to unprecedented extents.  Once primates, it is as though we have been plucked from the wild and inserted into an air-conditioned world of florescent lights and liquid crystal displays, the pixels of which we gaze into with our monkey-eyes, lost in an epileptic hypnosis and mind-numbing cyber-trance.  We have evolved from ape-man to app-man, into anthropocentric philistines suckling our mobile phones like electronic nipples – compulsive and frenetic like pond-life paramecium under a microscope that can feel the deadly heat of the microscope light but lack the faculties and perspective to comprehend the reason for their demise, yet understand that it is coming for they know they are out of their element – drifting about aimlessly like globular amoebas or single-cell bacterial microbes in a petri dish.  An entire sub-species of incompetent microcephalics, gormless cyborg imbeciles wandering around, plundering the environment and populating the planet, bitching and moaning pathetically about stupid-ass shit and at the expense of natural world – a bunch of crybabies in space.   Our addiction to digital technology and neglect of nature is leading to an increase in cognitive dissonance that is made evident in the following ways:  we cannot read, write, articulate, navigate, or think critically.  Less and less does our satisfaction derive from things like creating a piece of art, reading a book, spending time outdoors, or learning a new subject, skill, or trade, but is based on the materialistic consumption of products and outsourced services - our satisfaction is based on gluttony.  We are gorging ourselves to death, and the realization that happiness does not derive from excessive consumption is being outstripped by the destructive effects of this selfsame insane craze and the forces behind it.  By the time we realize that we were misguided (if we come to that realization at all) it will be too late, and after we have consumed all the earth beneath our very feet humanity itself will auto-cannibalize, and all that shall remain will be a lurid graveyard of fried circuit boards and dead iPhones.    


    Mollusk Graveyard

             Call me queer or old fashioned, but I am seldom happier than when crawling on my hands and knees on my favorite beach (its specific location shall remain a secret) along the Sonoma Coast collecting seashells and the calcified exoskeletons of bygone mollusks that I may or may not use in a sculpture one day.   I feel guilty doing this because not only should be at work assiduously addressing more pressing matters, but also because I am a grown man crawling on the beach like a little kid scrutinizing beautiful shells and the fragmented remnants of dead sea creatures.  At the very least I should be at home writing.  I wonder to myself when I will stop this behavior.  If I live long enough to be an old man, will I still be looking for shells on the beach (assuming the ecology of the seas remains stable) when I need a cane to walk?  I hope so, for between now and then I’d like to see some of these sculptures and other projects into fruition. But ultimately, even if it doesn’t work out, I’m grateful that I’ve had such an extraordinary run.  Thanks to all the flora and fauna that have and continue to enrich add meaning to our lives, and without which we'd all be dead, like these seashells and mollusks (scroll over to right or left click):




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