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    Cephalopods and Tentacles

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Tentacles exhibition features hundreds of cephalopods (sef-uh-luh-pods), which is the class of mollusk animals that includes cuttlefish, squid, nautiluses, and octopuses. 

    The chambered nautilus species first appeared on Earth 500 million years ago.   Their lifespan is fifteen years – the longest of all cephalopods and they are the only member of their class to have a shell, which is shaped in a logarithmic spiral, and it is for this beautiful object that nautiluses (which are very slow to reproduce) are being baited, killed, and sold in human markets around the world.  Marine pollution and habitat destruction also contribute to the decline of the nautiluses and other sea creature populations, and if the current rate of their disappearance is maintained many will be either be hunted to extinction or driven out of the wild so that our children will only be able to see living species in aquariums or view their preserved specimens or fossils in natural history museums.

    The octopus is well-known as one of the most bad-ass sea creatures to ever grace the oceans.  It is a solitaire invertebrate which has three hearts, blue blood, and is capable of translocating chromatophore pigments around its body in order to express its mood or to blend in with its surroundings.  They are terminal spawners, meaning that the octopi will die soon after mating.  The male wanders off and dies alone like a man, and the female will guard her clutch of eggs (which can contain upwards of 400,000 of her little babies) and will die after the they hatch.  (Octopuses make wonderful mothers, but perhaps not as unconditionally generous as some arachnid species which engage in matriphagy – a sacrificial process in which the body of the spider mom is eaten, from inside out, by her offspring.)

    The Tentacles exhibit also features some incredible moving metal sculptures by SF Bay area artist Nemo Gould.  I’m unable to find out how long the exhibition goes on for, but if you’ve got forty dollars to spend and can get to Monterey, head on over the aquarium. 

    Thanks for reading!  From inside the carbon-fiber pressure hull of a deep sea submarine in the Marina Trench (or maybe just inside a dark San Francisco dive bar), this is Mr. Aaron, signing off.  Right now.  Bye. 


    The Road through Baja California

          As you drive into Baja California you shall cross over the Rio Tijuana – a black stream of water coursing through an immense aqueduct where thousands of displaced migrants live in tents and without shelter.  The men and women and children comprise a chain of dispossessed masses stretching along the concrete embankment of the canal.  Beyond this dark latitude of squalor and poverty lies greater Tijuana, the Pacific Ocean, and the shining city of San Diego – a place so close geographically yet so far removed socio-economically that only the drug addicts and Mexican immigrants may be able to relate to the level of destitution endured by those people struggling to survive in the effluence of the canal. 

          After you pass through a third-world realm of collapsing infrastructure, dilapidated soccer arenas, and desolate schoolyards – a nomansland where vagabonds dart across deteriorating highways which are flanked by staggering valleys brimming with tin huts and shanty town shacks – you may find yourself along a grey and hazy coast.  The panorama of this bleak dead zone is cleaved by the intermittent ruins of condemned hotels, abandoned resorts, and the skeletons of billboards rusting in the salty air.  The decaying buildings and billboard shells are the jettisoned remnants of a society that has folded on a blind march toward modernization.  The shattered economies of these tumbledown towns offer little to the residents whom cannot be blamed when they move on in search of a better life that they know to exist, for it is increasingly displayed before them on the television and computer screens that have infiltrated their lives.  

           Past this series of depressed coastal towns lies the substantial port city of Ensenada.  This is a place to drink with Mexican transvestite prostitutes and Crimean sailors whom will rejoice in their newfound Russian nationalism and express their appreciation of you coming from a town that sounds likes theirs (Sevastopol) by attempting to unsuccessfully drink you under the table.  Once you have replaced all the Mexican and Russian flags with Americans ones, the urge to leave this cesspool of self-destructive debauchery will soon take hold, and if you’re lucky you will have the funds to continue your journey southeast toward the Sea of Cortez.

            To get from Ensenada to the Sea of Cortez one must cross the Central Desert of Baja California.  As you drive deeper into the heart of the high desert, the barren mesas begin to morph into a colorful landscape of dazzling cacti and desert flowers that are strewn across the painted hills like gumdrops.  The psychedelic spectrum of green, pink, and purple cacti vary wildly in their appearance: the saguaro cactus (carnegiea gigantea) grows upwards of seventy-feet tall and provides housing for woodpeckers and arachnid colonies; hot-pink barrel cacti and spindly ocotillo plants capable of ejecting spines into your soles are scattered low throughout the desert floor; the lofty boojum tree bends and curves its shaggy arms and appears as though it has paused in motion and will carry on once your back is turned or beneath the light of a full moon.  The desert is an ever-changing and surreal setting of cacti so rich in color and plants so bizarre in shape that they appear artificial – it is like some fairytale diorama or toontown backdrop where little devils with pitchforks leap upon the earthen crucible and dance on the alters with their shadows.  Lightly dreaming clouds shaped like pale horses and ferris wheels and dragon boats drift through the boundless sky, and on the horizon electric storm clouds generate cells of rain that careen across the badlands like cyclones. 

            From the Transpeninsular Highway 1, Mexico Highway 12 cuts east across arid moonscapes of white boulders, vast expanses of stone and sand, and sleepy ghost towns where buzzards peck at grinning skeletons donning summer hats and antique dresses.  Roadside memorials and tumbleweeds litter the sides of the desert highway.  Once past the barren mountains, the desert valleys open up and the air is cool and windy.  The steel blue Sea of Cortez and surrounding islands are visible.   You have arrived in Bahía de los Ángeles, a cerulean bay and remote fishing outpost where the donkeys and chupacabras outnumber the men. Lizards dart across the sandy beaches which are covered with marvelous shells and the stripped bones of giant sea creatures.  The water is cold and pristine, and as you swim amongst the sting rays and curious fish that stir in the bright kelp forests, you will thank your lucky stars that you are alive and a part of this incredible world.    


    Robert Louis Stevenson State Park

          Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is spectacular and dynamic landscape of evergreen forests and rocky canyons.  Part of the Mayacamas Mountain Range, the park’s lofty mountains can be seen for miles and are dusted in snow in the winter, and in the spring colorful wildflowers deck the grassy slopes.  From the panoramic peaks one can see the neighboring mountains – some perennially snowcapped and thousands of miles away – and at dusk you can watch the town of Calistoga light up below you like a circuit board.  Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is officially located in Calistoga and is accessible from the St. Helena Highway (CA-29), which separates the park into east and west borderlands.  On the west lies Mount Saint Helena (elevation 4,341 ft.), the peak of which is a five-mile trek from the parking lot and begins on a switchback trail which connects to a fire road.  Here are some pictures taken from the Mount Saint Helena side of the park:

          On the east side of the park are trails that lead to Table Rock, a two-mile hike from the old parking lot.  The trail winds through shady pine forests and purple manzanita groves that bloom pink flowers which look like tiny lanterns or jellyfish.  Dry scrubland hills spill-out into a strange and arid dreamscape of drifting spores, red stone labyrinths and alien cairns – a lurid shadow zone where twisted roots squirm beneath your feet and lichenous stones turn in your wake.  There are desiccated riverbeds comprised of white clay, emerald streams of cool water, and gnarled volcanic rock formations that curl and fold like brain coral.  The pale basalt surface of Table Rock is reminiscent of a lunar wasteland - craterous and serpentine.  The sheer three-hundred foot cliff is home to mountain banshees and wyvern swallows which nestle in the face of the cliff and dart through the blue and perfect sky.  Here are some pictures of the trail to Table Rock and beyond:

          The Palisades Trail trailhead can be found at Table Rock, and leads to the Historic Oat Hill Mine Road  four miles away.  Treacherous at points, the trail hugs the side of mountain slopes and cuts through antediluvian rock forests and arcadian meadows bursting with flora and teeming with fauna such as crocodile ants and singing trumpet lizards that hide amongst prehistoric fungi and dinosaur fern.  More elusive creatures include hunchback troglodytes and interstellar apocalypse hawks that dwell within the magellanic clouds above.  The Palisades Trail weaves through a stunning array of environments, worlds apart from one’s material lifestyle, and yet compared to the isolation that one can experience elsewhere on Earth, it is prosaic, yet still totally worth a trip.  If you ever need to clear your head, sharpen your mind, or serenely contemplate this melancholy and beautiful world, head to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park for a day (although most any location outdoors and remote should suffice).         


    Beautiful Disaster

    Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP

    Mudslide near Arlington, Washington.  Rest in peace.

    The earth shall move by wind and rain
    By whim, by force of time
    Savage nature eats away
    At all that's civilised

    -Walter Lloyd Waterson, Elemental Forces


    Leapord Seal Sunset

    Here's an awesome video (that's somewhat soothing to watch) of a Leopard Seal swimming through icy seas in Antarctica at sunset.  Watch the penguins running when they see the seal coming at the 4:50 mark.  The original can be found on the National Geographic website.

    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…

    Excerpt from Xanadu, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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