Category Archives: Nature

The Night Sky

You haven’t seen a real night sky until you’ve seen one high up in the mountains, beyond the city lights, beyond any communities, and well out of cell phone range. For someone like myself who has lived in the city all their life the night sky isn’t all that impressive unless there’s a prominent meteor shower or a comet or an unusually bright or colorful moon that night. Living in California’s Sacramento valley, which is around sea level, means we live in a smoggy dust bowl that wreaks havoc on the respiratory system as well as having the wonders of the night sky be obscured from sight.Night_Sky

Every year I looked forward to our summer rafting trips to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we would camp out in tents under the stars. My first time there was the most memorable. I was fourteen and had no idea how wondrous nature was. I didn’t know that air could have a pleasant smell without some sort of artificial aerosol spray. Trees and flowers and shrubs are nature’s air fresheners and they do an awesome job. My lungs felt as if they had been wiped clean after a lifetime of breathing air that I could see when looking down into the valley from the mountain. I was especially awe stricken when the sun started to slip beneath the horizon and the stars gradually began to flicker in the night sky. At first it was no big deal with only a few of the brightest stars showing themselves. But as the sun finally left the scene the full glory of the cosmos was revealed to me for the first time in my life. I never imagined that there were so many stars out there. My whole life was a deception. The valley smog and dust and city lights had been a huge blind fold, but here I could see.

The Big Dipper was about the only constellation that I knew by name at the time and there it was, big and awesome. There were more stars than anyone could possibly count. It was then that I realized how vast the cosmos really was and how insignificant our tiny little world is in the big picture. I don’t think I slept a wink that night. I just laid in my tent with the top cover open, mosquito net in place, and went on a journey I had never been on before. Small specks of dust burning in the atmosphere, more commonly known as meteor showers, lasted only a few seconds but seemed to come at least every hour. Before then I had only seen them on TV. There were so many stars that, even without the moon and no man made lighting, I could see everything around me.

Although on a rafting trip, and don’t get me wrong the trip down the river crashing through rapids was great, but the awesome view of the Milky Way is what left the biggest impression on me. So much so that for the longest time I resented the city lights and the dusty air of the valley. It’s been years since I’ve seen the night sky in all its splendor and I can’t wait to see it again. If you’re from a big city and THINK you know what a real night sky looks like then I encourage you to get away, far out into the wilderness, if only for one night and see the night sky again for the first time just the way the ancients did.

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Rainy Days

When I was a child a rainy school day was something to be dreaded. I hated donning rubber galoshes over my shoes and a bright yellow rain coat and coveralls for the wet trek to school. My mother would bundle me up so tightly that it’s a wonder I don’t have PTSD from it today. Once I waddled off to school and made it safely into the classroom it seemed to take ten whole minutes to strip out of multiple layers of winter protective wear. Having to stay inside the classroom for recess and lunch break was like an unjust prison sentence, though the teacher tried her best to occupy us with indoor games but what we really wanted was to go out and play, rain or no. Then, at the end of the day, donning the gear once more for the soggy trip back home was equally unpleasant. Cold, wet, and gloomy was the outlook for the day from the moment my eyes opened. No going outside to play at the park. No bike riding with friends around the neighborhood. Definitely no playing in the wet grass with all those fallen autumn leaves. Nothing to do except stare out the window at droplets of water falling into puddles and wishing that tomorrow would be dry and sunny.

The early teen years were a little better for the wet weather. By then I was not interested in playing or riding bikes with friends. And who wants to play in a bunch of wet leaves anyway? It was still a bit of a drag when it came to getting around while it was raining with my only real means of transportation being my bicycle or the public transit system. Waiting for a bus that isn’t due to arrive for another thirty minutes, because I just missed the one I was trying to catch, while being pelted by rather large rain drops driven by the wind would make me wish for that rain coat and coveralls, nothing on earth could get me in another pair of galoshes. On the other hand, riding a bike through the wind driven rain presented its own problems; usually because I would almost always be riding into the wind. And have you ever been splashed by a passing car driving through what seems like the only large puddle on that particular stretch of road at the exact moment you happen to there too? But the rain didn’t hamper most activities as a teen. I could still go over to a friend’s house or to the mall if I just had to get out of the house even if it meant getting a little wet. If it happened to be storming, though, I’d probably be left sitting at the window staring at droplets of water falling into puddles and wishing that tomorrow would be dry and sunny.

When I turned sixteen years old I had my own car and the rain meant nothing to me. Nothing until I realized that most of my friends didn’t have cars and depended more than usual on me to get wherever we were going when it was raining. At least back then gas was cheap! We would pile into my 1976 Datsun and brave anything that Mother Nature could muster up. Whoever was in the front passenger seat would dutifully wipe the inside of the windshield with a rag to keep it clear because the defroster didn’t work (hey, the car was free and twice handed down). The days of sitting at the window staring at droplets of water falling into puddles and wishing that tomorrow would be dry and sunny were over!

As an adult I find myself actually looking forward to rainy days (as long as they come in moderation). Staring at droplets of water falling into puddles is somehow peaceful. The sound of a hard steady rain assaulting the roof top and a fire crackling away in the fireplace sets the stage for a very relaxing evening. I even enjoy the thunder and lightning as it rattles the walls and windows of my house. Sometimes if it’s just a light drizzle I might take a walk in the crisp cleansing drizzly air. The smell of both the coming rain, and just after it has stopped invokes memories of childhood when I used to sit at that window staring at droplets of water falling into puddle and wishing that the next day would be dry and sunny. The memories are far from unpleasant. They send me back to a time of innocents. My options may have been limited on rainy days as a child but then so were my responsibilities. Yes, I still had to go to school in the rain but as an adult, working in the heavy construction industry, mainly concrete, I have to work in it. People think that construction shuts down in the rain. Not so! I’ve been soaked to my skivvies, cold, nose runny, and fingers numb trying to finish a concrete form for the next day’s pour. How I wished to be warm and dry just watching the rain fall through that window instead of having to toil in it.

Rainy days are essential for all of us to survive. We may not like to get wet when we have to go out in it but we appreciate what it brings us; life. It makes our trees grows tall. It cleans the air and washes the summer’s grit and grime from our streets. When the rain stops falling and the sun finally peeks through the gray clouds it leaves us with brilliant colors arced across the sky. Colors that have inspired myths and legends and are chased by children in vain. So next time you find yourself with nothing to do on a rainy day try sitting at the window staring at droplets of water falling into puddles and make a wish that the rain will continue to fall just a little while longer.

A tree that was…And still is!!!!

I thought this post was worth reblogging. It compliments my post “I Am Sequoia” very well.

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The big banyan tree

Nature always fascinates me and giant trees that have lived for hundreds of years are real wonders. They have seen the history in the making and must have witnessed so many wonderful things. There is such a tree, popularly known as the Great Banyan Tree, near the city of Bangalore in Southern India. Spread across an area of around 4 acres, the tree is more than 400 years old and its crown circumference is more than 250 meters wide.

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The maze of aerial roots.

Called the Dodda Alada Mara in the local language, it is hard to imagine that this is just one single tree. The main trunk of the tree is long dead but it is still lush and green, thanks to its thousands of aerial roots, which in themselves appear like huge trunks. The botanical name of the tree is Ficus Benghalensis and the…

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The Creek

I was only trying to get out of the inferno that was my house one July afternoon and maybe catch a breeze if I was lucky. What motivated me to take along my camera I can’t remember. Any other time I would have taken my fishing pole and whatever I could find in the fridge for bait. In the past few years, though, the fishing in the creek, over the levy where I was headed, hadn’t been worth the effort. Maybe I hoped to shoot a bird or butterfly or some other form of suburban wildlife.The Creek

This was my first trip of the summer over the levy to the creek. I fully expected to find a trickle of water lazily flowing through an otherwise parched creek bed, dry overgrown cat tails, and ankle high grass that snapped and crackled under foot. I didn’t. What I found was a lush oasis that snaked for miles through Sacramento’s North side. Not a dry blade or withered leaf could be found. There was no breeze in the world beyond the levy, but here it seemed to skim the water picking up a very pleasant grassy fragrance and gently wiping away the sweat from the tip of my nose.

I sat on the concrete edge of one of the creeks many tributaries. It was obvious that this one had not contributed in a long while. The rusted steel door was all but hidden by creek flora. The weight of my camera hanging from its lanyard around my neck only now caught my attention. I’d almost forgotten it was there. Now, what to shoot? I could have held the camera at arm’s length and snapped in any direction and it would have been an awesome shot. And I did capture lots of stunning moments though I refrained from any haphazard takes.

The landscape across the creek was even more amazing than on my side. It was mirrored off the water’s surface without a ripple. As pleasant as my side of the creek was the other side looked more inviting. More trees. More shade! The early afternoon sun taunted me to find a way across. Though I was dressed for it, wading across was not an option. This was still a creek fed by storm drain run-off loaded with everything imaginable that could find its way into a storm drain. The nearest bridge was about a quarter mile away. I could see it. I could also see there was no easy way to get there. In the past drier years there was a clear path to the bridge. This year it was a path only for fish and tad poles. I decided to be satisfied with the sparsely shaded concrete slab. I could get some great shots either here or there and it wasn’t that hot. (I’m great at excuses.)

After snapping a dozen shots or so I sat quietly and let the other side of levy drift out of my head. I had found a truly tranquil getaway. This was not the same creek that I had plucked sandwich sized blue gill from for the past ten years (when there was enough water to support them). This year the creek would be my little secret not to

be shared. If I invited someone along the tranquility would most assuredly be spoiled. The humming bird sipping nectar not ten feet from me would not appreciate the extra company. There would not be enough shade for another. The buzz of bees pollenating would be muted. I may as well stay in that other place with no cooling breeze and no reflections of oaks. I would not even notice small fish plucking insects from the water’s surface.

A while later the sounds of children making their way over the levy broke the serenity. They came with their sticks and throwing rocks into the calm water distorting the oaks. They came running and jumping and kicking and laughing. The humming bird was lucky to have wings that could whisk him to the other side where peace was still in abundance. My first reaction was anger that such a peaceful place was being overrun by utter disrespect for nature. Then I came to my senses. These children were a part of nature. A very innocent part of it. I myself played by a creek side not unlike this one. I threw rocks into the water and flung sticks across the creek. I imprisoned insects in mayonnaise jars. I did not appreciate or even notice the stunning beauty of it all at the time. And I realized that these kids were unaware or maybe unable to perceive the creek in the same way that I did and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. To me this place was a sanctuary. A place for peace and quiet. To them it was simply an awesome place to play and explore. It served the same purpose for both; a brief escape from responsibilities.

More people came. This time adults with fishing gear. It then occurred to me that my sanctuary was not my own. It was not here for my pleasure alone. This was nature and should be enjoyed by all who love it. Once I settled with this reality it was easy to integrate the sights and sounds of the people with the sights and sounds of the birds, the bees, and the insects. I visited the creek only a few more times that summer, but none was like that hot July day when I came away with something that changed my perception of the world. From that day until this, I have had the ability to find peace and tranquility almost anywhere and at almost any time.

I never made my way to the other side of the creek. The side that seemed devoid of human presence. I had decided that it was better to be on my side. There were birds and bees and kids and fishermen. This was nature unadulterated.

I Am Sequoia

A ray of sunlight finds its way to the forest floor where I was patiently waiting to bathe in its life giving glory. Day after day I would wait for that brief few minutes of nourishing light and with all my strength I would reach upward trying to grasp it. The light was not abundant on the forest floor but as I grew taller my daily sun bath grew longer. For a while I was afraid that some animal was going to eat me during the night, but the taller I grew the more confident I was that nothing could harm me. I am a mighty Sequoia Redwood. I have been standing tall on the north western coastline of North America for over half a millennium and this is my story.04-lone-tree-714

I was fortunate, as a seed falling from my mother tree, to land in an ideal spot to germinate where the sunlight was able to penetrate the dense canopy above that was the needled branches of my relatives. The soil was rich, the air clean and fresh so I was able to grow tall and strong but I seemed to slow down well before I reached the heights of the others. And as the years passed and I took my place among the other trees I struggled to draw up enough water to nourish my highest branches. . But then I found a new source of replenishing water. Fog. The fog rolled in off the ocean most every day which I was able to absorb through my leaves and reach even further for the life giving sun.

We lived in harmony with the earth for hundreds of years, some for thousands. But then came a creature that did not know peace or harmony. These creatures murdered thousands of us. A once flourishing forest dwindled as they fell one tree after another and hauled the massive dying bodies away from where they stood for so long. These creatures made a terrible buzzing sound and before long another of my family slowly crashed to the ground making an equally terrible wood splitting sound and sometimes taking with them a smaller neighbor unluckily in the wrong place. The attack by the buzzing creatures seemed to be on the largest of us. This genocide lasted for decades upon decades.  Massive holes in the canopy blotched the landscape with brown earth. Dignified lives literally cut short.

We had been accustomed to the occasional falling of a brother at the hands of humans but these humans were different. The humans of the past took only what they needed from the forest be it deer, raccoon, or tree and we all lived in a symbiotic balance with one another and they rarely if ever took one of the giants. Falling a few trees here and there does no harm to the forest, in fact it allows the suns light to reach the next generation and sprout new life. But if too many are taken from any species, plant or animal, in a short time span, that species may be lost to the world forever. In my life I have been witness to some forest creatures that are no longer here. Some were lost because they were unable to cope with the ever changing conditions of nature. Some were lost to man.

Just when we thought we were going to be the next species to be eradicated from the face of the earth we got and unlikely ally. Man. Not exactly like the ones from the past who respected us but it was obvious that they cared. These men did not dwell in the forest like the tribes of past times. They only came to our aid when the other men came to cut us down. They would stand between the cutters and the trees sometimes enduring great physical abuse to save us. They would climb high in our branches and stay for weeks or months because the other men would not cut down a tree if it meant killing another man. The cutters would occasionally beat our helpers but not kill them. The only things they killed were forest creatures and trees. Soon came the watchers. These were men who came to watch the battles between the cutters and the helpers. The watchers brought even more watchers, some sided with the cutters and some with the helpers. I think most of them wanted the cutters to stop and let us live as we have for so long. By the time the watchers and the helpers pushed back the cutters, though, the forest was in a state of devastation. The landscape was bare and ugly. With so many trees removed from the forest there were thousands of animals without homes. Some of the misplaced creatures would not survive for long without shelter because fewer trees also means less shade on the ground to protect the sensitive ones.

Fortunately for all of us that the men who are the cutters changed their ways. They still cut down trees but not as many as often. And now they also plant baby trees in place of the ones they cut down. The bare brown earth began to be replaced by green. So I find now that I am an elder in a very old forest filled with an abundance of young trees. I am the tallest and the oldest for miles. I watch over the forest and every year I drop my seeds to the ground and hope that they find a ray of life giving sunlight as I once did. In my youth I thought that I was invincible and nothing could harm me. I was a mighty Sequoia Redwood. Now I am a mighty, but humble, Redwood. I always knew that we are all vulnerable to Mother Nature but now I know that something as tiny a human being can devastate the whole planet. I only hope that the cutters of the world are balanced by the helpers.

Natural Disasters

Tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes all can seem like the wrath of God to those who witness their destruction from a far. Pure evil to those who survive them and must deal with the devastation left in their wake. I don’t claim to have lived through a natural disaster or even witnessed one from a far, except on TV, but having lived in California my entire life I have danced with the occasional earthquake. But when I see the destruction that wind can unleash I can’t help but feel a little lucky. Not just lucky to not have been there, but lucky that I have not had to endure the aftermath of it all. Grief for the fallen, the displaced, the injured, and the alone. Lucky not to know what it is like to have your whole world literally in ruins.

I imagined: Waking up to roaring thunder and flashes of lightening that illuminates my bedroom. A storm is coming. I turn on the local news for details only to find that my life may be changing soon. A twister has touched down two counties away and is hop-scotching its way here.Screenshot_2013-05-24-22-57-13

I hurry outside to secure the storm shutters. The rain is heavy and the thunder is loud. I didn’t realize just how many windows there were until now. Back inside, my wife and I warm ourselves with coffee and flip between the local news and the national weather channels. This is real! An F-4 and expected to grow. We decide to head down into the basement, the safest place in the house to be if the worst should happen.

Even in the basement we could hear the rain pounding harder and harder and the wind howling as it grew closer. The speckling of debris against the house was a terrifying gage to judge the storm’s proximity. Not just the house but the earth began to tremble as if a freight train was running through my house. We huddle in a corner and plead with God for our lives and our home and for the wellbeing of the whole community but we are interrupted by what I can only describe as our house exploding around us. This is that serene moment when you except your fate and prepare to die. Time crawls and what is in reality only a few seconds, seems to never end. The tremendous noise and destruction around you seem to fade into oblivion as you await the inevitable.

I wake up this time to silence. I cannot move or see anything except a small blotch of sun light that must be coming from above. The tornado has moved on to destroy lives in another town. It’s cold. I’m wet. I can taste blood in my mouth. Where is my wife? Pain is the last sense to come online. I think my arm is broken. Where is my wife? I muster up the strength to call her name. Nothing. Have I lost my beautiful wife along with our home to this monster? Why could it not have been me instead? Will someone come and rescue me or will I slowly starve to death buried in what used to be my basement? Am I even still in my basement? I have heard stories of people being carried away by the fierce winds of a tornado. Is this punishment for my sins? I can do nothing but sit helpless and evaluate my life and hope and pray that this is not as bad as it seems to me now but I know that in all likelihood it’s much worse.

I hear something moving nearby. I call her name again. My wife moans and answer. She’s alive! No matter what else the storm has taken from me it did not take my wife. No matter the devastation to ourselves, our home, or our town, we are alive and will get through this disaster. I call for her to come to me but she cannot. We are trapped not five feet apart but I cannot see her. We take comfort in that we are together and we know it’s only a matter of time until someone comes looking for survivors.

Almost forty-eight hours had passed, pinned in the most awkward position possible, before we could hear the rescue party in the distance. We held each other emotionally and cried because we knew that the two day long nightmare was coming to an end. We gathered strength from somewhere we could not fathom and called for help until a rescue dog heard us. I was never so pleased to hear a barking dog in all my life. Freed from a brief stint in our own personal purgatory, the devastation that was left in the wake of the storm incomprehensible. Not a house, nor tree, was left standing. We were among the fortunate to have only lost things. Corpses being dragged from beneath rubble made that very clear. Neighbors were sifting through trash heaps that used to be their homes while clinging to bits of their former lives.

Some would clean up, rebuild, and move on while others would relocate to where the windy monster does not feed. But there are few places on earth without some form of natural disaster. We live in Tornado Alley, atop seismic faults, and at the bases of volcanoes. We are aware of the pending danger and do our best to prepare and prevent but in the end we are all subject to her wrath. We take what Mother Nature throws at us. We learn from it and we get stronger. Most of us will never know her wrath first hand but those who live through it will forever be changed by it. The rest of us lucky enough to miss the destructive power of Mother Nature should be ready to lend a hand, or a dollar, at a moment’s notice when she strikes the less fortunate. It could be you or someone you love.