Tag 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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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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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.

Rapid Mortality

The water ran cold and swift on the south fork of the American River. Snow run-off from the Sierra Nevada Mountains made icy rapids that taunted us at the river’s edge. On a bright Saturday morning the river teamed with kayaks and rafts and was lined with spectators clinging to the rocks. People waded in calm pools along the river’s length and pelted their enemies with torrents of water squirted from toy guns. Photographers, perched high on the rocky banks, captured the battles between rafter and river on film to be sold to the survivors.rafting

As we carried the raft above our heads to the water’s edge I felt a curious sensation in the pit of my stomach. This was not my first trip on the white waters but for some reason that I couldn’t explain this time was different. There were eight of us in my raft including the guide, a robust young woman who in the off season worked as a rescue diver. I was hoping none of us would need her off season skills on this venture. I couldn’t help, though, reflecting on the waiver of liability for accidental death that the rafting company made us sign before departure, along with our sandwich choice for the mid-trip lunch they provide.

Having defeated rapid after rapid with such colorful names as “Hospital Bar” and “Barking Dog” there were only two left until total victory but they were near the end of the trip and we enjoyed calm waters for a while until then. The water was calm, the rafters were not. This was the time for war on the river. Water cannons of every size and configuration appeared and unleashed their fury. Arcs of water crisscrossed the sky in all directions. One boat even fired pre-loaded water balloons (How did they survive the rapids?). No one was safe. It was blissful chaos with every boat being its own navy attacking whomever was in range. And who knew the handle of an oar made a perfect grappling hook to snatch an opponent out of his battle ship by the straps of his life vest? I learned quickly not to squirt an experienced guide in the face (they generally leave the water play to the paying customers), and then turn your back on him. He hooked me like a trout and pulled me right off my raft before I knew what happened. Down but not out, I was rescued by my crew to fight again.

With the war over it was time to face the last of the rapids. I sat at the rear of the raft with the guide on my right. Because these last two rapids were small by comparison she decided to “swim” this one. I wasn’t sure what that meant until she leaned back and slipped out of the raft like a SCUBA diver. Unfortunately I was not prepared for the sudden increase in buoyancy on her side of the raft that made my side dip down and expel me backward into the water. When I realized what had happened I was upside down under water and out of breath. Without her guidance the raft veered left with the current and slammed into a boulder that breached the water’s surface. My watery world moved in slow motion. Stay calm. Think. Somehow I managed to right myself but I still had only a normal lung full of air not the deep breath you would take before plunging into the water. And before my life jacket could perform its duty I was also pinned to the boulder by the current with a raft full of people above me. I could see the surface which looked within reach and yet unreachable. I pawed my way across the bottom of the raft until I reached the edge and popped up above the water. The next thing I knew I was back inside the raft. A fellow crewman had hoisted me aboard much to my relief. I didn’t notice that I had lost my paddle until someone from the raft behind ours tossed it to me as they passed by laughing. The ordeal lasted only seconds but had it been any longer I would have started to see my life flash before me.

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.