I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.
Robert Lowell, Skunk Hour
One night when I went out to the dumpster, I rounded the corner and saw a large black tail perched atop a white striped body ripping open a plastic bag. It took me less than a second to back out and run over to another dumpster. The garbage raider missed my presence and did not take aim.
We have plenty of skunks about in the summer. Sometimes I smell the rotten, nutty scent on a summer night or when I am driving down a highway. Mephitis mephitis roams the neighborhoods and country roads looking for fresh trash or road kill. Though I do my best to make sure that the trash bag gets into the dumpster, neighbor kids who are too short to reach the lid or too scared to stay long in the dark sometimes drop their loads on the concrete pavement inside the enclosure. This is where the hazard comes.
Never underestimate a little dog. Once I saw a small poodle following its master up the trail to Cucamonga Peak in the Cucamonga Wilderness of the Angeles National Forest. The trail was rocky and steep, and we were about two miles up it, but there was the little guy keeping up with his owner who was moving at a steady clip. The only problem that I had was that the dog shouldn’t have been in a federal wilderness area (we had stopped with our Boston Terrier at the boundary). Like many dog owners, his master presumed that his dog was well behaved enough that he could snub the rule.
We’ve reached the end of March. Spring is just about over. Two months of green separated the brown of late autumn from the new yellow of April. Most flowers have bloomed: I expect the Mariposa lilies to make a show any day now before it is all over.
Spring usually peaks late in April, but we’ve had ninety degree days in February and March that signaled the blooms to drop their petals and get about the business of creating seeds. The poppies at the Native Seed Farm where I volunteer stopped their flash of orange two weeks ago. Lupines crowded the meadows for a few days, then disappeared into the rising grass which, in its turn, has begun to yellow.
We’ve heard stories of the heavy snows in the East. We envy the water that buries houses and that will flood the lowlands in a few weeks there because things are dry here. Legislators in Sacramento continue to put off rationing just in case these next few weeks bring rain. Everywhere mere anarchy reigns in an anti-government climate where people prefer to watch their doom unfolding while hoping for redemption. I don’t hear many people say that there is no such thing as global climate change these days; I am sure that those who say they don’t believe in it at very least dread that it might be true now.
Our best laid plans — the mighty dams and the magnificent aqueducts — have come to naught because they were designed for the catastrophic droughts of old cycles, not for these man-altered climates. I sometimes wonder: did we fight too many dams? Did we let bottled water companies drain too much of our aquifers? Did we fail to see the danger posed by green lawns and golf courses? My eyes watch the edge of the desert. Will it push across the San Gorgonio Pass and storm down the Cajon in the years to come? Will our drought last three more years or thirty five?
What will the land be like in a few years? What will be the new months of spring and what flowers will bloom and which will disappear?
One of the sports of my childhood was the capture of lizards. Horned toads were common prey until the pet trade made them scarce: few were able to keep them in the ants they craved, so most died in captivity. Alligator lizards invited a special challenge because they fought back. One fellow I knew bragged that he caught them by getting them to bite him. But most of us were content with what we called blue-bellies or the Western Fence Lizard, a little gentleman that we found underneath rocks and large pieces of wood. (How we never bumbled into a rattlesnake is a minor miracle.)
I’ve been working on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm where they grow plants for rehabilitating the lands burned by the 2008 Santiago Fire. Our recent tasks have involved harvesting seeds from various species endemic to the local coastal sage scrub biome.
The same fire opened the land for use. The farm exists on a plot that once grew avocados. Encroaching flames torched the grove before they turned to the east and threatened my home.
Volunteers and paid staff perform most of the chores. Idle farm workers with wages paid by the Irvine Ranch join for a few months every spring. This keeps them on hand while cash crops grow and there is little to do elsewhere.
Audubon Birds Homescreen
Audubon Birds by Green Mountain Digital. This review describes the Android version.
I was in the market for a inexpensive Android bird watching application. The highly touted Sibley guide cost $20. Other programs seemed cheap and shallow by comparison. I finally chose a name I knew from my paperware guides — Audubon — which cost about $4.
This guide offers an in depth view of North American birds as far south as Mexico. The data base is a space hog: you can either access it via the web (which can take time when InterNet traffic is heavy) or you can download it to your cell phone/tablet. The developers suggest putting the app and its database onto your SD card but with my Google Nexus 10 there is plenty of room.
Photo: Thomas Bresson
File this under “reasons to be glad that I am not an Eastern Woodlands Hiker”:
People have been turning up at Long Island allergists with an unusual complaint: they are suddenly sensitive to eating red meat. A trip to Burger King might cause them serious stomach distress. These people are not vegetarians or vegans on a holiday: they are people for whom steaks, burgers, and roast beef have been a mainstay of their diet. One doctor has seen nearly 200 cases so far this year.
The originator of the autoimmune system going haywire is the Lone Star Tick. Readers of this blog know that I hate ticks. This one scares me because I do consume a weekly steak. My first experiences with ticks happened in the Southeast where this particular species is spreading rapidly.