Loon at Walden

This morning I walked from Wright Woods conservation land past Walden Pond to Goose Pond. On my way back to the car, I passed by the main beach at Walden. It was a warm sunny day, so as you’d expect the beach was crowded with humanity.

And there, past the buoys that mark the area that the lifeguards watch, was a Common Loon (Gavia immer) diving underwater, presumably for small fish or some other underwater food.

It was surprising to see a loon at Walden Pond in July — twenty years ago when I lived in the town of Concord, you might see a loon during migration, but I don’t remember ever seeing one during summer breeding season. It may be that the resurgence of the beaver population in the area has changed the landscape enough that loons now have adequate habitat to breed; although that’s purely speculation on my part.

Another highlight of my walk past Walden Pond worth mentioning is the Thoreau Society bookstore. They focus on Thoreau of course, but they also stock an excellent selection of books relating to the other nineteenth century Concord authors — certainly the best selection of publications relating to the Concord authors that I’ve seen. While in the store, I chatted with Corinne Smith, a librarian and author. She told me that the “Thoreau Edition,” published by Princeton University Press and currently based at the University of California Santa Barbara, has released preliminary versions of the journals from 1854 to the end of Thoreau’s life (the “Thoreau Edition” has already published print versions of the journals from 1831 to 1854).

People

I’ve been at a religious education conference for most of a week now. It has been very nice to be able to talk with colleagues in person, face-to-face. But it’s also exhausting. I talk with people for an hour over breakfast, then teach a class where we spend a lot of time talking, then talk for an hour over lunch, and often for another hour after lunch — and then I’m ready for a two-hour nap.

Others at the conference are having similar experiences. It’s really good to be able to be in a big group of people for the first time since March, 2020, but it’s also really tiring.

Masks for employees

A couple of weeks ago, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) decided that masks would be required in workplaces, unless all employees in a given area proved that they were vaccinated. Then the business community leaned on Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, and the rules quickly changed. Requiring businesses to determine the vaccination status of their employees would hamper the economy, said the business owners. Newsom is facing a recall vote so he quickly agreed, and Cal/OSHA had to fall into line, and now employees who say they’re vaccinated (no proof required) won’t have to wear masks.

Mitch Steiger of the California Labor Federation, AFL/CIO, disagrees with Newsom. Steiger pointed out that workers in rural areas — some rural counties in California have vaccination rates on the order of 25% — will especially be at risk. When the San Jose Mercury News asked for comment, Steiger said, “We will literally have decided to sacrifice workers’ lives in order to spare employers the inconvenience of looking at a vaccination card.”

It happened again

The state of California just changed the COVID rules again. As reported by Bay Area News Group:

“Under mounting pressure, California’s workplace-safety board on Wednesday voted to drop controversial new rules that would have required many workers to keep their masks on for months — just hours after state officials announced that vaccinated Californians can go mask free in most settings starting next week.”

(The “mounting pressure” was from business groups, who out-pressured employee groups and unions who emphasized the safety of workers. Next time some politician says, “We follow the science,” remember that there are still many things scientists don’t know about COVID, which means that politicians are responding to political pressure as much as they’re “following the science.”)

The most difficult aspect of complying with COVID rules is that they’re constantly changing. Those of us who work with children are going to be dealing with changing COVID rules for at least six more months, assuming the vaccine trials for children aged 5 to 11 are completed by late this year. And those of us who also work with children under age 5 may be dealing with changing COVID rules for another year.

It’s exhausting. You learn one set of rules, and they change. This is inevitable. Our knowledge of COVID keeps changing. Though Americans love to blame people — the Democrats blame the Republicans, the Republicans blame the Democrats — in this case, there are no people to blame. We can only blame the virus. It’s silly to blame an unthinking virus. So there’s no blame.

But it’s still exhausting. COVID rules are changing on a weekly basis. It’s impossible to keep up.

Limantour Beach

Photos from our trip to Point Reyes National Seashore:

American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) feeding in Estero de Limantour, watched by a Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Moonglow Anemone (Anthopleura artemisia) in a tidal pool formed from a ship’s engine block on Limantour Spit

One of about 145 Giant Bell Jellies that we saw stranded on Limantour Beach. Not a true jellyfish, this organism is actually a colony of smaller hydrozoans. The purple spots are ocelli, or primitive eyes.

“Newt Patrol”

Here’s an interesting citizen science project….

“The Newt Patrol is a group of citizen scientists in the South Bay. We have been surveying newt roadkills near Lexington Reservoir since 2017. We have documented over 10,000 dead newts so far, representing one of the highest rates of amphibian roadkill mortality known worldwide. This project aims to raise awareness of this problem and provide a rigorous database that could be used by the authorities to implement mitigation measures.”

You can see their Web site here.

What’s good about the pandemic?

I’ve been trying to think of good things that have come out of this pandemic. Most of the pandemic is bad: personally there’s the loss of social contact, cabin fever, the fact that every task at work seems to take much longer so I either have to work long hours or things don’t get done, we can’t go to visit our relatives (who live far away)…. Then in wider society, there’s economic disaster, increasing mental distress and illness, rise in domestic violence, children not learning, widening gap between the rich and everyone else….

So is there anything good to come out of this pandemic?

Well, I haven’t had a cold or any other illness since the pandemic started. Wearing masks in public places (as everyone does here in San Mateo County) and frequent hand washing really do reduce the spread of illnesses.

I only have to commute to the office twice a week, and traffic is light when I do drive. Pre-pandemic, when there was a lot of traffic, I had a grinding, soul-sucking commute, so this is a benefit.

Since I’m stuck at home, I’ve been practicing the guitar more. I haven’t become a good guitarist by any means, but at least I’m no longer bad.

That’s really all I can come up with right now. Maybe you can add to this list?