Ecology camp

This month, I’m overseeing ecology camps for three different age groups: Nature Camp for gr. 2-5, Ecojustice Camp for gr. 2-5, and Ecojustice Camp for gr. 6-8. The middle school camp is this week; Nature Camp and camp for gr. 2-5 are next week.

To give you a flavor of what we’re doing, below are a few photos from the first two days of the middle school camp. (We have media release forms from all campers and staff.)


Above: One camper’s field notes on arthropods. Yesterday, arthropod expert Jack Owicki visited and gave an overview of arthropods. Then we checked some insect pitfall traps we had set, checked bushes and plants for arthropods, and looked at spider webs.



Above: Some of the campers built a teepee yesterday. This is not a traditional teepee as built by the native peoples of the Great Plains. We used structural bamboo borrowed from Darrel DeBoer, an architect specializing in natural materials. Bamboo has good structural properties, and can be grown sustainably.



Above: Nancy Neff, an expert on native plants, came yesterday and gave us a guided tour of the native plant gardens on campus. She explained some of the adaptations native plants have to grow in our climate.



Above: Today we visited the Zeise place, up in the redwood forest near the Skyline to the Sea Trail. As you can see, some of the trails were pretty steep (and this was not the steepest trail we hiked!).



Above: Every camper got about 20 minutes of alone time in the redwoods.



Above: Talking together about the experience of being alone in the woods. Notice that some of us are wearing jackets. It was windy and cool today, and when we sat in the shade it got pretty chilly.

Summer rain

It has been a strange year here in the Bay area. January, which is supposed to be a cold, wet month, was warm and dry.

And now it is in August, when it never rains. So when I heard a pattering on the roof over my office, I thought: Gee there must be a lot of squirrels scampering around on the roof. But it wasn’t squirrels, it was a passing rain shower.

I went outside and stood in the rain, just to remember what it feels like and to smell the smell of dry earth when it gets moistened, and when the shower was over I went back inside and got back to work.

When it rained again, I had grown blase, and just stayed working at my desk.

But when a third rain shower passed through, that felt freakish.

Dawn, Black Mountain

Standing on the top of Black Mountain this morning at about 5:45 a.m. and looking west, I could see the fog in the valleys below:


Where I was standing was about 2,812 feet above sea level; I’d guess that the top of the fog was about half that height, perhaps 1,500 feet high.

The view to the east was even more spectacular: the sun just peeking over the 4,000 foot high Hamilton Range, and the entire Santa Clara Valley covered with a blanket of fog — or, more precisely, covered with a layer of stratus clouds the tops of which were about 1,500 feet high, and the bottoms of which were probably about 500 to 1,000 feet above sea level. It was funny to think that there were ten million people down there under the fog who were enjoying a cool, cloudy, grey morning, while I was looking up at a cloudless sky and wondering where in my backpack I had put my sunscreen.


The headlines on today’s newspaper screamed: “U.S.CLIMATE HAS ALREADY CHANGED, STUDY FINDS, CITING HEAT AND FLOODS” [New York Times, 7 May 2014, p. A1]. This is news because we didn’t already know what this report, the National Climate Assessment, is telling us. A related story tells us that “Polls Find Americans Skeptical On Climate” [ibid., p. A13]. And why? “Scientists predict that climate change will cause larger problems for poor countries than rich ones….” And the U.S. is way ahead of all other countries in per person emissions of climate-changing gasses.

Smokey the BearThis is human nature: the ones who are causing the problem are least likely to be affected by the problem, so they believe they are not causing the problem. The minority of U.S. citizens who are aware of the magnitude of the problem attempt to convince other U.S. citizens of the truth with rational arguments, but since when did humans change their behavior as a result of rational argument?

No, it is time to call on a higher power. One of the growing problems caused by climate change is the increased incidence of forest fires, and so we immediately know on whom we must call. We will follow the example set by poet Gary Snyder in 1969. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists, both those who follow the circumpolar Bear cult and those who don’t, should call on the Boddhisattva of Compassion Avalokitesvara — who is also Kamui Kimun of the Ainu — who is also a consort of She Who Saves, Boddhisattva Tara, Mother of Liberation — who is he who carries the vajra-shovel.

Abandon rational argument, and chant together:

Smokey the Bear Sutra

Once in the Jurassic, about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a Discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings—even grasses, to the number of thirteen billions, each one born from a seed—assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

   “In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth, and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

   “The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form, to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger, and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”

   And he showed himself in his true form of


Continue reading “Sutra”

Autumnal battle

The window of my office looks out on a patch of lawn about thirty by fifty feet. In the middle of the lawn there’s a live oak tree. This oak tree appears to have produced a bumper crop of acorns this year. This afternoon, I counted at least six Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) on the grass, the surrounding sidewalks, or in the tree; three of them were the black color morph of S. carolinensis.

The squirrels have been digging furiously in the lawn, and in a few places have completely dug up all the grass, leaving a network of small holes about two inches across and one inch deep. Every so often, one squirrel will get too close to another one, which can lead to vocal squabbling and one squirrel chasing another. I also saw at least three American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), who would land on the grass periodically and peck at the ground where the squirrels had been digging. Sometimes a squirrel would run at a crow; and the crow, even though it was somewhat larger than the squirrel, would flap its wings a couple of times and fly out of the way.

Amy and I were watching the squirrels a couple of days ago. “If they would only get organized,” said Amy, “they could run all us humans out of here and take over.” Of course she was exaggerating, but they are aggressive. They have come right into my office while I’ve been sitting at my desk with the door open, looking for food. It’s worth noting that since Eastern Gray Squirrels have been introduced to the Bay area, the native Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) has essentially be extirpated from the region.

I went over to look at the damage the squirrels had done to the lawn. There is nothing in the holes they have dug. The ground is littered with the outer husks of acorns; some of the husks look green and new, some look brown and old. There are plenty of new acorns on the ground. I’m not sure why they are digging so furiously this year; this is not something they have done in past years. Maybe there’s a good reason behind it, or maybe they’re just — well, maybe they’re nuts.


Hazy and hot

We’re having one of those Bay area hot spells that come in late September or October. As I drove across the San Mateo Bridge, I looked ahead at the Peninsula. The hills of the Coastal Range were pale blue in the haze. I could see horizontal bands where the hills were more or less obscured: temperature inversions. When I got back to San Mateo and rolled down the car windows, there was a faint smell of smog in the air, and the temperature must have been over ninety degrees. And it’s supposed to be hotter tomorrow. And it’s supposed to continue for several days….


I had to drive up to San Francisco early this afternoon. When I left Palo Alto, it was sunny and warm. Heading north on highway 101, when I got to San Mateo I started seeing low clouds to the north. By the time I got to San Francisco, the sky was gray, and some people were driving with their headlights on.

In San Francisco, it was cloudy, damp, and down to 60 degrees, a good ten degrees cooler than it had been in Palo Alto, with a bracing northwest wind. You could sense the huge old mass of water in the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away.

At 4:30 I drove back to San Mateo along Interstate 280, around the Pacific Ocean side of San Bruno Mountain, and then up into the hills of the Coastal Range. Fingers of fog were creeping over the mountains, winding down through the tree-covered hills around Crystal Springs, but the sun evaporated them before they got very far.

When I arrived home in San Mateo, it was sunny and warm. But almost as soon as the sun set, the fog drifted over the Coastal Range, and became low clouds that now cover the sky above us. The temperature is down to 60 degrees, and outside it feels like it did in San Francisco this afternoon: cloudy, damp, and cool.

How to annoy someone from Indiana

My older sister lives in Indiana. We were talking on the phone yesterday when she idly asked, “So how’s the weather out there?”

“Oh, you know,” I said. “Just so-so. The fog stayed in longer than usual in the morning so I don’t think it got above seventy-two degrees yesterday. And last night it was down in the fifties, so cold I had to close the window.”

“Augh!” she said, or at least she said something that might have been spelled that way. “I hate you! It’s been over ninety here for days, and it doesn’t get any cooler than about seventy-eight at night!”

That’s how to annoy someone from Indiana.


Carol discovered that there is a female Mallard duck with ducklings living in one of the stairwells that lead down to the basement under our building. When she took the photo below, she didn’t want to get any closer for fear of disturbing the mother duck. The babies are hiding under their mother’s breast.

Carol left some greens and a dish of water for the ducks.

I’m not sure where the actual nest was. It doesn’t look like it was down in the bottom of the stairwell; perhaps one of the babies fell down the stairs, and the mother is down there protecting them.


At lunchtime, I went for a walk at Baylands Nature Preserve along the Bay in Palo Alto. One of the first things I saw was a baby American Avocet, still with downy plumage, sweeping the water for small invertebrates. American Avocets are a precocial species, so this little baby was pretty much on its own; there were no adult birds nearby.

A little further on I saw a line of Cliff Swallow nests on a building. The swallows pick up some mud in their bills, then fly up and apply it to the nest, gradually building the structure out so as to completely enclose the nesting birds except for small entry holes. The two nests closest to the camera are darker around the entry holes; that’s where mud has been recently applied, and the damp mud is darker than the dried mud.

I kept walking out the dike along Charleston Slough, past other birds that are I guessed were nesting, though I didn’t actually see a nest or babies: Forster’s Terns, Marsh Wrens, a Northern Harrier, Snowy Egrets, Mallards. About a mile and a quarter from the parking lot, I could finally see the California Gull nesting colony. The gulls were screaming and flying in swirling circles above the colony, and as I got closer I could see why: two researchers had kayaked out to the colony, and were walking around with clipboards checking out the nests. The gulls were divebombing them, and through my binoculars, I could see that the researchers were wearing helmets and jackets for protection.

I watched for a while; I like watching gull nesting colonies, and the addition of the invading researchers made it even more entertaining. Then it was time to head back to work, so I walked back to the parking lot, my mind completely emptied of everything except for birds, sun, mud, and nests.