Field journal

I’m currently taking the California Certified Naturalist class, with a curriculum developed by the University of California, and offered through a local environmental nonprofit, Grassroots Ecology. One of the ongoing assignments is to keep a field journal of observations of the natural world.

Keeping a field journal feels like a kind of spiritual practice to me. It’s a way to keep connected with the non-human organisms around us, and helps me pay attention to the abiotic components on which life depends. It forces me to get away from the computer and get outdoors, which is something I need to do more of. And it’s very calming, probably because I stop thinking about myself, and think about something larger than myself.

Lichens, Camp Meeker, Calif.

These lichens were growing on reddish soil exposed by a road cut, in the redwood forest above Camp Meeker, California. The lichens in both photos are approximately the same size; in the first photo, the edge of a nickel appears at lower left to provide a sense of scale.

As to identification, these lichens are in the genus Cladonia: the primary thallus consists of whitish-green squamules (the little leaf-like things at the bottom of the organism); and arising from the squamules is the podetium, an upright structure characteristic of the genus Cladonia. But to determine which species of Cladonia, I would have had to collect some samples and carefully examined them. In Lichens of California, Mason E. Hale Jr. and Mariette Cole state that “Cladonia is one of the first lichens collected by amateurs; since I am a rank amateur when it comes to lichens, it is thus no surprise that I paid so much attention to these showy and fascinating lichens.

In the redwoods

On Thursday, I was at a meeting in Camp Meeker, California, in the redwoods. In the morning, I walked out the door just in time to look out at the top of the fog bank in the valley below.

As in a traditional Chinese landscape painting, by anyone from Wang Wei down to the Ming dynasty, you could tell how far away something was by how much it faded into the mist; and then above the mist you could see a distant hilltop covered with trees. I imposed a kind of Western-style perspective into the photograph by finding lines — in trees, in the horizon, in the clouds — that seem to lead to a vanishing point about where the sun is trying to break through the clouds. There was no perspectival vanishing point in the actual landscape: just mist and trees and abrupt hills and valleys. But so it is that we use our familiar conceptual schemas to experience the world, even when they don’t really fit.

Bald Knob

Carol and I decided to hike up to the top of Bald Knob from the parking lot at Higgins Canyon Road. We climbed steadily through the Coastal Redwoods up into the Douglas Fir forest, and in less than two hours were at the summit of Bald Knob. It was a little disappointing, because Bald Knob wasn’t at all bald, and instead of the views we had hoped for, we just had a Douglas Fir forest. But it was a beautiful Douglas Fir forest, smelling of fir trees and woods, and it was quiet, so we sat down to eat lunch.

After lunch, we walked down Irish Ridge Trail, and just a short distance down the trail, there were green grassy slopes sprinkled with wildflowers. Dad and I used to talk about the way wildflowers sprang up all over the hills of coastal California during the spring; it was one of the things that had most impressed him, I think, in one of his early trips to California. Unfortunately, Dad’s dementia means that that well-worn, familiar conversation is no longer possible, so I took a photograph of some flowers instead — Dad has always taken photographs documenting what he saw in the world; and still does, sometimes.

Irish Ridge Trail, San Mateo county, California

And a little way further down the trail were the views that we had hoped for. We looked out over an open slope, which was covered with Poison Oak in full bloom, down into the Lobitos Creek valley, out at the Pacific Ocean. Some kind of flower was sending its delightful perfume into the sun-warmed air around us; I’m pretty sure this perfume came from the Poison Oak; maybe Poison Oak is good for something after all.

Looking down from Irish Ridge towards the Pacific

On the way back down the trail, Carol said that these tree roots, balanced precariously on a gradually eroding bank, looked like a huge Muppet monster:


By the time we got back to the car, it was cloudy and cool, down to 52 degrees. We had walked about 11.4 miles, with a total elevation gain of about 2,500 feet. We felt kind of tired.