Tag: Nature

The Best Places to See Nature in Every State

connecticut

If yesterday’s post was too California-centric for you, Business Insider has a run-down of all 50 states with The Most Breathtaking Natural Wonders in Every State.

Some of the suggestions are obvious – in Colorado you go to Pike’s Peak of course. But some of the recommendations are a bit provocative. When in Delaware go see the cypress swamps.

50 states, 50 natural wonders is quite a bucket list. If you want to narrow it down consider North America’s Top 10 Natural Wonders.

[Photo: Connecticut Office of Tourism via Business Insider]

”Human Beings Are Wired to Find Peace in Nature” … Honestly?

Photo by Joshua Earle

Photo by Joshua Earle

I pretty much take it as fact that human beings have not evolved to run on concrete. It kinda makes sense that scrambling over boulders and swinging from trees are better exercise for micro-muscles than are gym machines. And I can mostly accept that our digestive systems have not evolved to handle processed foods.

But what nearly made me spit coffee out my nose this morning was reading Dr. Ming Kuo explain that getting out into nature is healthy for us because

When we are in nature in that relaxed state, and our body knows that it’s safe, it invests resources toward the immune system.

Nature makes us feel safe. Right. Try telling that to the guy who stumbled over a sleeping grizzly last week and wound up having to shove his arm down the bear’s throat to convince the beast to stop biting him. Nature is no place to relax. It is out to get your ass.

In all of modern man’s 200,000 years on this planet I’d say that it’s only been since they put bathrooms in nature that anybody felt like nature was a great way to “get away from it all.” Prior to that most people spent all their energy trying to get away from nature. Going back to the 9th century most people felt that nature was a hostile, miserable place, a wilderness that needed to be tamed and subdued. To the extent that this taming and subduing was successful humanity began to have better feelings about the wilderness. Consider that Rousseau’s philosophy of the Natural Human followed on the heels of the Age of Discovery in which the globe and its continents were transected, mapped and claimed.

There is a notion going around these days, the biophilia hypothesis, that suggests we have evolved to have a natural fondness for nature. That feeling of OMG when you see a beautiful sunset. It goes a little deeper than that – merely getting a glimpse of nature is supposed to have beneficial impacts on our health.

I think a better argument can be made that humans are hardwired to flee nature. To hide in caves, to put up walls, and to pave the hell out of anything soft and springy. As Woody Allen said, “nature and I are two.”

If Dr. Kuo is saying that there are good things in nature that our bodies need, things that can’t be found in a formaldehyde-belching office environment, well I can accept that. But to suggest that human beings are evolved to spend time in nature is to ignore humanity’s relentless campaign to plow everything under.

As much as I love the idea of forest bathing I rather fear that our evolutionary agenda is less to find ourselves in nature than it is to whip, beat, pummel and torture our natural environment until it whimpers and is willing to eat from our hands. Then we will view pictures of nature and feel at peace with ourselves.

Photo By Joshua Earle via Unsplash

 

Adventure on My Doorstep, Small Adventures

In the quest for small adventure I asked myself what’s the smallest adventure a person could have? I think it starts with discovering what’s going on right outside your front door.

I decided to take a peek at what’s taking place on my doorstep and was a little surprised to see that the concrete steps are riddled with stress fractures. I’ve never thought much about this – it’s the Evil Home Owner Association’s problem, not mine. But this fractured concrete signals a very profound level of activity taking place outside my general level of awareness.

The earth is settling. Our condominiums are apparently built on an old arroyo that was filled with dirt, boulders, and (legend has it) old wrecked cars.

I tend to think of Home as being a place somehow separate from Nature. A neutral place, a kind of default location. But the cracked cement steps outside my front door suggest otherwise. Everything is part of a great swirling drama of entropy and change. Some adventures are taking place on a different time scale is all.

Extreme Gardening

William hops boulders to find tamarisk

While other gardeners were uprooting early spring bulbs and planting their perennials, I joined the good folks at Habitat Works for a little tamarisk butt-kicking. The Cleanest Line has a nice little piece lining out what tamarisk did to Canyon de Chelly, explaining why someone might want to pack into a remote section of Piru Creek with a set of Fiskars bypass loppers, and spend a perfectly good Memorial Day weekend pulling weeds. But the short answer is that it is all about the Arroyo Toad.

Mike, William and Tom tackle a mature tamarisk in flower

In the snapshot above you can see Mike, William and Tom taking down a mature tamarisk in flower. Altogether we uprooted or chopped down over 7,000 seedlings, and a few hundred shrubs, catching the shrubs before they had time to produce seeds. Any roots left behind can still sprout but at least we we gave these evil trees a good licking.

Stooping all day with a 25 lb pack

The thing about Extreme Gardening is that you do the same kind of back-breaking weed pulling that you’d do in your backyard garden, only you do it without access to cold beer and with a 30 lb. pack on your back. In wet shoes. After slogging through waist-deep, snail-infested water. It’s like the African Queen, only without a boat or Nazis.

Dirt bike that didn’t make it

During the rainy season Piru Creek at Gold Hill Gorge becomes a Class V whitewater course, which was bad news for some dirt biker who tried to cross the stream at the Gold Hill crossing. We found the remains of his ‘sickle some two miles downriver, not in running condition.

Rattlesnake along the trail

On the last part of the trip Julia found this cool rattlesnake for us by nearly stepping on its head. Who knew that rattlers cool down at the water’s edge?

Large bear tracks like this are common

For the duration we found ourselves tagging along behind some good sized bears. From the tracks I’d say there were four or five big ones, two juveniles and three babies. The bears stayed out of sight.

Riff Raff meets us at the trails end

The trail ended at the Castaic Mines where the Riff Raff 4WD club trucked us out. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Death Beach

Dead harbor seal pup at Surfer’s Knoll, Ventura

I found this dead harbor seal pup at the foot of a makeshift cross at Surfer’s Knoll in Ventura yesterday. Dead seals are fairly common on these beaches, particularly this time of year when algae blooms produce high levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can kill sea mammals. Several groups are working to locate and rehabilitate poisoned animals before they die.

Last week I found a number of dead birds along this beach: a seagull, commorant, pelican and a tern. These animals share one thing in common–besides being dead, they eat fish that in turn feed on the toxic algae.

This marine life die-off is part of a natural cycle. “Oh yeah, the Circle of Life,” a co-worker said when I told her I spent the early moring beachcombing for dead seals. But what’s surprising about the whole thing is the high-than-usual numbers of mammals washing up. According to UCSB’s Daily Nexus there have been daily strandings of whales and dolphins along California’s central coast for the past month or so. NOAA calls this kind of situation an Unusual Mortality Event.

According to NOAA biotoxins have been responsible for worldwide marine mammal die-offs over 9 of the past 17 years, with increasing frequency. In California biotoxins caused die-offs in 1998 and 2002–or roughly a four to five year cycle.

There’s a lot of chatter on the internets about fertilizer runoff being responsible for these harmful algae blooms. Marine scientists seem to think organic nitrogen, a component of sewage and agricultural runoff, might be a factor. But the mechanisms behind the blooms are very complex (pdf). Notably the harmful algae blooms only seem to happen in years when there is an upwelling current. But where is the algae bloom coming from? This type of algae doesn’t survive well at great depths, so it’s not likely that organisms are being churned up from the ocean floor. Or do they have some secret way of surviving without sunlight?

There’s not a lot of science writing being done on the subject–possibly because research into these blooms is limited.

So many end-of-the-planet scenarious to research, so little time…