Features

Raptors All Around: Photographing the Hawks and Falcons of Providence, R.I.

If wildness can stop being (just) out there and start being (also) in here, if it can start being as humane as it is natural, then perhaps we can get on with the unending task of struggling to live rightly in the world—not just in the garden, not just in the wilderness, but in the home that encompasses them both

–William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness

The search for wildness in a city brings people to parks, to rivers, to little tracts of untouched forest left standing on a hill. It’s there if you look for it. It is why birders carry binoculars and why my cousin, Peter Green, carries a camera. No matter how hard people try, we can’t build cities that can keep the wilderness out.

How did you start noticing and taking pictures of birds of prey in Providence?

Shortly after moving to Providence, I pointed binoculars at a pigeon perched high on the downtown bank tower and immediately saw it was not a pigeon—it was something eating a pigeon. I looked online, identified it as a peregrine falcon, and learned how wildlife officials had installed a nest box on the building to encourage the recovery of this once-endangered species. From then on, whenever possible, I eagerly watched the falcons from my window.

I soon began to notice pigeon carcasses downtown with all of their feathers pulled out, and suspected the falcons must be hunting here, so I made sure to always have my camera with me. One day as it started to snow, I finally saw a large raptor standing on the ground in the park next to the bus station. I quickly got down in the dirt and took some of the best pictures of my life. I couldn’t believe this wild animal was right here downtown in the city. And, to my surprise, it was not a peregrine falcon—it was a red-tailed hawk.  (more…)

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Foraging in Los Angeles!

Living Off the Los Angeles Landscape, With Pascal Baudar

The instructions said to meet beneath the 210 freeway overpass in the L.A. foothills neighborhood of Lakeview Terrace. We get out of the car, unbuckle the children, and head toward a group of 15 people huddled at the base of a cement embankment. A soft-spoken man collects the $20 fees and hands out small cups filled with a red liquid—a fermented soda made with wild blackberries, cherries, manzanita berries, tarragon berries and raw honey. After a morning of foraging, we will sample more of the wild aromatic infusions created by Pascal Baudar, all as pretty as they were refreshing.

Welcome to the “Wild Food Walk and Wild Aromatic Infusions Tasting” hosted by Urban Outdoor Skills, which aims to connect city people with the natural environment all around them.

“Most people who live in larger cities are disconnected from nature. Nature was part of my life from the beginning, it was my world,” said Bauder, who writes and teaches about wild food and self reliance. Baudar founded Urban Outdoor Skills in 2006, and leads weekly classes on foraging and wild edibles that range from three-hour plant identification walks to daylong desert explorations.  (more…)

Mount Tamalpais and the Wildflowers of Persephone

I hung a right at the Stinson Beach fire station, and the trailhead appeared. My friend Tami and I had tried to hike this trail in February, somehow missing the trailhead and hiking the Cataract Trial farther up Mount Tamalpais instead. But because no fewer than three people told me the Matt Davis Trail was their favorite, I decided to give it another shot. And now here I was.

I followed the trail into the forest.

The Persephone of myth was radiant, referred to as “Kore” or simply, “the maiden.” She was gathering flowers with Artemis and Athena—what need the huntress and wise woman of war had for flowers isn’t clear. Perhaps they simply liked them. The three of them, along with some nymphs, were gathering flowers when the earth opened up. (more…)

Surfing Dog

Surfing With the Noon Patrol: A Snowboarder At Sea

It’s possible that the marketing lingo on the arm of my wetsuit is a touch aspirational, as I haven’t been in the water before lunch since this whole thing began, almost nine months ago. I know it’s been that long because I have the note that I scribbled to myself, right here: “June 21st, the longest day of the year. Not a snowflake in sight.”

It was the middle of summer, and I was anxious to get to the mountain and resume the success of last year’s snow season. I began snowboarding in 2008, when the economy tanked and I couldn’t afford my city apartment anymore. I moved to the mountain for the cheap rent, for the solitude. I found a season pass abandoned in one of the rooms of the ski lease, my snowboard was a generous gift from an old boyfriend. But 2013 was the year commitment bit hard. The year I didn’t go to the resort anymore but headed into the backcountry. The year I sat through all the avalanche seminars, the year I learned to dig and dig and dig and dig. The year I could run on ice and coil rope and build emergency snow anchors with nothing but chapstick. The year I spent actual, real life money on a book on how to tie knots.

But that snow season was several months gone and I still hadn’t recovered. Never re-oriented back to my day job, secure and well-paying, which I had to quit because after all the adventure in the snow the world had grown bigger and my mind collapsed under the routine. Never adjusted to summer weather that I found mild and uninspiring. I really needed something to do, and eventually it occurred to me … the ocean was right there. Surfing and snowboarding, the fundamentals couldn’t possibly be that different. Stand on board. Aside from the fact that I’m not a very good swimmer, that I had no board, no wetsuit, any idea how to surf, and that the coast of Northern California is the third-largest Great White Shark breeding ground in the whole world, I considered it a flawless plan.  (more…)

My pet oak.

My Pet Oak: Learning How To Properly Love My 25-Foot-Tall Canyon Live Oak

“Oak tree, spread your branches, you know what to do.”
–Morris Day, “The Oak Tree”

There’s a 25-foot-tall Canyon live oak in the front yard of the house my family now calls home. We moved here in December, and shortly afterward a friend in the neighborhood told me of some minor dramas he faced when getting his own old oak trimmed.

Because this is the first time I have been charged with caring for a protected species, I decided to dig into the Do’s and Don’ts of oak tree stewardship in Los Angeles County. And this required the assistance of the Tree People.  (more…)

Quaking and Stormy, California Reminds Us That It’s Alive

The southern part of the state is quaking and shaking, heavy rain lashes the northern coast, and snow piles up in the Sierra. Every now and then California reminds you that it’s alive, not just the plants and creatures but the rock itself, even that dry old sky that goes whole seasons without much change.

I woke at a reasonable hour, heard the rain through the open window, and it sounded so pretty that I decided to go back to sleep for a while. By the crack of noon, I was covered by a hat and my rarely used “rain shell,” headed for the beach. Great sheets of water and temporary rivers along the sidewalks made for a beautiful vision after another too-dry winter. The neighborhood ducks were out, a mating pair of mallards, delighted by all the worms and whatever else had been awoken by the rainfall.

The beach, my fine little beach of dredged sand, was perfectly empty of people, the tide at its high point and whitecaps on the bay, thanks to the storm, which had also delivered a supply of logs, boards and other driftwood. There was a dead duck, too, still feathered, its beak pointing up.  (more…)

Good Morning, Mountain Sheep!

In the pre-dawn hour, I’m sitting at a picnic table in a little neighborhood park, a plastic kids playground behind me, thick green lawn reaching across the gentle slope to the east, all of it overlooking the bathtub-ringed reservoir called Lake Mead. Huge jackrabbits sleep on the park’s edge. On the other side, I see the soft slumbering lumps of desert cottontails.

It’s 76 degrees, before the sun rises over the brown-red mountains on the Arizona side. In the dim purple light, I see the first Desert Bighorn Sheep step daintily down the rocky hill and underneath the great metal legs of the electric-transmission tower behind this Boulder City suburban park. It’s a tall ram with huge winding horns. A half-dozen more follow him down. They cautiously look around the empty park and settle in for breakfast.

Magnificent creatures! The males are huge and sturdy, the patriarchs with thick curling horns that wrap down and around the head, some ending with ragged points from their mating wars. Long ears, horselike muzzles neatly capped in white hair, huge calm eyes, the short rough coat exactly the color of the desert rocks they call home, and here they are in a suburb.  (more…)

City living.

A Daylong Ramble From the Oakland Hills To Castro Valley

Time flies when you’re not having fun, too. I was walking my old dog around the Redwood Bowl in the Oakland hills last spring when a conversation began with one of those serious solo trail runners. Did I know that a chain of natural parks and trails connected the East Bay hills from Richmond all the way south to Castro Valley?

I did not. I knew San Francisco, but only from a 1990s urban existence: broken-glass sidewalks, rickety MUNI trains and electric buses, an occasional romantic cable car ride to an occasional office job. Now I lived in the East Bay, those green hills almost always in sight. Regular daylong hikes would become my new habit. And that was the solemn pledge I made to myself in Redwood Regional Park, on that May afternoon of 2013.

Three seasons quickly passed in the East Bay, seasons of dull work, rushed walks, and the death of that beloved old dog. Finally, I announced to my household that an upcoming Saturday was mine alone, work and kids and TurboTax be damned. It was time to walk a dozen miles down the ridgeline.  (more…)

Books On Trail: The Transcendent Glory of Listening To Literature In Nature

I have heard the western canon. I have not seen it, but its echoes live in my ears.

I have read maybe like, um, five books on the Modern Library list, but I have listened to nearly all of them on audiobook whilst hiking, traveling, trekking, night driving, and camping. Without the counterforce of human ingenuity humming in my ear as the great range of the Earth’s topography surges up with such terror-inducing majesty, something inside me would have ruptured.

I listen to audiobooks read by no-name character actors with rich voices. It started with the Harry Potter books—I could no longer stand the centurion tone of public radio broadcasts during my hour-long commute, so I started with something I wanted to know about but didn’t want to physically read. Hearing Jim Dale’s take on the scraggly voice of Hagrid and intone the authoritarian iciness of Ms. Umbridge, I discovered that I was really fucking on to something.  (more…)