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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Sweet ....

Doing Donuts On Your Bike (After 70 Miles of Bicycling Up the Coast)

“LA has grown into a car-dominated maze. But if you think it’s not good for bikes, you’d be wrong. The weather is perfect for all-year riding, but its a battle out here. A battle for bikes to be seen as a great way to commute without spending your life stuck in a metal box.”
—Steve Isaacs, Sweet Ride USA

A lot of my old music buddies have gone on to do some pretty interesting things with their lives, but only one of them recently traded his car for a bicycle to promote a more sustainable future for metropolitan cities like Los Angeles.

“I never expected to lean into the bicycle advocacy world as much as I have, but it really is a natural progression. It started out as a solo thing on the weekend, where I just waited for the work week to end so I could show up in Santa Monica, spend the whole day in the sun, see hundreds of people on the beach, and zip by listening to music. It became my happy place,” said Steve Isaacs.

I first saw Isaacs when he was performing the lead in a touring production of The Who’s Tommy in the mid-90s, and then got to know his band Skycycle through the Los Angeles music scene a few years later. He’s also a one-time MTV VJ and former lead singer for the alternative rock group The Panic Channel. But these days Isaacs is a Webby Award-winning digital marketer and co-founder of Sweet Ride USA, a web series and blog built around urban bicycle culture and fueling up on desserts along the way. (more…)

So metal ....

Adventuring Alone In the Bat Caves of Pinnacles National Park

I’ve got corn nuts and a soda pop in my hand, and I’m being rung up at the gas station just outside Hollister, California, right off Highway 101. The clerk asks me where I’m going, which seems kind of weird, but gas stations are probably boring places to work, and so I tell him I’m going back home to Oakland. I had just finished hiking around the Pinnacles.

Oh yeah, he’s been there one time. Very pretty, the rocks. And was I hiking with my friends?

I was not. I was hiking alone. (more…)

Wildfire Forest Service Lies

Five Lies the U.S. Forest Service Tells About Forest Fires

Derek E. Lee is principal scientist for the Wild Nature Institute,  author of many peer-reviewed scientific articles on the subject. and a nationally known expert on fire ecology.

It is fire season again in the American West, and that means we will soon be surrounded by media stories about the latest forest fires. These stories will inevitably be filled with misleading quotes from US Forest Service personnel, spokespeople, fire ecologists, and fire fighters.  Profiting from forest fires has become the core business of the Forest Service, the federal agency that administers our nation’s public forest lands.

The Forest Service spends $2 billion to $4 billion in taxpayer money annually for firefighting, plus hundreds of millions earned by selling our public lands’ trees in bogus pre-fire “fuels reduction” or post-fire “salvage” sales.  They have a huge financial incentive to mislead the public and our representatives in Washington DC about the state of our forests and how best to manage this publicly-owned natural resource, so every fire season they roll out disinformation talking points that are parroted by the media.  Here is a quick guide to the five worst and most-repeated deceptions along with relevant data-driven, ecological truths.  (more…)

Perfectly agreeable environment.

Notes From Nipton, California (Population 30)

When I moved to the desert full-time in 2008, I sent a friend a link to show her where the little house was that I’d rented for the summer. I got a horrified response. I’d been looking forward to the move as a clean break, post-divorce; a way to start over in a new place. She clicked on the link and then zoomed out a bit, and then she zoomed out a bit more, and then the machine noise that heralded the arrival of her instant message sounded much more urgent, somehow.

“You can’t survive out there,” her message said. “No one can survive out there. Humans need human companionship. You will lose your mind.” (more…)

A Madman’s Delightful Forest Park In the Oakland Hills

The Pyramid to Moses: A place where grown women go to drink champagne and color. Reproduced with permission from pal Miranda Everitt.

AH! there be souls none understand;
Like clouds, they cannot touch the land.
Unanchored ships, they blow and blow,
Sail to and fro, and then go down
In unknown seas that none shall know,
Without one ripple of renown.
Call these not fools, the test of worth
Is not the hold you have of earth.
Ay, there be gentlest souls sea-blown
That know not any harbor known.
Now it may be the reason is,
They touch on fairer shores than this.
—Joaquin Miller, Sea-Blown

I didn’t consider myself outdoorsy until I moved to California. Shortly after the boxes were unpacked, Ken Burns’ series on the National Parks (now on Netflix) came out on PBS. I learned two things from the first installment: 1) California is GORGEOUS, and 2) John Muir was INSANE.

I’ve been here almost five years now, and as I pass the halfway mark in Muir’s biography, I dogear each time he gets lost in a swamp for days, weeps hysterically at the sight of a single orchid, or swings from the top of a pine tree during a thunderstorm. Burns described Muir as “an ecstatic holy man.” I knew right then I had to read his biography, but it took me a while to get to it—I wended my way through some other California history classics on my way there: from Steinbeck’s East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath to Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. (more…)

This might already be you.

Greenfriar Has Arrived!

Just what is a “greenfriar,” anyway? It’s Friar Tuck laughing in the woods between raids on the king’s men, St. Francis wandering the countryside talking to birds, Katniss Everdeen living lightly off the land, monks brewing beer in an alpine village, and Johnny Appleseed building community gardens for America’s rough new settlements. And now it’s, a place for those of us who give a hoot.  (more…)