Category Archives: Outdoors

Frost Love Note

Standard
View across the fields. Photo: PKR

View across the fields. Photo: PKR

The past few weeks have been a feast of fog and frost. Thick fog lingers, the moisture freezes to every surface outside, the world is held in suspension…and then a couple of rays of sunshine break through and within minutes, the hard days of frost quite literally evaporate.

I’ve a fondness for this season, a time in our area that finds many of our neighbors in a grey funk due to the lack of sunshine. Lucky me, I like the comforting uniformness of fog. The white ice sculptures that are still trees, blades of grass, fallen leaves make for excellent viewing, appearing as they do like still actors revealed by a slow-moving curtain.

Hoarfrost covers a plant as the sun comes out. Photo: PKR

Hoarfrost covers a plant as the sun comes out. Photo: PKR

But what I really like is how transient it is. Back and forth, we drift in and out of cracking white-in-grey days to brilliant sunshine without the deep commitment to winter that will come with the first deep snowfall. There’s nothing transient about two feet of snow, especially once it’s been shoveled from the paths and driveways into large piles. That frozen stuff will stay put for weeks, if not months.

Not this frost, though. It’s quick as a hot breath on a cold window. There just long enough write a quick love note…and gone.

A few minutes pass, and the plant is frost-free. Photo: PKR

A few minutes pass, and the plant is frost-free. Photo: PKR

Sly Fog And Moon

Standard

The Lake Geneva basin is known for its foggy autumns, when weeks can pass beneath a layer of thick brume with little sunshine. And when it breaks, it does so with suddenness. It simply parts like a fragile veil and you realize the sun has been blazing away up there all along.

Our little corner of the region, though, has countless hollows and dips and the fog wanders around as if seeking a new foothold. Even as it retreats, there are unexpected pockets of mist. The first meadow on my running loop is one of fog’s favorite places to play hide-and-seek.

All photos: PKR

Photo: PKR

I know a lot of people here who dread the weeks of gloom. It can be like being lost in an endless down blanket. Sure, you can always drive up a mountain, and literally get your head out of the fog. But who has the time on a daily basis to make the hour long round-trip? Luckily for me, fog is an old friend. Growing up in a foggy region of the California coast, the days and weeks of fog here just make for pleasant nostalgia.

img_3368

Moonrise. Photo: PKR

And then there are moments like this one, when the moon rises between cleft in the fog that is still covering Lake Geneva, which lays a bit lower in altitude than our place. It was just a minute or two, a keyhole between sunset and nightfall, but the moon shown brighter than the sun had for many days. It rose into obscurity, but stayed with me for the duration of the run.

Hoarfrost Quietude

Standard

Throughout winter, our little village can often be found directly on the fog line of the milky blanket that covers the Geneva basin for weeks at a time. We are just high enough in altitude (490 m/1600 ft) to catch a glimpse of blue above, not quiet high enough to see out over the fog itself.

Photo: PKR

Photo: PKR

The freezing temperatures and lack of sunlight coat most surfaces with an ever-thickening layer of ice – hoarfrost – as the fog lingers and becomes solid. The garden, the roads, are obscured by a moving veil, with visibility down to a dozen yards or so, and then suddenly, like the revelation of a hidden truth, the fields and mountains and tree-tops reappear.

When the sun bursts through, there’s a brief, wonderful space of time when the hoarfrost falls from the trees and bushes in chiming shards. And the birds, mostly silent in the fog as it’s an eternal evening, suddenly begin to sing again.

I went for a run today at just the right moment. The fog broke, and though I could see the borders of the fog bank just below our own property, above was all soft light. I could hear raucous birdsong, and the gentle tinkling of frost rain.

A Different Hourglass

Standard
I’ve been looking at images of Aboriginal Australian artists from Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Museum exhibition called Marking the Infinite, portraits of a sense of time and space outside our second and minute-marked world – and then I found this post in my drafts from a few weeks ago, the small echo of a sunny day.
“I went out to work in the garden for half an hour, planning to put in a row of spinach. Almost three hours later, I came back inside, unaware of how much time had passed as the warm autumn wind blew, birds called each to each, and clouds chased above.
How can time fly so unremarked?

Bush Plum (2013) Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

Bush Plum (2013)
Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

I cleared a small bed of rose bushes that I’ve neglected for too long, freeing them from weeds growing fat on my inattention, eager brambles that disguise their thorns among those of the roses, sly grass encroaching from the lawn.

That done, I cut back the tall perennials, neglected for weeks with a distracted gardener. It’s an exercise in immediate gratification – I can liberate the plants and myself of past laziness, with visible results. Maybe that’s why the afternoon disappeared like the space between fingers tightening together around a narrow green stalk.

How often does life offer us such easy rewards?”
Syaw (Fishnet) (2015) Artist: Regina Pilawuk Wilson via hyperallergenic

Syaw (Fishnet) (2015)
Artist: Regina Pilawuk Wilson via hyperallergenic

Well, that spinach I planted got eaten by a roaming animal who refused to be put off by various barriers until I finally gave up, but whatever is was that liked the spinach didn’t care for lettuce, so I have a small crop of late salad greens.
This week, the garden will be put to bed for the winter. The fragile trees are already under wraps, the last herbs will be harvested for drying.
As the snow blankets the small patch of green, I’ll need to remind myself regularly of the weightless time of working in the garden.

Detail: Bush Plum (2013) Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

Detail: Bush Plum (2013)
Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

Waiting For Rain

Standard

I was running my loop the other day when I came across this delicate specimen in the middle of the road – a damselfly that was flitting around two weeks later than the very end of the usual damselfly season, probably because it still feels like high summer.

I shooed it off the asphalt as a car approached, and it alighted on a leaf just long enough for me to take its picture. Not for nothing is it known as ‘beautiful demoiselle’ (Calopteryx virgo), but it was a little far from its natural stream habitat. Maybe it was looking for water.

Beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo). Photo: PKR

Beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo).
Photo: PKR

In a normal year, we’d get a week of rainfall the first few days of September. Same routine year after year. School starts, and it rains. Not this year. This year saw unbroken rain from spring to early summer, and not much since. The garden lawn is brown and crunchy as shredded wheat underfoot, the plants and trees are hanging on (or not – we’ve lost at least two trees to the heat this year).

The air has been still and heavy, the corn fields look green from a distance but the corn is dried and ruined on the stalks, and while no one is using the word drought because of all the rain earlier in the year, it feels…strange.

I was actually out on two separate runs the day I took these photos – the morning run, when I saw the damselfly, turned out to be too oppressively hot to complete my full 10k. I waited until dusk to do the rest.

Fallow field against a dry cornfield, with dry clouds at sunset. Photo: PKR

Fallow field against a dry cornfield, with dry clouds at sunset.
Photo: PKR

NASA released numbers showing that 2016 is the hottest year on record, meaning of course not the hottest year ever, but just since we’ve had the technology to record temperatures. Meaning the ‘modern age’ which defines current society.

As much impact as our industrialized society has on the planet’s temperature, it’s hard to even estimate what impact these rising temperatures and extreme weather will have on societies around the world.

A recent study published by the Harvard University Economics Department correlated temperature with school test results and found that above a certain temperature, performance went down. Consistently. We talk about the adaptability of animals and plants to changing conditions, but what about our own adaptability?

Temperature reconstructions by Nasa, using work from its sister agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the global temperature typically rose by between 4-7C over a period of 5,000 years as the world moved out of ice ages. The temperature rise clocked up over the past century is around 10 times faster than this previous rate of warming. Caption/Image: The Guardian/NASA

Temperature reconstructions by NASA, using work from its sister agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the global temperature typically rose by between 4-7C over a period of 5,000 years as the world moved out of ice ages. The temperature rise clocked up over the past century is around 10 times faster than this previous rate of warming.
Caption/Image: The Guardian/NASA

Humans actually function within a relatively small comfort zone of temperature. We can survive at extremes, but it’s not always easy or pretty, and historically it’s been in smaller populations than currently sharing space on Earth.

The sky has turned grey in the past twelve hours, we’ve had a smattering of raindrops, but it’s still summer-hot and sticky. Much of France is on an extreme weather alert this week, not for heat, but for severe storms and hail.

Guess I’ll have to see what the day brings.

Here’s a good waiting for rain tune – one that I like, and not just because of the spoonerism of the band’s name.

The Real Deal

Standard
Moonrise seen from the Sooke Harbour House. Photo: Peter Skillman

Moonrise seen from the Sooke Harbour House.
Photo: Peter Skillman

We were sitting at the Sooke Harbour House overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca of Vancouver Island, British Colombia, sipping a martini made from local ingredients: Sheringham Gin, Tugwell Creek Solstice Metheglin, Bittered Sling Lem Marakesh. I recognized very few of the words.

I’m more of a whisky person, but I’m coming around to gin these days. And this was a bright, nuanced gin martini with both floral and salty marine flavors, just like our surroundings. The garnish of a pickled fir tip was truly something I had never considered possible, much less tasted before.

We learned that Sheringham Gin was distilled just up the road from Sooke, in the community of Shirley. We decided to search for the distillery at the end the next day, after a lazy day of touring the coast by motorcycle, a pistachio and cream-colored dream re-issue of a vintage model. It’s been decades since I sat on the back of motorcycle, but I remember now how much fun it was.

Our ride: the Indian Chief Vintage.

Our ride: the Indian Chief Vintage.

We got a little lost looking for the road to the gin place, not that there are many roads; we were following verbal instructions from the night before rather than a map. We asked a couple of guys chatting roadside if they knew of a local gin distillery. They laughed as if that was a stupid question. Of course they did – this is the kind of place where everybody knows everyone.

Two double-backs later, we’d found our way – a steep-ish gravel road through forest and blackberry bushes heavy with fruit.

The view from Sheringham Distillery, Vancouver Island. All photos: PKR

The view from Sheringham Distillery, Vancouver Island.
Photo: PKR

It’s always a joy to see people create their own slice of paradise. Here is a place that distillers Jason and Alayne MacIsaac have made just the way they want it: A hand-built house, a lush garden overlooking the water, and a craft distillery out the back. The real deal. There was a vintage custom motorcycle out front to complete the picture.

We just showed up with no warning on loud bikes, and we were offered an extremely warm welcome.

Both Jason and Alayne came out to greet us, and Jason took us on a tour of their establishment.

Like the majority of distillers on Vancouver Island (there are almost 40 of them), the MacIsaacs make their own alcohol. Jason says they prefer the taste of locally produced organic white wheat and malted barley, and gives us a sip to prove it. It’s fresh, like a cool breeze.IMG_3007

The gin recipe involves the addition of orris, angelica, coriander and juniper. With dashes of orange, lavender, rose petals and lemon – and a dash of hand-harvested local winged kelp(!).  It might sound crazy, but we could taste every one of those ingredients. Lovely.

A further twist of the screw results in aqvavit, something I haven’t had in almost as long as I’ve been on a motorcycle. After tasting the Sheringham version, I’ll be returning to this drink more often.

Two of the Sheringham products.

Two of the Sheringham products.

When people talk about small craft distilleries, this is what they mean. It’s a lot of work and a massive amount of determination, but look at what it can bring forth. There is a commitment to authenticity, to quality, and to the life that goes with this work on every level.

I’m sorry to say we didn’t have time to visit the nearby Tugwell Creek winery to taste their honey mead – which is what the metheglin in that martini turned out to be.

Sheringham Distillers just started production over the past couple of years. Here’s hoping this is just the start of something beautiful.

Jason MacIsaac in front of the distillery.

Jason MacIsaac in front of the distillery.

 

Amidst the Madding Crowd

Standard

Fistral Beach near Newquay in Cornwall is mainly known for one thing: Surfing.

The beach isn’t long, around a half a mile. But it is generally full.

On a recent visit, we watched a constant stream of surfboard-lidded cars arrive at the end of the beachfront road where our friend there lives, turn, and look for a parking spot. Surfers changed into wetsuits on the street. IMG_2776

A surfer website says: “Very consistent, beachbreak peak, that occasionally gets epic.” Indeed.

Even on a calm day of glassy water there are surfers out in the sea, there are beginner’s classes being held on the beach, dozens of people madly paddling and learning to stand on a board, right there on the sand.

On this day, the surf looked pretty decent, at least to this non-surfer. Boards filled the waves, boards filled the beach.

I didn’t take photos of all that.IMG_2777

I was more interested in the water at incoming tide, casting reflections in small pools, or rippling against the sand.

IMG_2762

I went on an early Sunday walk, not early enough to beat the crowds of surfers and families and dogs and kids, but early enough that some of the walk was peaceful and meditative.

It’s the sand beneath the feet and between the toes. It’s the flow and retreat of water.IMG_2770

It’s the sun and subtle reflections.

It’s the hint of past human activity merged into the rocks. IMG_2793The rush of waves that drowns out the sound of bullhorned lifeguards calling out warnings and corralling wayward young.

Two small fish swim in a temporary pond of shadows and light, avoiding notice of nearby children with nets and waiting for the tide to return and carry them back out to the big pond.

Calm among frenzy. It was occasionally epic.IMG_2797

 

Keeping a City at Bay

Standard

The Presidio in San Francisco was established as a fortified base by the Spanish in 1776 as El Presidio Real de San Francisco or The Royal Fortress of Saint Francis.

It was the northernmost outpost of a Spanish empire in decline.

The Spire, by Andy Goldsworthy. Composed of 37 steel-armatured cypress tree trunks, felled as part of the Presidio's re-forestation program. Photo: PKR

The Spire (2008), by Andy Goldsworthy.
Composed of 37 steel-armatured cypress tree trunks, felled as part of the Presidio’s re-forestation program.
Photo: PKR

We were there recently with a friend, in the Presidio’s current life as a public-private project – part park, part residential area, part office campus for commercial and non-profit organizations. It’s changed a lot since I spent time there back in the 1980s, when it was a quiet place of dilapidated barracks and virtually abandoned administrative buildings.

The Presidio has always had a special place in the city – its existence as one of the choicest bases in the United States military (golf courses, views of San Francisco Bay, beaches) protected it from the intense urban development that took place elsewhere.

A map of San Francisco, circa 1950, hung on a friend's wall. The Presidio is the entire green area at the top of the map. Source: W. Elliot Judge

A map of San Francisco, circa 1950, hung on a friend’s wall. The Presidio is the entire green area at the top of the map.
Source: W. Elliot Judge

It remains a place of tall cypress trees, sweeping lawns, surrounded by the blue of the bay and the ocean, with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop.

The base was decommissioned by the military in 1995, and has since become part of the National Park Service. The area that President Harry Truman once proposed as the U.S. headquarters for the United Nations is now a (not entirely undisputed) public-private development that includes a campus for non profit organizations.

Old Coast Guard Station and Golden Gate Bridge seen from the Presidio. Photo: Will Elder/Wikipedia

Old Coast Guard Station and Golden Gate Bridge seen from the Presidio.
Photo: Will Elder/Wikipedia

From The Presidio: From Army Post to National Park (Lisa Benton-Short):

“The Presidio is a community within a park within a larger community. We are reminded by such accidents of geography that each of us is placed in human life within the concentric circles of relationship to others and to the natural world.”

In a throwback to when neighboring farmers grazed their cattle on Presidio land, goats now keep the weeds in check.

Goats provide mowing services as part of the City Graze project. Photo: PKR

Goats provide mowing services as part of the CityGrazing project for sustainable landscaping.
Photo: PKR

Who would have thought that a military installation, established 240 years ago as a point from which to develop new settlements, would end up fortifying an entire swathe of territory as parkland for the future?

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldswrorthy leads through an upper forest path. Photo: PKR

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldswrorthy. Eucalyptus branches curve through a standing eucalyptus grove near Lovers’ Lane, the Presidio’s oldest footpath
Photo: PKR

Fight, Flight, or Loll

Standard

We were out early at Drake’s Beach in West Marin, California, under changeable skies. It was low tide, and we were the only bipeds around – the parking lot completely empty, no stray campers or hikers, we had the place to ourselves, at least when it came to other humans.

Drake's Beach, California. Photos: PKR

Drake’s Beach, California.
Photos: PKR

And while there were fewer shorebirds than I would have expected, there were a multitude of large crabs. Mostly intact, mostly dead.

And then we started noticing more remnants of life – traces that reflected the retreating tide in broken shells. IMG_2470

Something I haven’t seen before, countless sand dollars, most of them still alive, scattered at the ebb line. Those small, flat sea urchins with the lovely star patterns that we usually see bleached white – these were still pink and moving.

Some clearly were trying to find their way back to the water, leaving elegant script of their flight. (These two were still very alive, and we put them back in the water.)IMG_2474

Other creatures weren’t ready to give up even an inch of territory, no matter the cost. This palm-sized crab was as fierce as they come.IMG_2519

And then there were those who were neither in fight nor flight mode: They were lolling.

The white spots offshore are the whale and her calf.  Photo: Oliver Brüning

The white spots offshore are the whale and her calf.
Photo: Oliver Brüning

It’s not terribly clear from this image (the better camera had given up by the time we got to the bottom of the lighthouse steps), but this small cove below the Point Reyes Lighthouse had a number of seals, all sizes, doing lazy loops while a mother humpback took her calf through its paces, back and forth.

There wasn’t much to do after that then head back to Inverness for a good dinner. Not before having a seat in the empty lighthouse keeper’s chair, though – someone needs to sit there now and again, since the lighthouse was automated forty years ago.

Photo: Oliver Brüning

Photo: Oliver Brüning

Tactile Topography

Standard
These maps, sold to Danish explorer Gustav Holm by Umvit native Kunit in the 1880s. Kuniit's wooden maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq, Greenland. Source: Visualising Data

These maps were sold to Danish explorer Gustav Holm by Umvit native Kuniit in the 1880s.
Kuniit’s wooden maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq, Greenland.
Source: Visualising Data

I came across some maps the other day and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since.

Carved wood maps are well-known Inuit instruments of cartography, made to navigate the coastal waters and inland areas of Greenland. The maps are read by feeling along each ridge, and are legible up one side and down the other for a continuous journey.

The tools are hand-held guidance systems for specific journeys that would be almost illegible to those of us accustomed to paper.

These are maps made for specific journeys, to be read by those who had been there and passed on, or rather, taught, to those who were going. Experiential maps based on being there rather than description. An object that contains sight, sound, touch, all ready to fit into a mitten.

Less a visualization than a finger-felt stroll through a long path.

In English, the caption reads: "Kuniit's three wooden (tree) maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq. Map to the right shows the islands along the coast, while the map in the middle shows the mainland and is read from one side of the block around to the other. Map to the left shows the peninsula between the fjords Sermiligaaq and Kangertivartikajik." Source: Topografisk Atlas Grønland via Nuuk Marlak

In English, the caption reads: “Kuniit’s three wooden (tree) maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq. Map to the right shows the islands along the coast, while the map in the middle shows the mainland and is read from one side of the block around to the other. Map to the left shows the peninsula between the fjords Sermiligaaq and Kangertivartikajik.”
Source: Topografisk Atlas Grønland via Nuuk Marlak

Consider the knowledge of place that is required to craft a map of this kind.

How many places do most of us know as well, using our conventional maps and paths through life?

When I was a teenager, I spent some time living in the dense forests of coastal Marin County, California. We lived in cabins that were almost a mile from the main road, up a steep and rutted dirt road that twisted and turned between bay trees and ferns, no grading or gravel. No electricity, no street lights. No neighbors.

Every so often, walking back from the closest village of Inverness, I would arrive after sunset.

Being a forgetful teen, I rarely remembered to bring a flashlight. Read: Never. So I walked the road in the dark. Barefoot, so I could stay on the soft dirt of the road and not accidentally wander off into the soft fringes of moss and low plants on either side. Once the road was gone beneath my feet, it was gone for a panicky while.

That happened only once, the first time. After that, I got to know the curves and switchbacks, the ruts and the touchstone trees, well enough make my way up the hill without incident. Read: Safe arrival.

Seeing these wooden Inuit maps, I wonder if I would have been able to carve that road into a tool that I could have used, even without bare feet. I knew the road well – but how deeply had I made it a part of myself, as these maps must have been to their makers and users?

The Greenland coastline described in the coastal wooden map, seen from a modern paddling perspective. A description of the trip can be found at the credit link. Source: Jim Krawiecki/The Paddler eZine

The Greenland coastline described in the coastal wooden map, seen from a modern paddling perspective. A description of the trip can be found at the credit link.
Source: Jim Krawiecki/The Paddler eZine