My first night in the truck proved magically restful and both Simone and I slept nearly 10 hours (we were both tired from several days of little sleep, a snotty sick, and preparing for our adventure). During the night we heard the raucous calls of a Common Loon, which worked its way into the subconscious landscape of our dreams. Around our campsite Red Crossbills twittered above us in the Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir. We started practicing bird songs we had to know for work right off the bat with Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Juncos serenading our breakfast foraging.
The dunes proved to be impressive but then again nature nerds aren’t too hard to please when they’ve been in the city for months! The Hairy Manzanita, kinnickinnick, and Shore Pine quickly took over the landscape. While we were investigating the new habitat we found a male Rufous Hummingbird displaying, diving its reckless loops above some shrubs. To our surprise we heard a Mountain Quail!
After a bit of waiting and listening we were graced with a quick but auspiciously lit view of a male Mountain Quail. Unlike the California Quail, who inhabit much more open landscapes back in Washington, Mountain Quail are rather scarce lurking in dense coastal forest. This was a serious treat and had us as excited as a pig in shit.
Songbirds abound with Song Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows singing non-stop. We picked out a singing Hutton’s Vireo, which although widespread in the Puget Sound area, are rarely seen. I had come up with a mnemonic device to help remember the song and all we could hear was a demented “Tree. Tree. Tree,” from the pines. Another coastal specialty churred away in the scrub, a Wrentit who was determined that we shouldn’t find it. I suppose crashing through the bushes isn’t the best method to finding a notoriously shy bird.
Wrentits are particularly strange birds. They are actually probably relatives of Old World Babblers or Old World Warblers, probably via a bird that found it’s way over the Aleutians long ago when there was a land bridge. Above all else when I think of Wrentits, I am reminded of the bird’s spectacularly inadequacy at flying. I’ve seen them appear to struggle across a parking lot and it’s no wonder they’ve never made it across the Columbia River into Washington, when they hardly manage a few feet above the ground. It would have been nice to see this gray little bird, but an ample amount of his gulping song had to suffice. They are one of the few native species that have thrived in the logging along the pacific coasts, because they inhabit scrubby habitats.
There’s a certain type of atmosphere I find myself entering when everything in the natural world around me seems intensely fascinating. Simply put – once I start getting excited I’m all a flutter, actively seeking out anything noteworthy. I feel as if my senses are heightened and I notice much more. I’ve also noticed this in my fellows and suspect there may be a connection between this sensation and the potential for a dopamine flush paired with discovery. There’s probably plenty of work already published on this feeling of exploration but it’s just now occurred to me.
Walking out to a promontory, it was dunes and the conifer/shrub landscape to the Pacific. An Osprey flew overhead, ducking down to harass a Bald Eagle probably up to something nefarious. Simone summoned a distant Peregrine Falcon far above, typical of her prescient raptor obsession.
The only thing reminding us that this wasn’t untouched habitat were the distant sounds of the abominable ATVs tearing away at landscape and a couple errant beer cans. I have a very finite patience with the types of people that cultivate these behaviors. But if I got upset every time I saw erosion from an ATV or a beer can in the sweetest of oases I’d probably already have some gray hair and an aneurism by now. It’s sometimes the healthy admission to tune out the motors and pick up the beer can, so I did just that and stopped foaming at the mouth.
Back in camp, we were feeling great after a morning of explorations. Yet the road beckoned and I was feeling drawn to California. We looked around here and there on our way south. A rest area in the Humbug Mountains of South Eastern Oregon had a pleasant stand of Myrtlewood and a nice array of wildflowers basking in the moist habitat along Brush Creek. A beautiful green Icuenomid wasp was very cooperative as she sat on a post apparently unbothered by my papparatizi treatment. If I was a little more tolerant of handling strange insects I think I could be very happy studying hymenoptera (wasps. bees, ants). There are so very many of them and I know so little. I suppose that’s the draw of the unknown! (p.s – read The Snoring Bird by Bern Heinrich and I suspect you’ll be inspired by insects as well).
California was there before we knew it and we soon had our first views of Monterrey Cyprus and at last Coast Redwoods! I’ve never seen these amazing plants growing in their native array and I was naturally thrilled to finally see them. Grooved, rusty trunks with fleshy, scaled foliage flashed by on the 101. Simone and I tried to stay our enthusiasm for when we got into the real forests.
In “metropolis” of Crescent City we got maps of California and information on places to visit for the next couple of days. It even seemed like we could find free camping. On our way to check out a potential place to sleep, the day seemed like it couldn’t have gone better.
Then we had a bit of a reality check. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the North Coast of California, but it was quickly the source of a new word coined for our uneasiness, “Sketchakan.” Many of the people in North Cali hold a very special aura not unlike people of the backwoods in Georgia, except many of them are half crazed from bad trips. While the place we intended to camp was a hike in from a parking area, we figured we’d just figure out a way to sleep by the truck (seeing that all our worldly possessions were stashed all about it). A beautiful sunset was on course, Blue Ceanothus was blooming like mad, and it was great photograph after great photograph. Then we started noticing all the characters about.
Five mangy dogs behaving as if we were going to beat them were soon about us, cowering and wagging their tails in frantic submission. We could see the stumbling silhouettes of several crumpled people coming up the path. The first pair leaned on each other and held the tattered remains of a rack of Steel Reserve, walked by with a boozy hello. The third figure was a grimy gentleman who noticed my camera and decided to tell me about his brother’s photograph of the sunset – “that really looked like a sunset”…. And the final two showing the spectacular grease of years of drinking and smoking in the sun, were barely walking and asked me for another cigarette. Confused by this (because I didn’t have any cigarettes), I declined to share, only to realize that they mistook my toothpick for one. I watched apprehensively as the most unabashedly sloshed of the party climbed into the driver’s seat of their decrepit van and they lumbered off into the shadows.
Feeling like we’d avoided some sort of major catastrophe involving being robbed or attacked we started to notice more odd people about the small parking lot. Two cars pulled up and one of the drivers got into the other’s car and they seemed possessed by some task below window level. A panel truck drove down to the lot, barely fitting on the coastal road, only to turn around after eyeing us all. The final straw was a seedy character that reminded me of Gollum appearing out of nowhere. He took a look at my camera and computer (which happened to be out at that moment) and disappeared without a car or any other apparent means of transportation. I suspected he had some sort of mildewed lair nearby full of loot from hapless travelers that he lorded over in maniacal fixation. Although we didn’t want to pay for camping, this didn’t seem like the quietest or probably safest place to spend the night.
So we headed off toward a campground in the shadowy hills leaping from the coast. A wrong turn took us instead of on the highway to the Jebidiah Smith State Park Campground but on a long dusty road that ended up being the idyllic way to finish our evening and relax after the creeps by the ocean. This road was a track leading through some of the larger redwoods in the area and into the Stout Grove. The light was failing but en route we knew we had to return the following day.