Chilly winds greeted us in the parking area along with an overarch of sweet, gray fog. But Jim assured us that on our return “the wind would be at our backs” so challenged and comforted we set out and into the grasslands. This is the only hike we’ve taken that seems to be without trees to mark our way and to shade our stops. Just as we began, we could look over to the abandoned ranch across from the old RCA maritime receiving station to a stand of Monterey Cypress huddled in memory of ranchers past. That was the last of the trees for quite sometime until we found some scrubby kin hanging onto the cliffs above Drakes Estero. Jim was a perfect guide through this “sea of grass” with his amazing knowledge of the grasses, rushes and sedges. We’ve gotten used to trying to identify wildflowers, trees, ferns, mosses, lichens, rocks and minerals but have tended to overlook the grasses so this hike provided a happy contrast.
We could see how pioneers coming across the western prairies in the 19th century could have gotten lost and disoriented with the grasses blowing in every direction. One account talks of losing cattle in the high grass and the pioneers having to stand on horseback to find them again. On Monday we tasted just a bit of the California coastal prairie, or the northern coastal grassland and nobody got lost.
Here’s an import from an earlier Bull Point hike seen and heard along our path – memorable for his powerful beauty and his wonderful name. I spotted him down the road toward the lighthouse in another pasture while returning from our earlier 2013 Chimney Rock Hike with Michael. Was he or his comrades the source of the Bull Point name? Another possibility might be in honor of the first Pt. Reyes Lighthouse keeper, John C. Bull, who did a fine job out there from 1870-1875. Just as an aside, I wonder if there is any relationship with another more modern Admiral John C. Bull? http://www.history.noaa.gov/cgsbios/bioc11.html
The Estero beckons on the right side of the sign and a variety of images present themselves with a part called Creamery Bay. We had discovered the extensive butter production at the Pierce Point Ranch by the Vermonter Solomon Pierce in the 1850’s, a friend of the Shafters, lawyers and land speculators who also hailed from Vermont. It was the Shafters law firm and their family who divided up the rest of Pt. Reyes into a “tenant dairy enterprise in 1866” marketing large quantities of butter and some cheese. Perhaps this is where our Creamery Bay came from? http://www.nps.gov/pore/historyculture/people_ranching.htm
Jim shares a Salmonberry discovery along the way, later we enjoyed watching some White-crowned sparrows lingering in a Salmonberry bush near the estero.
Looking over to Creamery Bay with the hills above called on the map, “Pastoral Lands” and lots of excavations at our feet.
The coyote bush, Baccharis pilularis, perhaps six inches high, growing close to the ground due to the windy, challenging conditions. The bees will tailor their flight path to fly just an inch or so above the ground as well to keep out of the wind and weather.
Change of emphasis
There were many badger holes along the trail. Jim pointed out the the badger doesn’t dig like a coyote or a dog but with a sideways swimming motion. Here you can see nice evidence of her/his claws at work. http://www.yoloconservationplan.org/yolo_pdfs/speciesaccounts/mammals/badger.pdf
As they say in Australia, we’re on a “track” (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kokoda_Track for an exotic example from Papua, New Guinea) Is this the origin of our trekking? When does it become a rut as in “getting stuck in”? A classic example from the Oregon Trail:
Those pioneers might not have gotten lost in that “sea of grass” if they “stayed on the track” but they might have gotten stuck in some of the ruts. Which trail or track do we take to California . . . Oregon – to the dream, they wondered then as do we now. Robert Frost added some more thoughts you’ll recall:
Creamery Bay looming larger with some appropriately called Milk thistles in the foreground
Watching our trek with interest was this Charolais mom about to be, just a guess on the breed but isn’t she beautiful?
Jim pointed out this great example of native bunch grass, formidable, what you go around rather than over and with a sense of style, the Douglas iris at Jeannie’s foot.
Jim started to recall reed instruments from a blade of grass when . . .
Scott put the music together with such a natural élan that we all had to listen, in fact, couldn’t miss it!
Some Indian Paintbrush, grasses and Coyote bush above the beach where we found a lunch niche out of the wind.
We soon realized that we were in those “Pastoral Lands” to which the map had alluded when this visitor in basic black trumped up from the beach. She was unimpressed with our attempts at direction.
Native bunch grass beauty (Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens (?) subject to Jim’s counsel) – http://www.nps.gov/pore/naturescience/grasses.htm
After lunch, Jim mentioned a talk he’d heard from a naturalist’s naturalist, John Muir Laws. Some who read Bay Nature will recall his fascinating back page, “Naturalist’s Notebook”. Jim said that he talked of a three step approach to appreciating the natural world: Seeing first of all, then being amazed, and finally making associations with what we already know. Jim spoke of all those interconnections in our brains as we learn and associate ideas and feelings – not just of the name or names but also the detail and essence of the life we are discovering.
We’ve seen Michael and Armando dive to pick up a passing creature and now Jim joins that panoply of nature divers with a great catch (and release, of course) of a Northern Alligator Lizard. http://www.californiaherps.com/identification/lizardsid/elgaria.id.html
The other lizards that we’ve seen have either had intact tails or regenerated tails, this was the first one found on our recent hikes already without a tail. This lizard seemed very comfortable on Jim’s hand and liked hiking up his jacket sleeve perhaps enjoying the camouflage. http://www.californiaherps.com/behavior/lizardbehaviortailloss.html
Larry demanded a quiz, please identify these blooms and galls, wups, from our hike. Jim will correct your papers, no due date or maybe next time?
During our picnic looking down the cliff to the beach below we see Sticky Monkey flowers and Purple Bush Lupine with Salmonberry vines on the move et al.
The lupine id should be tempered and taken under advisement by the following page:
http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/specieslist.cgi?where-genus=Lupinus The wolf strikes again.
We were treated with a number of bird sightings at lunch with a flock of Brant paddling out in the water and then taking flight, some White Pelicans making a stately pass, an Osprey doing a number of turns overhead, a Harrier flying low and straight above the the fields, the White-crowns mentioned feasting in the Salmon berries, a pair of Killdeer on the path by the parking lot and in the distance from our picnic spot a swirl of birds in a murmuration on the horizon. http://sociable.co/meme/two-tourists-capture-stunning-murmuration-of-starlings-above-irelands-longest-river/
Oh, yes, there was some talk about the origin of the name for Canada goose: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_did_Canada_geese_get_their_name
As more cows emerge from the beach, we say so long to Drakes Estero and wonder quizzically about that “old dock” extending into the water.
Jim reconnoiters the way back.
And calves do what calves do best.