Monday, March 18, 2013

Nature Nerd

I haven't gotten out much lately. A combination of iron-deficiency anemia and general blahs has kept me indoors doing laundry, filling out paperwork, somehow not actually making my house any tidier. It was a big weekend...three baseball games, a softball game, a basketball game...but it was all over before noon on Sunday.

I had plans to go for a nice long hike, but I was instantly hit with more blahs and a moutain of stuff that needed doing at home. Thank goodness my neighbor called and asked if I wanted to join her while she walked her dog. The invitation was just what I needed. She suggested we might go somewhere else, other than the nearby neighborhoods, so I did some quick research and found all the dog-friendly open space preserves nearby. We chose one and set off.

It turned out to be a great choice of parks. It was beautiful, intermittantly shady, lots of flowers, lots of friendly dogs (apparently a few ticks too). My friend, L., commented on one of the plants. "That's neat," she said.
Photo shamelessly stolen from
"Yeah," I said without thinking. "That's trillium." And I suddenly realized that it's no great wonder I feel out of place here in Silicon Valley. Not only did I know what kind of plant it was, but I was pretty pleased with myself for knowing as well. I'm such a nerd...but the completely WRONG kind of nerd to live around here.

It was a short hike. L. needed to get back and that was fine. I puttered around the house a little, did a little gardening, filled out some paperwork, washed some dishes, then put on my hiking boots and left...again. By then, it was 5 o'clock. I figured people would be leaving my favorite little hiking spot (which as become very, very crowded over the last 30 years) for dinner and I'd be able to park. Twilight is a lovely time to be there. Animals are out the views across the Bay are lovely and there are fewer people around.
Photo courtesy of a different day and time when I had a camera on me

On a lovely day, "fewer" is all relative, however. There were still a lot of people there.

I left my camera at home, which generally guarantees I'll see something cool.

I was immediately greeted by some male wild turkeys, showing off their magnificent breeding plumage to anyone who'd pay attention. I didn't see any hens around, so maybe they were just showing off for each other. Most of the year, turkeys are just kind of around, but I really enjoy watching them at this time of year. I swear one of them had the brightest blue head I've ever seen and a long, bright red waddle attached.
Photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation
I ran into a curious Western Gray Squirrel. There are always squirrels in my backyard and honestly, there's nothing terribly impressive about squirrels. I even came to dislike them when I worked with orphaned squirrels at Wildlife Rescue years ago. But backyard squirrels are generally Eastern Gray Squirrels. They're little and scraggly, compared to their Western cousins.
photo courtesy of the Methow Conservancy

The squirrel that hopped off the trail and then sat and watched as I passed was magnificent as squirrels go. He was big with a giant plume of a tail. We had a little chat and I went on my way.

There were more turkeys, herds of deer, views, hikers, joggers, and still a significant amount of peace to be had.

I reached the end of my loop and, having landed in the wrong parking lot, took the long gravel path past more gobbling turkeys, to the one where I parked. I was almost too lost in thought...or maybe I was still laughing at the turkey on the hillside above notice this guy.
Photo courtesy of my absurdly obsolete cell phone
That would've been a pity.

I put this photo up on Facebook because I was so excited to have seen this snake...a California King Snake. I'd never seen one before and I know enough about snakes to know this one wasn't poisonous, even if I didn't know what he was at first.

After all, this is a viper:

This sweet little snake is not one of those. (Eek!)

Last time I found an unknown snake on the trail, I'd taken pictures and mailed them off to a herpetologiest who was interested in sightings of rubber boas on the San Francisco Peninsula. He was very excited that I'd found him a rubber boa and asked if I'd let the kids handle it. Handle it? Are you kidding me? I didn't know what it was!  Of course, it was obviously non-venomous as well, but it seemed a poor example to set. It made me a little tempted to pick up this king snake though. It was really long though...and now I'm glad I thought better of it. Apparently, they're known to bite people if they're not used to being handled...and to dump their "cloacal contents" (aka: crap) all over you in defense.

I have to say the Facebook reaction was kind of disappointing. A lot of my "friends" said they would have been totally freaked out, or grossed out, or just said "ewwwwww!". I get that not everyone is a big fan of snakes. I don't consider myself a "snake person" either. After all, not even I was about to pick this one up, but it was so cool! And I was so very impressed with his five feet of black and white stripes. The snake was not nearly so impressed with me, after I got down in his face and took his photo. He turned around and went back the way he'd come.

Sometimes I forget what a nerd I really am because I don't fit the nerd-mold around here. It's nice to be reminded that there are some things I get really jazzed about (that don't relate to my children). It's kind of a lonely business though...being a biology nerd.

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