Hullo again, dear friends!

California Ground Squirrel, on stump

Well, what I thought was going to be a short break has turned into a full month of silence. Just in case anyone was seriously worried about my disappearance, let me assure you that I am fine.

All better and back to normal then?!

No. I can’t tell you that.

I used the words “uncomfortable” and “exhausted” in my last post and I think that is still a fairly accurate assessment of how I’m feeling these days. One of my dear friends sensitively commiserated that GI problems are tough because it’s not really something that is as socially acceptable to talk about in depth, the way one might if it was a broken bone or a bad cold. This is certainly true. And, when it does get discussed openly, it’s usually detailing a brief and unpleasant bout of some virus or bacteria that you picked-up which should resolve quickly with medication or of its own accord after a few days. My difficulties with my intestines are long standing though. Several decades, in fact. I am still uncertain why I am having such an acute and extended experience, but this is not the first time this has happened to me. Quite some time ago, I was extremely sick for almost a year before things started to seriously improve. Some people might call it “stress”. Most doctors would probably label it “Irritable bowel”. I have come to think of it as a wake-up call from my body or my spirit that they need some things I haven’t been able to give them lately. My task is to figure out what those things are and try to heal.

I thought about sharing in more depth what sort of remedies and therapies I’ve been trying, what my exact symptoms are, what seems to be working and what hasn’t. But… I don’t really want to.

I have always had a host of health issues. In addition to the intestinal stuff, I have several chronic pain conditions, long-term struggles with anxiety and depression, and I honestly don’t think I can remember what a “good-night’s sleep” actually feels like (it’s been too many years). Some of this may be new information for a few of you, but that’s because I never really wanted this blog to be about any of that. I wanted this space to be about JOY and DISCOVERY and my PASSION for nature. I’d like to keep it that way for the most part.

This past month has been full of challenges and changes, yet observing wildlife and the deep solace I perpetually find in being outside alone in the middle of it all remains unchanged. I have had to limit the amount of time I can spend wandering the hills and photographing, but my enthusiasm and delight in those marvelous things that I see every day here in the canyon has not been lessened in the slightest. This has been a great source of comfort to me and an important reminder of just how stable and crucial my connection with nature is.

I’ve decided that it makes no sense to try and predict how much or when I will be able to post here and share with you all. It seems unlikely that I will go back to regular daily posts anytime soon, but I do hope to return to doing what I truly love — sharing through photos and words some of the many experiences that daily open my mind, heart and soul to the beauty and flow of life around me. *GRIN*

Harsi / September 20, 2011 / not nature / 4 Comments

A Most Welcome Visitor

When I put together my post, “Common Ground”, I was hoping that I’d get a little positive feedback or perhaps some discussion surrounding the concept. I honestly was not expecting to inspire anyone else creatively. So, you can imagine how pleased I was when my friend Ruth e-mailed me several of her own paired photos! Viewing her unique and wonderful interpretation of the overlapping themes in natural vs. man-made structures and scenes was a real joy for me. I loved the thought of this idea evolving into a community art project of sorts. I promptly asked Ruth if she would mind my sharing some of her images on my blog. She was gracious enough to agree and I am thrilled to present them here…

[NOTE: *Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.* Quoted captions are excerpts from Ruth’s e-mails. All of the photos in this post (except for the ant) are the property of Ruth Gravanis. If you are interested in re-posting them or using them for any other purpose, you must ask her permission first. You may contact me via this blog if you wish to get in touch with her.]



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.

(top) “while waiting for the bus on a rainy morning on a street near my house”
(bottom) “looking across the Golden Gate, from the Presidio of SF to Marin County”



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.(top) “partially de-constructed aerial bus ramp in downtown SF”
(bottom) “polypody ferns on YBI [Yerba Buena Island]”


And last, but certainly not least, she sent me an image of hers to pair with one of mine from a previous blog post:



Guest photos by Ruth Gravanis.(top) “Transbay Terminal demolition, 10/25/10”
(bottom) big unidentified ant, foraging 5/27/10


I hope that Ruth will continue to send me her photo pairings as I truly do enjoy seeing them! All of her images were taken in the City and County of San Francisco. The added dimension of “place”photos taken in geographic proximity to where one lives — makes these all the more special I think.

Of the small (but very loyal) band of friends that read my blog, many of you are also naturalists and photographers. It would be great fun if anyone else feels like joining in and trying their hand at pairing some photos of their own!


Harsi / July 23, 2011 / arthropods, not nature, photography, plants, water / 5 Comments

As Good As July Gets!

After hyping my fantastic walk on Wednesday, I promised I’d share it with you all today (Thursday), but as I’m not getting to posting this until midnight, no one will even read this until Friday! *sigh*

Sorry, everybody. It was cloudy and cool again today and (apparently) I have no will power when it comes to such matters. Now I’m about two days behind on other stuff that needed my attention. But, thinking over my memories of the past two days’ walks, I can honestly say I have no regrets! *GRIN*

And now, on to the good stuff…


Western Gray Squirrel, drinking


In the summer months, I keep a few containers filled with water outside our cabin. There are increasingly few water sources for birds and mammals as the seasonal creek shrinks and slows to a trickle in some spots.

In addition to several bird species (including a Cooper’s Hawk!), I have also seen deer, fox, bobcat, coyote, rabbit and squirrel availing themselves.

This Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) was busy getting a drink as I stepped outside for my walk. *Be sure to click on the image for an amusing bonus shot.* You lookin’ at me??!


leafhopper nymph


In the active months of summer, it can be hard to get past the front of my cabin withougt being distracted by some new arthropod.

In this case, the wooden porch railing was hosting something otherworldy!

This is the immature (nymph) stage of some leafhopper (Family Cicadellidae) species. Up close, It’s very impressive looking  — with that spiked tail — but its actual size is all of about 2 to 3 millimeters.

bee sleeping in Oleander flower


One of the best parts about cool weather in the summer months is that many of these insects will slow down considerably.

Looking for resting bees hanging out in the center of flowers is one of my favorite pastimes.

I would have stayed longer taking more photographs of this bee (no ID yet!) resting in a white Oleander bloom, but one of my neighbors was apparently becoming quite agitated…


Western Gray Squirrel, on alert


Another gray squirrel had climbed high into the bare branches of an olive tree, twitching its tail and loudly alerting everything to my presence.

I tried to assure the squirrel that I was not even remotely worth all the fuss.

But the yammering continued and I decided to peaceably move along.


California Poppy, late in the season


One of the increasingly few remaining California Poppies still blooming this late in the season.

The eye-popping orange is even more startling amidst the browning backdrop of our summer hillsides.


Fence Lizard, looking up


I stopped to photograph this sluggish Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes).

Every time the light shifted and became a little brighter, I would glance skyward to see if the sun was finally going to successfully break through the clouds. I held my breath, hoping the cloud cover would hold.

I glanced down and realized that the lizard was looking up too… I’m guessing it was eagerly awaiting that very moment.

Sun is like coffee for lizards… their day gets off to a slow start without it. 

Taile Copper on California Sagebrush, ventral


I turned to inspect a large patch of California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and struck gold… well, COPPER actually!

This female Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota) was insanely cooperative and let me get close to take some beautiful photos.

Then, she really outdid herself…


Tailed Copper on California Sagebrush, dorsal


…and turned to show off the pretty pattern on the top of her wings.

How do you say “thank you” in butterfly? *GRIN*

When I passed this same spot on the way home, I thought she was still sitting there. But, it turned out to be a male this time. Coincidence? Or was he also waiting, just hoping that she would return?


baloon trash on the trail


A frustrating moment at the end of my very lovely walk…

There on the ground among the brightly colored eucalyptus leaves was more balloon garbage.

I wrote about my rather strong feelings on this subject in this post from last May. Along with this item, I also picked up a latex glove (ewww…) and several other random bits of plastic.


Acorn Woodpecker feather?


I long for a world where we as a species create significantly less waste. Where we are all concerned about what happens to our trash as it infiltrates increasingly remote natural environs.

~ May we all find more feathers than trash on the trail. ~

This one belonged to an Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), I think. Compare to image here.

Harsi / July 14, 2011 / arthropods, birds, conservation, flowers, mammals, not nature, plants / 2 Comments

Common Ground


Pipes & Roots - Common Ground Series

This is one of a series of images that I’ve been playing around with for awhile… Juxtaposing photos of organic and non-organic subject matter. In this case, there’s an interesting thematic similarity in that both the metal pipes and the exposed tree roots are used to convey water. But, in general, I’ve simply been playing with analogous patterns, lines, color or light.

Any thoughts or insights on this concept? I’m quite certain it’s not an original one… Just wondering if it works effectively here?

Harsi / July 11, 2011 / not nature, photography, plants / 2 Comments

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

moonrise over hillside

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I headed out the door for a walk. I was feeling good and one of the first sights I saw was the faint outline of the moon rising above the hills, which are currently decked out with the pale orange blooms of monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus, I think). Usually, by the time I notice the moon in the daytime, it is already fairly high in the sky… it was cool to capture a few shots of it nearer to the horizon.

I decided to take the road that parallels the seasonal creek. The oaks that grow down there are so magical. And the way it looks when the sunlight streams through the dense canopy is something that my camera never seems quite able to capture. It looked something like this…


oak woodland light

As I was walking, I heard a noise coming from the dense plant growth next to the creek. I looked down and saw this tiny bundle of brown feathers struggling to keep its balance and grip on the twig where it perched. It failed and tumbled down, disappearing into the foliage. I assumed it might be a juvenile bird and so I waited very quietly and patiently to see if it would return. I was delighted when this very young Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) reemerged!!

juvenile song sparrow (melospiza melodia)

The photos aren’t fantastic due to the heavy shade cover, but as you can see it is in the early stages of feather growth — the wings are nowhere close to their eventual full length and the tail is practically nonexistent! Sweet little thing that it was, it sat there and made the most endearing peeping noises over and over (and over!) again.


juvenile song sparrow (melospiza melodia)

Even though the juvenile didn’t seem to mind my company, I didn’t stay too long because I assumed that my presence was probably keeping the parent(s) from returning with food. [Sure enough, when I was walking by the same spot again on my way home, I saw one of the parents flying away from the clump of vegetation where the juvenile was still “peeping” away.]


balloon trashToday’s trash has been brought to you by the letters “G-R-E-E-N  L-A-N-T-E-R-N” and the numbers “6-17-11”.
The title and release date of an upcoming superhero film.

So, in this case, “the bad & the ugly” part of my walk were the same thing: TRASH. We live in a pretty remote area of the canyon and there is relatively little human and vehicle traffic. Nevertheless, every time I go out for a walk, I bring a bag with me and never fail to find new bits of refuse which I pick-up and take home. The constant winds in the canyon must blow a lot of stuff our way, some things get washed down the creek when we have heavy rains, and some of it undoubtedly gets thrown or falls out of cars traveling on the main road. I try not to get up on my soap box too often, but this issue makes me so disgusted. Balloons seem to push my buttons even more than other things… I think because they are just so superfluous. The epitome of a single-use, non-essential, impulse item that people don’t seem to think twice about. They are insidiously designed to escape and travel long distances, often ending up in the mountains or the oceans. Had I not picked it up, the best case scenario for this balloon would be that it continued to break down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic that scatter through the environment. The worst case scenario is that one of the many critters here in the canyon would mistake it for food and try to eat it — a situation which can have dire consequences for the animal.

For those of you who take regular walks in natural areas, I’d like to ask you to consider carrying a small bag in your pocket or with your gear so that if you run across these bits of garbage you can remove them. I know it’s only a very small solution to an overwhelming problem, but I truly believe that every little bit helps.

Thank you for putting up with my rant. May your Saturday be full of the “good” and none of the “bad & ugly”!

Harsi / May 14, 2011 / birds, conservation, hillsides, not nature, skies / 4 Comments

From Los Angeles to Seattle (Day 1)

I had thought I would be telling the tales of our trip to Vashon as they happened, with regular updates from the road. But (happily) I found that there was simply too much to see and experience for me to want to stop and sit in front of the computer for very long. I was also surprised by just how exhausted I was when we returned home last weekend. I guess my body (and my brain) needed a bit of time to process everything. When I finally sat down to start writing and sorting images, I realized there’s just no way that I could share all my photos (1000+!!) nor describe every detail, but hopefully this retrospective will give you a taste of where I’ve been…

As you may recall, we decided to travel via the Coast Starlight train. After my mother-in-law kindly dropped us off at Union Station, we boarded the train and were shown to our sleeper car. For those of you who’ve never traveled in this manner on the train, let me say that the seating is pretty comfortable in the daytime, but the fold-down seats and upper berth which become bunk beds are (understandably) not the most desirable of sleeping surfaces. But… we were not taking the train in order to get a good night’s sleep. We were eager to travel in a way that would allow us to see new places as we made our way up north — we were not disappointed! The first really interesting locale we passed through was the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. Apparently, a historically notable spot for having once been a stagecoach route, as well as being the site of a movie ranch.

Santa Susana State Historic Park
Santa Susana State Historic ParkMy photos do not do these stone outcroppings justice… The back of one of the large movie set facades as we sped past… Am I the only one who sees a large dinosaur poking its head over the top of that hill? (*grin*)
As we continued past Simi Valley and traveled through Moorpark, Camarillo and Oxnard we saw a lot of agriculture and farm animals. These two fields were right next to each other and reminded me of a classic “Before & After” shot.

Agricultural fields
Around Ventura, the train moved towards the coast where it mostly paralleled the Pacific Coast Highway for a while. We passed through Santa Barbara and Goleta, then somewhere around Gaviota State Beach, PCH diverges inland but the train continues to hug the coast for quite some ways. Much of this area is encompassed by Vandenberg Air Force Base and I wonder (outside of this train route) how easy it would be for the average person to see this stretch of coastline? I had so many beautiful images (despite the difficulties of shooting from a moving train!) that I had trouble narrowing down which ones to share. As you can see, the textures and layered colors of the passing landscapes were a photographer’s delight!

California coast
California coastBe sure to click on the images to see a larger view!
Finally, around Grover Beach, the train headed inland once again. The sun set on our first day of adventuring as we we headed north of San Luis Obispo. I never did manage to take any great photos of the sleeper car, but this last photo shows the parlour car where we spent a fair bit of time looking out the windows, eating, and talking to other folks on the train. The social aspect of traveling via train is one that some might not like, but we really enjoyed meeting and chatting with people from other places (a few of whom were quite knowledgeable about the areas we were passing through and were able to give us some insight into the locales we were whizzing through). I must also mention that the train staff was almost universally friendly and very accommodating. They made our trip as comfortable as possible and kept us smiling.

Coast Starlight parlour car

Harsi / March 19, 2011 / not nature, travel / 6 Comments