Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for April, 2012

Between Bravo and Yankee

Ravens wheel and talk

in a language as foreign

as the military jargon from the radio.


The ocean laps at the ridge lines

as a cold dense fog.


Voices of grasshoppers

become sparrows

with a flutter of feathered wings.


From the ridge

military men, tiny as toys below

play games for a very real war.


Blackened grass and sage

scent the air like a smudge stick.


Spiders lie in wait

in tunnels of silk and dew drops,

both predator and prey.


Between the ridges

clouds drift

ravens drift

minds drift.

Ramblings of a migratory rambler

Perhaps the single most extraordinary feat of any animal is that of migration. Every season, millions of souls follow the path of ones who came before, knowing that the best chance for survival is to move. The Pronghorn of the intermountain west traverse ever shrinking habitat corridors, bottle necking through Wyoming’s Green River and spilling out to the sagebrush flats beyond. Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes form airborne patterns from horizon to horizon during their migration across the great plains. Birds of prey catch thermals off of ridge lines and make their way along aerial highways, following the same routes year after year, decade after decade. These animals move in their effort to survive, escaping inhospitable weather or seeking food or water sources.

And once, humans felt the migratory need too. We spent a good 100,000 years on the move before settling into the comforts of agriculture and a stationary life. As a result of being more stationary we have the chance to connect with landscapes more intimately, to create communities and culture, and those factors have come to define us and our ideal image of “home.” But home in the way we think of it, remains a recent concept. We evolved as nomads.

Jason's photo of migrating Snow Geese in Nebraska


With all the comforts we have available now, what drives that prehistoric part in many of us to still want to be on the move? Few people in today’s world migrate seasonally anymore, yet when they do survival and sustenance often propel that movement. I recently crossed our amazing, beautiful country for the 11th time and I’ve thought a lot about what has driven me to migrate. Sometimes I journeyed for pure fun, but other trips led toward the hope of a new life, a better education, a new job; in short a way to sustain myself in the modern world.

My east-west migratory paths have been in cars, on conveniently paved, predetermined thoroughfares. Eating and sleeping are never issues and aside from the occasional automotive breakdown, one keeps moving with mind numbing ease. A far cry from the strength needed for ancient human migration or any other animal migration across vast expanses of beauty and peril. But modern migration has not just provided me with a way to sustain myself; it has helped me connect to the seasons and the rhythms of nature in ways I never would have by staying in one place. My recent journeys have coincided with the migration of songbirds. Migrating with the migrators- job to job, spring to fall to spring! As a result I have come to understand bird migration on a deeper level. Why and how they move and what it takes to make the journey. Rather than idly watching the seasons pass, I move with the seasons and become a small part of the change itself.

Within me the desire to explore is very strong; to see the world and change with its changes. But when all is said and done there is no right or wrong. We evolved to move, but we’ve discovered the luxury and pleasure of staying put, connecting to one place. We don’t have to chose mobility over stability or vice versa, we just need to learn how to function within the duality. Sometimes we’re contented with our stable lives. Sometimes we get a little bored and need a brief escape from routine. And sometimes our internal clock chimes, telling us it’s time to go, time to move, time to follow the figurative herd and see what opportunity lies ahead. When we accept the duality within us, life transforms.


A Landscape of Irony

The official start of the avian field season, and week one brings: ticks, rattlesnakes, cows, birds, weapons magazines and razor wire fences … wait- what?! Much of my upcoming field season will be spent on the Camp Pendleton Marine base and during this first week I’ve been surveying for Cactus Wrens on the Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station. Two levels of security checkpoints are required for my admittance to the area. Training, regarding the hazards found in the area include recognizing and staying away from unexploded ordinance, just in case the ordinance should “function as designed, creating a mass fragmentation event.” The ground and the air occasionally shake from nearby training exercises and I instinctively flinch while attempting to stay focused on the chattery songs of my wrens. I feel a brief yet intense sense of anxiety and can only imagine what soldiers and civilians a like must experience when those same vibrations shake their world.

Yet where I survey is almost idyllic and peaceful in its beauty. Strolling across closely cow-cropped grasslands, into fragrant sage, and across rocky, cacti strewn, chaparral hills lead me to believe I could be anywhere in the western wilderness. Tiny wildflowers, pollinated by busy bees, burst forth in colorful reproductive glory. The wrens sing and call for mates atop scrubby perches and I spend my hours carefully tracking them and looking for colorful bands on their legs. The combinations of band colors indicate where and when the bird was first captured and documented.

The irony of a weapons station preserving thousands of acres of wild habitat amazes me. Within this conflict, I somehow still feel grateful that amidst the absolutely endless sprawl of southern California some relatively natural habitat still exists. And if the presence of Cactus Wrens are any indication, they too don’t seem to mind the bunkers and barbed wire; contented to have expansive habitat to forage and breed in. Although I find it difficult to rejoice at times, I realize that in an ever more urbanized world it’s important to value the small victories for conservation wherever they can be found…