Friday, November 16, 2007

birds, bears and sequoia trees

This is some more belated writing about our recent trip to Yosemite and Sequoia. I kept a little journal while we were traveling, so this post about Sequoia is adapted from the journal entries that I wrote there.


There is no way we will be able to identify all these different birds, although I optimistically bought a birdwatching checklist at the Giant Trees Museum today. The only ones we've been able to positively identify so far are the same ones we have at home: Red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, pileated woodpecker. The rest of them are a vaguely familiar, twittering blur. Sounds like a thrush. Reminiscent of a pine warbler. Seems like a flicker. But which kind? Who knows.

The ravens are huge and curious. The reliable raven has been our constant hiking companion.

birds from our checklist
great blue heron
common merganser
turkey vulture
bald eagle
northern harrier
cooper's hawk
red-tailed hawk
belted kingfisher
white-headed woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
steller's jay
common raven
mountain chickadee
red-breasted nuthatch
dark-eyed junco

kings canyon
The walk today was gorgeous. We parked at the very end of the long road that drops down to the floor of Kings Canyon, and walked up to a lovely waterfall along the South Fork of the Kings River, called Misty Falls. We both marvelled at the color of the water flowing over the rocks - it was incredibly clear, even in the deepest pools, with a sparkling blue-green color that I don't think I've ever seen before.

For the first part of the walk we were sort of nervous about bears, because of a warning sign posted in the parking lot. It said that some people had been feeding a yearling bear at Misty Falls, and that the bear had become fearless. The sign gave the usual exhortations to guard your food and act noisy and aggressive if a bear comes around. It also suggested throwing pine cones at the bear, and as we started the walk I noticed HWWLLB loading some pine cones into his pockets.

We self-consciously talked in louder-than-usual voices and clapped our hands once in a while, but all we startled were a lot of mule deer.

When we got to the base of the falls, we ran into a man who told us what had happened to the fearless bear. It had been euthanized by park rangers two weeks before. The young bear had been harassing lots of people, and had even bitten a guy on the leg who was taking a nap at the top of the falls. Poor guy probably had a granola bar in his pocket. It was a sad story and made us feel sheepish for having been nervous about it. We were both sorry that some well-meaning nit-wits with more snacks than sense had ruined a poor bear's life.

Later that evening, on the drive back out of the canyon, we passed a young bear who was intently sniffing around the side of the road. He was wary and jumped back from our slow-moving car, which made me happy. Hopefully he won't get interested in breaking into cars like some of his wayward cousins.

As we were walking through the grove of giant trees in Sequoia National Forest and gaping open-mouthed, we heard a terrible ruckus across the meadow. Some steller's jays were going absolutely nuts about something. As we came around a bend in the trail, we could see why - as we approached, a cooper's hawk took off with a jay in its talons!

Just a moment later, we noticed a coyote creeping through the big meadow. Suddenly it jumped straight into the air like a springbok, bouncing up and down, either playing or chasing something. It bounced and jumped about a dozen times. As a noisy group came around the meadow bend, the coyote laid down to hide in the long shadow of a tree, and just disappeared completely.

The animals here are extremely good at hiding. Once that coyote decided not to be seen, we couldn't find it again in the meadow, though we knew he was there. A while later, we were walking up the Bear Hill trail and walked right past a big buck deer with huge antlers, without noticing it. We didn't see it at all until HWWLLB stopped to take off his jacket and we noticed him on the hillside where we'd just been. Amazing. We keep wondering how many other animals we've walked right by today.

I feel like I ought to write about the giant sequoias and how big and awe-inspiring they are. They are really, really big! They're the largest living things on earth. The coastal redwoods are tall and lanky compared to these trees, which are not as tall, but are much larger around and bigger by volume. The Sentinel Tree, outside the Giant Trees Museum, weighs 70 tons. The trees are adapted to fire, which burns out smaller, competing trees. They can only grow in this narrow band between 5,000 feet and 7,500 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada range.

I need some of John Muir's Victorian prose to describe how inspiring these trees are. Each time we rounded a bend and came upon the base of another towering giant, we'd gasp or involuntarily say "woowwwwww...." In each one you can see different marks of their trials over the last twenty or thirty centuries - fire scars, galls, bird nests, holes, huge splits and cracks. Some of the fallen trees here fell 2,000 years ago or more. We walked out onto a fallen tree to eat lunch in Crescent Meadow, and it was as wide as a broad sidewalk.


Reading back over these entries, what strikes me most is the memory of stillness on those walks. The birds and animals we saw - we only saw them at times when for some reason we stopped and were absolutely still. Then suddenly, birdsong and tails swishing and someone hunting a mouse became obvious all around us. It is so rarely quiet in our everyday lives. Inspired partly by the silence in Sequoia, I've been turning off the radio a lot more lately. Vanessa recently wrote about conserving quiet as a daily green act. I have found these cherished new moments of quiet to be more than relaxing - just like in the forest, I keep noticing things I didn't know were there: inspiration, new ideas, rest. It is easier to rest than I might have realized.


  1. I love your post! I love that landscape so much... it's magical! My great grandfather traveled through Yosemite and did pen and ink drawings of the area, Half Dome and El Capitan... so beeeutiful! And the redwoods, huh! Amazing trees!!! Thanks for the mini-vacation from my computer screen!!

  2. WOW!!! Great blog. After too many years of not knowing how to knit, i have caught the knitting bug and am happy to see such wonderful people making so many things for me to make as well. Thank you thank you thank you!!!


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