Sunday, January 10, 2010
Embracing Nature and the Homeless - If I'm in a Good Mood
~We made a pilgrimage to the Central Valley this weekend that we haven't made in years, unwilling to haul to screaming, crying babies that far north on a long drive to the Sacramento area just to see birds. This spring he will turn 5, and she will turn 4, so we piled them and the Bassett Hound into the car, and took off after work on Friday night, arriving at a Motel 6 in Stockton just before midnight.
~~The point of the trip was to get to the Woodbridge Road area to see large flocks of wintering Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans, along with whatever birds of prey that care to grace us with their presence. We weren't disappointed.
~~~The weather up there was gloomy all weekend. Cold, foggy, and damp for us wimpy southern Californians. We left the Motel Saturday morning, and headed staright out to Woodbridge Road, where we saw many hundreds of Sandhill Cranes, including the Lesser Sandhill Cranes that fly out of North America every spring to breed in Siberia, only to return to California every winter. Amazing. Sometimes-and this is quite rare-a Eurasian species like Common Crane or Demoiselle Crane might follow the American birds here for the winter, which of course, sends birders all over the U.S. and Canada scrambling to the nearest airport.
~~~~Then, of course, there were the Tundra Swans. I never tire of them. The only thing better than swans is large flocks of swans, and seeing hundreds of them together is astounding.
~~~~~During the course of the day we drove to Cosumnes River Preserve, where the dog had to stay in the car. Despite the cold, we left the windows open several inches, and she slept like a baby while we were gone. Then we headed to Staten Island Road. This Staten Island has nothing to do with the place in New York. Staten Island, California, is a natural island formed by the branches of rivers that form the Sacramento Delta and empty into San Francisco Bay. The whole island is either government or private property, with a dead-end road that is on the other side of the dikes from Woodbridge Road. The thing to do is to be at the end of the either Staten Island Road or Woodbridge Road at sunset, and this year we chose Staten Island Road.
~~~~~~Boy am I sorry that we didn't have the videocamera with us. What you do is you drive out on Staten Island Road an hour before sunset, and park on the side of the road at some randomly chosen spot. Get out of your car, put on a sweater, and stand there drinking hot chocolate from your thermos while flocks of 100 Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Ross' Geese, Canada geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Tundra Swans fly over your head, landing in the fields and ponds around you. Literally very 60 seconds another flock of 50 to 150 cranes arrives. Same goes for the swans and geese. As sunset approaches, the cacophony increases. The sound of this many thousands of large birds is just as much-if not more-part of the experience, as the sight.
~~~~~~~To our dismay, both the boy and the girl had fallen asleep as we drove out there, and they missed the whole show. As you look at the hundreds of Tundra Swans in the photo, above, keep in mind that at 14.5 pounds with a 5 foot 6" wingspan, they are small compared to Trumpet and Mute Swans. Look at how small the Northern Shovelers (ducks)are near them. All of those gray blobs flying in the photo, and standing in the grass, are Sandhill Cranes, who are 4 feet tall.
~~~~~~~Once it was too dark to see (but we could still hear swans geese, and cranes landing all around us) we drove into town, and the kids woke up, hungry. We ate bad Americanized Italian food at The Spaghetti Factory (they didn't even have fresh-grated Parmesan cheese!), drove "home" to Motel 6, and collapsed into our beds. Even the dog passed out at the foot of the bed.
~~~~~~~~We woke up this morning, and packed up the car. I was about to leave the wife and kids, who were getting into the car, with the engine running, so that I could go to the lobby to turn in the plastic card keys to our room (those plastic credit-card shaped things that invariably have a picture of a pizza on one side, with the phone number of the local pizza joint). I noticed a tall, skinny young guy walking toward my car, and decided that I was not going to leave my wife & kids unprotected. I waited until the guy got close, and he checked each hotel trashcan for recyclable bottles and cans. I noted that he was much older than I had first believed. Feeling guilty, I hurredly gave him our coke cans from the trip.
~~~~~~~~~Our last stop was in the Panoche Valley Wildlife Area. Beautiful cowboy country with no birds, but incredible vistas of rolling, smooth hills that were once sea floor of the Tethys Sea. This is one of those places where Satan placed dinosaur bones into the ground to trick us into believing in evolution. My friend Jeff's response to that is "Well...if he's that good, I think maybe I wanna be on his side." Panoche Valley is reached via either Little Panoche Road or Panoche Road, both off the 5. The official highway signs for these 2 roads sends people who speak California/Mexican Spanish into tithers, because in Mexican slang i.e. street language, "panoche" which is a coarse, poorly refined brown sugar, means "brown sugar" of the sort they refer to in the Rolling Stones song. Yeah, that kind of brown sugar. Kind of like that English word that starts with a "P" and means either "cat" or...
~~~~~~~~~Interesting how words change meaning over time and space.
~~~~~~~~~~We got home at 8:45 p.m., and while we were hauling stuff out of the car, and into the house, a homeless guy showed up, and started going through our garbage. I politely asked him to stop. He ignored me. I told him that he is on private proprty, and that he couldn't have our trash. He continued to ignore me. I told him that I would call the cops. While I'm telling him all this, the dog is going bananas, barking at him like crazy. I think she picked up on my anger. I turned around, and got my cell phone out of the car. I have Claremont P.D.'s direct line programmed on my phone. I stood in front of the guy, describing him to the police operator. The guy took off like a rocket. I just got really pissed at the guy for ignoring my repeated statements. I could have pretended to not see him, and called the cops without him noticing. They would have nabbed him. The cops showed up in record time, and took off on a wild goose chase after the guy, cruising up & down the neighborhood streets.
~~~~~~~~~~~So here's the $100,000 question: why was I nice to the homeless guy collecting cans this morning, and a rude, angry jerk with another homeless guy tonight?