A crow and squirrel interlude

For the past eight years, we’ve been entertained by abundant ground squirrels looking for food as we camped on the bluff overlooking South Carlsbad State BeachCalifornia ground squirrels live in burrows that they excavate and spend most of their time within 82 feet of their burrow.

DSC_0022 Ocean, bluff & squirrels

DSC_0046 Squirrel & burrow entrance

Ground squirrels forage close to their burrows, usually on plants and seeds,* but in this setting, they aggressively beg or search for food from campers.

DSC_0011 Squirrel looking for food

We keep our dog food storage box secure with a bungee cord.  The South Carlsbad State Beach brochure states, “SQUIRRELS/WILDLIFE: Do not feed them to avoid disease, overpopulation and property damage.”

Squirrels themselves can become prey to other animals such as hawks, ravens and crows, so they have learned to be vigilant.  The one below has a favorite lookout post on the windblown bushes (Melaleuca nesophila) that provided privacy for our campsite.  Larry saw a crow fly off with a small squirrel* held in its beak.

DSC_0035 Vigilant CA ground squirrel

This season we saw fewer young squirrels and more crows and this phenomenon seems to be related and was captured by my camera as I took photos of birds soaring by, such as pelicans, seagulls, and crows.

DSC_0295 Crow flyby along bluff

An American crow* glided by and noticed a squirrel just outside its burrow.  This crow abruptly changed course and and turned toward the squirrel on the bluff.

DSC_0284 Crow spots squirrel & burrow

DSC_0294 Crow turns abruptly

The crow dive-bombed the squirrel below.

DSC_0298 Crow dives

DSC_0290 Crow approaches prey

But each time the crow approached, the squirrel quickly withdrew into its burrow.

DSC_0289 Squirrel withdraws into burrow

This flight dance repeated several times until they both realized that it was a standoff.

DSC_0293 Crow and squirrel standoff

So the crow flew off  and continued its search for food.

DSC_0299 Crow flys off

All was calm at sunset on the bluff and I suspect that the squirrel was cozy and sleeping well in its burrow, and perhaps dreaming about the day’s excitement as a slow gypsy dance.*

DSC_0171 Peaceful bluff at sunset

*This is a YouTube video.


Posted in Ocean, Wildlife

Ocean gleanings

We can see the Pacific Ocean from our house on the San Diego coast but we can not hear or see its waves.  So to round out our camping season, we pull our Airstream Safari on a 45-minute drive up the coast to South Carlsbad State Beach where we join the squirrels in watching and listening to the soothing, continuous waves.*

DSC_0022 Ocean, bluff & squirrels

The trailer gets unhitched on the bluff, 50 feet above the waves.

DSC_0315 Airstream Safari on bluff

Brown pelicans sail by on the updraft of sea breezes.

DSC_0066 Pelicans soaring

Pelicans also use the updraft of incoming waves.

DSC_0057 Pelicans soaring above surf

The ocean sustains life, such as the Whimbrel feeding off the surface.

DSC_0304 Wimbrel feeding

The ocean also provides small fish, the primary food for the great blue heron.

DSC_0218 Great Blue heron

The ocean beckoned me to come closer and a stairway led me to the beach.

DSC_0149 Stairway to the beach

Walking along the beach is living in the present.

DSC_0053 Footsteps along the beach

I thought about the preciousness of life and how each of us can make a difference.  I thought about the Starfish Story (aka The Star Thrower),* about a boy picking up stranded starfish on the beach and throwing them back into the ocean.

DSC_0042 Throwing the 'starfish' back

A man walked nearby and asked the boy what he was doing.  The boy explained that the sun was rising and the tide was going out and he’s throwing them back in so they won’t die.  The man replied that there were too many of them for him to make a difference.

DSC_0043 It made a difference

As the boy threw another starfish back, he replied, “I made a difference to that one.”

Sunrises and sunsets are indeed inspiring and wonderful to share.

DSC_0018 Sunset stroll

They provide a special moment to contemplate the mysteries and celebrations of life…

DSC_0108 Sunset at the beach

and my thoughts led me back to the ocean…

DSC_0075 There will always be the ocean

and to Cynthia Rich’s words in her “Dharma Gleanings” blog entry of June 22, 2014:

“Here’s what my memory loss feels like to me. It’s as though I now know that there has always been within me—or accessible to me—this rich, amazing ocean filled with swimming fish of all different shapes, sizes, colors, swaying coral, green algae. I scoop down as I always have to capture one of the fishes just long enough to look at it closely before I release it. The difference in these years is that the fish often wriggles off beyond my sight before I can catch it or perhaps even name it. What my process of awakening has made clear to me is that there are endless, innumerable fish with glittering scales and swishing fins in that ocean of impermanence, and there is no need to attach to this particular one. Instead, as the fish I had looked for slips away, I experience the deeper enjoyment that springs from gratitude for the ocean itself, for the endless energy of endlessly diverse life.

And even when I can no longer see the diverse life, there will always be the ocean, primal, still, deep, welcoming.”

And then I thought about Thich Nhat Hanh’s words while looking deeply at the ocean waves, as they seem to be born a ways out and then die on the beach, but really illustrate the concept of no death, no fear.

No Death, No Fear – Thich Nhat Hanh, Part 74*

DSC_0133 Waves, no death, no fear

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Posted in Meditations, Ocean, Wildlife

A Rio Grande turkey interlude

As mentioned in my previous post, our mountain campsite was in a secluded area of William Heise County Park, where we were close to nature.  We spent 5 days here and it seemed like the surrounding wildlife became more comfortable with us as each day passed.

DSC_0068 Our mountain campsite

On our fourth day, late in the afternoon, I decided to do some reading and writing on the picnic table in back of the trailer.  I scattered some wild bird seed on a nearby log and rock wall and had my camera with me just in case some interesting birds came by, such as the Steller’s jay seen in my last post.  After about 15 minutes, I looked up and was surprised by an appearance of a Rio Grande tom (male) turkey, who gave me the hairy eye ball.

DSC_0220 Gave me the hairy eyeball

His front displayed an impressive beard and a set of bright red caruncles to attract females.  He saw me and decided to come around the log for a closer look.  This profile view revealed the vibrant array of glistening feather colors and the snood, the fleshy protuberance just above the beak.

DSC_0221 coming to check me out

I continued to sit still while holding my Nikon D40 as we continued to stare at each other just a few feet apart.

DSC_0223 One more hairy eyeball

Tom finally decided that it was safe to feed, which began a wonderful 40-minute photo opportunity.

DSC_0247 Feeding time

After a few minutes, I was doubly surprised when Tom’s two hens came out from the bushes and started feeding on the seed by the log and nearby wall.

DSC_0272 Tom's two hens

Tom hopped up on the log and we both had a feeling of being on top of the world.*

DSC_0282 Tom on the log

A happy time was had by all as the turkeys feasted while I photographed.  After 100 photos, I just set the camera down and admired them… it was a very special moment.

DSC_0393 Turkeys foraging for seed

Tom finally nodded his head to me, as if to say, “Goodbye,” and led his entourage of hens away into the bushes.

DSC_0420 Tom led hens away

This left me with a feeling of awe and reminded me that there is something very special about turkeys* and all of nature, which reminds me to chill out and enjoy the moment.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Posted in Mountains, Wildlife | 2 Comments

Mountain gleanings

San Diego has beautiful camping parks along the Pacific Ocean, mountains and desert, all within a two hour drive from home.  Our camping season is from fall to spring because we choose to avoid the summer heat and/or crowds.  Most of our camping is in the Anza-Borrego Desert, but by April, we’re ready to enjoy the refreshing coolness, plants and wildlife of our local mountains.  We love mountains and have had them nearby, even when camping in the desert.

DSC_0006 Whale Mountain

Our favorite mountain camping park is William Heise County Park, 4,200 feet above sea level in a pine and oak forest in the Cuyamaca Mountains near Julian, California.  We camp in the non-hookup area where we can get close to nature and enjoy hearing the wind rustle through the trees.

DSC_0089 Wm Heise County Park

Last week we delighted in the raucous chatter and the flittering about of the Acorn woodpeckers courting high up the Single-leaf Pinyon Pine.

DSC_0120 Woodpeckers in pine tree

This area abounds in wildlife and flowers.

DSC_0007 Mule deer foraging

Mule deer foraging and prancing.

DSC_0169 Prancing deer

DSC_0192 Steller's jay

Steller’s jay (above)

DSC_0134 Courting Rio Grande Turkey

Courting Rio Grande Tom turkey

DSC_0029 Western redbud

Western redbud, Cercis occidentalis

DSC_0043 Palmer Lilac

Palmer Lilac, Ceanothus palmeri

For 17 years poet, artist and author Marshal South and his family lived in their self built adobe abode, “Yaquitepec,” on a remote Anza-Borrego mountain top and explained, “It has brought us to the state of consciousness where each day is a separate jewel to be lived and enjoyed for itself… It has given us a deep kinship and understanding with all nature, the abiding sense of oneness of all things, a clearer perception of the glory of the Great Spirit, as much in the jeweled eye of the desert lizard as in the majesty of the desert dawn.”1

DSC_0126 Lizard, Anza-Borrego

Cynthia Rich, author of Desert Years: Undreaming the American Dream, wrote in her “Dharma Gleanings” blog:  “I remember one Spring day on the desert six or seven years ago, before I was reading Thich Nhat Hanh or meditating. I was walking in a wash near our cabin, the desert was in full bloom, a light wind was moving the clouds across the face of Whale Mountain, and it came to me more clearly than I had ever seen it that this was literally Paradise—not the exaggeration that we usually mean when we say that. I have never believed in Paradise or been attracted by the idea of it, but I’ve never forgotten this moment and what it told me: Your Paradise is here. Its abundance, its joys, its perfection (to use a rigid word for the flowing rightness of things), belong not only to this Spring morning but to every day if you can see them. This Spring morning is only the messenger for a larger reality, and only you stand in its way.2

DSC_0003 Whale Mountain & clouds

Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, taught the Pebble Meditation exercise of visualizing and feeling while breathing in and out.  Below is a concise summary from the “mindfulkids” website.

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.  Breathing out, I feel fresh.

Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.  Breathing out, I feel solid.

Breathing in, I see myself as still, clear water.  Breathing out, I reflect things as they really are.

Breathing in, I see myself as space.  Breathing out, I feel free.

DSC_0450 Four pebbles

The Pebble Meditation*

 *This is a YouTube video.

1.  Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA., 2005, page 220.

2. “Dharma Gleanings” blog, Cynthia Rich, August 11, 2006 (Later)

Posted in Flowers, Meditations, Mountains, Wildlife

Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options

(Updated October 5, 2015)

The California deserts are now heating up, so we’re back home along the coast and enjoying moderate temperatures and the serenity of our beautiful yard bursting with glorious spring blooms.

DSC_0167 Cymbidium

Cymbidium (above)

DSC_0084 Bougainvillea


DSC_0085 Trumpet Vine

Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans, also known as the hummingbird vine

It is nice to be reminded that life is glorious and fabulous.  Life is also precious and fleeting.*  Sometimes life is cut short or made unbearable by cancer. “Well here is something that is going to intersect with all of our lives,” says Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee in Barak Goodman’s six-hour documentary film, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,”* produced by Ken Burns and recently aired on PBS over three consecutive nights, based on Mukherjee’s book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of  Cancer.  Dr. Mukherjee says, “This is one of the most significant human challenges in our history,” and yet he is optimistic and says, “We are finally beginning to understand what causes cancer at a cellular or molecular or genetic level, in a way that we just did not know ten years ago, or even five years ago.” (This film or related videos can be viewed online at PBS.org.)

But scientific breakthroughs have not come soon enough for some terminally ill patients, such as Brittany Maynard, who was terminally ill with an inoperable brain tumor.  Brittany made national news last November when she relocated from California to Oregon to legally obtain medication to self-administer to aid the dying process.  I hadn’t learned about her until I read Lympho Pixie’s post, “Something I’ve Never Done Before,” in her “This Cancer Thing” blog.

Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico are the only states that currently have right-to-die, death-with-dignity legislation that authorizes aid in dying.  Brittany’s dying wish was for laws to be changed to prevent prolonged, involuntary suffering for all who are terminally ill, because “freedom from prolonged pain and suffering is a most basic human right.”  Two weeks before her death, she made a video, Brittany Maynard Legislative Testimony,* which was presented on March 25 in the California Senate Health Committee hearing of California Senate Bill 128 – End of Life Option Act.

I was happy that this bill had been approved by the California Senate Health Committee, Judiciary Committee, Appropriations Committee and the California Senate.  But I was saddened that SB 128 stalled in the California Assembly Health Committee on July 7.  I am happy to report that on August 18, 2015, the End of Life Option Act was reintroduced in a special session of the California legislature as Assembly Bill X2-15 (ABX2-15).  According to Compassion & Choices, “This legislation would provide an option for a mentally competent, terminally ill person with less than six months to live to ask for and receive a prescription from their doctor for medication to end their dying process should their suffering become too great.”  In early September, this bill was approved by the California Assembly Health and Developmental Services Committee and the Assembly Finance Committee.  I am now very happy to report that this bill passed the California Senate on Friday, September 11 and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 5, 2015!

Compassion & Choices says:

“California is now the fifth U.S. state to authorize aid in dying, and by far the biggest and most influential. This achievement will resonate throughout our country, and inspire other states to follow suit.

At the foundation of this remarkable moment is the support of you and other C&C donors. People from all walks of life have joined together to transform our nation’s understanding of death with dignity, and have raised the ruckus necessary to break down barriers that have kept options from so many.

While we celebrate, we also recognize the fight is far from over. Our opponents are furious at their loss and will use every trick in the book to overturn the will of the people. We need your support today to defend this law, and our movement, with every ounce of our considerable strength.”

You can also find out more about legislation, local chapters and how you can help in your state through Compassion & Choices.  California updates and what Californians can do can be viewed on Compassion and Choices’ California webpage.

Talking about death is difficult and taboo for some.  After the second episode of the above film, our local PBS station aired “Consider the Conversation 2: Stories About Cure, Relief, and Comfort,” the second in the Consider the Conversation series about how we want to live at life’s end.  This video explores the unintended consequences of medicine’s successes and the importance of good communication between doctors, patients, families and friends.  (See the Vimeo video preview, Consider the Conversation 2)

I have also learned about living and mindfulness through the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, such as his, “Like a Leaf, we have many stems,”* in his book, Peace Is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.

DSC_0120 Learning from leaves

And finally, here is Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Great Bell Chant – The End of Suffering.*

* This is a link to a YouTube video.

Posted in Flowers, Health, Meditations | 3 Comments

Refreshing desert flowers

Just the right conditions of rain and sunshine are needed for flowers to flourish in the desert.  We experienced a spectacular display of wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Henderson Canyon while camping with our Airstream Safari trailer in March 2009.

DSC_0197 Henderson Canyon

The Anza-Borrego Foundation is reporting that this desert is now bursting again with spring wildflowers, and the White-lined Sphinx caterpillars find them delicious and refreshing.*  The good news is that the caterpillars help feed the birds and pollinate the flowers.

Below are some of my best photos of flowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park over the past six years:

DSC_0205 Barrel Cactus

California barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus

DSC_0276 Creosote bush

Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata

DSC_0203 Desert Chicory

Desert Chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana

DSC_0175 Desert sand verbena

Desert sand verbena, Abronia villosa

DSC_0022 OcotilloOcotillo, Fouquieria splendens

DSC_0083 Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus, Opuntia basilaris

DSC_0145 Desert Lily plant

Desert Lily, Hesperocallis undulata, is considered by some to be the Holy Grail of the desert wildflowers.  (See Wikipedia’s information about the Holy Grail.)

DSC_0172 Desert Lily flower

“Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.  Breathing out, I feel fresh,” says Thich Nhat Hanh in 06 Exercise Two, Flower Fresh, Art of Mindful Living.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Posted in Deserts, Flowers, Meditations | 1 Comment

Desert gleanings

We are fortunate to live in San Diego and to have beautiful camping parks along the ocean bluffs, mountains and in the desert, all within a two hour drive.  Our nearby desert typically has mild weather during the winter and we love to camp there where we can enjoy quiet and beautiful vista views, sunrises, birds chirping, flowers, hiking, cooking, eating, stargazing, and contemplating the universe.

DSC_0164 Desertscape 11:18:10

Marshal South, poet, artist, and author, wrote:

The Desert! Either you will love it or you will hate it. If you hate it you will fly from it and never wish to see its face again. If you love it, it will hold you and draw you as will no other land on earth.1

Larry especially likes to rise early to see the beautiful sunrises, while enjoying a cup of coffee and watching and listening to the dawn chorus* of birds gathering by our feeders.

DSC_0153 Desert sunrise 11:18:10

Cynthia Rich, author, spiritual care counselor, writer of Dharma Gleanings blog, and meditation practitioner, lived six years in this desert with her domestic partner, Barbara Macdonald, and wrote:

Driving home after our summer in San Diego, I felt pulled as usual into the life of the desert, the reddish boulders and grey-green agave and tall grey stalks of ocotillo that no longer look austere to me even in our driest season… For the first time in my life I feel my roots and they know their depth… These years on the desert have taught me: all other roots, however cherished, are metaphors for this deepest connection, to the natural world, the nourishing ground of our being.2

We also find the desert to be nourishing and enjoy the rainbow connection.*

DSC_0250 Desert rainbow 2:6:09

After a rainfall, deserts have a delightful aromatic smell and flowers bloom, such as this Ghost Flower.

DSC_0151 Ghost Flower 2:2:11

Rain brings joy and happiness to the desert oasis.

DSC_0165 Desert oasis 1:2:09

Thich Nhat Hanh,* author and well-known Zen Buddhist teacher, wrote in his latest book, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering:

We can experience both joy and happiness… The method here is simple. Breathing in, bring your mind home to your body. Establish yourself in the here and the now and recognize what is around you. Then joy and happiness arise easily, from your recognition of all the positive elements available right now.3

Rain brings new growth to plants providing nourishment for the bighorn sheep here.

DSC_0163 Bighorn sheep 1:5:11

At the end of the day, we often enjoy a spectacular moonrise and a sky filled with moving stars.*

DSC_0010 Desert moonrise 1:5:15

DSC_0094 Desert night sky 12:10:12

1. This is the quote on the page after the title page of Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA., 2005

2. Desert Years: Undreaming The American Dream, Cynthia Rich, Spinsters/Aunt Lute Book Company, San Francisco, California, 1989, pages 108 and 110.

3. No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 2014, page 56.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Posted in Deserts, Flowers, Meditations, Night photos, Wildlife | 6 Comments