Outdoors

Nest, Sweet Nest

The mission: Construct a home for soon-to-be-born offspring.

The rules: Use only scavenged materials.  Carry them to the site in your mouth. Employ nothing but your appendages as tools.  Ensure shelter from wind, water, and roving bandits.

The seabirds in love introduced in a previous post set to work. As monitors for the Seabird Protection Network on the Northern California coast, we watch and wonder: Where can these parents-to-be, who spend much of the year over open water, find safe haven on our rugged shore?

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A Very Big Fish Story

A mile offshore from Bodega Head in 120 feet of water, the captain cuts the engine. The 65-foot chartered research vessel pitches from side to side in steep swells. Ten men, one young woman, and I take our stations at the railing.

“Lines down!” a voice booms.

Not until this moment do I realize that I probably should have considered my gender, age, size, and complete lack of fishing experience before volunteering as an angler for the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program. My life goals immediately winnow down to three:  Do not fall off the lurching boat.  Do not join the miserable retchers chumming the waves with their breakfasts.  And prove to be of some scientific value by catching at least one fish.

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Seabirds in Love

Love is in the air—literally. Song birds chorus. Doves coo. Along the northern California coast, ocean-going birds court and breed.  Our mission as volunteers for the Seabird Protection Network is to monitor their numbers, nests, eggs, and chicks. But when visitors ask what I’m looking at through my binoculars, I simply say “seabirds in love.” 

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The Tao of Tracking

To me, Jim Sullivan seems a combination of Davy Crockett and David Attenborough: A scientist by training. A landscape designer, newspaper columnist, and college instructor by various career twists. An environmental activist, pleine-aire painter, philosopher, author, and drummer by personal passion.  A living legend among the hundreds of tracking students he’s trained. 

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The Wantonness of Wildflowers

On a wildflowers hike at the Jenner Headlands Preserve in Northern California, Ranger Jill Adams of the Wildlands Conservancy asks what we expect to find.

“Sex,” a voice calls out. Giggling like school kids, we turn to a small woman in a tan bucket hat and sensible boots. “My father was a botanist,” she explains. “He taught us that when you go into the woods to look for wildflowers in Spring, you’re going to see lots and lots of sex.”

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Superpowers of the Tide Pool

Twice a day the Pacific draws back its surf-fringed curtain to reveal a secret world brimming with fantastical creatures that John Steinbeck described as “ferocious with life.”   They have to be. Only the fierce can survive in the harsh borderland between the tide’s highest splash and deepest pools.  In this kingdom claimed by both sea and land, waters rise, waves pummel, predators pursue, and real estate wars rage.

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Growing A New Brain

When you learn a language, a linguist once told me, you see with new eyes, listen with new ears, speak with a new tongue. In essence, you grow a new brain. As I began my coastal wonderings, waves of words—some entirely new, others familiar but with different meanings—washed over me.  I quickly realized that I would need a new vocabulary as well as a new brain.

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The Edge of Edges

California’s Route One surfs the rim of the Pacific— swerving, curving, diving into gorges, curling around coves, spiraling up cliffs.  Sixty-five miles north of San Francisco  the rambling road skids into my town, the incorrigibly funky fishing port of Bodega Bay, immortalized in Hitchcocks’s The Birds.

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A New Chapter in a Writer’s Life

Like a book, a life has many chapters. My latest began in 2020.  For more than a decade, I had been writing books—La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with the World’s Most Enchanting Language, Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, and La Passione: How Italy Seduced the...

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