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Living and Writing in the Natural World

High Country People

Tam on Tuolumne River above Glen Aulin

“My daughter wants to hear you speak Chinese,” said the Polish father on my right at the dinner table of White Wolf Lodge, some ten miles southeast of the point where the Tuolumne river is dammed to form the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park. The 12-year-old’s bright eyes widened as I spouted bromides in the exotic language. My wife Tammy and I were in the Yosemite high country this past week, and the people we met there were as delightful as the mountains and streams.  Read More 

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Paradise

The White Alder at my favorite swimming hole

As I was scrambling down the ten-foot bank to my current favorite swimming hole in Chico Creek, I noticed some writing on the trunk of the white alder which I use to steady myself as I step into the creek. Vandalism? Arriving at the tree, I saw what was written on the smooth, grey trunk: “Paradise.” And I understood completely.  Read More 

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Redwoods, Banana Slugs, and Fog

Standing this past weekend in a wracked jumble of dead and living coastal redwoods, I whispered a prayer of thanks that John Muir had headed west when he arrived in San Francisco in 1868, rather than north. Had he hiked to redwoods rather than sequoias, we might not have any national parks today at all.  Read More 
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Moving (On)

It struck my son Louie early in the process of our helping him and his sis move out of their San Francisco apartment several days ago—I’m never gonna see this place again! As he wandered through the emptying rooms with a camera, he reminded me of myself standing in an empty Civil-war-era farmhouse amongst tobacco fields in North Carolina nearly forty years ago.  Read More 
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The Joys of Summer

The poet Wang Wei's summer float trip in China

Last weekend saw both the Summer Solstice and a full moon. I try to appreciate all the seasons (winter is the hardest), but I gotta admit that summer is my favorite by a country mile. Consider my activities this past weekend: bicycling in the heat wearing swimsuit and Tevas, a swim in Chico Creek mid-route, then the glorious feel of warm air on wet skin as I whirl down the lane afterwards; hearing my kids talk of midnight (well, later than midnight, actually) swims; sitting in the backyard watching the full moon rise through banks of clouds,  Read More 

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Really Big Cats and Evening Strolls

I was in Montreat, North Carolina last week, for a 46th-year-reunion of college roommates. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains at 2600 feet, with Mount Mitchell towering at 6,684 feet to the north, Montreat abounds with summer conferences and, hence, youth enjoying the balmy evenings along with us not-so-young folks. My roommate Ashton cautioned us to be aware of black bears on our evening walks. I knew that black bears (Ursus americanus) can put a dent in your night’s slumbers if you’re camping, but they aren’t a credible threat to your life. For that, you’d have to go back a century in the Blue Ridge mountains, to the days when cougars still prowled the ridges. Read More 
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Pick Your Poison

the mu Conotoxin

If you’re a writer of murder mysteries, you’ve got to love poisons. And if, in your day job, you’re a biologist, then you’re doubly blessed, because nothing tells us more about life than the many bizarre ways creatures have devised to end it. In my (current) two mysteries and a thriller, my villains employ maculotoxin from the blue-ringed octopus, the plant alkaloid aconitine (from monkshood), conotoxin (from cone shells), and tetrodotoxin (from puffer fish). Read More 

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Squid Ink Pasta Adventures

bigfin reef squid (Sepioteuthis)

My son Louie recently described to me a dish at a “very Italian” San Francisco restaurant in which the pasta is dyed black and tastes briny, by application of the contents of the ink sac of a squid. It reminded me of a startling incident when I suddenly had the ink sac of a squid all over my face.

It was at the end of a nice snorkel off Honolulu'sSans Souci beach,  Read More 

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Dancing on the Edge of the World

I was at the Land’s End stretch of coast in San Francisco over the weekend, where the great westward push of Euro-Americans finally came to an end on our continent. It was as beautiful, and as exhilarating, as such an historic, game-changing place should be. And haunted by ghosts of the past and future.  Read More 
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The Adventure / Foolishness Balance

“I wonder what’s in that hole up there?” It was an innocent question from my hiking buddy Al as we gazed at the gaping cavity about ten feet up the trunk of a massive valley oak at the bottom of Big Sycamore Canyon on the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. Like many a testosterone-poisoned male of our species, I took it as a challenge, and  Read More 
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