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Frogs are ubiquitous around here, but rarely hold still enough for me to get a good photo.

I continue to spot new critters at my place. July 4th this year was my second anniversary at this home, and even after two years I am pretty sure I haven’t seen them all. Last year my favourite animal sightings included vultures outside my office window, a coyote circling the chicken pen, and a small herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Here are some of my photo captures from year two.

I spotted this handsome boy sitting in my driveway one morning.

Who me? Yes you. I watched him several mornings in a row, hopping around, tasting things from my garden.

It occurred to me that this rabbit probably looked like a tasty morsel to someone in the forest, and I began making plans to trap it and keep it. I was too late and never saw him again.

In early summer I spotted a flash of colour in my new peach tree.

It is difficult to focus on an object on the far side of a bunch of branches. But I got a photo clear enough to identify him as a Western Tanager. I’ve seen one before, but not this close.

If my quick internet search is right, this is a male praying mantis, making his way up the side of my house.

This photo was taken through rippling water with my phone camera, but I hope you can still make out the crawdad. Yes! There are crawdads in my creek!

The hooded mergansers have returned to my pond. They must be winter visitors, since I haven’t seen them all summer.

I love their goofy-shaped heads and red eyes. These ducks are a delight to me.

This chestnut-backed chickadee had no choice but to hold still for a photo, after flying headfirst into my window. I carried the little dude to a sheltered spot under a fern so he could wait for the stars to clear from his head and fly off.

I’ve been watching these tiny bark-loving birds for a long time but didn’t get a photo till now.

In this photo I was finally able to capture enough detail to identify a Brown Creeper as it whips around and around the tree, gouging the bark and looking for tasty things.

While mowing the lawn I spotted a turtle on the tiny island in my pond. I snapped a quick, blurry shot with my phone.

A couple days later I spotted it again, and brought my real camera. But the turtle was wise to me and hopped right into the water. And you thought YOU didn’t like photos taken of you…look at this grumpy face!

Looking down onto Nada Lake, I see the sun has finally touched the spot where my tent was. Too late Mother Nature! I got tired of waiting for you and moved on.

Looking down onto Nada Lake, I see the sun has finally touched the spot where my tent was. Too late Mother Nature! I got tired of waiting for you and moved on.

My night was soooooo cold, even though I finally bought a new sleeping bag for this trip. I don’t have a thermometer, so I do not know the low temp. The forecast was for mid-30s, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the 20s. My old sleeping bag is rated to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but it has lost much of it’s down and warmth. It will be my summer bag now.

In the morning I unzipped the tent and little snowshowers fell as ice broke from the zipper. I hopped around shivering while I made my first cup of coffee, then carried the cup back and got into the sleeping bag to read a book while I waited for it to warm up a little. After an hour, it began raining inside the tent. It wasn’t until I packed up the tent that I saw why: my body heat had caused condensation between the rain cover and the tent itself. Then, that layer of moisture had frozen into thin strips of ice all over the top of the tent! As the day warmed, the ice was melting onto me.

The best way I could think to get warm was to start hiking again, so off I went, wet gear and all.

Luckily there were more switchbacks right away. Ha! Who would have thought I would say “luckily there were switchbacks?” Soon I was in the sunshine and high above my little peninsula. Soon after that, I could feel my feet again.

I took this picture for you: so you could see how steep the climb is between Nada Lake and the Snow Lakes.

I took this picture for you: so you could see how steep the climb is between Nada Lake and the Snow Lakes.

It was a climb of only 500 feet in less than two miles to reach my next camp site, so a super easy climb day for me on Wednesday. I had planned to go the extra mile (heh heh – literally and figuratively) to camp on the far end of Upper Snow Lake, which is as far as my permit would allow. However, once I arrived at the lake, I saw that I would not be able to access the water, and I need water in camp.

The trail reaches both the Upper and Lower Snow Lakes at the same time, as it comes out between them. I passed between the two lakes by walking on a stone wall built by the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. There is an aqueduct that runs underground from Upper Snow Lake into Nada Lake, and this is opened as needed. The water is used to keep the valley streams flushed with cold water in the hot summer months to keep the salmon population healthy, and is also used on crops by farmers. I have never seen a mountain lake drained in this way, and it’s disconcerting to see. It is far too low for a human to attempt getting close enough to touch the water in Upper Snow Lake. I am curious as to whether the lake refills to the top each season, or if what I saw is the result of drought.

Upper Snow Lake - drastically diminished due to feeding the crops and salmon in the valley.

McClellan Peak rises above Upper Snow Lake. The water level is drastically diminished due to feeding the crops and salmon in the valley.

Lower Snow Lake is at normal levels, since it is not part of the Fish Hatchery system.

Lower Snow Lake is at normal levels, since it is not part of the Fish Hatchery system.

The dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes doubles as part of the trail.

The dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes doubles as part of the trail.

Ice beside the stone wall shows that it was still cold even after I reached the Snow Lakes.

Ice beside the stone dam shows that it was still cold at the Snow Lakes.

Lower Snow Lake had plenty of water, so I stopped between the two. I happily dumped my heavy pack in the shade (to keep the perishable food cold). Not quite ready to decide my campsite, I set up the tent so that the sunshine would melt the remaining ice and dry it out. Then I grabbed my camera and followed the trail to the end of the lake, looking for a campsite closer to the trail that would lead up to the higher lakes.

I walked to the other side of the lake (references say it is either 1 mile or 1 1/2 miles to the end of the lake, so that gives you a sense), but found no campsites with water access. I did, however, find other things that amused me. I had been passing multiple signs stating “toilet” with an arrow, and this struck me as highly unusual that someone would take the trouble to construct a toilet at 5500 feet in the mountains. I followed one of the trails and found one.

A mountain toilet. You lift the lid, and sure enough there it is! I find this hilarious... though probably necessary in this very popular wilderness area that fills with inexperienced hikers every summer.

A mountain toilet. You lift the lid, and sure enough there it is! I find this hilarious… though probably necessary in this very popular wilderness area that fills with inexperienced hikers every summer.

I also was delighted to see a few pikas and what is likely the first ptarmigan I have ever seen. Dogs were banned from this trail in 1982 in an attempt to bring back ptarmigan populations.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

I took a dozen photos of this lovely bird. However, the light was very low and it would not hold still, so most are too blurry to use.

I took a dozen photos of this lovely bird. However, the light was very low and it would not hold still, so most are too blurry to use.

A fascinating fungus.

A fascinating fungus.

Bleached white log beside the aqua-coloured water that was continually captivating to me.

Bleached white log beside the aqua-coloured water that was continually captivating to me.

The view from the far end of the lake, back toward the stone dam, near where my tent is pitched.

The view from the far end of the lake, back toward the stone dam, near where my tent is pitched.

Once I decided I would have to camp back at the other end of the lake, I turned around and made the trek back to camp. I organized my gear, read more in my book, climbed around rocks and beaches, and generally enjoyed myself. The chipmunks and whiskey jacks were distinctly interested in me, and like all the other misbehaving outdoor adventurers they had met before: I shared a few peanuts with them. Yes, do not follow my example folks. Feeding the wildlife: very bad behavior.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

An area that would be underwater if Upper Snow Lake were properly full. The cracked mud makes interesting patterns.

An area that would be underwater if Upper Snow Lake were properly full. The cracked mud makes interesting patterns.

Another pika. Cuteness.

Another pika. Cuteness.

A woodpecker pecks only on the shaded side of the tree - specifically to thwart my photography efforts.

A woodpecker pecks only on the shaded side of the tree – specifically to thwart my photography efforts.

Whisky Jack says,

Whiskey Jack (aka Grey Jay )says, “Yo! Toss me something good to eat, lady!” When I didn’t, he hopped all around me as I sat on a rock, eyeing my clothing for crumbs.

The chipmunks and whiskey jacks mounted a joint attack force and my resistance was futile. I shared my peanuts to their great appreciation.

The chipmunks and whiskey jacks mounted a joint attack force and my resistance was futile. I shared my peanuts to their great appreciation.

Mural in Eureka

Man, what a great trip to Cali on several levels. I’ve speckled the writing with just a FEW of the amazing murals in Eureka. Many of them courtesy of beloved Humboldt artist Duane Flatmo.

A friend of mine named him Barney at one point, and it works for me, so I’ll call my daughter’s father Barney. Well, as I so dramatically pointed out earlier this year, Barney decided to move back to California. His original intent was to take our daughter with him. I fought it like a wildcat, and thousands of dollars and six months later, Barney is in California, and she is back in Portland with me.  We had decided to split the summer. He got the first half so that she could move down there with him, and into the girlfriend’s house. She got to set up her room and visit her old friends in Eureka and get a sense of where her dad would be. My half of the summer began Thursday, and I was there at 9:00 am to pick her up (yes, I was a bit eager).

girls in the sea - too much fun!

Because of such an early start from Portland, I rolled into Eureka Wednesday afternoon, and as I passed beneath the familiar stands of eucalyptus and breathed in the wet salty air coming across the bay and brushing through the leaves making the most delicious smell, I realized that I had happened upon a rare gorgeous day on the North Coast. My girl had been texting me about every 5 minutes since Crescent City, so instead of heading to Margaret’s, I went straight to her house. I asked Barney if it was ok to take the girls to the beach and everybody was game. The girlfriend has a daughter the same age as mine. We played on the warm sands at Samoa Beach and had a grand time. I took them to Pachanga for dinner, then dropped the girls off at Barney’s.

Mural in Eureka

I made my happy way on over to Lost Coast and some free WiFi and picked up a case of my fave beer: Downtown Brown, complete with wacky label art from aforementioned Duane Flatmo. Down the hill to Fortuna in time to take a shower before Margaret and John got home. I had a lovely visit with my old friends. Margaret is as amazing as ever. Effervescent even in times of some life challenges right now. She is beautiful and generous and always a kind friend and excellent hostess. While I was chatting with John, she got a phone call from a Mexican friend, and we listened to her giddiup her way through a phone call in someone else’s native language. She laughed when she hung up, “She barely speaks English and I barely speak Spanish, so we have funny conversations.”

Margaret and me on her deck. When there is no fog, there is a stunning view of Fortuna and the sea beyond.

When I met Margaret, she did not speak Spanish. The next morning there were lots of hugs and best wishes and Margaret was in her UPS uniform. She started a brand new UPS store in Fortuna less than a year ago, and it’s going gangbusters. She said it’s hard to manage the store and also teach four days a week at College of the Redwoods, which she also just started. What a woman.

what a smile

I picked up my girl from Barney’s and off we went. First order of business: get some new surf gear to fit my growing girl. I needed new gloves too, because my old ones were wearing thin. We headed up north to Trinidad beach despite the gloomy fog which I knew would hit – to make the locals pay for the gorgeous sunshine the day before.

my girlie and me

We stopped for a quick hello to Bob at the Tribal Offices at Cher-ae Heights, ate at the Trinidad Bay Eatery and made our way to Moonstone Beach. Trinidad had a little magic in store for us, and by the time we hit the beach we were blasted with sunshine and blue skies, while Eureka remained socked in. We played in the water about two hours. Near the end, a seal came out to play with us. We were the only two in the water with the seal. It was the first time I had seen a seal so close while surfing. At one point, she blasted through the water right between my daughter and me. I didn’t see it, but she did, which is better. How exciting. I had a heart-thumping thought in the back of my head that when the White Sharks up here accidentally bite people, they’re really after the seals, but I was wise enough to keep that in my own head, and let my girlie just experience the thrill.

Red dawn through smoky skies from forest fires in Canyonville, OR

It’s been so long since I surfed, I had lost touch with the sea. It took a long time before enough of that salty water pounded through my hair and tumbled across my body, that finally the worries washed away too. Seagulls swooped across the sky, the seal kept popping up – her black shiny nose covered in long whiskers – and the sun lit up white froth in the crashing waves. If I stare out west long enough, my world gets simpler. The only critical data coming in is the quality of the swell, and maybe how cold my toes are. Other than that, I feel blissful joy in that my whole world becomes the feeling of bobbing in the cold water, the blue-green stained glass of sun through the peak of a wave, the salt in my mouth, the scratchy neoprene of my glove when I brush hair out of my eyes, and sparkles everywhere. Sparkling jeweled water. Sparkling squeals of delight from my daughter, Sparkling cries of the gulls. Sparkling joy inside me.

A mural at Pierson's hardware on the south end of town

We hit 101 south again and spent a great visit with my dearest friend. I first met her online, and it was love at first type. Her online name was Ophelia Red, and now I’ve even got her in my address book under “O” for Ophelia, even though neither her first or last name begin with an o. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever felt so happy in her life. That is a great thing to hear from a friend. She was full of smiles and love and peace. Ophelia and I shared some wine while she made a gigantic batch of enchiladas in order to have food in the house in the coming week. Her daughter was mostly quiet but when she did open up, showed that she’s a lovely young lady inside as much as out.

Mural at the Courthouse Market downtown

Ophelia’s house is packed with art. She says what gives her joy is that her living room is mostly art given to her by friends. Yes, there is something of mine on her wall too: a cast of my face, so I can be with her always, and trimmed in dried plants because I’m an Earth-girl faery sprite. She talked about her work with Humboldt Pride and mostly her work in the Impropriety Society. One of her ongoing projects is The Yoni Endeavor, in which she works with women to build yoni sculptures as part of both a healing exercise, and also a way to love ALL parts of our beautiful female bodies. With dozens of ceramic yonis on the walls, in paint, in sculpture, and in metal, there is no way not to be in love with being female there.

female ostrich ignoring us

The last time I was at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, it was midday and hot, and I didn’t get to see many of the animals. I thought if we hit it in the morning we might have better luck. In any case, that thought led me to hit the road directly after leaving Ophelia’s. My girlie got into her jammies and off we went. I was doing some serious nodding by Grants Pass, so I found a road out of the way, and pulled over to zonk out for awhile. We got into Winston in time for breakfast, and I pulled into a little café that looked perfect because the parking lot was jammed and there were a bunch of white caps in there. It was exactly as expected: many old crusty dudes who all knew each other, and a friendly waitress named Dee who hugged everybody who walked in. While we sat there, new people would mosey on in the door, and people in beat up ballcaps would barely nod as the newcomer would drag out a chair and move in on their table. “Mornin’ Merl.” “Howdy Ted.” Man, I love that stuff. We got pancakes, hash browns, an omelet, some more eggs, bacon and a Belgian waffle. Ummmmm. The bathroom in the back was at the edge of the A-frame, so one wall sloped and did not allow me to stand erect. My daughter was impressed with all of it, “This restaurant is perfect!” she announced.

giraffes at play

We pulled in too early to Wildlife Safari, and my kid read from her new book while we waited. It’s to help answer questions so going into Middle School isn’t so scary. It’s sort of a weird concept to me: Middle School. There was no such thing when I was a kid in Idaho. We had Junior High, which was 7th and 8th grade. Sixth graders were elementary school.

Finally! We had access and were delighted all the way through. Wildlife Safari is sort of like a zoo, but there are no “cages” per se. It’s gigantic, and the animals roam the hills and forests. It’s divided into portions named after the continent the animals come from: Africa, Asia, the Americas. We saw so many great creatures, and my girl helped by taking most of the photos.

One of our first sights was of giraffes at horseplay. They stood right next to each other with feet splayed, and pushed their butts up against each other, trying to shove each other aside. Sort of like you might see siblings in the back seat of the car do. Then they would swing their long necks down hard and ram their heads against each other’s chests. We were so close we heard the thump! each time they did it. Very funny.

bears horsing around

There was a lot of horseplay going on in there. A baby Bison was butting his momma, thump thump thump, and she just dug in and leaned back at him, pretending not to notice, so she wouldn’t encourage the behavior. I could imagine her thoughts might be similar to many other mothers of boys. The brown bears were rollicking down by their pond. One had its paw around the other next to it, and they wrestled and bared their teeth at each other. It was priceless when the one got tired and rested his big bear head on top of the other’s head.

This is how close we were to the animals!

Lots of babies too. We saw a baby zebra, and lots of baby cattle- and deer-cousins (sorry, can’t name all those critters). Our favourites were the baby rheas who ran into the road after their mom. She is eight feet tall; they are more like eight inches tall.

Ahhh, such a rewarding stop. We piled into the car again. My girl laid her seat back and took a nap, and I stayed awake all the way home. I love it that when I come home, I come to Portland.

Placid beauties. White deer in a lavender field.

Rhea babies and their momma

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