Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

DAY 12 – Route 32, along Deer Creek, CA

1 Comment

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
After an evening staying with friends in Corning, we headed to Chico to resupply and do errands. We were still refining the organization of the camper and figuring out what we needed. It is a slow process finding stores and moving about an unfamiliar town. We needed to get used to this. GPS helped a lot but compared to doing routine errands at home, the day seemed long and cumbersome. We stopped at “Morning Thunder” restaurant for brunch and had enormous, tasty meals. Chris and I stared at each other, overwhelmed by the noise and activity. Was this place really, really loud or had we become extremely sensitized by our quiet stays in nature? Probably both.

By late afternoon we were both fried and Chris wanted to GET OUT; he insisted on driving up Route 32 toward Lassen National Forest for the night. We planned to go to the closest forest service campground but when we got there it was closed for the season. Continuing up the road we found a dirt drive that, after a short steep climb, led to a flat area. Clearly, this is a parking place for people fishing. It was located in a bowl surrounded by low mountains and lava formations. We could hear, but not see, the Deer Creek down the sloping hillside. There was only time for dinner and bed.

We were in active black bear country; there was bear scat near our camp and the next day I would see more in the forest. None of it was very old. It was almost entirely comprised of berry seeds and looked like, as described in a source about track and sign, like it had been extruded from an frozen orange juice can.

Two years ago we spent a week in Lassen National Park. It is the homeland of Ishi, who, some of you know, is considered to be the last Native American to have lived, as his ancestors had done for thousands of years, “in the wild”. Alone – his family and tribe gone – and starving, he walked out of the mountains in 1911. Eventually, he was befriended, looked after and helped by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and lived his remaining years in San Francisco. Ishi died in 1916, as many Native Americans did, of one of the diseases of civilization, tuberculosis. As we traveled, we listen to an audio version of the book, “Ishi in Two Worlds”. We drove down Route 32 which follows the descent of Deer Creek while listening to the audio. Synchronistically, with views of Deer Creek from the car, the book described Ishi’s life along this stream. Since then I’ve wanted to return.

All night I kept waking up waiting for morning so I could visit where Ishi lived. It felt like waiting for Christmas morning as a child. The next day, I made two trips to the creek before we left in early afternoon.

This creek is typical of mountain streams in California, full of big boulders and water cascading into small and occasionally large pools. Cold, clear, clean. I imagine Ishi and his family living, hunting and fishing here and I offer a short ceremony of apologies for their loss of land and life.

I hope to return again and spend a few more days and possibly meet the ghosts that inhabit the place.

Why am I so affected by Ishi and his story? At the risk of sounding overly romanticizing and idealizing, I will explain. Ishi’s story represents the end of many things to me. Certainly, the end of the way of life and the freedom for America’s original people. And with that the loss of languages, knowledge, skills and history. It also represents, if not the beginning, the escalation of the modern era of over-development, expansionism, industrialization and overpopulation. It represents the loss of many lives from colonization and the loss of Native American’s ability to survive in the face of ranchers, developers, prospectors, and especially capitalism and American policy. It represents the violence and destruction following the wave of European settlement of the Americas.

Native peoples, of course, share the same range of human characteristics as all humankind, from peaceful to warlike, from sensitive to callous. However, indigenous cultures in their original state most often have the following traits: a deep spirituality related to the forces and mystery of nature; respect for the interdependence of life; rituals of gratitude for what one has and for the gifts of nature; a reliance on the beauty of story and myth, song and music; necessary and exceptional skill at crafts, whether it is pottery, beadwork or tools; a sensitive understanding of the land, animals and plants with which one lives; a life outdoors in sync with the movements of season, sun, moon, migrations.

I have a deep affinity to all of these traits and I try to introduce them into my life in small ways. I seek to live in balance and harmony with the way things actually are, with the way the Universe actually works, and with finding happiness where it can actually be found.

And I have a deep antipathy for many of the predominant values of 21st century Western culture. The obvious ones include: unchecked growth, a spirit of accumulation and greed, thoughtless exploitation of natural resources and peoples, and glorified self-interest. Even in day-to-day life we are surrounded by habits of busyness and distraction and by behavior driven by unexamined neurosis and subliminal fear. Both the source and the result of these traits is a culture of profound disconnection. We become separated from our inner world, each other and nature.

When I reflect on Ishi’s story I feel heartbreak and melancholy. There is a poignancy that is hard to bear and a longing for a lifestyle, community and society that embraces values of open-heartedness, interconnection and presence. I want to go to Ishi’s homeland along Deer Creek to attune and atone. Attune to a world of beauty and atone for the destruction inflicted by our European ancestors.

This gallery contains 7 photos

DAY 11 – Clear Lake State Park, CA

Leave a comment

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
In the morning, there is time for one more short kayak trip before we leave Clear Lake. I paddle down the slough, guessing that a person on a kayak is less familiar and therefore less threatening to the wildlife there. Sure enough I am able to glide closer to the hunting herons and floating ducks. I could spend all day here but we are leaving to visit old friends of Chris’s in Corning.

This gallery contains 3 photos

DAY 10 – Clear Lake State Park, CA

Leave a comment

Monday, October 8, 2012
First thing in the morning, I go on a nature walk at the slough; a good part of it is on boardwalks that wind along the waterway. The water is low, thick and murky, just right for swamp-loving creatures. Soon I spot herons wading and hunting – Great Blue and Black-Crowned Night Herons – some mature and some juveniles. I occasionally and inadvertently flush a previously unseen Great Blue into the air, watching it take flight with its magnificent 6.5 foot wingspan and its loud squawking call, an undignified sound incongruous with its elegant form. Kingfishers rattle and zig-zag from tree to tree down the slough. Mallards and small diving ducks float peaceably.

A Great Blue Heron conveniently poses and preens on a not-too-far dead branch. (I wish I had had my tripod since between using the telephoto and the dim light it was hard to take a clear photo.) I then continue on to the empty swimming beach. I hear a loud repeated whistle. I know this call! It takes me a minute to remember it is an osprey and I spy one in a nearby tree tearing apart a breakfast meal that it holds in its talons.

After my own breakfast, I lug my kayak-in-a-bag to a small stretch of rocky beach to figure out how to assemble and inflate it for the first time. I am nervous about doing this correctly and wondering how I will like this new kayak. We debated for months about whether to bring my beloved recreational kayak or purchase an inflatable one what would travel more conveniently. With the hand pump and the manual I proceed slowly. Although there are few people around, just then, a man in his own inflatable boat pulls up on shore next to me. We discuss kayaking and birding.

As I continue to work on the kayak, he hovers, wanting to help and making suggestions. Thankfully, Chris shows up and relieves the man of his responsibility of helping a maiden in distress who actually is not in distress and just wants to figure it out for herself.

The kayak looks quite smart in its bright orange and blue shell! Tentatively, I launch it. It floats well and is quite stable; it is comfortable since all parts have some give. It tracks and glides smoothly. Although probably slower than a hard shell, I don’t care since I am not in a hurry. I like it!

I head to where I had seen some large white birds in the distance and find a flock of American White Pelicans resting on a shoal offshore. They are crowded together and are either busily grooming with their long beaks or apparently sleeping in neatly folded feathery balls. They are migrating from their summer breeding grounds to their winter home. They appear pure white with bright orange beaks and feet until they flutter their wings open to reveal black primary and secondary feathers. Their wingspan can reach an incredible 9 feet, similar to a condor!

I return for lunch and then go back to the slough to see what is up in the afternoon. The main site is sunning turtles (Northwestern Pond Turtles) who quickly and loudly plop into the water if I move too quickly or too closely. They somehow climb up logs and sometimes on top of each other.

Toward sunset I return to the kayak and, living dangerously, take my good camera with me. I am determined to photograph the pelicans. This is not easy to do while bobbing up and down in a constantly moving boat. The sun is setting and everything – especially the pelicans – are glowing golden. As the light disappears, they too disappear and become part of the deep blue of the lake.

Not until later when I look at my photos, do I realize there is also a migrating snow goose among them.

This gallery contains 25 photos


DAY 9 – Clear Lake State Park, CA

Sunday, October 7, 2012
After two nights at Harbin Hot Springs – always a fun and trippy place to relax – we head  north to the watery shores of Clear Lake State Park. Clear Lake is the largest natural fresh water lake entirely in California. We expect more people because it is still Columbus weekend, but the campground has only a few occupants. Near us is another, commercially made, pop-up camper – a Four Wheel brand – and the owner immediately comes over to admire “Oz” (Chris’ name for his handy work.) The man wants to know where Chris bought it and is duly impressed when he learns Chris built and designed it himself. Chris enjoys talking to his first “fan”.

This campground is on a little peninsula with Clear Lake on one side and the narrow Kelsey Slough on the other. Footbridges cross over the slough and connect this area with the rest of the park. I am excited to explore the park in the morning; tomorrow will also be my maiden voyage in my new inflatable kayak.

Leave a comment

DAY 7 – Near Calistoga, CA

Friday, October 5, 2012
We arrive at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park outside of Calistoga, CA. The temperature has dropped 20 degrees and the world has returned to autumn. BNVSP is a completely different environment from south of the Bay Area. The mixed wood forest is more sheltering and moist; there is moss on the trees. A short path from our campsite leads into miles of trails. Upon awakening I stroll a path that follows a creek bed with trickling water. I hike in my pajamas; the squirrels and deer don’t seem to notice. The many brown and yellow fallen leaves offer up the familiar sweet, earthy smell of slightly rotting foliage.

We move onto Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown, CA.

Forest at Daybreak

DAY SIX – Morning at Henry Coe State Park

Leave a comment

Thursday, October 4, 2012
I got up again before the sun reached us. It was high enough to lighten the sky and to illumine the mountain tops to the west. The now familiar view had been transformed overnight. A great incoming tide of fog had filled the large valley before us to the south. Mountain tops, like where we were camped, had become peaked islands of trees. The deeper and higher fog in the valley to the west – strengthen by its closer proximity to the Pacific – began spilling through a pass between peaks, like a silent, slow-motion waterfall. I could actually see the fog gently flowing, cascading into the next valley. The fog seemed undecided whether it was water or air, existing in both worlds. This pure white ephemeral sea with its soft swells, its majestic and vast expanse toward the horizon, would be gone in a few hours.

I am upgrading my new life from “dharma bum” to “dharma vagabond”. Their meaning is about the same, but vagabond is a little more romantic and poetic . . . unless you are a diehard fan of Jack Kerouac and prefer the original expression. A vagabond is known for “moving from place to place without a home” and has the “characteristic of a wanderer.” But being a bum also connotes a devotion to something, usually an activity, like a ski bum, and therefore a dharma bum is dedicate to practicing the dharma. This meaning is not included in the definition of vagabond. Which term to you prefer?

NEXT STOP? Today we leave to Napa and will camp near Calistoga.

This gallery contains 5 photos

DAY FIVE – Henry Coe State Park, CA


Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Sitting at a shady spot in a nearby campsite, under a canopy of small oaks, I meditate and listen, gazing into the greenery and the twisting, lichen covered limbs. Occasionally acorns drop with a threatening whack while the diminutive oak leaves fall gently and silently. There is much fluttering and chirping of small birds in the trees and on the ground. Many of them are western bluebirds and they perch nearby in the oak above, often watching me. Acorn woodpeckers chatter and fly in and out of the upper branches in a great hurry and flurry of busyness.

They said it would be 10 degrees cooler today but it is oppressively hot by 8 AM. Then a half-hearted breeze arrives, offering some hope for relief. With the heat come the flies, the size of small house flies or large gnats. They don’t bite but aggressively fly in your face, buzz in your ears and crawl on any exposed skin. Possibly the bluebirds are munching on them.

This is something I learned long ago. Find any spot in nature, just sit quietly – attentive and patient – and the local residents will reveal themselves. In Massachusetts, there were beaver ponds I would frequent. At first, all would seem still and uninhabited. Then gradually creatures would appear, a wading great blue heron, a pileated woodpecker on the white skeleton of a drowned tree, a robust water snake swimming by, then another, a beaver with his nose just above water doggy-paddling to his lodge, mallards and mergansers serenely floating, a leopard frog’s form suddenly separating from the green muck he rests in.

Sitting in joy, I am happy doing nothing and remember why I came on this journey. The hot springs, as mellow as they were, now seem like too much activity. As the morning progresses, the birds are less active, perhaps also relaxing in the cooling breeze.

Later, I sat on dried grass in the shade of a large oak, shifting between gazing at the surrounding hills and sky and rereading, Nyoshul Khenpo’s Natural Great Perfection. He said about Tibet, “In the spring and brief summer there was a profusion of bright wild-flowers and all kinds of birds singing . . . I well remember those idyllic summer days of my childhood when the weather was lovely and I was totally delighted, sitting outside in the sun, completely at ease and relaxed, while the sheep munched grass and I gazed up at the intense turquoise sky and simply let my mind be. That was the natural, unfabricated beginning of my meditational development.”

I came with great enthusiasm for seeing tarantulas in the wild. But, as it turns out, the height of tarantula seasons is a little later, after the first fall rains – which have not arrived yet. Also, the excessive heat is keeping many of them underground. Hoping to see at least one more and get a photo to prove it, I set out at sunset for my last opportunity. I knew I would at least enjoy the changing evening sky. In the distance lowlands the fog was rolling in like a slow-motion tsunami.

One tarantula kindly obliged me and posed on the shoulder of the road. It was getting dark by then so the photos aren’t great, but you will be convinced of their dramatic presence. (This guy was about 4-5 inches long.)

This gallery contains 8 photos