We departed from Vish and Sunita’s house while the morning sunrays were still soft and long. Nairobi quickly faded behind us. Dwayne navigated the roads with a slightly terrifying confidence: the safari van’s top-heavy nature wobbled around the turns as we rose along a winding road, northwest to the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Below us, the valley stretched solid green, sprawling out for miles, further than the eye could see, vanishing in the distance. The forested slopes gave way to grasslands specked by acacias and cut by thin brown roads that connected modest dwellings. Two baboons straddled each other, unabashed, fornicating on the roadside, obstructing a perfect view. Their accusatory eyes glared sideways at passing tourists and their unapologetic clicking cameras.
“The Man, the myth, the legend.” I took Carter Nimeyer’s outstretched hand. He gave a chuckle.
I had been trying to track down Carter since I first learned of his existence back in June. Over the summer a handful of people—then it began to seem like everyone—I talked to in the wolf business, and in the wildlife business in general, told me you know who you really should talk to? Carter Niemeyer.
Zambia was what I was looking for in Africa. A red soil dotted with dry thorny trees, acacias and baobabs, where animals roamed freely. Birdsong filled the trees. Women wore their hair in elaborate braids swirling around their heads making them look regal. Taxis came in every make and model of car, their unifying characteristic a secondary aqua blue paint job. Monkeys were everywhere. Baboons hitchhiked on cargo trucks and scampered around in the streets like comedic vagabonds. The gray vervet monkeys with their quizzical eyes and pointed moustaches approached fearlessly stealing food, shoes and other unattended items from inattentive owners.
I have spent the last two months in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem working on a book about public lands, wildlife and people’s connection to ‘wild’ spaces. I’ve had countless conversations with strangers about the famous bison calf who was put into the back of a tourist’s car and then euthanized by the park service when the herd failed to take it in. The sensational headlines have grabbed the public, demonized the sympathetic father and son, blaming them for a tragedy that likely was never going to have a happy ending for the lone calf. Not one person I met had thought about how the tourists got the calf into the car or read the few articles in circulation that include perhaps the most important fact: the calf was not happily standing by mom before it took that famous ride in the back seat of an SUV. It was likely already abandoned.
Fifteen minutes into the open ocean from Oahu’s north shore the great Pacific rolled beneath a gray sky. The warm, moist air was smooth and smelled of salt and diesel fumes from the boat’s rumbling motor. The motor puttered to a hush as Nick secured the bowline to the mooring and the sound of light wind returned to our ears. Around and below us the ocean stretched forth, rich and solid. Within her, gray shapes passed below.
The sun set behind the distant ridgeline and left a yellow glow on the horizon. I had returned to the ridge where we watched the moonrise the previous night. Soon the moon would rise again, but tonight was the last lunar eclipse in the tetrad. The last light of day suffused purple on the yellow and red soils of the Painted Hills. I kept an eye on the horizon imagining a bitten orb rising bright above the hills, but it took its time.
This morning I arose with the sun, or shortly there after, which is an anomaly for me, a night owl who is more likely to see 2:00 AM than six—even seven—in the morning. I wanted to get a good hike in before a long day on the road. The alarm went off at 6:01am and by 6:50 I had rolled out of bed, dressed, refilled water bottles, stowed everything for the drive, cranked Anita’s top down, driven to the trailhead and began climbing the switchbacks from George Lake, just out side of Mammoth Lakes. By 7:30 I had hiked 1.75 miles, climbed close to 1,000 feet and arrived at Crystal Lake’s glassy water nestled beneath granite cliffs and spires.
Raindrops began falling and gray came in all around the pushed out the morning’s blue sky. So the three of us put on rain gear—my dad and I in matching rain pants and thin-shelled jackets, Jackson in his red coat. We set out for Hidden Lake with no notion of the distance or difficulty but free from the car and content to venture out until half way ‘til dark.
Curious about the capped spigots in the campground I wandered into the Coffee Creek ranger station. A young looking ranger with piercing blue eyes and a military hair cut greeted us shyly.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I was wondering which of your campgrounds have water.”
“I’m not sure miss, I’ll have to ask my supervisor.” He disappeared into the offices in the back and was promptly replaced by another ranger in baggy forest service pants and a cobalt T-shirt that hugged his muscular arms. He looked like a younger George Clooney but with bright hazel eyes and a casual manner.
The sweetness of scotch broom hangs in the warm, soft air. It is still, and the stillness is filling, as if the quiet peacefulness of this place might hold you up in it. A light breeze picks up and rustles the thick leaves in the tree above me. The echoing wind high in the pines stirs the soul; then the quietness returns. Chirps and whistles of birds in the nearby pines accent the silence, for it is not really silent at all, but void of all the noises we grow accustomed to in cities. When those noises no longer sound we sense their absence as perfect stillness; it is only after a moment of drinking in that silence that our ears make room and we begin to take in the sounds of nature—the buzzing insects and the whispers in the grass, the depth to the birdsong, each song overlapping, from near and far their melodies intermixing.
Jack and I are taking to the road. Our mode of transportation is a beast, or more lovingly the beast: a combination of Wiley, a three quarter ton Chevy pickup with four wheel drive AND four wheel steering—a grandiose hand-me-down from my soon to be father-in-law—and a slide in, pop-up camper nicknamed Anita after my maternal grandmother who had a travel bug to rival mine.
A new study by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, marine biologist Philip Hastings and colleagues reveals that over half of the fish species found in California waters have been found in the immediate vicinity of the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego.
The research team used specimens collected over several decades to document the diversity of fishes in and around the region’s marine protected areas (MPAs) and diver surveys to quantify the abundance of kelp forest fishes.
The thin branches of a huckleberry tree fluttered slightly, then shook unexpectedly; teardrop green leaves brushed each other with a soft rustling as their delicate homes shifted up and down. A moment of stillness, then the rounded head of a black bear appeared, following a sniffing wet nose towards the dark, round berries.
Lima welcomed us with a pale sky, bustling streets and a promise of being unforgettable. Through the taxi window, flat topped rectangular buildings of tan brick blurred together as our driver shifted into a higher gear, accelerating us down the bumpy road, weaving freely between a towering blue bus and a dented sedan. The building edges crumbled slightly, bare rebar extended from the walls, reaching for the sky as if waiting for another level to be added. The neighborhood shifted with added wood facades painted only the brightest colors—lavender, pink and yellow, green with orange trim. We passed under an arching pedestrian bridge with a sign reading: Peru, lleno de creatividad.
Most people think of climate change in terms of warmer average global temperature, melting glaciers and more extreme storms. But what about the oceans? Carbon polluted into the atmosphere also enters the oceans and is making them more acidic. Heating is also occurring in the oceans which can stress organisms and cause them to shift their distribution patters. Heating has another effect: deoxygenation. To find our more watch the deoxygenation video that I put together with friends and colleagues to shine a little light on the issue.
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a natural climate cycle of fluctuating ocean temperatures and changing storm patterns over the tropical Pacific and is the dominant interannual signal of climate variability, affecting weather patterns worldwide. The two extreme phases of ENSO are El Niño and La Niña, which influence severe weather events like hurricanes, flooding, and drought.
For California, an El Niño year often yields rain, but how does it affect the rest of the world?
I picked our first poblano peppers of the season—beautiful, shiny green, almost as big as my hand. In celebration, I made them into delicious chili rellenos topped with avocado from our neighbor’s tree and served with home made rice and beans and a fresh green salad—straight from the garden. So fun to eat food you grew yourself, and its better for YOU and the PLANET. Can’t beat that!
They say enthusiasm can be infectious. This surely seems to be true when you talk with Cheryl Peach about her work in education outreach.
Peach has worked unrelentingly to connect scientists and graduate students to underserved communities in San Diego. Peach was one of the 18 awardees of the annual UC San Diego Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Diversity Awards Program. The program honors staff, faculty, students, departments, and organizational units or groups that make outstanding contributions in the areas of equal opportunity, affirmative action, diversity, and the UCSD Principles of Community during the year.