Walking with Vultures

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very good vulture

When I was teaching, I would often ask students to classify nouns, adjectives and verbs. Thumbs up for a word that had a positive feel, thumbs down for the negative. Infrequently, there might pop up a word that was neutral, but – think about it – many words we use have a good/bad reputation. Vulture? Definitely negative.

But I keep encountering them in nature. They glide by me, sometimes far up in the sky, sometimes quite close, and I have decided that I can form my own opinion on their goodness. To me, they seem totally thumbs-up.

I look forward to walks with my vulture friends. Perhaps because I live where many creatures live (and die,) vultures entertain me each day on my afternoon walks. They have become my most reliable walking companions. I love to see the long spread of their wings as they hover over the sage. I had never known the effortless grace of their flight before my walks on the beach. They make me notice them with a persistent presence and a command of the salt-sprayed fog.

img_4968As I walk, they seem to play in the sky. And frolic on the land. Maybe they don’t see things that way, but as I have come to know these friends with feathers, I see their antics. Dipping and swaying with air currents I will never explore, they share with me their freedom. One came so close, I heard the push of a wing as the vulture coasted inches over a dune, just one more trick to make me wish I could be as playful in the air.

Beach weather can change fast, and even when the winds come up and blow the sand, I walk and the vultures glide. The spraying sand doesn’t seem to change their daily romp along the coastline. Nor mine.

They scavenge, but so do I. Maybe they pursue habits that many think of as grizzly, but can’t we just as easily thank them for keeping our trails and walkways clean? There’s a good side to picking at the bones of life, a sort of nature’s way to keep house.

Walking with nature can be surprising, but my walks with vultures have taught me lessons about what we must see and accept. I am grateful for their company, even when vultures are doing what comes naturally. My beachside walks have treated me with a new respect for the word Vulture. Thumbs all the way up.

 

 

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Walking Botanical Gardens

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I’m taking a break from the Nordic cruise, which we took in the early spring. Here’s what the Central Coast of California is looking like lately.

I’d passed by the San Luis Obispo County Botanical Garden in El Chorro Regional Park several times a week for the past 4 and 1/2 years. The hillsides this time of year are dry and golden, the oak trees giving plenty of shade. It was past time to take a walk in the garden, to try to identify those pesky volunteer plants that survive my gardener’s neglect. It was a quick 6 mile drive inland from the coast. Off came the sweatshirt, on went the sun hat.

Entering through a cheerful purple bridge over a dry creek bed, the buzz of the bees and the stone steps pulled me into the garden. Even in this late season, after the driest year I remember, there were flowers that lingered.

Plants were labeled, so I began my study, searching out species I’d seen but couldn’t name and verifying names I thought I knew. These botanical gardens are so helpful – I love their handy identification tags and descriptions. I walked around clucking with surprise at names I would never have guessed (propeller plant?) and humming with agreement at the more familiar (so many types of aloe!)

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California Fuchsia
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PomPom
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Strawberry Bush

All the species are adapted to the dry California climate. Like these:IMG_6276

And some blossoming plants served a higher purpose, helping a special little creature steal the show…

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almost camouflaged

…and keep stealing the show…

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again and again.

One of my favorites, an aloe plant, surprised me. This one was huge and stood up from the ground, showing me a new variation on my old favorite.

 

On the way out from the garden, I came across the peskiest plant in my yard, one that keeps finding new places to sprout. Now, instead of inventing bad names, I know what to call it.IMG_6319

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Next up: more of the Nordic cruise

Walking with Pelicans

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The return of the pelicans

To my knowledge, pelicans don’t walk much. But I love to walk alongside them as they fly, out above the waves. These sergeant-majors of the seas patrol our area, and they come out in force during springtime and stay all summer. I welcome their return with my walk today, and was fortunate that they were in a mood to entertain.

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On patrol

How can people say they are not beauties? Their over-sized beaks and broad wings reward them with a beautiful catch, over and over.

Watch for the splashes. My camera and I do not agree about push and click. By the time I pushed, the pelican was probably already diving, and by the time the camera took the shot, there was only splash. Two different times, with two competent pelicans. They tried to make it easy for me.

The second one stalled to let me gather my failing photographic skills. He is the one lifting off again after a successful catch, ready to scout the area for more.

Watch this magnificent dive. I love the way they search, spot and then set-up their dive. The final upside-down reverse puts them head first into the water. Amazing creatures.

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As I walk, I see some tag-a-longs. The gulls must have noticed the school of fish. They follow the skillful pelicans, landing nearby for a chance at left-overs.

The pelican entertainment today makes my walk a bit longer in time, not distance. But who can resist stopping and looking at these spectacular birds, to say nothing of the other sights along the way. Hope you have a great walk today.

 

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Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks

Walking the Neighborhood

IMG_0414When you live where you can walk along a beautiful path every day, you are a lucky sort. I am a lucky sort – these views never get old. Many places in world are beautiful, and the Central California coastline where I live is one.

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I leave my shoes by the dunes, and fight with the dry sand to get to the water’s edge. Barefoot walking, in and out of the tide, soothes my feet. The sea birds let me pass, but don’t give up their feeding grounds unless I get very close. It’s a tricky business, trying to guess the correct distance from each bird. The tall blue herons are in a large group today and may feel bolder than usual. The tiny snowy plovers have moved away from the surf. The curlews are so ever-present they hardly glance at my passing. I thread my steps back and forth, closer to the waves and then farther away, depending on what I guess is a polite distance from the wildlife. I guess wrong. The great blue herons are nervous – or maybe I made some unintentional noise. Away they fly.

The great blues are here in force today. It’s springtime, and the bird families are teaching their young to fish. Watch this one as s/he catches, swallows and catches again. See the lump in the long, long neck?

The night herons are back after a winter’s absence. For the first time, I notice how long their necks are stretched out full-length. More often I see them in a group, hunched down, facing the cold wind together. I watch their antics for a while, and wonder if these are a different kind of heron than I think they are. Newcomers?

Along my neighborhood walk, there is a majestic icon. Morro Rock, the stunning volcanic plug that anchors the 3-mile long beach, sits ready for a photograph every day. Sometimes the sun shines on the irregular surfaces, sometimes mist plays around the rock. Either way, it’s a fitting touchstone, and I use this as my turn-around point.

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End of the walk

I work my way back to my shoes, feel my thighs worry with the effort of walking through the dunes to the beach entrance. I think I’ll stop for a bit at the bench near the dunes, if the black bird will share it.

It’s springtime. Flowers have blossomed, the dunes-side bushes bloomed. But if you remember the colors of a month ago, you can see the fade already beginning. The surrounding hillsides have already changed from a full-mountain satin-ny green to a soft yellow. Wherever you are, I wish you peaceful neighborhood walks.