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Camp Meeker Beat - Tom Austin - April 2016


Camp Meeker Beat - April 2016

by Tom Austin

A funny thought struck me today. I was casting about, pondering what I should write about. This is one in a continuing series of columns where I have no hard news, and must go off on tangents. I bear primary responsibility for this, naturally; I haven’t been walking the streets much (always the best way to sniff out a column) on account of my sore knee. Just a little tendinitis, the doc says, but it has forced me to spend rather more time than I like reclined, with feet up, puttering about on the computer instead of around the forest. And I’m a man who likes his down time. 

But back to my thought. I’ve been writing this column a good number of years, and a goodly number of columns like this one, the casting-about kind of column. And in all those years I’ve never written about the animals of Camp Meeker. How is it that I have let that happen? I write about the joys of living in a forest all the time. Well, heck. A forest isn’t just a bunch of trees. A bunch of trees and nothing else is, at best, an orchard. No, a forest is a living ecosystem.

I’m sure there are dozens of you reading this who are vastly more qualified than myself to go all David Attenborough up in this piece. I tend toward a big-picture enjoyment of nature, covering the miles and seeing the vistas. Other friends of mine, just as former Camp Meekerite Leha Carpenter, are much better at slowing down and spotting that elusive mud wren or rhododendron japonicum. She had a way with a bird feeder, and our yard was always full of chestnut-backed chickadees and acorn woodpeckers and California towhee. Then there was the time in 1999, (we had just moved in) when her son Martin found a Pacific Giant Salamander right in our back yard! Those things (as Mr. Trump might say) are YUUGE! Easily the biggest salamander I’ve ever seen. 

What else? Raccoons, sure. Banana slugs by the bushel. Crows and blue jays and squirrels are common enough that you can get to know individual members of the respective species. Heck, you start to know whole squirrel cliques (and clicks, too: you know the noise they make that all the civilians think is some kind of bird call). Deer, crawdads, wood rats. All part of life’s rich wildlife pageant here in Camp Meeker.

And that’s the garden variety stuff. Then there are the rarer sightings. I saw a Bobcat outside my gate in the twilight once. Black bear and mountain lion are not unheard of in the wilder places downstream between Westminster Woods and Tyrone. I had to look it up on Wikipedia to confirm the sighting, but I saw a capybara galumphing across Valley Ford-Freestone Road last year. A wild one. Then there are the big birds: mostly they are turkey vultures, with the big wingspan and the ashy-gray underwings. But there are red tail hawks and red-shouldered hawks, and sharp-shins and Cooper’s hawks and even a Golden Eagle or two. The place to see all the raptors is in the winter along the dairy belt along Valley Ford Road and toward Tomales

I’m sure I am forgetting some doozies, and I sure hope some of you bio-nauts out there can fill me in on some of your more interesting sightings. I haven’t even touched on the flora yet, and considering fully half of it is poison oak, that’s probably wise. 

That’s living in a forest for you. We have more neighbors than our suburban friends, neighbors with fur and feathers and scales. One should get to know one’s neighbors. Forest animals don’t generally have large vocabularies, but they are quite fluent in communicating by their behavior. I would recommend Derrick Jensen’s “A Language Older than Words” as a good place to start. I would be very interested to hear your observations and reflections on any conversations you might have.