Tuesday, 14 August 2018

 Lord, send me a sign. Signposts are a welcome sight for the hiker. Here are a couple I have come across in my travels.
 The first -crusted in lichens- is on Dartmoor pointing towards the dank and mysterious Wistman's Wood (see my entry 8th. February 2017).
 By way of a contrast the second is on the parched elevations of the Pacific Crest Trail in northern California (entry 22nd. July 2018). 

Sunday, 12 August 2018

 Bumblebee on a wayside weed/wildflower. Perhaps I should start identifying bees in the same way as I do plants so I think this is a Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius).
 The book Bugs Britannica lists various vernacular names for bumblebees such as dumbledore in Cornwall but the best ones are Scottish: foggie-toddler, sunny sodger, canny annie to name a few. The most appropriate one in this case is also Scottish: red arsie.

Friday, 10 August 2018

 My hike out to Mount Eddy ended where it began- the railroad yard at Dunsmuir, California. As described in recent entries I hiked 40 miles or so to Eddy over the course of three days then spent several days exploring the meadows and heights thereabouts.
 I hiked back the way I came along the PCT. It was downhill this time so I had gravity on my side though walking down steep gradients can be hard work too. I allowed several days again; it was even hotter if anything and some of the water sources were drying up even over the space of a week. My rations were pretty meager by now. Actually they had been meager throughout.
 I spent the final night on a designated PCT campsite located within a mainstream campground in Castle Crags State Park. So I could have a shower which was a joy and I walked over to Amiretti's Market to purchase sandwiches and fruit, more joy. I enjoyed hanging out with the hikers on the campsite, as was the case with all the great people I had met en route.
 About 7 in the evening on my last day in NorCal trusty Shasta Shuttles picked me up from Amiretti's and dropped me off in Dunsmuir, which looks every inch small town America. The Amtrak back to San Francisco calls at Dunsmuir once a day at half past midnight so I sat around town and chatted to a few locals.
 Rural Americans are very friendly in my experience. They see a stranger and say hello. They ask how you're doing because they're interested to know how you're doing. The tradition of hospitality is very strong. 
 As midnight approached I headed to where the Amtrak stops. Dunsmuir used to be an important railroad town and the freight trains still change drivers there. I was thrilled when an epic Southern Pacific freight train stopped for a short while, then pulled out blowing its horn and ringing its bell. It was well over a hundred cars long pulled by four engines, with another one pushing from behind!
 A little band of travelers gathered at the stop. A rancher from further north arrived in a pick up truck to drop off a farmhand. If you took a black and white photograph of these two they could have stepped out of the 1940s. In period dress they might have looked like a Wyeth painting. The rancher heard my English accent and noted that he was of German ancestry. We spoke of the wildfire that had been burning to the north and he mentioned matter-of-factly that he had saved his home by ploughing a firebreak around it.
 Since returning to the UK the Carr Wildfire has broken out to the south. The section of track between Redding and Klamath Falls has been closed (about 140 miles). Dunsmuir is the stop between them which could have scuppered my plans had I arrived later in the month.
 I've been back a few weeks now and the memories are still very vivid but it seems like a long time ago. I made it back to Dunsmuir exhausted but exhilarated. To be honest I was thinking I can't put myself through that kind of effort again.
 Then I noticed a schedule at a bus stop. They've introduced a summer bus service from Dunsmuir which goes through Weed and Yreka to Etna. I could hike 5 or 10 miles out of Etna and pick up the PCT into the Marble Mountains Wilderness which is said to be incomparable for wildflowers...     

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

 There was wildlife as well as wildflowers to be seen while hiking to Mount Eddy and back. Butterflies were many and varied.

 Something I noticed a number of times was that clouds of butterflies descend on spots where a dried up stream crossed the trail. No water was flowing but the soil was still wet and it appears that they come to sup on the moisture that remains.

 Startled deer were the largest mammals I saw. A not at all startled coyote trotted ahead of me at one point. I didn't see any bears or signs of them though I imagine they would seek out watery meadows much as I did. In similar environs around Crater Lake last year there were fresh bear tracks here and there though the bears didn't show themselves.
 I'm happy/sad I didn't see any rattlesnakes. I was a little unnerved to read that it's not uncommon to encounter them basking on the trails. The snakes I did see were smaller (about 2ft long), green and slithered rapidly through the scrub.
 The wings of hummingbirds, the scuffling of darting gophers and the click-clacking of some flying insect (a Katydid or similar?) were often an audible accompaniment. Some of the heights and ridges were very high indeed to the extent that several times I found myself looking down as well as up at soaring birds of prey.

 There was a bee in great numbers on the wildflowers that looked to be a close relative of our bumble bees (possibly the Golden Northern Bumble Bee?). Other pollinators seemed to my eye to resemble bugs with bee-like characteristics though I need to do some more research on quite what the range of species is in the territory I hiked through. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

 I will travel to the ends of the Earth to cover topics for this blog. For example I recently visited an industrial estate on the outskirts of Hitchin, Hertfordshire (admittedly I was in Hitchin anyway). 
 I often notice that these "untidy" areas and urban fringes can be a haven for nature.

 At the end of the industrial estate is a gasworks but turn left just before you get to the gasworks you go under a couple of railway bridges which lead to a scrap metal yard where you turn right onto a footpath...

 The footpath runs alongside the railway tracks and there is a particularly impressive field of Teazels (Dipsacus fullonum) and Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) growing in their thousands. Some works connected with the railway turned over the land here a few years ago and in effect created an extensive seed bed for these biennials to flourish in great quantity.
 Since biennials have a two year life cycle they can colonize an area rapidly i.e. the first year they put out a rosette of leaves, the second year they reach full height, flower then seed themselves copiously before dying down.
 We tend to worry that humanity has a negative impact on nature but it's worth bearing in mind that many wildflowers thrive on disturbed land and have a symbiotic relationship with human activity. 

 Adjacent to the scrapyard and the railway line is the Burymead Springs nature reserve which extends to the nearby River Hiz. Some of the last surviving reed beds in the area are here. Before the expansion of Hitchin the marshy banks of the Hiz sustained a thriving local industry harvesting the reeds for thatch. 
 It is said that there are around 200 chalk rivers in the world; 85% of them are in the UK and 10% in Hertfordshire, the Hiz being one of them.

 Appropriately Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is much in evidence in these sweet meadows.

 As I said in one of my recent entries concerning the meadows of Mount Eddy: all meadows have enchanting combinations of form and colour.
 It's true of Northern California, it's true in North Hertfordshire.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

 In the mountain meadows on the lower reaches of Mount Eddy I expected to find wildflowers and I did. I was surprised how many and varied they were higher up. This looked to be an arid and unforgiving environment of stones, shale and rock.

 In fact there was if anything a greater variety of species than down below in the meadows. There were no carpets of green here but there were plants dotted all around the parched ground. I assume they are watered by the first flush of snow melt and are adapted to cling on in nooks and niches during the baking sun of the summer months.
 Identifying them will really stretch my botany and research so for now I will simply post a small selection of the ones I saw. Please feel free to help me out on the names if anyone reading this diary is a connoisseur of plants that flourish among rocks in Northern California at elevations above 7000 feet...


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

 It was nice to see the allotment after a few weeks away. Fortunately a friend had attended to the watering otherwise it would have been bone dry. The runner beans have plenty of flowers (and bees) on them so hopefully they will crop well in the weeks ahead.

 A few of the allotments are neglected or vacant and there's something to be said for that because they have some of the loveliest flowers. If these Globe Artichokes had been eaten they wouldn't be bursting out in their extraordinary purple plumage.

 The neighbouring allotment is lovingly tended and resplendent with beautiful flowers throughout the summer. They grow many (though not all) of the species on it for dyeing fabrics using traditional methods.
 This is Elecampane (Inula helenium): tall, broad of leaf and very yellow blooms. Introduced to these shores by the Anglo-Saxons or perhaps even earlier by the Celts it has ancient associations with the mystical and medicinal. As far as I know Elecampane isn't a dye plant but it's certainly very striking.