About WoodswomanWrites.com

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m in love with life and eager to learn from it. I’m a naturalist and professional do-gooder, committed to making the world a better place and savoring the joy along the way. Thanks for visiting my blog. This is my place to share stories and photos of my travels, indulge in creative expression and musings, ponder how I can help create a just world for others, and share my sense of wonder at being alive. I welcome your feedback about my blog. I’m a professional writer and available for editing projects as well as individual writing coaching. Contact me at woodswomancalifornia@gmail.com.

Pinnacles National Park – At a Distance and Up Close

After many years of drought, Northern California this spring was a vibrant palette of colorful plants. Back in April before the blistering heat of what is now summer, I spent a few days at Pinnacles National Park exploring the contrast of the rough rock and the graceful flowers and bright lichens.

The pinnacles are a geologic formation that grew out of two plates of the earth’s crust coming together, with an ancient volcano and erosion thrown into the mix. The humps and spires of the High Peaks Trail arise from the rolling hills below, and they are a frequent haunt of endangered California condors that have been reintroduced here.


View of the High Peaks from below

As I hiked up, the unique formations began to come into view.
The High Peaks Trail is not for the faint of heart with its overhangs and steep steps carved into the rockface. Some places have handrails.
In some places, the rock surface itself is the option to steady yourself.
Climbing up to the top rewards you with sweeping views.

As always when in nature, many of the wonders require a look up close. Spring life was everywhere, from lichens on the rocks to wildflowers.

Lizard in the sunshine

Bush poppy

Blue witch

Fiddleneck

Silver bush lupine

Pipestems

Wooly paintbrush

California poppy, the official state flower

Fremont’s monkeyflower

Gray mules ears

Bitter root growing on the trail, with the protection someone constructed around it

Unknown flowers

Lichen

Multiple species of lichen

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. – Rumi, 13th century

I stopped when the coyote and I met eyes, I descending the Marin Headlands trail and she standing a couple hundred yards away down the hill. For the next few minutes we meandered in the same direction across the landscape, with me stopping to let her move on unhurried before we would cross paths again. When I started my car to head home, she emerged once more. I cut the engine and watched as she spotted a gopher, got into position, pounced, stuck her nose in the hole when she missed, and eventually moved off.

It’s easy to forget how much beauty surrounds me when my mind spirals downward. I recommit myself to draw inspiration from nature and continue working on bettering both myself and the world that I’m a part of.

This photo of a coyote was taken by Len Blumin and is shared here with permission. You can see more of his stunning wildlife photography at his Flickr photostream.

Walking in the Footsteps of Galileo – The March for Science

On Earth Day this year, 50,000 other sane people and I walked down Market Street in the March for Science in San Francisco. Until recently, I would not have thought I’d have to defend that most basic of nonpartisan concepts—science. You know, the field that brought us handwashing.

Alone, it’s easy to despair and feel powerless in these challenging times. But that wasn’t possible when I was surrounded by so many committed people of all ages with their creative signs and costumes.

While the purpose was serious, our collective mood was upbeat. This is why I attend peaceful protests—to recharge for the slog that is social change. I will continue to show up.

Me and the other heretics.

The North Coast in Winter

redwood-stump-at-humboldt-beach-1-2017-smallOn New Year’s weekend, I journeyed to California’s North Coast. Although I’ve blogged about hiking through the giant redwoods in this region when it’s warm and dry, this was my first trip in the winter. My friend and I stayed on the coast, the seasonal home of wading waterfowl. I often get these look-alike birds mixed up, so it was helpful to travel with expert birder Brian who could identify species.

Layered up in the cold rain with few people around, we spotted wildlife at Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. A peregrine falcon plucked the feathers from her breakfast. A trio of otters watched us before swimming away. I managed to sneak in a few photos between the raindrops.

otter-arcata-marsh-1-2017-smallotter-duo-arcata-march-1-2017-smallmarbled-godwit-and-dunlins-arcata-marsh-1-2017-small
Dunlins with a marbled godwit

snowy-and-great-egrets-arcata-marsh-12-2016-smallSnowy egret (left) and great egret

Visiting a place in a different season is a wonder of discovery. At Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we encountered dramatic dark clouds and enormous storm waves, miles of beach with no other footprints, bright berries and spongy lichens as the earth thrived on plentiful water after so many years of drought. Waves swirled around giant redwood stumps as the sanderlings skittered between the waves to feed on molluscs in the wet sand.

ground-berries-and-lichen-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallLow-growing berries and lichen

beach-strawberries-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallBeach strawberry

beach-sky-stumps-grass-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-feeding-sanderlings-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-flying-sanderlings-humboldt-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-solo-sanderling-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-small

This may have been my first trip to the North Coast during the winter, but it was so beautiful that I don’t think it will be my last.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like: Action at the Airport

When I read the news about the president’s executive order targeting Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and heard about the protest at San Francisco International Airport, I knew how I was going to spend my Sunday. Somewhere hidden in that airport were unfortunate travelers in custody, separated from their families based solely on their ethnicity and country of origin. My friend Saret and I headed down early to help out the couple dozen committed souls who spent the night there after some of the thousands there the day before had headed home.

I made my simple sign, writing in black marker on a piece of paper in between chants of “No bans, no wall, sanctuary for all” and “Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.” Just a simple message in big enough letters to read from a distance: “Let them in.”
beverly-with-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-cropped-smallWhen Saret had to leave for work, I connected with a number of new friends who were good company throughout the day.

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no-ban-no-wall-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

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i-stand-with-immigrants-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

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As people came and went they left their signs behind to be picked up by others.

signs-collection-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallAttorneys arrived and offered their services, forming a spontaneous team. Some set themselves up in a coffee shop as their legal headquarters. Others walked around prominently to direct people to the headquarters, and asked around to find people who could translate their signs into Farsi and Arabic for arriving travelers. At one attorney’s request, our crowd chanted our support: “Let the lawyers in, let the families out.”

attoney-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallAs the hours passed, more and more people arrived at the airport. We sang and chanted while some American travelers happened upon our protest and cheered for us.

crowd-scene-with-toddler-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallDroves of supporters had started dropping off food the previous day for people staying overnight, and there continued to be lots of food available on tables along the sidewalk outside the terminal.

protest-food-station-af-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallSympathetic managers at San Francisco International Airport issued a formal statement of support: “We appreciate all those who have so passionately expressed their concerns over the President’s Executive Order relating to immigration. We share these concerns deeply, as our highest obligation is to the millions of people from around the world whom we serve. Although Customs and Border Protection services are strictly federal and operate outside the jurisdiction of all U.S. airports, including SFO, we have requested a full briefing from this agency to ensure our customers remain the top priority. We are also making supplies available to travelers affected by this Executive Order, as well as to the members of the public who have so bravely taken a stand against this action by speaking publicly in our facilities.”

constitution-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallHundreds more people continued to stream in as I headed home. Eventually there would be 1,000. Later in the day the last person detained, a man from Iran, was finally released and united with his worried family.

This is indeed what democracy looks like. To get involved with a national movement with your local neighbors, I hope you’ll join me in connecting with Indivisible. Please spread the word.

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Outer and Inner Journeys for Change

gg-bridge-wristband-smallAs an activist, there were many options for events in my community that responded to the installation of the president, coinciding with others across the planet where people were standing up for a kind and just world. I planned my day to begin with public action and to close with private reflection.

My friend Neal and I capitalized on the publicity that comes from being atop a global icon—the Golden Gate Bridge. A group called Bridge Together Golden Gate organized a human chain emphasizing love and compassion over hate and fear. With a permit for a peaceful demonstration, thousands of us came to join hands along the walkway. We draped ourselves in purple, a color symbolizing opposition to bullying.

peaceful-patriot-on-gg-bridge-1-20-17-smallA peaceful patriot

As evidenced by the many tourists who flock to the bridge with their daydreams of warm, sunny California and end up shivering even on sunny days, the Golden Gate Bridge is rarely a place for a balmy stroll. It’s the edge of the continent. You have to be committed to head out on the span and stand around for a couple hours when it’s 50 degrees during one of the rainiest Januarys on record. So it was impressive that 3,500 people showed up.

I bundled up in longjohns, a fleece jacket, two hats, and raingear. Over all that I draped my purple thrift store finds, a couple of scarves and an oversized sports jersey that would fit over everything.

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With my friend Neal—no, I didn’t gain weight, just covered in many layers

It was inspiring to be around so many positive-minded people standing together in a message of unity, an energizing way to begin the first day of being part of the resistance.

gg-bridge-purple-brigade-1-20-17-smallReadying to join hands during a welcome break in the rain

Afterwards, recognizing the importance of building my inner strength for the long haul of the next few years, I attended Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Inauguration Day Community Gathering in the evening. Making the transition from activity to contemplation, I got there early to savor the quiet before others arrived.

spirit-rock-community-hall-1-20-17-smallspirit-rock-buddha-statue-1-20-17-smallMore than 300 of us came together at Spirit Rock. Listening to several Buddhist teachers and singing together helped me ground in the dharma. Early in the evening, we were asked if anyone wanted to share why they came. I shocked myself as I discovered I felt none of my usual discomfort with public speaking before strangers, raised my hand, and took the microphone.

I said something along the lines of: “I am here because to be an effective activist, I need to take care of my inner life as well as my outer one. I know how important it is to keep my heart open, and I want to make sure I remember that there is no us vs. them—there is only us.” From the murmurs in response, I apparently touched a chord for others.

The teachers emphasized drawing from mindfulness and compassion while embracing being outraged or heartbroken, resolving to act in the face of injustice and environmental threats while continuing to embrace joy and beauty in the world. During our periods of meditation, I closed my eyes and settled into the silence.

The essential elements for moving forward are clear. Combining mindful action with the space for reflection. Being part of a movement, and rooting in the earth alone on a trail. Drawing on the energy and power from working with others across the spectrum of diverse humanity, and finding a quiet time to retreat and restore. Remembering, again and again, that there is no us vs. them—there is only us.

I’ve taken my first steps, and I’m committing to the unfolding journey.

spirit-rock-wall-painting-of-buddhas-1-20-17-small

Hawks, Cranes, and Pintails

Here are more photos from my recent travels ooo-ing and ahh-ing at wintering birds in California’s Central Valley. On two occasions, I was lucky to get close to red-tailed hawks.

red-tailed-hawk-merced-nwr-12-2016-smallRed-tailed hawk at Merced National Wildlife Refuge

red-tailed-hawk-sac-nwr-11-2016-smallRed-tailed hawk at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

For many years, I’ve traveled to the Llano Seco Unit of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s North Central Valley Wildlife Area. It’s a reliable place to find graceful sandhill cranes. In the past, I’ve visited in the afternoons and have spotted a few cranes in the distance or flying overhead. This time on my solo overnight trip, I decided to bundle up in my warm layers and go early in the morning instead. What a difference that made.

With no people around to spook them, there were more than 100 greater sandhill cranes cooing to each other, and they didn’t seem to mind my presence as long as I was quiet and moved slowly. Visiting Llano Seco is usually a relatively short visit, spotting a few cranes and enjoying the usual crowd of colorful ducks. But this time, the company of so many cranes was mesmerizing as I enjoyed the place without other people there. It wasn’t until I got in my car to leave that I realized I’d been staring in awe for two hours.

For those of you who geek out on species identification, I have to say I’m not good at telling the difference between greater and lesser sandhill cranes. Llano Seco’s website says the place is home to the greater variety, so that’s how I know.

sandhill-crane-portrait-llano-seco-11-2016-smallGreater sandhill crane with ducks and geese at Llano Seco

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Finally, here is a series of images of northern pintails taken on various trips this winter. I find these ducks incredibly beautiful, so I kept snapping away. With their blue and black striped bills, brown heads with a white flourish stretching upward from their chests, extended tail feathers, and streaked profile, they look like artwork that someone sculpted.

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Pintail pair at Llano Seco

pintail-pair-on-shore-12-2016-smallResting on the bank

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Cruising along in the sunshine

pintail-group-at-llano-seco-11-2016-smallThese two seemed to be having a dispute

pintail-dabbling-12-2016-smallA common position—butt up while feeding

I stumbled upon this homemade sign on a dirt road through the agricultural fields. Clearly one of the locals appreciates the pintails, too.

pintail-lane-sign-12-2016-small