Sunday, 2 May 2010

Wetlands Walk #6: Transition

Blown dry by recent winds and baked in the sun, my path to the wetlands has been transformed from a frozen winter-scape to one transitioning quickly into spring. There is cracked earth along the road, dried by recent winds and the light feels different. The sun's place in the sky has changed; shadows cast are at a different angle and there is a new warmth penetrating the landscape.
On the long straight road approaching the cow barn, white mineral residue has taken the place of snow. I notice tufts of different-colored hair embedded in the dried-up mineral encrusted mud.
At the Russian Olive, a landmark for turning west towards the wetlands, there is increased evidence of cow activity - tufts of hair hanging tell-tale in the breeze with freshly trod ground and nibbled branches below.
The bluebirds have returned. They have begun their ritual fence post perching through the area. One performs the ritual before me at the cow barn this evening. It is mostly the stunning all-blue mountain bluebird (sialia currucoides) that we have here. From our trusty birdbook I have just learned that the ritual sitting on fence posts is related to a practice called "ground-sallying" which is flying from a perch (branch or in this case a post) and setting briefly on the ground to capture an insect before returning to a perch.
As I walk out to the wetland there is more mineral build up on the land. And although I find it on the one hand beautiful, I also wonder what the minerals actually are and if it has anything to do with the cows' affect on the land. They are like pastel micro landscapes.
The sun is dropping low although the temperature is much warmer than any of my previous walks. Although spring will be in and out until June (most likely!), change is in the air.


in·ver·sion - noun
1. a reversing of the order, arrangement, or position of something
2. a state in which the order, arrangement, or position of something is reversed, or something in such a state
3. also called, a·nas·tro·phe (noun) an alteration of the normal order of words or phrases in a grammatical construction, usually for rhetorical effect
4. a stable atmospheric condition in which air temperature increases vertically upward through a layer. It is the reverse of normal conditions.
Also called temperature inversion
5. abnormal positioning of an organ, especially the abnormal turning inward or inside out of an organ.
6. the transformation of a mathematical proportion by inverting the ratio and order of its terms
7. a raising of the lower note of an interval, or a lowering of the upper note, by an octave
8. a moving of the root tone of a chord to a position other than the lowest
9. a converting of all the intervals in a melody from ascending to descending and vice versa
10. a chemical reaction in which an optically active compound gives a product with opposite optical configuration
11. a chromosomal mutation in which a block of genes in a segment is in reverse order
(extracted from Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation)

In the practice of Hatha Yoga, inversions (postures or asanas in which the head is below the heart) “upend one's relationship to gravity….Here on earth, gravity slowly but surely weighs us down and saps our strength.” (from

If this inherent sense of “up and down” instilled in us by gravity affects our body, certainly it must affect our minds as well. Unlike physical inversions, which require warming up the body and knowing the limits of one’s body, mind-inversions can be practiced anywhere, anytime. And although it may take some time to warm up the mind, I suggest that the benefits of inversion touted by yoga practitioners might also might also be true for our minds. Who knows when the next opportunity for a mind-inversion might arise…..?

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Audible: Red Wing Black Birds

The Red Wing Black Birds that we discovered in their return to the wetlands now pilgrimage to our home on a daily basis to visit our bird feeder, well-stocked with rich sunflower seeds. Our land is permeated by the lovely sound of their calls. And slowly I am becoming more familiar with their vocabulary. Although I do not pretend to know precisely what they are saying, I am beginning to notice correlations between their calls and their behaviors.

-The view from our kitchen window-

Desert Wetlands Observation-Fishing Vest

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

It's a matter of perspective....

Desert Wetlands in Sunshine Valley as seen from Google Earth
Image searched and sized by Chris Cote

One of the objectives for this project is to examine the wetlands in as many ways as possible, deepening and widening the experience of this particular place and my relationship to it. Exploring the wetlands through all four seasons is the major premise of the project, however using scale to determine observations and experiences could be another important and evocative method. By scale I mean relative size, extent, or degree in my approach, from macro to micro and everywhere in between; in essence a sort of observational measurement tool.

The word "scale" comes from Middle English and from Late Latin, scala ladder or staircase, from Latin, scalae, plural, stairs, rungs, ladder and is akin to the Latin scandere, to climb. Scale is about climbing the ladder of perception. Each rung provides a different perspective. If I look at the layout and land patterns of the wetlands on Google Earth I will get one type of information and experience,while sitting and listening to the red wing black birds will bring another, and looking at a water sample from the wetlands under a microscope will result in still another series of observations and experiences.

Most of my observations so far, have fallen somewhere between micro and macro, perhaps in the broad "meso" category. Throughout this project I hope to find many ways to climb between scales and to experience the different worlds revealed through a variety of perspectives. The image above is the first attempt at a more "macro" approach. Chris's dexterity with Google Earth and his interest in GPS and GIS will undoubtedly be of help as I attempt more macro observations.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Wetlands Walk #5: human currents-spring chorus

As I hold the barbed wire up for Chris and he ducks under, I say, "This is the threshold where the more wild Sunshine Valley starts." But maybe it is less a questions of "wild" and more a question of the presence or absence of current human involvement.

There are certainly plenty of remnants if human presence on the land beyond this barbed wire. The fence itself indicates the introduction and control of livestock movement on the land. There is a decomposing pair of wooden buildings and also what I've heard referred to as an old potato storage building. And Chris reminds me that the wetlands themselves are a man-made phenomenon.

Today as we walk along the road, we notice recent vehicle tracks. Someone has been here recently in a vehicle, someone with a key to unlock the padlock on the barbed wire gate across the road. The tracks are muddy, squishy, relatively recent. Halfway down the road, I stop to take a photo of the tracks. Chris gets very quiet and "shhhh!" asks me to be still. He and our dog, Kibbe, cock their heads and listen carefully. At first I don't hear anything. I move into a better listening postition, lowering my hood and hat to free my ears. And then I hear it - a faint, chaotic collage of high pitched sounds. Chris cups his hands around his ears, creating ear-extending sound catchers. He says it sounds like a hodgepodge of muddled radio frequencies.

I do the same. It works! We hear better and I begin to make out birdsong amongst the chaos. I am beginning to think that we may be witnessing one of the first spring evening red winged blackbird choruses.

We quicken our pace, excited to arrive and test our hypothesis. We stop at the old cow feeding station . We stop again, listening. This time it's clear - definitely red winged blackbirds and lots of them. For me, this is a definite indication of the beginning of spring and the return of the light. Just weeks ago the wetlands were silent, even at dusk, its song little more than the shifting of ice. This is a transition time.

On the threshold of the wetlands we stop to listen and watch. There is a great deal of movement and excitement among the birds. As we approach, they are startled and fly in a flock away from their favorite spot at the mouth of the culvert, where the water flows freely from one side of the wetlands to the other.

Photo by Chris Cote
I am thrilled by their flight as they swoop over us and bank south to their new landing spot and settle into song again. Their vocal range and beautiful but discordant woven song is both intriguing and haunting.

As they settle back into the reeds we sit and listen absorbing it all, until the cold gets the better of us and we turn homeward.

Video by Chris Cote

As we walk home the dusk becomes moonlight. Just before we reach our driveway, I notice our moonshadows against the snow. Inevitably we start singing Cat Stevens and enjoy leaping and hoping and being followed by our moonshadows the rest of the way home.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Wetlands Walk #4: unusual conditions

When I work up this morning to a thick icy fog, immediately the wetlands came to mind. What would they be like in these unusual conditions? The world, transformed by delicate but pervasive ice, feels uniquely quiet, supremely still.

The muted colors make me notice different things on this familiar route. Barbed wire contours stand out starkly sheathed with ice. Wire writing scrolled between fence posts. Textures are exaggerated.
The mountains are blanketed by fog. With the absence of the enfolding mountains on all sides, I feel a sense of isolation in the wide valley; a bleakness with out the color, texture and dimensionality of our mountains. The majesty of the wetlands is diminished by the invisibility of the ever-changing canvas of the mountains.