Thursday, July 12, 2018

Incidental Fauna of the Southern California Coastline, July 6th 2018

It's so nice to be here just talking to you.

The water off the coast is now (finally!) warm; very warm, very comfortable. You can swim for a long time, especially in a suit

this was the morning I'm writing about
I'm writing about some animal stuff that happened in/at it.

A little before 8 a.m., and there's a shorebird on the empty beach. Rather: there's a shorebird on the nearly-empty beach. An older man who's living rough on this patch, and whose wake-up my arrival frequently coincides with -- he stretches out of the sleeping-bag (I think) that's laid over himself, resting amidst a few bags of stuff and a mountain bike with thick tires. He's fine to me; I'm fine to him. We say good morning. No other people.

Not that many animals, either. At least not visible. But: this one bird. Pecking and scampering, doing its thing. And it's a really interesting bird: it's not a sandpiper; it's not a seagull. It's not an egret or heron. I watch it doing its thing; its thing is neat. It scampers back-forth with the waves, 'Piper-like. It clearly is hunting: it searches, it pecks. It has a long bill, it has long-ish legs. It's not a bird I've seen before.

It pecks, it hunts, and its hunting takes it gradually down the break towards where I am standing, watching it. After it gets pretty close--15 feet--it hunts for a couple of waves then takes flight; flies just twenty feet or so, to the far side of me, and continues its pecking and hunting progression.

I go for my swim (more on this below, hold on). After, later, I try to figure out what the bird was. The Internet is a weird place to figure things out; once you get there you see how winding your path was. But after a bunch of search-adjustsearch-blahBLAHblah, I settle: I'm pretty sure that it was this.
Frank Lehman / Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
I actually...I'm embarrassed to say I imagined at one point that the story of how I figured this out would be interesting. It is not. I won't tell it. But the bird was fantastic. If that's what it was. I think that's what it was: a Marbled Godwit. The name is apparently an attempt to represent their call, rather than some extraordinarily bizarre act of antiquated sacrilege. Anyway, my bird was silent. Focused!

Now, back/forward to the swim. I'm out, swimming; it's gorgeous, a pretty still day with no big scuffling or swells once I'm out past the break and the surface is glassy.

On the glassy surface, I see one of those disturbances--very small--that at once you're quite sure is some thing. I swim up; it is. It is one of these.
It is flopped on its back, doomed (I think) on the water. I've kind of often wondered this: when I lived in a building with a pool, I probably saved two to five bees/wasps a day from that pool. It seems like a majorly maladaptive trait: to need water (as all living things do), but to...die? If you get to close and your wings get caught? I guess I'm saying it always surprises me that these charismatic Hymenoptera haven't kinda evolved out of this watery-doom thing. But:

The wasp is on its back, well out on the water. I lift it up from below and it's now on my finger. What's exciting about this is the super close-up view; wasps, you don't usually get to see really, right? They are zipping around, tiny threatening aerialists -- you don't get to study them up close, mostly. This one, obviously, wasn't zipping anywhere. At least not for the moment.

So then I'm faced with this question, which strikes me at once. How long am I willing to wait, for this wasp? I immediately see that the only good option is to hope it can sort itself out on my hand here--do what it needs to get going, and go. Because: (a) swimming all the way back to shore with my hand up and a waterlogged wasp sticking to it seems both kind of annoying and not very feasible; would take a long time, would suck, might not succeed (wasp washed off). (b) Just being like...f*ckit: sorry wasp-y. U die, also didn't feel right. I in general feel that way, about things like this. I'm way far from perfect, in terms of my local and broader impact on the earth and it's creatures. But whenever it's one of those choices, like: I could interrupt my swim or not; this wasp could live or die. I could get out of bed to rescue this fly or not; this fly could or die. I could run through this dumb bush, get a little cut up (or not), avoiding this lizard; this lizard could live or die. It always just seems so weak and small to choose the small comfort / ease thing for myself when the animal's stakes are existence or not. Which is how this choice felt.

But how long would I wait?

Did the wasp even have a chance? Was it too...saturated?

I watched it.

It surprised me by "preening" itself. Well: first I gently (careful of wings) kind of used the stick from one damp hand to set it right (i.e., not flat on its back with its wings plastered down) on the other, which I'd air-dried as well as I could. So but then: if I were a wasp in this spot, I think I'd be like: "sh*t: I am drying my wings." Not this wasp. No. It preened. This was a cool, cool thing to see close. Holding it up almost right to my face, I saw its tiny frontal legs making those "running forward over the carapace of the skull piece"-type motions; like it was doing its hair or cleaning its face off or something like that. I still can't explain it (and haven't revisited the research-weirdness that is trying to research these things on the web). Was it assuring the patency of its airways? That, I believe, would be really important. It had to be something important, I guess; that or I just got this very vain wasp. It did that for a while, though -- like most of our time. Preened, little front-arms rubbing over its face.

This whole time its wings were Just a mess. They were all wet and sideways and f#cked up and...that's the thing I (not I as a hypothetical was; I) was worried about. Cuz if its wings didn't work, then I did not know what.

Its antenna were awesome. So ar-tic-u-lat-ed.

So okay then it did its wings, and they took like thirty seconds. First, it messed up. It tried to extend them and flap them off--I could tell it was doing this; once I was watching it closely, over time, I was struck by how 'animal-like' it was. I tend to think of insects as strange alien things in this alien tinyworld; once I dropped down into it, this one just seemed like a creature--anyway the first time it tried to extend and like flap off its wings it screwed it up totally, tipped sideways and again plastered itself to my hand, which of course was not fully dry because we are a freaking 1/4-mile or whatever out bobbing on the ocean this whole time, wasp, wut r u doing here anyway?

So it's stuck to my hand again.

So I do the thing with my other hand, again; edge of my thumb, gently as I can, lifting its stuck wing from flush to my skin. It's at this point that it occurs it to me that yes, this is wasp; yes it is now oriented to sting. For some reason, this just occurs to me. I'm not worried about it. It is not like I'm super-tough about wasp stings or something. No way do I want that. It hurts like a lot. But I somehow feel sure that that's not how this goes down; also I have some vague trivia factoid back of my mind that maybe not all wasps even can sting (only the females? or something? I still have not checked this out because...meh. I will. Soon.).

So but then, after I thumbed its wet-plastered wing up from first failed attempt...then the whole rest of it took like ten seconds. It splayed them out: two pairs of wings, bigger-smaller. (I really saw this! Or: I thought that I saw it! This whole thing was my own tiny (wet) nature show).

And then it kind of whuzzzzzed them for not long, two seconds at most

and leapt off my hand and was gone.

That was it.

Compared to the dainty extent of its ministrations to its head / face / mandibles / ?, the whole wing thing--which I would have thought would be hard and mission-critical--took two seconds. Maybe, once it was out, it wasn't worried at all. I was a magic piece of wood or whatever (what does it care? I'm not eating it. Sure fine I am wood); it knew its wings would be fine; it wanted to sort itself out before flying.

I checked, really searched, all the water around me. In case it had dumped itself plop back in ocean. The water was glassy, and I could see several feet; I cautiously started swimming again, looking. Didn't see anything.

The whole episode took longer than three minutes and fewer than ten.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lucky (sunglasses)

I've written in this space about compulsions, and the tensions of my own largely on-top-of-it relationships to my own. I've also written, in a general way, about what a lucky life I have. THIS IS A POST ABOUT BOTH.

A thing I'm compulsive about, after runs, is forgetting my sunglasses. Look, I know they're not fancy; I bet you have nicer ones (they cost $46.44 when I bought them in 2014, which is-- what? $Eight-grand, today? ). They're not fancy but I like them; I've used them on runs and on bikes for four years! They work great! And if I lost them I'd be sad -- I'd have to get something else, it would cost more, and I'd be sad.

This is dumb, right? I mean.

So anyway I'm concerned always, specifically, about leaving them on top of my car. You drive to the trailhead, you do your trail run (today: 9 miles here), and you come back and you're changing out of your sweaty clothes and you've got all this stuff and you're putting things on top of your car to dry while you change might forget your sunglasses, right? Like some (most?) of my compulsions, this one isn't crazy and has an upside -- I am inclined to forget my sunglasses on top of my car, they blend into the blackness and--especially if I've not in fact worn them for much of the run--they're somehow sort of the last thing on my mind. But I've never done that, because I'm like, worried about it!

Till today.

Today I got home, and I did not have them. I looked for them in my room, after dumping my stuff. I looked for them in the area outside my room, where I kind of stage some dumped post-run stuff before sorting it out. I looked in the various bathrooms I'd used and had not. I walked to my car and I looked in it. I found the other pair of sunglasses I'd (why?) decided to wear for the drive home, but not these. It was looking bad.

I worked for awhile, telling myself it didn't matter (with success). I ate some food, walked back to check my car one last time. On the walk, I acquainted myself with the reality in which I had sustained the jagged loss of this pair of sunglasses; the positive angle of getting a newer pair that might even be better (I knew it would not, but I was being very brave). I gave my car one last--

Here is the drive, back from the trailhead to my house:

That's a 17-minute, eight-mile drive; for those who don't know: the "1" is a freeway that runs 'long the ocean, then that hook left (as you're driving, right as you stare at the image right now) is onto the "10", which is one of L.A.'s main arterial freeways. So: freeway driving, lane-switching, etc.

--look and smiled at once:

I'm already so lucky! It's totally dumb! Why should I get this luck-nugget as well? Tucked against bicycle rack, just so, such that...

hwelp: I'm not going to question it.

I put them on, walked my desk, and began typing this to tell you.