As Led Zeppelin did a few years ago (47, to be exact), I found myself going to California recently with an aching in my heart. Although the occasion was momentous (to celebrate family member’s milestone), I found the location loathsome.
I have been to California before — San Francisco that time. To sum it up, I am not a huge fan. It is cold and crowded there, and the long airplane ride is not my idea of a good time. I would rather get a root canal, and anyone who knows me at all is fully aware that I have a not-entirely-unwarranted phobia of dentists in general.
My more recent destination was Santa Cruz, and I had high hopes that it would be more in tune with my liberal Florida sensibilities. The landscape was surprisingly littered and the menus more meat-centric than I expected. And, horror of horrors, there were even plastic straws! What happened to the forward-thinking, Big Mother state culture I expected thanks to Facebook?
It wasn’t all bad news though. We did some hiking at the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where we saw a few interesting fauna and a lot of gorgeous flora. While coastal redwood trees, the tallest of the three redwood species, grow over 300 feet tall, their roots only go 6 to 12 feet into the ground. Their strength lies in the fact that the root systems spread out over 50 feet, interlocking with those of neighboring trees to keep the trees upright through earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The redwoods have beautiful swirls and burls, markings and growths on their bark. Also, I’m pretty sure gnomes live in the bases of most of the trees, where hollowed-out areas look like intentionally camouflaged entrances to the grand abodes inside. The trees are so tall that they nurture many different habitats from the rich soil at their base to the tree tops. Everything from banana slugs to chipmunks to spotted owls make their homes in these majestic forests.
California has many of the same or similar animals we see here in Florida — pelicans, squirrels and gulls. One peculiarly different bird is the American dipper. This is a pudgy gray bird with a very short tail. It is about the size of a mourning dove but has an attitude more like that of an anhinga.
This diminutive fellow is North America’s only aquatic songbird. It eats invertebrates on and under the water of swiftly flowing streams. It uses its feet and wings to swim, and can even walk along the bottom for brief periods of time. I’m happy to say we didn’t see a single one of these birds while we were hiking. My entire family agreed, that kind of superpower in a small bird seems a little frightening, and we’re not gonna take it.
We did, however, see a different type of twisted sister. California sister butterflies are so named because their black and white coloration resembles a nun’s habit. I’m guessing the person responsible for that name never actually laid eyes on a nun — but that’s OK, California, it’s one of many things about you I don’t get.
It’s a pretty butterfly nonetheless. The one we found on the path seemed a bit ravaged by Father Time. Its wing edges were tattered, and it was quite listless. With an average life span of the adult butterfly being only 6 to 14 days, this one was definitely geriatric. We scooped her onto a leaf and set her aside, so she wouldn’t get stepped on — I can’t imagine a more ignoble way to die than on the heal of someone’s hiking boot.
Meanwhile, back at Peace River Wildlife Center, life goes on. In my absence, we continue to admit more baby squirrels than we know what to do with. We are still seeing the occasional red tide victim. And as traffic ramps up, we are starting to get more gopher tortoises that have been hit by cars.
That crisp breeze in the mornings (OK, so some people don’t consider 80 degrees “crisp”) alerts us that the snowbirds will be returning soon — both the migratory avians and the sun-seeking citizens. PRWC welcomes them all, and we look forward to another blockbuster season.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.