The Mood Altering Stream Orchid

A stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea) growing near the Santa Ynez River in late May of 2019.

Stream orchids grow where constant water is found at seeps, springs and perennial streams. The plant is known for its mood altering and sedative effects.

“Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West,” Michael Moore:

“I have seen it help depression resulting from cocaine burnout; it can also aid people with a lot of emotional stress, in whom every little ache and pain is magnified and whose tolerance for noises, smells, and bright light is virtually nonexistent.”

“Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada,” Ray S. Vizgirdas and Edna Rey-Vizgirdas:

“Native Americans made a decoction of the fleshy roots for internal use when they felt ‘sick all over.’”

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US Coast Survey Patterson Camp Inscription Vandalism (1873)

Inside a cave in the Santa Ynez Mountains on the Gaviota Coast somebody carved an inscription memorializing the United States Coast Survey of 1873.

The name is apparently in reference to Carlile P. Patterson, the Hydrographic Inspector for the USCS at that time.

The wall of the cave with what is apparently an historic inscription is increasingly being covered in graffiti, some of which has recently been scratched right over the old marking itself.

It seems this cave may go the way of other more easily accessed caves in the area, which I have watched over the years become filled with names and initials and dates and whatever else. Bare stone not too long ago is now covered in graffiti, some of it carved deeply into the surface.

I wonder if this inscription from 1873 will be covered over and scratched up and carved out of existence not long from now.

One can only expect a sign to accomplish so much, which might be little, but at this site there is nothing to note the significance of the inscription or to politely plead for restraint for sake of preservation.

Of course, it wouldn’t be long, probably, before the sign was annihilated in some manner in a fit of misplaced emotion and energy. I’d return to find vestiges of its corpse strewn about the kill site and a hole in the ground from whence it had been ripped with causeless fury. You know how these things work out there in Humanityville.

But then again, maybe, just maybe, some of these people with shallow thoughts and twitchy hands would be just a tad less likely to carve up the old inscription if’n they only knew about it.

Inside the cave, the historic inscription center frame amid a growing tangle of names, initials and other vandalism. The “Jack” written there in the upper right is not me.

What appears to read “i Patterson Camp U.S.C.S. 1873.”

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the Santa Barbara Channel environs had yet to be properly charted.

Maps of the time were not accurate, locations misleading. The US Coast Survey corrected the matter.

An image taken from the original 1873 Coast Survey annual report showing the triangulation network between points on the Channel Islands and the mainland coast from Santa Barbara to Point Conception, with Gaviota clearly having been a major station. Click for a larger view. (Hat tip Sam Green)

Cropped view of previous image showing Gaviota Peak station.

Reportage from the 1873 document mentioning Santa Barbara and Gaviota:

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A Rocky Killdeer Nest

Santa Ynez River swimming summerSanta Ynez River

Long days on the river.

Six. Seven. Eight hour sessions.

The sun.

The wind.

The sweet mineral scent of the cool emerald water.

Jet airliners soar over the Santa Ynez Mountains trackless and silent through the depthless blue, their bellies glowing hot white in the blast of sunlight reflected off the top of the fog blanket lying unseen along the coast, over on the Otherside.

killdeer eggs nest rocks santa ynez river Santa BarbaraFour killdeer eggs.

On one of these days not long ago it became evident that I should explore a gravel bar along the far side of the river.

Long, wide swaths of gravel was spread neatly like a Japanese rock garden between tufts of mulefat and cottonwood saplings and clumps of young willow.

Nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention over there, where it was dry and hot.

There was no apparent reason to walk over yonder for a wander, which of course may just be the perfect reason in itself.

You just never know what’s in that box of chocolates out there.

I found myself hobbling barefoot along the searing hot gravel bar in mid-afternoon motivated by whatever to go look somewhere for something or. . . whatever.

I walked up on a killdeer nest, which is, as evident, a generous description for the egg bed.

Although the eggs were in plain sight in an open setting they were hard to see from any distance.

I hadn’t seen the eggs until I was looming over them about to crush them under foot.

When I came back with the kids the eggs disappeared in the rocks even when I knew they were right there somewhere in front of me. The camouflage was brilliant, my brain easily tricked.

Two eggs disappeared since we first found the clutch about a week ago. No shell fragments have been found. No babies have been seen. The parents still tend to the remaining two eggs.

killdeer eggs nest rock santa ynez river Santa Barbara

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The Clattering Seep at Lizard’s Mouth

Apologies offered for the vertical video syndrome.

You’ve heard of the babbling brook.

Everybody’s written about it.

Well, meet here the clattering seep.

I’m fascinated by small things in nature other people are oblivious to and even when clued into have no interest in.

The severe drought from about 2011 until now instilled in me a new appreciation and interest in water and hydrology in the Los Padres National Forest of Santa Barbara County.

We were up at Lizard’s Mouth a few days ago and I was standing on the rocks and I heard a clicking or clattering sound. I zeroed in on the location of the source and came to stand atop a large boulder balanced over a huge crack in the sandstone bedrock outcrop, which waters runs through during active rain events.

I could see tufts of ferns sprouting from the cracks in the rocks down below surface level of the overall outcrop of Lizard’s Mouth. The boulder had come to rest like a roof over the split in the bedrock that had pulled apart through the millennia and had formed a sort of room or subterranean grotto. A handful of people can fit in the grotto and stand.

Standing on the boulder and listening to the clatter and looking down into the grotto I thought it might have been a frog making the sound, as the niche down there was obviously moist and protected.

I scampered down into the crack, got down on all fours, pulled back a fringe of ferns and found that a small hole blowing bubbles was responsible for the noise.

Apparently water was seeping through cracks and fissures in the bedrock and pushing air along and forcing it out of the hole.

This was remarkable being that this seep is less than a stone’s throw from the very crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

In other words, the seep drains a small area. It’s not low down in the canyon with a large source from which to draw where one might expect runoff to be trickling out of the mountain for months after winter rains.

This was the crest of the mountain in late May. That’s something.

A few minutes after I had hopped out of the grotto and walked away my eldest daughter called out to me telling me to come over and check out what she had found.

She too had heard and found the clattering seep, observant and tuned in to the nuances and subtleties of the natural world around her like her father.

Situational awareness. Acute consciousness. Sentience.

To be alive, fueled by a mind ravenous with interest, keenly perceiving nature through senses honed from immersive, visceral, intimate personal experience.

We do all we can to avoid that state of dulled, oblivious indifference common to the post-modern dweller of the metropolis.

We like the little things.

The seep was located center frame there in the dark void beneath the boulder.

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Thoughts on Rare Lily Ojai Fritillaria and Indian Fire

Earlier this year in March, out scampering around in the Los Padres National Forest, I stumbled across a rather impressive stand of a rare wildflower, Fritillaria ojaiensis or the Ojai Fritillaria lily.

I had previously noted this Seldom Seen Slim of Santa Barbara County wildflowers on this here blog in 2015: Fritillaria Ojaiensis, Rare Wildflower.

The U.S. Forest Service describes this plant as being “critically imperiled.” I wonder why it’s so imperiled.

I assume habitat loss is one problem, which seems to be the ever increasing problem for much of the nation’s wildlife.

I’m going out on a limb here, admittedly, in further pondering the issue based on this assumption, but I wonder if the loss and absence of Native American forest management practices or what is often called “traditional ecological knowledge” has played a role in this flower becoming critically imperiled and rare.

This may be seen as rank speculation, but I’m not advancing a theory, and this weblog is an open journal of sorts where I ponder my surroundings, and so the following might better be seen as merely the inner workings of one man’s mind in response to what he reads and what he experiences in nature. Something like this here other post: Mastodon & Mammoth Sign: Reading Trees in the Santa Ynez Mountains

California at the time of Euro-American contact was a blooming garden of sustained abundance brought about not just by nature alone, as is commonly believed, but encouraged and fostered and cared for by many generations of Indians through thousands of years. (Anderson)

California was a botanical wonderland prior to Euro-American contact not because it was a so-called pristine “wilderness” that was unmolested by humanity, but because California’s original or native human inhabitants made it so by their own hand. And fire was their favored tool of choice.

“Fire was the most significant, effective, efficient, and widely employed vegetation management tool of the California Indian tribes,” M. Kat Anderson writes in “Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources.”

Native burning practices tended to maintain a clear understory beneath the canopy of oak woodland, which is precisely where the Ojai Fritillaria lily seems to like growing.

The forests of California prior to Euro-American contact were far more open and park-like in their character than what we see today, because for hundreds if not thousands of years, Natives had routinely burned the land with light intensity blazes every few years to remove dead forest litter, thick brush, senescent growth and to encourage the sprouting of fresh crops of culturally important plants.

After wildfires like the Day in 2006 and the Zaca in 2007, we read stories of the Forest Service hunting out Chumash rock art sites deep in the Santa Barbara backcountry that had previously been concealed by thick chaparral and we see headlines such as, “Long-hidden sites emerge as archaeologists explore burned-out Santa Barbara County backcountry.” Local outdoor adventure scribe, Chuck Graham, writes in Noozhawk:

“The fires have exposed long-hidden rock art where old, concealed trails lead to previous sites unseen. … Most of the old trails exposed are those of Native Americans.”

Well, an inquisitive mind might wonder why were those important sites covered in dense impenetrable forest today before the fire, but were obviously open for travel in prehistoric times.

Fire is the probable answer. But not lightning because it did not strike often enough. And the Chumash likely were not out pruning trails. Anderson cites Native American Rosalie Bethel, North Fork Mono, on the use of Native fire:

“They burned around the camping grounds where they lived and around where they gathered. They also cleared pathways between camps.”

Anderson notes:

“One can discern how different the vegetation was when Indians were the sole inhabitants by walking the land after a catastrophic fire. Old village sites reappear where impenetrable chaparral lay before the fire. Sandstone cave areas with indigenous pictographs are exposed after coastal scrub is burned back by wildfires.”

When the use of fire was prohibited by Americans some time ago and the focus became fire suppression, as carried out by the US government at a military-industrial scale to snuff out all wildfire, natural and anthropogenic, the forest began to close in, biodiversity tended to waned, homogeneity tended to increase, and the botanical composition of the land or habitat was radically altered.

“Fire in natural, as in cultural, systems is as effective an agent by being withheld as by being applied,” Stephen Pyne writes in “Fire In America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire.”

Fire suppression has been no less effective in altering the lands we see today than the use of fire had been in altering the lands Native Americans saw in their day, because fire is an agent of great environmental change.

“In many environments fire, anthropogenic or natural is the controlling agent of ecological dynamics, exerting an inordinate influence on the composition of flora and fauna, on their historical arrangements, and on their contemporary energetics.”

Pyne on the drastic change to the land brought about by Native fire:

“So extensive were the cumulative effects of these modifications that it may be said that the general consequence of Indian occupation of the New World was to replace forested land with grassland or savannah, or, where the forest persisted, to open it up and free it from underbrush.”

Local ethnographer, Jan Timbrook, and John R. Johnson and David D. Earle on the use of fire by the Chumash in Santa Barbara County:

“It seems likely that the Santa Barbara coast in pre-European times was dominated by grassland and oak savanna. … Indian burning may also have been an important factor in maintaining the openness of oak savanna in coastal areas.

(Vegetation Burning by the Chumash [1982])

The absence of Native fire from the land for so long and policies of fire suppression have had profound consequences.

“The hands-off approach to management of wilderness preserves,” writes Anderson, “is jeopardizing the long-term stability of many plant communities.”

And so it is that I wonder about the Ojai Fritillaria lily’s critically imperiled state.

This season I “discovered” a stand of no less than 66 individual plants growing in the Santa Ynez Mountains along the headwaters of a creek draining the north slope of the range.

That’s the number at which point I stopped counting, surely there are more growing at this specific site and I imagine many more as well at other sites in the same canyon lower in the watershed.

About two thirds of the plants were in active bloom while the remainder were showing only a leaf or two and had not yet reached florescence.

It was a nice find growing under the canopy of an oak woodland where the understory was notably open and free of brush.

The plants were growing in habitat that I imagine would have been far more prevalent in prehistoric times when the land was under Native American management.

And so it is I wonder about the Ojai Fritillaria lily’s critically imperiled state.

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