Chocolate Lily

Fritillaria biflora

Argh. The entire state of California (yes, that’s hyperbole) at the moment seems to be either gripped by what journalists and the news media love to hype as a wildflower “super bloom” or is suffering in the throes of dealing with the frenzied madness surrounding it as fueled by the media.

I read one report from NPR of 50,000 people pouring through one small town with a population not much larger.

Other reports lament the herd of onlookers trampling sensitive lands and leaving behind scores of braided footpaths slicing apart fields of flowers, so much so that the use-trails are visible in satellite imagery.

News articles are being pumped out daily dressed up with sparkling, eye-catching lures like, “It’s the best it’s ever been.”

Really? Ever is a long time. I don’t think that applies. But sensationalism sells. Hence Hearst Castle.

Two years ago, 2017, the media was filled with commentary about a California “super bloom.” A report from US Today tells of “California’s second ‘super bloom’ in two years.” That headline is immediately followed by a photo caption asserting that it is “a rare super bloom.” Twice in two years is rare? I don’t think so, Cletus.

One wonders how super it really is when it also occurred just 730 days ago. Maybe it’s not so super after all even if is indeed a grand show.

I can’t deny that it is a grand show. And I certainly don’t fault people for wanting to see it. But I don’t know that it’s “super.” Maybe it’s just normal.

When we receive a normal measure of rainfall for the season after seven years of intense drought you know what we call it here?


100% of normal county-wide is the way it’s put by officials.

Despite every runnel, brook, creek and river flowing with gusto like we haven’t seen in years, and despite the novelty of so much water running everywhere after it being so dry for so long, we still just call it. . .normal.

Twenty years ago, on days I’d venture out to the Carrizo Plain to take a looksee at the wild flowers, I rarely if ever saw anybody.

Surely people came, but not like they do now in the age of social media saturation, which has combined with the usual age-old media hype and yellow journalism as a force multiplier when it comes to propelling thousands of people into places they would otherwise never have gone.

(I suppose I may share in owning some of the blame by giving yet more exposure to certain places through this here little weblog.)

In 2011, following a season of abundant rainfall well above average, I spent an entire day immersed in Carrizo Plain National Monument and saw nobody. You can see what it looked like that day at the following link: Temblor Range Wildflowers. It looked pretty super.  I don’t recall wall to wall reports of a “super bloom” that year, but maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

A rather large lily standing over a foot tall. Many years they only reach about half that size.

Anyhow, with so much attention focused on this season’s wildflower bloom I feel compelled to ignore it around here. I have posts up from previous blooms for those interested. I included below a link to one such post or search “wildflowers” in the sidebar.

I’ve been out to see some of the flowers this season, but my contrarian-against-the-grain-swimming-upstream nature precludes me from wanting to post anything about it.

When it’s on the national news I think it’s been pimped out enough as it is.

So I’d like to show a simple, sparse, far less spectacular bloom in chocolate lilies. So sparse that they aren’t even worth a landscape shot, as they’d be all but invisible.

Because just as I am a wanderer of lands of lesser interest, so too am I an aficionado of things of lesser interest in those lands. What most folks ignore I like to pay attention to.

These lilies grow by the hundreds in good years in certain places like the serpentine soils on Figueroa Mountain and in Oso Canyon draining into the Santa Ynez River.

But they do not grow so thick as to paint over large swaths of land attracting media hounds and hoards of eager viewers.

So there you go. That’s it. That’s all.

Related Post 

Sage Hill Wildflowers


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Smithy’s Pool

The Santa Ynez River was once hailed as “the most productive of all the little steelhead rivers of the south” in California. (Native Steelhead of Yore)

Sitting in the public library some twenty years ago or more I stumbled upon vague directions and an alluring black and white photo in one of Dick Smith’s old books from the 1960s. This would be the same Mr Smith for which the Dick Smith Wilderness was named.

The photo showed a man and a “youngster,” as he was apt to call them in his various writings, standing aside a relatively large and deep looking pool of water surrounded by thick grass. A dog appeared to be swimming.

I had been recreating in this specific area since I was a small boy and the black pool sitting on the slopes high above the creek, as I recognized it in the photo from knowing the area, was astonishing at first sight.

I wondered how a water feature in this semi-arid region could possibly be located in what seemed such an unlikely spot on the side of a dry mountain. And, of course, I knew immediately I had to venture out for a looksee myself sometime; into the notebook an entry went.

But interest in other places distracted me and life’s priorities kept me busy and it was about a decade before I followed up and found my way out there for the first time. What I found was a dry depression but no pool.

The Los Padres National Forest may seem fairly small when looking on a map, but a fella could spend a life time out there beating himself to a pulp, dragging his hind end all over the woods and still not see all there is to see.

Who knows what’s out there? More than you may think.

A few years back, a guy that took Stillman and I to a Chumash Indian pictograph site in the Sespe Wilderness found a Chumash basket in a dry cave, which is now displayed in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

The map, as much as I appreciate all that it offers and the work put in to create it, doesn’t show you much. This is yet another place not labeled on the map.

How many other places or things do you think there are out there waiting for you to discover for yourself?

And don’t forget the intangible discoveries you may stumble across when out in the forest away from it all, you know what I’m saying?

I gotta gotta take a trip, gotta take a trip out of this place
I gotta gotta get away, get away from the human race
I don’t know what I’ll see, don’t even know what I’ll find
I don’t know what to pack, never been to a trip at the mind

Trip at the brain, trip at the brain, trip at the brain

Do you know what I’m saying?

Mike Muir

Smith described the pool back in the 1960s as being spring-fed and a home to turtles swimming about. What?!, I thought as I first read his book. It was all too alluring for me to ignore.

I don’t believe the spring works much anymore if there was indeed ever a spring. Back when I stumbled across the photo in Smith’s book I imagine the pool would have remained filled most years, as the 1990’s were an exceptionally wet decade.

These days the pool only fills intermittently on rainier years like the season at hand now, when we’ve thus far enjoyed over 100% of normal precipitation county-wide after years of drought.

A seasonal brook runs down the mountain near the pool. A few oaks, coast live and blue, stand adjacent the pool on the grassy slope. The place looks a bit more scraggly and sparse than usual as it recovers from a forest fire. At the moment scores of chocolate lilies are in full bloom all over the area. At least one and possibly two Chumash habitation sites are located not far from the pool.

On the day of my last visit it was a supremely peaceful place with nobody else around, behind locked gates and the fast flowing and frigid Santa Ynez River, which forced howls of pain from my person as I waded across on icy bare feet.

Once the river crossing is cleared and the gates open, the bowl of the canyon will once more resonate with the racket of “machine mad motorcyclists,” as Ed Abbey wrote.

On this day, there wasn’t another soul around but for the wild.

Yeah, Jack likes mud puddles. So what?

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The Mighty Chanterelle and the Gnarly Oak

Santa Barbara County Chanterelle

“In an oak forest alone, more than a hundred different species of fungi may be present in different parts of the roots of the same tree. From the oak’s point of view, this is a very practical arrangement.”

Peter Wohlleben, “The Secret Life of Trees”

Chanterelle mushrooms are the fruit or reproductive structures of a fungus that grows on the roots of living trees.

The fungus and trees coexist in a symbiotic relationship, both benefiting by gaining sustenance from each other that they could not otherwise get on their own, alone.

In Santa Barbara County chanterelles typically partner with oak trees and the fungus plays an essential role in the health of a forest.

The better the fungal connection is the healthier the oaks are. As fungi disappear, the trees are weakened.

Most plants, from grasses to scrub to trees, grow with fungi in such interdependent relationships and plants in league with fungi contain much greater levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous than those plants without fungal partners.

Michael Phillips, in his award winning book about growing fruit trees, “The Holistic Orchard,” spends a significant amount of time explaining the critical importance of encouraging and tending what he calls the “fungal duff” zone around the base of trees.

Phillips advises feeding the soil fungi through regular spray applications of neem oil and liquid fish, as well as the routine application of ramial wood chips from deciduous trees (rather than evergreen) that are dumped in irregular haphazard patches around fruit trees throughout the year.

When reading Phillips the fruit grower comes to view the tender care of the soil and all its tiny organisms as being just as important as, or part and parcel of, the loving care of the tree itself. To feed and strengthen the fungi is to feed and strengthen the tree.

The healthier and more diverse the community of fungi are in the rhizosphere or root zone of an orchard, the healthier the trees are and the better their ability to defend against insect attacks and disease and to consistently produce abundant, tasty fruit.

When the chanterelle fungus taps into the oak’s roots, the tree gets plugged in to the expansive subterranean network established by the fungus through its mass of root-like hyphae called mycelium.

These minuscule root-like filaments spread through the soil in an extremely fine meshed webbing, soaking up nutrients and moisture otherwise out of reach or unavailable to the much larger tree roots. 

The amount of these fungal filaments in healthy forest soil is hard if not impossible to imagine.

In a single teaspoon of soil there are many miles of hyphae.

In a meter diameter of soil, about the space between two spread arms, more than eight trillion end branches can occur in the mycelium.

The mycelium greatly increases the surface area of the oak tree’s own root system, but it also serves as a conduit for nutrient exchange between trees.

Within a well-connected forest, stronger trees aid weaker or sickly neighboring trees or juveniles and saplings in their shadows by transferring vital nutrients and water through the fungal network.

A valley oak in the Santa Ynez Valley.

An oak tree does not just gain food and drink from the helpful chanterelle, however.

The symbiotic connection also enables the tree to communicate with other trees through the subterranean fungal network that functions as a natural sort of fiber optic system.

When mycelium run through the soil they connect with other mycelium growing from the roots of other nearby trees, thus linking one tree to another to another.

These fungal networks can be vast and large swaths of a forest may be connected in this manner.

A specimen of honey fungus found in Switzerland is thought to be around 1,000 years old and covers 120 acres.

In Oregon, one fungus is thought to be at least 2,400 years old and covers  some 2,000 acres and is three miles wide; it’s  said to be the largest organism on the planet and can be spotted from an airplane.

Trees communicate through these fungal networks using chemical signals as well as electrical impulses.

These impulses can travel a third of an inch per second to notify neighboring trees about potential threats like insects or relate information about drought.

In the case of an insect attack, each oak tree connected to the network receives news of an imminent threat from trees already being eaten by bugs, and each tree then responds to the message defensively by boosting their output of toxic and bitter tasting tannins into their bark and leaves.

Lone trees not plugged into the network not only lack access to the communal plumbing that supplies additional food and water, but are also incommunicado and completely unaware of what’s happening in the forest around them. Loners live much shorter lives than community members, as a result.

That’s some mighty gnarly stuff!

When in the forest next time around, ponder what it is you may be walking atop. There’s a lot going on under your feet.

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San Ysidro Tank

A cave’s eye view of San Ysidro Canyon in the Santa Ynez Mountains; the Thomas Fire burn scar and initial regrowth evident.

Total rainfall county-wide for Santa Barbara measures in at 95% of normal so far this season. With the month of March still to come, which typically offers the potential for substantial rainfall, we should see that total rise well beyond the 100% level. This would be only the second time in the last eight years that we have received a full dose of rainfall if it happens.

San Ysidro Tank is a vernal pond that sits high atop a rocky ridge hundreds of feet above the creek, just behind San Ysidro Ranch, at the mouth of the canyon on the west side. In drought years it does not fill up and sometimes remains dry through several seasons.

The Tank will not be found on any mainstream maps, which hints at how little is conveyed on such otherwise admirable and necessary informative works of orientation and place that forest gadabouts depend on. There is a lot more to the forest than mere contour lines, major watercourses, names and campsites. This site is one of them; a place I stumbled upon myself years ago when out exploring off trail.

The canyon right now is aroar with the voice of San Ysidro Creek. The noise seems novel and amazing after so many years of droughty silence, the flow of water alluring and mesmerizing after a long absence.

Sitting and listening and watching the flow rushing from the Santa Ynez Mountains, entertained and amused and soothed by finally a good drenching of the forest, I wondered what a desert dweller must think when seeing a river or deep pools and large waterfalls for the first time. Such an experience must be like gazing over the vastness of the sea for the first time. It must be incredible. I don’t ever recall in my life being so appreciative of the forest having what is merely just a normal amount of water in it. Cheers!

San Ysidro Canyon a few days ago looking fairly well cleaned out a year after the Montecito Flash Flood that killed at least 21 people.

A similar view of San Ysidro Canyon in 2017 prior to the flash flood, when it was full of vegetal growth. This view here shows a point in the creek seen about center frame in the photo above, just as the creek bends leftward around the bedrock outcrop. The reason, specifically, for the close cropped view here was because any wider of an angle and all one could see was a riparian thicket, all of which was swept out and fed to the sea several miles down canyon.

The tank.

Exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands National Park can be enjoyed.

The alcove with a window view of the coast. A body can sit inside the shallow cave and peer out the window.

Looking south eastward over the pool toward Carpinteria.

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Dinosaur Footprints, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A typical road on the Isle of Skye.

I’m listening to Dylan. And driving fast in a small, or wee as the locals would say, car.

“Throw on the dirt, pile on the dust”

Husbands leaving wives. They’re out to roam. Jack woke up early. Got the hell out of home. She wouldn’t change it. Even if she could.

“You know what they say? They say it’s all good.”

Loch na cuilce (Map Link)

It’s a wee two lane road without shoulders. In many places it narrows to single track with occasional wide outs to give way to oncoming traffic.

By way of a pamphlet I read at a pub, I take it the folks here on the bucolic and sparsely populated Isle of Skye take pride in paving over as little land as possible. This is readily evident no matter where one drives. The roads are puny and thin. There are never shoulders.

Some places the roadbed has subsided on the constantly rain saturated soil and shifted off camber.

A local in a pickup truck speeds past, overtaking me in the opposing lane on the outside along a corner now sloping at the wrong angle. It looks like it wouldn’t take much for the truck to roll. But he takes the corner smoothly nonetheless, the truck pitching back and forth with the force.

In the States I have found I can typically take corners about ten miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit.

Here on Skye it seems the posted limit runs about ten kliks an hour too fast for comfort. I’m driving fast, but the locals roll faster. Much faster.

Bearreraig Bay (Map Link). A small stone cottage lies in ruins in the grass down yonder there.

The ruins sit beside a burn or a small creek flowing into the sea.

Despite the narrow lanes and frequent pulling aside to allow passing, everybody is exceptionally polite and easy going. They all wave or tap the horn in thanks.

Though the locals must surely get annoyed with tourists like me once in awhile.

Stopping along the shoulderless road, pulled as far as possible into the weeds. I threw open a car door at one point just as a man was easing by with little room to spare.

He slammed on his breaks as I hopped out onto the road only to come face to face with an old, frizzy white-haired, ruddy-faced angry Scotsman dropping f-bombs on me.

“For ***** sake, man!” he growled in his thick accent. Oops.

Master James Elliott walking down to Brother’s Point to hunt dino prints. “They’ll never make it. It’s quite dangerous.”

Same site as noted above. The footprints are found on the beige slab of stone jutting into the sea.

Here on the island layers of sedimentary rock from the Jurassic epoch have been exposed along the seashore. Rock of this particular type rich in dinosaur fossils can only be seen in a handful of locations in all the world.

In a few seashore locations on Skye footprints from several different kinds of dinosaurs have been found, but can only be seen on low tide and are otherwise under water.

Some of the footprints, Brontosaurus in particular, appear to be mere roundish, water filled depressions on the seaweed-covered stone flats. They resemble elephant prints.

When standing back a few yards one can clearly see the trail left by a wandering Brontosaur. There is no mistaking it once you know what to look for. It’s easy to see the sequence of dinosaur footfalls as they wandered what was once a tidal mudflat or shallow lagoon some 170 million years ago.

In other places the fossil prints are remarkably distinct considering their age and location, constantly worn by the wash of the Atlantic Ocean.

A Sauropod print on Brothers’ Point. Note how relatively well preserved the toe prints are for being 170 million years old. To the left one can see the mark left by a claw.

The claw mark left behind as the sauropod’s foot sucked back out of the mud when walking.

The footprint showing its surroundings.

One particular site can typically only been seen in winter when big storms and rough seas sweep the beach clear of loose sediment. Throughout the rest of the year the prints are buried in sand.

A stone’s throw from this site, just above the beach and at the foot of stone cliffs, archaeological surveys tell of am ancient human habitation site some 10,000 years old.

I presume those early humans must have seen the prints, so keen in observation they had to have been and so in tune were they with the natural world in order to survive. The prints are incredibly distinct. One wonders what the ancient humans that lived nearby thought of the prints. The prints show in winter across a now fossilized rippled mudflat of reddish brown hue.

The tracks and the mudstone flat were not visible at the time of my visit. Both were covered by today’s sand which was, interestingly enough, also rippled from the same hydrophysical play that was at work there over 100 million years earlier. A lot has changed, but then again much remains the same. The same rippled design floated overhead in the wind whipped clouds of an otherwise sunny day.

A tridactyl foot print at Brother’s Point. Look for the triangle shape with a fourth point on one side, there at my toe.

The trail down to the rocky headland Rubha nam Brathairean or Brothers’ Point begins from the paved road as a short gravel driveway leading to several cottages perched on the steep grassy hillside overlooking the ragged shoreline below.

Just beyond the first cottage the actual footpath begins. The path leads through a sheep pasture and falls steeply to the rocky beach.

“I’m afraid this isn’t a place for small children,” the lady said in a firm, sincere voice with what appeared to be her husband in tow. “They’ll never make it. It’s quite dangerous.”

I didn’t even slow my stride nor give her warning worthy consideration.

“Thanks. We’ll be fine. We’re a rugged bunch,” I said kindly with a smile and a friendly wave. I kept going, leading our five party clan.

I’m used it to it by now. I’ve been seasoned through the years by many odd looks and frequent warnings about places I take my kids being too dangerous for one reason or another. The cliffs. The rattlesnakes. The ticks. The lions. The poison oak. The whatever. Had I heeded all the warnings, my children would be a lot poorer for it and much less capable.

So onward we all walked eager to find the prehistoric treasure we were after. I asked a younger couple on their way off the beach if they’d found the prints. They said just a few small ones but nothing big. They didn’t find anything, I figured by the sound of it. They just didn’t want to admit it. My hope shriveled a bit.

But after just a few minutes on the exposed sheet of bedrock I found one of several of the best preserved prints. It was the first dinosaur footprint I had ever seen first hand. Sweet!

Another dinosaur footprint site holding Brontosaurus tracks.

I had previously captured a screen shot from a short video posted online by a major world-wide news agency, which had announced for the first time ever the world class find just two months before I arrived on Skye.

Using landmarks briefly shown in the video clip, I was able to pinpoint the site and proceeded from there to scan the area, walking systematically back and forth until I found the first print.

If I’m a pirate, then this is my type of treasure hunting. I may be genetically incapable of asking for directions and I certainly cannot bring myself to ask for location information on these sorts of sites. That would be a gross violation of etiquette. But it also takes something valuable away from the whole experience.

And so I gather cryptic clues from the Internet and various print publications and have fun piecing them together. Finding what I’m after without asking for directions or, God forbid, GPS coordinates is itself alone hugely rewarding and makes the experience far more enjoyable.

That is all.

Brontosaurus print.

Same Brontosaurus print sequence as detailed above showing here four distinct prints filled as puddles on low tide, the three animals Elliott in the background.

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