Monterey Bay Mystery Trio

Here is a trio of stories to commemorate and celebrate some fun recent events

of my time in Santa Cruz (and the areas close by!)

Hope all is well for you folks and that you enjoy my rantings!

The Case of the Crazy Camper

Santa Cruz has continued to bless me with cold, but perfectly sunny and clear, ocean-side, bike-ride magic time. The town is known for the curious characters that dwell here: hippies, bums, transients, green party whackos and the like.  This results in a lot of visual stimulation as you wander about town. Anyone from a big city has seen a car decked out with crazy paraphernalia. Maybe it’s the colder climate or the conservative town I grew up in, but they are new to me, and I still get a kick of these decorated, belief-bearing vehicles. So, I decided to take a few pictures of this for my friends and family who haven’t seen so many of these gems. I snapped a few photos with my iPhone until my hands were too cold to make the buttons work, and as I did, I imagined the person who owned this piece of work. Was it an old man with greasy gray hair and a long beard, the kind of guy who never quite recovered from the 60s? Or was it a young woman, daughter of a priest from the Midwest, who headed for the coast to rebel? Who knew? As I placed my phone back in my jacket pocket, I heard a creak on the other side of the camper and noticed two feet step out onto the ground in its shadow. In some kind of “wasn’t me!” instinctual reaction, I threw my leg over the bike and pedaled hard before they could round the corner. As I rode away, the small shot of adrenaline settling down, I wondered: was I afraid of being scolded for the pictures? Afraid of being lured into a two-hour political conversation with a coo-koo? Or was it really that I didn’t want to know the identity of this person who wasn’t afraid to get some attention and be weird?  Or was I worried about revealing my small-town awe at something so apparently usual??

The Quaking Redwoods

Excited for some quality time alone together, John and I headed to Big Sur last weekend (that way we wouldn’t have to fight over who got to call Lo and Josie first). With winter still waiting to rear her ugly head and cry buckets of rain down on us, the blue skies and sunshine welcomed us as we drove down HWY 1 and grabbed a campsite in Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We picked a site at a tri-fecta point of sycamores, redwoods, and oaks to enjoy all the best foliage. After a fun day of river rock scrambling, blazing hot hiking in the hills, and way too much hot chocolate, we were pooped and ready for bed at 7:20pm. I decided to steal a quiet moment alone (bathrooms were far away) in the ring of redwoods behind our tent. The moon was nearly full and a warm breeze coming off the hills made for a perfect night-time scene. Suddenly, I was startled from this woods-dream by a thundering sound and the earth literally moving beneath my feet! Excited and semi-terrified of earthquakes, I ran to John to tell him what I had heard and FELT. He was nice enough to humor me and come over to the spot where I had been. After waiting breathless for about 70 seconds, there it was! A rumble and movement of the ground beneath us!  John tried to blame it on a car door slamming, but I have NEVER experienced a car door that could move the earth. My explanation? The tall, tall redwood was being blown about by the aforementioned wind; because redwood trees have most of their foliage in the top third of their height, the center of gravity is quite high, and the wind was causing the tree to tug at the roots in the ground as it tipped back and forth. Yea, that OR there is a colony of fraggles living beneath that ring of redwoods, and they were having a kickin’ party.  I did have a psychedelic dream that night about a super triple-decker airplane taking us to a neon striped planet that resembled something Lisa Frank drew (hot chocolate high), so it could be that we imagined it????

Stone Soup

I have been happy to discover that in my time living apart from John during the weekdays, I find time to cook awesome, healthy meals in spite of the pull to eat fried eggs and chocolate cake every night. Recently, my menu has included: pan seared salmon and bok choy with avocado salsa, cinnamon orange yams, gouda panini with golden raisin vinaigrette, pomegranate kale salad with toasted pine nuts, brussel sprout fried rice, and a very nice green lentil soup. Enough bragging about my awesome chef skills (I can follow a five ingredient Martha Stewart recipe) and back to the soup. I am generally into following recipe preparation advice, but every time I make a recipe with bulk grain or dried beans, I scoff at the recommendation to glean or inspect them for impurities. Pssh! I can handle a couple under-ripened wheat berries or some rice grains in my quinoa; I am no high class cook! The same held true for the lentil soup, and it came out great; I even froze half to eat next week. At work, I sat down to eat a bowl of this re-heated delight. Lentils, the hearty little buggers, require some light mastication, even in soup form. I was gently gnawing away when CRUNCH, my teeth were nearly shattered by an amazingly hard and terrifyingly large “nugget” of something in my bite of soup. I moved the nugget with my tongue to the front of my mouth so I could grab it, and, I tell you no lies, I spat out a pebble!  The little guy had made it from factory to box to bulk bin to plastic bag to measuring cup to soup pot to Tupperware to soup bowl to mouth!!! Working as a geologist, my immediate thought was to get it identified. I took it to my boss who claims to be (and quite likely is) one of the few geologists in the Survey who can still ID a rock based on visual observation alone. As I held the rock out to him with excitement and an ache in my tooth, I explained its origin, and he simply looked at me and said, “You didn’t glean the lentils, did you?”  I pouted and turned to leave, pride hurt, and he called after me, “Looks like feldspar.” (pictured below) How can a little rock travel so far in our food system? How did my tooth not break with that awful crunch of discovery? How did my boss know I had lentils for lunch????????


Putting the CHEM into GeoCHEMistry!

Today was an epic day folks.

I walked into the lab and found these guys just hanging out, waiting to be opened, like giant, ugly treasure chests.

What could possibly inside??

Are those…..are those….CHEMICALS?!?!?!?!?! A professional lab finally has CHEMICALS??? I could possibly do chemistry?!?!

Holy moly, the science is ready to begin. I can taste it. Well, not really, I don’t want to taste acetic acid or aluminum oxide, but it’s close. I stayed late to put them all away I was so excited.

I decided to celebrate this glorious occasion with a sunset and a viewing of surfers fighting over the much anticipated evening swell. And I even made some real food too. Tonight’s menu: creamy polenta with parmesan cheese, sauteed mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, topped with a fried egg and a few sprigs of arugula. A good day indeed.

Oh, and I forgot the sea lions in the animal post. I have to throw in a picture of them too. Because they are really feisty and will bark all night in the harbor if I don’t give them some web-love. Seriously, these animals are ruthless.



The Animal Post!!

Hello all of you lovely folk who have been breathlessly waiting for my next blog entry 🙂

Turns out, it’s hard for me to imagine that my day to day life is really all that terribly interesting! After the initial excitement of the move, I had a hard time sitting down to write a grand tale of going to work every day, plenty of us do that, but there are lots of good things to enjoy in life if you take the time to. With that nugget in mind, this post will feature the fauna that I have discovered here in my new ocean-side life!

I have to say, that I can’t get enough of aquatic animals. As a mountain gal, I am still so fascinated by ocean dwellers. On my bike rides to and from work, I have my eyes glued to the water, scouring for the dark little bodies of otters, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and, oh goodness, if I could see a whale! This method (despite some swerving and near accidents) has worked out quite well for me.


One gray, clear morning, I noticed a single kayak out on the water. It looked so peaceful out there that I started considering the possibility of a kayak commute more seriously. Suddenly, feet from the kayak, dolphins started surfacing. He was getting his own private swim with them! I was so happy for him, forging out into the water so early and without the beckoning of the sun, but he was duly rewarded. I was able to capture the photo at the left. Awesome!

Another afternoon, I was lazily pedaling home when I noticed a dark figure bobbing around in the kelp. I really couldn’t place what it was. Not graceful and smooth like a seal, too dark for a sea lion, not as big as a dolphin…was it maybe a struggling snorkeler?? By this time I had stopped my bike and leaned over the railing for a closer look to be sure I didn’t need to activate my Search and Rescue super hero skills. Behind me an older woman boasted, “It doesn’t get much better than this does it?” I assumed she wasn’t talking about my great physique or the overcast day, so I asked, “Does that mean you know what that is?” “It’s a mother otter with her baby!” Suddenly, my brain could piece it together. She was moving so strangely because she was floating on her back, with a little one on top! Then I had to agree with random otter-loving woman, it didn’t get much better than that….at that moment…true. I wasn’t able to get a good photo, but here is one off of the internet that gives you land-locked folk an idea of how cute it is.

Now for the story of the great pelican rescue. John and I went down to Seabright Beach for the sunset after a wonderful Santa Cruz weekend with Tripp and Karen. We were strolling down the lighthouse jetty when I noticed that there was a pelican sitting in the beach break down the way. He was getting pounded by whitewash at every wave, but was never flying away. Was he injured? dead? stoned off of some left out Santa Cruz mary jane? We decided we had to get closer to figure it out. As we walked, a small crowd was forming on the beach, and from it emerged an awkward outdoorsman. WITH A KNIFE. I was afraid this guy was going to put the poor pelican out of his misery, and apparently so did the pelican because he turned to snap at him with his long beak, coming pretty close to getting a good chunk out of him a couple times. It was a great battle scene, man vs. bird, all the while the tide coming in and continually soaking them both. Finally the man was able to grab at the pelican’s feet and pulled up a mass of fishing line clearly secured to his leg. He cut the strings while others gathered the line, and finally the pelican walked up onto the beach, free of the break. He was too tired and too wet to fly away, so he watched paranoid as onlookers got close to see if he was injured. By the time I turned back to see how the hero was doing, he was already walking away, silent and soggy. He didn’t need to say much because a woman from the crowd had gathered the line and began to boast the tale to everyone within 20 feet of her. This was apparently her 4th pelican “rescue.” Regardless, I was pleased as pie to have witness my first. Below are some iPhone pictures of the event (sorry for bad quality, your welcome for the handsome photo in the middle).

Finally, I will tell you about the butterflies! Every year thousands of monarch butterflies migrate south to Mexico to overwinter. It just so happens that one of the stopping points along the way is Natural Bridges State Park, one block from my work! I had heard rumors that they might not come this year from several dooms-dayists in the area. I can’t remember if they said it was because of the bad economy, global warming, or in protest of Sarah Palin’s presidential candidacy. One of those, I am sure. But, I strolled on down to the park yesterday to see if I could find any. As I walked down the wooden walkway to the eucalyptus grove where they are known to congregate, I was welcomed by about 20 monarchs flying through the air. Just as I had hoped, several hundred more were huddled on tree branches as well! A 5th grade class was in the grove with me, but not a peep was uttered as we watch the delicate little things float around or fan their wings while resting. I never would have thought butterflies had enough drive to migrate! But, more and more should come, and this weekend is the kickoff event at the park, so maybe John and I will attend and get to see the thousands!

Well, I guess that’s all you get for now on Kira’s Nature Adventure Talk. I promise to write again soon, and I hope you enjoyed the post!