Being a healthcare worker, while exposing me to sick people, has “protected” me from the experience of sheltering in place or having to stay home. Living rurally and having to own a car means I have still been able to get out and about, to find places to be outside and still be socially distant. I have often wondered about people living in places like Singapore or Manhattan who literally have to stay in their homes. What a different experience from me they have had.
A minor injury recently put me out of work and at home for a week. “So this is what everyone else is experiencing” I thought, as the days stretched before me. I looked out the windows and listened to the hum of the refrigerator. I tried doing some online yoga, but our rural internet connection only permits streaming if it’s a clear day and no one else in the neighborhood is using it. I fell asleep in a pose waiting for the video to buffer. The arrival of a new cookbook in the mail provided some timely entertainment. I had extra toilet paper. I bartered some of it for a bottle of wine.
As of yesterday, the ice, ibuprofen, rest, and antibiotics had done their job and I was ready to meet Just Pat and Twinkle Toes for an excursion into the great outdoors. Hallelujah! Someone to talk to! Somewhere to go! Something to do! An hour and a half south east of home took us out of the damp green redwoods and into the hot, dry scrub lands and canyons of Pinnacles National Monument.
The Pinnacles is known for its strange rock formations, caves, and most importantly, as a sight where the nearly extinct California Condor was reintroduced. In 1987 only 27 birds remained. Today there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 but they are still critically endangered and to see one in the wild is an unbelievably lucky experience. In my 46 years of living here, I had seen one condor, one time, soaring along the edge of the bluffs on the Big Sur coast. They are distinct, being the largest land bird in North America, and also because they all have a number tag on a wing.
The hot wind had dried out most of the grasses, but oddly, the wildflowers remained in full bloom.
We spent the day admiring the colors, chasing lizards, deeply inhaling the fragrant sage and brush. It was like being a kid again. Look over here! Check out this one! Come see what I found! The clouds scudded across the sky creating a dramatic, stormy backdrop.
Spending a day out in nature is more fun to me than going to a party or seeing a movie. If you have your eyes open, it’s like reading a book. There are stories everywhere!
We encountered several snakes, all harmless. Just Pat loves catching snakes. I point them out and then he sneaks up on them and grabs them behind the head so we can all touch them and admire their beautiful patterns before letting them slither off unharmed into the grass. I think he should consider changing his trail name from Just Pat to the Snake Pouncer. At first I thought Snake Whisperer had a nice ring to it but there’s no whispering going on, just pouncing.
The highlight of the day was at the top of the aptly named Condor Canyon Overlook trail. We trudged up the trail under the direct sun, gravel crunching underfoot. As we neared the top someone exclaimed, “Oh whoa, look!” We all stopped and looked up. A condor and a Turkey vulture were riding the draft and spiraling slowly in the wind. Side by side, there was no doubt who was who. A condor can weigh 20 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 10 feet, a Turkey vulture can weigh up to 5 pounds with a wing span of under 6 feet. One of the condors landed on a rock outcropping just above us. We walked to the overlook where a metal railing kept visitors from toppling off the sheer rocks. This might sound silly but the wind was so ferocious I was glad it was there! I held onto my hat with one hand and the rail with the other as it really felt like I might get blown right off.
Then, the most incredible thing happened. Number 26 came in for a landing. It landed on the rocks just out of our reach…and edged closer towards us! It was as curious about us as we were about it. It stared and cocked its head. Just Pat made squeaking noises and the condor turned its head this way and that exactly like your dog would do. We spent a good 30 minutes checking each other out. I would never have dreamed to see such an endangered animal so, so close. Later, as we hiked away, we encountered a biologist with a radio antennae. We learned that it was actually number 726, it was a female, and she had attempted a nest earlier but that it had failed. A little rooting around on the internet found a full bio! You can read all about Little Stinker here. In the bio she has a black head as she is a youngster. Now she sports the red head of a full grown adult and wears it proudly. I am so thrilled to have met her!