Saturday, March 5, 2005

A walk

This afternoon, tiring of the programming I've been working on, I took a walk with my dog Lea. We tramped along a trail that is usually hot and dusty, through one of the drier parts of the local terrain. Today was very different, though. We got a little over a half-inch of rain yesterday (bringing our total for the year to 13.66"!), and for the hour or so we were walking it was partly cloudy, bright, and a very pleasant 60 degrees. The normally dry terrain is dry no more — the ground everywhere is completely saturated, and puddles are in every flat place. After several months of wet weather, all the chapparal plants have now responded; green is everywhere. Most striking to me (perhaps because it's been six years or so since I last saw this) is the rocks and steep decomposed granite slopes. They are now covered with rich layers of life: lichens, mosses, and small plants of various kinds. Some of the boulders in my yard look as though they've been upholstered with bright green carpets.

Lea was completely absorbed by all the smells. Anytime you have moisture in the desert, a wonderful assortment of saturated odors follows. Sages are perhaps the most evident, but there's also rosemary and a slew of herbacious species that I can't identify. Crush almost any leaf and your nose will be richly rewarded. We smelled a very strong musky animal smell at one point: cat. It may well have been a bobcat or even a mountain lion somewhere nearby.

The most unusual thing I saw (actually, heard) turned out to be a pair of flickers. They were atop a telephone pole, engaged in some sort of mating ritual, including the male feeding the female (a very typical birdly behavior). But the male flicker was making a noise that I'd have sworn was a woodpecker rapidly pounding at the pole — but it was clearly a vocalization (I could see the male's beak opening in sync with the sound). He repeated this vocalization several times while I was standing right beneath the pole; it was a very convincing replica of a woodpecker.

The female was unimpressed, and flew away — presumably in search of a more suitable mate.

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