Fungus & Critters & Birds, Oh My!

On Sauvie Island, north of Portland, lots and lots of critters were out looking for yummy things to eat. As on most fall days in the northwest, the sky was close and heavy, allowing a glimmer of lighter sky now and then. And the wetlands were filled with life!

Oops! Almost stepped on this guy, a banana slug.

And I’m not sure what this nutria eats, but there was lots of it where he was bouncing around, and he seemed pretty content.

As we walked the muddy trails, birds stole the landscape! So many ducks & other water birds of so many species, colors and personalities! So many geese! Their honks would begin so softly, from so far away, or rise from a far-off field, and as the long, erratic V-formations got closer, or turned, or came in for a landing, the noise grew and grew until we couldn’t ignore it or talk over it. 

This enormous flock covered the entire field, but as I approached — ever so softly and quietly! — they raised the alarm and blackened the sky as they all rose at once. 

This snowy egret is intent on whatever lives at the water’s edge…

The stars of our day, though, were the sandhill cranes. Their warbly call is distinct from all the other birds wading, swimming, or foraging in the wetland fields. Tall, stately, they bob and stroll slowly, almost imperceptibly, poking their long, pointed beaks into the reeds and grasses in search of food. Occasionally, they would spread their long wings and burst into a frenzied dance, just for a few seconds. Probably practicing for the mating dances soon to come.  

If you’ve never seen this many birds in the wild, never heard them take over a wetland, never seen them dance their frenzied mating dance, I recommend it heartily. You might find yourself changed in ways you never expected.

The graceful cranes inspired a monument:

But as I said, not only the critters were looking for yummies! My daughter knows her funghi…

She’s off on the hunt…and I’m learning what to look for, too….

I’ve always wished I knew more about my planet, so that if I ever found myself in the middle of nowhere, I’d know what I could eat, what might make good soup or salad. We’ve lost that skill, as a society; nature is a foreign land to many of us — most? — filled with danger and fear and all things unknown. It shouldn’t be. Mother Nature is our home.

Some of Nature’s fungus — mushroom — bounty that day:

It thrills me that my daughter is not one of us, that way. She could feed us from nature’s bounty. In fact, she did; by the end of the day, we had enough fungus — mushrooms — to make a remarkably yummy supper of chanterelles, a mushroom de luxe that’s as delicious as it is beautiful!

Diversity, Revisited

Ascendiing El Capitan for my 70th b’day.

Why is it so hard for people to imagine a 70-year-old (like me) climbing El Capitan? Or any other mountain? Or running a marathon? The reaction to my 70th birthday climb of El Cap has surpassed anything I could have imagined. At last count, the story has played or been published on over 65 news or human interest venues around the world, including CNN, the NY Times, LA Times, London Times, and CBS News, to name a few!

About 15% of Americans are seniors. 15%! If you gave away 15% of your income to charity, you’d be considered outrageously generous. If you worked only 15% of the year, you could have a whole other life. Or your vacations would be incredible!

Mark Cicak climbing in the Sierra Nevada, in his 70s.

A whole lot of seniors are out there doing things that are never seen or acknowledged by most Americans.

And older women outnumber older men by about 7 million — which means there are lots of older women, like me, out doing things that younger people consider impossible.

Jannette Pazer on El Capitan, Yosemite NP.
Lori Milas, 68, climbing at Joshua Tree NP.

And yet, nary a photo of a gray-haired climber or runner in a magazine, or on a cover, or online. That strikes me as odd. Offensive, even.

Is it because we fear that when we’re old, we won’t be able to measure up to older role models who do extraordinary things? (But then, that should be true for young people, too…) Or because our parents or grandparents weren’t like that? All of my grandparents and all their relatives died in their 70s. To which I say, So what? They had a much harder life, all from ‘the old country’ where they had little food, no freedoms, no education. Especially, little nourishing food. Surely that has a lot to do with how long and in what condition we get to linger on this planet. 

Whatever the reason, we need to acknowledge, as a society, that getting old does not necessarily mean getting feeble. (Some people are feeble when they’re young.) Getting old is a privilege, to be cherished. I know many who did not get to enjoy that privilege. 

Certainly, health plays a determining role. If you suffer from a debilitating disease, obviously you’re not going to enjoy climbing mountains. But all things being equal, I’m no more able to climb El Capitan than you are; I just trained for it. A lot. You can do anything you want, if you break it down to baby-steps and work on each step until you master it. Success, in anything, is as simple as that.

…or a pleasant walk around the park…
A short bike ride with friends…

So start simple. A walk around the block. A short bike ride with a friend. No one begins running by planning to do a marathon. Baby steps are the way to get out there and start enjoying Nature!

Hulda Crooks scaled Mount Whitney (14,505 ft) 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91. During that same time period, she also climbed 97 other peaks. 

Kris Machnick started rock climbing at 64, and ice climbing at 65. At 80, she climbed 8 ice and rock routes to raise $100,000 to combat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Age is a number. And as any statistician knows, numbers can be tweaked to prove anything at all. You’re as old, or as young, as you believe yourself to be. 

So, go start believing!