Newts in Paradise

“I am the machine that reveals the world to you as only I alone am able to see it.”
– Dziga Vertov

It is that time of year again: the California newt-mating season. I have never seen this ritual before. There is some reluctance in the group; some of us feel it would be a better use of our time to stay and finish up schoolwork. Tom and Deb decide for us in favor of this outing because it serves a more subtle purpose. Today is our last full day before spring break. With the heavy writing and processing we’ve been doing, this outing is more about relief than media capture and sight seeing.

We drive to the entrance of the Independence Trail, gather up our equipment from the van, and start walking. The smell of bay in this forest reminds me of being a cabin leader and taking fifth graders on hikes in Santa Cruz County Science Camp. I take some bay to spread under my mattress and keep spiders away. We all separate on the hike to where the newts are; some of us walked slower and took pictures of the new spring growth. Deb and I are first to arrive at the small pond. The calming flow of water trickling in to this pool slowed me as I drew close.

I watched as the orange flames dashed inside the water. Many newts gathered into a ball of intense passion. An invisible dance occurred as singular newts chose their mate. Visual and chemical cues fired before the newt jumped onto its target, the intention being that the male deposits his spermatophore into the female’s cloaca. A white orb arose from the ball of chaos; a spermatophore missed.

I fell asleep waiting for the others to arrive; the night before I stayed up until 3:oo a.m. When I woke up it was time to have lunch. I had a dream that I was a salamander being born in the water, but surrounding me was fire. Nothing could be seen past the fire that began to change color, and each flame started to take the form of other salamanders. I ate my gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich, as I discussed this with everyone else. Then we prepared to film.

We set up two tripods and a monopod. Tom and Debra prepare a camera to start shooting. Debra holds a metallic disc in an effort to better provide lighting to the scene. The set-up looks delightfully silly. Others on the Independence Trail walk by not knowing what to think. Their whole walk ‘til this point was a beautiful sight of the growth, the river, and the sun shining through the emerald leaves. But now they are faced with an unexpected sight as they attempt to get by.

It’s funny how this situation could be awkward. I try to place myself in the shoes of someone who is walking by. I imagine its weird to walk by and pretend you haven’t noticed people taking footage of this newt orgy. This reminds me a lot of being in a street and ignoring people. I believe a certain disconnect has happened between man and nature. The way people duck their heads at the slightest chance of contact alarms me. Sometimes I find myself doing the same. When I don’t feel like saying hi as I cross paths with someone simply because I am lost in my selfish world, I am at fault of being disconnected from my surroundings and the people in my surroundings.

Once we felt satisfied with the media we had captured we packed up and hiked back to the car. Debra and I stopped on one of the bridges we passed to wait for the others. From this bridge you could hear the Yuba River growling. The sight was amazing; turquoise water flowed against rocks loud with splendor. As the others arrived we showed them this sight of raw beauty, and we all stared in awe of the mighty river dragon.

We continued our walk now feeling cleansed. This daytrip gave me something to hold on to; a reminder that beauty is, yet again, everywhere.

~Max

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