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

Back at Base Camp!

Well, we are finally back in Nevada City after an amazing adventure.

The drive home from Baja California was very conflicting for me. I was happy to be going back to a place where everyone spoke my language, where I could do my laundry properly and sleep in my comfy bed, in my comfy warm cabin, but I also didn’t want to leave! Crossing the border I felt panicked: Ah! No! I can’t believe it’s over! We’re already going back!? I found myself wanting to forever be surrounded by the generous, comforting, openhearted nature of the Mexican culture. America seemed so scary, dull and grey; the dry dead land filled with concrete buildings, the guards with their big guns held closely to their body, like a child. It all seemed backwards. Driving over the actual “border” and watching the line clearly marked on the road, looking at the plaque dividing Mexico and the United States, I wanted to run to the back of the van and get as far away from that division as I could, but I was already the furthest back in the van I could be and I just had to accept it.

Why was I so anxious about entering America? That’s saying something. There is so much wrong about this country and the world, why aren’t we confronting and admitting it? Maybe a lot of us are. I understand that in order to change how society has been living and evolving, it takes time, then slowly consciousness shifts and we rise up for the better.

We’re on the tipping point. Everyone can see what should become, what should change, but for some reason we continue our lives as if someone else will fix all the problems. It doesn’t work that way, we’re all in this together! We all need to participate and support greater causes. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, and hopefully we all have these same thoughts, but is a thought worth anything without an action?

~Lily

 

I learned so much in Mexico; too much to even try and measure. From the people, the culture, and the Spanish language, but also a lot about the world as a whole. That is what I am working on absorbing and knowing what to do with. A personal goal I have been working on for years is how to be able to accurately portray how I feel about something and or someone, and share my appreciation in a full way–with more than two gracious words. This is something that I have been struggling with and growing from lately. I am so unsure about how I can appreciate those around me fully and share that with them. For the past few days part of our discussions, thoughts, and time has been on thank you letters and how we can thank the people that gave us so much while we were in Mexico. I have put a lot of thought into it, and in thinking about that I have started seriously contemplating how I can do that for Tom and Deb. They deserve it, and it is a vital part of the learning process for me. Being aware is a baby step, appreciating (and being able to accurately convey that) is the stretch of a lung in order to reach a point of true learning. In this instance I need to be able to state my appreciation in order to understand and be able to get close to learning fully. How I can share with them how much I truly appreciate what they are doing, how it is changing me, and how they are living along side me. What they do blows my mind. Not because it is so cool, unique, special, generous, brave, hard, full of joy, or any one thing: because it is all of those things, and so much more. Everything from the beauty we are surrounded by endlessly to the hardship that we see in the world, they are there to walk with us and share the knowledge that they hold. What can we do? What do I do? Am I being selfish if I only figure out what I want? Should I do something more than just what I want? How can I, as an individual, help participate in the big changes that need to for this world to be as full and loving as it should be? Wow! SO many questions and thoughts have been running around the labyrinth that is inside me. SO many of the sparks that started my mind thinking, questioning, and rethinking, were from something that Tom or Deb said and it did out of love. They love so much, and because they love so strongly (and they are none of our parents) they are in a position where they can step back and notice our struggles and let us struggle and see our glowing faces of satisfaction and self pride when we go inside the challenge and learn from it.

Our time in Mexico came to an end and the transitions that we faced when we returned to Nevada City were not easy. They were and continue to be a growing experience for each of us, a place where it felt ok to hurt in order to grow and love. I, for one, am very confused and unsure about the world. What it means to me, and what I should be doing in it. One of the things I am clearest about is how grateful I am every single day. Learning is everywhere. I knew that before I came, but now I am living and loving that in a different more real way.

Spring break is almost here: another transition and another start to another routine. Ironically, continuous change is becoming a routine for us. It keeps us strong, on our toes, and excited. I don’t know about the others but I am really looking forward to break while at the same time I do not want to leave this space and the feeling of what we have created and continue to strengthen everyday. I am already looking forward to the last day of spring break knowing that I will be returning to Nevada City and the new loving community that I have created there. Once we get back we are going to hit the ground running: preparing for what comes next!

~Kiera

 

We are coming to a close of this cycle of ourjourney. I am sad to see the faces that I have grown so tender with, leave my sight. But I am happy and trustful that they will continue on without us. Everything about this cycle of Finding the Good seems complete to me. It’s all coming full circle, and this makes me excited; excited to see what’s to come and what is yet to be born out of the new cycle. Going home is a guarantee of the end of what has just happened, but its ending is not a removal of me from it. It is both I and the journey that end, and we are reborn into the next stage. I face the mistakes and triumphs in it and embrace them with my heart and my mind. Like the Phoenix, we rise from the ashes of our own demise that was the only solid consequence of us even beginning the journey. The end is not the end, but only the beginning of something new.

~Max Tejeda

Gallery

Selection of Photos, Part Deux

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Here are some more photos of the rest of our trip in Baja California. They range from our time in Bahia Asuncion, to San Roque to our last destination, Ensenada. As you can see it was an absolutely amazing experience … Continue reading

Shari’s Words

Shari Bondi, our whale liaison, manages several Baja California-related blogs, and has made posts relating her adventures with the Finding the Good crew.

Check them out at:

http://bahiaasuncionmexico.wordpress.com
http://baja.com/bahia-asuncion/blog/

From Bahia de Los Angeles to Laguna Ojo de Liebre

After leaving Bahia de Los Angeles, we headed off to Guerrero Negro to resupply on food and ice because we could not take any fresh produce across the border into Baja California Sur. In town we also stopped at a taco stand to eat. I ate five tacos, since we would not cook a large dinner that night, and I did not want to go to bed hungry. After our stop in town, we headed off into the desert to go to Ojo de Liebre, also known as Scammon’s Lagoon. After the 45-minute ride down the dusty road that wound its way through expansive commercial salt flats, in various stages of dehydration, the bumpy washboard road ended and we came to the lagoon itself. I was surprised at how large it really is. The water covered the whole horizon, and faint mountains could be seen in the distance. The landscape around the lagoon is flat. It is basically a desert, with a few short sand dunes and a kind of shrub that grows in the dry environment. However, in a few spots around the lagoon, there are little marshes that are inhabited by many birds, mostly seagulls that yell like an awkward teenager going through puberty with a kazoo lodged in his esophagus.

The day before, a whopping 2,700 whales were counted in the lagoon alone, a world record for a single area. Within the first five minutes, we saw at least 10 of the misty exhalations of the gigantic creatures, their great backs visible above the shimmering water. The sun glinted off of their great shiny mass like a little lighthouse, and if you were looking at the water often enough you could see when a whale appeared. The shiny mass would appear, spout some water, shine some more, then slowly sink below the surface.

It was the first time ever going out whale watching for me, and my first experience was incredible. There were 10 of us that piled into a little panga boat that was roughly 18 feet long, and headed out into the deeper waters of the lagoon. While traveling out into the bay, we saw many whales breaching, and blowing their heart shaped clouds of mist into the air. Almost immediately after we slowed down, a mother and her calf headed towards us and came up on my side of the boat. My first impression of the creatures, of course, was their sheer size. The calf was easily as long as 15 feet, and the mother was roughly twice the size of the boat. Her flippers were as large as dinner tables, and her tail was the size of two really large buff bodyguards melded together at the hip. The mother came up to me and turned sideways to get a good look at me, and I saw her big brown eye peering gently at me through the water. We looked at each other for a moment, then I held my hand out several inches above the water. She then rose up slowly and came up to my hand, then let me rest my hand on her massive snout. Meanwhile, the calf paid a visit to the people on the other side of the boat. She rubbed up against the side and allowed herself to be pet. Then she proceeded to hover a few inches below the surface and release a large blast of air through the water which showered us all in a salty mist, creating a rainbow around our boat. After the mother and the calf had gone away after playing with us for 10 minutes or so, several different pairs of whales came up to us. I will elaborate on that in my next blog, for I am running out of room for this blog. Today is Sunday, and we will leave for Asuncion on Tuesday. We will keep you all posted.

~Connor

March 11, 2012
Ojo de Liebre, “Scammon’s Lagoon”

We are about halfway through our trip, and about to say goodbye to the friends it seems as though we just welcomed into our group. We arrived at Ojo de Liebre, “Scammon’s Lagoon” a few days ago with the extra additions of Chris, Janet, Alex and Karen. They are lovely additions, but I have been thinking a lot about the people in my life who aren’t here, what they are doing and how hard and odd it is to not be in contact with them, in this day of instant gratification communication.

I feel like a sailor in the time of Charles Scammon, a whaler we have been learning about while we are in this lagoon named after him, seeing these massive creatures he helped hunt almost to extinction. In the 1800s, men would leave for a tour on a ship and be gone for six months or a year or four. Here I am, after two weeks of no internet, email, phone and feeling so isolated from my people and from current events at large. It is both liberating and disturbing.

The crew we have here is wonderful and great, however, and the students have stepped into more leadership roles for meal prep and clean up, which makes my life easier. It has been grand having Chris and Janet with us and hearing their stories about when they were teenagers/twenty-somethings. It will be very sad to say goodbye to them on Tuesday, but we have already planted the idea for a house party when we’re all back in Nevada City.

Been talking a lot about what I’m doing after this job ends, which is not very much living in the moment (a philosophy we have been discussing quite a bit here), but I think I have just come to terms with the fact that I like to think about what comes next. I tell myself it’s important to approach life this way especially when it comes to food – you have to plant the seed early for it to grow and fruit, and you have to plan your meals in advance so it’s ready when you want to eat. It is also easier to reach a zen state about the sand in my sleeping bag and the dirt encrusted into my clothes when I can think of a time when I am back in my bed and have a washing machine available.

Waking up to the beach and the sun and the water is lovely though, and worth a little inconvenience. As I was walking back to my tent this evening in my skirt flowing in the breeze and my bare feet digging into the sand, I felt grounded in a way that you can’t get bundled up against the elements and everywhere covered in snow. I do love snow, but this is nice too.

~Sarah

Laguna Ojo de Liebre: Interactions with The Gray Whale

My experience with the whales is somewhat different from the others on this trip. I see the pride that Mexico has for these creatures, and it’s hard for me not to feel that way because I am Mexican. On our first trip out to the lagoon I thought a lot about a concept that Mike presented to us in Bahia de Los Angeles: that we as the human species have recently become accustomed to looking at “things”- and by things I mean nature and objects that come from nature – and finding a use for them in our lives. From looking at paper and thinking, “This came from Staples,” to looking at a shell and thinking, ”Oh, this would look great on my shelf back home.” When Mike presented this subject his words resonated with me, and when I was listening to him I knew that I didn’t feel this way. I felt the exact opposite, I felt that nature is its own being and we are a part of it. I realized that this process of looking at nature and finding a human use for it is something I disagreed with. On the little boat in the lagoon I kept connecting this concept to the whales and telling myself, “Yes these are magnificent and beautiful creatures, but they aren’t here to be watched. In fact we are still hunting them, just not as food for our stomachs, but as a sight for our eyes.” So with this thought arose my question: Why am I watching them?

We are watching these whales and the system and economy in Ojo de Liebre to learn from them. We are watching to learn their story and how they were hunted nearly to extinction and how they came back. The story they tell is amazing, and our mission is to learn from it and help others to do the same. More specifically, our mission at the moment is to shoot a movie to tell others about the gray whale and then to tie it back to other ecological problems. We endeavor to teach others how to help, similar to the way people helped in bringing the gray whale back from the brink of extinction.

Which brings me back to my role and why am I watching these whales: everyday human curiosity. The experience gave me a sense of what role I play in this large world, where all pieces, big or small, play a vital role.

~Max

We have been on the road for over two weeks now. Our systems are honed, our approach lithe. Our numbers ever expanding and contracting, we are surmounting language barriers, climbing mountains, confronting our past, learning for a future, and sharing the massive experience of a gray whale interaction.

It is a joy working with the students, fleshing out their individual interests in this rich environment. Each personality requires different nourishment at different times, and I often find myself on tasks ranging from helping organize a hike in the desert to delivering a philosophy lesson on a sun-soaked beach, with shades of kitchen help and photo management in between. Their openness and interest in the world around them makes these mergers of and transitions between roles natural.

If nothing else, this experience shows how valuable it is to be aware of the knowledge that we all hold, for being so gives us the opportunity to invest in the information exchange that makes up communities and cultures. We truly are creating a community here, and every adventure serves to educate and strengthen our personal identity within this group and the Earth society at large.

~Mike

Meeting the Whales

The last time I went whale watching (in Cape Cod, Massachusetts) the highlights were seeing a whale and getting a great picture of a whale breeching. This time, the excitement comes in a more spiritual way. I feel my body relax as the huge mass of a whale swims just millimeters away from the boat. I smile on the inside when I feel the cold moist skin of a whale and when I watch a mama and calf move through the water together. I already forget what it is like seeing the first whale in Scammon’s Lagoon. A whale blow in the distance quickly becomes a common sight; in every direction there are spurts of water returning slowly to the ocean. The ride back to land is serene.

The Fascination of Whales: Our Second Meeting

Our second time whale watching was special. I feel like it is the type of thing that one could do countless times without the excitement level lowering. One whale calf visited our boat for quite a while and was not shy about showing us its tricks. It kept appearing even after the lanchero relocated the boat. The scar on its tail and its personality were how I could tell that it was the same one. It was a spinner; like a young child spinning till they get so dizzy they fall down—except this was a whale calf!

It was interesting to see how rapidly my goals for whale watching changed. Climbing in the boat I was open-minded and did not have any specific expectations. Part of me is now wondering if I went into the experience with an open mind so that I would not get disappointed, or simply because I had to see a whale to believe the stories I had heard. As soon as the first whale visited our boat, I knew I was going to touch one. A particular whale and I had a close connection and exchange. It appeared gracefully, lifting its head next to me where I sat in the boat. “Besalo, besalo!” came from the back of the boat where the lanchero stood. Because of the lanchero’s hand gestures, I figured that he was saying “kiss it, kiss it!” By the time the thought registered in my head, the mama whale started lowering her body. I will not be sad or disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but I would be so delighted if I do get to kiss a whale before leaving here. How cool would that be—to kiss a whale?

~Kiera

We’re here in the lagoon, which stretches out around our campsite, pristine and flat. The first two days we took advantage of the still waters, still skies, and all-consuming sunshine to go out on the boats. The whales were immense: immensely strange, immensely interactive, immensely beautiful, immense in size. As such, there’s an awful lot of mental processing to be done that I can’t even truly approach yet. There’s much to take in here and so many ways of understanding it all. Luckily, the students have their many pursuits and studies, and, through working with them, I learn too. Connor is developing his theory of the soul and explains to us how it applies to the whales. After her first time out bird-watching with Janet, Kiera is becoming an avid ornithologist. In fact, she, Janet, and Lily are sitting beside me at this moment using Sibley to ID the birds they saw in the marsh yesterday. I’m trying to absorb species characteristics through osmosis. With Max, I’ve been revisiting how to structure a proper research essay. He is composing a piece on Mexico’s Ejido system using primary sources and is off at this moment interviewing a lanchero who lives in the Ejido. Lily is our resource on whale biology through the book and in-person investigation she’s been doing. She’s also keeping a lovely field journal of the flora and fauna at our fingertips here and in all the locations we’ve visited on this adventure.

Beyond the staff and student community we’ve built, we are now lucky to be sharing our meals, explorations, and discussions with an extended group of adults, young and old. It’s as wonderful for the staff as it is for the students to hear each person’s story of reaching this point in his/her life, both professionally and personally. I have been learning about the environmental history of this lagoon, and I enjoy hearing too about the individual histories of the people who find themselves seated on the dunes as a community today. Chris mentioned how formative having a mentor was in his young life. Mentorship takes many forms, and I feel lucky to have gained the mentorship of each person here. I hope that in turn I can provide this to the students.

~Chrissie