2021 has been a heck of a year. Lots of family changes, limited mobility due to Covid, and a difficult combination of on-line and (mandatory) in person teaching.
To the good:
I’m now Emeritus. I was more than a little worried about getting this status, despite a rather decent number of well-regarded publications (>200) and a respectable funding record (Something like $8Million total grant funding as PI, MPI, or Co-PI in the last 20 years).
We’re healthy and in a financially sound position.
We’re vaccinated against that blasted virus. Contrary to right-wing hype, there weren’t side effects and we’re not magnetic or carrying microchips or infecting people with mysterious shed particles.
I helped my ultimate (or possibly penultimate) PhD student to finish their dissertation and graduate.
Our oldest cat didn’t have to cross the rainbow bridge. We finally found what was making him sick, and … well … chemotherapy works wonders.
On the other hand, there are still things to do, ranging from long-term research projects to getting our documents in order.
Still, between using an RV (travel trailer – more in a later post) and vaccination we should be able to get around. I hope we can even visit our UK family and possibly get onto continental Europe.
One of the highlights of our trip was exploring the nearby National Wildlife Refuge. We were about a mile down the road from it, and while route 180 is fast, there are wide margins so that it is eminantly walkable.
I have a birding life list into the hundreds and was still able to identify five new species without serious birding. (Just walking with binocculars in hand.) We walked there three times: first, late in the afternoon to the junction of the Gator Lake trail and the Pine Branch trail (4 miles round trip), second, to the shore on the Pine Branch trail (6 miles round trip), and lastly to the Gator Lake trail returning via Mobile street, the shore, and the Pine Branch trail (8 miles round trip).
Since pets (dogs) are not allowed in the refuge and there are not that many people who visit, the birds are quite tame. The Sandriling walked within two feet of me.
There were mosquitos, even at the winter solstice, so a summer visit should include insect repellent and quite possibly a face net.
Without trying, we saw:
Great Blue Heron
Double Crested Cormorant
There were gulls (of course) and crows, as well as several varieties of sparrow, that we didn’t identify. Not to mention these guys, who scared off the plover.
A complete change of pace for camping, (my base weight < 15lbs), we decided to try out using an RV. There are several companies that hire them and we ended up with cruiseamerica.
We decided to explore the Gulf Shores region in Alabama. It’s on the Gulf of Mexico, near the Florida panhandle, and something of a “red neck Rivera.” So we fit right in. We picked one of our sons up from his university (Auburn) and after spending the night there (Eagles landing RV park is clean, has nice people running it, and is convenient for a stop over.) drove on to Fort Morgan. We stayed in Fort Morgan RV park, which is a small, nice, friendly, and remote place near Bon Secour NWR (about a mile walk from the trail head.)
This is a 25-foot class-b machine. It was just barely big enough for 3 adults and 2 big dogs. To be honest, it was just big enough for 2 adults and 2 big dogs.
Hooking the machine up to the power and water at the site (the “shore line” and town water) was straightforward, as was dumping the tanks. Follow the instructions and little can go wrong. It is important to let the tanks fill up so you get a clean flush, do the black water first, and then the grey water. It takes about two minutes, tops.
We used almost no propane. Turning on the water heater a few minutes before you needed it and then turning it off worked well. The water stayed warm for most of the day. Similarly we brought winter sleeping bags and between 3 adults and 2 dogs, only needed the heater now and then.
In no particular order, here are points to consider:
Bring a wooden cutting board to put hot pots on. Our unit had two small burners, which were enough, barely. Occasionally we needed to boil water, say for noodles, and move the pot off the burner to finish cooking. The countertops are laminate and would be damaged by direct heat.
Clean up as you go along.
Find a place for everything and put it back.
For long-term: an external propane hookup is a great idea.
An awning over the door would make life in rainy weather much easier. (The rental units don’t have this because it tends to be fragile and would be damaged by a typical renter.)
For purchase: Aerodynamics matter. The flat surfaces on this unit produce significant drag. If I were purchasing one, I’d look for smooth surfaces and rounded contours.
Speaking of driving: It handles like a dump truck. You can get up to speed, but anything more than 70mph is a bit dicey. It bounces and rattles. Drawers will open in turns.
30 gallons to fill up from 1/3 of a tank of petrol. Fuel economy isn’t a feature of these vehicles. They’re not too bad on the motorway, but terrible in town.
Having a second vehicle would be a good idea. There are three solutions: 1) tow a car behind an RV, b) use a trailer or “fifth wheel” with a detachable towing vehicle, and iii) a truck camper. Truck campers are about half the size of this unit and relatively rare in the South. We saw both towed vehicles and trailers at the RV parks.
The propane-powered/electricity-powered fridge worked fine. It’s a little small and slower to cool than a home unit, but fully stable.
Storage is a bit tight and takes no little thought to organize. We didn’t get it quite right, but it was OK.
The black water tank pellets are some sort of detergent. They help to break up the debris. We could not find any for sale and used laundry detergent pouches. No idea about this for the long term, but in a pinch, it worked well.
Most RV sites have water, power, wifi, and cable TV.
There was no oven. We brought a Dutch oven which worked OK. It helps if you’ve used one before.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience, and one we’ll probably repeat. There are people who live in these things year-round. It would be tight, somewhat cramped, but definitely do-able.
After turning inland we headed to Sonoma – where I forgot to take pictures as it looks much like any other small California town, and we were focused on wine tasting. It used to be free, but isn’t any longer so pick a winery and do a ‘vertical’ tasting. We stayed at the Sonoma Creek Inn, which is the last remaining building from the old hot springs complex. I’d recommend it both in terms of quality and price over the main part of town. (A thousand dollars a night at some of the motels there – which is way way way outside of my comfort zone).
Then we headed down to route 101 and up route 1 to Point Reyes National Seashore. After stopping at the park center to pick up a good map, we headed to Abbott’s lagoon before going to our rental cottage.
We also picked up food. A warning is in order here. There are several small markets along the inner bay in Inverness. Avoid them. The Palace Market in Point Reyes Station is the only one that’s reasonable -both in cost and selection.
The dunes and beach beyond the lagoon were closed to allow shorebirds to nest and raise their young. Totally laudable, and later we walked to the beach farther North. These pictures are uncommonly sunny – usually the coast is socked in with fog this time of year. More like this view from Drakes’ cliff
After a couple of days exploring San Francisco, we decided to explore further north. Unfortunately, the next few days were predicted to be hot – 110F 38C – in the internal valley so we changed our plans. No lollygagging about in the Napa valley.
Instead we headed to the coast, up to Fort Bragg. It’s a bit of a drive, up the 101 and then over on the 20, but we could stop in Jackson State Forest and explore the redwoods.
We stopped at a rest area for lunch where there were logging artefacts and some of the worst pit toilets that I’ve seen. The redwoods that have regrown form circles about the one that was removed. Many of the trees that return aren’t redwoods, but douglas firs, so we’ve done a great deal of damage.
Camp One is a right turn, most of the way to Fort Bragg. You follow a winding dirt road back to a parking lot. There’s a short (1 mile) and long (3 miles) loop up the valley. We took the longer loop to stretch our legs. It’s a bit of a climb on freshly cut trails, but well worth it. The header image shows one of the redwood stumps from this walk.
Fort Bragg is nothing much to speak of. We stayed at the Hotel 6, which had the dual advantage of being the least expensive motel and an open room. It was a choice between eating at a glorified fast food place or going for a walk. We, of course, chose the walk and found Fort Bragg harbor to the south. Live music echoed up and we made our way to “Django’s Rough Bar” for some excellent sea food, live jazz, and good beer. It’s named for Django Reinhart, the two fingered guitar maestro and the rough bar at the harbor mouth.
The next day we’d head down route 1, stopping along the way at the Jug Handle State Nature Preserve and Point Cabrillo. But more on that later.
Another digression, between Monterey (we actually stayed in Marina, but more on that in another post) and Santa Cruz, we visited the Elkhorn Slough State Wildlife Refuge. It’s a great place for birds, in November through early spring, but less so in summer. Still we counted about 15 species, including a couple of new ones for the life list, so I’m not complaining. Rather I’m thinking of an excuse to visit at a better time.
The refuge, an old farm, is maintained by the state and in great shape. They will lend you excellent binocculars (Eagle optics), and the rangers are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.
There are about 5 miles of looped trails over a range of habitat. However, it’s mostly slough, mudflat, and open fields with some oak woods mixed in.
Speaking of oaks, California is in the midst of a slow crisis of sudden death oak fungus, so it’s important to clean your shoes when traipsing about. They also had us brush off any possible seeds from invasive species. Poison oak isn’t an invasive species, and it is present in the refuge (the birds love the berries). One interesting difference between the western variety and its relatives in Georgia is that the California poison oak was already turning red and losing leaves. Still you should be careful about it – unless you like itchy patches of blisters. (Using soap and water within an hour or so of exposure is usually enough to remove the oils.)
However at this time of the year, the non-avian wildlife is worth a serious look. In addition to lizards (mostly fence lizards) and a gopher snake that stayed put for an intimate photograph, there were rabbits, seals, and sea otters. Sea otters!
I repeat sea otters. At least two of them (both surfaced at the same time) and possibly three of them. There is a power line that crosses over the Parson’s Slough overlook. An Egret rookery is at the far side of the slough where it crosses. The sea otters were playing in the incoming tide more or less directly under the wire. There was also a curious seal, who would poke his nose up, now and then. I have to admit I didn’t believe that sea otters came in the sloughs, but I was wrong and the ranger was right.
Our day started out sunny, but then the fog and chill (54F, 12C) rolled in, hence the fairly grey photos.
Something of a digression, but we just walked the Tomales point trail at Point Reyes National Seashore through the Tule Elk preserve. This species of elk was nearly hunted to extinction and reintroduced to park about 40 years ago.
Fine, neat, but so what.
Most of the hikers on the trail, and there were more than we’ve seen on any other trail in the park, missed the elk completely. We saw at least 21 and possibly as many as 26 (there was a large herd that was hard to count, my best estimate was 20). There’s a trick to it, well two tricks actually:
Skill and knowledge
The first step is to find the elk. Being prey animals, even though they’re the size of small cows, they tend to hide away. We saw three heads on the top of a ridge in the distance. Were they elk? Well, out with the binoculars. Yup, elk.
Further on, to get out of the wind (Tulome trail is very windy. The Park Service quietly understates ‘even experienced hikers may find it difficult’.) we took a diversion to hide behind a pile of rocks. There was a small cluster of similar little dots in the distance. Again, out with the binoculars and quelle surprise, a herd of elk, not 100 meters from the path.
So then it was just a matter of walking to the closest point on the path and waiting. While a fair number of people walked past, chatting about this and that, we watched the elk.
At first, they were blobs in the distance.
They walked closer and soon our patience was rewarded. People kept walking past without noticing the animals. Shame.
These pictures were made with a 200mm lens, which isn’t a particularly powerful telephoto lens.
We decided to try exploring the West coast for a number of reasons. The most pressing being to see how the trees I planted while working for the city of Salinas were doing. Well, not really, but it’s been a while and, quite frankly, we wanted to see somewhere we haven’t been recently.
We started off by flying into San Jose, which is a smaller airport than SFO, but has the advantage of being much easier to get away from. We booked a couple of nights in Antioch – near the end of the BART yellow line with plans of exploring the city. (FYI we stayed at America’s Best Value Inns there which is cheap, clean, and decent. Hazel’s drive in, just down the road, is a fantastic little restaurant if you’re in the area (bring cash – they don’t take credit cards).) If you do this, it turns out there’s no parking to speak of at the Antioch station. Drive to Pittsburg Bay Center and park there. (You also avoid a transfer).
We explored Chinatown and had excellent dim sum at the Imperial Inn before walking to Telegraph Hill (the Coit Tower then pier 51). The trick to finding good dim sum is to look at the clientele. If they’re mostly Chinese, you’ve found the right place. We picked up salted plums and various Chinese candies that aren’t easy to find in Atlanta. If you walk a few streets West of the tourist area, you can find the Chinese grocery shops. There English is a scarce commodity, but the vegetables and fruits are authentic. There’s also a tension between the mainland and Taiwanese Chinese. Several of the buildings pointedly had either the PRC or Taiwan flag displayed.
Unfortunately the heat followed us, it being 85-90F (30-32) instead of the more normal 60F (16). So we decided the best thing to do the next day (with inland forecasts of 35-38 (100-108) was to take the ferry. We started at the SFO ferry terminal (near the Embarcadero BART stop) and took the ferry to Sausalito.
The natives posed for a practice shot with my mirror lens. It’s OK, but the resolution isn’t up to my normal standards.
The ferry ride costs about $6.50 each way (use a clipper card, and keep track of your balance). It’s the cheapest way. There’s a bike over the bridge and return on the ferry route that looks fun, but you have to be prepared for it. (We weren’t.) Sausalito is a bit of a tourist trap, so we walked around and admired the yachts. Most of the yachts weren’t being used, and some could be had quite cheaply – if you don’t count the work you’ll need to put in to make her seaworthy.
The yachts are entrancing, but I’d need a lot of practice to move up from a sailing canoe to one of these.
More field research. Aarhus is hosting a summer school in crystallography and I tagged along as an ex-crystallographer. It was refreshing, especially compared to my dear university. GSU is in the first circle of hell for academics. (probably even lower than that -R).
A scene in volume 3 of our regency spies will occur in this city.
Aarhus itself is a fairly modern city, with nominally friendly Danes. Most of them speak English because my Danish is non-extant. Danish itself is interesting, because the roots or the words are clearly evident when written, and almost impossible to hear when the Danes speak. A large part of English comes from old Norse, with the word endings, conjugations, and declensions stripped away.
This shows a section through the old town. A half-timbered building and a bicyclist.
Beware of bicyclists; they will run you down and they ride in dense packs, big dense packs, big dense fast packs. Most of the time, at least, they follow the traffic rules.
One difference between Danish and English buildings is the use of pastel colours.
Right now they’re having a big music and beer beer, festival. Danish popular music is an acquired taste. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “smoke gets in your eyes” in Danish. The (white) singer had Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice down pat. We left when he started in on “It’s a beautiful world.” Danish rap is best left to the imagination.
The featured image shows the aftermath of an M32 sailing race in the harbour. The water on this part of the Baltic is flat. I suspect that’s not always the case, but right now I could use a sail canoe on it without problems.
She’s sent me a few more: This shows Aarhus in 1850 – not too long after the period of the book we’re writing. The church is still there, but apparently it’s all built up since then.
Another from that boat race. Oh, and she likes the beer.
This is a good short walk for a rainy and overcast day. Selworthy is a short distance past Minehead on the A39. Leaving from the church parking lot, we went up hill and worked our way to the Beacon. The church is worth taking a look at with original features dating back to the 1500’s. One highlight for me was a 1609 copy of “An Apology for the Church of England” by John Jewel. It laid out the case for the Church of England being more Catholic than the Church of Rome and every parish was required to have a copy. Unlike many villages, Selworthy lost nearly as many men in WW2 as WW1. However, like many small villages, Selworthy has sadly lost much of its population since then.
It’s a surprisingly steep climb, steeper than Dunkery Beacon. There’s a side trail to the castle – a neolithic settlement – that we didn’t take. The wooded parts of the path are well covered and somewhat close – even at 13C. However, when it opens up, it is windy and exposed. I valued my windshirt.
The top of Dunkery Beacon is hidden by the clouds in the distance.
Porlock Weir is in the distance (There will be another post about that). There is a herd of belted galloway cattle that grazes the heath.
This shows the trail down.
The village itself is mostly national trust property. We stopped for an excellent cream tea at the Periwinkle Tea room.