Tuesday, July 3, 2012
I was never a fan of dreaming. I don't like sleeping.
It feels good - I've never been able to discard this charging period like the Spaniards or my East Coast friends who are drowning in wine and jitterbugging all over Facebook well past my daily longevity - but it feels like a waste of time.
Before I sleep I wax about the things I should've done that day, the things I could accomplish with just another hour of wakefulness.
I always wanted sleep to end as soon as I drifted off. I wanted to close my eyes and in a moment it be morning.
But I had an epiphany today, pondering dreams. It's the only constructive thing I can conceivably do (oh, to somnambulate) during those hours of insensate slumber.
I'm taking back my sleep - tomorrow night, when I'm out of brandy.
Monday, July 2, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
My story about Gabe Reyes, as it ran in the Lumberjack Jan. 18. I added more photos for the blog:
|Jenna very carefully removes a little brown myotis from a mist net.|
I first met Reyes at a rock concert. When he was not catching shows, he told me, he was usually catching bats. During his last semester of graduate school at Humboldt State University, Reyes was batting up to five nights a week.
Reyes is quiet and polite, which belies his passion for rock 'n' roll and Krav Maga, the Israeli Army's brutal self-defense discipline. He is up for any challenge, anything that requires physical and mental endurance. When he starts talking bats, his soft-spoken nature disappears. His eyes get wide and his voice shakes.
Reyes' passion for bats drives him to trample through unmarked forest with heavy gear. It is not uncommon for him to be out until 5 a.m. He shares his study sites with mosquitoes, elk, bears and mountain lions. Most of the night he waits.
Reyes always liked animals. As an undergraduate at San Francisco State, he devoured zoology courses. He became fascinated with bugs and bees. Then he took a bat course.
Reyes became enthralled by bats. Bats are rarely studied, making them a groundbreaking study topic. He feels connected to them. “They're nocturnal and I'm nocturnal,” Reyes said.
At the same time, Reyes is intrigued by the mystery that surrounds bats. "I like the idea of studying an animal you can't see, you can't hear — and they're really smart. It's an endless challenge."
Bats are not extensively studied because they are very hard to catch. But bat researchers relish the challenge that bats pose and understand their enormous importance in the ecosystem.
|A little brown myotis bares fang as Gabe gets its digits.|
Joe Szewczak, biology professor at HSU who specializes in bats, was Reyes’ advisor. He said one-fourth to one-fifth of all mammals are bats, but people encounter them so rarely they are largely overlooked. They are the world's main insect predator, which means they cut down on physical insect damage and insect-borne disease. Bats clear the air of agricultural pests, benefiting the cotton industry alone to the tune of millions of dollars by distributing guano, bat manure which contains phosphorus and nitrogen content. Perhaps most importantly, explained Szewczak, bats pollinate the agave plant.
"No bats, no tequila,” Szewczak said. “That's near and dear to many people."
Reyes' particular fascination is the hoary bat, or Lasiurus cinereus. It is the second largest bat in North America. They are long-range migrants, roosting in trees as they travel at night from Canada to Mexico and back. Reyes tells me that the hoary bat is the only native mammal in Hawaii. They have big ears, soft brown fur and faces that looks like they are always smiling. It is easy to see why Reyes fell for them.
On this particular fall afternoon, I meet Reyes a little before dusk and we drive an hour north to Prairie Creek. Reyes is joined by Jenna Breckel, a biology undergraduate who is nearly as enthusiastic about field work as he is.
Reyes pulls more equipment out of the back of his sedan than it looks like we can carry. He begins loading into his backpack a giant battery, a tripod, speakers, cables, a power strip, a camera, laptop computer, snacks, notebooks, lab equipment and boxing gloves. He pulls on waders and gloves, hoists his backpack up and grabs a handful of netting and poles.
|Bushwacking down to Prairie Creek.|
We climb over stumps and through brush down to the creek's edge. Reyes does not hesitate to wade into the creek and push his way downstream. My waterproof hiking boots immediately overflow with water, adding several extra pounds to the bottom of each foot. A hundred yards downstream Reyes' waders break, filling his right leg with water. Mild fall weather means the creek is warm and calm.
|Climbing down into the creek with heavy packs.|
We drop our gear on a small gravel island, and Reyes and Breckel begin planting tall poles on either side of the creek. They stretch a 40-foot wide, nine-foot tall net across the creek. It is a strictly catch and release process, but there are dangers to bats. Reyes is careful to make sure that the bottom of the whole net stays out of the water, or the bats will drown when they get caught in the net. He once saw a raccoon pluck a bat out of a net.
By now it is completely dark. We tromp several hundred yards downstream where Reyes sets up a tripod with a small recording device. He will later pore over hours of recorded sound looking for bat calls.
We crawl up a slick, muddy tunnel covered by stinging nettles and thick blackberry branches.
Finding a narrow deer path, we trudge out into a small meadow. Reyes erects a second net and sets up his “home office” — an impressive array of gadgets.
|A very expensive speaker broadcasts ultrasonic bat calls .|
"The hoary bat is charismatic, cool and being hammered by wind energy," Reyes said. Five or six years ago, bat scientists in California noticed huge mortality rates of bats that were flying into wind turbines. Trying to cut down on bat deaths, scientists tried a number of different tactics, including broadcasting owl, hawk and and hoary bat calls.
The hoary bat calls were effective in keeping most bats away from the turbines. Though little is still known about hoary bats, there is anecdotal evidence that suggests that they are bullies of the bat world. They are solitary and aggressive and may even eat other bats.
Szewczak had concerns about broadcasting hoary bat calls at turbines. "But what about hoarys?” Szewczak asked. “It's going to attract them."
Scientists have looked at methods to track hoary bats during migration, but studying their social behavior is more realistic, Reyes said. He hopes his study will determine whether hoary bat calls are safe to use on turbines.
Reyes’ experiment is simple. A large, ultrasonic speaker plays recorded hoary bat calls for 30 minutes at a time, alternating with 30 minutes of silence. The net over the creek provides a control group, which is unaffected by the broadcast bat calls. The 30 minutes of silence at the field net provides a second level of control.
|Gabe and Jenna stretch a mist net across Prairie Creek.|
Catching bats is not easy business, but Reyes' methods yield results. Szewczak said his own early research was adapting audio equipment to study bat calls. Now, Reyes can call hoary bats into his nets.
"He's gone out and caught more hoary bats than anyone else has," Szewczak said. Still, the numbers of bats that he can catch are a tiny fraction of the bats out there. "At night, up high, you can't hear them, you can't catch them," Szewczak said.
Hoary bats typically fly 30-40 feet in the air, catching bugs. They are silent, agile fliers. And they are smart.
Mist nets – the kind at Reyes' field site – are made of ultra fine material. After dark they become invisible to the human eye from less than a foot away. But bats can still see them. Reyes sets up night vision cameras along the nets to get a record of bats that respond to the calls but manage to escape the net. Reyes said he often sees bats fly up to the net and abruptly turn parallel when reviewing videos. Other times they hit the net and bounce off.
|The office. Gabe's set up, including a laptop, speaker on a tripod, night vision video camera and a car battery to power it all.|
By the time Reyes and Breckel set up the field net and recording equipment it is completely dark. Reyes presses play on the loop of recorded bat calls. A loud, high-pitched, almost painful yelp bursts out intermittently. Gabe smiles. A glow from the moon starts to appear behind trees to the east. That fevered excitement enters Reyes' voice. "Oh, there's bats out now."
As we slip down the muddy path to check on the creek net, Breckel stumbles across fresh bear scat, filled with berries. She stoops to examine it as Reyes offers sage outdoorsman advice: "Remember, you don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun whoever you're with."
Back in the creek, there are no bats. Reyes is used to mixed results. The previous summer in New Mexico, Reyes was catching 50-60 bats a night. Other times he goes five nights in a row without seeing a bat.
"Sometimes I question myself - is my project completely insane?" asks Reyes. That discouraging thought never lasts. "A slow night batting is better than a day in the office."
Reyes uses downtime as an opportunity to do other things - cast animal prints, eat berries, look at bear shit and spar with whatever undergrad assistant is helping him that night. After a sweaty boxing session on the gravel bar, it is back to the nets.
|Spar on the gravel bar. Something to keep the blood flowing on chilly nights.|
Reyes moves faster than me so I'm still stumbling over submerged logs when I hear him call out. "We have bats!"
By the time I catch up, Breckel is carefully extracting a tiny brown bat from the net. It squirms and looks so fragile I cannot imagine how she even holds it without crushing its body. It is about half the size of her palm with its little fingers gripping the mesh net.
Wearing plastic gloves, Reyes and Breckel crouch on the gravel bar and begin to study their catch. It is a little brown myotis, Reyes tells me. Myotis lucifugus. Much smaller than the hoary bat. Though it is not Reyes' bat of interest, he dutifully records and measures while Breckel gently holds and stretches its wings.
They determine the sex, weight, age (juvenile or adult is as close as they get), and take a hair sample. Reyes points out mites in the bat's fur, which can carry disease. They change gloves after each handling to prevent white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease from Europe spreading across the U.S. and threatening bats.
|Gabe stretches the wing of a little brown myotis for measurements.|
As the hours pass, we tromp back and forth between the net sites, never waiting long enough at one to get cold or bored. The night goes quickly, though the results are scant. We have been out for more than six hours and no hoary bats. Reyes clearly adores the little brown myotis, but it is not why he is there.
As I prepared to leave, Reyes said he might call it an early night, but his enthusiasm is resolute, his energy unflagging.
I’m exhausted. As I climb out of the stream bed — dozens, maybe hundreds of unseen mammals flying overhead — I hear Reyes call out. "Hoary bats. Oh yeah!"
Saturday, January 7, 2012
The pick of the litter from nearly 1500 photos from my Spain trip. It took me much longer to cull, touch up, upload and write about these photos than I traveled. Hopefully it was worth it. You can click on any photo to see it full size (big!), which is nice with some of the panoramas and others. Comment and enjoy.
An overview: I landed in Madrid, spent four nights there and a day in Toledo. I bused to Granada, home of the Alhambra and Moorish influence. Then Alicante, a touristy Mediterranean beach town. Valencia, which is modern and sleek, to Barcelona, which was too huge to wrap my brain around. From Barcelona I went north to the jewel of Spain: San Sebastian. I spent six days in San Sebastian and probably would have been happy there for the whole three weeks.
I only rode the train from Barcelona to San Sebastian. The buses in Spain are more comfortable cheaper, and nearly as fast as the trains, in my experience.
I had a few serendipitous moments, stumbling upon a Halloween party on a sixth story apartment that belonged to a high school friend I hadn't seen in 10 years. I didn't even know he was in Barcelona.
I got mugged and with my phone went a few hundred pictures that I'll never see again. But it's not an authentic Barcelona experience without a robbery.
I swam in the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay, both were clean and magnificent.
I saw Real Madrid and Barcelona play tournament games. Sat in the Puyol rooting section - quite by accident but fitting.
The U.S. could learn a lot from Spain. They're far more advanced in many ways - especially public transportation. But they remain nationalistic about nearly everything and are on the verge of economic collapse. Other than headlines, you wouldn't know it. The cities feel vibrant, rich and bustling.
Let's go back.
Got off the plane in Madrid about 8 a.m. Bused into town, got lost and took a taxi to my hotel. Then I wandered the city. First stop Plaza Mayor, a few hundred meters from my room. Morning light greeted my first few moments in Madrid.
Pageantry. These caballeros were all clopping around the first morning I woke up in Madrid, right outside my hotel. Some foreign dignitary was visiting and got to ride around the city in this:
Parks surrounding the Olympic Park in Barcelona. Labyrinthian in nature, they are welcome respite from the city.
Jerome's dog. He was miserable in the rain. Didn't take many pictures in France but this gives an idea how lush the Bay of Biscay area is compared to central and southern Spain.
La playa en San Sebastian. It's totally packed during the summer but perfect at the end of October when I was there.
Bench, rollercoaster above San Sebastian.
Bubbles in Barcelona
Ride up the steep funicular in San Sebastian to an old hilltop carnival. It was closed when I was there, giving it an eerie, abandoned feeling. Luckily the bar was open and I was able to get a brandy and cafe solo. I saw maybe five other people up there.
Test your strength. Impress girls!
Casa del Terror. It was closed :(
My first time on the Mediterranean. Alicante is hyped, touristy and rich. This harbor is full of multi-million dollar yachts. October was perfect. The beach was populated, but not crowded. The sea is amazingly clean, considering it's warm, highly trafficked and built up.
Castillo de Santa Barbara, perched on a huge rock over Alicante.
Castillo de Santa Barbara at night. I had to walk up here again and get night photos.
Panorama of Alicante at night from el castillo. To the right of the wall the city felt more authentic and seedy. The only place I ever felt uncomfortable walking at night.
The graveyard in San Sebastian next to Carol's house. She said they make good neighbors.
Dahlias in the Retiro Park botanical gardens. They were about the only thing in bloom, though it was a nice grounds.
La concha, San Sebastian. That statue is an old fortress that overlooks the old part of the city. San Sebastian was fought over many times by the Spanish, French and English. It's worth fighting for.
I swam at this beach between the rain. First time in the Atlantic.
Fishing docks of San Sebastian, as seen through a telephoto lens from the carnival.
San Sebastian sunset, over the river Urumea. Some of the best clouds I've ever seen foreshadowed three straight days of dumping rain. The Urumea began flooding (not in San Sebastian, but upriver) after two days.
Reminded me of my hero.
Grave of the English soldiers. These blokes died helping the Spanish repel French invaders.
Euskal Herria - the Basque country. The rest pretty much speaks for itself. While I was in Spain the ETA announced an end to violent rebellion, saying it would adopt diplomatic means. It was front page news for weeks, with a lot of doubt in the Spanish press. Paisajes, out of San Sebastian, is a tiny but vehemently political Basque stronghold.
The Basque flag flies over a fisherman folding nets in San Sebastian. That estate across the bay was once the royal family's summer home. Maybe the best house in Spain. Apparently San Sebastian has some of the most expensive homes in Spain.
Granada. Maybe my favorite city to walk around. Vibrant nightlife, and varied scenery from huge cathedrals to narrow twisting alleyways. One of my best meals - a Moroccan lamb stew - was in some off-beat alleyway. The black tea was intensely caffeinated and delicious.
Even more Granada.
Another shot from the castle wall above Alicante.
A well vegetated alley at the bottom of the wall in Alicante.
The Guggenheim Bilbao. A Frank Gehry building. The Richard Serra exhibit is breathtaking, and the building captivating.
Hotel Plaza Mayor.
Euskal graffiti on the road up to the carnival in San Sebastian.
La luna entre las hojas.
Barely able to snap this abuelo as he trudged around the hills of Toledo.
All Saints Day in Pasajes. I presume someone left these flowers as a blessing to fishermen and sailors who died at sea.
Perritos en Barcelona.
Una puerta en Madrid, near the main entrance to Retiro Park.
Conservatory in Retiro Park.
Retiro Park lake. To the right of the columns is where I took the next picture, looking back this way...
Retiro after dark.
Botanical gardens in Madrid.
This is the view from my German pension in Barcelona, a block away from Cataluna Square and La Rambla. Where the two people together in the center is where I was robbed. La Rob-la, more like.
La Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's most famous work. I didn't make it inside, due to a late start and a mugging hangover. But it defines the skyline of Barcelona and Gaudi's influence seems to seep into the city from this central point.
Construction began in 1882, but Gaudi died before it was completed. I believe it's expected to be finished sometime in the next 50 years.
Sagrada Familia, gorgeous in the sunset.
San Sebastian - holga-ized by me.
Rainbow over San Sebastian.
Teatro Principal. San Sebastian's yearly film festival rivals Cannes for its scale, prestige and popularity. But it's virtually unknown in the U.S. I missed the festival this year by a few weeks, but the horror and fantasy festival fell right when I was there (thus Hitch).
I went down one night a few hours early to try to get tickets for The Divide, because it was in English and it coincided with my schedule. The theater owner/manager told me it long ago sold out, but told me something I didn't quite catch and to return at 10 when the movie started. I came back, waited around as people filed in and became dejected. I was about to beg some leather-clad Basque horror fans to sneak me in when the theatre owner came out, recognizing me from earlier, and gave me a free ticket. It warmed my heart. The movie was good - not great - but the rowdy, cat-calling festival experience was beyond magical.
Spain is a great cinema country. I spent a few hours in the Museo San Telmo's Fellini exhibit. International, independent, art films get equal recognition with Hollywood powerhouse titles and Spanish blockbusters. Indeed, every multiplex was running "The Tree of Life" next door to "Johnny English Returns" - and Lars von Trier shared the cover of film magazines with Spielberg and Tintin.
One funny thing about the Spanish - they like their movies dubbed. It's just what they're used to, I was told, and subtitles - which are universally preferred on foreign language films in the States - are hard to find. This kept me from seeing "Tree of Life" and other more complicated films (my Spanish isn't quite that good).
I had some good conversations about film with Patxi, who I stayed with in San Sebastian. He said the Spanish still distinguish "Hollywood" or studio films from indie fare. But he agreed that as an audience, the Spanish are far more welcoming to a broad range of film. I watched Patxi's copy of "Vacas," from the Basque director of "Sex and Lucia."
Another Basque filmmaker (who had a week-long festival after I left): Alex de la Iglesia.
Holy Toledo. Spain is very churchy, but Toledo may have the highest square footage of cathedrals/town. There's lots of steel in all the windows but the real treat is the tongue-tingling marzipan.
Jerome, Maite, Marilyn and Ludivine, at Jerome's newly built house in Urrugne, France. It dumped rain non-stop for the 24 hours I was there, so we cooked and drank. Then drank some more. I felt awful because I slept through family breakfast like some American cad. It didn't seem to bother them, so we cooked and drank some more.
Valencia - This huge strip of modern buildings splits the town and stretches to the Mediterranean. Aquariums, museums, convention centers, playgrounds, bike paths and ponds. It's impressive and a bit gratuitous. It was sparsely populated when I visited.
Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia. Soft water.
One of my favorite pics of the trip. Plaza de la Virgen, the ground wet from the rain and fantasmas moving through the plaza by the sound of the fountain.
Old black vans, discarded and forgotten in the gutters of Barcelona. Pobrecitos.
Makes me miss my Westfalia. Next trip to Spain, I must get out of the cities and see some mountains and national parks. This is the way to go.
Supermegaguay self-shot to prove I didn't just steal these pics off someone else's blog. Thanks for looking!