Somewhere Over the Fogbow

dunesAfter parking our big rig near the entrance to the gun club at Manila, I got out and went around to the back of the large truck to let my crew of ten California Conservation Corps members out. They seemed to move a little slower than usual, so I barked, “Let’s go! Put your gloves on and circle up!” Every morning starts out with a safety circle discussion, and I already knew this morning’s talk would need a motivational element as well.

From the circle of brown-uniformed youth, I looked up over many tall spruce trees to see something that can only be described as a fogbow. It was fog arched perfectly like a rainbow with an iridescent hue, and looked to be about two hundred yards long. I asked the corps members what they thought was at the end of a fogbow?  One young man looks at me cynically and answered,

“Europeon beach grass, no doubt.”

The rest of the crew laughed. His answer stole the magic from the mystery, and the fogbow seemed to become just another low cloud under a patchy sky.

An hour earlier that morning, when I arrived at work, they already had our large rig equipped to go. Some of them call it “the prison bus” because most people associate this type of large truck with the California Department of Forestry’s prison crews, but our rig is white, not red. We are a different state agency too, the C. C. C. and the youth here chose to join in order to further their education, earn a scholarship and work their butts off to restore California’s more denuded landscapes. Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more is our motto, and the corps members reaffirm each other of this whenever we do some of the more tedious restoration projects, like pulling Europeon beach grass (Ammophilla arenaria) from the Manila dunes.

There were a few sighs and some “darn its” when I announced that we would be returning to the beach to pull the much reviled grass from the wind-swept foredunes. They all know it’s a necessary and honorable duty, but as one corps member put it, “’s a job fit for mindless robots.”  Day after day at this mundane and repetitious work would feel more rewarding if the job didn’t seem so endless. The invasive grass dominates the coastline along many parts of Humboldt County, and it looks to be years before we can say that we’re done with our eradicating efforts. Searching for encouraging words that might help the crew see beyond the monotony, I heard myself instead say, “Load up and let’s go.” Not very motivational, but I needed more time to find inspiring words. I hoped I would discover them at the beach.

After the short drive in the noisy rig, here we were, lined up at the trailhead, less than a mile from breaking waves, but I still didn’t feel any closer to inspiration. I shouted, “Move it out!”  They all picked up their shovels in one hand, and followed the blue hard hat in front of them.  Swarms of mosquitoes motivated us to hike down the winding, forested trail at a bite-avoiding pace. The crew marched along the trail without exchanging words, except for the warning shouts of “Low branch”, or “Watch your footing” that would be heard ten times as it was passed down from each crewmember from front to back.

At the site, I lined them out to work along the foredune, and we started digging at the steep-sandy slopes. They pulled out roots and shoots and busied themselves talking about MTV and fantasy role-playing games. No one seemed to notice that it was low tide, the fog had disappeared, or that once flowering sea rockets were now heavy with succulent seedpods.

I gave up encouraging and focused on digging up the invasive grass myself, imagining beach primrose and the pink flowers of dunes buckwheat instantly sprouting up out of the sand where the invader had once been. The repeating calls of ravens finally pulled my attention to the beach, where I saw many of them competing for a spot around a dark mound in the smooth, yellow sandscape. They hopped on and off of it while thrusting beaks aggressively at each other, dueling it out like they were vying for king of the mountain. My eyes couldn’t distinguish what the mound was, but I hoped it was a seal so that my young crew could see one close up.

It was lunchtime, I gave the crew ten minutes to gobble up sandwiches and gulp down some water, lined them up, and we walked down the beach to where the ravens ate their lunch. The closer we got the more the mound seemed to change shapes. At a distance it looked like a seal, a few yards closer it became a decomposing man, a few more yards it was a rhinoceros, and then great antlers seemed to jut up out of the mound and it became and stayed an elk throughout the closing distance. The giant bull lay on its side, half buried by sand, with the prints of many ravens’ feet spiraling out from its body like stars around a black hole in a galaxy.

“Whoa! It’s a big-ass elk!” announced one voice.

“Let’s take its antlers!” exclaimed another.

“Eeew, it smells horrid,” another complained.

We stood on top of the ravens’ tracks, and looked down at the fallen elk, his hide torn wide open revealing the source of the stench that shimmered like red and green

Jell-O in a basket made from hide and bone.

“How do you think this elk got here?” I asked.

“Well, it’s rutting season, maybe he was fighting another bull on a cliff where he was thrown off and died upon crashing into the rocks. Then he was washed here by the current,” answered one excited voice.

“Or maybe he was hit by a car somewhere up north, and drug himself to the beach where the tides pulled him out to sea and ended his suffering” added another.

“No, it looks like someone slashed his side open with a light sabre” another said. They all laughed, pulling at its antlers in hopes of dislodging them from the bull’s skull.

They walked around the great beast eewing at the stench and creating scenarios of the animal’s demise. Lunchtime was waning; we lined up and headed back towards the task of grass pulling. The event didn’t spark the fire I had been envisioning, but it did steal the conversation away from sitcoms and computer games long enough for me to feel like we found the moment.

We were half way back to our shovels when I heard,

“Look! The kelp is moving.”

I looked out west over the ocean when the same voice said, “No the other way, on the beach!”

I turned my head east to the wave-placed kelp and dried, brown eelgrass clumps that appeared to move in response to our approach. A closer look revealed hundreds of small brown birds. We stopped and scanned the surroundings. The birds numbered in the hundreds on all sides of us, connecting and disconnecting isolated clumps of dried algae as they moved. Their dark backs blended in with wet sand and the dried kelp clumps; only their movement gave away their presence.

“What are they?” someone asked.

“Sanderlings” I answered unsurely.

Suddenly, a group of 100, or so, came off their feet as if one of them yelled, “Jump!” They flew towards us changing directions in unison-flashing white bellies at us.

“Wow!” the young man behind me shouted, his eyes squinting as if blinded by an explosion. Then another group flew over us maneuvering to the left, then to the right, their bellies shining like bright stars under a blue sky, landing behind us, and disappearing again. We continued on in silence with group after group of small birds revealing themselves by the many white flashes of their bellies, flying harmoniously as many parts of one being, then disappearing again onto wet sand or into a mosaic of beached kelp.

With shovels back in hand where we started, we dug for a few minutes stopping occasionally to look around to see if any of the lifeless clumps of brown behind us might suddenly move, rise up and fly, or turn into a dead animal.

“How do those birds know how to turn or land all at the same time?” a young women asked, wiping sand from her sun burnt face. I remembered a couple of theories that I’ve heard to explain that phenomena, but decided it was better for them to imagine the possibilities unbiased,

“I’m not sure, what do you think?”

She hesitated, and so another spoke up and said,

“I think it’s magic.”

We continued working and talking about the cryptic coloring of the sanderlings and how a sudden flash of many white bellies might confuse a hunting peregrine. They asked many questions about shore birds and elk, predation escape techniques and rutting season. Instead of giving definitive answers, I’d only say,

“Maybe it’s this… or maybe it’s that… keep watching and share what you observe.”  The same young man who this morning answered that ammophila was found at the end of the fogbow said,

“Ya know, I would’ve never see all this cool stuff if I wasn’t working for the CCC up here. I can’t wait to come out here someday and not see a blade of Ammophilla.” He continued digging, working faster than ever.

I thought about our motto, hard work, low pay, miserable conditions and more. I imagined it written in fog across the horizon, in ravens’ tracks imprinted in the sand, in white bellies of shorebirds flashing each word-one after the other-across the sky. I wondered what could be added to our motto to more accurately describe this experience. Perhaps, we could replace the words “and more” with “and discovery.”

I never heard another word mentioned about games or TV for the rest of the day. Sighs turned to panting, complaints into questions. The day ended, and the area the size of a large house, once a thick mass of Ammophila, was cleared. A reclaimed foredune was now free to blow inland or to be washed out to sea. The restoration process of these dunes is happening simultaneously with the learning process of these youth, and both are healing.  Sands and minds are being freed to move across changing topographies of land and life. Their shared futures will be free of monotypic landscapes, and instead will thrive in rich-varied mosaics. And each day of beach grass pulling, however redundant, moves us closer to our goals. That’s why you’ll find us, here on these dunes, at the end of the fogbow.

Blackberry Popsicle


After an early spring hike on southern Humboldt’s first warm day of 2002, I took the Avenue of the Giants north towards home. My thoughts weaved between focusing on the road and fantasizing about food. Up ahead, I saw a card table decorated with daffodils. I slowed enough to hear two little girls yelling in unison “Homemade blackberry Popsicles!”

Blackberries? There won’t be blackberries for months, I thought. I passed the two, small, hopeful faces on a road that doesn’t get much traffic this time of year. Their little stand got even smaller in the rear view mirror but the idea of stopping made more and more sense. It seemed an honorable person would never pass a child’s lemonade stand without first paying too much for a bleached-white paper cup filled with a budget brand powdered drink mix.

So, after making a U-turn on the empty road, I pulled up to the little stand. Longhaired girls busied themselves straightening up stacks of napkins and arranging daffodils so that the prettiest ones were up front. It looked like the moment they had been waiting for all day had finally arrived — a customer. Ignoring the fact that the yellow flowers voluntarily sprang up all over my yard, I asked for five daffodils and a blackberry Popsicle.

“Your total is $2.00 mister,” said a little country girl, her eyes squinting from the sun.

I moved my head to block its rays from her young face and asked, “ What are you saving for?”

“A trip to a water park down south, by our grandma’s house,” she said excitedly, smiling wide, revealing that she had been visited by the tooth fairy more than a few times in recent months.

I heard a screen door open and slam shut. A black lab, with a very long tongue, showed up and started licking my hand. The other girl, who had previously vanished, reappeared and handed me a dark-purple Popsicle. I traded her a five-dollar bill for the Popsicle and the flowers. The two began to count quarters, nickels, and dimes out of a blue plastic lunchbox that had a faded, redheaded, cartoon mermaid on it. After a couple of minor arguments over how many nickels were in a dollar, they gave me two handfuls of change. I put the heavier one on the table, and asked, “Do you accept tips?”

They looked at each other with confused expressions for a second, then back at the pile of coins. The one with the most teeth started clapping her hands frantically, repeating, “Yes, yes, yes!”

“Thank you mister!” they obliged, as I drove off with a Popsicle in hand and a front seat strewn with yellow daffodils.

As soon as my tongue met the fruity ice, I was whisked back into summertime. My mouth became a portal to the past. The taste recreated memories of raiding blackberry patches — in other peoples’ yards — on my way to classes at Humboldt State University. The Popsicle was a compact and frozen berry patch. If my tongue were an eye, it would have seen the taste as purple. Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw my lips painted in blackberry. This was no powdered drink Popsicle mix, it was berries from the banks of the Eel River picked by small hands, boiled and sweetened by momma, then frozen to its current shape. Smiling, I silently thanked good parents that support children with goals. Reminiscing about my own drink stands, newspaper routes, and lawn mowing days, I licked until the Popsicle was nothing but a stick. White blossoms on blackberry vines lined the road home. Summer is coming. I can taste it.


Brood Patch


cedar waxwing.jpeg1

In the flood plain of Prairie Creek, a few miles north of a small town called Orick, there’s a meadow I often walk through to spy on birds or escape the dark-closed canopy of fog-scraping redwoods. In the winter it’s a flooded swamp; during the summer it’s a field of sun-loving plants that cannot otherwise grow under the shade of the giant trees that surround this openness. Hwy 101 was constructed right through the middle of this prairie, polluting the natural melody with monstrous roars of metal demons whisking humans off to work, school, church, or a lover’s house.

When winter had ended and the water receded, spring’s vitality was reborn in this seasonally emerged marsh. I navigated through waist-high sedges hoping to witness the courtship of the many birds I heard singing. Every newly unfolded alder and willow bud became a vibrant green, sun-reflecting leaf. Dragonflies caught the morning light in their membranous wings and glowed like fairies from a mythical world. Freed from their submerged larval stages, sunlit caddis, stone, and mayflies floated over the meadow like fireflies of the day.

Suddenly, an acrobatic dance caught my attention. Two cedar waxwings, tan-colored, sparrow-sized birds with pointed crests and blackface masks, chased each other from alder to willow and from spruce to redwood. Following their bouncing flight with my eyes, I watched them engage in what looked like lovers tag. The pursuit temporarily ended in a redwood close to where I stood. Then, from a low branch, one of them dove off like a hawk-without flapping its wings-snatched an unsuspecting insect from the air. It slowed its diving momentum, hovering for an instant with the legs of its victim sticking out from the sides of its beak, and then turned to fly higher up in the same tree. It landed among some branches that held a clump of weaved twigs. A nest! I decided to make myself comfortable on a damp-decomposing log, watching the hunt to feed their young.

Both birds began chasing each other around the meadow again. They whizzed by only a few feet above my head and then across the road where a speeding car came roaring through and caught the leading bird on its windshield. The little body was thrown straight up into the air and then came tumbling back down to earth. I watched it drop with an unheard thud on the pavement; a small cloud of sunlit feathers drifted off in a breeze created by the fleeing vehicle. The bird’s mate landed next to it, hopping around the body making high-pitched cooing sounds, waiting for its companion to rise again. After a few minutes, it seemed to come to the tragic realization of its mate’s death. The survivor flew off, disappearing into a silhouette of trees.

My heart was breaking as I walked onto the black road to retrieve the small-feathered corpse. Holding the beautifully crested bird in my hand, I noticed an area of feathers was missing from her underside. This was the mother. She had plucked a section of her belly clean so that her warm, pink skin would have direct contact with her eggs and featherless young-a brood patch. I wondered if the father would return to feed his young or if the few hatchlings would starve to death in their nest, 50 feet up a redwood tree. I walked a mile along the highway before I realized the bird was still in my hand. When I kneeled down to bury her in the creek’s waters, I saw the stream-dwelling larvae of the insects that once fed this mother’s young and knew that they would not starve.


Photo by © 2006 Tom Greer

Griff’s Wild Tips: Report Poachers! They Suck!


Have you ever gone to a nature preserve or park and received a talk from an interpretive ranger about respecting the park and its resources and then a hour later you see someone else who got the same exact talk harass, injure, capture, collect, or kill an animal or plant that you came to see?!

Sadly there are many different reasons why people poach. As the human population continues to sky rocket, so do the incidences of poaching from the pet trade, ivory trade, sell of skins, horns, and teeth as trinkets/souvenirs, real and perceived medicines, bush meat, and ignorance and fear.

In this episode of Griff’s Wild Tips, I address one aspect of poaching: reporting it.  Poachers need to be reported every time they’re spotted. Your safety is the most important though, so I advise extreme caution. Do not attempt to stop the crime yourself. In this episode of Griff’s Wild Tips titled, “Report Poachers! They Suck!” I will give you some tips on where to report poachers and how to do it safely. Check out this episode so that you are ready the next time you see a crime against native plants and wildlife in progress.

There are lots of different agencies to report poachers too. Below are some links to help you find the most appropriate conservation officers in your area.

A group called The Quality Deer Management Association has provided some information about reporting poachers as well as a list of numbers for reporting poaching activity in most of the US states. Here.

To report a poacher on federal or state land, you can contact the US Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-844-FWS-TIPS or email them at FWS_Tips@FWS.GOV  Check out their poaching page here.

To report a poacher or polluter in my state: California, call  1 (888) 334-2258 or 1 (888) 334-CalTIP. To learn more about California Fish and Wildlife’s anonymous poacher reporting program click here.

Here is a link to an article/interview with a conservation officer from South Africa who works in very dangerous conditions to try to save rhinos from groups of terrorists and opportunists. The interview/article was conducted by one of my favorite conservation thinkers/writers and friend Jason Goldman. Check out this very interesting and alarming piece titled,

“A Q&A with a Ranger on the Front Line of the War with Rhino Poachers”


Happy Action and Forgiveness Earth Day

Robert Hanna

I spent John Muir’s Birthday (yesterday), indoors, breaking my ritual of hiking on it. I was sick as heck with a merciless cold. I’m still sick, but in recovery mode. I’m bummed that I missed honoring one of the fathers of conservation’s b-day with a climb into the hills to see the beauty of California. John Muir inspires me the way he does many conservationists. I appreciate what he was able to accomplish within the era that he lived. It’s beyond profound. Just ask Yosemite. I’m not sure one person could replicate those successes today. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

(The pic above is of me and my friend Robert Hanna who is John Muir’s great, great grandson.)

Yet, we often put people like him on pedestals, imbuing them with imagined magic powers, and then get angry and disenfranchised when we learn something was not perfect about them. When we learn that they were just like us, they no longer seem like heroes. Stop that. You’re setting yourself up. Look for perfection and you will discover disappointment, especially in yourself. Everyone is or was works in progress: even Rachel Carson, John Muir, and Jane Goodall. Everyone has a skeleton, or even a whole cemetery, in their closet. I see you. I see me. Any of us can be “heroes” for the Earth. We will be imperfect heroes, for sure. Some us will be heroes with piles of bones in our closets. We should work on dislodging the logs from our eyes before concerning ourselves with the logs in others’ eyes. (Yes, I meant to say “logs” twice).

I think Earth Day is a good time to “see” and reflect on our collective mistakes. And then try to forgive. Our mistreatment of the Earth, and its inhabitants, gets more intense and impactful the larger and more industrialized our population gets. There were one billion of us in 1900. There are almost 8 billion of us just 118 years later. Our “footprint” on this planet has become alarmingly big and heavy. And that’s why we need an Earth Day. That’s why we need an Earth Day consciousness 24/7. We need the forgiveness that action in behalf of our natural systems can bring us. Not just on April 22nd, but on as many days as possible.

Earth Day is a good reminder that we are all complicit in the poisoning of air, soil, and water and the wanton endangerment of so many species that once thrived on this planet alongside us. And that we are all in this together in regards to the Earth’s preservation and restoration.

Earth Day is about acknowledging that there is work being done to make the world a better place and that there’s still a lot more work to do.

I’m going to continue to keep working for a biodiverse Earth. Working for me means being empathetic and taking compassionate action. That’s why I started my YouTube series “Griff’s Wild Tips: to help you to help wildlife and their habitats. I also have a blog at where I provide information to help you to help wildlife. And next month, a network will release their videos of me celebrating wildlife-and animal-solutionaries on their digital platform!!! (Stay tuned! I can’t say more about that now).

Today, I am announcing a new effort! I just “launched” a Facebook group called “Griff’s Wild Tips: Ways That You Can Help Wildlife.” The goal of this group is to equip members to help wildlife and their habitats. We will share simple solutions like teaching you how to tell if the wildlife you encounter needs help or not, or how to attract birds to your yard, to larger things like how to organize a cleanup or restoration event. Again, this is a solution-oriented group for sharing of information about actions we can take to help wildlife and their habitats (homes). It is not a political group. Everyone who has interest in topics related to wildlife conservation from the greenest novice to the career professional is welcome to join. Hunters to vegans are welcome. Conservatives and liberals are welcome. People from all points of the political spectrum are welcome as this will be moderated as a contempt-free zone. Please read the “announcement” pinned on the group page before posting (should be some “ground rules” pinned to the top of the group page).  Click here to join Griff’s Wild Tips: Way to Help Wildlife Facebook group.


Happy Earth Day.

Griff’s Wild Tips: Fawn Nappers!

Don’t be a fawn napper! I’m Griff and welcome to Griff’s Wild Tips. This blog post accompanies the video on my YouTube channel titled, Griff’s Wild Tips: Don’t be a Fawn Napper. I hope the video helps you, help others, help fawns.

Why do fawns need help?

The problem is that every Spring and Summer wildlife care centers receive a bunch of fawns from compassionate people who don’t realize that they’re actually fawn nappers.

Yeah, I said it: fawn nappers.

These kind-hearted and ignorant people believe that the fawn they see sitting quietly is helpless and orphaned. So they pick it up and take it home. Bless your compassionate hearts, but that’s rarely ever actually the case. Momma deer have been leaving their fawns unattended for hours at time for millions of years. By taking that fawn home, you are most likely dooming it to a short life of suffering. I know that’s not what you intend, but it’s probably what will happen.

“Mother deer know that their presence near their babies alerts predators to the fawns’ existence, which puts them at risk. In order to keep her young safe, a doe will leave her fawn in a secluded area, often for as long as 12 hours, distracting predators away from her baby while she forages for food.

Fawns’ camouflage, and their ability to stay still, keep them safe from predators while their mother is away. When approached by a perceived predator (humans, pets or wildlife) a fawn’s instinctual response is to lay very low and not move at all. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness, but in fact it is the behavior of survival.”

To learn how you can become more fawn savvy, check out these four relevant resources:

If you want to donate to, volunteer, or learn about fawn rescue, visit Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue. I have visited the facility and met and worked with the founder Diane Nicholas. She is an amazing person who I am happy to be on the planet with at the same time. I am beyond impressed and grateful for her efforts. Please check out her website and support her anyway you can.

Here is a short and helpful article titled, Found a Fawn: What to do written by National Wildlife Federation’s spokesperson David Misejewski.

And if you ever encounter a fawn and have a question, contact your local wildlife care center. You can find one near you here on this wildlife care center online directory.

You can always get excellent information about coexisting with wildlife from the wildlife care center called, WildCare. I am familiar with the staff and facility, and I am very grateful for their efforts to help wildlife 24/7.

Thanks for caring about wildlife and their habitats (aka homes). In each webisode and blog post, I will help you understand what you can do to create a better world for wildlife one Griff’s Wild Tip at a time.

(Photos by Teresa Baker and Suzi Eszterhas)




Baby Turtle Poops Plastic

sea turtle John White

I travel a lot, and I’m almost always in a hurry when doing so. Sometimes I forget my water bottle or coffee mug. I never bring a plate or a fork. But guess what? One-time-use plastics are to the rescue, and they are so convenient. And they’re everywhere. In fact, they’re practically pushed on me. But that’s not really a great thing. It actually sucks.  If I don’t catch clerks or wait-staff in time, I will have a whole dump’s worth of plastic bags, straws, and plastic lids in my hands or on my lap. I’m definitely not the worse offender, but I can do better. Our wildlife, our health, and our children’s’ prosperity are being compromised for our conveniences. Many of us feel like we are in too much of a hurry to worry about plastics and their hard-core impacts. We often feel like we’re too busy trying to pay the rent/mortgage, car payment, credit cards, and student loans to reflect on the impacts of our lifestyles. We most often don’t feel like we have time to maintain (remembering to bring and wash) reusable cups/forks/knives/straws, or to carry cloth bags with us, or to remember to ask for “no straws, please.” But we do. Look at what we are doing to wildlife. That’s not who we want to be. Right?! We have time. We can do better. We must. Shout out to you compassionate folks who are miles ahead of me on your reusables usage. You rock! And shout out to the innovators and law makers and voters who find low-impact options for us, or encourage us to find options for ourselves. Shout out to you very busy hustling folks that still have time to be compassionate. Shout out to you folks who vote with your dollar by purchasing the most environmentally friendly options. You inspire. Keep it up.

The photo of the adult loggerhead turtle (above) was taken by John White.

Check out this video of a baby turtle that was rescued after pooping plastic.