Monthly Archives: December 2010

Krishnamurti on a Nature Walk

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Krishnamurti 1I just posted to one of my sister blogs, Metta Refuge, about the great spiritual teacher and visionary J. Krishnamurti. The post is called “Krishnamurti-An Uncompromising Teacher.” If you’re interested in being more present, more alive to the beauty of life and nature, I think you’ll find it worth a look.

I mention him at my Berkeley blog, because I want to share some of his nature writings about his walks in the hills around Ojai, California.

As was the case with Krishnamurti on his walks, my walks in the Berkeley Hills are a kind of meditation. Maybe they are for you too. Meditation in its essence simply means being totally present and mindful. It means being alive to what is, without additional thought or preconception, without reference to the past, and with great love and openness to everything, just as it is.

In one sense, this kind of free, “choiceless awareness,” to use Krishnamurti’s term, is at odds with being a scientific observer. I love bringing my knowledge of the earth and life sciences to my walk. But I sometimes find I really miss out if all I do on a hike is note and catalog. Seeing a “Eucalyptus tree,” I can miss seeing the tree itself, just as it is prior to thought and naming.

So, on my walks, I first seek to establish a basic presence and mindful.  I let go, get in touch with my breath, and relax into mindful presence. I seek to drop all thinking and just accept and love what I see—free of thought or labels.  I want to be present enough to really see a tree or animal before I “tag” it with scientific names and knowledge, When I’m “on my game,” I seem to move effortlessly back and forth between being a “scientist” and a “meditator,” and what is interesting is that with deep absorption, they just become one thing, me being me, at one with nature.

Well, enough “dharma talk.” Let’s listen in on Krishnamurti as he recounts one of his Ojai walks—his wise words apply just as much to hikes in our beloved Berkeley Hills as the Hills of Ojai.

(Note: You can click on any of the images below to see a large image.)

Krishnamurti To Himself
Ojai California Friday 11Th March, 1983

Krishnamurit Nature Walk 1 “It was really a most lovely clear beautiful morning. There was dew on every leaf. And as the sun rose slowly, quietly spreading over the beautiful land, there was great peace in this valley. The trees were full of oranges, small ones but many. Gradually the sun lit every tree and every orange. When you sat on that veranda overlooking the valley, there were the long shadows of the morning. The shadow is as beautiful as the tree. We wanted to go out, not in a car, but out among the trees, smell the fresh air and the scent of many oranges and the flowers, and hear the sound of the earth.

Later on one climbed right to the very top of the hill, overlooking the wide valley. The earth doesn’t belong to anyone. It is the land upon which all of us are to live for many years, ploughing, reaping and destroying.

You are always a guest on this earth and have the austerity of a guest. Austerity is far deeper than owning only a few things. The very word austerity has been spoilt by the monks, by the sannyasis, by the hermits. Sitting on that high hill alone in the solitude of many things, many rocks and little animals and ants, that word had no meaning.

Krishnamurti Nature Walk 3Over the hills in the far distance was the wide, shining, sparkling sea. We have broken up the earth as yours and mine – your nation, my nation, your flag and his flag, this particular religion and the religion of the distant man. The world, the earth, is divided, broken up. And for it we fight and wrangle, and the politicians exult in their power to maintain this division, never looking at the world as a whole. They haven’t got the global mind. They never feel nor ever perceive the immense possibility of having no nationality, no division, they can never perceive the ugliness of their power, their position and their sense of importance.

They are like you or another, only they occupy the seat of power with their petty little desires and ambitions, and so maintain apparently, as long as man has been on this earth, the tribal attitude towards life. They don’t have a mind that is not committed to any issue, to any ideals, ideologies – a mind that steps beyond the division of race, culture, that the religions man has invented.

Krishnamurti Nature Walk 6Governments must exist as long as man is not a light to himself, as long as he does not live his daily life with order, care, diligently working, watching, learning. He would rather be told what to do. He has been told what to do by the ancients, by the priests, by the gurus, and he accepts their orders, their peculiar destructive disciplines as though they were gods on this earth, as though they knew all the implications of this extraordinarily complex life.

Sitting there, high above all the trees, on a rock that has its own sound like every living thing on this earth, and watching the blue sky, clear, spotless, one wonders how long it will take for man to learn to live on this earth without wrangles, rows, wars and conflict. Man has created the conflict by his division of the earth, linguistically, culturally, superficially. One wonders how long man, who has evolved through so many centuries of pain and grief, anxiety and pleasure, fear and conflict, will take to live a different way of life.

Lynx in TreeAs you sat quietly without movement, a bob cat, a lynx, came down. As the wind was blowing up the valley it was not aware of the smell of that human being. It was purring, rubbing itself against a rock, its small tail up, and enjoying the marvel of the earth. Then it disappeared down the hill among the bushes. It was protecting its lair, its cave or its sleeping place. It was protecting what it needs, protecting its own kittens, and watching for danger. It was afraid of man more than anything else, man who believes in god, man who prays, the man of wealth with his gun, with his casual killing. You could almost smell that bob cat as it passed by you. You were so motionless, so utterly still that it never even looked at you; you were part of that rock, part of the environment.

Why, one wonders, does man not realize that one can live peacefully, without wars, without violence; how long will it take him, how many centuries upon centuries to realize this? From the past centuries of a thousand yesterdays, he has not learned. What he is now will be his future.

Krishnamurti Nature Walk 4It was getting too hot on that rock. You could feel the gathering heat through your trousers so you got up and went down and followed the lynx which had long since disappeared. There were other creatures: the gopher, the king snake, and a rattler (rattle-snake). They were silently going about their business. The morning air disappeared; gradually the sun was in the West. It would take an hour or two before it set behind those hills with the marvelous shape of the rock and the evening colors of blue and red and yellow. Then the night would begin, the night sounds would fill the air; only late in the night would there be utter silence. The roots of heaven are of great emptiness, for in emptiness there is energy, incalculable, vast and profound.”

♡♡♡ 
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Surprised by Turkeys in the Berkeley Hills!

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Last Friday the rain gods were busy, so instead of tramping the mud on the fire trails, I decided to take a walk up Centennial Drive to the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) in the Berkeley Hills above UCB campus.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the desert, but I love walking and hiking in the rain. The colors of the plants and earth seem more vivid, and the gray skies somehow make the green hills seem even more green. I’ve also noticed that I usually see more wildlife on a rainy day than a sunny one. Maybe it’s because there are fewer humans out, or maybe some animals like foraging in the rain.

So, I expected to see some animals on the hike, but was happily surprised to come upon this on Stadium Rim Way just above the California Memorial Stadium:

Wild Turkeys—not your typical Thanksgiving gobbler!

Wild turkeys! I am a huge fan of this native American bird. I consider it the American peacock:

But I didn’t always appreciate what amazing birds turkeys really are. Like a lot of people, my early impressions of turkeys were from the standpoint of Thanksgiving. I remember being told as a kid that turkeys were so dumb, they’d look up in the sky during rain and drown, and other nonsense. (See the debunking Snopes site: http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/turkey.asp)

The problem is, as the Snopes article points out: “Domesticated turkeys are not necessarily ‘stupid,’ but because they have been bred in captivity for so many generations, they lack the survival skills of their wild cousins: They’re weak, they’re fat, they’re not agile, they can’t run very fast, and they can’t fly.”

[Update 2010-02-04 – There’s a fascinating article on the domestication of wild turkeys at ScienceNOW called the Turkeys: So Good People Tamed Them Twice.  It explains what molecular anthropologists have been able to figure out about who first domesticated turkeys and when it occured.]

The turkey—one remarkable bird

The wild turkey is the very antithesis of our domesticated Thanksgiving bird. It’s wicked smart (“cunning” is a term hunters often use), illusive, and agile. And it’s a big, powerful bird.

An adult wild tom turkey typically weighs between 10 and 25 lbs and can be over 4 feet tall.  That’s one big bird!  Females typically weigh half as much and can be up to three feet tall.  The wingspan of turkeys range from four to nearly five feet.  The record-sized adult male wild turkey, according to the National Wildlife Turkey Federation, was 38 lb!

Despite its size, a wild turkey can run over 20 mph and uses that five-foot wingspan to hits speeds of 55 mph in flight. The wild turkey can defend itself, too. The spurs on a 20 lb. tom turkey make it a formidable foe, as many a hapless dog has found out when cornering one.

The turkeys one encounters in the Berkeley Hills are fairly used to humans, and it’s amazing how close you can get to them. This rafter (flock) of turkeys seemed to be all the same size and age —they seemed to be from the same brood. They walked up Stadium Rim Way for several hundred feet and then nonchalantly moved up the hill away from the Stadium, feeding as they went.

Centennial Road—beautiful lichen and black-tailed deer

As you head up Centennial Road up Strawberry Canyon, you’ll see some wonderful examples of lichens on most of the trees. I plan on doing an in-depth post about lichens later. They are fascinating plants, but identifying lichens is much more difficult than identifying vascular plants. Each lichen is a complete microscopic world with unique characteristics, and they can be very hard to tell apart.

The rain made the vivid green and yellow of two species of lichen quite striking:

About a quarter of a mile from the Berkeley Botanical Garden, I spotted two black-tailed deer grazing on the new grass that’s been springing up with our late fall rains:

Late Fall storm from Lawrence Hall of Science

It’s a pretty steep hike up to the Lawrence Hall of Science, but the view is always worth it. Even on a stormy day, unless you’re fogged in, the vistas can be wonderful, especially if you’re a fan of dramatic clouds.  In these shots, you can see Sather Tower just coming out of the low clouds, with the distant San Francisco Bay mostly hidden:

Compare these views to this one from midsummer:

And here’s a view looking over to Oakland:

That golden stream in the distance is Highway 24, the Grove Shafter Freeway, curving through Oakland. This picture doesn’t do it justice; It looked like a river of molten gold—magical!

Going home—caressing clouds and a talisman

On the way back down Centennial Drive from LHS, the rain lifted some, and there were beautiful views of Strawberry Canyon. I alway love to watch the interplay between low clouds, fogs, and the Berkeley Hills.

Finally, in the grass along the road, I found one this lone feather, a final reminder of the rafter of turkeys I’d seen earlier. For me, it was a talisman of a remarkable bird that makes the Berkeley Hills such a wonderful place to explore.

 

Winter blast-snow in the Hills-black-tailed deer

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Instant Karma—winter arrives with a howl!

In some sort of “instant karma,” just days after posting about how bad New England winters are and how great the weather is here in the Bay area, even in winter, we got our first real cold snap. And maybe even some snow showers in the Berkeley Hills! (More on that in moment.)

Last Sunday, a very cold and powerful low pressure system dropped down out of the Gulf of Alaska—our winter storm-making center—and plunged south into the Northwest and then central California.

The low’s powerful counter-clockwise rotations sucked down some seriously cold air out of Canada, and snow levels dropped to 1,500 to 2,000 feet around the Bay Area and the Berkeley Hills. My wife and I were walking around San Francisco Sunday evening, and we experienced very cold winds, some heavy sleet, and even some snowflakes.

On Monday, with the rain gone, I wanted to take a hike up into the Hills.  I decided to take a walk up Cyclotron Road and climb up to The Big Cabove the Berkeley campus.

Cyclotron Road Snowman!

Near the upper end of Cyclotron Road (how cool is it for a science buff to live at a place with a road named after a cyclotron?) I laughed out loud when I came upon this:

Apparently built earlier in the morning, or the night before, this whimsical snowman seems to suggest that the snow level was considerable lower than 1,500 feet on Sunday. As cold as it was, I’m not surprised that even Cyclotron Road had enough elevation to receive snowman-making amounts of snow.

Of course, it could have been a prank, but upon examination, it seemed to be made from real snow, and it had twigs and leaves embedded in it from the ground. The fact that someone took to the time to build it and put it on the memorial is just another reason I love this area.

UPDATE 02-24-10: I now know that the snowman is in fact the work of the doughty Berkeley Lab’s Anonymous Snowman Building Team.  Kudos to BLASBT, and I hope to see more of their work in future cold snaps!

BLASBT Snowman 12-18-08

A Trail to Some Great Bay Views

At the parking lot below the entrance gate on Cyclotron, you can cross the road and catch some trails over to the canyon that leads up the The Big C.

You get some very nice views of  the University of California, Berkeley, campus  and The Campanile, or Sather Tower, from here:

The sky was beautiful.  The big low pressure had moved west to create blizzard condition and below zero weather in Nevada, Colorado, and the Midwest. But here, the sky was blue with some puffy winter cumulus sailing through the sky.  The views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco were spectacular:

Hello Black-tailed Deer!

One of the reasons I like to go on these improvised trails, instead of up the fire road up The Big C, is that you often see Black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) here in the little valley below The Big C.  And sure enough, as I hiked up, I came upon several deer resting under the trees:

The Black-tailed (or Blacktail) deer is a subspecies of the Mule deer family. It is common in the western United States and here in the Berkeley Hills. In fact, the Berkeley Hills are ideal for Black-tailed deer, because their natural place in the ecosystem is on the edge of forests. Deep in a forest, there are not enough grasses and underbrush for the deer to eat. But on open grasslands, they deer have no place to hide or take shelter from severe weather. The Berkeley Hills give the deer the mix of grasses and hiding places they prefer.

If you want to see Black-tailed deer grazing or on the move, the best time it at dawn or dusk. During the day, you’re mostly likely to come upon them resting in secluded places under trees. Here’s a nice close-up of a Black-tailed deer from Wikimedia. I don’t have a telephoto lens and can never get close enough to the shy deer to get a shot like this.

The Big C and back again

If you go straight up the hill to the Big C, it’s quite a workout, but as I said, it’s the best way to see some deer. The Big C is a great place to sit and rest and enjoy some vistas of the San Francisco Bay.

If you take the fire trail back down, you also get some very nice views of Strawberry Canyon:

On my way back, I ran into the same group of Black-tailed deer, who had moved down the small valley from where I first saw them. They move fast, but I did catch one of them crossing the fire trail in front of me:

Soon, I was out of my beloved hills, walking down Hurst Avenue to my home and some hot chocolate.

Winter—A Tale of Two Coasts

Last night it was in the low thirties here in the Bay Area, and as the GEOS satellite image below shows, there’s another winter storm heading our way. Old man winter really is here.

But my dear East Coast friends (who I love to tease in good fun about their weather) shouldn’t smirk too much.  I happen to know that this morning they are “enjoying” a powerful wind and rainstorm that’s bringing driving rain, low 40s, and local flooding to the area.

Oh, and the big low pressure that blasted us? That’s now winding up big time in the Midwest, with near blizzard conditions and wind chills of minus 25 to minus 40 °F below zero!

And guess what? All that cold weather heading toward the Northeast, drawn inexorable by New England’s winter nemesis, the Icelandic Low. I’ll always love you, New England, but now that I’m done writing this, I think I’ll go take a walk in my beloved Hills—in the bright California sun. (And yes, I admit it; I will wear a jacket and cap!)

Holiday greetings to all!  May you and your loved ones be safe and happy.  Steve

The Road Goes Ever On-Tolkien and the Berkeley Hills Trails

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The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”

~ J. R. R. Tolkien

When hiking in the Berkeley Hills, I often think of this poem from The Lord of the Rings. In some places, I half expect to see a Hobbit or Ranger trampling along the trail. (Click images for larger version.)

The Road Goes Ever On

In other dark places, I wonder if a Ring Wraith might not be lurking behind some tree or rock.

Ring Wraith Moon

And in some, I can almost feel the presence of the Elves, the beauty of the trees, light, and sky is so breath-taking.

Elven Skies

It was my happy privilege to read The Lord of the Rings while stationed in the Army in Augsburg, Germany. The trilogy was transformative for me, because somehow, reading it gave me back the “magic” of nature, the wonder of it. I’d somehow lost this feeling over the years through a combination of materialistic reductionism and a starkly dualistic religion that made this world at best a counterfeit of some abstract glorious realm that transcended material life.

As the wonders of the Tolkien’s story-telling unfolded, I felt my heart open up again to the beauty of nature all around me. In the incredible beauty of Black Forest trails, I was in Middle-Earth!

Bavarian Road

The charm of Bavaria, the rustic houses and even the dress of the people you’d meet on the trails, all lent themselves to the feel you’d stepped into a fairy tale. I can only image that the Cotswolds of England could more feel like Middle-Earth in the look and atmosphere.

I often marveled at this transformation of my heart. Yes, the story was beautiful, and wondrous, but why did it change my perception of nature so much?

Then, sometime later, I read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” and everything made sense.

What happened to me was what happened to Tolkien himself, though the “magic” of words: “It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”

It was the wonder of the “mundane”—of stone, wood, tree, and grass, and the simple pleasures of food and true companions—that Tolkien’s story gave back to me, and it has never left. Genuine presence, being here and now, is “fairy,” is “magic.” It does transform everything into “Middle-Earth”—or the Pure Lands of Buddhism or the kingdom of heaven of Christianity and Islam.

As Tolkien says so beautifully:

“Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faerie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

jan@messersmith.nameMadang Sunrise – Jan Messersmith♥♥♥

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