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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A morning on Butte Creek

I had a strong hankering for the outdoors today. The weather was too nice to sit at home listening to Prairie Home Companion. So "the redhead" packed a lunch, and we drove the Green Hornet down Doe Mill Run Rd to the steel bridge on Butte Creek. The old Toyota died only three times on the way. The hiking conditions were ideal. The temperature in the canyon was in the mid 60s, and it was a little too early for the "no-see-ums".

This is BLM land. The Bureau of Land Management maintains the hiking trail. In some places it's actually etched into the canyon wall above the creek. The trail passes through an impressive stand of Douglas fir and incense cedar, but as the canyon narrows the firs give way to live oak. Most visitors don't wander far from the rustic parking area, because downstream the creek tumbles through a narrow defile. If you want to get to the water there you have to brave poison oak, cling to roots, and scramble down talus slopes.

I wanted to scope out the creek for otters. Last summer I found numerous "spraints" (otter turds) on a few rocks. But I forgot that the BLM embraces the spirit of the 49ers. Since our last visit, their work crew has improved the trail along this stretch of Butte Creek and posted plots for "recreational mineral collecting". Catering to miners isn't a new practice. A father and son were playing the role of latter-day sourdoughs here last year. They had a small dredge and first rate camping equipment. Maybe they paid for it with gold.

We followed the trail for two miles past patches of fawn lilies and a seasonal waterfall. But at mining plot number 26 I knew that camera-trapping otters, or for that matter anything else would not be compatible with the activities reserved for the fortune seekers. Therefore, in the name of recreational diversity I propose that BLM reserve half of the most remote plots for camera trapping. Few sourdoughs are willing to trudge that far down the creek anyway. Camera trappers don't care about distance.

As we ate lunch over the creek, my disheartened thoughts of rivers and people reminded me of a happy story told to me by my old Virginia friend Maxie. Maxie had been fishing on a quiet bend of the Shenandoah's north fork when a couple of canoes filled with topless coeds paddled across current in his direction. "How far is it to the landing?" called one of the bare-bosomed ladies. Maxie told them it wasn't a fur stretch down yonder. It seemed a little silly to ask, as the landing was less than a quarter mile downriver. The ladies thanked him and smiled wanly as they resumed paddling. Not long afterwards my friend heard a great thrashing in the briars on the far bank. A crazed-looking individual emerged in a thorn-tattered t-shirt streaked with blood.

"Did you see them topless girls?" he called across the water.
Maxie smiled yes indeedy.
"How long ago?"
On hearing it was only 5 minutes earlier, the man again crashed into the brambles and resumed his quest. Hope springs eternal.

Though my wife has heard the story before, telling it made me feel better.

I reflected, "If your cam doesn't get otters here, you might get skinny-dipping coeds."

"Keep dreaming", she said.

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