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January 31, 2008

Dances With Cows

A couple of random notes before tackling today’s photos - and then remember, there's an audience participation exercise at the end of it all ….

First: In regards to the previous post, several people – including my wife – asked if I or my kids kissed any of the banana slugs. Apparently it’s a some kind of rite of passage among outdoor enthusiasts and/or crazy UCSC college students. What nobody seems to agree on is what precisely happens (aside from the obvious result of being grossed out) if you kiss a banana slug. I seem to remember hearing that the slug’s toxins caused temporary paralysis of the lips or tongue, but others think you just get a mouthful of slime. If anyone has personal experience that might settle this discussion, that would be fantastic.

(If only we knew an outdoor enthusiast who goes to college in Santa Cruz. Can somebody get Addy to come weigh in on this?)

Either way, the answer to the question was “no”, but that’s not to say I’m completely excluding the idea for another day - because now I’m intrigued. I just have to figure out which kid I can talk into trying it first.

Second: On the day that I took the following pictures, it was raining – just as it was the previous day, and the one before that, and … you get the idea. Anyway, while I was mentally framing the photos, one recurring thought I had was how much more beautiful the landscape looks after a good rain. From there, it was a short mental leap to the classic Ladysmith Black Mambazo song, “Beautiful Rain”, which then bounced around in my head the entire afternoon.

I hoped to find a video of that song for my sidebar – only to realize that the song came and went long before the advent of YouTube. So I’m doing the next best thing: I put the song in an mp3 below that you can click and listen to while reading. And just because I’m feeling generous, on the sidebar you’ll find one of the high points in the history of children’s television: LBM singing the alphabet song on Sesame Street. The next time anyone tells you that TV is an educational or cultural vacuum, feel free to cite this video as a sharp rebuttal.

All right, enough intro. On with the post …

**

Undoubtedly, my race schedule this year will take me through some beautiful geographic areas that I haven’t visited before – so lately, it’s occurred to me that I’d like to try and capture some images of those journeys whenever possible.

The problem, as I’ve explained before, is that I usually don’t run with a camera. We only have one digital camera in the family, and I’m reluctant to take it on the trails and risk getting it muddy, sweaty, or broken from a fall.

Several weeks ago, I thought my problem was solved, from a most surprising source: my employer.

Last year was my 10th anniversary working for this company, and I recently received one of those “Since we can’t give you a raise or promotion, please select an item from this catalog to show you how much we appreciate you, employee #2056!” mailings that larger corporations are fond of. One of the items was a small digital camera - and I figured since the CEO was picking up the tab, it was at least worth a shot.

The camera arrived, but I have to say I’m disappointed. It’s difficult to use, the owner’s manual is one of those indecipherable rebuses, and the picture quality is terrible. Coincidentally, it’s made by the same company that produces my son’s Smart Globe, and something called the Barbie Little Learner Laptop – so technologically speaking, I guess my “award” is just one notch above a Fisher-Price Talking Click Camera. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

But the camera has two things going for it: 1) It fits inside my solo camelpack, and 2) If it gets grimy with sweat or mud, it’s no big loss. So I thought I’d give it a try on a recent trail run, and post some pictures here for review.

(Now’s the time to cue the music)


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I gave the camera a test spin at Toro County Park, a 4700-acre open space located on the main thoroughfare between Monterey and Salinas. The predominant features of the park (besides the landscape) are herds of cattle that roam and graze among the grassy hills and oak-strewn valleys.



The rain had stopped just prior to my run, and the sunlight was doing amazing things through the clouds and trees. If you enlarge this picture, the rays streaming through this tree make the whole scene look kind of artsy, like a mother and child in repose. Except, you know ... in this case the mother and child are cows.



I also managed to catch this cool rainbow. All in all, it’s not a bad way to start a run.



Just a few minutes into the run, the trail passes below one of my favorite trees in Monterey County. In the summer and fall, this tree displays about 100 brilliant shades of green, yellow, red, and orange. In the winter, it reminds me of the Whomping Willow at Hogwarts, with its branches reaching down to the ground to pluck me into its limbs if I don’t pass underneath quickly enough.



After a couple of short climbs, vistas like this are fairly common: rolling hills, small cliffs, lush vegetation. The town of Salinas is barely visible in the background – but by this point, I’ve pretty much forgotten all about it.



John Steinbeck was probably standing somewhere close to this very spot when he famously described this area as the “Pastures of Heaven”. I can’t really phrase it any better than that, so I won’t even try.



Nearly every time I run here, something like this happens: cows settle in wherever they see fit, even if it’s directly across the path I’m trying to follow. If several of them are gathered at once (as in the first picture), I have to tiptoe and dance my way around them to follow the trail to the other side. Once, the cows were bunched together so tightly that I had to tap them on the backside in order to weave through.



The cows never seem to mind my presence; in fact, I can usually walk right up and say how-do-you-do.





Many open spaces in Monterey County have scenes like this: old pioneer stables, corrals, or farm houses, echoes of an earlier time. They’re a nice reminder of the way of life that once existed here, and I always find myself thankful that they’ve been left relatively undisturbed in the ensuing decades.



Heading back toward my starting point, the path takes me down a ridgeline with views like this on either side. I frequently do this run at midday – and when I’m passing through this kind of scenery, sometimes it's extremely difficult to drag myself back to the office for the afternoon.



Inevitably though, I end up back at my car, and all that’s left is to say goodbye to the cows. It’s never a heartbreaking farewell, though – because I know I’ll see them again soon.


**
(OK, audience participation time!! Obviously, I’m not blown away by my freebie camera. If anyone has recommendations for a camera that is 1) small, 2) cheap, and 3) takes decent pictures, I’d love to hear them. Comment or e-mail me with your suggestions.)

17 comments:

JohnF 1/31/08, 10:46 AM  

I have been using the Kodak V550. Small and light enough I can attach it to my handheld water bottle using cell phone belt clip holder that I found at a marathon expo. Low light pictures don't come out so well, but daytime is OK. It is a couple of years old, so I am sure there are better and smaller things out there.

21stCenturyMom 1/31/08, 12:21 PM  

First of all I found several videos of the Mamas and the Papas singing Monday Monday and Mama Cass was dead long before youtube was born so keep looking!

Casio makes a very nice starter digital camera. They have one model that needs an AC charger (no double AA batteries) and is quite thin. It has big screen and takes great pics. Cost carries them. Or - there's always eBay!

Backofpack 1/31/08, 4:37 PM  

You know Eric dropped our old one on a trail run, lens down. Bummer. We have a new one, he takes it on most runs - iit's a Nikon Coolpix S700(I know nothing about it, except how to use it, I'm reading the name from the front). I don't think it was particularly cheap though.

Kim 1/31/08, 5:25 PM  

6th Grade Science Camp up at Mount Hermon in Santa Cruz...on the hike, we were instructed to rub our fingers on the slime and then put it in the middle of our tongues - it gives it a little bit of a numb feeling - more like the tingling when feeling is coming back than actually going numb. Apparently they've stopped this practice at camp due to parasites that the banana slug might harbor. Nice. I did it at camp and unfortunately taught my kids about it before I found out about the parasites. Random fact - raccoons take the slugs to a river/pond to rinse the slugs of before eating them.
Camera - I bought my son a Nikon Coolpix point & shoot for Xmas last year - it's small and takes pretty good pictures....just has a slow lag after clicking the shutter. Think was only like $119. It was 5 megapixels - you can get 6 mp on eBay now for $70.
Anyway, always enjoy pictures of home.

robtherunner 1/31/08, 5:34 PM  

Great pictorial tour! I am technologically challenged and rely on other peoples technology in order to spice up my blog on occasion with pictures. I look forward to seeing more of the sights in your area.

jen 2/1/08, 11:56 AM  

Very pretty scenery! I don't have any advice on the camera - I have never carried one either, but I think I'll start bring my cell phone (probably should for safety anyway) which has a decent camera.

RunnerGirl 2/1/08, 2:09 PM  

The pictures look great . . . especially the close up of the cow!

Who is SLB+? 2/1/08, 8:35 PM  

Canon PowerShot A400, it's not the smallest camera in the world but it's light, robust and fits into an Ultimate Direction running vest pocket. 3.2Mpix, video option and x7 zoom, check out my blog, all my running pics and video are taken using it. It's about 3 years old now so you can probably get one cheap on eBay.

PS love the cows, Happy Cows come from California! I love smiley cheese!

21stCenturyMom 2/2/08, 10:05 AM  

Donald,
I'm replying to your comment on my blog here because every time I reply in gmail I get a delivery failure.
==
Sharkfest is the same day as WS-100! I will swim in the morning, go home and shower, toss some stuff in the car and head for Auburn. You will be miles along the trail by the time I'm out of the water and then I'll see you when you get to ALT!

What a great day June 28 promises to be.

Addy 2/2/08, 4:32 PM  

Okay, so I haven't actually kissed a banana slug, but have been with people who have. From what I hear, it's just good luck. Didn't know about numbness!

I did find an awesome song about banana slugs though:

The Banana Slug Song
(Sung to the tune of "Twist and Shout")

By Steve Van Zandt and the Banana Slug String Band


You know I love my baby, ...(love my baby)
Love the way she hugs. ...(way she hugs)
But people don't understand it, ...(don't understand it)
She's a banana slug ...(banana slug)

Chorus:
Ba na na slug
Banana slug - Ba-na-na-na-na-na-na
Banana slug - Ba-na-na-na-na-na-na
Banana slug - Ba-na-na-na-na-na-na
Banana slug

She just got one foot,
She ain't got no toes.
She hangs out in the forest,
To help it decompose.

Chorus

The way she wiggles her antenna,
You know it gives me such bliss.
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon banana slug,
won't you give me a kiss.

Chorus


The way she slides through the forest,
You know she looks so fine.
C'mon, c'mon banana slug,
Won't you take off your slime.

Chorus

Some folks say that she's gross,
But I won't hear that jive.
'Cause without my baby,
The forest might not survive.

Chorus

So...that's pretty cute :) I did see a huge one wednesday. Maybe next time I'll go test it out and see what happens!

On the other note, nice to see photos :) Can't help you on a recommendation, but hope someone recommends a good one!

triguyjt 2/2/08, 4:49 PM  

donald..
loved the photos, especially of elsie the cow and of the whomping willow tree in winter. promise to drops us a photo of it when it is at full bloom..

camera?? i am a techno goober so i would not be much help.
jealous of the great and beautiful areas you are able to run in/through/around
thanks for the listing on your blog watch...honored to get that from top endurance blog-guy

David 2/3/08, 7:42 PM  

not much to complain about with those photos. Cows are more stupid than Mr. Gump.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 2/4/08, 9:30 PM  

size/cost/type of camera depends on application. if you are pro, you get a pro camera. If you want blurry images, of that guy's license plate when he cuts you off, cameraphone does fine.

In this case, I'm inclined to think you have the right instrument - these pics are great! I want to go running there now - so, job well done.

Makita 2/5/08, 9:03 AM  

No suggestion on the camera... sorry, I've been considering a little one to carry on runs myself so I'm interested in the responses you get...


BTW - I love the photos you've posted recently. And you're right, your kids look just like their mom. :) tee hee

angie's pink fuzzy 2/5/08, 1:44 PM  

dude, i love the pics! i had caterpillars drop on my head on an eighth grade field trip out there...

angie's pink fuzzy 2/5/08, 1:44 PM  

dude, i love the pics! i had caterpillars drop on my head on an eighth grade field trip out there...

My Life & Running 2/5/08, 6:04 PM  

We had 5th grade camp out in the redwoods and it was the same... each camper had to kiss a banana slug. I just always thought it was something the counselors did to get a rise out of 10 year olds?

Love all the pictures... they're making me all nostalgic (I grew up around Monterey and then Napa). When I was 5 or so I asked my dad how the cows could stand up straight on the hills and he told me their left legs were shorter than their right ones. Supposedly I believed him and he still loves to remind me ;)

Keep taking those pictures!

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