Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

I’ve been watching insects and arachnids for nearly all my life.  In the Philippines, there is such a large variety of insects, even in one’s own backyard. I remember catching dragonflies by the tips of their slender wings, picking up beetles and Goliaths, and netting butterflies for science classes – all just to set them free a day later. This is a far cry from the bugphobic culture in the West. While I don’t go out of my way to catch bugs, I still get to appreciate them in whatever shape or form they are crawling or flying in (as long as they are outside the house, where they belong).

Lately, I have been pondering the evolution of insects and arachnids. While I am a demi-scientist (that is, one in nature, if not by designation since I have yet to earn a master’s), I specialize in physics and inanimate objects, not living creatures. So I am neither a biologist or entomologist. However, I am curious all the same, and will pose these questions for posterity.

Here’s what has been bugging me lately (no pun intended): Was it a fluke that, on the scales of Nature, the bug-sized predators are predominantly arachnids, and everything else is an insect? It’s often been taken for granted that both insects (subphylum Hexapoda) and arachnids (subphylum chelicerata, class Arachnada) both have the same phylum as Arthropods, according to the rigid taxonomic structure of animal classification. The similarities supposedly end there, and any other mention of comparisons are barely made in textbooks or scientific journals.

Yet, the lives of spiders, ticks, and most of the smaller four-legged creatures, are so closely intertwined with that of their twice-removed and distant four-legged relatives, that it pleads for a story to explain why they are such.  The first obvious difference, of course, is the number of legs: Insects have six, arachnids have eight. But if we consider the wings as an extra pair of appendages, then insects are on par with arachnids.

I have yet to learn about the success ratio of a spider on the hunt. However, I was fortunate enough to observe a few spiders in my old apartment. Depending on their location and proximity to sources of insects, a spider could be lucky and nab a meal, one out of six or even five times. However, being able to fly would be a serious game-changer for a hungry critter.

The wings are a propelling mechanism that allow an insect to cover large distances in a split second, in any direction. Arachnids, on the other hand, use the hind legs of their four pairs as a spring to propel them, but usually only in one direction. For any creature, freedom of movement and latitude may be just as important, if not more so, than range of motion, especially when it comes to fighting or fleeing.

Here is my semi-mythological arc. When some of the arthropods mutated away from the compound-eyes of insects, to the simple and multiple eye structure of arachnids, they saw how their brethren looked like… and some of them looked good enough to eat! Lo and behold, a breed of carnivores was born, that loved the flesh of bugs. Mother Nature was upset at how the new creatures, who called themselves spiders, took unfair advantage of the situation. If they kept chowing down on their winged relatives, there would hardly be any insects left.

So, to even the score, Mother Nature said, “Very well, you can have your insects and eat them, too.  BUT… you will give up your wings.  In return and just to sweeten the deal, you get an extra pair of legs.” The spiders snickered and said, “Fair enough. We hardly use those things anyway…”  POOF! Gone were the wings, and then the spiders realized, “This was harder than we thought.” And that’s how insects kept their wings, but the spiders were out of luck. Thank goodness, too. Spiders are best appreciated from a distance – and as long as they’re not flying.

Copyright Anabasius 2010

Advertisements

picture-115

——–At the Northwestern edge of the San Fernando Valley lies El Escorpion Park, a small park (three acres) with a short trail lying below a quiet, gorgeous view of lush greens, rolling hills and caves.  It’s often confused with Bell Canyon Park, just a few miles north, although it is nowhere related to it. Both parks are part of the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, sometimes referred to as Ahmanson Ranch.

The Las Virgenes Preserve has a curious history. Prior to the 20th Century, the native American Chumash tribes lived in most of the land. Castle Peak was the alleged site of a village with an ethnic blend of Chumash, Tongva and Tataviam tribes, well before European settlers ventured into this region. Not much else has been known or said about them that is verifiable. By the time Hollywood film crews “discovered” the spot, the Chumash and other native tribes had all but disappeared from view. In 1914, the Lasky Company acquired 4,000 acres of the ranch land, to use as location shooting for The Rose of the Ranch. From then until 1958, other films were made at Lasky Mesa. Perhaps the most famous one made was Gone With the Wind, filmed in 1939. After GWTW, filming at Lasky Mesa declined.

archive 1Photo Courtesy of the Lasky Movie Archives

In 1963, Home Savings of America obtained the property that would then be called (and is still known as) Ahmanson Ranch.  It wasn’t until 1989, however, when HSA announced that the Ranch would be the site of development that would include 3,000 homes and two golf course. The project never did materialize. When a recession in the early 1990’s hit California, H.F. Ahmanson’s company was forced to shelve its non-essential projects, so the Ranch remained unused. In 1998, Washington Mutual was on an acquisition binge and found Home Savings of America attractive enough to buy. WaMu wasted no time making plans for a new housing development project at the idle Ahmanson Ranch; No doubt WaMu would have had its way, had it gone unchecked. Fortunately (and unfortunately for them), awareness of the lush delights of the Ranch had grown considerably among nature-conscious Californians, and a Conservation group stood in the path of development. The group’s movement gained enough momentum to bring the issue of preservation to the people. People voted to keep the park under a Conservancy. Thus, the Ahmanson Ranch became the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

And here we were today, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, taking in all of the wonderful scenery. My Partner and I have been here a few times, yet we never cease to be amazed. During the Fall and Winter months, the park becomes a wild, thick shade of green that lends a shroud of mystery about it. The main trail is straightforward: Going about 2-3 miles down, you’ll reach the virtual edge, where the San Fernando Valley ends and the Simi Hills, the border of Ventura County, starts. We have yet to go down the rest of that beaten path which leads to Castle Peak. However, we’ve explored some of the other surprises El Escorpion has to offer.

picture-077

One such delight is a set of caves, about a mile and and to the right of the trail. It’s a short distance past a large, fenced-in water main. Access to the caves is rugged and becomes a little steep. However, once you get up to any one of the caves, and are able to scale the entrance unaided, the sights to behold are rewarding. Note: Climbing up the steep entrance to the cave is dangerous and not recommended for small children or untrained climbers. So be careful!

picture-101

Inside the larger of the caves is a majestic cathedral view of the sky through a hollow ceiling. Various graffiti by previous visitors create an eyesore for the otherwise-pristine place. The deepest recess of the cave is the darkest region of the abode, where no light ever enters. I had to use a flashlight as a source for my camera. There were some relics of human activity: Soda or water bottles and little pieces of metal, either ancient artifacts or primitive drugmaking implements.  I didn’t stay long enough to determine which. To my disappointment (and also relief), no bats or skeletal remains were there.

picture-092

Occasionally, you’ll hear the flutter of pigeons, hovering around the perimeter to scan for intruders. On the other side of the cave is another crevice which leads to the top and yet another breathtaking view of the hills. In the warmer months, scores of hikers can be seen visiting these beautiful caves. Some hiking groups that camp out here bring wine and other spirits with them as they camp out. There’s a lot of broken glass in the vicinity.  A word of admonishment: Please don’t leave trash or break glass and scatter them on the trail! It’s bad enough when one slips and falls on a rocky path. But if hikers need to crawl on the path, the broken glass causes unnecessary cuts and injuries. So, once again, please be sensitive to the other hikers and don’t throw your empty glass bottles on the path!

Otherwise, come and visit El Escorpion Park and soak in all of this natural beautywhen you get a chance. There’s plenty to marvel at in this small patch of paradise. Along with the wildflowers and the greens on the trail, you’ll also see (and hear) California Cottontail rabbits’ footfalls. There are bluejays flying about. By the caves, there are coyote lairs – so if you are bold enough to enter the caves, make sure you’re not treading on their turf. But of course, there are the caves and hills themselves. Even from afar, they are a delight. If you live close to the Northwestern San Fernando Valley and need a quick fix of Mother Nature, El Escorpion Park is the place to be. Happy Trails!

Copyright Anabasius 2009

For the nature enthusiast, nothing is more pure and unalloyed than a simple trek through the wilds. A nature walk need not be anything fancy, nor does it have to be anywhere exotic. While many of us dream of finding the wherewithal to backpack and rough it through the Black Forest or Kilimanjaro, often the best place to start is around your own backyard, during the weekends of the more tolerable months.

picture-021

We’ve been spoiled here in Coastal California. There are many breathtaking views of mountains, forests, and the Pacific Ocean – all within commuting distance from home. Just recently, my Partner and I decided to venture north from our usual stomping grounds in the West Valley. We originally planned to find the Charmlee Wilderness Park, where we would get the best of both worlds, a view of the hills and the Pacific Ocean at the same time. We had recently been at such an awesome trail when we made the drive to Santa Barbara during Spring Break. For a quick fix, however, we wanted something closer to home.

As with most half-baked schemes, we didn’t get there. That was not such a bad thing, however. Serendipity comes hand-in-hand with a sense of adventure, and being adventurous doesn’t always entail planning to find out about something.  In this case, we were not disappointed. My Partner had remembered a nice, scenic trail at the Malibu Creek State Park.  It’s the site where the TV series M.A.S.H. was shot on location. Planet of the Apes was filmed here, too. She had mentioned a waterfall somewhere in the heart of the park, and we set out on foot to find it. We never did find the waterfall, either. The friendly guides at the Visitors’ Center would tell us later that it it had dried out years ago; it was probably man-made and too small to impress, anyway.

picture-029

We still got a feast for the eyes, as we traversed the easy trail. There were rows of oak, sycamore and other trees that provided ready shade if we had to stop.  The best parts of our hike were a breathtaking panoramic view of the forests on the hills and the discovery of a water hole, somewhere at the end of the right side of the trail. From a winding trail that led back to the edge of the park, the mountains and their lush greens on the opposite end were beautiful beyond words, conveying the look and feel of English rurality, yet the simple elegance, the magnificence that could be found anywhere in places touched by God.

picture-035

The Creek (for which the Park is dubbed) can be found running parallel along this side of the trail.  Because of the warmer season, the water level has been low, rendering it marshy. There are discontinuities along the creek because of the low tide, with clusters of rocks bracketing it in intervals. That hasn’t stopped a small colony of ducks from settling on the banks of creek; they peppered the air with familial quacks as we continued on our way.

picture-040

Through yet another fairy-tale type forest path, we exited and diverged back to the open road, which led to a steel bridge that led to the Visitors’ Center to the left. We chose to move on and continue with the present trail. The sight of people walking around in bathing suits gave us a clue that there was a gathering place not too far away, maybe a watering hole of some sort. We’d seen about two rocky spots on the way on either edge of the creek, with single families having picnics. The sight of children swimming and bathing in the green (possibly algae?) waters grossed us out.

picture-045

The waters at Rock Pool seemed more promising. We walked through a stone-laden path, carefully avoiding clumps of poison ivy, to make it to our last discovery of the day. A great pocketed volcanic rock overlooked our path; it had TR (training routes) cables hanging on any given side of it, for mountain-climbing enthusiasts in training.

picture-044

Rock Pool. At the end of our trail, we finally found the jackpot: A spacious, stone-bottomed pool, with water that looked clean enough to swim in. Families were gathered around, enjoying picnics, swimming, or just basking in the Sun, taking in the view. Sounds of screams and explosive splashes punctuated the 100-or-so foot dives of a few brave souls who leaped from a high rock overlooking the Pool. Otherwise, everyone simply enjoyed themselves on this weekend refuge. A few park violations went on – smoking, drinking, the occasional joint… and of course, the daredevil dives.  We looked at each other and shrugged; the diving would hurt the most, if one didn’t jump off the right angle.  But heck, it was fun to watch.

The water was cool and inviting, and my Partner would have gone in for a dip. But I was ready to check out soon, so we headed on back.  Instead of returning the same way, we crossed the steel bridge to the other side of the trail. It was more open but no less scenic. For a short hike, we got more than our share of delights that day. We vowed to return here soon, this time to enjoy the cool waters of Rock Pool, and perhaps visit the ruins of the MASH and Planet of the Apes set. Next time, I’ll bring my swimming trunks and a sixpack of booze. Maybe even a joint. 🙂

picture-036

Copyright Anabasius 2009 (All Posts & Photos)