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Setting Out: 2012 Point Reyes Walkabout

Jules Evens Aims to Hike all 154 Miles of trails at Point Reyes

by on January 03, 2012

American badger.Photo by Jules Evens.

American badger.

Photo by Jules Evens.

I went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found I was really going in. –John Muir

In the frontispiece to my book, “The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula,” I chose the above quote by the inveterate wanderer, Saint John of the Mountains. Not to quarrel with the old sage, but on my wild walks I’ve mulled over his observation and wondered about its meaning. While walking along a trail where nature is allowed to be herself, it seems to me that one’s conscious mind is drawn out to encompass the surrounding world–a purling creek, soughing trees, the shadow of a passing hawk–while simultaneously integrating these signals with one’s inner world. Nature’s incitements provide perspective and context for the mélange of messages swirling through our heads … and hearts. (In Buddhism, “citta,” the heart and the mind.)

Maybe Mr. Muir meant something more expansive. Maybe he was trying to say that his spirit expanded to encompass the world around him, and incorporate it, and so the outside came in duality dissolved? Was he like his (slightly older) contemporary, Walt Whitman, “engirthing” the world?

I sing the body electric
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them.

So, on my 2012 “walkabout,” I’ll be setting out for some of the solitude and solace our wildlands provide, but always hoping for chance encounters with the unexpected, like the one I had at Abbott’s Lagoon last July. While walking along the trail contemplating this year-long walkabout, I nearly stumbled over this formidable fellow, an American badger (Taxidea taxus), as he rooted around in the grasses on the side of the trail.

Badger in grass

American badger. Photo by Jules Evens.

He “gurrrred” and hissed loudly, startling me, and as I quickly backed off, he resumed strolling down the trail, nonchalant, but body language that was confident, purposeful. The large size suggested this was a male, perhaps a young one in search of his own home range, or looking for a mate?

Badgers are uncommon on the peninsula, restricted to open grasslands where each individual needs about one square mile of prime habitat to survive. The scimitar-like claws on the forelegs are powerful digging tools, effectively designed for burrowing and for pursuing fossorial prey, especially pocket gophers and ground squirrels. Other predators–red-tailed hawks and coyotes–may cue on badgers to capture critters that the somewhat plodding badger may have flushed. But few predators will confront the badger; pound-for-pound (males can weigh up to 25 pounds) he is a daunting opponent with an irascible spirit.

The badger belongs to the Mustelid family of the order Carnivora, a diverse group that includes weasels, fishers, mink, martin, otters, and that supreme mustelid, the wolverine. (The skunks, formerly considered mustelids, are now placed in a separate family, the Mephitidae.) All of the mustelids (except sea otters) have powerful anal scent glands, which serve territorial marking, navigation, and sexual attraction.

But, as Lao Tzu advises in the Tao Te Ching, “Nature doesn’t make long speeches.”

Next Posting (#2)

I’m planning my first hike for next week, mid-January, probably out the Bear Valley Trail to Arch Rock (4.0 miles), then north on the Coast trail to Sky trail (0.5 mi), up the Sky trail to Mt. wittenberg (4.3 mi), then back down to Park Headquarters (2 mi), a 10.8 mile walkabout.

Here’s a map.

Maybe I’ll see you on the trail . . .

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Susan K on January 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am

Hi Jules. Dan R. kindly shared this blog post with me.  The featured photo of the American Badger represents a young badger, probably about 7-8 months old.  I was interested in your description about backing away when you encountered the badger as it was foraging along the side of the trail.  This is a recognizable behavior to the badger – so your instincts served you well.  This is why the badger disconnected and went on its way.  Changing vision to peripheral vision and slowly backing away is a retreat behavior the badger will recognize (if you’re graced with another encounter – as we know, so few of us are and, when we are, the experiences are usually quite memorable, whether distant or close-up and surprising) and this also indicates an interaction on the human’s part of respect and mirrored behavior as if you yourself were a badger – with badger spirit, of course.  June-August is dispersal time for young born in a given year, so this badger was probably practicing foraging and in the process of establishing its own territory.  There has been an established American Badger populatino out at the Pt. Reyes Seashore for quite some time – visitors often report seeing burrows, but hardly ever the badger itself.  I’ll include this sighting in our BadgerMap project.

Best regards,
Susan Kirks, Paula Lane Action Network (P.L.A.N.) (http://www.paulalaneactionnetwork.org)

Jules on January 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am

Thank you, Susan, for your insightful comment. He “seemed” like a youngster, and his pelage looked fresh.

Deb Callahan on January 9th, 2012 at 12:00 am

Hi Jules, I’ll be following you for your whole adventure through this blog. And thank you for supporting the Point Reyes National Seashore Association through this wonderful effort! I’d love to know how long your New Year’s Day hike was? Congratulations on the badger sighting. It’s the first of many magic moments you’ll have on the trail this year. I’d love to join you for one leg…just give me a holler. Happy New Year. Deb Callahan, Executive Director, Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Pat Ulrich on January 16th, 2012 at 12:00 am

I am so looking forward to hearing about your year-long walkabout, Jules!  I recently moved away from the Bay Area after finishing grad school last fall, and I miss walking the trails and watching the wildlife of Point Reyes so much. That park is where I discovered the inner artist in myself (it was my true source of photographic inspiration) and its where I went when I needed time to feel alive or to clear my mind. I spent so many mornings walking those trails, and your trip reports for this project will be a great way to be there vicariously!

3bobstewart6 on January 21st, 2012 at 12:00 am

Hi Jules,  What fun, I look forward to your reports.  Your badger encounter is amazing.  Thanks for your photo and thanks for Susan Kirk’s comments.  I have only seen perhaps 3 badgers in all the time I have spent on the seashore and they have never been anywhere near close.  

Jim Coda on March 16th, 2012 at 12:00 am

Hi Jules,

 Like Pat, I’ll be following your hikes throughout the Seashore this year.  I spend a fair amount of time there photographing wildlife for my wildlife photo blog.  Badgers seem to be in good numbers there.  I saw more of them at Point Reyes last year than I’ve ever seen in my many trips to Yellowstone.     

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