• Otter Views: Day Tripping

    by Tom Stevens

    Recent northerly day trips produced a few hits and a near-miss, or should I say “mist?” A very heavy one last Tuesday shrouded San Francisco Bay, site of the 2013 America’s Cup sailing races.

    A friend and I had driven up to the city that morning hoping to see the futuristic 70-foot catamarans entered in this year’s event. According to the Cup web site, the Swedes and the Americans were to practice at noon.

    We reached the bay with 10 minutes to spare and parked on an overlook near the Golden Gate Bridge. Training binoculars out over the water, we scanned the shipping lanes for any sign of the fabled racing yachts. What we saw instead was . . . murk and more murk.

    The brisk winds that normally whitecap the Golden Gate had taken the day off, leaving the America’s Cup with what sailors call “very light air.” To spectators trying to see through it, on the other hand, the air was as thick as Ghiradelli’s chocolate; so smoggy you couldn’t see the Bay Bridge from Marina.

    Even the most Stygian gloom cannot cloak a 100-foot sail, though, and eventually one of these hove into sight. It was the Swedish catamaran Artemis, finally back on the water following a May catastrophe that wrecked the boat and drowned crew member Andy Simpson. While the Swedes mourned and made repairs, the remaining teams from Italy, New Zealand and the U.S. gained a seemingly insurmountable advantage in practice time on the bay.

    That was evident the day we watched. After Artemis made a solo circuit of the three-legged course, Oracle’s two U.S. boats joined the Swedish team for a second practice lap. Even in the day’s light air, the U.S. boats piked swiftly up onto their hydrofoils and sped off across the bay like pelicans. Able to get only one hull out of the water, Artemis soon fell off the Americans’ pace.

    There being little to see once the boats had rounded the nearest mark and vanished into the smog, we drove up to the Legion of Honor art museum at Land’s End. There the “Impressionists on the Water” exhibit provided a more visible marine experience. Running into October, the show explores the link between impressionism and pleasure boating. The sport was so popular with Impressionist-era painters  some even built “floating studios” aboard their boats.

    The show includes the actual one-man wooden scull that appears in a famous Monet canvas. I tried to photograph this graceful boat but was thwarted by an alert museum guard. The Monet painting of the boat also could not be photographed, so you’ll have to imagine the scull. It is long, low and sleek, like a streamlined kayak. It has no hydrofoils.

    A better photo op occurred Sunday, when another day trip led to the Garden Song flower farm near Elkhorn Slough. There, thriving gardens surround a live music stage, a gift shop, shady walks and a picnic lawn. Set in hilly oak tree country, the farm grows dahlias as big and colorful as party balloons.

    It also cultivates several types of “butterfly plants,” which helped qualify the farm as a release site for butterflies raised at an East Bay breeding facility. Luckily, Sunday was the Monarchs’ turn, and the farmer invited his two dozen customers to participate. “The butterflies will be coming around in a blue bowl,” he announced. “Please take one packet each, open it carefully, and place your butterfly on a flower.”

    Reaching into a large spherical fish bowl, we withdrew in turn white cardboard triangles about the size of folded pocket handkerchiefs, or tea sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Within each packet, a single adult Monarch lay in a sort of cryogenic torpor induced by refrigeration. Half were males; half, females.

    We carried our packets down the sloping lawn to a bordering wildflower thicket and gingerly opened them. Each revealed a brand new Monarch, its wings folded as if in sleep, its rich orange and velvety black hues as yet undimmed by life’s travails.

    As warming daylight and a soft breeze entered each packet, the butterflies trembled and stirred to life. At length they could grip a fingertip for the short ride to an open flower. There they sat, bobbing in the light wind, stepping about, slowly opening and closing their wings. Some lifted off in short order and flickered around the glade, while others seemed content to sit on their flowers and take it all in.

    If the program succeeds, the Monarchs will find Garden Song to their liking and stay to breed another generation that will “self-release,” to modify a Mitt Romney phrase. While I hope that happens, I’m grateful to have opened a Monarch release packet. It was a heavenly experience.

    otter photo

    posted to Cedar Street Times on August 8, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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