A fire had burnt into some dense underbrush along the Feather River, and although the fire department extinguished it, a gaping hole was left in the wild tangles. At first I thought the blackened blemish was a waste, but one advantage was that I could see down into the depths where birds and insects worked along the edge of the blackened clearing. The edge of most habitats is a rich wildlife zone, and observation is made easier.
The burn-out was not a happy hole for one of the White-crowned Sparrows, however; a Cooper's Hawk glided into that clearing and snatched the bird in a flash. The woods-hawk sailed easily out of sight with its catch. Clearings like that are targets for prowling birds of prey, and I saw the same thing happen in the Warner National Forest where I was hunting obsidian. Zoom! Right before my eyes the hawk struck in a puff of feathers and sailed away to eat.
At the edge of a marsh at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, I recently saw a stunning sight of a Peregrine Falcon perched in a tree not 50 feet from the car window! I had never seen one so close before, and I was able to observe the huge yellow feet and the dark hood on its head. The beak was relatively small and all you could see was those formidable feet. It finally sailed away to another tree so I didn't get to see it in action, but undoubtedly the duck hawk was full of duck!
Clearings let in the light where the wild flowers can grow, and eventually the brush, and finally new saplings. I am reminded of a clearing along Wildrun Creek that is gashed into the Las Trampas hills near Alamo, California. Light always streams down into the wide place in the deep canyon, and in winter when the maples are leafless it provides a warm place to sit and ponder the canyon walls.
You can imagine ancient Indians must have treasured a sheltered cove in a clearing where they could take shelter.
I am reminded of a snug miniature clearing in a dense thicket along that creek where you could crawl into an opening in the center almost as if it were a stick house. Sitting there quietly I could hear the murmur of the stream and see brush birds interacting close-up.
There is also a hole in the ground near the headwaters of Wildrun Creek, and I put it there 20 years ago when I buried a treasure in a cove of the canyon. It was mostly a game with the neighborhood children, and the treasure was a sealed ceramic pig's head I had made filled with "wheat" pennies. Concealed in a redwood box with a brass ring on the top and buried, clues were given on a treasure map, but no one ever found it. Over the years I would return and check under that certain rock, and there was the brass ring slowly rusting. I showed the map to my daughter Rebecca, and later it surprised me when she said she and her friend Jenny had found the treasure! "Lot's of digging but we got it out, and then reburied it with notations." I wonder if anyone else will ever find that hole.
A hole in a tree is a highly desirable crevice home for woodpeckers, nesting owls, starlings, and other birds and animals. Old snags in the woods are a prized place for not only burrowing insects but for things that feed on the woody occupants. Back on the Missouri farm in the 1940's, my Dad and I knew of a den tree on No Creek that every winter would house a raccoon. How they found that tree hole is mysterious, but a new coon would be there and we harvested the fur and meat.
A split boulder on the Feather River near the nature center is a favorite place for lizards to hide, and during the summer bats also crawl into that dark crack. The blackness of a hole in the woods stands out sharply especially in the somber grayness of winter.
Underground holes are places of intrigue, and cave exploring is a passionate pursuit for many spelunkers. My son has always had a fascination with caves, but the dark passageway in Yosemite was more than I wanted after the light ran out. Later, when my son was grown, we went to Death Valley, and he and fellow traveler Ed went off on their motorcycles to explore a cave in the nearby mountains. They returned with blackened faces as it seems they lighted gassy rags for light and there was a mild explosion! The smoldering thought of treasure seems to draw people underground to search for hidden wonders and archeological evidence.
The biggest manmade hole on earth is the original Kimberley diamond mine pit in South Africa. That gigantic volcanic pipe hole is over 1500 feet in diameter and almost 4,000 feet deep! Mine shafts have since been dug down into the gem-bearing strata and over 90 tons of diamonds have been found since 1867.
Just as matter-sucking Black Holes seem to be a condition of the Universe, the black holes that contain the currents of life within living creatures seem to be a parallel in the microscopic dimension. It is dark down there in the arterial passageways where the blood stream feeds the perimeter of stomach walls and excretion channels, and all animal life including man have those common denominators.
Most human experience of nature comes through a narrow window. It opens midway between molecules and the Milky Way. It is astonishing that our limited view makes any sense. --Paul Shepard
© 2001 Rex Burress
November 26, 2001