Category Archives: Wildlife

A ride along the American River

Among my many passions in life-activities that I spend my free time doing and, frankly, wish I could make more time for, is cycling.  Unlike the road bike rider that truly owns the classification of “cyclist”, I ride a mountain bike because, well… I like to play in the dirt.  I always have.  While I do love to leap off of the paved trail and tear down a fire trail or horse track on occasion, as I documented in an earlier blog post in which I posted a video of me tearing down a trail in Auburn (my GoPro camera’s maiden voyage) most of my bike riding time is spent on paved bike trails, much of it along the scenic Sacramento and American river trails.

Come along as I take a leisurely ride along the American River Trail at dusk via historic Old Town Sacramento, across SF Golden Gate replica which connects the American River trail to Sacramento State University, then beneath the up lit Tower Bridge, culminating in a short ride down K Street at night.

Stay tuned, loyal followers.   There will be more of these to come, perhaps with music and/or commentary next time.

J. Johnston

The Running Life

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Funny thing, this running life. Addictive in nature, yet the desire to get out there and put in work is fleeting if not outright evasive at times… much of the time. Even those who have been at it for years, have confided in me that deep down, they really don’t want to do it. But the more that they do get out there and put in mileage, the more they are compelled to do it… they NEED to do it.  For the running devotee, this regimental practice of dressing out, lacing up the exorbitantly priced shoes with their color coordinated laces and running, whether three times per week, five times week, or whatever frequency is psychologically gratifying, usually involves getting up really early in the morning, eating a small portion of something that you would not ordinarily consume for breakfast—high carbs, grains, rocks and sticks, what have you—at an hour far earlier than the body is accustomed, or for some, race day means eating nothing at all.  Foregoing ones regular intake of coffee and its associated diuretic properties is also advisable—a learned practice, one that is tussled with tooth-and-nail by newbies, but one every runner adopts eventually if they value their beloved running time and its accompanying, and equally cherished pace.

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I’ve only been at this running thing for two and a half years. In fact, this month it will be exactly two and a half years since I ran my first race; a 5K dubbed “No Excuses,” held in Sacramento.  It was a blast!  The camaraderie, the people cheering on the sidelines, the free food at the end of the race, the announcer calling your name as you crossed the finish line; official race time posted on-line… what a rush!  I was officially hooked on this new and exciting approach to staying healthy and active, and on my way to becoming part of a huge community of like-minded people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Last Sunday, I ran my third half marathon.  It was the San Francisco Giants race. The course left from in front of AT&T Park, ran down the Embarcadero and beneath the San Francisco Bay Bridge to the Presidio before turning around and returning and finishing inside of AT&T Park to the roar of spectators (family and friends of other runners… none of them mine, unfortunately).  Rounding the corner and heading to the finish line inside the park was quite an experience.  I wore my GoPro Camera during the race, but unbeknownst to me, the battery died an hour into the race, so I didn’t get footage of the finish, or the last eight miles, for that matter.

Last night I went for a run on the Sacramento River—an eight mile out and back from the River Promenade near Tower Bridge to the Weston Hotel, the one with Scott’s Seafood imbedded in its left hip (or its right, depending on whether you’re facing the river or I-5).  This out and pack route of mine is on a relatively flat paved bike path with only one hill as the trail dips into the boat launch area of Miller Park before climbing back up onto the levy parallel to the railroad tracks and I-5 just beyond a barrier of evergreen trees.  I have run this route before—one of several out and backs and loops that I run with varying mileage and degrees of difficulty associated to them—and I typically do my running during the late afternoon or dusk.

I don’t mind running in hot weather.  It’s not the heat that gets to me, it’s the slathering on of sunblock before a run, just to sweat if off and have it run into my eyes while running… that I’m not to thrilled about.  I also find fewer people on the trails later in the day and fewer cars on the road when my running loop takes me occasionally onto residential streets, or traffic metered intersections.

About two miles into this run, I encountered a small cloud of insects that just happened to be hovering at head level directly in my path. I should mention that during one of my early running training courses that I had taken in preparation of my new running life, we were taught, contrary to previously learned behavior, to breathe through our mouths, and not through our nose.  As my breathing had not quite leveled out yet, I ran directly into this cloud of insects, or bugnado, as I have christened this phenomenon, mouth open and promptly sucked in a mouth full of the tiny black bugs.  With my mouth rapidly filling with natures crunchy protein supplement, I snapped my eyes closed and frantically blinked the tiny black monsters out of my vision and kept running… I was on a mission. I was not going to let being force-fed a few thousand bugs stop me from reaching my mileage and pace goals of my first post-half marathon run.  No sir.

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No sooner did my vision clear and I thought I had the last of the tiny creatures spat from my now hacking throat, I ran into another one of these bugnado’s… then another.  My process of eliminating these heinous flying monsters from my system was repeated two more times before I was able to regain my composure and take a breath of fresh air.  Thankfully, the remainder of my run was relatively bug free.

I continued my run, mindful of my GPS running apps declaration of my time and pace yammering from my cell phone each half mile to ensure that I was maintaining an active pursuit of my goals for the evening.  Passing a few meandering walkers near the Westin Hotel who decided to stop and take a selfie right in front of me, I approached the turn-around point.  They will likely be none too pleased to find that I had inadvertently photo-bombed their shot as I approached from the rear just before passing them on the left.  My turnaround point came at mile number four just beyond the Weston Hotel adjacent two large fire pits with lounge chairs encircling them with a wonderful view of the river.  I made my turn, and headed back from whence I came, passing the fire pits and the two women still fussing with their now increasing number of selfies, which, from the direction that they were taking them, had nothing in the background but a parking lot full of varying eras of automobiles and the occasional maintenance worker cruising by in his golf cart, smoking a filterless Pall Mall cigarette while attempting to conduct an intelligible conversation on his walkie-talkie between uncontrollable phlegm-rattling coughing spells.

The back-side of any out and back run invariably carries with it a level of fear and discomfort for me.  The fear is that I will abandon my goals altogether and walk.  The discomfort comes with I invariably make the conscious decision to stay the course and keep running, only to find that in doing so the pain in whichever muscle group is hindering me the most that week has been amplified ten fold with the psychological awareness that I am still only half way into my run, and that the hard part of this passionate endeavor is just beginning.  This usually passes, as by this time my breathing has leveled out, hitting the proverbial wall, as it is termed in the running community and its time to suck it up and cruise.

7 mile run map

On my return trip as I made my way back toward downtown Sacramento, the sun had all but set, leaving an orange hue of reflective light on the river to my left, and with the diminishing light, came a different populous of travelers on the bike trail on which I was running.  Typically, if I know that I will be out past dark during a run, I will wear a head lamp to light my way and to also let others know that I am there so that and can avoid running head on into me on the trail, or to enable cars to see me when I find the need to cross a residential street after I drop off the levy back into the neighborhood.  This was not one of those times.  I left my head lamp at home and had to rely on my store-bought vision (Lasik circa 2009) and the sporadic courtesy of oncoming runners and cyclists to either have a headlight of their own turned on or at least make an effort to move over once I enter their field of view.  I did most of the moving over, though, and I was grateful that I did not encounter any snakes on the trail as I had on previous runs along that same stretch of the river trail.

Intermingled with this new post-sunset populous of river trail walkers, runners and cyclists, at times can be found those who use the cover of darkness and relative isolation of this area to participate in activities that they would not ordinarily bring into the light… not in public, anyway.  About five miles into this run, as I approached the gap in the fence that accesses the Sutterville Road exit off of I-5; I spied far up in the distance, a walker in front of me. Ordinarily, I would not have been aware of this walker so far ahead of me, especially as dark as it was, had it not been for the aroma that was trailing several yards behind him, a pungent wake within which I was hopelessly trapped with no real means of escape.  This individual, after running behind him for several minutes I learned was a little paunch of a man with a thick black mustache and a ball cap mashed so far down upon his fat head that it was a wonder he had any ears at all.  He was strolling down the pathway practicing his no doubt newly attained card-carrying California—yet still against federal law—right, puffing away on some extraordinarily pungent and apparently high quality marijuana.  At first, I thought that someone had encountered and inadvertently startled a skunk on the trail, which in some parts, especially Miller Park, there are dozens.  But as I advanced on this pudgy little pot-head it became clear that it was not a skunk, but some quality pot, the smoke from which had trailed behind him in a translucent blue veil for several yards.

Back to Civilization

This development was of no help to my diminishing energy level as I approached the last quarter of my run. I must have taken in enough of his toxic haze that for a moment I briefly envisioned this new chemical element that had involuntarily been introduced into my drug-free system would somehow give me the boost that I needed for the last part of my run. You know, like when you hit the nitrous button in one of those computer racing games, sending you blasting along the raceway, barely maintaining control as you negotiate the next turn, knowing full well that you’ll never make it and you are destined to hit the wall, but you don’t care ‘cause you gots you some nitrous. Yeah, you know… like that.  Alas, this was not the case.  Alternately, it seemed to have the opposite effect on me, slowing my pace and leaving me longing for… something.  Perhaps another tasty encounter with the bugnado insect cloud that I passed through on the first leg of this run for no other reason than because now… I had the munchies.

I would be remiss if I did not lend a little advice related to the nose-rocket practice that is popular with seasoned runners, and unsuccessfully attempted by many newbies.  It is the practice of clearing the nasal passages during a run to get more oxygen to your euphoria fueled brain.  Seasoned runners, you know what I am talking about, but for those who don’t, it is exactly as it sounds… the practice of effectively launching that which is inhibiting the flow of oxygen to the brain, out… (a nose rocket) so the runner can breathe better.  There is a technique, one that should be adhered to if one is to ensure at least a relatively accurate aim. It goes something like this:  The idea is to cover one nostril with a finger and launch your projectile beneath the opposing arm and onto the pathway, street, or trail below without too much lateral velocity as to avoid nailing a neighboring runner in the process.  Never try to send your projectile over the top of your arm.  Nine out of ten times, you will fail miserably, lacquering your own shoulder in the process. This technique (the former, not the latter) has been thoroughly tested over an unknown period of trial and error, and if done properly, should render the runner with a new-found boost of oxygen infused energy.  If done improperly… well, let the chips fall where they may (pun intended) and with any luck you won’t be followed back to your car at the end of your race by some red-faced, runner wielding his newly acquired finishing medal like a weapon demanding that you wipe down his calf.

With this in mind I must add, as I learned last night during my run, this time-tested sinus clearing procedure should never be attempted two days into recovery from a bad head cold… If you do, you will find yourself frantically batting away at your own DNA as it stubbornly dangles to waist level before gently wrapping itself around your forearm, like some alien creature latching onto its long-lost mother.

San Jose Giants Race2

All kidding aside, running, if practiced properly utilizing time-tested proper form and wearing appropriate gear (supportive running shoes, moisture wicking socks and other gear) is a great way for one to stay active and attain a level of fitness that for some (myself included) was thought to be unattainable.

Running is also very therapeutic and is a proven natural antidepressant.  I have benefited from these latter properties on many occasions in the early days of my aspiration to become a runner.  When I embarked on this journey of fitness, solitary bonding with my thoughts and my environment, and entered into a lifestyle of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being, I was at a turning point in my personal life.  Through the medicinal properties of running I was able to get through those emotionally trying times relatively unscathed.

Ultimately, I run because, by the grace of God, I can… there was a time in my life when, for many years, I could not.

Keep the forward momentum, my friends… The alternative is unacceptable.

J. Johnston

The Scent of Memory

The Scent of Memory

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Funny how the brain works. Memories are stored, and catalogued with scent keys, all accessible in a virtual database. Just plug-in a smell, and voila, like entering a keyword in a computer search we are instantaneously presented with a memory filled with joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains assigned to it from months, years or even decades in our past, as if by magic. Some are quite vivid in detail. Others elude us altogether. At times the brain recalls intimate details about an event, a person or a place—significant or not— some remembrances are delivered-up infused with raw emotion, or perhaps they are merely insignificant moments in time that occurred years in the past. But then, we cannot remember what we had for dinner on the previous evening.

Generally speaking, I have a great memory—for historical data, dates and times of significant events in my life, and the like. What I did the day before… sometimes not so much. My earliest memory, if it serves me right, and it does, is an interaction with a childhood friend. She was the daughter of friends of my parents when I was four years old. I remember her and this particular moment as if it occurred yesterday rather than the reality of the nearly forty-five years that have passed between then and now. My mother used to bathe us together when visiting the home of this family. On this occasion, after powdering our bottoms with baby powder, she put us down for a nap on my little friends’ parent’s bed. Her name was Sheri and she was my earliest friend. Blonde hair, blue eyes and she was cute, for a three-year-old. She may very well still be. Cute, I mean, no longer three. Last I heard she was married and had four children of her own. But things may have changed for her. That report was made thirty-five years ago or more. This particular post-bath moment in time, for reasons that escape me, resonates with me because… well, she kissed me. OK, the kiss landed on my forearm, but it was a kiss nonetheless. To this day, whenever I smell Johnson’s baby powder, I think of Sheri and that after bath-time first kiss.

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A few days ago, on the last leg of an 8 mile out-and-back run on the Sacramento River, I experienced this scent triggered memory phenomenon again. This time, the scent was that of standing pond water—river water in this case—taking me back to my childhood of exploring the outer perimeter of Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos, a park just below the larger and more well-known Vasona Park in this quaint upscale town in the South Bay Area of California. My brother and I would explore for hours on a given weekend day, time standing still for us, as is common for pre-teen boys fully engulfed in the essential task of park exploration as our parents barbecued and drank beer until dusk, when the park rangers would come around with their giant flashlights, asking everyone to wrap it up because the park was closing. Oak Meadow Park had a stream that ran through it (this may have been the upper fork of Coyote Creek), fed by Lexington Reservoir just to the south before filling Vasona Lake on its way through Los Gatos and then continuing its run through San Jose. The smell of the standing water in sections of the creek and the duck and goose populated Vasona Lake permeated my senses way back then and are forever stored in those odd cells in the brain along with all of the other seemingly meaningless—and some not so meaningless—information.

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Last night I was on another run. Not as long, but a run just the same. It’s what I do. I have to maintain The Temple. No one’s going to do it for me, you know? This particular run was around the perimeter of Capitol Park in downtown Sacramento where I live. The park is nearly a prefect mile in circumference, so it makes for good tracking of distance for me and the countless others that jog in a near constant rotation—clockwise on some days, counterclockwise on others—around its perimeter.   On the back side of the park (15th Street between L and N) there is an odd scent that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s always there in that very same spot every time I have passed it over the two years that I have been using the park as my personal training ground. This scent instantly takes me back to a time two years ago when I first moved to Sacramento and was searching for an apartment to rent. The scent is fleeting, lasting but three strides of my typical 10 minute-mile pace, part floral and part the scent of antiquity. When I was looking for an apartment, I used a rental agency that took me around to look at prospective units. I toured many apartments, some in more recently constructed buildings and others that were of the more vintage variety in buildings that had seen more than their share of administration change in this great state. It was the small vintage—some not so much vintage as just plain old—of the apartment buildings I toured that were infused with this particular aroma. Not a bad smell, inherently, but an unmistakable tang of old construction, best described as the smell of antiquity that was peculiarly mixed with a pungent bouquet. This fragrance had to be coming from some type of landscaping flora or another, conceivably of a variety used in a bygone era—hence the recall—but of a resilient species that has endured the rigors of time and the volatility of decades of climate change.

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The period of my life when I moved to Sacramento was one of great turmoil, a time which conveyed much sadness, although conversely ample enthusiasm of new beginnings full of new geographically procreated personal and artistic potential.

If ever I feel the masochistical need to reminisce on that time, for its positive attributes or to evoke the immense melancholy tied to that particular chapter in my life, I just go for a run around Capitol Park—clockwise rotation or contrasting counter—or simply sit on the grass in that tiny segment of 15th Street where this unmistakable aroma resides, wafting its emotionally charged aromatic formula into the air, infiltrating the senses of all who walk, run, or ride past. This would have proven impossibly painful for me at one time, but I’ve since come to terms with those emotions and the decisions at their origin.  And who’s to say that this same recipe of scents does not trigger an alternatively joyous memory for another. I take no ownership of that which brings up feelings of regret, passion, or pain as it relates to the memories that environmental experiences evoke, just to say, that they exist and that no matter how painful their evocative properties, we are better for the experience. It only proves to the world and to ourselves that we are alive.

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Memories… we’re all only an aroma away from being transported to another time, another place, yet we are usually ill prepared for the feelings that await us there. We are an emotionally driven species occupying this tiny blue speck in the deep recesses of our vast universe. Our recollections are alive and well, residing within us all… until the day comes when they leave us… and they will. Gradually at first. Then one day, they will be gone forever, never to return. Memories, good and bad, happy and sad, these are cherished glimpses of moments in time. Hold them dear… for the day will come, sooner for some, later for others, when they will have departed for good.

The next time that a scent takes you to another time, to another place, a place where memories reside, fond or to the contrary, relish it but for a moment. Don’t stay there too long. Let the past remain in the past lest we lose ourselves in a time that is no longer belongs to us. Reminisce… but only for a moment. We owe it to ourselves and to those with whom we occupy those memories to move on—on to the present and to the future, for that is where new memories are created. We are not closing the door on them… just filing them away as to make room for more.

-JLJ

Gallery

Life Is Short

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Life is short. Regret is worthless unless you can take immediate corrective action and thus eliminate it somehow. I try to make good decisions and avoid it all together, but I’m only human. Time spent helping others and following our … Continue reading

Video

GoPro Hero3 Maiden Voyage in Auburn, CA

I took out my new GoPro Hero3 for its maiden voyage today. I loaded up my bike and headed up to Auburn State Recreational Area, one of the best places in the Sacramento region to hike and tear around on a mountain bike. I discovered a few things during this expedition. First and foremost, I am in a lot better shape than I was the last time I ventured out this way for a day of fresh air and insane dirt downhill adrenaline rushing. A lot can be said for running four days a week and a semi regular yoga regimen, I guess. I also learned that It now costs $10 to park my car and ride around for the day. I don’t mind the fee, state parks need to survive and this one ranks among the best in my opinion, I just don’t remember having to pay there before and I wasn’t prepared for the fee. I hope that they don’t mind all of the quarters loaded into their little brown envelope, kept in the car for the intermittent feeding of downtown Sac. parking meters.

So, with that said, I am posting one of the videos I took of one of my downhill runs. Don’t expect a bunch of fancy stunts, and shit people. Lest you forget, I’m 48 years old, my friends. Those days are behind me, but I Will tackle a first gear pulse quickening climb or an adrenaline pumping high-speed descent any day of the week. I did reach some pretty hairy speeds and buried my shocks a few times on some huge rocks and deep ruts on this trip and that’s what I’m talking about! This was a Kick-Ass day trip!

Adrenaline… It’s all I have left, ya know?

Enjoy.

The Birds of Cosumnes River Preserve

I tend to find my photography subjects everywhere.  I am never without my camera and I will photograph whatever i find interesting from the dilapidated abandoned buildings of downtown Sacramento with their resident bats, rodents and homeless to the ornate architectural elements of the turn of the century buildings that pepper the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley.

Lately, though, I have had really good luck finding cooperative subjects among the wildlife at Cosumnes River Preserve.  Located just off of I-5 and Twin Cities Road in the town of Galt, Cosumnes Preserve encompasses several hundred acres of wetlands with walking trails that meander through wooded areas and meadows where one may encounter a beaver busy putting together its hut, muskrats scurrying along the banks of the river on a quest for food or even the occasional mountain lion coming down to the water’s edge to check meal prospects that may include the aforementioned river inhabitants.  

The variety of water birds and raptors is also pretty phenomenal.  Here is a slide-show that I put together of some of the wildlife that I have encountered within two days of shooting last month.

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If you’re ever traveling in the area on I-5 on your way north or south between Lodi and Sacramento, Cosumnes Preserve is a worthwhile side trip.

New Year Resolutions 2011

A new year is upon us and with the new year comes more resolutions that, lets face it, most of us, while making a valiant effort to keep seem to fall short or are all too eager to abandon altogether.  A guy I know at work I think said it best when he said that for him there will be no resolutions for the new year, just results. 

I have to admit that I have never been one to make New Year resolutions because it seems that once one voices their aspirations of positive changes in their lives and obligate themselves to initiate this change on a specific date they are doomed to failure.  With that said, I am taking a proactive role in making positive changes in my life, and yes, I am embarking on my quest for enlightenment on the first day of 2011 (today).  This blog post is part of that venture which will include more of the same.  I am keeping it simple though.  No major hurdles.  Just keeping a firm grasp on personal passions and wellness.  It’s all about me and what keeps me being me.

I know, my blog posts are supposed to include some photography to associate to the topic, but I didn’t get out last night to photograph any New Years festivities or fireworks, so you’ll have to settle for these photos depicting what I did last summer.  And you say I never take you anywhere. 

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Wishing us all a New Year full of Health, Happiness and new opportunities!