Our story begins on the eve of the eleventh year of the third millennium of the Common Era. Following the acquisitions of various foodstuffs, libations, and other delicacies, our crew--a motley collective of graduate students, international jet-setters, and the odd unemployed doctor--set forth from the East Bay to the wilds of Mendocino County in the great green north of Coastal California. Their destination? The fabled Jug Handle Creek Farm, a sort of do-it-yourself bed and breakfast on a state nature reserve.

After a brief tour by the management, it was decided that the first order of business should be to head to the beach. This helpful sign pointed the way.

I don’t know why I didn’t remember to go back to check out this platform... It looks bitchen!

(I also don’t know why it seems to have cast a shadow on the sky...)

Shit.

I had been thinking that I might want to bring a board. I didn’t. But I should have.

Our first glimpse of the cove where Jug Handle Creek meets up with the sea revealed a nice little swell. About chest high and remarkably clean for the area. Still, we made the most of it and ventured down to the beach to play around in the sand.

Here, the raging Jug Handle courses around a final bend before crashing into mighty breakers of the Pacific Ocean.

See its fury! Witness its might! Ponder its incredible depths and furious power!

While we were on the beach, a modestly-sized flock of artsy-fartsy geese flew majestically overhead. Eschewing the traditional V-formation, this group opted for a more avant-garde configuration.

But it wasn’t a rock... It was a rock with a sea star!

(My old roommate Stacy, who at the time was getting a degree in marine management, always got really pissed when people said “starfish.” Then again, she used to refer to getting beach tar on your feet as being “kissed by the ocean”...)

Now this was abstract... Half a whiffle ball on a dark, empty beach. What does it mean?!

When we got down to the water’s edge, Ritwik and I both responded to the urge to conquer mountains and climbed a couple of rocks on the southern end of the cove. When we returned to the pack, the girls had begun some strange activity involving Venn diagrams drawn in the sand. Feeling excluded, I drew a circle around myself and labeled it for them to see.

It got pretty dark while we were on the beach and my autofocus was having a difficult time seeing things. (My vision’s not so hot, so I don’t trust myself to focus correctly. Expecially not in low light.) In these situations I figure “if you can’t beat ’em...” and take blurry pictures on purpose.

Here’s Sarah. A little blurrier than usual.

Having conquered the beach, we decided it was time to get to eatin’ and drinkin’.

Sweet potatoes, I discovered, taste a lot like carrots when you chop ’em up. Then again, maybe I just thought they tasted like carrots because they look like carrots.

Those are Alice’s hands, deftly chopping the titian tubers. (And boy were there a lot of them!)

For my birthday last year, Sarah arranged for me to go on a tour of the Anchor brewing company in San Francisco. It was awesome! My old roommate Andrew came out for the occasion and we learned all of Anchor’s secrets. For example, we were told that they have a little old man who does a new engraving of a picture of a tree every year for their Christmas ale. (This year’s tree, as you can see, is the majestic ginkgo biloba.)

The Christmas beer (which was delicious this year!) complemented the sweet potato soup perfectly and provided an auspicious beginning for a particularly riotous NYE celebration (in which Sarah and Andre cleaned the fuck up in Trivial Pursuit and Anicia and Alice did the same in Bananagrams).

As predicted, Andre woke up early the next morning to go take pictures of things. First thing he saw: This cocky little bastard perched up in a tree like he owned the joint. Ugh. Some birds...

The farm had a little organic garden with a native plant nursery. I guess they know what they’re doing because most of the pots that I saw had what looked like weeds to me

Some of the plants, it seemed, were particularly rambunctious and had to be kept behind this wire mesh.

I’m not sure what they’re sprouting here... Perhaps some kind of giant conifer? (I saw, at the San Francisco Airport recently, that you can buy baby redwoods and sequoias that look very similar to these in clear plastic tubes.)

I may not know what they are, but I do like the beads of water and the way that little runt in the bottom left thinks he’s hot shit because he’s got a white tube.

A coyote proof fence to protect the kale (about the only thing growing in the vegetable garden this time of year) from marauding intruders.

This was the farmhouse that we slept and ate in. It was awe-som-e! (Three-syllable “awesome” is better than two-syllable “awesome.”) The place was totally stocked with firewood and boardgames.

I don’t recall seeing a television, however, though the satellite dish on the roof would seem to suggest otherwise. Damn. I could’ve been vegging out instead of having fun with friends.

Leaving the garden, I came upon this odd arrangement of plastic sheeting and wood chunks.

I’d see this sort of thing before. They kill ice plant (an invasive species!) by blocking its view of the sun using a similar method. But there nary a single tentacle of ice plant to be seen here.

“Curious...,” thought I, as I approached for a closer inspection...

. . . the horror . . .

A trap?! A trap to lure and slaughter innocent arthropods?! What fiendish mind would devise such an odious plan?!

O centipede! O kindest and most noble of alnature’s creatures! Why hath the Jug Handle Creek Farm forsaken thee?

Meanwhile, in the apple orchard... A woodpecker had been getting busy with this old stump. I love how methodical they are: pecking holes in such straight lines. I wonder if this is all the work of just one bird.

Alice, our Official Trip Mycologist, did not accompany me on my morning jaunt. But I wish she had! Near the orchard I came across this slimy monstrosity. Yikes.

Why do outhouses always have crescent moons on the door?

(I just looked it up. According to The Straight Dope, it has to do with cartoonists and pagans. Or something like that... I lost interest when I realized the answer wasn’t going to be very exciting.)

I noticed this on a bunch of the trees in the area. The longer needles from the taller trees fall down and get stuck on the branches of the shorter trees.

I’d like to think it was some kind of bio-cooperative phenomenon where both trees are getting something out of it. But I think it’s more like when you go visit people with cats and get hair all over you from the couch.

One thing that excites my dad more than most other things is telling people that sunflowers, pine cones, and nautilus shells are constructed according to the Fibonacci sequence. He read about it at a science museum (possibly the New York Hall of Science) once. The only problem is that he can’t remember the explanation. Well here it is. (Feel free to skip ahead if you don’t care, dear reader. Otherwise rolover the image with your mouse for visual aids.)

The Fibonacci sequence, as you probably know, is a sequence of numbers in which each term is the sum of the two that come before it. Starting with 0 and 1, the next number will be 1 (0 + 1), the next will be 2 (1 + 1), the next 3 (1 + 2), and so on into infinity:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.

As we get further and further into the sequence the limit of the ratios between consecutive terms approaches a particular limit. Dividing 987 by 610 (the seventeenth and sixteenth terms of the sequence respectively), for example yields 1.618... (rounded to three decimal places). This ratio is better known as the golden mean.

Now the golden mean, for those of you haven’t watched “Donald [Duck] in Mathmagic Land” 300 times, is an irrationamathematical constant thought by the ancient Greeks to have mystical properties and used by artists over the last several millennia for its supposedly pleasing aesthetic value. The golden mean is a relationship between two numbers in which the ratio of the smaller to the larger is equal to the ratio of the larger to the sum of both.

Think of a line segment divided into two parts “a” (the smaller part) and “b” (the larger). If this line segment is divided according to the golden mean, the following will be true:

a : b = b ( a + b )

Expressed as a number, b/a = 1.618... !

Now, let’s take that line segment and bend it into a circle. If we divide the circumference of that circle according to the golden mean, the smaller segment will trace a 137.5° angle.

That’s where the pine cone comes in.

As a pine cone grows, each of the seeds begins at the center and is gradually pushed outward as new seeds develop. They don’t all go the same direction, of course. If they did, they’d get too crowded. As it turns out, the most efficient way to pack the seeds in the limited area of the cone’s surface is for each to head in a direction 137.5° away from the one before it.

Each of the spokes in the diagram above corresponds with a seed. The spokes are numbered according to how far the seed is from the center of the cone. (I skipped the first few because they tend to be a little squished at first.) Look at the angle between spokes one and two. 137.5°! Same for the angle between two and three, three and four, and so on.

So there you have it!

But it doesn’t end there... It’s hard to tell from the angle of this photo but the seeds on a pine cone or sunflower generally appear to be arranged in spirals emanating out from the middle. Next time you’re looking at a sunflower, count the number of spirals. Chances are it will be a member of the Fibonacci sequence.

Enough of that nonsense!

Here’s some weird little mushrooms. No math here, as far as I know...

When we got to the farm, the guy that showed us around was very excited about the local mushroom scene. I thought he sounded a little crazy. But sho’ nuff! The woods were loaded with them.

I’ve always wanted to get into mushroom hunting, but I read that people who get poison oak reactions shouldn’t even bother thinking about it.

Walking with Alice, later in the day, we learned all about the different California coastavarieties. She really knows her shit. I asked her to find me one that I could eat, but the only one she was comfortable okaying was called “witch’s snot” (or some other, equally appetizing name). It looked just like it sounds.

Alice did, however, teach me my new favorite word: “shrump.” There’s a type of mushroom that grows under dense layers of pine needles. To find it you look for little humps and scrape away the debris.

mushroom hump = shrump

Back at the house, Andre found that his bespectacled comrades had awoken from their slumber.

He also found a ridiculous number of thick-slab pieces of delicious Berkeley Bowl bacon! Anicia had been drooling about it the whole drive up.

(This bacon was a little controversial. The other group that was staying in the house was a coven of gluten-free, shabbat-observing, Berzerkleyans. We were a little concerned that our glutonous (but not gluten-ous!) pile of bacon might offend or at least render the communal griddle unusable. In the end we decided that the old stove had surely seen it’s share of bacon in the past and we weren’t really changing anything. Bacon ho!)

This was the painting that was hanging on the wall in the living room...

...and this was the painting that was hanging in our bedroom.

Mendo trees through a lace curtain.

Longtime readers of my stupid trip commentary (who am I kidding?!) will recall from the previous new year’s trip that Anicia and Alice observe a curious tradition in which all of the years emotional baggage is recorded on tiny strips of paper which are jabbed unceremoniously into slits cut in a lemon. Said lemon is then hurled into the ocean.

Last year we had to bury the lemon in the mud. This year we had a real, live ocean! It was decided that the Devil’s Punchbowl, a big pit near the cliffs with a tunnel to the water, would be the ideal spot.

Here’s the lemon before we threw it.

...and here it is after we threw it.

(We threw an orange too, filled with happy thoughts to balance out the depressing lemon. Neither of them, however, was dramatically swept out to sea. They both kinda got stuck in the Punchbowl, the constant waves only pushing them further and further ashore.)

It was a big pit. Maybe 200 feet across? You can see the whole thing here. Not so big, however, that Andre wasn’t able to put his camera on a post, set the timer, and high tail it around to the other side for a group shot. (That’s why it looks like he’s marching.)

Other highlights (view it full res): Anicia trying to smile for the camera and watch Andre at the same time, Alice’s Santa Claus chuckle, Ritwik’s daze.

Whales! Well... I wish they had been whales.

To get to the Devil’s Punchbowl, we had to pay for parking in Russian Gulch State Park. We figured we’d might as well make the most of our $16 and putz around in the tide pools.

Alice and Ritwik, documenting and descending.

Some sort of weird, Japanese claw monster.

I’ve walked around on these sorts of rocks before, but this particular location was outstanding! There was a tunnel (pictured above) full of frothy ocean fury complete with sea stars and multi-colored lichen-y things.

The tunnel also made this weird foam that kept getting picked up by the wind and distributed on the cliffs.

Sarah thought that this little plant next to the Punchbowl (where our fruits still hadn’t washed out to sea) wasn’t getting enough attention. Anicia’s legs thought they’d be a good background.

All of the trails in Russian Gulch were closed as a result of some mysterious “event” that had also rendered the drinking water undrinkable. So we headed back to Jug Handle to do the ecological staircase trail. There were plenty of mushrooms for Alice. And plenty of trees for Andre.

I don’t know who Isabel Budi Hazen Selma Martschei Budi is, but I think her name is too long to have a grove named in her honor.

At the top of the ecological staircase is an awesome pygmy forest. We were surprised to discover that this is also where Coca Cola comes from.

The pygmy forest was littered with Coke puddles of various sizes. (The color had something to do with the natural acidity of the soil and the various minerals found there.) Some of them were bigger than others and required careful planning to get around.

(The only person I can identify in this picture is Jess, thanks to her plaid scarf. Her feet got wet on a different puddle.)

In grand New Years tradition, Anicia pops a squat over something vaguely poop-like. (Previously.)

Anicia’s moon-booted clodhoppers next to Sarah’s dainty paws.

Day three! Anicia points at Andre’s nasty neckbeard, basking in the midday Mendocino sun.

It was beautiful out on the way back home, so we decided to make a day of the drive. First stop: the grassy cliffs next to downtown Mendocino. The sun was shining, dogs were out barking, and a decent swell was coming in from the west.

Ritwik forged ahead while Dani lingered to wonder why winters aren’t this warm in Germany...

...Sarah made friends with a local,...

...and Andre found some words (and a number) of wisdom.

There were a bunch of old wooden structures right next to the cliff. It looked as though there might have been an old building that had fallen into the drink once the cliffs eroded out from under it. Regardless, one of the poles, stilsticking straight up out of the ground, was just begging to be climbed.

We made a bunch of stops on the way back

I made Sarah stop here on our very first van trip because I thought the point down below had some serious surf potential. On this day, however, I saw that the real money spot was a little further up the coast. Check out that sweet right!

Sarah got out. And I think Anicia did too, momentarily. But everyone else was hot to get to Tomales bay shuck some oysters and listen to Anicia’s lewd shellfish slogans.

(Aren’t I supposed to blur out the license plates?)

Alice "Shrumpty" Goff, Slack-jawed Jess Herdman, Ritwik "You Better Call Tyrone" Banerji, Anicia "The Baconator" Timberlake, Dani "die wärmste Berlinerin" Pasdzierny, Maggie "Maaaaaaaaggie!"* Coe, Squished Sarah Carsman, Andre "Ol’ Neckbeard" Mount

* That’s how Anicia says it.

Or, if that doesn’t do it for you, how about this?