A perfectly wild, perfectly simple mountain cabin retreat in Willits, California

Up into the mountainside surrounding Willits, California, down a winding dirt road, and past a skinny wooden welcome sign, sits a trio of charming cabins amid a veritable slice of American wilderness.

Welcome to Still Mountain Retreat.

But I digress.

During my trip across America with Niko, we stopped in my old California stomping grounds in San Jose to visit a few climbing buddies. We only planned to stay a day or two, but after being invited to join our cohorts for a weekend escape up into the mountains, we quickly agreed to alter our agenda.

Our evening drive up to the cabins took us past throngs of bay area traffic, up beyond the wine-laden land of Sonoma, and into the most wonderful nook of paradise. The Still Mountain Retreat property is an expansive sprawl of thick trees, mossy rocks, and grassy fields – all of which are intersected by a gushing river. I can’t say I know too many people who can boast having a waterfall on their property.

Immediately upon arrival, we were treated with two creature encounters. Despite misting rain, we explored the area a bit, and quickly found ourselves gazing upon a young doe resting alone in the grass along the muddy path we were walking. No more than a few weeks old, this infant deer made my heart flutter with adoration. Not wanting to disturb her, we carried on and were soon enthralled by the sight of a fuzzy little vole. I instantly knew that this mountainous retreat was the place for me.

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We nearly missed the most important month of the year – April is National Frog Month!

Driving past the Novey Animal Hospital on Tennessee Street always presents interesting little tidbits displayed their sign marquee, and yesterday I discovered something I could kick myself for overlooking: April is National Frog Month!

How I let this slip past me, I simply do not know. Frogs are my favorite creatures on this planet, and April is a great month to pay homage to their pimply backs, glossy eyes and pudgy finger pads – it’s the month where they finally emerge from their underground burrows to splash in April’s showers and gear up for mating season. To celebrate my beloved buddies, here are a few of my favorite frog photos, plus a few interesting facts about these great amphibians.

Frog Facts:

  1. Fish travel in schools, geese fly in gaggles – so what do you call a group of frogs? An army. A group of toads is known as ‘a knot.’
  2. Frogs don’t drink water; they simply absorb it through their skin via osmosis.
  3. A frog can live anywhere from 4 to 40 years – the average lifespan is 4-15.
  4. Ever see a frog with its eyes closed and rolled back in its head? Don’t mind him, he’s just swallowing his prey whole, and using the pressure from his eyes to force the meal down his throat.
  5. You can find frogs everywhere in the world, except for Antarctica. Then again, why would anyone live in Antarctica?

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview at my graduation photos! I’ll be walking (read: falling) across the stage at the Leon County Civic Center on Friday, April 29th to officially end my time as a student at Florida State University! – But first, excuse me while I find a few toad buddies to play with.

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Image of the Day: Diggin’ for pollen in Denver.

A classic shot from last year’s midwest road trip, and one of my all time favorite critter photos. I can’t recall if we were waiting for someone or just decided to stop, but our crew ended up spending quite some time exploring this charming community garden in Denver, Colorado.

There were bees swarming every blossom, and pudgy vegetables lined the soiled pathways. I’m no gardening expert, but the keepers of this little sliver of land certainly knew what they were doing by the looks of their blushing rhubarb and cautious signs that warned of recently planted seeds or particularly delicate plants. It made me want a garden, so very badly.

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Lesson of the Day: Don’t Procrastinate Burying a Dead Bird

When I came home from work on Thursday, I found a startling addition to the little garden area by my front door: a downed adult bird, sitting motionless in the grass. I ran inside to put down my bags, then called out to my housemate that there was a hurt bird we needed to help.

“Uh, he’s been there for about four days,” she informed me. Hmm, maybe not so much hurt as he is dead? I still had to investigate my poor fallen buddy.

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HELP! Sender, climber pup extraordinaire, is MISSING.

A few months ago, we all fell in love with Sender, the amazing Beagle that our climbing crew rescued from the bottom of a mountain while on an adventure to my favorite crag at Little Rock City. After giving her a loving new home, and dubbing her as the official mascot of the Tallahassee Rock Gym, we discovered that tiny Sender was suffering from a horrible case of heart worms. She was relocated to Tampa for a few months while she endured a painful treatment process. Finally, Sender was given a clean bill of health and returned to her proper home in Tallahassee.

Last night around 8:00 PM, baby Sender went missing. Our friend Jeff discovered that the lawn crew that maintains their property had foolishly propped the back gate open with a brick, allowing Sender to wander off during the evening. Niko and I circled the neighbor hood until 1:30 AM, but we unable to locate the precious pup. We are begging everyone to help us bring Sender home. Between the freezing nighttime temperatures and today’s cruel weather conditions, Sender is probably becoming quite ill and needs us to come find her.

Sender went missing off Hartsfield Road and Idyllic Terrace. She was last seen wearing a dainty pink collar, but no tags. Whether or not she is capable of understanding her name is honestly up in the air, but she will respond to any friendly beckoning. Sender loves company, and will readily come to anyone who calls her. If you find Sender please contact me as soon as possible.

Sender is the only lady that has ever been able to tame the wild mountain man that is Jeffrey Williams. Please help us reunite man and pup; it’s dangerous to leave Jeff out on his own without Sender to keep him grounded!

Click here for a link to her TallahasseeSuperAds.com listing. You can also check out her Craigslist ad by clicking here.

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Meet Starsky, the one-eyed black moor goldfish miracle.

For about three years now, I have been a proud mama to the most ridiculous goldfish ever to exist, Starsky. My favorite creature buddy of them all, Starsky is a true story of perseverance and a determination for life. Once upon a time, little Starsky resided in a tank alongside Eze, two other goldfish and a very temperamental crawdad. The other fish nipped at his fins, and the grump crustacean eventually severed all of Starsky’s fins in a cruel massacre one night. For weeks, poor Starsky could only swim in circles. To top off his misery, my aquatic friend acquired an unusual eye infection while I was out of town two years ago, which caused his eyeball to literally explode. It was a terrible scene that ended with the other fish consuming the disintegrated bits of eyeball and optic nerve.

How can a creature survive such torment and disfiguration? I simply have no answer. Yet years later, after countless periods of medication and careful watch, his fins have entirely regrown, his eye socket has completely healed over and he is good as new, aside from some scarring on his long back fins. Starsky now lives in his own tank, lazily swimming circles as he observes the world through his one good eye. He tells an amazing tale of survival, and proves that anyone can come back from even the most dire situation.

Starsky is no ordinary fish. Unlike pathetic bettas that have no character – and are quite obviously robots in my opinion – Starsky is bursting with personality. When I return from climbing trips, he furiously swims back and forth in front of his tank until I give him attention. If he’s feeling hungry, he eagerly laps his fat mouth at the top of his tank until I sprinkle a few flakes of food into his water.

I was stunned to learn that black moor goldfish have an average lifespan of 25 whooping years. Looks like me and my buddy have a very long life together ahead of us, and that’s quite alright with me. I have trouble falling asleep without the murmuring sound of his tank filter; he’s like my own living safety blanket, always there to cheer me up with his silent antics.

Photographing Starsky has proved to be a daunting challenge. I’ve snapped dozens of shots of his black, bulbous body, but none have done him justice. Fortunately for you, Niko managed to capture an excellent image of Starsky while playing around with my camera. It doesn’t quite showcase his stunning lack of an eyeball, but it gives a pretty damn good illustration of the little guy. Enjoy!

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Baby Bleu needs a home!

Readers, I need your help. This beautiful pup is Bleu, and we need to find him a home before he’s forced to be put to sleep. This gorgeous Havarnese is six years old, and completely caught up on all his shots. He is the pride and joy of my good friend Taylor, who is begging me to help find him a home. We don’t have very much time, and it would absolutely crush me to see such an amazing dog be put to sleep over a silly accident. I’m really picky about animals, but I adore Bleu – he is sweet and playful and full of love.

Taylor moved back home after graduation, and found out the hard way that Bleu was not used to small children. His parents have served him with an ultimatum – find Bleu a new home by the weekend, or put him down. I promised to help him find a loving college student who could give Bleu a new loving place to stay. It would be a tragedy to see this beautiful creature be needlessly put to death. Please help us spread the word!

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Nature Update

Every time I convince myself that my Black Swallowtail Caterpillar can’t get any juicier, he devours another stalk of his fennel plant and fattens up even more. I am astonished at both his rate of growth, and the beefing up of my smaller moth caterpillar. I snagged a shot of the smaller one right after he molted – you can spot his small old body discarded at the bottom of his leaf.

Included alongside the caterpillar update are a few shots I took in the backyard this afternoon while Niko and I looked for a good branch for Baby Cap to pupate on. I found a little red mushroom right behind my bedroom window, and came across a gooey slug enjoying his fungus dinner over near our rotting logs in the back.

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