Honey Guides, Bentonite, and Ayer’s Rock

My wanderlust is usually rather micro. I am often quite content with the many things to see and hear and learn on my local walks, in the many routes I can take without even without leaving Deep River.

Portage coverBut this week has got me thinking about nature that’s farther flung. I’ve finished reading Portage, by Sue Leaf, an account of the writer’s canoe trips north and west of here, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, parts of Canada, Wisconsin, etc. (The only canoeing book I liked more was Yukon Wild!). The author devotes nearly two pages to bentonite clay, a substance that arises from ancient volcanic ash along rivers like the Little Missouri.

Cathedral Gorge is located in a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. IPhoto/caption from Nevada State Parks site.

Cathedral Gorge is located in a long, narrow valley where erosion has carved dramatic and unique patterns in the soft bentonite clay. Photo/caption from Nevada State Parks site.

Of course, having to slog through the wet version of the stuff doesn’t sound like any fun; there are tales of clay stranding hikers for days or holding horses in place, but it’s cool to think about parts of the country that have great swaths of stuff I haven’t ever seen. This same nuisance-y stuff is treasured by herbalists, used in facial masks, toothpaste, etc.

Reading about bentonite also unleashed a dormant memory of a grade-school class trip to Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve, a treasure of Long Island’s North Shore. I’m not sure if I’ve created an exaggerated memory, but I seem to remember standing on a large “boulder” (for lack of a better term) of an unfamiliar substance, and our tour guide, perhaps a park ranger, telling me that it was sea clay. I was quite taken with its texture and the fact that it had appeared along the shore—I had spent so much time on South Shore beaches but had never seen this stuff.

Gavin’s been scooping up clay for years from the seasonal “stream” (basically a tract for runoff from the higher-grade forest spring thaw) that runs along the boundary of our property. This Stay Curious blog (great name for a blog, don’t you think!) has an account of the author’s discovery of little clay lumps (lots of them!)  along Bald Head Island beach in North Carolina. It got me wondering if my potter neighbor would be able to mold a work of art with them.

Greater Honeyguide photo reprinted with permission from Safari blog

Greater Honeyguide photo reprinted with permission from Safari blog

From my clay exploration route I hightailed it (virtually) to East Africa. Hadza: The Last of the First  is worth watching. It’s a well-executed documentary about the region’s last remaining true hunter-gatherers, whose way of life is threatened by encroaching civilization and government interests. There’s more than a blog’s worth to write about in terms of the tribe (see the movie!!), but from a naturalist perspective I was quite fascinated by the Honeyguide bird, which actually works with humans to lead them to hive sites. The humans extract the honey and give some of the honeycomb to the bird. This blog  does a great job describing how the interspecies communication and collaboration works.

My third jaunt in this salvo of armchair trips was courtesy of Bill Bryson. Gavin and I are both reading In a Sunburned Country for the second time (wow that guy can really write!). With the knowledge that Bryson is so very well-traveled, I took it quite seriously when he encouraged me to somehow find my way to remote Australia so I can see Ayer’s Rock in person. I could see that even Bryson struggled a bit to encapsulate exactly why this 1,150-foot high, mile-and-a-half long, five-and-a-half mile around “rock” left him astounded, declaring it was worth a 600-mile round trip.

Photo from Parks Australia on Pinterest

Photo from Parks Australia on Pinterest

The rock is technically a bornhardt, per the author “a hunk of weather-resistant rock left standing when all else around it has worn away.” After nearly 3 pages of noting that pictures don’t nearly do it justice, and that being there left him nearly inarticulate but somehow feeling that the rock was primordially, or even supernaturally, vastly meaningful, connecting with it in a nearly indescribable way, he was forced to wrap it up by saying, in uncharacteristically monosyllabic fashion for such a wordy guy: “Go there, man.”

From my chair, out West and on to East Africa and Australia. All of this almost topped the local adventures to follow here at home: cormorants through my binoculars, hungry birds encircling the feeder, long walks in the surprisingly mild late November air. Thankful for adventures outdoors, both far and near,  vicarious and in the flesh.

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2 thoughts on “Honey Guides, Bentonite, and Ayer’s Rock

  1. Your writing is always so eloquent. Thank you for the armchair journey. I definitely want to read up some more on bentonite.

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