Singing the mountains and valleys, trees and rocks, grass and flowers and even the loud wild turkeys that surround me in my adopted home here in the North Bay. As most readers and friends know, this adopted home town of Santa Rosa, where I’ve hung my hat any available moment between assignments or family-and-work trips elsewhere since 2014, was caught up in a devastating fire which then became a complex of several enormous fires in October of last year. As noted in a few previous posts, I’m trying to watch the process of decay and new growth which nature is pushing forward as the rainy season has rolled from November through now February here. We’re still far too short on rainfall for the rainy season, and must hope for many more inches in coming months if we’re to avoid further devastating fires and water restrictions later on. But for the moment, the grass has greened the hills and gentle steady rains have revived many plants whether burned, dormant, or both. Burned patches scar many of our mountains as seen from a distance, while burned trees and rocks remind us on walks and bike rides that we’re fortunate the fires ended when they did. I’ll soon be off to a new assignment, in a portion of Africa which rarely makes the global headlines, and where the opportunity and luxury of taking photos will rarely apply. So to remind myself of the beauty for which I’m so grateful every time I come home…I’m popping a whole ton of photos (yes, I know, way too many) up on here. Further down you’ll see galleries with tree-and-rock level detail of charred tree trunks still standing and bravely putting out new leaves and shoots; you’ll also see three months’ worth of photos of my fire-scarred rock in its gully and be able to compare the process of regrowth. It’s rather like watching the scar from my own small surgical procedure last December: each month, that scar seems to recede. Mine is only a small scar, unlike many of our mountainsides whose scars still astonish with their size and brownness, even in this relatively green time of the year. Enjoy the photos – click on individual pictures in each gallery and you might see why I included it once it’s a bit larger. (For example, a tree scarred at the bottom but still alive higher up.) Here’s to a year of healing wounds and finding new growth, for me and everyone reading this :-).
Look closely at this post’s first photo, and you will notice drier, browner patches in the mountains on the far side of the valley. Those are from the Tubbs fire, which in early October burned such a path of destruction in and around Santa Rosa. When that fire struck I was on the east coast visiting my mother, who’s had some health issues of her own. In early December, I got out to Anadel again with a good MSF friend & colleague (see photo below). She had recommended that I pick a specific view or area to photograph as I get out and about in Santa Rosa and watch the process of regrowth. (Anadel is the state park affected by the Nunns fire, which was separated at one point from the Tubbs Fire only by the valley you see in that first photo.)
I’ve followed her advice – did so, in fact, the morning we took this photo. Further down you’ll see a gallery of square photos, three in a row. You’ll notice a rock there with a clear burn mark across the moss: I plan to photograph this rock any time I’m up there in the coming year or so. As with these two, I’ll title the photos with dates, so I and any interested readers can watch the process of regrowth. It seems nature is faster at rebuilding — it seems to happen…well, naturally there. The many destroyed homes I bicycle past when going about my appointed rounds seem to still be under review by claims adjusters, and a friend who lost his home tells me there are various safety requirements to be met prior to fully launching a rebuild. (In particular around possible toxics from burnt homes in the soil, I think?) Still, though, I figure we’re likely to see a significant building boom by the middle of the new year.
The BBC tells me that Prince Harry (he of UK fame) recently did a radio show where he spoke with (among others) President Barack Obama, truly a class act whom I and millions of Americans miss greatly. Harry asked about finding hope when times are tough. I’ve found myself talking about the same topic a lot with friends at home — friends whose homes burned, friends who had to evacuate. All of them friends who, like me, find the dishonest bully currently in the white house quite distressing and depressing. I take comfort in signs of growth and connection where I can. I choose to believe that there is at least as much generosity and kindness in this country and this world, as there is sadness and loss. May 2018 prove me right for us all on this blue ball spinning through space :-).
Last Friday I stepped out my door, lurched down the stairs in my building, and went for a walk. Within the first 100 steps, I experienced new and strange emotional reactions to something so terribly simple as going for a walk down my block. I feared I’d fall, I feared a kid on a skateboard would bump into me or someone might beat me up, I feared a bicyclist might hit me or a dog might leap up and put its paws on my stomach. So many fears for one small person taking a simple walk down the block!
As I walked, I grew more familiar with my new limitations, aches and pains. I also slowly felt my envelope of of pain-free and reduced-fear activity expand ever so slightly. In the end, I walked more than a mile into downtown Santa Rosa and bought myself a ticket to the matinee of the new Blade Runner. (It’s very contemplative; so relieved in this ADHD-age someone is still doing slow & contemplative on the big screen.) And I probably grew a bit as a human through this process.
Seven days ago I had hernia-repair surgery. The walk, two days later, was the first time I’d been out and about on my own with my newly-sore, cut-open and compromised abdomen. Every movement I made (or tried to make) reminded me why we call this our ‘core’ – my abdomen came into play when I tried to blow my nose or sneeze; when I tried to walk faster to catch a traffic light so as to cross an intersection; any time I tried to roll over in bed or sit up or go to the toilet. It was a newly-humbling experience, to feel so very vulnerable. I’ve spent something like 1/5 of my life in places with poorer resources and support for the vulnerable and weak than right here, yet it’s here that I experienced one of my most jarring moments of fear and vulnerability.
A good reminder to take nothing for granted. This, for me, calls forth a response of gratitude & appreciation for all that I do have. Especially since I know my friends, colleagues & interlocutors in other settings don’t have many of these blessings and advantages. At the start of November, I spent a week being tour guide with the Forced From Home exhibit, in which I and other staff who’ve worked in field positions with MSF guide small groups around several stations depicting the realities of having to flee one’s home, and what one might encounter along the way. Before we opened, most of us tour guides seemed to agree that what we most hoped our groups would take away from the exhibit was an abiding sense of appreciation of what we do have. (Shout out to all the clinical colleagues who take care of me & keep me safe during my most vulnerable moments in the field, btw…)
(If curious, check out this article with a quote or two from me:
– I’ll have some more photos up from Oakland me doing the tour thing, at some point in coming weeks/months…)
That week guiding tour groups through the exhibit in Oakland was especially poignant for me, because my home city of Santa Rosa is still in the long and painful process of recovery from the wild fires. Like me, several local friends have commented that we are reluctant to drive (in my case, bike) around the most-affected zone – or take photos there. It feels almost voyeuristic, and possibly disrespectful of direct human pain and loss resident in those areas. My surgeon’s office is in one of the large buildings that survived the first, most destructive fires. A week before the operation, I biked the eight miles from home up to his office for my pre-op consultation. This post is mostly full of photos I took that day – along Redwood Highway north of downtown Santa Rosa. The burn-related photos were taken on November 14, five weeks after the first fires struck. At one main intersection (the photo just above), the buildings at three corners were destroyed while a gas station at the northwest corner stood, as did the construction site immediately west of it. This was all visible from the waiting room in my surgeon’s office. And I saw an unusual number of people who, like me, were standing to look out the windows from this higher vantage point, scanning the hills and taking stock.
The fires, like my surgery, remind me of my own vulnerability and human frailty. They also remind me of my many blessings, friends, gifts and joys. One of my best friends dropped me off & picked me up after surgery – he and his extended family also hosted me the following day for Thanksgiving surrounded by three generations of kids, parents & grandparents. (The photo just below is of a woozy-looking me with Howard, at my apartment after he brought me home.) My mother is recovering wonderfully well (knock wood) from her own, far more serious surgery. And I have fundamentally safe streets with sidewalks down which I can stroll, appreciating fall foliage and now all the displays of Christmas decorations going up, as I steadily rebuild my body’s strength and capacity in preparation for what I firmly expect will be an enjoyable end of year holiday season with friends and family. My Unitarian-Universalist congregation has focused on faith, this month: in what do we place our faith. I choose to have faith that the sun will continue to rise, that seeds will continue to sprout, and that it is always good to be kind and generous to those around us. Even if this makes me wildly crazy in the eyes of the pessimists among us, I find it simply so very much more enjoyable to be kind than not. I hope you’ll join me 😊. Peace.
Above, me on that vulnerable first walk after surgery and some of the red fall foliage that I’m so over-the-top in love with; below, Cardinal Newman HS athletic fields with a burned hillside behind. Below that, two photos from the Ft Ross area which I just happened to have on hand from a trip with another visiting friend a week or two earlier. For those who don’t know: Ft Ross is a totally cool state historic park documenting the southernmost imperial Russian presence on the west coast of North America; including this rebuilt Russian Orthodox church. SO cool.
The bay area, which I call home and return to between assignments or even on vacations during an assignment when possible, has its icons. There the golden gate bridge, which I cross every time I go to my own physical home after flying into SFO. There’s the corner of Castro & Market, with its massive rainbow flag as a statement to the world that the city’s LGBTQI (did I forget any of the currently-accepted letters?) population is proud and not about to creep back into some box just because some people don’t much like us. There’s Mt Diablo, forming a triangle across the bay as the highest peak in the immediate bay area — visible behind that rainbow flag, down below. There are vineyards…and this year, there’s rain in the vineyards! And snow in the mountains, though I’ve not yet been to see it myself. Perhaps I’ll make it to the mountains after this assignment, before it all melts. Something to keep in mind.
In any case, I was recently back amongst these icons for a final vacation during the current assignment. When the weather was sufficiently clear, I walked or biked around and appreciated the greenest vistas I’ve seen in years, since California’s been in a drought that’s grown more severe year by year for a decade or so. As it rained on my way back to the airport for the flight back to PaP, I photographed one of Sonoma County’s lovely hillside vineyards through the bus’s rainy window. On the way up, I photographed the GGB through the bus’s reasonably clear window. And I took as many photos of flowers as I could: so much was in bloom! I’ll admit I’ve been overworked at work, depressed in real life at home about what’s become of government and “civil” discourse in my native land, and generally rather tired. So I’ve not taken out my camera much. But I do usually have a phone with me and I’m now on instagram (paulbsrca) so every now and then I remember I can snap something with that, then pop it up on instagram. But I remain more of a long-form guy, so here I’m assembling stuff from both camera & phone, to share some of what I’ve seen and thought lately. It’s always lovely when I know folks read and appreciate what I share. Thanks…and let’s all try to add a wee bit more beauty and pleasure into the days and lives of those around us…if that’s not too bold a suggestion. Peace. 🙂
I was home for a short holiday in November, after a remarkably wet October. Those early generous rains brought stronger autumn color in the trees than I have yet seen in Sonoma County. The rivers were a bit more robust than usual for early November, the hills of my favorite parks a bit greener…and some of the bike paths already muddy. I delighted in the freedom to hop on my bike & find all the red-leaved trees and beautiful views I could find. I also took time to enjoy the contrast of white lichen with brown, fallen leaf. Here are some photos from those outings. I’m taking pleasure in beauty these days- the slant of a ray of light through a window, the curve of a kid’s smile as he bikes through downtown Port au Prince (yes, I saw this the other day!). It seems a good time to remember and appreciate the blessings in my life, which certainly include all my wonderful friends and readers, known and unknown, around the world. Have a lovely end of year holiday season :-).
The previous post showed some of the redwoods from Armstrong Grove, maybe 10 or 15 miles inlands from the Pacific ocean, upstream along the lovely and wine-producing Russian River. In the photo immediately above, you see where the Russian river meets the Pacific – and another shot of more or less the same view after the gallery of photos below. All of these photos were taken on the same day as that redwoods outing, on a lovely coast & redwoods loop trip I took with an old high-school friend of mine who’d come up to check out the place I’ve been calling home for the past few years. Large chunks of the Sonoma County coast line are set aside for the Sonoma Coast State Park, and most of the photos in this entry come from sections of that extensive and lovely park.
It is notoriously impossible to photograph our California redwood trees. They’re so very tall, so very big around…and when you’re fortunate enough to find a true grove or forest of them, with dozens or hundreds in sight, all of your senses can be captured by the collective impact of so many wide, strong trunks reaching high up into the clear blue sky, so high that sunlight filters down in hazy shafts through their crowns. Your eyes scan up and up along the trunk to the source of that light…your ears find the rustling breeze through the undergrowth…your nose detects the moist earthy scent of the undergrowth…and you realize that no two-dimensional photo can do it justice. I suppose I could try videos, but that wouldn’t do it either; moreover, bandwidth for uploads isn’t sufficient for that.
But still – I do what I can. The bark, the shafts of light running across a burned trunk – the massive roots of a tree uprooted long ago. I took these shots on a visit to the Armstrong Grove just outside Guerneville with my friend Jill (up from Ventura), during my vacation in August. Yes, I’m still catching up with that last home trip before I go on another: things have been busy for me here in Haiti even before the 4th of October – and busier still, since.
I’ve known the city of San Francisco for so long – from a childhood summer in Berkeley, from living in the city and/or staying for long period quite often in recent decades – that I tend to assume everyone is aware that it’s surrounded by water on three sides; that it’s full of hills which give beautiful views of its other hills, of the bay and the ocean that surround it, or of lovely San Bruno Mountain which draws up its southern border…that it’s full of beautiful Victorian houses nicely maintained and painted for the most part…that it is chock-a-block with parks at the tops of many those hills, giving thus even better views with greenery and flowers in the foreground, hills and Victorians n the background. But I realize, when I return to work and my international team of folks from Haiti and around the world, that my little corner of the world is one to which most people actually have not yet been. And so herewith some photos from lovely sunny days where I enjoyed the freedom to stroll at will and to pull out my camera any moment I felt like it. They’re all named in a way that intends to inform you of what you’re seeing. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed those strolls :-).
Two quite different views on two quite musical days: fairly typical vacation outing for me if I’m able to be around the Bay Area in August. I always look forward to the chance to hear some performances at the Cabrillo Music Festival, which my friends Gene & Howard introduced me two nearly two decades ago. This year I enjoyed two excellent evenings of contemporary music during the final season of their excellent long-standing conductor Marin Alsop. Day one, we drove down from SF via Route 1 for traffic reasons, and thus had far lovelier views and a chance to pick up fresh strawberries at a farm stand in the northern part of Santa Cruz county. I always enjoy that drive because so much of the west side of the peninsula and of Santa Cruz county remain very heavily agricultural, while of course the east side of the peninsula is silicon valley: economic (and visual) diversity, eh?
Day two we had a matinée performance of the contemporary Opera Powder Her Face produced by West Edge Opera in an abandoned train station right next to the freeway in Oakland. It must have been a very grand station before the rail lines were relocated to the north side of the major interstate that now runs right behind it. The opera was disturbing and quite well produced, and the train station made a great concert hall and interesting subject for architectural photography. I hope you’ll enjoy these glimpses of what I get up to given time and opportunity back home :-).