Clearly, I fly a great deal. And clearly, I like to look out the window, dream, and see the world from a new vantage point. At left: the salt-evaporating ponds full of bacteria along the shores of San Francisco Bay, shortly before landing in April. Below: Hamburg and its major harbor along the Elbe, shortly after takeoff in September. In the three galleries lower down: more of the lovely colorful salty ponds plus a few shots from a late-May flight into SFO when sky was clear enough to see over the peninsular mountains to the Pacific Ocean; more of Hamburg as well as clouds above London and easternmost England, later on that flight; and then a trio taken while flying into SFO again from Dallas, in September. And at the very bottom, a large photo showing both some salt ponds near San Jose, as well as the mountains on the peninsula and the sky over the Pacific Ocean at sunset. There are reasons I’m always happy when I fly home to the Bay Area :-).
Followers and friends will know that I spent nine months at home this year, at first mostly near my mother’s (now former) home in New Jersey with some trips to my own home-base in Sonoma County, and then from June mostly in SoCo. The day I left my home to begin the travels which brought me to the desk in Dhaka from which I’m writing this now, I left earlier than planned because the friend whom I’d planned to be my ride to the airport was in an area that had fallen under mandatory evacuation, due to yet another devastating forest fire. That fire ultimately burned parts of Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, which had already been badly burned in the major fires just two years ago. I hiked up there less than two weeks before I flew out, and took the photo just below – where you see the charred part of a trail marker, left over from two years earlier.
You also see how very dry things are by the late dry season, making whatever vegetation there is ready fuel for any fires that do start. The photos I’m showing you here were taken on several hikes with friends (Howard, Nancy, Steve) and bike rides on my own, in many parks, trails and roads spanning a lot of Sonoma County between the end of the wet season / start of dry (the first photo in this post, on a bike ride in mid-April when rain might still fall a bit) to the one below, late October, late in the dry when we haven’t seen rain in more than six months.
I’m thinking of home on what’s still the end of Thanksgiving day, there in California – even if here it’s already Friday morning, that silly consumerist “black Friday” thing that American merchants get all excited about. Enjoy time with your friends and family, my beloved readers. They’re what’s truly priceless.
If you know anything about California today, it’s that we’ve had a lot of incredibly devastating wildfires recently. You’re perhaps less aware that we’ve also had floods and the kinds of landslide that result when the forests which stabilize slopes during heavy rain have been destroyed by fire. I could wax lyrical about the need for an evidence-based public policy, but we all know how far that’s going to get us in the current faith-based voter climate of battleground states like the state of my birth, so let’s just do a slide show instead, ok? 😊 When I flew home from Bangladesh suddenly in February, in order to be with Mom and (I thought) help nurse her back to strength through that clinical trial, I was trying to give myself enough time here at home in CA to steady my own nerves through my usual recourse to bike trails and tennis courts, while still spending most of my time in NJ with Mom. Thus, between February and April, I was back and forth a few times.
Two years ago I first learned of the big Santa Rosa-area fires when a friend from my local UU congregation called – as I sat in a doctor’s office with Mom – to ask if they could house displaced people in my apartment, since she knew I was away. During my times at home over the intervening two years I’ve tried when possible to keep photos of the natural and human environments I encounter. I’ve watched rains come, trees recover or give up the ghost, rocks recover their envelopes of moss, and I’ve been grateful that the heavy rains haven’t (so far) caused any bad landslides that I know of in my own area.This time, while I was out east, it was more about floods that I learned: one town in my county was reachable only by boat for a couple of days, since the flooded Russian River had risen above all the roads leading to it. And any time there was a long-enough break in the rain for me to hop on the bike and head out, I grabbed camera and/or phone and headed out. Here are the results, below…and after that, some post-fire regrowth and rebuild images as well, which I’ll likely caption and explain when we get to them. Sorry this is a long post…but it’s been a while. Hope you find it interesting.
And moving on the aspect of more obvious post-fire recovery, I’ve been really amazed at how rapidly the scars on the natural landscape have become less visible. A friend said I should find a specific location to watch, so I found my little “fire-line rock” to follow. I posted a gallery last year, showing photos taken over the first twelve months, as the visible burn line on its moss vanished; I also watched the trail uphill from where this rock grows, as the meadows lost their cover of charcoal and trees either regrew or gave up and died. After this text, you will see first a video taken after one of the rainy days earlier, about 2km or 1.5 miles downhill from the fire line rock. After that I’ve copied the same gallery from last October, with the addition of some new photos taken two weeks ago, so 21 months or so after the rock sat on the burning fire line. I can’t even tell which rock it is, any more – did the winters incredibly heavy rains move the rocks or have they just all gone back to their natural dry-season similarity? Not sure…and didn’t get up there when it was wetter, precisely because it was so wet and muddy :-). After that are some other post-fire shots both close up and farther away. Right now, in dry season especially, I have to look closely to see the charring on tree trunks that have already begun to regrow…
In the photo just above we are looking west on the Canyon Trail, which was the fireline when the Nuns fire was stopped before it had a chance to merge with the Tubbs fire, in November 2017. The meadow to the left of the trail burned; to the right, it didn’t. If curious, you can look at photos taken on a hike shortly after this part of the park was reopened, and compare things then and now, in this post from that time: https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2017/11/13/walking-the-fire-line-in-annadel/
So last week I flew home to the bay area after a month with family in the NY/NJ region. I always love flying into SF from NYC: the route very frequently goes more or less directly over my home town of Santa Rosa, then cuts down along the beautiful coastline in Sonoma & Marin counties, more or less directly over the Golden Gate Bridge and then in some manner or other executes a circle in order to line up for landing at SFO. These photos were all taken in the space of one day when I’d returned from my assignment to Central African Republic last year. I landed late at night at JFK, woke up near the NYC office for my debrief meetings and a bit of a presentation to the office team, then hopped directly on trains to the plane for the flight. Since it was a clear day on both coasts, I got morning photos from a walk along the shore at Battery Park & views of the Statue of Liberty; then took photos of Santa Rosa from above, Point Reyes, San Jose & silicon valley at dusk, and the coast south of SF as the plane began its circle toward San Jose then back up to land. Air travel remains a gift which I enjoy on days when the view out the window is so spectacular, even if the in-airport experience long since stopped having any pleasant elements whatsoever :-). Enjoy!
Since I don’t usually have much bandwidth when I’m on field assignments, I never adopted video. Recently, when spending more time at home, I’ve been taking more short videos to show friends a different angle of how I occupy my time when I’m at home here in Santa Rosa. For example: the photo above, taken from the Santa Rosa Creek Bike Trail, was taken about the same place the video below, which shows an egret fishing in the creek. And you can see me biking up and down the trails a bit, courtesy of another biker who agreed to do the video. There’s also a video of an evening street fair with its band, last December…and rain dripping down the bark of a tree as I walked my neighborhood one rainy day last year after my surgery. Hope you enjoy :-).
For many reasons I’ve been thinking about balance lately. Health and illness, birth and death, creation and destruction. My personal friends know I’ve had a fairly serious illness myself this past month, coupled with some fairly significant health issues affecting close family as well. And here we are nearly upon the one-year anniversary of the first outbreak of deadly wildfire which destroyed so many homes in my own community of Santa Rosa just a year ago. Recovering my own physical health at first involved avoiding much physical exercise, and now involves steadily allowing my stamina to build back. One way I’ve done that is to go hiking again in our local state park, where a second wildfire, coming from the south of Santa Rosa instead of the north of Santa Rosa, also destroyed many homes and lives at nearly the same time. Our rainy season here usually begins some time in October: last year, the first rains came later in the month. This year, we had an inch of rain last week and this allowed the moss to green up again on a stone I’ve been watching and photographing since the first time my normal trail in the park was reopened three weeks after last year’s Nunns fire was declared controlled. That stone is shown in the gallery below, with the most recent photo first and working backward. Date of the photo is indicated in format yymmdd, if you’re curious.
With a good friend I also drove up and over the hills to the north — hills from which this panorama shot just below, which looks south,was taken — there’s a major road across the mountains there along which many homes and businesses were destroyed in this week last year. There is some rebuilding happening and many lots cleared and seemingly prepped for rebuilding — just as a small tree in the second gallery, which last year was burned, is putting out a second season of new leaves now. You might need to enlarge some of the gallery photos to even see the burned parts lower down: the scars all across our landscape are already fading compared to what they were a year ago, though the vacant lots remain quite visible and the scars in the community and landscapre are certainly real. I feel fortunate to live in a community which came together in mutual support when faced with such challenge and destruction. I hope our human family more broadly will find constructive and healing ways to bridge our sometimes seemingly unbridgeable divides, on a larger scale and for a longer time. Balance, moderation, and an honest acquaintance with global realities seem quite necessary for longer-term health and survival of our planet and species, from what I’ve seen and experienced around this beautiful complicated world we all call home. Peace – health – balance.
If you haven’t been to the San Francisco Bay Area yourself, and if you wonder why I’m always so happy to get home to it; or why visitors to SF and the bay area so often rave about it — a good place to start is to take in the photo just above. I’m still working my way through photos I took last year, before I headed over to Bangui, where I’ve been now for more than two months. I shot all of the photos in this post during a take-off from SFO en route to EWR last year, in May — but what I’m posting are just photos from the bay area and up til the time we reached the still snow-covered Sierra Nevadas. Since it was nearly a year ago, and this year hasn’t seen as much snow — just remember: it’s last year! Enjoy!
In November, I had the great pleasure of participating as a tour guide in the Forced From Home exhibit, which in 2017 toured five different cities in the west. This provided me with a chance not only to explore a few corners of Oakland more thoroughly than past visits, but also to meet a bunch of other MSF colleagues whom I’d probably never meet otherwise, unless we happened to be in the same mission at the same time. (Which was not the case for any of the interesting and fun fellow tour-guides I met during this stop on the tour.) The exhibit itself happened just across the street from Lake Merritt, right behind the beautiful Oakland Civic Auditorium aka Henry Kaiser Auditorium. The building itself has been closed for structural reasons for more than a decade – but the outside is still beautiful.
But the most important thing the tour gave me was a chance to share a more realistic taste of what life is like for many of the patients and communities we work with, than I can do just speaking in front of a classroom or to friends when I get home from an assignment. I’m always looking for ways to capture what’s similar and what’s different, between the wealth of most US communities and what’s normal for so many people where I work. People who grew up where and when I grew up take so very much for granted that they often seem to actually believe it’s a hardship to not be able to get the next release of an i-phone the day it comes out. (I know poverty is present in the US – but even the poorest states and towns will still usually have paved roads in the town center, a public electricity grid that’s very stable by global standards, a municipal water supply, local and national governments with sufficient income to maintain a fairly reasonable level of civil order, and so on.) In any case, I spent about 10 days sharing stories and examples of what displaced people all around the world might face – and it was an honor and a pleasure. It’s interesting to sort and look back at these photos and remember the questions my tour visitors asked, now that I’m back at work in a country with something like 25% of its citizens displaced from their homes due to violence.
I’ll let the photos, of the civic center and the tour, of downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt in all their glory, speak for themselves. (Do read the titles on the small photos from the auditorium, above – you’ll find how I titled this post.) And I’ll share three public links, the first about this year’s plans for the Forced From Home tour (it’s well worth a visit if it stops near you), the second an article about the exhibit which quotes me, and the third a recent public statement relating to the work I’m doing at the moment, to keep things in context. As you know I can’t really talk about the current work on this personal blog…but public statements are public statements.
On a warm, bright day last May, I for the very first time took the freeway exit which would lead me, Amy & Nancy to China Camp State Historic Park on the shores of San Pablo Bay in the northern reaches of the greater San Francisco Bay. All along the freeway north of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one sees signs for state parks, state historic parks, significant historical or architectural landmarks…and too often one simply drives past with the internal monologue that says “I’ll visit next time.” It’s rather like New York City residents who see the Statue of Liberty out their subway window during elevated portions of the ride from Brooklyn into Manhattan but may actually visit the island itself only once a decade when visitors from out of town express an interest. In any case we three did finally visit on that bright morning in May, exploring a few short trails and enjoying the visitor center’s historical displays about the local shellfish harvesting done mostly by Chinese immigrants, and the local community and commercial culture that grew up around these camps. Yet another sad fact in the history of the western US is the sheer historical forgetfulness of too many anglo types around the essential, critical role played by so many non-anglo communities in making these places what they are today. This little park does its bit to remind us all, and I for one found it well worth a visit – try it yourself some time! And for anyone who’s curious: yes, I’m now back in the heart of Africa, writing this fairly close to the shores of the Oubangui river and I’ll just let you guess where that places me, if you don’t already know :-). At some point I might find a few things I can photograph and post from here, but for the time being I am still using my limited personal free time to dig through photos from some of my favorite outings during my extended inter-mission last year…I hope you enjoy them as they pop here every now and then in coming weeks, as the occasional lazy Sunday morning with sufficient internet bandwidth permits. Peace, health, thanks as always for visiting the site and sharing my photos with me … out.
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 :-).