Imagine, please, what I failed to photograph: the beautiful rust-feathered hawk that flew from left to right along the creek’s path, just under the dense tree canopy, just as I got off my bike to contemplate the reflections in the water. Had I but drawn my camera faster and clicked video :-(. But, please: imagine.
The mountain ridge between Sonoma and Napa counties is part of the Mayacamas, one of the many ranges of coastal mountains that run roughly north-south around here. Santa Rosa sits mostly in a plain, with mountains on more or less three sides. Much of the mountain area is parkland – county, state and local parks where we hike, bike, camp and run. Major parts of Hood Mountain Regional Park, as well as Sugarloaf Ridge State Park with which it shares the mountains you see in all the photos above and below, have now been burned twice in three years — first in the Tubbs Fire (started October 8, 2017), and again this year in the Glass Fire (started September 27). CalFire’s website says February 9, 2018 was the final-containment date of the Tubbs, which burned 36,807 acres. For now, the same site says the Glass is 97% contained and has burned 67,484 acres. The state and county parks on the southern side of that valley (Spring Lake regional park and Annadel State Park) reopened last week so I was able to get out and see how things look now. I’m overcoming reluctance to post these, so that folks can see the beauty and the destruction we’re living with now. Reluctance, because we don’t know when our first real rains will come and bring and end to this awful fire season. Reluctance, because even as I write this there is yet another red-flag warning from the weather service because of high winds expected in the mountain areas. But I do want to share, so here goes… We do love our parks and hope that some rain, and perhaps evidence-based acknowledgment of what we need to do to reduce the rapidly-accelerating pace of global warming, will help even our grandchildren and great-grandchildren enjoy them. The alternatives really do seem rather bleak.
When I first returned home in July, a thing that gave me great joy was the ability again to hop on my bike and ply the bike paths through mountains, alongside our local creeks, or through our local parks. A thing that saddened me was how many of the great facilities in our parks were closed due to covid — baseball fields, soccer fields, what-have-you. (I posted a sad example at the following link, and the good news is that the last time I was at that specific field, they were playing soccer there again! — https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2020/09/30/county-views-23/ — Ok, Ok, full disclosure, I took the photo in the link some time in July or maybe August but didn’t post it until the end of September. Oh well…)
In early July when I returned, only tennis courts were open for use, and I’m told even those were closed from April for a few months. I conclude, by watching what’s happening around the world, that like many things human and organic, we’re all struggling to get the balance right. Having watched the fairly clear-eyed and transparent benchmarks established by both our governor (for California) and our county’s public-health officer, I was happy when I biked through this park on Saturday to see an actual high-school or little-league baseball game happening, with spectators spread about in what I interpreted as familial pod clusters. (Yes, this past Saturday, these photos are pretty current.)
We’ve had a fair number of total infections here in Sonoma County, but it seems as though we’ve generally managed the keep the curve reasonably flat. It strikes me that’s the most reasonable public-health goal, because it seems to carry the greatest likelihood of reducing actual deaths by allowing hospitals and clinics more time to cope, rather than becoming vastly overloaded as we’ve seen happy in many countries and cities around the world. In any case, as I eagerly long for the ability to be out and about without worries over masks and social distancing – may the science and evidence tell us it’s reasonable to do so before another year is out, at least?!? — I was just so very happy to see kids playing ball and families able to watch again.
You might have heard there’s an election this year. This being California, there are also many ballot measures as well as the bigger races that most of the world is perhaps a bit aware of. 🙂 These signs pretty accurately reflect what I see on my bike rides around the parts of the county I frequent.
The photos just above were all taken along Rte 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway or Coast Highway, depending what part of the state you’re in) last Friday during my trip to Stillwater Cove on Sonoma County’s central coast. The first complex of fires to break out in Sonoma County (as well as Napa, Lake, Solano and Yolo counties) were sparked by a lovely but freaky overnight lightning storm in mid-August. Historically (before human-driven climate change), lightning in the summer doesn’t happen in coastal California. Nor does rain. This storm sparked lots of fires across our region which is always quite dry by this time in the year, since our rains typically all arrive between October and March.
Typically, our fires here in northern California don’t get serious until around October, but the many fires sparked by that August storm were all collectively named the “LNU Complex Fires” by CalFire, our wonderful state department of forestry and fire protection. The charred hills you see above are what’s left after the Meyers Fire, part of the LNU complex, which scorched a few thousand acres of mostly grassland on the hills right above the ocean, and which threatened a remarkable historic site at Fort Ross State Historic Park. (You can see a photo of its Russian-Orthodox Church at this link – https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2017/11/29/vulnerable-and-grateful/#jp-carousel-8316)
The shots below show some of what I saw in my immediate neighborhood on Monday the 28th of September, the morning after the Glass Fire opened a new front in Santa Rosa & Sonoma county last week. I never expected to need to learn the names of one wildfire after another, and honestly before 2017 I don’t think Sonoma County had seen terribly destructive wildfires for many years. Now it’s one after another – four fire complexes affecting SoCo in three years — and we can name them all. Friends who’ve lost homes are warned to evacuate again, and friends who were evacuated before are evacuated again. And yet public policy at the national level continues to be driven by denial of reality. It’s all quite distressing, and so one heads to the Redwoods to be reminded of the greater realities that surround us. (E.g., in case you haven’t already seen it, https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2020/10/03/if-i-were-a-redwood/) Since our corner of the world remains a blessed & beautiful place that I’m grateful to call home, I continue to take shots of the loveliness that surrounds me – at least when I can perceive it through the literal and figurative smoke. So you will also see me catching up with the always-present backlog of loveliness that my camera captures as I walk, bike or drive its paths, highways and byways :-). Thanks for your interest and your comments.
It might not be immediately apparent, but all three photos above were taken from the same place on different mornings this week. Unlike most of my photos, I’ve not color-adjusted or shifted the contrast at all from what the phone-camera recorded when I tapped the screen. Depending on your screen, you should see a larger photo with a more clearly-defined dawn sky with perceptibly-blue upper levels and a nicely-orange horizon as the earth turns on its axis so as to allow Bennet Mountain to dip below the level of the sun…or, as we narcissistic humans with our limited perceptional abilities would normally put it, “for the sun to rise above Bennet Mountain.” (As though the sun could be troubled to move in relation to puny little earth lol.)
I took that one this morning. At left is a photo from Monday morning, taken roughly half an hour later than this morning’s photo, the first morning after the Glass Fire had exploded up and over the mountains from Napa into Sonoma county, much as the Tubbs fire did three years ago in October. The third photo in this little triptych was taken an hour or so later on Tuesday morning, when the sun was already well up in the sky…though, as you see, so thoroughly obscured by smoke from the fires that one could stare directly at it without any discomfort. And that just ain’t right. (You can click on the photos to see exact date and time in the phone’s format of yyyymmdd_hhmmss.)
Forecasts now give reason for hope of gradually better air quality and slowly clearing skies this week. But we all know we are also still in the early part of what’s our normal fire season — late in the dry period, before our seasonal heavy rains usually kick in. I don’t think Santa Rosa had been directly threatened or affected by significant wild fires in several decades until 2017, but since then we’ve seen four fires in three years.
We are hoping for rain. We are hoping for a national political dialogue that stops denying climate change and starts working again towards radically reduced carbon emissions as national public policy, to try to preserve some sort of livable planet and atmosphere for our children’s children’s children’s… But for now I think I’ll do what I can to revel in a day of fairly clean air and fairly cool temperatures :-).
I’d be happy to grow tall in a steep canyon, where fog lingers in the morning to feed my needles, and a stream burbles in the rainy season to nourish my roots.
I’d be lucky to grow close to the ocean, whose summer fogs and winter warmth would help me grow taller and stronger.
I’d nurture a circle of friends to help me recover from fires.
I’d remember that most of us can survive a fire or two, if our roots are deep enough and our friends close around to support us.
I’d remember that life and death intertwine all around me.
I’d remember that when my seed germinated, the coast Miwok and Pomo still gathered fish, berries and nuts in my canyon, and no one had seen these tree-cutting Europeans yet.
I’d remember that fires, nations, governments and even diseases all have their time, while the seeds dropped by my ancestors created a forest that somehow has managed to remain.