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.
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 cal-fire site tells me that the Nuns fire complex ultimately burned 56,556 acres. The final report date on the site is November 6, which I suppose means it was 100% contained or fully extinguished on or before that date. Earlier, I’d assume, since the superintendent of Annadel State Park allowed parts of the park to reopen for hikers, bikers and runners on the 5th if I understood the signs well.
My last post contained all the photos I’d taken in Sonoma County between returning from Haiti (late April), and the day of the post. Today, I’m posting almost entirely photos taken yesterday in my beloved nearby State Park. Annadel is a gem on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa which has been a key source of recreation and mental-health management for me here in Santa Rosa. The fire burned through about 2/3 of it, and if the wonderful fire fighters (see thank you signs from my last post) hadn’t stopped it where they did, then it would have destroyed many homes near the park, and I guess there was a very real risk this fire complex would merge with the Tubbs complex, which had already destroyed so much to the north in Santa Rosa.
With many of the trails open, I got out there again yesterday to appreciate the park and take stock of the damage. I try to find silver linings: that it WAS stopped here is a silver lining; that green shoots are already sprouting among the charred grasses is also good to see. (See the round gallery a little lower down.) The rainy season has come – it’s sprinkling as I type this – and so we must hope for enough rain to allow plants to re-grow strong…but not so much as to cause too many land slides in all the newly-vulnerable areas whose trees and grasses have been burned.
If you look closely, you will really see how rapidly the fire passed through (burned areas surrounding unburned patches), plus the stark line where they stopped the fire: trees charred on the south side, still green moss on the north side. Rocks the same way. Since I already wrote more in the last post, I’ll leave it here for now. Gratitude, shock, slow return to regular life, I guess. Peace, everyone. Most photos have titles that’ll tell you what they are or why I selected them.
Can you spot the photo in the gallery above is not taken in Anndel? It’s this entry’s tribute to our first-responders. 🙂
In a post last year, I did a selfie while taking a breakfast break lying on one of these two tables, at the junction of Marsh & Canyon trails. Canyon was the fire line through this portion of the park — the photo above, here, with straw over where fire fighters had widened the line is on Canyon trial, west of this point. To compare then and now, check this link or others labeled Annadel, or Sonoma County, or Napa & Sonoma (I need to work on my tags…) — https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2016/08/19/dry-hillsides-live-oaks/
For a lot of reasons, I tend to hide the personal me on this blog – focusing instead on the remarkable people I’ve worked with & places I’ve been. The personal me is by nature a fairly private individual, even if I occasionally manage public coherence when speaking about my work experiences. With this post, I’m making exceptions to a few of my usual rules: I’m taking photos out of order, so as to include photos taken this very morning (rather than continuing to work my way forward from late May, when I took those last photos I posted from Beacon, NY)…and it’s more than usually about me and the community I’ve called home since 2014.
The place I call home is Santa Rosa: county seat and geographic heart of Sonoma County, a lovely small city nestled between mountain ranges, surrounded by parks (state, city and county), blessed with farmers who plant and grow the most delicious fruits and vegetables and bring them to us at year-round farmer’s markets, with vineyards that produce fantastic wines, with so many breweries & brewpubs that it’s an embarrassment of riches. We’re blessed with bike paths, with urban planners who let the traffic lights notice the small profile of a biker as well as the larger profile of a car…meaning I can make a left turn without having to get off my bike and press for the walk signal at most intersections.
…look closely in the photo above and you will see some blackened patches, not far from roofs of houses built up against the edge of the park on the lower slopes of those hills. I’ve had camera trouble (an SD card went haywire) so I had to re-do these photos with the wrong light and I can’t get back out there again soon when the light’s better…so, sorry for the lower quality of today’s photos.
Here in Santa Rosa I’ve been able to hop on my bike, take to the hills and work through whatever stress and sadness have accumulated through the work I do. I’ve grown accustomed to working in places which are in the headlines – a year ago, I was living in Port au Prince when hurricane Matthew struck; just two months ago, I was in Sierra Leone when a landslide & flood killed hundreds in an instant. I had not thought to have friends texting and writing to ask if I was safe at my home in Santa Rosa – but that’s what happened, Monday the 9th of October as I sat with my mother in a doctor’s office on the other side of the continent. First, friends called to ask if they could offer my apartment (empty, since I was away helping my mother with some medical challenges) to people suddenly evacuated because of the literal fire storm which with shocking speed consumed homes, lives, hotels, and businesses overnight from late on Sunday the 8th into the 9th. Then other friends began texting, to ask whether my own home was affected. And there I was, a few thousand miles away with other commitments.
I returned home six days ago, and have been taking stock of this city & county I’m so happy to call home and pay my taxes in…since, after all, it’s those wonderful county taxes which support our wonderful firefighters and responders, I assume. I’m offering here a range of photos, all taken between late April (when I returned after the end of my assignment in Haiti) and this morning. Each photo has a file name which will tell you what it is – and usually when it is. 171027 means this morning, 2017 – 10 – 27, and so on.
Since I have reading friends and followers around the world, let me explain a bit: California (especially the coastal parts, but really most of the state) gets all of its (limited) rain in the months from October to April. Usually it’s really November to March. Our plant and animal communities – from the famous redwood trees to our mountain lions and California poppies – have evolved around these extremes of wet and dry, with fire as a critical part of the ecostystem. Redwoods, I believe, thrive on flash fires – which clear away their competition in rapid brush fires which they can easily survive. Caveat: I’m not an expert on this stuff, but am trying to remember what I’ve read in park signs and articles. I’m quite certain that fire has been part of the native ecosystems here since long before even the first Native Americans arrived in what’s now Sonoma County – let alone before the first Europeans interlopers arrived just a handful of centuries ago, when most redwoods still standing were already mature.
The first photo in this post was taken in Annadel State Park in late April – at the end of the wettest rainy season we’ve seen in many years. Of course, that rain meant we had lots of new growth this year. And of course, we had our usual dry season which led to the brown hills with dusty green of scrub oaks and lots of dry new growth, which you’ll see in other posts. Look closely at the photo just below, and you’ll see how the grass burned on the hills of Annadel just above a city park where I often play tennis. It’s fairly common for parks to burn, this late in the dry season. It’s not at all common for a firestorm to erupt and spread so very rapidly under heavy winds. Friends who were here at the time, and who were evacuated, tell stories of going to bed aware of heavy winds, waking up to the sound of neighbors knocking on doors and/or loading their cars with family and pets then driving off, at 3 in the morning. I do not have the heart to show the destruction to property and homes: those photos are already out there, and for me to pile on feels disrespectful to the members of my adopted community who have lost so much. I am worried about one of my favorite farmers, who grows in the northern part of Santa Rosa where the first fires were at their most intense. (It’s her produce you see in one of the photo galleries further down – from figs to aubergine/eggplant and peppers.) I hope when I next make it to the farmer’s market, I’ll learn that she and her farm and family are all OK.
This is already a longer post than usual – and as you see, I’m throwing in a range of photos I’ve taken throughout Sonoma County since returning from Haiti in April. Why? I’ve been fearful about the health of people I love, from my mother to friends here in Santa Rosa, to a dear family friend who passed away last month. And I’ve certainly been fearful for the homes and lives of my community here – including my own home, which has remained untouched (knock wood) but was much too close for comfort.
At the same time I have been heartened, as always, by the magnificence of fall foliage both on the east coast (New York, New Jersey) and here in Santa Rosa. By the enduring refuge of nature and the cycles of our planet which so greatly outstrips my own small life and experience. I take comfort from understanding myself as one transient element of a planet and a universe I find beautiful and enduring, and which I hope future generations will enjoy long after my own molecules have reassembled elsewhere. I also remember that at most times, even in places affected by great crisis, most people are doing their best to get on with life, feeding their kids and wiping their noses.
A thing I’ve loved about Santa Rosa & Sonoma county since first introducing myself here is how warm and friendly people are. This is reflected, I think, in the fact that I see signs everywhere thanking our first responders: the fire, police, emergency-response and support professionals who have deployed from communities near and far to limit damage, hold fires back from property and lives as much as possible, and help everyone react and adjust as well as we all can. I interpret this not only as gratitude that they’ve helped save so much, but also as refusal to give in to fear, insistence on seeing hope and opportunity rather than only loss or worry. These are, in the end, individual choices each of us must make: live in fear or live in hope? My favorite park is closed until further notice – but I’ve learned again how many of us love that park (see the sign with heart saying we love Anndell, noted on a fence not far from me). Being redirected to other bike paths and parts of town also helps me see and learn anew – for example, that our city has provided a fly-casting pond where folks walk their dogs and practice their fly-casting techniques for their next trip to the trout streams. So, despite a worried heart about people at risk or dealing with loss, both near and far…I find faith that the sun will rise again tomorrow, that we’ll find our way through these difficult patches, and that somehow we’ll rebuild and restore balance and harmony, first in our community and then, perhaps, elsewhere on a fractious globe. Peace, out.