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/
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 :-).
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.
In May, I spent a few weeks of holiday back in Sonoma County. As ever, I spent as much time as I could on the bike trails and in the parks. As you’ll see in these photos, the California poppies were in bloom, the days were usually sunny but sometimes – as when Amy & I climbed to the top of Hood Mountain — pretty cloudy and even occasionally rainy. (That’s rare for May in California, in case you didn’t know.) In Haiti, where I’m spending most of my time these days, I rarely have the chance to linger by streams with wading birds and gliding ducks, or to enjoy little irises or turkeys fanning out during a hike in the woods. I’ve also included a couple of shots taken at Dolores Park, one of my favorite spots in San Francisco, which has been under reconstruction much of the past year and now looks fresh, new and as popular as ever.
2015 was the first time since 2005, when I started this whole global-wanderer thing, that I’ve been at work only one flight away from the US, and in the same time zone as my mom and one of my brothers. This was also the first holiday season in more than a decade where both my brothers and I managed to get together in one place. Not only several lovely meals and afternoons together, but a trip to the local, fantastic, brewery in honor of my biggest brother’s new brewing ambitions. My sister-in-law generally stayed behind the camera, but certainly helped fill out the festive feeling for everyone. We got out and about a good deal, some with just mom and Steve who were able to stay longer, and some with Chuck as well. Lovely, and I’m going to let the many pics just speak for themselves. Some are really just family stuff of limited appeal to most of my readers…apologies, but it was special for me. 🙂