For a while, I’ve wanted to show some side-by-side photos of the wet and dry seasons here in Sonoma County. Folks who haven’t been to California, or who grew up in temperate zones where rain can fall any month in the year find it hard to imagine how huge is the difference between our usual April, and our usual October. This year, it’s unusually start because we had frighteningly little rain this past rainy season. So little rain that our hills are already going brown, weeks or months before they would in a usual year. The image just above was taken less than six weeks after the top left shot – and in case you can’t tell, this is the same hill from pretty much the same angle. The other two photos above are also from roughly the same place, taken less than six weeks apart. The dry ones were shot on May 14; the wetter ones the first weekend in April. And it’s in an area that’s burned twice since 2017. And, um, rain is extremely unlikely between now and at least October. Draw your own conclusions, and wish us luck getting through to the next rainy season without too much new fire stress….
If you’re curious, scan some past entries from last autumn (October-December or so) to see photos I took looking up at the Maycamas Ridge, when it had been freshly burned (again) by the Glass Fire last year. This fresh spring layer of grass is the seasonal green of late wet season. Most of what you see here was charred by the Glass Fire last year.
Pardon the clunkiness of this gallery. This site’s host has forced a new editor on me, and I really don’t much like it. If anyone has recommendations of other, very simple and non-flashy basic blog-site hosts, I’d welcome suggestions.
If you’ve visited our pages in the past, you’ll have seen many photos taken in and from Annadel State Park. All of these photos fall into that category, most taken on a lovely, long, meandering solo hike with which I greeted this new year. Some of these were taken on later visits. Many are taken in the southerastern quadrant of the park, an area I’ve not visited since it was badly burned during the Nuns Fire in late 2017. This is partly because trails were closed for many months and then I was out of the country; partly because I was worried about what I’d see; partly because I usually bike into the park, and try to avoid the smaller trails during mud season, to help reduce erosion. Be that as it may: herewith a sense of what we see when we explore our closest park here, three years after this part of the park burned. To be clear – the shot above here shows you Mt St Helena and the Mayacmas range, north of Annadel, all of which were affected by two different fires: the Tubbs, also in 2017; and the Glass, just last year. I’ve put plenty of photos up which show you the ridges of the Mayacamas which have now been twice burned in three years. The charred trees you’ll see further down were burned in the Nuns, not those other two fires. If any of my readers are still acting as though one can doubt or question the science of climate change…hello?
Although trees around where I stood when I took this shot *did* burn in the Nuns fire in 2017, the “burn” part of this photo is on the Mayacamas ridge in the distance – which, when I took this photo late last year, had just been burned again in the Glass Fire, after experiencing the Tubbs fire in 2017 at the same time as the south side of the valley, from which I took this photo, was burning in the Nuns fire. I remind us again that Santa Rosa hadn’t seen major immediately close forest fires for a few decades prior to 2017. Now we realize that with climate change, this is our life, and we rather desperately hope that both public and private policy and behaviors will speed their pace of change while we can still reduce the longer-term impacts on future generations and livability on the planet…
A bunch of photos taken in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park not long after a few of its trails reopened after the Glass Fire. I showed you the first of my photos from this hike in post just before Thanksgiving (https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2020/11/23/beauty-and-the-burn-2/), but now I’m putting the rest up because we’re having more rain this weekend, so I can feel a bit more hopeful that the earth’s healing processes will get to work. And maybe, here on the 5th anniversary of the Paris Climate Accords when many other major nations of the world are facing up to the urgent need to cut carbon emissions, there is hope that federal policy in 2021 will return to an acknowledgment of scientific reality rather than pandering to those who choose to live in denial at the expense of all fellow living beings on the planet…
Consider this something like a special edition of Beauty & The Burn, and County Views combined. People who’ve heard of our region’s wine country are most likely to know the name Napa, and possibly the name Sonoma. Before 2017, folks mostly thought of this region for its wines, if they thought of it at all. Since then, well, you know we’ve had more and bigger fires than anyone had seen in recorded history thanks to, you guessed it, climate change and our greedy society’s stubborn inability to reimagine life without the burning of fossil fuels. Locally, when we meet someone new and they say they’re from xx or yy location, it’s reasonably common to ask – when relevant given where they live – “did you and your family do ok in the Glass / Nunns / Tubbs / Walbridge fire?”
The most recent of those four was the Glass Fire, which started on the Napa County side of the (twice-burned) ridge you see above, then burned its destructive way over onto the Sonoma County side. The fire crews worked hard to keep it from burning all of Mt St Helena. You can see this dramatic mountain in every picture in this post. It’s the core of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, has five different peaks, and straddles both Napa and Sonoma Counties as well as Lake County, at the point where all three counties meet. Its highest peak is also the highest point in Sonoma County at 4,342 feet above sea level; another of its peaks is the highest point in Napa County. Once I get far enough away from our local ridge (in which the highest point is Mt Hood at 2730 feet above sea level) to see past it, Mt St Helena’s profile is quite visible. In case you didn’t guess, it’s volcanic in origin although it’s not an actual volcano, just uplifted rocks from a 2.4-million-year-old volcanic field.
A thing I’ve come to appreciate enormously about our culture here in Sonoma County is the tendency to gratitude for our blessings, gratitude for all those whose work helps us, gratitude as an approach to life that helps us all remain healthy and live together in greater harmony. It’s a thing amply demonstrated every time another blasted fire rampages through our hills and reaches our streets. It’s a thing people have also found time to demonstrate related to covid, as you’ll note if you read carefully the photo with multiple signs, below. Happy day on which we Americans are meant to appreciate our many blessings, which include, one must acknowledge, gaining control of a large and fruitful continent-sized territory to the great detriment of that territory’s prior human occupants, who descendants still live among and around us, often ignored by the general culture at large and certainly dismissed far too readily in the “histories” we tell ourselves. Peace, health, gratitude and opportunity.
And since I’m still working through a backlog of photos from recent months, while getting out for hikes and rides often enough that I’m amassing more photos of this beautiful world at a faster pace than my own posting speed…plus, since here in the US it’s the holiday we dedicate to eating LOTS and LOTS of food (tribute to that bountiful stolen continent I mentioned above?), I’m going ahead and posting some of my food photos to get your appetite juices flowing. Gratitude for the chance to break bread with friends, and a hope that more of our human family will experience the same opportunity in peace and good health: a fitting aspiration for today.
I’ve been showing you the view of the Mayacamas ridge as seen from ground level in our valley. Saturday we went for a hike on a few of the trails that have now reopened in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Driving up to the entrance, along a lovely narrow canyon road that I’d not visited since before the Tubbs fire first burned this area three years ago, it was hard not cry realizing how much damage the area has sustained. Our walk went for some time right along the fire line where they’d clearly managed to hold it. You can see see that fact in the photo of the tree with a burned trunk, surrounded by green: it must have been a small hotspot just on the southern edge of the fire line, with the rest of the fire barely maintained to the north at that particular spot. You can see more such fireline photos in another post from another park and yet a third recent fire in this post from three years ago: https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2017/11/13/walking-the-fire-line-in-annadel/
I’ll post more of these in coming weeks, now that fire danger is again low for the moment thanks to just barely enough rain, and colder temperatures. As you’ll note, I’ve decided to just give them their own name as a series…a sub-genre of county views, I guess, albeit a sad sign-of-the-times sub-genre. Stay safe and healthy in this week which for the US is normally a celebratory holiday week. Love to my friends and family here and around the world.
So we’re getting a bit more rain yesterday & today: Santa Rosa itself may reach the magic inch of rainfall before today is out. Thus, I’ve decided it may be safe for me to post these remaining photos I took in the days and weeks after the Glass Fire exploded into Santa Rosa over the Mayacamas Mountains. (Safe, in the sense that it’s less likely yet another fire will explode over the mountains. Though one really never knows, these days…) Somewhere in each of these photos you can see the burned ridges and eastern slopes of the range that separates us from Napa county, the view I see from my home, from my bike rides and hikes around most of this central part of the county. Most of it’s what I called twiced-burned, in a post not long ago.
I’ve recently been on many a hike, alone or with friends, where I know how to detect the marks from the Nuns and Tubbs fires three years ago. Things can grow back, so long as there’s time and enough rain to regrow. This landscape and ecosystem evolved with fire, but it did that evolving before our human pollution started tipping the balance and changing the atmosphere so very much. I wonder how much of this beauty our current childrens’ great-grandchildren will be able to see still. I wonder how many of our fellow citizens actually even care to ask themselves these questions and consider changing their habits and patterns to help preserve more for our future generations.
For those who’ve wanted more updates, a few photos from my biking excursions on a favorite road at then northern edge of our beloved local state park, which apparently became the fire line when the Glass Fire got closest to my home earlier this month. As I write this, we still haven’t had rain but seem to have made it intact through another week of high winds. I will not invite into the universe the words of the thing that high winds make us fear: use your imagination, please. And then, imagine rain and a world where scientific evidence drives public policy to build a future that our own future generations inhabit healthfully, in fruitful coexistence with all of world’s mysteries and species. These shots were all taken in a short stretch along Channel Drive on the north side of Annadel, where some private homes abut park land. The hills in the background, in the shot with the horses, are in the Mayacamas range, previously featured in the “twice burned” post. That particular property is less than 1/2-mile from where the bottle and burned brush are. Clearly, that house and all others in the area fell under emergency evacuation order the night the fire grew so fast.
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 an 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.
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 :-).