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.
As a kid, one great pleasure of summer was sitting by a campfire: whether at sleep-away camp or a family camping trip; whether at a National Park campfire program (yes, some actually happened by real, live campfires when Mom took us out camping in the way-back-when…) or the local county park, you could pretty much always count on toasted marshmallows and that magical feeling fire inspires among most boys when it’s under control and after dark .
That was then. This is now. Now is, to be frank, a year which reminds of me of Queen Elizabeth’s declaration that 1992 was an “Annus Horribilis.” Heck, for me 1992 went pretty well because I recall getting tears in my eyes when Ohio’s electoral map went blue and I realized for the first time in my life there’d be an inhabitant of the white house who wouldn’t just hate and judge me for how I was born. (There were fewer letters in the acronym and far less widespread acceptance of us folks on the rainbow spectrum, back then.) But 2020? Definitely annus horribilis territory.
This week’s pile-upon A-H stressor in my home region of northern California? Unusually early wildfires caused by extremely unusual thunder and lighting on Sunday and again Monday last week, which were in turn caused by unusually early and extreme high heat. Sonoma County currently has two active wildfires which have caused a new wave of evacuation orders. This was not an annual occurrence, even just six years ago when I settled here. Yet still we have folks (one of them the current occupant of that house on Pennsylvania Avenue) intent upon denying evidence and steering us ever further into global-warming catastrophe.
It does all get a bit much at times, doesn’t it? There’s been more smoke in the air and bits of ash falling through the air than I myself have experienced, but that’s because I was back east for the worst of the 2017 fires near here. For those who haven’t lived through regional wildfires like this, when you hear smoke in the air don’t think about those summer campfires with a clear column of wood-smoke rising and leaving your clothes with that distinct smell. Think a very heavy misty presence of something that certainly smells fairly smokey but, here 20 or more miles from the current fire line nearest me, not as strong or obvious as those long-ago pleasant campfire smells. It’s heavy, bad for the lungs, oppressive to the spirit, and very visible in the sky – as witness these photos whose names all tell you when they were taken, between Tuesday and yesterday.
The first wildfires near me were sparked by lighting some time on Monday, but it was Tuesday evening that I first watched the sunset out my windows and realized the heavy horizon and dark sun meant more fire smoke. Now each day I check when I wake up, whether the smoke layer seems worse or better than the day before. In the mornings the air is usually much clearer – higher moisture in the air must bind the smoke and keep it closer to the ground or something like that. Yesterday evening was a pleasantly clear surprise, and this morning seemed fine enough that I chose to bike over to Sebastopol to grab a late-morning bite with friends…but then the smoke moved in fast, the air got thicker and yuckier, and biking back wasn’t quite so pleasant. And weather forecasters say there may be more lightning in the coming hours, possibly sparking yet more fires. Annus horribilis, anyone?
I hope to start posting more regularly, perhaps even daily if I get really organized. I’ve taken lots of prettier photos of nice things one can see on and around the bike trails, streets and parks of my home region which I’ve been gladly exploring by foot, bike and even occasionally car for the … seven weeks since I got home.