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.
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 :-).
These were the very first lawn signs I saw, obviously before Harris was named VP candidate. Please vote, and please look up how to mark your ballot clearly and well so there’s less chance it will be disqualified. People around the world are affected by our elections here, and just about the whole world with the exception of certain anti-democratic regimes whom we should not be emulating shares the hopes noted above…
I promise this won’t be all smokey skies, but this is the current reality and sometimes one has to stop and capture even the unpleasant moments. These hills are quite close and usually distinctly visible. The good news is the sky did clear a bit again within a few hours of this photo so the sunset was reasonably clear…as seen in the shot of the early sunset taken just about five hours later. (Yes, trust me, a wind and maybe a pressure change really had cleared the sky – it’s a good touch more blue and less gray even if it doesn’t show on your screen…)
Welcome to a new series, to which I’ll be trying to add a new post every day as much as possible. Think of it as the local fire-and-covid-and-whatever-else-may-come version of my Dhaka “if I’ve posted today, it means I’m healthy, coherent, and housed-with-internet enough to load and post something for my friends, family and any other viewers who stumble upon my little visual exploration of my surrounding environment. Since this series will cover some of my very favorite places in the whole – wide – world, you never know what you might see :-). Enjoy…and comment or send nice notes if you feel inspired.
In case you haven’t figured out, my heart lies in the heart of Sonoma County, where one finds such lovely parks as North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, and Annadel State Park. These are just a few random shots taken during the wonderful two weeks I spent at home in February, prior to returning to work here in BD…at a moment that now feels suspended in a different past before we all quite began to realize how rapidly and significantly the world around was about to shift gears. I guess we’re all doing what we can to keep up in our daily lives now, eh? Peace, health, and prosperity to us all, everywhere 🙂
So smw, slt has landed for a bit of a vacation back home in Sonoma County, where conditions are different in many ways than what one experiences in Dhaka: here, I bike with pleasure and see quite different sites. And, well, unlike Dhaka, alcohol and its consumption are legal though regulated. Since I was having such fun with my daily “signs of the city” photos from Dhaka, I figured maybe I’d do the contrast with signs of the county, here in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa. Today’s offering: from my bike back from UUCSR on Sunday morning, the annual ritual of hundreds of beer lovers lining up to be the first to taste this year’s release of Russian River Brewing Company’s annual limited-output “Pliny the Younger.” It was only through my beer-buff brother than I learned quite how big a deal this is in brewing circles — apparently RRBC is quite the name amongst the brewing community nationwide, and this line gets *long* on the … guess it’s usually the Sunday of President’s Day weekend? The very first February after I set up a home here, I was doing the same ride from UUCSR back to my place early one Sunday and saw this massive long line, and being a former New Yorker I thought “are they buying concert tickets? Or is it a new JK Rowling book release??” Then I remembered it was early on a Sunday, and noticed the crowd skewed much older (all drinking age) and more male than the JK Rowling crowd…plus it was 2015 that year, and hey, she hadn’t had a major line-up type release for quite a few years…so then I biked to see where they were lined up and voila, I learned about Pliny the Younger 😊
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 :-).
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/