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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 :-).