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Monday, March 28, 2016

STEPPING INTO GREEN

The trail made by jackrabbits, ground squirrels, guinea fowl, and cats became more evident with the greening.

A mountain ash put forth lacy new foliage.

Creek flow along Rte 175.

Red breasted sapsucker, victim of a car.

Ceanothus.

Currant.

Trillium (purple).

Trillium (white).

Oaks and pines on boulder field by Boggs Lake.

Boggs Lake, a very big vernal pool, frequented by Pacific pond turtles, bald eagles and Canada geese.

Tules at Boggs Lake.

The aftermath of the Valley Fire along Dry Creek Cutoff in Middletown. The road was formerly embowered by big Valley Oaks, making it one of the prettier drives in the county. The fire was so intense that the oaks, and surrounding forests were charred to death. On the hillsides, the soil itself looks to have been sterilized. Huge areas show no evidence of recovery. But flat meadows have again turned green. Some of the monarch Valley Oaks, standing well out on open terrain, have survived.

Many of the charred roadside oaks have now been cut down.

The area of incinerated forests in the mountains, canyons, and valleys is so vast that only moving through it, mile after mile, gives a sense of its extent. From some vantage points, mountains from horizon to horizon are thoroughly blackened. There is little trace now of the 1600 houses and other structures that were consumed.

Acorn woodpecker granary in a Ponderosa Pine.



Saturday, March 5, 2016

HILL BILLIES

The guardian spirits of Lake County's western gate, two feral billy goats live on the denuded hill at the crest of the Hopland Grade. They ambled over in hopes of a handout.


Does the highway department expect goat-caused landslides?

Chaparral forest reaches to the horizon in the Mayacamas Range, not yet within range of the billy goat duo, but crawling with feral swine, and ganja (from Sanskrit) farmers.

Manzanitas are in full bloom by mid-February. Genus: Arctostaphylos.

Honey bees and a few bumble bees attended them.

New shoots of marah oregonus/ coastal manroot/western wild cucumber/ old man in the ground.
The marah genus, characterized by extreme bitterness, is named for Marah in Exodus, a place of bitter water. Various indigenous peoples used it to treat aching hands, venereal disease, sores, and kidney trouble.

Uncannily concealed in the heart of a quince bush, the four foot tall lodge of dusky footed woodrats, is manufactured from nipped stems.

The southwest cornerstone of Two Buck Ranch.

Blossoms of February. Daffodils and plums.



Puddles in the pear and walnut packing yard.

The red line shows the boundaries of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, designated in the summer of 2015. This swathe of the inner Coast Range is a hundred miles long.

California is an Oak Island. Oaks are intrinsic to our regional identity, both ecologically and culturally. The delicate tracery of green on the map indicates just how limited is the range of our several oak species.

This is the range map of the king of oaks: The California Valley Oak, Quercus Lobata.
All but wiped from the map of it's preferred habitat, the Central Valley, it survives in vestige pockets.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

THE EMPTYING

A slash pile burned on Thanksgiving Day.

The migraine headache I felt coming on during the blaze, and which prevented me, a few hours later, from partaking in the ritual repast, may have been precipitated by the conflict I felt about burning this pile. Winter sparrows sheltered within it. Torpid lizards whiled away the colder months. In Spring, quail nested in it's shadowed depths. It seemed an altogether favorable feature of the place until THEY came along. I did not want to erase this habitat, but the ground squirrels made me do it. And I blame them too for the heavy dose of carbon released into the clear atmosphere that day. 

After twelve years of avoiding our three acres, the ground squirrels finally decided to invade from all sides. They discovered the security of the quince bushes but they were gaga over the slash pile. I knew they were up to no good when I spotted one carrying a precious quail egg in its mouth.

California ground squirrels are notoriously hard to trap or shoot. The wary beasts seem designed to boost the fortunes of the manufacturers of the heavier poisons. Naturally, we could never employ poison on our land, not wanting to risk the collapse of the food chain of rodents, snakes, hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats and the other players.

Yet ground squirrels had undermined and partially collapsed the ranch house a few years before we bought the place, requiring the Bensons to replace the entire foundation with new piers. Now the squirrelly beasts were proliferating with abandon and worrying the whole landscape with their borrows. They had again worked their way under the ranch house and the out buildings. It had become clear why the Bensons had kept such a clean ranch, two thirds of which was meticulously tilled earth.

Along comes the wildlife-friendly present owner. The back field is allowed to go un-mowed for the benefit of bees and bugs right up until the early August pear harvest in deference to our pear-growing neighbor, who prefers her orchards free of interloping grasshoppers.

But has the regime of re-wilding really increased the abundance of invertebrates and vertebrates?
It seems doubtful. The numbers of quail, thrashers, snakes, frogs, toads have all been sliding in recent years, admittedly the probable consequence of prolonged drought rather than of the encouragement of native vegetation, but still these animals were inarguably more numerous on the clean furrowed ranch in days of old.

The inevitable result of the ground squirrel invasion was to be a raging inferno which might suffocate them in their labyrinth. Certainly a few lizards went up in smoke too.

A cottonwood caught the light, perhaps in its apotheosis before the shallow-rooted being is swept away by the swollen winter waters of the creek.

Frosted docks in the mouth of Kelsey Creek.

Canada geese, quietly marshaling forces for eventual world domination.

Beneath an antique gingko.

Sunrise on a frosted mono-crop of new hay in a ground squirrel-free zone.

Frosted field with quiet animals.

Japanese maple, magnificently wondering how it came to be growing under a canopy of California Valley Oaks.

I was drawn to the silent lake. 

Camouflaged goose hunters were disembarking on the morning following the Hunters Moon.

A mattress dumped at the lake.
Rafts of coots in their thousands agitated the waters of Soda Bay below.

Nest boxes collected for the winter. Only four had been colonized last Spring -
two by bluebirds and two by tree swallows. The bluebird babies on the first try were devoured by jays.
 On the second attempt the eggs failed to hatch, it being too hot as summer commenced.

Orchard road. The annual pruning begins.

Leaf management entails much smoke.

Tule geometry as seen elsewhere in the paintings of J Johns.

Willows by the lake begging for a competent plein air painter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

LIFE PERSISTS

OK, there have been a hellish number of huge wildfires this summer in Lake County, but in the unburned sections life carries on...

Coyote at the foot of the Hopland Grade.


From the September garden.

California quail cock.

In a squash blossom.

Gideon Jacques Denny's 1876 painting " The City of Lakeport, Clearlake, CA"