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Sunday, February 19, 2017

DAY & NIGHT ON THE VOLCANO



I drove the dirt road up Mount Konocti on a winter day to retrieve
a trail camera, which my brother and I, three weeks earlier, had
lashed to the trunk of a blue oak near a deer carcass.
Our hope was to capture shots of nocturnal scavengers.
But what the camera seemed to capture were the night sprites and
goblins that animate the mountain - the living mountain of the here
and now.

There are the scientific and historical back stories attached to Konocti.
I outline a few salient facts here, but the essence of the mountain now
is as a locus for rain and clouds, vultures and crows, manzanita forests
and mountain lions. And for ever-shifting beauty.

The only volcano in the entire length of the California Coastal
Ranges, Mount Konocti is also the youngest mountain in all that
territory. It first erupted 350,000 years ago. Eruptions occurred
on average of once every 1,800 years between 60,000 and 10,000
years ago. The volcano continues to vent thermal energy in several
spots including from the bottom of Clear Lake. The US Geological
Survey classifies Konocti as High Threat Potential.

The highly porous mountain absorbs all rain falling upon it. No
creeks flow from it. Instead, there is evidence of an immense
subterranean chamber holding a reservoir, purportedly with links
to the neighboring lake.

The lake itself is dated to 480,000 years, making it possibly the
most ancient lake in North America.

Konocti is mostly carpeted with dense chaparral excepting the north
slope, which is blackly forested with Douglas fir, black oaks, and madrones.
There is a patchwork of cultivated walnut groves on the milder slopes.

The singularity of Konocti and of the lake have always been recognized
by the Indians and by the late-coming Spanish and Americans. Lore and
mystery have been ascribed to it. It has been anthropomorphized in
attempts to comprehend it.

The birth of Konocti, like that of Krakatoa, provided a clean slate gradually to
be colonized by species of plant and animal which found niches of possibility.


Clear Lake and one of the mountain's lower peaks.


Big Valley from Konocti.


The mountain road near where we planted the trail
camera.


A pair of gray foxes, like nocturnal spirits, visit the
carcass.


They appeared in hundreds of photos over the weeks.


Some nights, a skittish and ghostly coyote would appear.


At daybreak, a pair of ravens presided. They were still
there, clacking their bills and flapping through the oaks
when I returned to retrieve the camera, though the carcass
was nowhere to be seen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

SOLSTICE IN THE ELK PASTURES

Elevation 1840 feet, Gravelly Valley, headwaters of the Eel River, Mendocino National Forest, Northern Lake County, Winter Solstice.

Surrounded by 1,427 square miles of National Forest lands, the place feels like a lost world. Of California's eighteen National Forests, this is the only one not crossed by a paved road. On this day the valley echos with the sounds of a dirt bike or two, a chain saw, and gun shots. Somehow the herds of elk appear unconcerned by these intrusions. There is a clutch of weekend cabins at the north end of the valley and a small marina, shut for the winter, on an arm of Lake Pillsbury. There is a shooting range near the dirt airstrip. There are trails designated for off-road vehicles throughout large tracts of the National Forest. Still, one senses remoteness and relatively undisturbed wildness. There is a reassuring feeling, in looking at a map of the region, of connectivity with wild lands south almost to San Francisco Bay and north into the Siskiyou Range and beyond in Oregon. Animals and birds can move along this mountain corridor for hundreds of miles with little risk of becoming road kill.



The braided channels of the Eel River fan out over the flats at Lake Pillsbury, cutting shallow sloughs through elk pastures.









Bleached by the elements, big spiny cones of Gray Pines.





A herd of seventeen tule elk bulls wandered, while one hundred twenty cow elk bedded down on the lake flats.





A manzanita (one variety among over eighty in the Arctostaphylos genus), a plant that epitomizes California.





Out on the lake sit thousands of ruddy ducks, some Canada geese and a few goldeneyes, red breasted mergansers, and pied grebes. A bald eagle swoops in, causing a wave of panic.







Monday, June 27, 2016

TILTING SUNWARD

Grass management at the ranch.

Riding through the valley.

The present day Big Valley and Clear Lake are extensions of one another,
the valley occupying the historic footprint of the formerly much larger lake.
Feeder creeks, lined with cottonwoods and Valley Oaks, snake across the valley forming tule sloughs and willow deltas at the lake.  



At this time of year the black-crowned night heron rookery in Library Park, Lakeport, is a symphony of squawks and croaks.

From Library Park.


A turkey vulture glides over the riparian zone.

Kelsey Creek still flows lightly in June. For its thousands of polliwogs and fish fry, it is a race against the relentless clock of subsidence of the surface water into the gravel bed.

Beneath the Valley Oak canopy at the ranch.



Ten months into the aftermath of the Valley Fire, plants and trees are doing their utmost to shoot forth new growth. A charred Valley Oak sapling puts oomph into it.



Hummingbird - a vibrant candle burned out.

Monday, May 2, 2016

HIGH GRASS

Alligator lizard does not scuttle fence lizard-like, but propels himself by undulations through the grass like a quick garter snake. 

His resemblance to a short-bodied snake may be an evolved strategy to cause would be predators a second thought.
He has an unsettling presence, a double soul at once lizard and prototypical snake. He seems to be on his way to becoming something else - perhaps a member of that strange tribe- the legless lizards.
There is an uncanniness of affect like that of a shape-shifting inter-gender being. Could he have been recognized as a two spirit by the local Indian berdache?

I mowed hay on April 30.

Two of Kelseyville's antique objects - a Model T hotrod outside the venerable Brick Tavern.

Scenes from the meadow in Springtime.




Perennially listed among the top ten best bass fishing lakes in North America, ancient Clear Lake is sometimes called Number One. But don't eat your catch! Tailings from an old mercury mine were pushed into the lake, where the gyre of the waters has universally distributed the toxin throughout the sediments. Here it enters the food chain at it's foundation, to be taken upwards into the tissue of invertebrates and vertebrates alike. 

English (originating in Persia) walnut grafted onto California black walnut, a common sight in the commercial groves of Lake County. 

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.