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Monday, February 24, 2014

Upcountry


 I drove into the rugged high country encompassing the northern third of Lake County. The headwaters of the Eel River rise here, dammed at Lake Pillsbury. Herds of hundreds of elk graze on the oak flats near the diminished reservoir. It is a kind of lost world, where few people from the lower valleys venture. The vast wildness of the country finds expression in the presence of the elk.

The primordial scene, so exceedingly rare in the US, rivals Yellowstone, and even Africa.



Pacific chorus frogs piped from vernal pools in the elk meadows. 



As I stalked elk on foot I remembered walks in Africa. The wind was not in my favor as more than thirty elk streaked away toward the lake flats.




Spoor of elk.


 Mixed forests of fir, pine, oak, madrone, and bay dominate Mendocino National Forest.



A pool of the Eel River, where buffleheads flushed.

Oak Flat campground, Mendocino National Forest. The managers of Lake Pillsbury Resort told me they saw a cougar bounding across the track last week.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Town On The Lake


The Carnegie Library in the County Seat of Lakeport was built in 1918 by the shore of the ancient lake.
It no longer functions as a library, now housing offices.
The building stands as a pearl flanked by Lakeside Park, almost the only in-town public access point to the lakeshore. Most of the rest of the town's shoreline is typified by slip shod "development" and slap dash city planning as in countless other American towns. Lakeport, enviably situated on a sublime lake, has managed almost entirely to obscure and negate its sense of place. Accessibility to the lake and even visibility is mostly blocked by uncontrolled private desecration. Approached from the south end of town, the last glimpses of the lake across marshes and pastures, are being steadily walled off by bedraggled and depressingly ugly commercial construction which has no respect for the boundaries of the town. Farmlands and wetlands to the south of town are under continued threat of destruction from city leaders, who want even more sprawl.

Away from town, at many points along the lakeshore, the views are as of old.



The Lake County Courthouse was built in 1871, twenty-two years after the massacre of the Pomos by the US Army at Bloody Island. The building now houses the Lake County Museum with its examples of the highest art ever produced in the region: the basketry of the Pomos.


The tule beds of the Northeast shore. Mount Konocti on the horizon, land of the Pomos for thousands of years. Before that, land of the acorn woodpecker, grizzly bear, tule elk and grebe. 


Tree swallows with a high sense of decor furnished their nest with a peacock feather.


A road to the lake lined with valley oaks.


Tall Valley Oak.


Amorous Tom vibrating his feathers at a fevered pitch.


Two bucks, backlit.


Yellow Willow. Willow Yellow.


Sections of Valley Oaks piled up after the big wind of November. Many old trees fell throughout the county.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Valley Oak Savannah

A rope swing at Blue Lakes, where young humans swing out into a feeling of connectedness with the universe, whether they are consciously aware of it or not.


In the beginning of the story of man...

"Having become aware of objects and begun to name them, this Earliest Man became aware of something else. It is a remarkable fact that no sooner had he looked closely at the phenomena of Nature than he began to concern himself with, not the visible object in front of him which he could clearly see, but with an invisible object which he could not see at all. He looked at the trees, the rocks, the rivers, the animals, and having looked at them he at once began to talk about something IN THEM which he had never seen and never heard of. This thing inside the objective appearance was called a god. No one forced man at this time to think about gods, there was no tradition imposing it upon him - and yet his first thoughts seemed to have turned towards a Thing behind the thing, a Force behind or within the appearance. Thus WORSHIP..."
- John Stewart Collis, "The Triumph of the Tree" 


"I begin, then, with the assumption that perhaps the great disaster of human history is one that happened to or within religion: that is, the conceptual division between the holy and the world, the excerpting of the Creator from the creation."
- Wendell Berry


"... whereas under polytheism the gods were intimately connected with the earth, and stimulated veneration for it, under monotheism deity was extracted from the earth. God was promoted to higher regions. He went completely out of sight. It became possible to fear God without fearing Nature - nay, to love God (whatever was meant) and to hate his creations."
- John Stewart Collis


"If God was not in the world, then obviously the world was a thing of inferior importance, or of no importance at all. Those who were disposed to exploit it were thus free to do so. And this split in public attitudes was inevitably mirrored in the lives of individuals: A man could aspire to heaven with his mind and his heart while destroying the earth, and his fellow men, with his hands."
- Wendell Berry


A peregrine falcon has been put to work by man. His job is to chase gulls from the dump, starlings from the vineyards, and geese from the airport.


Toyons are in fruit throughout the Mayacamas Range.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the Land of Family Farms

In Big Valley, a land of agriculture, tractors share the roads.

Two dozen American white pelicans wheeled high in the sky over the ranch.
At this time of year their numbers start building on Clear Lake as harsh weather begins to close in on their nesting lakes in the interior West.

At the annual Kelseyville Pear Festival, the county chapter of the Audubon Society tried to raise awareness of the needs of our lake-nesting grebes. The numbers of Clarks and Western grebes on Clear Lake is lower than it was a few years ago. Their floating nests of matted tules are easily swamped in the wake of motorboats. 

 I walked through a meadow on the ranch. Honey bees sought nectar on the last sunflowers of the year.
 It is a bumper year for both figs and acorns.

 Mare's tails (cirrus uncinus) fanned out above Mount Konocti and the Pear Festival on Main Street.
 Among the sights at the Pear Festival were music venues and antique tractors.
Sunset from Finca Castelero. The high whine of swarms of bouncing midges sounded from six feet above our heads. Were they swarming because of the rain showers of a couple of days past?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Garden and The Serpent

In Big Valley, I contemplated an oak tree. In 1848 this tree already towered above a slough of the creek. That was the year the first white person settled in the valley. The tree provided a living for Pomo Indians, grizzly bears, tule elk, black tail deer, acorn woodpeckers and scrub jays. The tree stands in the summer of 2013 among the remnant groves of the former forest of valley oaks. The ancient lake, the dormant volcano and the chaparral cloaked foothills are still here as are swathes of tule reeds and small schools of hitch. For all its roads, towns, orchards, packing sheds and casinos, the valley still resembles it's primordial self.
In the Nineteenth Century, tales were told on the emigrant trails of edenic valleys among the coastal ranges of California. While crossing the vast, life-threatening desolation of the Basin and Range Country, pioneers placed great faith in these tales. Survival would be staked on the effort of crossing roadless mountains to a place which offered water, fish, timber and deep soils in which crops could be planted. These storied valleys comprise a tiny percentage of Western lands, oases abutted by the vast desolation of lands hostile to human life.
Before the damming of the rivers and the development of industrial scale irrigation in California's Central Valley, these small intermountain valleys were the small farmer's Promised Land.

A raccoon, in hungry exploration of the bottom of the stock tank, left footprints in red algae.  


Coon tracks/ Crook necks.


Crossing Dry Creek at the Cutoff.


Up the fig tree.




The edenic valley produces bountifully. Deadly serpents are usually discreet enough not to venture into the orchards and gardens, preferring the rougher edges of the valley.