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Monday, August 24, 2009

High Summer

There are still vantage points on the lake, which may be described as reassuring. These are views in which it is possible to imagine the lake in centuries past, as the Indians must have seen it, before its shoreline was largely despoiled by the Americans.

One such setting is the mouth of Rodman Slough looking south across the lake to Mount Konocti. Nearby, if the photographer edits carefully, there are other views of the essential place.

The nineteenth century American landscape painters, who tried to imbue their subject with a sense of the divine,
might still find material in Lake County. Asher B. Durand, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran, among others, painted a sublime nature in which the spirit of the young nation seemed to be embodied. A politics of identity through a sense of place developed.

But another strain in the American sensibility is one of contempt for unfettered nature. The Euro-American notion
of modifying and subduing landscapes to serve practical ends almost universally omits a sense of harmony. One highly apparent lesson of the lakeshore is the ethic in Capitalist America of "every man for himself". The result is a piecemeal
shabbiness of development which is an appalling abuse of the commons. Every man wants a slice of paradise, and in so doing destroys his own object of desire.

At the cost of creeks that run dry by early summer, we have bountiful, well-watered crops of pears, wine grapes and walnuts
in Big Valley. Even in its water-starved state, Kelsey Creek still serves as a nice place to walk.

A pre-dawn chorus of clanging aluminum ladders issues in the auspicious day of August 11, the beginning of the pear harvest.

August is the month of flocking crows. Their numbers are down this year, perhaps the result of West Nile virus. Hundreds still wheel about, landing for a few minutes in the valley oak canopy before taking off in waves toward the lake. Each crow has its own distinct voice, presumably easily recognized by other flock members. One may be a baritone, another a tenor, one given to using its bill as a castinet, another raspy-throated.

Other conglomerations in recent days have been the ever-increasing wild turkeys, introduced to California not many years ago, and a vociferous coyote pack, which sings with as much variety and nuance as does the flock of crows. Coyote song peaks at 11 P.M. sometimes splitting into two factions at far flung points in the orchards, at other times coalescing at close quarters near the chicken coop at Shady Rock Ranch.

Acorn woodpeckers have perforated splendid totem poles.