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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Glass Doorknob

One day in January of this year a box arrived at the post office from Dave and Wanda Benson. The box contained a cut glass doorknob, a wayward relic of their former home, the old Benson ranch house. Gazing into the sunlit facets of the humble yet dazzling gift, it was easy to imagine a time, eighty-seven years ago, when the doorknob was part of the then newly-built bungalow, which we now inhabit. I imagined the Bensons coming upon it among their unpacked goods in Idaho with the realization that the right place for it was back on the old ranch.

My eye, gazing into the clear glass eye of the doorknob, looks inward and back in time.

The record of settlement by the Anglo-Americans, only 160 years old, is written in the orchards, roads, structures and modified creek beds. But it is the old land itself, the primordial lake, the ancient oaks, and the extinct volcano that summon thoughts of the Indians.

In the peripheral sight of the mind's eye, trace elements of the Pomo Indians are just discernable in Big Valley. The hints show up in the spawning runs of hitch, in the acorn mast of the valley oaks. The wide open eye sees disintegrating trailer homes on the rancheria. There is a casino. There are new Indian tract houses and a recreation center. Several miles north, a marker denotes the "Bloody Island" massacre not far from another casino. There are Pomo names on the landscape, Konocti for one.

Family names of Anglo-American pioneers are printed on metal road signs, cast in bronze plaques, and printed on U.S. Geologic Survey maps. Sitting on a bicycle, I looked up at the green road sign with white letters spelling Benson Road against the distant backdrop of the high undulation of chaparral-covered Benson Ridge. The name of Benson is found too in the Pioneer Cemetery among periwinkle, poison oak, and blue-eyed grass.

Kelseys are also seen in the pioneer cemetery. The creek and the very town are named for them. The big white K branded onto the face of the mountain denotes not Konocti, but Kelseyville. The obsidian-studded monument to Andy Kelsey stands above his remains, and also marks the site of his adobe house, the first house erected in the region. Among the obsidian chunks, locally called bottle rock, is one piece at top and center of the monument, fashioned into the shape of an oversized arrowhead. It's as if the arrow of retribution is still falling toward the earth where Kelsey lies. His wife, Nancy, was the first Anglo-American female to cross the North American continent into California for good or ill. The Pomo, enslaved by Kelsey to build his house, killed their master in the Fall of 1849, and were, in turn, killed with their women and children by the U.S. Cavalry at their village near the upper end of the lake.

The shoreline of Clear Lake is heavily built up in many areas, but, from a boat, it is apparent the Lake remains a vital refuge for grebes, pelicans, ducks, gulls, ospreys, cormorants, herons, eagles, turtles, otters, and fish large and small.

The flocks of white pelicans, 3,000 strong, seen last fall are down to a small fraction of that size as most have dispersed to breeding lakes in the inter-mountain West.

I got some freshly laid eggs at Shady Rock Ranch, where the poultry seem well contented with their domestic arrangements.
Brewer's blackbirds frequent the peafowl pen for grain. When frightened, they cling to the chickenwire awaiting their chance to settle down to their pilfering ways with no intention of flying away until they are sated.

This week, the valley oaks' tiny chains of green flowers are in full force.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pear Blossom Time

By April 11 in the orchard, blossoms had begun giving way to leaves. Frosty nights still lay ahead, but days were warm.

Two types of hummingbird, Rufous and Anna's, along with bumble bees and honey bees, hurried among the coral-red quince blooms as if knowing the feast would be short-lived. The five-year-old tree peonies flowered for the first time.

In counterpoint to the burst of renewed life, a solitary rooster, following the tradition of old Cape Buffalo bulls and elderly Hindu men, graduated from being a householder to wandering the world as a sadhu. He rested for hours at a time on a bed of dry oak leaves among oak saplings or basked in the reflected heat coming off the corrogated metal bunkhouse. He picked at some spilled seed beneath a bird feeder in a disinterested way as if half remembering a former appetite. He was
not yet past the need to occasionally check in with his old rivals on the neighboring ranch. But he wouldn't bother anymore to
visit them. Staying put, he let loose a series of hoarse cock-a-doodle-dos, loud, but not so powerful as they had been in previous seasons. He seemed gratifed that he still elicited a faintly heard response from roosters in the distance. His increasing detatchment had a kind of dignity of foreknowledge.

Bluebirds managed to establish a nest in one of the boxes in spite of fierce competition from tree swallows, which colonized several boxes. Bluebirds construct tidy nests of straw, while tree swallows utilize poultry feathers in abundance. While bluebirds keep their nests clean, swallows soon foul theirs with guano. On the ranch, the swooping, twittering swallows are one of the most anticipated sights of Spring.

The columns of perforations left by the pair of red-bellied sapsuckers last Fall does not seem to have compromised the vigor of the young valley oak. The trunk was almost girdled by the birds, but leafout is happening, albeit later than that of most of the other oaks. But this particular tree has always been late to green up.

Rainy Aprils in past years have brought as many as thirty common mergansers to our section of the creek. This season I saw six. A pair is staying close to the woodduck box.

Since I ended the epoch of field tilling, the harrow has been languishing in meadow grasses.