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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spring Into Summer

If there is an underlying theme to this blog it is one of pleasure. For me, pleasure is almost entirely about paying attention.

Being in and looking at the landscape is a sensual experience. But senses can easily be abused when confronted with surroundings which have, themselves, been abused.

As American naturalist, John Burroughs wrote, "(A man's) own landscape comes in time to be a sort of outlying part of himself;
he has sowed himself broadcast upon it, and it reflects his own moods and feelings; he is sensitive to the verge of the horizon: cut those trees, and he bleeds; mar those hills, and he suffers."

There is evidence on the land of ethical and unethical practices with regard to it. The unethical, exploitative attitude, which results in vast despoiling, numbs our senses as we try to flee our own pain in witnessing it. But when we are in an unspoiled landscape we are uplifted and opened up. Good feelings also come out of landscape which has been enhanced ethically by humans.

In my unending openness to pleasure, I sought out, last weekend, Middletown's Dry Creek Cutoff. Passing beneath the embowering colonnade of Valley Oaks, which lines this stretch of road is to experience a deep satisfaction. Here humans, for once, worked in tandem with nature to create a sublime work of art. These trees were planted here as saplings by people with the imagination to see beyond their own time. We have the foresighted early ranchers to thank for planting and encouraging this gift that keeps on giving.

Intentions may have been good when someone decided to plant redwoods along the the 101 freeway in Sonoma County, but something was left out of the thought process. The result of this incomplete thought is the ongoing unsatisfactory experience
while driving on 101 in the agricultural and suburban valley bottoms of Sonoma County. I ask myself why Caltrans landscape consultants planted redwoods in sunburnt ranks along the freeway. OK, the road is called the Redwood Highway, but it rarely, if ever, passes through natural redwood habitat until well north into Mendocino County. Valley oaks would have been infinitely more suitable, would have better thrived, and would, by now, a half century after the construction of the freeway, be providing the beginnings of a stately canopy. Most importantly, the oaks would have been habitat appropriate. We would "feel" the rightness of those oaks just as we are aware of the wrongness of the redwoods.

Another gift of pleasure to our local landscape and economy is the restoration of some of the county's most historic buildings on Main Street in Upper Lake. Bernie and Lynn Butcher, in undertaking the Tallman Hotel and the Blue Wing Cafe project have jump started the revival of the town. What they have done with old, abandoned and collapsing buildings is akin to efforts in the ecological arena, such as habitat, landscape and wildlife restoration. It does nothing less than restore a sense of place in a world in which "place" is increasingly difficult to decipher.

Other examples of architecture in the local vernacular include the modest barracks on a former migrant labor camp in Big Valley.

Ground squirrels practice an architecture of subtraction rather than that of accretion.

The season of first mowing.

Cabbage roses scented Hulka's and Bill's guest rooms at the ranch.

A cloud clung to Konocti at sunset.

A sign seen by many.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nesting Season

Boggs Lake, the biggest vernal pool in Lake County, still holds an Everglades-like sheet of water increasingly obscured by grasses and tules. Mallards and great blue herons where seen on Saturday. Coots were heard. Otter droppings showed evidence of a frog-based diet.

May showers kept grass green and creeks flowing.

Mount Konocti, from the chaparral cloaked hills of the Mayacamas range, still looks pretty much like its old self. It is only at closer range that the outrages against her are more apparent. The worst scars are the tracts of suburban sprawl on its steep Eastern and Northern flanks. The construction of houses on ridge lines is an ever increasing blight on human consciousness.
Apart from a few such glaringly inappropriate edifices, the Western elevation of the mountain is most seriously disfigured by
large mangy patches where the chaparral has been clear cut to plant commercial walnut orchards.

Two elk trotted down through a patch of grassland toward the road between the Clear Lake landfill and the flea market before thinking better of it and turning tail.

On Saturday, May 29, the waters of Kelsey Creek were backed up behind the closed gates of the retention dam. A labyrinth
of willow islands and cotton coated channels provided hiding places for at least two large broods of common mergansers. One mother merganser kept her ducklings immobile under the creek bank until our canoe had passed them by twenty feet before delivering the evacuation alarm. There was a frenzied retreat upstream.

Several tractors powered pumps taking water directly from the creek. One wonders how many of the pin-sized fry of hitch end up meeting their end in these pumps.

The gourd-like mud nests of cliff swallows clung to the retention structure as the birds swooped and chattered in alarm.

Roses thrive in the unusually cool, cloudy month of May.

The cool weather tempts snakes, newly emerged from their winter torpor, to soak in the radiant warmth of paved roads with often fatal results. A 53 inch gopher snake actively patrolled the ranch on May's first warm day. It was killed by a truck on May's second warm day.

The tractor unearthed a brood of tiny sharp-tailed snakes with their faint red lateral stripes.