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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring On the Land

The forest surrounding Boggs Lake is a mix typified by black oak, ponderosa pine, manzanita and madrone. Many on the trees and shrubs, like this manzanita, host splendid growths of lichen and moss. (manzanita, arctostaphylos) (Spanish moss, tillandsia usneoides).

Downed trees perforated with the granaries of generations of acorn woodpeckers litter the ground.

Boggs Lake, a very big vernal pool, is bigger now than in most Spring times.

The shockingly blue, and disturbing lithe tail of a skink made my stomach flutter with adrenalin in some atavistic impulse of revulsion intended by the reptilian tribe to put off its pursuers.

On the road skirting Boggs Lake, a black cat, like a bad omen, carried what looked like a hank of rope. I managed to rescue what turned out to be not a rope but a garter snake, still stunned in a crooked-neck posture of feigned death. As I held it suspended by its tail, it relaxed and finally glided off into the brush.


A baby fence lizard had been eating tiny ants on a desiccated log.

Unmistakably familiar from movies and TV commercials, the cries of two bald eagles alerted me to their presence in a lake side black oak. I moved stealthily from behind one tree trunk to another in an attempt to photograph them. This is the best result the skittish birds would permit.

Meanwhile, back in Big Valley, osprey are nesting for a second sequential year atop the gravel elevator on Kelsey Creek.
Another nest on a nearby orchard fan tower, occupied at least since we moved to the ranch in 2003, blew down in one of this winter's storms. It is not being rebuilt this season.

A sharp-shinned hawk frequented the Kelsey Creek cottonwoods.

Tree swallows by the dozen are twitteringly occupying the nest boxes.

Scrub jays have filled the niches left vacant by that generation wiped out by the West Nile virus in 2005.

California's tamest species of bird, and perhaps its most drab in both appearance and vocalization, is the California towhee.
Still, it is an indispensable indicator of a sense of place.

The commune of acorn woodpeckers occupies the avian apex in the ranch grove of Valley Oaks. Their sense of self assured aplomb goes uncontested even by the jays. The male has a white forehead and red cap, while the female has a white forehead, black head band and red cap.

Spring is on the land out over the blossoming pear orchards.

Native shooting stars bloom in the woods. (dodecatheon hendersonii).

Native trillium in both maroon and white are at the peak of their bloom.

Native Western redbud is emblematic of the creek beds and roadsides of the county. (cercis occidentalis).

Flowering quince hums with hummers and buzzes with buzzers.

Native Oregon grapeholly blooms most luxuriously in the guano beneath the bat house. (mahonia aquifolium).

Valley Oak, Quercus Lobata, in flower.

Gingko in bud.

Native fuscia-flowering goose berry.

Native red currant.

Native yellow currant.

One of dozens of strains of native ceonothus, the Ray Hartman cultivar.


Pear blossoms are at their peak.

Ed on the land.

After the Rain and Snow

It was a winter of more than usual cold and wet. I spent a good part of the time in my studio working on my watercolor series, Birds of California and Other Places. Snow fell on the floor of Big Valley a couple of times in the past months, bringing to mind an 1868 photograph of Kelseyville. The general feeling and scale of Main Street doesn't appear to have changed all that much in a century and a half.

Another piece of relatively recent history is the Bloody Island Massacre conducted by the U.S. Army against the men, women and children of the Lake Pomo. 1850 wasn't so long ago. The phantoms of that event haunt my watercolor, in which an American White Pelican retrieves a skull from the bottom of Rodman Slough at the north end of Clear Lake, while a Pomo village burns.

If one omits the modern artifacts found on today's squalid Rancherias, the disintegrating trailers, pre-fabricated tract housing, tilt-up recreation centers and stucco-sprayed casinos, it's hard to detect traces of the local version of the indigenous people's long civilization. The face of nature is indifferent. Yet the landscape itself reveals the story of the tribes in the very persistence of it's rhythms and relationships. To read the landscape is to read the subtext of the Indians. It requires the imagination to see this history in the habits and habitats of the remaining original species of the area. The oaks remain, as do the crows, woodpeckers, pelicans, coyotes, tules and hitch. These companion species, along with the lake and the land, formed the matrix of Pomo life. The patterns persist, which gave rise to the Pomo civilization.

The crow clans gather annually after the fledging of their young in late August and throughout September, wheeling restlessly from grove to grove of Valley Oaks.

Under an erupting Mount Konocti, a California condor mantles a dead pronghorn. This may be a primordial scenario, or it may be one of the future. It is unknown whether pronghorn antelope inhabited the region of the ancient lake. But they certainly were found beyond the inner coast ranges in the Great Valley of California. Condors almost certainly inhabited our area, and may some day be seen here again.

A chinook salmon, one of only a handful, which still makes its way up the Sacramento River system to spawn, is flanked by hungry onlookers in Cache Creek.