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Sunday, April 24, 2011

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.