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Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Views From The Fall

Wandering with an eye on nature in Lake County and on Point Reyes in West Marin County this weekend, I saw various things, some sobering, some sublime. I have shuffled snapshots here of the two locales.


A free ranging herd of Tule Elk grazed among cattle and black tail deer on the ridges above Drakes Estero on Point Reyes. We saw forty of them this afternoon.


A gray fox, killed by a vehicle on a country road in a Southern part of Lake County, attracted a kindly woman. She dragged the corpse off the road. Later a sky burial took place, in which six vultures, six ravens, and a red-tailed hawk appeared out of the sheer blue and took up the remains.

A tule fog burned off above pear orchards near Hopland.

On the Westernmost extremity of Point Reyes, hundreds of Columbian black-tail deer grazed the pastoral lands.

A Western newt crossed a road after Lake County's first rains of the season.

In the center of the picture, two of the vultures, who attended the fox.

The Westernmost point in our latitude of California, a gathering place for ravens (black dots in the picture).
The groaning and bubbling sounds of elephant seals were heard nearby. A grey whale spouted below the cliffs on its way to Baja.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Un-Napa

Traveling North through the Napa Valley, one moves through a matrix of meticulously tended vineyards studded with lavish wineries fashioned after tuscan villas, haciendas, chateaux, and various European architectural periods.
The climate is within the embrace of the moderating effects of San Francisco Bay, allowing introduced citrus, palms and eucalyptus to flourish.  
Flanking the beautiful valley are two mountain ranges, the wetter Mayacamas on the West and the dry Vaca on the East. 
At the North end of the valley around Mount St. Helena the two ranges converge in a complex of rough volcanic uplands and lake basins. 
Here The Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay Area gives way to something a little more intense, with a wider swing between the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
North of Calistoga, ascending Mount St. Helena as one heads toward Lake County, the palms, citrus and eucalyptus soon peter out.

The economic status difference between the two counties is seen distinctly once one has crossed from South to North over Mount St. Helena, quickly leaving behind all signs of architectural elaboration, and arriving in a land of small stick built houses and trailers. 

Lake County, historically comprising the northern part of Napa County, but now a separate political entity, is a world apart, the "locked in county" due to its surrounding mountain ranges.  It is the poor country cousin, a backwater struggling on, while trying to reclaim some of its past allure as a vacation and spa destination. It is a land in which the advent of European settlement still feels like a recent and provisional experiment.  The presence of the various local tribal groups is a regular part of  social experience.

The county also feels like a last bastion of some brand of authenticity. The feeling stems from the fact that, by modern California standards, it is a place not yet completely overrun with humans. This is its charm and its strength. If only it could keep the hoards at bay.

Dropped fig leaves under a ninety-year-old tree planted by descendants of early white settlers.

Some of the bartlett pear trees were planted over a century ago.

Corrugated metal shed architecture typifies rural California.

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Turkeys, newcomers to California.

Quercus Lobata, Valley Oak.

watercolor palette.

wind powered pump

Friday, November 2, 2012

In The Wood Pile

We cut and stacked wood, oak limbs which had accumulated on the ranch over the seasons.
The various slash piles serve as shelter for all manner of life, lizards, snakes, birds, and rodents.

It's a bumper year for acorn mast, which has attracted larger than usual numbers of squirrels and quail.

Otters in Lake County are enterprising animals, which will seek out even the smallest isolated pockets of water to investigate for suitable prey. This one, now mummified, met his end near a fished-out spring-fed koi pond on a remote abandoned homestead.

The feathers of a California quail, a victim of a farm cat.

One of the small sharp-tailed snakes inhabiting the slash piles. An inconspicuous, often subterranean species, it is often unearthed by farmers' plows.

 An alligator lizard, another inhabitant of a wood pile, resembles a Komodo dragon more than an alligator.

A yearling black tail buck appears each late afternoon to feed on the fallen acorns.

The archetype of a house on an abandoned homestead on a Fall day.

Within a barn on the abandoned homestead.

Chicken scratches.

Domestic geese on their daily trek from Shady Rock Ranch to Two Buck Ranch.

From the Hopland Grade, chaparral forest, Clear Lake, and Mount Konocti.

Sweet gum leaves in the stock tank.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Into The Burn Zone

August and September, 2012, have been smoke-filled months in Lake County. Hundreds of thousands of wildland acres burned on the East, West and North sides of the lake. The fires burned right through the canopies of mountainside Blue Oak forests and even Valley Oak groves in the creek bottoms. The aftermath reveals a simple skeletal calligraphy of ghost woodlands.
Firefighters bulldozed many new firebreaks through the hills.

Ancient petrified lava flows were unmasked from beneath the covering forests.

There came a day when smoke blended with incoming clouds resulting in an afternoon sky which grew increasingly to resemble paintings of the Italian Renaissance.

As many as twenty Lesser Goldfinches clung to the thistle seed sock.
                           A mantid deity manifested on a south-facing barn wall in Upper Lake.
                                                        In the shade of The Great Oaks.

                               California quail in two coveys of twenty frequented the ranch.

                                           Clear Lake at the mouth of the Rodman Slough.

As the sky filled with tinted mammiferous clouds, three White-tailed Kites seemed to revel in the splendor as they sailed before the rainbow.