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Wednesday, December 2, 2015


A slash pile burned on Thanksgiving Day.

The migraine headache I felt coming on during the blaze, and which prevented me, a few hours later, from partaking in the ritual repast, may have been precipitated by the conflict I felt about burning this pile. Winter sparrows sheltered within it. Torpid lizards whiled away the colder months. In Spring, quail nested in it's shadowed depths. It seemed an altogether favorable feature of the place until THEY came along. THEY being California ground squirrels. I did not want to erase this habitat, but the ground squirrels made me do it. And I blame them too for the heavy dose of carbon released into the clear atmosphere that day. 

After twelve years of avoiding our three acres, the ground squirrels finally decided to invade from all sides. They discovered the security of the quince bushes but they were gaga over the slash pile. I knew they were up to no good when I spotted one carrying a precious quail egg in its mouth.

California ground squirrels are notoriously hard to trap or shoot. The wary beasts seem designed to boost the fortunes of the manufacturers of the heavier poisons. Naturally, we could never employ poison on our land, not wanting to risk the collapse of the food chain of rodents, snakes, hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats and the other players.

Yet ground squirrels had undermined and partially collapsed the ranch house a few years before we bought the place, requiring the Bensons to replace the entire foundation with new piers. Now the squirrelly beasts were proliferating with abandon and worrying the whole landscape with their borrows. They had again worked their way under the ranch house and the out buildings. It had become clear why the Bensons had kept such a clean ranch, two thirds of which was meticulously tilled earth.

Along comes the wildlife-friendly present owner. The back field is allowed to go un-mowed for the benefit of bees and bugs right up until the early August pear harvest, when, in deference to our pear-growing neighbor, we finally acquiesce and it is mowed down to dry stubble. Who can blame a pear grower with a lucrative contract to provide unblemished fruit to Costco for preferring her orchards free of interloping grasshoppers and voles, two varmints who allegedly shelter in our luxuriant field?

But has the regime of delayed mowing, accumulating brush piles, restoration of native vegetation and conscious re-wilding really increased the abundance of invertebrates and vertebrates?
It seems doubtful. In fact, the numbers of quail, thrashers, snakes, frogs, toads have all been sliding in recent years, admittedly the probable consequence of prolonged drought and general warming rather than of the encouragement of native vegetation, but still these animals were inarguably more numerous on the clean furrowed ranch in days of old.

The inevitable result of the ground squirrel invasion was to be a raging inferno which might suffocate them in their labyrinth. Certainly a few lizards went up in smoke too.

A cottonwood caught the light, perhaps in its apotheosis before the shallow-rooted being is swept away by the swollen winter waters of the creek.

Frosted docks in the mouth of Kelsey Creek.

Canada geese, quietly marshaling forces for eventual world domination.

Beneath an antique gingko.

Sunrise on a frosted mono-crop of new hay in a ground squirrel-free zone.

Frosted field with quiet animals.

Japanese maple, magnificently wondering how it came to be growing under a canopy of California Valley Oaks.

I was drawn to the silent lake. 

Camouflaged goose hunters were disembarking on the morning following the Hunters Moon.

A mattress dumped at the lake.
Rafts of coots in their thousands agitated the waters of Soda Bay below.

Nest boxes collected for the winter. Only four had been colonized last Spring -
two by bluebirds and two by tree swallows. The bluebird babies on the first try were devoured by jays.
 On the second attempt the eggs failed to hatch, it being too hot as summer commenced.

Orchard road. The annual pruning begins.

Leaf management entails much smoke.

Tule geometry as seen elsewhere in the paintings of J Johns.

Willows by the lake begging for a competent plein air painter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


OK, there have been a hellish number of huge wildfires this summer in Lake County, but in the unburned sections life carries on...

Coyote at the foot of the Hopland Grade.

From the September garden.

California quail cock.

In a squash blossom.

Gideon Jacques Denny's 1876 painting " The City of Lakeport, Clearlake, CA"


The hills are alive with the sound of incendiary music. 

In August, the Rocky Fire tore through 69,438 acres and the Jerusalem Fire scorched 25,146 acres (which was the count at the 85 percent containment point. I could not locate the final figure). The Elk Fire near Upper Lake burned 673 acres. 

The Rocky Fire swept through 100 percent of the Cache Creek Wilderness, refuge for California's largest herd of Tule Elk occupying native range. (The larger Owens Valley elk herd, east of the Sierra, is on non-native range). Strangely, only one week earlier the whole complex of wild lands stretching over a hundred miles through Eastern Napa County through Northern Lake County had been officially designated as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument, the result of long effort by local people concerned with preserving unspoiled land. Four major fires, the Rocky, the Jerusalem, the Elk, and, in Napa County, the Wragg fires wrought destruction within the new National Monument. UC Davis' Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve took a heavy hit in the Wragg fire within the southern limits of the Monument. 

Three years earlier, the Wye Fire and the Walker Ridge Fire burned 7,934 acres, the Mill Valley Campground Fire consumed 29,502 acres, the Sites Complex Fire claimed 4,000 acres, and the Sixteen Complex Fire took 17,944 acres, a combined total of 59,380 acres, much of which was within the proposed Monument.

So far, the still surging and most destructive of all the conflagrations, the Valley Fire, has wiped out over 70,000 acres along with almost 600 houses in Middletown, Anderson Springs, Harbin Springs and Cobb. Currently raging in a southeasterly direction, having started on Cobb Mountain, it took out a large part the Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest.  

Oak savannah just north of Highway 20 barely escaped the Rocky Fire.

Lands and endemic gray pines scorched by the Rocky Fire along the south side of Highway 20.

A blackened mountain.

Charred trunk of a Valley Oak.

Smoke from the Rocky Fire over Mount Konocti as seen from the ranch.

Heavy smoke from the Rocky Fire backdrops the pear harvest.

Route 20 divides the territories burnt by the Wye  Fire in 2012 on the right form that burnt by the Rocky Fire in 2015.

Smoke from the Valley Fire on the afternoon of 9/12/15 created eery lighting similar to that seen during an eclipse.

 As the sun disappeared, the smoke of the Valley Fire glowed ominously. Middletown was burning.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Pollinators in Big Valley include a big variety of native bees, flies, and butterflies in various guises - ornate, metallic and minuscule.

A species of syrphid fly on a California poppy at the ranch.

A species of mason bee.

Honey bees on the comb.

Enter Dow and Monsanto, intent on helping lazy, industrial scale, corporate farming to produce uniformly flawless produce. You know the story. It's been told for years: monarch butterflies, bumble bees, honey bees, and all the other less showy pollinators are crashing.

Home Depot has folded to the pressure from the top. They are doing the evil bidding of the chemical companies. All of their flowering plants are impregnated with the highly toxic NEONICOTINOIDS fatal to all insects and the birds which feed on the insects, which come into contact with the poisoned plants. The seeds themselves are coated with the poison, which then, on a cellular level, is transmitted through the tissues of the plant, toxifying everything from root to pollen.

Just check the little plastic labels which are stuck in the containers with every plant at Home Depot.
Approved by the EPA? And to whom is the EPA listening? Pollinators and birds?

Ace Hardware, on the other hand, along with other companies, is trying to do the right thing by banning the sale of neonicotinoid-contaminated plant stock.

A bluebird day in the hammock, because I needed to rehabilitate for a moment after the preceding bad news.

Now for more horrifying news:

The gorgeous valley to our immediate West at the foot of the Hopland Grade is in imminent danger of being taken over by a "development" corporation based in New Zealand. The plan is for an entirely new town of at least ten thousand people, which would make it the second largest population center in Mendocino County after Ukiah. 
This project has green-wash painted all over it. But local farmers see through the ploy and are fighting hard to preserve our rural open space.
In several ways, the project is the opposite of green. The town would be completely car-dependent since services such as medical, automotive, etc, and employment opportunities are at least twenty miles to the north or south in Cloverdale and Ukiah.

Views from the Hopland Grade of the beautiful McDowell Valley.

Poppy meadow in Big Valley.

A native penstemon

Red shouldered hawk feather. This year they are nesting in the valley oak canopy eighty feet straight up from the kitchen sink.

A scrub jay fledgling was run over by a car the minute it hopped into the road.

A badger, having evolved for millions of years to be the special being that it is, met a tragic end on Highway 20 in the Central Valley just East of Lake County.

Sunflower heads.

Our wood piles, comprised of the big limbs which fall from the Valley Oaks.

Walnuts swelling at Summer Solstice.

Walnut orchard.

Evening light in late June.