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Monday, August 7, 2017

MIGRANTS & COSMOPOLITES

August nights in the oaks ripped with rasping calls of barn owl fledglings.
Inhabiting six continents, barn owls are among the most cosmopolitan of creatures. 
I installed sheet metal flashing on the post supporting the owl box, deterring raccoons and allowing the owls to breed successfully this year.  



Black headed grosbeaks, returning from such places as Michoacan and Jalisco, also bred well this season.
Four or five young of the year frequented the feeder trays.


From the garden beds.

Eurasian collared doves were accidentally released in the Bahamas in 1974, and have since conquered most of North America, the most successful avian invasive species since the European starling (1890) and the English sparrow (1850). They first showed up at the ranch three or four years ago.

Tiger swallowtail, unlike the long distance migratory monarch, probably hatched in the willows and cottonwoods along the creek across the road.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

MADE MANIFEST IN SPRING




Cliff swallows in dozens gathered mud with which to mold their globular nests.




      Flicker and red shouldered hawk shed feathers.
Violets and trillium.


Pomegranate blossoming profusely after a wet winter.



Sharptail snake hoping to be invisible by hiding her eyes under a bent straw.

St John's wort.




Garden beds.






Thunder, lightening, and hail brewing on June 11.


Hail.




The storm cleared after thirty minutes.



Night Studio.

THE HUMAN FOOTPRINT


I saw a sign, which revived a name associated with this place since the Benson family trekked across the continent to homestead in this valley. If the Bensons have moved on, the place and the name survives. Locally, the Benson name conjures tales of identical twins reduced to a diet of shoe leather in Death Valley, of Pomo artistry at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, of witness to a historical massacre, cultural mediation, racial blending, narrow escapes from grizzly bears, and the farming of pears.
  

Bill, the lawn mower repair master has died, leaving behind his self-made memorial pile of mowers, which appear to rival the floral tributes left for Princess Diana. As an artist ages and contemplates death, he might wonder if his own life's work will end up similarly.




 Charles Demuth's, My Egypt, his painting of totemic mid-western grain elevators, came to mind as I walked by the pear and walnut packing sheds.


A couple of vultures attended the victim of vehicular fox slaughter. They risked their own lives for a meal in the road. I moved the fox well away on the shoulder.


The oak has seen the little town of Kelseyville grow up around it in the past 150 years.


THE OAK SAVANNA

The sense of space in the Valley Oak Savanna changes radically through the months of April and May as the great trees first flower and then leaf out, forming dense canopies.

To walk in their shelter is to feel an aura of remembrance. 
When ancient lake bed clay and silt was exposed as waters receded, acorns took root. The pioneering generations of oaks in Big Valley provided fodder for ground sloths, camelids, early horses, and prototypical grizzlies. Humans reached the valley ten thousand years ago, killing off most of the megafauna. But grizzlies, deer and elk continued to frequent the woodlands. Directly, the oak's acorns became the central source of sustenance for the humans.

Trees alive today can be 600-years-old and 70' tall. A tree that age spent three quarters of its life in the company of the Pomo peoples and grizzlies. It sheltered General Vallejo's wandering cattle herds during the Mexican period. The creek-side Valley Oaks were fertilized by shoals of rotting hitch, which after spawning, were often stranded as creek water levels subsided. 

These long-surviving trees stood as the first Anglo-Americans arrived and subjugated and enslaved the local Pomo. Some trees today might well have served as hanging trees.

The new Americans built their first homesteads in the micro-climates beneath the oaks.
Relentlessly, they cleared over ninety percent of the valley's oak savannas, replacing them with fields of wheat, and orchards of pears and walnuts.

On a four mile walk around our agricultural block, I see remnants of the ancient savannah, richly inhabited oases of life punctuating the farm monoculture.











Sunday, February 19, 2017

DAY & NIGHT ON THE VOLCANO



I drove the dirt road up Mount Konocti on a winter day to retrieve
a trail camera, which my brother and I, three weeks earlier, had
lashed to the trunk of a blue oak near a deer carcass.
Our hope was to capture shots of nocturnal scavengers.
But what the camera seemed to capture were the night sprites and
goblins that animate the mountain - the living mountain of the here
and now.

There are the scientific and historical back stories attached to Konocti.
I outline a few salient facts here, but the essence of the mountain now
is as a locus for rain and clouds, vultures and crows, manzanita forests
and mountain lions. And for ever-shifting beauty.

The only volcano in the entire length of the California Coastal
Ranges, Mount Konocti is also the youngest mountain in all that
territory. It first erupted 350,000 years ago. Eruptions occurred
on average of once every 1,800 years between 60,000 and 10,000
years ago. The volcano continues to vent thermal energy in several
spots including from the bottom of Clear Lake. The US Geological
Survey classifies Konocti as High Threat Potential.

The highly porous mountain absorbs all rain falling upon it. No
creeks flow from it. Instead, there is evidence of an immense
subterranean chamber holding a reservoir, purportedly with links
to the neighboring lake.

The lake itself is dated to 480,000 years, making it possibly the
most ancient lake in North America.

Konocti is mostly carpeted with dense chaparral excepting the north
slope, which is blackly forested with Douglas fir, black oaks, and madrones.
There is a patchwork of cultivated walnut groves on the milder slopes.

The singularity of Konocti and of the lake have always been recognized
by the Indians and by the late-coming Spanish and Americans. Lore and
mystery have been ascribed to it. It has been anthropomorphized in
attempts to comprehend it.

The birth of Konocti, like that of Krakatoa, provided a clean slate gradually to
be colonized by species of plant and animal which found niches of possibility.


Clear Lake and one of the mountain's lower peaks.


Big Valley from Konocti.


The mountain road near where we planted the trail
camera.


A pair of gray foxes, like nocturnal spirits, visit the
carcass.


They appeared in hundreds of photos over the weeks.


Some nights, a skittish and ghostly coyote would appear.


At daybreak, a pair of ravens presided. They were still
there, clacking their bills and flapping through the oaks
when I returned to retrieve the camera, though the carcass
was nowhere to be seen.