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