Category Archives: natural history

Another time

seven chanterelles

I grew up in a time when I could roam the woods by myself. I could grab a hat, and walk out our back door, not letting the screen slam or else my mother might remember that I should possibly be doing something else, like weeding, or picking beans. I hated picking string beans because of the squashy prickly bean beetle larvae that crawled over leaf stems and beans. They gave me the creeps because they looked as though they had neither tail nor head, just a translucent blob, the naked juiciness of them studded with a pattern of black spines. They would break against my fingers and I loathed the sap of their deaths on my hands.

Quickly walk along the tractor path that traced the base of the hill, so I’d be out of earshot of anyone remembering that I should be tutoring my younger sister, or perhaps vacuuming the living room. Or dusting— the job that never ended. Then, with a deep breath of freedom, across the mown slope barely in view of the house. Don’t look behind, or I might see someone waving me back home for any of those chores I was convinced could wait. Over the rise, almost running, with the sweat prickling down between my shoulder blades, and down past the brushy edge of woods that bordered corn fields green with eager breeze blown blades, taller than my head, the overcast glow of sky hot on my hat.

I always looked for other people. Looked for farmworkers, for wanderers, for the adolescent boy checking out possible hunting ground before the fall, despite the “No Hunting” signs my cousin had posted on this old Gowen land. Then I’d duck down a path into the woods, this path wide enough for a truck. Trucks had come this way, keeping it open. The farmworkers often parked down here where the slope of land deepened, seeking shade for lunch time.

six chanterelles

I knew that if I came across anyone else there, I should not let them know of my presence.. Soft footing around, I prided myself I’d always spot any intruder first, and never would they see me. Every so often, I’d take a pause, breathing through my mouth to listen. What did I fear? Nothing so clear; I simply knew I was safest alone, unknown, unnamed.

Now how many children have such freedom? To lose themselves in the woods and orchards of infinite mystery and promise, discovering animals, spying on insects, picking up a shed hawk feather or collecting a cluster of fresh chanterelles from the duff under the hemlocks? I took part of my education there in the shadows of trees, naming red oak and sugar maple, white pine and the startling silver and black of paper birch. What has replaced this for our children now?

single chanterelle

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Next, in Southern Coastal California

https://www.independent.com/news/2018/jan/09/mudslides-engulf-montecito-carpinteria-shut-down-f/

Last night I came awake to the sound of violent lashing rain coming in strong brief pulses. I lay and listened and considered all the work we had done last afternoon to put gullies into the orchard so that the runoff from up the road would settle deep into our heavy soil. Wondering if we had done enough.

The ground has felt like concrete, despite our continual adding of organics, our thick mulching and deep watering, so we are thirsty for rain in a way that feels more acute than it has ever been before. Consider this– we had none of our usual fall rains– even in a bad drought year we’ve always had a few inches in the fall. This year, we felt a sprinkling of drops but nothing measurable. The reservoirs were frighteningly bare, and the native vegetation, crisp.

Then, as the news has tracked, we had the Thomas Fire with all its tragic losses, and the heroic labors of firefighters. Such a dry land, that the fire often persisted in burning against the wind. How do you fight that? By hand, by shoveling dirt on every kindling patch, by the brutal courageous personal labor of good women and men on the front lines and extraordinary canny planning by the planners and strategists. We had a war here and our people rose to every call.

Now the rains came, late. Now they enact another price. The stripped land cannot hold when waterlogged on these steep slopes and in the canyons, and that’s why you read in today’s news of our massive landslides taking out yet more homes, killing people, and destroying roadways. I hear helicopters pulsing overhead as stranded, sometimes injured folk are air-lifted to safety, a few at a time.

The county sent out warnings, issued mandatory evacuation orders and voluntary evacuation warnings in different threatened zones. Many citizens last night chose to stay in place. Understandably sick of the disruption to their lives after weeks of fire evacuations, they didn’t want to leave yet again, especially if they lived in areas where a mere evacuation  warning had been issued, not an evacuation order. As I understand at this  time, these evacuation warning areas are where some fatalities took place last night.

For the record, I’m a chicken. Give me a voluntary evacuation warning, and I plan to be out of here. I think it’s fair saying that the county officials are no prophets, they can only estimate and guess how the natural disaster potential may be expressed, so I will err on the side of caution. Hey, even when we weren’t in the voluntary evacuation warning area for the Thomas Fire and it was still eight miles away from our place, I was packed to leave, the cat carriers were down, water bottles filled.

It’s worth thinking over what your personal limits and triggers are before the issue arrives. How would you feel?

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Smoke

We are in heavy smoke on the South Coast, the sun left us before noon to disappear behind a great blanket of ruddy gray from the Thomas Fire. White falls like snowflakes, except we’re breathing the ashes of other people’s dreams. We aren’t in  danger but I can do nothing without turning on the lights and the occasional sky light is rosy orange. Surreal. Weirdly cold. I should be writing an apocalyptic novel but it’s hard to concentrate, so I am doing massive Christmas cookie baking for my neighbors.

Ray Ford Noozhawk photo Dec 5 Faria Beach
So we are lying low and waiting. I think we are in fine shape but because I am a paranoid person, I have all our cat carriers out and all the valuable documents packed up in bins! My husband kind of smiled at me, but I pointed out that if another closer fire broke out, the firefighters are already over-extended.
Grateful that the winds have quieted!
Time for some super chocolate three-way fudge cookies.

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A little surprise of a visitor

It’s November and I’m working away on my nanowrimo novel, but of course other matters abound and distract. I’ve been involved with political and local issues, digging up and manuring the rows I want to plant lima beans and peas in, starting the cauliflower and broccoli seedlings, transplanting baby leeks… and what turns up? A tiny wonderful bird. I’ve never seen a ruby-crowned kinglet so unmistakably clear before, the brilliant tiny splotch of red like an extravagant punctuation on the back of his elegant head. A fast sketch later and now I need to go out and soak those lima beans for planting.

ruby-crowned kinglet btr

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The Whittier Fire, Thursday

Here’s the latest from KEYT. Some remarkably beautiful photos here.

Whittier Fire map 071317_1499983405116_7458798_ver1.0

No dramatic changes, but I know the drama is all on the ground, in that tedious and dangerous slog towards containment. The Whittier Fire has slowed way down, but some burning occurred on the south side, our side, you might say, of the fire in the past twelve hours. There’s some good in that, because it reduces future fire risk by decreasing available fuel, but it makes us all nervous.

There’s a sundowner in the forecast for tomorrow that has us concerned, because that might bring winds rushing down from the ridge into the populated coastal area.

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Whittier Fire Continues

Santa Barbara fire map with recent fires_1499724149968_7424712_ver1.0

The day has a color to it and a faint taste.  The Whittier Fire has burned over 10,800 acres so far, and the sky is hazed by a strange warm hue. From the detail map it seems that a fierce defense of the two peaks which carry most of our communications may have been successful, but as I noted before if any of you find it difficult to reach family or friends in this area of Southern California, don’t panic– communications may be challenged.

I can only salute the extraordinary fire respondents in all roles, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us who go about our daily lives with little more than a feeling of anxiety, refreshed every so often by a look at the alien sky. I think this will be a long fight.

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The Whittier Fire

whittier map_1499580725716_7400393_ver1.0This fire started yesterday on the other side of the great spine of mountains that runs West to East North of Santa Barbara. It sounds confusing to say we live in an area of California North of the Pacific Ocean, but that is true. Geological forces thrust our part of the state out like a bent knee.

The fire has been fast and destructive, causing many folk we know to evacuate. Pyrocumulus above the ridge of mountains has risen and dissipated repeatedly. The Whittier Fire quieted overnight, as wildfires usually do when night temperatures subside, but as this day warms we will see a lot of smoke and ash. I hope no fire responders meet any harm. The fire broached the ridge line once later yesterday– we really want to see it remain on the far side of the mountains if possible. But it’s some of the oldest chaparral around in rough ridged terrain, so time will tell. In an ecological sense it must burn, it’s supposed to burn, and that is the bottom line. However with our possible winds it might cause trouble this side of the peaks. On a nicer note we were woken a little after six by a rain shower– so unexpected it felt like a gift in this dry season of our year. Not enough to matter, except to our spirits!

2017-07-08 18.40.03

The photo above, taken from a friend’s front yard, misleads. The sun in the smoke was the color of ripest strawberries.

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