I live in the area where high winds whipped up 60 different fires in a few hours early Monday (yesterday) morning. My neighborhood was on alert to evacuate, but that never became necessary. In this part of Northern California just north of San Francisco Bay, scores of my friends are among the 20,000 people who have been evacuated, and the homes of at least two families dear to me have burned to the ground.
Many hundreds of structures were destroyed yesterday, but fires are still burning and uncontained and it’s impossible to know at this point what the full extent of the damage will be, or how many lives will have been lost. Though we are all in shock at the speed and extent of this destruction all around us, everyone I know is thankful for the love and support, and continued existence, of their friends and family. I wanted you all to know that I am okay.
As soon as I pulled out the extravagant sweet peas, the Blue Lake pole beans were happy to take over that planting box, sharing with basil. The other box is empty, and I don’t seem to have time even to think about what to do with it — so, I guess nothing until next month. But I picked enough basil to make a batch of pesto, and now am starting to enjoy the beans.
Flowers are everywhere, too. The white echinacea and the Delta Sunflowers in the front garden are my favorites. Those sunflowers are amazing – For years I’d been seeing them wave their bright blooms in the hot winds of California’s Central Valley, on zero summer water. Even last week I took some pictures as I was on my way home from the mountains, showing how they love to volunteer and reseed themselves in temperatures over 100°.
Landscape Lady suggested that I consider them for the way they bloom over the whole season, last fall when I was talking about sunflowers in the front, and she offered to share some of the plants that make babies year after year at her own place. She gave me five, and all five quickly revived from transplanting and started growing like the weeds that they are at heart.
They naturally look a lot nicer here where they get a little moisture to their roots.
I’ve been gadding about too much to be an attentive gardener — that’s where it pays off to have this relatively low-maintenance kind of space that produces so much beauty to welcome me home in a new way every time I return.
Over Memorial Weekend I stayed with the majority of my children and grandchildren in a couple of cabins in the foothills near Yosemite National Park. One day we were all attending the wedding of my niece. The other days we explored in smaller groups, or hung out at the larger cabin with all nineteen of us together, cooking, eating, playing bocce ball or swinging on the tire swing.
On my drive in to the village of North Fork, near which our cabins were located, I saw lots of these recumbent white lupine plants along the roads. Just now, trying to identify them, I read that there are around 200 species of lupines. I can’t find any that look like these, so I’m giving up.
But those pinkish flowers under the lupines appear to be clover. It covered the dry slopes around our cabins.
We trust that Jamie will soon grow out of his love for his toy cell phone that he uses remarkably like silly adults. After all, it is always dead. His imagination obviously isn’t — but just what can he be imagining?
For a couple of hours Sunday Maggie and Annie played on a paddle board in Bass Lake while the others of us watched them, or watched Liam with his bubble wand. We might have rented a boat but they were all taken. Then we ate ice cream; it was hot!
In 2015 I was in the Sierra foothills south of here, and first learned of this plant below, called Bear Clover or Mountain Misery, Chamaebatia foliolosa. Back then we were in the same sort of dry terrain at a similar elevation, so I wasn’t surprised to see it again. Last week I couldn’t remember the name, but I recalled something about it being smelly.
A species of collinsia or Chinese Houses.
I had taken a big box of old maps up to the mountains with me, to offer to the family before I recycle them. Several people were curious, but Scout was most captivated by them and thrilled at the possibility of having some of them for his very own, now that he can read and decode them. His parents helped him sort them into categories, and eventually they let him take the whole box, to be more thoroughly sorted and culled later. He searched me out several times to thank me for the maps 🙂
One of the maps was called “Indian Country” and showed mostly the Southwest U.S. I don’t think it covered much of the territory that Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery explored, which was certainly Indian Country as well. One of the plants the Corps encountered was a wildflower called Arrowleaf Balsamroot or Balsamorhiza sagittata, and I believe Pippin and I saw it, too, on a walk near our cabin.
The flowers had not quite opened yet, but they were showing some yellow. In the Corps’ journal we read, “The stem is eaten by the natives, without any preparation. On the Columbia. Aprl. 14th 1806.” By the way, lupine seeds were also food to Native Americans.
Our group didn’t eat anything like that. Our big meals together were BBQ on Sunday night, and bacon and eggs on Monday morning before we departed for our homes. I fried three pounds of bacon and drove off with my clothes and hair still pungent a couple of hours later.
It was far from North Fork, but I will end with this photo of alfalfa fields I drove past — slowly, in holiday traffic — in the Sacramento Delta. In one field I saw they were mowing, so I rolled down my window and got a whiff of that.
I’m happy and home and too tired to pull this all together somehow…. Oh, well, they are all things that I like, and/or think about. 🙂
When we were snuggling and chatting on the couch at her house last week, four-year-old Ivy introduced the topic of the faces of her grandmas. After we talked a while about red spots and wrinkles, she pointed to a tiny freckle on her wrist and said with pride, “This is my first brown spot!”
There was a good bit of cuddle time during my visit, because most of the family had colds and weren’t at their most energetic. One day in particular it was uncomfortably chilly outdoors, and snow fell off and on all day.
But my drive up the state had been mostly under sunny skies, which meant that I could stop and take pictures anytime I wanted — and I did want quite frequently. I had dragged myself away from home, wondering what had I been thinking, planning a trip when gardening and Lenten activities are legion. But as soon as I got away from my usual environment and wide views opened up to me, the spring-green leaves and plantations of wildflowers made me glad I was making a tour of points north.
I saw hundreds of these Western Redbuds along the highways.
And twice, I got close enough to discover a bee enjoying them, too.
So many kinds of wildflowers were blanketing the slopes in swaths of yellow, orange, blue and white. I only managed to get close to some lupines. I don’t even know what most of the other flowers were – except the California poppies. I was flying past them too fast!
Another bush I saw on my journey was unfamiliar to me. It grows along the creek beds, and when its foliage comes out it is needle-like. It’s a softer, orangey pink compared to the Redbud…
…and its flowers are like beads:
I love the almond and walnut trees when they are bare.
The California almonds have already leafed out,
but the walnuts are still pale gray and venerable:
That freezing cold day at Pippin’s, we celebrated Jamie’s second birthday. His Aunt Pearl and three of those cousins came up from Davis, too, to spend a day and half, which made everything more festive. Maggie helped Scout make a glittery poster to hang near the dining table, and several of us blew up a score of balloons. Cupcakes were baked and decorated. When Jamie finally figured out that he was the center of attention, and that he was the one to blow out candles, he was quite pleased.
I also received a late birthday present from Pearl, with orange blossoms attached to the package by way of decoration. I kept them by my bedside, and then next to the driver’s seat on my way home. One of these Aprils I will go back to the land of my childhood and just live in the scented atmosphere for a few days, for old time’s sake, and for the delicious sating of my olfactory sense.
The next day was a little warmer, and dry. We could take walks, pulling Ivy and Jamie in the wagon. The Professor took the four oldest children to a shooting range for a while – who doesn’t love an uncle who will do that? One day he worked at burning some of the huge number of branches that fell from their trees during the very snowy winter, and Scout helped by dragging them across the yard.
At different times during my stay, both Scout and Ivy asked if I would come outside to see certain springtime happenings in their world. Ivy loves the tiny violets that pop up all over the lawn, dark violet and lavender. I see from an old blog post that I had also discovered those many years ago, but I was sure in the moment that this must have been the first time.
When I found out that Scout (seven years old) knows the names of most of the trees on the property, I brought my notebook outside and jotted down as we walked around the house: oak, maple, hawthorn, red fir, spruce, Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, locust, weeping willow… the ones I didn’t remember, maybe I will next time. He and I examined the thorns of the hawthorn compared to those of the locust.
The time went fast. Soon I was driving back, through the Central Valley that is heating up nicely and made me wish I were wearing something thinner than jeans. I thought about my future as regards expeditions in March. In the last three years I have acquired two grandsons whose birthdays are in March, so I think I better get used to this happy Happy Birthday routine. 🙂 Nothing could be sweeter.