Tag Archives: drought

When the poor and needy seek water.

I drove boldly past many “FOREST CLOSED” signs on my way up the mountain earlier this week. The United States Forest Service has closed them because of the drought and fire danger. Our cabin is one of a group on a little piece of private property in the middle of the forest, so I brought along proof of ownership. There are currently no fires nearby, and the skies are clear and blue, but the air was brown-tinged a few thousand feet lower down, from the smoke that drifts in from fires in the north.

So I saw few other vehicles or people, but the hummingbirds, chipmunks and jays are more to be seen than in my recent memory. This forest family stared at me as I passed:

My sister came up for a couple of nights, and we talked until late. She drove us down to the lake bed in her “mule,” and we walked around for awhile. The part of the lake visible through the trees from our cabin showed a bit of blue water when I arrived, but the next morning it had turned to mud. The water is used for irrigation, so it’s not an unusual situation at the end of the summer, and not surprising that it would be the case this year.

As soon as I entered the forest, on the last leg of my journey, the noise and strain that had been with me on the highways began to be absorbed by the deep silence, and the fullness of presence, not only of living and growing trees and animals, but massive rocks. Those slabs and domes were here eons before the lake, and they comfort me.

Sister Nancy showed me an osprey nest when we were down at the shore/lake bed, and though it was kind of far away, I took a picture anyway. I didn’t see the greater context while I was focused on it, and was surprised when looking at my pictures later, to see what looks like a cloud picture. Just to the right of the odd blue dot is the osprey nest at the top of a tree.

Something has gone wrong with my settings on my devices, and I can’t seem to insert most of the pictures I wanted. I really don’t want to spend any more time up here fiddling with technology, so this may be my only post about my little retreat. I am hardly disappointed that the lake is so low, because The Mountains are where I am, and they are so much more. When I saw this reading for a church feast this morning, it made me think about the living waters that God provides, the Living Water that He is for our souls, no matter how dry the landscape:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.  Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.  Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it. Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.  (Isaiah 40:1-5; 41:17-18; 45:8; 48:20-21; 54:1)

Our lake in a wetter year.

Dome, stars and fire.

As a group, we are trying to do All The Mountain Things.

The brothers have fished in the lake several times, off the shore and from the canoe, which my sister and her husband had been kind enough to take down to the lake for us before we arrived. “To the lake,” in a drought year like this, means that one has to unlock the canoe from a tree at the level of the lake at its fullest, and carry it about 75 yards across the lake bed to a place where you can put it in the water. They paddled a total of five miles one afternoon and evening in the process and caught two little trout, which they shared at breakfast the next morning.

All the kids swam in the lake, and the girls floated around in tubes. All five young people slept on the deck one or two nights, and looked at the stars, and woke  to the hummingbirds’ loud zipping overhead.

Our first morning here, people immediately began discussing the granite domes we can see from the cabin, ringing the lake. Which one should they climb first? Where was the trailhead? I told them they must do the quick and easy Gumdrop Dome right behind the cabin, too close to see. Yesterday morning the five young hikers and I started off together in that direction, so I could show them the usual route up. I haven’t tackled it myself in at least ten years, but I like to walk around its base, which is high enough to give a good view.

The little clump of trees just to the right of center of the photo below is what becomes Ant Island when the water level is higher.

This was my first time to see a backpackers’ campsite. That was a cheery sight, unlike the more numerous saddening ones: the many trees up there that have been familiar features of my previous visits and have appeared in my photos over and over, now dead. One of them was what I sketched, that one time I exhausted my mind trying that art form.

In that post I also mentioned the little bent-over tree that I loved. It, too, is dead now:

Normally when I’m framing photos in the Sierras, I try to exclude dead trees, but that is no longer possible. I’m sure Mrs. Bread will recall our philosophical discussion while sitting on the deck one summer, as to the value and possible beauty of creation in the process of decomposition. At the time I think I was unwilling to exert myself in that mental exercise. Even now I am having a hard time with it!

After dinner last night, which four young people cooked — barbecued tri-tip, fried potatoes, sauteed vegetables, baked beans and chocolate chip cookies — an even larger group of us carted  supplies down to the dry lake bed to have a fire and make s’mores. Roger and Izzy did most of the work, and left Lora with her Granddad back at the cabin. Pearl and I came last to the scene, tromping through the bushes and gravel straight down the hill instead of by the road, when Roger was just setting a match to the kindling.

Venus was the first bright light in the sky. We all craned our necks searching the sky for constellations that were brighter every time we looked up. Philosopher made a s’more just for me, my first in decades, I’m sure.

Today Pearl went off in the canoe with Roger and Izzy to cross the lake and get nearer to the base of another dome, which they would climb. I’m eager for them to get back with pictures showing our Gumdrop Dome from that side of the lake. I feel richly blessed by every outing and conquest that each of my family has been making here, even the ones in which I personally am not directly participating. I guess it’s one of those benefits of producing and being with a large and busy family, that I can in this way continue to do (almost) All The Things.

Water, watercress, and catsear.

Dandelions and false dandelions – Over the last couple of years the false kind, or catsear, Hypochaeris radicata L., has flourished in dead or dying lawns in our town. Many people have let their lawns go, because of the drought, and there’s no recovering them now just because the winter was wet.

The catsear is prettier, I think, because the flowers are on long stems that wave in the breeze. I had them before my re-landscaping project began, and several of my neighbors still have them in abundance; here I am showing Ray’s place, as good as it ever looks, because he never does anything but mow once or twice a year….

And below, Vera’s front yard. Unlike Ray, Vera likes to garden, and she gave me my aloe saponaria start many years ago.

I never see real dandelions anymore. They must need more water, and the recent conditions are letting the catsear dominate.

I walk by this rose bush several times a week. It’s not cared for, and looks generally bad, but on this particular morning there was one rare perfect bloom proudly standing out from the mess.

The most interesting thing I’ve seen in a long time on my walks was two Asian women down at the creek gathering watercress.

And the prettiest thing was bees on Russian sage. I can’t resist trying to photograph one more bee on one more flower, especially if it is a pairing of insect and flower that I haven’t captured before. I was so happy on my walk this morning, I didn’t want it to end, so I changed my route to add a few more blocks, and that’s how I happened to see these bees.

 

Back in my own garden, more plants are blooming. Kim gave me hollyhock seeds three years ago, and I planted them in my new greenhouse last fall and transplanted them to a spot that I think must be too shady, because the plants are diminutive – but the first bloom is out!

 

 

When designing my backyard garden, we deliberately planted the salvia near the dodonea, to get this color contrast. It’s working right now!

Above: fig tree, mock orange, and sea holly.

I have two kinds of lamb’s ears: the old ones that were propagated from my old garden, and which are all sending up long flower spikes right now.

…and new ones bought at a nursery, which have broad leaves, more green, and may not flower much. Lots of people have told me that their lamb’s ears don’t. But one of them is sneaking out a flower, only to send it on to the sidewalk to risk a trampling.

June has brought warmer temperatures, and I hope to spend more time in the garden again. Yesterday my dear godmother came over and we did sit eating our ice cream where we could hear the bees humming and the see the goldfinches at the feeder.

And we could smell the sweet peas! I ended up picking four bouquets of them yesterday, including one to send home with her. I also had to trim back some of the stems to keep them from squishing the pole beans. So this may be the peak of the bloom. There’s not much room for me to grow anything else just yet, because it’s the Year of the Sweet Peas!

They rise against their rootedness.

February is one of my favorite months for driving up and down the center of our very agricultural state. I won’t have that pleasure this year, but a few Februarys when I managed to visit family and the land where I grew up, the expanses of almond orchards were to be seen out my window for at least as many miles as it took me to drive one of the hours through what is called the West Side of the Central Valley. They are especially pretty on stormy days when the clouds are also playing their melodrama in the skies above.

The landscape along Highway 5 is never static, and not just because the seasons change. Our drought, and the loss of aquifer, mean that some farms will have to change what they grow, or downsize, or go out of business. One grower recently announced that they will be taking 10,000 acres of almonds out of production this year.

So I will enjoy the orchards I see, and not presume on their future. Richard Wilbur in this poem helps me to see aspects of fruit trees that I might not consider on my own, such as lifespans. Is it old orchards that are being “taken out,” or young trees that will never have the chance to be fully grown? What are the West Side bees meditating about this year?

gl w-side alm nurs closer

YOUNG ORCHARD

These trees came to stay. w-side alm med close
Planted at intervals of
Thirty feet each way,

Each one stands alone
Where it is to live and die.
Still, when they are grown

To full size, these trees
Will blend their crowns, and hum with
Meditating bees.almond-tree-flower

Meanwhile, see how they
Rise against their rootedness
On a gusty day,

Nodding one and all
To one another, as they
Rise again and fall,

Swept by flutterings
So that they appear a great
Consort of sweet strings.

~ Richard Wilbur

gl w-side alm orch clouds