Tag Archives: wildfires

Wildflowers among the charred manzanita.

Rosy Sandcrocus

Early this morning I had joked with my daughters about hiking alone today, saying that because it was Saturday I knew there would be plenty of other hikers around to see the event if a mountain lion dropped from a tree onto me. (None of them laughed at my joke.) Yes, there were many people on all the trails, but when I did have an accident it was during a minute when I was out of sight of everyone, and I was glad for that.

I couldn’t resist visiting another regional park this afternoon because I was in the neighborhood, having helped to care for my goddaughter Mary and her siblings all morning, a bit north of home. But I had forgotten to put my boots in the car, so I went with just my Merrells that are super comfortable and supportive, but still – they are just shoes.

The fires of last fall ripped through this area — that’s two years more recent than where I hiked on Tuesday, and the damage is striking. So many manzanitas are black, or black with copper leaves. But these wind-driven fires we’ve had will thoroughly burn one bush or tree and leave one right next to it unharmed. In the next picture I was trying to show the flowering bush, and the other close by that is singed and stressed. Maybe it will recover by next year – or maybe not.

Some trails in the park are still closed since the fire; I made note of that when I printed a map last month, but I also forgot to bring the map. So I wandered a lot and ran into two dead ends where the trail was closed, making it seem like I had walked for much longer than an hour. There were plenty of green trees and shrubs, and lots of new ground cover including several low-growing wildflowers. I was surprised to see so many on this last day of February; maybe the warm days we’ve had recently encouraged the bloom.

I made good use of that phone app: Seek, from iNature. I’m excited about it helping me to spend more time outdoors with the plants and less time in my cold corner looking at a screen to do my plant identification detective work. In that short time it helped me confirm the names of or learn for the first time eight plants and flowers. It didn’t matter to the app that the wind was blowing them blurry. It does matter to me, when I am posting pictures, so I will show you the clearest images I got.

Besides the charred oaks and manzanita in the photo above, you can see how the plant pictured in more detail below covers the slopes all over with its wavy leaves. When I pointed my phone at it I learned that it is appropriately named Wavy-leafed Soap Plant or Chlorogalum pomeridianum:

And this sweet thing (with the botanical name impossible to say without spitting) is the Rusty Popcornflower – Plagiobothrys nothofulvus:

The trails were mostly very gravelly, and what happened was, I slid in the gravel and went down. It wasn’t even a steep hill. I got back up and brushed myself off, looked around to see that mercifully, no one was rushing to my aid. I was more careful after that, especially when going downhill.

Besides the plants I’ve pictured here, I saw Blue Dicks; a yellow flower called Pacific Sanicle; Henderson’s Shooting Star; and a tiny and tightly furled white flower among leaves also folded close, but looking like clover — the app could make no sense of that one. But the most interesting meeting was of the Rosy Sandcrocuses. I saw most of them almost hidden in the grass, they were down so low, but this one had opened while still lying in its sand bed. Those long grass blades lying next to it are its leaves, which makes you understand why some people call it Onion Grass.

My favorite for beauty, the Pacific Hound’s Tongue. That phone app is up to date; it knew that the botanical name has changed to reflect what has been discovered about this flower’s genetics. These were smaller plants than what I’ve seen in wetter places, but their beautiful blue catches the eye. I’m thrilled to have seen one today, and reveling in the gorgeous springtime and all my flower surprises – also that I didn’t break a bone!

Looking autumn in the face.

What sets this autumn apart from any other is my distaste for leaves turning color. Out of the corner of my eye I’ve seen it happening, and my heart protests, “Oh, please don’t!” I look the other way. Time has been swallowed up in remodeling, or waiting for remodeling, and the steady progress of months and seasons was not in my face so colorfully until now, telling me that without a doubt that the end of the calendar year is drawing near as well.

Until yesterday, when on the way back from the gym I drove around a corner and was met with this familiar tree that had just put on its late-season dress. I couldn’t help loving it, just as I couldn’t help being angry with those other orange leaves a week earlier.

The cold weather I dread is holding off, and it’s gotten to 90° for a few days, making for unusually balmy evenings. Sunny weather means I can work in the garden for hours every day, putting up pea trellises, weatherproofing the planter boxes, and staining the rim of the fountain that had built up a layer of white mineral scale.

Rain would be better, though. In Northern California the combination of tinder-dry foliage and wind gusts creates a situation that threatens to repeat the horrors of the fires of the last two years. Too bad we can’t put all that behind us — but “it” is trying to be part of our future as well, a reality of which the power company keeps reminding us, and shutting off the power as a precaution.

A few of my volunteer tomatoes turned pink. They look like Juliets. Barely any sun is shining on them these days so I brought several into the house and when they turned red I ate them. They taste as one might expect from such culture!

 

These moths are all over the garden, but especially on the salvia here pictured – I think I have identified them as Fiery Skippers. What a cute name for a cute moth. [oops – not a moth! See about skippers in the comments.] I began to wonder if it is their caterpillars that are eating my sunflowers, so I researched that, too, and I don’t think so. Next photo is in the Disturbing Photos category. 😦

But look at this: The most fun insect I have discovered this week is these caterpillars…

… and they appear to be the Black Swallowtail again, on the parsley again, looking as though they wanted to be eaten by birds, so I brought the two of them into my mesh cage, after the carpenter and I took pictures outdoors near the parsley patch.

Other heartening events: One window in the soon-to-be sewing room has been framed, and irises keep blooming like they want to be my best friends; the tropical milkweed also, and it makes more and more seeds! I harvested the mystery squashes. [Update: I found the tag that came with the 4″pot, and they are Buttercup Heirloom Squash.]

Tiny harbingers of spring caught my eye as I came up to the front door yesterday, just after my encounter with the bright tree. Yes, the daphne is putting out new leaves, so that in a very few months it can put out those divinely aromatic flowers. See, I do know that the seasons are good! Of course. And when winter comes, this particular challenging and wonderful time will be a thing of the past. I must enjoy it while I can!

Fire, smoke and ashes.

That wonky redwood is the “Dr Suess Tree” as we call it, on the other side of my backyard fence, that towers above my garden from my neighbor’s place. I took the picture from down the street, quickly before the sun set.

We are seeing the setting sun through smoke. It’s been like this since last Thursday, when shortly after wildfires began to destroy the town of Paradise in Butte County, ashes and cinders from that destruction floated three hundred miles to the south, here and beyond here, at least to San Jose. Students and teachers in our schools are on the fifth day of their weekend, what with Veteran’s Day and smoke days.

It’s gloomy. My friend Myriah may have lost her house, though she was mercifully stuck in Texas when the chaos began. Or, her house might still stand, one of the few that weren’t destroyed by the blazes. The prospect of being a householder on an outpost in the middle of a burned-out town, “in the middle of an ash heap,” as Myriah puts it, is bleak. Whatever the condition of her house, her home is gone.

Lately in Liturgy the litany has included prayers for those suffering as a result of shootings, and this week “fires” was added to the phrase, along with the extra remembrance of soldiers slain in wars. Our parish was also commemorating the repose of a beloved priest, and we met at the cemetery Sunday afternoon for a prayer service in his memory. Several parishioners wore masks against the bad air.

It was a sweet gathering and memorial, for a man who was in many ways the heart of our parish — and still is. After the prayers and hymns and aromatic censing of the graves, we sang “Memory Eternal,” and the service ended. A little table had been set up on the grass next to the grave, with a candle and a icon on it, and our priest poured the melted wax from the candle on to the grave marker in the shape of a cross. Then he emptied the charcoal from his censer and remaining bits of incense on top of that.

A couple of the children crouched down to ask what he was doing, and I didn’t hear his answer, but I did hear him say, “I need to you blow on that, gently.” He wanted the incense to go on smoking for a while, so the kids got to provide the supporting wind.

A lawsuit has been filed against the utility company that supplies electricity to Butte County, claiming negligence on their part; it may have been sparks from their wires that started the fires. They had previously talked about the possibility of shutting off power to several counties because of extreme fire danger, and wanting to avoid all possibility of sparks or downed power lines instigating a disaster. I can see how they would at the same time like to avoid depriving their customers of what is a means of life support for many, especially in that mountain community where many retired people are now missing the comfort of winter coats that are turned to ashes.

I have no thesis around which to organize my ramblings, only sightings and impressions and feelings. Myriah is collecting clothing and supplies that match the actual needs of specific people in her hometown, and she will stop by here to get a few things on her way there. That is the most concrete and encouraging thing I have to write today; as was the case last year when the inferno was right here, the stories of sacrifice and true community are heartening.

One friend at church wrote on a chalkboard by his front door, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke, and depression is a close second.”

Blue skies improve the mood.

Those who aren’t severely affected by wildfires to the point of being evacuated temporarily or permanently from their homes, and who continue to go about their usual work, might still be vaguely or acutely affected by smoke. Some of my family in northern California and southern Oregon have had weeks of smoke that keeps them indoors, makes the sky dark and the air muggy. Even here, my eyes are scratchy. It all has a distracting and depressing effect, though one is not always fully conscious of it.

But this morning my daughter Pippin exclaimed, “Today, the sky is blue!” and sent a photo to prove it. I had recently joined in one blog draft a photo she took in England and a poem, which I’m publishing in celebration of blue skies. They are currently a welcome background for sheep or clouds or what have you.

THE LIKENESS

When I came forth this morn I saw
Quite twenty cloudlets in the air;
And then I saw a flock of sheep,
Which told me how these clouds came there.

That flock of sheep, on that green grass,
Well might it lie so still and proud!
Its likeness had been drawn in heaven,
On a blue sky, in silvery cloud.

I gazed me up, I gazed me down,
And swore, though good the likeness was,
‘Twas a long way from justice done
To such white wool, such sparkling grass.

-William Henry Davies

Pippin Pic of Yorkshire Dales