Tag Archives: wildflowers

I praise Modoc, and question Jefferson.

Surprise Valley, California

It looks to me like some cowboy lost a piece of his shirt on this barbed wire. I took the picture when we were poking around in Modoc County, “where the West still lives.”

Ten years ago our family met a cowboy who looked like The Marlboro Man himself, as we stood on a hillside watching him lead a string of horses through the sagebrush and across a creek, with pastel layers of aspens and mountains behind him.

This remote and rugged land is one of the areas that has perpetually been found within the proposed boundaries of The State of Jefferson, a longed-for 51st state that would include several counties in northern California and southern Oregon.

The modern Jefferson includes more counties.

Just last month the supervisors of Modoc and also those of its neighboring Siskiyou County voted to secede from the State of California, as the historic movement revs up again.

The Sacramento Bee reported:

[Mark Baird, one of the prominent activists] insists the State of Jefferson is the answer to revive logging, protect ranching and lure new businesses. He bristles at suggestions that these counties need to subsist on social services.

“It’s absolutely infuriating to people up here, this idea that we’re little children and we must have our hands held out,” Baird said. “Well, we would make our own way. We are intelligent, creative, hardworking people, and without the morass of failed social engineering experiments here, we would do fine.”

Barn in Yreka, in Siskiyou County, California

The Modoc county seat is Alturas, a word that means “valley on top of a mountain.” Much of this country is considered High Sage Plateau, with evidently enough water for many cattle ranches and hay fields.

If I hadn’t had a traveling companion to restrict my stoppings, I’d never have made it home for trying and trying again to get the perfect picture of black steers grazing on varying shades of green and yellow-green, with dark mountains behind them.

Nothing close to the perfect shot was to be mine. Either I was not high enough above the grassland to get the sweeping view, or the steers clumped up close to see if I were bringing their dinner, or, in the case of those next to our our motel in Alturas, they ran away when I was still 50 yards from the fence.

Many of these fine scenes were in Surprise Valley, which is even farther east than Alturas, east of Hwy 395, on the other side of the Warner Mountains. This valley’s elevation, if you drive up and down Surprise Valley Road as we did, is above 4,000 feet.

The photo below looks still farther east, toward a band of tan that might be an alkali lake, and up into the Hays Canyon range of mountains that lie mostly in Nevada.

Looking east from Surprise Valley to the Hays Range in Nevada

Besides your typical mountains, you can find the Glass Mountain Lava Flow on the western edge of Modoc County, though it lies mostly in Siskiyou County. On our previous visit we climbed on parts of that “mountain” and brought home huge pieces of obsidian and pumice. Everyone’s shoes no doubt suffered a month’s worth of wear on that terrain.



Glad kids scramble on Glass Mountain.

Murals on several buildings in downtown Alturas express aspects of the region that the residents appreciate. Modoc County has mule deer, herds of wild horses, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, and birds galore. We didn’t make it up to Goose Lake, but the bird mural makes me think of Goose Lake Valley, rich in all kinds of bird life. The painted fowl look as though they could fly right off into the real sky.

At the bottom of the mural you can see landscape such as we also noticed on our way up to Alturas, when the rich farmland gives way in places to slopes on which the soil is evidently too rocky and poor to support anything more than the occasional juniper tree. But the existence of fencing makes me think that in the springtime they might run livestock on the greened-up grass.

juniper trees

more murals

We ate breakfast at the Hotel Niles in Alturas.

I don’t know about the Jefferson thing. It’s a nice idea….can you believe we have a lot of family who reside in Jefferson counties both in Oregon and California? Probably none of our kin would be found at either of the cultural extremes within the succession movement, but at least one sports a license plate frame on her car declaring “State of Jefferson.”

Nowadays there is a public radio station that claims the name, and people can attend the Jefferson State Hemp Expo, “…founded on the belief that through awareness, education, and the cooperation and coordination of citizens and public officials, many complex social issues can be solved.” Note the emphasis on cooperation, not separation. Separation was formerly the goal of all Jefferson adherents, and a big part of the content of Jefferson as in its nickname “State of Mind.” Currently it does seem that many of the people who use the name don’t really expect anything to come of it. To at least a few it is probably just a brand they use to sell something.

another Surprise Valley view

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps, are the hunters and most of the ranchers, and the politically conservative. This segment of the populace might include the woman who was noted in the police report column in the Alturas newspaper, which I perused while sitting on the bed in our motel room. She called the sheriff and said that if someone didn’t speedily do something about the dog that was threatening her alpacas, she herself would “dispatch” the dog. I doubt that was the word she used.

Maybe the serious secessionists would include the people who shoot at Belding Squirrels during the Annual Squirrel Roundup. These are a type of ground squirrel that looks like a prairie dog, and their large populations damage the cultivated fields (I’m guessing it’s by their holes and tunnels?), so once a year the residents hold a big fundraiser/pest-control event.

The giggling squirrel-shooter in this video I ran across is embarrassing, but you could turn off the sound, try to ignore the squirrels flying into the air, and see some nice footage of Surprise Valley in the background. The Roundup is held in March, so you will see less yellow and brown than in my pictures. If you make it to the very end you’ll be rewarded with a view of Mount Shasta, something that would not be possible from down in Surprise Valley. The moviemaker must have driven back over the pass to the west at the close of day.

The likelihood of all these diverse Jefferson people agreeing to secede seems slight to begin with, and that’s not the only challenging aspect of the project. Perhaps the nickname The Mythical State of Jefferson is the most appropriate. Whatever you call it, I do love this country.

On Cedar Pass, between Alturas and Surprise Valley

I’ll tell you about the stars.








The stars made the biggest impression on me, this time at the mountain cabin by the lake, but not in the usual way.

Normally what strikes me at such a high elevation is the brightness, how the Milky Way is huge and obvious, and how even my weak eyes can see the Pleiades. But last week the moon stole the show with its competing lumens. I’ll have more to say about the stars later.

Just below the place that was too steep for my timidity…
Tall and Short climb Gumdrop.

We had friends with us whom I’ll call Tall and Short. They are good sports and happy campers, very resourceful and cheerful when challenges arise. I will only tell you about the most fun challenge, of climbing Gumdrop Dome. I failed to surmount it for the third year in a row, and after I gave up I walked around the base to meet the others coming down the other side.

Of course I found a new plant on my walk, something that looks like a fern and a succulent at the same time, and was growing against a granite boulder, its “fronds” about as tall as my forefinger. I marked it with cairns above and below so that when my camera was returned to me I would be able to find this best of the specimens again.

I have no idea what it is, or how to start researching it. And I need to spend time on other things now, like making small dolls.

Seemingly tiny real people descend Gumdrop.

I took along on the trip my doll project that has been in the works for years without a single doll being born. (More than three years ago what slowed me down was stuffing-wool so dirty I couldn’t bear to tell its story, but that excuse is long expired.)

And while sitting on the cabin deck in the warm afternoons I completed three tiny dollies! I’ll post more photos of them when I have a bigger family to show. But it was a breakthrough that added to my contentment with a vacation that tried to scream “too short!”

More pleasant hours were spent paddling around the lake with my husband, while Mr. Tall fished and Mrs. Short sat on a rock nearby and knitted sweaters for her expected first grandchild.

Gumdrop Dome from the lake

Many rocks are exposed that we normally prefer not to see. It was a year of little snow in the Sierras, so the lake is down. But it’s fun to drive out into the dry lake bed a ways and park in the midst of granite drama, as in the photo at top.

We can’t imagine that there is another Sierra lake that has so many granite domes and peaks encircling it. As we floated on the lake I studied the variously shaped rocks and tried to come up with names for them. Only one is named on the official maps, but I think they all are deserving.

This picture shows at least four hitherto unnamed domes. The one on the left I want to call Glad Peak, because Mr. Glad and Soldier climbed it one time. In the center of the photo are two domes side-by-side, whom I am calling He and She. Between those in this view is a peninsula that is in a normal year called Ant Island, and which we like to paddle to and around. But not this time….

It doesn’t matter if the snow pack was light, or if some trees have died, the sky is unchanged. But on the first night up there I completely forgot to go outside to greet the stars. The next day we all talked about how we must view them together that second night — but the sun sets so late, and half of our party was in bed before the other half of us remembered again. Then I forgot and put on my nightgown, and then remembered again. Almost dutifully I opened the slider, pulled the door shut behind me… and immediately felt myself in Deep Heaven, what C.S. Lewis wanted to name what we coldly term Space.

The stars crowded me, pressing their quietness down. I was alone, standing on the deck barefoot with the cool night air on my legs, but barely noticing the slight discomfort, because of the great company of beings so close — just me and them being familar, and me wondering. It would have been rude to leave after only a quick glance, and besides, they were telling me something.

I walked slowly around in the dark, annoyed by the light from the lamp inside, which I tried to keep behind me. Not a human sound could be heard, not even an animal sound. It was the kind of quietness that is roaring — but with what? I couldn’t pin down what it was, so I stood and listened. The host of heaven with weighty silence conveyed the presence of The Holy, and it was almost too exhilarating, that close to bedtime.

Eventually I had to go inside and climb under the covers. But my exciting encounter with the stars changed me in this way: Years ago I did make solitary mountain retreats here at the cabin, for several days at a time, but I haven’t felt up to doing that again. Now that the feeling has been revived in me, of being alone and at the same time the opposite of lonely, I am hungry for more of it, I want long days and nights of it, and I plan to return in September. I think those stars are angels.

One cupcake on Saturday and treats all week long…

My fortnight with lots of good company has come to an end. Of course I still have my husband who is normally all the good company I need, but it was a very wonderful thing to have our big house used for good purposes. Our guests were friends and family, and even strangers from Ohio and New York lodging here on account of a masters singing class held at my church. During this two weeks came the wave of heat.

One weekend Liam’s parents Soldier and Joy used our house for a birthday party for our little grandson. I love it when creative people decorate my house and take care of all the invitations and food for an event, and all I have to do is provide a relatively tidy environment and clean towels everywhere. In this case I even swept the floor because I knew the guest of honor would crawl all over it.

Frosting the lemon cupcakes

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the theme for Liam’s party. His mother made the cutest treats and favors and lanterns relating to the story or the colors and shapes in the book. Liam didn’t notice most of it but he did eat most of a cupcake after the candle was blown out by his mother.

Their family had no sooner departed than Pippin’s crowd arrived with Pat. They had come south to enjoy more and different adventures before Pat had to return to MD. Pippin’s little ones are Scout and Ivy, so I was treated to more time with more grandchildren. So sweet.

Ivy scooted around on the floor, too, and tried to kiss the little girl in the dishwasher door.

The heat wave surprisingly extended to the North Coast beaches and we all trekked to one where there was no fog or wind. Barely any sand got into our sourdough bread and cheese and blueberries, and only Scout stood on his head in the hole that the cousins dug.

God gave us a rainbow in a cloud. It was even more brilliant than this but faded somewhat while I rummaged around for my camera.


I took the photo below for Jo in Tasmania where they call New Zealand Spinach warrigal greens. Its botanical name is Tetragonia tetragonioides. It seems to have naturalized here on the coast and this is the second time I’ve seen it on beaches.



Here’s the same plant that keeps volunteering in my garden, amongst the tomatoes and snapdragons:

On the bluffs above the beach, as we were parting with Pat, I got a parting gift in this pale yellow/white paintbrush display in the middle of a coastal flower show. These all were just a few of the pleasures of the early summer – I will tell of more soon.

Oregon – long good-bye

On our last day in Oregon we woke up in a little old room in a lodge by a lake. Lake O’Dell, where Mr. Glad had come a couple of times as a child and where we thought we might row or paddle around on the glassy water in the morning. But I was impatient, knowing we had a long day of driving ahead of us, to just get on with it and get to Pippin’s.

The night before, we had sat on the deck and continued our reading of The Hobbit. Then we retired to our rustic room, likely designed for a fisherman type who doesn’t read in bed or need a nightstand for anything. The fisherman doesn’t have any bottles or jars or pillboxes in the bathroom, either, so it’s o.k. for him that the floor is the only horizontal surface other than a narrow windowsill.

It was kind of sweet, actually. The room smelled just normal, not like disinfectant or stale cigarette smoke or fake deodorizer. Maybe partly because the windows were letting in the fresh air from the forest, into a room that mostly houses just plain folk. We could see the lake through the trees, and hear the birds.

A well-dressed tree trunk by Lake O’Dell

Nothing and nobody woke us out of our good sleep, not even a motorboat of fishermen going out on the lake in the wee hours of the morning, as Mr. Glad had predicted. But we did wake and get on our way, south toward our home state. It would take the better part of the day, by way of long straight roads in the high and dry eastern side of Oregon.

Forest, forest and more forest, with “fields” of short lupines in bloom along both sides of the highway, thickest out in the open between the road and the trees.

When we were still at least 200 miles away, I got my first glimpse of the top of Mt. Shasta, that volcano that stands by itself over 14, 000 feet high as a dramatic landmark an hour’s drive south of the Oregon-California line. And then I really got excited, like a horse on its way back to the barn, and it struck me how much I love that mountain for telling me “Welcome to California!” and “Welcome home!” while I was yet a long way off.

It’s summer, and summer in the West means the highway department is repairing the roads, so this trip was marked by many many extended stops waiting for the flagman to let us go on.

The last of these roadwork episodes was near Weed, California, and I was driving, and could roll down my window and snap this picture of the mountain from a normally impossible spot. “It’s my lucky day!” I said, as once again we were sitting motionless on the blacktop.

But only a few minutes later we were playing with the grandchildren and eating strawberries with our dear ones. The Oregon loop was lovely, but not more so than the feeling of home.