Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Thousand Suns

At the end of summer the sunflowers are still going strong, painting a smile on our faces with their brilliant happy color. I used to grow sunflowers in my garden, but stopped doing that since the squirrels always "killed" them and I didn't like those empty stems stretching into the sky.

But entire sunflower fields are a different story!

While we drove through Turkey last year in July we saw many sunflower fields, and finally we stopped on a little dirt road and took some pictures of this wave of yellow suns.

There were so many fields - and they were huge. They stretched over the hills and down to the water, covering wide areas of land. It was quite the sight.

Where there are sunflowers there are birds and the air was buzzing with the sweet voices of hundreds of birds. Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to make a short video and capture this. I also love how the faces of the sunflowers follow the track of the sun - we were standing just in the right position for the pictures above, but not for some below.

It's amazing how far one can see the yellow color glowing in the distance.

A thousand suns. (well, probably more...)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

On a Mission

Along the California coast there are many missions built by the Spanish and Mexican governments in the 18th and early 19th century to protect their interests in North America. The first one was built  by Jesuits in Baja California in the South and the last and furthest one to the North is the Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. It is not as impressive and famous as the ones in Santa Barbara and Carmel but more simple and unadorned like the one in San Luis Obispo.

All the missions in California are connected by a branch of El Camino Real (the King's Highway). Many parts of El Camino Real later became modern roads, and in 1906 volunteer organizations began marking El Camino Real with mission bell guide posts. You can find them at many places along the road.

North American territory and resources were attractive to major European countries. Although several claimed parts of the Californias, only Spain and Russia established permanent settlements. Russia created Fort Ross in northern Alta California ('Upper' California) to protect its growing fur trade. The Spanish and Mexican governments extended the mission system north to San Rafael and Sonoma. United States expansion led to war between Mexico and the United States and resulted in division of the Californias.

Since Sonoma is so close to home I used my free summer to visit the mission once again, but this time I went on my own and could spend my time there just the way I wanted.

The mission is built in the typical Spanish style, straight without any fancy additions, with whitewashed walls and wooden beams. The roof has clay shingles - I love this kind of roof since it always reminds me of home.

Of course there is a church - what would a mission be without a church? - albeit a very small church indeed. Plus there's an old dining hall just around the corner from the church (pray and eat...)

Let's take a moment and talk about Native Americans.

When the first Spanish arrived in the Californias in the 16th century they met a diverse population of Native Americans. They spoke many different dialects and languages, and were divided into a multitude of tribal groups.

During the thousands of years that Native Americans lived in the Californias their cultures evolved to coexist with the natural environment. The Spanish introduced European methods of farming and ranching that drastically altered the natural environment and changed the diet of the Native Americans. The missionaries saw their role as bringing their religion to the Americas. The Spanish government used the mission system as a method to colonize its empire. The missionaries were to turn Native Americans into colonial citizens by converting them to Catholicism, and by teaching them the Spanish language, methods of farming and ranching and a variety of craft skills. However, they also considered the Native Americans as necessary laborers, and in some instances forced them to work in the missions. Each mission was to remain under church rule for ten years, and then the land was to be turned over to the people of the missions. This goal was never reached even though the church operated some of the missions for up to 130 years. Diseases brought by the Spanish devastated many tribes, and many Native Americans died before they could assimilate into Spanish society

The missions left a permanent impact on the Californias. The negative and positive results are evident in all areas of our society. Regardless of the intent of the missionaries, the results were devastating to Native Americans. Their populations declined drastically, and the survivors lost a great deal of their culture.

The missions, forts and towns became the new communities in the Californias. Structures were built of local materials such as branches, logs, earth, adobe bricks, clay tiles and stones. Missions were more than a church. They included living quarters, workshops, warehouses, farms and ranches. The forts, or presidios, served as centers of Spanish military and governmental power. Presidios could also house a whole community. Towns, or pueblos, accommodated increasing populations and reinforced Spanish claims to the region. After the secularization of the missions, some assimilated Native Americans migrated to the pueblos.

By 1900 a historic restoration movement began that led to the protection and reconstruction of some of the remaining mission churches.

The mission in Sonoma was the last one to be built and is a rather small one. Today it is part of the California State Parks system. It sits right at the Plaza in the very center of town. It only consists of the church, the dining hall and two or three other small rooms that are made into a museum. The best part (at least for me) is the courtyard in the back.

Under these large olive trees you can find a few benches arranged around a fountain. It's shady and cool here, a perfect place to sit and read or write in a journal or just contemplate life.

When I left this place I had learned a lot about the missions in California. I have always liked the beautiful buildings, but not all of the history is something to be proud of.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Queen Anne and the Wild Carrot

"What is she up to now?" - well, I hope you're not thinking I have completely lost my marbles. Recently during an early morning walk in our Laguna I saw a lot of Queen Anne's lace in all stages of the plant. Fully bloomed, half way gone, seed pods - all are beautiful and fascinating. Definitely worthy to be captured with my phone camera on this foggy morning.

There were so many!

And then I found myself doubting whether these are indeed Queen Anne's lace. So I switched on my nifty Google Lens and was quickly informed that these plants are Wild Carrots.

"Oh boy", I thought, here I was mistaken all along with the name!

But actually I wasn't. This plant is botanically called Daucus carota with the common name wild carrot. However, there are also other names that it is known of - bird's nest, bishop's lace and - you guessed it - Queen Anne's lace. This name it only has in North America and it refers to both Anne, Queen of Great Britain, and Anne of Denmark (who was her great grandmother). It got the name because the flower resembles lace.

No matter which name you prefer (I love bird's nest), it is a beautiful flower that is very popular with bees and all kinds of bugs. It is a beneficial weed that can be a companion plant for some crops; however, some states (Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and Washington) have listed it as a noxious weed and it is considered a serious pest in pastures.

But in the Laguna it is simply beautiful and beneficial for the recovery of the land.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Early Morning at the Lake

After my request for some extra hours of work in September was ignored, I am back to my regular work schedule. Today was my first day off after the craziness of the past four weeks and I was happily walking around the lake. It was fairly early, and it was one of those perfect mornings when the fog burns off soon after seven o'clock, letting us enjoy the warm and beautiful morning light.

I love this light. Everything appears a bit magical and I see things that I might "normally" just pass by.

Even though we still have a lot of summer left in this corner of the world, there already was a hint of autumn color to be seen. The quality of the light was not as harsh and tended to be more earthy.

I noticed more fishermen than usual. The lake was very still, and maybe that's a great condition for fishing. It certainly offered some beautiful photo opportunities.

At the end of the little peninsula I saw a great egret hanging out close to the bench. I was able to get a shot of it before it flew off across the lake to the shore that I had just come from.

What were those splashes in the water that I had heard? Oh, those otters!! These three otters have been residing in the lake for a few years now, but I don't see them very often. It's always very special when I discover them playing in the water. They are a funny little crowd, but usually they disappear when they notice people.

While walking the trails I noticed more signs that autumn is just around the corner.

What a magnificent spider web! These crawlers are fantastic architects; their skill amazes me over and over again.

During the past four weeks I was dreaming of going down to the lake and I missed it so much. This morning was a wonderful treat that I had waited for impatiently. I feel so blessed to live in this beautiful area. I'm certainly not a city girl.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

An Image and Its Story - August 2019

Oh August, where have you gone? Did you even happen?

August was busy busy busy with work. There was so much to do in the high school library that I worked a lot of extra hours and I even might work some in September. We got thousands of new textbooks that needed to be processed. Usually that is work I enjoy, but if it is too much the joy is sucked out of it. My body was exhausted every evening when I came home whereas my mind was restless and full of ideas that didn't find any outlet.

On top of this I was summoned for jury duty. It was the first time that I was actually called to court. I dreaded it since I had heard so many unpleasant stories about jury duty, but to my surprise I found these two days in the courtroom fascinating and interesting, and was disappointed that my number never got called. I would have loved to sit on this jury!

And - as it seems to be the case when I am busy anyway - I got a huge order in through my Etsy store that I hope to finish today and ship on Tuesday. Thus August was a busy month that didn't leave much opportunity to doing the things I really love - like walking around the lake and photographing which made it difficult to choose a photo for this post.

Kaefer came home for two weekends - one of them we spent hiking on a nearby mountain and the other we went to the ocean. That's where I took the photo for August.

This is our go-to beach, just off Highway 1 at the mouth of the Russian River. As you can see it was a foggy day. This is so typical for our area. Usually - since this is California - people think the sun shines all the time and it is hot, but really this is what one imagines about Southern California. However, this is Northern California, north of the Golden Gate, which is a completely different story weather wise. We're closer to the Pacific Northwest than to the heat of Southern California.

Here's a little story: two of my friends wanted to go to the beach with their kids. One has lived here all her life, the other had just moved up here from Orange County in Southern California. The NorCal woman was dressed for a cool day with windbreaker, long pants, a headband or even a warm hat. The SoCal woman was in her bikini and a thin t-shirt, ready to soak up the sun. While you're inland you might have the impression it is a hot day (which it probably is), but when you reach the ocean more often than not you realize that the weather once again fooled you. The temperature drops by 20 degrees, there can be a stiff breeze and the marine layer rolls over the beach and the cliffs. The ocean is freezing cold. Guess who of the two women was dressed appropriately?

Often we have that fog inland as well and sometimes it doesn't burn off until noon. Our nights are always cool - perfect sleep weather. This weather pattern is one of the things that I truly love about where I live. While I do appreciate clear days at the ocean - much better for whale watching - I love when the cliffs are shrouded in mist and the scenery has a mysterious quality.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Passing of Summer

Last Monday, after almost eight weeks of summer break, I went back to work. In all honesty I was not looking forward to it. The summer had been just too beautiful to say goodbye to these almost carefree weeks easily. But the new school year starts next Wednesday and there is a ton to do in the library before that.

At the beginning of the summer break I had made a list of things I would like to do during those weeks. I was afraid that I would just waste my time and by the end of the break would look back on missed opportunities with a lot of regret.

Instead, I look back on eight delightful and fulfilling weeks - without having touched each and every item on my list.

Hardly a week into my break the Geek and I went to San Jose to meet with Kaefer who was about to buy her very first car, a used VW Golf with a manual transmission. She is so happy about it since it gives her a bit more independence even though she is still riding her bike most of the time.

After this first week of mainly doing nothing I started to "work" on my list. I spent a day in Sonoma where I visited the mission and the old barracks;

I spent a morning in the beautiful lavender gardens of a winery:

Many mornings I took long walks around my beloved lake;

I re-discovered the laguna with its interesting plants, crooked trees and beautiful birds (can you see the California Quail?);

And I walked along the beach, something I do way too seldom even though the ocean always calms me and gives me inner peace.

Kaefer came home for the Fourth of July week since this was the only week she didn't have to work (she had started her summer job right after finals in June). We didn't do much - once we went champagne tasting (she turned 21 in April), but apart from that we just hang out, watching British mystery shows, playing games and drinking traditional German Erdbeerbowle.

I spent a lot of time reading and knitting (this is the start of a little dress for our newest family member in Turkey) and I even painted a bit!

Before the summer I got back into the habit of journaling. I had lost my ability to write my journal after the fires and I couldn't find a way back to it. It seemed like something was completely blocked in me. I hated it. Over winter break I had taken a free writing class which was like a little teaser; it motivated me to take a more in-depth writing class in the spring and it eventually helped me to get back into writing my journal. This is one of the things that makes me unbelievably happy.

I said one of the things... the other is photography. Somehow - even though I was still photographing a lot - I had lost my "flow" with photography. Sure, I still took a lot of pictures, mainly with my phone (I got a new phone this year with an excellent camera which is wonderful but also involves the risk of becoming lazy), but it wasn't the same passion. However, I have experienced these "waves" more than once during the more than four decades of photographing, so I wasn't too worried; but I did want to find my old passion again.

And I did. Since I spent so much time on my own this summer I could right dive back into my photography and I enjoyed it so much. I tried different takes of the same motif and it felt so darn good. I don't know WHY photography makes me so incredibly happy, I only know that it DOES.

The last weekend in July the Geek and I spent in Gualala, just two hours up north from where we live, at the coast. I had rented a cabin that was in the redwoods, but right across the water - we could hear the ocean on our little deck. We enjoyed sunsets over the ocean, walked on the cliffs, ate (too much) peanut butter cheesecake and just delighted in the beautiful scenery.

During my last week of break I wanted to have one more day at the ocean and went down to the Point Reyes National Seashore where I walked out on the spit and back along Limantour Beach. It was one of those typical Northern California summer days - sunny and warm, even hot, but the moment you come to the beach fog envelopes you and the temperature drops by 20 degrees. Ah, Northern California, how much I love it!

And then break was almost over - one last Sunday spent in San Francisco with our favorite girl. We spent several hours in the Exploratorium (I hadn't been there since they had moved to Pier 15 from their old location at the Palace of Arts), rode the historical streetcar of the F Line, ate fish and chips near Fisherman's Wharf and walked along Crissy Field Beach.

It was a beautiful summer.