Thursday, October 17, 2019

Days Without Power

Wildfire season is year-round in California by now, but fall seems to be the most dangerous time when after the summer everything is bone dry, humidity is low and the winds pick up. Great conditions for devastating fires like the ones we experienced in October 2017. However, those fires as well as the horrific Camp Fire last year in November were started by power lines that PG&E, our gas and electricity provider, neglected and failed to maintain over many years. As a consequence, PG&E now opts to shut off power to its customers as a preventative measure instead of putting those power cables underground (too expensive for those CEOs who love to line their own pockets).

Last week on Wednesday - ironically exactly the second anniversary of the October fires - our power was shut off early in the morning at 3:00 am. In the days before when we had been warned about this intentional power outage the Geek and I prepared for the days without electricity - the car had a full gas tank (gas stations were shut down as well and I had no desire to get stranded in case we had to evacuate because of fire), we had filled up the freezer with gallons of water that froze and provided some extra cold, cooked some food in advance that could stay fresh safely in a barely cool fridge and had enough back-up power to charge our cell phones and flashlights.

Many schools were closed including the high school where I work as well as the Geek's company. We spent Wednesday mainly reading, knitting (I, not the Geek), walking, chatting and taking naps. In the evening out came the camp stove and we cooked simple meals, accompanied by delicious wine.

Thankfully the weather was still warm, gorgeous fall days - but we were wondering about the wind. There wasn't any. But the wind was the reason the power was shut off...

Unfortunately it wasn't quiet. Some of our neighbors had turned on their generators, and our next door neighbor who had the loudest of them all let it run throughout the night. How annoying! We had to sleep with our windows closed which I hate and we could still hear it. No wonder I didn't sleep very well that night, even though it was pitch dark. Instead I lay in my bed wondering how I could have hot coffee in the morning. You see, I only have whole coffee beans, but my grinder is electric. Totally useless! But then it dawned on me - I still have my mom's old-fashioned hand cranked coffee grinder! I also have an old hand filter that I found the next morning at the very back in one of my kitchen cabinets. I could make coffee!

It was the most delicious coffee I had in a long time.

After two days we got our electricity back. Many people were mad at PG&E, complaining on "Nextdoor" and just whining. I can understand that a power outage is awful when you need electricity for your health or have small children or your own well (I'm not talking about businesses here, only residences); mostly it is an inconvenience because we are so used to have electricity to ease our daily tasks. No Internet, no TV and only spotty cell phone service seem to be quite horrible for many people. I wonder how long we would last if there was a more permanent power outage, for example after an earthquake? All the whining wouldn't help. Being prepared, however, gives us a fighting chance.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Journey of a Japanese Pagoda

In 1999, when we were still living in Germany, the Geek had to go on a business trip to Japan. He had a free weekend during that trip and beside some sight seeing he also looked for little things he could bring back to us. Among them were two small concrete pagodas that I loved to use as decor among the flowers on my balcony.

When we moved to California, thinking we would return after three years, the pagodas went to storage. Since after those three years we decided to stay in the US and had received the Green Card, all our belongings were shipped to the home we lived in at that time - the Brookdale House.

You can see both of them sitting on the ground - as you can imagine, I wanted to take a photo of Ginger and only years later, when I was looking for it, discovered that the pagodas were in the picture.

I remember having them sit there for quite a while before I made up my mind where they should go. They first went into a container with some plants.

Finally, they both went into the ivy that was growing in one corner of the backyard. They were hard to see after a while.

Eventually they had almost completely disappeared under the ivy.

When we moved out of the Brookdale House, they ivy had taken over and the pagodas were hidden somewhere beneath it. In all the chaos of moving I had totally forgotten about them. Only a few weeks later I remembered them, but by then it was too late to go back to the house and ask the new tenants whether I could look for them in the backyard.

The Brookdale House burnt down during the October firestorm in 2017. Three weeks later, when we went up to our old home for the first time after the fires, we got the permission to enter the property. We walked around what was left of the house (it wasn't much) and recalled where everything used to be in the house. We also went into what used to be the backyard. Of the beautiful redwood deck only parts of the concrete foundation remained; there was a stump of the plum tree that my friend Jo harvested every fall; a skeleton of the persimmon tree. This tree used to be in the midst of the ivy, but nothing of the ivy was left. Everything was burnt.

But then... when I turned around I saw this:

I first couldn't believe my eyes and thought I was hallucinating. One of my pagodas had survived the inferno! I never found the second one, but I was over joyed (and crying) that this one was still there.

Since it was mine I took it with me. For the longest time it was sitting on our dining table. Sometimes I turned it around - it had a "beautiful" side (in the top photo), but it also had the telling side with the burn marks.

When spring came it moved outside into one of the big flower pots.

Finally I moved it into the garden, right beneath a young vitex. Over the months it has changed its color and looks more terracotta now. It will never live among the ivy again.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 9th, is the second anniversary of the 2017 firestorm. It is ironic that we have very similar weather conditions again and as a preventative step our utility company will shut off the power over a large part of Northern California. The outage will start tonight and last at least until Thursday evening, but restoring the power can take up to five days. If you don't hear from me, you know why.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

An Image and Its Story - September 2019

September flew by in a rush. We still have a lot of new textbooks to process in the high school library and have to deal with the "regular" tasks a busy library brings with it. The German School has started again; I have a bigger class than last year, and I enjoy all of my students.

We had some pretty hot days in September when temperatures climbed up to 105° F - too hot for me. Fortunately that happened during my days off and I could spend my time at the coast where it is considerably cooler. I went up to Gualala again, had a lovely long walk along the Gualala Point Bluff Trail followed by a mug of delicious mocha in a little café on the cliffs. On my way back I stopped many times along Highway 1 to take photos and just enjoy the views over the vast ocean and the steep cliffs.

The pampas grass is found everywhere along the coast where it grows on the steep cliffs. It is rather invasive and unfortunately crowds out native species, thus lowering the biodiversity. However, I still like the looks of it in fall when it is tall and shimmers in the sunlight - simply gorgeous when back lit!

This is one of my favorite stretches of Highway 1, between Bodega Bay and Fort Ross. The road - that is not very wide I have to add - hugs the steep hills that fall into the ocean, with sharp bends and curves as well as steep climbs. You can see a small part of it to the left side of the photo. It is a very popular road with tourists which is no surprise, but also brings its own problems - the most apparent one inexperience in driving roads like this, especially in a RV. However, up here north of the Golden Gate we don't get as many tourists as for example in Big Sur further south, and I'm thankful for that. There still is a lot of untouched nature to be found, and every time I drive along here I feel blessed and grateful to live in such a wonderful part of our planet. The cliffs, the rocks, the ocean, the sheer wildness of it all truly appeals to me.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Cabin in the Woods

Since we didn't take any trip over the summer, I suggested to the Geek to spend a weekend further up north at the coast. A friend of mine had told me about a cabin where she had stayed 15 years ago and a short Google research revealed that it was still there. St. Orres in Gualala (pronounced wa-LA-la) is a hotel with a very good (and prohibitively expensive) restaurant - and they also rent a few cabins further away from the hotel for an affordable price. I called them and was delighted how friendly they were. I booked one of the cabins in the woods (they also have a couple "ocean view" cabins, but the ocean is behind the trees by now) and a week later the Geek and I were on our way to Gualala, which is only a two hours drive from here on Highway 1.

We got the same cabin my friend had 15 years ago and it seems that nothing much has changed since then apart from a few updates. We had a nice big room with a sitting area, a private bath and the deck in the redwoods.

It was a charming little place.

 The bottle of good red wine wasn't a service from the hotel. We had stopped at Annapolis Winery on our way to Gualala and bought this bottle after a nice wine tasting.

The view out of the windows into the redwoods.

The deck certainly was my favorite place...

Everything was thought through so well. All kinds of utensils on top of the refrigerator like coffee maker, plates, silverware, napkins, wine glasses; they even provided a corkscrew! An emergency light in case there was a power outage or some other more serious emergency (we are more familiar with those now).

Talking about emergencies: since the coast has ratty cell phone reception at best, there was an old fashioned pay phone in the center of the premises. There even was a phone book!

The premises were pretty, too. The hotel is built in what I call "Russian" style, and so were some of the buildings here as well.

But the best part was the breakfast. It was brought to our door every morning in a box and had fresh fruit, homemade bread, an egg dish, orange juice, homemade granola and milk. We ate it out on the deck and felt very pampered.

I don't think this was the last time I spent a weekend here.

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.