Sunday, October 14, 2018

Misty Morning at the Lake

Last Wednesday, the day after the first anniversary of the October wildfires, I had the deep desire to get into nature, to walk around the lake. It was a misty morning, so different from a year ago, and I enjoyed the cool clear air. It's always been a favorite place of mine, but this morning I enjoyed it even more.

The moment I got out of the car I was greeted by a flock of turkeys.

They love to hang out here and this is not the first time that we have crossed each other. They usually keep to themselves and that's what they did this morning as well.

I chose not to walk around the lake along the paths I normally take but decided to wander along the narrow trails away from the popular path. It is here that I have found my favorite spot, where I sometimes sit and write in my journal.

It doesn't look like much, especially on a gray morning, but this is my personal slice of heaven. It is quiet here except for the continuous chatter of the woodpeckers that live here. I can hear the Canada Geese at the lake when they take off as well as the call of the Green Herons and the Belted Kingfisher. Lizards like to soak up the sun on the rocks and squirrels chase each other up and down the trees.

There are several Buckeye trees around, but the buckeyes are still hanging on the tree. In a few more weeks they will pop open and fall to the ground. I love their shiny golden-brown skin. They remind me a lot of the horse chestnuts we had in Germany around this time.

As always the woodpeckers were busy hammering holes in the utility pole that is standing here. I once saw a Red Shouldered Hawk sitting on top of it. While examining it more closely I saw that many holes were filled with acorns.

Back at the lake I was happy to see that the park management has hired goats to keep the underbrush low - this is one of the most environmental-friendly way to do it (though not cheap) and one of the best things to do to prevent wildfires. However, chasing or not - the goats weren't there.

But the deer were - more than in this picture. I have seen them so often - here and in my garden - but it still thrills me every time I see them (not so much in my garden though...). I just love wildlife.

Oh, and the California Quails! I always hear them, they make a very distinctive sound. However, they are quite shy and usually run in the bushes as soon as they hear or see a human approaching. It is lovely to watch them foraging on the ground. They look rather gray, but when you look closer (if you have a chance without them running away) you can see how pretty they actually are.

I apologize for the low quality of the pictures. They were all taken with my phone on a rather somber morning. The sun came out later in the day and it became quite hot again. This is Northern California for you - chilly in the morning, hot during the day, cold in the evening. And I love it.

The first anniversary of the fires the day before was quiet at the school. My colleague and I had decorated the library with fresh flowers and sparkling lights to make it a welcoming place (it was a safe space during that day for students who were overwhelmed and sad). At lunch we had therapy dogs coming in which is always popular with the kids. A few students came in during the day to talk to a counselor, but all in all it was a rather uneventful day. We were all thankful for that.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Fires One Year Later

Today it's been a year since we woke up to what would become the most destructive wildfire in the history of California.

Crown Hill in Fountaingrove

Some call it the first anniversary. The students at my high school, however, prefer the term "the fires one year later". One in nine of our students have lost their home during those fires.

One. In. Nine. Of 1600 students.

It still feels like yesterday that we woke up at 2:00 am to the worst week in our life. When I went to bed yesterday I had this huge knot in my stomach when I remembered a year ago. How we went to bed not knowing what would happen only a few hours later, and how much it would change our lives.

Of course our lives hadn't changed as much as for those people who lost their homes in the fires, far from it. They are still struggling with insurances, building permits, architects, rents that are way too high. Some are in the middle of rebuilding with some homes being ready to move in pretty soon. Others are still in the planning process. Others are frustrated about the many hurdles. And others got the money from the insurance and moved away.

The school year has been awful and each and every one of us - teachers and staff - were relieved when summer came and we could leave school behind for a couple months. This year we have a new administration and we have been off to a really good start. We will commemorate October 9th by having a "normal" day, but there will be a safe space in the library and we will have therapy dogs on campus. Last year after the fires these things helped a lot.

It's been a year, and still every conversation sooner or later turns to the fires. Talking about it is a way to go through it. Even though the nightmare is in our past, it's still there - in the burnt down neighborhoods we drive through daily, when we hear the sirens of police cars and fire trucks - especially the fire trucks. The smell of smoke, even only from a barbecue, brings up terrifying memories. I think we all have Nixle on our phone now and the emergency systems have been tested.

When I go to Davis and want to take the back roads I check weather conditions and Nixle alerts. I sure don't want to be trapped by a fire in the huge wooden area. Every time I drive along those roads I remember the drive we took there on the eve of the fires. I suspect it will always stay with me.

Crown Hill in the photo above is a neighborhood in Fountaingrove. We used to live right below it, and when we moved into our old house back in 2001 those homes on the hill were just in the process of being built. I remember the constant noise of construction. Now most of the homes are gone and some time in the future, the construction noise will be back. As it is in so many neighborhoods. It's good to see homes getting up again and hopefully families being able to move in and rebuild their lives.

As for our old house - the landlord has decided not to rebuild. The property has been cleared and is just dirt right now. It still makes me sad.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

An Image and Its Story - September 2018

The Point Reyes ship wreck has been on my "things to photograph"-list for a while, and a few weeks ago I finally got to check it off.

This ship wreck is in Tomales Bay, behind a general store in Inverness on Point Reyes. You can't see it from the road, you really have to know where it is. Thanks to Google I found the actual location on the satellite map (a feature I use very often).

We arrived there before noon when the ship wreck was in full sun. We thought the entire scene looked very dull and flat and didn't bother to take a single picture. It was disappointing - and so we moved on to our hikes and a wonderful enjoyable day at the beach.

We came back in the late afternoon when the sun was much closer to the horizon and Inverness had dipped into the shade. Nevertheless, we stopped at the general store again and walked over to the boat.

And wow! Only parts of the wreck were in the sun and the sky behind it was pretty dramatic. The water was quiet and reflected the old fisher boat. This was our moment.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

You'll Never Find Your Gold on a Sandy Beach

... but you can find solitude.

And that's what we did when we went to Point Reyes two weeks ago. After our beautiful hike to Chimney Rock we felt a walk on the beach might be just the ticket. Drakes Beach is easily accessible and we thought it might be very crowded on this warm day, but to our surprise there weren't many people there. We were almost on our own here and pretty much had the beach all to ourselves.

It was so nice walking on the sand, listening to the waves and feeling the sun on our faces. I was looking for shells but mainly found empty crab shells as leftover from some seagull dinner, and even a jellyfish. We usually don't see too many jellies here.

We watched the sea playing with this - thing? I have no idea what it is, and if you know I would appreciate if you told me. There are quite a lot of these long marine plants (I assume) to be found on our beaches, they are lightweight and have some kind of seaweed attached to it.
Update: A friend told me on Facebook that it is Giant Sea Kelp. I actually should have known that...

Even here in this kind of protected bay a lot of driftwood has been washed ashore, and the ice plant is gently covering it.

Finally, we went to a beach further to the North, McClures Beach. Here you actually have to descend the cliffs through a canyon - it's about a 15 minutes walk and the reward is an almost empty beach. However, the weather has changed as it so often does on the coast in Northern California. Gone was the sun and the blue skies, somewhere above the marine layer that spread over the coast.

The walk along the beach was still beautiful, though.

Until we happened about this crab. The waves had washed it up, but strangely enough the seagulls that were close by weren't interested in it. We assumed that they don't like live crabs since they can't figure out how to avoid getting pinched by the claws. That poor crab was helplessly wiggling its legs and starting to blow bubbles. Another wave threw it further up on the sand. The "beast" was pretty big and I wondered how to grab it to save its life. Just when I had asked the Geek this question the crab got on its hind legs and stared at me.

Don't you think it's pleading with me to save it? So I grabbed it around its shell, running with it towards the waves and throwing it back into the ocean (and, of course, getting wet while doing that). It never turned up again, so I guess it made it - and I was happy about that.

After that heroic deed we had to climb back up the cliffs and into the fog.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Hike on the Cliffs

Last Sunday the Geek and I decided to drive down to Point Reyes National Seashore - it's such a beautiful gem right at our door step. Point Reyes is a peninsula in Marin County about 35 miles from our home, a beautiful drive along winding California Highway 1 with many stunning views along the way. To the east Point Reyes is bounded by the San Andreas Fault which caused the peninsula to move 21 feet to the north in the 1906 earthquake. The Point Reyes Peninsula is on the Pacific Plate while the rest of Marin County is on the North American Plate. There is an Earthquake Trail which describes the geology of that area.

We had planned to visit various places on the peninsula like the Cypress Tunnel in the image above. We also wanted to hike and had chosen to walk out to Chimney Rock at the very end of the peninsula.

We first went over to the Elephant Seal Overlook which is an easy walk of just a few minutes. Every year from about November to March elephant seals gather on Drakes Beach and spend the winter here. However, there were only about ten elephant seals here swimming in the water (and making quite some noise) whereas the harbor seals populated the beach. We enjoyed watching the pelicans who were busy catching fish in the water.

Finally we were on our way out to Chimney Rock.

It's a moderate hike along an often sandy trail over the cliffs. It was a surprisingly pleasant day at the ocean - sunny with blue skies, a breeze but not too windy and temperatures of about 65 F. Perfect for a hike at the coast. But as you can see in the image above, some clouds were already coming in. The weather in Point Reyes can be rather varied. While it is sunny and warm at one end, it can be foggy and cool at the other one. This is coastal Northern California for you.

We saw the old dock and life saving station in Drakes Bay. The latter used to be pretty busy because of the fast changing weather pattern and boats getting lost. On the open ocean side to the West there is a lighthouse that is currently under restoration. Before the lighthouse was established in 1870 (after a 15 years long dispute between the United States Lighthouse Board and the landowners over a fair price for the land) many ships ended up as wrecks at the treacherous coastline. This is what the coastline looks like - dramatic, fascinating and dangerous. In 2015 new fissures in the cliffs were discovered and consequently trails close to the cliffs' edge were closed - which doesn't prevent the ever stupid invincible people from still walking there.

Almost at the end of the hike we turned around and took in the view from here. You can see the Pacific Ocean to the left and Drakes Bay to the right. You can also clearly see the trail we hiked along. This part of Point Reyes is an excellent location to watch whales - in the winter and early spring for the Grey Whale migration and with a bit of luck you can see Humpbacks all year round.

The view down from Chimney Rock was just as dramatic as the view back.

We sat on a bench in the sun, listened to the crashing of the waves against the cliffs and enjoyed watching the sparrows. The world felt very peaceful here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

If These Walls Could Talk

Right behind the Hagia Sophia, as soon as you have entered the grounds of the Topkapi Palace, you can see the beautiful Hagia Irene - or Aya Irini in Turkish - to your left. Often overseen in the shadow of its big famous sister it is a true gem.

One of the historical buildings in Istanbul it was the first church completed in Istanbul (then Constantinople), before the Hagia Sophia. However, the church we see nowadays is not the original building since it burned down in 532. The groundbreaking of the "modern" Hagia Irene was in the same year.  It's built with brick and stone in the Byzantine style and if you don't look closely it resembles its big sister a bit.

However, it lacks all the stunning interior decor of the Hagia Sophia. No mosaics, no tiles, no chandeliers. Just walls. But those walls are impressive.

Hagia Irene has always been a church. It never had to go through all the changes like Hagia Sophia - it never was converted into a mosque, but it no longer functions as a church. It is often overlooked, there are only a few people who go there and you have the place pretty much to yourself.

It hasn't always been like this. There used to be mosaics and frescoes and you can still see some of it.

However, I do like the bare walls. Just think how old they are! If these walls could talk, what would they tell us? They sure got their share of wars, prosperity and desperate times. But they're still here after almost 1500 years. Can you imagine our modern buildings still being here in 1500 years? I sure can't. We certainly don't build for eternity anymore.

Even though Hagia Irene is rather "bare" there is much to discover. It turned out to be my favorite historical building in Istanbul. Its simplicity holds a lot of fascination for me. It has a very special atmosphere - a bit mystical, a bit dark, a bit mysterious. A hidden gem.

Nowadays, Hagia Irene mainly serves as a concert hall for classical music performances because of its excellent acoustic and the unique atmosphere. I would have loved to listen to a concert here - I can just imagine the music rising up to the dome, sounding back from the walls, surrounding the breathless audience. What an experience this must be.

Oh, and of course it has some permanent residents here...

I could have stayed much longer within these walls. This is a place I go back to in my mind over and over again.