Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sitting in the Lavender


When I think of summer, I think of lavender - purple, blue, white, even pink lavender. We are fortunate here in Sonoma County to live in a Mediterranean climate and therefore can grow a wide range of lavender. 

There are several lavender gardens and farms nearby. The newest addition is Bees N Blooms which features a lavender labyrinth that I still have to write about. My favorite place over the years has been the lavender garden of Matanzas Creek Winery that I wrote about here and here. It is still my go-to place if I want to experience the beautiful sight and the wonderful scent of lavender.

The nice thing is that all of these places have benches or chairs to sit in and enjoy the lavender, even read a book or write in a journal.

The chairs at Matanzas Creek Winery are pretty deep - it's not easy to get out of them again gracefully!

They're scattered throughout the garden and there are even spots in the shade.

Of course it's also a great spot to take graduation photos!

The lavender bloom is over for this year, but next summer you will probably find me in one of these lavender heavens.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Days of the Red Sun


When the sun looks like this it is a pretty sight, but it is not a good sign at all. We call this sun either the Red Sun or the Fire Sun. The intense color results from heavy smoke in the air, and the smoke, of course, originates from wildfires.

Last Sunday and Monday we had a series of bizzare thunderstorms, or should I say lightning storms since we only received a minimum of rain that didn't help much. These storms happened amid triple-digit temperatures, our first serious heatwave this year. The last time it had rained was back in May, so everything has been extremely dry.

We were worried all through these two days and sure enough soon the first warnings about wildfires came in. These were in Napa County which is our neighboring county. Most of these fires occurred along Highway 128, the route I usually took when I drove to Davis. But then we heard that there was a fire in the Austin Creek area in our county (the Walbridge Fire) - a heavily forested area with narrow and winding roads which makes evacuation difficult and dangerous. This area hasn't burned for decades and has enough fuel to feed a huge fire. Fire also produces its own winds and even fire tornadoes that makes the already bad situation even worse and less manageable. Evacuation orders were put in place as well as rather extended evacuation warning zones to get people ready to go if the need arises.

Shortly after that another fire north of Jenner at the coast was spotted (the Meyers Fire). All of these fires were started by lightning strikes and added to the already high amount of wildfires we had all over California before that. 

Nixle alerts were pouring in, but thankfully the night was quiet with no new evacuation orders. Yesterday our view from the second story of our house looked like this - you can see a wall of smoke moving in, and soon after that the sun disappeared, the light became an eerie yellowish and the air quality was horrible. We stayed inside, shut down the house, had the air filters running and trying to make the best out of this situation. Even if you try to stay calm and reasonable, there is so much anxiety because we had experienced the October 2017 fires and know how quickly a dangerous situation can become a disaster. I certainly don't want to see anything like this again:

The remains of our old home after the Tubbs Fire- thank fully we hadn't lived there anymore in October 2017

This morning the air quality had improved, but not for very long. It is horrible again. I really have become hateful of the smell of wildfire smoke. It triggers bad memories for everyone here.

The mandatory evacuation zone was extended this morning. The people in the area that used to be under evacuation warning now have to leave their homes without knowing whether they will still be there when they are allowed to return. There are evacuation centers available, but other than in 2017 when people were sheltered in big buildings, these centers now are mainly huge parking lots so that people can isolate in their cars.  COVID-19 makes everything so much more difficult.

If we had to evacuate, where would we go? I have no idea.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Let It Rock!


Here we are in the second half of August already! We are in our first real heatwave with temperatures over 100F which has turned out very "Uncalifornian" since we're experiencing heavy thunder and lightning with powerful winds and an unusual humidity. The wind is what worries us the most, and this morning a wildfire was reported near Lake Hennessey in Napa County (the next county over) with mandatory evacuations in place. 

I have been back to work at the high school for two weeks and today amidst the thunderstorm we had a power outage shortly before noon. Since I work in a room that is pitch dark without electricity I decided to go home since it was also getting unbearably hot. Fortunately we still have power at home, so I was able to work from here and also participate in a work meeting.

Today was also the first day of school which of course is happening via distance learning. It is very weird to work at a campus that is eerily empty and lifeless where normally teenagers congregate to learn. However, I also feel much more comfortable right now with far less people at work.

But despite all the work at the high school and the planning at the German School there still is time to go outside and do a few hikes - either alone or with my daughter. Yes, she is still here, but her departure is getting closer. She has booked her flight for Labor Day, and despite the heartache I hope she will be able to fly and not have to deal with any cancellations.

We were both delighted to discover some more rock cairns during our hikes.

Someone stacked several cairns in the dry creek bed - I often see families with children hang out there, so I suspect it's the kids who do this. I'm sure they're having fun with it.

Many years ago we found the most beautiful rock cairn on Ruby Beach in Washington State. It was a very foggy day on that rocky beach, but I remember how charming this specific stack of rocks appeared to us.

Of course the most famous "stacked rocks" are these - 

What about you? Do you often see rock cairns when you go out in nature - or even in more urban environments? Do you like to see them or do you not particularly care about them?

Saturday, August 1, 2020

What Happened to July?

I started out the month in Crane Creek Regional Park - a favorite of mine

It's the first of August and I have no idea what happened to July. 31 days just flew by - I still feel like it should be the first week in July and not August. It's not like we were having fantastic adventures (that actually was the original plan, we were supposed to explore Australia, but alas! corona had other plans), and still time rushed by and I wonder where my summer is and how come that I will be back to work next week.

But then I look at my photos and see that it was a beautiful month! Just like in June I challenged myself to take at least one photo each day. For some outings I had my big camera with me (still my favorite tool to take pictures, even though the phone is so much easier), but the majority again was taken with my Pixel phone.

I continued my walks in the neighborhood, discovering more back alleys, seeing beautiful backyards and Little Libraries. Since the beginning of the pandemic the number of these fun little libraries have increased. I'm still wary of using them, but I do enjoy them. The Snoopy one is my favorite - after all, this is Snoopy's home!

We also continued our Happy Hour with the neighbors. Two families (including mine) have become the "hard core" and every week another family or two joins us. We have got to know each other pretty well by now and I do enjoy this kind of friendship.

It's fawn season right now and every time I am on a walk in the morning I see deer. Together with their moms the little ones inspect the gardens and see whether they offer something delicious for them. I'm happy that at least two of my hollyhocks in the front did not fall victim to their hunger!

Kaefer has decided to go to Munich (she declined the offer from London on the last day possible) to do her Masters in epidemiology and is now busy selling her possessions. She started an online yard sale and so far it has been going quite well. Some days are very quiet, whereas on others she sells quite a lot. She puts in a big amount of work, but I love to see how organised and creative she is. We have also put out two boxes with "free" in our driveway which constantly gives me the opportunity to stock it up with things I no longer need or want. It is so liberating. Almost all of my Halloween stuff went to the young family two houses down the street. 

More walks in the neighborhood and in the Rural Cemetery. One afternoon Kaefer and I discovered a family of turkeys walking along our street - the mom had six babies and they were busy exploring the neighborhood, probably looking for food just like the deer.

I've decided to have several different face masks, some that can be worn over the head (much better than over the ears) and some over the ears (much faster to put on and off). The fun fabric with the rainbow cats I first saw in a post by my friend in Tucson and she gave me the idea to look for a mask made out of this fabric on Etsy. Of course there are tons of them; this one also has a nose wire and soft knit elastic which is easier on the ears. The fit is perfect and I use this mask for quick trips to the store or when I'm shopping at the farmers market.

My friend Angie and I met for a masked walk in the laguna. This was actually the first time since March that I had met with someone for a walk. It was awkward at first, but we quickly fell back in our easiness with each other and had a wonderful time. I hadn't been to the laguna since our stay-at-home had begun. I was surprised that there weren't any crowds, we hardly saw anybody! It was a relaxing walk with good conversations - something I had missed way too long. 

German-American friends came over one evenng for a distanced dinner outside with the tables apart. They brought the appetizer and the wine, I had made the entree and provided the dessert. I so enjoy dinner with friends accompanied by good talks and lots of laughter. Later in the month we went to other friends' house (or rather backyard) where we had wine and lots of snacks, but we mainly went because we hadn't seen them for so many months and it wasn't enough anymore just to "talk" on WhatsApp. Friends are so important, exchanging thoughts, discussing the (sad) state of our country and laughing together. This is the stuff in life that keeps us going, that feeds our soul and makes us feel alive. I can do without many things, but I certainly can't be without friends for an extended time. 

The last week of July was already a bit "overshadowed" by the return to work next week. For the longest time we had no idea when and how our return to the high school would look like - instruction will be online for the first quarter, but it was unclear what would happen to the staff. We had a meeting yesterday morning which was good and answered many questions, but only a few hours later there already was a change of plan! Now I'm not going back in person on Monday but will join a four-hours long meeting and training online that will tell us everything we need to know about going back to work in person. Usually the beginning of the school year is very busy when I work a lot of extra hours, but this year will be so different with many unknowns.

Since it was the end of my free time I headed out to Crane Creek Regional Park for another nature hike - I pretty much ended the month where I started it. Kaefer and I went to the beach one morning. It was one of those foggy, cool days at the coast which meant that no one was there - ours was the third car in the parking lot! We were totally fine with it and enjoyed having the beach almost to ourselves. We watched the seals playing in the water, the brown pelicans flying elegantly over the ocean on the lookout for food and even found a seastar - the first time ever I found one on this beach. I hope it's a good sign for their recovery since their numbers have declined over the past years.

We're in the middle of summer with temperatures climbing again. August usually is a hot month here followed by an often even hotter September. I do love summer, but I also look forward to the nature "fireworks" of autumn.

How was your July? Tell us in the comments if you like.