Bicycling Santa Rosa

I just got my bike tuned up and wanted to take her out for the first ride of the season. Holly and I didn’t go far but we cruised some spectacular sights. SR is in bloom!

People work hard on their yards here but roses flourish even in vacant lots. Poppies are ubiquitous.


Down in the Desert: Visiting Our Exes


Holly, Molly, Barb and Ana

It’s a good lesbian story. My wife and I introduced our exes, they fell in love and we all became besties. That was eight or nine years ago and since then we have been living in different places but we try to visit when we can. Ana and Barb (we call them Barbana) have recently established a new home base in the desert town of Hesperia, California where they’ve fallen in with a subculture of rock hounders and gold miners centered on a rock and mining shop owned by their friends and next door neighbors Cyndy and Lois.

We wanted to get down there before the desert heat set in and so we saddled up our orange Prius, Lucita Papayita, for an April trip on Highway 99 all the way to near the terminus of the old Route 66.IMG_5230

Holly did most of the driving (thanks darling) and we arrived in the midst of a dust storm that had me wearing a dust mask even in the car. The iconic vegetation in this part of the Mojave Desert is the Joshua tree, an endangered species that will in time succumb to global warming. Temperatures here in the summer routinely reach 120 degrees now and continue to rise. Relentless building of freeways and suburban housing adds to the stress on the Joshuas. The new developments–many are gated communities, many with green lawns–back up to the wild desert in oxymoronic juxtaposition.IMG_5324

Weather the next day was calmer and we drove into the neighboring town of Victorville to the Route 66 museum. We were the only visitors and the volunteer docents overwhelmed us, each wanting to tell his stories. Holly and Ana rode the VW love bus and learned to drive a Model T (it’s not so easy) before we beat a retreat. Still I continued singing “get your kicks on route 66” because it’s such a great song and I know all the words.IMG_4376

We knew we were arriving just in time for the big poppy bloom at Antelope Valley, only a short distance away. We drove back toward the Tehachapi Mountains past acres of solar and wind farms out into the desert. The Joshua trees fell away to treeless scrub and grassland but the anticipated orange poppy wonderland evaded us. It just wasn’t a good poppy year said the park ranger, too cold and dry. From the trail at the crest of a hill we could see the snowy mountains above a valley strewn with goldfields (flowers, not gold) whose bloom had peaked. We were warned to watch for rattlesnakes, said to be angry at the unseasonable weather, but we saw none. But desert lizards greeted us, and we discovered a tiny horned toad.

Barbana had visited the Rio Tinto borax mine with the local Women in Mining group and so they got to go into the processing plant. Many women work at the mine in nontraditional jobs including driving the gigantic loader trucks. We couldn’t wrangle an invitation so had to be content with the view from on top of the visitors center. Still, the plant and the adjacent mine–a contoured pit so deep we couldn’t see the bottom–was impressive. The guide, a woman of a certain age, knew the answers to all our questions. I didn’t ask her if the workers were union, but I later learned that they are organized by the ILWU, which won a 105-day lockout in 2010. See the story by Peter Olney here:

Here is something we know about our exes: they both love walking around looking at the ground. We first introduced them at Thanksgiving dinner and afterward all took a walk on the spectacular Sonoma Coast. While Holly and I gazed at the ocean waves, the whales and the birds, Barbana looked for beach glass. Since then we have visited many beautiful places and have pictures of the two of them focused on their feet with wondrous backdrops.IMG_0820

Our exes took us to a secret location on BLM land where they knew we could find chalcedony, a kind of quartz. It can be many different colors, but in this part of the desert it is pink. Especially prized are rocks with druse, or crystals, on the surface. Ana and Holly explored the desert floor while Barb and I walked up a draw to the top of a hill. This was so much fun, partly because we scored! We found several fine pieces of the mineral. And we now have more pictures of Barbana looking down.

Ana and Barb are talented jewelry makers. They take the rocks and glass they find and make beautiful pieces (check out their work on their facebook page Barbana’s Jewelry Designs). They also teach classes at the rock shop. Ana picked out a little piece of chalcedony with druse and polished it to a shine. Then she wove silver wire around it and quickly turned it into a lovely necklace given to Holly. I think the lizard T-shirt she wears it with is particularly appropriate.

Life in Hesperia has changed in the last few years, according to Lois and Cyndy, who have lived here since the 60s. It was a sleepy community of desert rats and miners where you could buy a house for little and live for less until it started turning into a bedroom suburb of San Bernardino, a long 35 miles away, and the LA basin beyond. They call it “going down the hill” from high desert to low. Only one highway connects the two cities so if there’s an accident or a backup there is no alternative. Lois worked as a teacher in San Bernardino for a time and told us she sometimes was not able to get home. Since then the traffic down the hill has only worsened.

On the way home we saw the construction of the high-speed train (hey, California, how about a train from Hesperia to San Bernardino! And while you’re at it we’d like one from Santa Rosa to Hesperia or just Santa Rosa to the East Bay. Please help us get out of our cars!).img_5358.jpg

We loved our desert adventure and we were also glad to return home to Santa Rosa. As we drove back into Sonoma County we couldn’t believe how lush and green it looked after only a few days in the desert. Of course, spring is the greenest time of the year here, after the rainy season when the soil warms, trees leaf out and plants flourish. But as Kate Wolf reminded us, even in northern California the hills turn brown in the summertime.

A Walk Through Capitol Park

IMG_4815On a visit to Sacramento this week we had just enough free time to explore Capitol Park, the 40 acre garden fronting the State Capitol building. It’s a tree museum, with trees from all over the world, many dating from the 1860s. Now it’s also becoming a museum of monuments.

I usually hate these things, but the Vietnam memorial brought me to tears. Rather than a monument to the glory of war, it’s a monument to misery and the horror wrought by our government’s failed foreign policy. I also appreciated that among the statues of soldiers were several African Americans. And the volunteer docent, Richard, was also a black man, a Marine and Vietnam vet himself.

I was pleased that the firefighters memorial used the gender neutral term instead of fireman, thus including all the female firefighters.

We were glad we also found a little plaque appreciating the conservation efforts of IMG_4821our first gay California legislator (first elected in 1994), Sheila Kuehl. For old-timers like me Sheila is best remembered for her role as tomboy Zelda Gilroy in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a TV serial. But Sheila has had and continues to have a remarkable career in public service as a state legislator and senator and most recently as a member of the LA Board of Supervisors. For more about Sheila and three other pioneering lesbian legislators, see the documentary Political Animals.

Then Holly and I discovered several specimens of the tree that grows in our front yard in Santa Rosa, the camphor tree. We had been trying to figure out what it was and had misidentified it as a Bradford pear. Our tree is already large, but it’s just a little thing compared with some of the old trees in Capitol Park. I made Holly stand next to this tree so you can get a sense of its size. We hope ours doesn’t reach this height.


Sugarloaf Ridge State Park Is Open

One of our favorite parks in Sonoma County, Sugarloaf was closed for more than four months after the devastating fires that tore through Northern California in October. A huge portion of the park burned, and park employees had been working long hours to restore trails, remove fallen trees, and make the park safe for visitors. We wanted to see for ourselves and so on Valentine’s Day we went for a hike in the newly reopened park.

This is one of our favorite spots on the way into the park where the road crosses Sonoma Creek. The picture on the left is from the wet winter of 2010 when the creek ran high. Now in the wake of the fire, our lovely moss-covered Bay Laurel has been felled.

We started up the Bald Mountain trail and could see where the fire had stopped. The greening grass now covers the burned areas and the part that didn’t burn still shows last season’s dried stalks of grass.

Sugarloaf’s oak forest is blackened but looks like it will survive. The chaparral–manzanita, coyote brush–was burned but is already starting to revive. Some big trees were burned right down to the roots and into the ground.

By mid-February early wildflowers, oak and poison oak were happily flowering.IMG_4531We got a great view of the east side of Mount Hood. It’s hard to tell that the mountain was almost totally burned. Now we can’t wait to return to see how our park is doing. There will be lots more wildflowers and oaks and Buckeye will be leafing out in March.

Sonoma County Parks Opening After the Fires

Two months after firestorms raced through Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties, parks that had been in the path of the fires are starting to reopen. When we heard that Shiloh Ranch Regional Park had opened to hikers, we decided to take a hike and to see what damage the fires had wrought.

Shiloh is an 860-acre mixed woodland of oak, chaparral and fir forest on the hilly east edge of the Santa Rosa plain that had once been a cattle ranch. About 93 percent of the park burned. Firefighters lit backfires through the park to help defend the city of Windsor and stop the fire’s spread. They also used bulldozers to carve fire lines. So we expected to find a treeless burned out mess.

View of the Santa Rosa Plain from Shiloh

What we found was remarkably like the park we had known before the fire. Crews have removed dead trees and installed erosion control wattles on burned slopes. Underbrush had burned and the forest looked more open, but most of the trees should recover.

So my worry about the fate of the oak forest was unfounded. I don’t understand this. How could a fire so hot that it burned thousands of buildings to the ground leave the forest only singed? I do know that this landscape has always contended with fire as part of its natural life cycle and in some ways even depends on it.

Already we can see signs of new growth. Soap plant and Douglas iris poke through the blackened earth. Trees send up new shoots at the ends of their branches. The plants and their communities are healing.

As we drove back home to our neighborhood in the northeast part of Santa Rosa, we passed some of the burned out sections of the city. Chimneys jut from blackened lots and the carapaces of cars and metal appliances wait to be collected by cleanup crews.

Back in our neighborhood, we walked the few blocks to our little patch of open space, Paulin Creek Preserve, a spot of oak woodland that escaped the fire and, thanks to a group of savvy neighbors, also escaped development. It is among the many things for which we are thankful.

Paulin Creek Preserve


Don Edwards Shoreline Park

Ever since I learned that citizens had organized to protect this part of the San Francisco Bay shoreline from development, I’ve wanted to visit Don Edwards refuge. It’s situated just east of Highway 101 in Redwood City about 25 miles south of San Francisco. (Whipple exit).

Thanks to environmentally savvy neighbors in the South Bay, we can now enjoy this spectacular piece of wildland. Walk out onto one of the old dikes (remnants of salt production) and you are right in the middle of a bird sanctuary. It feels far from civilization, even though you are surrounded by cities and development on all sides.

This place is bird watching central. We saw egrets, stilts, sanderlings, ducks, ground birds and shore birds. And from one of the posted signs we learned about a bird, the Alameda song sparrow, that is able to drink salt water and is found only in these marshes!

Love this marsh and we will return for a longer walk.