Category Archives: Nature

Visiting Point Reyes

On December 29, Jim and I decided to drive over to Point Reyes Lighthouse and see if we could see any whales.  It was a mild sunny day, the Friday before New Year’s, and he thought there might be a smaller crowd than on the actual weekend, when we’d have to park well away and ride a shuttle bus in.

We drove over in the late morning and were stunned to find very light traffic – on Interstate 80, on 580 over the Richmond Bridge, and almost no traffic at all on Lucas Valley Road, which we took out to Highway 1.  We planned to have lunch in Point Reyes Station.  As we got to Highway 1, we saw the first serious traffic of the day – apparently everyone else was going to Point Reyes Station too.  We parked and started to look for a restaurant, and were stopped by an older woman who was standing on the corner marveling at the crowds.  “I’ve never seen so many people here,” she said.  She then turned to us and asked, “What are you two doing here?”  We laughed and said we were on our way to Point Reyes.  She wasn’t hostile, merely amazed; we chatted briefly and she recommended a restaurant.  Point Reyes Station is a very small town.

After lunch we drove on out to Point Reyes.  If you’ve never done it, it’s a long drive, through farm country – you do the entire trip on Sir Francis Drake Blvd West, turning off Highway 1.  The directions on the park site say turn off Highway 1 onto Bear Valley Road, but that shortly becomes Sir Francis Drake West.  At several points the road ran through the inhabited areas of local ranches; once we had to stop and wait until the cattle finished crossing the road.  It’s very beautiful and very far from anywhere else.

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Fire in the Hills

Of all the things that have gone wrong this summer, I didn’t need this afternoon’s fire in the Berkeley hills:

It started at 5 acres and 3 hours later seems to be under control (at 10 acres).  But I was here in 1991 for the Oakland Hills fire and it’s not anything you forget.  I’m still nervous on hot days with an east wind.  My husband is off backpacking, and there’s just a limit to what I could evacuate in my little car, all by myself.  And the real test will be tomorrow – the 1991 fire was supposedly put out the day before, but it wasn’t all gone, and the next day’s stiff winds blew it up into a firestorm.

This one went from a 2 alarm fire to a 5 alarm fire in 3 hours, but I’m not the only one who remembers 1991.  The local fire departments dumped resources onto it; last notice I find says it’s moving toward Contra Costa County, behind the Berkeley hills.  I drove home from downtown Oakland this afternoon and saw the smoke, and it stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically; I kept driving).

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Christmas Day Walk

Yes, I know it’s May.  2016 has been an extremely weird year, and one of these days I’ll blog it.  But I recently got the photos sorted, processed and uploaded from the walk I took around Lake Temescal, in the Oakland hills, on Christmas Day 2015. In a sense, this was the calm before the storm, because 3 days later, I came down with an awful cold (took 3 weeks to get rid of), which was the start of all the things that have gone wrong so far this year.

But back to the lake.  Here it is.  Click on this or any other photo to go to my Smugmug account and see the whole collection.


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Also posted in Personal, Photography Tagged , , |

A Storm Called Karen

It’s very odd to have a storm named after me (well, using my name).  In my whole adult life I can’t remember another tropical storm named “Karen.”  It’s a pretty wimpy storm. I don’t think it ever reached “hurricane” status – but it’s hard to tell, because the NOAA sites, the usual authoritative source of information on hurricanes in progress, are closed because of the U.S. government shutdown.  (For my thoughts on that mess, see Boehner’s Impossible Dream, at my blog Hedera’s Corner.)

But I see a map at

apparently maintained through Twitter (Twitter??), which suggests that “Tropical Depression Karen dissipated at 10 AM CDT October 6.”  I’m sure everyone on the Gulf Coast was relieved; I don’t really want to be the godmother of 2013’s equivalent of Katrina or Sandy.

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Lunch in the Yard

On a beautiful day like this – sunny, light breeze, 82° – I often have lunch in the back yard, surrounded by plants and, occasionally, critters.  As I was eating today’s lunch, I heard a noise and turned to see a scrub jay land on the board edging the rose bed.  It’s hard to miss a scrub jay.  They’re almost a foot long head to tail, with a 15″ wingspan, and most of the bird is bright blue.  Since he (assumption, I can’t tell them apart) was only 10 feet or so away, I expected him to take off, but he hopped around the brick patio a bit, poking his beak, and finally extracted a string of dried grass.  Then he took off, heading for the mass of greenery at the back of the yard (an English laurel, 2 camellia bushes, 2 full grown trees, a shore pine and a live oak, and a ceanothus).

Hm.  I wonder.  A few minutes later he swooped by again and perched on top of the garage, again digging with his beak in an indecipherable glob of gup on top of the insulator where the electric wire enters the garage.  Can’t you find something nicer than that, I wondered.  But he picked up something he liked and vanished again.

I think we have a nesting pair of scrub jays.

Also posted in Neighborhood, Personal Tagged |


We had a little excitement this afternoon.  My neighbor knocked on the door and said, “We have bees.”  What?  I said.  So he pointed to the tree in parking strip, ornamented with dark clumps of swarming bees, buzzing loudly.  As we stood around and wondered whom to call (Animal Control in Oakland is basically hopeless, though I think there’s a local guy who will remove swarms), the swarm moved from our tree to his tree, then swept onward to a yard about 3 houses down the block.  The whole thing took less than 10 minutes; I saw them last, through binoculars, orbiting around each other just short of the overhead freeway, a block away.

I wonder if they ever found a place they liked, to build a new hive.  The yard at that end of the block is posted as an official wild nature reserve, maybe they settled there.  Better them than me.  I like and approve of bees but I don’t want to raise them.

Also posted in Neighborhood Tagged |

Transit of Venus

I didn't see the whole thing but yes – I did see the Transit this time around and I got photos!  I got the photos, without a heavy-duty sun filter, from a handy little device called a SunSpotter:


The amusing thing about the SunSpotter is that they had probably half a dozen of them sitting on tables with NO lines at all, you could just walk up and look at them.  At the same time, hundreds of people were standing in two very long lines (which stopped dead whenever the clouds closed in, of course) to look through the two sun telescopes set up on the plaza.  If you've ever looked through a 'scope, you know that the image is very small and tiny details are not terribly clear, while the SunSpotter gives you a lovely clear view about the size of a saucer.

I'd really like to get one for myself but I don't think they're cheap!  They project an enlarged image of the sun onto a piece of white paper, like this:

First image, 15:48:15 PDT

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Also posted in Photography Tagged |

Celebrating the Golden Gate Bridge

Last Sunday, May 27, the Oakland Symphony Chorus sang at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was quite a day, complicated by the facts that:

  1. The celebration was held at Crissy Field, a beautiful spot on the San Francisco shoreline which is a long way from anywhere, and
  2. There was No Public Parking.

It only took me an hour and a half to get there, taking BART and the 30 Stockton bus, and then walking (I estimate) a mile and a half from the last bus stop to the Crissy Field Stage, where we were to perform.  It may not have been that far; I was wandering around, as I hadn't been to Crissy Field since it became a nature reserve. Crissy Field tidal marsh is gorgeous:

Crissy Field Tiday Marsh

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Solar Eclipse

I sang in a concert this afternoon, and we got home about 6:15 or 6:20 PM, which was very shortly before the eclipse peak. It was already darker than usual; the house was dark, which is very rare at that hour in May.  The eclipse maximum was visible in California at 6:33 PM.

Northern California wasn't in the small geographic path that saw the "ring of fire" in today's partial solar eclipse.  And unlike my friend Blake, I don't have a telescope with a solar filter, nor do I have welder's glasses.  I found an advertising postcard and poked a hole in it with a paper clip, to get a pinhole camera image on a flat surface that I could photograph with my telephoto lens.  When I went over to the neighbor's house, I borrowed some of the old film negatives they were using, 3 at a time, as a filter, but I thought my best pinhole images gave a clearer view than what I could see there, and of course I couldn't photograph through them.  Hm, note to self:  solar filter for camera??

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Grand Canyon North Rim 2010

I think I have 4 photo galleries of the pictures I took just on June 9, 2010 – 209 shots.  Not all of them made it onto SmugMug.  That was the day we drove from Cortez, Colorado to the Grand Canyon North Rim.   As my trip diary says, it wouldn't have taken us so long if we hadn't kept stopping to take pictures…

After we left Monument Valley, which we detoured to see, we drove more or less straight to the Grand Canyon, through the Vermilion Cliffs and over the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, just below the Glen Canyon Dam. Here are the Vermilion Cliffs. The notch you see in the cliffs, about a third of the way in from the right, is where the road comes through.  And goes down. 

Vermilion Cliffs

Here's the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, taken from the bridge:

Colorado River from Lee's Ferry Bridge

We saw two California Condors, hovering over the bridge about 100 feet up.  I didn't get a photo (drat).  My husband did.

This trip involves a lot of driving through a lot of nowhere, but God, is it beautiful nowhere.  Driving through the Red Desert is a cure for any feeling of self-importance you may have.  Or security.  If you break down out there it'll take a long time for the rescue crew to find you – although there's pretty steady traffic along the road.  Cell phone coverage, not so much.

We stayed in the cabins at the North Rim, and we arrived, after a nice drive across the Kaibab Plateau, around 5:30 in the evening.  Which means the rest of that day's photos are very late afternoon and sunset shots:

Grand Canyon, evening

At Lee's Ferry the altitude was approximately 3,700 feet, and the temperature was 103º.  The Lodge on the North Rim is at 8,255 feet and the temperature was 74º.  About 2 hours apart.

If you've never been to the Grand Canyon, descriptions just don't cut it.  I'm not afraid of heights per se – airplanes and skyscrapers don't bother me – but I am afraid of falling. The place terrified me.  There are some security rails but in a lot of places there's nothing between you and 6,000 feet down but your own common sense.  You can't even see the bottom from the rim, most places.  And the edge draws you somehow.  I got used to it, sort of, but you have to respect the place.  It makes no accommodations for you; you have to accommodate to it. Here's Bright Angel Point – with some bold explorers.  I never had the nerve to go out.  (Of course, I was walking with a cane at the time.)

Bright Angel Point

I'd been to the Grand Canyon before but had never actually seen the place.  When I was about 14, my parents took us on a Camping Trip to see the great national parks:  Lehman Caves, Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon.  That was the trip the family car vaporlocked (if you're old enough you know what that was) crossing Nevada; which caused us to stop a couple of days in Salt Lake City while my dad bought a length of copper pipe and rerouted the fuel line away from the exhaust manifold.  Somewhere there is a photo of dad, standing in the desert next to the motionless car, looking disgusted. Only my dad would interrupt a vacation to rebuild the car.

By the time we got to the Grand Canyon, last stop on the trip, we were all pretty tired.  We pulled into a campground at the South Rim around 5 in the evening and started to pitch the tent – and then it began to rain.  We'd been running from the thunderstorm since we left Zion and it had caught up with us.  So we struck the tent and stuffed everything back into the top carrier (homemade of 1×4 oak boards, but that's another story) and hit the road.  That trip was one of the few times in my life where we actually had to stop the car because it was raining so hard.  The windshield wipers on that car simply couldn't keep up.  So I never did see the Grand Canyon on that trip, and it took me fifty years to get back.  In a better car.

There's one more footnote to that camping trip.  We were all sleeping on air mattresses.  In the scramble to repack in the rain, two of the mattresses got pinched.  We discovered this around 1 AM, in a campground in Las Vegas, during a dry thunderstorm – my mother and I woke up on the ground.  That was the point at which mother decided we had camped enough – the rest of the trip home we stayed in motels!

The rest of these photos are in the gallery To The North Rim.  The earlier posts on this vacation are at Hedera's Corner under 2010 Vacation.

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