For my daughters and grandchildren

I’m here.

I’ve shown up.

This is my second time at a small writing group gathering to learn more about writing ones “Life Story” for their children and grandchildren.

What am I thinking?

What am I doing here?

I’m not a writer.

Who am I kidding?

What is driving me to try this? 

I don’t know!

Maybe I can start small, just a short essay, or another blog post.

If I practice, and practice, and practice, and put in my 10,000 hours, could I really become a writer?  I don’t even have a burning desire to write. But I enjoy recording the stories of my simple life observations.

There’s only one way to find out if I can write and that is to start, and then to stick with it.

My parents were actually told to not expect much from me by my high school English teacher, Mr. Bruce Robertson.  He even cautioned that they shouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t make it to college. More on that another time.

So, the next questions are what to write about? What do I love? 

Nature and solitude.

So I’ll start small and close to home.

My quarter acre retreat.

Morning often finds me taking 10 minutes, with my first cup of coffee, outside, observing my garden. 

You see, I’m a “dolphin”.

Oh, that’s my chronotype. Dolphins are rare. Let me transition here before I barely get started.

The dolphin chronotype describe me to a T. Dolphins have a hard time waking up. Stick with me here, we’ll get back out in the garden in a minute. 

The author of the book The Power of When, Dr. Michael Breus, writes about our chronotypes and recommends that dolphins get exposure to bright light to wake up. If you don’t know your chronotype, I recommend reading the book. You’ll learn more about how you are driven by your innate circadian rhythms. Anyway, this is why I’m in my garden observing nature at its finest.

It is an early fall morning. Not too early, but not mid-morning either.  The sun is rising but still low in the sky and the shadows are long as the morning rays strike my California fuchsia from a low eastern angle backlighting the reddish-orange tubular flowers making them appear iridescent. 

The critters that share my suburban community are already up and busy.

A single hummingbird visits the early sunlit red flowers. But only one hummer at a time. These tiny colorful birds are territorial and don’t like sharing.  Within a short period of time, another swoops in on the one feeding. A high-speed chase ensues. In a flash of color and wings, the two birds are gone. 

A few native bees and honey bees are already visiting the same bush. A honey bee lands on the throat of a flower with open anthers and a sticky stigma. It proceeds to climb, wiggle and pull itself into the flower. It disappears into the tube. If you look now, you’d never know there is a full-size honey bee down the tube. I wait for it. The flower begins to jiggle. I tiny bee butt starts to appear. First the black and white stripes, then two long bent golden legs. Finally, a fuzzy body, more legs, and a fuzzy head slide down the stamens. The bee takes flight to its next receptive flower, seeking its reward of a tiny bit of sweet nectar. Payment will be made in full as the bee leaves a bit of pollen behind to fertilize the flowers eggs deep within the bloom.

In the oak behind me, I hear the repetitive rhythmic call of a chick-a-dee. It is echoed by another off in the distance. The crescendo of birds near and far builds like a tuning orchestra. 

Simultaneously, I hear a rather loud and shrill scrapping sound. I had heard this exact same sound the other day.  When I investigated the source of the grinding and scraping, I found a squirrel sitting on the fence, with a 5-inch section of dry cow bone, like the kind one might buy for their dog. It appeared to be sharpening its teeth on the bone and with each gnawing, this odd bone rattling, tooth grinding sound emanated forth. I startled the squirrel that day and the bone fell into my yard.  How in the world did this small critter get this bone up onto the fence? The grinding commenced again this morning as I took another bite of my frittata.

A moment later, a familiar chase sound begins. I turn to look upward to see two common oak tree visitors. With their bushy tails flickering and tiny paws and toenails grabbing at the oak bark, another friendly backyard critter chase begins. The second critter chase of my morning.  The sound of the squirrels fast moving claws on the bark is almost like the tinkling of gently falling glass shards as the two playfully chase each other. The chase ends as fast as it started with a leap into the neighbor’s palm tree. A quick flutter of fronds, then nothing, just the gently barely perceptible cool morning breeze. 

The warmth of the new dawn on this fall morning begins to evaporate the minuscule amount of morning dew visible on solid surfaces. The dew is only slightly perceptible on the plants with tiny hairs. Native plants survive the long summer dryness in this Mediterranean climate of central California by having tiny leaf surface hairs which are capable of capturing the slightest amount of moisture from the air.

My chickens scratch the ground, rustling through recently fallen oak leaves. These first autumn leaves of the season drift downward to become food for the overwintering soil decomposers. 

There is a clanking sound as a tumbling acorn bounces off a solid surface on it’s way to the ground. The magic of that morning sun which heats up and expands a layer of cells in the stem of the acorn just enough for it to separate from its attachment point on the thin twig.

No signs yet of the blue belly or alligator lizards. Later in the day the butterflies and dragonflies will come to visit. The native chaparral sages will release their fresh scent as the day warms. 

I will remain blissfully ignorant of the billions of soil microbes, bacteria, fungi, and earthworms busy below my feet.

And then, my peaceful morning is interrupted by the squealing and grinding noise of a circular saw cutting a 2×4. My neighbor’s contractor has arrived. Pulled back to the reality of my day, it is time to start tackling the never-ending to-do list. The rising sun has done its job in so many ways. I’m feeling awake and ready to take on the day.

What a blessing to be able to start my day in nature. Eating my breakfast frittata and drinking my morning cup of coffee.

To my daughters and grandchildren: never stop pausing long enough to notice and love nature.

Comments and suggestions welcomed as I begin, continue and travel into and along this storytelling adventure

“Googleville” and “Appletown” Open Space Explorations

On a recent Friday afternoon we found ourselves on the other side of the bay to run some errands. We scheduled in an hour or so to spend on a hike in the local hills of the Santa Clara county mid peninsula region.

Trail
Trail

We chose to explore the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve and Deer Hollow Farm in an area very near Los Altos on the northwest end of Santa Clara valley and part of Silicon Valley.  The preserve is near “Googleville” and north of “Appletown”. The write up about the open space sounded intriguing in that we could walk a trail through riparian, meadow and coast live oak woodland and visit Deer Hollow Farm. Deer Hollow Farm is a recently restored (1993) working farm from the 1850’s.

Black Tailed Deer
Black Tailed Deer

We walked through a woodland consisting predominately of Coast Live oak, buckeye, California bay and poison oak. A few of the bay tree buds were starting to bloom. The understory consisted of a lush bright green covering of native grasses mixed with numerous common annual and perennial wildflower seedlings.  Plenty of buttercups, miner’s lettuce and California Manroot were already in bloom. New growth of bedstraw, coast iris and native bulbs could be seen mixed in under the tree’s.

White Barn
White Barn

Critter’s filled the air with their tweets, chirps, hoots and chatter. We were treated to the call of a Great Horned Owl in the distance, the loud squawk of a scrub jay in the trees, several Pacific Chorus frogs near the creek and the chatter of a few too many squirrels. We watched a cottontail bunny near a big log and numerous ground squirrels. We spotted a large wood rats nest of branches not far from the trail.

Mircantha californica - California Saxifrage
Mircantha californica – California Saxifrage

It is so nice that these park lands have been set aside for all to enjoy and to provide habitat for the native species that have lost so much land to development.

Kid, doeling, buckling.... or just baby goat
Kid, doeling, buckling…. or just baby goat

Once again we realize how fortunate we are to live in the San Francisco bay area and in California.  A state that has taken land preservation seriously, and has created a fair amount of parkland and protected wildlife habitat.

The following are a few photos taken during our short time in this open space.

Sheep, ewe's, lamps.... whatever, got to love the farm terminology
Sheep, ewe’s, lamb’s…. whatever, got to love farm terminology
cow, heifer, a head of cattle, bovine
cow, heifer, a head of cattle, bovine… more farm terminology

 

 

 

Pentagramma triangularis - Goldenback fern
Pentagramma triangularis – Goldenback fern
Pedicularis densiflora - Indian Warrior
Pedicularis densiflora – Indian Warrior
Lathyrus vestitus; Bolander's Pea
Lathyrus vestitus – Bolander’s Pea
Salix lasiandra - Pacific willow
Salix lasiandra – Pacific willow

 

 

 

Pacific Hound’s Tongue - Cynoglossum grande
Pacific Hound’s Tongue – Cynoglossum grande
Western Gray Squirrel - Sciurus griseus
Western Gray Squirrel – Sciurus griseus
Trillium chloropetalum  - Common trillium,  Giant wakerobin
Trillium chloropetalum  – Common trillium,  Giant wakerobin

Sound of flowing water, music to my ears.

“There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Misty rain drops swirl every direction in the slight breeze appearing to make wind visible to the eye. The droplets make the quietest of pitter patter’s on my umbrella.

When was the last time you took a walk in the rain? Pull out “appropriate” clothing and head outside.  It’s time to wake up your senses.

With my eyes, I spy a red breasted American Robin perched on a fence nearby.  It’s mid January in this central California locale and the American Robins are delighting in the plethora of earthworms flushed to the surface by this now “normal” amount of winter rainfall.  I always delight in my first sighting of an American Robin (Turdus migratorius).  It means spring is just around the corner.

Winter is barely a concept here.  Winter is more of a short transitional state from fall to spring: A brief cleansing of the environment.

Cattail's
Cattail’s

In the middle of the creek still stands the dried cattail seed heads from fall. This native plant used to be an abundant food source. Today it provides habitat and food for wildlife and acts as a natural filter of toxins washed into the local waterways. The sound of cars reflecting off the hillside a block away remind me that most drivers are unaware of this environmental service that plants provide for free.  We really must take care of our waterways.  They take care of us.

Further along my attention is pulled toward the sound of babbling water.  The sound is soothing, music to my ears.  Two branches of a local creek merge into one, picking up speed as the water heads to the center of the valley.  Over the sound of the creek I hear the chatter of a squirrel.  I become aware of the twittering of songbirds in the trees.  Click link to hear and see the creeks:  Green Valley and E Green Valley Creek’s merge

I pass by several other biped trail walkers.  Those that are in groups appear to be deep in conversation.  Those walking solo often have earbuds in and appear to be traveling in a parallel universe to the natural world around them.

Miner's Lettuce
Miner’s Lettuce

They are so close to nature, yet so far.  They might very well be unaware of the benefits they are receiving; the breathing in of the fresh air and the glimpses of the lush green miner’s lettuce (Claytonia parviflora) and bedstraw (Galium sp.) that line the path are soothing their souls.

Bedstraw
Bedstraw

Further down the path I watch two robins that flutter and dart about in what appears to be some kind of dance.  Then I spy the worm they are fighting over.

My path comes to an end.  I turn back onto a sidewalk that leads past a larger parcel of land in this community.  I smell the damp manure from the horse pasture.  A goose honks from beyond.  I’m so fortunate to live within blocks of a tiny urban farm.  Several chickens and a couple more geese scratch and peck at the mud in their enclosure.  Hmm… I don’t see the turkey’s anymore.  I can only guess as to why they disappeared over the winter holidays.

What’s stopping you from taking a walk in the rain? Let me know what you noticed that surprised you on your rain walk.

East Green Valley Creek, January 1998
East Green Valley Creek, January 1998

 

Hopefull for rain tonight

Today the skies are a cloudy matte grey, short bursts of wind blow through the naked valley

Flowering Tansy brighten a dark sky.
Flowering Tansy brightens a dark sky.

oak tree branches as the squirrels busy themselves, running to and fro frantically digging here and there. My garden is filled with an ever increasing number of pockmarks as three resident squirrels try to reclaim long lost acorns, buried away last fall. In the process several young plants are uprooted.  I reset in the soil a California Current (Ribes sanguineum) that had been carelessly dug and tossed to the side.  Roots still attached, I have hope it will survive.  The fate of a newly planted White Sage (Salvia apiana) did not have such a positive ending.  I suspect a squirrel broke it off at ground level. I don’t know what it did with the root ball. Such is the life of a garden.

The squirrels munch their acorns like ears of corn, chewing rapidly from side to side and spinning the nut in their tiny front paws.  As soon as it finishes one nut, it’s back to poking its head under the mulch, seeking another nut and leaving another pockmark in my garden.

Mushrooms continue to burst from the wet mMushroomsulch in multitudes.  They seem to be thriving this year with what rain we have received.  I might appreciate the squirrels if they ate up those mushrooms.

Season to date we have received almost 8 inches of rain in this urban garden.  Still way better then the past 5 years, yet lags behind our annual average to date which should be closer to 10 inches by now.

I note rose branches stripped of the last of their leaves. Fresh deer droppings confirm there have been rose bush eating visitors in the night.

Several Dark-eyed Juncos (Oregon) scratch in the mulch near my grape arbor.

A Black Phoebe perches on a crabapple branch and darts quickly from it’s perch to the ground and back again seeking flying bugs. Click to learn more about this local bird: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black_Phoebe/id

A pesky Western Scrub Jay lands in the roofs gutter, flicking through muddy leaves, flinging decaying leaves to the ground.  Thank you Jay for cleaning my rain gutters. More about this bird here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Scrub-Jay/id

Several other species of song birds flit quickly through the garden. No season is quiet and still in this California urban garden.

As the evening’s rain system approaches, the skies are void of the usual sightings of American black crows, red tailed hawks and turkey vultures.  I don’t miss the incessant “cawing” of the crows.  I find these birds to be rather annoying.  Though, I should appreciate them more as they are rather intelligent for a bird.