Tokens of Spring

John Steinbeck wrote that the wildflowers of a Northern California spring were so unbelievable that they were "Almost sinful looking."  That makes sense - especially to a local - considering that much of the rest of the year, except for a few weeks in late April or early May, the landscape is an austere brownish-gold.  So when everything comes into full bloom all at once, it can feel strange and obscene - almost embarrassing. IMG_8643

But perhaps what is most unbelievable about those few weeks in mid-spring, is the sheer variety and volume of wildflowers that erupt.  Hundreds of native grasses, trees, bushes, and flowers go into full bloom.  They are the indicators of the beginning of warmth; they are the tokens of spring.

Above:  Calochortus amabilis, Diogenes Lantern.  Endemic to the mountains and hills of the Northern Bay Area.


Mostly the flowers are small and fragile, which is why they don't last.  But they are hardy enough to sprout in bad soil, even straight out the rocks.

Above: Dudleya cymosa,  Rock Lettuce


Above: Eschscholzia californica, California Poppy.  Steinbeck also wrote about these, describing them as "Of a burning color - not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies."


Above: Lewisia rediviva, Bitterroot.  Common across much of the western United States and British Columbia, the Bitterroot is a perennial bulb that grows and flowers only briefly during the Spring.  It is also the state flower of Montana.

Chemise Lily

Above: We call these Chamise Lilies, though they seem to have several other common nicknames including Adam & Eve, Dogtooth Lily, and Fawn Lily.  They belong to the Erythronium genus of lilies.


But it isn't just the flowers that come out in spring.  We found pools of water filled with hundreds of tiny swimming tadpoles, and everywhere in the flowers there were wild honeybees, spiders, and ants.  We also found this very large grasshopper sitting in the weeds.


And up the side of a rocky hill I found this small snake skin, fresh enough that you could still see the eyes.  After a long winter hibernating I'm sure he was happy to get into the sun and shed his winter skin.

I think we were all happy to leave winter behind us.


Various and Sundry

Going through my camera a few days ago I came across some photos I'd planned to put on the blog but had neglected to download.

These first two are from last May.  This hayfield, on the neighboring Luchetti Ranch, was nearly ready to be cut and whoever had been spraying happily left the old tractor in the middle of the tall grass for me to photograph.  On the skyline is Cobb Mountain, the tallest of the old volcanoes in South Lake County.

In the background of this photo are the South Hills, the one thousand acre backcountry of our ranch, with the Meadow Barn just in front.

These two I took in a Walnut orchard near Chico, CA.  I liked these because of the contrast between the symmetry of the trees and the random chaotic light of the afternoon sun coming down through the branches.

Walnut trees are interesting because they are actually a combination of two different species of Walnut grafted into each other, an innovation pioneered by Luther Burbank, a well-known horticulturist from nearby Santa Rosa, CA.  The dark base and root system of these trees are Black Walnut and the white upper portion are English Walnut.  The fruit of the English Walnut is more desirable though the Black Walnut is a stronger tree.  The combination of the two produces an ideal orchard tree.  The United States is the world's largest exporter of Walnuts, 99% of which are grown in orchards like these in California's Central Valley.

Back To The Boneyard

Things have changed a bit since I last photographed the Boneyard.  A little rain brought up the green grass and the wildflowers.  The new growth hid the scatter of small bones and only the larger skeletons poked through.

This guy looked a little different in color and surrounded by Spring.  I think I prefer the black and white from last January but the contrast is interesting.

Of course not everything was so pleasant among the dead.  In the months since my first photo shoot this new carcass had arrived, full of maggots and smelling of hot rotting flesh.

The carcass was so putrid that nothing would grow too close to it.  The rot was still too fresh so under and around the body there was simply bare dirt mixed with great swaths of hair that had fallen from the horsehide and mane.

The other horses in the pasture didn't seem to mind grazing so close to their fallen brothers.

It was a beautiful evening.  The setting sun highlighting the grass and water running in the gullies and streams.  Spring was in full swing.  Much less apocalyptic than my last visit.

California Spring

"There aren't many things better than Lake County in the first week of May." - Jim Comstock These photos were taken at our family's ranch in Northern California on May first.

Meadow Spring looking towards the Front Pasture Hill. 1/160 sec./f8.0/iso100

California Wildflowers 1/1250sec./f3.2/iso100    View on Black

California Poppy 1/2000 sec./f3.2/iso100    View on Black

Rocky detail and Spring 1/160 sec./f8.0/iso100    View on Black

Sprinklers At The State Line

We recently moved out of Utah permanently and decided to make the drive to California by way of the sparsely traveled Highway 50.  As mentioned in the previous post, we stopped off at the old roost of Bob Stinson before continuing on out of Utah into the vast expanse of the Nevada desert.

1/500 sec./f11/iso160

Crossing the state line into Nevada we encountered something I had never seen before: freezing sprinklers.

1/400 sec./f11/iso160

Conditions were just cold enough to freeze the water as it fell to the ground but not cold enough to freeze the pipes.

1/1600 sec./f4.0/iso160

1/4000 sec./f4.0/iso160

1/200 sec./f11/iso160

1/1600 sec./f5.6/iso160

1/2000 sec./f4.0/iso160

I'm pretty sure we were trespassing since we jumped a couple of fences to get out to the sprinklers, but no one was around to yell at us so I don't feel that bad.