Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Just How Old Is That Retaining Wall?

We've been in Capitola at the beach house since last Sunday and heading down to southern California tomorrow (Saturday) to spend the week with my mom. The time here on the central coast has been quiet with overcast skies and cool temps, and definitely not photography weather in any way. We've been seeing dolphins, sea otters, shorebirds, and several breaching whales. You'll have to take my word for it, it's been grand even if we couldn't get a decent photo of any of it.
We did get out for a walk everyday to take a good look around at everything. We decided to go a different route one day and came upon this lovely retaining wall in front of two neighboring homes. It stretched for quite a distance along the block.
When we took a closer look at some of the rocks we could see that a good chunk of this retaining wall had been made of rocks that are filled with ancient fossil mollusks. They were probably gathered a long time ago from the local beach.
These are pretty good-sized rocks, and incredibly full of fossils. When I look at this rock, I think of hieroglyphics, like a message sent from 2.5 - 6 million years ago.
How crazy it seems to see such a sight in a mundane retaining wall. These are rocks from the Purisima Formation.
So how old is this retaining wall? Some of it is older than the language it takes to write these words. Older than cave paintings and religion. Older than every story we tell. This is one story of time written by clam shells and whale bones more than a million years ago.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Family Tree

My first cousin's son Zak and his family came to Arcata from New York for a visit two weeks ago. They were on a journey from Seattle to San Francisco, driving the coast highways and enjoying their spring break. We took them to the marsh for a nice hike and to the Interpretive Center to take a look the exhibits and maps.

Outside the Interpretive Center is this fantastic wingspan chart. Zak's daughter Ella stood in front of it and spread her arms. Her arm span is somewhere between a Red-tailed Hawk and a Canadian Goose's wingspan. It's a beautiful graphic to really get a sense of just how big a bird's wingspan is. The Bald Eagle isn't even on the chart, it's an inch bigger than the pelican's span! I photographed Ella while her younger brother Waylon looked on. About a week later, I sent her the photo, and she responded.

Her email was delightful, full of exclamation points, enthusiasm, and capital letters. I loved it, and it started me thinking about family trees. How are Ella and I related? What is the common nomenclature for such a relationship? When I was in college I was an anthropology major, I always loved the way kinships were defined.

Ella is my first cousin twice removed. Her father Zak is my first cousin once removed. My cousin (Zak's mother) is her grandmother. Ella's great-great grandmother was my grandmother. That's how the family tree works.

Here's the difference between first cousins and second cousins. If I had children they would be second cousins to my first cousin's children. My children and my cousin's children would have the same great-grandparents. If I had grandchildren, they would be third cousins to my cousin's grandchildren Ella and Waylon.

So, here's a question, what would the relationship be between my children and Ella? Can you guess?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


We had a wonderful surprise visit from Roger's daughter Indigo and her beautiful daughter Luna last week. They drove down river to the coast and knocked on our door. How could I have not taken a photo of them while they were here having dinner with us? I don't know. You'll have to take our word for it, they are both adorable in every way, and Luna is especially charming as she is learning to walk, and pulling every electric cord, plant, or object within reach.

What I did get a photo of was this. Indigo's partner had collected these morels in the forests around the Klamath River. She brought a bunch of them with her, and we had them in our risotto that evening. I haven't thought of morels in years. It reminded me of the first time I ever saw them.

Close to 45 years ago, my cousin--along with her husband and two other couples-- bought 108 acres of land in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. They were all living and working in New Jersey, but they had been inspired by the "back to land" movement of that late 60s and early 70s, and headed out to find good ol' Mother Earth. I had gone back to New Jersey from California to visit with them, and we all piled into a van and drove to Virginia to look at their land. We stayed with a family who were multi-generational Virginians. They had lived in these mountains for a very long time.

I remember Wilbur, the dad who used to "wrassle bears at county fairs" coming in and showing us these strange mushrooms that he had picked and called them"merkels." He said they were definitely edible and incredibly delicious. I took one look at them and thought to myself, "No way I'm eating those crazy looking things." The only mushrooms I had ever eaten were in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, and there was no way those tiny bits of mushrooms in that soup was in any way related to these weird looking creatures. So I absolutely did not even take a bite. But I also never forgot them. And years later I started reading about mushrooms and the fabulous, sought-after morels. When I saw photos, I thought, "Hey wait a second, I know those as merkels." But morels they were, and true enough, they are delicate and delicious mushrooms.

So when Indigo brought us these yummy offerings from the forests of northern California, we rejoiced and had a feast. And, I was really glad to have these old memories from long ago stirred by mushroom.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Cactus Blooms For My Mother

My father dug a Golden Barrel cactus out of the desert more than 25 years ago, when he and my mom were living in Desert Hot Springs, CA. They had moved there in their retirement, and they cultivated a lovely little desert garden in their front yard. After my dad died, my mom moved closer to the coast, and Roger and I inherited the Golden Barrel. We've had it for more than 20 year now and have schlepped it from place to place. It's gotten bigger and much harder to move around, but it's been to Santa Cruz, Port Townsend, WA, Grass Valley, and now here in the northern coastal climate of Arcata. We noticed two flower buds on it a few month ago. Didn't give it much thought, because it is so foggy, cloudy, gray and cool here most of the time. Then there were even more buds, but why would a poor old cactus bloom here, we wondered?
The purple arrow is pointing to the cactus in our Port Townsend living room, ca 2006
On Friday, my mom went to the oncologist's office to get the results of her liver biopsy. My older brother Marc and my sister Lynn were with her. Lynn was texting me, and I was on the phone with my twin brother Michael. It was definitely a long-distance family moment. The doctor said to my mother, "I have good news for you. It's Follicular Lymphoma." Now at first the word lymphoma sounds pretty awful, but when we learned more about it, we could see why the doctor thought this was good, compared to what other things he might have had to say.

The Mayo Clinic website is incredibly informative about Follicular Lymphoma. We thought the most relevant part was this:

Your treatment options are determined based on the type and stage of your lymphoma, your age, and your overall health.

Treatment isn't always necessary

If your lymphoma appears to be slow growing (indolent), a wait-and-see approach may be an option. Indolent lymphomas that don't cause signs and symptoms may not require treatment for years.
Delaying treatment doesn't mean you'll be on your own. Your doctor will likely schedule regular checkups every few months to monitor your condition and ensure that your cancer isn't advancing.
My mom has a follow-up visit in three months. She will have blood tests and another CT scan of her chest. She is in good health. She is asymptomatic. We think she has many years of life ahead, and we are all breathing a sigh of relief (and dancing wildly in joy!).

On Friday,  just before my mom's appointment, I went out to the yard and noticed this. The Golden Barrel cactus was BLOOMING. This is its first bloom in 25 years. The magnificent serendipitous nature of the universe sent a flower to my mother from a plant my father had loved a long, long time ago. Aren't coincidences the most wonderful thing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Beautiful Interlopers

European Starling

Three-Cornered Garlic (Irish Name- Glaschrreamh)

Mustard from somewhere!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The First Days of April

Every April, Arcata celebrates the Spring Bird migration with a festival. We've never made it to Godwit Days here, and  it looks like we're going to miss it again this year. We'll be in southern California visiting with my mom. So we went out to the marsh on Saturday to look around for Arcata's famous Marbled Godwits. There were hundreds, if not thousands of them. The one photo I took that might have given a hint of their sheer numbers is blurry. I'm posting it anyway, because I think even in its blurriness you get a sense of how many Godwits there are here. There is a second island that had just as many birds on it.
We took a long walk around the marsh ponds and did get to see Godwits hanging out with the Willets on the shore of Humboldt Bay at high tide.

And we did get to see them take off there at the edge of the bay in a beautiful flurry of a thousand wings. The sound these birds make when the whole island of them takes off is surprisingly loud. Who knew these light feathery wings could hammer out a drumbeat in a crazy hurry?

It really is too bad we're going to miss the Godwit Days celebration of spring bird migrations, but we were delighted to get a good look at the Marbled Godwits in all their long-billed beauty.

(Health Update: My mom is having a liver biopsy on Monday. We think it will provide the answers we've been waiting for. She is feeling stronger and sounding like her incredibly vital self. We are hopeful, and we will keep you posted. Thank you for your kind thoughts and good wishes.)