You’ve probably seen Pacific tree frogs in your porch planters, nearby trees and in ponds. Same here, since these two-inch marvels reside up and down the Pacific coast, from British Columbia, south to Baja California. Lately, a pair of these beautiful amphibians have been hanging out in my pottery barn sink!
The alchemy of photosynthesis worked its magic on grasses, trees and wildflowers across the landscape of Lake County after the rains finally arrived. Kelly green tempera paint colors outline the forest, while lush tree trunks are alive with mosses. At Rodman Preserve you can take a Saturday walk when the Lake County Land Trust (LCLT) opens its gates to the Preserve’s hundreds of acres. Rodman Preserve and Nature Center is located at 6350 Westlake Road in Upper Lake. We were welcomed at the property’s entrance by the breathtaking view of one of the resident ospreys as it flew above us with its prey secured in its talons! Rodman Preserve was acquired in order to safeguard the land’s natural habitat and preserve the existing wildlife area with its prolific nesting, feeding and breeding environs.
Have you ever heard of CLERC? CLERC stands for Clear Lake Environmental Research Center. CLERC is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization now located in Lakeport in the historic Carnegie Library building at Library Park. The threads of CLERC’s tapestry are far-reaching and address the needs of our unique county through their varied projects and programs. The purpose of CLERC, as mentioned on their interesting website is ” To bring science, education, government, tribal and business groups together to resolve issues involving Clear Lake, to study the unique properties of Clear Lake and the surrounding area and, to coordinate programs and projects that focus on solutions to environmental and economic problems locally and worldwide.”
The glistening waters of ancient Clear Lake beckoned one chilly, late spring morning as some friends and I boarded the Eyes of the Wild pontoon boat piloted by Faith Rigolosi for a lake tour. Although the shores were already growing a tangle of weeds not often seen this early in the season, Faith was able to tour the lake with ease. This popular destination lake is around seventy square miles, and is the largest lake within California’s borders. More importantly, Clear Lake is scientifically proven to be one of, if not the oldest lake in North America, at about a half-million years in age. Archaeologists have determined that Indigenous people have lived nearby for around 14,000 years. Clear Lake drapes itself across the landscape in a diagonal formation, with its two arms at the narrows pointing southeast. Sacred and stately Mount Konocti, our dormant volcano rises across the narrows at over 4,000 feet. Both the lake and the volcano hold rich secrets and mythologies, along with their distinctive histories and exquisite beauty.
Letterboxing began in England in 1854 when a man called William Crossing created a publication called Guide to Dartmoor. Then, he placed cards in a bottle on a trail along the moors and when hikers found the bottle, they added their own postcards for the next person to find and then mail at the post office. Now there are formal Letterboxing clubs and Geocaching clubs all over the world. Many have themes such as poetry, stamp collecting, mysteries, etc.
Have you seen them? The swan-like black and white water birds that are known to dance across the waters of Clear Lake, the grebes. Glorious to view at any time of the year, they are most interesting to watch in springtime when they perform a courting dance while rushing or running across the water!
Does summertime mean game time to you? Maybe you enjoy some laid-back games like horseshoes, bocce ball, croquet, or Frisbee. Games are deeply rooted in history. In times past, people of all ages were game players too. Since all work and no play is not fun, the Indigenous people living in what is now Lake County put aside work for play as well.
The staggering diversity of life in this saturated season brings out sky hunters, a.k.a. dragonflies. These amazing creatures were among the very first winged insects to evolve on planet Earth over 300 million years ago. Residing on all but one continent, Antarctica, there are around 7,000 existing known species, according to National Geographic’s website.
Two days are never the same at Clear Lake State Park in Kelseyville. The morning walk I took was frosty perfection. Upon entering the park I had a choice of miles of hiking trails to choose from that meander throughout the 330 acres deeded to the state in 1947 by then-owners Fred and Nellie Dorn. The park landscape is set at 1,300 to 1,600 feet in elevation, allowing for some breathtaking views.
Our star, the sun was out in all of its glory after the winter storms, providing a respite from the intense but welcome weather this late winter. Middletown Trailside Nature Preserve’s 107 acres, with its mile-and-a-half loop, like much of the fire-ravaged lands in Lake County, is making a welcome comeback.
With myriad weather patterns blowing in rain, sleet, snow, and hail during the wildly wet winter months, clouds of all descriptions were unquestionably in abundance. Did you know that clouds can be a source of deep importance, not only for weather but for the sheer enjoyment of ‘non-doing’?
Since the months of February and March are peak breeding seasons for striped skunks, you may have seen- or smelled the furry rascals as they performed a search for true love. The black and white mammals’ cousins in other areas sport spots that may be beige or black and white. However, Lake County skunks are the striped variety. Their fur’s pattern is considered a warning signal for predators to keep their distance, but if that doesn’t do the trick, they are programmed to spray their obnoxious scent. The skunk’s stink originates from its two anal scent glands that hold a chemical concoction comprised of sulfurs with a scent so strong it can ward off a bear.
What luck! During one of our prolific winter rainstorms, I happened to glance up to the bare oaks waving their weather-worn limbs above and was surprised by more than 100 American robins calling and flitting to and fro from one oak branch to another! A half-hour later and I would have missed this now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t magic act. Nature is always full of her high jinks and surprises. She is constantly parading her stories of predator and prey, her succession of seasons full of fecundity, fruition or loss. Her ubiquitous bounty of narratives, large and small are offered to us whether or not we choose to notice. Daily dramas unfold in the form of the innumerable avian species that we are blessed to witness here in Lake County.
A walk in any one of our county’s 32 parks can provide you with a saturated experience of sensations. Depending on the season, you may enjoy the depthless silhouettes of trees against the Technicolor smear of cloud cover, fog blurs of ducks as they decoy amongst the tule reeds along the lake, whole worlds encapsulated in water drops upon tender tips of pine needles, or you may enjoy birds and bugs singing about their homes. Famed photographer Ansel Adams said, “I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.” Now, to some, the lowly banana slug may be a repulsive little critter, but as I took a brisk walk along the creek and nearly squashed one, I decided to take an up-close- and-personal look at the lowly little slug.
As I was juicing some fragrant apples left for us by the visiting black bears, I held some of the shiny mahogany-colored apple seeds in my hands. I recalled the kids’ entertaining themselves by stringing seeds for necklaces after using my super heavy, old Champion juicer back in the day. Simple pleasures. The apple seeds also brought to mind the diverse ways nature has of distributing seeds. Seed dispersal is unique to each species.
January’s rains brought out a bevy of newts. Rather, I should say an ‘armada’ of newts, as the collective noun is called! According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website, up until now, the newts have been undercover, hiding beneath stones, leaf matter, in crevices, and under stumps where they hibernate during the cold weather.
Recent cloud cover over Lake County sets a hopeful scene for much-needed rain. Normally, our county is the recipient of around 37 inches of the elixir of life. It does a heart good to witness the greening of our hills and valleys. Then, deer, elk, and large avian species such as ravens and turkeys stand out like silhouettes amongst the greensward. With almost any amount of precipitation, the liquid that makes life on our planet possible prompts our creeks and lakes to gleam and flicker as flashes of water flow into the various coffers.
A morning walk has me thinking about patterns in nature. The pinecone I happen upon has arranged itself into a swirl of notches and seeds. Logic and order lays itself out as though it is nothing out of the ordinary. Patterns in nature inspire both admiration and curiosity. Of course, human curiosity is nothing new, since philosophers and mathematicians have been pondering petals of a flower or observing the pattern of a tree’s rings for centuries.
South Lake County boasts a landscape of contrast with its bucolic Callayomi Valley set like a Grandma Moses painting when seen from Middletown’s Rabbit Hill. Placed along the Mayacamas Mountain Range to the east of the valley is beautiful Cobb Mountain, almost 5,000 feet in elevation and encompassing about 74 square miles of mixed pine forests, chaparral, and oak woodlands.
With the first of the season’s snow appearing on Lake County’s mountains in November, I had the pleasure of running errands that took me across the county. South Lake County’s peaks, including Mt. Saint Helena, Schoolhouse Peak, and Cobb Mountain, were aglow with white good cheer. Through my camera’s viewfinder, I zoomed in on the velvety white cloak to spy on some superb beauty. Then, the coniferous forest’s intricacies appeared in my viewfinder, revealing fluffy white branches galore. From Lakeport, Cow Mountain and the ridge of Snow Mountain were also splendorous in their glowing white beauty.
What do you call it when western gray squirrels attempt to cool off? Splooting! During the summer heat wave, you may have witnessed western gray squirrels as they flattened themselves out on the ground with their hind legs outstretched. They were ‘splooting’.
As I viewed a tom turkey while he fanned out his prodigious feathers and strutted about three females, who appeared to ignore his extravagant gestures, I recalled that wild turkeys are not native to Lake County. These great gobblers, Meleagris gallopavo are, however, native to North America. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, turkeys were brought into California in the 1870s, the 1920s, 1950s, and again in the 1970s. The turkeys which were imported in the 1970s came from Texas. Since then, the big birds have taken a shining to their adopted homes in Lake County, with estimates of wild turkeys exceeding 240,000 throughout California.
Have you noticed the fragrance of fall in the air? The lovely rains we enjoyed activated sure-fire scents of earth and rain. Then, cool evenings, coupled with toasty-warm afternoons, commenced to create a sensory canvas of aroma emanating from gold-ripened grass mingled with decomposing leaves. With all of these scent-sations to enjoy, I wondered just how many smells the human nose can detect. Somehow, the number 10,000 has made its way around the internet. However, according to Dr. Avery Gilbert whose career involves nosing around in odor and who has a book out called “What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life,” he advises us that the number is incorrect. Gilbert states that the figure bears no scientific proof and was invented by a chemist back in 1927. It is unclear just how many smells a human can detect.
Who doesn’t go batty from time to time? It’s fun to observe the various bats as they emerge from their hidey-holes at dusk. They seem to materialize out of nowhere as they flit to and fro, consuming mosquitoes, moths, and more. Bats are important indicators of the environment, so if you’ve got ’em, consider yourselves lucky. Bats wing their way around, noiselessly sending out sound waves to echolocate their prey.
Today Lake County is enjoying the praises of many as a premier grape-growing region. There are dozens of award-winning wineries scattered around the hills and valleys, with eight American Viticultural Areas (AVA), or appellations located here, according to The Wine Institute. An AVA denotes landscapes with either geographic or climatic characteristics that differentiate from surrounding grape-growing regions. Some of Lake County’s appellations include Red Hills, Kelsey Bench, High Valley, Big Valley District, Guenoc Valley, and more.