May Day Wildflowers

May Day (or Beltane) celebrations have traditionally included dancing around maypoles, weaving flower crowns, and other festivities to celebrate (and hope for) fecundity as the growing season approaches. It has also become an important holiday honoring our labor and working classes.

Recently I was happy to write an article on local wildflower hikes – this spectacular time of year passes so quickly, especially now, when climate change is extending severe drought and fire seasons. Some local parks (Foothill, Sugarloaf Ridge, and Pepperwood) partially burned in 2020’s devastating wildfire season, but nature is rebounding. We are fortunate in Sonoma County to have a number of open space preserves that are once again opening to the public, to allow anybody to share in nature’s phenomenal beauty.

Taylor Mountain Regional Park

Tidy tips
View north from Taylor Mountain

Foothill Regional Park

Foothill Regional Park
Shooting stars and buttercups
Rosy sand-crocus and wavy soap plant leaves

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Even the smallest (unidentified!) flowers are exquisitely intricate
Baby blue-eyes (my favorite!)
White baby blue-eyes invite pollinators with their markings

Pepperwood Preserve

Iris
California poppies and bird’s-eye gilia (another favorite, with blue pollen!)
Pepperwood view across buttercup fields

Sonoma Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve

Lupine and pink owl’s clover
Fields of lupine
Larkspur
Star tulip (another blue-pollen beauty!)
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Vernal Equinox and the Joys of Spring

Happy Vernal Equinox! Today’s celebration signifies approximately equal day and night all around the globe, with the sun directly over Earth’s equator. In the Northern Hemisphere the sun will appear to continue northward with the days lengthening until the Summer Solstice in June. Different cultures each uniquely welcome the season of new life, rejuvenation, and new beginnings, symbolizing plant restoration during winter, readying for the new growing season. 

This is the “official” start of spring, although signs have been popping up everywhere. Longer days, more intense sunlight, and warmer temperatures signal plants to begin flowering in time to attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds, or bats (or the wind on breezy days) to get pollinated and then ripen and disperse seeds before winter returns.

The sunny days and warm breezes are a gentle caress after such a harsh, difficult winter – especially this year. The season of death is still with us, as people are still losing their lives to the COVID pandemic. Feeling the warm embrace and loving voices of my late parents always reminds me of how lucky we are. Who really knows how long we have left in this life? How many more times will we witness an equinox? Appreciating these gorgeous plants – seemingly here for our delight alone – flood me with gratitude and excitement for the coming year. 

Daffodil

Poppies and calendula

Plum blossoms

Lupine and California poppies

Flowering quince

White brodiaea (fool’s onion)

Native California honeybee on grape hyacinth

Veronica and grape hyacinth

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Winter’s Gifts

This Groundhog Day, also the ancient festival of Imbolc – traditionally celebrated with spring cleaning, as well as great feasts and bonfires – brings us new beginnings: a new year, new US presidential administration, and renewed hope for combating the global COVID pandemic and ever-present strife and violence. As plants and animals, too, take their rest in order to regenerate for the coming warmer months and growing season, so must we take nourishment and inspiration from nature. 

Storms blowing through our area recently brought with them spectacular clouds and waves, and left behind damp, mossy forests dotted with multiple types of spectacular mushrooms. This trip we did not find our usual edible chanterelles, so we left everything we found in the earth, taking only photos.

Earthstar puffball

Slimy lavender cortinarius

Coral mushroom

Fly agaric

Amanita phalloides? (if yes, the death cap mushroom is deadly toxic!)

Mossy knoll

 

Posted in Local Area Hikes and trips, Nature, Seasons, Uncategorized, Weather | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Winter Solstice and the Longest Night

Today marks Yule or Winter Solstice, the year’s shortest day and the longest night, here in the northern hemisphere. As the earth grows dormant and plants store nutrients deep within their roots for the winter; so we clean up the garden, store and preserve food for the winter, and prepare for spring planting. Traditions dating back to ancient times include bonfires, and eating and drinking in celebration. For a long moment of darkness as our planet tilts away from the sun, we await the eventual return of its warmth and light.

This year, 2020, which we can’t chase away fast enough, the solstice also brings a special astronomical event: in a rare planetary conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn will rendezvous in the night sky. For the first time in nearly eight centuries, these two planets will appear conjoined. Not since the time of Marco Polo, have we been able to witness such a phenomenon from earth. The fleeting union occurs for just a couple hours after sunset, to the west-southwest as the sky darkens. They should be visible to the naked eye, but using a telescope or binoculars will show them individually, glimmering through the twilight. As Jupiter twins with Saturn as a “double planet,” we watch the gods play in the winter sky. 

Now we’re cooking with pumpkins, and due to a hotter year we even have winter tomatoes! In the garden, squirrels chitter and laugh as they run up and down large walnut and oak trees, storing their nuts. We hear the (new) caw of ravens, come to disrupt our neighborhood crows; and the songs of oak titmouse, white-crowned sparrow, finches and towhees.

 

Winter signs are everywhere: the air’s icy bite when I swim at the city’s outdoor pool, as my kicking foot leaves the water. I lost my father almost four decades ago to the day, my mother just eight short years; I still see their faces in the night’s cold stars.

Writing about this powerful, magical change of the seasons, British author Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day,” says it simply and beautifully:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome, Yule!




Posted in Astronomy, Birds, Family, Garden, Mythology, Nature, Poetry, Seasons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A Feast for All the Dead

Halloween, known in Gaelic traditions as the festival of Samhain, marks the end of the harvest and old year, and the beginning of the new year with the coming dark of winter. Now, the veil is thinnest between the worlds: time to put plantings and gardens to rest, and to honor our beloved dead.

This year, 2020? Nearly a quarter of a million people have died of COVID-19 in the US alone, as the pandemic runs rampant around the world. Wildfires, massive unrest, political and racial violence. There’s not much more I can add to what’s been remarked on repeatedly in a year of such global chaos.

The tradition of Dia de los Muertos joins the others in feasting and honoring our loved ones who are gone – whether through bonfires, special food and drink, visiting graves and other monuments and burial sites. 

Earlier in October I set out alone for the coast, thinking of my mother, who died 8 years ago. I think of her every day, with almost everything I do: gardening, cooking, getting out in nature. Her words wash over me like a soothing balm and I hear her voice, feel her presence so strongly, looking out at the sun setting, in the dimming light of day. Taking a moment to remember those most precious to us helps to keep strong those unbroken bonds of love.



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