My mother passed away last June at the age of 93. The family house is up for sale. I drove down from Oregon to do a final sort and bid goodbye to a long chapter of my life. Part of my task has been to go through the family archives such as they are unsorted and unlabeled in boxes and tattered photo albums. I’m most interested in the old pictures from my immigrant roots. The record is best documented on my mother’s side.
Images started to show up in the late 1800s after arrival from the old country, mostly from Vilnius, Lithuania, considered the new Jerusalem after the diaspora. The Jews from that region emigrated to escape Russian oppression. My father’s side of the family had a respite in Scotland and my mother’s in England before they immigrated to the US. Both families were Ashkenazi Jews. It is just by chance that my parents met and married with a similar past.
My mother’s grandfather Nathan Davis was born in Vilnius and that is where my photo record starts. He married Leah Silverman Bernard and they settled in the gold rush country of California where he opened a dry goods store that served the miners. He did quite well there and had one son, Charles, my mother’s father. Unfortunately, Nathan was murdered in Elko, Nevada where they retired. They never found the murderer. I did find a record of his gravestone however on gravestone.com (who knew?).
Charles married Anna Alpert. He opened a curio and Mexican goods shop in Colfax, California, driving down to Mexico occasionally to bring back stock for his store. After the war, where he served in the signal corps, Charles opened an electronics and radio shop in San Francisco. They had two children, Elaine (my mother), and Robert (my uncle). Anna tragically died in her 30’s from cancer. Charles passed at age 54 from leukemia
My grandfather Charles Davis, Charles (right) and friend (at the World’s Fair? Charles in front of his curio shop in Colfax, CA
What times they lived through- religious oppression, immigration, the Depression, World War ll. Despite their hard times, they survived and prospered. I see my face in theirs even though we are strangers in time.
My husband and I left the cold rain of Oregon on Jan. 10 for a week-long getaway in Southern Arizona, the land of the saguaro cactus. For me, a New Year’s trip is a welcome change from the winter doldrums and a way to reset for the coming year.
High on our list to see was Chiricahua National Monument, an often overlooked gem tucked away in the SE part of the state in the Chiricahua mountains. This was the land of Cochise and Geronimo, the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache before they were killed or displaced by white invaders. The word Chiricahua in Apache means stand-up rocks. In the park are thousands of pinnacles made up of layers of volcanic deposits of rhyolite that have been sculpted by wind and weather. It’s a forest of rocks, a wonderland that we hiked through on the Echo Canyon trail from Massai Point. We need to go back!
Another delight we found was Madera Canyon National Recreation Area nestled in the Santa Rita Mountains, not far from Green Valley, south of Tucson where we were staying. This is a premier birding area where you may see 250 species of birds, including. wild turkeys, 15 species of hummingbirds, elf owls, Mexican jays, and if you are lucky an elegant trogon. We were not lucky in this regard BUT we did get up close to a coatimundi.
Today I went out in the brisk sunny air to do some planting. First came the garlic that takes up an entire bed in my garden. Then it was on to plant Pacific NW native wildflower seeds that I ordered from Steele Acres. I marvel that some seeds need the harshness of winter to flower in the spring. Perhaps we do too.
Even seeds sown in winter
Bring forth flowers in the spring
While planting I noticed a some delightful tiny groves of mushrooms and a miniscule very late violet in the very right side of the last picture. You never know what you might find out in the garden…
About the time the chlorophyll-producing plants get weary in the garden, the mushrooms are just getting ready to party. After I applied a fresh layer of ground yard waste on the native plant garden a few weeks ago and watered it a few times, I have had some surprises appear. Here is the latest show. I have no idea what type of mushroom they are. At every stage they look quite different- suitable for fairy play.
Those few little seeds I planted several years ago bring me more and more morning glories every September. This year has been the best season ever. Even the UPS guy stopped in his tracks to ogle at their beauty. Mingled with scarlet roses it’s quite a show.
Morning glories light my path
as the day unfolds
Trumpets of majestic purple
and simmering pink
announce the end of summer
a surprising coda as the garden fades
a blessing to walk beneath
this arch of glowing flowers
I was on an amble on Franklin Street in Astoria, Oregon last weekend when I came upon this remarkable rock wall below a Victorian home. Little pink flowers were growing from the cracks of the stones of the wall. Had I been in a rush, I would have failed to notice this striking little art gallery. Here are a few examples of natures hand on a city side street.
in cracks of cold stone
Who doesn’t love flowers? There seems to be even more of a special place in people’s hearts for the wildflowers found in nature. Here in Oregon it is prime wildflower season. Some are even blooming currently in my new native plant garden. Especially prevalent right now are camas (Camas quamash), beautiful blue-violet spikes of star-like flowers that pop up in the meadows. They were a significant food source for the Native Americans that once inhabited the area
About 40 minutes away from my home in the town of West LInn a new Nature Conservancy site opened up last year, the Camassia Nature Preserve. The 22 acre parcel is a mix of lush forest, meadows, and oak savannah with a boardwalk that meanders the main route. There is about 2 miles of hiking trails in the area. Also prevalent are glacial erratics- boulders from Montana and Canada that were dropped in this area after the great floods that occurred after the melting of the ice sheets that covered the north during the Ice Age.
Yesterday the weather was lovely, partly sunny and in the 60s, a welcome change from the rain and cool temperatures. I decided to take a drive and check it out. I was not disappointed!
Here are some of the things I saw in this special place.
A bit of wildflower trivia…
The reason you may often see the dazzling combination of bright yellow and purple wildflowers together is that it attracts pollinators- and humans seeking beauty.
And…my photos really don’t do this place justice!
Looked what bloomed today!
a wild Iris
a queen amidst my garden
her lilac petals arch gracefully
like arms in a curtsy
about her throat a white collar
etched with fine black lines
with a blush of gold
Gaudy hybrids shout for my attention
down the driveway
but it's her sublime elegance
that captures my wild heart
In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.
It all started in early March during a phone call with my 40 years- long- time friend, Jean. It had been a particularly long winter for both of us. Add the cold at her home in Juneau, Alaska and she was really at her wit’s end. “I want to go to Zion National Park but nobody will go with me!” She wailed. I paused, thought for a short moment I found myself saying “I’ll go with you.” BAM!- 48 hours later we had the trip booked. April 25th we met in Las Vegas with thousands of other winter refugees looking for a break, picked up our rental car, and were off. (Hey- did you know that a Prius makes no noise when you start it up? We thought the darn thing was broken!)
Entering Zion is like entering the Yosemite of the Southwest. Replace the silver granite splendor of the Yosemite Valley with sandstone cliffs and spires of all hues of oranges and tan and you have the wonderland of Zion. It’s a hiker’s paradise and we took full advantage, even in the drizzle of the first day. Besides the glory of being out in such splendor, I found the cheery attitude of the other hikers equally wonderful. People were generally jazzed to be out of their Covid prisons.
The last time I was in Zion I was 10 years old on a camping trip with my family. The only memory I had of that trip was swinging my skinny legs in a cool river on a 100-degree day. That very river, the Virgin River was one of the first things we saw when entering the park. I found such nostalgia in walking along that river looking back at my childhood self-such a sweet memory.
We hiked almost all the trails in the valley that were open (several were closed due to rock falls). The most well-known and dangerous hike is Angels Landing, a 1500 foot huff up to the most iconic view in the park. The last quarter mile or so is a tedious climb where you have to hold onto chains to prevent falling to an early death (as 13 hikers have since 2000). In places, you are walking on a knife ridge only a few feet wide. Add to that there is the coordination of the masses of hikers that are going up and down on a one-way trail. Somehow the spirit of friendly cooperation prevailed and we got up and down with no incident. The view from the top was breathtaking. Looking down we spotted condors riding the thermals below.
We did take the second sprizzly day to explore beyond Zion canyon. Kolob, on the western side of the park, is higher in elevation and equally dazzling. We were warned, however, by park staff not to attempt the main hikes due to the muddy, slippery trails. Good advice. We hiked the ½ mile roundtrip from the viewpoint and it was like walking on toothpaste. In the afternoon we explored the quaint town of Kanab and environs and finally the impressive Best Friends animal Sanctuary- more on that in a later post. The return drive through the west canyon Drive was one of the most jaw-dropping gorgeous roads I’ve ever been on
On our final day, we hiked the Narrows, one of the most famous hikes in the world. You have to slog through the headwaters of the Virgin River. The river flows through a slot canyon of soaring sandstone walls, waterfalls, and hanging gardens. Since we were there relatively early in the year with the water being at times up to the waist and 42 degrees F we rented dry suit waders in town, special water shoes, and a stabilizing stick to prevent a dunking. At first, we were with quite a band of others but as we headed up the crowd thinned as we headed upstream. In all, we hiked about 8 miles in and out. It was at times quite a challenge pushing against the current and stumbling over a rocky bottom but hey, what an unforgettable experience!
Ironically the most challenging part of our Zion visit was navigating the Zion NP shuttle. During this time of Covid, they offer limited ridership for social distancing. You have to secure your tickets at 5 PM the night before from the Recreation.Gov app. There is about a 15-minute window before all the tickets are gone. This can be an extremely frustrating experience. If you are up in the park during this window with no cell or WIFI it’s even more hair-tearing. They do allow walk-ons after 2 PM. You do have the option of renting an electric bike beyond the park border in Springdale or securing a private shuttle but these options are expensive.
Despite the shuttle challenges and the surprising number of other visitors, we found Zion to be an amazing experience. It was a perfect week long escape after months of lockdown and so good for the soul to be among such grandeur.
It was great to get away, take some risks, and feel the pleasure of life again. Try it. The world is waiting for you.
At the end of San Antonio Road, past the shopping centers, apartments, and freeway, across from the Google parking lot, the pavement stops and the wetlands begin. This is the Baylands a world of dikes, ponds, and meanders, where the San Francisco Bay meets land. Here the ebb and flow of the tide replaces the rhythm of rush-hour. Here waterfowl out number people. When family business calls me back, this is where I go to find refuge.
Equipped with my binoculars and bird book I set out on the dike trails to take a wander and look at birds on this rare sunny, pleasant, February day. I come upon a wonderland of shorebirds, and all manner of ducks. There’s a flutter of excitement as the tide ebbs exposing fresh mud. Greater yellow legs, and avocets gather to probe for a meal. In the water, ducks dabble for food, dropping their heads into the water and then tipping upside down exposing their derrieres to the sky like a circus act. Some ducks are divers, dissapearing momentarily from the water’s surface as they fly underwater for their prey.
On a far bank, a passle of pelicans sit pruning their white feathers with their huge bills. A great egret poses for me graciously by the water’s edge.
Suddenly, a murmuration of dowitchers fly over me so close I can hear the force of their feathers. then land in the water with a satisfying plop. Two swift flying merlins exchange prey in the sky.