Happy Midsummer’s Day!

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I’ve always wondered why we call this the first day of summer. It’s the longest day of the year, certainly. But for most of history, it’s been called Midsummer’s Day. How can Midsummer’s day possibly be the First Day of Summer?

This year, it seems more reasonable that most. For most of the thirty-plus years I’ve lived in Sacramento, sometime in early May, right around Beltaine, the weather gets hot rather suddenly, and the air gets heavy and thick. For all practical purposes, I call that Summer.

I dont know what it is about the air here, but it’s like that all summer. It’s not the heat; the few times I’ve been on the Coast in hot weather, the air still smelled light and sweet. Yes, I know the North Coast doesn’t get hot, but Santa Cruz does.

This year, though, the weather didn’t change until a couple of weeks ago. It was cool and rainy all through May and into June. Very unusual. I think I’ve only seen this once, maybe twice, before. Our dry summer weather depends on a high-pressure system off San Francisco Bay, which diverts the storms far to the north of us. This year, the “storm door” closed unusually late.

Sacramento is a wonderful place for outdoor festivals, because it doesn’t rain during our summer. We can pretty much count on dry weather till September, and mostly even till October. I’ve missed a couple already this year; I don’t have weekends free when there are art shows to put on.

 


The Tunnels of Sacramento

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In 1862 Sacramento had a horrible flood. People were using boats to go up J Street, our main thoroughfare. It was the second catastrophic flood the new state capital had experienced.

As a result, the streets of downtown Sacramento were raised about ten feet. The sidewalks, however, were left to the merchants to deal with. The streets were filled with rubble and buttressed with brick walls to keep it in place.

The businesses, however, had their front doors on the old street level, and they responded in various ways. Some had their buildings raised to the new street level, but others put new front doors on their former second floor, put in sidewalks along the new streets. In some places, they put glass cylinders in the sidewalk to illuminate the old sidewalk below. In some cases, they remained open on both levels.

From that point, things are unclear. Some reports say that people could shop underground for a time, utilizing both levels. Others say that the underground tunnels were never long enough or active enough for that to happen. What is indisputable is that there were and are tunnels under some of the sidewalks, where one can see the original Gold Rush storefronts almost intact. Today they are spotty and occasional, but it’s still possible to go down and see them. I hope to see them this summer. More then.

 


On Climate Change

The Mendocino Coast climate described in The Serpent and the Stag is as I remember it from my childhood. But it’s not like that in the 21st century.

Once upon a time, you could count on it. Rain or dark overcast through most of the winter, fog through most of the spring and summer, a couple of weeks of warm sunny days in September, then back to fog for the rest of the fall. High and low temps would both be around 51 degrees Fahrenheit, almost any time of year. Generally, there would be more sunny mornings than afternoons, and the fog could be counted on to roll in about three in the afternoon.

Heavy logging of the nearby redwoods seems to have caused a pretty major change in the local climate. It’s much sunnier now, and has more of a seasonal temperature change. The three-o’clock fog now stays offshore about as often as it rolls in, and I’m sure the low, haunting call of the foghorn is much less often heard.

When I visited recently, I was hoping for some good foggy days to take pictures. If I get the right picture, I’ll redo my book cover to use it. Alas, no fog until we were on our way back home. Next time.

 


Trip to Fort Bragg

Our trip went smoothly. Dramatic skies over the Sacramento Valley but no weather to speak of until the last half hour. If I weren’t so prone to motion sickness, we would have arrived before the rain even started. Not many pictures, though. I’ll get some when the weather is more cooperative.

The wildflowers in Colusa county, on the eastern edge of the Coast Range, were especially nice. Green hillsides tinted purple with lupine, splashes of bright orange California poppies, and here, there and everywhere, the redbud bushes were aglow with brilliant magenta flowers. The oaks wore their bright spring green, contrasting with the dark blue-gray of the sugar pines.

It won’t last. In a few short weeks, all that spring brightness will disappear and the hills will again be dry and desolate.

By the time we reached the Coast, it was dark and we were in a downpour. So I couldn’t have seen the wild rhododendrons even if they were blooming. Which they weren’t. It’s still too early for that, which I confirmed on the return trip yesterday, when there was bright sun to see by.

 


North Along the Coast: the rest of Sarah’s journey

By the time you pass the Navarro River Bridge, you’re completely out of the woods, and looking at windswept, open hills. Across the river you can see the pine forest, but you’re traveling across open grasslands right along the river. It was dark and foggy when Sarah was here, so she couldn’t have seen much of anything. Occasional pines dot the countryside as the ocean comes into full view, then disappears again. I’m told there really was a place called Happy Valley around here, but I don’t know where it was, and it’s nowhere near the fictional Happy Valley Sarah is seeking.

The first stop, possibly waking the drowsing passenger, will be Albion. The little store seems an oasis in the darkness. Then Little River, after the road winds through the pines for a while longer. If it weren’t so dark, you’d notice that it has a very nice beach. Most of the way, there are pines between the ocean and the road, but wherever you cross a bridge, you’ll get a nice view. Assuming, of course, that it’s not too dark or too foggy.

As you approach Big River, the lights of Mendocino make the fog glow across the bay. Mendocino has stood in for New England in several movies and TV shows, largely because of its historic Presbyterian church whose tall steeple sets the mood for the entire community. The view from across the Big River bay is one of the definitive views of Mendocino, and has attracted tourists and movie makers for generations now. Even so, it was struggling to maintain its identity when the hippies and artists moved in in the 1960s. The art galleries popped up along Main Street, and the tourists started coming in droves. The original artists are largely gone now, but there is still a thriving art-related community. Mendocino will be the first substantial town you’ve seen in a long while.

The next stop is Caspar, and finally Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg is the largest town you’ve seen since before Cloverdale. The streetlights illuminate the fog into an orangish haze as you come across Noyo Bridge. You can tell this is a larger town, from the chain stores (Safeway and Rite Aid) and the fast food places as you come into town. Not too long ago, it was strictly blue-collar, making its living from the fishing and lumber industries. That was enough to support a town with two commercial streets and a couple square miles of residential neighborhoods, not counting the hundreds of people who live in outlying areas. Now, with the mill closed and the fishing limited, the community is trying to make the best of things. The former mill site now belongs to the city. Restored, it would make a wonderful park, just a short walk from Main Street.

 


More on the Bus Trip

When you’re going to Fort Bragg from San Francisco, you take Highway 101 north to the little town of Cloverdale. 101 runs through the rolling hills of the Sonoma County “wine country,” gradually ascending the broad Russian River Valley.

The western half of the Coast Range is not high in elevation, but it is rugged. There are some gentle, rounded valleys, but also narrow, steep canyons. There are some rounded hills, but many more steep ridges. The underlying sedimentary rock triggers regular slides, some of which close the highways, or send a part of the highway down into a canyon—in some places, into the ocean.

The Russian is one of the few long rivers to emerge from the Coast Range; most of its rivers are short, turbulent streams, fed by springs, themselves fed by winter rainwater absorbed into the soft stone. It doesn’t rain in summer. Only the highest points ever see snow, and it lies on the ground for only a few days a year. At one time, it was known for its apples, but these days has many more vineyards than apple orchards. You can still see the native oak woodlands wherever it’s too steep for farming.

The westward turn onto Highway 128 at Cloverdale takes one across hills into the next valley over. The dark, winding highway on which Sarah began feeling sick leads over a ridge of the Coast Range into the Anderson Valley.

After one has wended one’s way up the valley, one reaches the first significant town that one can see from the highway: Boonville. Home of the Mendocino County Fair, its main visibility to the passer-by comes in the two restaurants along the highway. Conveniently, this happens right as the bus driver is entitled to his dinner break. So, like Sarah, I’ve had dinner at the Horn of Zeese a number of times. It’s much too long ago for a review of the food to have any particular meaning, but I remember the place as a charming little coffee shop on the side of the highway. Beyond Boonville is the little town of Philo, where, if you’re free to stop, and Gowan’s Oak Tree is still there, I suggest you check out the fresh fruit.

After Philo, one again starts to climb, over yet another ridge, eventually to come down along the Navarro River. The oaks have long given way to redwoods and firs, as the air picks up moisture from the ocean not far away. The redwoods grow mainly in the “fog belt,” not far from the coast, but sheltered from the Pacific winds. I don’t think I mentioned Hendy Woods in TSATS, but it’s a nice state park along this section. Finally you reach the Navarro Bridge, where you would cross if you planned to go south along the coast.

Here you see –and smell– the ocean for the first time since crossing the Golden Gate. From here, your journey follows the bluffs.

 


The Bus Ride

The description of the bus ride from San Francisco north is all from memory. I’ve made that trip many times, although not since Greyhound stopped that run. (Before Sarah took it.)

Perhaps the oddest thing in all of TSATS is the description of the town of Boonville. I didn’t make that up at all. I think the only error is that I understated the age of the Boontling language. Next time I go by that way, I’ll try to take some pictures. I hope the Horn of Zeese and Bahl Gorms are still as they were.