Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Nearly Summer Solstice Mattole

Winter Mattole, at ~11,000 Cubic Feet per Second

On my way to the beach early one morning last summer on a solo seaweed collecting mission, the river was looking misty and beautiful and I couldn't resist stopping to photograph the summer solstice dawn flow. I had no idea that I would stop to photograph it again, at the other edge of its range, in full-bodied, raging, muddy winter flow. But as I toured around town shooting images of flooding, high water, and other winter scenes, I instantly remembered the summer image, and wanted to do a rephoto for this blog.

Here are two faces of the same beast. Though the summer image is not anywhere near the lowest the river becomes in October, before the first raindrops fall. When the river is that small, it is difficult to imagine the fullness of bankfull, the trees bobbing in the center of the channel, the little rapids, strainers, and the sounds. The nights before we left on our trip, we were suddenly aware of the sound of rushing water all over the landscape. This as a contrast to the sound of wind, or the sound of silence, or the sound of birdsong, the sounds of summer.

The other contrast here is the green leaves of summer versus the bare, craggy branches of the alders on the banks, wearing their catkin necklaces. The green of summer is pervasive, and therefore unnoticed, but the colors in winter stand out boldly, against the backdrop of browns, grays, and greens. Willow branches are bright red. Alder catkins are yellow, usnea lichen is white-green, and looks like splashes of sunlight, even when the sun is hiding behind clouds. All this reminds me of a quote Drew often cites:

"A warm man can never understand a cold man". Not sure on the origins of this sentiment, but I regularly feel this at the zenith of the seasons, where I lose all sense of the bipolar reality of living close to the seasons. Tonight, far from home, I am contemplating these two, alternating and opposite faces of this thread weaving our landscape together.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Drew, Ella, and I are now on our long winter vacation, and today while Ella naps, I am fiddling with a photograph. I've been severely geeking out on photo literature, trying to learn more about this craft that calls to me more all the time. Specifically, today I was reading about how to take a color photograph and to make it look as though it was done using infrared black and white film. These images turn out with black skies and white foliage, and are very striking, if you've never seen one.

Anyhow, here's an approximation of what it might look like, though I don't have all the necessary software. This is a photograph I took last week on an oak photo shoot. The day was bright green, with intermittent sun and bright, gorgeous, high-piling clouds. I'm also trying on a lot of new digital developing skills, shooting with a tripod more frequently, and trying to get sharp-sharp-sharp photos. I suddenly realize how much I have to learn, but I am having a lot of fun with it.

Here's another photo from that day, though this is what's called an "HDR". It's a digital image that's a composite of several exposures. Enjoy these rich, lovely shots! You can click on them to see a larger image.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big Rain Falling

East Mill Creek Raging

The Mattole Flows Straight Out the Estuary

Mainstem Mattole at the Foot of Moore Hill, @ ~ 14,000 cubic feet per second

Today is day three of heavy rain pelting the thin fabric of our yurt roof. The first day, Drew and I were in town on our first ever night away from Ella together, while Andrea held down the fort at home. Of course the tarp blew off the firewood. And she ran out of propane in the stove. But they stayed warm, and had a lot of fun visiting with friends.

Drew and I came home yesterday to ominous skies, ponding water in low-lying areas, and strong, gale-force beach winds. We stepped out of the car to feel those gusts on our trip home, and couldn't look into the high tide spray foaming up from the beach below the road. It seemed that if we jumped, we might just fly away like a kite. But it wasn't raining. The sky held for several more hours, but then opened up sometime after we went to bed.

It's been several years since we had a night like last night in the yurt. Howling winds rattled and shook the yurt, as strongly as when the earth was shaking last week. Only it happened every 20 minutes or so. The rain was always steady-hard, but sometimes so hard Drew and I couldn't hear each other, even though we were right next to each other in bed. Sometimes the hail came down. There was even some thunder and lightening. It felt much like being on a boat, no escape from the elements, even though we were inside. The back of my shoulders crept up and cringed a little, as the rain intensity ramped up. There is a distinct feeling that the roof of the yurt might rip off suddenly, or who knows what else. Like there is some giant and angry but unseen mother-nature monster thrashing about wildly, thoughtlessly swinging her arms around. I kept hoping we would chance to stay out of her way. The strength of it all is mind boggling. And just when you think it can't rain any harder, it opens up the throttle some more, and let's us have it.

As would be expected, the rivers and creeks are big today, and though the rain let up for a few hours this morning, and we even saw a peek of sun, it is pouring down rain again now. I hear we may have a break this weekend, but for now, it's recurring powerful rains, raising the river stage, and creating much excitement.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Looks Like We're in for It

This image is predicting 12-14 inches of rain in the next 16 days. The last time we had rain totals like this, the river was lapping at my front door at my Old Coast Wagon Road house.

I just caught word that a severe, El Nino-style wet weather period is setting up, the likes of which haven't been seen here since at least 1996-97 New Year. In fact, the way they talk about it on Weather West, Weather and Climate Discussions for California and the Western US, it sounds like it at least has the potential to create heavy rainfall for several weeks in a row, and even the potential for widespread, dangerous flooding.

The prediction of possible rain-on-snow events is reminding me of 1964, the year in which gigantic flooding unraveled our county. We are still dealing with some of the effects of this one flood event. Our creeks and rivers have the general shape they have now due to extremely high flows, which haven't been seen since. Visitors to the Eel River area have maybe seen signs stating "High Water 1964" at certain locations of Hwy 101. It's difficult to even fathom the Eel being so deep, and easy to imagine the devastation from such a flow. For those who have never seen them, the markers are usually about 8-10 feet above the roadway, which in places is maybe 30-40 feet above the average winter flow level of the river. Really.

We are preparing to leave our little valley for our annual winter walkabout, though if things unfold how they're predicted, it's possible we won't even be able to leave the valley. Sometimes, in large storm events, both exits from the valley close. It's particularly interesting to consider these effects given our 6.5 earthquake last week. Hmmm. We may not be going anywhere.

So, get outside and enjoy the non-rainy skies for another day or so, batten down any unsecured hatches, move the firewood pile indoors, do your road work, check your culverts, mulch your bare land, put away your tools, and say a little prayer that all turns out well. May it be amazing, and safe for all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rex Passes On

Rex Walking at Drew's and My Wedding, 2003
Photo by Kira Lillie

Amid earthen rumblings, and blustery winds, one of our most important and loved community members, Rex Rathbun, passed on this past Sunday, January 10th. His 90th birthday would have been March 5. Though I can't say that I have had much of a personal relationship with Rex these last 10 years that I have been frequenting Petrolia, he had many indirect influences on my life and on this community, from which I regularly benefit.

Besides being one of the larger-than-life charicatures that curiously inhabit this remote valley, Rex has had a strong and essential hand in almost every local institution that we use and rely on. He was a major force in creating and envisioning the Mattole Valley Community Center, which has become a regular and quintessential gathering place for many of us. He was a founding member of the Mattole restoration organizations, and was a lifetime supporter of watershed restoration. He was the champion of Mill Creek, assisting in the preservation of over 200 acres of old-growth forest. He was also involved with the Petrolia Volunteer Fire Department, the Mattole Grange, and I don't even know what else. And that's just at a community-wide level.

In the 1980's, when many of the families who live at the farthest outposts of civilized life didn't have phones, they used Rex and Ruth's "Ranch House" as the hub for their communications and family life. And many also talk about Rex's tool lending library. As a skilled tradesman, Rex had just about every tool you could possibly need for many a homestead task.

But Rex's legacy is even more personal for me. His involvement with restoration is directly why Drew, who has become my husband and father-of-my-children, came here in the first place. Drew's college friend Drew's mom was friends with Rex's sister-in-law (I know, this sounds rediculous), and had visited the Rathbuns here in Petrolia. Through this roundabout way, both Drew's came to the Mattole to do an internship with the Mattole Restoration Council. Rex was the person they contacted, and communicated with in arranging their educational experience. Rex was also one of the first people I met when on my field quarter in college, when he loaded up the 16 of us in the back of his white truck, and drove us all up into Mill Creek (before such things were forbidden). And in the end, it turns out that Rex and Drew are related, about 5 generations back, where they share a common ancestor. When Drew and I visited Exeter, Rhode Island to look for grave sites and family history, we found that there was a Rathbun cemetery on Barber Road, dating to the 1800's.

So yesterday, we lost a connector, a mentor, a family member, an inspiration, a man who believed in public good, and wasn't afraid to speak his mind about anything. Rest in peace, dear Rex, thank you for all you have contributed to our collective lives. We will miss you, and send love to your Ruth, and the rest of your family. We will be sure that your grandson knows who you were, and that all your legacies live on.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

6.5 Earthquake Rocks the Yurt

Candy Store in Downtown Ferndale with a Broken Window

Late this afternoon, we were reminded about why our geographic neighborhood is considered one of the most seismically active areas in the United States. A 6.5 magnitude earthquake shook our larger Northcoast region at 4:27 PM. Drew and Ella, along with Shin and Zoe, had just returned to the yurt after a swamp walk. They were in varied states of entry, inside the yurt, in the mudroom with shoes off, in the mudroom with shoes on, and outside, when shaking started.

When earthquakes happen, there's a moment of pause, when one first realizes what's happening, followed by a pause to assess: should I sit tight, or vacate the building? Well, this quake shook, and then shook a little harder, then shook even more. It quickly became clear that we should leave. Hanging items were swinging, glass was rattling, and a few things were falling off shelves. I picked Ella up, and left the house, accidentally bumping her head on the doorknob on our way out.

Once we got outside, the tan oak and bay trees, and garden shrubs were shaking as though giant gophers were gnawing their roots. It looked strangely windy, and I could feel the earth rolling and jiggling like jelly underfoot. A first for me! Ella got pretty scared, mostly because I was reacting a little too strongly (and the bump on her head).

It seems those up north have lost power, and there are many broken storefront windows, but all in all, no injuries or major damage. We continue to feel the aftershocks, so much smaller as they are. 2.8's and 3.5's and so on. I think we're all hoping the big one was the main event and not a foreshock to something much larger. Fortunately, this may be our average 10 year event, which is actually 8 years overdue.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homegrown Winter Meals

I find I feel most satisfied about locavore eating when I can create seasonal meals in the dead of winter that use local or home-grown ingredients. Here's a few recent meals I created that made use of stored foods.

First off, basic meat sauce. Who knew? I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down at the table and realized that the only ingredients in the sauce I didn't know it's origins were the onions and the wine. I always feel that it's a bonus when they are things I'm capable of growing. Wine and onions? No problem. Just have to find some grapevines around here somewhere. Mix together with garden canned tomatoes, home-grown herbs, and local beef, and voila, delicious, local, easy meal, even in the winter. Anyway, here's the meat sauce recipe:

Basic Meat Sauce (Double Recipe, enough to eat some and freeze some)

2 lbs ground beef
olive oil
2 large onions, diced
6 or more garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup rich red wine
56 oz. tomato
8 oz. tomato paste
mushrooms, optional
1-2 tsp. dried basil
1-2 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
bay leaf

Saute the ground beef in olive oil until browned. Scoop out and set aside. Add a little more oil and saute onions until soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. About half-way through this part, add in the mushrooms and dry herbs. In the last few minutes, add in the garlic. Add the wine and deglaze the pan for a few minutes, then pitch the tomatoes, paste, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Simmer as long as you like. The longer you go, the more flavor and thicker the sauce becomes. Serve over whole-wheat pasta, or your other favorite noodle. Yum!

And last night, I made this screaming good squash soup, modeled after my friend Dana's delicious soup she brought to share on my birthday. I made it last night with home grown Blue Hubbard Squash. It is truly delightful. Please try this recipe! We served it with bakery bread and butter, a green salad, and for dessert, Persimmon Pudding (recipe below, too).

Ginger-Coconut-Squash Soup (enough for dinner, and freeze some for later)

~1 1/2-2 lbs. winter squash flesh
2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2-3 inches grated ginger root
1 15 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion over med.-low heat in the butter/olive oil until soft and translucent (about 20 minutes). Add the ginger and stir around for a few minutes, then add the squash, coconut milk, and stock. Bring to a boil, and then turn down heat and simmer until squash is very tender. Remove from heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. Taste for salt and pepper, and add according to taste, and stir in lime juice to taste (I used about 2-3 tbsp.) Fresh cilantro would be delicious as a garnish, but we didn't have any.

And for dessert! I had picked a few persimmons before Christmas, and as they sat, they became very very ripe and squishy. I realized that if I didn't use them, they would mold, thus turning them into a useless space user. In rebellion, I remembered my friend Deva's Persimmon Pudding. She dictated the recipe to me over the phone last night. It's from The Joy of Cooking.

Persimmon Pudding

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and butter a shallow 3 quart baking dish.

Cut in half lengthwise 4-6 very ripe persimmons. Remove seeds, scrape pulp, and puree. Measure 1 1/2 cups pulp.
Whisk in a large bowl until light: 4 eggs.
Whisk in pulp, 2 1/2 cups buttermilk, 1/4 cup melted butter

Whisk thoroughly in a separate bowl:
1 1/2 cup sugar (I used 3/4 and it tasted fine)
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (I don't eat this so I used ginger)
1/2 tsp salt

Add dry to wet ingredients. Pour into baking dish.
Bake in oven until the top is deep golden brown and springs back from a light touch, about 50 minutes.
Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or yogurt.

Bon appetit, to all, and to all, a good day...