Archives for posts with tag: peacefulness

When I was growing up in the Central Valley of California, I often eschewed the agricultural aspects of life there. My hometown of Davis is relatively large (if not the largest) compared to other towns in Yolo County and, more significantly, is host to a campus of the University of California, for which both of my parents worked. Yes, UCD is an ag school—it was originally known as the Farm—but for us it represented the intellectual side of life and it was in this direction that I was aligned.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to better appreciate the valley’s agricultural heritage. And since starting a backyard vegetable garden three years ago, my understanding of and appreciation for farming and the industry as a whole has been steadily increasing. So, while visiting my family this weekend (we were long overdue; see October 19, 2012; October 21, 2012; and October 24, 2012 for tales of our last trip), I decided to embrace my inner farm boy and take in a couple of the agrarian attractions that the valley has to offer.

Our first stop this morning—with my brother along—was the Heidrick Ag History Center in Woodland, the seat of Yolo County. Housed in two large warehouse buildings and connected by corridors at each end which create a central courtyard, the agricultural museum tells the story of farming in the valley through an expansive collection of farm equipment and associated lore.

The artifacts span more than a hundred years in age and include manual implements, horse- and mule-drawn plows and wagons as well as tractors and harvesters powered by steam or diesel engines. The steam-driven tractors are particularly impressive. One example has drive-wheels that are eight feet in diameter; its boiler is the size of a small shed and its chimney reaches almost to the ceiling. It must have been a wonder to behold when new.

The east building was chock-full of equipment, all impeccably restored and painted in bright colors. (The tractors would have been fun to climb on, had it been allowed.) The west building had previously housed a collection of antique trucks but its owners (who rented space from the History Center) recently moved it to another facility. Sadly (and inexplicably), I did not take any pictures.

Our second foray took us into the heart of the valley itself. The Yolo Bypass is a narrow but huge (hundreds of thousands of acres) strip of land running north-south between the cities of Davis and Sacramento. Parallel to the Sacramento River and surrounded by levees, the bypass acts as a detention pond for excess river flow that would otherwise flood the valley and its cities. After filling with water, the bypass slowly drains into the river downstream and thence into the delta.

Within the bypass is the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, almost 18,000 acres of protected wetlands which are home to a variety of aquatic and avian species. Wet is the operative word here because even during drought years (of which California is in its third straight), the bypass is periodically flooded, either to support the rice crops that are grown there or, in periodic fallow seasons, to support the wildlife.

In my memories of childhood, the bypass quickly filled and remained full—an inland sea, complete with waves and breakers—every winter. In more recent years (and, given the unreliability of my memory, probably most years), the water levels have been relatively low and the flooded areas distributed among the patchwork of rice fields that make up the bypass.

It rained all day yesterday (not great for visiting but a relief to everyone who lives here) and consequently, the ground was muddy and slippery. We could have parked the car and walked but, feeling lazy on a sunny Sunday morning, decided to drive the auto tour which winds its way along intermediate levees. It was dicey in spots and we could feel the car floating on a layer of muck. But had we chosen to walk, we would have sunk to our ankles, if not deeper.

It was calm and serene despite the fact that Interstate 80 crosses the north edge of the Wildlife Area on an elevated causeway. And lest we think that we were truly in the wilderness, the Sacramento skyline loomed to the east. Both the freeway and the city are good reminders of how California’s population is linked to the agriculture on which its success is largely based.

Leaves, leaves, leaves.

In an ideal world, they would all turn bright shades of orange, yellow and pink before falling.  Then, they would take a week or two to gradually flitter down from the trees in whimsical patterns across the sky, presenting a dynamic autumn tableau outside my window, before settling—just so—onto the landscape.  Somehow, the leaves would manage to avoid pathways, cars and rain gutters.

Once nestled artistically on the ground, there they would lie snugly, like an especially beautiful blanket over the hillsides, increasing the aesthetic value of the view as I walk from my house to the mailbox.

Then, in late October or early November, the leaves would gradually and magically dissipate, slowly fading from view, possibly in conjunction with the year’s first snowfall (an ideal version of which might be the subject of a future post).  Their disappearance would coincide nicely with the appearance of new mounds of fresh compost in the previously depleted bins (which, in this ideal world, have already been constructed).

In reality, there is a lot of raking and blowing to be done this time of year (and I still need to build those compost bins).

Yesterday, we drove up to Saratoga Springs, New York, for a quick getaway, a mini-vacation, a brief respite from the everyday.  We haven’t planned much—our idea is to keep it simple—and spent yesterday afternoon walking up and down the main street in town, Broadway, and taking a nap (I never claimed to be the life of the party) before going out for a delicious pasta dinner at Wheatfields (highly recommended).  The heat wave finally broke and we were actually able to eat outdoors.

One of the things we did plan was a visit this morning to the gardens at Yaddo, an artists’ community founded in 1900 by a wealthy couple who, sadly, lost all four of their children.  Without heirs, they decided to convert their estate into a sanctuary where young artists, writers, composers and other promising creative types could work without interruption or concern for such mundane matters as room and board.

Most of the 400-acre property is off-limits to those who have not applied to the organization, been reviewed by its trustees and found qualified for residency.  However, the gardens, which comprise a formal rose garden and more rustic rock garden, are open to the public on a daily basis.  The gardens are tended by the volunteer Yaddo Garden Association, several of whose members were busily at work during our walk-through.

We were a bit late for the roses which probably peaked about a week ago.  Nonetheless, most of the bushes were still in bloom, even if the flowers were becoming a bit ragged.  I am always amazed by the sheer variety of roses whose flowers exist in seemingly infinite combinations of color, size, shape and scent.  My favorites are the more delicate pinks and peaches, especially the clusters of diminutive tea roses.

The rose garden is carved out of a stand of spruces which shield visitors from the unfortunate presence of the Thruway, only several hundred feet to the east.  Unfortunately, the trees are not dense enough to attenuate the constant drone of trucks and automobiles racing by at 70 miles per hour.  One has to use some effort to imagine oneself at the turn of the last century when the surrounding countryside was less populated and much quieter.

The rock garden, located west of the rose garden and divided from it by a classical colonnade, is somewhat more serene and much more shaded (fewer trees were removed to create it, apparently).  The flora here are much more familiar to me (in appearance if not in name) and include an impressive array of hostas, most of which were in full bloom.  The dense canopy of the woods must have protected them from the merciless sun of the last few weeks.

Warning:  Insect photo below.

This morning, we found the culprit who has been munching its way through the basil and leaving a nasty mess behind:  a large, hairy caterpillar.  I’m not sure what it will eventually morph into (a moth, probably) but it looks more like something I would see if I put a drop of swamp water on a glass slide and looked at it under a microscope (i.e., more Parameciidae than Lepidoptera).  We clipped off the leaf it was clinging to, along with the other soiled leaves, and tossed them into the woods.

We also replanted—again—the arugula seedlings that a friend gave to us.  They had not been doing well in their pot (too small) and we are hoping that by moving them to the east raised bed (where the other lettuces have been happily growing) they will have a better shot at survival.

At the other end of the garden, the Kabocha squash plant looks to be a climber. It has been steadily creeping outward from its mound of soil, searching for something to wrap its tendrils around.  To accommodate it, we built a tripod of six-foot-high stakes (the green plastic type, tied together at the top with twine) and trained the vine up one of the legs.  Its leaves are now facing the wrong way (north) but they should soon readjust.

From the top of the tripod, we hung a temple bell that a friend gave me for my birthday (the same generous friend who gifted me the blue ceramic pot; see June 29, 2013).  Gleaming with reflected sunlight, the bell now anchors the west end of the garden and provides a meditative—and melodic—focal point for anyone passing by.

In Hawaii, we are surrounded by an abundance of tropical plants.  And in this climate, everything grows exuberantly and wildly, both in size and color.  Backyard gardens are lush jungles of succulents and vines and even roadside hedges and highway dividers boast vibrant displays of year-round flowers.  For instance, the main road through Kapalua, near where we are staying, is lined with hibiscus blossoms the size of salad plates.

We’ve had a big dose of local flora but to get a more comprehensive feel for what grows in this warm and hospitable habitat, we decided to visit a formal garden.  So, having fueled ourselves at the Gazebo Restaurant (see March 1, 2013), we headed back to the Upcountry and the Kula Botanical Gardens.

Located along the route to Haleakala National Park (see February 26, 2013, part 2), the garden rises up a west-facing slope of the dormant volcano at an elevation of about 3000 feet (the views of the lowlands and west Maui from the parking lot are phenomenal).  Pathways meander through the eight acres of densely planted beds and at particularly scenic spots, benches, pavilions and gazebos provide comfortable places to sit and contemplate (or simply enjoy) the surroundings.

Although formal in its arrangements of plant families (they provide a helpful map) and carefully tended, the garden has an endearing rustic quality.  It is not overly pristine like some gardens I have toured and that makes it all the more approachable and welcoming.  Almost everything is labeled for those (unlike me) who keep track of scientific names and places of origin.

Eight acres sounds huge but in fact, the Kula Botanical Gardens are just the right size for an hour or two of relaxed strolling, chatting and photographing.  We made an entire circuit of the grounds—oohing and aahing as we came around each bend—before heading back home for an afternoon at the pool.

Often when I am planning a trip to a new destination (or one with which I am not very familiar), I will make a virtual visit using Google Maps.  I am a visual thinker and have found that by looking at the satellite/aerial views—often combined with Street View—of a location, I can form a preliminary mental map that will help me navigate and become comfortable in a strange environment.  Call it pre-familiarization.

I made such a flyover before coming to Hawaii.  I was looking for the condo where we stayed on our last trip and where we are staying again this time (in the same room, coincidentally), the name or location of which I could not remember (it was more than 10 years ago).  I had only a general idea of where it was—across the road from the resorts of Napili and Kapalua—and a recollection that it was near a large hotel (where we sipped cocktails at sunset one evening).

It wasn’t much to go on but by cruising (digitally) up and down Lower Honoapiilani Road a few times, I was able to home in on a potential location.  There was no adjacent hotel (I learned from our friends yesterday that it had been demolished and replaced by luxury residences in the intervening years) but by zooming down, I was able to recognize the distinctive swimming pool, memorable for its azure blue tiles.  Rachel later confirmed the location, having found its website online.

A fringe benefit of my virtual touring is that I sometimes discover places of interest that I might not otherwise have encountered.  In this case, I happened upon the Dragon’s Teeth Labyrinth on a spit of volcanic rock north of our condo.  From the air, it would appear to be a full-sized Chartres labyrinth and to occupy a potentially sacred spot where land and water meet.  This morning, we set out to see it for ourselves.  The prospect was exciting as we have always enjoyed walking labyrinths and developed one on our property (see July 10, 2011).

Public access to the coast cannot be restricted in Hawaii (even though much of the oceanfront property is privately owned) and there are many trails that follow the shore.  One such trail heads north from Kapalua Beach and winds through the luxury residences (which seem strangely vacant).  As we passed by, a rainbow appeared to the west between us and Molokai, an auspicious beginning to our journey.  When the trail reached the north end of the housing complex, it led out onto a jagged outcropping of the solidified lava that forms most of Hawaii’s coastline.

From there, the trail turns eastward, first passing through a shore bird nesting habitat and then onto a boardwalk just above the beach at Oneloa Bay.  At the far end of the beach, the trail turns back inland to follow Lower Honoapiilani Road (although access to the coast cannot be restricted, much of it remains physically inaccessible).  A short walk along the road brought us to the fourth tee of the Kapalua Bay Golf Course.

Here we paused for a moment.  Getting out to the Dragon’s Teeth would involve walking along the edge of the fairway.  We knew that we had the right to pass but many golf courses are private and off limits to non-members or players.  When we saw a sign warning of proximity to the course—and not commanding us to keep out—we started down along the hedge that forms the fairway’s border.  At one point we held up to allow a foursome of golfers to play through.  It was not the reverent approach we were expecting to make (even if the more devout golfers around us would have considered this fine course a place of worship).

When we reached the outcropping it was evident how it got its name.  The eastern edge of the spit was lined with spiky vertical projections of lava (aa, presumably) that were upturned by wave action while still molten (or so I later read).  The waves are still quite strong here and wash against the Dragon’s Teeth obliquely resulting in a fountain of water that slides along the shoreline dramatically.

Just beyond the teeth, where the jetty levels out, we found the labyrinth.  Circular in plan, its 11 concentric paths are divided from each other by stones that have been smoothed by wave action and are anchored in place by succulents growing around them.  The labyrinth clearly sees many visitors as the paths have been worn down into ruts by heavy foot traffic.  Even so, we were fortunate to have it to ourselves.

We slowly and solemnly made our pilgrimage to the center of the labyrinth and once there, performed our version of the Medicine Wheel Prayer.  We first faced east and raised our arms in salute to spring and rebirth.  We next turned to the south and paid homage to summer and growth.  Then, we faced west, acknowledging fall and the natural endings in life and to complete the circle, we looked to the north in respect of winter and introspection.  Finally, we raised our heads to greet Father Sky and bowed to show our love for Mother Earth (perhaps a sphere would be a better symbol).

It wasn’t as mystical or woo-woo as it might sound (especially with golfers putting nearby).  It was, however, a simple ritual that left us feeling centered—literally and figuratively—and fully appreciative of this world we live in and the particular paradise in which we found ourselves today.

I grew up in the central valley of California and did not experience much snow (I think it snowed just once while I was in elementary school).  I’ve only lived in a snowy climate since moving east (about 25 years ago) and consequently, I still think of snowstorms as magical events.  The snow is peaceful as it falls—usually, without a sound—and the snow-covered landscapes that result are brilliantly beautiful and picture-postcard perfect.

But the beauty eventually fades.  First, the snow settles and compacts and in the process loses its light and fluffy appearance.  When temperatures are warm during the day but cold at night, the surface melts and then refreezes resulting in a dull, lackluster (literally) sheen.

Dust and dirt are thrown onto the snow (mostly by passing cars) and as it melts, the concentration of these materials increases.  Dogs being walked leave their marks as do the coffee and soft drinks spilled by their owners.  Litter accumulates and anything that would be absorbed into the ground in a warmer season remains on the surface.

At about this stage, many people get tired of looking at the snow.  As a visiting friend jadedly remarked during our trip to the Vanderbilt Mansion at New Year’s (see December 31, 2012), despite the spectacular view, he’s seen enough snowy landscapes already this winter.  While I was busily photographing snowdrifts and frosted trees, he was hunting for new sights to shoot.

As the snow banks melt further, they become jagged and sharp, like alpine cirques and horns.  With continued exposure to the sun, the landscape becomes less and less snow-covered and more and more unfinished-looking.  When the snow has thinned and only scattered patches remain, it starts to resemble an albino form of slime mold.  Finally, only the larger clumps of snow—the result of shoveling and plowing—remain, looking like wads of paper, littered by an uncovered garbage truck.

But then it snows again and the magic is restored.  For me, anyway.