Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

The photo above, which I took yesterday afternoon, shows autumn-shaded vines by the side of Occidental Road.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, so we wish everyone a happy holiday. If you’re not in the US, then this probably isn’t a holiday for you, but enjoy your day anyway! (When I lived in the UK, nobody even thought about Thanksgiving. However, since I left 30 years ago, it seems that my birth country has adopted some commercial aspects of the US holiday, such as Black Friday.)

As we did last year, Mary and I plan to have our Thanksgiving dinner in Sonoma. We’re looking forward to it, in anticipation that it will be just as excellent as last year’s feast!

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Although I won’t be working for the remainder of the week, I do expect to be busy… working on this year’s Yuletide card design.

The weather here today is clear, dry and pleasant, but apparently Southern California is expecting temperatures in the nineties! Whatever the weather is like where you are, enjoy your holiday!

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

While driving home yesterday afternoon, I noticed what I at first thought was a rainbow in the Western sky, and took the photo above.

However, it couldn’t be a rainbow, because it wasn’t opposite the sun, as shown in the second photo below, where I’d changed position slightly so that the building did not block the sun. When I finally discovered what it was, it gave me a title for this post that sounds like it would make a good name for a Spaghetti Western!

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

It was in fact a Sun Dog, an atmospheric phenomenon that I hadn’t previously noticed here. The scientific name is parhelion, which doesn’t explain a lot since it’s just from the Greek for “beside the sun”.

The location of the photos is just off North Wright Road in Santa Rosa, near a place that used to be called Leddy Junction (before 1947). This was where the North Western Pacific Railroad’s tracks were diverted during the 1930s to connect to what had been the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad’s line. That allowed the trackbed of the duplicate NWP line to be sold to the state, for the construction of what’s now Highway 12.

In my photos, you can just see a pair of rails glinting in the sun. Those are the remains of a spur that once connected to the “main line”, which passed through where the row of bollards now are, on the left in the photos.

This is the current Google Streetview of this location. (I managed to avoid including any portable toilets in my photos!)

Autumn Leaves in the Park

The view below was from our bedroom window, one misty morning during last week. The trees surrounding Village Green Park are now displaying their full autumnal shades, and in fact the leaves have begun to fall.

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

That may have been my last chance to photograph autumn leaves this year, but we do have the Thanksgiving holiday this coming week, so maybe I’ll stumble across some more somewhere.

Autumn Leaves & Woodpeckers

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

I took the photo above yesterday afternoon, showing a spectacular display of autumnal leaves by the side of Arnold Drive, in Eldridge, CA, in the Sonoma Valley.

I mentioned in a previous post that the “Turning of the Leaves” tends to occur later in California than in Britain, because of the warmer climate. In fact, many native California trees (such as Live Oaks) are not deciduous at all, and do not shed their leaves. Thus most of our seasonal displays are due to imported species, including, of course, grapevines.

Yesterday, I visited Sonoma for the reopening of the Depot Park Museum, which had been delayed for a few weeks due to the recent wildfires. On the way home, due to heavy traffic on Highway 12, I took Arnold Drive instead, and spotted autumn leaves at many points along the route. Here’s another view of the leaves in Eldridge:

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

Incidentally, just in case anyone is wondering, Arnold Drive is not named after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but after General “Hap” Arnold, who lived in a ranch near Sonoma for many years.

I also stopped briefly at General Vallejo’s Home in Sonoma, which is now a California State Park. The idyllic location is surrounded by trees that are populated by noisy Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). It seems that some of these woodpeckers have taken to using the wooden eaves of the Swiss Chalet barn at the site to store their nuts, as shown in the closeup below.

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

I was even able to get some video of the woodpecker in action, although the deficiencies of the camera video system are painfully obvious at maximum zoom!

 

Naturally, the wildfires had a serious negative impact on the tourism industry in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. However, as these photos show, most of the region is undamaged, and local businesses are eager to encourage visitors to return.

California Confusin’

Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset

Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset

The photo above shows one of California’s most iconic views; the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. I had a reasonably accurate preconception of this location before moving here, but I also had many other conceptions of California that were much less accurate.

In my earlier post describing the events of thirty years ago, by which I came to California, initially temporarily and then permanently, I described how I made a (literally) flying visit to my prospective new employer for interview, then returned to my job in Britain, and was eventually offered the position in California. I finally emigrated in November, 1987.

Reminiscences Interrupted

I’d planned to continue the series with this post, but was of course interrupted by the terrible wildfires that started here on October 9th. In view of that, I felt it more important to post items about my immediate experiences than to reminisce about the events of thirty years ago.

My reasons for choosing to move to California did not include the expectation of a “quiet life”, and indeed it has not been so! (If I had sought that, then staying in my birth town of Scarborough would probably have been the best option!) The fires were not even my “first disaster” in California, since I lived through the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989.

A Distorted View

Like most people who’ve never visited the US, and California in particular, I had formed most of my ideas about the place from American movies, TV shows and music. This provided a highly distorted view of American life, and led to considerable confusion and several misconceptions on my part.

The song California Dreamin’ was played regularly on the radio in those days, relaying the message that California was, if nothing else, warm. Of course, the song fails to distinguish Northern California from Southern California, and I was completely ignorant of any distinction between the two.

My parents’ views of the US were informed mostly by my father’s experience during World War II. His only contact with Americans had been a few servicemen that he met while on military service during the war. As a wireless officer in the Royal Air Force, he had flown a variety of British and American aircraft types, the American types being those supplied under Lend-Lease. I formed the conclusion that he admired, but was somewhat jealous of, the perceived wealth and modernity of Americans. (I recall that he had many negative things to say about some British aircraft types—particularly the Bristol Blenheim—but I never heard him say anything negative about any American aircraft type.)

Time to Live the Dream?

In October 1987, having received the offer of a job in Northern California, I quickly had to make the momentous decision as to whether to accept it, which of course would involve moving myself and all my possessions some 5,500 miles to a different continent.

It had been easy enough to dream about some day getting away from the miseries and frustrations of life in Britain, and jetting away to a great job in some far-off country, but now I was actually faced with the prospect of having to do it!

In the back of my mind, I had been assuming that my new employer wouldn’t be expecting me to start working for them before the beginning of 1988, so it was somewhat shocking when they told me that they’d like me to move and start working for them before Christmas.

Trafalgar Square, London, at Christmas

Trafalgar Square, London, at Christmas

As it turned out, 1986 was to be my last Christmas in Britain. The photo above shows Trafalgar Square in London, decorated for the holidays, while I was a student there during the early 1980s.

You’ll Live to Regret It!

I naturally couldn’t talk to my work colleagues about my situation, but I did discuss it with my mother and some non-work friends. Some people cautioned me that such a major move could be a huge mistake, which I’d live to regret. It was bound to be very expensive and disruptive (they said), and I’d find myself pining for the comforts of life in Britain soon after I left.

My response to that argument was that, if I tried it and failed, then I could always come back to Britain, and live the rest of my life wiser for my experience. On the other hand, if I passed up the opportunity, there was a real chance that I’d spend the rest of my life regretting what might have been. I could foresee that, every time something bad happened to me in Britain thereafter, I’d have been thinking: “If only I’d taken that job in the US”.

As it turned out, coming to California changed my life for the better in ways that I couldn’t even have imagined when I was making that decision, but I’ll save those details for a future post.

Footloose & Fancy-Free

It is true that, if you’re thinking of starting a new life in a foreign continent, then doing so when you’re young and relatively unencumbered is likely to be easier than making a similar move later on in life.

In my case, I was single—I didn’t even have a girlfriend—and the other surviving members of my small family already lived about 200 miles away from me. Thus there was nobody who was going to miss having me around on a day-to-day basis. I also didn’t have to worry about all the complications of moving a wife and children along with me.

I was living in furnished rented accommodation, so I didn’t have all the hassle of having to sell or rent out a home. I also didn’t have a lot of furniture to have to sell or move with me. The only large item of furniture that I owned was a bookcase, which held much of my large book collection. I discovered that all those items could be shipped to California fairly cheaply by sea.

Living in the Badlands

As I said above, I had obtained all my impressions of California from American TV shows, movies and music. As such, I was quite convinced that the whole of California was a desert, presumably irrigated artificially from somewhere further North.

While I was a student in London, French winemakers were releasing the first quality wines from their California vineyards, such as Mumm Napa. In my mind’s eye, I imagined that the Napa Valley must be an arid desert, with a few straggly vines baking in the unrelenting sun! (In reality it’s more akin to the South of France, but then in those days I’d never visited France either!)

Château of Domaine Carneros, Napa

Château of Domaine Carneros, Napa

Decision Made

There were various other differences to consider, such as the electricity supply, and learning to drive on the other side of the road, but none of those seemed to be insoluble problems.

I gave it all a great deal of thought, based on the information available to me (there being no World Wide Web in those days), and decided that there weren’t really any insurmountable obstacles that would prevent me from going.

As I mentioned above, I felt that, if it didn’t work out well, I could just come back to Britain, and at least I’d have the “experience” to look back on. On the other hand, if I didn’t try, I’d always regret it.

So, I told my prospective employer I was accepting their offer. The first task was to obtain a visa that would allow me to live and work in the country, for which I would once again have to visit the US Embassy in London. Once I’d got that, my new employer would arrange temporary accommodation for me in California, and I’d be ready to make my arrangements to move there.

I contacted Pickfords, to have the contents of my small apartment picked up and packed into a container for shipment to San Francisco. It would take about 3 months for the container to make the journey, so I had to be sure not to let them pack away anything that I would need urgently on arrival.

In the next installment of this series of blog posts, I’ll discuss the surprises that awaited me after I moved to California.

Devastation in Larkfield

 

Chelsea Drive, Larkfield

Chelsea Drive, Larkfield

The photo above shows Chelsea Drive, Larkfield, just north of Santa Rosa, as it appeared yesterday. Google Streetview shows how this street looked before the fire.

As I mentioned in a previous post, between 2011-13, we lived in a house in Larkfield. That house just escaped the devastation of the Tubbs Fire, but elsewhere nearby entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. Chelsea Drive, shown above, is a few hundred yards south of the street in which we lived.

During the time that we lived there, our local grocery store was Molsberry Market. There are still a few items that I can get only there, so, yesterday, I visited the area for the first time since the disaster.

Fortunately, Molsberry Market itself, and the shopping center in which it’s situated, seem to have escaped unscathed. Yesterday, the sign below was posted on the store’s front door.

Thankyou Poster at Molsberry Market

Thankyou Poster at Molsberry Market

A Thankyou event for First Responders was taking place at the store, and presumably the poster was produced by local schoolchildren. On the bottom right of the poster, it says, “Thanks for Saving Molsberrys”.

Ramsgate Court

The Eastern end of the street immediately north of where we lived, Ramsgate Court, was completely destroyed. The image below shows the view looking East. Our favorite restaurant, Cricklewood, stood on the opposite side of Old Redwood Highway, behind the stop sign in the photo.

Ramsgate Court, Larkfield

Ramsgate Court, Larkfield

Here again is the Google Streetview version.

This tragic scene reminded me of some of those old photos we see of World War II battlefields. Although many of the tree trunks survived, I’m not sure how many of the trees are still alive. In some areas, many are already being felled.

Northtown Animal Hospital

From Larkfield, the burned area stretches south all the way down Old Redwood Highway as far as Fountaingrove.

The veterinary hospital that looked after our cats, when we lived in that area, was Northtown Animal Hospital. The sign in front of the building still seems to be in perfect condition…

Northtown Animal Hospital Sign

Northtown Animal Hospital Sign

…but sadly the building itself did not survive, as shown below.

Northtown Animal Hospital Building

Northtown Animal Hospital Building

The scene below shows the burned area on the opposite side of Old Redwood Highway from the Northtown Hospital. The cables hanging from the trees are power lines that were downed during the fire. (Fortunately, in our housing development, all cables are “undergrounded”, so we don’t have aerial cables like these.)

Burned Area near Northtown Animal Hospital

Burned Area near Northtown Animal Hospital

There’s no question that it will take a long time to rebuild many of these neighborhoods, and that work is just beginning. Those of us who were lucky enough to escape the devastation can only do what we can to help in the rebuilding process.

Valley of the Moon Highway Reopens

Valley of the Moon Winery, with charred hills in the Background

Valley of the Moon Winery, with charred hills in the Background

Yesterday, the road through Sonoma Valley (aka State Highway 12, or the Valley of the Moon Scenic Highway) reopened fully for the first time since the recent fires. The photo above shows my car parked at the Valley of the Moon Winery, near Madrone. The vineyard is undamaged, but you can see scorched hillsides in the background.

Assuming that I could get there, I’d been planning to attend the reopening of the Sonoma Depot Park Museum, but that has been postponed due to the fires. Thus my journey yesterday took me only as far down the valley as Madrone.

The photo below shows a closeup of grapes still on the vines in front of the winery, while the charred hillsides are visible beyond.

Grapes on the Vine at Valley of the Moon Winery, in front of Scorched Hills

Grapes on the Vine at Valley of the Moon Winery, in front of Scorched Hills

Fire in the Hills

The distinctive Ledson Winery chateau, near Oakmont, was featured in recent television news reports of the firefighting efforts in Sonoma Valley.

My photo below shows the aftermath. The winery is apparently undamaged, but was closed yesterday when I visited. The fire-scorched hills beyond are clearly visible.

LedsonWineryBurnedCright

Ledson Winery with Charred Hillsides beyond

Fire in the Valley

Sadly, some parts of the valley floor did not escape destruction. My photo below shows a roadside area near Beltane Ranch (between Oakmont and Madrone), where houses and barns stood before the fire. You can see the charred ground and trees.

Burned Buildings near Beltane Ranch

Burned Buildings near Beltane Ranch

There is even worse damage alongside Route 12 elsewhere, but yesterday in those locations the police, and even the National Guard, were mounting a heavy presence, to deter looters or souvenir hunters.

More details of the damage are provided in this San Francisco Chronicle article.

Rain Arrives to Quench the Fires

Penny Contemplates the Rain

Penny Contemplates the Rain

The photo above shows one of our cats, Penny, sitting in the window alcove of our bedroom yesterday afternoon, contemplating the rain that had just begun to fall.

The rain intensified yesterday evening, having been forecast the previous week. We’d been anxiously awaiting its arrival, because, despite the extraordinary efforts of firefighters from all over the US, the wildfires were still not fully contained. Even after a fire has been quelled, it can sometimes continue to smolder and can then flare up again later. Falling rain should extinguish any remaining embers and prevent further flare-ups.

The Rain Begins

The Rain Begins

Contrast the photo above, taken yesterday afternoon looking over the park from our balcony, with the same view in my earlier post. At least this time, the gray skies are due to rain and not to smoke!

Having grown up somewhere it rains year-round (Britain), and now living where it rarely rains during the summer (California), I sometimes find that, by the end of summer here, I’m missing the rain, and look forward to the first shower of the season. Nonetheless, I’ve never welcomed the first rain as much as I did this year, because it will hopefully put an end to the local wildfires!

Smoky Sunsets

Although the smoke has gradually cleared during the past week, we’ve still been having smoky sunsets, with unusually red skies, as shown below, looking west from in front of our house.

Smoky Sunset

Smoky Sunset

Oakmont Fire

Last weekend, a new wildfire erupted in the hills above Oakmont, which is a large retirement complex to the East of Santa Rosa. This led to further closure of Highway 12, and the evacuation of the Sky Hawk and Mountain Hawk neighborhoods.

I took the photo below last Saturday, looking East along Highway 12. In the distance, you can see smoke billowing from the Oakmont fire.

Smoke from the Oakmont Fire, from Highway 12

Smoke from the Oakmont Fire, from Highway 12

A little further along Highway 12, the road was closed. People were being let out of the evacuated zone, but not into it. The photo below shows a police roadblock across Highway 12, at the junction with Calistoga Road.

Highway 12 Closed at Calistoga Road

Highway 12 Closed at Calistoga Road

Fountaingrove Still Evacuated

At the time of writing, although most evacuation orders have been lifted, and people are being allowed back in to some fire-damaged areas, the Fountaingrove neighborhood remains evacuated.

The offices of my employer, Keysight, are in Fountaingrove, and are closed. Fortunately, the main buildings were not destroyed, but they were damaged by efforts to fight the surrounding fire. Details are shown in this fire damage map.

It’s also fortunate for me that I’m able to do my work from home (although I wasn’t doing that prior to the fire), and that’s what I’ve been doing since the area was evacuated. Keysight has been very supportive of us all, having made immense efforts to locate and ascertain the safety of all its employees, and to provide special assistance to those who need it. Many thanks are due to Keysight for looking after its staff.

I’m aware that many people have lost jobs or businesses as a result of the fires, and how lucky I’ve been to have avoided that.

The New Normal

The process of trying to get back to normal life is now just beginning. Even for those of us who were lucky enough to avoid any serious loss, things will never be quite the same again.

In one respect at least, I hope that things will be different, in that the lessons of the fire will be learned, leading to wiser land development and better protections in future.