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Experiencing Life’s Fragility | The Occasional Naturalist

Experiencing Life’s Fragility

Pepperwood Preserve Scenic View

Pepperwood Preserve Scenic View

While spending the weekend in northern CA, I was able to spy my first Acorn Woodpecker which were very prevalent where I was in the Hidden Valley Lake area.  I also had an opportunity to visit for a few hours the Pepperwood Preserve which isn’t like a park or a nature reserve that I’m used to visiting, but rather its a preserve that’s trying to do some pretty cool hard science focused quite a bit on climate change, but also on a variety of other items including invasive species, oak woodland restoration, and Native American land use practices. Pepperwood isn’t normally open to the public, but my sister works there and enabled me to get a brief look at the preserve and what they’re doing.   It was both a fascinating and beautiful place.    One of the issues we talked about while I was there was the California drought which is now stretching into years and frighteningly becoming perhaps a new normal for this state.  The golden hills of California are a lot more parched than they usually are.  One of the amazing (and scary) things about us as Human Beings is how adaptable we are.  We can adapt to almost any situation, but within that wiring is an ever changing perception of what normal is or a shifting baseline as its been termed.  This helps us adapt to the current situation but I worry it prevents us from taking the long view of things. 

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

My tour of Pepperwood and the discussion on drought and climate change were almost immediately forgotten as we went on the next day to tour some of the idyllic  wineries of Sonoma County.  Here life seemed grand.  Its beautiful and the vineyards were quite green and healthy as they progress as they have for decades into the fall harvest season.

Unfortunately, the idyllic view was shattered in less than 24 hours.   While I was hanging out in a few wineries on Saturday, what’s now being called the Valley Fire was starting near Hidden Valley Lake.  As of today, it hasn’t hit the Pepperwood Preserve, but its devastated quite a few towns and now burned 170,000 acres.

Valley Fire View from Hidden Valley Lake
The Acorn Woodpecker picture I took was in Hidden Valley Lake while on the back porch of my sister’s house. That picture was taken around 8am on Saturday. Here’s a picture 10 hours later from around 6pm Saturday evening from that same porch.  The Acorn Woodpecker was sitting in the tree on the upper right.

I’m sure that bird is fine, but with 170,000 acres burned and 1280 homes lost, I’m also sure that everyone and everything is this area is indeed not fine.  People’s lives have been shattered due to this fire.  Some lost everything and four people have died.  The economic impact is going to be huge from people’s homes, businesses and some of the wineries. If you look closely at the picture of the fire, the field in the center is actually a vineyard and I’ve been told its from the Sutter Home winery.

The impact to wildlife is unclear.  Life is resilient, but what will take the place of the oak woodlands and fields?  What new normal is developing?  I know we’re all focused on the fire at hand, the immediate safety and property concerns, but what does our climate shifting baseline mean for the future of this area?  And our planet?

The polar bear on a receding ice flow has become the iconic image and the Arctic may indeed be ground zero for climate change.  The problem with this image in the eyes of the public is its so seemingly far away.  Isn’t the arctic this fantasy land where Santa lives?  Witnessing the California drought and then the Valley Fire brought home that climate change just isn’t about the melting arctic or receding glaciers.  Its about our lives where each of us live.  As I write this I’m enjoying a bottle of wine from one of the Sonoma County wineries we visited the day the fire started.  If the polar bear loses their home in the arctic chances are the Napa and Sonoma valleys will not be the wine growing regions they once were.  If you don’t care about polar bears, do you care about the wine you drink or the food you eat?

This weekend gave me another stark reminder of life’s fragility.  I also so some wonderful examples of how as a people we can come together and help each other and work for common cause.  The outpouring of support for those impacted has been wonderful.  Now if only we can together learn to take the long view.


To learn more about the Pepperwood Preserve click here.

To donate to Pepperwoord, click here.



1 comment to Experiencing Life’s Fragility

  • Thank you Joe for your insightful blog post. The “new normal” we have come to accept will not sustain us or the planet as we know and love it. We must wake up and do everything we can to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren and all the natural world.

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