Northern California in fire times

Ok, once again – back into blogging. Much has happened, including a lot of writing projects, but I need to be disciplined here. I’m writing from Chico in wildfire times. We’ve been safe, the local fires have been pretty small and contained. The air has smelled a bit smoly for a few days but that seems to be passing too. The situation in other areas is disastrous, especially Sonoma and Napa Counties. There’s really nothing I can add that hasn’t been said, except that in spite of it all, northern California remains strong and beautiful. It’s a glorious autumn in Bidwell Park. Wild grape leaves are turning colors and growing psychadelic patterns, poison oak, big leaf maples, and others are shifting with them. The blasting heat is gone, and Big Chico Creek still holds crashing, tumbling water that will increase with the coming rain. Meantime, the autumn bird migration is on!  Sandhill cranes and white fronted geese are gathering at Llano Seco Preserve, along with hordes of red winged blackbirds and great egrets, who are here year round. The world is bittersweet, both tragic and beautiful. We need to remember both sides of it to have a full  Iife. I will work on writing as much as possible, it’s good for me but have to run now.  Here’s Big Chico Creek in autumn’s light.DSCN0467

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At it again

Ok, so we have been out of Chico much of this summer. Did some travelling in Pennsylvania, a place that I love a lot. Those are the woods I grew up in, the green shade that fills the spaces between trees, the sudden summer storms, the long  mountain ridges like long animals sleeping besides rivers and lakes, the kaleidoscope autumn, the fossilized tree branches in sandstone, the stunning unpretetensiousness  of these places fills me forever. DSCN9908

Youghegheny River, Ohiopyle State Park, SW Pennsylvania


back in California in early August, we attended a grebe festival near Lake Almanor in the Sierras. Grebes are water birds that build floating nests from light aquatic plants. Both mon and dad grebes carry babies on theeir backs. These beautiful birds face many threats. If lake levels are too low, they cannot swim – they have difficulty walking, and can be eaten by otters, eagles, and other predators. The festival strivs to raise awareness about them. This was also the time of the eclipse. In this part of California, the world turned orange tan, and a soft chill came to the ground like a blanket as the sun became a crescent.  The world remains a wonder.

These are the days of marching Nazis in Charlottesville and elsewhere, of extreme heat in the west, where ashes literally fall from the sky in Seattle, where hurricanes slam into Texas, Florida and the Carribean, and our leader’s big initiative is to deport a million young people if Congress won’t come up for a plan where they can stay in the U.S. The country is becoming a shriek. But look to the green forests and the birds. The world remains a wonder.

Much more to come.



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It’s hitting triple digits in Chico for the rest of the week. There’s not much to do besides swim and maybe go to see dumb air conditioned movies. Bidwell Park remains a wonder  if you can go hiking in the morning. Our 3000+ acre city park begins downtown and extends towards the Sierra Nevada foothills. Upper Park, the wilder area is a jigsaw puzzle of geological formations, plant communities, and tumbling,oak and pine bordered  Big Chico Creek. We have a big range of wildlife there, including mountain lions and at least one black bear, Lower park is the flatter area where Big Chico Park meanders along its floodplain rather than crashing. This is more developed but still a great place to swim, picnic, and wander.

In spring, the hills blaze with galaxies of wildflowers, and clouds of butterflies drift everywhere. Summer drought is California’s botanically unproductive time. The hills turn from green to brown, flowers are few, and the birdsongs that formed counterpoint with the creek’s roars are a lot quieter. But this is a great time to see the interplay of sun and shadow. WIldlife is still active: yesterday an acorn woodpecker and a squirrel had a screaming match, maybe over a stash of acorns. Western swallowtail butterflies’ bright yellows copy the sunlight. Western whiptail lizards and western fence lizards scurry over boulders, and red shouldered hawks cry “PEW! PEW!PEW! from hiding places. Big Chico Creek brings temperatures down, and cool breezes flash along its streamcourse. The park is as much a gem in summer as any other season. Expect more posts about it, especially as we get into autumn.




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One great way to deal with the heat is to kayak for a while. Today we went down to the Forebay, an extension of Lake Oriville and did it. We did not take cameras because they could easily fall in the water. Imagine then a kayak amble along a shore with trees and sbrubs. Black phoebes flew out from branches to grab flying bugs and returned to their perches. Canada geese in large groups stuck their heads in the water and their tails in the air, making me think of the old Banana Slug String Band song, “Butts Up!” Blue mayflies drifted over the water and kildeer yelled “KILDEE!” from the shore. It was easily ten degrees cooler out on the water, probably more… more refreshing than a cold beer!

We went to an interesting forum on education in Butte County last night. The speaker largely compared schools in Chico with those in Oroville, a nearby town. Chico schools are segregated by class and race because people are generally expected to attend a school that is defined as being part of their community. Of course schools in more affluent neighborhoods wind up with more parental involvement (some have free time) and donations.

Charter schools do not have this requirement, but it’s hard for low income parents to get their kids up and across town, neighborhood schools are easier for them. So charter schools generally wind up being white and affluent. One exception is Rosedale, the Spanish/English Immersion school. Its population is largely Hispanic, but there are enough affluent white kids whose parents want them to be bilingual that it is not considered an impoverished school.

One other thing about Chico though is in terms of discipline it focuses more on restorative justice than on suspensions, expulsions, and other punishments. Also, experienced teachers are spread throughout the district, and are not only claimed by affluent schools. Chico  does try to be a forward looking district, but segregation by neighborhood is an issue.

Oroville is another story. It is a community of relatively affluent people surrounded by poor communities, The power that be’s nervousness here contributes to a big emphasis on punishment, suspension, etc. For some reason the city has several school districts, whereas CHico only has one. Each district in Oroville has its own administrators. The money that goes to their salaries is a big drain on resources, and the divisions restrict coordination among different parts of the city. This is one issue Chico does not have.

The proportion of children who have some kind of trauma (neglect, some form of abuse, etc.) is fairly high in Butte County. There is also a fairly amount of homelessness, and drug abuse. The issues are many. Being an educator here will be a challenge.

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So why haven’t I been blogging?

There’s been so much to write, read, and do lately I have fallen out of the blogging habit. Must regain it. Chico is HOT this summer… hot and quiet. It’s still a fine town, very peacerul, and with delights like Bidwell Park. It is quite pleasant here in the 80s, even the 90s, but it gets difficult when it hits the three digits… the direct sun feels like hammer blows, and it is all exhausting. It appears that things will calm down in a couple weeks, and we will be back in the 80s and 90s for a while, looking forward to it. Everybody in town is talking about how this is the hottest summer in years. Lucky us, but the thing is this may be the way of the world right now, at least the way of the western U.S. I gather the east is also getting heat and bad storms. We will make it.

I am active with poetry writing, storytelling, and an article I’m doing on Bidwell Park. K and I just did a 6 day odyssey through NE California – spectacular, but hot, especially at the WHiskeytown National Recreation Area. The Mt. Shasta area and Burney Falls were a lot more pleasant. This area will demand some more exploration. Shasta is a spectacular mountain and region, and also the home to various New Age cults. One group believesthere is a city of several million under the mountain. These eight foot tall spirituallyelevated beings are survivors of a nuclear war between Lemuria and Atlantis. They periodically walk into town to shop and pay with lumps of gold, I am told. We weren’t lucky enough to meet any. I don’t know what we would have offered them for gold, a poem or story maybe, but I tried not to be so corruptable.

We like this town and area a lot, but are ready for cooler temperatures. Now that I remember I can blog fairly easily, I will get back to it, with day to day descriptions of life.

Mt. Shasta from Siskiyou Lake Trail


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Chico’s Beauty and Contradictions

The mountains around Chico are full of coyotes. They woke us about 10 days ago at Black Butte Lake, near the Coastal Mts., and again at Payne’s Creek near the Cascades. These two mountain ranges could not be more different: Coastal Mts. were once ocean floor deposits that scraped up onto the North American Plate when the Pacific Plate slid beneath it while the Cascades are volcanic. Still, these two areas had some things in common. Both are covered with grass like flowing tides, and covered with oaks that cast black labyrinth shadows on green ground. Buttercups, silver lupines, white shooting stars,

tidy tips, and eggs & butter are a few of the wildflower species. The bird species are somewhat different: Bullock’s orioles dominate Black Butte right now while meadowlarks sang loudly at Payne’s Creek. But both are full of coyotes!


Kate and I are starting to feel like part of things here. People recognize us on the street, on hiking trails in Bidwell Park and elsewhere. We hiked backpacked with others at Payne’s Creek last weekend and enjoyed the company of some jolly hikers and a dog. We Neighbors are friendly, including one who told me about how he found a bear at the garbage at 2 AM one fine morning. We regularly go to a Spanish conversation group, and will soon be volunteering with Park watch, a group that shares all kinds of info. with hikers in Bidwell Park. I am attending several poetry gatherings with more to come. Onward and beyondward!


Today we went to Envisioning Sustainability, an environmental conference at Cal State Chico conference. I am still amazed by the amount of information we gathered. We learned about the Machoopda people, the Native Americans who have lived in this area for thousands of years, and are part of the community here. The rancher Joseph Bidwell, who is credited with the settlement of this area, was responsible for persecution of these people. 460 of them were gathered and forced to march to a settlement to the west in 1863; only about half of them survived.


Their descendants did manage to get official tribal recognition, but the government took it back. The tribe received recognition again in1972, on the condition that they give up any claims to the land. A land trust was formed in 2014 to work to reestablish their claims, and California State University Chico works closely with them to manage its land holdings.  but Butte County is petitioning the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have recognition rescinded again. The people who presented the workshop speculated this is because the county does not want these people to have any claim to land in the region.


We also learned about threats to wildlands in this area.  Loss of ground water threatens blue and valley oaks, two local keystone species that support a range of local plants and animals. Advancing urbanization threatens local vernal pools, along with associated endangered plants like meadow foams. Grasslands are lost to housing developments. Fascinating as this conference is, it reinforces my long time feeling that life anywhere is bittersweet. The conference continues tomorrow, I will add more after that.


Ok – today I went to a workshop on environmental racism in the Sacramento Valley, the section of Central Ca. from  Stockton to Bakersfield. Air quality is terrible here because of traffic, oil wells, agriculture. The poor air is one factor in peoples’ poor health. Many of these communities are made up of marginalized people, such as immigrants, who do not feel they have enough political power to confront these issues; work and survival are the factors that dominate their lives. Community groups are doing all they can to help; one program funds residents to get smog tests on their cars, to make repairs, and often to buy used Hybrids. Every small action helps! I also went to a workshop on art and resistance that offered ideas on how to find inspiration and apply it to issue related art.


The two environmental education workshops really inspired me. One project engages children’s range of talents to help them understand the planet’s plight and to think of solutions. The other encourages teachers to take children on guided experience on local land. Education is my way of working for environmental change; I will be in touch with both of these projects.


Yesterday, Kate said, “it’s like being in a foreign country here. It’s so different from Oakland: we are hit in the face with native peoples’ issues, with loss of wildlands, and just about everything else.” Very true, but it is a foreign country where we both feel comfortable. People here look for solutions. We will figure out how to work in this community. Much more to come, watch this space!

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Way too long since I’ve written

I was shopping recently at Chico, California’s Saturday Farmer’s Market when this bearded blonde guy came up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Hi. I’m John. I’m your redeemer.”
“Are you?” I asked, somewhat baffled.
“Do you want me to anoint you?” he sincerely said.
“Not particularly, no,” I answered, and he walked away, apparently surprised that I hadn’t taken his offer seriously.

I wrote a lot about the situation of being a bioregionalist who needs to move for financial and other practical reasons. My partner Kate and I have been living in Chico for three months now. It is surprising that many people from the Bay Area do not know this pocket of North Eastern California, but we want to keep it that way… shhh. We don’t want it to be flooded with refugees. We are at the northern part of the Sacramento Valley. The Coastal Mts. are very visible to the west, and the Cascades and northern Sierra Nevada to the east.

The climate and terrain are very different from what we are used to, but there are many animal and plant species that we know well. Bidwell Park, the HUGE  city park abounds with oaks, acorn woodpeckers, California quail, swallowtail butterflies and many other species we know well. Mt. lions and black bears make their way through here too. The geology of this region is really complex and interesting – rock formations include deposits from an ancient inland sea, volcanic flows, and stream deposits. Bidwell Park is well known for its high cliffs, and the canyon dug by Big Chico Creek.

The wildlife populations here change with the seasons, as they do in many places. When we first got here in early December, the wetlands were full of snow geese, white fronted geese, pintail ducks, and many others. The snow geese are very noisy, and when they are disturbed by a predator like a bald eagle, they take to the air by the thousands (literally) until the danger is past. Many of the other migratory birds are more nonchalant, they stay in the wetlands and seem to be asking the snow geese, “What’s with you?” The winter migrants have left, we are now inundated with wildflowers and nesting birds. I will post more.

Chico is a university town with a population of about 90,000. It is a relatively liberal to left town – there was a big Women’s March here in January, and there are more community groups than you can count. There are literary readings, a reperatoiry cinema, a good theatre group, many music venues, and much more.  It is a comfortable and very enjoyable place. It’s hard to know how to sum up  three months in one blog post, but here you are! I will be sharing more observations, and will try to stick with it. So much to reflect on in these times, and it’s interesting to be looking at it all from a new place. Stay tuned.






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