We are a Lake family. Tom and I raised our kids practically on Lake Sonoma, specifically the Yorty Creek recreational area. Every chance we could get we would hang out on the beach, by the lake with our kids and our dog. The kids grew up out there. We brought grandparents, cousins, friends, visitors. Everybody we were close to, had to come with us to the lake; where we played, swam, kayaked and picnicked for days on end.
Back on April of 2010 we were coming out of, I will say a mini-drought. I wrote a blog post with pictures of the lake under drought conditions, but was happy to report in the same post that there was plenty of water from the latest storms for our summer adventures by the water.
Not this year though. Never in 26 years have I seen the lake…empty. It’s dry, ugly, murky and pretty much looks like the dead sea. We walked along the dry, barren cliffs, kicking around dust and clods of dirt. Finding fresh water clams, of course dead. We were actually I think stunned, silent and just walking, each one of us in our own world of thoughts. Disoriented even, the landscape looked that different! Wondering what happened? Where was our beautiful lake? Where is the water? Why hasn’t it rained? Even the sporadic green bushes were gone. We tried fishing it to no avail. Weary hunters passed us by silently, looking like they too were disheartened by the whole day.
We are in a serious drought. I realized standing there, how we must never take our water for granted. How we need to thank God for it. How we really need to do a rain dance and pray for rain. This lake is our drinking supply and for our farming and wine industry. We have a fish hatchery connected to the lake and annual spawning, salmon runs. This year is really, bad. What will happen to us if we don’t get rain next year? I couldn’t bare to think past that… This is a depressing post, I know. But, the reality of it all is there and posted here for you to see.
I almost always travel the back roads of Sonoma County whenever I have to go somewhere. Usually, I’m driving my teens to school or work or to visit a friend in another town. I love Sonoma County and all its country roads, and even though I would definitely classify my job as a rigorous Taxi Mom, it’s all worth it for the widespread country views which I adore and soothes my soul. Views of golden rolling hills or wide, flat grasslands combined with pastures and lazy cows and fluffy clouds or clear blue sky days that go on forever is the norm. Every time I go for a drive it is all worth it! My last outing I decided to go off my beaten paths and explore the small produce stands here and there.
First stop, after dropping my daughter off at work driving from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol a (20 minute or so drive), is my little, newly discovered egg stand on the side of the road by Ragle Ranch Regional Park. Fresh farm eggs! Years ago I raised my own chickens and eggs, but for a long time now I have been reduced to shopping for eggs in the local grocery stores. Fresh eggs are so much nicer than supermarket chain eggs. The yolk is bright yellow in color and full of flavor. Brown eggs and blue eggs from Araucana chickens are such a delight for me to see and to bring home! And if I walk along the fence in the park I can visit the flock of chickens from where my eggs came from, so I know they are the real, fresh deal! The eggs are pricey because of the cost of feed for the chickens but I don’t mind, I’m keeping them healthy with their favorite grain; the owner smiling and my new fresh egg habit going!
Next stop, on my way home by the gorgeous Laguna de Santa Rosa off High School Road is The Sonoma Swamp Blues Organic Blueberry farm, (Oh, yum!). Throughout the late winter and early spring I have been watching the farmers cultivating their blueberry bushes from afar while driving and I just couldn’t wait for the season to begin! Summer is here at last and the blueberries are in huge delicious form. Big containers, full of large juicy, organic, indigo colored blueberries line the counter. This is my second year of buying blueberries from the stand so I can make my blueberry muffins, pancakes and fruit yogurt to name a few. I love my blueberries grown on the Laguna Swamp land. I figure the soil must be rich in nutrients to grow such delicious blueberry bushes. When I see the Sonoma Swamp Blues tent with its big banner sign it always makes me feel somehow like I’m taking apart in Louisiana’s bayou living!
Next Stop, winding through the back roads, I have to cut over (just once), to Hwy 12 to pick up my fresh strawberries at the little stand there. Oh my gosh, so worth it! The owners are super friendly and begged me to take pictures of their fruit. (Honestly, they didn’t need to because my camera was out already), the strawberries and blackberries were asking permission to be photographed! Gorgeous, plump, bright red and juicy strawberries; full, deep dark, purple blackberries are in baskets on the counter. Large white buckets in the back filled to the top full of berries! I bought 1/2 a flat of strawberries and a basket of the blackberries. More fresh fruit to add to my yogurt for my quick morning breakfasts before I hit the road being, Taxi Mom.
After winding my way home back through the country roads past pastures, barns, cows and horses I make one last stop at the top of my street to our friend’s little wooden farm stand. They have had a stand up for years on their grandfathered farm in the middle of suburbia. I always swing by their stand and pick up a basket full of fruit for a tart or smoothies. In the fall I pick up green apples perfect for baking apple pie and making applesauce. Today they are selling peachcots, loquats and raspberries. “Loquat? What’s a loquat?”, I think to myself. I’m not sure what a loquat is so I drop my coins in the container and take the other two fruit baskets and now I’m happily on my way home with my bounty of fresh fruit and sunny thoughts from my country back road travels. Simple pleasures make me happy and today is a great day!
My favorite lake, close to home is Lake Sonoma. On the north tributary end of the lake is Yorty Creek which boasts, the only beach on the lake and BBQ pits. We have been traveling the long, windy and bumpy dirt road to the lake for about twenty years now.
Children in tow, plus the dog, kayak and fishing pole packed to the gills (pardon the pun) with beach everything, we hang out on the sandy beach, relax and unwind. Once everyone’s happily playing in the water or eating I sufficiently relax getting into my zen, creative mode and take pictures and/or draw the surrounding scenery.
Huge oak trees dot the golden, grassy hills alternating with pine trees on the far end of the hills that slope down on both sides of the blue lake. It’s beautiful, surreal and I love it here. Interesting to me is the smallish tree on the left side of the lake sitting alone on the edge of the water so sweetly, a mangrove tree. Where did it come from and who planted it? This is not a tree indigenous to Northern California. I don’t see any other mangrove trees lining the water’s edge. Just one lonely, not from around here, mangrove tree with long spindly curved trunks and a little umbrella overshadowing its base. A tree that you would see in some far away tropical island ten times its size.
I’ve been drawing the trees in the area for some time now and I know it wasn’t there before. The mangrove tree is quite young, about three years old I guess to myself. But, there it is. I walked along the dirt path winding along the side of the lake to take a look at it in the scorching heat and ended up enjoying its tiny bit of shade. Fishermen cherish the canopy of leaves for its shade to be sure. It’s the only tree around on the dusty pathway where the heat is usually ninety or above during the summer. I sat under it, alone too, enjoying its welcoming comfort. Little finches graced its green foliage and flew off in unison together happy also for its presence. I felt at peace with the world. Who planted it or where it came from, I’ll never know. I am grateful for the mangrove tree, its beauty alone on the far side of the lake.