Saturday, January 26, 2008


(With sincere and abject apologies to the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson.)

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Photo by Adam Harrington

Like up in the air on my mamma's feet,
Up on her tickling toes,
While the sky so fair behind my hair
Echoes our happy glow.

Photo by Adrianne Harrington


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gravely Pleasant Memories

More than thirty years ago, during our country’s feckless self-congratulations on having survived a mere two centuries, I lived alone in a rented room in an old house near a graveyard in Oakland, California.

My room was on the first floor, facing a neon sign across the street. The bright sign read (and still reads) “Oakland Crematorium Columbarium Mausoleum.” I didn’t do a whole lot of barbequeing during the year or so I lived there.

The cemetery to which the smoker was attached, though, is a beautiful one, and historic insofar as a European-style graveyard can be in so recently-subsumed a place as California. It stretches up from a genteel neighborhood of Oakland into low hills with spectacular views (weather permitting) toward the west to the Golden Gate and San Francisco. I used to wander its farther reaches, unkempt repositories of the lesser-blessed, and closer better-manicured bastions of merchant princes of the late 1800’s. I wordlessly hobnobbed with Crockers and with Adamses (the patriarch of the latter was the founder of Oakland from Binghamton, NY) and with nameless folks buried by the creek in graves overgrown by brush.

I loved that place.

Fast forward thirty years.

My surviving son, Adam, now lives just a few hundred yards from the room I lived in then. He hikes the cemetery now, in his mornings, and sent along these photos from his walk last weekend:

Steel-colored fog hides the Golden Gate Bridge (it would be in center frame) on an Oakland January. Doug’s memorial bench is a few hundred yards behind this viewpoint. (Photo by Adam Harrington)

Livermore Plot (photo by Adam Harrington)

An important Anglo settler family in Northern California was the Livermores , after whom the city of Livermore, its famous weapons lab, and the prominence atop Angel Island in San Francisco Bay are named. They have a plot along what I came to think of as “Millionaire’s Row,” but, as Adam’s photos show…

Nobody home. (Photo by Adam Harrington)

… the Livermore plot is oddly vacant! Adam says, “If one were to photo-shop the middle R from the family name, he would create quite an appropriate moniker for this oddly empty plot. All the surrounding ones are very much full.”

Live more, friends. Live more.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stormy Weather

Yes, it rained pretty hard here yesterday.

No, it wasn’t a big deal.

However, since the fairly typical just-after-the-solstice storm here in Northern California gathered some national (and even international) news attention (and since Ft. Harrington’s dear friend, Lucile Taber, went looking in this blog for updates), I’ll put up this special edition post about it.

Kings Creek from the Ft. Harrington back deck, Wednesday, January 2nd.

We needed rain pretty badly. Last winter (the usual rainy season here in the Santa Cruz Mountains) was exceptionally dry, and that’s bad news for an isolated community like this that depends on groundwater for all of its water needs – not just for household use, but for emergency agencies, firefighters in particular. The picture above, looking downstream along the creek through the heart of Creepy Hollow, shows how depleted the watershed had become. It was taken a day before the forecast triple-storm was to hit our area.

Thursday, January 3rd, brought a little spritz of a shower… but yesterday, Friday, January 4th, brought the first big rainfall we’ve had in two years. According to the Ft. Harrington rain gauge, we had 6 ½ inches in 24 hours from 5pm Thursday to 5pm Friday, and by mid-afternoon Friday, the creek looked like this:

Kings Creek from the Ft. Harrington back deck, Friday, January 4th.

I estimate that the creek rose about three feet in that 24-hour period, but it wasn’t even close to being a worry for anyone here in the Hollow. Oldtimers hereabouts say that the creek can crest above the red patio at the right of the frame in the above pictures, but we haven’t seen that in our decade here. We have seen the creek significantly higher than it was this week, though:

Kings Creek in the winter of 2005-06.

Creepy Hollow, with Ft. Harrington at its core, is sheltered by high mountain ridges from most winds in winter storms, and it was for this one. While Northern California in general was blasted by sometimes hurricane-speed winds, our air was relatively tranquil during the downpours. We are, however, dependent on the electrical power grid for our distributed electricity, and that grid failed (as it usually does several times each winter.) The Hollow was without electrical power from the grid for most of Friday – but that’s no never-mind, since almost every house in the Hollow has a generator like the Fort does. Loud, is all, not major bad news, since the generators keep the refrigerators, furnaces, and lights going. The worst inconvenience for humans is that cable TV (and internet services) go out when the main power grid does.

When a storm is over, the creeks and rivers exhale mist among the redwoods. These two pictures are from "downtown" Boulder Creek this afternoon. (Click on any image for a bigger version.)

Kelsey and I surveyed the Creek this afternoon (make sure the volume is turned up on your computer and then click the arrowhead):

In this clip, I address Kesley as "Kelsey-the-Dog," which is actually what he's usually called around here. I don't know why, since there's not much doubt about whether he's a dog or not.

All in all, the storm was a blessing for us, not a problem. It was a blessing because it recharged, all in one shot, the groundwater on which this entire community vitally depends. However, it would have been a big problem for me if it hadn’t happened while I was on winter break from school: any highway I might have tried to take from Ft. Harrington to Silicon Valley was closed due to mud/rock/dirt slides or downed trees. But I didn’t have to go anywhere, so Mrs. Fort and I and all the fourfeet snuggled down and napped through most of it. So did the chickens, but in their house, not ours.

Earlier storms have not been as benign. Below are some scenes from previous winters:

Above, Adam and Ryan survey some storm damage on the Fort's main building's roof in 2001.

Things get really bad when the wind does get fierce here in the Hollow: redwood branches can’t take the strain, snap (with a sound like a rifle shot) and fall their hundreds of feet onto whatever happens to be below. Those falling branches are called “widowmakers,” and the one above fell just up the road from the Fort in the winter of ’01- 02.

When a winter storm brings snow, it also brings carloads of folks up from Silicon Valley to revel in it. Above is a group of DeAnza students frolicking at a vista point above our San Lorenzo Valley in the winter of 2004-05.

The San Lorenzo Valley in 2004. Ft. Harrington is somewhere close to the middle of this rainy frame.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

I Didn't Plan on This Post

This blog is supposedly written by an astronomer, and is supposedly in part about astronomy, but you wouldn’t know it recently without the verbiage around its Blogger frame.

A historically significant Galaxie.

I really am working on a couple of big posts about science and community colleges’ ways of wrenching it into relevance for our students. Multi-spectral views of the “grand design” spiral galaxy M74 are in the offing here in SherWords, for example, and in the works are guest blogs from electrifying explainers of modern Meteorology and Geology. Let’s hope that the latter guest appearances happen before global warming and/or earthquakes kill us all. (The astronomer is holding a major asteroid impact back as a trump card.)

But, meanwhile, Fort Harrington just insists on continuing to happen. And, particularly, its short, supposedly “dumb” denizens insist on being cute in ways that can’t be ignored, unless you can ignore a baseball bat applied to your nose.

You think being cute is a once-in-a-while thing? HAH. These critters work on it full time, and sometimes perversely. For example, the last post in this blog was a presumably unusually-cute picture of Emma. Yesterday, she just had to trump that with the prettiest picture ever taken of her, seriously:

Emma, January 2nd, 2008

And, the day before that (New Year’s Day), Guinness and the still-acclimating Finn McCool just had to practice their Hallmark audition:

Finn McCool and Guinness celebrate New Year's Day, 2008.

And, yesterday, even the chickens had to get into the “You just TRY to leave this out of your precious blog, pinky!” game, notably the remarkable Specks…

Speckles surveys the deck rail after the solstice.

… and Bratty, the Black Giant.

Bratty perseveres, kicking dirt to uncover worms, a month after the loss of her sister.

Bratty’s picture is both warm and heartbreaking to Diane and me. Pepper was her nearly identical sister, and (if you can believe it), Pepper’s eyes were even more startling in their warmth.