Friday, December 26, 2008

A Surprising Tree in a Place Where Trees Don't Surprise

This is the San Lorenzo Valley in California's Santa Cruz Mountains:

San Lorenzo Valley Rain

The trees you can see from this vista point along California Highway 9 are almost entirely sequoia sempervirens, coastal redwoods, and their magnificent height and abundance hides thousands of homes -- including Ft. Harrington, which is roughly in the center of this frame -- from view.

The view from this place a hundred years ago would have been very different. After the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 (which actually devastated most of the Bay Area, not just San Francisco), this land was almost entirely clear-cut to provide building materials for the great reconstruction. That means that essentially all of the trees you see in the above photo are juveniles in the reckoning of redwoods, only about a century old. Between 1920 and about 1960, as the second-growth redwoods were growing up, the shorter trees of the blanketing forest allowed some things to exist profitably that are now long gone: many swimming pools behind dams in creeks (because shorter trees allowed more sunlight to reach the ground) and even an airport (which is now the Boulder Creek Country Club's golf course), for example.

Part of a poster for the long-gone Boulder Creek drive-in movie theater from half a century ago -- when the re-growing forest was only about half as high as it is now. Two things that were snuffed out by the forest's re-growth are evident in its map: the airport and a big swimming pool. (Click on the image for a higher-resolution view.) Poster courtesy of Jeff Liebermann. Note that apostrophe abuse is not a new phenomenon.

Many of the trees in the photo at the top of this entry, when seen up close, are members of tight, circular groups. One such group is on the Ft. Harrington grounds:

The summer furniture and patio occupy the footprint of the surrounding redwoods' ancestor, the ancient giant that lives on in its offshoots.

The circle of trees in these groups are sprouts, or "suckers", from the roots of a truly ancient, mammoth, primordial redwood, which may have been thousands of years old when felled. The scale of our patio in this photo shows the trunk size of the ancestral giant. All of our neighbors in "Creepy Hollow" have at least one such circle of sprouts, and those sprouts themselves now are more than a hundred feet tall.

Hundred-foot tall trees, while they may be "juvenile," can still be a problem to those who live underneath them if they are not cared for. Redwoods tend to shed limbs as part of their growing process. Trouble is, the limbs they shed are typically as big as full-grown pine trees in other climes. (Adam, I'm sure, remembers very well how impressive such shed limbs can be when they hit the ground -- he was visiting during a winter storm in the first year or two of our living here when several of them shook the earth. The previous occupant of this place neglected her trees' care.) It's wise to have weakened limbs removed before they break off on their own. Intentionally-removed redwood limbs are called "maintenance expenses;" spontaneous fallers are called "widow-makers."

There are two different ways of thinning potential widow-makers that local arborists tend to use: selective thinning and "columnization."

The above photo shows three circles of second-growth redwoods: the one on our property whose base was shown above (left), one on our thoroughly irresponsible neighbors' property (center), and one on a good neighbor's property (right). Ours is pretty much indistinguishable from the reprobates' cluster, because our tree-caretaker's philosophy is to take only those limbs that pose a danger. His (and our) preference is to leave the trees looking as much like they naturally would as possible, and thus the appearance of our trees is pretty much like neglected ones'.

The right-hand clump shows the other way of caring for them: just shave everything up to the point where you'd better leave needles for survival. Our tree guy snortingly calls this approach "columnization," and, until two weeks ago, I never would have thought that this particular neighbor would go for that look.

But she did. Two weeks ago. Before that, her trees looked pretty much like ours.

I didn't ask her about it, because the opportunity never arose in passing, and, besides, that's the kind of thing we tend to leave each other alone about here in Creepy Hollow.

On Christmas Eve, Diane and I drove up to Pleasant Hill, a couple of hours away, to celebrate the holiday with Grace-the-Granddaughter, Adam, Adrianne, and a whole gaggle of the clan. We didn't get back until well after dark... and were then well and truly treated to what our neighbor had in mind when she had her trees "columnized." The next day, Christmas day, I took a series of photos from late afternoon to dark, that shows her plot:

A Neighbor's Christmas Tree (1 of 5)

A Neighbor's Christmas Tree (3 of 5)

A Neighbor's Christmas Tree (5 of 5)

What a HOOT! It's like suddenly having an illuminated Washington Monument plunked down in your little hollow! The lights extend well over a hundred feet up the tree (I know; I used a high-precision Fies Protractor for the measurement computations) and are visible throughout the neighborhood. She says that next year she may have the remaining, high-altitude branches festooned with lights, too, and I hope she does. Then it would be a hundred-foot arrow of lights pointing straight UP.

Meanwhile, the Ft. Harrington Christmas Tree was of much more modest scale:

Christmas in Ft. Harrington, 2008
More about Christmas will be posted here soon, but Christmas isn't really over yet. I'll leave you now with how Emma looked yesterday while presents were being opened:


Please click on the above images for higher-resolution versions, especially the ones of our neighbor's tree.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas and Other Things

Merry Christmas!

The sound file, linked above, was recorded by Grace in Adam's studio.

You must click here (or on the picture) and listen to the message in order to view the rest of this blog entry legally. If you do not do so, and yet continue to read the rest, then you are at risk of a visit from Raul's legal team.

2008 Christmas Tree, Ft. Harrington

Speaking of Adam and his studio, the second episode of "Gorilla in the Greenhouse" was released this month. Go check it out -- Adam (the voice of K. J., the eponymous gorilla) has only about four lines in this episode, but he delivers them with consummate professionalism. More than I can say for whoever checked the science in this episode.

This blog's good friend, Theriomorph, and her Hero Dog, Gilgamesh, have suffered a great loss recently. Please visit and condole if you wish; Nellie was an example of why we can be proud to be mammals.

Peace out, as they say, and looking forward to exchanging photons with you all in 2009.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Archbold Stadium and Number 44

Eleven-year-old Sherwood (in sporty sport coat at left) enters Syracuse University's Archbold Stadium to watch the Orangemen play the University of Pittsburgh Panthers on November 1, 1958.

Syracuse University's Archbold Stadium, now long gone, was built in the early 1900's, and was the template for the "bowl" oval stadia that dotted the big-time football map through most of the 20th century. Michigan's "Big House" probably represents the high point of that phenomenon, but other worthy successors abound: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Orange Bowl in Miami, all have roots to some degree to old Archbold.

Halftime, November 1, 1958.

Syracuse beat the Pitt Panthers, 16-13, in this very good year leading up to the great year of 1959. In 1959, the Orangemen won their only national championship, and their great running back, Ernie Davis, won the Heisman trophy, an honor that had eluded his predecessor, Jim Brown.

Dad was a Syracuse alum, and took me to many games at old Archbold Stadium. In front of my eyes, I saw Jim Brown play for Ben Schwartzwalder, and Ernie Davis dance through defenders, and Gerhart Schwedes invent the tight end position, and Jim Ridlon ricochet through defensive lines, and many, many others invent on the fly, and fly high.

When we didn't drive the 65 miles from Norwich to Syracuse on fall Saturdays, I was plastered to the radio, listening to Bill O'Donnell anxiously count the game clock "tick - tick - ticking" down to the end of the game.

I spent my falls enthralled.

And I learned to revere the number 44. Jim Brown wore it, and his triumphant and tragic successor, Ernie Davis, did as well. College Hall of Famer [and in February 2010 NFL Hall of Famer] Floyd Little did so later, too. The number became so iconic that Syracuse University requested -- and was granted -- a new postal zip code, 13244.

Beyond Syracuse, Henry Aaron wore #44 when he broke a cherished white man's record in baseball, and Reggie Jackson wore it in Yankee Stadium as he was strutting his brashness along with his talent.

Archbold Stadium's field is where #44 came to mean something proud for black men, and signify achievement beyond not only expectation, but beyond bounds of provincial preconceptions or stagnant comfort levels.

Last month, we Americans elected our 44th President, a black man who, we all hope, will wear the number as well as those went before him did. I wonder if he knows what "Archbold Stadium" was, or what its heroes achieved. I won't be surprised if he does.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Between the War and Me

Last week's Thanksgiving break was an unusually placid one here at Ft. Harrington. The swirl of family circumstances gave us little to do in the way of entertaining or being entertained, so Diane and I had a very peaceful stretch of four days just to ourselves and our menagerie. I wouldn't want that to happen in very many years, but it was nice for a change, and gave us time to just rest and putter.

Part of my puttering involved the slide scanner and my dad's boxes of thousands of 35mm slides. This time, I concentrated on images from the 1940's and 1950's, including a set from Mom and Dad's first year after their marriage.

They met in Atlanta during World War II. Dad, an X-Ray technician in the service, was stationed at Ft. Oglethorpe at the end of the war, and my mother was working at Grady Hospital, having put her graduate work at Emory University on hold for The Duration. They met at a roller rink, where Dad had gone to accompany one of his buddies who was courting Mom's glamorous sister. The match that actually struck at the rink, though, was ignited by Catherine Murphy and Sgt. Lynn Harrington.

Courting at the Southeastern World's Fair, Atlanta, 1945.

Before being drafted in 1942, Dad had just started his career as a teacher in a high school in Mount Upton, a tiny town along the Unadilla River in Upstate New York, and he was mustered out as close to where he had been roped in as the Army could manage in the hectic, happy days after the end of the War. Shortly after they married, he was transferred to Patchogue, New York (on Long Island), and shortly after that, he was free. He went back to the Unadilla Valley with his Georgia bride, and back to work at the Mount Upton school. That was not surprising; where they lived then was astonishing.

They settled in to an abandoned farm on the top of the western Unadilla slopes, a place they always after referred to as "the Old Farm." The plan, overly-ambitious from the get-go, was to refurbish the place into a decent homestead from its terminally dilapidated condition. Here are a few of Dad's photos from that adventure:

The farmhouse was beyond repair, rotting away. (I don't know who the people are in the above photo; Mom and Dad are certainly not among them. They're probably family members, since folks from Dad's family in Syracuse visited their project often.) Mom and Dad set up perpetual camp in one of the smaller outbuildings, and worked to transform it into a viable living space.

The kitchen, 1946.

The first bedroom.

The sleeping arrangement may look cozy, but -- familiar as I am now with the effects of moisture on straw bedding for our chickens -- if the "mattress" ever got wet, it was bad news.

Working on the roof of the living shelter, 1946.

Mom's hammer-wielding technique could use some work itself here, but there's no mistaking the determination on her face.

Proud roofer on his finished product.

Mom enjoys the view from the front yard, summer, 1946.

Visitors in the summer of '46: Dad's parents with my cousin Allen van Patten in the background.

Dad's mom passed away a year later, a month before I was born. His dad, Arthur George Harrington, was a machine-gang foreman in Syracuse during the depression, and is the child mentioned in this document from 1876.

Mom in what passed for a back yard, summer, 1946.

Visiting (or running from) neighbors, 1946.

Mom, remember, was a recently-transplanted city girl. She never did quite get used to being close to cows.

Harvesting apples from the Old Farm's land, late fall, 1946.

A fine home along the approach road to the Old Farm, winter '46-'47. The Old Farm site is up the hill behind us from this vantage point.

This sort of thing must have been an enormous shock to an Atlanta gal's system -- but she weathered 37 more Upstate winters with aplomb before they, in retirement, moved back South.

The end of one adventure, the beginning of another.

My maternal grandmother holds me in the above photo, probably the first picture ever taken of yours truly, late June, 1947. The Old Farm experiment was done, and they moved to the urban environs of Oxford, New York (population: maybe 2,000 then) one valley to the west. Dad soon took a better-paying job than the little school could afford, and worked with the Norwich Pharmacal Company, eight miles north of Oxford, for the rest of his working life; Mom re-entered the world of biochemical research with Eaton Laboratories, an arm of the same company, and she, likewise, remained employed there until retirement.

In front of our Oxford home, winter 1949.

But the Old Farm remained in them somewhere deep, and appreciation for what it meant, both historically and as part of a fundamental worldview, managed to work its way into me somehow.

This year's was a good Thanksgiving for me, all things considered. A very good one.