Weathering the Extremes

Today’s flooding in San Jose made national news, so I’ve put together a brief post to let my friends know that my family is safe and dry. [drone footage, no audio below]

We’ve had a reversal of fortunes so to speak, replacing six years of drought with one of the wettest winters in recent memory. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for nearly fifty years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.

As our reservoirs reached capacity in early January, we let out a collective sigh. The drought could now be viewed from the rear-view mirror.

It kept raining. Then it rained some more. Powerful, drenching, atmospheric river styled storms, up and down the state. We had brief days of dry weather, followed by more intense storms.

Mountainous regions about twenty miles south had two or three times the rainfall. Nearly 50,000 commuters travel the mountainous corridor daily between Santa Cruz and San Jose. Trees and slopes, barely hanging on after so many years of drought were suddenly deluged with water. This  led to collapsed roads, devastating mudslides, falling trees and sinkholes. Flooded roads and lane closures have been a daily occurrence now for weeks.

To our north, friends in Oroville have been dealing with a failed spillway.  The Oroville Spillway serves America’s tallest dam. During a recent storm, a section the size of multiple football fields failed, sending water gushing off the sides and threatening homes along the Feather River below. At one point, over 180,000 people evacuated fearing the river would overflow, flooding homes and businesses along its path.  My friend Barbara lives just above the Feather River, and has written her personal account Vegan Above The Flood Plane on her blog AtFiftySomething.

Over the weekend, we’ve been closely monitoring the Anderson Reservoir, the largest in Silicon Valley. Due to seismic concerns, officials prefer to keep the reservoir at 68% of capacity. It reached 103% over the weekend, and continued to fill with today’s rains.

I don’t know why San Jose didn’t order a mandatory evacuation. All the signs were there. I checked notifications from my couch all day, as I’m home recovering from a stomach virus. Then the worst happened. The water overflowed the banks along the river, forcing emergency evacuations. Footage shows fire fighters in neck-high water bringing residences to safety.  The water is filthy, contaminated with everything in its path. Folks living in homeless encampments had to be rescued from trees. Heartbreaking.

I’ve never been so grateful for a warm, safe, dry home. As soon as I’m well, I’ll be off this couch, finding a way to pay it forward. Our community has already rallied. This rain-loving gardener has never been so happy to see a few days of sun in the forecast. I’ll share more as the news unfolds.

Wordy Wednesday?

word-cloud-wordy-wednesdayAre you familiar with #Wordless Wednesday?

Bloggers, Twitter users and Instagram aficionados publish a single, captioned photo mid-week. Wordless…as in no words. Hmm.

Either I lack the confidence to post a photo that I think should stand alone, or I simply have too much to say.  I would like to propose a new hashtag called #Wordy-Wednesday.  Of course “wordy” sounds like something my 7th grade English teacher might abhor.

“The rain, in Spain, stays mainly in the plane” would never fly when

“It’s raining in the Spanish planes” is more concise. (Apologies to My Fair Lady)

It could be #Words-Wednesday but that would probably just get shortened to #words. I wonder how many hits the hashtag #words might get in a day?

Okay, I’m back. According to Google, about 2,120,000,000 results (0.90 seconds)

With that, I think I’ve come full circle. If you’ve read this far, you’ll know that I’m just over the 150 word count, and you’re probably thinking “Alys…get to the point!”

The point is, I like to write, and I like to read what you write and I like to read the comments that you write when I write. Here is my #Wordy-Wednesday.

The atmospheric river is back, delivering more heavy rain in back-to-back storms. I headed over the hill (for the appointment I cancelled last month due to the storms) only to be thwarted yet again. The rain cleared for a few hours mid-day and traffic reports said I could get there in about an hour. Crews were clearing a mudslide, with one open lane. Then as I approached the area of the highway without any easy exits, traffic slowed to a crawl and then stopped.

highway-17-mudlside

Stopped in traffic on Highway 17

A second major mudslide lay ahead and there was nowhere to go. Close to an hour later, crews created a turnaround and both lanes of traffic slowly made u-turns going back in the direction we came. Nearly two and a half hours later I found myself back home thinking that perhaps I’ll cancel all of my over the hill appointments until late March. What a slog.

The amazing news is that no one got hurt. The massive slide dumped mud, rocks and trees along two lanes of the highway, lifting a man in his truck up and then over the side rails, dropping the truck upside down. The man walked away from the accident unharmed!

Dozens of people worked over night to try to clear and shore up the area. They expect more slides today. Here is some amazing footage of a mudslide in action, taken from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser.

https://www.facebook.com/CHP-Santa-Cruz-940796342622481/

If you click on the Facebook link, then scroll down to February 7th, you can see the video.

Again, no injuries.

Throughout the Bay Area, massive trees are down, homes flooded and at least one home split in two and slid part way down the hill. I’m grateful for the people who keep showing up for work with chainsaws, heavy equipment, and a can-do attitude.

When it rains, it pours. #Word

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One Month, Four Seasons

As January draws to a close I’m struggling mightily to find some equilibrium.

It’s been a month of cold and frosty nights. It burns off early, but some of our plants collapsed from the cold.

Frozen Nasturtium

Frozen Nasturtium

These nasturtiums bloomed last spring, died in the heat of summer, then self-seeded in late November. The frost did them in.

frozen-bird-bath

Frozen bird bath

frost-kitty-paws-in-the-garden

Frosty paw prints courtesy of Mouse

It’s also been a month of rain.  Cold days gave way to magnificent rain storms. It was too much all at once, but at the same time exactly what we needed. The sky opened up and dumped record-breaking rain on our parched state.

Almaden Lake after a storm

Washed out trail along Almaden Lake

The powers that be declared last week that the six-year California drought is all but over.

Pacific storms in early January have brought widespread, intense precipitation to California, providing relief to some drought-stricken regions but also flooding. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 35% of the state is no longer experiencing drought, and the proportion of areas under extreme-to-exceptional drought fell from 38% on January 3rd to 28 percent by January 10. Cumulative precipitation hit a record high, doubling the historical average for this time of year. While a weak La Niña persists, sea surface temperature will transition back to normal by February 2017. Surface reservoirs, especially in Northern California, are beginning to refill, but groundwater aquifers in many parts of the state remain severely over drafted and will take far longer to recover. Source: Californiadrought.org

Yesterday the temperatures climbed into the high sixties (19 C). A week of unseasonably warm days offered a much-needed dry out for communities with overflowing riverbanks and mudslides. Potholes turned into sinkholes, and the CHP humorously named one Steve.  You can read about Steve’s short “life” as a magnificent sinkhole here. I’ve been raking pine needles, removing dead branches and gently pruning damaged leaves.

thinning-the-grass-on-the-walkway

And finally, it’s been a season of disquieting change.

The country said goodbye to President Obama and First Lady Michelle.  Obama the candidate campaigned on hope. Once elected, he brought intelligence and grace to the White House. Obama governed in measured and thoughtful ways, and his presidency was one of inclusiveness.  When the US elected its first black president, it gave the rest of the world hope. The United States was not a racist nation after all!

I still don’t know how we got here? January draws to a close in a season of hatred. Inexplicably, this country reversed course. We’re on a maddening and frightening  path to the 1930s.

san jose women's march

San Jose Women’s March * January 21, 2017

I’m trying to find a balance between action and despair. It’s only about a week since the women’s march and I’m already feeling deflated. Pauline said it bluntly: we’ve elected a mad man.

None of the rules apply.

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Have Yourself a Fairy Little Christmas

Soft Rains and Healthy Brains

While enjoying the sound of a soft rain outside my window, I looked for articles that explain my sense of euphoria with each passing storm.

hummingbird-in-the-rain

Anna’s Hummingbird having a drink at one of the feeders

Apparently I’m a pluviophile!

According to an article in LifeHack

People who love rain bask in their experiences. They can describe the rain in vivid detail, from the mesmerizing pitter-patter sound, to the hypnotic way each drop magnifies and changes the scenery on the other side of the window pane. Pluviophiles appreciate the scent of a fresh storm and the delicious feel of water dripping down their skin. They even know the taste of fresh drops as they look upwards with arms outstretched and welcome a cool drink from the clouds.

It’s nice to be understood. There are dozens of articles on the mood-altering effects of rain, most of them describing how people feel sad or out of sorts when it rains.

curb-garden-variegated-plant-in-rainIt took some digging to find an article supporting my rain-loving ways. I quickly forwarded a copy to my older son. He’s home from college for the Thanksgiving break, and heads out the door every time it rains. He loves it as much as I do.

My garden certainly appreciates the rain. The plants stand a little taller, grateful for the cleansing rinse. Leaves brighten to a shiny green as the plant’s roots welcome the long, steady drink.

sweet-peas-after-a-rain

Sweet Peas, blooming for the second time this year

This Anna’s hummingbird took a shower from the branches of the Chinese Pistache. Apparently he’s a pluviophile too.

Anna's hummigbird in the rain

Male Anna’s Hummingbird enjoying the rain

Post-Election Processing

I read a blog post this weekend that resonated with me, so I’m sharing it here. Martha Brettschneider writes of the benefits of mindfulness to help us process and move forward in a positive way.

She described the election outcome as triggering a sense of “social mistrust.”

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that social mistrust is a stress response to not feeling safe, respected, or valued in our community. It’s a deeper, more toxic level of stress than your normal everyday stress, with even stronger physiological impacts on our health and well-being.

You can read the full article here.

Martha discusses ways to transform your stress from “paralyzing to empowering.” If you’ve been struggling with this as I have, than this article is for you..

I’ve done a number of things in the past ten days along these lines. I’ll share more in a future post.

An Ominous Autumn Beginning

These last few days have been surreal. We’ve been under a heat advisory since Thursday, the first day of autumn here in San Jose.  Temperatures climbed into the high 90’s F (34C) and have remained high for five days. It’s been months since we’ve had any significant rain, leaving our state brown and dry as we face year five of the California drought.

Wildfires are always a concern this time of year, but the elevated temps and the drought-produced fuel created a tipping point.  As I drove to my son’s school Monday afternoon I saw this:

loma-fire-by-day

Loma Fire by day as view from my son’s high school

My heart sank. These are the beloved Santa Cruz mountains, part of what surrounds San Jose, creating our iconic Silicon Valley.

When I got home, I checked in with friends that live “over the hill” and all were safe. Cal Fire crews descended on the steep terrain from around the state and we are obsessively checking for updates.

Two hours after the start of this fire, we sat down to watch the presidential debates. An estimated 800,000 viewers tuned in for the first of four televised presidential candidate debates.  Between the fire, the heat and the bombastic Republican nominee spewing nonsensical pablum on the stage, I needed a break.

We turned off the TV and went for a walk around the block. Still out of sorts, we decided to go for a rare evening drive.

One of the most frightening aspects of wildfires is their unpredictability. They rage out of control, change directions without notice and leave damage in their wake. It’s a metaphor for the US presidential election, still an agonizing 40 days away. I’m desperate for it to be over, fearful of the possible outcome, and more than ready to see that bombastic blowhard lose.

loma-fire-at-night

Loma Fire at night, Loma Prieta, California

This morning I received the following email alert:

[the fire]  is now burning upwards of 1,500 acres. Three shelters have been opened for evacuated residents; Soquel HS in Santa Cruz, Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church, and The Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos are all receiving evacuees. San Jose Fire Department still has multiple units on scene including our SJFD PIO and Chief Officers. We are still on high alert for possible evacuations here on the San Jose side. As you know high temperatures and low fuel moisture along with difficult terrain make this fire particularly dangerous.

This is a good day to remind myself to practice self-care. I’m engaging my Tantra breathing, drinking lots of cool, fresh water and sticking to my meal plan.

How do you manage your stress, when things are out of your control?

Loma Fire Day One

Another Busy Wildfire Season

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August Doldrums: Dirty Air, Dryer Woes and a Cat Named Slinky

I have the August doldrums. Blah!

It is usually hot, dry and smoggy in San Jose throughout August. It’s been particularly bad this year with multiple wildfires burning up and down the state.

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

After five years of the drought, there is plenty of fuel feeding the wildfires. Millions of trees have died from drought-related conditions, providing even more fuel than usual. According to News Deeply

A bark beetle epidemic driven by drought is killing off millions of trees in the Sierra Nevada as California starts another summer plagued by drought and higher temperatures.

This is the driest time of year, with virtually no rain during the months of July, August and September.

The Soberanes fire started in July in Monterey County, not far from the lovely town of Carmel where we spent our get away weekend in March. It’s only 60% contained and fire crews don’t expect to have it out until September 30th!  Because San Jose is in a valley, the smoke gathers in the basin, with no wind or rain to carry it away. It adds to such a sense of gloom when the skies are a hazy gray. Even when you avoid the news, as I’m trying to do, it’s impossible not to see those hazy skies and realize what’s happening around us.

august smog

Believe it or not, there is a mountain range beyond the trees. You can just make it out.

valley fair view smog

View of the mountains from a nearby shopping center.

My dryer woes aren’t nearly as dramatic, but oh what a pain. We bought a new washer and dryer in late June and took deliver July 8th. They purred like the proverbial kitten and as with all new appliances, they use less water and less energy…when they work.

The first time I used the steam setting on the dryer it leaked water on the floor. Assuming it wasn’t properly connected, Mike contacted the appliance store who referred us to a certified repair shop. The first repair person said he needed a part (for a brand new dryer!) and would have to take the dryer to the shop because he didn’t have enough room to repair it in our home. I asked him to please leave the dryer till he received the part so that I could dry clothes on other settings. A week later, and before the part arrived, the dryer started making a loud banging noise, akin to putting a bowling ball on the fluff cycle. In addition to that awful noise it also smelled like stale smoke. Did I mention that the dryer was only a few weeks old?

A second crew came out on a Friday and took our dryer back to their shop. Meanwhile, laundry for four piled up. They promised to return it Monday, than Tuesday and by Wednesday we were mostly out of clean clothes and towels. I loaded up the dirty clothes, headed to the laundry mat, and spent three hours getting it done.

A third repair person returned and reinstalled the dryer on Thursday, turned it on and asked “does it always make that noise?”

Ah….no.

I explained that the “bowling-ball-on-the-fluff-cycle” noise was one of two reasons the dryer was in for repairs. He said he didn’t understand why they would take the machine back to the shop, but there was nothing to be done for it that day and off he went.

Are you still with me?

A fourth crew (an experienced repair tech and a tech-in-training came out and spent three more hours trying to repair the machine. They completely dismantled it, spreading out the parts in my narrow side yard, then left to buy “longer screws” assuring me that the manufacturer-installed screws were too short.

This made no sense to me, but I’m not an appliance technician. I gave them directions to the nearest Home Depot and off they went. Once they had it all put back together they insisted all was well and that the sound of the dryer was “normal”. I signed the repair order but with an asterisk and note saying that my signature did not mean it was “repaired to my satisfaction” only that it appeared to be working…for now.

Gosh it felt good to have my dryer back and in working condition.

For two loads, that is.

The appliance repair shop has now washed their hands of us and the manufacturer opened a claim. I’ve tried (twice) to email my request to the service protection plan, only to receive error messages. When I call they say “volume is high” and to please fill out the form on the web. Sigh

And then there is Slinky.

Slinky napping in the garden

Slinky napping in the garden

She is still hanging in there, but I’ve seen a recent decline. She saw our vet twice last week, which led to a diagnoses of a “very large hyperechoic cystic mass on her liver”. The better news is that it is NOT cancer, but a benign growth. She continues to eat, groom and purr, all good signs, but she’s lost more weight. She’s a tiny 5 pounds, about 2.5 kilos. She’s not in any pain and as long as she continues with a good quality of life, we are happy to have her with us. My heart is heavy when I see her tiny frame, but then she purrs in my face or crawls in my lap and I can see that for now she’s doing okay.

I know many of you live with cats or dogs, so you can relate to the angst.

Nothing magical or transformative will happen when I turn the page to September, but I still find myself craving the fresh start of a new month.

I’m grateful that Slinky is still with us. I appreciate Cal Fire crews and their tireless efforts fighting wildfires throughout the state. I’m grateful for the clean and well maintained laundry mat nearby. Having a washer and a dryer in my home is a luxury that I know others can’t afford. The same was true for me for many years and I try hard never to take it for granted.

cal fire collage

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the cooler days of autumn, clearer skies and the days we have left with Slinky.

How is the world treating you?

Of Possible Interest:

Topographical map of San Jose/Silicon Valley

CalFire official website

Fascinating article on prototype design for the Developing World Laundry System