Views From The Mountain

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I’m going to post a few photos I’ve taken from our back deck and let them pretty much tell their own story, with a few notes by way of explanation. That’s sunrise above. Since we’re located almost in the geographical center of the city, if you could look a bit to the left of the scene shown above, you’d see some of the taller buildings of downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge as well. Directly ahead is Mt. Diablo in Contra Costa County, the summit and lower slopes of which make up a series of interlocking county parks and public and private protected areas, a really beautiful world of native plants, trees and Spring wildflowers. The lights of various East Bay communities are coming on as people make their coffee, fix breakfast, prepare to go to work. I always associate scenes like this with Fall and Spring, the two seasons of the year when we generally have little fog and only intermittent rain, so you can actually see something. Early in the morning I’m busy taking dogs out, sweeping the deck, making tea, but occasionally I’ve got the camera nearby and can take a snapshot of something I’ll really want to remember.

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Sometimes we get these intermittent moving mists which weave in and out from the ocean, traveling inland in long fingers of cloud, advancing, withdrawing, then advancing again among the hills and neighborhoods around and below us. Eventually they clear, if we’re lucky, and we’ll have a nice dry sunny day. In the scene above, you can see Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, north of the Golden Gate, another county park. I’m told I climbed Mt. Tamalpais at age four, but I don’t remember it, though my energetic young parents were always taking us off on weekends and vacations devoted to camping, hiking and fishing just for fun. At the center of the picture you can see some of the houses on the sides and summits of the neighborhoods known as Forest Hill and Forest Hill Extension, and below those some of the large clumps of eucalyptus trees planted in the 19th century which gather moisture from the fog, which then drenches the earth below, creating whole rain forests of trees on the Mt. Davidson slopes.

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Here you’re looking at a storm at sea in the late afternoon. It’s a very cold rough world out there, and since I’m not particularly adventurous or hardy, I have great admiration for the freighter and liner crews and captains who venture out into those thousands of miles of empty and often stormy Pacific, perhaps the most misnamed Ocean in the world. My grandmother’s father and uncles, carpenters and woodworkers all, built their own boats in 19th century Norway in the Nordland style of their native province, then sailed them for fun and profit on fishing expeditions through the Lofoten Islands and along the convoluted and treacherous northern Norwegian coast. Scenes like the one above always make me think of them. And I had a beloved nephew who perished a few years ago when, first man on deck during the early morning watch, he was swept ashore by a freak wave while sailing more than thirty miles out to sea just a bit north from where we live on an on otherwise joyous trip. So any glance at the ocean, especially on stormy days as pictured above, is a very sobering experience for me.

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Sunset comes swiftly up here for some reason. I’m not a night person. Perhaps it has something to do with millenia of ancestors living in arctic Europe in primitive and difficult conditions: night would generally have been fraught with dangers and alive with the mythical creatures of forest and meadows and seas which bring color and the occasional shiver to the reading of Scandinavian folktales today. That’s our neighbor’s enormous cypress tree in the picture. I think of it as watching over us, since it was certainly here already before the house itself was built in 1950. It’s home to squirrels and raccoons and some pretty impressive birds. And it gathers fog in its branches to hurl against the back of the house on misty days. 

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