About WoodswomanWrites.com

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m in love with life and eager to learn from it. I’m a naturalist and professional do-gooder, committed to making the world a better place and savoring the joy along the way. Thanks for visiting my blog. This is my place to share stories and photos of my travels, indulge in creative expression and musings, ponder how I can help create a just world for others, and share my sense of wonder at being alive. I welcome your feedback about my blog. I’m a professional writer and available for editing projects as well as individual writing coaching. Contact me at woodswomancalifornia@gmail.com.

Ashes – A Poem

Photo by Andy LeSavage

I grab the damp sponge to wipe up the black soot that has blown in on my window sills
I stop in mid-reach
Whose lives have arrived with the thick smoke from 50 miles away

This fine dust
Made of the ordinary and the treasured heirloom
Tomorrow’s to-do list
An aged letter from an ancestor
The walls of a home
A favorite book
A favorite person suddenly cremated at 1 a.m.

I close the windows to minimize the thick smoke creeping into the house
I stare again at the ash and put down the sponge
Instead I wipe away tears for the thousands of neighbors who have arrived in the wind

Donations to help the Sonoma County community recover from the fires can be made through North Bay Fire Relief, a partnership of Redwood Credit Union and the Press Democrat, or through the Resilience Fund of Community Foundation Sonoma County.

Total Solar Eclipse in Oregon

Wonder. Awe. That was the experience of watching the solar eclipse. Words rarely fail me but this one is a challenge to describe.

My sister, our friend and I took in this extraordinary event from the deck of my sister’s house overlooking the forest. We stared through our eclipse glasses at an image of a diminishing orange orb surrounded by absolute blackness, and alternated with taking the glasses off to watch the changing light around us. We wondered what behavior we’d see from the birds that ignored us during their repeated trips to the feeders—hairy woodpeckers, hummingbirds, juncos, red-breasted nuthatches, Steller’s jays, chestnut-backed chickadees.


Red-breasted nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch


Hairy woodpecker


Steller’s jay


Chestnut-backed chickadee

In the beginning, there was no obvious change in the landscape. But what a show unfolded above us, as the curve of the moon’s shadow began to make its way across the face of the sun, a barely visible spot that we watched gradually reach totality in a little more than an hour. The image reminded me of a harvest moon with its amber color through my glasses. Except the expanding crescent shape looked nothing like the moon.

The temperature dropped and a breeze picked up. The shadows around us grew longer. We were astonished as all around us, countless crescent shapes of light shone on the wood grain of the deck, juxtaposed against the shadows of the leaves.


A chair made of simple beige and gold lined fabric became the sun’s canvas for a work of art.

The light continued to fade. It was unlike any light we had ever seen, not at all like dusk. The birds fell silent.

Then… the lines! Shadow bands raced across the ground. And the light suddenly vanished.

We took off our eclipse glasses and stared at the dark image and the corona shining around it, listening to essentially the whole town of Corvallis cheering along with us. How could we not?

As the moon’s shadow moved, a bright flash like a strobe pierced the sky as the first sunlight returned. Over a bit more than an hour, we watched the sun come back. The birds sang again and eventually the crescent shapes disappeared.

It left us breathless. We agreed there really are no words to genuinely describe the experience. Everyone who shared it that I’ve spoken with has said the same. Millions of people on our small planet twirling in the universe, unified in amazement.

Watch a 30-second timelapse video of the eclipse in Corvallis, from the Washington Post/Reuters.

Pinnacles National Park – At a Distance and Up Close

After many years of drought, Northern California this spring was a vibrant palette of colorful plants. Back in April before the blistering heat of what is now summer, I spent a few days at Pinnacles National Park exploring the contrast of the rough rock and the graceful flowers and bright lichens.

The pinnacles are a geologic formation that grew out of two plates of the earth’s crust coming together, with an ancient volcano and erosion thrown into the mix. The humps and spires of the High Peaks Trail arise from the rolling hills below, and they are a frequent haunt of endangered California condors that have been reintroduced here.


View of the High Peaks from below

As I hiked up, the unique formations began to come into view.
The High Peaks Trail is not for the faint of heart with its overhangs and steep steps carved into the rockface. Some places have handrails.
In some places, the rock surface itself is the option to steady yourself.
Climbing up to the top rewards you with sweeping views.

As always when in nature, many of the wonders require a look up close. Spring life was everywhere, from lichens on the rocks to wildflowers.

Lizard in the sunshine

Bush poppy

Blue witch

Fiddleneck

Silver bush lupine

Pipestems

Wooly paintbrush

California poppy, the official state flower

Fremont’s monkeyflower

Gray mules ears

Bitter root growing on the trail, with the protection someone constructed around it

Unknown flowers

Lichen

Multiple species of lichen

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. – Rumi, 13th century

I stopped when the coyote and I met eyes, I descending the Marin Headlands trail and she standing a couple hundred yards away down the hill. For the next few minutes we meandered in the same direction across the landscape, with me stopping to let her move on unhurried before we would cross paths again. When I started my car to head home, she emerged once more. I cut the engine and watched as she spotted a gopher, got into position, pounced, stuck her nose in the hole when she missed, and eventually moved off.

It’s easy to forget how much beauty surrounds me when my mind spirals downward. I recommit myself to draw inspiration from nature and continue working on bettering both myself and the world that I’m a part of.

This photo of a coyote was taken by Len Blumin and is shared here with permission. You can see more of his stunning wildlife photography at his Flickr photostream.

Walking in the Footsteps of Galileo – The March for Science

On Earth Day this year, 50,000 other sane people and I walked down Market Street in the March for Science in San Francisco. Until recently, I would not have thought I’d have to defend that most basic of nonpartisan concepts—science. You know, the field that brought us handwashing.

Alone, it’s easy to despair and feel powerless in these challenging times. But that wasn’t possible when I was surrounded by so many committed people of all ages with their creative signs and costumes.

While the purpose was serious, our collective mood was upbeat. This is why I attend peaceful protests—to recharge for the slog that is social change. I will continue to show up.

Me and the other heretics.

The North Coast in Winter

redwood-stump-at-humboldt-beach-1-2017-smallOn New Year’s weekend, I journeyed to California’s North Coast. Although I’ve blogged about hiking through the giant redwoods in this region when it’s warm and dry, this was my first trip in the winter. My friend and I stayed on the coast, the seasonal home of wading waterfowl. I often get these look-alike birds mixed up, so it was helpful to travel with expert birder Brian who could identify species.

Layered up in the cold rain with few people around, we spotted wildlife at Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. A peregrine falcon plucked the feathers from her breakfast. A trio of otters watched us before swimming away. I managed to sneak in a few photos between the raindrops.

otter-arcata-marsh-1-2017-smallotter-duo-arcata-march-1-2017-smallmarbled-godwit-and-dunlins-arcata-marsh-1-2017-small
Dunlins with a marbled godwit

snowy-and-great-egrets-arcata-marsh-12-2016-smallSnowy egret (left) and great egret

Visiting a place in a different season is a wonder of discovery. At Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, we encountered dramatic dark clouds and enormous storm waves, miles of beach with no other footprints, bright berries and spongy lichens as the earth thrived on plentiful water after so many years of drought. Waves swirled around giant redwood stumps as the sanderlings skittered between the waves to feed on molluscs in the wet sand.

ground-berries-and-lichen-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallLow-growing berries and lichen

beach-strawberries-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallBeach strawberry

beach-sky-stumps-grass-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-feeding-sanderlings-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-flying-sanderlings-humboldt-nwr-1-2017-smallredwood-stump-and-solo-sanderling-humboldt-bay-nwr-1-2017-small

This may have been my first trip to the North Coast during the winter, but it was so beautiful that I don’t think it will be my last.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like: Action at the Airport

When I read the news about the president’s executive order targeting Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and heard about the protest at San Francisco International Airport, I knew how I was going to spend my Sunday. Somewhere hidden in that airport were unfortunate travelers in custody, separated from their families based solely on their ethnicity and country of origin. My friend Saret and I headed down early to help out the couple dozen committed souls who spent the night there after some of the thousands there the day before had headed home.

I made my simple sign, writing in black marker on a piece of paper in between chants of “No bans, no wall, sanctuary for all” and “Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.” Just a simple message in big enough letters to read from a distance: “Let them in.”
beverly-with-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-cropped-smallWhen Saret had to leave for work, I connected with a number of new friends who were good company throughout the day.

jews-for-muslims-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

no-ban-no-wall-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

we-are-all-all-immigrants-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

i-stand-with-immigrants-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

muslims-are-not-isis-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

multiple-signs-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-small

As people came and went they left their signs behind to be picked up by others.

signs-collection-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallAttorneys arrived and offered their services, forming a spontaneous team. Some set themselves up in a coffee shop as their legal headquarters. Others walked around prominently to direct people to the headquarters, and asked around to find people who could translate their signs into Farsi and Arabic for arriving travelers. At one attorney’s request, our crowd chanted our support: “Let the lawyers in, let the families out.”

attoney-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallAs the hours passed, more and more people arrived at the airport. We sang and chanted while some American travelers happened upon our protest and cheered for us.

crowd-scene-with-toddler-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallDroves of supporters had started dropping off food the previous day for people staying overnight, and there continued to be lots of food available on tables along the sidewalk outside the terminal.

protest-food-station-af-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallSympathetic managers at San Francisco International Airport issued a formal statement of support: “We appreciate all those who have so passionately expressed their concerns over the President’s Executive Order relating to immigration. We share these concerns deeply, as our highest obligation is to the millions of people from around the world whom we serve. Although Customs and Border Protection services are strictly federal and operate outside the jurisdiction of all U.S. airports, including SFO, we have requested a full briefing from this agency to ensure our customers remain the top priority. We are also making supplies available to travelers affected by this Executive Order, as well as to the members of the public who have so bravely taken a stand against this action by speaking publicly in our facilities.”

constitution-sign-at-sfo-protest-1-29-17-smallHundreds more people continued to stream in as I headed home. Eventually there would be 1,000. Later in the day the last person detained, a man from Iran, was finally released and united with his worried family.

This is indeed what democracy looks like. To get involved with a national movement with your local neighbors, I hope you’ll join me in connecting with Indivisible. Please spread the word.

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