Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vernal Pools

It was glorious driving up to the wine country this morning. My annual poetry residency at Alexander Valley School in Healdsburg began today. April first foolishness and National Poetry Month.

Mt. Tamalpais, the Sleeping Lady was silhouetted razor sharp against the dawn horizon and I could see all three bay bridges at once. I could almost touch the Golden Gate from the Richmond Bridge.

San Francisco was like Atlantis rising from the sea. The bay was silver and peach, cerulean and gold. Opalescent skin. Even San Quentin took on an otherworld charm. The prisoners on Death Row will never know how they were gift wrapped in a bon-bon box of light.

Sea lions lolled in great numbers on the small patch of land beneath the girders of the bridge and on the shores of Red Rock Island like fat slugs, lazily scratched themselves with an articulated flipper.

Cormorants winged north on urgent business. Three blimpy sea birds, far too fat for ducks, chuffed and slogged up the bay on ridiculously tiny wings. The seabirds followed the span of the bridge as I was driving, so we were a party of four, me in my car and they were flying alongside, dressed in little tuxedos. I think they were tufted puffins blown way off course. I saw them once out at Point Reyes. Sometimes they come inland from the Farrallon Island rookeries on their way north.

The verdant slopes of the coastal ridges were liberally dusted in lupine and poppy; goldenrod and buttercups. The new leaves of the oaks in the meadow were coppery celadon and chartreuse against the apple green grass. Where the soil was disturbed, the grass was pale, as if dewstruck, while the rest of the grass was a rich saturated green.

Off Highway 101, I spotted the remains of a rare vernal pool blossoming at the edge of the Petaluma-Novato dump. Imagine a bright bathtub ring or a necklace of butter & eggs and meadow foam encircling standing clay-lined pools.

As the landfill grows in stature, this part of the marsh is cut off from the Petaluma slough, but silver ribbons of water from Mt. Burdell still meander toward the bay, skirting both the ancient island, and the new artificial mound.

Most of the North Bay counties vernal looks have been drained, plywood palaces built upon these fragile ancient ecosystems, each pool with their own species of frog, newt, shrimp and flower. 

Each successive ring in the the paleolithic vernal pools is another distinct sub-species of flower, so as the water evaporates, each species of flower takes their turn growing. In Merced, and Sonoma, I have seen in vernal pools, successive floral rings of pink, white and yellow, as if it was a hallucination of posies, like a child's drawing.

The rest of the field east of Olompali has been drained. Ditches running straight to the Petaluma slough (I mean River—it took an act of congress to name this ancient waterway a river, once it was the mouthpiece of a mighty paleolithic river, the Rio Grande (the Russian River had two mouths.)

Already the marsh ground is scarred brown with uterine decay. How many centuries have these vernal pools endured? Progress comes in the form of a ditch and I mourn the loss of another ancient pool. Soon there will be none.

By the county dump,
lupine and poppies drape verdant hills
in a riot of indigo and gold.
At the edge of the drained marsh,
saxifrage and meadow foam
hold vigil in the last vernal pool.
Progress is measured
by a ditch marching straight to the bay.


A link to my post on the San Geronimo Valley vernal pools.

Some links on California vernal pools.

California wetlands information system map of vernal pools. Novato and Lagunitas are not on the wetlands map. But Chileno Valley pools are listed.

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