Monday, April 9, 2018

Six Months Later

It's been exactly six months when in the very early hours of Monday, October 9th 2017, we woke up to what would become the most destructive wildfire in the history of California. The week that followed was the worst week in my life and was utterly life changing for so many. 5300 homes and residences were destroyed in Santa Rosa alone. The devastation afterwards still leaves me speechless.

By now, most of the burned sites are cleared and the debris removal is almost complete. Where once used to be homes, trees and gardens is replaced by flat, cleared sites. Some trees are still standing, hoping that they might come back to life. All in all it's a pretty sad sight.

The big debris removal trucks are seen every day, and last month when one of those trucks drove down the hill (too fast?) and its brakes failed there was a rather bad accident involving seven injuries and a fire. This happened at a site that was badly burned during the October fires and for some people it was a traumatic déjà vu.

Here you can see one of those trucks, and the area behind it is our old neighborhood. The red x marks the spot where our old house used to be (I'm still so relieved that we moved a few years before the fire). We have heard that the landlord is not going to rebuild.

He is not alone. Many people have found out that they have been under insured or rebuilding will be just too expensive. Many lots have gone up for sale. Other people, neighbors in a street, have come together and want to rebuild together to keep costs lower. So far, only one home - in the Coffey Park neighborhood - has been erected since the builders were able to use the existing foundation of the house. This is not possible with most houses since the foundations were removed as part of the government-funded debris removal. However, even if it's only one home, it's a sign of hope. But still there are not even 200 building permits being currently processed since most people are still figuring out how much money they get from their insurance.

Six months later they still struggle. Some insurances have been better than others. It gave me a lot of pause. There also is a lot of price gouging, rents have gone up astronomically and the housing problems we had before the fires have become a serious housing crisis. People affected by the fire have moved away because they weren't able to find a place to live that they could actually afford.

24 people in Sonoma County (43 in all the affected counties together) lost their lives in the fires. For the past six months there has been a debate whether the county could have done more in terms of warning the population (a resounding YES). Officials have resigned over the decision not to activate the emergency system (why oh why?). While everybody agrees that no one could have been prepared for a natural disaster of such dimensions it is also clear that serious mistakes have been made (and hopefully we will learn from them).

Many people have PTSD in various degrees. When the county decided to make steep cuts to the mental health services the outcry was fierce and somehow the money for keeping up these services was found. Mental health issues have increased - I can see that in my school, and as someone said "we're not out of the woods yet" when it comes to the emotional toll of the fires.

The scars in our community will be visible for a very long time.

Nature, however, is bouncing back. Right after the fires the hills were charred and there are still a lot of burned trees in the landscape (they appear orange-brown and black in the photos).

However, since wildfire is important and necessary for California's nature, everything is coming back to life. There are beautiful wildflowers, and plants that need fire for their seedpods to open are making a big return . I think we're in for a huge gift by nature. Looking around the hills and mountains you can clearly see where the fires burned and destroyed, but you can also see all the new signs of life.

Everywhere there are still the "thank you" signs for our first responders, and I have a feeling that they will be around for a while. These men and women were working tirelessly in some of our darkest hours. My respect for them is immense.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

An Image and Its Story - March 2018

Looking through my photos that I took in March is pretty pathetic. Before this past week, actually the last four days of March, there isn't a single image I took with my "big" camera. Obviously I was too lazy or busy (or both) and completely lacked the inspiration for any halfway decent photography. In my defense I have to say that my work at the high school currently wears me out, and I'm not even there full time! By now we fully feel the aftermath of the October fires - which comes at no surprise when 10% of the school population has lost their homes. We deal with behavioral issues, lack of motivation, drug and other substance abuse. It drains our energy and everybody seems to be stressed out. I'm often just tired when I come home, take a nap and then start preparing for my Saturday German class. There isn't much left in terms of going out with my camera - even though I know that it probably would work wonders!

But - suddenly Kaefer was here for her spring break, and last Wednesday I went back with her to Davis and spent a few days with her. I took my camera with me and used it, too! Oh the joy!!!

However, the photo I have selected this time wasn't taken in Davis but yesterday evening - literally one of the last photos I took during the month of March.

What is this? you might ask. Is she that drunk?

I can assure you, I was not.

We are members of a nature preserve called Pepperwood which is located quite secluded in the hills of Sonoma County. It's one of the most beautiful locations in our area and not open to the public (hence the membership). We have been members since Kaefer did an internship here back in the summer of 2015. We enjoy informative talks, beautiful exhibitions, nature hikes - and wine. For almost every event they bring in a local winery, which is a win-win for both the winery and Pepperwood (I don't think we are the only ones who some time after each event visit those wineries and buy a couple bottles of the delicious wines).

Yesterday we were at the opening of an exhibition about the cradles and baskets of Native Americans, followed by a nature hike in the Preserve lead by a Native American couple (I will probably blog about that some time later). Of course there was a lot of talk about the wildfires and how important they are for nature, how Native Americans have always used fire as a tool and it therefore never got that destructive (until the white people took over with disastrous consequences). Right before sunset we all came together at the ridge for a Native American prayer and chant - to say that it was moving would be an understatement.

And then - there was wine and chocolate at the Dwight Center. The sun had set by then, the sky painted wild colors, and we were just setting our glasses on the crooked wall when I noticed a last ray of the sun reflected in a window of a lone farm house across the hill. It goes without saying that I simply had to take a few pictures of this.

This was the start of my spring break. No school until Saturday when I will return to teaching at the German School (which is the job I love anyway). On our way back home we witnessed an extraordinarily beautiful rise of the full moon - what a beautiful finale to a wonderful day.

Friday, March 23, 2018

When Clouds Cry

Hawai'i is such a sunny paradise, right?


Well, yes, of course it is. But it is also very humid and that gorgeous vegetation doesn't come out of a dry soil. At least not in those parts that are covered with rain forests, like the Southeastern part of the Big Island. It is stunningly beautiful and it is... wet. Very wet.

This is the Puna District, and it's probably the least well-known part of the Big Island. It does rain a lot here, and I mean a LOT. The skies just open up and the water gushes down. For people who are chasing the sun this is certainly not the place to go. There are no sand beaches here, but the coast is stunning. Wild and rugged. Lava coast, of course. We're right at the foot of the volcano after all.

These four photos above were taken within one hour, and you can see how quickly the weather changes. From grey skies and heavy clouds to some blue gaps and rays of sun and then back to torrential rain.

Highway 137 - a favorite road of mine - winds along the coast, most of the time very close to the sea so that you can hear the ocean roar and sometimes the spray of the waves hits the windshield. My favorite part is driving through those natural tunnels made out of bizarrely crooked trees that bend over the road.

It feels a bit like being in Tolkien's Middle Earth  - I was expecting either some elves or Treebeard to appear among the tree stems.

On the Southeast corner, at Cape Kumukahi, we parked the car and went through the lava moonscape down to the ocean - we started in the sun and ended up in the rain. Of course. Even though there is mostly lava here, new life is fighting its way to the light, dotting the mostly black landscape with its cheerful green color.

By the time we reached the water it had started to rain again and everything was grey, but the ocean was stunning. It never disappoints. Just look at those colors.

Puna District and the volcano are the areas that first come to my mind when I think of Hawai'i. No sand beaches for me (except for black sand, but that is for another post).


Have you ever visited my Etsy shop?
From March 22-29 I'm having a spring sale.
15% everything in the store.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Winter Knitting Projects

Winter is a great time for knitting since there are less daylight hours and it is so cozy to curl up on the sofa and knit up some garment or other. Even though I knit throughout the entire year, it is something special and very comforting during the darker season.

At the end of January a very special little girl turned three. I have been knitting for all of her birthdays so far - I showed you the projects here and here - and this year didn't make an exception. I find a lot of knitting projects on Pinterest where I have several knitting boards and when I saw this pattern I knew this was the one for the Kiddo.

It has a beautiful leave pattern down the front of the cardigan - unfortunately you can't really see it that well in my photos.

In the back it has a super cute ruffle row - easy to make and such a nice touch!

I used a rustic tweed DK yarn with 65% wool, 25% Alpaca, 7% acrylic and 3% viscose - probably not the ideal yarn for this, but I like the look of it. Here's the Kiddo on her birthday:

I am currently knitting this cardigan in a bigger size for another little girl, and this time I used a worsted yarn. I will show you how it looks when it will be done. I still need to do the neckband and sew on the buttons.

My friend Lyz celebrated her birthday in February, and since she had lost her home and everything that was in it in last October's firestorm I made a sweater for her. My yarn store had my favorite worsted yarn - Malabrigo Rios pure merino - in a truly scrumptious color, called "Reflecting Pool". Lyz's name was written on it!

The sweater is called "In Stillness" and is a very simple, but beautiful pattern. Now, knitting a sweater is always a bit tricky. I had Lyz's measurements, but I couldn't try halfway through whether it would fit her since it was supposed to be a surprise. Sometimes I had doubts that it would be too small, then I thought she might not like the color... anyway, a couple weeks ago we met and I gave her the sweater. She tried it on and - what can I say? It actually took my breath away, she looked so beautiful. The sweater fits perfectly, and only I know where the mistakes in the pattern are. The pattern description was sometimes a bit unclear and the stitch count was downright wrong, but somehow I managed to follow it and even learned a new cast-off technique.

In between I knitted a Baa-ble hat because I needed a quick project before starting another sweater, and this hat knits up so fast and is fun to make.

As you know I love to knit clothes for dolls, especially 18-inch dolls like American Girl dolls or the My Generation dolls you can get at Target. This blue swing top is really cute and not very difficult.

The trick is to pay attention and make the increase stitches in the right places which I sometimes forgot even though I had stitch markers everywhere. There are times when I just get carried away and knit and knit - and forget to do the important increases (or decreases for that matter).

I'm not quite sure about the yarn. It is an acrylic yarn, but I don't know by which company. A friend of mine who passed away last summer once gave it to me from her own stash and it didn't have a label. I do like the light blue and the tiny specks of white, pink and yellow in it. It also has a subdued glimmer.

This swing top is knitted from the top down, no seaming needs to be done. Three buttons are in the back so that even small hands can put it on and off easily.

At the moment I'm knitting another swing top (I often work on several projects at the same time), this one with a completely different blend of nylon, kid mohair, wool and metallic. It's not an easy yarn and drives me up the wall every now and then, but the colors are so vivid. Shortly after I had taken this picture I realized that I had messed up earlier and had to unravel it again. Story of my life...

And socks... there are always socks. I found this wonderful superwash wool from Cascade and offer socks in these colors in my shop right now (these socks are made to order):

I'm making a pair in the purple color right now. When you see the yarn as a hank you can't really see how beautiful it will turn out when it is knitted. Remember the socks I made for myself last year? That is the orange-red yarn from this very same series!

Of course they pale compared to Kaefer's blue snowman slippers...

Sunday, March 4, 2018

An Image and Its Story - February 2018

To my surprise I hadn't taken almost any photos with my dSLR during the month of February. I wasn't aware that I used my phone that often. It seems that I wasn't in the mood to schlepp my big camera around, but I also used the phone a lot at home. I guess I was simply lazy.

February whizzed by in the blink of an eye it seems. Where has that month gone? What happened during that month? Lots of work, Kaefer was here for a very short weekend, I enjoyed two long weekends, and I baked some bread again.

It's been a long time since I had baked bread. I used to do it so often, not only for me but also for friends who would buy it from me. This was before I started working at the high school. It seems with work lots of things have come to a standstill.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy baking bread. This whole wheat bread is super simple to make, so it was good to start with this one. Seeing the flour, water, yeast and salt coming together to a rough dough that would proof overnight was delightful, forming the dough the next day and cutting the star pattern into it was a pleasure, but the real bliss was the delicious smell that waved through the house while the bread was baking in the oven. How was I able to live without that for such a long time? The bread turned out perfectly, and we could hardly wait for it to cool down a bit so that we could devour a couple slices with butter. I'm glad that I took a few pictures before that, and I finally played with textures again to give it a more rustic look. Since I process my photos mainly in Lightroom I have come to play more with presets, but this time I decided to try a texture again. I'm glad I did.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Crater Hiking

Ever since I looked down into the crater of Kīlauea Iki in the summer of 2016 I wanted to hike through it. We didn't have the time back then, but when we stayed on the Big Island so close to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park this past January we hiked down to the crater, through it and back up again.

When you look down to the crater from the rim you can see clearly a path leading straight through it. In the background you can see the fume rising from Halema'uma'u Crater, its big sister and home of the goddess Pele (Kīlauea Iki means the "little" Kīlauea).

It looks pretty tranquil, doesn't it? Can you imagine that only 59 years ago - in 1959 - it was a seething lava lake? You can see the scale of the eruption in this very impressive video. The crater is a mile long, 3,000 feet across and the floor is more than 400 feet below where I was standing when I took this photo.

Let's begin our hike, shall we?

We start out by hiking about half a mile along the rim and descend through lush rain forest. This is a smooth, nice walk down the rim through gorgeous vegetation and the never ending sound of lovely birds. And then you're stepping outside the rain forest and the scenery changes dramatically.

The crater opens up and you can see all the way to what looks like the end of it. Here are still quite a bit of the 'Ōhi'a trees, but from here it looks like these are the last ones for a while. Or so you think.

We follow the trail along the stacked rocks, called Ahu. It's a good idea to do that because you can easily lose the trail if you don't pay attention, and since this is a still active volcano it is not advised to stray away from the path. Even though I haven't seen them, I know that there are still vents that blast out hot steam and you really don't want to get caught in those.

It's tempting to think that such a barren landscape is boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, it's black lava and lots of it, but the shape of it is ever changing.

But the really fascinating thing is to see the way nature recovers. There are 'Ōhi'a trees growing out of nothing, seemingly effortless. I saw ferns seeking their way to the light through the tiniest opening in the lava. In places where we don't see anything but black hardened lava, life breaks its way through. It is fascinating.

You can cross the crater in an hour if you're a good hiker. However, it took us more than two hours, since both the Geek and I stopped ever so often to take photos. I am so thankful that we share the same passion when it comes to photography. It would be agonizing if one of us didn't enjoy it.

Remember I said at the beginning of the hike you can see all over the crater to what seems like the end of it? Well, we're already past that "end" point. And it still goes on...

However, the landscapes changes and is getting rougher than the floor of the crater we passed through until here. We are much closer to the eruption center.

The Geek and I took our break here, eating granola bars and drinking water. We took our sweet time admiring (and photographing) this beautiful 'Ōhi'a lehua blossom.

Aren't they pretty?

Unfortunately there is a newly identified fungal disease called ROD - Rapid 'Ōhi'a Death. It attacks and kills 'Ōhi'a on the Big Island. The fungus clogs the tree's vascular system, depriving the canopy of water and may kill the tree very quickly. Since 'Ōhi'a is the keystone species in Hawaiian forests, ROD has the potential to cause major ecosystem disturbances. Fortunately, the 'Ōhi'a in the summit area - that includes Kīlauea Iki - are not yet infected with ROD.

Most of Kīlauea Iki crater consists of smooth lava called pāhoehoe. This lava flows rather slowly and forms a smooth surface or "ropey" shapes when it cools and hardens. It's easy to walk on. The other kind of lava, called a'ā, is rough and sharp. This is the lava we find at the end of the crater. It is not easy to walk on at all and a wrong step can be rather painful.

However, this is where we found quite some of Pele's hair. Remember, Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, but what's her hair? It's fine threads of volcanic glass. The strands are formed through the stretching of molten basaltic glass from lava. It is extremely light.

We're at the edge of the crater at the end. A last look back before we climb up to the rim, again through lush rain forest.

Here, the ascent is much steeper and the trail has many steps to make it easier. I'm glad that we chose this way to go, because my knees would not have liked to go down this trail. Yes, I was sweating and huffing and puffing, but I would do the entire hike again in a heartbeat .

And up from the rim we can see the fuming Halema'uma'u Crater of Kīlauea.