mountain lion drinking at the pond

The Things We Treasure

Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession. Three years ago I followed some prompts on topics to post. Obviously I have skipped quite a few days (years).  But I have just discovered this one that never was posted. It is still as valid today as it was then.

A pond? How can a pond be a prized possession? I would have asked this question too–up until when I thought about this assignment. I realized that our pond is a prize I would not want to part with.

Many years ago, probably thirty or more, we opted for a small pond as part of a patio project after we had enlarged our small house by about 400 square feet and added the patio. The original design called for a fenced garden to keep the deer from devouring everything. It included a pond. We decreased the fenced area but wanted the pond and the patio outside of the fence. What a good idea!

In the many years we have had the pond we have had many visitors. Deer, of course, and coyotes and foxes, and bobcats. Neighbors, out for a walk on the trail beyond our house, have had their dogs take a dip in the pond. Quail come down in abundance in the spring, sometimes as a group with one or two males acting as lookouts and females shepherding a brood of a dozen or two fluff balls not bigger than and egg they hatched from. Mom and the chicks take a drink and then disappear into the chaparral where they are safe. The dads then can desert their watch and run back to have a drink too.

And the other birds–large, small, and in-between. In the spring, robins. Then wrentits, towhees, flickers, jays, mourning doves. And when the elderberries ripen, the band-tailed pigeons. Occasionally at night there are the owls, usually a pair hooting at each other in different keys in the darkness. When the blueberries are ripe, the thrashers appear. We share our blueberries with them. They usually get there just before I do as the blueberries ripen.

I do not know if snakes drink water from a pond, but occasionally we have had a snake or two. They are not interested in having me around and usually disappear if we cross paths. Generally if I encounter a snake it is a harmless (and beautiful) king snake or gopher snake. A couple of times I have seen a rattler who disappears rapidly. And once one was sleeping and I was able to capture it and release it into more hospitable territory up the fire trail.

In the early spring the tree frogs get excited and fill the night with their love songs. I know soon we can expect shimmering clusters of eggs in the pond. In a week or two there are hundreds of small tadpoles swimming through the water. Eventually they start developing legs, first at the back and then at the front. And then they disappear. These are small frogs, only about an inch long. Occasionally I will see one hopping about the garden, but I know they are there when the next spring comes and their chorus starts again.

And then there are the bees. A few years ago our closest neighbor began keeping bees. She was once a chef in a fine restaurant in Saratoga, grows a wonderful garden from which we often get great produce, and now keeps bees and makes honey. We have rosemary that her bees feast on and they frequent our pond. These are native bees and are no problem. All they want from the pond is a drink. I can stand out there with hundreds of them buzzing around, and I have never been stung.

For many years I have known we had visitors at our pond. But my suspicions have been confirmed. We were given the gift of an outside motion-detecting camera.

Twice in more than forty years I have actually seen a mountain lion, although I knew they might exist in these mountains. I first saw one on a hike up the fire trail just beyond our house quite a few years ago. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon as I crested a hill. At the base of the hill was a lion sitting in the sun. I decided to let the cougar have its time on the mountain and turned around and went home. I now do my hiking between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon and leave the rest of the time to the pumas.

My other siting was late at night while driving home. A puma crossed the road in front of me just as I approached the house. I also once found one’s big track in the mud on the driveway.

So how very exciting to capture on camera a big cat from the mountain taking a drink from the pond in the middle of the night. We do not often get visits from such magnificent guests, who have a range of about 500 miles. I recently heard it estimated from the Santa Cruz Puma Project that there may be about 70 cat in the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Francisco to Gilroy, (around 2500 square miles).

Why do I value the pond? You decide.




Mt. Umunhum

Gorgeous day. So I decided to drive to Mt. Umunhum, which has only been open to the public since last September. Mt. Umunhum is a signature site in the South Bay. For 10,000 years this mountain was treasured by native Americans. It was mined in the 1800s and became an Air Force Station in 1957 monitoring the Bay Areas during the Cold War. The signature tower is the only remanent that remains from this period. It can be seen from all over the South Bay.

In the 1990s, when I was at YSI (the Youth Science Institute) I was taken up to this site, which was not open to the public, by a County Parks Supervisor. At that time there were a number of buildings that had been abandoned by the military. She was hoping we could open a YSI site in one of them. But since it was more that a half hour drive up a winding mountains road, it did not see like a site that most people would be willing to access. It was a nice idea.

The mountain towers above the Bay Area at 3486 feet (a thousand feet above where we live at the top of another mountain). It has a 360 degree view of all the surrounding area including all of Silicon Valley, the coast and parts north and  south. And someday it may be part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail that is slowly taking place that may offer a trail that rivals the Appalachian Trail.

Even as a mountain woman, this site takes my breath away.

dandelions in flower and going to seed

What’s Wrong with Dandelions?

Am I stretching too far to see a political message here?

I spent some time today (and yesterday and other days) digging up dandelions by their roots. So why am I spending my time to get rid of an enduring yellow flower that takes absolutely no care? The rains have come and dandelions are sprouting up everywhere. I actually admire their tenacity and even think their small flowers are rather pretty. A couple have already started to bloom in this intemperate weather.

What is my problem? The airy globe of seeds they produce is not unattractive. It is blown off with a puff. It’s said that if you can blow all the seeds off with one blow, you are loved with a passionate love. If some seeds remain, your lover has reservations about the relationship. If a lot of the seeds still remain on the globe, you are not loved at all. Folklore says blowing the seeds off a dandelion carries your thoughts and dreams to your loved ones. Is there a reason for not loving these flowers for their beauty and tenacity? For not wanting strong winds to blow and sow them far and wide? Do they send us a message?

Their problem may come from the same traits that make them so durable. They will not be denied. They crop up everywhere, command space, and dig down deeply with their roots. They take over territory that does not allow other flowers to blossom and spread. Their message is strident and long-lasting. I allow them only because I cannot stop all of them. But I will continue to keep them under control lest they take over and not give the more delicate fauna a chance to temper their advance.




New Beginnings

An immense stately Italian pine graced the entrance to the only main street through the small village of Saratoga when I first moved there forty-eight years ago. It was over a hundred years old at the time. Saratoga marked the end of the urban world that was forming as the once small towns in the valley started uniting to become a sprawling metropolis. It marked my continuing migration toward the mountains and watched over me as I found my place in those mountains.

For almost a half a century I passed that tree almost every day. At last in 2015 it became that tree’s time to return to the earth as we all must do someday. Every day after that, passing by that spot, I was aware of the hole in the air that remained.

But, just like the old tree almost two hundred years ago, a new tree had now sprung up and was waiting. It was time for a new beginning. May this newcomer prosper and watch over people like me a hundred years from now when I too have become part of the earth like the stately old pine. I will always remember that lovely old tree.

New Beginnings from CApoppy on Vimeo.

scarp in driveway


I once had a dream that I was floating in the air just above the ground. I could see the entire California coast. I could sail over the hills and dip down close enough to Earth that I could talk to people I saw. No tugs, no pulls, no cares, I just floated along.

But eventually I awoke and felt the force of the earth holding me down, tugging me and pulling me in various directions. I had to obey the rule of gravity.

It isn’t just humans and animals, and plants that feel the weight of the world. The very ground itself is subject to the pull of gravity. It sits firmly in place until it is moved by an earthquake or a storm. And so it is this year. The rains have come and melted the earth. Chunks of it have been pulled downward under the weight of this water. And I have witnessed it personally.

As the rains came wave after wave starting in February, the access road to our house in the mountains tried to channel the water off and send it harmlessly downhill. For the forty-six years we have lived here it has always worked this way–until this year. The incessant rain sought the lowest point in the road and worked its way into the soil eventually turning it soft and muddy.

First there was a crack in the drive. The crack widened and started to sink. It sank lower and lower and new cracks appeared. The rains continued. Part of the road broke off and sank another four feet. Some of it tumbled down a hundred feet, or so, to a road below on the hillside. That road started to crack and to slump. This scarp on our mountain is on its way downhill. Our beautiful mountain is on its epic journey to become part of the landscape below.

We are will aware of the gravity of our situation.

Going Batty

For many years I knew very little about bats. I knew they got into attics and that people had little time for them.

A few years ago, when I woke up just before dawn up here on the mountain, I sat drinking my coffee in the living room and looking out the window as parts of the mountain came alive and other parts went to sleep. Owls quit hooting and quail emerged. Suddenly lightening fast flashes streaked by outside the window. I was intrigued and sat transfixed. As dawn broke something landed on the flashing below the roof. It stayed for a moment, seemed to slip down, and then darted away. This happened repeatedly until final I could see it was a bat. What happened next was remarkable. Somehow this creature managed to hang on to the eaves and squeeze up under the flashing.

I got up early for the next few days and observed this same phenomenon repeatedly.  I had known Dave Johnston from my days of working with him at the Youth Science Institute. He had become a bat expert.  And I had come to appreciate the amazing place bats have in keeping the planet in balance. They eat up bugs at a phenomenal rate, are under appreciated and at risk. Gordon, my husband who had built much of our furniture, understood this and found plans for building a bat house. He built one which we installed under the eaves by our porch. It had a grooved backboard which gives bats a “ladder” for climbing in and a slit which they can also use to access the interior.

Since then we have regularly provided hostel space for bats. Some years we have them; some years we don’t. But this year is good. We walk by them in daylight, knowing they are securely sleeping. And at night they swoop out and diminish our bug population. They are back! How do we know? You decide.