An Interview in the Schvitz

16 Jan

Here’s an amazing story of happy serendipity: as many of my friends know, every time I come to Denver, I make it a priority to visit Lake Steam Baths, one of the last remaining old-fashioned Jewish-founded steam baths and sauna, with excellent and reasonably priced massages. I love its 1920s atmosphere, and the fact that there is a tremendous liberation in walking around naked surrounded by all shapes and sizes, chattering away in the steam room and spa pool. I have heard women having business meetings while sitting in the sauna, or discussing their romantic woes with friends in the pool. Last week we went to visit our kiddoes in Denver, so as always, I arranged to go to my favorite Denver institution. I was unable to get a massage–they were fully booked on Women’s Day–but still enjoyed the steam bath and sauna and hot tub. I was sad and surprised to find that after nearly 100 years in the hands of the original family who built it when this neighborhood was filled with Russian immigrants, mostly Jewish (the baths even had a mikveh in the basement into the 60s!), the owner had had to sell. The pandemic restrictions just made it nearly impossible for her to continue. Fortunately, at least for the moment, the place is having few upgrades and still has the same clientele. The buyer is a car-wash millionaire who has been a client of the baths for decades, which made the original owners happy that he would understand what an iconic place these baths are. At least for now, the old rooms continue to serve the people who have been coming here for decades. In the future–well, things change, I’m afraid, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Back to my visit this time: As I was getting dressed, another younger woman, also naked, and I began commenting on how much we loved this place, when another woman wrapped in the sheet that every client gets at the front desk came around the corner and said she was a reporter from the Denver Post doing a report about how important these baths were for the community. She asked if we would mind being interviewed about the place and giving her some quotes for her article! So there we stood, three naked women, talking about this beloved icon of a bygone era, filling her in on the history of the neighborhood and its Jewish origins (Golda Meir lived here when she was in high school, and it was in Denver that she met her husband). We chatted for a while, and then the reporter said she was off to get a salt rub as part of her “assignment”, and that this was the first interview she had done while naked! What’s the likelihood of such a serendipitous meeting happening? Now, of course, I’ll have to subscribe to the Denver Post to see the article!

If you’re ever in Denver and want an Old School experience of a “Schvitz”, be sure to get to Lake Steam Baths before it disappears!

Photographs in a flood

8 Jan

As many of you know, we in Northern California are having days of rain that are leading to floods and mud and road closures all over the place. Today, on a walk during a brief hiatus from downpours, we found along the creek these images above. The writing on the back of one of the photos indicates that it was taken in 1948, but where or who is in the photo is unknown to us. The red envelope seems to have some connection to the photos, although it was mailed in 1993. We’re assuming that these were some kind of family photos sent to a relative of the people shown. How they ended up on the creek bank on our street, wet and bedraggled, remains a mystery. 

But oh, what a wonderful example of the discoveries of vernacular photography! We are just fascinated with what appears here: in the biggest image, an elderly woman, perhaps the boy’s grandmother, is sitting in a chair next to an old-fashioned chaise lounge which is placed under the shade of one of an orange grove’s trees. She is handing the boy some little treat from the bag in her lap. At the left edge of the picture we can see an old manual lawn mower and in the backgournd the edge of a house or some other building. The other photo, the one with the writing on the back, shows a large expanse of a body of water, at the edge of which is a person in a canoe and some kind of backpack or bed roll in the foreground brush. The writing on the back says “Edna pays a visit, from docks to trailer ’48”. Then in a different hand at the bottom is the name “Hord,” the same name on the red envelope. We haven’t yet checked to see if that family still lived at that address, and if they could tell us how these photos ended up where they did. 

Finding these little gems of vernacular photography reminded me of the blog I wrote back in 2020, in reaction to the New York Times article on this very subject, by someone as fascinated with unidentified found photographs as I am. We become haunted by these images of people, now probably long gone or at least in a different life stage than in the photo. What always intrigues me is evidence of past material culture: who now, for example, remembers those old hand-driven lawn mowers, with the catch basket on the back? And what grandmothers look like that nowadays, probably wearing a hair net as she sits in what is probably a lost orchard on a plot now filled with (Southern Californian?) tract homes? Here’s the link to the earlier blog, with a link to the original NYT article that inspired all this rumination:

I will now try to track down the original owners of these photos, although it’s very likely they were thrown out in the trash by someone on our street. Who knows? But to me, the magic of photography, that capturing of time and space, is what is so exciting about these chance discoveries, these found objects.

[UPDATE: A very quick search of Google reveals that the name on the envelope died in 2005, he had a sister named Edna, and together they founded a resort on Shasta Lake! So no mystery, really. They had also lived in Southern California, which probably explains where that photo was taken. Man, Google reveals everything!]


2 Jan

Just a short little note today, prompted by looking out our front room window at “our” beautiful oak tree across the road from our house, on the bank of the (now rain-swollen) creek. I am still in complete awe at our luck in finding this spot, right next to these majestic trees, as if we are living in ancient forests. I have decided that, since I took a picture of our oak on January 1, 2023, admiring its bare branches that now allow us to see all of the squirrels and birds scampering in it from branch to branch, I will strive to take a photo of this same tree, in more or less the same place, on the first of the month for a year. It’s fascinating to see how the light changes, how its branches create different webs depending on how many leaves cover them.

Wish me luck! And to keep up another tradition, here’s a neighbor’s cat sitting next to “our” oak! Happy New Year, everyone!


San Francisco–another country!

21 Dec

As compensation for having to postpone our trip to see the kiddos in Denver, we decided to visit San Francisco for a short visit, to take advantage of the fact that The City is only a three-hour drive away now that we live in Chico. We stayed in an AirBnB in the Outer Sunset district, right next to Golden Gate Park and only blocks from Ocean Beach. We could park our car there and take the train into downtown, and with a day pass travel anywhere in the city.

We walked one block to the CalTrain for a 40-minute ride into Civic Center. A sign on the train read “98% of San Franciscans have access to mass transit within three blocks of their home.” If anything indicates how completely different the lifestyle is in this Northern Californian city, that fact says it all. I’m nearly certain that that statement could not be made by any other Californian city, and probably not by any other place on the West Coast.

I have been coming to San Francisco since I was a little girl, in the days when one had to dress up to walk the streets in the genteel parts of town. I have never lived in Northern California, and my trips here, even in the days of Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love, have always been short and fleeting. I have given lectures at the Historical Society and in Berkeley across the Bay, but can’t really say I know the city well. One of the reasons I’m happy we have landed in Chico is that George and I have never fully explored this part of this enormous state, and there is so much fascinating history and diverse landscape to discover. So this little jaunt is, I hope, just the first of many dips into the San Francisco waters.

This time the weather was gloriously clear and sunny, if chilly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Bay and beach on such a clear day. That it was so clear substantiates the fact that every San Franciscan knows: winter is the best time to visit, and summer is the time that is foggiest, dampest, and dreariest. (Remember Mark Twain’s famous observation about San Francisco: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”) What really struck me this time is how immediate is the sense of history here. Perhaps because I’ve studied and written about Gold Rush-era San Francisco, I can really sense what it must have been like in the 1850s: the Bay particularly speaks to me. I can imagine precisely where all those clipper ships arrived with people from all over the world, causing a change in global demographics. Stepping into City Lights Bookstore, and Vesuvio’s, that iconic bar next store, you can just feel the vibrations of the Beat Generation and its poetry.

A friend of mine who lived and worked at Stanford in the 90s always said that he wished he could have lived in San Francisco in the 70s, when it was still possible to afford to live there, and when life was still a little more authentic. I concur with that view; it’s just sad that the whole Bay area is now so utterly unaffordable for anyone but techy billionaires that “normal” people, certainly not working-class folks that used to live in ethnic neighborhoods, have had to abandon their traditional neighborhoods. Consequently, the homeless crisis is overwhelming. Downtown near the City Hall was deserted except for HUNDREDS of homeless surrounded by guards from local agencies armed with Narcan. We went to visit the magnificent Asian Art Museum, now housed in what was the Public Library building, and we were nearly the only people there on a Friday afternoon. It is still a vibrant city, with crowds walking around North Beach and Golden Gate Park, but there are signs of economic shifts to come that may further empty out the urban core. (A recent New York Times article asks “What Comes Next for the Most Empty Downtown in America?”

What is always so evident to me is that the city seems not only like another part of the state, it feels like it’s in another country, or its own little unique universe. How California came to be one state is, of course, the subject of much academic and historical discussion, but it still perplexes me. Northern California is so distinctly different in every way from Southern California that I have never quite grasped how and why the two parts didn’t become two states. I’m just so happy that we now have the opportunity to explore in greater depth this part of my birthplace. I know that George will be comfortable and amazed with what we discover. I have always thought that this half of California suits his personality. I will always be a Southern Californian, but the North is starting to appeal to me more deeply than it did in the past. We’re energized, and can’t wait to visit again!


10 Dec

At the beginning of October, we moved into our new house. The first few weeks were a whirlwind of unpacking boxes, signing up utilities, joining the Co-op, getting library cards, visiting what museums there are, and trying to figure out Medicare coverage. Along with those mundane tasks, we began exploring our new town and venturing into the rural landscapes nearby. The weather was fine, and we were elated to experience a really exuberantly colorful autumn for the first time in decades. 

Just as Thanksgiving began to occupy our thoughts and Daylight Savings Time ended, we started waking up hesitantly, filled with insecurity, Doomsday ruminations, and distracted actions. We were dropping things, forgetting which way to get anywhere, and having confusingly alarming dreams. We were, in a word, unmoored. When I realized that this malaise hit us at about six weeks from the beginning of this new adventure, I remembered very clearly the phenomenon of Culture Shock that we were warned about before embarking on my Junior Year Abroad and for subsequent lengthy stays overseas. You spend the first weeks in a new country enthralled by all the new sights and sounds and experiences. Then the weather turns cold, the days get dark earlier, and upcoming holidays make you a little bit homesick. It’s a well-known phenomenon, and strikes like clockwork about six weeks to two months after arrival. Armed with that knowledge, we haven’t panicked; we know, as they say in AA, “this, too, shall pass.” And it is Culture Shock: this part of California is like a different state than SoCal, both in geography and in outlook.

After a lovely Thanksgiving for two–we made roast duck with wild rice stuffing–we planned to visit the family this weekend in Denver. We were all packed and ready to go to the airport, when son phoned to say that grandson had some kiddy illness that was lingering. Sigh. We really don’t want to risk getting any of the myriad baddies out there right now, so we postponed our visit until after Christmas, and for the other grandson’s birthday. We sent off boxes of Christmas presents, and cried a little bit–I am really missing the kiddos!–and then started to list the things that we have to be thankful for: we have each other, we’re relatively healthy, we have a lovely new house all paid for, we’re in a nice neighborhood, and have friends around the world. It’s important when I get down and am disappointed that I make these gratitude lists.

So here’s what the weather looks like today in Chico: blustery winds with rain, windy enough to cause power outages!

On the positive side, we really need the rain! The house is cozy, and in compensation for our disappointment in not seeing the kids this week, we’re driving to San  Francisco for a few days. Yes, the weather will be awful there, too, probably, but there will be good food and city life! And over Christmas, we will take care of a neighbors’ cat. Yes, another thing to be thankful for, we have already made friends here. 



27 Nov

[This is the holiday letter that I send out on email or by snail mail. I’ve kept it more or less the same, although I can add a few more lines in this online version, but can’t include so many goofy emojis and icons! –E.]

Photos above taken 44 years apart! Ah, the years accumulate, eh?

As most of you know, this has been a time of momentous changes for us! Not wanting to bore you with details of how we finally decided to leave our beloved house in Pasadena and move to the small town of Chico, let me go through the year as quickly as I can and still make some sense out of it. As we all began to come out of our pandemic hibernations, we began to do more traveling. We had a sweet family from Hamburg stay in our house while we went to visit the kiddos in Denver in April, staying at a lovely house in the Highlands part of town for six weeks.  We were there for the family’s Easter Egg hunt, with crowds of children and parents at their Lakewood house. It was a delightful stay, after not having seen the boys in person since Christmas 2019.

Lyle and Lou on Easter morning

As soon as we returned to Pasadena, we FINALLY realized that it was time to make the move that we had been contemplating for years. Zillow became my daily online companion, searching for the best place to spend our “golden years.” (For more descriptions of the search, see this blog:  Soon we had homed in on the town that had been on our radar for years: Chico, California. It had most of the criteria we sought: in California, affordable older houses, a university, a great book store, a stupendous park, TREES, and a reasonably diverse community. We began divesting belongings and sold our house very quickly for more than our asking price, enough that we could afford to buy in Chico outright. (For the story of that process, including a skunk in the basement, see these blogs: After months of searching and weeks spent in Airbnb accommodation, and with the help of our sweet realtor, we found our house!

1372 Bidwell Ave., Chico, CA 95926

We moved in in early October and have been basking in the loveliness of the neighborhood, on a beautiful creek with majestic oak trees around, and a genuine changing of seasons. We are still surrounded by boxes but are making progress, settling in every day. We are very happy with our choice of location! We love exploring our new surroundings, rich farmland filled with walnut and almond orchards and nature reserves (even Sandhill Crane sightings!).

We had some losses, too. Aunt Irm, my mother’s 98-year-old sister, died at the beginning of the year, the last family member of that generation. In March, I lost my dear Australian friend Pam Frost to cancer; she had been a very important person in my life. Then, before we moved, we had to say goodbye to our 16-year-old cats Zuma and Kolo. We are now petless for the first time in decades. We still love cats but will now limit our interactions to occasional greetings of neighborhood felines. Come visit, folks, we’ll show you a different side of California living!

“Our” oak tree!


Chico’s Autumn

24 Nov

This is the first time in decades that we have lived somewhere that has a true autumn, with falling leaves and brilliant explosions of color as the trees’ leaves turn all shades of yellow and red. And since Chico is named The City of Trees, and we live on such a tree-filled block along the Big Chico Creek, these last few weeks have been breath-taking for us. All of the photos above are from our property or nearby! I call those beautiful birches my Klimt trees, because they remind me so much of some Klimt paintings:


Gustav Klimt, Birch Trees I, 1902

We are just sucking up all this glorious color!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Dia de los Muertos altar, abbreviated

1 Nov

Today is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. While this has always been a very important part of the Mexican calendar, in the past few years it has become increasingly popular in the U.S. as a way to honor departed loved ones in a ceremonial way. In the past, I have created fairly elaborate and traditional Dia altars, following all the instructions, to include three levels, food to ease the dead’s passage, marigold flowers, and all the other elements associated with the Mexican practice. This year, since I can’t even find our photo albums in all of our boxes and Chico does not have as many Hispanic citizens to provide all the pieces one needs for a “proper” altar, I have quickly produced a rather abbreviated version. I did want to carry on this ritual since we lost dearly loved ones this year. Below a few images of some of my past altars:

Along with remembrances of my family–my grandmother (the picture shows her in 1982 holding Max), my mother and father–this year I have had to include both of our aged cats, Zuma and Kolo  P1000263

We got both of them as 2-month-olds. Zuma was born in our back yard, and was captured by our neighbors, flea-bitten and dirty. After washing him up, they brought him to us, saying that we needed a cat. We were sunk; it had to be. Believing that cats need companions, we then went to the Humane Society and got Kolo (named for Koloman Moser, the Austrian “black and white” artist. Get it?). He was the spookiest cat we’ve ever had, running away from any visitor or loud noise, and he often forgot who we were. It took him years to figure out how to go through the cat door, while Zuma in his younger years was impossible to keep inside. It took me years to realize that in some odd way, Kolo was actually the alpha cat, while Zuma remained amiable and licked his head every night. We had them for 16 years, which was enormously longer than we had ever had any animal. As it became apparent that neither of them were going to survive a move to a location away from the only home they had known, and showing signs of failing health and dementia, they both crossed the Rainbow Bridge as we left Pasadena. They were good cats, and taught us a lot about animal behavior and unconditional love.

The greatest loss for me this year was my Australian friend, my first sponsor in AA, Pam Frost. She was immensely important to me in my early days of sobriety.

I know it’s considered a no-no by many in “the program” to break anybody’s anonymity, but since Pam is gone and since so many of her friends and colleagues were also in the program–she had many, many sponsees–I think it’s OK, at least it is to me. Pam & I clashed over this very issue–she was rigorous in maintaining anonymity, and chastised me for revealing my own participation in AA. But the program casts a wide net and embraces all opinions and beliefs–up to a point, I know. Aside from all her advice and powerful example of how to live a sober life, she and I became good friends. She taught me a lot about Australia, as we were also learning to be good Australians at the time. She grew up in The Malee of South Australia, near Nihill, and then in Portland, Victoria, the youngest of 10 children. She had a quick wit and a sharp mind. As she and her husband Dennis began to travel the world, they came to see us in Pasadena; the picture of them with George was taken at Point Vicente in Palos Verdes. She was immensely supportive of all my academic endeavors, came to all my public lectures and book launches. When we moved back to the States, we stayed in touch regularly, through emails, phone calls, and Facebook shares. It is still incomprehensible to me that she, of all people, got cancer–of an “unknown source”–and died, only 70. She managed to hang on until days after her 70th birthday. I miss her wisdom and caring spirituality. I hope she would be happy to know she is on my altar today–where there is, for her sake, no alcohol, either!

So for the spirits who are guiding all my loved ones in the afterlife, whatever that entails, just know that we remember you and love you, and your legacies live on.

I’ll close this one with a poem for Dia de los Muertos by Alberto Rios, poet laureate for Arizona:

November 2: Día de los muertos


It is not simply the Day of the Dead—loud, and parties.
More quietly, it is the day of my dead. The day of your dead.

These days, the neon of it all, the big-teeth, laughing skulls,
The posed calacas and Catrinas and happy dead people doing funny things—

It’s all in good humor, and sometimes I can’t help myself: I laugh out loud, too.
But I miss my father. My grandmother has been gone

Almost so long I can’t grab hold of her voice with my ears anymore,
Not easily. My mother-in-law, she’s still here, still in things packed

In boxes, her laughter on videotape, and in conversations.
Our dog died several years ago and I try to say his name

Whenever I leave the house—You take care of this house now,
I say to him, the way I always have, the way he knows.

I grew up with the trips to the cemetery and pan de muerto,
The prayers and the favorite foods, the carne asada, the beer.

But that was in the small town where my memory still lives.
Today, I’m in the big city, and that small town feels far away.


The Day of the Dead—it’s really the days of the dead. All Saints’ Day,
The first of November, also called the día de los angelitos

Everybody thinks it’s Day of the Dead—but it’s not, not exactly.
This first day is for those who have died a saint

And for the small innocents—the criaturas­—the tender creatures
Who have been taken from us all, sometimes without a name.

To die a saint deserves its day, to die a child. The following day,
The second of November, this is for everybody else who has died

And there are so many,
A grandmother, a father, a distant uncle or lost cousin.

It is hard enough to keep track even within one’s own family.
But the day belongs to everyone, so many home altars,

So many parents gone, so many husbands, so many
Aunt Normas, so many Connies and Matildes. Countless friends.

Still, by the end of the day, we all ask ourselves the same thing:
Isn’t this all over yet?


All these dead coming after—and so close to—Halloween,
The days all start to blend,

The goblins and princesses of the miniature world
Not so different from the ways in which we imagine

Those who are gone, their memories smaller, their clothes brighter.
We want to feed them only candy, too—so much candy

That our own mouths will get hypnotized by the sweetness,
Our own eyes dazzled by the color, our noses by the smells

The first cool breath of fall makes, a fire always burning
Somewhere out there. We feed our memories

And then, humans that we are, we just want to move quickly away
From it all, happy for the richness of everything

If unsettled by the cut pumpkins and gourds,
The howling decorations. The marigolds—cempasúchiles

If it rains, they stink, these fussy flowers of the dead.
Bread of the dead, day of the dead—it’s hard to keep saying the word.


The dead:
They take over the town like beach vacationers, returning tourists getting into everything:

I had my honeymoon here, they say, and are always full of contagious nostalgia.
But it’s all right. They go away, after a while.

They go, and you miss them all over again.
The papel picado, the cut blue and red and green paper decorations,

The empanadas and coconut candy, the boxes of cajetasaladitos,
Which make your tongue white like a ghost’s—

You miss all of it soon enough,
Pictures of people smiling, news stories, all the fiestas, all this exhaustion.

The coming night, the sweet breads, the bone tiredness of too much—
Loud noise, loud colors, loud food, mariachis, even just talking.

It’s all a lot of noise, but it belongs here. The loud is to help us not think,
To make us confuse the day and our feelings with happiness.

Because, you know, if we do think about our dead,
Wherever they are, we’ll get sad, and begin to look across at each other.

Chico: Settling in & meeting neighbors

29 Oct

The gods continue to smile upon us as we settle in to our new house. All of our furniture and other belongings arrived in good nick, with only one broken vase (so far–we still haven’t unpacked the boxes of books!), computers all set up, TV reception and Chromecast (sort of) arranged, and all of our artworks strewn around the rooms. Although the total size of the house is relatively the same as our Pasadena house, the spaces here are cut up more narrowly, so we will have to do some clever organizing and adaptations to get everything to fit where we would like it to be. Tchotchkes will have to be packed away, I’m afraid, or perhaps placed on a revolving exhibition schedule. But overall, we are happy with the how things are beginning to shape up.

We are most delighted with the incredible neighborhood in which we have landed! Through some amazingly serendipitous circumstances, we have already met and been embraced by the people on this street. On the one side of us, so our nearest neighbors, the meeting took place because I approached one of the neighbor’s cats; when she came out to say he wasn’t supposed to be across the street on the creek side, we began talking and introducing ourselves. In a great stroke of fortune, the husband turns out to be a semi-retired self-employed contractor. When we told him about our problems finding anyone to help us put in new flooring in one room from which we had removed the carpeting, he came down and put it in himself, for a ridiculously low price. Such a relief, since it’s nearly impossible to find workers up here–ever since the Paradise fire happened, all skilled workers are flat out on rebuilding projects. Trying to find a handyman for other projects, we finally had the idea of going to the University’s employment office, where we found a willing and able student who actually has a van and tools, and is more than happy to get $25/hour for odd jobs around the house.

About a week after moving in, we had the first of many knocks on the door: it was our nearest neighbors Marilyn and Bruce. She brought us a plate of her homemade biscotti to welcome us to the neighborhood. We then went over to their much bigger house, with a back yard that has a pool and beautiful gardens, along with Bruce’s garage sale “finds”, which he considers treasures and Marilyn considers junk. They told us they were so happy to have friendly neighbors again, since the last owners of our house were downright surly. Marilyn filled us in on 50 years of the block’s history, remembering who lived where and when. We are so relieved to have such pleasant and generous people near by. Having had unpleasant neighbors in the past, we know how important it is to be congenial.

That’s just the start of the neighborhood serendipities. Taking a walk down Bidwell Avenue on the “other side” of our cross street, we enter in to the swankier part of the street, with bigger, more expensive houses, still beautifully situated along the creek. We happened to meet one resident as we walked by his beautiful old house, and complimented him on it. He turned out to be the unofficial “director” of the Bidwell Avenue Community group! We didn’t know such close-knit communities existed; they have a directory of residents and everything! He invited us to the neighborhood’s Community Creek Clean Up–a massive project involving lots of dumpsters, trucks, and work crews from both the Sheriff’s Office and CalState’s Rugby team! After the whole day’s clean up, the participants were invited to a potluck at one of the grander residences along the street. We were quite excited to learn of this group and of these activities, so we put on our work boots and gloves on Saturday morning, and went down to the creek to pick up debris. There are many, many homeless encampments throughout town, and some of them along the creek, which adds much clutter and trash to the predictable droppings of careless hikers and picnickers. In an hour, we filled up five big bags just on one corner of the creek. The younger work crews cleaned out vegetation that didn’t belong along the creek bed, and cut back shrubbery and oak branches; the truck in the picture above is filled with just one haul. We found the project really fulfilling and satisfying, and plan to make it a regular effort, going down to the creek on Saturday mornings to clean up.


The potluck was an enormous affair, with more than 50 people, all from the Bidwell Avenue neighborhood. I baked a pie–my first in our new kitchen!–and George made vegetarian beans. There was lots of food brought by everyone, and lively chatter. Of course, we were a little nervous, since all of them know each other already, and we were the newcomers from “the other side of the tracks.” But everyone was welcoming and interested to meet us, as much as we were interested to meet them. Some very inviting personalities, too: one of the residents (seen below in the picture wearing the black tee) had just been awarded the California Medical Association’s Compassionate Doctor award, and was supposed to be at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles, but preferred to be with her people for the clean up and potluck! I also met a woman who is very involved in nature organizations and publications, and runs a fabulous website listing all nature programs throughout the state ( The creator of the neighborhood directory was also there, and presented us with our very own copy (we are the first address on the list!). 

Now comes the most unfamiliar part for us: the next morning after this potluck with new acquaintances, we had three drop-in visitors: the man who made the neighborhood directory arrived to tell us I had picked up the wrong copy of the directory and to give us the one that he had made for us (I hadn’t noticed that there were names written on the front of the covers), and to welcome us to the group. That was at 9:30. At 11, the woman who had won the physician’s award came by to invite me to a wreath-making party she hosts in a few weeks. And then a little while later, the woman who runs the nature sites stopped by to give us all kinds of brochures and guides to events throughout the region. We are so unused to drop-in visitors that we didn’t even invite them to sit down and have a cup of coffee! This kind of small-town (or at least not super-urban) neighborliness will take some getting used to, but we couldn’t be happier with this kind of reception! If that wasn’t enough of a warm welcome, our sweet realtor Andrew brought us a present, to thank us for our trust in him–a wooden plaque/trivet made by a woodworker in town and sold in a lovely shop called Made in Chico, with all kinds of items produced by people who live here. Nice!


And finally, at one of the very good delis in town, a friendly shop cat named Baby. She was completely in her element, graciously accepting our tidbits as her due. 



More of Chico: Llano Seco

12 Oct

We have been so busy moving in to our new house that I am falling way behind in my tales of adventure! But I must stop all this unpacking and anticipating the arrival of all of our stuff in storage (coming tomorrow! EEK!) to recount one of our most magnificent finds so far, only about 12 miles from Chico.

As must already be evident from our enthusiastic recounting of this new environment, Chico and its surrounding area is completely different than the landscape we have known in Southern California. Northern California is filled with oak trees and sycamores, with walnuts and almonds as crops, and rich loamy soils. It is also traversed by winding rivers amid large wetland plains upon which rice is grown. It is fiercely hot in the summer (like SoCal), but gets much colder in the winter months. What has been the most exciting discovery for us is that the region’s wetlands are stopping-off sites along the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. At Chico’s tourist information office, we found flyers that described several of these “Wildlife Units” all along the Sacramento River. We went out to the closest one, Llano Seco, almost the first week we were here. When we were there in the last weeks of September, we were fascinated by the expanses of open fields, although we didn’t see many birds then at all. But we talked to a friendly birdwatcher who drove up as we were leaving; she told us that “soon” the wetlands would be flooded, or “filled up” by the Wildlife Services, and thousands of birds would almost immediately arrive. So we found out when the “fill up” would begin–October 1–and came back on the day.

What a fantastic surprise! Water was beginning to appear over the previously dry fields; we could hear the water flowing into the canals and through the sluices. And there, in great quantities, were magnificent Sandhill Cranes! I was so excited! We hadn’t seen these cranes since the 1980s, when we went to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, at the time Sandhills were brought in, in hopes that they would encourage the scant number of Whooping Cranes to breed. I took as many photos of them here as I could with my little Lumix camera. I now understand why so many birders get into buying the enormous zoom lenses and fancy cameras to try to get good close ups of these wonderful creatures. Red-winged Blackbirds and Cowbirds were there, too, as well as the ever-present Snowy Egrets. Added bonuses on that second visit: a view of volcanic Mount Lassen 70 miles distant, already capped with snow; and in the fields directly across the road from the wildlife unit, trucks filled with newly harvested short-grain rice, still in their hulls. We had never seen rice harvested before.

We waited two weeks until our next visit to Llano Seco, driving home from an excursion to Corning and Orland, in Tehama County (Ishi country, where Ishi, the last member of the Yahi tribe, lived in the 1880s).

The water in the fields was much deeper, and thousands of ducks had appeared, mixing with the still- present cranes and egrets and blackbirds. But most exciting of all was the appearance of a White-Faced Ibis, in non-breeding mode, but still beautifully iridescent green. We had never even heard of this bird before! The pools in the canals were also filled with mating dragonflies, mostly blue, but some of other colors. Quite wonderful to see!

We’ll keep going back, and will visit several other of these wildlife units along the Sacramento River. It’s such fun to learn about new geographies and wildlife that is new to us. That extends to our new house and its gardens. Here’s the view out our front door today:


Soon all those leaves will turn red and gold and orange. We like our new home!