The salmon run

It’s raining here today, the dark type of day that feels all too rare here because of our desperate need for rain. Whereas last year’s rainy season got off to a great start, this one has been slow so far. So I’m especially grateful for the rain and gray skies today.

Autumn means rain, and rain means clouds have come back, bringing more interesting sunrises and sunsets.

The sun sets along the river (with birds on a wire)

Fall trickled in here over the last few weeks, but this is the first week many of the trees decided to put on a show. Continue reading

The best of autumn in California

I’ve come to love the salmon run each fall here in California. It’s one of my favorite parts of the season. This October, when my husband and I visited Tahoe, we stopped along Taylor Creek because we had heard salmon were spawning there.

Red kokanee salmon in Taylor Creek

I was stunned to see such tiny fish compared to the huge chinook salmon that swim upriver from the ocean each fall to spawn. These little, red fish are kokanee salmon, landlocked in Lake Tahoe and surrounding tributaries such as Taylor Creek, where they go to spawn each autumn. Continue reading

A hard time of year to stay inside

Fall here is beautiful in its own way, not in a familiar North Carolina way, but in a way that catches my breath nonetheless.

The salmon are beginning their run, and happy fisher people (mostly fishermen) are daily swarming the river, giddy with the prospect of catching a big fish. A happy man popped up from the riverbank just this morning, a large, pink fish swinging from his side.


Why do you think they fish all together instead of spreading out?

Rain came back in a big way, too, over the weekend. More than two inches over four days. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Continue reading

The first four California seasons

“Have you noticed we all say ‘Y’all’ now that you’re here?” One of my critique group members asked me this after saying the word herself. I’m not sure, but I think every member of the group had just said, “Y’all” in our wrapping-up conversation. It’s true. I’ve rubbed off on them, as they have on me.

I’ve been pondering this and other changes today. You see, one year ago today, I was on a plane, my dog in the cargo hold, flying across the country where my husband waited for us to begin a new adventure. And what an adventure it has been so far.

I sat at a cafe this morning—sipping an artful latte—and read a journal entry I wrote after my first week here.


What had already grabbed my heart by the end of that first week was one of my great loves here: the river and the beauty and life that surround it. I thought I’d share with you some favorite moments (and photos) from my first four seasons here.

Along with the river, the mild weather of this region and oranges growing in my own yard are some favorites of winter here.


The riverbank is greener in winter because it’s the rainy season. This photo is from before my dog met a skunk. I can tell from the darker brown of her coat, pre-peroxide baths.


Just one of the delicious oranges from our yard

Although some flowers bloom through winter here, spring really is beautiful, ushering in abundant blooms and drawing wildlife out of hiding. The trees leafing out means more shade, too, a welcome presence along running trails.


The earliest blooms of spring


An Anna’s Hummingbird visits purple flowers near the river.

There’s no way to sugar coat summer here: it is ridiculously hot. But the mornings are cooler (compared to what this Southern girl is used to) and dry. I didn’t enjoy trying to finish runs by 6:30 each morning, but I definitely embraced the lower humidity.

Dragonflies darted happily around the yard and posed patiently for photo ops. A baby owl grew up in a nesting box attached to our house. I’m hoping for a repeat of all of this next summer.

Dragonfly2015_3FT Houseguest2015_2FT

Fall is my favorite season anywhere, and so it’s no wonder that this fall brought many happy moments. Clouds returned in September, followed by a handful of rainy days. The Sierra peaks in the distance have slowly turned white with snow. Trees transformed into vibrant colors, and at least one osprey followed the salmon run up the river. Fall here offers much to celebrate, and with the cooler weather, it’s easier to embrace being outside no matter the time of day.


Leaves aflame (not with fire but with fall color)


King of the river?


One of countless salmon swimming upstream


The Sierra peaks are even more snow-covered than this now. A promise of drought relief?

All the year round
I’m grateful for so many people and things that have remained steadfast the whole year. For my husband who has patiently weathered my homesick moments and encouraged my attempts at establishing roots here. For family and friends far away who’ve made the effort to keep in touch. For new friends who have embraced me into their lives (and into their language, too). All y’all are wonderful! 😉

I’m grateful for the great running and races here. For coffee shops and wineries and San Francisco not too close but not too far either. For Yosemite within driving distance. And, oh, the stars. How could I forget the stars? It’s darker here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Just the other night, I noticed some stars in Orion I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway for me this year—a reminder I see weekly as I drive along a certain tree-lined, windy road—is that no matter where I live, this is truth:


This message resonated with many of you, too. In my tree signs series, a majority of you chose this sign as your favorite.

As we head toward Christmas and a new year, I hope you’ll pause for a moment in all the busyness and ask yourself what you have loved about each of the last four seasons. What stands out to you? I invite you to share a few of your joys and delights from the year in the comments below.

Tis the season for salmon

My husband and I have kept ourselves busy the last few days decorating for Christmas. Tis the season after all.

It’s also the most magical time of the year down at the river. As I ran this morning, I realized that I have fallen in love with the river, and this time of year has become my favorite river season for two reasons: cooler weather and the salmon run.


Salmon splash in shallow parts of the river as they make their way upstream.


The end point for the salmon, at the gates of the hatchery

A fish hatchery upriver raises Chinook salmon from the eggs they collect (a process that is not at all for the faint of heart of heart to watch). Visitors to the hatchery can watch the salmon climb the ladder (also troubling to watch, as some of the salmon throw themselves again and again at gates that often close to prevent overcrowding in the holding tanks).


A fish makes it up a “rung” of the ladder.


The ladder draws crowds daily, salmon climbing and people watching.

I prefer a spot lower down the river, one where I stop daily at the river’s edge to watch the splashing of the salmon, trying to decide if this day holds more salmon than the day before.

There’s inherent heartbreak to the salmon run. They swim up river to spawn and then die. The last few days, I’ve noticed more and more dead salmon in the river and along its banks (Warning: photo of dead salmon below). That also means the vulture count is growing.


I count at least sixteen in this picture.


The vultures provide a necessary service, but … I don’t enjoy this part.

The river teems with birds at all times of the year, but this heron (a year-round resident) seems especially perturbed by the vultures landing so close to him.


Puffing up with indignation


Establishing the pecking order? Or claiming personal space?

As the sun emerged from clouds the other morning, the vultures stretched their wings to warm in the sun’s heat. As ugly as vultures are, I found them beautiful in their own way this day.


Ugly and beautiful?

The vultures’ presence is vital, or the river would become unbearable for the stench and debris. It’s hard to watch, but I remind myself that this is the salmon’s goal in life and is a cycle they must undertake to keep their species going.

The hatchery offers hope on this front. For a quarter, you can buy fish food to feed these babies:


A holding pond filled with baby chinooks

Have you ever seen the salmon run? If not, come visit California in the fall. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spellbound by this spectacular cycle of nature.