Shades & Sounds of Winter, 2014

by Marshall Newman, December 31, 2014

During my periodic visits to Anderson Valley in recent years, I often told recently arrived residents they had not yet experienced a true Anderson Valley winter, one with big storms that lasted days, came often and dumped copious amounts of rains. Such winters were the norm when I was a full and part-time resident between the late 1950s and the late 1980s, but seemingly disappeared in the early 2000s. I can’t say that anymore; the recent powerful storms are a return – welcome or not – to the good old days. Considering the drought, I think they are welcome indeed.

The return of the wet means a return to the Anderson Valley of days gone by – maybe not in the valley as a whole, which has changed tremendously in 55 years - but certainly in those wild, wooded remnants of the valley little changed by “civilization.” My recent (late December) walk in the woods reinforced the role of rain in making Anderson Valley unique.

Winter may be foreboding – dark, cold, icy - in much of the rest of the country, but not so in Anderson Valley when the rain abates. Yes, the light was winter equinox-wan, the sky foggy and grey and the air brisk when I went into the woods early in the day, but as the day went on and the fog dissipated, the light under the canopy increased. It never really gets bright in the forest in winter, but the beauty there didn’t need bright light to be vivid.

And vivid it was; the colors a tapestry both subtle and spectacular. A carpet of rust-colored maple leaves on the ground, occasionally punctuated by brown waves and cofferdams of spent Douglas fir needles. Fungi in shades of white, tan, yellow and orange. Every shade of green: the dark green of redwood foliage, the forest greens of sword and Woodwardia ferns, the bright green of Douglas fir foliage, the vibrant green of moss on rocks and tree trunks, and the light green of hanging mosses in the canopy. Add the grey of Douglas fir and the deep red-brown of redwood reaching skyward, and the occasional tan patch of bare earth, and one realizes no picture can do the woods justice.

Nor can pictures capture the sounds. After all the rain, the woods aren’t really still. Water runs everywhere and makes distinctive sounds; high burbles from the gullies, deep murmurs from small streams and a steady roar from the Navarro River. My morning in the woods was still, but wind would have added hissing from the canopy, and creaks and groan from trees flexing. Birds and wildlife are hunkered down, but occasionally make their presence known – a call here, a distant rustle there.

Of course, the details would be different had it been raining during my recent visit. During the “good old days,” I wore a rain suit and rubber boots for my forays out into the rain, the focus was chores and lingering was an option, but not an inviting one. Most chore time was spent in barns, pastures and the woodpile: time in the woods cutting and splitting firewood waited for dry days.

I appreciate this winter experience isn’t the same throughout the valley. Vineyards and pastures are poor, quiet, monochromatic – though better lit - substitutes for the deep woods. A walk in Hendy Woods State Park or Indian Creek County Park, or a drive to the coast on Highway 128 – with plenty of stops – captures this mostly bygone Anderson Valley experience nicely. In the meantime, continue to pray for rain – Anderson Valley needs all it can get.

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