Spring in California

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Today we took the children to Table Mountain, a volcanic mesa in northern California.

It is a special place, preserved from development by the dense, rocky texture of the soil- no good for farming. We strolled through carpets of flowers Lasthenia californica (California goldfields). Blemnosperma nanum (yellow carpet), Lupinus nanus, Triteleia ixiodies (pretty face), Castilleja exserta (purple owls clover), Triphysaria eriantha (Jonnytuck or Butter ‘n’ eggs), Eschscholzia caespitosa, (foothill poppy), popcorn flower and gaze at the box kites flying overhead. The blue, grey and white match the darkening sky.

From here, 1000 feet above the valley floor, you can see the Sutter Buttes, the entire valley and the coast range just beyond.

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We follow the small stream down a steep canyon where it spills into a pool of water full of California newts and Pacific tree frogs. The children dodge the poison oak to capture and release the animals, investigate the kangaroo rate burrows and make small dams in the stream. A bald eagle flies overhead. The cliff walls are covered in spike moss, gold-backed fern (Pentagramma triangularis), Sidalcea calycosa, Aristolochia californica, Dudleya cymosa, a tiny monkey flower and Galium parisiense (bedstraw; the same weed I have been pulling out of my garden all week),

And a brand new flower for me: a small herb with green fruit shaped like small perforated frisbees. What is it? Some kind of Brassicaeas? Yes. I look it up. It is Thysanocarpus curvipes (fringepod). A perfect seed to make a pair of earrings for a 10 year old.

Further down the canyon, we walk under California buckeye (Aesculus californica) and valley oak (Quercus lobata). Along the stream we see Nemophila heterophylla, Limnanthes douglasii (meadowfoam), Linanthus bicolor, Claytonia perfoliata, Mimulus guttatus, and floating in the water: Ranunculs aquatilis va. hispidulus (water buttercup).

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Californians like to move up in elevation from spring to late summer. Last weekend we walked through the vernal pools at Jepson prairie, this weekend we are 1000 Feet higher. By the end of the summer we will be on top of Mt Tallac in the Sierra Nevada. Even in late August we are sure to find spring there.

It starts to rain. It is time to go home. The children walk barefoot through the mud and flowers back to the car. Along the road on the steep hills, we spy a final treat-my favorite flower, Calochortus albus (white globe lily).

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In 1.5 hours, we are home again. The garden is freshly mulched, with massive amounts of weeds pulled and fed to the hens. The irrigation is turned on. We are ready for the summer heat.

Raoul rode his bike to the farm to pick some strawberries. We fetch some eggs to make strawberry shortcake using a recipe from my tattered yellowed copy of Laurel’s Kitchen.

Hiking, botanizing, cooking and eating strawberry shortcake. Sure beats sitting on an airplane bound for WA DC or NYC- something I will be doing a lot of the next few months.

Follow Pamela Ronald:
Pamela Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. Her research focuses on the genetics of rice. With her husband, she co-wrote Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. She writes a blog of the same name.