Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
I am back to making a smaller diary, one with a couple of specific events. Before those specific events, I do have to add a picture of a yellow cactus flower from a plant Monterey-Mamo (aka Klare) gave to us. It only lasted about 48 hours, and the un-flowered cactus is plain to the point of ugliness, but we have a picture and memory. (I threw in a picture of a garden work desk, to show how difficult working conditions are for us writers.)
Sierra Foothill Conservancy
For the last two or three years, our neighbor Jon has invited a table full of friends to the Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC) annual fund-raiser. SFC is a do-gooder group that "conserves" nearby land, thus slowing some of the development sprawl so common around here.
This year the fund raiser was held at The Manor Estate, in the farmlands north of Fresno. The weather was perfect for an outdoor event, something that is not so predictable here where Spring can be either cool or quite hot. Today was Goldilocks.
The main purpose of a fund raiser is to raise funds. There is an entrance fee of some sort, but Jon had sponsored us, so his generosity covered good food and ample wine, beer, lemonade, and ice tea.
Next on the fund-raising agenda was shopping for silent auction Silent donations (donations for the originator but real bucks for those willing to bid, silently or not.) The picture on the left shows Jon admiring a wood print by Monique Wales, an artist friend of Marianne's. Toward the end of the bid period, the highest bid price was still too low for Monique's work, so we corrected that. We now own TWO Monique Wales prints.
We also bid for a few items we were lucky enough to not win.
However, our major bid/purchase, not cheap but certainly unique, was a two-hour ride in the Fresno-County police helicopter. When I put our number as the second bid, I was sure someone else would go higher. Nope. Now, a few days later, I'll admit I am pretty excited at the prospect of our second helicopter ride. (The first was over the Red Rocks of Sedona - pictures., video.)
However, the main purpose gatherings like this is hang around with friends.
Even with friends we chat with all the time, there are always new discoveries. In this case, someone asked our neighborhood entomologist Kent if he has a bug named after him. He does. Susan did not seem impressed, but I have to admit I think it's pretty special, even if the little guy is only about 1mm (<1/4 inch) long.
Among the handful of required benefit speeches were three from SFC staff. Even for us strangers to the group, it was clear that they were dedicated to the mission of saving Sierra foothills land from ecology-harming development. SFC currently protects 31,788 acres and gave conservation classes to 2,400 school children in 2018. For some of these kids, it was a first encounter with open country, even here in relatively small-city Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley. A good group to support.
After everyone was well-fed and the wine was almost gone, the SFC folks got around to the live auction. In most of these cases, the offerings were not quite our interest or simply too expensive. However, there was an African Safari that Marianne struggled over. A week in a luxury camp is something on our bucket list, I suppose, and the bids were reasonable, but our current constraints on extended travel won out. No bid.
Our last event of the day was a single dance, special because we don't do this often.
Thanks to Jon and all the other members, volunteers, and staff of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy and, if the African Safari is up for auction next year, we're in.
On Sunday, the Cardella wine club we belong to was having its Fall Schizzo (party) and we normally make an excursion of it. This time, however, neighbor members Joan and Vern could not join us and Marianne wanted to stay in her art studio, getting more ready for a July show. So, I was on my own for the hour-long drive to the winery to pick up our Fall shipment of a half dozen bottles. I figured it would also give me a chance for some photography practice, something that has been hard to come by lately.
Once outside of Fresno proper, I found myself driving through miles and miles of orchards, vineyards (raisin grapes, mostly), and row (aka truck) farms. On winter drives, these fields look dry and unpromising, but by the time of late Spring, everything is bright green.
To practice some photography, I stopped at almond and pomegranate orchards. These nuts are the largest crop in the southern San Joaquin Valley, with over one million acres producing BILLIONS of pounds of the nuts in 2018. The valley provides essentially all the almonds sold in the US and a majority eaten overseas as well. The valley also grows most of the pomegranates used in America, although the export market is relatively small. (But the blossom and tiny fruit are prettier!)
Along Highway 180 toward the winery, I spotted a sign for Mendota Wildlife Area. I have tried my hand at waterfowl photography and, while this was neither the time nor the season for bird pictures, I stopped to see what the location might hold for a future shoot. I saw a single duck. Not promising.
The only tourist structure was a little shack warning of rattlesnakes and asking for visiting fishermen and hunters to self-register. My only other experience with a local wildlife area had been a pair of National Wildlife Refuges north of Los Banos. Those were the big leagues, with fancy buildings, rangers, leveled roads, and signs giving some hint of what might be seen. This California State facility was much more humble and it was impossible to tell if I should return in "birding" season.
When I got back home, I did some research. The Medota Wildlife Area (MWA) is almost 12,000 acres of slough and floodplain. Much of it is flooded between September and March to provide for migratory birds. Sounds promising. I will come back.
Before the settlers drained the area in the mid-1800s, this area was Tulare Lake (Laguna de Tache in Spanish), the largest fresh water lake west of the Great Lakes. The map on the right shows how the lake has been converted into fertile farmland over the next century and a half.
My destination, the Cardella Winery Schizzo, was pretty anti-climactic. Without Marianne and friends, it's not a party I could get into, although I did have one wine sample and a few bites of the light lunch being offered.
I walked around, noted the small crowd size relative to past schizzos, listened to the music a bit, picked up my two boxes of wine, and returned home.
I think the Sunday highlight may have been learning that there is a bird photo location not far from us!
Now I need to finish this diary and pack for our ten-day babysitting job. This is definitely something that grandparents always look forward to.
John and Marianne