My semiannual tradition! Here is the view from Highway 128 into the canyon, Fall 2019:
Here are the previous seven views (April 2019, October 2018, September 2017, March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):
In June, I had the pleasure of exploring Stebbins along with Miriam Morrill, who has been exploring ways to represent fire conditions, fire and fire effects graphically. I took some notes during our discussion (at the bottom of this post) and then compiled these sketchbook pages based on photos and my notes.
Last April, I sketched the view into Stebbins from Highway 128, a tradition every 6 months. There are still plenty of dead branches in sight, but the regrowth from roots and crowns is providing much of the green that you see here. In the earlier views, a lot of the green came from vines using the bare branches as supports.
Here are the previous six views (October 2018, September 2017, March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):
Toward the end of March, I led a field sketching workshop at Stebbins, sponsored by Tuleyome. We had fifteen participants and the perfect weather for walking, observing and drawing!
I gave the participants six different exercises at various stops along the trail:
Exercise 1: Blind Contour – Find something nearby with a complex shape. Let your eyes follow the outline of the object and slowly draw as your eyes move along the contour. Your eyes stay on the object rather than the paper.
Exercise 2: Focus on Details – Spend time recording the fine details of something you can observe up close. Draw it from more than one angle.
Exercise 3: Landscape Thumbnails – Simplify landscape views into areas of light and dark. Look for larger-scale patterns: where are trees or shrubs growing on a hillside, how do shadows define ridges and valleys, how do dark and light change as you look even further into the distance?
Exercise 4: Things That Move – When drawing something in motion, watch it for as long as you can see it and only then pick up your pencil to draw it. Draw only the information you remember: basic shape, some notes about color or pattern.
Exercise 5: Color Notes – Look very closely and critically at the color in a near object and a distant scene. Try to define the colors as they really are, not as you expect them to be. Notice how the colors change in light and in shade, and how nearby colors can influence each other.
Exercise 6: Select Your Own Theme for the Hike Back – Some examples of ideas to focus your sketching trip:
To download the PDF version of the handout for the workshop, click here.
In March, as part of Tuleyome‘s Nature and You Events, I am pleased to be guiding a field sketching hike and separate evening lecture focused on Stebbins Cold Canyon.
On March 9, I will lead a field sketching workshop at Stebbins from 8:00 to noon, where I will offer demonstrations, exercises, individual exploration and discussion. These will be designed to help participants enjoy the reserve and practice taking our nature observations to a deeper level. More information is available here.
On March 28, I will be presenting a lecture at the Mary L. Stephens, Davis Branch Library at 6:00 pm. The lecture will describe my ongoing project documenting Stebbins after the fire, showing in drawings the reserve’s response to the fire. I’ll be giving an overview of how I approach field sketching and talking in depth about the idea of using sketching to pay close attention to a place and its inhabitants and observe changes over time. More information is available here.
In December, I visited Stebbins along with two UC Davis Natural Reserves directors: Jeffrey Clary (Associate Director) and Sarah Oktay (Director of Strategic Engagement and Stebbins Cold Canyon Director). They graciously agreed to walk some of the creek trail with me to tell me about how the fire response at the reserve has compared to expectations and answer the questions that I’ve had over the last few years of site visits.
Following are pages from my sketchbook outlining our discussion, written and illustrated after the fact. At the end of this post, I’ve included the field notes I made during our walk.
Text from page 1:
1. The fire follower whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora) was out in large numbers after the fire and hadn’t been seen at the reserve since the last fire 30 years ago.
2. Seedlings of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) were only seen this last spring (2018), which was three springs after the fire. It may be that they had reseeded/germinated earlier, but only just became noticeable.
3. Hairy-leaf ceanothus (C. oliganthus) should also be in the reserve. It may be up in the high draws and less obvious.
4. It is unclear how the manzanitas in the reserve are doing – there has not been a lot of resprouting or reseeding (parry manzanita, Arctostaphylos parryana).
5. Red ribbons (Clarkia concinna) can be seen regularly in the reserve, but never before in the numbers in which it was present the two springs after the fire. It is usually only up on the slopes and showed up both on the slopes and in the canyon after the fire.
6. The interior live oaks (Quercus wislizeni) in the canyon are doing pretty well with resprouting but it is not as clear how well the blue oaks (Q. douglasii) uphill are doing. Blue oaks tend to grow on the hillsides and live oaks in the canyon – blue oaks have a higher tolerance for low water conditions than do live oaks.
Text from page 2:
7. Many of the gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) were completely killed by the fire. Gray pines are relatively intolerant to fire but return to the area easily in between fires.
8. American robins (Turdus migratorius) come in all at once and eat the berries off of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) over a couple of days.
9. Species composition in the reserve is back to about 80% of what it was before the fire. The habitat structure is still very different, with much more understory and much less canopy. Some cover has come back by now, though, and wildflowers were already much less numerous last spring than in the first two springs after the fire.
10. Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) will be blooming soon.
11. The perennial vines in the reserve (wild cucumber – Marah fabaceus; western morning glory – Calystegia occidentalis; pipestem clematis – Clematis lasianthus) are less numerous in the mature community than they have been in the years right after the fire, when there has been abundant light and climbing support in the form of bare branches.
12. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) seeds germinate readily after fire and can also resprout after fire.
Here are the field notes I took while we walked (color added later):
Having been on the other side of the country, I missed a spring trailhead view of Stebbins this year. It was great to draw another fall view this October, just over three years since the fire.
Here is the view from September 2017:
And the previous four (March 2017, September 2016, March 2016 and September 2015):
Just over two years after the fire, here is the view from the old trailhead. Trees and hillsides are looking considerably greener, even at the end of summer. Some of this is due to the wetter winter last year, but shrub and tree regrowth is also responsible. Vines of wild cucumber and wild grape are taking advantage of the shrub skeletons that remain bare – many vines are visible in the middle distance in this painting – but shrub resprouting and reseeding is also widely in evidence throughout the reserve.
The view in April 2017:
The view in September 2016:
The view in March 2016:
The view in September 2015:
Near the beginning of what is likely to be an intense fire season, the area north of Cold Canyon that has burned twice before over the past four years was in flames again. A total of 2,269 acres burned north of Highway 128 near Winters over three days in early July:
This map shows all of the fires in the area between 2014 and 2016:
While fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, when the same area burns repeatedly with only short intervals between fires, seed banks are destroyed and trees that might have survived a single fire are unable to recover enough to withstand the next fire. We still have a couple of months or more of hot dry weather, and plenty of extra fuel this year as a result of the wet winter. I will be surprised if there are not more fires in this area this year.
Approximately a year and six months after the fire, it is apparent that the crowns of many of the trees near the trailhead have filled in considerably. There is also a lot more vegetation on the ground than there was in March a year ago. Chaparral shrubs are resprouting from their bases, but I have noticed this winter and spring that vines (wild cucumber, wild grape) are responsible for a lot of the newest greenery on the hillsides, growing up the trunks of the burned shrubs.
The view September 2016: