I was wrong, and was proven wrong by rain and a mountain. Well, foothill really but I’m from Florida, any sustained elevation is a mountain to me.
The Almaden-Quicksilver County Park is close-ish to our house and up until a few months ago, was my least favorite place to go hiking. Its main redeeming qualities were that it was close and that it allows dogs but other than that had nothing going for it.
I’ve never lived anywhere there was a drought that was obvious in regular day life. I lived most of my life in Florida and for a few years there was a drought there too, but it’s hard to visualize a drought that is mainly affecting the underground aquifers. We had rain, just not enough rain to sustain usage and aquifer levels but the trees were still green and the grass still grew. Maybe the drought affected farmers more directly but otherwise for me, the biggest inconvenience was that the springs and lakes were low so gosh that got in the way of enjoying water activities. We moved here after this area had been experiencing a severe drought for several years. Besides local laws and ordinances changing how people could water their lawns or wash their cars, the evidence abounded that this land needed water badly. Many of the large trees in my neighborhood have a perpetual suffocated look. The leaves are curled and not quite green, not quite brown…like a dusty green. The pine trees needles are tipped in brown and the smaller trees are just dead. There are many completely dry creek beds we encounter on our hikes and even driving around town. The ponds, if they have water, show a water line several feet above where the water is now. This in turn affects the wildlife. Because there is a shortage of water, more birds and animals congregate around ever smaller watering areas. The mosquitoes also have to congregate there to lay their eggs. Birds carry West Nile Virus (WNV), which is where mosquitos get it and then pass it on to humans they feed on. California’s rates of WNV infections has skyrocketed since the drought because the birds and mosquitoes now have to share small spaces, there are more mosquitoes in contact with infected birds and then pick up WNV. More mosquitoes packing the virus means there is a higher chance that a mosquito bite will be from a mosquito with the virus. So it isn’t that the virus has changed or there are more birds with the virus, it’s just that the normal numbers of mosquitoes in contact with those birds has increased. I find stuff like that fascinating. Everything is all connected and the effects humans (and other factors) have made to the environment will sometimes quite literally come back to bite us.
Now, everything has changed. Since the rain has come it has completely transformed the hills and paths from dry, cracked and crispy earth to relatively lush and green meadows. The rain has decreased the dust, there are more leaves on the trees and bushes so there is more shade now and the grass doesn’t look like it may spontaneously combust into a large wildfire at any moment. There are now also wildflowers which bring both bees and butterflies as well as splashes of gold and purple to mix in with the green. I’ve seen more wildlife there than usual too, including several deer, a coyote and my first ever rattlesnake! The rain won’t change the problems with WNV overnight and what we’ve gotten this season is fantastic but it will take years of average to above average rain to get things back where they should be but it’s a start. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying this little bit of open space not too far from the house.