When squirrels lay flat on tree limbs and ravens pant through their beaks, you know it is unbearably hot. I mean it’s been dangerously hot this summer for beast and man as well as for plants, soil, creeks, and the ocean. Indeed, the summer of 2023 in on track to be the hottest, or second hottest after 2016, on record for the entire planet.
The climate apocalypse is here, right here in Sonoma Valley.
We’ve had plenty of heat in the past, but until last year extreme heat seemed to last only a few days at a time. Often it fell on Vintage Festival weekend in late September. Sometimes it arrived as early as the July 4 parade. But then cool air would come in from the coast and give us relief. Hardly anyone I know has air conditioning.
But now, day after day of scorching sun driving temperatures into the 90s and 100s, often with wildfire smoke in the air, has ruined summer for me. It is unhealthy and unpleasant to walk or hike or go out under these conditions. Not to mention at times it is scary and intimidating, given our traumas from past conflagrations. And the dog overheats.
Thinking I could escape the heat, I recently went on a long road trip to Oregon and Washington in search of clear crisp air, wild alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks. Despite the big winter, by late July the heat had melted most of the snow even on the highest peaks. Already, fields of wildflowers were gone to seed. Precocious pikas seemed edgy and even pissed-off as they shrieked high-pitched squeaks at me while perched on rocky fortresses.
Half the time the heat forced me to spend many days trapped in air-conditioned rooms or driving around with the A/C on full blast.
So what do we do now? How do we still enjoy summer in Sonoma Valley and beyond with these long stretches of searing heat? All is not lost; here are some suggestions:
Note to self: Do not go on vacation in July or August anymore. Stay home, read, and tend to the fruit trees. (Thanks to my friend Ruth who saved and shared all the stone fruit from the yard while I was on the road!).
Seek out shade: When it is blazing hot, the Fryer Creek Trail on the southwest edge of Sonoma is an option. It is the only walking path in Sonoma Valley that is almost entirely shaded by grand old oaks, fragrant bay trees, and cool redwood trees that must have been planted.
Go early: Head out as the sun rises to Sonoma Valley Regional Park. Tread the paved bike path that follows the creek until the shade ends, then loop up to a ridge on either side for views of Mt. Hood and the Mayacamas. Bring water.
Go slow: On a hot weekday (skip crowded weekends), try sauntering up the shaded path to the pond at Jack London State Historic Park. Bring a snack and sit at the picnic table.
Seek out water: Fern Lake and Lake Suttonfield on the Sonoma Developmental Center lands are technically off limits for swimming (including dogs), but just sitting by the water under a tree on a hot day is soothing. Wear a hat on the way.
Put out water: Birds and critters will appreciate a dish of water but keep it clean and away from cats. Watch the visitors and install a wildlife camera.
Install air conditioning: Maybe. Or just go to Safeway or Whole Foods and walk around.
Forget it: Sugarloaf and Hood Regional Park are way too hot for summer, except maybe evenings or during Fridays at the Hood. Buy an annual pass anyway for rest of the year.
Don’t drive: My friend Lin Marie says to just leave the car at home at least one day a week and rest or walk and bike instead. That will help in the long run with heat, air pollution and climate change.
Any other suggestions? Let me know if you have other ideas, and I’ll try to share.
What a hot and wild Valley!