Tom Leskiw: A fitting end to summer while awaiting much-wished-for wet noise

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Barntini! KLH | Union

On a warm and still Humboldt evening, Sue and I made our way to the Kokte Ranch in Bayside for the Barntini fundraiser for the Jacoby Creek Land Trust (JCLT) and the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. Mark Fritzke, a friend and JCLT boardmember, pointed us to a parking spot, giving us a minute or two to play catch-up before the next driver required his attention.

Many Humboldt events are marked by throngs of people arriving stylishly late. Not this one. Five minutes after the scheduled starting time, we were forced to park in the “back 40” of the overflow parking pasture. The air was festive, the bean bag toss set up, oyster barbecues were a-smokin’, and the booze a-flowin’.

Soon, tables were filled with taco bar fixin’s and side dishes: tomatoes, carrot slaw, Spanish rice, black beans, whitefish and Kokte’s organic home-grown beef.

The admiration that the community has for the work that these two nonprofits perform was evident. I sensed an electricity in the air, perhaps because rain – the first in some time – was forecast to begin shortly after midnight.

The lack of rain and smoky air, the result of inland wildfires, was a popular conversational thread. Emelia Berol and Carol McNeill asked me if I’d seen any unusual birds lately. “Well, considering that MacGillivray’s Warblers breed in large numbers inland, yet are only sparingly seen during fall migration on the coast, the one that Elias Elias and I saw yesterday on the North Spit might qualify as unusual.

“Only about 10 Macs are reported each fall along the coastal slope, but 21 birds have been spotted so far ... and it’s not even September. I wonder if they could be retreating from the fires, seeking better air quality?”*

Silver Hammer, a Beatles tribute band, dug deep into the Fab Four’s songbook, encouraging even folks clutching nearly full Barntini glasses to shake their tail feathers.

As the full moon rose over the hills to the east, a photographer posed two friends to create a tableau of the women’s outstretched hands cradling the moon. Then, smiling faces aglow, they and several other friends gathered in a semicircle to admire the results.

The night was so warm, we never even thought of heading over to the fire pit or fetching our fleece jackets from the car. Eventually, vacant splattered table cloths were all that remained of the bounty, testifying to the obvious: The people had been fed. As the crowd thinned out and the band packed up, we also decided to head for home.

That night, I decided to give the white noise machine that lulls me to sleep a break, as I wanted to be awakened by the rain. My eyes popped open at 1 a.m., and I struggled to make sense of a series of muffled sounds. Because I’ve opted for the “water flowing over cobbly streambed” setting, my initial thought was, “It’s just the machine.”

Several moments later, I realized that it was the real thing: rain percolating from gutters to downspouts. I slipped out of bed, made my way to the dining room, and stepped outside. Extending my hand beyond the eaves, I caught the droplets and freshened my face with this increasingly scarce substance.

Forty-three years in Humboldt have given me ample time to get acquainted with the rain’s various personalities.

There’s your standard storm that yields maybe an inch of the wet stuff in a 24-hour period.

There’s the “Scottish-style moor-mist” that – while blocking out the sun for a day or three – really doesn’t pump up the yearly rainfall total much.

There’s the fierce winter sideways variety, with winds that threaten to topple trees while making a mockery of any Humboldt newbie’s delusional attempts to stay dry in a poncho.

And there’s the once-in-a-lifetime in the wake of tropical storm Pongsona that drops 2.75 inches in a day, a maelstrom that bedeviled Christmas Bird Counters on Dec. 14, 2002.

With the ongoing drought, multi-day storms seem to have become a thing of the past. Last night’s rain, although ridding our deck of the latest layer of wildfire ash-drop, yielded to clear skies the next morning.

These days, it seems that long storms are akin to a treasured friend who no longer drops in to visit with the regularity that he or she once did. With a rockin’ El Niño forecast for this winter, maybe the storm tracks will draw a bead on Humboldt yet.

* Voicing this opinion prompted me to consult eBird data for confirmation.

The eBird online checklist program, launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, enables birders and ornithologists to report their sightings to a readily accessible database.

Because eBird use seemed to reach critical mass about seven years ago, I felt that a seven-year average (that started in 2008), rather than a 10-year average that would go back to 2005, would be more appropriate.

The seven-year average of MacGillivray’s Warblers on Humboldt’s coastal slope during autumn is 9.8 birds per year.

Because some individual birds may hold over for a week or more, I made a judgment call regarding which reports actually represented new individuals.

Tom Leskiw is a retired hydrologic-biologic technician who lives outside Eureka. He writes frequently about the natural world-human interest interface. More than three dozen of his essays, book reviews, and spoken word lyrics have appeared in a variety of literary journals and a CD, Hurwitz In Handcuffs. His column (established 1993) appears at RRAS.org and his website resides at tomleskiw.com.

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