Friday, July 31, 2015

Fort Ross Reunion

I am part of a family that traces it roots back six generations to a pioneering couple  - Wilhelm & Josephine Benitz - who settled at Fort Ross on California's Sonoma coast in the 1840s. This was a time when San Francisco had a population of only 200 people. Today their homestead is the oldest standing wooden building  - indeed, one of the oldest family homes - in western North America!

Fort Ross, the most southern Russian settlement in America

exploring the fort's warehouse

In July we gathered again at Fort Ross, formerly a Russian settlement and now a California State Park, for four days of family celebration.

Cousins from all over the world came to honour the ancestors, explore the old fort, and party hearty!

Conga-on, Family!

the Russian bell

preparing the canon for firing

We fired the fort's cannon.

We rang the old Russian bell.

We worked as volunteers cleaning the buildings and building a new fence.

We hiked, canoed, toured wineries and finally said long good-byes until our next reunion in five years time.

pulling nails out of old boards

yes, we do windows!
the clean up crew ready for work

sharing Yerba Mate

One of the most memorable moments was meeting the descendants of the Kashia-Pomo tribe who lived and worked here along side our family and for whom this land is sacred.

Seated together we exchanged gifts; acknowledged the good things that happened between us; forgave each other for the wrongs committed; and reconciled our differences in hopes of working together again for the betterment of all.

The ceremony ended with the passing of Yerba Mate, a herbal drink from South America.

Angela & James present a painting of the land before immigration to Rino and Martina (painting by Angela Prior)

California poppies grow around the fort
Fort Ross as seen from the Russian cemetary

the old Russian chapel within the walls of the fort

visiting the last apple tree in the old family orchard

So if you're ever travelling up the Sonoma coast along Highway 1, do stop in at Fort Ross and have a look around. You won't be disappointed. Tell them Simon sent you!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Coast Redwoods

To walk among these ancient trees and camp beside their enormous trunks was an awe-inspiring experience. Together with my son Daniel, his girlfriend Chelsey, and her father Karl, I spent three days last week among the redwoods of northern California, the tallest trees in the world.

photo by Chelsey Burke

Wrapping my arms round a 50 foot tree trunk was a small step first to learning about these forest giants:
  • they can live for more than 2,200 years
  • they appeared on Earth over 240 million years ago
  • they once covered much of the northern hemisphere
  • today they grow only along the coast from Southern Oregon to Big Sur 
  • their roots may only be 12 feet deep but their tops reach over 360 feet
  • Redwoods capture more CO2 than any other tree
Read more about Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) here.

treetops reach into the clouds to gather moisture

Monkeyflower grows in a sunny spot

a male dark-eyed junco on the forest floor

ferns grow all year round in the redwood forest

Daniel perched in an upturned root

a giant in Humbolt-Redwood State Park

poison oak: leaves of three, let it be