There is so much to California.
Many people think only of Los Angeles or San Francisco or Disneyland when they think of California.
But so much of this West Coast state that I call home is rural and scenic and I am constantly surprised by its abundance of natural beauty.
After many days of winter rains, Sweetheart Al and I were driving across the California Delta early one morning, exclaiming over the watery splendor of the place.
Harvested cornfields were still, blue lakes with short, dark stalks breaking the mirror surface here and there. Asparagus fields had become ponds capturing the early morning sky. Everything shimmered and shone.
In case you’re not familiar with California’s Delta, it encompasses about 1,000 miles of waterways between Sacramento and Stockton.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers feed into this labyrinth of sloughs and canals. Other rivers – the American, Mokelumne, Consumnes and Calaveras – add their waters to the area.
Originally populated by the Maidu Indians, the Delta drew Spanish explorers, followed by enterprising trappers. During the Gold Rush, farmers began cultivating the rich peat soil and the Chinese, who had helped build the railroads, came to the Delta to build dikes and levees.
The Delta’s extensive system of earthen levees has allowed widespread farming throughout the area, where peat soil makes it one of the most fertile agricultural regions in California.
The Delta is home to about 22 species of fish. In the summer, warm breezes attract water skiers and boaters and even the chilly, foggy winters draw fishermen and hunters.
But on the day we drove across the Delta, all I could see was birds.
About 200 species of birds flutter around the Delta. Birds like great blue herons, snowy egrets, hawks, Pelicans and gulls.
I’ve been told that about 10 million birds pass through the Delta every year.
And on this particular day we were exclaiming over all the white herons, standing like slim sentinels in the fields or on the levees. In one marshy area we counted more than 30, all standing like white statues, waiting for breakfast to swim by.
The wind rose, and to my left I saw what looked like a pond full of white feathery mounds. The long white feathers ruffled awkwardly in the gusty air.
I couldn’t figure out what the mounds of feathers were. But just as we pulled alongside the rippling blue, several long, graceful swan necks rose from the water and I realized that the big pond was filled by a floating flock of swans.
Moments later, on the other side of the road a huge, living thunder-head rose from the liquid field, filling the morning sky with wings flashing white and silver. The giant cloud spread and climbed until it seemed the entire sky was a living, swirling cream-colored mosaic.
How many birds were there, soaring and diving and flying in joyous unison, catching the morning sun on their beaks and wings, filling the overhead blue with white and the earth-bound blue with glittering reflections?
Can feathers drench the sky? Can they fuse the waters covering the earth with the blue above until you’re not sure which is which? I think so. We witnessed the stunning magic with our own dazzled eyes.
The winged wonders we marveled at that morning splashed across our consciousness in ways we’d never seen before.
We knew that dancing crowd in the sky was made entirely of birds, but the artistry they wove in undulating waves and sudden, enthusiastic feathery fireworks, convinced us that there’s more to life and familiar life forms than we can possibly imagine.