We were awakened Sunday night by the smell of smoke. We got up in the dark and tried to figure out where the smell was coming from. Maybe the neighbors left a fire burning in their fireplace overnight, and the slight breeze was blowing it into our house? When we got up on Monday morning, we read that thousands of acres were burning about 70 miles north of us; we had smelled the smoke from those fires.

The wind shifted yesterday and the air cleared, but today the smoke returned. It appeared to be an overcast day, but it was smoke, not clouds, blocking the sun. Over in the East Bay, Ms. M.’s spouse saw ash falling out of the sky in Oakland. I stayed indoors with the windows closed.

In the afternoon, Carol found an apartment for us to look at over in Half Moon Bay. We drove up Highway 92 into the hills west of San Mateo. The smoke reduced visibility so that from the flats where we started out, the tops of the hills looked blue and misty.


In Half Moon Bay the air smelled clean; the line of hills to the east, and an onshore breeze, kept the smoke away. But we could see the smoke above us, a wide plume about a thousand feet up. As the sun got low in the sky, the plume of smoke turned it into a lurid red glowing ball, like a huge red traffic light in the sky.

Autumn watch

Even though the temperature got up to nearly eighty degrees today, it feels like fall. The sun is noticeably lower in the sky, and daylight is noticeably shorter than nighttime. I went for a walk up in the hills overlooking Half Moon Bay, and once you get out from under the redwoods into the chaparral, the plants look tired and dry and worn out, ready for the winter rains. Even the fall asters look faded now, with blossoms that are almost white instead of pale violet.


Above: Honeybee pollinating asters at Purissima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve; the asters are probably the Common California Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense)

During the long climb back up to the trail head, I kept stopping to admire the way the afternoon sun shone gently on the steep hills and canyons that descended to the ocean; admiring the view was also a good excuse to stop and catch my breath when the trail was steepest. After one particularly steep stretch, I turned and saw a Golden Eagle below me. This was a perfect excuse to stop for a moment. I watched the eagle ride the breeze down the canyon until it disappeared from my view behind a forested ridge.