Two Microclimates

The Gualala River & Its Two Main Microclimates

When you have lived here on the northern California coast as long as we have, you become sensitized to the differences in climate that even a very short distance can make. You start talking about "microclimates" as though it was an everyday word in everybody's usual lexicon. Webster defines it as being "the climate of a very small or restricted area." Here on the Gualala River, we have two principal microclimates and they more or less define two separate and very different river experiences. The rough dividing point is the highway bridge that you can see in the lower picture. From the bridge out to the ocean is the first microclimate and from the bridge in to the great redwood forest is the second. Scientists have written volumes about these differences and sometimes argue about exactly which is the most important. We are not knowledgeable enough to weigh in usefully on those discussions, but we have noticed that absolutely everything is different in the two areas - even the river itself. Sometimes the differences are subtle and sometimes they are not, but they are definitely there and they impact each other endlessly. The top picture shows another microclimate - that of the ocean. It too is part of our world even though we don't go out onto it. This particular day the fog bank stopped abruptly at the beach and sunshine streamed down on the entire river. It is easy to see that the temperature would warm gradually as one headed upstream. Our guests that went down river that day would need a wind jacket and the folks that went upriver would be able to go swimming shortly after they turned the corner past the bridge.

It is not just the temperature of the air and the water that changes. The flora and fauna change as well. You won't usually see pelicans very far inland and you won't see many foxes on the ocean beach. There are no redwoods in what we call the lagoon and no sea thrift in the great forest. The light breeze upriver can turn to a sharp squall in the lagoon (but we usually advise our guests to head for the trees during those conditions). If you are very lucky on a warm day in the great forest, you might catch the perfume of wildflowers. That same day down in the lagoon, you will definitely notice the smell of salt in the air. After we have described all of this to our guests, they frequently return to us and explain that we have oversimplified things. They describe many more microclimates within these two and they are correct. When you go out on the Gualala, you might be interested to notice the perceptible differences between the Sonoma and the Mendocino banks of the river at different places along your way and for that matter at different times of the day and during different times of the year. The river is part of an ecosystem and it is very much alive. If you bring a child along with you it can be a great schoolroom without you having to say a word except maybe "LOOK!" when an explosion of merganser ducks drives down river beating their wings fiercely - wing tips splashing in the river as they speed away. Or maybe when a pelican folds his wings tight against his body, opens his mouth wide, and dives ka-plunk down into the lagoon after a fish.

“Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children?”
Black Elk
Medicine man of the Lakota Sioux