Fire, Fungus and the Wood Wide Web

In the heart of fire-swept Trione-Annadel State Park, blackened columns of Douglas Fir, bare exposed earth, and the ghostly gray limbs of oak, madrone and bay still stand on the steep ridges and rolling hillsides between Oakmont and Bennett Valley. Amid the devastation, meadows have sprouted with new green grass. But the regeneration of the forest itself hangs, literally, by a delicate thread. Down in the smoke-scented soil, beneath the dark char and white ash, tiny tendrils known as mycelia, thin as spider silk, are spreading. And their survival is key to the restoration of the woodland giants towering overhead.

Life in the Deeps: Explorers Dive into Cordell Bank National Sancturary

Thirteen years ago, he made history by filming the sunken RMS Titanic where it lay broken on the Atlantic seabed. Since then, he’s dived in nearly every ocean on the planet. On a good day, he can swim for 24 hours — but at 2 tons, he needs help getting out of the water. His associates call him Hercules. And this month, the bright yellow, remotely operated diving vehicle was in the Pacific off Sonoma County to explore, for the first time, the deep-water life in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 6 miles west of Bodega

Sounds of Spring

It’s 5:34 a.m., an hour before dawn, and in the Mayacamas mountains above the Valley of the Moon it’s still too dark to see the rocks on the trail. Jacketed against the chill, my three companions are talking quietly as we wait without lights for the sun to rise. The reason we’re standing in the dark 1,300 feet up in the mountains next to burbling Sonoma Creek is because we’re with Bernie Krause, a globe-trotting Glen Ellen audio specialist who has a passion for capturing the secret sounds of animal life. We’re hoping to hear something special: the dawn chorus, the waking cacophony of wild birds on a spring morning in Sugarloaf State Park after a wet season of much-needed rain.

Salmon Homecoming

2 million years ago on the ancient California coastline coho salmon would have found a cold and clear waterway emptying into the Pacific near the mouth of today’s Russian River. Running a hundred miles back among high ridges and dense redwood forest, its widely branching network of creeks and tributaries made ideal habitat for the spawning sleek fish and its young. And that paleo-Russian River has been the salmon’s home ever since. So it came as a shock in 2001 when naturalists, fishermen and the community discovered that the number of coho salmon counted returning to the Russian River, once totaling a hundred thousand, had dwindled to only five.

Mystery of the North Coast pygmy forests

In the summer of 1956, a small team drove up from Anaheim California and into the Pygmy Forest east of the village of Mendocino. They were on a mission: to bring back specimens of the rare miniature trees that grew there. With the help of a State Park ranger, Walt Disney’s crew carefully extracted an ancient, gnarled pygmy Bolander Pine, drove home and transplanted it in the new dwarf forest Walt was creating for Snow White in Storybook Land. Where, to everyone’s surprise, it reportedly resuscitated and began to grow towards its full natural height, ten stories tall.

Volcano Wine: How the wine country's violent geology shapes its premium wines

On a dirt road dug through one of the hills in the middle of his vineyard, Shepard stops his truck and steps down into the bottom of the narrow cut. With the soil surface six feet above his head, he puts a hand on the subsoil, a flat wall of uniform gray and tan-white crumbly rock and talcum fine dust. It’s evidence of what happened here: thick and compressed volcanic ash.

Dancing With Pesticides

On a sunny warm May afternoon, Andrew Smith drives around the tree lined, well-tended neighborhoods of Sonoma, on the lookout for a lethal ritual. In a green vest, white Sonoma County Department of Agriculture truck and sunglasses, he’s looking for workers spraying pesticides to kill plants, insects and animals. And when he meets maintenance gardeners using pesticides without a license, he tells them they have to stop until they have one. “It’s a license to kill,” Smith says, without a trace of irony.

The Extreme Weather of Atmospheric Rivers

Wet and weary Sonoma County residents may not appreciate it, but the giant system of wind and rain that blasted us this week was severe enough to capture headlines across the U.S., Europe and even China. What just hit us? It’s what meteorologists call an atmospheric river event, sometimes referred to as the “pineapple express,” a recently discovered phenomenon that’s responsible for many of California’s wild swings in weather, from widespread flooding to record-setting drought.

Beach Monster - What causes sneaker waves?

Amanda Viola was taking family pictures at a popular Sonoma County beach in February when an unusually large wave surged ashore, swept past four family members and knocked them down, then dragged her 7-year-old daughter out to sea. They never saw it coming. As her brother and boyfriend struggled in chest-deep water, Viola launched herself into the incoming 12-foot waves in an effort to reach her daughter. In one terrifying moment, they had gone from enjoying a day at the ocean to fighting for their lives in cold violent surf.