February in the Arroyo Mocho

Almond trees in bloom are a motif for artist Carolyn Lord.

Livermore's Arroyo Mocho, between South Livermore Avenue and Holmes Street, provides a peek into the wild, untamed aspects of nature. Without having to go out of town, I have followed the tar macadam bike path or meandered along the dirt trails to see and hear a variety of fauna: toads, snakes, ducks, herons, egrets, quail, and even vultures splashing as they bathe in the shallow water. Homeowners near the Arroyo already know about the raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels, and turkeys that travel to forage in their yards!

Used as a gravel quarry in the 1930's, much of Arroyo Mocho is at a lower level than the surrounding neighborhoods. This is evident with the 'sunken garden' that is now populated with almond trees and anise.  It is bordered by the seemingly elevated bike path, which is the original ground level. Excavation also occurred around the sycamore trees. That's why it looks like the trees are perched on top of little hills. Left alone for decades, native and cultivated plants that thrive at the water's edge or in the gravelly soil have established themselves: watercress; blackberries; anise; datura; matilija poppies; California Poppies; mustard; cottonwoods, and palms.

Several years ago, in February I was driving out of my neighborhood on errands and I noticed the arroyo at the north of Florence Road. There was an huge, ephemeral cloud of almond blossoms! I made a mental note to return to the site because this scene would be a perfect subject for a painting of Spring's return to California.

The composition of the painting came to me quickly: the February sky was a soft blue; the white almond blossoms had a pink blush; the foreground grasses were  vibrant greens; the far distant trees in the arroyo were soft in form and diffuse in color. There was a thicket of prickly-pear cactus but I decided not to include it in my composition. However, I noticed something else: cats, cats, and even more cats!

As I began to work, the cats watched me intently but remained aloof.  I decided to include them in my composition. I made sketches of them as they stretched, groomed, and sat in the sun or shade. Then, I arranged cats in my painting. Some would be easily seen, others would be partially hidden.

I also noticed noticed that this is a popluar spot for people to enter the arroyo.  There were adults,there were parents or grandparents accompanied by children, clutches of students, cyclists, photographers, bird-watchers, and a cat-trapper!

The trapper was one of several volunteers, and I learned that these cats were a part of the Arroyo's feral cat colony.  Feral cats live perilous lives and rarely, if ever, adapt to people; nor can they successfully adapt to living in a home. This explained why these cats did not behave like contented and pampered cats I have known.  The trapper's goal was to bring these feral cats to the veternarian to be nuetered so they would not propogate and could have as healthy of a life as possible in the wild. I also learned that it's necessary to educate people that it is unmerciful to abandon house cats in the wild.

While I was painting I also observed this vignette: A dog-walker was passing by. Suddenly, the dog lurched free and was out of the control of the owner because the dog had seen his 'sport': cats to chase! While the dog was bounding and barking towards them, the cats were nonplussed and casually slid between the prickly-pear cactus pads. Just like in a Saturday morning cartoon, the dog skidded to a stop just inches from the cactus spines and barked his frustration that his quarry had escaped!

For two afternoons, I made progress on my painting. While working, I mulled over possible painting titles that would be descriptive of this scene. Since the almond trees and the cats were feral representatives of their domesticalted ilk, "Feral Almonds" became the perfect title for this memorable February of painting in the Arroyo Mocho.

P.S. How many cats do you see?




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W March 13, 2013 at 06:38 PM
These cats are being fed by an individual who does not reside in the neighborhood. The Mercury News or the Patch, I can't recall, had a profile on this person several months ago and she declined to be named. She claimed to be an "animal lover" who lives in a more rural area of Livermore and has been feeding this population of cats for decades. The individual drives to the arroyo area early in the morning and feeds these cats who follow her very closely, are not timid or scared, and clearly identify her. It's very clear when you see this. She needs to stop this activity. The City of Livermore or LARPD should stop her. Providing cat food attracts pests, is unhealthy, and distorts the ecosystem. Predators and other pests are attracted to the cat food and the cats prey on many of the lovely bird and reptile species named in this article. Few if any of these animals are spayed or neutered so their numbers have clearly been out of control for some time. She is under the impression that she is being humane by providing food, but the humane thing is to provide food and shelter, which is what animal shelters do. If you are walking in the morning on the bike path and see this person, tell them they are not wanted.
Carolyn Lord March 16, 2013 at 01:37 AM
W, Thank you for providing more detailed information about what's going on with the cats in the arrroyo. I agree with your observation that to perpetuate the feral cat colony is not humane.
Suzette Rexler March 22, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Lovely work Carolyn.
Lauren March 28, 2013 at 05:00 PM
This area is a favorite place I explored as a child and am happy to share it now with my kids. Carolyn, thank you for painting the beautiful picture! Good to have more information about the cats.


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