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?