Tresspasser!

A few Christmases ago, Peggy gave me a trail cam which I have set up from time to time around the place to see what kind of critter action occurs.

Mostly, the cam captures video of the wind blowing branches or deer. The most interesting thing I’ve seen so far is a bob cat stepping around at the base of the hill below the cabin.

Last visit, I set the camera up to keep an eye on the driveway while I was gone.

When I got back up here a few days ago, I retrieved the camera and downloaded the videos, expecting to see a bunch of nothing, or a bunch of deer.

Instead, I was surprised to see I’d had a visitor while I was gone. The video showed a white pickup go up the driveway, then come back down three minutes later.

It was probably someone from PG&E checking out the power lines crossing the property, but still: brr!

Gates and padlocks on the driveways just went up to number 1 on the old priority list.

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New Family in the Neighborhood

buck2It’s the last day of the visit, so brother Nick went down the hill smoking his cig to retrieve the shovel from his burn down there. After all the rain yesterday and last night, the ashes and embers from the burns of the last week are cold and dead.

As he was coming hurriedly back up the hill, I looked out the window and saw he was making antic gestures. I went outside to see what he was about and saw the new family on the side of the hill in the (formerly) foaming pines.

A four pointer and his bride were contentedly and boldly strolling around munching on the verge.

A sad fact of the work we are doing up here to clear out brush and fallen dead wood and what not to make the place more fire-ready, is that fuel reduction is habitat destruction.

It’s nice to see that the local deer at least are not severely discommoded.

It’s also just plain nice to see the local deer.

Foamy Pine Trees

foam2It started raining last night in the wee hours and kept up through a grey wet dawn.

Brother Nick put on his almost dry gloves and trudged down to the bottom of the hill to a nice little meadow where we’d spent the previous day cutting brush, pruning low tree branches and dragging it all into a burn pile for the expected rain.

Soon, the white smoke of his attempts to induce wet wood to burn rose over the glade and was dispersed north by the wind.

I dragged a handful of dry paper and cardboard down to my burn pile and managed to get it going and spent several hours feeding it while getting rained on.

When the stacked piles of dead manzanita disappeared, I started picking up the loose stuff on the ground and walked amidst some pines when I noticed that most of them were foaming.

Foaming as if with soap bubbles. In the case of a couple of trees, foaming a lot, with the foam puddling at the base of the tree.

In all the years of visiting this place, I’ve never seen pine trees do this.

So I asked the smartest person I know what was going on. I asked Google.

Pine sap has fatty molecules like soap that lather up in a heavy rain.

or

Particulate matter adheres to the pine bark during the dry times, and during a rain, alters the surface tension of water dripping down, air gets in which creates bubbles, the bubbles collect at the base of the tree and look like foam.

or

The pines all have slime flux.

Water System Cleanup

Against the backdrop of the recent mega fires in California, I’m dedicating a lot of time this winter and spring towards reducing the risk of our place being wiped out in a future forest fire.

On this visit, the goal was to clear out all the small manzanita around the water system,  thin the pines, and prune the lower limbs from all the remaining trees.

With the help of brother Nick, this was done in a record few days, and thanks to the well timed rain, the brush and slash was quickly and safely burned.

Bones and Bits

deer2When I first arrived up here a few hours before the others, I took the opportunity to wander around to check up on the place after an extended absence.

Down towards the end of the driveway, I was angling through a little copse of young oaks and pines when I saw the remains of a fawn.

The four little legs were separated by a few yards as if the fawn had exploded, flinging arms and legs to the compass points, leaving nothing else but half a lower jaw and a couple other nondescript bone shards.

On almost every visit, I encounter tufts of lamb’s wool and cracked bones with traces of marrow, the torn apart pieces of a bird killed and consumed in mid flight, piles of downy feathers at the base of a raptor’s tree, and this poor little fawn.

A gentle reminder that while I clear brush and grill burgers, the other local carnivores are busy making their living as well.

Our four legged and two winged friends play for keeps.

First Fires

Brother Nick and I got a few days of serious brush cutting done before clouds moved in, and I woke up in the middle of the night to the drumming of a light rain on the cabin’s roof and went back to sleep with a smile.

It’s been pretty dry so far this past fall and now winter, and the news has been dominated by the stories of the fires in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties and more recently (and still burning as of this writing) the fires in southern California.

So there is a real motivation to make the area around here as ready as possible for fire season next year, and myself and my neighbors are busy as bees cutting dead trees and clearing brush. And we’ve all been waiting for the first rains so we can begin burning everything which has been cut.

This particular rain was just wet enough that we ventured on our first burn of 2018, a couple of piles which had accumulated over the last year.

Burning brush isn’t just sitting around a fire staring dreamily into the flames. It’s hauling stuff over, often from some distance, often uphill, and heaving it in, and then trudging back for more. It’s exhausting.

But I still love it, because our property is so incredibly beautiful, and it is a pleasure to be hanging out in an awesome space, recently cleared, with an awesome view on an awesome day.

Best is when the fire is down to a large pile of embers and coals, the brush all thrown in and consumed. The angry red and black pile still needs to be watched, but that is the time to sit (finally!) and rest and stare dreamily into the glow.

Yesterday, I was minding a pile at the bottom of the hill after several hours of throwing logs and branches and brush in, now reduced to a large smoldering pile of embers, but steadily cooking down to ash.

After sitting for a while, I got up and started wandering around, appreciating the little meadow and grove of pines and oaks. I looked up, and stared into the interested face of a young buck, a three pointer, about 40 feet away from me. We gazed at each other for a couple minutes, then he resumed chewing his mouth full of whatever, turned his back on me, and went sauntering into the trees.

I looked from his retreating form back to the place where I’d left my camera and sighed.