Dead Trees

I shook the paint can and sprayed a couple of big orange dots on the last cedar tree and sighed.

That made 27 of them, dead or dying,  just in this one part of the 75 acres.

Our tree guy, Steve Costa, and I toured the area yesterday and surveyed all the dead trees. The orange dots were so his crew would know which to cut down.

Steve explained that the drought had weakened the trees, which had then been invaded and killed by the Cyprus bark beetle.

All across the state, an unprecedented number of conifers have been killed by the drought or bark beetles. One estimate puts the number of dead trees at 58 million.


Death to Manzanita!

Back in 1989, a forest fire swept through the area and pretty much burned everything on our 75 acres. Following the usual Sierra foothill succession, first came the grasses and herbaceous plants, then the manzanita, and then more manzanita, and more manzanita, and then the softwood conifers, and then the oaks.

By the time we bought the place in 2005, it was almost totally covered in manzanita, some reaching as much as 12 or 14 feet high. This made it very hard to move around on the property, and for the first couple of years we were confined to roaming around a couple of old logging skid roads on the place and a large meadow on the eastern side.

Over a couple years, using hand tools, we blazed a trail up the hill upon which the cabin now stands, and slowly started clearing a space at the top. One day, I carried up a 12 foot tall step ladder and set it up in the small clearing and climbed it for the first glimpse of our totally awesome view.

byhandWe continued using hand tools to cut the manzanita and drag it off to be burned until one day in March in 2008.

I was up with Eldest Daughter, cutting a huge monster down with a hand saw and just sat back and decided, “Fuck it, I am too old to do this any more.” and called a local good ol’ boy with a bulldozer, who cleared about 6 acres of manzanita, pushed it into several huge piles and burned it over a couple days. (House size piles of burning manzanita are terrifying and impossible to get closer to than about 50 feet…)

I have since discovered that bulldozers, specifically their ground tearing treads, are perfect manzanita berry planting machines, and am waging an ongoing war against the young manzanitas which have started popping up thickly in the last few years.

At first, I was using heavy duty long handled branch loping shears to cut them off at the base, but this is time consuming and you have to bend down to get to each young manzanita and after a few dozen of them you’re tired, your back hurts, and you want to just go drink beer.

In the last year, though, I have discovered the perfect small manzanita removal device.

adzBehold, my very new best friend, the adz.

A sort of flat shovel headed hoe with a sharp blade, you raise it above your head and whack it down at the base of the manzanita and chop it off at ground level.

It still requires quite a bit of physical effort, but I am able to cut a hundred or so little manzanitas before needing to take a break.

This baby is good for cutting everything from little sprouts to bushes a couple feet high.

You want to use heavy duty leather gloves to help cushion the impact on your hands. Even so, I find it best to take a break of a day or two in between uses to give my hands time to rest and the swelling to go down.

The first time I used it, I spent several happy hours destroying little manzanitas, but my hands got swollen and my palms felt like they’d been beaten with boards.


dewaltAnother favorite tool I’ve been using on the large manzanita is the 18 volt battery powered DeWalt demolition saw.

“But wait,” you say, “Why not a chainsaw?”

Several reasons: chainsaws are heavy, and you have to get low and often crawl under the manzanita to get at the base, and manzanita wood is really hard, and sharpening chainsaw blades is time consuming.

What I love about the demo saw is at the end of the day, I just replace the blade, they are under $1 each. Pictured above, one of my beloved saws and part of my dull, used, demo saw blade collection.

The one thing I don’t like about the DeWalt 18 volt batteries is they have a hard wired chip based circuit breaker which flips and kills the battery, forever, if it heats up past a certain point. Since batteries are about $49 each and it gets hot up here in the summer I went through a few batteries before finding out what the dealio was on the web.

DeWalt really needs to fix that “feature”.

Over the last few years, since the 18 volt battery powered DeWalt has been out, we’ve made a lot of progress in clearing out the large manzanita which was not bulldozed on the steep south side of our hill and in the pine and oak groves. We’ve also been laddering the low branches on the trees, so when the next fire sweeps through (and the next fire will sweep through), it will be confined to a grass fire and not get into the trees.

The Non-Denominational Dell

The Non-Denominational Dell is the first of many place specific art installations on our property.

This area of the property has been set aside as a quiet, contemplative place, home to gods and heroes, the four elements, and the thoughts and memories for those who have passed.

dell2In addition to several sculptures and figures, a tree rises from a central place of honor, upon which are strung the beaded, belled and crystal twinkling prayers and sendoffs for the departed and the blessings and well wishes for those who have just been born. Behind the tree resides a monument to the Maiden and the Unicorn, and greeting the visitor to the Dell is a timeless Green Man, smiling from the dawn of pre-history.


Visitors are asked to bring contributions to the Dell: figures for placement among the trees, chimes to ring sweetly in the wind, and crystals to turn the pure sunlight into the many colors.