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.

Advertisements

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.

A New Year on The Hill

The moon was full and smiling as it set on the morning of January 1, 2018.

I’d come up a few days earlier, and had been followed by my brothers and my young nephew who is now 30 years old. Yikes, how time flies.

It was good to throw logs on the fire and burgers and steaks on the grill and hang out until the wee hours laughing and catching up.  A quick day jaunt over clear roads into the Valley for lunch at the Awahnee, and back to the grill and steaks for dinner.

Brother Steve and nephew Jason left the next morning, leaving myself and brother Nick.

And then the work began.

The First Cold Wind

Last night I got up, turned on the light and rummaged around in the bedroom closet for the down coverlet, laid it down on the bed and hunkered down for a good sound sleep.

This morning, the sun crested the ridge at around 7:45AM and it was below 50 degrees.

And so the seasons turn.

birds1

Every morning at coffee time, the birds come around. Because I mowed the grass and started organizing burn piles this visit, the birds zoomed in to feed on new seeds on the ground and to perch on new prominences.

birds2

 

As I was cutting secondary growth manzanita on a hillside, actually, when I was sitting in the shade sweating and gasping for breath during a break from cutting brush, a large grey presence swooped among the tree canopies along the bottom of the hill before settling in on a power pole next to the well, to regally survey the lunch buffet spread out below and around it.

Our resident Cooper’s Hawk certainly looks well fed.

fall4

And then just like that, clouds form in the sky and start collecting and the wind starts blowing and the temperature drops and it gets cold and the light gets special and you know things are turning oh you know.

Now it’s almost dark, I found the electric heater and plugged it in and turned it on for the first time in months and months.

It feels good.

Early Autumn

The air has cleared up quite a bit in the first part of October.

The light has that golden slant, where even a pile of hillbilly rusted washing machines and a couple of old highway wrecked mobile homes scattered across a hillside have a magic and a beauty in the late afternoon sun.

Luckily, that is not here and it is just awesome and majestic and wonderful in every way.

Now that the temperatures have cooled down to something decent folk can tolerate, it’s easier to get work done like clearing brush to burn in the winter and gather and cut firewood.

firewood1 I like to use laundry baskets to store the firewood indoors. The baskets keep all the bark and sawdust in one place and are easy to stack against the wall in such a way to avoid scuffing the paint.

This year, there is more seasoned oak, which burns slower than pine. This laundry basket has maybe 12 hours of firewood in it. I am always way behind when it comes to gathering and cutting firewood.

firewood2

This stack of pine will last maybe 5 or 6 hours.

In addition to firewood, I’ve been cutting down young manzanita brush. Clearing established manzanita is a long game. Manzanita reproduces by dropping berries on the ground. When a mature manzanita bush is cut down, the berries in the soil underneath figure that out and start to sprout after a year or two. The trick is to break the berry cycle, and cut down that second growth before it matures enough to drop berries of its own.

It’s taken about 5 calendar years to clear and eradicate the manzanita from the top of the hill around the cabin. Now, the work is concentrated around the hill below the cabin where the second growth of manzanita from the original bulldozer clearing.

The second growth is between 18 and 36 inches high, fairly easy to cut with long handled heavy duty tree pruning clippers. It grows densely packed together, and it’s back breaking work to bend down to clip the bush as close to the ground as possible.  There can be up to three or four separate manzanita bushes per square foot. At the end of two days, I’ve cleared about 1500 square feet and cut down maybe a couple thousand bushes. Then, I went and picked them up and stacked them next to a burn pile for burning this winter.

There is a deep personal satisfaction to clearing brush, but it is also deeply private and not possible to communicate to others who have not seen the same area covered with brush. You see the beautiful hillside, not the manzanita, in the same way you see the statue of David and not the original hunk of marble from which it was carved.

I’m okay with that. A lot of different parts of my body ache right now. But when I sat on the just cleared hillside and watched the autumn sun caressing each blade of grass in the dancing, crisp breeze, while popping open a cold beer, I had zero complaints.

End of Summer

It was smokey when I got here early in the morning, and then the day grew progressively hotter and hotter into the high 90s.

Still, even with the heat and smoke, there was a feeling of changing seasons in the air as I tromped around the property.  This summer has been so triple digit hot that I’ve not done a lot of outdoor work for a couple of months.  In the last fews days, though, it’s come down quite a bit, with patchy clouds and steady delightful breezes to cool things down even more.

Autumn is around the corner, so it’s time to get ready for winter. For the last couple of days I’ve been getting back into the work groove, cutting brush and starting burn piles for when it rains.

burnpile

Another sure sign that summer is over is the berries down by the road and along the creek are getting ripe. I spent a happy hour or so scratching up my hands and staining my fingers while sampling the delights of the season.

berries

Alas, in my meanderings around the place, there were definite signs that trees were still being killed by bark beetles. Since I was last up, PG&E has been up and cut down another dead pine tree close to the road and the overhead power lines, yet another to be chopped up and removed.

I also found several more trees which looked like their bark had been pecked off to get at something underneath. The bark was collected on the ground around the base of each tree, which meant the bark itself wasn’t being eaten. In addition to smaller saplings, I also saw a number of larger trees where it appeared the same process was underway.

chewed

Early in the morning and on towards sunset, I’ve noticed large numbers of red headed woodpeckers flitting about the pines. It’s a good bet they are responsible, and also that they are going after bark beetles. Between the birds and the beetles, the poor trees are being blasted into bits and killed.

As always, a fascinating education, even if it means work for me cutting down and disposing of the poor blighted trees.

Smokey August

It’s been a very smokey August up at the cabin from all the fires.
It’s also been very very hot.

trees2While wandering around, I came across a couple of sapling pines which were dead.

Upon closer examination, it looked like something had chewed chewed holes into the bark down to the cambium layer which killed the tree.

I’ve never seen anything like it, and can only theorize woodpeckers trying to get at an infestation of bark beetles or something.

 

 

hawk1

I also got to observe a Cooper’s Hawk for several minutes at the big old oak tree towards the bottom of the road.

hawk2

Pretty good visit, despite the smoke.