Mid September

A busy week.

The tree crew came and cut down around 30 large cedar trees over the course of four days. That’s Mark bucking the downed tree in the photo and Josh is driving the Bobcat.

The Bobcat is a little tractor with heavy duty lift arms to which a large number of devices may be attached. This one was outfitted with a claw for grabbing and lifting large heavy logs to be moved to stacks for taking away. The local roads are busy with logs being trucked out.

My old buddy Dan was up for a few days, and we went down into Yosemite Valley for lunch at the Awahnee or whatever it’s called now. The dead tree blight was visible everywhere. It was very sobering to see stands of dead 130 foot tall pines in Yosemite.

On the day of the nearby forest fire, 5 different aircraft made over 100 trips directly over the cabin to put it out.

It grew to over 100 acres, but no effort was spared in fighting it. With all the dead trees in the forest a small fire can quickly grow out of control and consume hundreds of square miles.

This large red cargo helicopter spent the next day going back and forth to make sure the job was done.

snake2Okay, so wasps are carnivores and eat dead snakes in the road. Now I know.

But other than that, it’s been a great visit to the cabin with regards to interacting with the local wildlife.

Lots of rabbits. A doe walked up to within 20 feet of me before deciding to bound off into the manzanita. The blue birds flashing in the first rays of morning. The barking of a coyote over on the other ridge next to the sheep ranch the last few evenings.


Oh Great, a Forest Fire

fire2“Goodness,” I thought to myself around 2:30 PM today, “There sure is a lot of air traffic suddenly, right over the cabin.”

I got up and went outside and followed the flight path of a twin engine prop plane south over the ridge where the fire lookout overlooks the best view in California and oh shit there is a bunch of forest fire smoke to the south.

There are certain things you don’t want to see at certain times.

For instance, on a creepy windy night with no moon and the old oak tree scratching at the window, you don’t want to pull the curtains aside and see an animated corpse lurching towards you with no good intent reflected in its cold dead eyes. Brr!

fire3Likewise, when you are surrounded by 70 million dead or dying trees, you don’t want to see the birth plume of a newborn forest fire somewhere south over the ridge and all sorts of CalFire aircraft hurrying to and fro. Like, right over your roof.

Now a little later, the smoke plume has dissipated, but the 2 CalFire planes and the helicopter with the bucket keep coming and going ever half hour or so, presumably to dump and renew their loads of fire retardant.

I once heard a CalFire honcho remark:  “We don’t put out fires. We pour money on them and wait for it to rain.”


Hi ho!

fire4It’s around 4:30 and holy cow!

A twin engine CalFire jet bomber is flying low over the ridge, heading over to drop retardant on the fire!

So far there is one helicopter, two twin prop fixed wing planes and now this monster working to put out this fire.

CalFire is really going all out. This taxpayer appreciates the effort.



Update: the fire is called the “Old Fire”. Here is some more info: http://www.mymotherlode.com/news/local/273135/forest-fire-burning-near-pilot-peak-dubbed-old-fire.html

Now it’s 6:00 and another helicopter has joined in. Both helicopters are filling their buckets at the US Forest Service yard at Buck Meadows, a few miles up the road from our place.


Almost 7:00 PM now, not seeing any smoke over the ridge, but the prop planes are still coming and going.

Here’s hopin’.

(I heart fire fighters)


Well, Hello, Autumn

It got down to 48 degrees last night, and a nice cool breeze instantly whipped up with the sunrise and has been blowing ever since, dragging some clouds along with it from the south.

Time to seriously attend to cutting and storing firewood for the winter. It gets darned cold up here and there are few pleasures equal to drinking a little something sitting next to the wood stove while the sun is setting on the snow outside. But yes, time to cut firewood.

Here’s the thing, though. The cabin…is on…a hill.

Autumn and early winter up here include the slog of getting logs and branches from somewhere lower and not so close to the cabin up to the cabin for cutting into firewood.

All the nearby firewood was consumed long long ago, and the simple pleasure of sitting by the glowing wood stove requires some forethought, some expenditure of logistics, and some effort. (My fitbit informs me I did 50 flights of stairs and walked 12 miles yesterday.)

So, hello, Autumn.

Mind Blown. Heart Broken.

I used to wonder if watering trees around the cabin was a bad idea.

Did it make them expect water and therefore have shallower root systems? Did it weaken them against drought if nobody watered them? Etc and so on.
logging3In the case of the great California Conifer Massacre of 2016, the pines around the cabin which have been watered the last few springs and summers are healthy and bearing pine cones, while the surrounding pines are going from green to gold to brown and dead at a frightening pace, mere days in some cases.

I noticed that some of the dying trees were sparkling as with dew in the morning sun. It was from the sap flowing to ward off the bark beetles.

I was just down at the bottom of the hill by the road, and there are five 100 foot tall pines by the electrical lines which need to come down.

logging2Steve Costa’s crew started work a couple days ago.  They’ve already taken down some of the cedars I marked in May. Logging is really hard on the ground here, the soil is clay dust and the tractors just tear it up. It will take a couple years for the place to heal.

The bark beetles seem to be moving east across our place, munching their way to Yosemite. I got up here Friday and have spent the last couple of days tromping around and checking out the extent of the damage here.

It’s just mind-blowing and heartbreaking. We’re going to lose at least half the pines and cedars, hundreds and hundreds of trees which will need to be cut down and disposed of.

Estimates of the number of dead trees in the whole state are now up to around 70 million.

How will that fact manifest down the road? Salvage logging will probably cause lumber prices to hit an all time low. But what about the loss of 70 million carbon storehouses removed from the environment over the next couple/few years?

The area has evolved against a backdrop of periodic fires, and if this time the burning is caused not by flame but by lack of rain and a beetle smaller than a grain of rice, the conifers will still bounce back over time and by design.

I know this in my head, and can see the little pines and cedars bursting up towards the sun, sometimes an inch or so tall, all around me as I trudge around whole groves of dying trees. But, dang!

It’s hard to foresee what our place is going to look like in the next couple of years. It’s hard to foresee the changes to California.



End of August

A quick trip up with Peggy and Carly this last weekend to spend a few days with some old high school friends of Peggy’s, the Dumais family, visiting California from Brooklyn.

It’s cooled down at the cabin in the last couple weeks, with high temperatures in the nineties and fine evenings, perfect for comfortable tent sleeping.

As it has been for the last several (very dry) summers, the air is hazy with the smoke of the several different fires currently raging in the state. Depending on the wind, some days are better than others.

It’s been great that so many folks have visited the cabin on a hill this year, that’s what the place is for. The Dumais family deserves special praise on a couple of points:

  1.  They showed up with a bottle of Hendricks gin, ready to make and drink proper martinis* (alas! we have no cocktail shaker, a situation to be corrected upon my next visit!)
  2. They are physically fit and in prime shape. After a long plane flight followed by a long car ride, they were ready to hike, and to hike seriously.

tuolumneSo we took them up to Tuolumne Meadows.

Heh. Funny thing about the weather up in the high country. Even though the cabin’s at an elevation of 3200ish feet and about 20 miles from Yosemite, inside Yosemite at an elevation of 8000 feet the weather can be very different.

And so it was that we found ourselves arriving in the middle of a summer thunder storm rolling on through.

Again, the shining parts of the Dumais family were on full display. As big fat sloppy rain drops fell from the sky, and thunder rumbled ominously in the distance, we all hiked up the road towards Parson’s lodge and the Glenn Aulen Trail to show them Mount Annika, a hike of about 2.5 miles in and then 2.5 miles back out.

Was that enough? No. Were they satisfied? No. And so, further on down the trail, Mount Eliza (named after the eldest daughter) was discovered and scaled, to great acclaim.

It was a tired but happy group which reconvened much later that night at the cabin for dinner and happy hour.

We had to sadly come down off the hill, back to our sad work-a-day lives, but the Dumais are hanging out at the cabin for the rest of the week and doing different day trips into Yosemite. It was Hetch Hetchy yesterday, the Valley today and then the Glacier Point Trail up the rim.

We look forward to the after action reports from our intrepid friends. (And martinis!)

* It has already been pointed out to me by many people that EVERYONE shows up at the cabin on a hill with a bottle of booze and why am I overly praising the Dumais family for merely doing the civil, which has led to several conversations about Hendricks and the first sip of an icy martini on a hot summer evening and so on. Please. Stop. We love all visitors equally. But if the bar is raised a little by this visit, we can all only profit from the experience from here on out. At least know there will be a cocktail shaker waiting.


It’s a lot cooler this week, which is good, because I’m up here  with my brother Nick clearing brush and cutting down trees.

Among my acquaintance, I am known for taking pleasure in work usually relegated by the more inhumane states to prison chain gangs as punishment. Nick makes me look like an idle worthless fop by comparison. He is a machine. He just goes at it hour after hour cutting down little manzanita bushes with the lopers or with the demo saw.

This is passed down to us by our father, whose ashes now rest on the cabin window sill, looking east to Yosemite and the rising sun. If anyone is responsible for our work ethic, it’s Dad.

I remember one time when I was young, like 8 years old, and he told me to go weed this short embankment from our lawn to the sidewalk. So I go out there and putter for a bit then go back in and ask if it was done.

He looked at me and asked “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Okay, busted. So I go back out and languidly pull up some weeds and then go back in and ask if it was done.

“What do you think?”

And so on until the embankment was denuded of all green stuff, and I went back in for the last time and announced, “It’s done.”

To which he shrugged and said “If you say so.”

Crazy making. On the other hand, the work ethic has done us well over the years. We have many failings, but laziness and malingering are not among them.

Another lingering effect of the influence of the old man is the proximity of this place to Yosemite and the Mother Lode gold country. After the folks divorced, when we were “batching it” with my dad for a few years before our mom kidnapped us down to LA, we used to frequent Yosemite and the central High Sierra.

If we were coming along highway 49, we’d head off the road and down some promising dirt wagon track and explore old gold mines and crawl over what I now know to be incredibly toxic tailing piles or, with weak flashlight, a couple hundred feet into crumbling and dripping old mine shafts.

If we were going to Yosemite along the Merced river route, we’d pull over where the road was wide enough, in the canyon outside El Portal, and pan and sluice for gold using the sluice box we made in dad’s wood shop. We’d find a few flakes of gold, and carry them around in tiny glass vials purchased from the Edmund’s Scientific store in Menlo Park (a whole different and glorious story), filled with mineral oil.

By the time I was old enough with money in my pockets, married, with a family, when the 75 acres came up for sale, well, it was already sort of stamped in deep and a done deal before it was even out of the gate.

Some things, some places, some times, are just in the blood, and like the Great Magnet, cannot be denied when they come up in the card pile.

You do what you gotta do where you gotta do it.