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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




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


Pretty good visit, despite the smoke.

So, Enough With The Snakes Already!

I took the wheelbarrow down the hill to a big pile of wood chips, to bring back a load to spread up by the cabin. A couple hundred feet down the road – yikes! – oh, only another snake skin.

Okay, whew, heh, okay. Back down the road with the wheelbarrow and – yikes! shit! heh, just another snake skin. Okay, tactical sensors are cranked up to 11.


I push the wheelbarrow full of wood chips up the hill under the sultry and sullen smoke-filled sky. By the time the wood chips are spread, I’m soaked in sweat and cherry red and a tad jumpy.

I head into the relative cool of the cabin, turn on the shower, shed my soaked and grimy clothes, and step under the refreshing stream of tepid water.

And nearly pass out when a little green frog wriggles out of a hole in the shower drain one fifth its body size and stares balefully up at me.

This drain here.



Early this morning when I was walking around, I noticed a sparse sprinkling of fine white ash on one of the picnic tables. It was deposited overnight by the wind from the Detwiler fire which is burning about 18 miles to the south.

The Detwiler fire started Sunday and went to 300 acres, then up to 7,000 acres on Monday and today has spread to about 15,000 acres. Smoke is coming up over the ridge of Smith Peak with the fire lookout tower a mile or so to the east, and is starting to cover the sky like a more benign cloud overcast, the mountains to the north are fading into a hazy murk.

The air smells of smoke and feels harsh in the mouth and nose.