Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yuletide gay.
~Ralph Blane~

Friday, July 29, 2011

Picking Berries in the Burn Zone

I got a phone call from my friend. "MJ"  in Wallace last week. She  wanted to know if I would like to go berry picking on the other side of the river. She was picking berries along the river road a few days before and met a lady who lived up there. This nice lady invited "MJ" to come back this week and pick berries on her property.

Yesterday morning "MJ" came, picked me up and we drove over the Mokelumne River toward the south. This is where the big fire happen last week and this woman and her husband were right in the middle of it.
We drove through their gate, up the dirt road and parked in front of this charming house.
It's an old homestead from the pioneer days of Calaveras County. A home that has been added on to and lovingly cared for by this woman and her husband for the last 20 years and what saved this home from the 100 acre fire last week? First it was the fact that this 80 yr. old owner cleared at least 100 feet all around his house. He worked with the weed eater for a few hours each day for less than a week... a firemen said that was what saved the house.
This is  the view straight across from their driveway.
Below is a view from the front of their yard looking up at the next home up the road. The fire completely surrounded this other house. 
The fireman, crews, spotters, water helicopters and bombers dropping fire retardant were the other "hero's"  last week. It's amazing how none of these homes would have been here if all these people hadn't been working together.
We were followed up the road by a line of fire vehicles. They are still working on clearing and reconstructing trails. They were so nice to this couple. Asking permission to be there and telling them what they were doing.
It's been a week today and they are still making sure that these homes are safe and accessible. 
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We were given directions  for finding the blackberries. It was a beautiful area and looking from this direction (south) you would never know that there had been a fire here...
But looking north, toward the river and their house, you can see the fire damaged hills.
Black and sooty in the distance.
There were berry bushes down a few hundred feet that were burnt to a crisp.
We gathered our containers and started picking.
In a few hours I had filled one of my containers and "MJ" had filled two big boxes with these wonderful Blackberries.
I didn't pick as many because of "my problem"... you know, my lack of focus for the work at hand when I'm outside and everything else seems to have equal importance.
I took pictures and picked up rocks out of a small creek and ... took pictures... and listened to the birds... and thought about the fire again... and played in the water... and looked for snakes.. and took more pictures until I remembered what I was there for. If it had been a contest "MJ" would have won, hands down.
Every once in a while I would hear her say, "MARCO.....?" and then I would say "...POLO." So she would know that I was still alive and hadn't wandered off into the hills to survive on Blackberries and squirrels for the rest of my life.
The heat finally got the best of us and we both returned to the truck. We heard another truck coming from the road and it was our host. This 80 year old man not only clears weeds, he grows vegetables too.... at his neighbor's house. He had just picked some giant zucchini that grew all week since the fire and he told us to come back to the house. His wife wanted to show us the inside of their home and he wanted us to take some zucchini home.
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This is an amazing, old homestead that has been added on to  and remodeled over the years that they have lived there. The woman, "J" is a self professed collector of things and she loves to display her collections and paintings everywhere.
She loves her home.
 It is a miracle that all of this is still here. Her thankfulness for the fact that the house was not destroyed by the fire was palpable. Just listening to her told us how thankful she was.
Her collections, books, paintings and the way she displayed everything... it was obvious that everything had been done with love... and attention to detail.
We talked on the porch for a while and then she took us inside.
This is the central hallway... I just love this house. That's real beadboard on the walls.
This is her pewter collection...
Her charming kitchen.
And ... their summer sleeping arrangements..
Which has to be monitored a bit because of the traffic that is still moving around the house this week.. although I'm sure that the fire folk are all gone by dark.
 We left with two very large zucchini.. each and were invited to come back next week for more berries.
I will probably stuff one of these guys for dinner tomorrow night.. they make a whole meal.
and today I froze three bags of berries and made a blackberry Cobbler for dinner. It doesn't get much better than this. ..
 That space at the bottom of the pie plate is where SOMEONE must have eaten some right out of the oven. Hummmm! Must have been a mouse.
My sister is here for the weekend.
Carl and Cutter are really happy about this.... so I'm I.










Monday, July 25, 2011

Maybe it Was Too Much Smoke From the Fire.

These guys are not suppose to be crawling around right now.... usually not until September or October.
But there it was... looking all furry and scared.
 She (it says that the females are lighter in color and fuzzier.) was crawling along the garage wall behind some containers.
"What are YOU doing here?"
The Prospector had come into the house, a few minutes before, saying "Get your camera and come out to the side of the garage." He had a bucket in hand. and he left quickly.
Well, that usually means that it's two big to kill and that he wants some help with "the capture". But... " Get your camera" ?
I'm thinking that it could be a Rattler, but he didn't have that edge in his voice... the one that says, "I've got a big bad critter out here and I need your help IMMEDIATELY."
Nope, this was a calm, "I found a camera shoot for your blog." kind of voice.
So I got the camera and walked out to the side of the garage.

The Prospector was trying to pick up a Tarantula and put it in a bucket.
The Tarantula wasn't happy about this.
I said, "Be careful. Don't hurt it." and he said, "You want to do this?"
He didn't have to get an answer on that one. I don't do spiders.
You all know that. Not even big, fuzzy ones that almost look like rodents.
The Prospector finally got the spider into the bucket and I, in my bravest, second cup of coffee voice said,
"Here, give it to me. I'll take it up the road and let it go."
Then I added, " It can't crawl up the sides, can it?"
He said, "I don't think so." and smiled.
I just want you to know that, in the photo below,  MY hand is holding the bucket.
Impressed? I hope so. I hear they jump when they are upset or threatened.
It didn't seem upset. It just sat there.
I walked up the road above the chicken house, never taking my eyes off of this rather good sized arachnid.
and guess who is following right behind me?
Annibel, the cat. She must have thought it was time for a walk
..or, she was interested in what I had in the can.

I walked over to some dry grass and laid the can down. The Tarantula didn't crawl out. It just hunkered in the can.
Annie came over to investigate and I told her to go away.
She backed off.
I lifted the can and shook it. the spider slid down to the edge of the can and crawled back into it. WHATS THE MATTER WITH THIS SPIDER? Doesn't it want to go back to where it came from.
This time, and getting a bit braver, I lifted the can a few inches off the ground and shook it again, a little harder. This time the spider slid out and into the grass.
 Annie was circling the wagons. I pushed her away and said, "NO ANNIE." She backed off, swishing her tail in the air.
The Tarantula move around  and started to get its bearings.
What an amazing creature this is. I found a site that tells all about this beautiful, YES BEAUTIFUL, spider. Here's the link.
I will probably never hold one in my hand.
I will probably never let one walk on my arm.
 But, this is the one spider that will continue to diminish my fear of its species.
A fascinating wandering that I have had many encounters with. But, each time that I do come across a Tarantula I get more comfortable. Maybe, someday in the future, I will be able to hold one..... Ah, NO, maybe not. Not yet anyway.
I picked up Annie and brought her back down to the house. She stayed with me. She didn't go back up the hill.  She was on to other pursuits... like stalking birds (which she rarely catches) and sneaking up on assorted small rodents.
"Good cat." I called after her. " You get enough choices around here without terrorizing a poor little Tarantula."
She turned around and looked at me... meowed, and continued on into the garden.
I not sure what that meow meant.
Could have been "No problem." or...( more likely) it was something like, "Don't push your luck."
She's complex.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fire, fire, Burning Bright.

I know it's "Tiger, tiger..." but on the evening before last we had a fire in the canyon that was a little too close for comfort.

Now, after our close call Friday evening  it's "FIRE, FIRE... burning bright"... I'm sure that William Blake would understand.
  Nothing strikes fear in our hearts like a forest fire.  I have imagined being confronted by a wild animal up here.... of coming face to face with Blake's "tiger" (or in this area... a mountain lion) and that is always a very frightening idea.
But FIRE is a constant fear... and present. FIRE is not afraid of humans.
It is a constant fear during the summer months.
And then my fears came true...


"What immortal hand or eye
Could frame they fearful symmetry?"
 I stood on the edge of our front yard and said a prayer that this was not the one.... the one that would come and devour the land and take everything in its hungry path.
We could not tell if this fire was on our side of the Mokelumne or the Calavaras side.
It appeared to be on our road that goes down to the river. It seemed like it was just down the road.
We called Cal Fire to report the smoke but it had already been called in by others.
A neighbor called wanted to know if we could see anything.
We turned on the scanner to see if we could get any information.
 We heard the sirens coming from town... heading down toward the river.

A "wildland" fire is such a danger here. We have not experienced a fire here for in many, many years so this area has a lot of dead underbrush and broken trees branches that are dry tinder for fire.
By mid summer we have a profusion of dry grass that grows next to the roads waiting for a lit cigarette or a careless match.
Did you know how noisy a wildfire fire is? First you hear sirens, then airplanes. The spotter plane arrives and flies in circles over the fire. Someone in this plane calls all the shots. He or she is the fire commander and tells everyone  what to do.
Then the bomber arrives...
This is the plane that drops the chemical retardant on the flames.

Then the helicopters arrive and carried buckets of water from the river to the fire.
The helicopters, two of them, went back and forth all evening. Like an endless bucket brigade, they never stopped flying... down to the river and back to the fire.
The spotter and the bomber flew over our house again and again. The sound echoed through the hills and continued into the evening. Our life seemed vulnerable and scary even though we finally heard that the fire was on the Calaveras side of the river.
As the planes kept flying over us, I thought about what it would be like if the fire was at the bottom of the hill and my neighbor's house was burning. What it would be like to be covered with that red fire retardant and see the flames coming up the hill. As I have said before... I have a vivid imagination. My brain was in fast forward. I was imagining the horror of a fire... HERE... on the mountain.
A friend called and I hardly remember talking to her. She wanted to know that we were OK.
I don't remember fixing dinner, or watching TV that night.
I couldn't sleep and kept hearing strange noises outside the window. Maybe the goats were talking about what happened. I don't know, but the last sound was another siren going back up our road toward town. I guessed that the fire was under control and they had been called to another "situation".
I heard a coyote answer the siren and then, at some point, I fell asleep.
I dreamed about our house in black and white...
and saw myself running with my animals and other wild creatures. I was trying to carry both Carl and Cutter. There was a red glow behind us. I woke up, shaking.
 I went into the livingroom and looked out to the south across the river. I could see a faint glow but the view was clouded with smoke and I couldn't see much of anything. I went back to bed and slept, restlessly, for the rest of the night.
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 We woke early.  The smoke lay in the canyon like a shroud...
The air was cool. I walked to the edge of the front yard.
The sun was just coming over the distant mountains and flooded us with light.
Everything was in color and covered with sunlight.
My little unfinished potting shed was still behind the house and everything was good.
I took a deep breath and said another prayer.
This time it was short...
and with gratitude for whatever decides the consequence of things in our lives,
I said "Thank you."