Out from the long shed we step into sunlight. Too bright for a life of darkness
and the small lights swinging high above the steel crates where we were born.
We grunt and startle at the feel of earth under our hoofs
But before we can remember plowing earth with our broken teeth
we are herded with shocker sticks up a long wooden ramp into a steel walled truck.
The walls are punctured with holes barely large enough to see the sunlight.
And there I find a faint trace of the scent of pigs I once knew.
We are packed so tight that we can hardly breathe
Some of us are foaming at the mouth as the floor begins to rumble under our hoofs
Our bodies slide and plow against each other with crushing weight at each bump and turn.
Hot air is filled with billowing exhaust burning our throats. So thirsty now.
At last the rumbling stops. And we are standing in our own feces.
Some of us have slipped and fallen on top of the broken bodies
of those who can no longer withstand the sweltering heat.
We wait and wait our stillness broken by an occasional choking groan
at the smell of our own terror roiling across our flanks.
Then the door swings open and the men with shocker sticks
shout and prod us out of the truck and up a long ramp to a steel door.
Now we hear the screams of those who have walked up the ramp before us.
No way to turn back down in the press of bodies coming up the ramp
We try to climb the walls slippery with urine
ignoring the pain of the shocker sticks and the shouting men
as each one of us disappears through that terrifying door.
Until I am alone before the door, the door that yawns open
and I am thrust into that steel mouth.
Something hard grabs me by the throat and holds me by the head
The last thing I see is the hammer slamming down
My knees buckle; the floor opens under me
I am sliding down a long chute slippery with blood.
A hook grabs the tendon in my hind leg
I am hoisted into the air
My muscles thrashing
as the knife finds my throat
and life slips away forever.
What can I say? It has been a long time coming home to this blog. Discovering Facebook did not help. It was easier to drop a comment than compose an essay. And I did get more responses. But the real truth is that the fires devastated me in invisible ways so that I really did not know how much I had changed. My losses from the fires was minimal; compared to people who lost everything. I did lose Voice, my little black dog. But what I really lost was confidence in this place, its magic and power to survive.
Yet PsiKeep has endured. And there were some blessings. Last spring the little Soay ewe finally had a lamb that survived. It is a ram and this year he is full-grown.
A very large Blue pine grew a limb the size of a tree above the trailer and cabin containing many of my paintings. I tried to get a tree person to some out and cut down the tree but everyone was too busy up on Cobb Mountain cutting down the timber from the Valley Fire. I was helpless. I knew if that limb came down it would crush both the cabin and the trailer. Much to my dismay I could see that the limb was separating from the main trunk of the tree. And one windy night it finally came down. But somehow it rotated 90º and slid down the trunk of the tree missing both the trailer and the cabin.
I was sick most of the summer of 2017. I had planned to use the time to work on cementing the Dragon Head Entrance Way or finish sculpting the Angle Crouching sculpture but I just could not get the energy to do anything after I fed the animals in the morning. I was afraid that I was just getting too old for all of this but it turned out I had pneumonia again. I spent a day in the hospital getting antibiotics intravenously and drove myself home. I did not have too much time to recover because the rains came early this year and I had to get the barns ready for the goats. I seemed to have more energy after I recovered so I was able to stay up for two nights working to complete the applique tapestry titled The First Thirty Days in time for the 2nd Woman’s March.
I had completed the tapestry in the summer of 2017. But I still had to design and finish the backside which contains my sigil. The tapestry had gotten pretty heavy with all the layers of felt and naga and fabric. I was concerned about the stress and weight pulling the felt backing apart. I decide to use leather as the material to suspend the piece. And I also wanted to distribute the weight along the leather so I came up with the following design.
I guess time will tell if the leather was a good solution to the problem of the distribution of the weight of the tapestry. It was an interesting piece of leather but what a bitch it was to sew. I had to punch through with the needle to make each stitch. I stayed up for two night’s straight to complete the back side. In the end my friend, Lorna came by the last day to help sew and build the frame to carry the tapestry in the parade.
I was so exhausted during the parade that I was hallucinating. I saw what I thought were two dogs lying in an empty parking lot as we marched by. It turned out they were concrete parking curbs. Of course it did not help that they were painted brown. After the parade we were dismantling the frame and packing the tapestry into the car when I noticed in the window of the pawn shop we were parked and what I thought was Halloween pumpkin surrounded by skeletons and ghosts. I told Lorna I wanted to check it out. It turned out to be a leaf blower with an orange motor and white housing.
When I finally got home I collapsed. I think the tapestry is still rolled up and lying on the chest in the living room but you can see the full details of Trump’s First Thirty Days at the Tenabrae Cafe.
It was a hard spring at PsiKeep. I held off working on the blog while I was putting together poems and photo essays on the fires of last summer. But things continued to press on with miracles and disasters wrapped together in the web of life.
Sad Sheep Story
Both Soay ewes had stillborn lambs.
I lost the first ewe before I could figure out what happened. Neither ewe could not expel the placenta after birth.
I was able to save the second ewe with a lot of painstaking effort to slowly and carefully get her to drop her placenta over a period of several days. But the little ram… I do not know what to do with him. It seems with all the careful effort keeping him in the stall while the first fracture mended, he broke another leg.
Sculptures in Progress
First there was “Warrior Angle Crouching” in the beginning work-in-progress stage.
There was naked Justice getting repaired for the MAC show in Middletown.
There was hooded Justice waiting out the late rains.
And finally there was re-dressed “Justice Corrupted” ready to be trucked to the show.
I did marched for Bernie for President at the Lower Lake Memorial parade. We even got the dragon in the show.
The Ravens at PsiKeep
Yesterday as I was putting this post together I heard a commotion from the ravens outside. Every year they build their nest in the ponderosa tree above my front door. By their raucous screaming I knew what had happened. It did not take me long to find their single offspring on the ground at the bottom of the tree. I gently picked up the little guy. This was his big day, his first flight out of the nest. I set him on the banister so he could get a good start but he jumped down on to the porch instead.
So I carried him down to the orchard and set him in one of the fruit trees. Later I saw him making a low flight into the forest. I hope he made it. Although, this morning, I have not seen him up in the tall trees with the parents.
Last of all there are days of cutting brush under the ghost of last year’s catastrophic fires. More on the result of those fires is yet come in the form of art and poetry. Because what else can you do but produce creative energy in the face of all that destruction.
In October I traded three San Clemente kids for two Soay sheep ewes and one ram. Soay sheep are naturally timid and bold easily. They are difficult to herd. During the hot months of summer’s end I kept them in the pen with the buckling goats. Things were working out okay. First I had them separated inside a smaller pen within the confines of the goat pen. Later I kept the door of the small pen open so that the sheep could investigate the space where the goats lived. The goats and the sheep seemed to be working out well together.
But as fall approached and the first early rain began to fall I put my animals in the barns for the night. I had to catch the sheep and put them in the stall with the male goats. I tethered the older buck since he was getting aggressive with the younger bucks. I checked them several times before I went to bed to make sure that everything was working out with the animals in the confined space. Things look quiet. Everyone was bedded down.
But the next morning was a different story. The little ran was lying on his side and something was terribly wrong.
I checked his temperature and it was normal. So I determined that he must be injured in some way. I put the goats out and put up a divider between the ram and the ewes since they kept trampling him every time they got spooked which was all the time.
For a week I had fed and watered him. At night I brought him in the house. Since it was so warm with the fire going night and day I kept him in the hallway. During this time he ate and pooped but he would not stand on his feet.
I was finally able to get the veterinarian to come out to the ranch. She took one look at the little ram and diagnosed a neurological disorder from poisoning, possibly from Listeria bacteria. Listeria is everywhere and possibly the stress of being transported from Minnesota brought on the infection.
The vet gave him one injection of BO-SE. For two weeks I injected him twice a day with penicillin. I wormed him, orally, for three days with Panacur and injected him two times a day for three days with vitamin B complex.
By the end of two weeks he was eating vigorously and drinking on his own but still not standing up.
The vet suggested that I make a harness for him to get him on his feet. I ended up using a burro saddle with some padding I would place him on the saddle with his feet on either side. It was just high enough for him to begin putting weigh on his legs. I did this twice a day for a half hour each time. Three days later I found him standing on his own and the next day he had broken into the next stall and was standing with the two ewes.
Today he is standing on his own but still turning with his head at an angle.
As the weeks have passed I have been letting the ewes out to run around. But the little ram will not leave the stall. One sunny day I carried him outside and he did wander around for a short time on his own. I am hoping he is going to outgrow the turning behavior. The vet has suggested more Vitamin B.
I am posting this September 12, 2015 dash-cam recording of two Lake County deputies. The 54 minute video is significant for several reasons. The first reason is it shows the magnitude of the fire along the seven mile stretch between Hartman Road near Hidden Valley Lake in the north and Butts Canyon, outside of Middletown in the south on Lake County Hwy 29. The second reason is the bravery of these two deputies. However you feel about the police these days, these two deputies found themselves in a situation they were totally unprepared for but they stayed with their job to check the abandoned vehicles and rescue evacuees along the highway. For this they must be commended.
At 36:15, in the middle of this heart of darkness, the deputies come across an individual working for the state of California Office of the Governor attempting to do an assessment of the damages. He is promising that firefighting units are coming up from San Diego. What he is doing assessing the damages in the middle of a maelstrom is beyond me.
While watching this video I realized that this was the last time I would see the trees and vegetation along this portion of Hwy 29.
Note: Today I am finally forced to sit down and post the second part of the Valley Fire saga. Last night I traded several San Clemente kids for three Soay sheep and shipped off the last group of does born this year to other breeders on the East coast. In the hassle of loading the kids and unloading the sheep I got between two bucks vying for the same doe. Nothing good can come of that. I was able to get out with only a large bruise on my shin so I am laid up for a day.
Refugees from the Valley Fire: September 13 – 15
We rescued the animals, my neighbor Brenda’s goats and chickens, and my herd of San Clemente does and kids. I had to leave four of the bucks behind because there was not enough room in the trailer.
Just as we got back to the farm a friend of the Schmitz’s came by. He was distressed because the Highway Patrol would not let him into the fire zone to rescue his horse. He had tried every story from needing diabetic medication to his mother’s cat was trapped inside the house. Nothing was working. I told him I had success with the Highway Patrol and that I wanted to check on the goats I had to leave behind. I offered to go with him and talk with the deputies at the blockade.
The intersection of Hwy 53 and 29 outside of Lower Lake was blockaded going to south to Middletown and west to Kelseyville. On the corner there was a crowd of desperate people trying to talk their way into the fire area to rescue their animals or just get back to their homes. It was a crazy scene. People were pleading or arguing with the deputy in charge. I walked up to her and said “I have a truck and I need to get back in to hitch up the horse trailer and get my horse out. Can you help me?” She told me to hold on while she walked off to talk with the other deputies. After a few minutes she told me I could through. I turned to the crowd and said if anyone needs to get into Hidden Valley, to come with me. One man came with me and we walked back to the truck. Here we were strangers brought together by a common goal to rescue our animals.
At PsiKeep the house looked haunted. It even smelled different. Of course it smelled of smoke and ash which hung in the air. But it also smelled of something else, desolation. After all, I had pulled out, left everything behind, walked away. In turn the house was rejecting me. Or maybe it was the scent of curious neighbors wandering through my place.
I set out food and water for the bucks I had to leave behind. Our next stop was inside Hidden Valley where we rescued two white bull dogs. We dropped down to Hwy 29 and drove north to Hofacker Lane to get the horse. We could see why Hwy 29 was closed. All along the highway firemen were setting back fires on the west side of the road in attempt to keep the fire from jumping the highway. There were several places where the fire had jumped but it looked like the firemen had been able to put it out even though it had run up the slopes to the top of the ridge on the east side.
The fire had not reached Eric’s place. He hitched up the horse trailer and his wife was able to catch the horse and we headed home back through the smoke. When we got back to Corky’s farm I discovered that while the horse trailer had double wheels on each side, the tire on one of the wheels on the right side was missing. If that horse had shifted his weight or we had turned too fast the rim of the exposed wheel would had hit the pavement sending up a blast of sparks.
September 14, 2015 An escort into the fire zone
The next day my neighbor Brenda was able to get back into Lake County. She had been on the south end of Middletown when the fire rolled through and was forced to evacuate out Hwy 29 to into Napa.
I do not know if it was frustration or adrenaline from fleeing the fire but we felt we had to do something useful and keep moving. For two days we were able to talk our way into the fire zone. We brought gasoline and supplies to those neighbors who decided to stay and fight the fire if it swept down into Jerusalem Grade. Some people just did not want to leave because they were afraid they would not be allowed back in. Others had people hiked back in. I told them that the story about needing to rescue their horse story seemed to work.
“I’m not gonna lie I need to water my ganja said one neighbor.
By September 15 my story of needing to get into the fire area to rescue livestock was getting thin or perhaps there were too many lootings in Hidden Valley. Regardless, Cal Fire and the CHP closed the road to everyone. They set up an escort system where you had to sign up to receive a number. When your number came up you were escorted into the fire zone and allowed on your property for 15 minutes. Our number was 422 (It is an ominous number according to Brenda who was an ex-cop. It is a threat of murder in the California Penal Code Section 422). At the end of day one they were on number 75 so it looked like we had a long wait. What was even more annoying was that you had to be at the Lower Lake High School gym to wait your number and if your number was called and you were not there you forfeited your turn to be escorted.
It had rained that night and some of us thought that the rain would be putting out the fire. But by morning the Valley Fire had grown by 2,000 more acres. We took the chance and came back to the gym the next afternoon. Lucky for us they were on 385 so we decide to forget the tanks of gasoline and water we were going to bring into Jerusalem Grade and waited our turn in the gymnasium. We found two more people who lived out at the Grade and doubled up so that there were four of us in Brenda’s truck to be escorted.
Sure enough when our number was called and we showed our ID’s through several check stations we were escorted back into the fire zone.
I had made of list of things I wanted to check and get but when we arrived at PsiKeep I was shocked how unfamiliar the place had become. In my last moments here I had walked out the door tearing away everything behind me knowing I may never see this home again. That last step out across the threshold was both terrifying and liberating. In an evacuation once the animals are safe everything was just memories and the things I took with me to hold on to those memories. The things in the back of the car that I took become a burden as I shuffled through those things looking for some clean underwear.
I had tried to be so organized with my list for my 15 minutes of grace but I was stunned how haunted the house had become. I ran downstairs and outside and was shocked to see that someone had thrown four bales of hay into the pen with the goats. All I could think of was a hundred bucks lying out in the rain. Then I realized it was not my hay. I had bought alfalfa and this was orchard grass in the pen. Someone must have come out here to feed and water the goats. Foolish me. I forgot that when I signed up to be escorted I had also signed up to have someone come out and feed the goats which I had to leave behind. Now I felt guilty but I had five minutes to feed the cat, grab my rain hat, a jacket and my pajamas before I had to get back into the truck.
September 18, 2015 Journey to Berryessa
In the scramble at the south of Middletown Brenda had ended up with the medications for a man named Blue, who was one of the evacuees. After several days of trying to get the Red Cross to get the medications out to where he was staying at a place called R Ranch, we decided to make the journey ourselves.
We packed a chain saw, oil, gasoline, water and a tow chain in the back of the pickup. We set off down Morgan Valley Road, the back way to Lake Berryessa, because it would take 4 hours off of the driving time. Maybe it was overkill but we were traveling through the area burnt from the Rocky Fire and we did not want to have to double back if a tree had fallen across the road.
Nothing to the east and nothing to the west. Nothing left that is not burned away.
Our first view of the lake. How far the edge of the lake has retreated due to the drought.
We arrived at R Ranch with the medications for Blue. If you had to evacuate this was the place to be. R. Ranch is time-share vacation site with cabins, swimming pool, horseback riding and a lodge, which supplied meals for the guests. The main room was filled with donations of clothing, pet supplies and shoes. I was finally able to get another pair of shoes to wear instead of the red bowling shoes I had been wearing when I evacuated.
We snacked on some fruit and energy bars at the lodge and set out on the long drive back to Lower Lake.
Doldrums while the hills are burning
I spent almost 10 days at the Schmitz’ farm. During that time I had little knowledge of what was happening with the fire. I had no Internet access and the news was sketchy at best. It was reported that four people had died in this fire and at one point a fifth mortality was reported in a shoot out in Hidden Valley but that proved to be untrue.
In desperation to find out what was happening Brenda and I drove to a meeting at Kelseyville High School on September 17.
The cafeteria was filled with evacuees who were staying at the high school, which had been converted to an evacuation center. The journey was a disappointment. We learned nothing new about the fire. But I did manage to snag out of the trash a current copy of the fire map.
What was disturbing was that an area of the fire, which was still uncontained, was progressing slowly up the other side of the ridge behind my place. When it was finally contained it was only a half mile from PsiKeep.
During this time Brenda and I made ourselves useful by helping around the farm.
We also made forays into the fire area to bring supplies to the neighbors. The road was still closed but we shuttled supplies across the barricade.
At last the Highway patrol opened the road and we were able to return home. But what awaited us was the unbelievable extent of this disaster.
To Be Continued:
Once again another fire and evacuation story. This time the fourth fire, the Valley Fire
September 12, 2015
It was a warm mid-day and I was getting bored waiting for the varnish to dry on the rune circles I was creating to hang on the outbuildings here at PsiKeep. I was casually browsing Facebook when the first posting of a 20 acre fire off of Bottle Rock Road on came up on the screen. I did not think too much about it. It was a small fire and at that time another small fire closer to Kelseyville was also reported. But when I checked back a few minutes later the first fire was at 400 acres. I called several people up on Cobb Mountain. Neither party answered so I left messages about the fire and went to take a nap. When I woke a couple of hours later the sky in the west was a wall of black and a blood-red sun was throwing a deep orange light across the land.
I loaded my dog, jumped in the car and raced up the long drive. At the top of the drive I took my first photo of the mother of all dragons raging out of the west. I drove out to the lookout point on Spruce Grove Road overlooking Hidden Valley Lake to the east and Cobb Mountain to the west
What I saw was horrifying. The sky was filled with towering clouds of black smoke blistering and buckling against the sky and that monster of a fire was racing down the mountain like a juggernaut. Nothing man-made would stop this thing. It leaped from ridge to ridge belching fire storm after fire storm as houses, out buildings, Ponderosa pines and dry chaparral exploded in the heat of its breath.
The fire was running to the south-east and my greatest worry was the edge of the fire in the north-west. With the wind up it was aimed right toward Jerusalem Grade.
I jumped in my car and drove down to 29 and headed north hoping to find out more information as to where that wing of the fire was headed.
I made with run up 29 to Spruce Grove Road north without being able to determine anything. The fire was just too big.
So I headed back home and began packing to evacuate. Once again you grab the things that mean the most, the dog, the one cat I could catch, the remaining chickens, (Another story to be told later.) hard drives, book projects, the icons from the shrine, computers, my Red Cross bag of toiletries from the Jerusalem Fire evacuation and a few clothes.
And then it is that heart wrenching finality of walking out the door knowing you have given up everything behind you. You’ve let it go hoping for the best and knowing that there was a high certainty that all could be lost.
It was dark by the time I had finished packing the car. The sky to the south was on fire. I set the goats free hoping they would make it as best they could since I had no way of getting them out. I caught the old buck, Jonas, he was still under medication, and tied him to the side mirror of the car. Once again I turned my back on my home and everything I had built and started up the drive leading the goat behind.
At the top of the drive I expected to see fire engines and emergency personnel. The gate at the cinder-block towers was also a fire road leading directly into the ridge behind Hidden Valley Lake but there was no one around. The road was deserted. I parked the car, deciding what to do next when a vehicle came down the road. I flagged it down. Inside the vehicle were a couple of growers and they said that there were no mandatory evacuations for Jerusalem Grade. So I dragged that poor goat back down the drive. I caught the rest of the goats and put them back into the pens. I sat in the car for a long while watching the orange glowing sky in the south while ash and cinders falling thick as silver snow rained down around me.
After a long while I decided to go back into the house and watch the glowing sky from there. Inside I felt like I was living that scene in “War of the Worlds” where the main character is trapped and hiding in the cellar of a house where one of the invading Martian space ships has crashed into structure. The power was gone. I was able to drain some water from the pipes. I wandered around my house with a head lamp while outside danger trampled the land.
The next morning I was still able to use the phone and I called Corky and Sharon Schmitz, where I had stayed during the Jerusalem Grade Fire evacuation. I asked him if I could bring over some chickens. He told me to bring everything over and he would help me transport the goats to his farm.
The intersection at 29 and 53 was closed by the time we had the trailer hitched to Corky’s truck and were ready to rescue the animals. I was able to talk our way back in by saying we were going in to rescue our livestock and they let us pass. Once inside the fire area it was like driving into the heart of darkness. We drove down the road as the smoke thick as fog enveloped us only it fog was hot and choking. We past no one coming either way. The land was empty. Everything was still as death while ahead the horrors burned.
To be continued…
A child discarded even by the sea.
tossed by waves on to the sand
abandoned from the dark deep grave.
What world is this that we do nothing
To comfort the migration of these people
of power and greed?
A child lying face down in the shallow waters
Like a piece of flotsam
discarded even by the sea.
Note: While this blog is not a political blog this image in the news was too powerful to ignore. “The boy is one of 11 Syrian refugees feared dead after they drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean on two boats bound for the Greek island of Kos.” (http://stopwar.org.uk/news/if-this-powerful-image-will-not-change-uk-attitudes-to-refugees-what-will)
A Soliloquy for Lake County
After all the fires we have been though from the Rocky Fire to the Grade…
To pack or not to pack
that is the question
Whether ‘tis nobler in stature
to relinquish one’s home and holdings
or to take arms against a sea of embers
And by opposing,
dump a crap load of fire-retardant
to end them.
I had found this blanket in the trash at the Red cross Center and used it for the dogs to sleep on in the car for the five days we all evacuated. I had just washed it and hung it on the banister to dry when I heard a tanker flying overhead. I walked around the corner of the house and I could see the beginnings of another fire burning.
This fire is just down the road from PsiKeep. It is burning north by west. I am not concerned at the moment because the wind is blowing away from me. But in the afternoon the wind does shift in the opposite direction.
I worry about the people and animals in the hill to the north and west of me.
I am located a short distance outside the advisory evacuation area. But it is deja vu all over again. I had just cleaned my house. Again. I was unpacking the items I had evacuated from the last fire, again, when this fire began.
It looks like this one is under control for the time being.
Cal Fire just reported that the forward progress of the fire has been stopped and they have opened the road to residents only.
From my study, where I am composing this post, the roar of the air tankers has diminished and I can no longer see the smoke through the trees.
The San Clemente goats are calm. All seems well. I am waiting to see what develops when the wind shifts.