The hills are burning in the valley of Jericho
the bones of the deer are mixed with ash
a carpet of silver haunting the hilltops
wind blows across barren lava flows
exposing a cycle of ancient ruin
which has come round at last
And a seed of the first blade of grass
waiting for the rain to come.
The dragon is still churning through the smoldering wasteland in the east.
25,118 acres have burned and today it is 98% contained.
One dog is in the ground and the other is hiding in the shadows under my desk. The boxes with my precious, irreplaceable things are stacked unpacked on the porch. I should feel very thankful that I still have a porch to come back to. I think of the people who lost their homes counted and uncounted in the final tally. But in the end I am exhausted. I am in denial about the loss of Voice and I am not taking it very well.
But oblivious to my sorrow, paradise is raging all around me. The euphorbias in the Garden of Unearthly Delights are blooming. Some have actually never bloomed before.
The apples are hanging like clusters of grapes on the branches of the apple trees.
The raven pair are feeding on the crab apples in the orchard and the local herd of deer have come down to nibble at the chicken food again . All is well at PsiKeep but the caretaker.
The night of August 9, 2015
That night we put Jonas and the little kid in one of the trailers and I walked back down the driveway to collect the remaining goats while friends and neighbors slowly backed the stock trailer down the drive behind me. The goats were frantic but they recognized me and I was able to lead them into the enclosed yard on the cement slab. I tethered the bucks and one by one we loaded them into the stock trailer. We made a chute out of the cattle panels in the driveway and herded the does and kids into the trailer.
The goats were taken to the Schmitz farm in the next town. After the animals had been unloaded and fed and watered I drove to the Red Cross Center set up at the high school where I work as a substitute. The chickens, the cat and both dogs were put into large cages and fed and watered.
The Red Cross Center was almost deserted and I was treated like royalty by the team, which had little to do especially at 12:00a.m. I was fed chocolate cake and sandwiches and I was starving.
Later as I lay on a cot in that vast dark gym with the smell of the freshly waxed floor I prayed and hoped that the fire did not spread into the valley below PsiKeep and that everyone’s home out there was safe.
August 10, 2015
The Red Cross was very accommodating but the rooster was crowing and my white German Shepherd was barking at everyone who entered the Red Cross center. So I thought it best that we move on. I was able to connect with Brenda and James who helped me with the goats the night before and we were invited to stay out the evacuation at the Schmidt farm in Lower Lake.
The dogs and I are living out of the back of the car for the next five days.
We set up a pen for the dogs and put my chickens into a coop out back. I fed and watered the goats and put the cat into a larger cage under the trees.
The first morning I helped Corky Schnidt butcher some chickens.
Later that morning Brenda and I set off to evacuate her chickens and remaining belongings she wanted to remove from her place.
We spent the day getting animal feed and supplies for the three of us so we would not be a burden on Sharon and Corky Schmidt.
When we returned later that afternoon we discovered that Voice, my little black dog had broken out of the pen and was last seen running down the street.
We drove off looking for her. We back-tracked down 29 to Spruce Grove where Day’s Plumbing use to be. We drove out Morgan Valley Road about two and half miles where I finally said “I don’t think she could have gone this far. She is over ten years old and does not get around a lot at PsiKeep.” But that was my mistake. We should have gone further. If we had only gone further up the road.
Two days later on August 12 we got our first lead from the Animal Emergency Center at Spruce Grove Road. The woman said that a report had come in about a dog fitting the description was sighted on Morgan Valley Road and Reif Road, out where the fire was still burning and the road was closed to through traffic. Brenda and I drove out there through miles of blistered hills black and burned out desolation as far as the eye could see.
When we reached the fire crew they told us they had seen the dog but someone had hit her and dragged the body to the shoulder of the road about two miles back.
We found her body about four miles out of Lower Lake. She must have traveled that far before getting hit. She was alone, terrified and struck down probably in the dark when a driver could not see a black dog traveling along the road.
We brought her back to PsiKeep that day and buried her in a hasty grave by the bones of her old buddy Jaffa who died four years before. I will come back when this is over and do the marker right. Now it is just a chain link kennel panel lying on the ground to keep the animals from digging her back up.
To be Continued…
August 2: Day 5
The fire has spread to 54,000 acres and is 5% contained which means it is still totally out of control. The latest report from Cal Fire says that the estimated containment is August 10.
Today the wind is blowing out of the south-west and to the north-east. This is good for me but the fire advancing toward Hwy 20 and Hwy 16. All the residents in the north-east end of the county are in great trouble. I also think of the horrendous suffering that must be taking place for all the wildlife trapped in this fire.
I pray to the Goddess for mercy for all living things in front of the fire and for the homes of the people who are in its path.
Things are getting tedious out here. I am constantly on the alert. I had to unpack the car because I have to bring hay to the goats twice a day. The boxes are stacked around the house in case I have to quickly load them back into the car.
I have to ask myself why am I staying here with the imminent threat of fire. Around me most everyone has left. They return only to feed their animals. I find this totally abhorrent. If it is too dangerous to stay why leave your animals? What do you think is going to happen if the fire reaches them? So I stay because it is more comfortable here than at a hotel. I stay because I have no place to put the animals. The goats are taken care of. They have been evacuated. But the 8 chickens, 2 cats and 2 dogs and one old San Clemente buck will fill my car. I stay because this is home and I want to protect it as long as I can. I know that if the fire is coming I will have to get out of here. With all these trees I cannot hope to save this place at the end. But I will stay as long as I safely can.
Meanwhile little is getting done. Most of the day is spent driving out to feed the goats where they are evacuated. The car is holding together but I have to fill it with coolant before I leave each time or it will overheat. Sometimes I can catch a little sleep but mostly I am on the edge ready to make the call to abandon this place.
PG&E has come by and sprayed all the power poles with red fire-retardant.
The fire department put up a sign that says Road Closed To Thru Traffic. Of course this road does not go thru so they must have borrowed the sign from some other road. I was stopped once by one of the firemen at the road sign. I had to show him my electric bill with the street address on it. After that they recognized me enough to wave me through.
The first image in this post was taken from the driveway this evening on August 2, 2015. See you all tomorrow.
August 1: Day 4
This morning on the 4th day I heard a strange pattering. I thought there was something wrong with the printer. I was fumbling around with the cables when I realized, IT WAS RAINING.
For a few extraordinary moments the rain washed the ashes off of the porch then disappeared like moth into the morning. Out in the wasteland the dragon slumbered on embers in the burnt out canyons waiting for the wind to raise it back to life. Meanwhile it looked like a good day and I thought maybe I can bring home some goats.
I went to feed the herd and get some supplies. It took me most of the day. As I was unloading the car I noticed two firemen from Cal Fire parked in the middle of the road out in the valley. Were they stationed to keep people from driving back into the evacuation zone? But they were parked the wrong way. Later I saw that they were gone and I could only surmise that they had gotten lost.
By the time I went to feed the goats in the evening things had shifted for the worst.
In the dark sky plumes were rising from spot fires. By night fall the dragon was simpering in the wasteland. All was strangely silent. The aerial defense had retreated for the night and the glow from the distant fire was the only sign of the horrors enveloping out there.
July 29, 2015. I looked up from my writing to see a mushroom cloud through the trees outside my window. This was beginning of the Rock fire.
I walked up the drive and saw that there were two fires burning in the north. One was a spot fire that must have developed quickly because it was almost the size of the original fire by the time I took this image.
By nightfall another dragon was born.
Before dark I began to set up evacuation plans. I used Facebook to try to find someone who would take the goats. While I was waiting for a response I began prepping the place as best I could. I dropped the tarps and swept out the rain gutters and the roofs of the main house and the outbuildings, climbing around in the dark while the dragon rolled and churned through the wilderness in the north.
Using a lamp strapped to my head I caught one cat and got her into a cage. I made room in the back of my broken down Subaru for two cat cages and a cage for the chickens. I began packing and loading the car with hard drives, the alter, the latest project, irreplaceable items, a pair of boots, notes and printed versions of the book. The things one takes when looting your life in the face of a fire.
By the time I got several responses for places to put the goats I was exhausted. I was beyond exhausted. My heart was pounding in my chest and my knees were turning into jello and the first flames were spilling over the crest of the ridge.
On the road above I could hear the neighbors driving out with their horse trailers. The night was strangely quite. I felt like I was one of the left behind. Spot fires were burning on the ridge in the north.
I have to thank the couple who came to my rescue, although it did not end well. They managed to back their 20 foot horse trailer down the drive. We worked until 5:00 a.m. getting all the San Clemente goats into that trailer.
I managed to get an hour of sleep before the sun came up.
Morning brought a clear sky on Day 2.
The person who took the goats could not keep them so I spent the day finding another place for them to stay. By the time I got home it was armageddon all over again. The dragon was loose on the world.
The fire fighters put up a brave fight with the aerial bombing of fire-retardant. By dark all was quiet.
Sunrise Day 3.
The day was so clear I thought I could see if I could find someone with a truck to bring the goats home. But by the time I finished feeding the evacuated goats out where they were staying the smoke had returned.
I am back at PsiKeep writing this blog. The road is closed. The fire is running to the north by northwest. I am going to stop now to see if I can get out to feed the goats at the end of the day. I will probably load the car again with all the stuff I have chosen to evacuate and take the animals with me. If I can get back in I will to try to stay here as long as I safely can.
Final day; final harvest
of the last of the persimmons.
Cutting wood and bringing it under cover.
The goats restless with the smell of autumn rain
a broken tide of clouds darkens at day’s end.
On Hallows Eve they came as silent as ghosts.
but for the whisper of their hoofs swashing the leaves.
They came following the does.
Drunk on pheromone and lust
Tossing the weight of their antlers in empty threats
At the broken moon.
The redwoods were too much for them
The scent of pine oil lathering the air.
They were don quixotes swinging at windmills
as they plowed the redwood saplings to the ground.
In the morning nothing left but broken branches.
The bark rubbed clean from the cambium.
Girdled, the young trees will weaken
and eventually die.
I saw the first buck this morning. It seems early this year but the rut has begun. This is the time of year when the male deer are pursuing the females who are in heat.
The bucks are more shy than the does and I only see them once a year during the rut. This one came for the girls and stayed for the chicken food. He caught me sighting him with the lens of my camera.
Disturbing signs of life and death in this small portion of paradise.
Remember that lush photo of the elderberry tree with flower and immature fruit.
By mid July the tree is dying and the fruit hangs uneaten and withered on the branch.
On July 5th I took a photo of one of the fawns born this year. Notice the swelling on the side of its cheek.
On July 16 I sighted the fawn again. He/she still had the swollen area on the left cheek. I observed the mother doe licking him prodigiously. They were with another older doe and wandered off into the brush before I could photograph them.
Each afternoon and early evening I see more and more deer coming down for the water behind the chicken coop. They are also coming to glean the remaining food for the three free range hens that have survived the fox and the coyotes. In previous years there was enough forage so that the deer did not come around until sometime in September.
The Water Table and the Orchard
The level of the underground water table seeping down the slope has greatly decreased. The orchard, which relies on that water, is drying out. This summer the trees on the edge of the underground flow have needed to be irrigated more frequently. I almost lost a Santa Rosa plum and several persimmon trees before I realized what was happening.
San Clemente Goats
Last winter, one night in the barn, Jonas, one of the two breeding bucks broke his tether. This resulted in three more doelings born July 9. They will be available in late September. For more information on these little girls check out PsiKeep ranch.
Sculptures at PsiKeep
Cleaning out the shop. I had this one free-standing mushroom sitting in the shop for several years. There was just something stodgy about it so I never set it out or took it to a show. Luck for it. The other mushrooms were stolen at the Mendocino Art Center for the Arts several years ago. This summer I decided to redesign it.
The image below shows the revision in Styrofoam before I covered it in cement.
The carving of the left and right uprights and buttresses for the Mushroom Wedding Arch is proceeding in spite of the heat and lack of vehicles to get supplies. They are almost completed.
The next job will be to create a more stable footing by digging out between the uprights and connecting the armature before pouring the footing in cement.
The sky has darkened and the dragon is loose on the land.
Tacking on the wind the fire grew from 30 acres at about noon on July 1 to 2,500 acres by 6:00p.m. By July 3 it was 4,300 acres jump-sparking as it roiled toward us. Each evening and morning there would be some containment by the fire crews but by the afternoon when the wind came up it was out of control, wild and ferocious.
On July 3 we went to DEFCON IV. We started the vehicles to make sure they had gas and were functioning. We parked them facing outward so they were easy to load and we would not have to turn them around the last minute.
On July 4 a sister fire broke out south east of Lake Berryessa.
Lucky for us the wind changed and the first fire tacked to the east before finally smoldering out. But no one ever completely puts down wild fire. Simpering beneath the earth ,”Feed me, feed me.” you could almost hear it say as it waits for just the right combination of heat and ignition to leap up once again.
We held the course at DEFCON IV and we did not have to go any further with preparations but the other stages are always in the back of your mind.
DEFCON III: Assemble the halters and cages and lead ropes. Pull the computers. Put the cats and dogs in the house so they can be loaded in the vehicles if the time comes. Cage the chickens. Start packing valuables in to boxes.
DEFCON II: (This is the stage when you can sight distant flames). Start putting the boxes containing the hard drives, molds, current projects, and valuables in the back of the vehicles. Halter the goats and tie each animal to the fence inside the paddocks ready to lead into the truck.
DEFCON I: Evacuate. Load the animals in the vehicles and drive out.
Evacuating is like looting your own things.
I come from a long line of self-looting from the experience of many fires in Topanga Canyon. It is a fast and choreographed dance ripping out and loading the vehicle with the most valuable and irreplaceable of things. It is a cleansing of oneself. What do you choose? You can never take it all so you take what you can rebuild within a few moments or hours’ depending on how close is the first sighting of the flames.
The keyword is “rebuild” putting your life back together as fast as possible when it is all over. Because the real strength, the real coordinates, the real things are within yourself. The other stuff is to just help make it happen as easily as possible.
Grab what you can but in an organized way. Know beforehand what you want to take and where everything is located. For me it is always the animals’ first then the computer hard drives and projects. Never waste space on clothes and personal items. They can always be replaced.
There is nothing good about a wild fire. A wild fire is transformation fast and complete but at what cost? Today the current dogma in a conversation about wild fires is the “controlled burn”. The guys who call for a controlled burn are the same guys who want to poison the lake to stop the “evasive” fish or shoot and trap the wolves so that hunters can get their prize elk
Life is complex and a “koyaanisqatsi” answer is no answer.
There are too many fires started by arsonists and nature to add more to the burning count. The few plants that have adapted to a high heat to release their seeds do not balance the destruction and suffering of a wild fire.
I have seen the result of a wild fire so hot it has melted machinery, burned parking lots, jumped freeways. In a wild fire there is something more terrifying than the expanding flames. A heat wave precedes the fire about 50 feet ahead like an invisible wall of destruction. Any vegetation two feet or less does not burst into flame but falls into ash as if disintegrated by a force field. Anyone accidentally stepping into that invisible wall will have their clothes burst into flames.
I have seen the remains of a herd of deer trapped in a box canyon. Their charred bodies are a testimony to the confusion that must have occurred in the smoke. After a fire there are tiny creatures such as snakes, mice, ground squirrels other rodents who mistakenly sought refuge in the ground as the fire rolled over them. Those that do not suffocate in the ground crawl out of their burrows with their fur smoldering as they die by the thousands on the road.
But what do you do with the elements that feed a fire? At PsiKeep I am feeding all the cut brush to the goats. I am burning the dead trees for fuel in the winter or burning brush fires in the rain. But it is a small dent on just nine acres of timber and chaparral.
As I glean through the forest at Psikeep what I see is the forest-past choking the forest- present and the forest-future in the form of dead fall. While there are organism that breakdown the dead wood such as mycelium and termites in years of drought the dead fall lies un-decayed forming a crushing umbrella, which bends the young saplings under its weight. A dry tinderbox, fuel for the dragon just out of reach waiting to burn free.
What we need is to find is a use for all that dead fall on the hundreds of thousands of acres of wild land.