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:
August 6 Day 9
Note: Please note that this entry of the past three days was under construction when the Jerusalem Fire broke out. I have entered them now to keep the events in this story in chronological order.
The satellite fire map indicates hot spots in the south The fire has moved to the south which is now closer to me if the winds blow back toward the north.
I have no startling images to share. I am too close to the belly of the beast and the fire is too spread out. There is nothing but smoke in the sky in the south east.
The fire is now as large as San Francisco.
Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show and all day NPR has been playing interviews of Jon Stewart. It is an end of another era.
I am keeping a close eye on the south where I am unable to see anything. The hot spots are still too far away. I think I will go down and open up an abysses on one of the goats. I am too exhausted to cut back more brush. Most of it has been cut away but this place has a lot of trees. There is not much more I can do but be vigilant and ready to move out if need be.
August 7 Day 10
I gave the older buck, Jonas, another bath and scrubbed away more dead skin and hair. He is looking a lot better. The new hair is growing back. And the wounds where the other bucks had attacked him are almost healed.
I have been giving him zinc and coconut oil in his feed and I am waiting for the supplements to arrive by UPS. But they will not come out here until Monday due to the fire. The little buckling with the abysses is also improving. The wound is drying up and have been giving him 2 cc of penicillin a day.
The day ended in that darkness that comes without the power.
I was watering the goats when the water stopped flowing. First I looked for kinks in the hose. None. I ran around looking to see if I left a hose bib on. There were no hose bibs draining out the water. Panic. Is my well pumping dry? The gauge says zero. No flow; no pressure Then I noticed that the light in the shop was out. I went inside and sure enough I had no power. As it turned out there was another fire in Sigler Canyon and a transformer blew up. One rumor had it that the transformer was hit with retardant. That night I read by headlamp until the power came on around 10:00p.m. I shut down the place hit the bed.
August 8 Day 11
I spent the day cleaning the house and unpacking the stuff I had grabbed to evacuate. Most of the space in the car had been taken up with a cage for the chickens, two carry cages for the cats and room of for the dogs. I had filled the rest of the space with things I thought were important. The hard drives and the computers made a lot of sense. The bag with the boots was probably practical as was the cash. The icons on the altar were for comfort. But the raven feathers? What was I thinking? Maybe they were to tie me to the earth. Soul food.
I use to have this all down. In Topanga I evacuated a number of times. I knew exactly what to grab after the animals were packed in the car. It was always the latest art project and irreplaceable things. But this time the car was too small and I am in between art projects. So I was stumped. This experience has taught me that I need to better organize my possessions and get focused on an art project.
At the end of the day I checked the satellite map again and noticed same seven little circles of hot spots in the south. Seven yellow dots may make a big difference on how this day plays out.
Sorry for this brief post after such a long silence but most of the adventure has been trying to get PsiKeep ready for the fire season.
Today we plowed the road. Brush cutting to the horizon in the shoulder tall grass.
This looks like a match stick 90 feet up in the air. But these Blue Pines are so large due to the water table flowing down the bowl shape of this property, even in this drought. When is falls it will be a very loud crash. We can do nothing but wait the inevitable.
The dragon is coming. Looking for a crew to move it into place in order to begin the final installation.
I normally do not do this but because this is such a historic day I have to post this image.
I had set the day aside to do some cleanup around the main house and driveway before the day got too hot to work in the sun. As I was raking pine needles to feed to the goats, I hear the helicopter come over the hill. Curious I looked up and saw the red cross on the belly of the ‘copter it passed overhead. I thought, another person had wiped themselves out on the highway and they were being transported to Davis with a very big bill to pay if they survive.
But to my surprise the helicopter banked a turn overhead and circled around. Before I knew it, it was landing on the dirt road that crosses the north-east corner of the Psikeep property.
As I wandered down the hill I could see what appeared to be a blond-haired woman stepping out of the helicopter and walking toward an ambulance parked on the road at the corner of the property. She entered the back of the ambulance.
The first strange thing I notice was that the South Lake Fire Department ambulance was facing the wrong way. There are only two houses at the end of that road. If the paramedics had come down the road on an emergency call and found that they had to order a helicopter to transport the injured person to a hospital, why were they facing in the direction as if they were first arriving at the property. There is no place to turn around.
After a few minutes the crew began transporting someone or something on a gurney to the helicopter. All I could see was that it looked like whatever was on the gurney was bagged up pretty tight.
The second thing that appeared strange in this scenario below was that no one was running. There seemed to be no urgency. Maybe I have seen too many TV dramas. But if someone was going to have to pay for that helicopter ride in order to get to the hospital I should think that the paramedics would step on it.
I also want to mention that there was a fire truck parked up the road to the right of the helicopter.
So what happened here? Was this a training session? Seems strange to do that on private land. Was there an injured person being transported by helicopter to a medical center or hospital? I called around to see if anyone knew what had happened. I even called the fire department to see if there was a medical emergency or a training session but so far no one has returned my calls.
Update October 8, 2014
According to the fire department this was a real incident and someone was air lifted to a medical facility.
The first coat of cement applied to the uprights of the Mushroom Wedding Arch was completed today.
I used a brown coloring for the first coat of cement so that if there is any chipping it will blend in rather than reveal the white cement underneath. Any cables you see in the images are there for temporary support until the footing has been revised.
Just when I want to collapse on my laurels, I know that the real work is just beginning. The next stage is to detail the mushrooms by sculpting the cement to create the gills and cones using different colors and textures. This portion will have to be done slowly and the expected time of completion will not be until next year.
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.
It is our third year of drought.Without the rains we had a long drawn out autumn that graduated from golden to brown to brittle. We had a hard freeze and the winds ripped the last of the leaves from the trees. Now we languish, day after day, as the rainstorms roil out in the Pacific or slam down from the Arctic only to arch over the land as if it is under a bell jar or cupped in a giant fist of drought.
Kidding Season Begins
It is kidding season at PsiKeep. Actually the kidding season began early last December 2013. Two does dropped their kids in one week. My seed female, mother of all, from which all my does have come from, had a difficult delivery. The first kid was born a healthy buckling and labeled E-01. (E for year 2014, odd number for male and 01 for the first male born in 2014.) The doe passed the remains of tissue that might have been an undeveloped second kid. But the next morning she passed a third kid. It was a healthy developed looking buckling but it must have strangled on the umbilical cord or had been too long in the birth canal.
For a couple of days I thought I might lose the mother doe. She was so weak she could barely stand and nurse her kid. I milked her and fed her the extra colostrum/milk, which is high in antibodies. This seemed to help and give back some if her energy. She drank her own milk for about three days and started nursing on the second day. I was careful to make sure the buckling had enough milk especially those first days when it is high in content with colostrum. But since there was only one kid I had extra milk to feed the mother.
A few days later the second doe dropped two healthy kids, a doeling and a buckling. More kids are on their way in the next few months.
Below are current photos of the three kids. They are ready for sale now.
For more articles on San Clemente goats at PsiKeep check out the menu at the top of the page.
Individuals interested in purchasing San Clemente Island goats should contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
PsiKeep ranch does not ship life animals. Buyers must arrange their own pickup.
Continued from Notes on an Orphan Fawn
Scruff is back. I see him every few days. Several times I have surprised him coming around the corner of the house as he is eating the chicken or the goat food.
He has lost his spots and he is traveling alone. The wound on the back of his head between his ears has healed but the hair has not yet grown back. You can see that area on the neck just below his ears.
Since I have been observing the deer at PsiKeep, especially after discovering Scruff, I have noticed another smaller fawn with hair loss in the same area on the back of its head. This hair loss is in roughly a circular area about the size of a silver dollar. The fawn is traveling with its mother and another larger fawn.
I am wondering if there is a mange infection that is appearing in the local herds of deer. I checked online and there seems to be a mange infection on the East Coast but no reports of it in California. If I see another deer with the same condition I think I will contact Fish and Game to see if this is something spreading in the deer population in this area.
Bringing Home the Cement
The cement company came through with their replacement sacks of cement. It was quite a journey bringing them over the mountain to the property.
I am stranded without a vehicle. My friend, Lorna Sides, offered her VW Turbo to go and pick up the cement. For the past few months she has been in the market looking for a car. So she did not really purchase a car to haul the cement but at the end of the day it looked pretty close to that.
In the parking lot of the Honda dealership, and after many hours of going though the long process of purchasing her new car, we transferred half of the 750 lbs of cement from the very low riding VW to her new Honda. Those car guys must have thought we were absolutely crazy as they watched these two little ladies putting all those sacks of cement into the back of her new car. Together with both cars loaded with cement we caravanned back over the mountain with our haul.
Turning the Top Section of the Mushroom Wedding Arch
The next step is to finish the final coat of cement on the front side of the top section.
Detailing the Side Panels of the Mushroom Wedding Arch
The side panels are being detailed in the carving shop, which is really the goat barn in the winter months. They are almost ready to be attached to the foam uprights which cover the armature. Once these panels are attached in place the first layer of cement will finally be applied.
The goal is complete the Arch before the before the weather turns cold.