This weather has been so wonderful, the nights aren’t even that cold. We been doing a lot of camping. Most of the public campgrounds are already closed, so we been working with friends on fire clearance, and set up our camp on the work site.
The air is clear now that a couple of storms have dampered down the summer smoke and dust. The mix of conifers and hardwoods make a crazy quilt of colors, every shade of green and yellow.
It’s amazing how the tree clutter – needles, leaves, cones, rotten branches and sticks – piles up over the year. This is fuel for forest fires, and it’s good to keep it swept up regularly. It just doesn’t rot, especially the needles. It piles up like an old rug, deeper and deeper, remaining dry underneath. Sometimes you have to dig a couple of feet into this stuff to find real dirt.
One year a neighbor was clearing his property, burning, and after he thought he’d extinguished his piles for the day, he woke up late that night to see the ground burning. An old dead, dried out root had caught fire, and the fire had moved along underground – the ground was on fire. He had to call the fire station in the middle of the night, and they pumped his well dry putting it out. I never forgot that story, it scared the shit out of me. When we were offered the use of this property I started raking, and I raked and raked until I couldn’t see anything but red dirt for a good 20 feet around our campsite.
That’s my routine now, I mark off a section of the property and go in with my rake and loppers. I rake the ground clean and then I start loppering off the dead stuff and the brushy little trees. In the beginning I found a lot of dead standing trees – old forest fire – and those I was able to pull out with my hands. I stacked those up nice for the chipper crews, which come in about twice a year. I stack up the bigger stuff for them, and I get nice chips for my garden.
But the little stuff just flies through the chipper, then has to be sorted out of my nice chips – no sense there, that gets piled up to burn.
An old couple from the Bay Area owned this property for 20 or 30 years, I don’t know. You could see their initial zeal – the property had been cleared, but they’d never removed the stumps. The trees grew back as suckers, it was an ugly brushy mess. The neighbors all sat around it for years, worrying – a fire could have come up through this place and destroyed five homes along the road above. The owners only vacationed on the place a few times a year, leaving their little tear drop trailer as a nursery for mice. Now in their 80’s, they haven’t been to the place in over five years. The brush grew up around the little trailer and the place sat quiet, turning into a disaster waiting to happen.
So, the owners happily left us the use of the place, we went to work, and after a few years of activity, it’s safe to camp here again. We started by clearing a nice fire pit.
Next we had to get rid of the little trailer, the neighbors were convinced it was the source of their rat and mice problems. And, snow is not good for trailers, it crushes them slowly, year after year. Which was really too bad. It was a neat little chrome sided tear drop trailer, with a kitchen and a table that converted to a bed. My grandpa had the next bigger size, and I had many happy memories. The trailer was all hooked to plumbing and electricity, just sitting there waiting for somebody to come and stay. The owner offered to give it to us, but we had no idea how to restore something like that – the chassis was getting rotten, and the mice had stunk it up pretty good. So we put it on Craigslist, and the next morning we woke up to find a dozen responses. We sold it to the first couple, for $200. We were all amazed when they just hooked Old Betty right up to their car and bounced her right out of there. We know they made it back to Chico cause they had to borrow my Grandpa’s old tow chain, which they returned with their thanks. I’ve heard from mutual friends – they really made it “tits out”, we wouldn’t recognize it today.
Then we secured the outhouse – the toilet was still hooked up and working great, but the little building it sat in was always full of somebody’s nest. First, we were pretty sure, it was a skunk. We cleaned her nest out of there, but when we came back the following spring, she had got in again. We never met her, but I could see she was a fastidious housekeeper – she stacked her trash in a neat pile to one corner – all these nut and acorn shells – apparently somebody in the neighborhood has a pretty nice walnut tree – and bits of trash from garbage cans. We sealed the outhouse better this time, and that was the last we saw of her, but the mice came on like a regular wave, always nibbling and scratching to get in. We realized the little shack was pretty rotten, so we fixed the roof, replaced rotten wood and sealed and sealed – at last, we have a mouse free bathroom. My husband put a vinyl floor in it, we insulated the walls and replaced the rotten paneling inside with new drywall. It sure beats the hell out of the portables at Elam.
So now we can get out of Chico a couple of times a week, and that means we save oodles on our PG&E Bill. No kidding, we got it down to about $60 last month, even with the new rates that seem to punish the lower users.
It is so quiet there, you can hear the neighbor open and shut a door, or sneeze even. You can hear the wind in various parts of the forest, moving closer, like a car on the freeway. A pair of ravens fly overhead several times a day, jostling and rolling along, making funny little clucking sounds between themselves. The resident male junco sings almost all day, making various noises depending on how close we have wandered to his nesting area. The tree tops change colors as the sun makes it’s way across the sky. At 4pm the sun goes behind the ridge and we get ready for another night under the stars. The valley lights roll out before us as we sit by the campfire, and we watch the full moon set out on the same path the sun had made earlier in the day.