Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Red Riffs of Rover

A funny thing happened on the way to publishing this post.  Besides all the chores that must be done around this fledgling homestead (yes-even with this dang walking-cast for my Achilles tendon problem) and my other part-time job (whatever that is), an old friend stopped by en route to San Diego last Sunday and we had a great visit for a couple three days.

We go back over forty years, went to high school together.  Took some of the best acid ever known to man  back then, had some remarkable teeth-cutting times.  Flew about the galaxy together, danced in the bright white fire of the Gods, transcending time, understanding alls immortality.  Flew with fluorescent flamingos, danced the light fantastic, and then, as it does, life took us in entirely different directions.

I get poetic tendencies from time to time, it's a problem, I know, but please indulge me for a moment.  Then we'll get on to Riffs and such.  I actually put pen to paper a few years back to describe my feelings about old friends.  Amazingly, it's titled, "Old Friends".


Whiling away the wee hours of morning
Wasting away with indolent care
Travelin through time with bedazzling rhyme
Thinkin ‘bout old friends who are no longer there…

I was walking through the wild mustard meadows of my youth
The days back when, I ran with friends, looking for our truth,
The days before we compromised and pasteurized our themes
The days before we sacrificed and encumbered all our dreams.

Thinking about old friends, I see their faces and names
Old friends, like fine porcelain
Old friends, no make-up or games
Thinking about old friends that knew me before what I became.

Many friendships have blossomed as I’ve wandered this road
Some of them silver, some of them gold
Some have departed, kissed their song to the sky
Their heart to the wind, their memories shine

Old friends, blasts from the past
Old friends, times gone by too fast
Old friends, how could innocence last?
Thinkin ‘bout old friends who knew me before my die was cast

So many memories, so many friends
Life’s pursuits scatter them like leaves in the wind,
But the time and distance will never lessen the glow
Of the moments I’ve shared with each of their souls.

Old friends, they transcend time
Old friends, like a taste of fine wine
Old friends, the feeling’s sublime
Thinkin about old friends who knew me
When we were learning to fly…

One of my friend's occupations is stage rigging for rock shows, one of his passions is a Honda Goldwing.  He is also a video enthusiast with both.  I heartily recommend you mosey on over to Riding and Rigging on Youtube and check out some of his remarkable videos.  Many of you who know me quite possibly know him as well.  And now, back to our regularly scheduled post...

This semi-poetic title reminds me of Irish singing groups for some reason, like the Irish Rovers for instance, or maybe a rocking Irish balladeer, like Van Morrison.  And then there's those Irish foot guys (as my wife likes to refer to them) to think about when considering the Emerald Isle.  Or Riffs even.  Here's a famous riff,  Layla, that was actually riffed by Duane and given to Eric as a party favor while they were playing around together back when.  Probably smoking spliffs.  A riff for a spliff.  Catchy.

And then I can't start "riffing" without mentioning Astro, the Jetsons pet dog. "I ruv you Rorge" he would always say affectionately to his master.  Or not.  Hell, I don't know.  Could be one of those LSD things, you know? 

But the title's not really about that at all.  It's a play on words. I was rather referring to the White Cliffs of Dover, (which of course are on another island altogether over there), or Clifflandia, as we more colloquially refer to my pet project here on the hill in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Homeboy, as I colloquially refer to the previous owner, did some good things around the place and he did some really weird things.  You can read all about some of his home improvement exploits throughout this here blog.  Anyway, one weird thing he did outside was to plant a few fruit trees right along an embankment edge.

You see, the house sits on about a quarter acre level "pad" in the middle of a sloping 2.6 acre parcel of land.  It slopes up and down from here, and for some reason Homey planted some trees right along the edge.

There's a peach tree directly in the middle of this frame.  The one inch trunk is dead, but there are a couple sprouts at the bottom and I'm going to try and save it if I can.  Just to the right of the peach tree is a HUGE lilac bush.  I currently have about thirty starts in pots already from this glorious Mother bush, and I reckon I'll be slicing off a few more before I'm done.  You'll see what I'm using them for in a bit.

On the inside of the picket fence is an apple tree, which is actually a nice placement.  I am currently in the process of bringing it down to a manageable size, and should have it corralled and producing this next spring. 

From there Homey planted two more fruit trees along the edge and heading back towards the shed.  They're there, right on the end of the level ground.  From there you need The Flying Wallendas to swing on in and cache some of the fruit what lies ore the great beyond.

Steep, huh?

Half the ground is level underneath them, half isn't.  Who in their right mind would do such a thing?  Just because they are living things I have decided to try and work with them.  However, I do have an area already dedicated to becoming an orchard.  I am still in the process of clearing it, so I am probably yet another year away.

The one good thing Homeboy did do was widen the entire parking area once you got up to the house.  Apparently the one lane drive just turned into two lanes at the top, making turn a rounds extremely difficult.
So he got a dozer up to the landing pad and widened things so much that we can now host a Day on the Green concert here.

Being a child of the fifties and growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960's and 1970's afforded myself and friends access to some incredible musical moments.  "Days on the Green" were all day concert events put on by the late rock impresario Bill Graham and held at the outdoor Oakland Coliseum, home to the Oakland Raiders and Oakland Athletics.  When not being inundated by hordes of happy, dancing (and sometimes naked) hippies of course.

Of course, these days the Athletics and Raiders attract their own brand of fanatical madness.  Must be something left over in the air from those Days on the Green.

Favorite Day on the Green concert?  Wow, there were so many.  CSNY, The Band, Joe Walsh, Jesse Colin Young.  That was one show.  Fifteen bucks.  The Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead.  That was another show.  The Who and the Grateful Dead.  Another one.  Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton.  All for no more than fifteen bucks.

So, the driveway itself is a rather steep and windy affair a couple hundred yards long.  The steepest part, right next to the road, is actually paved with concrete for about one hundred feet.  From there it's asphalt winding up to the top concert arena area, which was just gravel when we moved in.

It was in the budget for a little asphalt paving, which we did have done as soon as the weather cleared enough after moving in.

You may have noticed the subject of this post in almost all the photos above, namely that lovely (and long) cliff that was the result of the parking widening project.  It looks an awful lot like cliffs that have been hydraulically mined for gold around here.  This is the gold country after all.

"Hydraulic Mining was the quickest method of mining gold in placer deposits. Water would be carried to the mining site via canals and ditches where it would go into a hose.

The beginning of the hose was larger and higher than the other end which would have a pipe attached to it, so the weight of the water going into the hose would force it out the other end at great pressure. It was like mining using a fire engine hose, as the jet of water would cut into the hillside, washing the dirt and gravel down into a sluice box. It is important to note, however; that this method of mining, due to the scale of production and speed of extraction, had vast environmental impact."

Of course this area of the Sierra Nevada Foothills was heavily mined for gold during the gold rush of the 1850's (and beyond).  As a matter of fact, The Empire Mine, which sits just outside the city limits of Grass Valley closed in 1956.

The Empire Mine retrieved it's gold from underground shafts, many running deep and for miles under the town of Grass Valley and beyond.  However, you can still see the environmental impact of hydraulic mining at many areas along rivers and streams in Nevada County.

Malakoff Diggins and surrounding territory shows one great example.  Or what the miners were doing in the 1985 Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider.  One scene in there (when Clint isn't killing anyone) gives you another idea of the impact this abusive form of enterprise had on the environment.  It was finally outlawed on January 7, l884 when "Judge Lorenzo Sawyer declared hydraulic mining illegal. It was believed that hydraulic mining was a selfish act because it caused so much damage to the environment."

So I inherited the Red Riffs, what do I do with 'em?  Well, fortunately when you get below the two or three inches of humus and topsoil this locale is rife with clay.  So, if I want to go completely absurd, I have a red rife riff of ray.   Rorta.  Roe K.  

Subsequently, in the four or so years since he cut the pad the cliff has not suffered that much erosion.   There is some, and of course there will continue to be some unless some form of intervention is staged.  I, of course, am intervening.

The first thing I did was apply some jute fabric along most of the cliff.  This does help hold some of the dirt, mud, rocks and clay together.  It was tacked on with six inch metal hooks.
 Jute Added (same area)

And along the wall

I then attacked and assailed a little isolated patch of Hypericum Calycinum on the property that is located in an area that will eventually be paved over with brick. 

There are about 400 species of Hypericum, and Calycinum seems to be the most common sold at nurseries around here in Northern California.  It is used primarily as a ground cover, is quite vigorous, can tolerate drought and is great for erosion control.  Perfect for my cliff!  This species is different than Hypericum Perforatum, which is the species that is used to obtain St. Johns Wort for herbal remedies.  Betcha didn't know that.

So I have been giving this little area a haircut twice a year now once the rains set in.  I have been clipping and then dipping the ends in a rooting solution and then jamming them into the cliff.  I reckon at this point there's about 120 starts that are alive and kicking.  I would say that this is about a quarter of what has been originally jammed into the clay.

Once this stuff starts, there is no getting rid of it.  It will survive a holocaust, a volcanic eruption, a wild land fire, Armageddon.  Spring.  Deer don't like it and it will grow anywhere!

                                 Poking out in concrete between the garage and driveway skirt.
This little ensemble began with the big patch and has now evolved out to six.  It is much like a multi-level marketing ploy, only none of them have to sell any soap.  Once they start they all happily beget another.  

I figure it will be about three more years for the bare dirt to be getting close to filled in with green.  I think there will still be a few bald spots where there is only clay, but eventually this will all get filled in as well.  Stay tuned, I'll keep you updated.

This early spring, after the ground has been saturated, I plan on starting lilacs all along the top of the cliff.  I want some from of barrier up there, and rather than just putting up a split rail fence (which would look great but not provide any underground support) I want to put something there that will provide more root and underground support.

I've got about 250 linear feet to contend with, and when considering the cost of about the 60-80 plants
necessary for the job cost rapidly became an issue.  I currently have about thirty lilac starts already rooted in pots, with another thirty or so along the way.  There are also several natural shrubs currently sitting along the top of the cliff wall and I have decided I will work the lilacs in and around them.  There is no sense messing with the natural form of species.

The Hypericum and Lilac action will start to the top corner of the parking area and run to where my son and I have carved some steps into the cliff.  You can see a picture of these steps in Chicken Fantasia Land.

After the steps, there's still another thirty linear feet of cliff to contend with, and that I am turning into our own little Spice Island...on a Hill. 

We currently have Parsley, Tarragon, Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary and a little Lavender (to help attract some bees) in that little corner of the world.  These plants have all now wintered over through some snow on the ground so I am reasonably content they are here for the haul.

I will be adding more spices over time, in one area notably I plan on putting in a couple varieties of mint.  I don't know if you're ever grown mint, but that stuff is hard to get rid of once it gets going.

Those two bars in the above photo are the base for a chin-up bar, which will be getting cut this next summer (hopefully).  It currently serves as the support for the other end of the clothes line, but that little area will be getting its face lift this winter/spring as well as the back patio area.

I still plan on getting this place pretty well fenced this autumn/winter, and with a little luck we'll be able to start adding some color to our landscape.  We've only been able to work with what the deer don't like, and amazingly they don't seem to like any of the above spices.  They all have, incidentally, lavender colored blooms,  which may or may not mean anything in the damn deer munching realm.

Rooster Update

Our rooster Goldie and his harem are all doing fine.  They all seem happy, and all the girls are laying eggs regularly.  One of our Red Stars, Betty, has recently begun a penchant for flying the coop.  It's pretty funny, because once she's outside the fence she spends all her time trying to figure out how to get back in.  And Goldie is usually in an uproar, very concerned one of his girls is out in a potential danger zone where he can't protect her.  Fortunately it's been pretty easy to snag her, pet her for a few moments and then let her back in.

Another thing I have noticed about Goldie has also endeared him to me.  When we come up to their Fantasia Land with a bowl of fruit and vegetable trimming treats, the girls all go crazy, many times squabbling over a piece of fruit when there are forty more a couple inches away.  Goldie will never battle for a treat.  As a matter of fact, if he is eating a treat and one of the hens comes up he immediately defers to her and lets her have it.

He will always make sure all the girls are snacking away before he starts in on anything.  He will also make sure they are all in the cage at night before going in himself.  Although there have been a couple altercations between Rooster and Human, I am still very happy to have him around.  He is an added layer of protection for those hens I never would have considered before.

You can view a video that my friend took of Goldie here as well as hear his roar.