Sunday, March 16, 2014

Taming our North West Territory

Who can remember the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and his song "Fire" from the late 1960's?  A one hit wonder to be sure, only I'm not sure if it was even a hit.  I think I bought the damn album, probably after having one hit too many myself.  Speaking of hits.  And if you view that video, you're probably gonna need a hit yourself.  Probably upside the head with a 2x4.

Supposedly we're having a drought here in Northern California.  The storms we had in February dropped 12 inches of rain at our little farm house over a 4 day period.  And more recently we've received  7.75 inches of rain so far this March.  That's almost 20 inches in the last month and a half.

That puts us at roughly 28 inches for the water year, which runs from October-October.  Average annual rainfall here is around 51 inches, so we're a little over half way there, with hopefully a spring storm or two yet to come.  The drought is not quite as bad here in the Northern California Sierra Nevada foothills as it is, say, in Monterey County, LA County, or the Gobi Desert.  For instance.   

I'd like to think I had something to do with the rain, kinda like a counter balance sort of thing.  In preparation for the drought and wild fire season, I decided to get back to some land clearing.  More specifically, getting rid of all the dead brush and underbrush from around the ground here.  I don't think this property has been cleared up in oh, say, ever.  And as soon as I started all that back breaking work the rain started as well.

I have already cleared quite a bit of the ground; wrangling manzanita, poison oak and blackberry brambles over the last couple years.  A little bit here, a little bit there.  As a matter of fact, when I burned the mess below, which was taken from the opposite side of the drive, I also attacked a blackberry bramble that was about 15x20 feet.  You can see it in the middle photo, just about direct center, back near the drive.  That thorny mess was plowed out with a pair of loppers, sweat and a hell of a lot of sheer determination.


 And wallah, a so much cleaner look now coming up the drive.  Or going down the drive.  If you've come to visit for instance. 

You all may be wondering, what the heck do I wear when I'm up to my waist and elbows in thorny blackberry and thirty foot long snakes of poison oak?
(Here's a pile just to let you know I ain't  kidding about the poison oak.)
(It's always best to catch the vines dormant.  They're still lethal, but there's less to deal with.)

That's all quarantined poison oak.  I try to keep it separate from the other brush so I know when I'm tossing it on the flames.  I'll get the pile cooking, do a quick wind check, toss the poison oak on and then take a stroll.  Or go to the other burn pile.  (I usually burn two piles at a time.)  I've dealt with at least 10-12 piles of poison oak that size this year so far.  Trunks an inch thick, with the vines wrapping up and around neighboring manzanita and trees 20-30 feet in length.  Yeah, I deal with some poison oak.

So what do I wear when I go swimming in blackberry thorns wrapped in poison oak vines?  Do you care?  Well, I'm certainly not naked, that's for sure!  From the ground up I got a nice, thick pair of socks underneath high top steel toed boots.  Then I have on a pair of Levis baby, denim blue.  A worn T shirt, and then a long sleeved sweat shirt an old firefighting friend gave me over a decade ago when he had a bike shop over in Carson City, NV.
Big Dawg Baby.

My friend ain't at there anymore, he's since moved on.  I probably wouldn't call that number hoping to talk Harleys.  You'll probably get a dry wall contractor and he'll only want to talk about dressing in drag and high heeled shoes.  It never ceases to amaze me.

I have been in the thickest of thick manzanita with that sweatshirt on, and for those of you who don't know, manzanita has hundreds of little nail to pencil-thick off-shoot shards which are hard, sharp, and lethal.  I shred T-shirts, every time.  The sweatshirt, when I get caught up, shreds the manzanita sticks.  It is like wearing Kevlar or impervious armor.  Big Dawg does it all.

My ensemble is completed with a pair of work gloves and a bright yellow ex-firefighter baseball hat.  I try to wear bright when I'm working in the sticks.  It's always easier to spot stuff when it drops in the brush or leaves.  Especially me.

And then when I am done burning or wrangling, I ALWAYS shower with Fels Naptha Soap.  I think there's a link for it somewhere around here.  By the way, please visit my Amazon (and other) links.  It helps pay the bills around here.  Thanks. 

I scrub a dub dub all exposed skin, my face, neck and shoulders especially.  If I've gotten too hot, taken off the sweatshirt and shredded a T (6 shredded so far in the last year, one of which was a favorite SF Giant T.  Damn!  That's why I said worn T up above.  Never again will colors be worn and then shorn!), then I really have to pay attention to my upper torso and arms.  And if I've taken a leak...

So far in 3 years of wrangling poison oak I have only gotten one small case of it on one of my forearms.  And that was no where near a wrangling or burn day.  I think that case was kitty related.

So I have cleared here and there, but I have never touched the NW Territory, which is part of the Lower 40, and no doubt the deepest of the Deep Side.  It's about a quarter of an acre to the left of our drive that's to hell and gone and away from the house.  It also sits right on the main road.

Here's a few before and after shots of what the jungle looked like and what I done!

(That's my long standing wood chip pile sign. I have a standing order with a tree company down the street that they can drop off excess chips any old time.  Now I just need more gumption to spread 'em around!)




The brush was thick,  Thick as a Brick.  There were also about 20 or 600 one to four inch thick pine trees 20 to 30 feet tall flittin around.  Vines of poison oak.  There was also a blackberry bramble around the solo remaining pine tree above, with dead vines arching out of it's thicket like long, menacing octopi arms with razor sharp teeth.

Obviously I left the big oaks and most all the trees and brush along the road side cliff.  That rises from about 1 foot high at our drive to 12 feet high at the fence line.  I want all the root I can get along that embankment.  I also left most of the manzanita, which can be quite artsy, especially when given a chance to branch out.  I also left that solo little pine, which has a lot of room now to grow into a solo BIG pine.

Below you will see my simple tools of the clearing trade.  That's my second pair of loppers, the first pair lasted a couple years until I shattered them on a dead, inch thick branch of manzanita.  This one's only been in service for a couple months and is already war torn and weary.  I already have a back-up just in case.

And that's my little Echo ES310 chain saw with a 14" bar.  Don't need a longer bar, don't want one.  I can slice through any and everything with this as long as the chain is sharp.  If I'm bucking a log that's a couple feet in diameter, I slice down one side, roll the log and complete.  Using a small saw like that saves a heck of a lot of energy over using a heavier one with a longer bar.

My bright orange bucket contains all the necessaries for the chain saw, including bar oil, another chain, fuel, ear and eye protection and other assorted sundries.  Mostly all bright orange, cause I said, when you drop them in the forest they are really hard to find.  Like me.

So away me and that little party went, four to five hour spurts over a three day period amassed enough brush to fill and consume a 1200 square foot house.  At least.  A lot of back breaking work, especially for an old man, but ever the more better for being done.  I'd so much rather burn that stuff on my terms rather than let a wild fire have its way with it all. 

I scheduled the burn around the last rain storm with two burn piles and about 25 piles of brush scattered hither and yawn, most about 15x15 and four feet tall.

Since I have a lot of trees, I have to be selective where I locate a burn.  Besides the laterals I also have to be concerned about the overhead canopy.  Fortunately, once all the crap was cut I was able to situate two close-in locations where I could get the fire cookin.  As it was, the fire ran into the nearby leaves at both locations.  However, I ALWAYS have a charged hose line nearby as well as a 3 gallon water extinguisher.  I went out on a number of "out of control" control burns back in my firefighting days, I don't ever wanna host one.  I let the fire run a little, but kept it corralled, essentially expanding the safe zone.

It took about seven hours to burn all the brush with 2 fires going, but I blasted through.  I couldn't move for three days afterward, but I got her done.  That night rain came to extinguish any leftover ashes, the perfect end to a long burn day.

Before going to press I just finished possibly the last burn of the season on the upper 40.  I had already wrangled out a bunch of dead manzanita,  it just needed to disappear.  And disappear it did.  The ground around here is slowly beginning to look a little park like, AND, it is so much more wild fire safe.

Animal Update

Goldie, our Rooster and his 8 girl harem are all doing fine.  Goldie, however, is barely hanging on in our good graces.  He pecked our Granddaughter the last time she was here, so he's on a real short leash now.  BUT, he finally engaged a few weeks back and actually defended the girls for a change, so I'm a little torn.

I was up here, writing away, when amazingly with windows closed I heard the chicken's distress call.  I flew down the stairs and out on the deck to see what was the matter.  Three of the girls were in one corner of their fenced in yard, shouting like crazy.  Then, as I rapidly approached, a hawk skirted out of the chickens secure area, somehow lifted itself up and through my webbing and then over a 4 foot fence.

Let me back up.  First of all, I leave the hen house door open during daylight hours.  It is locked at night to prevent night predators like raccoons from beheading and dining on my girls, but it is left open during the day so the chickens can come and go as they please.  Get a little exercise.  Chit chat, smoke cigarettes and eat bugs.  That sort of thing.  Since the last hawk attack inside their yard (see Homestead Update at the end of Three Phases of Steve) I thought I had put up enough of a webbed deterrent so that we wouldn't have to worry about hawks anymore.

But I had left open to the sky a small 8x10 fenced in space, which is still inside their main fenced in area but separate from their yard, utilizing horizontal webbing to theoretically cut that space out from the rest of their play area.  Confused?  Me too.  Anyway, it was through the horizontal space that the hawk entered and then tried to leave.  But after the hawk got into the 8x10 space, he stopped on the ground and was leaning up against the fence.  He was giving me the evil eye and snarling (if hawks could snarl), and then I noticed one of his wings was in disarray.  As I quickly tried to think of my next move, Mr. Hawk finally launched and flew hap-haphazardly and slantingly up into a tree about 50 feet away. BTW, all of this, from the top of the stairs to eye contact with the bird, took place in the span of about 20 seconds.  Snap.

Once the threat was gone it was time to ascertain damages.  It was then Goldie emerged and I noticed he was limping.  The other five girls were hiding in the hen house and they were all fine.  Then I noticed there was a slew of Goldie's feathers scattered about.  NO blood, just feathers.  About the only thing I can figure is when the hawk came calling he was greeted by Goldie this time instead of a docile hen.  Although Goldie limped for a couple weeks afterward, I'm pretty certain he did some damage to the wing of that hawk.

I have since completed aerial webbing all across the top of their Chicken Fantasia Land.  Hopefully that and a recent taste of Rooster will keep them hawks at bay.

Lastly, our kitties are doing fine.  Their little bellies are getting bigger, but they are still kitty through and through and a sheer delight for my lovely wife and I.  We are letting them out during the day now, and they are honing their hunting skills on flying insects, kinda like a Dog and Butterlfly.  We can't wait until they are honing their skills on little furry rodents.  

We do have them come in at night.  The kitties, not the rodents.  The kitties MUST come in at night.  Some of the same predators that would dine on our chickens would also dine on our little felines.  They're not quite ready (if ever) to take on a fox, bobcat, coyote or raccoon.  After the sun sets we call their names, and, smart as their little kitten brains are, they usually come scampering to the front porch within a couple minutes.  Bless their little feline hearts.

There's a big, wide world out there for them to explore, a lot of music to radiate within their little cat craniums.  I can't wait to see what they're listening to on a day to day basis.

                    Lily just woke up.  She's listening to a little Tom Jones.                    

                                          Daisy's still napping.  She's listening to some Byrds.

Wishing everyone out there, especially all my Irish brethren, a grand St. Patrick's Day!