CZU Lightning Complex Fire

The Mountains of the Moon

I know the Mountains of the Moon are a place in Africa near the headwaters of the Nile river. It’s a name of a place I have heard about somewhere before. I liked the sound of it so I filed it away in my mental Rolodex for future use. I never thought I’d be in a place where I’d use it to describe a location. After my first trip back to Last Chance yesterday however, I can say without a doubt that’s how I’d describe the place now.

For weeks I’ve been dealing with the trauma of having to flee for my life from the conflagration. I’ve been doing a lot better lately, but I’ve been needing to return to further the healing process. It’s something that I’ve been dreading, but needed to do. Just knowing about how bad it was was one thing, but I needed to see it with my own eyes. Yesterday was finally the day I decided to go back up there.

As soon as I turned off Highway 1 to head up Last Chance, the scale of the destruction hit me. At the bottom, there were quite a few homes that miraculously survived the inferno. Of course there were some burned out homes, but that particular area fared better than I had supposed it would. When I turned up Last Chance Rd. however, it was like a gut punch. Everything along the 7 mile stretch was completely obliterated. The whole forest for miles and miles was complete ash. I’ve never seen such a complete obliteration of nature. Where there was beautiful redwood forest and lush greenery everywhere, there was now just differing shades of gray and black.

It just got worse the further I went. The road was in really bad shape, and barely navigable even for The Beast. A couple of times I met other vehicles and had to do some tricky reversing to get out of the way. On my way up Shelby Mountain, where I was living, I ran into Catdaddy and Jacob coming back down. Catdaddy had brought up his trailer for Jacob to live in while he’s working on cleaning up his property. They were scouting the driveway up to see if it was possible to get the trailer up there.

I got out of their way after greeting them, and proceeded to head on up to the property up top. They were going to have to do a bit of chainsawing to clear a path, so I wanted to have a moment up there by myself to come to terms with things. Jacob warned me that it was very hazardous in the footprint of the cabins from chemicals and sharp debris, and to wear a mask and have on boots if I wanted to poke around. He had actually been wearing a full Tyvek suit himself doing cleanup. The environmental people said that things were highly toxic from all the chemicals released by the fires so none of us wanted to get sick.

I was completely stunned when I got to the top of the mountain. It was hard to tell where everything had been, the destruction was so complete. I was really wondering about the fate of the things I had left behind, so I started poking around in the ruins of my cabin. I found my skillet (which was amazingly intact, but quite rusted) and my precious machete. The machete was warped and ruined, a testimony to the heat of the fire.

All of my possessions I could find.

The heat of the fire was so intense, it was like a forge up there. There were puddles of molten metal everythere. There was a big pile of beef bones stacked up that Jacob’s dogs had chewed on, when I stepped on them they crumbled into dust. It chilled me to the bone knowing that I was almost reduced to nothing but a pile of dusty bones myself.

Me at the exact spot where I stood when I saw and heard the fire coming at me and realized I had to run for my life.

As I was poking around taking pictures, Catdaddy and Jacob came back up and we had some beer and just talked about things. We were trying to crack jokes and make as much light of the situation as we could, but it was still really tough to deal with. After a bit, I took Catdaddy down to the base of the mountain so he could drive up the camper.

He drove it back up sucessfully, and the three of us donned Tyvek suits and gloves to remove Jacob’s water bladder. The remains of the bladder was resting on the flattest, best spot on the property to put the camper. We got it out of the way after a bit of difficulty. Catdaddy then manuvered the camper into place, and voila, Jacob now has a place to stay back on his property. He was really stoked, and we were happy for him.

Jacob with his new digs. It’s not much, but it’s a first step on the long road to recovery for him and his property.

After we got the camper moved in, I felt it was time to leave. I was mentally and physically exhausted and needed to get back down the mountain to recuperate. They were going to spend the night and drink beers. I would have loved to have hung out, but I can barely drink due to some medication I’m on so I had to pass.

Well, that’s the story of my return to what is now a lunar landscape. It really opened up a lot of wounds that I had thought were healing. Writing this blog post really helped clear my head. I’m so glad I have this creative outlet. In closing, I want to post a video I made of two of Jacob’s cats before the fire. It’s hard to watch, but I thought I’d post it anyways in their memory.

CZU Lightning Complex Fire, mountain life

Respooling My Reel

Sometimes when you’re fishing, you get a lot of slack in your line that causes a big ‘ol bird’s nest in your reel. It really sucks because you have to drop everything that you are doing and address the issue. It’s maddening trying to sort out your line so you can get it back down to do what it’s supposed to be doing. Fishing is a process. There has to be certain things that need to go right before you can even present your bait or lure to your targeted fish.

My life as of late has been very much like a snarled reel. I’m ready to go fishing but I can’t do anything with a bird’s nest going on. Sometimes it’s so bad that you have to strip it all out and put new line on your reel. Being a refugee in these times of plague has really stretched my ability to adapt and persevere. The whole world seems to be breaking down around me, and I’m scrambling just to barely get by. It totally broke me down to the point where I needed to just strip out all my line and respool myself. It took me a minute, but now I’ve got line back on and I’m ready to start fishing again.

Since the fire ravaged my county, I’ve been bouncing around, just trying to find some stability somewhere. For about three weeks now, I’ve been hanging out with my good friend and his lady at a sweet place up in the Aptos hills. It’s a 15 acre property full of huge redwoods way back in the mountains. There’s a pool and a hot tub open for whenever you want to cool off or heat up. It’s been a great place for me to catch my breath and get caught up with myself.

A pic of the swimming area, still under construction. This is a shot from a couple weeks ago when all the smoke from the fires made the sky look like Mars.

Up here on the property, I’ve been helping my friend with various projects. This past week, me and another friend of mine worked on lower branching this big redwood in the yard. It has a vine going up it that was as big as my arm, so all that had to come down. My friend has tree climbing experience so he went up there and sawed away all the branches and vines that needed to be removed. I worked as the ground guy to support him and clear out the debris as it fell.

When my buddy finally got done clearing out all the vines and branches, he was about 70 feet in the air. After chainsawing one particular big branch, there was still quite a large nub left on the trunk of the tree. My friend, seeing this, then had the brilliant idea to attach one of his climbing ropes to it so it would make a bad ass swing! The idea worked out incredibly. It was the best rope swing I’ve been on in a long time. We joked that it was more fun than being at Disneyland!

Another thing that is great about being up here is that my friends I’m staying with are raising three little kittens. It is so much fun having them around, it’s a much needed bit of levity seeing them scamper about. They have their own room to hang out in for most of the day, but in the evening they are released to roam about the house. I’ve not spent a lot of time hanging out with cats in my life, so it is a trip watching them go crazy and get into things. I swear, they are more like monkeys than cats! They are cool little creatures that have their own personalities. It’s highly entertaining hanging out with them.

Spike and Princess Leia getting into shenanigans.
This is Henry Miller. I consider him the quarterback of Team Kitten.

All the fires from the CZU Lightning Complex have been fully contained. Earlier this week I went on a tour of where I used to live and work up in Bonny Doon. Amazingly, the fire’s destruction ended in the front yard where I used to live. Pine Flat Road served as a fire break and 95% of the houses along it were saved. There were a couple of burned places where the flames couldn’t be denied, but for the most part my old neighborhood was intact.

Away from the road, however, the destruction was complete. So many people up in the Santa Cruz mountains lost everything. It’s been almost six weeks since the fires, and they still won’t let us go back up to Last Chance. There’s just so many burned trees and hazards up there, it’s not safe even now. There’s a lot of talk about the coming rain from the winter monsoons causing mudslides everywhere. I imagine there will be some epicly horrible slides making life difficult for everyone living in the mountains.

It’s all paved roads where I’m at now fortunately. Not only that, but my friend cleared out a lot of brush and trees around the house so there’s a ton of defensible space here. We’re about as ready as we are ever going to be if the flames come a’knocking again.

With our country in a frezny due to all the political strife and the virus, I feel pretty secure where I’m at now. We are pretty well dug in here. Since there’s fifteen acres insulating us from the neighbors, it’s nice and peaceful. It’s been good medicine for me after the curveballs I’ve had this year. I’m slowly starting to get back on track financially and mentally as well. Unfortunately, it will soon be my least favorite part of the year. I dread winter so much every time it rolls around.

I despise winter, being as I have to sleep out in the elements. Also, Christmas annoys the hell out of me and I really hate the short days. It would make life a whole lot more tolerable if I had a decent shelter, so I’m starting to look out for a good used pop up camper for my truck. That would really be a game changer for me! They make some good ones that would fit nicely in the bed of The Beast. I’ll have to drop at least 5 to 6 grand for what I want, so for now it’s only wishful thinking.

Well, that’s about all to report for now. Hopefully soon I can get back up to Last Chance to see if there’s anything left. I’d really like to see if my skillet and machete made it through. Everything else is most certainly ash. All righty, until next time!