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!

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Fishing, mountain life

Fire on the Mountain

Greetings and salutations to everyone, it’s been a little while since I’ve last hollered at ya’ll. Not much has been going on in the last month. I’ve been getting decent work and have been staying afloat financially, which is no small feat in this COVID reality.

Last weekend the boys & I went salmon fishing and Catdaddy got a 20 lb’er. We also caught a barely-legal 8 lb’er that we didn’t even know was on the line until we brought it up. We saw some whales close by, within 100 yards or so. I tried to take pics, but they were unspectacular, as whale pics tend to be. Whales are pretty damn difficult to get good shots of, they’re just so random with their surfacing.

Catdaddy with the catch of the day.

In the month and a half I’ve been up here on the mountain, I hadn’t seen any snakes. As a reptile fan I was hoping I’d run into some slithery serpents at some point, but I never did. Earlier this week though, I was giving some water to this pumpkin vine that is growing on top of the compost pile when I saw this good-sized garter snake leap up out of the thicket. I was able to snatch it up before it could make its great escape. I had a real good time just hanging out with the little fellow.

At my last job, I worked at this big garden in Hot Springs, AR. One of my unofficial duties was snake catcher. If a snake was spotted anywhere, I’d get dispatched to go catch it. Nothing like catching a copperhead at 7 AM, it wakes you up better than coffee! I just love catching and handling snakes.

Garters are such chill little creatures.

It was wild when the very next day, Jacob starts hollering about something. I get out of my truck and see he’s caught a big rattlesnake! Jacob had been telling me he catches them every now and then, but I hadn’t seen any until that day. We were under the assumption that it was a pygmy rattlesnake, but it had this green sheen to it that I’ve never seen before in a rattlesnake.

There have been rumors that the Mojave green rattler is moving up into central California. If this was one of them, it was not good news. Those snakes are really deadly and aggressive. To check on the identification of the serpent, I submitted a pic to Reddit to see what they thought about it. It was confirmed that this was a Northern Pacific rattlesnake, pygmy’s don’t live in California. Well, you learn something new every day!

The snake was mostly green-tinted on the upper third of its body. You can tell by the number of rattles that it was an old serpent.

That brings me up to the events of the last 18 hours. So we have been in the middle of this massive heat wave here in California. Temps have been way over 100 degrees for the past 3-4 days. Down in the on-grid world, they are having rolling blackouts due to energy demand from AC units. On the mountain it’s been brutally hot, temps in the day have been 105 to 110 with not a breath of wind. In the 17 years I have lived here, I’ve never experienced such heat. These are Mojave Desert temperatures! It only gets down to around 80 at night, so no relief there. It’s been hard on all of us.

I just moved into some cabins on my buddy’s property, so after 8 months of truck life I have a roof over my head again. It’s amazing to actually have space to move about in! I love sleeping in my camper but it was getting real old. I’ve had my own houses to live in for over a decade, but the past 2 years I’ve been a nomad floating from place to place. I feel a bit more human having my own roost once again.

Anyway, so I made my first pot of jambalaya in many months last night as my first offical dinner in my new place. As I was eating, Jacob came over and told me there were weather warnings of strong thunderstorms rolling through from 11 PM to 11 AM. This was news to me, as I hadn’t gotten any alerts on any of my weather apps. I guess Cal-Fire issued a warning to residents in places most likely to be affected by fires started by lightning. As it is bone-dry up here, this is an enormous concern for our community. Last Chance Rd. is our only way in or out, and if that gets blocked by fire our only option is to be evacuated by helicopter.

Now, normally we don’t get storms until October. This was really out of the ordinary. It seems a hurricane down in Mexican waters sent out a bunch of tropical thunderstorms our way. I’m glad Jacob told me about it and gave me a head’s up, as it was a good thing to be aware of. As the hours passed by, it was as still and hot as ever. I tried to go to sleep around 1:30, but the heat was just too much. I had every door open for any hint of a breeze, but none stirred. About the time I went to bed I became aware of distant booms that sounded like an artillery barrage. Along with this were distant lightning flashes. The storm raged far away for a while.

I thought that maybe the storm would skirt by us, but all of a sudden, the wind started to pick up. It was astonishing to actually feel a breeze once again, but the way it started to blow, I could tell that we were about to be in for it. Before I knew it, my cabin started to get pelted by all kinds of branches and debris. Huge gusts of wind started to blow fiercely across the top of our ridge here.

Now, I have been in hurricanes before. Once I was even in a tornado. All of a sudden, I started to feel like I was about to be in a weather event such as those things. The winds started to moan like a train was headed our way. Then, it was like the wind suddenly turned up steadily like it was the volume control on a stereo. The cabin was then engulfed in a chaotic windstorm! It was like being in the middle of a twister! I could hear tons of smashing and breaking sounds outside. The windows of the cabin flung open and all kinds of forest duff filled the room. I expected that any moment a tree would come crashing down, so I just laid on my bed and braced for impact.

After about five minutes of this however, the wind calmed. The thunder and lightning were raging hardcore overhead still though. It was like being in the middle of a maelstrom! As suddenly as the fierce squall arrived, it was gone. It then started to rain afterwards for a good while. This was such a good thing to have happen though, as I figured that there had to be some kind of fires resulting from this. Moisture of any kind would be an enormous benefit to help keep the blazes at bay.

After that initial big blast, the winds would alternate between gusts and periods of calm the rest of the night. Things kept crashing against the cabin, constantly waking me up even though I was wearing earplugs. Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

In the morning, Jacob woke me up and told me a tree had fallen on his cabin. In the chaos of the wicked gust, it was so noisy I didn’t even hear the tree fall. Fortunately it didn’t damage his roof. He also told me that there were numerous fires sparked by lightning burning up around us in the mountains. We could actually see a plume of smoke off in the distance, right behind this ridge to the south-west. At this point, the smoke wasn’t too bad. I took a long nap and woke up to the sounds of my friends and a couple of neighbors cheering outside. The big C-130 fire-fighting planes were dropping flame retardant on the fire, which had turned from a plume to a big column of smoke.

Amazingly, no damage was done to the roof by the falling trees.
When the plane dropped its payload, we cheered like we were at a football game!

There was a lot of discussion between us and the neighbors about the wild storm and the ensuing blaze that followed. Everybody had a story to tell about that first huge rush of wind. Everyone agreed that it was the most intense wind they had ever experienced on the mountain. A couple who live a little further down from us who moved here in the 70’s said it was the worst wind they had ever experienced here. This year just keeps on with the insanity, I guess.

We kept getting updates on the fires all night. It was essential that we stay on top of what the fire was getting up to. If it starts threatening our exit we’re gonna have to get out of here with a quickness.

By this morning (Monday) the smoke laid thick over the valley. No C-130’s today, instead, a parade of helicopters with water buckets swarmed all over the sky. It feels like we are in the middle of a military operation with all the aircraft and haze everywhere. It’s still crazy hot, but temps have gone down to the lower 90’s. It almost feels cold compared to the hellish temps of the past week. The thick smoke actually blocks a lot of the sunlight, which is nice.

Our view on Monday. Smoke has increased considerably.

It is still tense up here, but we feel better about things than yesterday. The community is on high alert still. We get regular updates from the Last Chance community email list. The fires are not large, 25-40 acres, but they are stubborn and won’t go out completely. There’s anywhere from 0-25 percent containment. Ash is beginning to settle all over everything and the air is getting a bit harsh to breathe.

In the middle of this dire situation, our real good buddy, The Professor, came down from up north to visit. We were super stoked to have him down. Wherever The Professor goes, good times follow. Some levity was definitely needed. We hung out all night. At one point we went out to the driveway vista spot to watch the glow of the fires burning three miles away.

It took me back to when I lived in Hawaii. Me and my girlfriend at the time lived only 20 miles from Volcanoes National Park, so we’d go out and watch the lava flow into the ocean occasionally. It was really spectacular to see it at night. You could look up the volcano and see a ribbon of fire going all the way up to the vent, which had the same glow as these fires up here. Fire is nature’s paintbrush. Sometimes it creates things like lava flows, but most of the time it just destroys. It’s humbling to be so close to the possible agent of your obliteration.

The fire, zoomed in with night mode activated.
“Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.” They say this about storms at sea, but the smoke is doing the same thing here.
The view on Tuesday. Now you can’t even see past the trees at the edge of the property.

As I type this (Tuesday) The smoke is thick as fog. Everything is heavily dusted in ash. It even got through the mosquito netting on the doors of my cabin. It is an apocalyptic scene. The choppers have been at the fire non-stop. You can’t see them but you can sure hear them going about their business. It’s like being downwind of a campfire you can’t get away from. It’s all good though, I just put a pot of black-eyed peas on to boil. This is just another thing we have to get through, like all things it will pass.

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