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.