Which Job Looks Like More Fun?

… these days, we have to divide to conquer around here …

One of us takes a chore near the house to be ever-present in order to deal with water deliveries, generator service people, PG&E utility people, etc. The other one takes the goats up the hill to ensure they are safe. You get to decide which might be the more “fun” assignment.

Goat-sitting or cleaning ash residue from solar panels?

We sold a number of this year’s kids with their mamas because the fire ended our ability to water pasture, but these kids we kept.
There are 52 panels to clean on various roofs. The ash residue is like a layer of cement and hard to clean.

Note: the goat-sitter usually takes on additional chores while tending the herd — stacking firewood, pulling honeysuckle vines down from trees (for the goats to eat and to reduce fire ladders on trees), etc. So, it is not all fun. Plus it’s very dusty and ashy.

Late Bloomers, Goats, A Heifer and a Frog

Our last post was heavy with words, work and a big tank.

Changing up to just photos with captions this time.

  • a red rose in bloom
  • A red zinnia flower in bloom
  • a yellow and red, varigated flower that looks sort of like a lantern
  • A red geranium in bloom surrounded by leaves covered in ash
  • A brown and white goat with horns standing in a dead pasture
  • A bunch of goats grazing in a creek bed
  • A cow standing in a pasture.
  • A bullfrog in a swimming pool skimmer.

A Dam in the Stream of Projects

The lack of rain is a dam in the stream of projects, as well as cause for the swelling reservoir.

The fire necessitated a new, long, list of projects.  This swelled the project reservoir.  Some are projects on this ranch.  Some are projects on the Berry Creek Water Users aqueduct system.

Projects on our ranch created by the fire:

  1. wash ash and dust from solar panels, porches, buildings, roofs and gutters
  2. grade (smoothen) pastures uprooted by CalFire bulldozers
  3. burn brush from trees uprooted by CalFire bulldozers
  4. plant new grass seed in uprooted pastures
  5. clear culverts in key drainage waterways that were covered by bulldozers
  6. install additional 12,000-gallon reserve water tank for fire suppression (tank pictured below)
  7. drill an emergency/backup well

These projects cannot start until/if it rains more than ½ inch.  Attempting them now would be defeated by powdery, blowing ash and dust.  In some of the bulldozed places where we walk, the dirt is just powder 6” deep from PG&E and CalFire trucks traveling over it all since 9/8/2020.  When we have wind events like this weekend, piles of ash and dust accumulate over porches, sidewalks, and building surfaces.

Projects on the aqueduct created by the fire:

  1. remove dead trees and debris from 3 miles of earthen ditch
  2. rebuild 700’ of trestle and pipe that carried water on steep hillsides and across ravines
  3. create clean-outs at numerous places in ditch (ways for heavy rainfall to exit the ditch safely)

We are still actively fundraising for this project at https://givebutter.com/BerryCreekWaterUsers or https://www.facebook.com/donate/787538592063201/.

Then there are our ranch projects on hold because it has to rain to end this year’s fire season:

  1. move emergency evacuation horse trailer from standby location and cover for winter storage
  2. move hay from barn at risk of flooding to stable (we keep hay out of the stable during fire season)
  3. erect temporary shelter for items we must remove from the barn (can’t build burnable shelters until fire season is over), including hay, F250, irrigation supplies and a lot more
  4. Move stacked firewood next to the house (don’t dare do this during fire season)

This is a partial list and almost all of these will be triggered when first rain breaks the dam.  Too much rain and we’ll have an additional list. 

To be clear, most of these projects on the ranch can’t be done until it rains, and then they have to happen all at once before the rainy season sets in.  The lack of rain has all this work on hold.  So, we watch the list get bigger, unable to do much about it.  We do have some local friends standing by, ready to help – we just don’t know when.

The tank pictured below is related to project number six (6) above.  By staying to fight the fire and losing access to abundant water 24/7, we learned that it takes thousands of gallons of water to forestall or fight fire.  The ranch has two, small, plastic storage tanks that hold a total of 3,500 gallons.  That would last about 10 minutes coming out of a 1 ½ “ firehose at 100 psi.  Plus, plastic doesn’t do well in fire.  For a while now, we have been trying to find a large, steel railcar or storage tank to increase our water storage for emergency use.  David finally found one, on Craigslist of course!  It was previously a fresh water tank for cattle on a dairy in California’s Sacramento Valley.  It was about 2 ½ hours from here, so it required tractor trailer transport.  Since it had to go to the top of our property (we use gravity to pressurize the water at the house level to 100 psi), the tractor trailer had to go up a steep, dusty, bumpy road.  The tractor trailer made it about 12’ of the ¼ mile he had to go, uphill, before he spun out.  Fortunately, our neighbor was available with a machine large enough to pull the tractor trailer up the hill.  It was touch and go all the way up.

Of course, this tank is very, very heavy.  How heavy, we have no idea.  But the only way to get it off the flatbed trailer was to “roll” it off.  The driver backed the trailer up next to a tree close to where the tank will be placed, and Bob pushed it off the trailer … it bounced onto the ground, upside down.  So, there’s that new project – prepare a stable bed of rock for the new tank, and “roll” it into its new position, and plumb it in to the existing system.  How will we fill it?  Well, we could manually fill it with trucked water, or we could wait for just the right amount of rain to make water available that we could pump. We’ll see.  Have to get it in place, first.

Good Help from Good Friends Before They Go …

Mike and Jim helped us with firewood today (and tomorrow) before they move on to a new life in Colorado …

Despite the fire, the world moves on. Water must be hauled, and wood chopped. Mike and Jim, good friends here for nearly 20 years, helped us chop wood today before they move to a new life in Colorado. “We will miss them” is an understatement. So many good memories, so many changes over the years, but never thought of them as not being here. We have laughed, played 42, bridge and pinochle, water-skied, celebrated Thanksgivings and Christmases together, watched puppies grow old and buried them together. We have grown a bit older together, too. 🙂

Below are a couple of pictures from today’s wood-chopping project they helped us with. They are coming back tomorrow too.

But then following those two, chopped-wood pictures are two pictures from which memories were made … we and they have lived in different houses over the years here, but those houses were always blessed with beauty, food and life.

We will miss them a lot, and we wish them many more good memories in their homes in the years ahead.

Machine Invaders

… swarms of machines and people invade all gates

The livestock guardian dogs are no match for the invading hordes. Actually, the invaders LOVE the dogs.

Our job daily for the last week has been to keep the dogs and goats safe from all the disruption. Every day there are new trucks and people with specific tasks:

  1. take down lines and transformers
  2. take down poles
  3. clear new paths to poles for big machines, taking down trees and brush
  4. drill new holes
  5. bring bags of rock for setting new poles
  6. bring in new poles
  7. set new poles (this is where we are as of 10/12/2020, power out since 9/8/2020)
  8. put transformers and lines back up

Here’s a look at this today’s events at the gates — lower gates: drilling holes and setting a 70′, 5600-pound pole; same activity with more hordes spilling through upper gates:the white machine in the forest in the last picture.

Sadness and Commotion

… today we said goodbye to one-half our goat herd. And then PG&E came …

Fifteen of our beloved goats, loaded up. Yes, there are 15 in there.

One of the consequences of the fire destroying our community’s aqueduct is that we no longer have irrigated pasture. This means we no longer have enough grass to eat for 30 goats and a heifer. Yes, the goats eat brush all morning, but they eat grass all afternoon. So, we found a new home, a ranching family, and duty as brush goats. The family wants to grow the herd to do contract brushing. We think they are going to a great home, but we put a lot of time, energy, care and love into these animals. Eyes were not dry. We really hated to do this.

THEN, all hell broke loose. Utility and tree men and big trucks were swarming all over our property. Without notice, PG&E has decided to take down every pole and wire and put up new. We have about 1/2 mile of line through our property, some tricky to get to. This means:

  • we no longer have electric lines
  • we no longer have transformers at big house, little house, and shop
  • we ‘guess’ we are not getting power back any time soon.
  • it will be very chaotic over the next few days

They got 4 of 6 poles down today.

It’s quite a bit of running around for David and I making sure animals are out of the way, gates are open, questions answered, wrong trees not cut down, etc.

We had one big scare when a crew showed up and they said they were going to clear cut under the line for the entire length of the property! Oh, that’s very bad for many reasons:

  • taking down mature trees moves the ecosystem down the path of succession from old growth with clear, defensible space underneath the canopy to lots of brush and sprouts — fire fodder!
  • when they take down trees, they leave the brush laying everywhere — more fire fodder, ugly and a lot of work for us

We got there in the nick of time. Nice guys. Called in their supervisor, also a nice guy with common sense. He understood the entire situation and that disaster avoided.

We have word that all this PG&E commotion starts up again tomorrow morning, early!

September was the Month Without

without power, without phone, without irrigation water, without hot water …

October begins with all those “withouts” firmly in place except for one: we have hot water in the house! It has now been 29 days without all the rest.

We periodically start the generator to keep our refrigeration (for food) going, to access the Internet, to make coffee, and occasionally filter the pool (which is a respite in this heat wave). One inch of ash fall was hard on everything. It really made a mess of the pool.

We have attempted to chase residual pools in the creek for a few gallons of water to keep critical plants alive, but that exercise became futile, yesterday. Five hours of hard work for 30 minutes of water on a few plants. The water is brackish and gray from ash. Usually the pH is about 5.8. pH is now a little over 7 now – also from the alkaline ash.

Lucy is home now. The ranch she was staying at with her boyfriend came under immanent threat from the Zogg fire and I drove up to Redding with our friend Jess to get Lucy back home. We hope she’s bred! So far, Lucy’s boyfriend’s ranch is okay.

We have purchased a 2500-gallon water tank to start getting water delivered at ten cents per gallon. It will do nothing for the pasture, but will help keep key plants alive. We also purchased a 2″ portable Honda high pressure water pump (which we were using to pump creek water — it can be used to pump the swimming pool dry if it comes to that).

Half of our 30-goat herd will be sold Saturday to reduce pressure on pasture and our ultimate need to go buy more hay. We are very sad to have to do this.

We are also in an incredible, record-breaking heat wave. Most of California is baking, much of it burning, and a lot of it covered in choking smoke. To get an idea about the heat, San Luis Obispo was 107 degrees yesterday. The record was 97 set in 1980. The normal high for this time of year: 78. So, almost 30 degrees hotter than it should be. To get an idea about fire’s extent compared to recent: twenty (20) times more acres have burned in CA this year than last year. Anyone, ANYONE, who does not understand how anthropomorphic climate change is wrecking what was normal, for all of us on this planet, hurts all of us with such obstinate resistance. Runaway greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly by human activity have some wicked things in store for all living things. People who think they are safe because they don’t live in CA or because they don’t ‘believe’ in climate change are in denial — understandably so, because what they are seeing out here is frighteningly huge and ultimately, global.

Please Help Us Recover from the Fire that Destroyed our Community of Berry Creek, CA — and our Critical Agricultural Water Supply

Our home, building and animals survived the fire that destroyed Berry Creek, CA.  The fire did burn 1/2 of our property, so we have lost pasture and forest. We do have a lot of clean-up work ahead (ash and smoke damage, property destruction from containment lines bulldozed through, etc.) but our primary loss is water.

Our water, the very core of everything David and I do at here has been destroyed by fire.  This is fatal to not only us, but to other families and an entire riparian ecosystem here in Berry Creek, CA.

Please help us rebuild.  You can donate to the clean-up and rebuild effort of Berry Creek Water Users — via this link:  https://givebutter.com/BerryCreekWaterUsers

You can donate directly, or you can join our team of fundraisers to share this campaign with your own social media contacts and friends. 

As for the fire … it is not out yet, but is approaching 50% containment.  We still cannot come and go for errands and critical supplies — Hwy 162 is closed at the intersection of Simmons Road and CA Hwy 162 on the eastern edge of Lake Oroville.   A return to utility power is weeks, maybe months, away.

Thank you for your care, concern and help. 

With heartfelt thanks,

Neil and David