Evolution of a suburbanite

It’s that time of year.   Damp and cold…and beautiful.

I’ve never been a fan of winter, or rain, or cold, or wind.    But somehow up here in the Sierra Nevada Foothills it’s much less of an annoyance and burden and so much more the wonderful fabric of life in the foothills.

The ground is still wet from the rain a couple of days ago and the wind is blowing the final dead oak leaves and pine needles from the trees.  The air is bitingly crisp in the mornings only warming  up in the late afternoon, just in time for the sun to go down to repeat that daily cycle.

Once an opponent and vocal critic of cold, wet, and winter  in suburbia I’ve turned into a lover of winter here at the Golden K.  It’s interesting. but not surprising, how a major life change (like packing up 25 years of suburbia and moving to the mountains) can alter  one’s perspective.   Over the past two years I’ve learned to appreciate all the seasons as I sit back in awe of  Mother Nature and all the artistry she so willingly and boldly displays.

I’ve come to know that life is too short to waste six months waiting for Summer to return as I once did as a suburbanite.

So I embrace this season as I will the next, and the next after that.  At a point in life one becomes retrospective more often than when younger.  Perhaps now is one of those times for me.   I want to appreciate all the days, all the hours, and all the minutes.  Many will be far from perfect, some will be sad, and some will be glorious.  One thing that can be said for all of those minutes is they will pass by in just 60 seconds and then the next will come and go, and so on and so on.   If I sit through all those hundreds of thousands of minutes just waiting for the one’s I perceive as ideal I will wish my life away, not to mention missing so many wonderful things.

The Golden K has helped me to evolve personally and to appreciate even the smallest things that life has to offer.  Like 120 foot pines swaying in the wind.  Or seeing the joy and excitement in my oldest Golden Retriever’s eyes when I start up the tractor.  Or a family of turkeys walking nearby.  And other things like my dogs going out to do their business first thing in the morning and watching them with their noses pointed high and low to smell where all the nocturnal critters were the previous night.  Hearing my neighbors horses whinny, looking out to the night sky and full moon with my bride of 35 years in the freezing cold.  Waiting for the return of the black tail deer.

It’s times like these that I recall what Jonathan Larson pointed out so insightfully in the lyrics of a song from Rent, the iconic musical from the nineties:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
So yeah – at this moment in time this is my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.
A moment at the Golden K
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The Golden K Shines

The Golden K is named in honor of our two Golden Retrievers Kali and Kloe.  But today the Golden K stood alone in it’s own “goldeness”.   On this beautiful fall the day changing of seasons was strikingly evident.  The Pines and Cedars willingly gave way to the majestic Oaks who stole the day with their version of the Mother Lode. Gold in them thar’ hills?   You bet!

So today, as a spectator, I sit back and enjoy the golden beauty around me.  And this is one of the of the oh so many reasons I have  a romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.

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Falling

Fall could be my favorite season if it wasn’t that Winter came right after. I’ve never been much of a fan of rain and cold which forces me to put on shoes and long pants.  Although I must say that last winter, our first at The Golden K, was magical with all the snow we received that transformed the red clay and mud into a winter wonderland.   So this Fall, as I walk around and enjoy this fabulous Indian Summer Northern California is getting,  I am truly enjoying Mother Nature’s display of the the Fall season.

So yes I’m learning to enjoy Fall.  The still and cooler air is a welcome change from  the hot dry summer air.  I smell the occasional waft of a wood fire in the early evenings when we are still outside.   The occasional sighting of a fawn venturing down from the hill with it’s mother doe onto our property puts a smile on my face. As I look about I have the satisfaction that my sweat during the Spring and Summer made the GK safe while maintaining it’s beauty.

But above all I have my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.

The Golden K in early Fall

Sixteen

As I sit here under the pines and oaks in relative peace with my Golden Kali by my side it’s easy to block out the world, the water, the wind, and the hardships imposed by both natural and human means.   It would be easy, given the beauty and harmony at the Golden K.  But it would be wrong.

Wrong because the Golden K is not an island, as is no man.  The Golden K is a blessing not to be taken for granted.   And the Golden K is part of the earth’s fabric, the political landscape’s fabric, and indeed the fabric of life.   So as I sit here with the canine love of my life I also remember.  I remember 16 years ago.  I remember 16 days ago.  And I remember 16 hours ago.   I think of all the first responders who didn’t make their way out of the rubble.   I think of the families and elderly who may have seen their lives literraly washed away.  I think of the domestic animals who had to be left behind or those wild ones who had no time or means to find safety.

Many have been saying that the worst brings out the best in “us”.  It has been wonderful, under these circumstances, to see unity and the collective human spirit rise above the elements that divided us just weeks ago slightly north of Irma.  The 24 hour news cycle has been about humanity instead of political profanity.  About saving lives instead of tearing them apart with hate.  About life boats instead of walls.   Talk about a kick in the teeth and wake up from mother nature.  Is it coincidence that after the beating mother nature has given us over the past few weeks that the memory of 911 presents itself?

I philosophize here on the deck of the Golden K while so many are “practicalizing”  on the porch of a flooded home or at ground zero in NYC with only the memories of someone dear who was lost.   What else is there to do?   Pack a bag and head into the “eye of the storm”?

What do we do?  What can we do?  When can we do it?

Prayers to all the 16’s.  16 years, 16 days, and 16 hours ago.

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Tree Mortality

If it’s big enough it shakes the ground with the sound of tearing and crunching.   Then comes the thump.  The bigger ones may bounce once before coming to a full rest.  It’s a site to see these once living giants fall, seemingly in slow motion, finally hitting the ground sending a dust cloud into the surrounding air.

Earlier this year 33 dead trees were removed from The Golden K.   It’s a sad reality of living in the mountains after five years of drought and the dreaded Bark Beetles who take advantage of the water starved pines.  The beetles bore into the trees and the trees are unable to generate the necessary sap to push them out.  The beetles reproduce in the inner bark of the tree and this eventually kills the tree from the inside out.

The Golden K is not worse off for losing that many trees.  There are still 110 pine trees, dozens of majestic Oaks, and a plethora of Cedars and Manzanita.  In the long run the thinning of the pines will be better for the surviving trees.

So over a period of five days we watched our 33 dead soldiers fall and hit the ground.  It was interesting to say the least as we watched the expert crew plan and prepare for each tree falling leading up to the chain saw cuts that send the tree to the ground.

Our 33 pines are only a blip on the map of the tens of millions of trees that have died and must be taken down.  It’s a sad situation for those of us who are connected with the beauty of the mountains.  Only time will tell what the impact will be to that mountain landscape.

Thankfully, the landscape of The Golden K is much the same.  The thrash (all the limbs and branches) was all taken away but we were left with all the “wood” which was stacked up in “decks”.  We’ll need to do something with them eventually but for now they remain as a symbol of the fragile balance of life and death and as a reminder of my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.

Holly balancing life on one of the tree decks

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Emergency Alert

All of a sudden our mobile devices emitted that classic emergency alert sound that used to come on the radio or television when there was a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System.   It was a familiar sound when I was younger.  A voice would come on and say something like “This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.  If this had been a real emergency…”.   And then normal programming would resume.

So there we were just getting ready to settle down with a glass of wine after a long warm day of working around The Golden K and we hear that familiar sound.  Holly and I both grab our phones and see an message on the screen that says, “Emergency Alert – fire evacuation notice”.  We’ve signed up for emergency alerts via a local service that tracks things like extreme weather, fires, and other disasters.   We frequently get alerts about extreme weather conditions and lightening storms but we’ve never received one about a fire or one that announces that evacuations are in progress.

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We both ran outside to see if we could see smoke or flames.    It’s been less than a week since the Detwiler fire,  about 20 miles south of The Golden K, caused thousands to be evacuated,  burned 75,000 acres, and destroyed over 60 homes.

This was one of those times that intellectual fear becomes emotional fear.  That moment when thoughts about bad things quickly move down from the brain to the stomach.  When one realizes that “they” could be “me”.

I quickly found information on the CalFire website that told us that the fire was burning about 12 miles south west of us near Jamestown, a historic gold rush town.  We learned that there were road closures and that homes and businesses along those roads were being evacuated.   But there were few other details about how quickly the fire was spreading and how wide spread the evacuation might be.  I looked out onto the back of The Golden K and it was like any other peaceful and quiet Saturday afternoon.   I thought to myself, “What will we do if the fire get’s any closer to us and evacuations are recommended or mandatory”.   A few moments later Holly says, “I’m not leaving”.

Practicality quickly prevailed and we decided to “get some things” together just in case.   Not surprisingly the first thing Holly does is pack dog food in sm all meal-sized plastic bags and put them in a larger paper bag to throw in the car if necessary.  That’s how much Holly and I love Kali and Kloe.  Their comfort and safety are paramount to just about anything else and the first place Holly went emotionally was to take care of the Girls.

I gathered up my mobile devices and charging cords.  I plugged them all in just in case we had to leave they would be fully charged.  I went to my office to gather the two external hard drives I use to back up my devices.  I put them all in my back pack and set it by the bag of dog food.

OK – dog food and computers by the door.  I guess were ready if the time comes.

We continued to monitor the fire with updates from website.  It was spreading quickly with no word about containment yet.  We decided that if it got much later with no updates or signs that things were coming under control we would pack cloths and other items.  And then we did the next most logical thing.   I opened a bottle of wine and Holly ordered pizza.

Within a few hours, a couple of glasses of wine, and two thirds of a pizza later we learned that the fire was 30% contained and evacuations had mostly been lifted.   We also learned that the system that sends out these emergency alerts for the County should not have sent the evacuation alert to the entire county.  The alert should have been much more localized and had it been it’s likely it would not have been sent to us.  So although there was never any immediate threat to The Golden K we didn’t know that until several hours after the alerts first sounded on our phones.

It’s been over a year since we moved to the mountains but I feel like last night was the official “welcome to mountain living in the summer” announcement.

Living in the Bay Area for years Holly and I always talked about putting together an earthquake preparedness kit.  We never did.  Now living in the mountains for a year there is a different and very real threat we must prepare for.  Wildfire.

So, we will create our evacuation kit with plenty of dog food and other necessary supplies should we ever have to bug our of The Golden K due to fire.  Intellectually, I’ll be prepared to leave The Golden K behind and pray that the day will never come.

Emotionally though, I will never leave behind my romantic perspective of life at 3100.

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Fire

I experienced major sticker shock when I first began shopping for homeowners insurance for The Golden K.  My long term insurance agent quoted a premium that was about three times what I would have expected for a home the size and value of The Golden K.

But I was basing my expectations on a home in the Bay Area, not one that is located in the middle of a rural area that is high risk for fire.

When you live in the Bay Area, under most circumstances, you don’t worry that a raging fire will take out entire neighborhoods or small towns.  When you live in the mountains one worries about fire all summer long.  Especially when that summer and the high temps that come with it follow a record setting winter for rain.  Add millions of dead pine trees killed by the bark beetle during the proceeding five years of drought and it’s a recipe for disaster.

So yeah, insurers either won’t offer coverage in areas prone to wildfires or the cost of the coverage is very high.  After a little more shopping and research we were fortunate to find reasonably priced coverage that offered us the security we needed.

As I sit here within the beauty and peace of The Golden K there are many wildfires burning throughout the state.  The closest is approximately 20 miles from The Golden K as the crow flies and is being referred to as the Detwiler fire.  It’s located just southwest of Yosemite near the famous gold rush town of Mariposa.  The fire has scorched 75,000 acres (100 square miles), destroyed about 60 homes, and has caused mandatory evacuations for hundreds in surrounding areas.

If I was still living in the Bay Area I could connect intellectually with the natural disaster and threat of this fire.   But now, after living in the foothills for over a year, I am emotionally connected to this Dewiler fire and all the others.   Emotionally connected to this fire that that continues to rage but thankfully as of today is about 40% contained.  I’m emotionally connected to the tragedy for so many families who lost everything in this fire, some without homeowners insurance because they either couldn’t get coverage or couldn’t afford it.

It’s been a week since the Detwiler fire began and it will be many more days, if not weeks, before it is totally contained.   The Golden K was never in danger but that doesn’t change the emotional connection I now feel.  I feel a small tinge of fear in the pit my stomach when I think about having to bug out with only a moments notice as so many have had to in the middle of the night when CalFire comes knocking on their doors. I can only imagine the internal conflict of loading up pets, grabbing important papers, maybe a computer and driving away from the fire – and away from home.

Earlier this week at The Golden K around 3:00 in the afternoon.  Smoke from the nearby Detwiler fire practically hid the sun.

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So as these fires burn throughout the state I am reminded to never, ever, take The Golden K for granted and to always appreciate the beauty and power of mother nature.

And above all I am reminded to never lose my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.