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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Humbled By Nature, WOW

Golden K road trip.

Last week Holly and I ventured beyond the fences of the Golden K to do a little exploring in the Gold Country.   There is so much beauty, recreation, and history in the California Gold Country and we’re fortunate enough to be living right dab in the middle of it on five acres covered by pines, oaks, cedars and a plethora of wild life.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area both Holly and I vacationed with our families in many areas of the Gold Country.  Especially Holly whose family  explored most of Northern camping almost year round.  So maybe that’s why we hadn’t felt compelled to venture very far from the GK since we moved here in May of 2016.   Or maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a homebody who prefers to stay close to home and close to my routine.

Last week we took a day trip that took us 250 feet in the sky and 165 feet under the earth.    And wow, both experiences were truly humbling.

Our first destination was Calaveras Big Trees State Park.   Located just about an hour north of The Golden K, Big Trees is famous for it’s grove of Giant Sycamore trees.   Growing to  heights of 275 feet with diameters ranging from 20 to 25 feet Giant Sycamores are some of the largest living things on earth and some of the oldest too with many trees living to over 3000 years.

We took a guided tour that began standing on the base of what is known as the “Discovery Tree”.  This is the tree “discovered” in 1852 by a hunter who happened across it by chance in what is now called the North Grove of Big Trees State Park..  Sadly, a year later the tree was felled in an effort to make a profit over it’s magnificence.   It took several men several days to take this 250 foot tree down.  It was estimated to be 1,300 years old at the time.  More information about the Discovery Tree and history of the Giant Sequoias can be found here.

Fortunately there were and still are dozens of other Giant Sequoias in what is now a California State Park.  It was a humbling and powerful experience as we walked the North Grove with our guide viewing and learning about these incredible living giants.   Standing in this natural beauty I took several pictures but pictures can not capture the beauty or the emotion of standing at the base of something so tall and beautiful that has been alive on earth since biblical times.  Wow.

After a morning above ground staring straight up in the air we were ready to go deep underground. So after a stop in the town of Arnold for lunch we drove to the Moaning Caverns located in a small town called Vallecito.   The Moaning Caverns is the lagerst vertical publicly accessible cavern in California.  The cavern was discovered by gold miners in 1851. It is now known that it was a geological feature of great interest to prehistoric peoples.   The cavern has also been an archaeological site where some of the oldest human remains in America have been found.  The cave has a depth of 400 feet and the public can tour it’s 165 foot shaft descending down a spiral staircase.

Early minors would repel down the shaft with only small candles for light.  As a way to make a profit the 1891 discoverers devised a rope and pulley system to lower people down the shaft for a cost of five cents.  Presumably they also hauled them back up…. probably for an additional cost.

Today there are lamps placed along the shaft to provide enough light for safety and to enable tourists to see the incredible formations carved over thousands of years from water and minerals.   Standing on the bottom of the 165 foot shaft and looking up was another humbling and powerful experience.   Thinking about how long – test of thousands of years – it took for these formations to be created drip by drip was mind boggling.  It served to remind me that the length of a human life is but a blip in the fabric of the earth’s history.   It was also humbling to think that the Giant Sequoias we peered straight up at earlier in the day were almost twice as tall as this giant shaft.  When the tour guide turned out all the lights in the shaft (he warned us first) we were in pure and total blackness.  Wow.

Arriving back at the Golden K from wherever we go is always a wonderful experience.  But on this day our trees looked a little smaller and our well seemed a little more shallow.

But my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet was as grand as ever.

Calaveras Big Tree State Park – a humbling look of about 250 up at a Giant Sequoia

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Moaning Cavern – the spiral staircase that took us down 165 feet

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My six inch “Giant Sequoia – purchased at the park’s visitor center. Visitors to the Golden K in several hundred years may discover this little guy has grown to a couple of hundred feet.  Wow…

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GOLD  COUNTY AND THE GOLDEN K

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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.

THE GOLDEN K IN SPRING  IMG_2891

 

Return of the Black Tailed Deer

Spring is in the air and the deer seem to know it.

We got to know “our” black tailed deer during the past year.  We enjoyed their visits each morning and evening as we became accustomed to mountain life and our new surroundings.  We got to know the regulars – three bucks we named Scratcher, Kicker, and Chester – and the occasional doe who would follow behind in an appropriate amount of distance based on pecking order.

In early summer we gushed when a spotted fawn accompanied a doe and the three bucks down for breakfast.  We watched in awe as the bucks antlers grew and made these mature males look all the more powerful and glorious.  We mourned the loss of Gimpy, the buck with a broken leg, who we found him dead on our property in early Fall not far from our driveway.  He was an older buck who hobbled along on a three legs for at least a few years (per the previous property owners) and apparently died of old age and not because of his injury that he seemed to manage relatively well given the circumstances.

In Fall hunting season is followed by rutting which drive the deer away from the Golden K with only an occasional visit by a stray buck.  The mostly absence of deer throughout Winter was striking and I missed them.  I wondered where they went, how they were doing, and if they would return back to the Golden K.

And then they did. Last weekend our black tailed beauties returned home in full force.

There were antler-less bucks with foreheads sporting only sockets where their magnificent antlers once were but fell off in the last month or so.  There were does, skinny and hungry and presumably preparing for birth later this spring or early summer.  And there were the yearlings.  Small and skinny but healthy “kids” who survived the winter when the majority of their peers have perished.  Fawn mortality rate runs between 50% and 70%.

So as Spring begins friends of the Golden K have returned much to our joy and anticipation.  Anticipation of more fawns, more grand buck antlers, and continued health and prosperity that all  creatures- man or beast – hope to experience and be blessed upon by Mother Nature.

It’s been almost a year since we arrived at the Golden K.  The return of the black Tailed have Deer reinforced the circle of life and most notably my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.

 

Back To The Earth

It was like any other morning when Kali and I took the walk down our long driveway and onto the road to get the newspaper.  The newspaper tubes hang along a wooden rail, several in a row for about a dozen homes nearby. It’s quite different than suburbia where your paper is delivered to your door stoop or driveway.  So most mornings Kali and I make the trek down onto the road, take in the sights and smells, grab the paper, and then head up the back side of our property and “take the long way home”.

So Tuesday was not much different than so many other mornings since we moved to the Golden K five months ago.  The air was colder, the ground a little damp from recent rains (thank the Lord for rain!), and I noticed a lot of mud backing up in the drainage ditch.  So as we opened the farm gate I unclipped Kali’s leash and I diverted slightly to take stock of the mud and what I might need to do to clear it out.  I surveyed the drains as Kali foraged and waited patiently  to head up the hill towards the gravel road that circles The Golden K.

A sound of rustling caught my attention.  I looked over and saw a large buck trying to right itself from a laying position.  Kali and I had obviously disturbed the deer, who I initially thought was simply nesting,  and all three of us were a caught off guard.  Kali ran toward the buck barking.  I immediately called to Kali to come back fearing the buck would kick her which could be fateful.  I don’t know if it was all the years of recall training that paid off or if Kali became frightened.  But thankfully she came running back to me.  I clipped on her leash and we headed quickly up the hill towards the house.

My main concern was to get Kali under control and out of harms way.  The deer are regular visitors and have never demonstrated any aggression to any of us including the dogs who from time to time will bark at them behind a fence or through the windows of the house.  But this buck was obviously under duress and I was taking no chances especially with Kali under tow.  As we headed up the hill I looked back to see the Buck still partially down leaning on his front legs motionless and staring at us.

It was the posture of the buck that made me realize he was the deer we fondly called Gimpy.  Gimpy because he had a broken leg and hobbled around on his three good legs.  We hadn’t seen him regularly like the other bucks who make daily visits.   But we had seen him enough to know he was surviving and seemingly very healthy in spite of being crippled. In fact he was the largest of the bucks and probably the oldest.   I now realized why he hadn’t simply bounced off when we we startled him.  He couldn’t.

The image of Gimpy’s piercing black eyes staring back at Kali and I as we moved up the hill stuck with  throughout the day.   Under normal circumstances I would assume that he recovered and moved along his way once we were out of sight.  But my instincts told me otherwise.  So later that afternoon I walked down to see if he was still there.  He was. He had settled himself into a laying position and I stood along the our fence staring back from about 25 feet away.

That was Tuesday afternoon.  Wednesday morning he was still there.  I wanted to believe that this was his new nesting spot and that he was out and about throughout the day.  But I knew better.  I watched him lay motionless staring at me for a few minutes and walked back up the hill.  Wednesday afternoon same thing – he was still there.  I knew that Gimpy was waiting to die and this was the spot he chose to do that. As I walked off I looked his way and made the sign of the cross like I still do when my children or Holly drive off.  A hold over from my Catholic upbringing and my mom who always did the same for me.

Thursday morning I left before sunrise to head to the Bay Area for the day. As I drove past where Gimpy had been I thought of stopping and getting out with my flashlight to see if he was there. But why, I thought and continued to drive on.  Holly text me about 10:00 that morning with a picture of Gimpy, now with his head on the ground.  He was dead.

As I arrived home Thursday afternoon the sun was low in the sky, the air was calm, and the ground was damp from rain earlier in the day.  It smelled and looked beautiful. One of my favorite times living up here on the hill is arriving back at The GK after a day down in the crazy Bay Area.  I pulled over along the fence, got out of the truck and stood by the fence staring at Gimpy.  It made me sad to see him lying there dead.  But it also made me a little happy to know after suffering for some time that suffering was over, and hopefully his spirit was at peace as his body returned back to the earth.

I stood there for about five minutes to, if nothing else, pay my respect.  This grand buck, even with three legs,  was  a majestic animal and part of this hill for for much longer than me.  I was honored to have known him from afar.

Before I turned back to my truck I took one last look at Gimpy and made the sign of the cross.  As I drove up the road and onto our driveway I felt peaceful and happy to be back home at The Golden K.

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Back To the Earth at The Golden K

 

 

Living Amongst Beauty and Nature

After two months living in the Foothills the Black Tailed Deer have become an extended part of our Golden K family. The most prominent are three bucks who come down twice a day; first thing in the morning and again in the late afternoon.  Because we’re silly humans (and suburbanite transplants still giddy at the fact that the deer come to “visit”)  we named the three bucks within the first few days of moving in.

The smallest and presumably youngest of the three bucks is called Kicker because of his propensity to kick the other two out of the way.  We call the medium size buck Buddy after a friend with the same nickname who is a very slow and deliberate person.  He never seems to be in a hurray to get anywhere.  The first few times we watched this buck he seemed to lallygag his way down and back up the hill, taking his time and stopping often to just look around.  And so he quickly became Buddy.  Finally there’s Scratcher who is the largest of the three.  He’s named Scratcher because he scratches his back and butt much more than the other deer.  All three bucks have beautiful antlers but Scratcher’s are the largest and most magnificent.

It’s been interesting to see how comfortable these creatures have become with us.  I’m sure it helps that they know we put out Dry Cob – a mixture of Corn, Oats and Barley typically used for horses – in their trough twice a day.  But as the days have passed they are quite comfortable holding their ground as I walk up to the fill the trough.   In some cases I have to shoo them up the hill a ways to give me space.  I don’t want to be “that suburbanite who moved to the mountains and got his ass kicked by a deer because he got too close..”  Especially as their testosterone levels begin to rise in preparation for rutting season.

More recently a doe has been coming down with the bucks.  She keeps her distance from them, is more skittish of us, and rarely get’s a chance to eat.  Occasionally after the bucks have had their fill and moved on we’ll go out to put out a scoop of cob for the doe who has kept her distance from us but has also kept her eye on us.  She’ll soon come down to eat.  Oddly, we haven’t named the doe perhaps because she’s not a regular at this point.

At this point I can’t imagine the fascination with wildlife and nature ever waning.  I wake up each morning and go to bed each night in amazement.  It’s am incredible experience to step outside shortly after dawn to let the dogs out and take in a deep breath and smell the clean air an scents from the pines.  Similarly when I head inside for the the evening the air is cool once again and I find myself taking another deep breath this time as a way to say thank you for these blessings and that Holly and I are able to live amongst so much beauty and nature.

 

 

Deer Diary

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” 
― Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz

 

As you can imagine when you live on five acres in the mountains you experience a lot of wildlife.  One of the most prominent members of that wildlife group is a family of deer that come to “visit” two or three times a day.  The previous owner of the property put out food for the deer a couple of times a day to mitigate them eating the flowers and shrubs from the garden adjacent to the back patio area.  We’ve maintained that practice for the same reason and, for us suburbanites, it’s very cool to have deer in your “backyard”.

Although technically illegal to feed the deer the mix we provide is healthy and not enough to make them dependent on only this “snack” they get a couple of times a day.

The deer are relatively calm but we respect the fact that they are wild and although we can get within 20 or 30 feet of them as we go about our business if they are near we don’t push that limit and we don’t let the dogs out if the deer are present.

Sometime in the first week Kali spied one of the deer through the door in the back side of the house.  I wasn’t surprised she barked.  After all there was a wild animal threatening her new homestead.  She was doing her job, right?  And then it was very cute how little Kloe, who could have cared less about a 250 pound buck foraging less than 30 feet from the back door, chimed with a woof as if to say, “yeah – what my big sister said”.

The dogs still send out an occasional message through the windows to the deer and the deer simply stare back into the house as if to say, “feed me”.

And this is our new way of life at the Golden K with dogs and deer and co-existance with nature.

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What the…? Does that dog have antlers?!?