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






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.


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.



Winter Freeze

We finally got our first real cold day at The Golden K.  When we woke up yesterday morning it was in the low thirties.   I know for many of you that’s not cold but for us suburban transplants it is.  Mostly because it never really warmed up.

Kali and I went out for our morning walk after me bundling up with about three layers and a scarf – which I never wear.  Kali, being a Golden Retriever, has built in double coats so she was fine.  The crisp air felt great as we walked along our normal route going down to the main road, picking up our newspaper, and then heading up our property the long way around and finally back home.

I’ve been looking forward to winter up here on the hill where it will be cold with an occasional dusting of snow.  Not enough to have to shovel but enough to just hunker down and enjoy the season with a good wood fire, some smooth brandy, and a football game or two on Sundays.  But in reality I’m sure there will be some things that grow old quickly like a chapped face from that early morning walk, broken water pipes, and dealing with a puppy who just wants to be outside no matter what the temperature or precipitation.

But it’s all good when you have a romantic perspective at 3100 feet.  For that we are blessed.

The girls did their best to keep warm (like it was hard to do with a wood fire, a propane stove, and each other to stay warm!).


The freezing temps are good because it kills bark beetles; freezes those little bastards balls off  🙂 but what we need is more of this.

Here’s to a wet, wet winter!  Pray for rain.

I’m Looking Up

I walk around looking up in the air a lot these days.  With my neck stretched as far back as my spine will allow I walk and  look up at the tall trees.

We have hundreds of trees.  Oak trees, cedars, manzanitas, and pines.  The beauty they bring to the Golden K here within these Sierra Nevada Foothills goes beyond words.  But it’s the pines that cause me to arch my back, stretch my neck and gaze upwards. The pines are terribly stressed from lack of water and crowding.  This makes it hard for them to produce the necessary sap to fend off bark beetles from boring in, reproducing, and ultimately killing the tree.

I spend a lot of time placing hoses with deep watering spouts in the dirt around as many of the pines that I can reach.  We’re fortunate that our irrigation uses well water and I can liberally inject water into the ground in an effort to help the trees stay alive.  We had 14 of the largest pines around the house injected with chemicals that will kill the beetles if they invade the tree.  The success rate is about 95% if the tree is treated before the beetles attack.  It would be cost prohibitive to treat every single tree on the property but it’s also very expensive to have trees removed.   It happens fast.  One day a tree can look healthy with vibrant green needles and the next day you may notice the needles throughout the entire tree fading into a dull grayish green color and ultimately – within a couple of weeks – the tree is burnt toast.

When we bought The Golden K last December we knew there were 15 dead trees that eventually would need to be taken down.  A few weeks ago we noticed four trees with needles dulling.  Upon closer inspection we saw dozens and dozens of holes in the tree with tell tale red boring dust from the bark beetles as far as our eyes could follow up the tree.  These trees are goners so the count is up to 19 that we are aware of.

I walk around our five acres with a combination of awe and wonder at the beauty of it all.  I also walk around with a bit of anxiety and worry that seemingly healthy looking trees may be infected with beetles and I don’t know it yet.  I feel sad when I think about the drought not ending soon enough and the face of the foothills, and The Golden K itself, may look significantly different in just a few years.

So I’m looking up.  Looking up at at the pine needles in the tree tops that soar above the Golden K.  I’m looking up in awe of Mother Nature.  But mostly I’m looking up and praying for rain.

View from The Golden K deck waiting for rain