Saturday, December 29, 2018

Fire Season, Burn Season, and the short Nameless Season Between the Two

Early morning smoke from a private burn
The morning after the 2018 Fire Season officially ended, a line of five distinct columns of smoke rose up out of the woods across Agency Lake.  Since the wildfires in the area were officially controlled (they really aren't out until the late fall rains/snows start) we wondered what was going on.

This wildfire season had been extremely dangerous, smokey and long.  The first fire began before the official start on June 1. That one was 80% contained by July 14. Later things really got burning.  An immense weather front pushed over the Cascades bringing with it 2800 lightening strikes, resulting in 150 wildfires, devastation for thousands of acres of woodlands and months of smoke and unbreathable air.  Late in the season as those fires died down, newer, deadlier ones ignited. The Delta Fire in Northern California closed I-5, the main North-South highway for 5 days and shut down Amtrak on the day I was supposed to ride up to Portland. The Camp Fire caused at least 85 fatalities and destroyed 153,336 acres. It wasn't contained until late November, well after the official end of fire season.  Things aren"t really out until the fall rains and winter snows put them out.  Even then fires have been known to smolder under the snows and again flare up the next season when conditions are dry.

Meanwhile, burn season officially began October 27th which explained why, on that day, we were seeing those five distinct columns of smoke, and have seen smokes almost every clear, windless day since.  It's ironic but true, in the land of wildfires the best offense is controlled burning.  When their not putting out fires, Wildfire fighters are starting prescribed burns. 
One year after the Pelican Butte Wild Fire

In our hikes out West, S.D. and I have hiked through "forests" blackened and devastated by wildfires, logged forests with huge slash piles or the blackend dirt spots where slash piles were burned.  We've also hiked through dense forests crowded with deadfalls and lots of downed wood on forest floors.  Fuel for future wildfires.  Walking through there it was clear that any fire there would be devastating. Prescribed, controlled burns were the only possible solution.

But burn season isn't just for wildfire fighters.  Residents in fire country also have the responsibility of maintaining defensible space on their property.  When the season opens, its time to start burning wood debris around the home. S.D. and I have torched off three such piles.  For an ex-East Coaster it
Making our home fire safe-
burning juniper
seems a bit immoral and unnerving. Fire makes air pollution and it's better to compost debris. Ha. It's taken a whole two years for me to accept that nothing rots in the desert. It just sits for centuries waiting to burn.  Why not enjoy the burn ourselves?

Actually, the only time things aren't burning out here is the short window between the end of Burn Season and the first fire of Fire Season.  Fortunately the prescribed burns are controlled so the whole basin isn't smoke filled and no one has to worry about losing their homes or lives in a wildfire.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Picking out the Pig. A Mangalitsa Pig

Mangalista piglets and sow
Last month SD and I drove South, almost to the California border to pick out a pig. We were looking for pork, not a pet and we found it. We also found we had somehow stumbled into the latest thing in pork, the Mangalitsa Pig.

After discovering a local rancher raising the Sailer breed of cow and buying a hindquarter of lean pasture raised, locally grown beef  we've decided to eat locally as much as possible. Besides we live surrounded by ranchs and farms.   Thus it was time to pick up a locally grown pig.  Next is a locally grown lamb, then chickens, ducks, etc.  

Google "Mangalitsa Pig" and you'll discover the world of the curly brown haired heritage pig from Hungary. The meat is considered among the tastiest pork in the world. "The meat of the Mangalica pig is reddish, highly marbled with creamy white fat, and is high in omega-3 fatty acids and natural antioxidants."

These unique pigs are also not suitable or profitable for factory farms, No manure lagoons for these guys! For us, it was one of those who'd a thunk moments. We'd just been looking for local pork, not a whole new kind of pork.

Even the big guys are cute and friendly
But back to our pig. SD had found Ken, the breeder, through craigslist. Over the last month of phone calls and texts they'd worked out the price, and the butcher. Before the big day however, Ken wanted us to come down and pick out the pig. Before that however, he took two weeks to go elk hunting. (Business here pretty much stops when Elk season starts) Elk-less, but ready to sell pigs, Ken called on a Monday and we agreed to meet that Thursday at noon.

Ken's place was up a dirt road on the north side of the broad Tule Lake Valley.  As we pulled into the sage, juniper and pine lined driveway and parked in front of long garage, Ken emerged to greet us. A short walk later and we came to the tidiest pig farm imaginable and we met the pigs. To the right were the sows and the piglets. Piglets are always the cutest things but these little guys, with their curly brown hair and little legs were just too much. The sows were protective, but still friendly.  The big guys were on the left. When Ken walked up to their pen they all ran down to greet him. I've raised pigs for pork and usually by the time they are ready for butchering they are so huge and obnoxious that  no matter how cute they were as piglets, it's no problem to send them on their way.  Such was not the case with these Mangalitsa pigs. They were cute and friendly. There was no way I was going to pick one.

Happy freezer full of beef and pork
SD and Ken decided we'd just go for the smallest one. But how small is any full grown pig? Last Saturday morning we drove to Diamond S Butchers in Klamath Falls to pick up 190 lbs of pork and 50 lbs of that famous creamy white lard.

For lunch we dined on pepper bacon. That afternoon I started learning about rendering lard. Sunday night we feasted on thick juicy pork chops and fluffy lard biscuits. Tonight, it's ham steaks.

Eating local not only makes economic and planetary sense it also tastes darn good!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Pelican Year

Pelican Butte
The pelicans are back. Not in the giant rafts like in late fall, but singly or in pairs.  SD and I can once again look out over Agency Lake and see a giant white bird in the cove, or flying gracefully overhead.  Last week while hiking along the dike at the Wood River Wetlands I saw a mass of large, white birds far off in the marsh.

The return of the American White Pelican signals the close of our first year here in Chiloquin. The pelicans were here when we looked at the house last Memorial Day weekend. By the time we moved into the house in July they were meeting up in the cove below us. Each day would begin with a pelican-less beach then gradually fill with more and more of the giant white birds until late afternoon or early evening when they would all fly up, wheel around in unison a few times and sail off North. As the summer progressed into fall the rafts (that's the name for a large group of pelicans) grew until there were at least 60 to 70.  SD and I assumed they stayed year round and wondered what they would do in winter. Then one day in mid-October they were gone.

Writing advice always says "write about what you know."  Until we lived here a whole year, until the
Great White Pelican - Wikipedia
Pelicans returned, I didn't feel I knew enough about this place to write about it. Like many things here I didn't understand what was going on. They came, they massed and then they were gone. Who knew what, or who would show up next? I'm sure there is still much to know but after living a full cycle I feel I just might have enough of a clue to start writing about this place and about our adventures here.

And so...back to the Pelicans. The pelicans here are the American White Pelican.  Much larger than the more common brown pelican they boast a 9 foot wingspan and live and breed in inland, shallow lakes, like Agency and Klamath.  The pelican's feeding areas (like the cove) are often miles from their breeding areas. (here I now suspect that's the Wood River Wetlands to our North). Over the last century their numbers have diminished but their presence in Klamath County remains strong. They are such an integral part of this area that they've given their name to countless other things. Across the lake from the house is Pelican Butte, to the East of which lies Pelican Bay.
Pelican Pete says "Hi"
The Klamath Union High School 's mascot is Pelican Pete. Pelican City, home to Pelican Lumber Company is between us and Klamath Falls.  There is also a Pelican Cinema, Pelican Senior Center, Pelican Signs, Pelican Elementary... you get the idea.

It is in the local tradition of naming everything after Pelicans and in the tradition of the Chinese zodiac that I have therefore named our first year here, the Pelican Year.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Settling In

It's 2018! Can't believe I haven't posted in 5 months!

Apparently, for all the adventures we undertake, SD and I are homebodies. Having a home, be it a van, tent, RV or an actual house, that we're happily settled into is a necessary prerequisite to regular blog post and adventure. Like mountaineers summiting a big peak, we need a Base Camp. And that Base Camp needs to be organized and manageable.

Here are just a few of the highlights from the five months of settling in and setting up our latest Base Camp.

First and foremost were the spider wars. We lost the first round. It was only the onset of colder weather that caused their retreat and is giving us time to prepare for next summer's onslaught. But when they were active, they were everywhere and according to Alyssa, we had all kinds. Our best defense will be daily soffit and web sweeping. If they can't build webs, they can't trap food. All I can say is that it's a good thing we're not scared of spiders.
Best Hardware Store Ever

Getting back into house cleaning was also an adjustment. It took only 30 long minutes to completely clean the trailer. It's been 5 months and I don't think this house has been completely cleaned ever. The good news is we discovered robot vacuums. Eufy is now one our best friends. In a little over an hour he picks up all the house dust and spiders too.

Finding the right stores was also an important part of getting settled. Aside from the Chiloquin hardware store, we spent the first months shopping in all the wrong places. It wasn't until after talking to the mattress salesperson that we started getting our groceries at Sherm's Thunderbird, wine at Rosterolla Wine, and our meat at Howard's Butcher Shop.

Our Puppy! aka Skunk Boy
Settling in has also meant learning about dead skunk management. Did you know a skunk can stink for up to 6 months after it dies? Yup. SD found one all dried up under the deck by the front door. It stunk, but since it was already desiccated he figured that if he buried it in the wood chip pile, it wouldn't stink and would be composted by spring. Skunk composting was going well until we got the dog. (And yes, getting a dog is key to settling down). When the wind blew off the pile, Terrence's little nose picked up something good. Despite our best efforts to deny him, one day, or rather one minute when I left him to move some firewood, he dug that think out of the pile and was joyfully running toward me with his desiccated prize. Thanks to the web we learned that a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish detergent neutralizes the odor...until the dog goes back into the pile and pulls out another skunk scrap.

Getting back to work with all this excitement going on has also been a challenge. I've been extremely fortunate to have been asked back to work, virtually, from my old job. The project is great, the people too. But sometimes it's hard to sit at my desk while the spiders are just outside spinning their webs, the dog is running by with dead carrion and the weather and the view are breathtaking.

Have I mentioned the view? We still haven't adjusted to living in this place where every moment, in every direction is just more stunning and spectacular than the last. I hope we never will.

Settling in as we have over the last five months I've also come to realize it's not so much a view as a setting. Mt McLaughlin, Pelican Butte, the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, the Sky Lakes Wilderness, Modoc Rim, and Agency Lake, the sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, lightening storms, clear full moons, bright starry nights, it's more than just beautiful. They are all the stage, the setting for this adventure.

Now that we're settled in it’s time we can start exploring and writing about the wonderful places around us.