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Wonderland

31 Jul

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Eagle Peak during and after the El Portal Fire

This community never ceases to amaze me.

The first thing I did when the fire started was run into the house and grab my laptop bag, my fire box, my guitar, and the bridesmaid dress I’m wearing to April’s wedding in a few weeks.

I probably would have kept packing like this except at this point my neighbor Claudine came over, and pointed out that the fire was only a few feet away from another neighbor’s house where no one was home. She rallied a crowd of folks who sprang into action, contacting the people who lived there and rescuing their stuff. Claudine’s house wasn’t that far from the fire, I am floored by her selflessness in checking in on her neighbor’s before thinking about herself.

Similarly, Andy abandoned all of his valuables to run to the neighbor’s houses and helped them fight the fire off with garden hoses. We lost no structures in El Portal, and while a lot of that can be attributed to luck, favorable winds, and a quick response from fire crews, I think Andy the flip-flop clad firefighter can take a small portion of the credit.

The community of Foresta had it worse, although I was stunned to learn that they lost only one building. Watching the fire blaze up the hillside we were certain it was going to be much, much worse. It easily could have been.

Unfortunately the one house that did burn was a duplex and was occupied by some friends of mine. They are the nicest people you can imagine, and it broke my heart to hear that they had only minutes to evacuate and lost nearly everything to the fire.

Fortunately this community rallied like no other. Online fundraising campaigns were started for the Martel Family and the Laizer Family, with goals of raising $5,000 dollars. While I’m sure that seemed like an ambitious fundraising goal, it is only a small fraction of the actual financial cost of rebuilding a family’s life.

Both campaigns blew past those goals within a few hours.

This is what I love about this community. We choose to work and live here because it’s breathtaking and beautiful, and many of the people who live here have managed to accomplish some truly impressive feats. But when things go wrong here they often go wrong in big and dramatic ways. So when this community of people who are drawn to the spectacular and sensational get it in their heads to help each other out….Let’s just say that those fundraising goals didn’t have a chance.

If you would like to contribute to the fundraising campaigns I know both families would greatly appreciate it even though they have surpassed their fundraising goals.

~Robin

P.S. I don’t want to forget to appreciate the firefighters and various responders who have been working hard to contain the fire and save structures. We are extremely lucky that there have been no major injuries associated with this fire.

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Eat the Strawberry

28 Jul

There’s this story that you may have heard before: The short version sets the main character in a grim situation, an avalanche coming from above, and a mountain lion creeping in from below. In the last few moments of her life she looks down and sees a single strawberry at her feet and reaches down and eats it. And it was the best strawberry she ever tasted.

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My own personal situation is not nearly so grim. I had over twelve hours between the beginning of the fire and evacuation. I was able to pack a lot of stuff into my car before I left. It’s a strange and humbling mental exercise to think about what you would grab if you had only minutes to evacuate. It’s practically ridiculous when you have half a day and a huge car to fill.

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I was also extremely fortunate to have someplace to go. Some friends have a wonderful farm about an hour away in Cathy’s Valley. They graciously accepted a huge caravan of us at 4:00 in the morning.

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The next morning we started pacing around early, trying to get what information we could, and trying to decide what to do. We were relieved to learn that El Portal had survived the night, but there was sadness for friends in Foresta who lost everything in this fire, and still a lot of worry for the remaining houses there.

Not long after posting pictures, I hit the wall and could not stay awake any longer.

When I finally woke up I couldn’t figure out what to do. We were still under evacuation I wasn’t sure if I could go back home, or if I would be able to do anything while I was there. I was still exhausted and just milling around trying to decide the best course of action.

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Finally my friend Glikin asked if I wanted to help them with harvesting. I was happy to have something useful to do, and he set us to work in the strawberry patch, inviting us to eat any of the ones that were partially eaten or flawed.

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Can I just say that I have total strawberry envy? My strawberries look nothing like this. At one point Glikin came over laughing, saying that harvesting strawberries is usually half grazing and half harvest. I reminded him of the strawberry story.

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And then I could not stop thinking about it. As much as the situation sucked I was overwhelmed with gratitude at having a place, a beautiful place, to stay, and something to do.

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I’m going to try to get back into El Portal today to see what I can do to help, but for right now, I’m eating the strawberry.

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~Robin

El Portal Fire

27 Jul

Yesterday was hot in El Portal. This hasn’t been news for several days, but I took this picture somewhere around 12:30pm yesterday.

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At around 2:30 (more reliable sources are now saying the fire started around 3:15. It was my day off, I wasn’t paying that much attention to the time) we heard sirens coming up our street. We walked out the front door to see this.

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It wasn’t long before it looked like this.

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The rumor going around was that it started when a tree branch fell on a power line, but I don’t think the cause has been officially established.

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Within a few hours the fire shot up the hillside to Foresta. We have heard that several houses have burned, including one of my friends, but we don’t know much besides that.

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The cavalry arrived.

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We were lucky that the fire started up the hill from the big chunk of our houses. As far as I know none of the houses in my neighborhood were damaged, although it came frighteningly close. I hoped the danger was over but after the sun went down the fire continued to burn back down the hillside.

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We watched from the roof of our house.

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(The white lights high on the hillside next to the fire are fire crews cutting fire line.)

We got a mandatory evacuation order around 2:30am and left for a friends farm at 3:00am. It’s been hard to get information but it sounds like El Portal is still there.

~Robin

Regrowth and the Rim Fire

19 Jul

The day after the EcoSummit I headed to Tuolumne County to attend the Forestry Institute for Teachers. The workshop was amazing and I learned a ton. I even got to go on a field trip to see areas of the Rim Fire burn that are still closed to the public. The week was so packed with new ideas, opposing viewpoints, and information that I’ve sat down to write about it nearly ten times, and I struggled to get it into words.

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Just for reference, here’s a picture I took in July of 2012, from a popular view point on Highway 120, called Rim of the World. It overlooks the Tuoloumne Canyon in the Stanislaus National Forest. The Rim Fire was started along the riverbank in this canyon on August 17, 2013. This is what it looks like now:

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The Rim Fire was huge, the third largest in California, and it spread at a truly frightening rate. There were several factors affecting this. The weather conditions were perfect for fire; hot and dry. More importantly, the fuel load, after nearly a century of suppressing the small fires that would have removed young trees and dead or downed material, was enormous. The result was a fire that was awe inspiring in it’s power, and truly frightening for the people and communities in its path.

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I knew going into this that fires are an important and natural part of Sierra Nevada ecology. I also knew that forests have a way of recovering after a fire. Post burn, the area gets overgrown, first with grasses and herbs, then shrubs and bushes, and finally, trees. This is called succession and it actually increases the diversity within a forest. But seeing this in action was so much more powerful than knowing about it from a textbook.

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This picture was taken near the center of the burned area looking back towards the Rim of the World. You can see that it got hot here, the trees burned all the way up into their crowns. But when you look in the foreground you see grass and flowers that have sprouted since the burn. In the background there are patches of green on the hillsides.

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Every patch of green seemed like a miracle in this landscape of charcoal and dust.

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But they weren’t really. They were just a natural part of succession. The forest was growing back, as it has for thousands of years.

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There has been a lot of controversy over what should be done in this area post burn. Some are pushing for a hands-off approach: Leave it and let the massive burned areas recover slowly without any artificial replanting. Others are advocating salvage logging to remove snags, and jump-starting the process of succession by replanting and the suppressing shrub growth long enough for the trees to take over again.

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The thing that I really and truly admired the institute organizers for doing was walking this volatile minefield. They worked hard to create a dialog between the many conflicting viewpoints of people who care deeply about what happens in forests. I won’t say that I agreed with everything I heard this week, but I appreciated hearing it.

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In terms of acreage Stanislaus National Forest was the hardest hit by the Rim Fire. The Environmental Impact Statement, the document that will guide the management of this area in the future has only been released in it’s draft form. I hope when it is finalized that it will offer compromise, a representation of the dialogue I heard over my week at FIT.

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Meanwhile, this summer has been hotter than last year, and the winter was so dry and mild that there were parts of the Rim Fire that were still smoldering in the spring. Everyone is tense, worried that the next mega fire will sweep through our neck of the woods.

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~Robin

Art Adventure: Young Lakes

16 Jul

I’ve been slowed down a bit by a relatively minor foot injury this summer, but I did manage to haul myself out to Young Lakes with a bunch of supplies for a mini art-retreat.

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Ragged Peak and Young Lake

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Ragged Peak (Western Approach)

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Emily told me the third lake was the best. She was entirely correct.

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I spent a lot of time with my Law’s Guide

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Someone else was here before me.

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Does this landscape look ominous?

It was. I had the very exciting- but not very pleasant- experience of waiting out a hail storm hunkered under my tarp. I didn’t take any pictures, but I’ll recreate it for you:

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After it cleared though?

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Breathtaking.

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I took a well-worth-the-extra-walking detour to Dog Lake.

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And the rain held out long enough for me to paint.

~Robin

Sierra EcoSummit

23 Jun

Over the weekend I headed to Groveland for the Sierra EcoSummit in Groveland. It was lovely. It was held at the Mountain Sage, which is a delightfully eclectic mix of coffee shop, nursery, concert venue, art gallery, and market. The summit hosted a number of workshops, and while I wasn’t able to attend all of them, the ones that I went to were fantastic and inspiring. This genius cob sculpture by Misha Rauchwerger also serves as a rain barrel. I had a ton of fun playing in the mud at his cob workshop.

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Most of my drive to Groveland, took me through areas burned during the Rim Fire last August. The Rim Fire was mostly on the edge of my little world in Yosemite. While I’ve definitely felt a few impacts from it, going through a big chunk of the burned area, and then talking to people from a community that was deeply impacted by it, has widened my perspective substantially. I’ve spent a lot of the past few days thinking about forest fires and learning about them, and I’m planning to write more about them in the near future.

Until then enjoy this blurry picture of a llama. At a sound check.

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~Robin

P.S. The sound check was for The Little Fuller Band, and The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit.

25 lbs.

14 Jun

Jackie: When you go to the grocery store can you get some carrots for juicing?

Me: Sure. How much should I get?

Jackie: Get the giant bag.

Me: The giant bag?

Jackie: yeah.

Me: The really big one? The one that’s like….I don’t know, fifteen pounds?

Jackie: Yeah, that one.

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So apparently, I suck at estimating the weight of giant bags of carrots, Jackie grossly underestimated the quantity of carrots available at our grocery store, and we both need to work on our communication skills.

~Robin

Photo Adventure: Winter Backpacking (In May)

6 Jun

I should have known better.

We were getting ready for a backpacking trip, the weather was beautiful as we packed our gear; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky. And then I said the stupidest thing possible.

“It’s May. How bad could the weather possibly be?”

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Three days of every form of precipitation and chilling dampness you can imagine. It snowed on us. It hailed on us. It rained on us. There was lightning. We even got fogged in.

And yet, through all of the heinous weather, I had a great time. The company was first rate. There were ZERO complaints, and they didn’t rise up as one and hang me by my ankles from a tree for tempting fate.

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It even cleared up for us just the tiniest bit. (As we were hiking out.)

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Two days later I was sweating in 93 degree heat.

~Robin

Not What I Was Expecting Purse

3 Jun

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned.

Yesterday I pulled out my sewing machine out with a project in mind. Years ago my mom made a purse out of an old pair of pants. I wanted to make my own version and create a tutorial based off of April’s round bottom bag tutorial. I had an old ripped pair of black work pants set aside for the project and some cute fabric scraps tucked away for an appliqued planet earth embellishment.

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This is how the finished purse turned out. Aside from still being a purse made from pants it looks absolutely nothing like what I envisioned, but I freaking love it.

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you planned and turn out FANTASTIC!

~Robin

P.S. Sorry, I didn’t make a tutorial either.

Photo Adventure: Yay! Mountains!

26 May

I’m not even going to attempt to string all of these photos together in a logical way. Sometimes life is just crazy, chaotic, and awesome, especially when it is full of mountains.

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Eastern Sierra near Mammoth Hotsprings

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White Mountains over Hot Creek

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Mystery flower. My best guess is Dessert Peach

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Dike and Cathedral

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Glacial Erratic and Cathedral

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Western White Pine or Foxtail Pine. I can’t decide which.

I’m 0 for 2 on this plant ID thing.

~Robin

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