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March 1, 2009
Our first burn piles

Russell tends a burn pile

As we continue building our mountain house, the current critical path in construction is the interior electrical wiring. Unfortunately, this task has been delayed for a couple of reasons. First, our electrician and brother-in-law Jim has been sidelined by ongoing health problems, including pneumonia and emphysema. Second, Gail has been occupied with our son Joss’ increasing migraines, his school absences and the required make-up work.

Russell continues to have available weekends to go up to the mountain, but there is less for him to do inside the house. Instead, he has been devoting his time to working outside. This is just fine with our friend Steve, who is only to happy to join Russell if it means working outside in the natural beauty.

When we first bought the property, Russell’s hope was to take a hands-off, “maintenance-free” approach to the land. We would let nature grow, self-select, die and decay naturally. Besides, 50 acres would be a lot to maintain continuously. Unfortunately, six years later we have had to re-think this strategy. New fir trees have begun sprouting up in inopportune places, threatening to cover up our panoramic view. Weeds and scrub – particularly Manzanita – have increasingly encroached on the trails and fields, creating a fire hazard as they surround the house.

So Russell and Steve have begun tending the grounds and clearing the brush during their last several trips. Russell bought a wood chipper in December. But while the chipper works for small yard jobs, it is nowhere near able to process the huge piles of brush that we have been cutting.

In preparation for Russell and Steve’s work trip on the weekend of February 27, Gail signed up for a burn permit. The process was much easier than we had thought. You basically fill out a form, write a check, and mail it in. In return, you are given a burn permit good for six months. On any given day, you call a phone number to find out whether it’s a permitted burn day or not. With the weather forecast predicting rain for the weekend, we pretty much knew we would be able to burn.

A beautiful sky, conducive to burning

Russell spent the weekend setting up and maintaining two burns: one at the top of the mountain, near the house; another on the southwestern knoll near the shed. Due to the very high winds on the mountain, Russell ended up having to babysit the fires continuously to make sure nothing bad happened. In between, he was able to finish cutting and installing OSB on the parapet subfloor.

We had to move the burn pile that was up by the house – the original pile was right on top of the septic leech field

The burn pile on the southwestern knoll by the shed

Steve’s time was not as productive. His plan for the weekend was to cut more brush for the burn piles. However, late Friday evening when he first arrived, he immediately got his truck stuck in the mud on the northern trail approaching the house. After an hour of trying to pull it out with his comealong, he finally gave up and walked to the house in the dark. The following morning, we were able to free the truck by using a couple of boards to give the tires extra traction.

Unfortunately, only a few hours later, Steve proceeded to get his truck stuck yet again in the mud, this time on a trail southeast of the house that the boys’ have named “Bunny Flats.” This time, not only did boards not help, but Steve also ended up breaking his comealong. Ultimately, he had to walk over to our neighbor Scott, who used his tractor to pull the truck out of the mud.

After these mishaps, Steve considered continuing to drive around on the back trails. Russell's advice was simple: “Drive your truck to the top of the hill. Park it by the house… and leave it there.”

Steve predicament No. 1: With his truck mired on the north trail, we used 2x6s to get traction

Steve predicament No. 2: With his truck mired on Bunny Flats, we had to call on our neighbor Scott and his tractor

We never did end up getting rain that weekend. And while the two burn piles were successful, there is still a lot of brush to clear, even on just the two small spots that we had been concentrating on. The weather so far has been very conducive to working outdoors, but we are also expecting a very hot – and dry – year in 2009.

The southwestern knoll, before and after the burn – not quite cleared yet, but getting there


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