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For those not familiar with Southern California, there are two seasons: hot and on fire and cool and on fire. We really do have 4 seasons but they can come at any time and are mostly identified at least by me, for the quality of the light. And even then there can be difference in geography, the light on the west side near the beaches is different from the light in the San Fernando or San Gabriel Valleys and that is different from the light up on the mountains like the Angeles Forest that is burning now.
The problem with the mountains burning is that LA is built on mountains. They thread in and out and while some refer to them as hills they really aren’t. I laughed when I was in Scotland and they said how high Ben Nevis is. It’s only 4,414 ft. The camp I worked in in the Angeles National Forest was at 1 mile and Mt Baldy is 10, 064 ft. This is a listing of the peaks in and around LA: http://www.laalmanac.com/geography/ge05.htm
Mt Verdugo, for instance, is the hill behind the house I grew up in at 3126 ft. So we know fire and we know mountains. The house we moved to in Glendale had almost burned the year before we moved in due to a huge fire that burned around a good share of LA from the beach to Glendale where we moved to in 1964. When we moved in there were foot holes in the roof because the neighbors were on our roof trying to protect our house because the owners weren’t home so a garage roof burned down the street, the scorch marks on the inside of the garage were a fascination for us kids growing up.
We early on learned which things to grab if we had to evacuate, Photographs and papers and meds first since those are the hardest to replace. And we learned how to get the garden hose up to the balconies on our house so we could spray the shake roof if we had to do it. All the other rooves in the neighborhood were Spanish tile but no, my parent bough a big Tudor house, the only one in the area. It was the most expensive house in the neighborhood, $36,000 at the time and since dad was an underpaid teacher, I think my grandparents may have helped them buy it even though they sold our tract home in the Valley to move where dad taught 6th grade.
I don’t know how many times I came home from something as a kid and saw flames on the mountain behind our house but it was a lot.
You are always aware of the consequences of a cigarette thrown from the car, which by the way, is illegal but idiots do it anyway. When you work at a camp, you get a bit paranoid about whether the campfire is all the way out. Lightning storms also can put you on high alert.
When I worked up at a camp near Idylwild, a fisherman with no brains lit a campfire to grill his catch, under a tree. It was two of the counselors from camps day off and saw the guy do it on the other side of the lake and there was nothing they could do to stop him. That fire raged for a week and burned through several camps and ranches. It almost got our camp but the wind changed direction and the fire burned through the Girl Scout camp instead. We spent that afternoon in the pool waiting. They couldn’t get busses up to us and the only safe place was the pool so we had orders to sir on the edge of the pool and if the fire came to get under water fast and hold our breath. The rangers had told us because we had a huge grassy meadow that the camp might burn in as little as 30 seconds. I remember hauling fire hose and laying it out and we could see pine trees going up like giant match sticks and it was terrifying.
I remember being pissed off because all the guitar players were told we had to leave them behind if they could get the busses up just because it kept our minds off what could happen to us and the kids.
So those of us who are natives can be a bit paranoid. Last Wednesday I was walking out to take the bus home and smelled smoke. Some idiot had thrown their cigarette into our bark mulch and there was a fire burning about a foot across. This made the old Girl Scout in me rise up and get creative. No hose near by, so I used my cane to spread the mulch onto the nearby gravel. I was not impressed with the coworker that drove out the gate yelling she was going to call security. I kept at it and the next woman jumped out of her car with a couple of water bottles and helped me get the big pieces out. She said she couldn’t figure out what I was doing until she saw the flames and that was when I had it pretty well spread out but we got it out and I didn’t even miss my bus. I found out a day later from security that they had been afraid something like that would happen because under the mulch is some sort of weed cloth that is flammable and if that caught our 2+ acres would go up like a match if it got going under the mulch. That is what happens in a forest when the duff catches fire underneath the trees and spreads underground. My Girl Scour Good Deed for the day in 98 degree weather too.
So now we deal with a huge fire that is only 10% contained. Containment means they have a line around the fire. It’s burned 33,000 acres. http://abc7.com/ for news if you are interested. It’s been in the high 90’s and low 100s for temps for the last week of so here in the SF Valley. This really doesn’t help when fighting fires. Saturday the smoke was blown low which led to the apocalyptic photos I posted early and everything is covered in ash. I went to the ATM and had to wipe the screen off to even read it.
For those who use Celsius 90 degrees Fahrenheit = 32.22 Celsius = bloody hot. 100 Degrees is 37.7 Celsius. 33, 000 acres is 51,562 square miles which is bigger than a lot of cities.
So we are about 10 miles as the crow flies from where the fire is burning and hoping it doesn’t destroy everything and every being on the mountains
A lot of love and energy is being directed at the brave firefighters who are out there on the line.
Wildlife at Singing Pines Part 1
Of all the camps I worked at Singing Pines had the biggest variety of wildlife. According to the camp legend it was because an old Indian woman protected camp. A lot of us believed in her with all our hearts. I have good reason to believe, she touched my cheek once. Scared me into screaming and I had to apologize.
That camp has never burned because of her protection the heart of camp is always safe and there is always wildlife harboured there safely. We had a three legged fox and we had bears. We had giant raccoons that weighed around 45 pounds. We had grey squirrels and ground squirrels and field mice. We had a mountain lion that passed through, we had Audubon cottontails and we had rattlesnakes and gopher snakes and we had aquatic garter snakes in the lake. We had bats and we had several kinds of lizards. And we had birds, lots and lots of birds.
I was Arts & Crafts Director there for 4 years and for a couple of years I added the title Nature Director too. I had the Long House and the Nature Nook to work out of but I spent most of my time in the Long House above the Lake. I had a refrigerator that ran on propane that only worked the first year I was there after that it was a convenient place to store food away from critters so I didn’t always have to go all the way up to the Dining Hall. It was a long walk up that hill some days.
I had a lot of time along out there because there were so many other things to do in camp like horse back riding, canoeing and swimming that seemed to come before A&C unless I was making candles and tie-dye. I had no electricity and a limited budget so there were things I couldn’t do that I had done at other camps like enameling. I did have a propane stove for melting wax and heating dye. So we did a lot of that. And one year I added screening for a select few and the staff.
Some days I felt like Snow White in her cottage because the birds went freely in and out of my huge doors. Several times I looked down and a Scarlet Tanager would be hopping in to look up at me in my director’s chair with a cocked head. He always looked like he had a lot of questions he wanted to ask. The Stellar’s Jays were the biggest thieves and loved to steal things especially if some unit had a cook out there on my concrete porch/pad. I once saw one steal a whole cube of butter of the table.
The first thing I was ever warned about was to never build a fire during the day in my fireplace because the baby bats in the chimney might fall into the fire and the mama bats would dive down to get them.
I forgot this one cold day in my third year and luckily the baby did not fall into the fire but mama did come down to get it and put the baby on her chest. She flew up and hung on the wall looking at me very upset and I hurriedly put out the fire. Baby bats and their mamas are really cute. Mama is at the most about 4 inches long so the babies are really tiny. Anything that can eat 1000 mosquitoes in an hour I like a lot.
One night at twilight I had left something in the LH and had to go get it and the bats were just coming out for a night of eating and one poor bat smacked me in the forehead. I guess I was moving too quickly in the door for his sonar to track me. He looked as confused as I did and for the record, he did not get caught in my hair. He just bounced off my head.
One night the CIT’s were camping out in the outpost for a skill session and I had gone out there for dinner and went to get my guitar from the Long House for a sing along. In the fifteen minutes I was gone a mountain lion had gone up the road and I had just missed it. I know there were no tracks when I went to the LH and when I came back there were huge cat paw prints. Much as I love kitties that was one I could do without coming face to face with. I told the CIT Directors so they could keep the kids from going to the bathroom until campfire was over because I wanted to keep everyone in the unit until some time had passed. I don’t think we ever told the CITs. Those paw prints were as big as a large size paper plate. Really big kitty.