Thursday, October 01, 2020

Swimming upstream

 A sunny and bright day, not so long ago, I sat down for a Zoom zazenkai and three hours later, saw intense winds rushing through the orchard, laden with fresh brown smoke. That smoke came from fires some distance away, the Lionshead and Beachie Creek mostly. I had been thinking of the Lionshead as a central Oregon fire and Beachie Creek as a small one near Detroit Reservoir, but in the wind they both blew up, ran together and have since devastated some 400,000 acres, some lives, and many, many buildings.

A number of other large Oregon fires sprang up in the next few days, the nearest to us being the Holiday Farm Fire. In less than twenty-four hours, it ran over 30,000 acres of the McKenzie River canyon, and approached us over the next week, coming within about twelve air miles at the top of the Little Fall Creek drainage.

Although the evacuation zone boundary was drawn along the river, about a mile and a half away in the photo above, we chose to decamp to Eugene for a few days, just in case. Many of our neighbors did the same, and as we were packing, we noted a number of horse trailers heading west.

It doesn't take us long to pack, because in fire weather we pull Tessa the Teardrop out of the garage, load her up with supplies, and keep her hooked up to Henrietta, the '99 Ranger. 

We were at Daughter's house after a twenty minute drive. 

At the time, Daughter, a health worker, was not in our current Covid pod and we had to use indoor potential-exposure protocols, hard on all concerned. Space was at a premium, so I slept in Tessa with the vent closed and hoped for the best.

Normally we would head for the coast under these conditions but this time the smoke was almost as bad and ... pandemic considerations.

Although Daughter has a tight house and decent filtration, local AQI rose above 500 and everyone suffered. Having the weakest lungs I went down hard and began a coughing spell that lasted well into the next week. I should have been admitted to a smoke relief facility but ... pandemic.

After a few days we went home and toughed it out in the old house. Here, you can just see the white roof of Gogo-an, the meditation hut, in the middle distance.

We were caught between HEPA filters so we put a furnace filter on the box fan, which helped some.

Currently the Holiday Farm Fire is holding at about 173,000 acres. It has burned 430 houses and caused loss of life. A near thing for us, but for others it has been nearer than near. _()_

There have been a couple of smoke-clearing rains, and we've resumed most of our homesteading activities. 

It's October and temperatures are in the high eighties when there's no smoke, so the late tomatoes are very happy and have unexpectedly come in by the bushel. I'm currently making tomato sauce and struggling with less-than-ideal unmarked canning jar lids provided, from far, far away, in used Ball canning-lid boxes (all we could get) -- there seems to be some kind of scam going on.

Looking at the history of our big local fires, I see a pattern. 

Fifteen years ago, the Clark Fire covered 5000 acres on Big Fall Creek. Three years ago, the Jones fire covered twice that. This year, the Holiday Farm Fire was more than fifteen times the size of the Clark Fire and ran west right past it almost into Springfield. I think these Cascades fires are moving west as we dry out and closing in on us in the valley, including here at Stony Run Farm.

 The water table is dropping, the soil exhales moisture faster than it used to and plants are extremely desiccated here at the moment, even with the inch or so of recent rain. 

Had the high winds persisted for another day, this fire would have run down the ridge above Little Fall Creek right to us, and the river would not have presented a significant barrier. Another similar year and all bets are off, especially with more lightning than we had this time.

The continued drought with increasing chance of fire, combined with unhinged roving vigilantes in the neighborhood looking in all the wrong political places for arsonists, leaves us feeling that our time at Stony Run may be drawing to a close. We may have to retreat to Daughter's urban college-town place to live out our days -- there is a plan for that, which might include the addition of a tiny house (easy on a fifth of an acre).

To which end I'm continuing to work there. The back room I've added to the house is in constant use already, and this week I re-roofed the meditation shed/potting room/workshop.

As I see it, a salmon swims upstream until it can't. So we might as well swim upstream.

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Stony Run Farm: Life on One Acre