Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Saturday, August 2, 2014
|This is not even a full day's worth.|
|We've now switched to more bottles and better formula.|
|Why we fight.|
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
|Objects in the mirror are closer then they appear.|
A tone-out rang over the mobile radio.
“Rockaway rural fire department. Please respond to reports of thick smoke coming from somewhere behind Lake Lytle. All ODF channels and resources in the area please respond, I will notify station ninety one.”Doug’s eyes widened a little more, his mouth dropped in utter disbelief and he stopped swinging the belt weather device. My training was all I knew and I was eager to taste my first fire, Doug on the other hand seemed to be contemplating the finer points of the situation. I had already darned my Nomex clothes and grabbed my web gear. We were about a half an hour up the Nehalem River when we got the call and it seemed my adrenaline wouldn’t let me take it completely easy on our way out.
“Fire is perceived to be moving up-slope with winds out of the northwest at fifteen to twenty miles per hour. It is moving in dense green slash and felled timber. There is an active operation at the bottom of the unit, the site foreman has agreed to meet you at the gate.” She said in what seemed like a few minutes.
I pulled our trusty ninety-one-thirteen engine down the rather benign looking residential street of Rockaway, heading toward the eastward coastal mountains and flanking the side of Lake Lytle, I could see the yellow gate up ahead indicating it was private land, the yellow meant it was owned by the Stimpson Timber Company. I stopped when I saw the rough looking logger striding out to meet us at the gate. Doug got out of the engine as soon as it was safe to do so, I could tell he was trying hard to contain his excitement, but I also think that he knew that this could be a scary situation. He’d seen his share of fires over land and knew that every one was different and held the capacity for imminent danger. This was Doug’s thirtieth year with the state and it was to be his last before retirement, this fire would surely be one of his last on an engine.
The logger led us up the road, for some reason I was expecting it to be a ways up but as soon as we rounded the first corner and came to the fresh clear cut timber I could actually see the fire itself. This was my first forest fire, I had only excitement coursing through my veins. We drove up the access road into the timber unit, Doug was finagling his gear in the passenger seat as we approached the flat topped landing at the end of a spur road nearby. At this point we were above where the fire was burning, and since it was active in an ongoing logging operation there were numerous piles of green slash bundled all around the vehicles, piles of fuel the size of two story houses, and the fire was edging closer to our location.
We got out of the engine and quickly put on our assigned fire pack and safety gear, I grabbed a hazel hoe, my favorite hand tool, and walked over to Doug who was standing at the edge of the landing observing the fire.
“Brian, I want you to go down there and try to find the source of the fire.” He said excitedly. “Don’t forget the digital camera!” He shouted.
Fire investigation and cause accountability are a huge part of the forest fire process, in this situation with it being an active logging operation on private forest land meant that every detail of this fire needed to be documented, hence the digital camera. I felt like I was repelling down a cliff face, I practically jogged down the steep grade taking care not to catch my boot in the crux of a tree limb as this would not have been the best time to break or sprain an ankle, it would have compounded the situation. My task, it seemed, was simple. I had to go down and establish the origin of the fire, take photos and note any oddities. Near the location where I felt the fire began I found a small clearing with a long-bar Husqvarna and a fuel can sitting neatly nearby. I took a few photos and glanced up to the top of the landing, realizing at that time I had no battery life left within my handset radio that was strapped to my chest. I could see Doug standing there with a couple of Rockaway rural volunteers and my boss Kevin Hill.
Kevin had been working with wildland fire for over fifteen years, he’d started his time as an inmate crew coordinator working for the South Fork Prison with a crew of ten inmates. It was very common to work side by side with prisoners on a forest fire, Kevin, at the age of nineteen was in charge of the crew, and thus acquired his unique personality therein.
I could see Kevin and Doug both motioning me to come back to the top of the landing, Kevin had a tendency to be abrasive toward everyone and it was not my goal in life to get him angry. It was obvious he came from a dysfunctional family because he always had something to prove, especially against his subordinates.
When I returned to the top of the landing it seemed the fire had gained serious traction upon the mountain’s side. It was less than thirty feet from the giant slash piles at the top, it was this point in which I remember seeing a real look of concern on Kevin and Doug’s faces. There were numerous structure fire engines on the landing with us, we were the only forestry rig though. There were rules and methods the structure hounds knew nothing about when it came to forest fire fighting, in this case the most important was to park your resource vehicles in a position for easy egress. They had parked and chalked the wheels facing inward, a standard structure engine tender is not exactly easy to turn around on a forest landing. I could see Kevin calmly walking toward me as I stood by the engine trying to find another battery pack for my chest radio.
|"Get that fucking thing out of here!"|
|I look behind me and I see this!|
Just down the road I met up with everyone else, by that time we had all of our available resources there set up outside of the burn area along the mainline road. Wheels chalked and panel doors open, people were going every direction. I got out of the engine and went to go find Doug. He told me to go find Kevin and ask for orders. I was instructed to take as much hose as I could carry and head up the newly formed fire trail to construct the progressive hose lay, a process in which a number of lengths of hose are joined together in what is called a trunk line with fifty foot lateral hoses branching out every two hundred feet. This particular hose lay was going uphill right through the slash unit, with active flames flanking our left side, the same fires that I had previously tried in vain to extinguish just a few minutes earlier.
I proceeded toward an area where I could see the front moving toward, hose in hand and geared to the teeth with protective and heavy equipment, I walked into what seemed like the gates of hell itself.
Opening the valve on the nozzle and drenching the area around me, I actually felt like I was making a difference. In hind sight it was a beautifully surreal experience. In the background was the town of Rockaway and an un obstructed view of the Pacific Ocean with the late summer afternoon sun reflecting off the surface of the sea and super heated wafts of air blowing me in the face. Just then the wind picked up and flared the fire into the fuel patch I was spraying, completely nullifying any water efforts I was making. The wind fanned the flames and before I knew it I was being licked by the orange and yellow monster. I felt an immense pull from the hose I was holding and I was thrust backward onto my backside on the ground. I looked behind me and saw Eddy with the hose in his hand, he had pulled me away from the fire right in time as I had to run to get out of there. The hose began to singe and burn, collateral damage.
Nick, Randy and myself all decided to generally stick together since we were no longer in our engines and this fire was a first for all of us. Eddy was alright with that and gave us orders to hold that spur road, which we did for the time being. Around seven in the evening we received our dinner, the local Kentucky Fried Chicken had taken pity upon us and prepared a feast for everyone on the fire. I used to work for that same restaurant and had told myself I’d never eat it again, but I can safely say it was one of the most satisfying meals I’d ever eaten. Fueled by exhaustion I even chewed the bones down to the marrow. We were committed to the fire, we would be there all night, and we knew it.
|'To boldly go...'|
I ended up falling asleep in my own bed around noon and waking up around four that afternoon, Kevin had told us as soon as we woke to check back in at the compound. I got into my trusty red Toyota and went back to work.
As I pulled into headquarters I saw 91-12 on the tarmac with Randy and Nick in full fire gear. I wasn’t expecting to go back to Rockaway, Kevin told us we would be on Initial Attack that day so we had to be around the office.
I walked up to the window and saw Nick sitting in the driver’s seat. Before I had a chance to ask him what was going on, he looked at me and told me to get geared up. We had another incident forty five minutes south, a seven acre fire just outside of the small town of Beaver. I had three and a half hours of sleep after my first fire ever, my second was to begin immediately.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Yesterday morning I had to bury a family friend. A family member really, one I had only recently come to know. Its quite a thing to grab a shovel in your hand and know that what you're about to do signifies a great and true finality, an end to something. Its symbolic both good and bad to sink the blade into the top soil, depress downward and pry up a mound of Earth, set aside and repeat process. Its quite a thing. You see, a pet is a family member in my eyes and even once removed, while living in proximity, a pet is still a family member all the same. Yesterday I was to bury a family member.
Do you express personal disgust at yourself for literally throwing dirt on their faces? Do you take pride in doing this great deed? Both really. You treat the situation as respectfully as possible, despite the nature of it all. You take the time to wrap them in a cloth and put their favorite possession within their grip and you take another moment afterward to do what you must to fully appreciate the situation. A moment of silence in many ways. You think inward.
Her name was George, and she will be missed.
Friday, June 20, 2014
A twinvasion indeed! A word I made up by cleverly adjoining two words together; "Twin" and "Invasion." A word I've come to describe the third great chapter in my life, this being my thirties. Of course I'm already two years into this (and a half!) realm but I'm finding sometimes a period of acclimation is necessary.
A year ago had someone told me I was going to be the father of fraternal twins I would have spit my beer all over them. Had they mentioned in addendum to that that I would become the defacto stepfather to another set of nine-year-old twins simultaneously I might have taken another swig and proceeded to exhale it all over the individual telling me this. Had they mentioned that the set of twin black kittens I had recently acquired acted as the harbinger of all of this... well I might have simply stopped believing you. I mean, how is that possible?
Its true, an invasion of sorts has taken place within the last year, and it came in waves of two's. The tides have reached their highest point and the waters are beginning to recede. Though I'm not finding destruction in their wake, but absolute creation. Sure, the wave came crashing over my adventurous twenties, putting a very symbolic end to the aimless and rowdy ways I had come to expect as normal. Leaving behind what is seeming to be a fertile land to thrive upon, this tsunami has carved rivers and valleys and revealed bountiful lands that were otherwise veiled behind the coastal fog.
Fatherhood. Here goes!
Saturday, October 9, 2010
When I first heard one could actually eat cattail it was while browsing through a US Army survival manual I have that stands at roughly a bajillion pages thick. Regardless it goes over what kinds of unconventional plants a human may ingest in a number of different environmental types. I remember reading the section on Cattail and thinking that might be fun to do. Everyone, I give you the process to refine flour using a fine local plant; the Cattail.
First I went out for collection, I’m sure there’s better ways to do it but my novice regard made it seem fairly straight forward, I found a place where Cattails are, pulled off the side of the road and voila I started pulling my first Cattail. On my first mission out I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for so I naturally grabbed the biggest healthiest looking one I could find. It stood well over my head at around eight to nine feet high. It had long frond leaves that hung down, a giant grass. I knew I was supposed to be interested in the tubers (the thick roots of Cattail that network the underground) so when I pulled one up I decided to do it with relative carefulness so as not to rip the tuber from the root ball. I must admit, they do not come out all the time, but I stacked the harvested bundle together and kept going. That time I brought home about 7 individual Cattail plants. As soon as I got home I proceeded toward the burn pile and began stripping the flower down to its stalk. Stripping, though racy, might be the best way to describe the process. Once you’ve got it down to a single stalk begin shaking the dirt clods away from the root ball and the attached tuber. They look like, well, a big thick root and it are undeniably recognized as the main giant root emanating from the plant stalk. Separate the tubers and begin to scrub them free of dirt.
The remainder of the plant is not just thrown aside, in ancient times the leaves were used as an excellent weaving material, thus giving the ability to not only feed, but for other practical uses as well. The flowers, the main brown part that distinguishes it as a Cattail, while young can be boiled and eaten like corn as well. But for the fall season, as I was in, my only usable options were the tubers. I do not know how to weave.
So the first time I tried to do this I somewhat failed, or almost succeeded, depending on how you perceive it. I boiled the tubers, un-skinned, peeled and dried them in a food dehydrator. The next day I took a mortar and pestle to it and followed some rudimentary directions on the internet. They told me to put it all in a bowl of water, so I did. I, however was supposed to peal them before I extracted the starch, therefore it turned out to look like an oatmealy mess.
The second time I did this turned out quite differently as I was properly prepared this time with a potato peeler and a fine strainer for separation. My harvesting techniques had changed as well, that time I had brought a shovel to dig a little to expose tubers under the surface. While doing so it dawned on me that I didn’t need to harvest the fronds at all considering all I needed were the tubers, plus I wouldn’t kill the plant that way; more sustainable. This time I came back with a few handfuls of tubers and a frond or two to perhaps give weaving a whirl later on. The labor inductive part of this task was to peel the tubers down to their white stringy innards. For a few handfuls of tubers it took me nearly forty five minutes to peel every piece, though it was my first time. But that wasn’t the most time consuming part of the process. There was still the matter of extracting the starch from the root, which consisted of a steady resolve, sturdy butter knife and a working surface of some kind. The idea here is to literally scrape the starch right out of the stock, it almost was always a brilliant white compared with the drab brownish that was the tuber itself and it resembled that of ricotta cheese.
Quite a while later, I’m not sure exactly as time merely became an illusion after a bit, I had finished scraping every last ounce of starch from that gooey mess. The tubers proved hard to hold onto while I was endeavoring to scrape their innards out, take caution if you try this method. According to the internet there’s another way to do that by working the roots with your hands in water but my way was talked about as being more fun.
So, I had a bowl full of what looked like mashed potatoes with little string fibers from the tubers themselves. The next step in the process was simple, submerge in water and wait. So I did, I filled the bowl up and went out drinkin’ with the dudes.
The following morning it had all separated and I easily poured off the remaining water to be left with what looked like day old, wet cream of wheat. I took that and poured it carefully onto a sheet of wax paper and proceeded to put it in the food dehydrator.
Then I waited for two days.
When I took the wax paper sheet out it had what resembled a white cow-pie, it was somewhat gross looking but more importantly it was dry. The ‘last’ step in the process was to use the mortar and pestle to grind out the flour.
There you have it! Cattail flour! YAY! What I’ve realized is that this is a very labor intensive process that is not for the faint of heart. There was a great deal of work that went into this for what I got in return but it was informative. I’m glad to know if I had to survive on the elements, I could even cook bread with proper time and prep.
Thanks for reading!