Winter Is Coming?

Image of clouds drifting past a forested hillside dusted with snow

As we come to the end of the month, this winter in the Yosemite area is shaping up to look more like Spring.  While the eastern half of the country has been in the deep freeze, out here in California we’ve been mostly warm and cozy — as long as we’re not getting swept away in mud slides. of course

That same  storm system in early January that buried Montecito in mud brought this region of the Sierras south of Yosemite at least 4 inches of rain!

Yes it is true that snow would have been much better for the state’s continuing water problems, and might possibly have even  tempered the severity of the Montecito mudslides. But for us personally, it was probably a good thing that the storm was so warm.  That much rain could easily have been 4 feet of snow.

Image of a small erosion channel in the middle of a dirt road
The former breezeway after 4 inches of rain. Not bad considering!

And while we did have some erosion, nothing rose to the level of a mudslide for us.

Image of a muddy hilside with a small pile of dirt and rocks in the foreground
A wheelbarrow-sized portion of the hillside above the former retaining wall slumped onto the building site.

The worst erosion occurred in the area behind where the garage once stood, where the path to the picnic area begins.

Image of a muddy hillside with deep erosion channels
Erosion channels cut deeply into our path to the picnic area, where our grading work had softened the soil.

Those two tree stumps in the photo above mark where the two gigantic Ponderosa pines once stood.

The Second January Storm

Around the middle of the month the forecast warned us of several inches of snow possible at our 5000 ft elevation.  There were guests coming to the Trestlewood Chalet for MLK weekend, so we had to make sure the driveway was clear for their arrival.  We drove up the night before the storm came through.

As has been typical this winter, the forecast was for the storm to start out warm and then sometime later drop below freezing.  Exactly when is hard to predict, and that “when” can make all the difference between a lot of rain with a dusting of snow, or a lot of wet snow topped with a hard crust.

Image of mountains across the valley half-covered with snow
Our morning view across the valley, with the snow line clearly visible only a few hundred feet above us

We awoke the next morning to gray skies and the sound of rain.  We actually did get some snow, but it was not even enough to stick to the driveway.

Image of a wet pine cone with a dusting of snow
A large pine cone on the deck briefly tries on a winter coat.

The rain continued until about 10 am and washed away all of the remaining snow at our elevation.    For the rest of the day Mount Raymond played hide-and-seek with us amongst patches of blue sky and wispy clouds.

Image of nearby clouds with a snow-capped mountain and blue sky in the background
A sunlit, snow-covered Mount Raymond peeks through a break in the clouds
Hints of Spring in January?

As we went about our weekend  business at the property, we saw plants that were convinced it was time to get to work.  A botanist-friend of ours had mentioned that we should expect the Bear Clover to come back fast. She felt this would be a good thing as the native species is very good at preventing hillside erosion.

And sure enough, little green  sprigs of it are now covering the property.

Image of the burned-out entrance area covered with small green plants
Those bright green patches below the tree stump are all happy little Bear Clover sprouts

To be honest, once established Bear Clover is not one of my favorite ground covers.  It grows so thick it is hard to walk through, and if you do you’ll find yourself covered with an aromatic, sticky sap.

Still, at this point I do appreciate any help with erosion control that Nature can provide.

Image of Daffodils poking through wet soil
Yes even the Daffodils are optimistic!
Image of a tiny oak tree with brown leaves lit up by the sun
But this tiny little Oak seedling is not fooled by the warm weather. It seems to know that it is still the middle of winter around here.

So far this winter has been very mild, and while we would prefer long, gentle rains over mudslide-inducing torrents, still it has been very helpful to have the property free of snow and easily accessible.  I’ve  even been able to have several contractors visit the site and provide me with estimates.

We are now working with one of those contractors to turn our design sketches into a buildable (and biddable) set of plans.  This has been a regular source of frustration, so I am quite excited now to see him making real progress.

After those plans are done, we’ll post some images of them here  — so that you too can look forward to the future as much as I do!

Playing Pickup Sticks (Big Ones)

Using our new "grapple rake" while the setting sun entertains us

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s hope 2018 is more constructive (or less destructive at least) than 2017 was.

After an enjoyable holiday break with family, we returned home from our travels with one of our two adult sons.  Although he had seen many photos of the fire and what it left behind, still he was very interested in seeing it first hand.  So last week we all went up for a quick visit, our first of 2018.

While the eastern side of the U.S. has been battling snow and ice and record low temperatures, out here on the western side of the country it has been unseasonably warm and dry.  Really warm.  As in pushing close to 70 degrees in January!  This is not normal.

Of course this is bad news for a state still struggling with extended drought conditions and massive, record-breaking wildfires.  But at least for us, a warm snowless January means that we can get more work done on the property.

And there is a lot of work to do! But our son still liked the prospect of work, because this work involved the Bobcat.  And let’s face it, Bobcats can be fun.

Image of a large pile of brush and wood on the otherwise empty space where the Logger's Retreat garage used to be
One of the two wood and brush piles that we wanted to move. This is where the old garage used to be, and where its replacement will go

Back in September when I ordered attachments for the Bobcat,  my order included a “Grapple Rake.”  It is a simple device that pretty much does what it says on the tin.  It’s good for raking up sticks and stones, and also carrying them from here to there.

But given that it attaches to a skidsteer, it can handle pretty hefty sticks and stones — i.e. logs and boulders.  We’ve got a lot of those around here.  So back in September this seemed to me to be a worthwhile attachment to have.  This visit was our first chance to find out whether or not that was true.

Image of a Bobcat skidsteer carrying several large logs with a grapple rake.
If this is work, then why is this man smiling?

This was also a chance to use our newly-graded “back entrance” to the Logger’s Retreat.

Image of the Bobcat driving up a steep road and a pile of logs in the foreground
The new “back entrance” driveway had a section that was almost too steep for the Bobcat to handle, but the added weight of the grapple rake and its contents helped keep the Bobcat’s front wheels on the ground

We added the larger logs to the pile we had already created when we took down the two Ponderosa Pines.  And we created a new, separate pile for all the smaller, brushy pieces.  We’ll try to cut the larger pieces into useful lumber.  The smaller stuff will probably become firewood.

Image of the Bobcat placing 3 large logs onto the top of a pile of large logs
Our son grappling 3 logs into position on the top of the pile he’s created

It took us two afternoons to finish the job.  The weather was sunny and mild and as a reward for our labors we were treated to a most beautiful sunset on the surrounding hills.

Image of the Bobcat carrying a load of logs, with the sunset lighting up the hills behind it
This is where the new road meets the old fire road, near where the storage container used to be

The sunset progressed quickly and relit the patchwork of burned forest on the mountainside across the Lewis Creek valley from us; this time much more pleasantly than last time. (Don’t worry; those are clouds, not smoke!)

Closeup image of a forested ridge bathed in the warm glow of sunset
A closer view of the ridge across the valley, now with some low clouds drifting past the sunlit trees.  Yes it really was that color!
Image of bright orange clouds behind the black silhouettes of tall trees
And finally the trees became silhouettes as the clouds themselves lit up

But enough with the visual distractions; back to work!  Yes we did finish moving the wood piles.

Image of the cleared building site, now without woodpiles
And the wood piles are all gone! This is where  we will build the new garage.  In the background of this image is where the house itself will go, where you see the orange breezeway support posts

Now that the lot is clear and clean, it is almost too open.  I feel like it needs some structure.  Yes, in fact it needs Structures.  I want the building to begin!