Ranch Work Parties

Discussion of the upcoming fire season begins with mega-praise for the conscientious commitment and expertise of our fire fighters and emergency medical technicians. Fort Ross Volunteer Fire Department (officially North Bay Fire Station 43) serves 33 sq. miles in addition to giving assistance to other regional fire districts. The heroic team puts out dozens of fires and rescues people with medical emergencies year round. For more information, please visit www.fortrossvfd.org.

Property owners organize extravagant VFD fund raising events; we chip in financially for grading the road and endeavor to maintain defensible spaces.

During fire season, it behooves us to keep the roads free of nearby flammable brush and branches. Skilled fire engine drivers maneuver twisting, treacherous roads with steep ravines–should fire enter these areas, the roads would be impassable. Until this year, we’ve not made a concerted community effort to tackle the enormous roadside vegetation clearing job. Neighbors on separate ranches always help each other, but mostly we have concentrated on our own work burdens. Weed whacking, clearing brush and fireproofing our dwellings is a huge task. We worry and have felt helpless to do more.

Then, Stephanie Endsley and Angie Cooper had a phone chat and hatched a grand plan. Without committees, meetings, bureaucracy or financial backing, these two made a calendar schedule for volunteer sawing, chopping, chipping, lopping, clipping, dragging, and burning to clear roadsides amidst hundreds of forest acres. A community email announced time and place.

The two mover-shakers were prepared to start work by themselves if no one showed up. However, without RSVP’s or reminders or cajoling, more than 25 workers from ranches near and far were hard at work by 9:30 that first Saturday morning. Folks caught the message: community well-being goes beyond traditional ranch boundaries–every road is everyone’s road.

These photo essay pics are a mix from seven Saturday work parties we’ve had so far. I’ll always remember feeling invigorated by that first Saturday’s cool air scented with bay, fir and rich forest duff. The light through firs and redwoods was enchanting.

A band of about ten chainsaw operators were revving up, buzzing, grinding, slicing trees. Even though we are tree-huggers, in this context, hearing a large tree crack and crash or go KA-THUNK is thrilling.

Women chainsaw artists were part of the crew. Here, Tanya Charter, from one of the original ranch families, shows her expertise.

Kids as young as Karim McHan joined in.

Old-timer neighbors like Pat Loomis and

newcomers like Patti Stein pitched in.

Mary Pat Jacobs is always ready to lend a hand. Dozens of other volunteers showed up to help on whatever Saturday they could. I wish I could list all their names. Hirsch Vineyard sent workers to help. Wild Hog vintner Daniel Schoenfeld volunteered labor, transported huge scoops of cut trees in his Kabota vehicle and helped in countless ways.

Some of us were not such whipper snapper workers, but we cooked.

Here are quiche and “kong” (short for kongo bars.) The quip is a bad joke probably recognized only by oldsters. You can skip it. The main thing to know is that Marcella’s gourmet goose egg quiches were world-class delights.

Tanya Charter brought her famous cornbread made from her home-grown crop of corn.

Over seven Saturdays, Marcella Robinson, Patricia Greer, Angie Cooper and I made hundreds of cookies, 200 burritos, 80 tamales and a fancy assortment of drinks.

On several Saturdays Raymond’s Bakery donated dozens of pizzas. Neighbors contributed fruit, cheeses, brownies and other delectable treats– every work day had party food.

The four on one four-wheeler arrived just in time for lunch. Ian Rinn, Merlin Velasquez, Jesus Velasquez, and Michael Brester-Smith worked up an appetite for Patricia’s authentic tamales.

During the break, social catch-up was especially enjoyed because we had been isolated and masked for too many moons. The hot topic was chainsaws–new electric ones with rechargeable batteries are a significant breakthrough for efficiency and ease.

Noisy, inefficient gas-fueled saws with tempermental pull starters that yank your shoulder may become history.

After lunch the Bandit Model 200+XP chipper was towed to each pile of tree trash.

Tree trash slash on the ground is dangerous fire fuel.

Workers loaded cut branches into the Bandit chipper that ferociously chewed up piled brush, twigs and branches, then spit them out.

The Bandit’s back-story is worth noting. Anticipating the April 30 burn permit expiration, neighbors collaborated to repair an old defunct chipper so that roadside clearing could proceed.

Bringing the Bandit back to life became a high priority. Thank you to the Bandit’s owner, Damian Boune, and three amazing mechanical problem solvers: Alan Beckwith, Jesus Velasquez and Ramon Jimenez. More neighbors chipped into a chipper fund with another essential ingredient–greenbacks.

Goodwill and determination sparked by Stephanie and Angie inspired the entire community. We are not smug about feeling safe in fire season, but we’re learning to not allow anxiety to browbeat us into apathy. Words like impossible and possible and have new definitions.

If you see this sticker on a dusty bumper, you’ll know what it is all about: TLC.

Please scroll on down to Damian Boune’s charming version of the Bandit story.

Post Script: Here is Damian’s original Bandit story:

The Bandit was found languishing deep in a forest near a tin barn where pieces of gold were traded to the watcher of that forest in exchange for the service of the Bandit. It was then taken to a nearby forest in the care of another where it sat alone for many moons.

It had been intended that the Bandit would be cared for and put to work in a different way, but alas that never happened. Though much more gold was given into the care of the Bandit during the time of waiting it was also left to the elements becoming weathered and sad.

When the Bandit was returned to my forest it was in disrepair requiring additional attention that I was unprepared to give. Sir Alan of Beckwith Forest saw the beleaguered Bandit and felt inspired. He would, along with Sir Jesus of Water Horse Ridge and a merry band of kind, interesting, and capable people, return the Bandit to health and give it purpose anew. I agreed that this was best for all, and so the Bandit was entered into the service of community where it could then thrive.

The people gave of their kindness, the Bandit gave of its service, and all rejoiced for the Bandit was loved and there to help make the community stronger for the rest of its days.

The Bandit allows us to continue work making our roads more resilient against fire for both ourselves and our firefighters when burning is not safe or allowed. While it is not the only solution we should employ it is of significant benefit.

Our communities have come together strongly during the last few years over the shared responsibility of fire safety and care for our forests. The weekly roadside vegetation management work parties have been one successful example of this that I hope is made tradition for all and expanded upon.

It is only a small part and a beginning of what we must commit to do, and one step towards a shift in our ways, that must occur for us to be successful in the intertwined tasks of stewarding these lands and providing for our safety in them.

3 thoughts on “Ranch Work Parties

  1. Bravo for a pitch in plan ahead community. I know you were evacuated last year. It has been 4 years of fire and smoke, so probably to be expected again. We have sold our Occidental condo and are moving, but where? Love to all forest dwellers, keep at it. Marylu


  2. To me there is nothing better than seeing a community come together for the betterment and safety of all. We are responsible for where we live, this includes our roads, and we need each other to get the work done, to open the roads, to remove the slash and to have fun while doing it. The payoff is instant gratification: Immediately you see the creeks again, you see those groves of redwoods that were blocked by sad, dead and stunted bushes and trees. An incredible feeling of peace and relief is found, and the sweat on your back is greeted with a pat by the person working beside you while you swap stories and laugh at the crazy hair you both have with leaves and debris sticking in it. And at the end of 4 hours you walk along the section of road you’ve come together to work on and admire the job that’s been done and the swell of pride for your community and the place you live is something you cannot suppress. Drink it in, you’ve all done a great job. There’s more work to be done and I personally am looking forward to working next to each of you, smiling, laughing and sweating, and doing our part to make our roads safe for all of us.
    The Local Crew [aka TLC] organizer and worker, Stephanie Endsley


  3. Hi old friends an neighbors,
    With great delight this journal of community action, resolve, and uplifting cooperation brought me a crows foot smile an deep fond memories. Your all staying steadfast keeping the dream an commitment of living a true life in those beloved Cazadero hills.
    Hats off to y all an keep on trucking!
    Best Always,
    Glen Pinnow


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