Sonora Fire

A weekend in the Sierras, riding my brother-in-law’s new jet ski on New Mellones Reservoir. In the late afternoon of this past Sunday we drove up into higher country to get a better look at the Rim fire, the large forest fire on the edge of Yosemite that has received so much attention. We were able to see giant plumes of smoke in the remote and inaccessible distance, but did not have the time or interest to drive deeper into these mountains, so we settled for a distant view on one of the pull-outs above Long Barn.

We talked with an elderly Mennonite couple dressed in their Sunday best, who had also driven up from one of the lower mountain towns to get a good view of the fire. Their home had seen much smoke and they had been concerned about evacuation ever since the fire had first broken out. The fire has burned about 250,000 acres. It is mostly contained, meaning that it may continue to burn fiercely, but only within the circle that fire fighters have drawn around it by bulldozing fire breaks and setting back fires. No homes or communities now seem to be in any danger of being burned out.

All the little mountain towns have signs up saying “thank you, fire fighters”, but no signs saying “curse you, fire starter”. The hunter who started the fire has been caught, and my brother-in-law and I discussed what you do with a person who has caused a $120 million dollar fire. If he started the fire on purpose that would be quite criminal, but if by accident, what does the justice system do with him?

The mornings in Sonora were smoky, but not nearly as bad as the first couple of weeks of the fire. The people have become accustomed to a yellowish sky and fits of coughing, but the few I spoke with look forward to an early rain season to put out this whole mountain range of smolder.

We did an hour of kayaking on Pine Mountain Lake, as the marina in this beautiful alpine location is about to close for the season. The number of visitors to the cabins and campgrounds drops off after Labor Day weekend, and when October rolls around the night-time air can easily drop into freezing temperatures. It was in November that the famous Donner Party incident occurred some hundred miles north of here. This past Sunday, however, was short-sleeve shirt kind of weather for us as we paddled partly around the lake.

I made a quick drive home from the mountains on Monday morning, a three-hour drive, flying through the greater bay area and all of its meticulous traffic patterns, while most of the inhabitants remained busy in their indoor work-day environment. I made that final leg of the trip, a quick buzz over the Santa Cruz Mountains from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz, in time to enjoy a warm and lazy summer afternoon by the sea. I had seen so much badly parched land the last few days. California is rich in dry hills and oak forests with tall brown grass, but rain season does not usually begin until about Halloween.

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