Sunday, March 31, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 4

 On the weekend drives to Wenatchee, we see the snow receding from the hills.  This week's rain produced some spectacular rainbows.  (Photo taken by my passenger David P.)

We have also noticed, in the receding snow, that rodents did a tremendous amount of damage to the orchard trees over the winter.  We collected dormant twigs, "scion wood," from each damaged tree, in hopes of bridge grafting later in the spring.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 3

Not a lot of things are on fire or frozen this week (yay!), so we have some pictures from the archives.

not a great place or time of year to be handicapped...
thankfully, this is mostly melted away now.

Snowy day in the hills (January 2019)
I love these black-and-white "branchscapes."
Could make a killer jigsaw puzzle.


frosty day in the clouds (early winter 2018)

"Lampwork" artist in Coos Bay, OR last winter.

Hour 20 of a 28-hour shift,
day 15 of our strike team "week."
Our task force leader stomping out a sagebrush fire.

View from flat-tire adventure,
scouting firewood sources.  Fall 2018

View of current smoke over old burn,
on way to Kettle Falls for Boyd's Fire (Aug 2018).

Asparagus sprouting from recent burn,
Boyd's Fire (2018)

Burned-over valley (2018)

Tree and burned stump holes,
Cougar Creek Fire (2018)

Lingering hot spots on inaccessible ridges,
Cougar Creek fire (2018)

Moose seen on way to Boyd's Fire, 2018

Working fire ahead.  2018

Patchy (uneven) burned forest, Boyd's Fire (2018)

Finally, a challenge: Can you guess what this is? 

(Yes, we encountered it on a fire assignment.
It's a close-up of something.
Good luck.)

Email me if you have a guess:

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 2

The badges came.  These are the same graphic as we used for the truck decals, now in a nifty 2" woven/embroidered format.

The snow is going.  Here are a few more of the pictures from last week's marvelously misty weather.

Now the snow is receding - all the south slopes are tawny bare again, with tiny green fuzz starting to show.

Academy continues to go well.  All 16 of our classmates passed their practical exams Sunday, for the basic fire fighter skills.  We won't know for sure on the written exams until they process the Scantrons in a week or two, but it's looking like Mt. Hull has 3 new structure-qualified fire fighters.  We have 4 more weeks to complete the HazMat Awareness and HazMat Operations parts of the course, then graduation is scheduled for the evening of April 14.

Okanogan County recruit academy folks
bunk at Malaga Station Friday and Saturday nights. 
Gary keeps bringing steak, so the rest of us try for worthy side dishes.
This week's pot-luck was truly magnificent.

Assistant instructor and heat haze
seen through window of burn building.

Instructor Don Welch in front of
the Malaga hills
Car fire prop

Car fire prop - fun, if not super realistic.

The snow remains on some of the north slopes and shaded creek beds, but also on some of the tops of the slopes - an interesting "snow cap" that outlines the whole shape of each hill along the Columbia/Okanogan confluence.

Not sure what allows this snowcap to remain on the top of the south-facing slopes - air currents? radiant frost? just the slight change in angle that means the flattish ridgetops are not facing the sun as directly as the steep slopes?  As you can see, the snow comes down along the ridgetop well below the elevation of bare slopes above, so it's not just an elevation/snow-line thing.
Photos taken by David while I'm driving us home.

We still have plenty of slush and snow on the roads up here above 3000 feet, but it's starting to melt and drain during warm days.

Friday, March 8, 2019

40 Days of Fire and Ice - Week 1

Well, it's officially Lent. 

This year as I once again resolve to set aside a few time-waster bad habits, I'd like to make a practice of sharing art each week instead. 

For the next 40 days, I undertake to offer 40 pieces of art: photos, drawings, paintings, fire service insignia, writing, and all manner of love notes to reflect on our snowy and fire-prone Okanogan Highlands, and the fire service teams we will serve with this summer and in future.

For those who haven't heard, the Wisner homestead was sold last fall, and we are preparing to move from our home of 7 years. 

Distance to medical facilities, and the local VA clinic closing, were big factors in the decision.  Both Ernie and the senior Wisners have medical conditions that are slowly worsening, and require regular and sometimes specialized care.
  The economics of being here doesn't pencil out very well either - a lot of our work is elsewhere, and the long distances and sometimes extreme weather conditions mean higher costs when we travel for work, medical, or family visits.  When you add in the hauling requirements to get a 30-foot fishing boat over the Cascades every time our salty sailors want to chase the salmon, cod, or tuna ... Captain Ron decided it's time to be closer to the ocean again.  So Ernie's dad and stepmom have sold the land, found themselves a house in Coquille OR, and Ernie and I are looking for options in that general area.

It is difficult to leave this place, after getting attached to it all.  My sit-spot by our pond, my fire hall crewmates, the gorgeous landscapes.
And there are the dark corners to clean out: unfinished projects and accumulated clutter to sort through. Thinking we would be here a long time, we have allowed ourselves to accumulate half-finished barns full of drifts of tools, materials, and hand-me-down posessions that we will need to deal with.

It is also difficult to see where exactly our next move will take us, from here.  I want to continue in fire service work; I want Ernie in a safe place where he can continue to be as involved as his health permits; ideally, in a nearly-ADA home within redneck-wheelchair (ATV) range of essential services and family/trusted companionship.  With room for a 60-lb dog who can jump a 6-foot fence if he feels he's on the wrong side of it. 
Selling the property provided just enough to get Ron and Jeanine situated in Coquille, but did not leave any extra for Ernie and me to make our own down payment on a new place.  So we're starting over again, hoping the money for the move (and a new residence in a higher-value area) will show up as it's needed, mostly from what work we can do or surplus things we can sell along the way.

Once we get our feet on the ground, I do have summer wildfire work lined up, and ongoing plans to keep working toward higher qualifications and pay rates as a fire fighter.  My wildland contract crew of the past 2 summers has trucks in Oregon, and are delighted to have me available down there for this season.  The boss has signed me up for higher-level classes this spring, that could lead to a pay raise and/or instructor qualifications within the next couple of seasons.
So the daunting thing about the transition is not the lack of a future path; more the speed it needs to happen, the amount of clutter (including Ernie's mom's stuff) that needs to be sorted and cleared; and the risks of overspending and overcommitting on a rental or mortgage in order to find a place that feels right for us.

I'm seeking inspiration and moral support for the move by celebrating the things we love about our work, and the place(s) we live and will live. Please enjoy these photos, artwork, and other creative reflections on this phase in our lives. 

And if you feel moved to help, or called to share an option with us, thank you.  We appreciate your solidarity.

What is Lent:
In the Catholic / Western churches, this is a time for fasting, reflection, giving up unhealthy or unneeded luxuries, and instead sharing surplus in solidarity with the poor.  Religious themes include Jesus' fasting for 40 days in the desert, and the wild ride of hopes, fears, betrayal, and bewildered expectations that leads up to the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  (Celebrated at Easter.)

These last months of winter, many other traditions also reflect on themes of hunger, solidarity, survival, and the longing for spring's renewal, cleansing, rebirth.  I remember seeing a Native American calendar at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, that described February/March as "The Hungry Month." 
You might think that the darkest part of winter in December or January would be the hungry times - yet we often coast through the winter solstice with merriment, harvest and holiday feasting.  New Year's comes with hopes and grand plans for how well our snowblower will work, how we'll exercise more while still getting everything else done, and how quickly we'll get our tax paperwork done in January.

February is when we start asking each other, "This might be the last snow, do you think?" 
March is when we start to think about selling the blamed machinery before something else breaks... until another 6 inches of snow makes us double down and keep it working.

When I sat down to pray recently, feeling particularly sad at leaving my crew, and so many high hopes, plans, and unfinished projects, this reading came up:
John 13:1-14, the one that starts:
"It was just before the Passover festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."
The story continues, describing how the Lord took a towel and washed his disciples' feet - while making it clear to them the role reversal from master to servant was a deliberate example for them to follow. Love and serve one another, as I have loved you.

Took some time yesterday
to apply the decal
onto another fire truck. 
Technically counts as art
because I helped design the logo. 
Definitely counts as supporting and serving
alongside my fire chief and crew.
That's a pretty basic message, coming from a pretty extreme situation.  Comforting, direct.

So as we pack, I will be reminding myself that moving is not the hardest sacrifice, not by a long shot.  But it is a transition; and an opportunity to find ways to finish our time here in a way that honors all we've loved about being here, and supports those we care about as we go.

Flag and shirt design
for this winter's Wenatchee fire academy

"Ladders on Ice"
was an alternative proposal for our motto.