July 2, 2016
We’ve been back a little more than a week.
Geezer, always the planner, timed our arrival home Friday just in time to get a haircut and shower before joining our Science Club friends at Yosemite Gateway Restaurant, our usual Friday night haunt. Twelve of our cronies were there to greet us and fill us in on local happenings.
Approximately the same group, mostly local business, professional, technical and retired folks, meet after work each Tuesday and Friday for wide ranging discussions. They are as close to being our local family as anyone else. We take care of each other in times of needs.
Geezer was startled at his own euphoria in seeing them all there. It is often said that we don’t miss friends until they are gone. In this case the reminder came on strongest when we returned.
We were right back in the middle of things. Saturday was RibFest Day, the annual competition among local service clubs for bragging rights to the best ribs. Geezer’s club, the Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club has competed for the last seventeen years against the Rotary Sunrise Club, Sierra Oakhurst Kiwanis, Oakhurst Lions and the Elks. The event is a fundraiser for the Oakhurst Community Center.
The BBQs and the lead cooks gather early in the afternoon, fire up and begin an afternoon of flipping and mopping of ribs with secret sauces accompanied by shaded chairs and popups, cold beer and good natured challenges.
Chef Bob of the Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club discusses tactics with member Tom. Note the Sunrise Rotarian in the background trying to hear our secret system.
The Community Center filled by six o’clock, sold out days in advance. At seven the ribs are served along with beans, salad and garlic bread… all-you-can-eat for twenty-five dollars. The ribs themselves are delivered to the tables in numbered buckets for anonymity. Everybody has a ballot, samples from each bucket and chooses a favorite. Then an auction begins for donated goods: a carved bear, bbqs, trees, trips and stays, restaurant dinners and a plethora of smaller items like oil changes, hardware sets, baskets of wine and other gift baskets.
Ribs, beans, beer and wine combine to create a convivial atmosphere encouraging auction bidding.
Tellers collect and tally the ballots. The winner is announced. It is our club, the Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club once again! (Our club usually wins. One of the few times in the past decade we didn’t win was the only year Geezer was in charge… that year we came in last. Geezer has been permanently demoted to mopping and carving.)
THE OAKHURST COMMUNITY CENTER
The Community Center itself warrants some comments.
[Before beginning, it is important to note that Oakhurst was and still remains an unincorporated area of Madera County. It has never had any sort of government except the county supervisors some fifty miles away. There is no practical mechanism for raising money for local projects.]
Back in 1960, when Oakhurst was a thriving ranching and lumber milling center, the leading families decided the village needed a common meeting place, a Community Center. Mary Owens Hall donated two acres near the then-center of Oakhurst, the corner of Roads 426 and 425.
We won’t embarrass the gentle reader by challenging your knowledge of who Mary Owens was. Mary Owens was a self-proclaimed movie star. She had the major role of Maizie Kelly in Paramount Films’ 1934 production of You Belong to Me. In her later years she and her husband moved to an Oakhurst ranch about two miles up what is now Road 425B. She was one of several even more recognizable Hollywood names that had property and other holdings in the area… but that’s a story for another time.
(At that time Highway 41 into Oakhurst didn’t exist and Road 425 A, B and C were all one road through the Oakhurst valley to Yosemite.) Mary was one of Lady Anna’s favorite local characters.
But I digress, as Geezer often does in order to educate the gentle readers, occasionally with accuracy.
The Kiwanis and Lions clubs were the only formal service clubs in the area at the time. They and a newly formed Mountain Community Women organization took on the project. Lumber was donated by the mill. With a combination of donations and volunteerism the Community Center opened in 1964 with no public (tax) money spent. Over the years additional property was acquired and developed. Today it has two buildings; a large main hall and a smaller pavilion, as well as a Little League ballfield and lots of parking.
So who owns the Community Center if it isn’t public property?
Title is held jointly by the five service clubs we met above in the RibFest report. Each club annually appoints a director to the Community Center Board. Other community organizations are also represented on that board. That board oversees an employed property manager who maintains the property and manages the rentals of the two halls.
The money raised at the RibFest is a very important element in keeping the Center alive.
MILLER TIME, THE MOUNTAIN WAY
Sunday we went to church and experienced another joyful reunion with those close to us. It was a day when several of us travellers once again converged for worship and brunch and swapping travel stories.
Sunday evening the two of us wound our way around Bass Lake to Miller’s Landing for a burger and beer, one of the three lakefront restaurants and marinas. Miller’s Landing has seemingly been there forever. That means long before even Geezer was born.
According to local historians J.D. McDougal opened a store and marina on the spot near the new Bass Lake Dam in 1901. (Excuse the lens flare on the roof, that is not a fire!)
Over the years it has grown and changed hands regularly.
In 1981 it went through a major remodel and re-name at the hands of the Millers. It was recently remodeled again and has become a prime summer gathering spot on the lake (closed during the winter.)
We like to go there, particularly Sunday evenings, to sit on the deck and enjoy a burger and beer. Seeing the weekenders sadly packing and having to leave this beautiful lake gives us additional appreciation for the blessings of our lives.
COLD FIRE, THE CANCER IN OUR TREES
Sitting on the deck at Miller’s Landing, looking out across Bass Lake at the East Shore mountainside we were painfully reminded of the crisis facing our corner of this planet.
Those colorful trees across the water are not Fall foliage, they are dead, as are those above them on the mountains.
In our recent sojourn about the country we observed many changes in the environment but none leaving us feeling so sad and helpless as the present cancer spreading through the trees of our mountain community.
For the benefit of those gentle readers in other parts of the country and world, several years of drought served to so weaken the immune systems of the softwoods of the Sierras that an invasive beetle and fungus combination has thrived under the bark and is slowly killing those trees. Despite a good soaking this past rainy season, the beetles and fungus are too well established for the trees to survive.
The effect: A few brown needles appear, usually high up in the tree. At first we hope it is something minor. Then more brown, then more. Not day by day but week by week we see the tree slowly dying. Our hope fades, the tree will have to come down. Any nearby softwoods… pines, redwoods, firs… are probably already infected, even if they look healthy.
Multiply that by fifty million, the number of already dead or dying trees in our Sierras. The disease marches on in visible waves relentlessly, like a cold fire moving at a glacial pace that can’t be extinguished. Over five billion trees are in this path. There is no cure for this cancer; in five years most of the trees in the Sierras will be gone.
From a practical standpoint these dead trees represent a huge danger. Dead each is a torch ready to explode at the slightest spark. Dead with rotting roots, each presents a danger of toppling. Any near civilization or along utility lines must be removed quickly.
The trees are gone. Branches awaiting the chipper crews. Across the bight, the way it used to look.
Hundreds of loggers have been brought in by the state and feds and utility companies. They are cutting and chipping as fast as they can, trying to remove the fire danger as our summer heats up and thunderstorms spark the mountains. Temperatures have been in the nineties and low hundreds for several days, creating tinder for the tiniest spark. We are all holding our breaths as the tourist season ramps up, filling the forest with inexperienced families wanting to play.
The result: Trees lying down everywhere. They are safer on the ground than standing. The mantra is get them down first to reduce the danger, get the branches chipped, then haul the logs. It all takes time… and a place to put them. All the mills are full.
The haulers are giving the logs to anyone who wants them. These were delivered to a neighbor.
Adding to the irony, the logs are very useable and desirable for furniture as the fungus creates an unusual and beautiful blue vein in the planks similar to a Stilton cheese.
There will be be millions left to rot on the forest floor. The government agencies, the utilities and the communities are simply overwhelmed and unable to do elsewise. After two years on the ground they are unsuitable for lumber.
Then there is the issue of the stumps and chips..
Millions, probably billions of ugly stumps and tons of wood chips violating our formerly thriving forestscape. The chips are smothering all sorts of micro-flora, affecting every level of the environment. Deer, bear, mountain lions, rabbits, squirrels and all sorts of forest floor flora and fauna will disappear and change over the next decade.
If there is anything good to come of this it is that, if we must lose our trees to climate change a Cold Fire is far preferable to a real fire that takes with it our homes and infrastructure. Unlike the Harlow Fire that swept everything in its path back in the sixties, we have a chance to adjust as this one progresses.
Nonetheless we are all overwhelmed to the point of resignedly watching this cold fire sweep away our beautiful environment and wondering how it will all evolve.