Summer Rain

Seiad Valley is about 50 road miles from Yreka but only 35 or so as the crow flies. “Downriver” as the locals like to say, meaning  west of here along the course of the Klamath on its way to the ocean. It’s ground zero this week in a roughly 9000-acre forest fire that is showering us with a fine gray ashfall. To the residents of places like Horse Creek and Scott Bar it’s a disaster—the sky choked with thick smoke, swaths of forest exploding in flames, structures threatened, roads closed, homes evacuated. We’ve been lucky so far, the long wet winter and spring firming up the snow pack, engorging the streams, and soaking the ground before the summer onslaught of sunshine and arid heat that gives us our fire season. It’s nearly September and this is the first real incident. We had a fire close to town last week but the smoke dissipated rapidly, this one is ten times larger and will probably smother us for at least a few days.

They say it never rains in California and they are mostly right, the rain being confined almost entirely to the months from November to April. Mountainous regions get summer thundershowers some of the time, and the coastal regions get their regular marine fog, but mostly the state is tinder-dry from May through October. Thus the stage is set for conflagrations in the vast wild woodlands of the rural northstate. It is not as populated here as in SoCal and the Bay so the infernos don’t get the media coverage, but they are just as destructive, mostly to sparsely-inhabited places and so not as news-worthy. Still, the sky turns brown and everything smells like a morning-after campfire, and any outside activity is terribly unhealthy as you suck in lungfuls of the smoke and ash. My kitchen skylight looks like I dumped my dustbin on it, my vehicles are filmed in flour-like yuck, and my heart is sinking further as the sun climbs higher. Out my window I can barely make out the hills behind the cemetery that are no more than a half-mile walk from here. Days like this you stay indoors and get cabin fever.

I’m bitching and whining, I know. It’s part of the price for living so close to the wilderness, this fire-and-smoke thing, but I’m safe and cozy in my air-conditioned house. My eyes water when I step out into my hazy back yard and it makes me irritable, but I’m lucky to be here and not a few miles west where some unfortunate folks are fleeing the flames. The Forest Service is in charge of this incident and they tend to have a cautious approach to these things. They don’t like to put their people at risk, and in the narrow canyons and steep gulches that are thickly overgrown with trees and brush a fire crew can be quickly overwhelmed. Access to some spots is particularly tough, and decades of fire suppression and reduced logging has left much of the forest vulnerable to big burns. We are paying the price for failing to understand forest ecology and equally for a feckless approach to the management of forest resources.

But this isn’t about finger-pointing. We have to “let it burn” because we don’t have much choice. Even nature can’t burn enough of the woods to make up for past inaction on the problem. The work that needs to be done will take generations. In the meantime we will have these pockets of forest that will burn like hell and all we’ll be able to do is corral it a bit, get people out, and knock it back enough to keep the highways open. The resources for really putting it out will be used in other places closer to the urban centers. It’s a triage of a sort—assigning degrees of urgency to each incident. Here in the forgotten part of the state they’ll do their best but mostly we’ll be stuck with dry throats, asthma attacks, and a general malaise. And some small but not insignificant number of hardy souls will lose everything and come back to a blackened wasteland to start all over.


I’m retired but I’m up early every work day. Why? Because there are guys swarming all over my property! Since buying the house next door to our current residence a little over a year ago we have undertaken what we like to call THE PROJECT. This started out as a re-model but it soon morphed into a re-build. The house was old and needed work. A lot of work. For example, all the window frames were rotted. The windows were going to be pulled and replaced anyway, but once the guys got into them it became obvious the frames would have to be re-done. Completely. And several of the larger windows had no headers. So new beams had to be installed. That meant tearing out walls. A ceiling or two then decided to fall in. Out with the plaster-and-lath, in with new wallboard. The good part about that—exposed framing—is it made the electrician’s job easier. Did I mention ALL the wiring was substandard and had to be replaced? The plumber liked it, too. The drain system was mostly shot and had to be torn out and replaced. While he was doing that we figured ‘in-for-a-penny’ and all that and had him put in new copper, replacing all the old steel piping.

Mostly the rafters, studs, and floor joists were solid. But they had to be beefed up in spots. That took some doing. I have to give the crew a lot of credit—they saw what needed to be done and attacked the problems with zeal and skill. (We have a marvelous general contractor.) New doors came along with the new windows. New door frames. Thresholds, too. Floors. Did I mention floors? New flooring is coming, of course, thankfully the sub-flooring was pretty solid. New roof and new gutters are also coming. The stucco siding was ignored for decades and leaks on the building corners and around the openings caused cracking and bulging. That had to get torn out—imagine three guys with machine guns disturbing your neighborhood at 0800. That’s what those chisel-drills sound like. Thank the gods that’s over with. Now the stucco crew is here, building scaffolds and prepping for the scratch coat. About one-third of the exterior is getting a new base layer. All of if will get power-washed and have an adhesive layer applied and then color-coated. The color is part of the final plaster layer and will last, they tell me, fifty years.

Part of THE PROJECT involves our current residence, too. New paint job, for one. Six guys crawling all over the house at the crack of dawn scraping and caulking for three days. Then they painted! It turned out well, at least. Good guys who worked hard. Coming up will be some serious concrete work like a new and much larger patio. Not to mention the concrete work in the driveway and in front of the garage. Garage? Yes, we have one now. That’s about the only part that’s actually done. The house next door had this pathetic chicken-shack hillbilly garage that was ready to fall down in a stiff wind. Now it’s been completely enlarged and rebuilt! Instead of parking the camper in there, though, it’s loaded up with stuff from the cottage. Yep, our existing house included a detached cottage. It’s getting a face lift with new flooring, bathroom upgrade, etc. So all the crap in there is now in the garage, waiting to be moved back once that job is done.

This has been going on since April. Lots of destruction. So much I started to give the guys shit about it. “No more de-struction,” I said, “I want some goddamn con-struction!” Sure enough we are in the construction phase. Trucks come with cranes and forklifts and drop off piles of building materials. Those piles quickly disappear. I walk around looking at the new stuff after it’s installed going “that’s mine, man.” Feels good. All this noise and confusion and decision-making is paying off. Speaking of paying, I’m getting arthritis in my check-writing hand! Fortunately we have a few shekels in the bank and can afford to pursue this nutty dream.

People keep asking me “what are you going to do with this new house?” Do I have to do anything? Live in it, of course. Expand. Spread out. Right now we call it The Annex. It’s a land grab, plain and simple. We wanted more space and now we got it. We think THE PROJECT will mostly be done by the end of October. Then we’ll figure out what’s next. The yard, for example, was completely overgrown. The trees were so big we had to get a pro with a bucket truck to take them out. They were old, neglected, and too close to things like sidewalks, foundations, and power lines. When the crews finally leave we’ll have a barren wasteland for landscaping. That’s good, it will be fun to create a new space. But that’s too far in the future. We still have shower enclosures and kitchen cabinets to deal with.

We were fortunate to find a superb, serious craftsman to handle our job. And his crew follows his lead and does top-notch work. And the sub-contractors hear about it if they don’t toe the line and deliver quality. So that takes a lot of worry off of our shoulders. But it’s been four long months of activity and we’ve two more to go. And now things are really happening fast, the intensity will be ratcheting up here real soon. So that means no slacking off during the week. It’s amazing how many things come up during the day that require our attention!

But it’s all good. This is what we decided 2016 would be all about: The Year of The Annex. I’m getting a brewery out of it—we are converting what was a piece-of-shit laundry room into a proper place for my hobby. And lots of other things, too, like a primo guest house. Y’all will have to come visit! But you will have to make your own damn breakfast, though, because I’ll be sleeping in.

More Comics Noir

Oh boy, oh boy, am I ready for this:


Image Comics says they are releasing the first issue of KILL OR BE KILLED tomorrow! I’m excited. I’m a massive fan of the Ed Brubaker-and-Sean Phillips writer-artist team and have yet to be disappointed by any of their stuff. I love CRIMINAL, FATALE, INCOGNITO, and am in the middle of their terrific THE FADE OUT. I am sure that the new venture will be at least equal to those superb comics. I note that Elizabeth Breitweister is given artist credit on this series as well, she was listed as the colorist for THE FADE OUT  and as you can see her work is gorgeous! One of my favorite things about these pages are their moody, atmospheric colors. Lots of grey, olive, ocher, and sienna in the palate, perfect for dark and dangerous tales.

Any day now Kill or Be Killed #1 will arrive in my mailbox. If you like crime/suspense/noir fiction you can’t do any better than this stuff. It’s as good as it gets in the genre and is certainly sophisticated enough for discriminating literary types, too. So what are you waiting for? Subscribe now!