Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sitting with fire......


First day in the office......finally checking emails. Oh, and the snail-mail. My delivery person is very kind......I found two Vanity Fairs in my mailbox. Tetrus for adults, getting all that stuff jammed in there.

Sorry, Steve.

Some great stuff I missed in a month.......

The owner of another small store in a somewhat isolated area sent along a really nice contribution to our volunteers.....small v. And a pep talk and nice note on a beautiful card that I could have really used.......three weeks ago when it was sent. This store owner is a staunch supporter of local affairs.....and locals in general. I won't mention names......but I will point out in passing that the Carmel Highlands Store kept me going with great short caffe lattes on the way back from breakfasts on the firelines every morning.....and their gas prices are the best in town. The coffee is so cheap that you have to overtip to bring it up to Kasey's financial standards.

And their dog is probably crazier than our dog. Hard to imagine, but true.

Pete Poitras......the quintessential Carmel cop from back in the era when cops could tell the difference from someone being an idiot and an actual criminal......and who actually captured a ton of bad guys, and was capable of solving even internet crime....is a photographer and has great shots of the firefighting in Cachagua. Pete will also take great pictures of your wedding, flames or not......and will not arrest your drunken brother-in-law......unless you ask him to, of course.

Finally......Mako at Tassajara has great shots of the fire ordeal at Tassajara.

As a complete infidel, I feel really close to Tassajara. My boys and I do trail work there, since we are genetically immune from poison oak, and they occasionally let us in their kitchens.

My crazy ex-wife first led me there in 1988.....the crazy ex, not the nice, sane one. I pursued her from Partington Cove wash rocks in a 1986 Firebird loaded with dive-tanks. I did the road from Jamesburg in 20 minutes of heart-stopping suicidal mania that left not a scrap of paint anywhere below knee-level on the car. I have since travelled there on bicycles, motocross bikes, clapped out trucks with parts falling off (really embarrassing at Work Circle when someone asks: "Did anyone lose the tailgate to a Nissan at the Bathtub Spring?") in deadly heat...... and lots of times in deep snow.

I drag my Stanford kids there every year for work period.....and we try to keep up with the poison oak clearing even while my own property has become Poison Oak Central. Often I feel like a Quasimodo of Tassajara: "The Oak! The Oak!"

But also: "Sanctuary!"

And.....I adopted their damn dog, deemed to aggressive for Zen-time. I should get some props.....

Here are the five monks who stayed to fight the fire.....and very possibly die in the process.

Mako, the photographer is second from left. David, who I think is the Director.....is in the middle. David, in my experience is very quiet and aloof......let's be direct: he is a geek. A very sweet geek, but not my first pick as the guy willing to die horribly for his community and beliefs. Hats off to David......and it pays to pay more attention to those around us.

What horrible death?


This one. A beautiful, fit, swift buck caught in a corner on the flats on the way to the Tony Trail. I have been trying to kill the poison oak under that tree in the background for twenty years. I would rather have the buck back....I will punt off the poison oak under the tree. This is a well cleared public area, sort of. It is like seeing an incinerated buck on the lawn by the mountain at Trail and Saddle, or in the Rosenthal's driveway......a stark reminder of the fire's power.

This is the remains of the Bird House.

The Bird House was on the cliff, directly over the entrance to Tassajara above the sweet little cabin across from the Zendo. A super annoying climb up the cliff in the heat or the cold.

The Bird House was another of my failed poison oak projects. For years it was inhabited by a beautiful monk whose name I forget.....and who I had more than half a crush on. She was terrified and intimidated by poison oak....which grew lustily right off her deck. Not conducive to Zen-like peace and contemplation.

Killing the poison oak was not possible. The hillside/cliffside was all shaly, slidy rock jumble.....the poison oak was basically holding the hillside together, and with it the Bird House. So......twice a year I would climb up there, hang off the side of the deck, and chop and pull as much as I could to at least get the stuff out of the vision of Rachel or Sarah or whatever the beautiful monk's name was.

This involved not only me risking actual death. I am a clumsy, impatient Irishman....quick to anger and with little attention to detail.....especially when it comes to poison oak. I hate the fucking stuff, and can work myself into a frenzy....even on cliff faces.

This work also involved getting a co-worker to clear a safety zone below.....not easy at Work Circle when you are known as either Poison Oak Boy or the Cocksucker-Motherfucker Tree Guy. The co-worker had to be agile, wear a hardhat and pay close attention to the falling rock, while warning passing monks trying to contemplate things more ethereal than skull fracture from above.

This procedure happened twice a year....only for a morning or afternoon....but I am still often stopped by people I do not recognize who tell me that they once helped me with the Bird House Poison Oak Project.

Still.....this was one beautiful monk. And serene, to boot.

Even though I am a complete infidel.....way too ADD for zazen sitting, even with alcohol and drugs involved (I fidget....and then I know that I have disturbed the monk next to me, and know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know that it is OK, but I know that he knows that I know that he knows that it really isn't OK, but it kind of is.........). Fuck it.

At Tassajara, we kill poison oak, and drink champagne and play bocce while everyone else is sitting zazen. We are still chagrined at the time that the monks had to interrupt zazen for the first time in history to tell us to shut the fuck up.

Still....there are lessons all around, even for us ADD folk.

How about this one? From the compost shed......another source of pride and pain I share with the monks......

The Fire burned up the compost itself.....and kind of spared the shed. The broom....not so much. The pitchfork was cool to the Fire.

The Fire would like my office. So would the pitchfork.

A pitchfork would come in handy in my office.

Here is another lesson:

The Fire burned right down to the entrance fence. Those lunatic monks were right there.....but what is up with the dry old redwood welcoming fence and gate being spared when the entire mountain above burns?

Finally, back to the Bird House.....and Lessons.


One of my other jobs at Tassajara is secretly eliminating yellow jackets. The monks will put up with almost any annoyance, danger and discomfort from the animal and plant kingdom.....including crazy yellowjackets with a nest right in the middle of Work Circle.....biting monks trying to talk about Nissan tailgates in the Lost and Found.....

Screw that. I call in airstrikes. No poison too strong for yellowjackets.

One fine spring day, I was climbing back down from the Bird House deck......wondering thoughts of the beautiful monk filling my infidel head........ and I noticed a big shoot of poison oak sprouting tauntingly out almost from the precarious foundations of the Bird House.

Fucker. Do not be bumming out my beautiful monk!

There was a slight trail on the cliff face, where the monks had been trying to shore up the foundations of the Bird House itself. As I crept along the trail to the offending poison oak sprig I noticed gloves, beanies, rakes, machetes, Pulaski tools......all scattered around the trail under the foundation.

Weird. If nothing else, the monks are scrupulous about detail, tools, and work. Part of the deal is "Practice" in the medical sense......We are supposed to be focussing on our work, and all aspects of it, and every detail, and all the meanings and implications. The Tassajara garden toolshed is an exercise in organization......my ship's captain grandpa would be proud.

Here was shit scattered everywhere......What the hell? These were some lazy monks......even I would have cleaned up my jobsite better than this.

So.....like the teenager in the slasher flick who goes back into the dark kitchen wondering where her friends have gone......or the guy who goes back into the spaceship after the damn cat in Aliens I........I ambled down the path towards the poison oak sprout....tittering and tuttering about my fellow man's failings.

I grabbed the poison oak sprout by the balls and gave a heroic yank to jerk it out of the hillside and away from the vision of my serene beloved......and ripped the guts out of the walls of the yellowjacket nest that its roots were supporting.

As I ran screaming in pain down the path.....scattering my gloves, beanie, tools, etc to join the others before me.....and eventually bounced down the hillside screaming: "Cocksucker! Motherfucker!".......the thought blossomed:

"Pay attention!"

I am trying........

4 Comments:

Blogger kathy said...

Dearest Poison Oak Boy - the way to get rid of poison oak is to girdle it. You pull it out it comes back. You girdle it and it stays gone.

8:15 AM  
Blogger semi-savant said...

i like the memory of the kid in big sur that stepped on a yellow jacket nest and was immediately surrounded and invaded by the little buggers. the nearby dad came to the rescue picked his child up and ran toward the lodge pool and literally threw the screaming kid into the water. i imagined the amazement of the poolside loungers at this spectacle -- too funny. I was glad that this medical call did not involve an empty swimming pool.......

10:29 AM  
Blogger mb in Port Angeles said...

Very nice post. Thanks.

1:14 PM  
Blogger MistyFog said...

I'll have to admit I enjoyed the post too...not that there's anything funny about poison oak or yellowjackets...but the second of the two names that the people at Tassajara gave you...and the visual I get of you running down the hill screaming those words...I was driving back home from the store today and the light changed red...and I uttered that phrase...then I started laughing....I suppose that anybody who could see or hear me thought I was nuts. I really do enjoy your writing though.

6:37 PM  

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