The Fire Last Time.....
We work at Big Creek....Sam Farr's sort of property that lies five miles south of Esalen and about the same north of Lucia. We have been working there for 30 years for Sam......and for 11 years for Stanford.
Big Creek is now owned by the University of California Reserve System.....like Hastings in deep Carmel Valley. Hastings is a Berkeley thing, Big Creek is a Santa Cruz thing. And I am there with Stanford kids.
The main achoring theme the entire twenty plus years at Big Creek is our relationship with the locals: Bob and Joey Milton, Guy the Caretaker at Point 16, and Feyner.
Feyner is from Costa Rica....but has been the resident worker at Big Creek since the 80's. Feyner is a force of nature. If I, or someone more skilled with words were around with time and initiative, Feyner would be more famous than Neal Cassidy, or Ken Kesey.
Picture a quiet, shy, humble guy......maybe five foot eight. Skilled in all manner of motors.....cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, chainsaws, drills, pumps, wells......Skilled in all manner of ropes and lines. Skilled in all manner of critters......raising them, nurturing them, hunting them, observing, photographing and counting them.....all that. Skilled with tools: the best knife sharpener in the Western Hemisphere......great with shovels, axes, maddoxes, Pulaskis, Idiot Sticks, highway bars.....Skilled with rocks and dirt...the go-to guy for re-routing the ancestral trail over the mountain to the Coast that was disturbed by building Hwy 1, eighty years ago.
Seriously skilled in panic situtations....
Feyner describes a confrontation in the rain forest with a black jaguar......he did not want to kill the cat....or be killed.....and worked out an agreement where they both saved face and walked away.
Feyner describes a bus ride in El Salvador......interrupted by guerrillas who shot every passenger who looked like they supported the leftists. Feyner supported the leftists.....they did not shoot him, but did shoot most of the other fifty passengers on the bus.
Feyner loves mountain cats.......and when there was pressure to cut down their numbers because they were killing cattle on neighboring ranches....figured out a system of tracking the predators. He knows his critters by their tracks.....and rather than trapping them, taped Velcro to trees in their areas, captured the fur they left on the Velcro, and had it analyzed and DNA examined to determine the indivdual ranges of the particular cats and save them from mindless depradation.
Feyner talked about the loss of the 240,000 acres of forest in the recent fires.....and related it to his youth in Central America. He had a job for United Fruit, clearing rain forest for bananas. His crew of ten was paid a dollar a day each....per acre. Their quota was two acres a day.
With Mark, the steward of Big Creek (Big Creek stewards need a Phd, skills in diving, hunting, trail clearing, fire fighting, ecology, botany, etc.....kind of like Feyner) we were talking about land clearing and working with chain saws and hoses in fires.
With Feyner's crew in the rain forest, they worked in flip-flops, no shirt and shorts. They hung the chainsaw from the back of their necks on a rope. To get up a big mahogany tree they would take a bow and arrow and shoot a thin line up to the top of the tree with a lead weight on the end of the arrow. They would retrieve the arrow, attach a rope and then a steel line, and hook the whole thing up to a tractor.
The dollar/acre/guy in flip flops, short pants and no shirt would then stand on a loop in the wire and give the signal.........and whoosh! up he went.
The bummer was the fire ants. They had a couple of minutes before the fire ants found them.......more than 100 feet up the tree.....and started biting. Feyner would hang in for 45 minutes or so.....
We could relate.....sort of. Regular readers will remember the whole "Cocksucker/Motherfucker Monks" story from Tassajara......
Brendan and I lasted 30-40 seconds at Tassajara......Feyner would do 45 minutes.
When dumbass white-boys started dying fighting the ridiculous amount of fires we now fight every year....the Forest Service started putting in standards. You have to have a Forest Service license to cut trees of various diameters. Feyner bailed out at 21 inches......
The same guy that was jacked up into a mahogany trees in flip-flops that were 6 feet across 100 feet off the ground.
Last week he had to drop a 6ft acrosss redwood. It was cracked and hot from the fire.....but it had grown crookedly......and from the base it was impossible to tell where the moment of inertia was. Would it fall north.....or south?
Feyner dropped it north.......perfectly. Actually NNE, just between those two juvenile redwoods.....
Feyner is the kind of consummate perfectionist working guy that when he visits my jobsite at the bottom of the Creek that he brings his knife-sharpening tools with him all during the first weeks in September.....because he knows I will eventually show up. Feyner then sharpens all my knives to surgical sharpness......just because he likes me and wants my stuff to be kind of like his. Even though we work with sharp steel and fire all the time, I have to tape up the knives that Feyner has sharpened to keep my workers from accidentally cutting off important body parts.....
Big Creek wound up being the last ditch stand at the southernmost stretch of the last fire. Feyner and Mark stayed inside the mandatory evac order and directed the local fire efforts.
Feyner survived a country where the entire weight of the US government pushed down on local gangs who got to shoot whoever felt good at the given moment.....so he was reasonably comfortable with working with federal contract companies.
The fire-fighting guys pissed off even Feyner. They were being paid by specific parameters in their contracts: x number of feet of hose, x number of tons of supplies, x number of air miles, or ground miles....whatever.
In Feyner's case it was x number of miles of fire-break....and x number of meters of waterline.
The no-bid contract crews......a direct result of George Fuckhead Bush's adminstration.....and our future John McSame Missing in Action Market Driven Crew.......would just drop ex amount of line in the general direction of the fire.....and bail out and walk away.
Feyner at one point wound up trapped in a hotspot with his boss in the UC system. They realized that the KBR, no-bid contract crew had dropped the fire hoses in front of the defense point. The electrical pumps were a sad joke. The back-up pump system that Feyner had put into place six years back were OK, but needed gas-powered pumps.
As the fire bore down, the boys tried to fire up the federal pumps. No love. They fell back on Feyner's pumps.... the motor would not start. Somebody noticed that the gas tank was empty.....the heat had melted a hole in the tank.
Feyner dragged up a five-gallon can of gas.....dropped it by the pump. Ripped the fuel line off the federal pump, dropped it into the can.....and fired up the pump. In twenty seconds he had power and pressure. He grabbed the end of the power water hose and ran into the flames.
The heat was so dense that he had to flop down on the ground and hold the hose over his head. His hands were frying but he stayed tough, ignored the pain and kept the water flowing.
The fire stopped.
His boss in the UC Reserve system was his back-up guy. This was the guy who told the story today.
The fire backed off......and they noticed that the fire lines....the water lines run by the KBR no-bid contact crew had been run up the canyon on the level.....fire side of the fire.
It is hard for me to communicate the stupidity, the criminality, and the criminal stupidity of this action.
The contract fire fighters had dragged and dropped hose on the easy, convenient, level fire side of the battle. And left. Went down the mountain.
The folks left....who were there only because they love the mountain, and because they have this weird working class idea that you are always supposed to do a good job no matter what......hung in and threw their lives on the line.
The contract guys dropped the hose on the fire side of the break. When Feyner worked to fire up the pump.....if he had been ten seconds late.....the fire would have eaten the hoses......and everyone would have died.
At lunch today, with the UC royalty.......we had a great lunch. Wild salmon cooked over mesquite, asparagus beans from Joanie in Cachagua, heirlooms from Serendipity and potatoes, too. Panzanella with Helller Estate organic melons and Serendipity tomatoes.....All the brass were there.
As they finished talking.....my crew held back. The first guy to notice that plates needed clearing was Feyner. The guy was up and bussing........and re-checked the edges of my knives before he hiked back up the trail up the mountain that he had built himself.
Feyner and I never talk politics.....but he took me aside at one point.
"Michael, this is bad."
"Why do you people listen to lies?"
I got a big two hours off yesterday.....for the first time since the fires.......
I am sorry.......I just no longer have the emotional depth to field an answer to an authentic.....physical, mental, working.........Feyner is the essential emodiment of everything that involves the American Dream: courageous, intelligent, intuitive, learned, sensitive, honest, hardworking.....
Trying to explain to Feyner why more than 50% of his fellow citizens are happy to listen to facile lies.....and invalidate and bring to ruin everything that Feyner has been working for his entire life is hard for me......
Not to mention how hard it is for me......
The guys who are winning now.....are the same guys who drop the hoses on the fire-side of the firebreak.....because it is easier, and they get paid the same for doing it wrong as for doing it right......no matter who dies.
When these pricks form more than 50% of the electorate.......our country dies.
McCain gets elected.......
I want one of those pricks to explain it to Feyner........