Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Fire Last Time.....

Just back from three days in Big Sur, cooking and camping with the Stanford kids.

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 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, 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 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 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 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 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........


Blogger kathy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:18 AM  
Blogger kathy said...

Was it only the firefighter guys who fucked up? The firefigher gals would never.....

Take some time off you silly boy.

Shame on McCain for "lipstick on a pig."

Shame on McCain for "teaching 5 years old sex before reading."

Shame on McCain. And why isn't that shame being piled upon him by the ton? You're right - what's WRONG with us?

8:19 AM  
Blogger azazl said...

Why do you listen to lies....
I have been trying to figure that out my whole life and I sometimes feel like the only person who notices. Best I can figure its pure stunted intellectual laziness...nobody wants to think. Everyone wants simple black and white answers with no ambiguity. Its easy to buy into a war that is sold in Marvel comic style fashion as good vs evil, democracy vs dictatorship, freedom vs oppression...oversimplification to the point of numb stupidity seems to rule this political system. Its all about the lowest common denominator...which in this case strikes me as lazy arrogant ignorance. Its hard to be a thinker when you are surrounded by happy liers.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Aralez said...

Wow that Feynner sure has you wrapped! He loves to BS people. I don't think that there is anything he likes better, actually. That story about the big cat DNA is a crock, he got the idea from a fairly recent study done by WCS at Big Creek. The WCS study, run by Keyt Fisher, did attempt to obtain hair samples at various locations around the reserve. The researchers failed to get any mountain lion hair, but they did get some samples from bobcat and fox...and Feynner got to shag one of the researchers behind the back of his girlfriend. Which everyone who was in the know kept hush-hush, for fear of rattling anyone's hero-worshipping feathers. Feynner knows how to manipulate people more thoroughly than anyone I have ever met..."humble"?? So during the time you were there exactly how much did you learn of his great deeds and skills? Think about that. Sure he is skilled in many aspects of maintenance and bushwhacking, but if you don't see him doing it yourself, just take it as the good entertainment it is, and enjoy. By the way, the WCS study was unsuccessful, and did not get any further funding. It proved nothing, except that it would take a lot more than rubbing pads for hair collection to ascertain the ranges and numbers of the mountain lions at Big Creek. However it did provide good inspiration for another Feynner story.

10:53 PM  
Blogger fyregypsy said...


11:00 PM  
Blogger fyregypsy said...

Well it sounds like you have had three days of entertainment. Feyner – GAF (that means give a fuck) LOL (laugh out loud). I could tell you some stories. I could make them sound amazing. Mostly it’s just your average person doing their job. I have worked for the Forest Circus – Department of Aggravation for 13 years. You have no idea what a wildland firefighter does. Especially a hotshot crewperson. Have some fucking respect. True, out of 2000 firefighters there is bound to be some idiots, some confusion, and miscommunication. You try to cater with 1500-2000 employees and have it come out just perfect. Feyner may have had some infinitesimal part in the protection of big creek during the burnout operations on dolan ridge. Yay for him. Please give some credit to Arrowhead Hotshots, China Hotshots, and the Lassen Hotshots for doing most of it. Eating RATS (that’s military rations, not very tasty, especially for breakfast), sleeping in the dirt in the same clothes they have been wearing for the past who knows how many days, wearing an average of 40-45 pounds on their backs all day no matter what they are doing (try that when you are running a chainsaw or swinging a tool) doing their best to save the precious vegetation and homes that we hold so dear. We give our lives. I am not sure why. I guess we all want to be heroes. Our lives to have some meaning. But people like you just like to disrespect us just so you can have a laugh at the government.
I just want to know what the fuck Feyner is doing for the greater good. He is living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. There is a constant parade of 20something girls coming thru the place that he gets to hit on. Occasionally they fall for his stories and he gets lucky. I guess I just increased his hero worship in the male community. Oops. I am sure all his stories are completely accurate. Not embellished in any way. Please stop the hero worship. He has many talents. Sharpening knives can be very handy. But that’s about it. He is not better than you, me or anyone. GAF.
I enjoy your column. Keep it up. I won’t hold you to the standards you hold everyone else.
Kathy, if you read this comment, thanks for standing up for us women, and yes we do make mistakes. Hopefully not any mistakes that cost lives. Try to live with that every day.
Bush is a fuckhead. Go Obama. Virgos rule. Opinionated assholes aren’t we.

11:01 PM  
Blogger kathy said...

YW (you're welcome) ROFLMBFAO (rolling on the floor laughting my big fat ass off) - I almost thought it was the fruit of my loins posting but she's not a Virgo. Yeah, a few of us are totally absolutely not objective when it comes to firefighters. Especially our/my firefighter(s).

But Mikey is a good boy and I like the passionates of the world even when I don't always agree with them. Oh, let me rephrase. I like some of them - Rush the PFBOAOU (pus-filled boil on the asshole of the universe) will NEVER get my praise.

7:28 AM  
Blogger fyregypsy said...

Glad I could provide some amusement. (I mighta had a few birthday beers while writing that). I am not angry at Mike and I don't take offense to his opinions either (at least not seriously). I think he is fascinating. Besides it's fun to get riled up and talk some smack. I am just as misinformed/opinionated/prejudiced/blind etc… as the rest of the population. Makes life much more interesting.

11:38 AM  

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