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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Sep 18

Elusive Ideas

Posted on September 18, 2015 at 8:26 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Lake County cabin
 Lake County cabin (photo courtesy of Kevin Bennett)
Since Saturday evening, my mind has been on our cabin located in the mountains of Lake County. Cal Fire maps show the Valley Fire raged through that mountain area where the cabin sits. Was anything touched by flames? Is anything salvageable if fire got to it? Could we have done any more to protect it from burning embers?

The last time I was there, the mountain was densely covered in oaks, madrone, manzanita, fir, pine, redbud, and dogwood. For years on end, the spring would find the whole family and friends trekking up the mountain to rake the leaves and clear as much unwanted vegetation and fallen debris as we could from the area surrounding the cabin. My son-in-law Jeff spoke to me just this past Friday of a potential hazard tree that should be removed before winter. Eyes were always looking out for the safety of this cherished home away from home.

My stepfather Virgil built the cabin during WW ll, putting it together with whatever material he could find. Though he passed away in the '90s, his passion for this place continued to come through. The cabin roof protected the interior with sheets of metal; the green roofing tile covered the exterior walls. Everyone over 5' 10" cursed the substandard height of the door whose jam would crack them on the forehead as they entered the cabin for the first time. I am certain that the shortened door is all that was available to him at the time of construction. We would laugh that "grandpa" was the original MacGyver.

Sleeping on the deck
Sleeping on the deck
He built the cabin with a great room that also housed the kitchen and a massive dining table that greeted everyone as they wandered inside. The open trusses were hand hewn by him from trees found on our property. Two doors led into bedrooms that rarely found anyone sleeping therein. It was the huge deck outside in back of the great room that became the central area for sleeping under the stars. The ritual of dragging out rolling beds and claiming those special spots where the early morning sunrise wouldn't hit us was part of the fun. In my teens, it wouldn't be unusual to find over 20 family members and friends of all ages lying in our respective beds chatting and laughing until the wee hours. Nor was it unusual to gather around the accordions and guitars as my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins belted out old Italian songs they learned as children. Oft times the melodies would prompt dancing, and before we knew it we were off to Hobergs, on the other side of the mountain, to the outdoor dance pavilion.

Grandchildren at dining area
 Grandchildren at the dining area
My children, niece, nephew, and grandchildren all grew up knowing and loving this place. It was a place where they were told to leave electronics behind and explore nature. It is where pileated woodpeckers could be heard or, most recently, peregrine falcons. Rattlesnakes taught the kids to respect their surroundings as well as nature. And the children learned the value of fellowship and sportsmanship. It was a place to dream and create.

As I think about those good times, the practical part of me swings back to the design of the cabin. That huge deck was cantilevered over the hillside where manzanita grew wild. I know cantilevered structures are a draw for fire. I also know that, though we regularly cleared vegetation, manzanita burns hot—even young plants.

Can we rebuild the entire cabin so it is not cantilevered? Can the hillsides be planted with something that would resist fire? So many questions. And yet the key question remains: Will we find the cabin untouched when we are allowed back up there?

Fire. You have read my blogs before about fire safety and the importance of maintaining defensible space around your home. You are never fully prepared to face disaster, but there are actions you can take to be more ready. Are you saving important financial documents and family photos on a cloud? Are your cat and dog carriers and their food at hand if you needed to leave at a moment's notice? Do you have valuables that you can grab quickly? Prioritize your belongings now. Your safety and the safety of others comes first and foremost. Our fire season still has a long way to go.


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