Ravens win survival game in real life


It’s been a week now, since the great conflagration gobbled up my canyon and hillsides. Every day I discover more things that survived, or didn’t.

Not a single tree on all four sides of the house is unscathed. Some are singed top to bottom on just one side. Others are charred stick figures. How could it have been so hot that trees 100 feet from blackened ground are complete toast? How come I didn’t feel a thing? I guess it didn’t hurt that I was soaking wet from a sprinkler that went berserk and from throwing buckets of water and wet towels on the deck. There must have been a ton of adrenaline and endorphins rushing through my veins. My legs and arms have bruises and cuts I never felt.

Amazing stuff, those hormones. How I miss them now. Now I’m a zombie. I have no energy and there’s so much stuff to do. It’s like some kind of extended hangover, headache and all. I putter around, fix some little thing, then sit down and eat ice cream. Starbucks Low Fat Latte. Later I water the patio plants then collapse into a chair and sip Newman’s Pink Lemonade over ice.

We have some need to go over the details of that day, trying to sort fact from confusion. I couldn’t figure out how the spa cover was in flames before the main firestorm hit. Looking at photos I shot while the lone fire truck was still at the bottom of the driveway I saw that the spa was set alight by a small back fire that, well, backfired.

I wish I knew the protocol, understood the rationale, for torching dry grass in front of a fast moving brush fire already driven by its own windstorm.

But I don’t.

I wish I understood why Caltrans doesn’t clear dry weeds from the edge of the freeway at the top of the Grapevine where cars routinely overheat, pull over and touch off these blazes. Even our governor should be able to figure out prevention is cheaper than fighting wildfires. I’d write them, but I haven’t the energy.

First, I have to get over being compulsive. I started refilling water storage containers as soon as the water was back on. It took two days to replace the pressure pump and its fried wiring. My leather boots, work gloves and mask are still beside the door. For two nights I slept in my clothes. I restocked the freezer and pantry, replaced burned hoses and sprinklers, and priced a submersible pump for the spa and garden reservoir and new sprinkler heads for the system we never use. I even refilled the rain barrel.

What am I doing? It’ll be two years before there’s anything here to feed a brush fire.

Meanwhile, I’m watching displaced wildlife struggle to survive. The hawks abandoned their nests, unable to rescue their eggs or hatchlings from smoking oak trees. Ravens, those opportunistic gluttons (from whence comes the word ravenous), stayed to feast on roasted rodents. They’re having a field day, diving, sometimes two at a time, fighting over a scorched snake. If it comes to survival of the fittest, I’m betting on the ravens.

A badger bumbles across a draw at high noon looking for a cool burrow. A raven spots it, swoops down, circles low, then appears to have second thoughts about grabbing it. Good thinking Birdie. That badger would have you for lunch.

Most of the animals that brush up in the daytime and come out to feed at night are right out in the open looking for someplace to hide. But there’s no cover. Dozens of field mice made it to the driveway only to be captured by the orange cat, which has his paws full keeping lizards and skinks away from the doorways. Last night he had something trapped between my patio door and its free-hanging screen, but he got his claws stuck in the screen and tore the whole thing down, freeing whatever was in there. I’m getting very cautious about opening doors.

The border collie, still limping from a burned pad, can’t resist bringing me a charred gopher. This is grossing me out.

The raccoons that made nocturnal visits to my grandson’s tree house have gone missing, along with the coyotes and deer, which usually turn up at the outer edges of the burned area and roll in the ashes to get rid of parasites. Ground birds that live in the dense rabbit brush seem to have the toughest time because their nests are burned out and without cover, making them vulnerable to predators. But small songbirds that nest in the clematis vines and cedars are hopping around, singing their little hearts out.

My daughter scattered the remains of my vegetable garden (mostly cabbage leaves and chard) down where the rabbits lived, but I’ve seen only one bunny, either brazen or dazed, who came right up on the patio looking to nibble the potted herbs.

This morning, while I was getting rid of some dead shrubs, I saw the saddest sight of all. A pair of quail, having apparently given up on their burned out canyon, walked slowly west, over the crest of a hill and out of sight. They never looked back.