Fire on the mountain, perfect storm hits my town

To borrow from Burns, I’ll say, the best laid plans of mice and moms often go awry.

Our oldest son was having a hard time finding an affordable place to live in Chico that wasn’t in a high crime area. We were selling the old rental where he lived in the “mother in law” unit because the neighborhood was becoming overrun with transients. Not only our son’s car but most of the neighbors cars had been broken into. The nearby shopping center had become a gathering place for panhandlers, shoplifters, thieves and just plain screaming weirdos.

The authorities are not only useless, they are a big part of the problem.

When he looked out and about in town, there was no where we could afford to buy or that he could afford to rent that wasn’t in a worse neighborhood.  One place that looked really cute on Craigslist turned up on the news a few nights later – the neighbor had an old RV in her side yard that was being broken into frequently by “campers”, who finally managed to light it on fire.

When you look at the local news or websites like Butte County Fires and Crimes Facebook, you are seeing the major decline in our town. Butte County Behavioral Health Department turned our town into Arkham Asylum. They bring the transients and mentally ill in from public agencies in other cities and counties, prisons and hospitals around the state – all the for $550/ day they get in “transfer funding.” They can hold these people without their own consent for 45 days – do the math.  BCBH director Dorian Kittrell told me a couple of years ago that the county gets about $63 million a year in such funding. 

When the 45 days is up they are turned out on the street, given directions to local shelters.

So, we gave up on finding a house in Chico and went looking in the nearby town of Paradise, just 15 minutes up The Skyway, one of the most impressive sections of road in California. We found the cost of housing there significantly cheaper, houses at least $100,000 less than they’d sell for in Chico. We bought a neat two bedroom in a groovy neighborhood and he moved in a year ago July. 

The next year went pretty well. He didn’t mind driving down to his job in Chico. He liked his neighbors, as he got to know them. He worked hard to clear the neglected yard around the house of the scrambling non-native blackberry and other fire hazards. He terraced the back yard, dug a ditch, and lined it with rocks to stop mud from building up on the back wall of the house.  He brought in plants recommended for soil retention and drought hardiness. He had mature cherry and plum trees. There was even a fruiting mulberry. The back yard was unrecognizable from what we’d bought. 

So, around the first of November he came over to borrow our leaf blower to clear the top of his house of tree debris and make sure the rain gutters were all clean. We’d told him a million times, cluttered rain gutters not only cause spot flooding and roof damage, but wads of dry needles in your rain gutters are a common fire hazard. He took the blower home on Monday, promising to bring it back on Thursday so my husband could clear our tenants’ roofs and gutters. 

Thursday, November 8, we woke up at our cabin in the hills to see smoke over Paradise, rolling down toward Chico. As we drove back to Chico the sky began to darken, heavy smoke blotted out the sun. We had no idea what was about to happen, but we were scared. 

We met our son at our house in Chico – the news was already out – Paradise was being evacuated. A fire that started miles away at Pulga Gap was burning out of control, pushed by the witch screaming winds that come out of the Feather River Canyon. 

PG&E reported the fire near their transmission towers in two different locations by 7am (some reports say they knew about the fires as early as 4:30am). But, Cal Fire had already called it a season. They make their decisions according to the calendar, not the conditions. There were no crews readily available, no planes. 

The Paradise Fire Department was left to evacuate anybody they could. As you’ve read, it was complete pandemonium. We heard it from our son’s girlfriend, who was pulled together enough to stop by his house and get his cats. She and her mother got their dogs and nothing else, but stopped at my son’s house to get the cats. I gotta hand it to her after what I’ve heard about both sides of the road on fire, etc. They did say it took them hours to get through to Chico, but they were in the first wave, and it wasn’t so bad. 

We were in denial, we thought the fire would be put out soon, the evacuation would end, and my son would just have to stay a night or two in our apartment. We set him up there, made sure he had food for a few days and some clean socks and underwear. But we didn’t want to stay – the apartment is too small for three grown-ups, and our pets were in immediate conflict. 

And the smoke was already sitting on Chico, the sun was blotted out, ash was floating everywhere, and people were already using masks. We hated to leave our kid behind, told him to keep the windows shut, and headed back to our shack in the hills. 

We have a generator, everything we need to set up for a few days running at the shack. You’re allowed to camp on your property here for 14 days in a 30 day period, and we do quite frequently. We can make it without internet or tv if we have to, although, we usually have those things anyway. I even have a crank radio, I can stand on a stump and get stations from all over Sacramento, Reno, Modesto, and beyond. 

What we weren’t ready for was forced evacuation. The cops and fire wanted to use our roads for staging, they didn’t want civilians getting in the way.  So late Thursday we were advised by sheriff’s officers to pack up. We loaded as much as we could in two vehicles and got ready to leave, but we ended up staying the night, watching the fire burn down the ridge miles from our shack, headed for Chico.

Friday morning November 9 we lost internet and phone completely. Worried that our kids were worried about us, we drove down the road to get to a service spot. We ran into the pandemonium of evacuees, it was insane. There were no law enforcement vehicles in sight, and we saw what we heard about later on the news – people panicking, hysterical, driving down the road on the wrong side, running others off the road, coming around blind turns at 50 mph. 

We drove back to the shack, afraid to get on the main road. When we left hours later, sensing a slow-down, we encountered stalled cars left alongside the road, their tail lights and other plastic melted off, covered with soot. We saw the remains of two bad accidents, cars just pushed out of the way and left. We still didn’t see any law enforcement. And just a few miles from town we fell under the black sky, the sun was gone, and the temperatures went from the 50’s to the 30’s over the course of a few miles.

After we got to town and checked our kids, we found out we would not be allowed back to our shack until further notice. We hunkered down with our son in the apartment, trying to be sensitive to everybody’s nerves.  We watched funny movies on our old DVD player, ate great meals, looked at photo albums.

We learned Southeast Chico was under an evacuation order, subdivisions that had been built into the hills were under threat. The winds had shifted, but not for long, that evacuation only lasted a day, but much of lower Butte Creek Canyon had burned. 

It wasn’t long before we heard the unbelievable – Paradise as we knew it, was gone. Hundreds of homes, including our son’s house, were nothing but ash and rubble.

Paradise was a ginchee little town. Since I was a child it’s been the kind of place you might drive an hour to have a cup of coffee, or a good meal at any one of a dozen old restaurants. Neat shops too. Great hardware store. Damned good taco wagon. Great museums. Now mostly gone. 

And 88 people, mostly over 60, dead. I just can’t express what I feel about that. Paradise has always been a retirement town, a shelter for old people who couldn’t afford to live in Chico anymore. I’d actually recommended my friend send his parents up there to buy a house!

So here we are, at Christmas, winter bearing down, with 22,000 very sad people added to our already depressed population. The public works department says traffic accidents are up almost 35 percent since evacuation. Long lines everywhere, roads shutting down with traffic by noon every day. Merry Middle Finger to You Too Buddy!

I was talking to a man at the post office, as I waited in line to claim a package the post office was not able to deliver. The line was long and people were getting pissed off.  We agreed – Chico is experiencing a perfect storm right now, just hanging on, waiting for an ending that might not be so happy. 






Thank goodness for visitors – no better excuse for cleaning your house

Whenever I’m expecting visitors my house suddenly looks like a mess. I  usually start a few days ahead and work myself to a frazzle washing and scrubbing.

My son and his girlfriend are coming for the weekend, so I’ve been washing everything that can’t run away (I’ll have to get my husband to help me with the dogs!)

Our dogs are inside a lot, so I’m always worried the house stinks to people who don’t have dogs.I know they’re my kid’s, but I don’t want them to think I’m too old to take care of my house, and I want to fuss over them a little, let them know I’m happy to have them.

But yeah, I do tend to go a little overboard. I wash the walls, baseboards and floors with one or another of Dr. Bronner’s scented soaps, and then I put essential oil in a spray bottle with vinegar and water and hit the windows. Dr. Bronner’s seems expensive but you can dilute it with two parts water. I like lavender and citrus the best, but peppermint is another fave.

I washed a lot of linens, and hung blankets out to air. I got into a wrestling match with the big Mexican fleece blanket my mom gave me – even dry, it weighs a ton.  I was ready to call for help when I finally got it off the line. I was huffing and puffing, straining to get a hold of the whole thing. Made an ass of by a blanket, no kidding.

And the furniture never suits me. I always want to move stuff. My husband tries to be patient – we just moved this little hutch, and then I found another table I want in the same spot. He’ll go along so far, so I have to prioritize, try to decide what’s just whimsy  and what is a good idea.

Thank goodness we moved into this tiny apartment, I ain’t as young as I was when we had our ranch style rambler! After two days of freaking out, cleaning stuff – crawling under stuff, moving furniture – I’m just about shot. My arms are floating. My back has given notice, threatening to quit me! So today I’ll recuperate so I’ll have some energy left for the kids. My sons and their girlfriends like to go hiking, go to a good swimming hole – I don’t want to be a drag.

Oh geeshy sakes, my house just looks fabulous! Thank goodness for visitors.




Getting ready to make a big move, packing up the memories

My husband and I have made a tough decision to sell our home and get out of the town we’ve both known since childhood. We met here, got married here, our kids were born here.

Not so tough a decision, really. Just today the newspaper reports the city is allowing a “tiny house village” for transients to be erected in a parking lot at a prominent intersection. When you go out   around Chico – and not just Downtown – they’re everywhere. And they’re getting bold, when you don’t give them a handout, you get cursed at. If you ask them to leave you alone they say, “Or what?” We don’t leave our bike or our truck unguarded around town anymore, one of us stays behind. It’s sickening to see what’s happened to a town that I’ve known all my life.

I hate being a quitter,  but it’s time to cut and run.  Chico is over.

So, we have to get our place ready to sell. While the rental up front and the apartment are in pretty good shape, the back acre needs a lot of work. We have abandoned the garden and turned the water off to the orchard. There’s a big compost pile and a gi-normous brush pile to get rid of. And then there’s my kids’ “pump track”.

When the oldest was about 11, he and his 7 year old brother took flat shovels and started digging the pump track. A pump track is set up with bumps and dips.   They’d got the special bike at a police auction. A modified BMX bike, it has no real seat, just a kind of post cover. You’re not supposed to sit, you pedal and pedal to get up the bump and the momentum of the down side propels you over the next bumps.

I was excited for the physical fitness aspect, but I also liked it because it constituted a legal fire break across the back acre, meaning my husband didn’t have to mow so much. As the kid’s friends started coming over to ride, the weeds got beaten down, the back acre took on an almost park like appearance.

And then they got their air soft guns. Since we didn’t want them taking those off the property, we let them set up a little range around their pump track. Of course all their friends had air soft guns too. My husband bought a bunch of welding glasses for eye protection, and we all agreed to a certain distance – no close up shots.

They made a rule among themselves – no heavy clothing, so everybody knew when they got shot.

We determined the acceptable distance by having our friend, Aaron Standish, an incredibly good sport, walk away while we shot at him. “Ow! Ow! Ow!… Okay, that’s good!”

It was his idea.

The kids built little forts and blinds out of brush, they erected targets. My husband and I set up lawn chairs on a mound of leftover construction dirt and laughed out loud as the kid’s chased each other in heated combat. “You’re dead!” “No I’m not!” “You are TOTALLY dead!”

And then they discovered disc golf. At that time there was no established course in town, except the long-time “bootleg” course located at an old game preserve – Musty Buck! – East of town. That course was a drive and it was pretty rugged, right in the ridge overlooking Upper Bidwell Park. We traveled to other courses, as far away as Glory Hole. My husband and kids decided we could have a nice course in the back acre.

They made baskets and “dinger” posts out of stuff like discarded fence posts and bike tire rims. My grandfather was a farmer who made and fixed his own equipment . He never threw away a spare part. The kids dived into Grandpa’s junk and came up with all kinds of creative targets and baskets.

They plotted out their course and played it almost daily for the next couple of years.

When my older son moved into the second unit at another rental, started working and going to school, his little brother was left to find new ways to entertain himself. He became interested in roller hockey, and when my kid’s get interested in something it becomes a family focus. We all fell into it, and life revolved around hockey for the next 5 or 6 years.

The league found their own building, which needed a lot of work, and the parents pitched in to fix it up. The had a rink to set up, but the floor of the rink – “sport court” – was pretty crapped out. They bought new flooring and the old flooring went into the dumpster. One day my husband and son realized it would still be good for something, and hauled it all out, two truck loads. 

I like to see my kid’s focused on something, really care about it. So when the little one started talking about making his own practice rink in our back yard, using the old sport court, I didn’t want to discourage him. But I couldn’t visualize it, out there in the weeds and dirt clods.  But he has always been a stubborn tyke. Every day after we finished home school he was out there with his flat shovel. My husband would inspect the job site every day after work. One day he brought home bags and bags of floor patch – a cement like substance spread on rough, cracked cement base before vinyl flooring is laid on it.

Once the boy had the ground flat and firm, they mixed up the floor patch and spread it, nice and thick. I couldn’t believe it – he had a sort of cement floor, over which he laid his sport court squares. He made his own net out of a section of hogwire, fastened to the ground with rebar. And it was a practice rink!

He even made his own wooden pucks – pucks are expensive, and he didn’t want to take a chance losing one in the weeds.  I could hear him hitting that hogwire all the way back in the kitchen.

That property really served us well. As the city permitted smaller and smaller, yardless lots in new subdivisions, having a back yard became quite a novelty. Our kids’ friends were over here every chance they got. 

But now the back acre is a swamp of weeds. Wild grapes have started making their way into the oak trees. Two of the big trees in the front yard have died and tree man wants about $1200 per tree. The property tax bill, with all the bonds, is over $6,000/year. Work work work, spend spend spend. It’s funny how something you loved once becomes a ball and chain. 

So that’s why I haven’t been posting much lately. My life is kind of depressing right now. First the kids grew up, dammit! And now the house is too much to maintain. 

But I’m getting used to the idea of selling.  I like to move on every now and then, before the rut gets too deep. Somewhere in the back of my head I can always hear Lee Marvin warbling soft and gruff, “I was born under a wandering star…”




No more worldofjuanita, something new on the horizon – waaaaay over there!

I’ve been neglecting this blog, mostly because it’s election time, and I been spending whatever time I have on my blog, bitching about stuff.

What was it Harvey TwoFace liked to say – “we’re of two minds on everything…” or something like that. I have tried to keep these two blogs separate, so I can come over here and act all nice and talk about food and yard work and nature and stuff. But the politics creep into my life in the form of bonds tacked onto my property taxes and sales tax hikes that affect everything from soap to toothpaste to new socks. 

So I do what I was taught – every woman in my family is ready to take up a post with a pile of nothing but rocks if that’s what we got and fight tooth and nail (yes I’ll bite and scratch if you get me in a corner) for what we believe in.

Here in California, what I believe in is under assault right now, by people who don’t believe in Democracy, people who don’t have any work ethic, and people who believe those who do must carry those who won’t.

Worst of all, the town we’ve invested our lives in has become a foreign country. People come from every where to take public “service” positions in California, cause the salaries and benefits are through the roof and there’s plenty of tax money to pay them. And here’s the thing: the public workers are starting to out number the private sector employees, enough to throw elections. 

You might think public employees serve the public – here in California it’s the other way around. The California public sector has made us all into Tax Slaves. Three agencies in Chico are contemplating tax measures, separately. They don’t want to share their pots, they want all the money for themselves. 

That makes it hard for landlady – if I just  tacked those bonds onto my rents, that would be the biggest rent increase I’ve ever made. But if I pay them myself, that’s less money for repairs and maintenance. I feel sometimes like the government has it in for Mom and Pop – we own too much real estate – one of our landlord friends owns over 40 rentals in town. They want us to sell, so all those properties will bring in more property tax. They don’t want people to hold onto their homes, those values Americans historically hold dear are under attack in California.

So, what do you do when you suddenly realize you’re outnumbered, that the powers that be are going to run a railroad track through your living room? Like Arthur Dent, you get the hell out, that’s what you do, and that’s what my husband and I are planning to do.

So, World of Juanita is all Koyaanisquatsi these days. I’m not renewing my domain this year. I’m going to put what energy I have right now into fighting the revenue measures the city and the parks and rec district are planning to foist on us, and I’m going to keep a third eye on the jokers out at the airport, who want a million-plus dollars a year to guarantee air service in a town of less than 100,000 people that’s less than two hours from airports in both directions.  

The good news is, when the dust settles, I’m going to start a new blog about what I’m doing now. I don’t know what I’ll call it. I can’t really talk about it because I don’t know how it’s going to work out. 

Stayed Tuned! Cause I like having you people around!

Ah, that first rain smells so good! Time to do some transplanting

My husband and I were mowing yards yesterday when we felt those first raindrops. What a long, dry Summer it was this year.

I’ve been dying to do some transplanting.  A few years ago I took some time to separate bulbs and rhizomes and move them around my yard. This year it paid off, with purple irises all over in Spring and intense pink amaryllis in late summer. I don’t remember when I’ve seen so many Amaryllis flowers, not only in my front yard but in yards all over my Chico neighborhood.

Last spring I was gifted some really special irises by one of my tenants. Not only are they some beautiful showy varieties, but he got them from a relative who just happens to be a member of one of my favorite old rock and roll bands. It came up in conversation when his parents visited. His father mentioned that they were having dinner with a cousin who lived near Chico. He said something like, “oh you wouldn’t know him, but years ago he and his friends wrote a little song called ‘Pipeline.'” He sincerely thought I wouldn’t know what he was talking about.

I almost choked. “You mean your cousin is a member of the Chantays?”

He seemed genuinely surprised that I would remember the Chantays. Not only do I remember the Chantays, I remember sitting in front of my grandma’s television screaming my head off when I watched them on Ed Sullivan in about 1963. That video is available on YouTube, and when I had better Computer Service I watched it almost everyday when I got up in the morning.

I got positively giddy babbling at my tenant’s parents, I was embarrassed of myself when my husband finally dragged me away. But, I apparently made an impression, because the next time I saw my tenant he had half dozen potted irises that his father’s cousin had sent to me. My tenant showed me pictures he had taken on his phone of his relative’s incredible iris patch.

I sincerely felt unworthy. Growing up with my grandmother and her friends, I met Iris afficionados never gave away their rhizomes, they acted as though they were family heirlooms, made of gold.

So I fussed and flustered over those pots all Summer, moving them to different spots around my yard, trying to find exactly the perfect location. Irises like a mixture of sun and shade, my best blossoms come up around Big Trees.

I finally found some really nice dirt under a big oak tree that I have been mulching for a long time. I’m nervous about putting them in the ground, even though they’re covered with new growth. I guess I’m waiting for more rain.

I’m feeling the same anxiety about transplanting my horde of aloe vera plants, which are over growing their little pots and need to be separated.


These plants multiply fast under the right conditions. I feel like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Little Tiny Greenhouse.

They also need to be somewhat protected in winter, and I have so many there’s barely any room in my little Greenhouse. I don’t have room for them in my apartment either, and I’m afraid they would stain my fake wood floor.

So I’ve posted about a dozen plants on Craigslist for sale. I don’t know that many people who want to fuss over potted plants, and most of my friends who appreciate aloe vera already have their own plants. And maybe I’ll get a few bucks for Christmas shopping.

I’ll have to put some in one of those Iris pots I got from my tenant’s rock and roll relative. They really look showy in the right pot.

But I’ll keep most of my horde. I not only use copious amounts on my skin, I drink about 3 oz of sap a day in my fruit smoothie. I know it’s great for my skin, my hands get so chapped and cracked in this dry weather. Aloe sap works like a miracle cure, within 24 hours I’ve seen bad cracks heal up on my knuckles. And I believe it’s a great tonic for my stomach and digestive tract. I get up every morning with a hungry stomach ache, and a quick smoothie always makes me feel better.

This change in the weather sure has me feeling better. I was afraid my entire yard would dry up and die before the rain came. Rain has brought back my optimism.













Autumn makes me feel all dried up!

That “Naked Lady” pink really shines in my dead yard this time of year.

It’s so dry, my tenant’s front yard in Chico is going airborne these days. Cal Water has taken water rates from about 50 cents a ccf to about $1.70 per ccf over the past couple of years, so we decided to let the lawn go in favor of the “middle aged” trees. We’ve lost three huge trees – two 80 year old deodor cedars and a 50 year old doug fir – so we’re depending on the valley oaks that spring up naturally around our yard to fill in the bill.  With more shade we could slowly bring back the grass – it’s been working in the little project area I set up in my yard, I’ll have to post a picture of how that turned out.

When the ground starts to dry out, we throw down mulch, starting around the bases of trees, and moving out slowly into the dead yard. We use either leaves from the deciduous trees in our yard or chips picked up in the back country at various logging operations. Sometimes the loggers leave huge piles of great chips right alongside the road. 

Our orchard really suffered this year – we had a few blow-outs in our old drip lines, and the trees didn’t get as much water as they should have. The blue jays mowed our peaches in one night, so we netted the apple trees. The apples are small this year but here’s what I got out of a two gallon bucket of Fuji’s.

Minus a glass of juice for the taste tester.

The green apples are coming in bigger, not quite ready yet. The green juice tastes fantastic hot with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and orange peel. 

The next thing I need to think about is where I’m going to put my bumper crop of gi-normous aloe vera plants before the cold weather sets in. You won’t believe how huge they got in my little green house over Summer, which is great, cause that sap is about the only remedy for my dried out old skin.  But there’s no heat in the green house in Winter, and they get all sad and moldy as soon as the night time temps go below the 50’s. I think I’m just going to have to sell a few of the bigger ones on Craigslist – better than watching them waste away! I’ll post some pics, you tell me what you think. 

Next time, on This Old Lady, with Juanita!


Time for a change in the weather

September is a dry month. Sacramento got an early morning shower about a week ago, but it vaporized at dawn, and the pavement was dry by 8 am. 

All around our yard in Chico the landscape is fading, except for the brilliant pink amaryllis. Old people call them “Naked Ladies,” they’re soooo pink. In this landscape, they look unreal, springing up out of dead yellow leaves like plastic lawn ornaments.

Just when I think they’re done another little stand pops out. 

It’s tough to do much of anything outside right now – a rake raises more dust than leaves, lawnmower makes a dirt storm. So I wander the yard with loppers and a tarp, collecting dead flowers. 

I want to do some transplanting, spread the love.  But the ground resists my shovel right now,  and I don’t want to break the handle – it’s my grandpa’s shovel, and it’s worn just right for my beat up old hands, the wood smooth as silk from all those years of use.

September is the month of waiting. I’m kind of done with Summer but I’m not  really ready to jump right into Winter. So we have Fall, that’s a good system.

Yesterday I started tearing my tomatoes out of their containers up at our little Summer camp in the hills. I realized the little green globes forming at the ends of every branch were not going to amount to much – that dry autumn wind has turned all the leaves yellow, and daytime highs here have already retreated to the 70’s. I got another half dozen ripe fruit – just big enough for a nice salad – and then I went about tearing off the big wire cages my husband made and throwing the plants into a pile to go back to the composter in Chico. You can’t have a compost pile here, it’s just another fire hazard.

That’s what I’m looking forward to – Burn Season. Up here you are allowed to burn in your dooryard. Right now I’m raking up tree trash into little piles, pitching those into bigger piles, and raking a big clean spot in the middle for the burn pile. My husband is using his chainsaw, cutting out little “trash” trees (trees that are stuck under bigger trees and will not amount to anything but “ladder fuel”), some of which are already standing dead. Those are good to get the pile going, then you chuck on your rotten needles and other trash. 

The other day my husband cut a big dead oak that was standing over our driveway. Those make perfect firewood, they’re all cured already. He cuts into splittable chunks for my son, who takes it back to his little house in Paradise. He’s taught his old woman to split wood – she’s a mountain momma!

So I’m looking forward to Winter, with caution. I know the days are short and the nights are long, the storms will come up the canyon and howl outside the windows. But there will be bonfires. We like to do a lot of cooking outside, whenever the rain lets up.   We like to get some smoked pork chops from Chico Locker and some of those tiny yukon gold potatoes. We wrap them up in a few layers and tin foil and set them in the coals. Since the chops are already cooked they heat up nice. The tiny potatoes are done within 20 minutes. 

I feel like I was robbed of Summer this year, with wildfires in every direction. I’m ready for a change in the weather. 





Big Kitty on the prowl!

Happy Saturday to you! 

This morning I got up early to clean out my mailbox, send a few notes. As I was sitting up here in my control tower, staring out my window at Orion, I heard this weird noise outside. A raspy, weird growl.  If you’d watched as much World of Disney and other “nature” shows as me, you’d have recognized it too – Big Kitty!

He/She/It has been coming around about every two weeks for over a month now.  The first time, it sounded like two of them, but lately it’s just one. It starts over to the east side of our property and works it’s way, very quickly, down below our little shack. As it moves, the neighbors’ dogs go off in succession, all the way down the canyon. 

The very first sign was a mauled deer, laying at the end of a neighbor’s driveway about a mile up the road. Ass chewed off – that’s not dogs. As we made our way back to Chico that morning we saw a Butte County Animal Control officer headed up the hill, and when we returned later in the day the carcass was gone.

But we knew something was out there. And sure enough, a few nights later, that weird raspy growling sound, moving quickly around the outside of our puny hogwire fence. 

So of course we started patrolling our property during the day, looking out and around the neighborhood for signs. My gramps showed me a cat foot once at the river, where he used to have a license to mine gravel. We used to wander the river banks while he was loading the truck with his little tractor, until that day he found that cat foot. He came searching for us, in a sweat, showed us the foot print, then told us, dentures chattering,  “Get in the DAMNED TRUCK!” “And STAY THERE!” 

But foot prints are hard to identify, they get messed up. The print my gramps found was in wet sand, along the river.  It’s so dry up here, the dust is at least 4 to 6 inches thick on the trails.  In this neighborhood everybody seems to have a big dog and walks it regularly, so there’s footprints all over the place. What’s easier to distinguish is cat skat, and it’s surprisingly easy to find. They don’t try to hide, they crap right on trails. Sometimes  they even crap on top of another animals crap,  very clearly marking their territory.

So we weren’t surprised when we found a pile right on the road,  right at the end of our elderly neighbors’ driveway, where the deer trails zig zag all along their property line.  It was a big pile of hair, dressed in an outer layer of tarry black poop. To the casual observer, it might look like dog poop, but if you take a good look it’s not. When cat skat dries out, you can see, it’s just a big rope of deer hair, with little bones and teeth littered through. Like house cats, the  big cats swallow a lot of hair, only it’s not their own. They also oftentimes scrape together a pile of leaves and dirt and then pee/poop on it. Dogs don’t do that, not even wild dogs. 

We’ve known fox since we had this property – he eats a lot of manzanita and other berries, and you can see that. He also eats birds, feathers and all. But his turds are small, and they disintegrate within days. That pile of cat skat, bigger than any pile our dogs have laid down, has sat at the end of the neighbor’s driveway almost since we saw that mauled deer. 

Scuse me – TMI? Well, up here, it pays to be an amateur skatologist. And keep a pig sticker on your belt. 




Dog Days: where would we be without our four-legged friends?


Back to normal – less than a week after the snake bite he was his old insane self again. I pity the fool who tries to touch the sock, Sucka!

Life’s been flying by, I don’t even remember how long ago Badges was bitten by the rattler. Two important points I left out in my last post –

  • we’d had him immunized every year since he was a tiny pup – those rattle snake shots turned out to be worth the money. Less than $100 a year for both dogs. We ended up spending about $1,000 on treatment. When our neighbor’s un-immunized dog was bit last year it ended up running about $6,000 with follow-up. 
  • be careful with painkillers, vet lady likes to dish out the opiods – the vet gave Badges a very powerful Fentanyl patch, and warned us that it would be deadly if he happened to chew it off and ingest it. Dogs don’t like bandaids, we’d been there before.  So we had a couple of sleepless days and nights, freaked out over that patch. Even while the bite was quickly healing, he started to act weird – weirder than usual, attacking Biscuit out of nowhere, snarling at us. So we decided we’d all had enough of that patch and ripped it off. What a wrestling match that was, it was so sticky, it ripped out hair, and he immediately started licking the site. Before we could restrain him and get his foot washed, he’d got himself an overdose of fentanyl. We called the vet, and she told us that if he started having diarrhea or vomiting, bring him in immediately. He was panting, staggering, and acting as though he was having hallucinations, it was a tough hour and a half or so, but eventually he came out of it. If I had it to do over again I would have told them to skip the patch, the oral pills (also opiods) were even a little much. We started cutting those down to half and quarter doses the next day, and he was fine.

Old lady in waiting – she’s mad about the boy!

Of course Biscuit knew something was wrong, and she moped around the house, watching Badges, even when he was nasty to her. 

So it was about a week of misery, between the smoke and the heat, and the mopey dogs. We decided we needed to break it up a little with a grill party.


Grill it!

We had one last tri-tip from Cash and Carry in the freezer, so we decided to do it right with corn and potatoes. 

So, you know it’s Dog Days? That’s when dogs and old ladies go crazy.


California on fire, three digit heat wave, rattlesnake bit my dog! But if you think I’m beat, you’ve got another think comin’!

Sheesh what a week!

As you may know, California is experiencing a three-digit Heatwave and fires in every direction. Right now we are keeping our Windows shut all day because the smoke from the “Carr” fire in Redding is rolling right up the canyon at us.

And then night before last, as we were getting ready to go to bed, our  little blue heeler, Badges, had a run-in with a rattlesnake near the corner of our cabin.

It was dark, there was a scuffle, my husband swore out loud, telling me to get the dogs into the house. He had his flashlight, and there in the beam was the littlest rattlesnake I have ever seen. I was almost sorry to see my husband dispatch it with a shovel. Then I realized what happened and started to feel Panic crawling all over my body.

Badges was holding his paw and hopping around on three legs. Biscuit wanted to get the snake, I had to take her by the collar and drag her into the cabin. All I need is an old blind diabetic dog that’s been bit by a rattlesnake.

It was after 9, which is late for us. I’m usually out cold by 9:15, so I was a little sleepy already. We loaded the dogs into the F-150 and headed for the only vet that’s open at that hour, the Taj Mahal vet there at the south end of Chico.

As we drove down the hill into town, I was overcome with nausea, I cling to my seatbelt trying not to throw up. I was already exhausted, I’d been up since 5 in the morning. The last thing I remember about the drive is asking my husband to slow down, telling him I thought I was going to throw up.

I don’t know how long I was asleep, I woke up in the parking lot at the Veterinary Hospital. I could tell it was late, there was hardly a soul around. I heard voices just outside the truck, my husband and another man talking about the Veterinary Hospital, and what a poor reputation they have for gouging people in the middle of the night. The other man was saying, he’d come all the way from Fall River Mills on his vets recommendation, but that he had not found one good review of this Hospital online.

Yeah I know, vets seem expensive. Especially the Taj Mahal vet, it’s hard to believe they aren’t there to take advantage of people when their pets are sick in the middle of the night. We’ve had to go to our regular vet for an emergency, and they were a lot cheaper. But after 10 pm all you get is a recorded message telling you to head for the Taj Mahal vet because they’re open 24 hours a day.

What are you going to do when your dog has just been bit by a rattlesnake? At least we have a 24-hour vet.

My husband came to the car to tell me that Badges was going to be fine. He said the anti-venom would take a couple of hours, so he had told the vet we would wait in the parking lot. He had been walking Biscuit around the building in circles when the other man had come out to offer her some water. We saw that he had his travel trailer parked in the empty lot next door, generator running. I wondered how hot it had been in that treeless lot earlier in the day, with temperatures in Chico hovering around a hundred and five.

At 1:30 am we approached the door of the building. Of course it was locked and there were no loitering signs. We wondered how many homeless people they had to field every day. The man who was staying in the trailer told us transients had knocked on his trailer door a few times but he just ignored them.

A woman came to let us in, said Badges was almost ready to go, and went about preparing our bill. I could tell by the tone in her voice as she gave us our total that she was ready for us to be angry, but my husband just stepped forward with his credit card and dealt with it. At least we have a credit card.

The technician who brought Badges out was pretty brusque. She let us know that if he ate the pain patch on his leg it would be big trouble! She treated us like delinquent children. I felt she was kind of pissed that we weren’t going to leave him overnight. I let it roll off, but she put the fear of God in Me. The thought of him eating that fentanyl patch kept me awake the last two nights. We didn’t leave it on the three to four days they recommended, we cut it off last night. Every time he so much as licked it I felt like I was going to go through the roof.

All I could think was, fentanyl is what got Prince. It scared the s*** out of me, after my husband cut the patch off I made him wash his hands about 50 times.

The last two days locked up in the cabin with a sick dog and an old dog in a hundred plus temperatures with our generator running to power our tiny air conditioner have just about got me beat. My husband has to remind me constantly, we knew there would be challenges about living up here.

I’ll tell you what though, it still beats the hell out of living in Chico California.

When we moved here, we were very aware of rattlesnakes. Within the first couple of years we had this place, we encountered two large snakes that we had to kill. We found one to two three foot snake laying along the path in the yard, and the second had taken up residence under our tool shed and had a habit of coming out and threatening our dogs.

After we killed the second snake, we started to look into snake prevention. I started raking the yard clean, whacking low brush, and my husband got wire mesh to line the bottoms of our  sheds so that snakes could not get underneath them. I found rattlesnake repellent at Walmart, a jug of granules scented with cinnamon, and decided to make my own repellent out of cat litter and cinnamon spray. I sprinkled the cat litter around the perimeter of our yard, and then loaded a tank pack sprayer full of cinnamon oil, clove oil, and cedar oil in water. I sprayed this on the cat litter, as well as the base of all of the sheds.

I did that for a couple of years, and since we did not see any snakes in that period, I guess it worked. I dropped the ball this past spring because we were so busy moving I just forgot about it.

I’d also drop the ball lately on raking the yard, it’s been so hot and Dusty. I can’t wait until burn season, I’ll have to start raking piles again.

Yes, there are challenges to this lifestyle. But thinking about living in Chico again makes me feel up to the challenge.