Lisa Bondurant

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I spend my time raising kids, gathering eggs, cutting wood, scoping out trees for tapping, making syrup in the last days of winter, watching my garden NOT grow in the summer, writing, wishing that there were more hours on the clock for sleeping.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Calming Rain, A Restless Wind

Smoke and Fog mixing over Dry River gorge
   A cold brush on my cheek. The gentlest tap upon my shoulder. I turned to search for the quiet soul that had crept up on me. It was the rain. Quiet as a whisper, without a wind to travel on, it had slipped down from the high elevations while I was stacking wood. The rain, sinking down into the woods in a heavy, gray fog, promising to sooth the scorched earth.
  The Hotshot crews  from North Carolina are working along the side of highway 33. They pause to talk to us,  their yellow normex shirts stained with soot, their attitude very relaxed or very exhausted.  They tell us they would handover the fire to local crews the next day, because the rain is expected to secure the fire. The incident commander is a little more cautious on the evening news. He warns that the fire will burn deep in the duff and soil and must be managed for the next several weeks.
Chopper flying over the Chestnut Ridge fire, heading towards Peak Fire
  Well over three thousand acres have burned, nearly a thousand just in the Chestnut Ridge fire alone. Spreading the topo maps onto the dinner table, we are all surprised how close the two fires had come to merging. Now we know why the choppers were flying back and forth between the two fires. The fire fighters were trying hard to keep the two apart. The fires seemed almost desperate to meet, one crawling back against the prevailing wind as the other dodged and leaped around the fire fighters, running to catch it's partner.
  The roads leading back to the mountain side were finally opened again. Passing through, we were impressed with how close it had come to houses on the road. There was evidence of backfires lit along the roads' ditches, just stopping the fires from burning out into the farmlands. I will try to get in closer soon for better pictures.

Buffalo Road (War Branch) closed during fire
 The rain  was light and brief and did it's job of pressing down the fires, but then the winds returned.  Sixty mile an hour gust that threaten to dry the lands again. The swirling currents carry the smell of smoldering fires from deep in the woods. The wind also uncloaked the hoop house we are building for the laying hens, for the fourth time in a week.

 The chickens don't mind! They like running free in the yard. We mind, the Americauna hens are more wild then not and lay eggs deep in bushes and deadfall.
 Though they still use the door when coming in to drink water.
Rudy the rooster and one of his ladies.
The wind gust again and smoldering earth and leaves fills our noses, making us restless and uneasy. I wonder if the smell of forest burning stir instinctive fears in their wild brains, like it does ours!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Still Burning

The Rawley Springs/Peak Mountain Road Fire
from road 613
The mountains seem to be burning in all directions. The air burns also, with every breath you feel the smoke scratching at your lungs and making your eyes water and throats are sore. It is said that the "smoke eaters" that fight the fires, inhale so much smoke that it is like smoking 3 packs of cigarette's in a day. Prolonged exposure also slows the mind, as the body absorbs more gases and less oxygen. Add to this the extreme work the wild land fire fighters are doing, well you have to wonder how they do it! We wonder, as we stand back at a safe distance watching the forest burn and complaining of the smoke. We wonder until we remember that hundreds of women and men are standing at the foot of that monster in the distance, demanding it retreat.
Over 2100 acres are burning and the fire commanders are telling the news that this is still a wild untamed fire. No containment, they will put all effort into just saving homes and structures. Fire crews from at least 3 states are fighting and 2 hotshot crews from Tennessee and North Carolina. Hotshots are the most highly trained ground crews, that fight the most dangerous areas of a fire's front line. The testing to be a hotshot is hard and the training harder. I had tested to be on a hotshot crew 10 years ago and made the crew. That was as far as my fire fighting career went. I look out at the smoke columns now and feel old just thinking about it!
The next level would be smoke jumpers.

Rawley Springs Fire
Buffalo Road  (ie War Creek Road)
The cows don't seem to mind the smoke.

Most of the roads that go back towards the mountain have been closed.
Scorched earth beside highway 33 west

Heading back towards our mountain, we can see another column of smoke and are unsure where it is coming from.

Late in the evening, my daughter and  I head to the woods to gather the sap that could not be gathered during the wind storm. The smell of smoke is stronger, fresher and I can't find a source. The night is very dark and snow begins to fall then turns to a sprinkle of rain. It is a hopeful sign for the fire crews. I look towards the North West and see a orange glow on the clouds above the mountains, where there has not been a fire.  I watch into the night as I keep the sap cooking. The glow in the clouds has moved to the ground, just around the ridge across the river from us. A short time later rows of forestry fire truck start coming out from the direction of the fire. We think they are forced to leave as the fire is sweeping around the ridge, threatening to cut off their only way out
On Second Mountain small spots of fire still shine where the old fire had been. The duff could burn for weeks, hidden beneath the earth and in old stumps.
 In the morning, when I go out to get wood to restart fires for cooking sap, I can now see fire where the glow had been.

Day break & new fire visable north west of the Rawley Springs Fire.

Within a few minutes the fire grows bigger.    

                        This fire moves with the direction of the wind and is higher in the trees.
                        Houses are directly in it's path. The rain from the night before gave little help to the fighters.
                                                         We will watch this one closely!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fire on the Rim

   All night long winds had screamed at the mountain and hammered the tin roof like an unseen fist. The 80 foot red oaks that tower beside our house, whipped and groaned against the constant swirling of current.They would have to fight all night to keep their roots gripped firmly in the thin rocky soil. No soul rested well inside the house, fearful of our giants being tumbled to their death or to ours. With the morning light all trees were still standing, but still the wind ripped at our mountain top. The sky was brilliant blue though and the sun blazing bright. Like battleships, huge clouds were slipping past the eastern ridge just north of our mountain. I watched for a few minutes before realizing they were not clouds of frozen water vapor, but smoke clouds. A forest fire on Second Mountain raged just over the timbers edge.We called 911, they tell us they have been fighting since 2 a.m. The sky swimmers atop of Second Mountain are in threat of burning.
  We drive out into the valley. All local fire company are responding. They setup their command center at the Mennonite church. They stage a second command center at the Mt Olive church at the end of Cooper's Mt..
From out on the farmland the smoke is almost a white out.

Then the mountains are gone.

The wind blows so hard we are almost pushed off the road. 

We head back towards home certain the winds will keep the fire on the eastern side of the mountain.

We soon find that will not be the case. Fire has pushed against the wind, over the ridge line to the western side.
Darkness sweeps up the mountain and the true fire line is revealed. Neighbors drive up to see the view and report that the houses on Second Mountain have been evacuated and the area over the front side is being readied for evacuation. Fire is closing in on a neighbors turkey houses and crews are working to prevent houses nearby from burning.
The fire crews are busy, six major fires burn in the county. Switzer Dam directly to the north west of our mountain is burning as well.

The fire moves further down and the moon rises over Second Mountain

Fire burns down a ridge near houses beside us.

About two hours later the fire flares and drops down to the highway. State troopers race up 33 to close off the road. We can hear the fire crackling and timbers falling, but the fire crews light back fires along the highway and the fire grows huge then stalls. With luck the fire line will hold till morning.
 If it reaches the west side of Dry River, I think little would stop it!

In the morning.
The air is so thick with smoke.Sometimes the mountains slip behind this heavy white blanket and disappear.  The good news is the fire in front of us is mostly out, but on the other side of the mountain it still burns on. Fire fighters scaled down the steepest side of Second Mountain. I have climbed this hill as a teenager, you do not climb it by walking, instead you scramble and clime like a cat on a ladder. This is country better climbed by mountain goats then people. During the peak of the fire, tiny blue white lights of helmets could be seen dotted along this almost vertical mountain side, as flames leaped into solid walls before them
The news reports that Peak Mountain Road remains closed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Dusted Morning

 The temperatures plunged and the trees rested again. A good time to stoke the fires and cook off the last run of sap. As dusk fell, the snow blew in from the Highlands to the west. The tiniest  flakes that sparkled in the last light of sun reaching out from the western mountains.
 The air inside the house grew warm and tropically steamy and sweetness filled every breath.

 By the first light of dawn, a snow dusted morning and syrup in the pan.

School is delayed, so a perfect time to make a special breakfast for the kids, corncakes and bacon with the first syrup of the season. The corncake recipe is passed down from my Grandfather in West Virginia.

3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1 cup milk
2 T. oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Mix in milk and oil, do not over mix. Batter should be thin, so add a little water if needed.
Fry on a hot iron skillet.You know what to serve it with, warm maple syrup!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Winter Yeilds

 We gathered by twilight, beneath a wool gray sky. The winter had finally yielded just enough to the begging trees, to give them just a taste of spring.
For a few short hours, winter shrunk back and allowed the earth to warm.  Roots buried deep within the Appalachian soil started pushing sap from darkness, to awaken the sleeping branches above. We could almost feel their awakening, for all was quiet in the forest. No animal or birds moved or chattered, except my sugar crew.
They chattered like small chipmunks, talking of their day at school or favorite toys. They chattered about tracks in the snow and the magic of fairies. I worked in silence for I loved their song and was grateful for company. They want to be sugar makers also and soon have the brace and bit in hand, learning the skill of tapping.

I hope they will always want to be in the woods together, chattering like happy chipmunks. Chattering and listening to the trees awaken to the spring. I hope that I will always be somewhere close enough, close enough too hear their song.