On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Canyon on the Feather River
Of several trips to the large property on the Feather River, one of them turned into a real adventure. A land owner wanted his square mile of land (640 acres) in the Feather River Canyon to qualify for a state subsidy as a managed forest parcel, so Cal-Pacific Forest Consultants got the job to plant seedlings pursuant to reclaiming the land on this former gold mining claim.
The story has two or three parts. Part one is about the Feather River Canyon, itself. Of somewhat unique circumstance, the Feather River South Fork forms a small canyon of perhaps five miles across, and seemingly resembles a volcanic caldera. You gradually climb along mountain roads for miles then drop steeply beyond the crest into the canyon and down to the Feather River, at an elevation of over 5000 feet. The weather in the canyon is distinctly cooler than in the Sierra foothills ringing the canyon. That goes for both summer temperatures and winter temperatures, due to the fact that cold air descends. For the tree planting crew of Cal-Pacific Forest Consultants, that led to some memorable events.
Feather River, South Fork
In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the typical tree planting season starts just as soon as the snow cover is off, and when the soil moisture is high, thus maximizing the chances for seedling survival. We got the assignment to plant in the Feather River Canyon in April, but got snowed out, so we returned in May. We got snowed out again in May, so made a plan to come back in June. In June we again got snowed out while we were planting, so reluctantly packed up to return to the sunny slopes beyond the canyon rim. Then, in July the same crew returned to finish the job we had almost completed in short stints during the previous months. We were determined to finish the job. Ol’ Man Winter had a different idea.
As the snow began to fall and as the planting sites quickly began to take on the appearance of a solid white blanket, Footloose Forester very reluctantly ordered the planting crew to pack up. We had a four-wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon with locking front hubs, but even that pulling power was no match for the steep road out of the canyon. Footloose Forester remembers locking those hubs beneath the surface of the snow before we reached the top. Getting out, at all, was not a sure thing, but when we did, it was back to a world beyond the canyon where there was no snow at all. He will always remember the Feather River Canyon.
Another part of the story led to adventure during a pleasant period of warmer weather. There was still planting to do, and the crew returned with camping gear, planning to stay until the summer assignment was finished. Every crew member had his own sleeping bag and we bought supplies to last a couple of weeks. The boss in Sacramento had obtained permission for us to use an old line shack on the property that had stood silent since the gold mining days. We intended to use that as headquarters.
When the crew arrived, Footloose Forester went in first to check out the place. It was mostly intact, with a single bed and mattress on the first floor, and a bare loft on the second floor. There was also a pot bellied stove, and even a tea kettle on the stove. And there was something else on the stove. As some of the others came through the door with their gear, Footloose Forester told them not to touch or move anything on the stove. There, in plain sight, were a nearly full case of dynamite sticks and an open case of detonators. He had always been warned about the instability of old dynamite sticks that were damp, and especially about the instability of detonators. So before we did anything else, we made plans how to dispose of the dynamite before we could occupy the shack.
One of the guys came back in and announced that there was an old mine shaft about 80 yards behind the shack. Perhaps we could pitch the dynamite down the vertical shaft. We then set a plan into action. As the crew chief, Footloose Forester took it upon himself to transport the dynamite and detonators for disposal. He had one of the men open the door to the shack and had two others walking alongside to spot exposed tree roots and stumps in his path. First came the more unstable detonators. The case was light and he did not stumble reaching the mouth of the mine shaft. Everyone backed away as he pitched the case of detonators down the shaft. No explosion. Next, he returned to the shack for the heavier case of dynamite sticks. No stumbles on the way to the mine shaft. We were all relieved when we heard the case of dynamite settle quietly at the bottom of the mine shaft, alongside a case of explosive detonators.