Monthly Archives: September 2012

“Madrones Don’t Like People”

(photos to come)

I was playing with my recorder group and then we stopped to take a breather. We had just played a difficult Shostikovich piece which I didn’t like.  Laurel rested her instrument on her knee and asked, “Tell us what’s new in Rumsey! How are your fruit trees doing?”

“Most of them are doing OK; some are struggling,” I answered. Last year I planted many young plums, apples, peaches, nectarines, cherries, pomegranates and pluots.  Gophers have eaten one or two; some have succumbed to the aridity, but most are growing slowly and surely.

“You pet them and talk to them, don’t you?” continued Laurel. She knows me.

“Well, I was embarrassed and kinda shocked to find myself kissing one of my trees the other day. I realized what I had done and stepped back, feeling rather weird.”

“What kind of tree was it?” Nancy asked, laughing.

“It was a madrone. Madrones are notoriously difficult to transplant and I just bought two of them. One was a little wilted at the top, and I was stroking it – and then without thinking about it, I leaned over and kissed it!”

Everyone laughed except Nancy who said, “Not only are they difficult to transplant…They don’t like people.”


“Well, that’s what everyone tells me. I tried growing one in my yard one year. You know, they look so beautiful with their glistening red bark when it rains. But it didn’t do well and then it died. My friends all said, ‘You can’t grow madrones anywhere near people. They just don’t like them.”

I thought about it. It’s true that madrones seem to grow only in wild woods. But what did she mean, “Everyone tells me“? Why hadn’t I ever heard this? I even went to a propagation society meeting at the SF conservatory of flowers once and asked the experts how to propagate madrones.  They weren’t interested in answering my question. I couldn’t figure it out; the speaker just shrugged me off. Maybe they’d had their own difficulties with madrones and didn’t want to admit they didn’t understand the true reason.

I had once heard another tree story that I found odd, about persimmons. I planted one in my yard in Mill Valley and it died soon afterward. A neighbor stopped by to tell me I had planted it in the wrong direction. Wrong direction? I asked. “Yes, you have to plant the grafting joint pointing due East. You’ve planted it in another direction. It will never grow.” ?!!

Irma asked, “So, what did the madrone do after you kissed it?”

“It just stood there.”

John added, “Well, you’d best plant it far from humans.”

Too late for that. I’ve potted it up near my front door. I’ll let you know how it goes.



Cortina Rancheria Endangered

Rancheria: an amount of land set aside for  small native American communities, specifically in California.

I drove to the Cortina Rancheria one day, just to see what was there. The Wintun Indians have lived in this community for over a hundred years, probably much longer. It is not easy to find, although a mapview will show that the rancheria is just over a range of hills from our B&B in Rumsey.  I drove north on highway 16 to its junction with highway 20; then east until I came to a two-lane road winding between oak covered hills.  Deep within the hills, and at the end of the road I found the community with its cluster of homes and a…roundhouse!

I was too nervous about disturbing residents to get out of my car, although I longed to discover when and if the roundhouse is still used for celebrations.  I had read accounts of the Big Head Dance being performed at the Cortina Rancheria outside an earlier roundhouse in 1916. Anthropologists from the Hearst Museum were present to take photos. It was possibly the last Big Head Dance performed, certainly one of the last. The dance is named after the turkey feathers worn on the headdress of the male dancers.  The feathers splay out in all directions. The dance is involved with mystery and magic, keeping evil spirits at bay. This blog entry isn’t really about the Big Head Dance, just the fact that the Cortina Rancheria is an important historical place for Wintun Indians.

A Wintun roundhouse where Big Head Dances were performed.  This roundhouse was at a neighboring rancheria near Cortina, Grindstone Creek.


Big Head Dancers

Today I learned that the Cortina Rancheria is threatened by fire. The “Highway 16 fire” has bloomed out of control in the last few days. Reports say the beautiful Cache Creek Canyon, just above my home at Cache Creek Inn, is blackened and charred. The fire has spread over the hills toward the rancheria.

Today’s fire nearing the rancheria

A night jog reveals fire in the hills

I’ve been puttering in the garden all day, sprucing up the yard for guests.  Pulling weeds, with chickens at my feet keeping me company, I noticed firetrucks speeding by.  Then a sheriff car with siren going. More firetrucks.

“There’s a fire up in the canyon,” I commented to the chickens. I glanced westward but saw no smoke and continued working until my arms ached. Then I walked down the road to pick wild figs. As I ruffled through the scratchy branches, more firetrucks drove past.  A neighbor drove by and rolled down her window. We chatted about neighborly business before I asked her what she had heard about the fire.

“Well,” she said, “I heard it started near low-water bridge and then moved further up the valley in the other direction. When the weather is this dry, anything will start a fire. Even sun shining through a bottle onto the long grass…”

Low-water bridge? That was just 5 miles away, one of my favorite hiking destinations.  After the sun set, great plumes of pink smoke lit up the sky over the ridges above Cache Creek. My husband arrived home from work and said there was a roadblock at the Casino.

I decided to go for a midnight run and check things out. My husband asked groggily from bed, “Aren’t you going to put on a fireman’s helmet?”

“Nah,” I responded. “I’ll just tell them how to put out the fire.”

There was a weird glow over the hills, which were lit from one direction by the 3rd quarter moon and the other direction by the fire. As I rounded a familiar curve in the road 2 miles along the riverside, I was astounded to see flames licking the hills. This was much closer than low-water bridge.  I sat beside the road and watched. Ghost pines and blue oaks were burning above me. My usual destination is a bridge 2 1/2 miles away from our home, in the midst of Cache Creek Gorge. Fire was burning so close to the bridge that I didn’t want to go that far, but I could see it from my vantage point.

I finally began jogging home, and now saw that the fire was following me. It was burning the hills above my friend Noel’s hunter cabin. When I arrived home, there was an email from a friend in the Bay Area, who said she’d heard on the news about the big fire near Rumsey: was I safe?

I had intended to shut off the irrigation system when I returned from jogging, but am now leaving it on.