Friday, August 17, 2012

Lost Seagull

Young seagull

At about 10:30 this morning, I went out to my truck in the parking lot across from our store in Garberville, I looked up into the sky, as I often do, day or night, and I saw a seagull flying over. As I watched it curiously it circled around to look at me curiously. It occurred to me that it might be hungry. I had just bought bag of corn chips, so I reached in the truck, grabbed the bag and opened it. I threw a few chips on the ground. Sure enough the gull swooped down. He landed on the parapet wall of the adjoining building. He eyed me curiously like he wasn't quite sure of my intentions. Smart bird! I walked over to the store and went inside. As soon as I stepped inside several crows, ravens and blackbirds swooped in to gobble up the corn chips. Soon the gull got brave enough to fly down and grab a few for himself,

Quite often I see seagulls in Garberville, but not often in the summertime. Usually there is a strong wind blowing or a storm out to sea, or maybe the gull came inland to get out of that darn fog that they have along the coast this time of the year. I can certainly understand that.

Anyway it was cool. The dishwasher next door said that there was another young gull joined the first one to help finish of the corn chips. Call me a romantic fool, but I concluded from that that they were probably a young couple eloping. Why else would they be in Garberville this time of the year.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Ross Sherburn said...
What about Huckle Berries?

You can even buy huckleberies at the above website.

Wow, Ross doesn't realize how cruel some questions can be... Reminding me about huckleberries is like reminding a person about their true love that slipped away and married someone else. Huckleberries just happens to be my most favorite berry in the whole world. The long sad story is that huckleberries are too hard to come by anymore. Now that you are hooked, I'll back up and tell you the long sad story of one of my true heartbreaks.

Years ago, back when logging was a highly a highly revered profession, great orchards of huckleberries grew at the feet of the giant redwoods. When the Redwoods were selectively logged, it would let in just enough sun to cause the huckleberries to bear large quantities of big, fat, juicy and tender fruit. Being a logger allowed a person access to all of the huckleberries that you could pick. Many times when my family went huckleberry picking we would come home with four or five gallons of huckleberries. Those were the good old days before modern logging and rogue corporations bought up logging companies and started clear-cutting and spraying the forests for “conifer release”. I tell you, some times it almost makes a person be ashamed of being a logger. Many loggers didn’t approve of the corporations over-cutting, clear-cutting, and spraying of the forests. I was one.

Tip: To clean picked huckleberries, take a clean piece of synthetic fly screen, tack it to a frame four feet wide by eight feet long. Make the frame four feet wide at one end and two feet wide at the other end. Stretch the screen tight across the one end and let it sag down loose to the other. Sprinkle the berries across the top end then lightly tap the screen from underneath. The berries will slowly flow toward the sagging end. By the time that they get there they will have left all the leaves, stems, and twigs behind. Place a bucket under the sagging end to catch the berries. When the screen gets too many leaves on it, simply brush it off and start over. It makes picking berries much faster and easier, because you can simply strip the branches loosely with your hand. The few leaves that you get doing that can be sifted out using the separator screen.

Before modern forest practices, huckleberries were easy to get. Kids would pick various wild berries throughout the summer, they used the summer work to buy school clothes, or the boys were usually working to buy a bicycle or a new 22-caliber rifle. The berries were sometimes sold to the local restaurants to make their “homemade pies”. Most of the restaurants took great pride in their pie making. Many people frequented the coffee shops back in the ‘50s and ‘60s just for a cup of coffee and a nice slice of “homemade pie a la mode”. (pie, with a scoop of ice cream)

In the '70s, two things happened to ruin huckleberry picking, the timber companies started spraying herbicides for conifer release, and the newcomers started showing up. The newcomers were strangers to the local folks and there was no trust between them. The new people that were buying property were quick to put up "no trespassing" signs, so the berry patches that were available for generations to the local folks all but disappeared. Woe is us.

If you never saw the massive huckleberry patches that were in our hills before the '70s, you are a newcomer to this canyon. Huckleberry brush was so plentiful that we had a huckleberry brush picking industry. It was mostly a side industry of logging. If a logger lost his job, because of seasonal lay-offs or any other reason, they simply picked huckleberry brush or made redwood split stuff. The ones that picked huckleberry brush did quite well as a side job. The brush picking did not deplete the huckleberries, but encouraged new growth that delivered better berries. Yum!

The spays of brush were used in the florist industry for making floral displays. The brush pickers also picked fresh sword fern and sold them to the same processing facility. The large metal building behind the Lutheran Church in Redway was a huckleberry brush processing factory. (Now Johns auto repair?) It was run by the Hunt brothers. Not the famous ones, but the infamous ones. The thing that I liked about the factory is that they refrigerated the sprays of brush before shipping them. I used to get paid to maintain the refrigeration.

The brush was picked as flat sprays, as they were called. The flatter and the more foliated among them were the most premium. The sprays were delivered the processing plant in the metal building where they were graded and bunched for sale. The people that worked in the factory were SoHum’s first "trimmers". The brush was immediately placed in bins with a water spray over them to keep them from wilting, the dead leaves and braches were trimmed out, then they were placed into graded and counted bundles for sale. Once they were graded and bundled, they were wetted again and placed into the large cargo container sized walk-in refrigerator. The entire walk-in full was shipped out to a floral supply house in one big pay-day, then they would start all over again.

But, we were talking about huckleberries themselves, weren't we? As I was saying, huckleberries are my favorite berry. The huckleberries have a very strong sweet flavor, similar to a blueberry, but much more intense. I like to mix huckleberries about one third berry and two thirds apples for my pies. The huckleberry flavor completely dominates the flavor of the apple pie, yet the apple moderates the flavor of the berries for a super delicious pie. You could eat two or three pieces without going catatonic. Home-churned ice-cream goes well with it also.

You can still find huckleberries in the remote locations in the backs of state parks, but nothing like the "good old days". One of my favorite huckleberry picking stories takes place about thirty years ago when my wife, Janis, and I were picking berries in the back of a state park when we came across some bear "sign", that's a polite way of saying "crap". Bears like huckleberries as much as I do. In fact, they will even eat them before they are totally ripe, which seems kinda' like cheating. My wife said, "shouldn't we be worried?" I said "not really, black bears are really fairly timid and they try to get away from you if they can". I saw the look of doubt on her face. I just could not resist going on to say: "They don't usually bother you unless they have a cub. Or, maybe you surprise them or something". I told her, "Just look big if you can, and yell and scream a lot". Then I got to really enjoying her uncomfortable feeling and just could not resist saying: "For some reason, black bears will usually attack women first". Before she could ask why they would do that, we came across more sign... And it was still steaming. Being the gentleman that I am, I quickly escorted her out of there. My plan was that if the bear started following us, I would sprinkle my bucket of Huckleberries behind me. I know full well that if the bear truly liked huckleberries as much as I do, that it would stop to eat the berries instead of me or my wife.

Tip two: Huckleberry pie should ALWAYS be served with barbecued wild salmon.

An interesting side note:

"Huckleberry" was commonly used in the 1800's in conjunction with "persimmon" as a small unit of measure. "I'm a huckleberry over your persimmon" meant "I'm just a bit better than you." As a result, "huckleberry" came to denote idiomatically two things. First, it denoted a small unit of measure, a "tad," as it were, and a person who was a huckleberry could be a small, unimportant person--usually expressed ironically in mock self-depreciation. The second and more common usage came to mean, in the words of the "Dictionary of American Slang: Second Supplemented Edition" (Crowell, 1975):

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Secret patch

I went blackberry picking again today. I have a secret patch of blackberries that grows in a spring. Because of the spring, the berries grow big fat and juicy. The berries also grow on the north side of the mountain so they ripen very slowly. The berries are just now getting ripe. They seem to ripen all at the same time, so it's like picking grapes or something. I usually only get one picking, because what is left is not worth coming back for.

The bad side of this berry patch is that a lot of berries are just out of reach, but I can't resist going after them anyway. Sometimes I end up in the middle of a berry bush and have a hard time getting back out. I always carry my cell phone just in case I have to call the Technical Rescue Team.

I know that nobody would believe my good berry picking, so I took pictures. I took the photos with my cell phone and I'm not nearly as clever as Kym Kemp at Photoshop, so what you see is what you get.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Branscomb Retires from the Redway Volunteer Fire Department

Just so you out of towners know. I retired from the fire department. This is a reprint from Redwood Times

Thanks for the memories; Ernie Branscomb reflects on 39 years of volunteer service Susan Gardner, Redwood

Posted: 08/01/2012 02:35:15 PM PDT
There isn't any organization more important that our volunteer fire departments. The key word here is volunteer. These men and women who are also our friends and neighbors give many, many personal hours to help save our property and sometimes even our lives and those we love. They all deserve a great big thank you.

One such volunteer comes to mind when you think of community service and volunteering. That is Ernie Branscomb. How many times have you seen him on the scene of an accident or fire? Or at a community event helping fix the refrigeration system for a local non-profit group?

Perhaps one of his greatest performances has been in the Garberville rodeo parade each year. He's usually the one who starts the water fight between fire departments. Unfortunately, this past June was the last time you will see him in that capacity. He had been warned that he shouldn't do it, but he went out with a splash, much to the delight of those watching the parade. After all, it's tradition and Ernie is all about tradition.

After 39 years of service to the Redway Volunteer Fire Department Ernie has hung up his turnouts and turned in his pager. He said it's so the “younger kids” can take over where he left off. Let it be known that these “younger kids” have some pretty big boots to fill.

The following is in Ernie's own words, with just a bit of editing by this very humble editor.

How do you summarize 39 years in the Redway Volunteer Fire Department? You don't, so I won't try. I would like to make it clear that I didn't retire because they are threatening to make me stop having a water fight in the rodeo parade.

Kids love the water fight and that includes me. The parade is all about kids and having fun. With the water fight rumor gone, the real reason that I'm retiring is that all of my certifications are expiring and I am faced with once again studying for recertification as a Medical First Responder, CPR, and firefighter. Also, a firefighter must be licensed to drive fire trucks.

Being faced with all of that studying for the limited time that I might still feel young enough to drag a fire hose with the younger firefighters compelled me to consider retiring from the fire department. Recertification is no small task. Firefighters take their jobs very seriously and they consider certification to be very important, but it is also very time consuming.
Ernie Branscomb

A good friend of mine, also in the fire department, said, “being a first responder is the dues that you pay for the life that you get.” And, what a life you get. I would recommend to any young person that is capable, to become a volunteer first responder. There is no better feeling than knowing that you saved a family's home, or saved someone's life. Especially if you are part of a group that did those things as a team where everyone gets to share the credit.

Ernie (center) in his favorite habitat

We always had something to talk about back at the fire hall. The stories are much more glorious in the re-telling. There is no way to explain the bond between firefighters. You would have to have been a firefighter or soldier to know the bond of trust that forms when you trust your life to the person who “has your back.” My life has probably been saved several times by other firefighters. We watch out for each other. It is so routine that you don't even think about it, but you know when it happens.

I joined the fire department “officially” on March 14, 1973. I was a probational firefighter for a length of time before that. We had a serious call at least once a week back then. The houses were wood-framed and had board siding with no sheetrock inside. They had wood shingles on the roof with wood heat or fireplaces. They had copper pennies under the fuses in the fuse box. The houses were leftover from the mill camps that we had in this area. The average cost of a house back then wasn't much over $10,000. Losing a house wasn't much of a loss. We lose fewer houses today. Today's houses are built much better and they are worth a whole lot more, and of course, people are much more fire-conscious.

There is absolutely no way to summarize my experiences in the fire department. That's because each fire, or emergency, has it's own complete story, and there are just too many, but I was there at all of “The Big Ones.” My first call was to the Texaco bulk plant. We got our fire calls from the lady that lived behind the fire hall. If someone called in a fire, it went to her phone, she would sound the siren that called us to the station. After she sounded the alarm she would run to the fire hall and write the call on a chalkboard. I read that board as we were leaving the station on my first call. It said “Texaco Bulk Plant, Rusk Lane.” I swallowed my heart a couple of times and said, “What do I do?” The other firefighters told me to watch them, “and don't do anything stupid, or anything that scares you, and don't get hurt!” That was my very first training as a firefighter. Talk about trial by fire. As it turned out, it was just a broken filler-hose with about 100 gallons gasoline spilled. AND NO FIRE! Whew! Back then, we would wash down fuel spills to reduce the fire hazard. Now, we would soak up the gasoline and put it in containment barrels.
Ernie, shouldn't you be running to the fire?

My very first “real fire” was the Hartsook Inn down in Richardson Grove. With the exception of the north end, the whole building was a total loss. I was stationed at the north end of the building, and I had a lot to do with saving it. It was with a considerable amount of pride, for a new firefighter, that I humbly accepted the praise. It must have been like they say in the theater. The applause can be addictive. I knew from that moment on, how good it felt to be part of a team that could save buildings from fire. What a great feeling!

From the Hartsook to many small structure fires my volunteer career became more routine and my confidence level grew. Among the “big ones” was the Garberville Fireman's Hall fire. The sky was so bright from the fire that I could see to get in my truck at Benbow. I knew the fire was next to the propane bulk plant. I remember the surreal feeling of knowing that the fire was next to a propane plant and I was still headed in that direction. I felt somewhat vindicated that when I got there, all the other firefighters were showing up. I remember feeling that we must be insane. My first station was between the propane tanks and the fire to keep the tanks cool. In theory, if you keep them cool they don't blow up. We had to sacrifice a few small propane bottles to save the larger tanks. Some of the valves on the tops melted off. The flames would shoot like a rocket blast with a roaring blue flame about 25 feet into the air. The Garberville fire department was in the south end of the hall and they lost several of their fire trucks to the blaze. The only injuries that were suffered were some smoke-inhalation and exhaustion. I was totally unscathed, as was the rest of the team that I was stationed with behind the hall. We only had to stand there to hose down and cool the tanks. Some of the other firefighters had to drag numerous hydrant lines to the fire. They got pretty tired.
The next big fire was at the Murrish Food Center in Redway. I was late getting there, because I was responding from Benbow. When I arrived and asked the assistant chief, “Whatta we got?” He replied, “We're (screwed).” That's not an exact quote, but I can't repeat what he really said. It seemed like the fire was everywhere and we tried to keep the fire as cool as we could. After a few sections of the roof collapsed we went inside to start mopping up. One of our team members said that there was fire on the other side of the wall from us. I told him “No way, that's an eight-inch thick firewall.” As we got all the way over to it, flames were shooting 20 feet into the sky. After we finally got the fire completely out the investigators told us that it was an arson fire. They said that there had been 12 “sets.” No wonder the fire was on both sides of the firewall.

Then there was the Southern Humboldt Building Supply fire on March 17, Saint Patrick's Day. We were at a Rotary Club Saint Patrick's Day party and car raffle at the Hartsook Inn. We were coming back into town on the shuttle bus when we saw the fire shooting through the roof. I, and several others, were in tuxedos. I was the best-dressed firefighter in town that night until my wife brought me my fire turnout clothes. Two firefighters climbed up into the building from underneath with a hose and put the fire out. Due to some compromising circumstance I am sworn to secrecy as to who those firefighters were. It wasn't me but they were the ones that finally brought the fire under control. Southern Humboldt Builders and the Branding Iron (Chick's Bar) were total loses. That fire was also arson, but was set by a different person.

As you can see, I could go on and on. I was on the last real fire call that the 1937 American La France fire truck went on. I drove the truck to a house up the hill behind Ruby Valley. We still have the truck and we use it in the parades and to deliver Santa Claus to the Redway children. I was also at the fires at the Log House Museum, the Trees Restaurant, and The Branding Iron Saloon, once again. I was once involved in a fire on Hillcrest Drive that back-drafted while we were inside. I have worked at Landing Zone Safety training, at The Eel River Conservation Camp during several major wildland fires, and I have also worked on many wildland fires.

Of course the highlights of my career have to be the Redway Barbecue held every Memorial Day weekend and the rodeo parade water fight.

He that shall see this day and live t' old age...
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars...
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages what feats he did that day.
Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words ...
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered...
This story shall the good man teach his son...
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
-Band of brothers, (greatly edited) Shakespeare

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