Sunday, November 11, 2018

Which Neighborhood Will Burn Next?

California has had terrible firestorm tragedies in the last two days. I mourn the loss of life. It is so very sad and hard to grasp the extent of the disaster. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

The title of this blog is a difficult question to confront, but we have to face the issue.

I’m writing this from the Bay Area, where I’m exhibiting books at the San Mateo Harvest Festival. The Bay Area is choked in smoke from a fire that yesterday burned the entire town of Paradise, which is near Chico. It makes me ask questions about our response to the situation.
What should we do? One of the most sensible approaches is to reduce fuels in the forest. We’ve had 120 years of active fire suppression (putting out all fires). The result is a massive fuel buildup. Forests naturally burn every decade or so. Some forests burn more often. It has been estimated that Tahoe's forests used to burn every 7 years on average.

Fire is a natural part of the forest. If we could go back to that natural state -regular small fires in most of the forest - we wouldn't have anywhere near the problem we have now.

Putting out all those fires over all those years means we now have ten or fifteen times as much dead branches and trees as normal. Try to walk through a forest like that. You can’t. They are continuous thickets, impenetrable. Any source of flame makes them an explosive.
If there is a high wind and low humidity and no recent winter storms, all it takes is a lightning strike, or a sparking powerline, or a campfire that isn’t dead out, or a sparking trailer safety chain dragging on the highway. The result is a “Blowup,” which is an uncontrolled fire that can’t be stopped by any current measures.
(I’m not an “experts’ expert, but I know something about forest fire, having written a book about it. Tahoe Blowup.)
Anyone who is observant can see that the climate and the forest is not the same as it was even as recently as 20 years ago. The forests are drier, and they are burning up faster and taking with them anything (like houses) in the fire’s way.
I’ve read and heard many unreasonable responses to the fire danger.
Some say we shouldn’t live here. Maybe so. But where would we live? Nebraska? Do you really want most of the residents of the Western States to move to your neighborhoods back east?
Some say we can live in California but we shouldn’t live in the forest. Maybe so. But cities burn, too. It seems to me that more people have died in California’s “city wildfires” like the one in Santa Rosa last year than in “forest wildfires.” This isn’t a new situation, and it isn’t just in California or the other Western States. The Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin in 1871 is estimated to be the deadliest fire in American history, having killed over 1500 people. Possibly the second deadliest wildfire was the 1894 fire in Hinckley, Minnesota when 418 people died. The two worst American fires in history were 2000 miles from California.
Fighting fires takes money. Some people say that we already pay enough taxes, and if we want more money to deal with fire, it should come from other programs. Okay, which programs? And if you say that California has many superfluous programs that could be cut, then what do you say about other lower-tax states that don’t have such programs yet still have fires?
Some people say we shouldn’t do major controlled burns because the smoke they produce is bad, and they destroy wildlife habitat. Some people say that even driving on the forest floor compresses the soil and damages roots and wildlife. No doubt that is all true. But these major fires are uncontrolled and produce vast quantities of smoke, kill vast quantities of wildlife, and they don’t just compress the soil, they annihilate it, turning it into fine silty ash that runs into the rivers and pure lakes like Lake Tahoe, killing fish.

We need a huge plan, a Wildfire "Marshall Plan," to go into forests everywhere and remove a sizable portion of the trees and shrubs. In the 19th century, California’s forests were open enough to gallop a horse through them. They were kept that way by regular, natural fires, mostly caused by lightning. Those fires came in all varieties, but most were low intensity, what are called ground fires, clearing out brush and grass and some trees. Forests evolved with such fires. Most of those fires did not go into the tree canopies, what we now call Crown Fires. Because we now have so many communities near trees, we can’t let wildfires take their course. So we have to shape them by physically taking out the fuel. Some would be cut up for lumber. Some would be chipped for ground cover. And some would be burned in controlled burns.
Yes, we would still have damaging wildfires. But they would be fewer and less intense.
Please spread the word. If we don’t dramatically reduce the fuels in the forests around your house, your house may be the next to burn.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Cal Neva Resort Still Lives... Sort Of

The Cal Neva Resort renovation is still in progress. For those who don't know, the Cal Neva become famous when Frank Sinatra bought it in 1960 and then invited his Rat Pack buddies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop to hang out there. Many other celebs hung out there as well, including a young actress named Marilyn Monroe.

The Cal Neva sits on the state line at Crystal Bay on the north end of Lake Tahoe

A vintage photo with cars from the early '60s.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the resort stumbled. New owners went through bankruptcy, and the resort has resembled a ruin more than a hotel.

Then, in January of this year, along came Larry Ellison, the big cheese at Oracle Corporation. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Ellison, he's one of the richest of billionaires, and he likes to invest in land. Among other places where he has a large stake is Incline Village, where he has been building what will no doubt be a grand residence. One of his last big deals was buying nearly all of the Hawaiian island of Lanai for a mere $300 million. (The Cal Neva ruins only cost him $36 million.)

So finally, the Cal Neva has a deep-pockets owner.

Local word is that Ellison's "team" presented renovation plans to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. That alone is a significant step forward and gives locals hope that the Cal Neva site is on track to once again become a glorious hotel.

I'll try to update as appropriate.

P.S. The Cal Neva and Sinatra and Monroe all figure in my novel Tahoe Blue Fire, one of the favorites of my books. It has 505 reviews at an average of 4.6 stars. You can check it out for only $3.99 on Kindle. Here's the link: Tahoe Blue Fire

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Climate Refugees

I've often noticed that many Tahoe residents are climate refugees. Like us, they came for the skiing and stayed for the year-round sunny weather. Although we're now used to California weather, I was reminded of it when we came down to exhibit my books and Kit's paintings at the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival (October 26, 27, 28). While much of the country is getting a taste of cold, wet winter weather, and Tahoe's daily highs are all the way down into the 60s, Sacramento is in the high 70s and low 80s, and the sun is brilliant.

So I Googled "Sunniest American cities" and here is what I found. Sacramento and Los Angeles are number 3 and 4.

Here's the link:

It's a fun website. You can search for lots of variables like cloudy days and average temperature. You can also search by state and by city.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Painters Paint, Writers Write

The pesky part of being a writer is you have to write the books. You can't just think about it or talk about it. Same for painters.

Having said that, I admit that my wife and I have it pretty good, living where we do and both having creative occupations.

This past week, enabled by perfect weather, not too hot, not too cold, was an example. We went out to Hope Valley, just south of Tahoe. I brought a chair and my laptop, Kit brought her plein air easel, and we focused on that pesky work. Nice gig...

The view of Kit's work space as seen from my "desk." This is the Carson River, still flowing after all these sunny months. The little bump in the far background is Round Top, 10,400 feet.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Kids And Horses

One of the cool things about being an author is participating in charity-name auctions to raise funds for a worthy charity.

I've done this a few times. The way it works is an author agrees to allow a charity to auction off the right to have one's name used for a character in the author's upcoming book. The winning bidder gets the fun of having their name applied to a fictional character, whether it be a wonderful heroic character, an evil bad guy, or somewhere in between.

My most recent title, Tahoe Skydrop, had two characters named for auction winners. One provided funds for the Women and Children's Center in Reno. Another provided funds for the Carson City Friends of the Library.

Last summer, I was approached by the organizers of a fundraiser for the Kids & Horses charity in Minden, Nevada. They provide therapy for kids that revolves around getting those kids into contact with horses. It turns out that many kids with problems strongly connect to horses, whether riding them or simply being around them.

The fundraiser auction was held in Incline Village a few weeks ago. They auctioned off two names for me to use in my next book.

How much did those two character names raise? $5,000!

Wow, I guess I better do a good job with those characters!

Here's the link to Kids & Horses

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jackie, The Very Nice Ski Instructor

Last weekend, I exhibited my books at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, Nevada. It was, as usual, a mob scene.

One fun experience was when a charming woman with her two sons in tow came to my tent. She introduced herself as Jackie, and she explained that 28 years ago, she'd been a ski instructor at Heavenly.

The view from Heavenly

That was the year my wife and I moved to Tahoe. We wanted to take a break from the real world, so we decided to try the "ski bum" life for a season and got jobs at Heavenly. I worked as a "liftee" helping skiers as they rode the lifts. I asked the supervisor if I could be assigned to the "Mighty Might," a type of rope tow on the beginner hill where skiers grab onto "paddles" attached to the tow.

To give you some perspective, the total vertical drop at Heavenly is 3,600 feet. The total vertical drop of the Mighty Might hill was 10 feet. But you'd be amazed at the trouble (and fun!) beginning skiers can get into with just 10 feet of rise and drop.

The Mighty Might assignment was considered the lamest, most uncool job in the lift department. But I saw an opportunity to make it my own. I put up a blackboard and wrote down the names of countries that the beginning skiers came from. Dozens of countries every day, from all over the world! I put up fun quotes. And when I wasn't busy, I sat in the sun (or in the storms!) and wrote.

When ski instructor Jackie introduced herself in Genoa, she said how she still remembered me on the Mighty Might hill, writing every day on my yellow pad of paper. She was so glad to see that my writing had turned into something.

Then I suddenly remembered her from 28 years ago. And I recalled that my singular impression of Jackie was that she was the nicest, smiling-est instructor at Heavenly. And like me, she didn't consider working the Mighty Might as lame at all. She saw it as an opportunity to help brand new skiers get a great introduction to a fantastic sport in one of the world's most beautiful areas.

As my memory of her came back, I told her two sons about how nice and kind and generous Jackie was with her ski students.

They looked a bit doubtful.

Jackie said, "See boys? I CAN be nice. I HAVE been nice.

What fun!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Great Danes At Book Signings

This weekend, I'm exhibiting at the Candy Dance Festival in Genoa, Nevada's oldest town. Yesterday, people brought four Great Danes. One couple had two, a Brindle and a Fawn. One man had a Black. Another had a Merle. All quite large. All very calm and well-behaved.





Of course, the dogs were mobbed by the crowds, getting hugs, pictures, pets. Very fun.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Oh, Yeah, Time To Revisit...

There are many places in Tahoe worth revisiting again. And again. This is one of them.

The Rubicon Trail is accessed from D.L. Bliss State Park on the West Shore, just north of Emerald Bay. Because Rubicon Point is the tallest underwater cliff in the lake - 1000 vertical-foot-wall dropping under water - the depth gives the water an amazing color.

Note the two stand-up paddle boarders off the rocky point.

Much of the hike is substantially above the water, so you have many opportunities to look straight down into that amazing blue.

If you want more details, here's a link to a post I wrote four years ago:


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Why You Should Come To Tahoe In September

It doesn't get better than this. High temp of 73, high 74, high 70...

And the forecast is calling for more of the same for the rest of the week. Add to that the fact that the tourists have largely left. Yesterday, we walked out to Pope Beach. It was deserted. The water was an amazing transition of intense blues. The beach sand was hot. And no one was there.

Time to come up the mountain and enjoy it!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

What Your Dog Can Do That Chimps Cannot

Chimps, Bonobos, and the other great apes are our closest relatives. They are highly intelligent and have complex societies that are surprisingly like ours. Yet there is something that your dog gets that they don't.


With very little training, your dog knows what you mean when you point at something. It will look where you're pointing because it knows that you want it to. Maybe it's which cup to knock over to find a treat. Or maybe it's a bird off in the next field.

But despite lots of effort, researchers can't seem to get our primate cousins to understand this basic skill.

Sure, there are no doubt lots of perfectly good reasons why chimps and bonobos don't understand pointing. Or maybe they do understand it, but don't care. (Cats, anyone?)

Two of our Great Danes got excited when we pointed. It didn't matter if it was a squirrel in a tree or a plane in the sky or a tennis ball in the grass or a treat we'd hidden. When we'd point, they would immediately turn and stare, frowning, focusing, looking for whatever it was that we were trying to indicate.

Smart animals, those dogs we all love.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


We were hiking in the woods the other day and came upon a couple with two German Shepherds. The dogs wore goggles.

While we watched, one of the couple held the dogs while the other person hiked far into the woods and hid a blue "bone." When that person rejoined the spouse and dogs, they waited a bit, then gave the command "FIND."

The dogs raced off into the forest. A short time later, the dogs ran back. One of them had the blue bone in its mouth. A great game of course. The first time we'd seen it with dogs wearing goggles.

If your dog has a head injury you don't want it to scratch, you put a big cone collar on it. The dog will of course try to get that cone off.  I would have thought that once out of the observation of humans, the dogs would shake and paw-off those pesky dog goggles as well. Shows what I know.

The people explained that the dogs like the goggles because, as with people running through trees and brush, the dogs don't have the stress of branches poking at their eyes.

Wow, and I thought the dogs I've seen wearing sunglasses just did it to please their owners.

Another example of dog smarts.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cool Tahoe Hiking Website

Local writer/artist/photographer Jared Manninen has a newish (at least to me) website about trails in the Tahoe area. It is called Tahoe Trail Guide dot com. Whether you're a hiker or skier or snowshoer or backpacker, or you just want to look at the gorgeous pictures, you will enjoy this site. Here's the link:

If you want to learn about its creator... Another link:


P.S. I've met Jared. In addition to his generosity - obvious from the effort he's put into making all of this info available to the world for nothing - I can also attest that he is a Nice Guy.

P.P.S The pic above is a Pixabay image, as I did not feel I should grab one of Jared's off his website. Better to go to the website and see Tahoe the way Jared presents it.