Sonoma County Version

Copyright by Steven P. Kennedy

 

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The Naturalist’s Scene - a partial script for The Sonoma County Version of The Cannonball Express

Common Ground Theme Song
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mp3 file


Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents (who didn’t go to grade school locally) to the history of the area, to the concept of permaculture, to the plants and wild animals that can still be found on the nearby hills and which are often roaming through their neighborhoods at night. 

Again, the unspoken message to the  residents of the ever expanding, suburban-wild lands interface zone in your county, is to live with nature instead of fighting it. (Or understand wildlife and you won't be afraid of them when you need to rake, mow, trim and plant, to reduce the risk of wildfire damage.)
 
*******This version is awaiting input from the Commission as well as botanists, fire survivors, first responders and fire fighters.*******

Exterior shot of canyon – daytime
CAMERA PANS canyon to canyons and hills.
Ext.  hillside with garden – day
Pile of oak leaves and folded blue plastic tarp lay on ground. 
Erik Larson, athletic, outdoorsman, wood sculptor, family man, methodically rakes up leaves, separating out the trash.
(Jesse)  Hey, I know you. Don’t you play volleyball at Sonoma Valley High? 

(Erik) I hack at it. I get in a good spike once in a while.  Brian let me know you were coming. I hope you're not planning to live off grid, quit your day job and grow weed. I try not to encourage people to drop out of society.

(Jesse) nah.... I'm not an urban refugee. Heavy sigh. City slicker is more like it. I just sold a software company and bought an old house up in the hills.  Now I'm a computer consultant, which is another way of saying "unemployed". I'm gonna get an old pick up truck with a gun rack and a bale of hay so people won't know that I'm gentrifying their neighborhood.  

(Erik) You'll fit right in. How many years have you been married?

(Jesse) All of them. And right now I've got a cash flow problem and I'm too broke to hire the guys at Permaculture Artisans to help me manage the 5 acres that came with the house. I'm used to calling the apartment manager when I've got a problem. Now I've got a whole bunch of land management issues to deal with, on top of our own well, a septic tank, a quarter mile of fence, a rutted driveway that needs a culvert, a leased solar system with worn out batteries, a quarter acre of white zin, two cats, four chickens and a dog.

(Erik) a full plate.

(Jesse) exactly. So, I'm from Boston, Mass where it rains in the summertime and my wife is a California born, earth goddess with this nesting instinct. She wants me to help raise the kids, remodel the kitchen and put in a vernal pool. And I thought running a software company was complicated.

(Erik) I get it. And my computer has a virus, it won't talk to my printer and I'm thinking about investing in bit coin. I think we have a deal here. What do you need to know?

(Jesse) I've got a laundry list...Is there anything you can tell me about water harvesting, storm water management, drip irrigation systems, vineyard management, vernal ponds, native plants, wildlife habitat and soil building? 

(Erik) That's a tall order.

(Jesse) Make it a venti.

(Erik)  This would be a little easier if I was on site but I think I can help. 

(Jesse)  I'll get some help from Permaculture Artisans next year. Right now I gotta protect the house from fire and flood.  I'm trying to avoid being called a "fire survivor".

(Erik)  Do you have any pictures of the property on your phone?

(Jesse) I sure do.. and a Google Earth view too. (Hands the phone to Erik.)

(Erik) ok, I can work from these.... (hands phone back to Jesse.) Let's start with rain water harvesting. See the down spout here? Why don't you get a plastic half barrel from Vinyard Supply and put it under the down spout of your rain gutter here. It's a half barrel in molded plastic, cut lengthwise so it fits right up against the wall.... Not cut across the middle like a planter. What you can do with this water is only limited by its 40 gallon capacity. And the catch with an entry level system like this, even if it's a foot up on a milk crate, is that your hose length is limited to 3 feet. So you can open the tap to fill a watering can, to hand water shrubs during a heat wave or just have water on hand if the power goes out and you can't pump from the well for a couple hours. All that can be handy but I wouldn't drink it without treatment of some kind. There`s just a mesh screen to keep bugs and leaves out of the water. 

(Erik) Anyway, some homeowners will be satisfied with this el cheapo system and some people want to catch every drop that falls on their roof and they'll pay thousands of dollars for a concrete cistern or buy a razzle dazzle system that includes heat sensors and nozzles to automatically wet down the house and vegetation in the event of a wildfire. There's no reason you can't tap into your cistern to drip irrigate your vineyard. The catch is that your grape clusters will need the water during the same heat wave where you'll want that water on hand for a forest fire. You can pipe the overflow to the pond that your wife wants and put mosquito fish in it. The frogs and salamanders will find it on their own and pretty soon you'll have your own little ecosystem. 

(Jesse) that sounds good. 

(Erik) You're not afraid of snakes are you?

(Jesse) Not at all, I had lizards and snakes at one time or another when I was growing up. 

(Erik) well, if you've got water and minnows, you can expect garter snakes and California newts. 

(Jessie) can I count them as dependents?

(Erik) No but check this out. When a water snake eats one of those orange bellied brown newts, it makes him sick for a couple days.... It's like a hangover in Vegas. But then he lays in the sun for a couple days, digests the meal, shakes it off and crawls away. So the newt and the snake are locked in an evolutionary arms race. The newt keeps trying to develop a more toxic skin. The snake keeps trying to evolve a stronger stomach. 

And lizards? When a tick latches on to a blue belly lizard, the tick is cleansed of the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease. So don't give up the flea collars but having lizards around will help keep you and your pets healthy. 

(Jesse) I'm from Boston and I know about Lyme. I suppose if I could figure out that bio-mechanism I could build another multimillion dollar company. 

(Erik) And swim with the Investors on Shark Tank. 

(Jesse) don't tempt me. Trust me. Enough of the rat race.  I'm ready for Green Acres. 

(Erik) (laughs) Ok, to keep all your critters happy, you can line your pond with a plastic liner or clay, to keep it full longer. You'll get your fish through the dry season if you pump ground water into it but it comes out of the ground sans oxygen. So let it drop a foot or so out of the pipe so air gets mixed in. I've got a solar powered aerator with a solar panel about the size of your palm, to keep my fish happy. I even put in an inverted goldfish bowl sitting up on bricks so they've got a place to hide from raccoons and can swim up to the penthouse suite for a look around. Your cat will find that fascinating. The important thing is to design a pond that attracts wildlife down the mountain to drink and not one that keeps them from climbing out if they fall in. You want to avoid creating a death trap. 

(Jesse) ok, I get the picture. 

(Erik) I do recommend piping all the water you can from the hard scape into your cistern or vernal pond to prevent erosion. Just be sure you've got an overflow pipe and a plan B, mini spill way, for water to flow out in the event of a cloud burst. How's the soil loss from your vineyard? The worst erosion I ever seen has been the 6 inch deep rivulets off one of those brand new vineyards in the hills. We're talking tons of topsoil per acre that nature took thousands of years to build....  

(Jesse) Gone in a single rainy season. 

(Erik) right. Soil building is important. If you're paying for trash pick up and have considered hauling it away yourself.... Why not start a compost pile?  Let the FBI take care of it.

(Jesse)  THE FBI ? 

(Erik)  yeah....fungi, bacteria and invertebrates.

(Jesse) Laughs. Ok I get it. 

(Erik)  Do you know that some bacteria produce electricity? 

(Jesse)  oh come on!

(Erik) Yeah, it's true.... Its milliwatts but all you gotta do is feed them and you get free electricity.

(Jesse) I like free. 

(Erik)  Laughs. Layer in your fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves and pine needles with wheel barrow loads of dirt or bags of used coffee grounds from the coffee shop. You might want to build a 2x4 frame with half inch wide chicken wire that fits over your wheelbarrow to screen out the coffee filters and other plastic trash. Buy a bag of enzymes from vinyard supply to make it break down quickly, keep it moist and you are well on your way to building a raised bed organic garden that your wife will enjoy. Did you know that tomatoes are the gateway drug of home gardening? 

(Jessie) I'll bet. All the previous owner did was mow between the rows, so erosion has never been a problem to my knowledge.

(Erik) Alright then, so you can mow or use a weed whacker. In the Tubbs Fire, the vineyards acted as fuel breaks. There was some damage to radiant heat on the edges but all the winemakers have been worried about how the smoke and ash would affect the taste of the wine. With another drought, can they afford to rinse every grape cluster twice? And they're worried about finding labor to pick the grapes, now that we're short 9,000 homes in a housing market that was already tight and expensive. Nobody wants to drive 2 hours each way after a long day picking grapes in the hot sun.

(Jessie) I guess I'm lucky. But if I lost this old home, would I be able to rebuild on the insurance money.... ? It'd be like the ultimate computer crash. 

(Erik) Well, do all the common sense stuff. Clean out your rain gutters. Get an inspection from the Fire Marshall and pick his brain. Upgrade your fire insurance if you put a pricey server farm in the garage. Back up your data to the cloud every day. And be aware that a kitchen remodel might trigger a mandatory fire sprinkler installation in the whole house. Call the building department and get a licensed contractor.... if you can find one, they're all gonna be busy for a while. 

(Jesse) I'd like to create some song bird habitat.  Brian said you knew a lot about native plants and wildlife.

(Erik) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you?

(Jesse)  I guess so.

(Erik sets aside rake. APPROACHES Jesse. Points to FENCE.)

(Erik) (Pointing)  See that? I built that fence myself. Songbirds such as meadow larks perch there all the time. I got my wild flower garden in there and my bee hive too. (Motions with head) There’s deer in that canyon. And they’re hungry! Those succulent native grasses are for them. The garden’s for me. I couldn’t find a bear proof fence....

(Jesse)  reaction shot - Bears ?

(Erik) yeah, the young males tend to drift South from Mendocino County looking for a primo piece of territory so they won't get their butts kicked by a full grown male. They may travel 75 miles in a single day. That's why they end up in back yards in  Healdsburg. Damn kids. They don't get smarter as they get older. They just run out of dumb things to do. The teen age females tend to form a territory that overlaps with their Mother's like links on a chain. So it's rare to see a young female around here. 

(Jesse) kinda like a software company where we call attractive young women "visitors".

(Erik) I guess so....    We have a lot more black bears in California than we did 30 years ago, so they are expanding their range into suburban California and the wine country. The animal comes with the territory and especially in a drought year when nuts and berries are hard to find in the back country. You live up here, sooner or later you’re going to bump into a bear and hopefully you won’t hit it with your car.  At minimum, it will trigger your airbags. That’s $800 each plus a radiator and it’s a tragedy when there are cubs involved, which are traumatized and have to be bottle fed or whatever. If astronauts are gonna hibernate on their 6 month trips to Mars and back, then we got to learn more about bear biology. Simple as that. 

(Jesse) We’re gonna look like fools if the Russians or the Chinese get there first with the most. Maybe I'll partner with Elon Musk and figure out how the bears sleep for 6 months without having to pee. I'm up every 3 hours. 

 (Erik) Been there done that.  Anyway, I built that beehive out of sheets of Kevlar I got from a kayak factory in Reno. That’s why it is outside the fence. It’s bullet proof. It’s anchored deep in the ground. After I replaced the Phillips head screws with somethin’ easier they started calling me “Wing Nut”.  Hey, I just wanted to be able to pull out the frames. 

(Jesse)   yeah-up 

(Erik)  You should get a bear proof trash can just to keep them honest. A fed bear is a dead bear,  ya know. Even the baddest bears give up on the idea of stealing honey from my hive after they’ve swatted it a few times and nothin’ happens except for a few bee stings on the nose.  It takes a couple of hours for the bees to settle down. About once a year a bunch of bees takes off with a new queen and finds a new nest in a hollow log or somethin’. The black bears can have that honeycomb. I like my wild mountain honey and the wax is good for casting jewelery. 
(Walking and talking)(Erik sits. Looks up hillside.)

(Erik) There’s bobcats out there. Raccoons. Rabbits, wild pig, Tree squirrels. An occasional coyote, the econobox of predators and song dog of Indian legend.

(Erik) Yeah, I’m no rocket scientist but I do know a lot about native plants.
(Jesse) so what do I need?

(Erik) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you? 

(Jesse) I guess so.

(Erik)  I’m just getting into the grasses. I always assumed, the grasses were natural. But, no-oo! All of those hyper competitive annuals came over with the cows and sheep. The newest arrival is slender false brome. It's already along the highways and its gonna eat this county for breakfast. The more I look. The more I see of it. 

(Jesse) where did it come from?

(Erik) Asia. The only plant that slows it down is tarweed. A native....
Anyway, this all used to be just logged over forest and overgrazed range land.  Ya know. Fire doesn’t cause erosion. Fire and the hoof.  Fire and the plow.  Fire and the axe. That causes erosion. Scotch on the rocks. Rye on the rocks. Rum on the rocks. It’s not the ice cubes in your drink that gets you drunk. Anyway, let me show you what I’ve done so far. (cut away to grasses) They’re hard to re-establish once an area’s been disturbed. Some I bought in one gallon starter pots and some I planted as plugs from seed I got at a nursery.

(Erik  HOLDS up pot.)

(Erik) This is pinegrass. It should do well, here, on the edge of the woodland with plenty of sunshine. It provides good forage and cover for wildlife. Good for controlling erosion. Tolerates sandy soil. Should grow about waist high.

(Erik picks up another plant.)

(Erik) This is a squirrel tail. Excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds.

(Erik pulls yellow star thistle)
(Jon) There’s not much that competes with yellow star thistle. But, for fire protection, I’ve got blue bunch wheatgrass.

(Holds up pot)

(Erik)  It stays green late into summer without watering. So, it really has to be a hot day before it’ll burn. And, if I water once in a while, it really shouldn't. It’s also longest lived of the native grasses, so it’ll be here for awhile. I’m going to plant a lot of this. Here, take a packet of native grass seed. I’ve got plenty of it.

(Jesse) Thanks.

(Erik walks over to tarp.)

(Jesse) And this stuff?

(FOOT POKES pile of leaves on tarp.)

(Erik) Is going straight into the gully.
WALKS OVER to gully.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno
(Erik) This ditch wasn’t near this deep when I was a kid. (DUMPS IT IN) And this is just from street run-off. See the end of the culvert, there. They finally lined the infiltration pool with cobbles. 

(Pan to culvert)

(Erik) (V. O.) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire, there’d be massive amounts of run-off every time it rained. There’d be nothing to throw in the ditch to stop the run-off.

Steady cam GOES WITH Erik's return to work area. Grabs rake. Leans on it.

(Erik) There’s a gully across the canyon, there, that’s thirty feet deep with SHEER walls.

(Pan to gully)

(Erik) When it rains, all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon, then, out to the river. No chance to soak into the ground. It’s kind of like what happens with a bad fire.

(QUICK CUT TO Wine Country Firestorm)

(Erik) (V. O.) The pine needles in the soil gets so hot, the resins in the pitch can form a hydrophobic layer like wax cardboard, where the water can’t penetrate. It just runs off. That’s why there’s these terrible floods after every major fire. Dry country flash floods are a sight to behold. 

(Stock shot of multicolored and sinuous canyon wall)

(Erik) (V. O.) Water can’t soak in. There’s nothing to hold it. Mud City. Then, things dry up. People build a few more houses, it all grows back and the whole thing happens again. Crazy! The time to stop erosion is before it gets serious, you know.

(Jesse) There’s got to be a better way.

(Erik) Indeed ! Hey, tell Brian I said he should get a REAL job.

(Jesse) I will and thanks for the grass seed. I’ll see you at volleyball.

(Erik) hey before you go... Can you have a look at my computer? And which of these crypto currencies is the best?

(Jesse) sure.  ....Let's have a look at it.  Bit Coin is the name brand that you can boast about but... (Jesse turns to follow Erik into the house.)

(Ext. Day  Jesse leaves. Envelope stuffed with grass seed drops onto car seat. Erik happily taps away on computer keyboard in his home office. )

End of Naturalist’s Scene

(Narrator) As we’ve seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you’ve gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done. The owners of ranchettes, with a couple of acres to dozens of acres of wild lands and vineyards, will do well to hire a land management consultant to help new owners live in harmony with their land and neighbors of all stripes.

(Narrator) (cont.) The wise homeowner who gets this far will re-plant with fire-resistant shrubs or native grasses. Even in the poorest soil, this will provide year-round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well.

*****Stay tuned for further scenes from The Cannonball Express. *****

 

Steven P. Kennedy-Project Director


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