Monan's Rill Community


One year after the fire
September 28, 2021, 8:50 pm
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One year after the fire

This morning dawned at Monan’s Rill with a few pink clouds in a clear blue sky. As the sun rose, drops of yesterday’s rain still dripped from oak leaves, and clung to the tips of the new green grass that has germinated in the past few days.

It has been one year since the Glass Fire burned through Monan’s Rill with all its fiery force on the morning of September 28, 2020, transforming the land, the community, and all of our lives.

The days surrounding that hot, windy firestorm felt nothing like the pleasant post-rain sunshine and cool autumn breeze that surrounds us today, but the fire is still ever-present around us. The smell of burned wood meets our noses as the sun warms the rain-moistened char of downed limbs and stumps that ignited a year ago, smoldered for days, and continue to litter the ground.

Capacious empty holes yawn where homes once held generations of community members in all the beautiful messiness of their lives. Acres of formerly dense forest have been reduced to swaths of jagged stumps as our logger cuts down Douglas fir trees killed by the fire and hauls them to the mill to be transformed into lumber.

Yet just beyond the salvage logging area, native plants like Yerba Santa, roughleaf aster, and velvety goldenrod are thriving, their seeds, foliage, and blooms brought to life by the rejuvenating force of the fire.

And close to the land’s highest point near Diamond Mountain stands a vibrant living testament to what is possible with caring and appropriate land stewardship: the 6 acres that we burned in a prescribed fire in 2019 stayed healthy and untouched in the wildfire of 2020. The trees, ferns, and native grasses in that area continue to thrive while the heavily-torched, browned and blackened surrounding areas have barely begun to recover. 

As all of us who are part of Monan’s Rill reflect on the fire and all that has transpired in the past year, our feelings and experiences are complex and paradoxical. We feel grief and gratitude, anger and sadness, turmoil and peace. We mourn all that can never be replaced, appreciate the ways that we continue to be held by the land and community, and embrace the openings for emergence and transformation that the fire has created.

Though there is so much more experienced and felt than can ever be documented, a few of us offer these words and images to mark this important anniversary:

One year ago today we woke up for the last time in our home. Our homes. 

If I had ever replaced my candles I would light one! 

Life continues to be grief-stricken, awkward, blessed, tiring, fragmented, and sweet. All of that. 

I’m thinking tenderly of the community of people we held dear, who made up our lives and our sense of possibility – those who are by our sides trying to rebuild and those who have moved on. Trying to read the message underneath this sense of painful but also understandable scattering.

Giving thanks to all the helpers and givers and mentors and guides and companions I’ve found over this past year. I don’t see many in person! But I know you are there. 

And the deer and the squirrels and the steller’s jays and the acorn woodpeckers and the oaks and the manzanita and the wild grasses are there. Giving thanks to the mountain.

– Amy

A year ago tonight, we had two of three cars
“Go-bags Loaded” and we
Believed our most “precious items”
safely packed, just in case

A year ago, tonight we
Watched the winds and fire cameras on our devices
And began considering the real possibility
That the fire in the Napa Valley might come
Our way….

A year ago, we were “whole”
22 adults living or about to be living in all our homes,
We were on the cusp of agreeing to a new financial structure
And it appeared that we had prepared our homes
So that they could be defended against a fire…

A year ago we had no idea what was coming our way
How each of our lives would be forever changed
Of what was lost that mattered
And what was lost that didn’t mean a thing

A year year later
We are oh so much smarter and wiser,
Oh so much more appreciative of what we had
And so very much reduced in numbers
And yet, something magical has remained
That out of the ashes of what was
Are very real “life nuggets” that remain
And a bond….even between those that left
That no fire could destroy

A year later, the land remains
Scarred but healing
The wildlife is returning
The forests will regenerate
Not as quickly as the grasses did.
But this time…we will assist and take
The wisdom that was seared into us…
And share what we’re learning
For future generations in this watershed

How it can be done
With love, sweat, and yes…tears.

– Ken

Most of all I miss the beautiful Tracy Yurt, built with love. A wonderful space to have lived in. Such a calming home on the land I call home, Monan’s Rill.  

– Sue

The biggest impact to me was the loss of six people all within a few months of each other.  We already knew they were all going to be moving on sometime in the next few years, but having that loss all at the same time on top of the loss of trees, house, and all possessions was a lot. The spirit of the community remained and I felt blessed for the buildings that did not burn because once I knew what had survived I felt pretty certain that the community would survive.  I have always believed that the land would call the people together who were meant to be here and I continue to believe that.  Although the structure of it changed, I did not lose my home. 

— Linda

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the glass fire. I don’t know how to write about this past year. It is clear that I am still very much in the middle of a story that I don’t really know how to tell. That has always been the purpose of all the photo documentation— it’s the closest to a story that I can share. I took this photo tonight of a volunteer sunflower growing in the footprint of the barn, specifically where the milking room was. And I guess this year has been full of finding beauty, life and hope in the most unexpected, impacted places.This flower still made its way to life after the big equipment came and scooped everything away. Wendell Berry wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” This is a sacred place. This is a place of heartache, of healing, of home. What is clear to me about the story I am in is that the setting is here, on this land. The characters and plot will develop and unravel and change and I will lose my place, reread the same line over and over again, get paper cuts, leave water marks and break in the spine….but the Where is the part of the story that I understand. I feel so lucky to have even one true part revealed.

— e

Throughout my adult life I’ve always tried to remember, appreciate and understand how lucky I have been in this life.  Since the fire that appreciation and understanding has only rooted itself more firmly into my existence.  I’m thankful and honored to be such a fortunate human being.

— Bill

At the beginning of this anniversary day, several of us gathered on Zoom in the darkness before dawn to sit in silence, together and alone, guided by Amy with a koan and a poem:

____

After the great fire in 1374 at the Engaku-ji Temple, scholars came to see what had happened to the great library. The teacher, standing amidst the ashes and rubble, said that nothing had been destroyed. “What are you talking about?” the scholars and students asked.  He held up his hand and said, 

“The covers were burned but you can still hold the teachings in your hands.” 

____

“The Singing Bowl”

 by Malcolm Guite

Begin the song exactly where you are. 
Remain within the world of which you’re made. 
Call nothing common in the earth or air. 

Accept it all and let it be for good. 
Start with the very breath you breathe in now. 
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood.

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time. 
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow. 

Become an open singing bowl, whose chime
is richness rising out of emptiness.
And timelessness resounding into time. 

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are. 

____

We are all so grateful for everyone who has supported and accompanied us on the journey of this past year, and we look forward to continuing to walk with you as we rebuild and reimagine our relationships to each other and the land and the future of this community.



One Step Closer to Rebuilding…
August 28, 2021, 4:39 pm
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One Step Closer to Rebuilding…

Debris removal is complete!

At the end of July, more than ten months after the Glass Fire and three rounds of excavator scraping later, our wildfire debris and ash removal was finally completed!

Crews came to take away stakes and caution tape and then completed the last step in the process: an erosion control mix (mostly wood pulp with a binding agent and some green dye) sprayed on the soil post-scraping, and wattles in some places as well, to mitigate any potential erosion of the bare soil in this winter’s rains.

We are grateful to finally be at this place so we can move forward with septic assessment, site preparation, and civil drawings to support the design and permitting for rebuilding our community homes. 

Welcoming pollinators

One of the strangest experiences in the first 6 months after the fire was the near-complete absence of insects from the land. Not a bee nor a mosquito was to be found throughout the fall, winter, and early spring.

Nonetheless, thanks to many generous friends we gathered seedlings and seeds of pollinator favorite flowers like salvias and cosmos and wedding candles, and made space for the many poppies and sunflowers and borage that started themselves from seeds fallen last year.

Lo and behold, as spring turned into summer, pollinators showed up.

Wild honeybee swarms have taken up residence in hollow oak trees once again, bumblebees cover flowers from morning to night, tiny native sweat bees collect pollen on chamomile flowers, hummingbirds zip from the garden to the forest to the feeders we fill for them daily, and we’ve even seen swallowtail butterflies and hummingbird moths among the buddleia bushes that came back from the ground after the fire. 

Raspberries return

More good news: although the decades-old raspberry plants in the Monan’s Rill garden burned to the ground during the Glass Fire, they quickly sprouted back from the roots, showing new green leaves as early as October, despite no rain.

Over many community workdays since then they were weeded, mulched, and protected from deer browsing by a new fence, so we are now enjoying bursts of raspberry flavor, while the bees appreciate the pollen and nectar from their flowers.

And a lion (or two)?

We’ve installed a new wildlife camera on the North side of Monan’s Rill and recently caught at least one lion passing by. Can you see that second pair of eyes in the background?

The resilience and regeneration of plant, insect, and animal life — wild and cultivated — at Monan’s Rill has given us all hope in these challenging times.


The smoke in the air from the devastating Dixie and Caldor Fires is challenging our community workdays, but we would still love for you to sign up and stay in touch as we navigate this season.

At workdays over the next few months, we will be tending to the garden, building compost, harvesting azolla, mapping oak trees for oak woodland rejuvenation, and more.

Volunteers are also always welcome to stay into the afternoon for a distanced bring-your-own-lunch picnic with community members and volunteers, take a dip in one or our two ponds, and/or participate in the first portion of our community business meeting to learn more about what we’re up to at Monan’s Rill. 

We hope to see you soon!



Post-fire ecology and future prescribed burns
June 24, 2021, 1:12 am
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Post-fire ecology and future prescribed burns: A visit with Fire Forward

We had the good fortune to spend a morning with the team from Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Fire Forward program —Dr. Sasha Berleman, Brian Peterson, and Garrett Gradillas — walking the land to observe post-fire recovery of our diverse ecology, imagine future prescribed burns, and identify fun fire following plants.

Viewing the map of the land before our hike

Starting at our community building, Rick shared a map of the eastern portion of Monan’s Rill to describe where we would walk, near the east edge of the property to consider where a containment line could be put in for future prescribed fire on the land once the vegetation has grown back enough to warrant prescribed burns. We shuttled up to the top of the land (referred to as Narnia) in the back of the truck, and made our way downhill on foot from there.

Getting off the truck at the top of the land and observing the 2019 prescribed burn area

As we drove to Narnia, we passed through the 6-acre area that was successfully burned in a prescribed fire led by Sasha in June 2019, fifteen months before the Glass Fire. (Incidentally, our prescribed burn is mentioned in today’s in-depth Living with Fire article in Bay Nature magazine). This area is one of the healthiest among the 414 acres that Monan’s Rill stewards, as the intense flames of the Glass Fire burned all around it but did not enter because of the fuel reduction that was achieved through the prescribed fire. Brian was quick to point out that this is not always the case with land that has had a prescribed burn in advance of a wildfire, but it is a beautiful visual example of one of the beneficial effects that prescribed fire can have.

A stark contrast between the area treated with a prescribed fire in 2019 (right), and land outside the prescribed fire area which burned much more severely in the 2020 Glass Fire (left)

Outside of those six healthy and green acres, the severity of the Glass Fire is abundantly evident. Fir trees are torched from bottom to top. However, hardwood trees are beginning to sprout back from the bases, and shrubs and herbaceous plants are beginning to germinate an grow on the forest floor, now that they are no longer shaded by firs and the ground is not covered in the thick layer of duff created by fir needles.

Dead fir trees that used to dominate much of Monan’s Rill are now beginning to be replaced by a wider diversity of native species

As we traversed the contours of the arbitrary linear property-line boundary, we encountered a matrix of different soils and ecologies, evident even through the massive damage of the wildfire.

Discussing strategies for future prescribed burns with a view of the community center below and the Santa Rosa plain in the distance

On our walk, we also stopped to observe and identify many species, including fire-following native flowers like the ground rose and wiry snapdragon.

Ground rose (Rosa spithmea), a native rose which grows in forest and chaparral habitats, especially areas recently burned
Wiry snapdragon (Sairocarpus vexillocalycaulatus), a fire following wildflower found only in California and occasionally Oregon

As we moved from the forest into the chaparral area, we talked about what kind of plan for prescribed burns would best support the ecology and the safety of the community in the face of future wildfires which we know are inevitable. The chaparral likely will not be ready to burn for 5-10 years, depending on how quickly it regenerates. The chamise is vigorously sprouting back, but the manzanita species that is prevalent at Monan’s Rill does not resprout. Its seeds are stimulated to germinate by fire, though the seedlings are only an inch or so tall at this point, so they will take a while to become mature plants. Moving forward, Sasha suggested prescribed burns in this area every 10-15 years. More frequent burns in chaparral can kill the vegetation permanently and convert the area to grassland, often dominated by invasive species.

New green sprouts from the roots of chamise surrounds blackened stems that were killed in the Glass Fire

For a lot of the area we walked, the approach Sasha and Brian recommend is “wait and see” — nobody can say for certain exactly how the landscape will regenerate, what species will show up, and how. In the meantime, we have our work cut out for us reducing the fuel load in the area where our homes once stood (and will eventually be rebuilt) by clearing dead manzanita and other brush that was killed but not consumed by the wildfire. We can also prepare to eventually build control lines for prescribed fire by cutting dead trees near the perimeter of future burn areas so they don’t become hazard trees that are more complicated to remove later. And several of us will continue to participate in prescribed burns on other private and public lands so we have more skills and experience to apply to bringing good fire to this land when the time is right.



It’s Hot Out! Time to Jump in the Pond!
June 2, 2021, 11:39 pm
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It’s Hot Out! Time to Jump in the Pond!

A few years ago, a little water fern called Azolla filiculoides showed up on the surface of the upper pond at Monan’s Rill. At first just a small patch of green, it quickly grew to cover the whole surface of the pond. The lower pond stayed clear that year, but the following year the azolla made its way over the spillway and down the creek to colonize the lower pond.

To some, this little plant is an annoyance to be rid of. But there are many benefits to azolla as well. It converts nitrogen from the air into a form usable by plants, and in fact is as rich in nitrogen as cow manure. Like all green plants, it also takes carbon out of the atmosphere through its process of photosynthesis. And, as it sits on the surface of the pond it helps prevent evaporation.

If it is allowed to build up for too long, azolla can cause problems as it piles up on itself, then sinks to the bottom, and sucks all the oxygen out of the water of the pond as it decomposes, leading to anaerobic conditions. But if it is regularly harvested and tended, it makes an excellent mulch and compost ingredient, providing nutrients and moisture balance to the soil and plants.

Last year we harvested the full surface of the upper pond (pictured above), but we didn’t make much headway on the lower pond, so the mat of azolla became quite thick. For the past couple months, e has been diligently harvesting loads of azolla from the lower pond nearly every afternoon, throwing a net into the pond, pulling it back to the edge, and scooping piles of azolla on to the shore. e has also brought in some impressive harding grass plants that have taken root on that thick mat of azolla.

Help harvest azolla this Saturday afternoon 

This weekend, we have shifted the timing of our community workday to the afternoon. Join us on Saturday, June 5 from 1-4pm to help with azolla harvest and other community fire recovery and resilience projects.

Bring your swim suit (or clothes you don’t mind getting wet) if you want to get the full in-pond harvesting experience. There are also plenty of ways to help with azolla harvest and other projects without jumping in!

You can sign up for our workday here.

Feel free to pass along the invitation to friends — we welcome new folks to join us! Children are welcome as well. We have at least one kid-friendly project every workday.

Advance sign up at least 24 hours in advance is required for all volunteers. Volunteer spots are limited and COVID precautions are in place to keep everyone safe and healthy. 

Thanks and we hope to see you here!



Community Workdays are Vibrant and Important, Still

Community Workdays are Vibrant and Important, Still

Through the wildfire last fall, many of the nutrients in vegetation, trees, and dead leaves and branches were released into the soil, leading to unprecedented growth of plants like wild radish, thistles, malva, and many kinds of grasses this spring. 

Where do all those lush weeds go? We layer them with food scraps, manure and bedding from the goat stalls and chicken coop, and azolla harvested from the surface of our pond, to make a compost pile, then add the biodynamic compost preparations (also lovingly donated by friends to replace those burned in the fire) and wait for the magical alchemy of composting to transform it all into powerful fertility for the garden soil and the crops it will grow. 

During recent community workdays many helping hands have cleared these weeds from garden beds to make space for spring vegetable starts, lovingly donated by several of our farmer and gardener friends since we have not yet been able to rebuild our greenhouse.

Sadly, we have to report that an unexpected day of cold winds brought frost to our garden last night. This morning Thea wrote on Instagram: “After weeks of heat, last night brought strong winds and frost which damaged a large portion of the crops in the garden, beautiful peppers and cucumbers and basil and tomatoes and squash and flowers all of which were grown by friends and given to us to revitalize this garden that is the heart of our community after the fire. Most of the seedlings sat in their pots longer than I would have liked waiting for bed preparation and irrigation to catch up with them, but after a super productive workday a couple weeks ago we finally got everything into the ground, watered, and mulched. We were all astounded by how much food and flowers would be forthcoming. Bringing this garden back to life has been a big project for me since I left my full time job and moved back to the land, something tangible I could contribute to renewal after destruction, and so even though I’m used to the ups and downs of farming it is particularly painful to see so much of this new life killed today. Seems like more row covers and low tunnels will be in our future if we want to keep growing food in this increasingly unpredictable climate.”

Our GoFundMe is still open – if you can contribute to our ongoing garden recovery – including new starts and a start on our greenhouse, too – we will deeply appreciate the help. Thank you!

Join Us for Community Workdays:
Star Thistle and the Weed Whip Challenge

Although fire can disrupt the life cycle of some invasive species, it can create more space for others to come in, such as the Harding grass and spurge we have shared about in earlier newsletters. Now that we are into May, another invasive has arrived on the scene: Star Thistle. We are lucky to only have it on the western edge of Monan’s Rill land, but it is already flowering so the time to clear it is now. Join us for upcoming workdays to see this rarely-visited corner of the land with some beautiful westward views and keep the Star Thistle in check by pulling it before it goes to seed.

Many people have the misconception that once land burns in a wildfire, it is immune from burning again. As a sobering article in the Press Democrat this week emphasized, that is far from the truth — in fact, without careful post-fire stewardship, fire-scarred landscapes can be ripe to burn again quite soon after the initial blaze.

Here at Monan’s Rill, we see the greatest risk this year from the potential of a grass fire, as the wild oats and other grasses are taller than we have ever seen them, and are already becoming golden and brittle from the hot and dry spring we are experiencing.

Do you have a weed whip/weed whacker/string trimmer? If so, please join our weed whip challenge and help us clear around our remaining buildings, travel trailers and roads to make sure Monan’s Rill is safe this fire season. You can sign up for one of our upcoming workdays, or contact us to arrange another time to come and help out.

Our next volunteer workdays will be Saturdays, May 22 and June 12 and we invite you to sign up to help with one of several projects including pulling star thistle, weed whipping grass and tall weeds for fire safety, tending to the garden, and more projects to be determined.

Feel free to pass along the invitation to friends — we welcome new folks to join us! Children are welcome as well. We have at least one kid-friendly project every workday.

Advance sign up at least 24 hours in advance is required for all volunteers. Volunteer spots are limited and COVID precautions are in place to keep everyone safe and healthy. 

And if you can’t make it this month or next, please do sign up for our newsletter so you can keep up to date with how we are moving forward!

Our deep gratitude goes out to everyone who has been supporting us through this challenging time of devastation and renewal through your financial gifts, your participation in workdays, and your companionship, whether near or far. This greater web of support helps us continue to build toward a healthy and resilient future together!



Goodbye to the Structures of Our Lives
May 16, 2021, 10:12 pm
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Goodbye to the Structures of Our Lives

Just two weeks ago, seven months after the Glass Fire, excavators finally arrived at the Rill to clear away our burn debris – the remains of our homes, barn, community toy shed, wood sheds, cars, well, hot tub, greenhouse, garden shed, play structures… Our memories. Our lives the way they were. So often social media leans towards the light, the bright and shiny and resilient. So over these two weeks, to honor the grieving process, Amy posted just a photo or two or three per day of our beloved burned structures on our Instagram page, with small passages of gratitude and memory (with help from Thea and e), to say goodbye. To make room for and honor the shadow that we know is there, so we can move wholeheartedly forward with rebuilding and re-visioning the Rill.

Now we are posting them here. The goodbye passages have been edited and altered and extended at times from their social media incarnation, because of the collective nature that the project became. Other people’s words and memories are in some places woven in.

Thank you for being on this journey of shadow and light, with us.


Garden House. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for the beauty, the polished wood and broad panes of glass, for the late-night fire watches in the downstairs office, the happy hours amidst cascades of flowers, the parrot who once regaled us naughty cries, and for the garden – a masterpiece created over time. Goodbye.


Patio House and Ridge House. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for standing watch over the rill and the valley, for being at the end of the Daffodil Path. Thank you Ridge House, the first of all the houses at Monan’s Rill. For the massive stone chimney built by group effort, your whimsical art, your purple walls and the massive Mother Tree that stood outside your wall of windows and then didn’t. Thank you Patio House for housing so many families and growing better over the years, with gorgeous decks, your shady patio and many entrances. Goodbye.


Hill House and Studio. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for being a sweet spot way up on the hill. For your green roof, cool downstairs, for the root cellar, and the broad deck like a wonderland, under the Dragon Tree. Thank you for the sweet sanctuary of your Studio. Goodbye.


Oak Corner. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for your resilience, for holding so many families over the years, for allowing so much laughter and life to roll through your halls. Thank you for morning coffee on your lovely expansive deck, sunlight piercing the fog. That late afternoon iced tea brewed on your deck, enjoyed while the sun was setting, was divine too. Good neighbors rattling your screen door, delivering the best eggs. Half-buried matchbox cars, tucked in your foundation, memories of all the kids that played under your porch. Goodbye.


Barn. Thank you for sheltering our beloved animals. Thank you for calling us to the steady rhythm of daily chores, where we often overlapped into impromptu conversations. Thank you for storing a cider press we could drag out in the autumn. Thank you for your heavy sliding door, your hay dust in the morning light, and for holding our bursting, aching hearts as we learned lessons of life and death. Goodbye.


The Longhouse (West Wing, Long House, Pooh Corner). Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for your innovation, versatility, your devotion to community, your willingness to change. Thank you for the long sinuous stretch of yourself, your holdfast nature, your attention to the raucous red-winged blackbirds, the stately grebes, and the occasional heron on the pond. Thank you for the cool air that flowed through and around you at night, from the forest to the pond, like a quiet caressThank you for your hospitality – warm muffins and sparkling holiday trees and good books and a place to run and ask when we needed something at the Hub. Goodbye.


Coyote House. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for your solidity, up there at the top of the hill, watching the edge of the forest. For the ample carport, which stored so many people’s camping gear and tools and bikes. Thank you for the brilliant blue tiles, the rock wall at your base, the roomy closets, the claw foot tub, the dreamy sleeping porch under the starlit sky. Goodbye.


Manzanita House. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for being our cabin in the woods, our light-filled refuge, our original hub. Thank you for the welcoming front stoop. Thank you for the tall windows that allowed us to track the moon, and therefore our place in this world. Thank you for your roomy kitchen, and the loft that became a nest for growing children. Thank you for being so close to the road, so neighbors could wave and smile and easily stop by. Thank you for your tall ceilings echoing our laughter, tears, and merry shouts. Thank you for your expansive deck inviting us to play in the forest. Thank you for the crackling of deer hoof on live oak leaves, and for the birdsong. Goodbye.


The Yurt. Thank you for sheltering us. Thank you for being our most recent, and most astonishing, house. Thank you for the craft. For your circular embrace. For the many kinds of wood you held, bringing the forest inside. Thank you for having an ideal layout for games of tag with a toddler, for the built-in bookshelves and built-in bed Thank you for your broad dome of light, for your attention to detail, and for being a joyful, companionable gateway to the garden. Goodbye.


Garden sheds and greenhouse. Thank you for nurturing thousands of seedlings that became food for our community and flowers to delight our hearts. Thank you for storing the seeds and tools and equipment and infinite varieties of irrigation supplies that oscillated between chaos and order and chaos again. Thank you for anchoring garden committee meetings and Monday night barbecues and workdays and blind wine tastings and all the in-between conversations around your long wooden table with its rounded end, hosting laugher and tears and heated debates and hugs. Goodbye.


All the Other Assorted Structures of Our Lives: chairs, fences, cars, woodsheds, hot tub, well, toy shed, play structures (including the hollow tree at the bend that was an ancient, friendly playhouse), the Caboose (first a darkroom, later a writing/dreaming sanctuary), the Poultry Palace, the Round Table under the grand garden oak…. The debris cleanup contractors did not know what to do with you when they arrived. What are these odds and ends of people’s lives that don’t obey the rules of being tidily next to private houses? What is this place? “It’s community,” you whispered, and they shook their heads and we smiled. Thank you, Caboose and table and coop and sheds and playhouse with the poppies stenciled on your side and all the rest, for evolving alongside and amidst us, following your own logic (a logic held in stories), for meeting so many needs, for being our companions. Goodbye.


Don’t tell us
how to love, don’t tell us
how to grieve, or what
to grieve for, or how loss
shouldn’t sit down like a gray
bundle of dust in the deepest
pockets of our energy, don’t laugh at our belief
that money isn’t
everything, don’t tell us
how to behave in
anger, in longing, in loss, in home-
sickness, don’t tell us,
dear friends.

——

Goodbye, house.
Goodbye, sweet and beautiful house,
we shouted, and it shouted back,
goodbye to you, and lifted itself
down from the town, and set off
like a packet of clouds across
the harbor’s sandy ring,
the tossing bell, the untowned point—and turned
lightly, wordlessly,
into the keep of the wind
where it floats still—
where it plunges and rises still
on the black and dreamy sea.

From Mary Oliver, “On Losing a House,” in Michigan Quarterly Review, August 2017



Savoring Spring In So Many Ways

Spring at the Rill has been lively! We’ve been able to watch the lush recovery of our land in real time. Birdlife, fungi, lizards and snakes, jackrabbits, new fawns, oak shoots, stump-sprouting toyon and madrone, honeybees (finally), and the flowers. The flowers! If you have been following us on Instagram you have seen some of the flowers. We were told they would come and we were not let down.

In charcoal-rich places where we reseeded, we have also welcomed a lush carpet of native grass, with small dabs of lupine and poppy. We will seed more before the rains next fall, after our salvage logging is done. We are removing burned firs on the southern slope of our ridge, in order to restore an oak savannah ecosystem. (Many thanks to Pepperwood Preserve for treading this tender ground before us – it hurts to see any tress come down, even when we know there is a larger reason.)

We have also been growing ourselves as human beings through this time. We held a small Easter gathering, to celebrate community. We are working with Kate Sassoon, a community facilitator rich in experiences with different kinds of cooperative groups, to reground in consensus decision-making for the long rebuilding road ahead. And we also have started planning and visioning our rebuild with the help of the amazing Robin Stephani of 8th Wave, a local architecture firm devoted to climate- and fire-resilient, affordable Sonoma County housing.

This coming Saturday, May 1st, we are celebrating spring in the way we know best – by connecting with the land and each other. We are hosting a Bioblitz, a citizen science project that brings teams of people together to gather information about local biodiversity. You can read about it in this lovely Press-Democrat article:

https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/lifestyle/watch-for-wildlife-at-burned-down-monans-rill-this-saturday/

And if there is space left, you can sign up though our link tree here: https://linktr.ee/monansrill

While all this life is blossoming, we don’t want to sugarcoat the process. There’s a lot of hard physical and emotional work going on. Just today, the excavators arrived to start the debris cleanup on all of our burnt homes, well, garden shed, barn, community toy shed, and more. It still hurts. We are so grateful for all the ongoing support, through our GoFundMe, through our community workdays, and through sheer emotional connection. Thank you so much.



The Promise of Oak Restoration

The Promise of Oak Restoration 

One of the hardest things about this fire has been its impact on the trees. Yes, those of us who lost homes are grieving our homes, in our different ways. But we all share in the sadness of losing countless beautiful, beloved trees: many firs – including one that sheltered the ashes of a community founder; gorgeous oaks that graced our homes and barn; at least one maple – which always delivered a precious shock of vivid spring green or glowing autumn yellow as the year turned; and countless madrones and manzanitas, with their smooth tawny barks. 

Some of these were lost to the Glass Fire itself; they toppled or charred as it moved through, or soon after.  Some were declared hazard trees by PG&E or AT&T in the fire’s immediate wake, and were cut down. Some we have removed ourselves, as we know they will not recover. And PG&E is back on our land now, taking down trees they marked “P2” (Phase 2) that are in danger of falling on power lines. Later this year, we will engage a forester to manage salvage logging in some areas of our forest, taking out dead firs that can be used for lumber, reducing fuel load in the process.

We know that there is so much work to be done to heal and restore and rejuvenate this landscape we tend. We need to be on the lookout for erosion, invasives, and impacts on the habitat of our non-human neighbors.  Out of all of this, though, something beautiful is emerging: a commitment to oak restoration. 

Thankfully we have so many local resources and leaders to turn to, in order to understand how to do this work. Pepperwood Preserve, our watershed neighbor, burned in the Tubbs Fire of 2017, and its scientists and educators have a lot to teach us. Recently, a few of us attended a Pepperwood webinar on the indigenous meaning and tending of black oaks, taught by Clint McKay, Pepperwood’s Indigenous Education Coordinator, a member of Pepperwood’s Native Advisory Council and of the Wappo, Pomo and Wintun communities. (Monan’s Rill is situated on the homeland of the Wappo / Onasatis people.)  

The acorns of the beautiful black oak provide sustenance for the Onasatis people and many of their non-human siblings. In his teaching, McKay told us about Pepperwood’s Black Oak Project. They identified 60 healthy specimen black oaks and studied their microenvironment. In order to replicate this health in other trees, they conducted microburns, removed invasives, and thinned the forest. At Monan’s Rill we have done some of this kind of work, in partnership with the NRCS EQIP program and Fire Forward, and now the Glass Fire has given us an opportunity to rethink large swathes of our land. We know that “oak woodlands” in northern California do not usually look the way they did when they were stewarded by indigenous communities, and that our mountains in particular have experienced a long stretch of fir overgrowth and oak crowding. How can we use this moment of devastation to plant beauty, share resources more wisely, and cultivate a healthier relationship with the earth we walk upon?

Some of us will walk with Clint McKay at Pepperwood this spring, to learn about black oaks and other plants and trees important to our local indigenous communities. We are also in conversation with longtime oak arborist Dave Muffly, learning about oak propagation methods that we could use here at the Rill. All of this is happening in concert with our work with Friends of the Mark West Watershed and the Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, striving for watershed health and large-scale vegetation management for fire safety. 

This is undeniably a challenging time for us at the Rill, and we are buoyed by the vision of a healthier forest and planet. We are humbled by what we continue to learn about indigenous land stewardship practices. We are nourished by the promise of oak woodland restoration.  

(Photo credit: Pepperwood)

p.s. You can support our work on oak restoration, and community restoration more broadly, through our GoFundMe donation page. Thank you so much!



Madeline’s Tree
January 23, 2021, 5:14 am
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Madeline’s Tree

At the top of the lower meadow and pasture is Madeline’s Tree, named after one of the founders of Monan’s Rill, who died peacefully at home on this land and whose ashes are buried under a rock cairn at the base.

This sacred great grandmother tree has watched over our house at the Rill since long before it was built, embraced me in morning meditation during shelter in place last spring, and helped me find strength and clarity as I returned to the land after the fire in the fall.

Although the top branches are still green, an arborist has told us that the fire did so much damage that this tree has a very small chance of survival. So it is coming down, we are letting go, and feeling the loss.

I woke up this morning with the song “Clearcut,” by my former JED Collective housemates Ethan Miller and Kate Boverman, in my heart. As I expected, I can’t find a recording anywhere on the internet. I think I still have the CD, but if I do it is in the house below Madeline’s tree that we still haven’t moved back into. The house that is surrounded by a burned landscape and so many trees, both dead and alive, that are being cut down by PG&E contractors every day.

The chorus, which is what has been singing inside me since I woke up, goes:

I feel like I’m clearcut
I feel like my rivers have run dry
And I’m raw beneath the open sky
and the rain, when it comes,
will carry me away in a landslide

There are many verses to the song but these lines resonate most with me today:

If this broken world was all I knew
If all I hear was sorrow’s cry
What would I know of anger and hope
Or for what would be worthy to die?

But I have seen forests as old as riverbeds
I’ve seen trees that rise up to the dawn
And I have known love that rises above
The despair that this cruel world brings on

I’ve seen beauty in the eyes of another
I’ve heard music you would not believe
And the source of my pain is the source of my hope
In a vision of what this world could be

-Thea @farmerthea – 6-year resident of Monan’s Rill



Community Renewal

Community Renewal

It is hard to capture the tumult and sadness and hope and laughter of the past few months at Monan’s Rill. Though we have had to stop holding community workdays, we are still gathering every Saturday to do the work of repair and rejuvenation that we can do on our own. We have salvaged garden tools and fencing, built a new goat shed, trenched for water and septic and internet lines, removed dead trees where we can and hauled brush to careful burn piles, dug out invasive grasses and reseeded with native grasses and lupine and poppy. This weekend we pruned and mulched the raspberries, which are already sprouting!

We also have been meeting regularly, often over Zoom, to use consensus as we face this moment. We also gathered on Zoom for our Winter Solstice celebration, and for Christmas Day storytelling, and New Year’s Eve bingo!

And we have walked the land. As individuals and in small groups, we have meditated, sang, cried, rested on the healing earth. We also set up a Building and Design Committee and walked possible house sites, imagining the future. We are on our way.

You can still give to the Rill. Everything we have received through the GoFundMe has helped the efforts above, and every donation will help keep us going.

You can also sign up to receive our new e-newsletter. We will keep you up to date on our renewal work, and let you know when we can open for community workdays again. They were such big, beautiful, joyous and helpful events! And you can also follow us on Instagram @monansrill.

Thank you for everything you have done to help keep this dream alive.