Monan's Rill Community


Post-fire ecology and future prescribed burns
June 24, 2021, 1:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

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.



Goodbye to the Structures of Our Lives
May 16, 2021, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

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!