What do ‘Pepe’ the donkey and the baby blue dump truck have in common?
They’re both about the same age for starters. They also both inhabit the same 120 acres of mixed forest, meadow and orchard owned by our friends Richard and Lisa Ernst just outside of Occidental. Richard grew up in San Francisco and spent summers in rustic bliss with his family on the land, which they purchased from Italian immigrant farmers who grew crops into the 1950’s. The fields have since returned to forest, which Richard has been carefully managing, diligently removing the many standing and fallen dead tan oak, victims of the disastrous epidemic of Sudden Oak Death.
A group of friends have been spending Sundays helping Richard cut the oak into firewood, which we take in exchange for our labor and all burn as our primary home heating fuel. Our Sunday ritual has become my favorite part of the week- a chance for all ages to work together on simple, rudimentary tasks, which we’ve already developed into a comfortable routine. Richard fells the trees, which Pierre drags to a clearing with the tractor. I dress the logs, removing all branches, which the kids drag to a pile or launch into the fire. Then we buck the logs into reasonable lengths, which all hands load into the dumptruck for delivery. We burned the brush yesterday under a light rain and took turns tending the fire, our limbs soothed by the intense dry heat. ‘Pepe’ the donkey hung around the edges, steam-cleaning her drenched coat.