Monday, October 23, 2017

Fire & Hooves

All’s not well in Camelot
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            I’ve spent enough time in Napa, Sonoma, and Guerneville wineries to have a permanent, reserved spot in my heart for that area.
In that other life, the California chapters, we had contracts with five wineries there. Our annual treks to argue contracts or to taste the results of our fruit contribution were always highlights. We even had some edgy adventures on those trips. The first that comes to mind was the time we decided to fly the Hughes up. We hit big headwinds on the east side of Mt. Diablo and sucked fuel at a rate much faster than we had expected. Jim and I talked back and forth about it before we started across the Carquinez Strait thinking we could make Napa with no sweat.
Sweat we did, though, as the winds increased to near gale force and the bottom fell out of the fuel gauge. We even started thinking about real ditching decisions including the possibility of landing on one of the many mothballed ships anchored in the channel. On we went, heaving a big sigh of relief as we cleared the water and ran for Napa at 300’ hugging terra firma of the delta. When I saw Jim later after that day’s meeting, he wouldn’t tell me how much fuel it took to fill the 500.
“Any landing you walk away from is a good landing,” he shrugged.
In fact, we had been picked up by Glenn Proctor of Glen Ellen Winery and we had driven into the land of Camelot northwest of Napa to the winery. If I recollect, our actual meeting had been charged with controversy over the never ending criticism of our San Joaquin grown grapes as opposed to the wonders of the Napa and Sonoma appellations. We had concluded the discussion without heavy casualties and headed for a lunch. Of course, we ate outside in a restaurant off Jack London Road with all the nuances and charm that the area evokes. What a beautiful place that whole country was.
And, “was” is the operative word.
I think the first time I saw it was in the springtime. The green was so intense it hurt your eyes. For a New Mexican who grew up in springs that were dry, cold, and windy, the California springs were always breathtaking. We were simply astounded at the feel of the air and what winter and spring rains could do. Superlatives are the only adequate description.
This morning, though, too much of it lies in charred ruins. From Cloverdale to Geyserville, from Kellog and Calistoga to Fulton, from Santa Rosa and Kenwood to Carneros, and from Lake Berryessa to Napa and Green Valley vineyardists are describing the land as a battlefield. Some 40,000 people have been evacuated over the past weeks and thousands of homes and structures are gone. The death toll is conditionally 41 souls. It is a catastrophe of epic proportions.
The pale of the aftermath is not the only horror. Without any storms to produce lightning, the infernos are man caused. In fact, there is a growing suspicion that the blazes were set with the defined purpose of sending a message and possibly even eliminating competition. No, it isn’t a winegrape competition. It involves the other major cash crop of the area, marijuana. There are those who are saying the fires could not have been more strategically set to damage the soon to be legal dope growing industry.
There is even a name now associated with at least one of the fires, Jesus Fabian Gonzalez. Little Chuy has admitted he started a fire to warm himself and it got away. His fire, though, was not the only thing that got away in his past. He is another illegal who has been in jail, sent home to Mexico only to return repeatedly without consequences. There is a distinct possibility that California, its governor, Moonbeam, and his court of jesters have another sanctuary debacle on their hands and heaped upon the citizenry.
Let us hope that a genuine investigation yields answers to the people who have lost everything. If it is cartel related and Chuy is the fall guy, perhaps there will be truth revealed, but that … remains to be seen.
The truth is the whole Napa area would have been much better off, if from its mountain valleys of Camelot, the dust of grand cow herds was still being stirred. Especially at this time of year when western stockmen are weaning, working cows, and shipping calves, the echoes of now silent cowboy sounds should serve as a wakeup call.
Camelot simply cannot exist in a state of limbo bliss when fuel loads are continuously stacked year after year without reduction. The ruins that now lay smoldering are testimony to that consequence.
I saw four references to global warming this morning regarding the severity of these fires. Hogwash! Recent record thirty to 50” rains added to years of the absence of biomass removal set the stage for correction and the Napa area is being subjected to that correction. It is painful.
It is deadly!
Napa, with the extraordinary natural conditions that make it unique, must understand the value and benefit that hooves on the ground contribute and it isn’t just that area. The whole West is crying for complexity of grazing. Grazers, browsers, and opportunistic herbivores in numbers are all desperately needed.
This is a manmade disaster in full regalia.
Politics, biases, false science, elitism, illicit trade, sanctuary havens, and the absence of reality have all combined in a massive conflagration. No, it isn’t just Napa. Those folks just happen to be the current targets. We are all at risk.
 Grazing husbandry must be sanctioned again and embraced. It is the fundamental component of the management of our natural surroundings.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Cow dust, saddle leather, and Cabernet Sauvignon has always had an intriguing ring!”

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