December 22 (1975, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1987, 2002)
“I'd sure like to get into that” ~
The Big Picture (N. Fk issues, end of 2002)

12/22/75   the roof of clouds has dispersed into cumulus towers, shining in the sun. i am feeling my characteristic winter depression and loneliness, which seems to be a self-feeding cycle ~ i feel sad and lonely, so i don't want to be with people when i'm like that, and feel even sadder and lonelier. i make a miserable hermit. and i whimper about it, as lora said. […]

[Russell Towle's journal]

12/22/77 ~ early morning. fogged in and sprinkling; it rained hard most of the night. today was scheduled for a hike with neil and ron but it looks doubtful. the winds of yesterday morning subsided without bringing rain, but late in the day it began sprinkling. [...] around sunset i got inspired and fired up one of my burn piles in the meadow. it was a beautiful sight, the sparks twirling up in the darkness.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

12/22/78  another sunny day ahead. to work at michael's. then a few days off. christmas. snow still blankets the canyon walls, most of the way down to the river. neil went cross-country skiing all over moody ridge yesterday and raved about it. i'd sure like to get into that. we made some music last night with his friends from pittsburgh, lindsley and larry. real nice.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

12/22/86   Clouds cover the sky, but not so thick that the moon can't be seen at least as a glow; I need to get in more firewood. I have none except what must be split. But more remains to be cut nearly directly above the cabin. Stuff that came down in the heavy snow of November '85.”

I have been turning the idea over in my mind, of hewing the pine trunks square, sixteen to twenty feet long. Pine trunks? Yes, those of the Doomed Pines, including the Big Alcove pine, from which I could get a twelve-by-twelve. My only reservation is that pine, especially this ponderosa pine, is kind of junky wood, and can essentially only be used indoors. But I could hew three roughly comparable twelve by twelve-by-twelves and use them as plates and ridge pole for a meadow office. I also have on hand the hand-hewn redwood timbers from Año Nuevo.

Shit. That storm is winging in fast; winds are beginning to make roaring sounds in the trees, and the clouds thicken further, hope I have an hour or two for firewood. Dawn still a ways off.


Skies begin to lighten and color; I'm having black beans with salt and salsa for breakfast.

Two stripes of orange in the east, otherwise, grey upon grey, altocumulus rolls embedded in the cloud deck, wave clouds, high winds.

I've had my beans and soon I should get my saw ready and climb the steep hill above my cabin. A satisfying breakfast.

An unprecedented fall season; I didn't go skiing once yet. But that is mainly because the Sierras have very little snow; very dry through November and December.

Well, I did my chores, cut my firewood, enough for a couple of days anyway, maybe a week; it has begun to snow even though the snow level was predicted for 5000'! I managed to finally find my chains, tangled in the manzanita near where I got stuck last spring. Manzanita—why did I think, manzanita? 'Twas ceanothus, dead and dry.

Snowing: that means I must move my car to the Meadow, and maybe on out to Casa Loma Road.


Let it snow down to 5000' all it wants, but please, not here, not now.

One never knows; I have been here for only one winter in eleven when I had to ski in and out for a sustained period. This could be another one.

It's dark outside, which means the clouds are thick.

Tires are so damn bald that if the ground even shows white, I'm stuck; so no naps or anything. God, this would be a nice day to just hang in at home with a book or two, but, well, maybe I will. It's just that I have nothing but beans.

No, I'll go out and about, to Colfax for carrot juice and tofu, which means to Alta for gas, and I need tortillas from Gold Run. 9:00 A.M. Today will be longer than yesterday.

Well, just daringly braved the storm and went into Alta and Dutch Flat and Gold Run and immediately returned, hoping that the snow would not quite have thickened to where I couldn't drive back in; and I was right, and here I am, the fire is going, and this storm suddenly seems like a “nice” storm, warmer than I'd thought, and not very strong, in fact, it diminishes even as I write…

A lot of easterly component to this storm; surprisingly cold for that.

Night. Monday Night Football fading away from lack of electricity; no sunshine today to lift the batteries above their perpetual discharge. And I, I worked hard once again, and feel the soreness in my shoulders and back and arms. Sure wouldn't want to cut firewood for a living.

But cutting firewood has definite advantages: the cabin is snug and cozy now.

Re-started the Meadow burn pile during an interlude in the storm this afternoon. I'm beginning to want to work hard on the artemisia. At least experiment with repeatedly burning it to death before resorting to poison. Treated in the old Roman style, the Christian Inquisitory Style.

The meadow is so very open—which is what I've always wanted. But exposure to that part of Moody Ridge I call Red Ridge is troubling, as is exposure to the canyon at large; I debate the merits of planting a row of maples and dogwoods along the canyon rim; but they would not grow high enough; a row of poplars would, but poplars are not native, and I resist planting them at the canyon rim.

Wow, the fire got very hot, I've been sitting around without a shirt for quite a while now.

Skies have cleared and it will freeze hard tonight.

I had a brilliant idea for listening to the football game; bring my solar panel inside and lay it beneath the gaslight! But it didn't work. The juice would run out, and then after having been turned off for a while, the radio would work for a minute or so; I had the typical sorts of experience: “now the patriots are set to go, third and seven… Eason drops to pass… garble garble” (I turn on the little radio, whose batteries are also dead): “Totally incredible!!! Touchdown Patriots on one of the longest passes we've seen this season, with a miraculous catch by Morgan!!! What an incredible play!!!”

I remember this happening with the Giants games last summer.

Winter, now.

When the meadow is this open, even a small car is conspicuous, I originally envisioned lots of fruit trees and grape vines, but I like the openness and the natural vegetation enough that I'm looking at other areas now for plantings, like around the cabin here. I love the openness but at times feel too exposed and am concerned that I must leave “cover” here and there… Storm winds roared through the meadow. But the pines are growing taller.

Too easy to become entrenched, living around here, I suppose.

[Russell Towle's journal]

12/22/87   morning, grey, gloomy, dripping. A storm just blew through, a relentless mild misting rain which must have meant more than a foot of new snow up on top. I worked for a while at Ed's yesterday, but was unable to get a [burn pile] started, everything wet from the previous storm.

 [...] Well, at least now the days will grow longer.

 [...] Now, since thunder booms, I turned off my tape of Bach's Brandenburgs and listen to the world—a sweetie, boggy, booming world. [...]

Now it snows, sleets, an inch on the ground, trees white, fog thick and inscrutable.

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Sun, 22 Dec 2002 11:02:18 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: The Big Picture

Hi all,

I wish you all the best of the holidays. Here "the beautiful" snow covers everything, tho in the last storm's last gasp it warmed ever so slightly, and a mixture of snow and rain soaked all that had fallen before. The skies cleared, overnight, a cold north wind began to stir, and this morning, everything crunches and glistens, and the snow is not soft and powdery, but a monolithic mass of white ice, about a foot deep.

As the year 2002 draws to a close, environmental issues and news bearing upon the North Fork American include the following:

I. Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a California Wilderness Bill which, were it to be passed in its current form, would (1) Add some lands to the existing Granite Chief Wilderness; (2) Create Duncan Canyon and North Fork of the Middle Fork American (also known as "Black Oak") Wilderness areas, and each of these Roadless Areas would be split by corridors set aside for motorcycle use; (3) Create a North Fork American Wilderness, embracing all that part of the North Fork Roadless Area east of the Cherry Point/BigGranite trails on the north, and east of the Sailor Flat Trail on the south. Thus most of the North Fork American Roadless Area would be excluded from the Wilderness Area. The decision to exclude this large area from the bill was made by Placer County District Five Supervisor Rex Bloomfield, so that mountain bikes could use the historic trails within the great canyon.
Senator Boxer's bill involves many many areas in California, mainly within our National Forests. I support the bill, although I regret that our Roadless Areas in Placer County have been split and truncated in the interests of motorcyclists and bicyclists. While California's population continues to increase, with no limit in sight, the importance of preserving our wild lands grows, and all that much more.

Incidentally, Tim Lasko asked me recently, why the North Fork American canyon west of Green Valley, through Giant Gap, past Canyon Creek and Pickering Bar, was not part of the Roadless Area, and not included in the Proposed Wilderness. The short answer is, Roadless Areas are taken to be at least 5,000 acres in size. The Tahoe National Forest boundary traverses Green Valley, just upstream from Giant Gap, and the roadless lands upstream do comprise well over 5,000 acres, in fact, they amount to at least 45,000 acres. However, the canyon lands downstream, although roadless, are within the purview of the Bureau of Land Management, and I believe that the canyon lands between, roughly, Fords Bar on the west and Green Valley on the east do not comprise more than 5,000 acres. Hence they were never considered to comprise a Roadless Area.

I explained to Tim, also, that when I brought up the subject, with environmentalists, and public officials, of these roadless lands, within the great canyon, and contiguous to the existing "official" Roadless Area, and suggested inclusion of these lands within a North Fork American Wilderness, well, the response was surprisingly negative. Apparently the idea that a roadless area next to a Roadless Area might be considered to be, as it actually is, one and the same area, is some kind of heresy.

So, Senator Boxer's Wilderness Bill would give Wilderness designation to a portion of the upper canyon. This is a step in the right direction.

II. Land Acquisition, North Fork American. Both Tahoe National Forest (TNF) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have been engaged in the acquisition of private inholdings within that portion of the canyon with Wild & Scenic River designation. It has been a long, slow process, but, it is important to note, there has been considerable success. Within the more westerly, BLM-managed parts of the canyon, lands in Green Valley, along Canyon Creek, and at the head of Indiana Ravine are among the most important acquisition targets. Add to these lands north of Fords Bar, containing portions of the historic trail from Gold Run to Iowa Hill (now a road), and lands at the head of the Blue Wing Trail. Then there are about ten parcels of private land along the rim of the canyon in Giant Gap, on Moody Ridge, all of which threaten the viewshed. It has recently been demonstrated, by residential construction along Lovers Leap Road, that men with chainsaws and bulldozers can make sure their houses are seen from many miles away, and from the river itself. Just such "development" is possible on any or all of the ten parcels on the rim of the canyon in Giant Gap. These parcels also lie along the line of a proposed Giant Gap Trail, part of which already exists, in the form of an old mining ditch, west of Lovers Leap, which I have hiked on for 25 years. This is one of the most scenic trails I have ever walked. Most of the land between Lovers Leap and Garrett Road, near the Gold Run Diggings, along the canyon rim, is already owned by BLM. But the ten parcels in Giant Gap, were they developed, would not only make the trail an impossibility, but might go a long way towards ruining the "viewshed" around this very remarkable gorge.

Where TNF has been able to find some Land & Water Conservation Act funding for land acquisition in the upper canyon, the BLM has been using land trades. For my own part, I wish we could round up some Land & Water Conservation Act funding for BLM land acquisitions. I do not like to see our public lands traded away. In particular, I hear that Folsom BLM is considering trading a certain 200-acre parcel near Old Highway 40 (Magra Road), west of Gold Run, for the aforementioned Fords Bar lands. This 200-acre parcel contains an old mining ditch I call the "Manzanita Miracle Trail," in honor of its ancient and enormous manzanita bushes. I would hate to see this little patch of open space and wild lands traded away.

The primary acquisition targets within TNF should include lands in Green Valley; Section 31, on Wildcat Point, between Wildcat and Wabena canyons; various land sections in the basins of Big Valley and Little Granite and Big Granite creeks; odds and ends of old patented lode claims; and last but not least, lands on Snow Mountain and near the Long Valley Trail and Devils Peak. Add to these, lands at least partially in the basin of the North Fork of the North Fork American, especially on Sawtooth Ridge, and on the divide between Blue Canyon and the North Fork of the North Fork, as for instance, at Lost Camp, where a historic trail begins.

And all these acquisitions should be understood to be within the larger context of the problematic holdings of Sierra Pacific Industries, within TNF and many other National Forests in California. SPI, as its name might imply, takes a very "industrial" approach to timber management. Its clearcuts, over recent years, will leave scars visible for decades. I believe that timber, and a lot of it, can be harvested, on a sustained basis, here in California. However, I also believe it should be done with care, and with a light touch, and with respect for our scenery and wildlife and our trails and—our heritage. We ourselves are the stewards of that which we will bequeath to the following generations. Just because our forefathers went wild in a bloodlust of capitalism, and wrecked the environment every which way, doesn't mean we have to do the same.

III. Residential development. As already mentioned, it has been amply demonstrated that houses on ridgetops can be seen for many miles. I remember seeing (with a sick feeling of foreboding) the metal roof of a cabin on Moody Ridge from Tinkers Knob, on the Sierra crest, thirty miles east, twenty years ago. More recently, as mentioned above, it has been shown that with a big enough bulldozer and a big enough chainsaw one can make a big enough clearing for a big enough house to convince anyone on the world that "private property" comes first, California and the North Fork American, last. When it was proposed that a private parcel above Iron Point, at the head of the Euchre Bar Trail, said parcel with a non-residential, forestry zoning, surrounded on three sides by TNF lands, needed a large "caretaker's residence" on a steep-sided ridge-top, with the quintessential "million-dollar view" of Green Valley and Giant Gap and Sawtooth Ridge, etc. etc., Placer County was quick to approve; several of us appealed that decision, and won our appeal before the Planning Commission, only to lose, later, before the Supervisors. At that time, the great monuments to egotism out on Lovers Leap Road were cited as having already established a precedent for the intrusion of houses into the great canyon.

Right now, a legal subdivision is occurring on lands near Casa Loma. This large parcel, and another one or two nearby, went up for sale a couple years ago. I tried to contact the realtor, in the hopes that by some miracle I could find a way for TNF to buy these lands, with so much potential to impact the viewshed near Green Valley and Giant Gap; but the realtor never returned my calls, the lands sold, and the subdivision is underway. It can only be hoped that the developers will not avail themselves of the "precedent" established out on the (illegally-subdivided) lands on Lovers Leap Road, and use bulldozer and chainsaw to proclaim themselves masters of the great canyon. This subdivison embraces the main ridge above Casa Loma, especially, those parts of it visible from, say, Lovers Leap, Giant Gap Ridge, and perhaps to some extent, Iron Point.

The scenery in the North Fork canyon generally, and around Giant Gap and Green Valley in particular, was justly celebrated. It is a national treasure, and a part of our nation's heritage. For visitors coming to California on the Central Pacific Railroad, in the 1800s, the view of Giant Gap and Lovers Leap and Green Valley was a sort of miracle. All that they had heard, of the wildness and beauty and depth of the canyons of the Sierra, was found to be more than true. This one view was considered the very best along the entire 3000 miles of the Pacific Railroad. Future generations will wonder how we could have let such a treasure slip through our fingers. I could go on and on but it's time to shovel some snow.

Merry Christmas,

Russell Towle

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