California is the world’s 6th largest economy (SF Bay Area  is 21) …and is once again on the leading edge of something….

….. apocalyptic fires in dense urban areas – in December! –  in Southern California. You can bet that something will be done about this new phenom, now that the 1%’er celebrities in Bel Air and Montclair had some of their mansions destroyed. 1.063 homes destroyed, one life lost in SoCal.  NoCal  lost  44 lives and over 10,000 homes.

As one SoCal person said ‘there should be snow on those mountains right now, instead they’re on fire’…  Best article by far on California’s overall  changing climate and fire, is at this link… LA Times. 

A sign of things to come… everything else aside: fire is nature’s #1 ecological restorative process.   

For California, several things are unique and first-time events: high winds from 10pm till 4am – coming from the North and East. Unheard of in December and in SoCal. That, coupled with hot temperatures (90F+) and dry vegetation (‘it doesn’t rain in southern california in the summertime’) and you have a deadly combo – all that’s needed is a spark.

For the recent Northern California fires it was unusual that commerical properties, hotels, and entire subdivisions burned to the ground.  Caused by – perhaps overhead power lines.   A spark though can come from many sources: a backfiring muffler parked next to a curb of dry grass, a piece of metal/chain dragging on concrete, someone flicking out a cigarette butt…. it doesn’t take much.

making Fire personal…

WinSol is bordered on three sides by El Dorado National Forest and very dense trees and underbrush. For the first time ever there is the most extensive logging along the nearby roads that I have seen since the mid 1980’s. This is both good and bad. Bad, in that they are marginally clear cutting – removing 100% of the large trees, leaving nothing but trees under 8” diameter – that’s crazy! The good, in that the dangerous underbrush is being removed, and that lumber prices will undoubtedly go down.

All the warnings have been about new homes being built in the forestlands…

I’ve been through five fires. Two of them major. One destroyed my home, another my storage shed, and two in-house fires from a burning chimney (creosote) and another one I caused with a brazing torch. The first fire was started by loggers I had hired in 1995 – it came within inches of burning WinSol2 – a 2” PVC pipe burned through and unleashed 5,000+gallons of water. It was merely a temporary ‘stay’ because six years later the entire house burned to the ground – supposedly set ablaze by a drifter.

I know that WinSol3 will burn eventually – whether it’s tomorrow or 50 years from now, the forest around here will burn. Fire is the most ecological restorative process in nature’s toolbelt. We humans don’t stand a chance – no matter what our collective ego tries.


Part of the answer is to let the fires burn.  At an Oregon conference i attended a couple years ago it was called ‘point protection’: Point the fire away from old growth trees and dwellings, and let it burn itself out.

Tahoe and the El Dorado NFS has another solution:  monitoring.  With the collaboration between hi-tech satellites and quick-strike teams, we have not had a major fire in the last two years!  wow – that’s a first.  i’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Acceptance is the ultimate solution. I accept the fact that WinSol and the learning center will burn… hopefully later rather than sooner.  i do take precautions in cutting the hundreds of surrounding manzanita bushes,  clearing out dozens of trees each summer and raking up as many of the oak leaves and pine needles and cones that we can muster… it’s an endless job since nature never rests in producing off-springs and growing… which is a beautiful thing.


happy Solstice

I hung around WinSol purposely this morning to witness the first sun at 7:43am.  It’s an amazing connection to our universe and collectiveness.  I always get some amazing energy flowing through me at this time.  The actual Solstice (change of earth tilt) occurs around 8:28am today…

The ancients worshiped the Winter Solstice each Dec 21st.  two thousand years ago someone decided it was a good idea to make it the birthday of a guy named Jesus… and so here we are… for those still resonating with the wisdom of the ages…

A great spin (ha!) on this is this article in the NYTimes today…. here’s an excerpt: 

“So, as the sun reaches its farthest point in the sky on Dec. 21, be grateful. Never will the sun dip so far below the horizon that it plunges half of the globe into a monthslong night and the other half into an equally long summer. Nor does Earth’s tilt change drastically over millions of years, thanks to the influence of the moon. Instead, the sun appears to trot back and forth between the extremes, like the pendulum of a great clock, keeping the planet cozy while steadily counting off its years.”

Tomorrow it’ll be ~2 minutes more daylight than today… enjoy!

real simplicity

The bumper sticker says ‘live simply, so others may simply live’.  Sayin’ it and doin’ it are two diffs… Getting simple is as easy as 1,2,3  …sing it Len Barry

As I was chillin in Tahoe recently at a local AirBnB,  I experienced real simplicity.  My host had a very minimalistic lifestyle.  An exercise machine, several hi-speed modems & satellite service to a couple big screens, and that’s it!!  wow… my first impressions were that someone is just starting out – but the more I got to know my host, it seemed they are more into living life rather than gaining possessions.  They were  focusing on only two things in their living quarters: being connected/entertained and staying in shape.  It was that simple.

There are many motivations in getting radically simple.  For me (don’t know if others do this) the one common factor in REAL simplicity is money    If you don’t have money you don’t go around buying optional things. I’ve tried resisting this over the years, but find that each time I have some extra funds I tend to load up on a few ‘luxuries’ (like more solar panels, more battery storage, more cinder blocks, etc) 

Another factor (again, for me) is I like to make simple things more complicated – with technology.  Maybe I’m a ‘neo’simpleton 🙂

One can stay simple until… one gets money… what happens to simplicity then?  With overwhelming societal peer pressure and non-stop advertisement (getting more subtle and all encompassing all the time) it’s hard to resist the temptation.   I think the best antidote to these societal pressures is making sure your circle of close friends are also into simplicity…. or so I thought.

One of the basic key elements of voluntary simplicity is getting off the grid.  And by that I don’t mean hooking up some solar panels – i mean the full-monty of living off-the-grid.

how to uncomplicate

I’ve spent most of my life complicating things and getting ready for worse case scenarios (its the required diet in engineering).  It’s a negative version of the law of attraction.

It’s easy to un-complicate:  don’t complicate in the first place!

I’ve spent a lifetime of complicating things…and I have DNA  barriers to uncomplicating things.  First of all I’m german – that means different things to different people – but it also means being proned more to left brain and anal retentive thinking (sorry fellow germans :-).  But it also means a deep resonance with the arts, philosophy and reflection.  Second, being bred as an engineer throughout my adolescent and young adulthood, it doubles down on my ‘german-ness’ and increases left brained  thinking.   (hey, I left our being raised as a catholic – the ultimate guilt trip of human unworthiness)

Best Resource

The book ‘Radical Simplicity’ is the best I’ve found on all this.  The concept of ‘life force energy’ is truly groundbreaking:  how much of your life’s energy do you need and use in your everyday activities.

1st RMH

I have just finished building my first Rocket Mass Heater (RMH).  And I am amazed!   WOW.   The center burn chamber sounds like a rocket engine on just a couple newspaper pages.

I’ve been following the RMH discussions on permies for a few years and saw a couple RMHs first hand while living at Lost Valley ecovillage and visiting Aprovecho, (global leader in rocket stove technology) and I’ve built a couple small ones for demos outside.

What is an RMH?   It’s a modern version of a European  masonry heater (albeit a LOT smaller). 

The one I built is a ‘J tube’ configuration which means you load the small wood stocks upright and the horizontal flame shoots through the burn tunnel and up the …..

Many thanks to Ernie & Erica  and also to Paul Wheaton (world dominator wanna be 🙂 .  I used their plans from a Portland building code project.  And it worked the first time.

There are four main components to an RMH:  Feed chamber, burn chamber (cylinder), recirculating ‘barrel, and the exhaust piping.  that’s it!


Here are the construction steps I took (using existing stuff):

  1. find/count all existing bricks:  80 clay, 35 cement, 30 fire brick.
  2. Found 10″ OD burn chamber with 6″ ID – 48″ long, and 30 gallon steel barrel.
  3. Measure floor area, design, calculate… revise, revise again.
  4. Draw out rough plan on floor in-place, lay (dry) first course.
  5. Think about it, ponder, redesign, refine, redo.
  6. Stack 2nd, 3rd, 4th (dry) courses. Conserve firebricks.
  7. Put inner chamber and outer barrel on, test fire: WOW it drafted!
  8. Mortar up 1st and second courses.  Mix perlite/clay/sand.
  9. Fill burn chamber with mix.
  10. Finalize entire brick base, put barrel in place and test fire.
  11. Install exhaust piping,  hole in outer wall, test fire again.
  12. Final sealing to eliminate all indoor smoke.

I’ll post some pictures soon….

Advice/lessons learned:

Two most important things are getting a quick fire drafting through, and avoid any indoor smoke.  i learned that the hard way… and now put one little newspaper way inside the feed chamber…making sure the burning newspaper doesn’t get sucked into the central burner cylinder.

Don’t try to brick&mortar exhaust port to barrel – just cut a hole in the barrel for the exhaust pipe and seal with Fire retardant caulking.

I used thick glass putty (fired & cured) to seal lower barrel lip tightly to prevent smoking.