Holy smokes. What just happened? The crew just got back from our first hitch and it was a doozy. Due to a tenuous funding situation as a result of new regulations regarding government grant contracts, the Rands crew could not legally begin work in the Rands by the start of our first hitch. In lieu of a regular restoration hitch, the seven of us drove down to Angeles National Forest to volunteer in some invasive plant removal.
The Angeles Forest was badly burned in 2009 by a wildfire that swept across over two thirds of the park and threatened homes on the northern edge of the metro Los Angeles area. Much of the tree cover is scorched and only low brush is coming back in a big way. One of the most resilient plants is the Spanish Broom (spartium junceum). The problem is that this plant has no business living in Southern California. It hogs resources such as water and sunlight and tends to out grow and outcompete everything in the area, threatening the plants that naturally live here and support the diverse ecosystem.
The task before us was essentially to cut down the tall thin stalks of the brooms and then dig out around the root structures until we had freed the roots to the point where we could pull the whole thing out with a weed wrench -- basically a large lever with a gripping vice at the end. It was hard, arduous work, but with every plant we pulled out we got a great feeling of satisfaction and progress in the face of such a mammoth undertaking.
We did manage to have a great time this hitch despite the odd nature of the trip and the uncertainty of our futures. Our hill top campsite was beautiful, surrounded by enormous big cone douglas fir trees and lit up by the strangely beautiful view of the sprawling city lights below us at night.
We even had the dubious luxury of spending a couple of nights in an empty fire barracks on the far side of the Forest. One little wrinkle in our plans was that the area we were living and working in is also home to a nefarious plant called poodle dog bush (turricula parryi). The plant is covered in tiny hairs that attach themselves to animals (such as humans) that walk by; contact with which purportedly causing a nasty rash comparable to poison oak or stinging nettles. There were a few crew member encounters with the bush causing us to treat the ‘patient’ with Tecnu lotion/all purpose cleanser and heading back to the barracks to shower and run laundry. As of two days since hitch ended, nobody broke out in a bad rash, so it looks like we made it out unscathed.
Midway through the hitch, we received word that our funding had come through and that we would in fact have a season. We celebrated with cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream and dancing (well, I danced). We finally returned home to Ridgecrest, stopping off at a farm stand where I experienced my first fresh coconut water straight out of the nut. Or is it a fruit? Anyway, it was delicious. We hammered out a successful post hitch cleanup and then everyone went out for sushi. Can’t wait for our first hitch in our true stomping grounds, the Rand Mountains!