In my previous post, Palimpsest, 2010-06-22 I wrote that "working at brush clearance I am made aware that the property is a palimpsest - of faded pasts drawn in paths, fences and rock piles". While I wrote a largely conjectural piece, I gave short shrift to the rock piles - the most concrete evidence of 'faded pasts'.

We are the agents, on our parcel, of the most recent rock piles. The local grading contractor Paul Hofmeister is responsible (following the direction of Jim Exon and David Trudeau developers of the twenty acre +/- home sites) for much of the rest. Before that? We are back in the realm of conjecture.

I have never subscribed to the 'Great Man' theory of history, whereby an individual, through his or her force of will can turn events on a grand scale. However, sometimes personal history can impact public action. Paul's dad owned much of Upper Ojai before the IRS took it away from him in lieu of taxes owed. Paul's particular relationship to this high valley is inevitably colored by his family history. He was to the Manor born, now he is a vassal of it's developers and the new, L.A. real estate-rich owners of boutique parcels.

In an effort, perhaps, to revive the family fortune, he has made a lucrative business of selling rocks, grubbed from home site excavations, road grading and pool digging. These he purchases for the price of their removal and sells to the County, Cal Trans, Landscapers and other home-owners. He has been active on the parcel west of ours, owned by two real estate agents from Los Angeles, who charged him with clearing the site of rocks. This he has pursued diligently and now the few stream-side acres that are the putative home-site are scraped clean and re-graded by Paul as two dirt terraces.

Were it not for the fact that I have been witness to the amazing regenerative powers of coastal sage scrub and chaparral I might be more alarmed. As it is, I expect the scraped dirt to sprout thistles and mustard next season (for he has concluded his program of lithic larceny) and then slowly revert - if not further disturbed - to native scrub.

Paul is also responsible for the very necessary roadside brush clearance along del Osos, west of our neighbor (which splits their twenty acres into the home site and a chaparral acreage west of the drive). The tractor drawn brush-hog which he uses has its place in the arsenal of bio-mass reduction - or, as the fire department thinks of it, minimizing cellulosic material. It is however, undiscriminating in its destruction. These pull-behind devices have a spiral blade-shaft powered through a tractor's PTO (power take-off) and many are capable of chewing through 6" to 10" trees - enough to handle most of the roadside shrubland. Lorenz, Margot's estate manager and myself are perhaps the last holdouts against the use of this kind of equipment in our brush clearance endeavors, both of us preferring the editorial accuracy of light weight weed wackers, pulaskis, loppers, secaturs and occasionally, a chain-saw.

But, back to rock piles: as I have noted in Stoned 2010-05-28, most of the two hundred tons or more of boulders removed after excavation of our building pad were trucked to the west meadow for the duration of construction. Tagged by the County as un-compacted fill, it was necessary to have the rocks removed before we could get their final approval on grading. Spread out on a broad flat area in a pile some 100 feet long, 25 wide and ten high they resembled a fresh drift of moraine that had somehow arrived directly from the spalled face of the Topa Topas.

Their journey had in fact been marked by a hiatus of many thousands and probably millions of years with the rocks sleeping beneath the valley soil crust in millenial cycles of heat and ice. The boulders were sandstone, golden or straw in color, while the smaller fractured rocks, siltstone and claystone, ranged from grey through black to a dark red. All were originally a part of a geological stratum composed of landslide deposits formed, perhaps a few million years ago (late pleistocene) and which has been in a constant process of spalling.

Some seismic event caused the emblematic fracturing of the south face of the Topa Topas and this process, aided by mud and debris flows and roiling, rolling rock canyon streams added to the rubble accretions strewn throughout the alluvial valley floor. It was part of this collection that we (mostly) relocated from the gently sloping uplands of our site to a broad flat meadow to the west.

Some of the larger stones were positioned around the site with an excavator while we also took the opportunity to cover a dell above the newly excavated bowl, which in Paul Hofmeister's time, had been used as a dump for brush grubbed from other potential house sites. Laid on top of slowly decaying shrubbery the stone now appears in the landscape like a rock pond, with oaks struggling to emerge between the boulders and thistles rampant. These rocks remain, like the signature boulders strategically set, as lithic evidence of our recent past - of our crude re-shaping of the land.

The faux moraine drift was disassembled and removed by an excavator feeding a fleet of trucks. Paul Hofmeister was not involved. He prefers long term agreements whereby the property owner warehouses the rocks and Paul removes them as he finds buyers. This, I believe, is the arrangement he maintains with Rick Baxter whose scarp-top home to our west is accessed by a road maintained by Paul extending from Verner Farm Road and which I think of as the Paul Hofmeister Expressway. He has recently brush-hogged the steep track.

The flat area, once liberated from the dead weight of rocks, was for a brief moment, barren. Now, a year later it is full of thistles, mustards and alien grasses. But sprinkled throughout are the vestiges of the old coastal sage scrub - peonies, soap plant, elderberry and deer weed. A brush hog destroys all: I plan the excision of alien material and, by the careful wielding of my weapons of botanic destruction listed above, ensure the survival of the base plants of the coastal sage scrub revival. Brush hogging would enslave me to its perennial use as the razed landscape would encourage only the growth of endless iterations of weeds thriving on annually disturbed soil.

I believe that we are returning the site to something resembling its historically natural state. I am not unaware, however, that these efforts are undertaken within an intellectual construct that privileges the pre-Columbian botanical catalog. As I work at the editorial process in my brush clearance, I sometimes reflect on the fact that I am, ultimately, just another botanical fashion victim. But this fashion, which could be broadly defined as localism is significant. It is the emerging counter trend to the expansionary imperial ethos with which we have been living for at least the last 500 years and has, as its apotheosis, Globalism. This latter trend is sustained by our reserves of stored solar power. We all know where that is headed. Localism is the future, but I recognize that for now, and perhaps for many more decades, it will remain nothing more than a bright filament of hope threaded through the twilight of fossil fuels.