Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SAR Callout To Foresta In Yosemite

Dale Matson

The Fresno County SAR Team along with teams from Tuolumne, Merced, Mariposa and Madera Counties were involved with a mutual aid search with the Yosemite search and rescue team on Monday. There were dog teams and a helicopter used also.

After caravanning up to Yosemite from Fresno with great haste, the Fresno County SART arrived at YOSAR HQ. I long ago learned not to put the magnetic SAR signs on my car until after I arrived at the destination. (They blew off)

Yosemite View From YOSAR HQ

We were briefed at 0700 on the missing person, a Foresta resident. Foresta is an unincorporated community within the park boundaries that was nearly destroyed by fire in 1991 and the scars of that fire are evident.

Matt Stark On Right

We were introduced to the incident commander Matt Stark with sergeant Joe Smith designated as the overall Fresno SAR team leader. I remember the days when Keith Loeber was the incident commander for a multiday Sentinel Dome area search we helped on. We found the Corcoran city manager after three days. He was fine.
The subject of the search, Ann Lory, had been missing since Saturday evening. She had been out collecting rocks. Her jacket was found later on a pile of rocks. I was cold, as I stood there during the briefing in the 32-degree weather. I was thinking, “It would be tough to be out for two nights in weather like this without even a jacket.”

Fresno County had the largest contingent of searchers consisting of Sheriff’s deputies and volunteers from the mountaineering unit. I was on team four with deputy Tim Jacobson and led by deputy David Rippe. The civilians included Bill Allen, myself and newer team members Don McAlpine, Dr. Sue Spano, Christine and two other gentlemen whose names I have forgotten. The deputies included Bo, Matt, Robert (aka Koda Bear), and two other deputies.

Bill Allen drove our mountaineering unit vehicle donated to us by the Santa Barbara SAR team. The coolest vehicle however, was the Merced team’s yellow Hummer.  I want one, but maybe not yellow. They are a tad wide for trails.

The Fresno team convoyed over to Foresta. Jed, a Yosemite front country ranger, assisted us. He noted that he had spent three years as a backcountry ranger too. We parked near the Foresta Firehouse. The teams set out from there at about 0900. Bo’s team and our team headed in the same direction for a time.

General Area Of Search

Thick Brush With Two Team Members

Our area had an enormous amount of buck brush and little holes, made invisible by the weeds, that made travel difficult. We also had difficulty keeping one another in sight. There were a lot of burned logs that we had to climb over and our clothing took a beating. My Outdoor Research gators paid for themselves many times over as they took the brunt of our travels. It wasn’t long before I had shed two top layers. Both my hand were bleeding from cuts so I put my gloves on. Koda gently scolded me later that the gloves go on before you get the cuts. Thanks for the reminder Koda. I would rather run ten miles on the trails at Woodward Park than the 3.25 miles off trail we traveled.

Tim And David

We were out for about two and half hours when a call came on David’s radio that Ann had been found. I understand that she had become disoriented and headed downhill toward highway 140. She fell, was injured and could no longer walk. A relative, who was on one of the search teams, found her. Ann was airlifted to a hospital for medical treatment.

Our team was out for about three hours total and climbed over 500’ in that time. We reassembled and headed back to HQ for the debriefing. I was surprised to see frost remaining in some spots on the valley roads after noon. David’s new cap was now his ‘lucky hat’. I was sorry to hear from Koda  that he had lost his treasured “Storm Stories” cap. It was blown off his head while being airlifted by Eagle One on a recent SAR mission.


Koda and Sue With Christine In Back Left

We celebrated Thanksgiving week early Monday. Thank you Lord for a safe and successful search and thank you for the privilege of working with so many individuals willing to put others first.   


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Search For Maggie Caslon

Dale Matson

“This is a story about the search for one of the most famous personalities of our time, Maggie Caslon. She was beautiful, talented, young and rich. Her disappearance was a mystery. The world held it’s collective breath as the search unfolded. It is also the story of those ordinary anonymous souls who were in the world’s spotlight for a brief period of time because they were associated with the search for her. This is also true of her boyfriend Ryan who was referred to as a “male companion” in the first newspaper account of her disappearance.”

Thus begins my newest book that will be available as a paperback from Amazon and in Kindle format early next week. After writing 10 non-fiction books, it is my first work of fiction. Actually, it is fact-based fiction. The location of the story is real. The story is told through my eyes as a civilian working for Fresno County Search and Rescue. This is a mutual aid search including several other agencies. It is not unlike many of the searches in which I have participated. (I really am with the Fresno County SAR team).

I wrote an earlier account of several searches that was factual called “Seeking The Lost: Stories Of Search And Rescue."

Part of this story is the idea that there are the famous and there are the rest of us. The rest of us lead anonymous lives from birth to death. Some become famous through infamous deeds. Killing JFK made Lee Harvey Oswald forever infamous. The further you get from the famous, the more you fade into obscurity. For example, how many people know who Marina Oswald is as the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald? She is still alive and once again leads an anonymous life.

The process of writing fiction has been enjoyable and a revelation for me. Some authors say that the characters tell them what to say. Maybe down the road, this will work for me. Friends say Ernest Hemingway wrote about his experiences. I always liked his crisp style of writing. I created my own cover once again (in photoshop) and each time is quite a challenge. The Kindle version is actually more difficult than the paperback because the file submission process for an E-Pub really does violence to the formatting. I pretest the mobi files on my Kindle Fire before submitting them to KDP and believe me there is a great deal of trial and error. The paperback interior is submitted as a PDF which is very stable.
You can now digitally review your files on line which means that you don't have to order a review (proof) copy before approving publication.

I have a devotional that is half finished and languishing on the back burner. Maybe it’s time to finish it.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Chainsaw Work II

Dale Matson

As anyone with wooded property knows, there is always work to be done. Chainsaw work is a subset of skills that calls forth early training and memories associated with it. Yesterday’s work was no exception. There is chainsaw work on level ground, on hillsides and above ground.

In the 60’s “High Rangers” (cherry pickers) were just being introduced in tree work. These were trucks with a bucket that was mounted on a mechanical arm that could be raised and lowered that would move you into a tree. It was such advancement over a saddle, climbing ropes, a buck strap and spurs (some call them tree hooks). Hydraulic lifts were much safer and easier than getting a rope into a tree and making the slow climb up.  We always wondered if a bird had dropped something sharp in the crotch of the tree that held your climbing rope until we could look and see. We also had a haul rope for tools like a small chain saw and pole pruners. We had a scabbard on your saddle with a handsaw with a paint pot attached to the scabbard.

We had a great foreman named Bill Gardener. (So many names fit the professions) who was a tall, lanky Oakie. He had broad shoulders and was built for climbing. He was as fearless as they come. Well…. almost fearless. He was deathly afraid of snakes. We tied a garter snake on his climbing rope once and he refused to climb down. It always seemed like we were betting small wagers about everything.
He was a tough teacher. Every cut bigger than a half dollar had to be painted over with tree paint. You started at the top and worked your way down to avoid getting the paint on your clothes. Every cut had to be flush with the major branch or trunk; nothing “you could hang your hat on.” If you missed a shiner, he would wait until you were back on the ground and send you back up to paint it. Of course you had to pass by cuts that had been painted and get tree paint (almost the consistency of tar) all over you. Trees are surprisingly dirty anyway. Bill used a bench grinder jig to sharpen each saw chain after work for the next day. If you got the saw dull in the morning, you worked with it the rest of the day like that. A dull chain on a chainsaw is three times the work. It made you careful.

We did a lot of side jobs after work. There was plenty of work to do. In the 60’s Dutch elm disease (imported from the Netherlands) hit the Midwest and eventually killed all of the magnificent American Elms. Many lined the city streets. Planted along both sides of the street, they created a cathedral–like arch. It was sad to see so many killed by the elm bark beetle.

I think back to those times and that I could work all day plus side jobs after work. Four hours of tree work these days is pretty much all I’m good for. Yesterday’s job was a bit different. We had a black oak that had grown up next to a cedar and kind of wrapped itself around the Cedar. Both were next to our shed and I worried that the Oak would push the Cedar into the shed. I took off some of the oak limbs standing on top of the shed I put a cable in the top half of the tree and Sharon pulled it away from the shed with the Tahoe as I made the back cut. The remaining trunk looked easy. I made the notch to make it fall away from the shed and started the back cut on the other side of the tree. It was so grafted to the cedar tree that when I had completely cut through the base of the tree, it just hung there. I had to put a chain on it and use a “come along” (hand winch) to pull it away from the cedar. I finished by cutting the brush off the tree and while Sharon was stacking brush for chipping, I cut up the logs. There is a good kind of tired after tree work.  

You can see the huge 'dent' in the cedar tree created by the oak branch.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Going Solar

Dale Matson

I have been concerned about the environment for many years and have guided many major life decisions accordingly. I designed and built a passive solar underground home in Wisconsin in 1980 that required no air conditioning and three cords of wood from our property for heating in cold months. 

This is not to say that I am a fanatic about environmentalism. I am certainty not a radical environmentalist. I am as much a hypocrite about the environment as the next person. I drive a Tahoe, which is no gas miser to say the least.

Some events have come together to get my attention about solar energy for our home. First, we are retired and made an effort to pay off our debts prior to retirement including our mortgage. The problem is that we use enough energy with our lifestyle and home that we are in the 4th tier of costs for our PGE bill during the summer months. This is expensive at about 38 cents a KWH. PGE sends us a monthly graph of our energy usage and we are average for our size house. Our energy costs are our biggest monthly expense. Being retired, we want to keep our monthly expenses down also. Energy costs will not be going down.

Solar energy is not practical for everyone and depending on your geographical location, home roof direction and shading, it may not be a good investment. Additionally, there are different plans available like leasing or buying the solar system. Most solar installation companies can use your electric bill to do an audit to see if solar is worthwhile. We are fortunate to live in Fresno California, which is the 7th sunniest city in the U.S. We don’t have solar panels on the south facing part of our roof but the west is acceptable and facing the backyard so the street view of our house has not changed.

There is another thing we considered and I would call it the “moral factor”. We do use a lot of energy that has to be produced using fossil fuels. By including solar energy we offset much our draw on limited fossil fuels. Additionally, we contribute less to air pollution indirectly by the power company not having to produce as much energy.  This is money we put into our home that will increase the value of our home also. In other words, it is simply a good investment for us to go solar.


One feature of the installation that I particularly like is the monitoring that allows us to go on line and see hourly what the system is producing. We have 40 panels that require two inverters. One bank of panels produces less because, it is shaded by a neighbor’s tree and our chimney for a part of the day. Obviously November is not the best month for solar since the days are much shorter but I really like watching our electric meter go backwards.

Graph Showing Energy Produced

Monday, November 4, 2013


Dale Matson

There are over 300 varieties of hummingbirds in the world with less than 20 kinds in North America.
In California we have thirteen kinds of hummingbirds.  Anna's, Black-chinned, Costa's, Rufous, Calliope, Allen's, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Blue-throated, Violet-crowned, Ruby-throated, Xantus', Green Violet-ear. In our back yard, we have identified the Black chinned, Anna’s, and Allen’s Hummingbirds.
I don’t know the maximum elevation at which you will find hummingbirds but I have seen them at the feeder attached to the lookout on top of Buck Rock in Sequoia National Park (8,500’) and even higher while backpacking the trails of the Sierras. They tend to hover less and perch more at higher altitude.
My wife has planted flowering shrubs in the yard to attract Hummingbirds, who drink the nectar. The most popular color flower is red. Our shrubs include Pineapple sage, Butterfly Bush, California Fuchsia, Columbine and Penstemon.

Pineapple Sage

Hummingbirds also eat insects, larva and spiders, which provide nutrients not available in nectar and sugar water. They must eat continually because of their high metabolism. The metabolism supports wing beats that can exceed 100 per second and heartbeats that can exceed 1,000 per minute. "Eating like a bird" means eating their weight in food daily for hummingbirds.
While I like to watch eagles, hawks or even vultures soar effortlessly on the updrafts along bluffs, the flight of the hummingbirds amaze me as they fly in so many directions in such a short period of time. They are like little helicopters. I hear them overhead by the sound of their wings but not the high-pitched vocalizations.
We have three one pint feeders hanging from our fascia board in the back and one in the front which attract about 30-40 hummingbirds. Thus our feeders need to be refilled with sugar water daily in the summer. When we forget, they remind us by hovering up by the window or chirping at my wife (my wife can hear them).
On a couple of occasions, they have flown into the window and two have been killed. It is sad to see these beautiful birds lying lifeless on our patio. Once, I picked up one and stroked it gently in my hand. It awakened and flew away.