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In the News - Friday, October 2, 2009

All stories written by John or

Sarah Elliott unless otherwise noted


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

It’s a new season

in Three Rivers

As summer’s heat subsides, there’s a

calendar full of events, park fires planned

The Moro Prescribed Fire was lit Wednesday, Sept. 30.

This was the view from Three Rivers upon ignition.

Community celebrates '1st Saturday' ever!

by Brian Rothhammer

  Saturday, Oct. 3, is the 1st Saturday in Three Rivers.
   Nonsense, you say? There have surely been Saturdays in Three Rivers before, right? Yes, indeed, but this is something quite different altogether.

  “You are invited out on the town on Saturday to enjoy a day of fun, food and fabulous art,” said artist Nadi Spencer. “All along Sierra Drive, throughout the day, there will be art to purchase, dancers to enjoy, music, storytelling, free food and drink, even racquetball!”
Nadi, organizer of the new local happening, has an art studio at 41838 Sierra Drive across the highway from the office of the Commonwealth. Since May 2009 she has had an open house of sorts at her studio on the first Saturday of each month.

  “It’s been great,” said Nadi of the monthly events, which started as a way to share samples from her own line of artistic recipe greeting cards. “Each month I’ve been cooking up one of the recipes and sharing samples with friends, neighbors, visitors, and all who stop by. I’ve sold paintings, had fun, and met a great group of people. It’s been the best thing I’ve done since opening the shop.”
   When fellow local artisans opened The Art Co-Op at 41707 Sierra Drive (next to Sierra Subs) they began a series of featured artist receptions on the first Friday of each month. Nadi saw an opportunity to combine the events and expand them into an experience for the Three Rivers community and visitors to enjoy.
   From that simple seed of thought, the idea was firmly planted. Not only are all eight of the talented artists of the Co-Op participating, but 31 local businesses — storytellers, art studios restaurants — will share in this inspiration to bring you the first 1st Saturday event in Three Rivers.

  “A lot of people come into my shop and ask, ‘I’ve heard that Three Rivers is an artist’s community, but where do I find the artists?’ said Nadi. “We have artists tucked away all around town. This gives the artists more exposure to show the world just what they do.”
   There is such a variety of exhibitions, events, free food and services giveaways, and coupons (25 percent discount on videos, $50 off lodging, free racquetball and smoothies, yarn discounts up to 100 percent, discounted lodging, etc.) that it’s smart to start by visiting Nadi’s shop (she’s offering a free lunch) or The Art Co-Op for a schedule of events and a map.
   There’s a website at www.1stsaturdaytr.com for additional details.

When the weather cools,

fire season heats up

   A huge column of smoke that suddenly appeared in the nearby mountains Wednesday morning (Sept. 30) and was visible for more than 30 miles caused some anxious moments for Three Rivers residents. Several locals contacted the Commonwealth just to make certain that the fire in nearby Sequoia National Park was a scheduled event.
   Fire education specialist Deb Schweizer called the local newspaper almost simultaneously when the fire was started shortly after 9:30 a.m. to report that the Moro Prescribed Fire was going according to plan. Ignitions on the 24-acre blaze inside Moro Rock’s loop road were completed by 1:30 p.m.
   Park officials were well aware that the Moro fire would be an excellent opportunity to explain the benefits of prescribed fire to park visitors so Deb and Michelle Puckett were stationed at the Giant Forest Museum with the park’s traveling fire exhibit known as the “Fire Place.” There were lots of safe vantage points for visitors to view the fire and see close-up how firefighters go about burning in a grove of giant sequoias.
   The massive Roosevelt Tree is just 200 yards from the Moro Rock parking lot, so precautions were taken so the fire would not damage the named giant. The tree was reportedly named by John Muir in 1902 in honor of then-president and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt. It has been written that it is a “beautiful tree without a blemish, it is probably the most symmetrical sequoia in the area” (And The Giants Were Named, Sequoia Natural History Association, 1971).

  “I wish there was some way we could notify everyone just before we ignite a fire like this but there are so many variables that we have to wait until the very last minute to see if we are within prescription,” Deb said.
   Being in prescription means that weather conditions, like wind, humidity, and the immediate forecast, all line up in the desired range. Even if weather conditions are ideal, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in Fresno might still nix the burn at the last minute because of the potential impact on air quality.
   But this week, with the cooling temperatures and good air quality throughout the region, there was a window of opportunity for local fire officials. In addition to the Moro Fire, plans are being made to ignite two more fires next week.
   The Moro Fire will continue to smolder but the cooler temperatures tend to make the fire lie down and creep through accumulated fuels just like it is intended to do. As fire burns dead wood and live plants, it releases nutrients into the soil. In addition, giant sequoia seeds are coated in a waxy resin that must be melted off by heat to free the seeds.
   The Moro unit last burned in 1979 so fire officials viewed this unit as a priority. According to NPS studies, a natural fire cycle for a mixed conifer forest like the Giant Forest is approximately 10 to 15 years.
   The Horse Fire, burning near the southern boundary of Sequoia National Park, one-half mile above the Hockett Meadow Ranger Station, is proving to be a best-case scenario when it comes to natural fire.
   That is the description used by Brandon Dethlefs, a backcountry firefighter, who with his crew of seven has been closely monitoring the progress of the Horse Fire that was started by a lightning strike in the Horse Creek drainage on or about July 19.
   Last week, during the final heat wave of September, Dethlefs, Three Rivers resident and Park Service prescribed fire module leader, and two other crew members, Larissa Perez and Nicole DeWeese, were carefully watching the progress of the Horse Fire as it flared here and there, then crept and smoldered mostly behaving like a fire that an ecology student might read about in a college textbook.
   During the night of Saturday, Sept. 26, at least 11 trees crashed to the ground at varying intervals in the burn zone. It’s an eerie sound that reverberates through the mountains and shakes the ground for miles around.

  “The shallow roots of these big firs and pines decay and then fire can easily access the trunk,” Dethlefs explained. “Once that process occurs, even the biggest of the trees can come crashing down.”
   In the daytime, the crew splits up as two members enter the fire zone to observe hotspots. This can be extremely dangerous, Dethlefs said, if one of these trees or a massive limb should fall to the ground when a firefighter is in the vicinity.
   The other crew member hikes to a vantage point high above the fire to report the fire’s progress via radio and to map the precise locations or where the fire has spread. At last report (Sept. 30), the fire had burned nearly 500 acres over the nine-week period
   In contrast, the Station Fire in Los Angeles County last month burned 165,000 acres in mere days, destroyed hundreds of structures (89 homes), and killed two firefighters. So far in 2009, wildfires in California have burned more than 336,000 acres (525 square miles) of land since the beginning of August, and the season is far from over.
   In the case of a wilderness fire like the Horse Fire getting too hot or out of control, more resources can be called in to keep the blaze from becoming a disaster. Precautions are being taken to protect the historic Hockett Ranger Station that is within 4/10s of a mile of the blaze. Several fire hoses are snaking through the meadow and a water pump is standing ready in nearby Whitman Creek.
   Dethlefs said on August 31, a Cal Fire air tanker accidentally dropped a load of retardant on the wilderness fire that the backcountry crew was monitoring. The pilot was new to area and thought he was getting the jump on a new fire that had been reported outside of the park boundaries, Dethlefs said.

  “We’re managing this fire for its resource benefits,” Dethlefs said. “In terms of a backcountry fire, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
But there are also human-caused fires that can present a problem and if they are not immediately snuffed out can lead to a disaster. A fire of suspicious origin with that potential was reported on Sunday, Sept. 27, near the giant sequoias of Lost Grove.
   NPS and national forest fire crews jumped on the blaze and contained it at seven acres. The cause of the Lost Grove fire is being investigated while the area is being patrolled in case of any flare-ups.

Orange Blossom Junction offers

concerts with themed dining

Sonny Landreth highlights Cajun fare

   A current run featuring the best guitar players on the planet just got even better when Sonny Landreth made an appearance at Orange Blossom Junction on Monday, Sept. 21. At this veritable feast for the senses, Chef George Quilty paired Landreth’s amazing slide guitar show with a Cajun menu to rival any of the bayou’s best.

  “We’ve been thinking themed cuisine to go with the music for sometime now,” said Luci Long, who with husband Doug owns and operates the Junction. “Sonny, being from Lafayette, La., was an opportunity to feature Cajun cuisine in the evening’s menu.”
   The dinner on show night works like this. Chef George offers three entrees like steak, chicken, or fish. After recommending a special wine or other libation from the full bar, the server brings a sumptuous salad on a foundation of organic lettuce and a side of freshly baked bread.
   In Sonny’s honor, the salad was topped with “Cajun caviar” (black-eyed peas) smothered with a smoky jalapeno dressing topped with corn cakes that had the look and texture of pancakes but tasted like homemade cornbread.
   The crayfish-stuffed rainbow trout was the obvious choice among the entrees. The skin of the trout was light and crispy, not blackened; the morsels of crayfish were the texture of crab but flavored in a swirl of a Cajun remoulade. On the side was a healthy serving of jambalaya with a rice and vegetable medley.
   The dessert was a sinful chocolate ganache piled with banana praline ice crème dripping with a melted white chocolate topping. This after-dinner treat literally assaulted the epicurean senses.
   A cup of decaf later, Doug was introducing Sonny and his band, which included bass player Dave Ranson, Sonny’s alter ego onstage and a youthful drummer.

  “Please welcome Sonny Landreth, voted number-one slide guitar player in the world by the fans of Guitar Player magazine [2008],” said Long.
   Sonny played his soulful brand of Cajun rock and bluesy slide guitar for the next 90 minutes.

  “This is really great tonight to see all my friends and be back here,” Sonny told the cozy but crowded venue. “I guess the third time is the charm because this room is really rocking!”
   For an artist who has played with the likes of Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Dolly Parton, and more, a visit to Tulare County is a rare treat for fans. This past summer he toured with Jimmy Buffett, the Gulf Coast troubadour who can relate to the bayou rock that Sonny performs and writes.
   Sonny confessed that as a slide player he owes a debt to the Delta blues greats, and growing up in Lafayette he too knows a little bit about the blues. His heart wrenching “Blue Tarp Blues” is an eyewitness account of the government’s inability to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

  “No, it wasn’t the weather that sank me and you — It was a bad mix of politics, greed and fools — That levee of lies couldn’t hold back the truth — We are in deep now but not out of reach — There’s a crack in the ceiling and the system too — I got the blues — I got the blue tarp blues…”
   Sonny, 57, loves his bayou country and his songs celebrate the rich Louisiana coastal culture and speak of a life down by the levees, or the big Muddy, lost loves or the “Howlin' Moon.” His slide-playing style sounds like three of four instruments played simultaneously as he picks and patters his way across the six strings.
   Sonny’s two latest CDs “Levee Town” (2009) and “Sonny Landreth from the Reach” (2008) are an extraordinary compendium of a musical career that spans four decades. Sample downloads are available at sonnylandreth.com.


Film based on Three Rivers to premiere

by Kevin Foster

   There’s an old adage that states, “Write what you know.”
   Up to now, most of my writings have been about past bicycle adventures or East Coast ghetto experiences. I wrote a script that got passed around Hollywood with several offers made, but the deals were never the right ones, and thus it sat on the shelf.
   By the time I reached 40, I was retired from cycling and mumbling to myself that a third of my life was over (I’m on the Moses 120-year plan), and at that point had never married nor did I have any children (I’m still at that point, but don’t mumble about it anymore).
   I always had a great proposal worked out that no woman could turn down, but the problem was, I never got a chance to use it. For me, it made sense not to let the proposal go to waste, so I decided to write a script around it.
   Turning fantasies into realities can be a lot of fun, and I was having a great time in my own little world creating these characters that for the most part were based on some of my Three Rivers and Kaweah neighbors.
   Not long after my second script, Yesterday’s Dreams, was completed, filming began in a small town in Oregon on the Rogue River called Shady Cove. It had what I needed... the bar that stood in for the River View; the restaurant that became our own Gateway, and more.
   There are major and minor characters throughout the film taken from those who are among us. If you’ve lived in this town long enough, you’ll recognize two of the major characters in the film as being Rita Pena, our retired librarian (played by Dee Wallace Stone of ET fame), and the late Pastor Warren Lee Campbell (played by Barry Corbin of Lonesome Dove, Northern Exposure and a host of famous films).
   Yesterday’s Dreams is the story of a lonely 40-year-old man who lives with his abusive father (played by William Windom, one of the great character actors of our time), yet yearns to meet a woman he can settle down with and raise a family.
   The film got great notices during its festival run and was a hit with its target audience of women and seniors. For the premiere, it was decided to hold it close to home, and to do it in style. Thus, the Fox Theatre in Visalia was chosen for its 1930s grandeur and nearly 1,300 seats.
   It was also suggested to do the premiere as a benefit performance and allow you, the audience, to decide what the price of admission would be, in which contributions would go to The Smile Train, which helps pay for the operations of children born with cleft lips and palates. Donations will be graciously and gratefully accepted at the door before and after each show.
   The film will be shown Saturday, Oct. 10, with two performances; the matinee at 4 p.m. and the evening at 6:30 p.m. To view the trailer and for more info about the film, please visit www.foxvisalia.org and click on the “Events” tab.
   Tickets are available at the office of THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH and the Three Rivers Historical Museum. Although both showings are free and open to the general public, it’s strongly suggested that you pick up tickets to avoid any lines that may form outside the theatre.
   Other cast members include Christie Lynn Smith (Gods and Generals); Richard Tyson (Black Hawk Down); Robert Pine (ChiPs); Orson Bean (Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman); Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank); and Rebecca Balding (Soap).
   I’ll be making a special appearance at the end of each show to talk about some behind-the-scenes, making-of stories that at times made me want to change the title of the film to Yesterday’s Nightmare.
   We live in a great town in a great area with some great neighbors to showcase. The cast and crew had a wonderful time making movie magic. I hope with your support and attendance, you’ll feel a part of that as well.
   Kevin Foster lives in Kaweah and is the actor, writer and producer of Yesterday’s Dreams.

It’s back to school for dogs too

by Brian Rothhammer

   Woodlake High School started classes on Wednesday, Aug. 19. For 16 of the more fortunate students, however, Tuesday, Sept. 30, marked the beginning of a new relationship.
   That’s because eight of those students are dogs and eight are their student trainers.
   More precisely, the dogs are golden retrievers. The students are six sophomores and two juniors who were paired up with these special dogs for an intensive yet rewarding two-year commitment.
The dogs will receive specialized instruction from these dedicated trainers. In two years, these dogs — known as the “G Team” — will be fully qualified service dogs for people with physical or mental disabilities.
   In 2003, the Assistance Service Dog Educational Center was founded by Gerald and Donna Whittaker at the old St. Johns schoolhouse in Woodlake. In an innovative and unique collaboration with Woodlake Union High School, eight students per year have had the opportunity to earn scholastic credits while positively impacting the lives of others.
   Since the first graduation of the “A Team” in 2005, the program has been a resounding success. This year there is an expansion to include five additional dogs to be “fostered out” to volunteers who will train them to be social therapy dogs for wounded veterans.

  “This was an idea I had been thinking about,” said Gerald. “We have placed dogs with veterans before and there is a huge demand for more of them.”
   Presently, there are more than 30 veterans on the waiting list for service and social-therapy dogs.

  “The dogs make such a difference in their daily lives,” Gerald pointed out.
   The website for the ASDEC (www.servicedogcenter.org) contains a letter from veteran U.S. Marine Jeremy Weissmiller. Jeremy received Ditto, an ASDEC service dog from last year’s graduating class.

  “I wanted to say that Ditto has changed my life,” the letter begins.
Jeremy sustained major spinal and head injuries while on active duty in Iraq. The July 5th letter tells of how Jeremy was nervous about Fourth of July fireworks and how Ditto might react.

  “The first one went off and Ditto… didn’t jump or bark,” Jeremy said, continuing that he was able to “stay in the moment and enjoy seeing my wife and daughters…watching the fireworks.”
   Perhaps common moments to people without special needs, but not to veterans like Jeremy with severe Delayed Stress Syndrome.
   New program: Volunteer trainers— Among the volunteer trainers in this new phase of the ASDEC program is Danielle Knapp of Three Rivers. Danielle trained Elliot, a graduate of the class of 2008 who was placed with Stephanie Snow of Orcutt, Calif. Stephanie is affected with Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP), which limits her physical capabilities.
   Danielle is a senior at WHS and is training a social therapy dog at her home on her own time.

  “She is such a great trainer. It just blew me away what she can do,” Gerald said.
   The volunteers bring their charges to the ASDEC facility once per week to evaluate progress and to learn a new command.
   The volunteer-trained dogs started the program two months ago. Gerald is delighted at the results of this program and looks forward to more success stories and its expansion. He expressed the hope to see that students like Danielle will carry on the program.
   With the list of waiting veterans and others in need ever growing that is a hope that can change lives of the students and the recipients of these specially trained dogs.
   For further information or to find out how to volunteer, contact ASDEC at 564 PAWS (7297) or email: servicedogcenter@aol.com.

Clubs awaken from summer slumber

   Keep the BlackBerry, Palm Pilot, or the old-fashioned calendar close at hand because it’s about to fill up as Three Rivers residents emerge from summer hibernation and plan their fall activities.
   Redbud Garden Club— This club is back from its summer hiatus and will hold the first meeting of the 2009/2010 season. All those interested in gardening projects and programs are invited to meet at Anne Lang’s Emporium for lunch on Monday, Oct. 5, beginning at 10:30 a.m. An RSVP is required: 561-3204.
   Three Rivers Town Hall— Also returning from summer vacation are the town meetings. Hear updates from the Park Service — fires, road construction, and more — and county Supervisor Allen Ishida on Monday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
   Three Rivers Woman’s Club— Join President Kathy Bohl and her 2009/2010 board at the club’s annual fall luncheon as they celebrate their 93rd year. All women are invited to attend the tea and lunch Wednesday, Oct. 7, noon, at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
   Halloween Carnival— This annual Eagle Booster Club fundraiser for Three Rivers School will be Saturday, Oct. 24. More details on the fun later, but right now community members need to be assist via donations of prizes. Gently used toys are being requested for game prizes. Items are also needed for the raffle and popular Pick-A-Prize.
Call 561-4466 or drop items off at the school office.

National Public Lands Day 2009: Cleanup crew

   There was a significant spike in volunteers compared to 2008 at Lake Kaweah’s annual National Public Lands Day on Saturday, Sept. 26. More than 250 folks of all ages signed on to pick up trash, paint, build, and landscape in the lake’s highest use recreation areas.

  Among the projects that were completed were the framing and pouring of foundations for porta-potties (somebody keeps tipping them over), painting of signs to show the location of the new fee collection stations, and the removal of lots of noxious weeds and other invasive species.

  The throng of volunteers was then treated to a catered lunch of tri-tip, chicken, and veggie lasagna while grooving to the classic rock sounds of Iceberg Without Warning from Porterville.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
© Copyright 2003-2009 The Kaweah Commonwealth