Danny Prather bears a striking resemblance to his great-grandfather, William Robert. Broad-shouldered and solid-footed from years of felling trees, he hunches over the steering wheel, winding among dirt roads that zigzag across the mountainside. A controlled burn heads into the distance off to the left, eating away at the greenbrown leaves and needles and leaving behind a smoldering haze.
I first met Danny at The Roadhouse, Loch Lomond’s long-time, and now closed, bar, where he and his brothers would regularly play music together.
“We got it from our mother,” Gary Prather told me when I asked him about how musical his family was. “Not from Dad. He used to say that the only thing he ever could play is the radio.” A gifted pianist, Evelyn could play almost anything. “You can’t forget Evelyn,” said Judy Cortesi, who spent her summers in Loch Lomond. “Ruth may have been the first lady of Loch Lomond, but Evelyn was the second. She was amazing, especially because she’s the one who raised all seven of those boys.“ Evelyn also loved music and enjoyed playing whenever she could. Her gift for the melodic spread to her sons, and the Prather brothers have played just about everywhere, including opening for bands like The Doobie Brothers, The Guess Who, and Kansas. Just ask Danny; he can tell you an interesting story about Billy Gibbons. And, if you’re curious, Gary Prather’s former band The Graveyard 5 had a cult hit a few decades ago in Australia.
Danny peers through the dusty windshield as we climb a steep hill. “Some people call this Siegler Mountain,” I say. The woods around spread in a patchwork of pine, fir, cedar, and oak trees, all groomed and free of undergrowth.
“Yeah, and some people call it Prather mountain,” Danny quickly replies. “It’s been in our family longer than anybody else’s. Siegler was there only a few years.” He cranes his neck to look up the road. “It looks like Gary’s doing some burning,” he says, slowing down. “There he is!” He pulls over and begins walking up towards the burn line.
“Look at how Gary’s burning it,” Danny explains. Hey Gary!”
Gary looks up from his work. “Howya doin’, Danny?”
After introductions, Gary pauses for a second, rests his gloved hands on his Mcleod tool, and adjusts his hat. Danny wanders off to find his other brother Mike, who’s somewhere off at the other end of the fire line. Gary starts, a smile on his face. “We burn downhill,” he says, pointing to the fire winding through the woods. “It depends on the slope and the wind. We want them both in our favor, so it just kind of backburns down. I’ve got a grandson who lives down in Loch Lomond; he’s 6th generation here. Every time we get a chance, we try to teach them why we do it, how we do it the way we do. The object to eliminate the ground fuels, but save the trees.“
Gary stretches a gloved hand and points uphill a short ways. “You see that log over there on fire?” he says. “We want those to burn up.” He points in another direction, the sleeve of his weathered yellow jacket raising and gesturing off in the distance. “You see that dead tree over there on the other side of the hill? We see them, we try to get them down as quickly as we can, and salvage the logs out of it to take to the mill and mill it out ourselves. Once in a while, we lose a tree, and the flames go up the bark. It torches up.” Gary shrugs. “About three years ago, I had that happen to a fir tree.” He points again at a fir, still green and bright. “Here.” He moves to the side a little. “You can see it right through those. You see the bottom, how it’s kind of scorched?” He smiles again, his dark sunglasses hiding his bright eyes. “But it came back to life. I thought I killed it, but it made it back.”
“Hey, bro!” Gary suddenly yells. “It’s my brother Steve. We’ve got half the clan here!” Steve pulls his truck to the side of the road and wanders up the hillside. Meanwhile, Danny pops out of the woods, walking next to Mike.
“This is my brother Mike,” Danny says, continuing the introductions. “He actually owns the cabin we’re going to go to and have a whiskey.” We shake hands. “Anyways,” Danny continues, “David was interested in stories about Loch Lomond.”
Mike immediately laughs, his thick white beard shaking with glee. “There’s lots of stories,” he smiles. “But I don’t think that many are printable.”
Gary quickly changes the subject. “Like where there dumped the trash?” he pitches in. “Up on this mountain, and unfortunately, on this piece. Look at my travel trailer, and there’s trash all over the place. I’m still finding things.” He pokes at the ground, and a partially decomposed tin can pops up.
“Yup,” Steve adds. We’d dump it just up the mountain there. “We’d use old junk pickups and a half-track of all things.”
“Once in a while,” Mike says, “We’d pick it up with an old garden tractor. We started driving when we were about ten.”
“I remember driving the old Volvo when I was ten or eleven,” Steve says. All the brothers laugh.
“I’ve got stories about that Volvo,” Danny smiles.
Steve looks at the fire line winding down the mountain. “Grandma Ruth Moody would drive around the mountain in that white Volvo, then drive down, and the whole mountain would be on fire behind her. She was control burning, but there was no one there to control it.”
“She would start at the top of the mountain,” Gary says, “and light matches and throw them out the window as she drove down, then let it burn down around the subdivision.” He thinks back to his childhood. “It was a wonderful place to grow up. We had a lot of freedom. People used to come up here and be envious of us. ‘You live here? No way?’ We’d tell them, ‘We’re going to go on vacation,’ and they’d look at us strange. “This is vacation.”
Mike chips in. “’ No, this is home,’ we’d tell them. ‘We’re going to Yosemite.’”
“Hey,” Danny says to his brothers. “We’re headin’ to the cabin. We can tell more stories there over a whiskey.”