Watch for wildlife at fire-ravaged Monan’s Rill Saturday

A BioBlitz project Saturday will survey species that survived last year’s Glass fire or have returned to the blackened landscape.|

A riot of spring wildflowers signals that the land is regenerating at Monan’s Rill, a 47-year-old community ravaged by the Glass fire in September.

And while it will be a long time before residents can reoccupy the 414 acres in the Mark West Creek watershed off St. Helena Road, the now-scattered community is holding together. Monan’s Rill is what’s known as an intentional community, where its residents collectively own the property and share in maintenance and decision-making.

They are throwing Saturday work parties that allow members to stay in touch, clean up debris and do what small repairs are permitted while they wait for FEMA to clear away the ashen remains of 10 hand-built homes, an outbuilding and a greenhouse.

This Saturday, they are participating in BioBlitz, an Earth Day citizen science project under the auspices of National Geographic. They will be surveying the plants, birds and animals that survived or have returned to the blackened landscape. Members of the public are invited to join them in the effort, by signing up in advance at It’s also a chance to explore the land, a mixture of forest and oak meadows with a pond that extends to the top of the ridge overlooking Napa Valley.

“We’re asking people to come and help us document the wildlife that is coming back after the fire,” said Amy Robinson, who lived at Monan’s Rill for 11 years before losing the home she shared with her husband, software engineer Chris Schaefer, and their two kids, in the Glass fire. “We want to collect as much biodiversity information as we can: flowers and mammals, amphibians, fungi and birds.”

Volunteers will be split into smaller groups and will be directed to either download an app that helps with species identification, or to bring a pad and paper.

The surveys will help document how different parts of the land burned in different ways, Robinson said. “There is a chaparral zone that felt volcanic for a few months after the fire. It’s just starting to come back to life now. And the north slope of our ridge burned, but it burned in a really healthy way that cleared out the understory and didn’t kill a lot of the large trees.”

Committed to rebuild

Of the 28 members of the collective living at Monan’s Rill at the time of the fire, 13 adults are committed to remaining on the land as they reimagine and then rebuild the community founded in 1974 by a group of Quaker families.

They have been helped in their efforts, Robinson said, by the financial support from more than 600 donors who contributed to a GoFundMe account set up in the wake of the fire. They quickly raised $105,940, exceeding their $100,000 goal. They have used a portion of that to help members who were renters and not covered by insurance; to buy supplies for three new chickens, Ash, Cinder and Char; and to purchase garden tools and 120 pounds of native grass and wildflower seeds. Donations have also helped with preliminary architectural planning, some minor water and sewer line repairs, and cleaning up smoke damage to Madrone House, the original house on the property and the only one that survived.

Robinson said they can’t use the remaining funds for well repair or to replace garden infrastructure like fencing, a greenhouse and chicken coop, until the fire debris is cleaned up, hopefully by the end of May.

“There’s no end of work to do,” said Robinson, whose mother-in-law has been living at Monan’s Rill since the 1970s. But their efforts so far, she said, have been therapeutic after the trauma not just of losing their homes but of having their tight-knit community split up.

“It’s healing to see the land in the springtime, and the wildflowers are out of this world, just carpets of them as we’ve never seen before,” she said. “And the birds are coming back. It was amazing just week to week to notice the life that’s coming back. It took a few months for the jackrabbits to appear. But when I saw one, my heart was so happy.”

Monan’s Rill, named for a place in Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake,” also invites people to join in their open community workdays two Saturdays a month. To sign up for Saturday’s BioBlitz or a workday, visit

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or On Twitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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