Saturday, April 29, 2006

mother-daughter haircut day


Sad, isn't it.

Starflower and I had a "girls morning" at the beauty salon. Her 'do was more dramatic than mine; she had a good six inches taken off and I think the results are fantastic. Hopefully there will be no more morning fights with tangles. Mine was more of a ten-minute trim than anything, but it helped. I had thought about making an appointment to get some coloring done, some lightening and highlights, because my hair used to be closer to the color of Starflower's, even a dark blonde. But then I thought of how in college I so wanted my hair to be the color it is now, a dark brown with reddish tones here and there, and then I thought if I take the color plunge then I'd have commited myself to bimonthly "touch up" jobs and regular chameleon-like changes. That just ain't me. So I'll go with what Nature gave me, even the occasional silver streak.

Starflower sometimes wishes she had blue eyes like Mom, but I think her eyes are absolutely gorgeous. I think I'll have to get out the shotgun when she's a teenager and the boys start coming around.

And wow. I didn't realize what a week and a half out on the lake did to my face. I still have fish-belly legs, but what a tan!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

photosensitivity or allergy?

I'd appreciate some input from anyone with experience with this. When I started going out on the lake every day, doing the muskie assessment, thus being exposed to sun and lake water and fish slime every day, I began to develop a rash on the backs of my hands, mostly the left (and I am left handed). It's like a bunch of raised reddish bumps, not like poison ivy, not itchy but a bit sensitive and warm. It goes away, then comes back when I go out on the lake again.

I'm thinking from the location it's a photosensitivity thing; I had something similar when I was on Doxycycline, an antibiotic for Lyme disease. But it's not on my face, which gets as much exposure as my hands. So maybe if I get my hands wet a bit it might be a combination of lake water and sunlight. I am allergic to one algae that is in this lake; one time I went tubing (towed in an inner tube behind the speedboat) and there was an algae bloom, I broke out in hives, the only time in my life that has happened. But if I am allergic to lake water, that has dire implications for my career!

I even went so far as to check the ingredients in the "natural" hand lotion I may have used the mornings before I went out; perhaps just one ingredient might cause a reaction in me when exposed to sunlight. But of course the label was unspecific when it came to "essential oils".

I should not complain; I know of others who have far worse lots with allergies and general health. But the first time anything happens, you gotta wonder.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

potato amnesia

Okay. Something in me told me that I had, in fact, purchased seed potatoes online. I remembered selecting the varieties, even telling The Hermit about what I had ordered.

It hasn't come through yet.

I began to doubt myself. Had I, in a drunken stupor (and I won't say that does not happen once in a while!) merely imagined myself clicking and ordering potatoes, or did I in fact place an order which somehow got lost in cyberspace? I don't know. I checked my online debit card record, which is usually a traumatic experience for me, and I found no record of a debit being posted for potatoes. A day later, I went back in my email and found, to my relief, a confirmation email stating that I had indeed placed an order for several varieties, from Moose Tubers, an associate of Fedco Seeds, from whom I received seeds promptly. I emailed them about the status of my order. I certainly hope to hear from them soon. Potato planting time is here.

another fish tale

There were no muskies in the nets today. Maybe it was due to the fact that several of the nets had actually rolled over in strong winds, and did not fish properly, a couple of them had holes where snapping turtles or muskrats had chewed their way through, or maybe it was due to the seasonably cold weather after a week of above average temperatures.

I did get to dip out many bowfin (Amia calva) and freshwater drum (Aplodinotes grunniens), which I have written about earlier (last July or August maybe; I'm too lazy to check the archives myself) as they have the ability to make grunting noises. I also saw at least one twelve inch crappie and many others I would choose to fillet if I were fishing for fun. And lots of northern pike.

One pike in particular struck me and J and N, my coworkers, as looking rather odd. It was 25 inches in length, but very skinny, like a snake. Other northern pike that size appeared very fat and healthy, so it was not a food chain deficiency. As J was measuring it, he noticed it held its mouth open slightly. A closer look at the mouth revealed something I have never seen before. The entire bottom of the mouth was covered with a growth of some sort, like really grainy flesh. Like the top of a cauliflower, almost. He took a pocket knife and cut off what he could, saving it for possible examination by the state fish pathologist. We were able to release the fish after this surgery, and hopefully it was able to eat for the first time in months.

On a somewhat related note, I answered a call yesterday at the office from someone who was concerned about a gelatinous, slimy growth on the wheels of his roll-in dock and on some other objects that had been submerged through winter. The culprit? Bryozoans, a colonial animal somewhat like sponges but deserving, nonetheless, a phylum of their own. That is one of the critters the prof breezes over in Invertebrate Zoology class, preferring the much more glamorous corals and anemones (What phylum are they in? Damn, I forgot!) but it is amazing, the web of life that exists around here.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

never try to eat anything bigger than your head

That's the moral of a story I'll be getting to here shortly. I've been really busy with work, and I even worked this morning, a Saturday, which is rare for me. We're doing our every-five-year muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) assessment on a lake south of here. We stock the little muskies in the lake when they are about twelve inches long, and the assessment is to see if some of them are growing into big muskies.

To capture muskies live, we use trap nets, which are a series of hoops into which a fish swims and cannot swim back out. The hoops are connected to a fifty foot long panel of mesh that is set perpendicular to the shore. A fish swimming along shore will encounter the panel, try to swim around it, and be led into the trap net. If all goes well, it works nicely.

Today was a pleasant day to be out on the lake, with partly cloudy skies and very light wind. It was one of those days that make me think, if I have to work for a living, there are very few things I would rather be doing. I just like being out in a boat, in the water. While checking the nets we saw buffleheads, mallards, and wood ducks, a small flock of white pelicans, an osprey carrying a fish in its talons, a large raft of coots floating in the exact same spot they've been for three days now, great blue herons, Canada geese, and one swan. Sorry no pictures; I thought about bringing the camera but also had the vision of my camera ending up at the bottom of the lake. Best not to take chances.

We had a total of eleven muskies in 15 nets, which is actually a good catch rate. Most of them were around forty inches, which at over ten pounds are pretty nice fish, but I also saw and handled, for the first time, a 50-inch muskie that weighed 34 pounds. Wow. What a fighter. I finally realized what it is about this species that makes some anglers almost obsessed with them; they are the barracuda, the shark, the wild alligator of Minnesota lakes. I decided, awesome as they are, I would rather not tangle with one that had a lure with three treble hooks embedded in its mouth, at the end of my line. I don't go looking for trouble.

We also saw some nice sized, 11-12 inch black crappies (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), 19-inch largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides, or Hawg!), walleye (Stizostedion vitreum vitreum, which has since been changed but that's how I learned it!) and northern pike (Esox lucius). Which brings me to the title story. Today I saw a northern pike that died of gluttony. This fish, 23 inches long and maybe three or four pounds, with an elongated fusiform shape (think cylinder), had tried to ingest a black crappie that was perhaps too much for it. The crappie, which we pulled, half-digested, from the pike's upper throat, was perhaps nine inches long, maybe a quarter pound, but from dorsal to ventral a crappie that size is a good three or four inches high, a good inch or so bigger than the diameter of the northern pike. Furthermore, a crappie has spines in its dorsal and anal fins that point backwards, preventing a predator from changing its mind and regurgitating the crappie. The northern pike was still barely alive when we pulled it from the net, crappie tail hanging out of its mouth, but with such a large, non-cylindrical fish lodged in its throat it could not effectively ingest water to pump through its gills. Even after removing the crappie, we could see that this pike had attempted its last meal.

Fish never fail to amaze me. I guess even wild creatures have their unfortunate moments.

we'll wonder what we ever did without it

Yes, that's me behind the wheel of our "new" 1940 Farmall H. The Hermit found a deal too good to pass up, and, well, you know men and heavy equipment. It even came with a bucket, which will be ideal for getting the horse manure from the pasture to my garden beds. Of course, in the winter we can use it to plow snow from our long driveway; our suburban snowblower just wasn't fit for a country driveway.

Now if I just had more land to plow, to grow my own barley for beer...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

garden strategy 2006

And yes, I do have one, sort of.

I now have lettuce, arugula, spinach, beet greens, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, and Swiss chard planted in the garden, as well as the garlic I planted last fall. All this a good month before the last expected frost date around here, and when the gardening books say such crops should be planted. The norm for northern Minnesota is plant everything Memorial Day weekend or later, whether it is frost tolerant or tender annual. Didn't the early settlers here ever hear of the wonders of picking the first salad greens in May? Apparently not, but I would not miss it for the world.

So my first strategy of the year is early. This is the first year I have had so much garden space available so early in the spring, and I plan on utilizing succession planting, which the early settlers also apparently did not know about. I'll give them a break; they were hard working folks, who did not have the leisure of garden "experiments" when they needed every square inch of garden space for survival. So they went with the tried and true.

While weeding some of last year's garden beds, the ones that did not have enough plant cover to inhibit weed growth, I started thinking of my second strategy: mulch. I should be out right now, raking and collecting leaves, pine needles, and whatever else I can find to keep the weeds at bay, and also a perhaps more important function, to keep the soil moist. The disadvantage of raised beds is that the soil tends to dry out quickly. I just compared my garlic bed, which I mulched heavily right after planting the bulbs, with the other more exposed raised beds. The soil was nice and moist right underneath the leaves, while I have had to water the greens bed daily.

While I'm on the M's, I'll bring up my third strategy: manure. The horses provide plenty of it; last year I filled most of the garden beds with aged manure hand-dug from the horse pasture. The only problem with that is the work involved, especially since the horse pasture is a long haul from the garden. We may have a friend come with a tractor and do some of the work. The Hermit has been looking at tractors to buy as well. Ah, men and their toys.

With a little bit of a stretch I can keep up the M motif with my fourth strategy: days to Maturity. I learned the importance of selecting short-season varieties last year, when we were hit with frost in August, just as my Kentucky Wonder pole beans were starting to set pods. The other pole beans I planted, Ohio Cutshort, had just begun to flower. I did some research later and found that Ohio Cutshort took at least 85 days to produce beans. That just won't do around here. While last year I was trying to save space by planting pole beans with squash underneath, this year I will have to take up more garden space and plant earlier maturing bush beans.

Speaking of more, that brings up my fifth strategy, which is...more. More raised beds, more of everything, because I have never had too much of anything from the garden. Yes, even zucchini and tomatoes. Of course I realize that will mean more work for me, but there is a certain minimum amount of effort required just to have a garden; planting six beds instead of three does not necessarily double the work involved. In theory, anyway. I never keep track, and I don't intend to start.

Some time after the first frost next fall, I predict I will look back on this post and have a good laugh. "What was I thinking!"

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monday morning birding

I had, in birding jargon, two "lifers" for the yard in one morning! The first one, a rusty blackbird, is one I'm surprised I had not seen before. I heard a strange, loud call coming from the top of an aspen, and I looked up to see a black bird that was not a starling and not a red winged blackbird. Rustys are not nearly as common as either of those, but they do nest in spruces near swamps or bogs. Definitely a lot of habitat for them here.

Then, as we were eating breakfast, I glanced up at a branch in the dead spruce just in time to see a small hawk with fine reddish bars on its breast. With much assurance and a calmness that masked my excitement, I announced "There is a sharp shinned hawk in the spruce." I usually second-guess myself with hawk identification, but I had just been studying the hawk section of Sibley the other day and it was fresh enough in my mind that there was no doubt. Of course the camera was not within reach.

Other sightings included ruby crowned kinglets, dark eyed juncos, a tree sparrow, purple finches, goldfinches (now turning very yellow) blue jays, chickadees, and ravens. I heard a snipe winnowing, but did not see it, and also heard sandhill cranes and turkeys.

I took the day off to be with the kids on their holiday from school, but my to-do list keeps growing. I'm hoping to plant seeds indoors and out, but there are the dishes that have been neglected all weekend, laundry to sort, and that pesky state tax return I put off filing because we owe money.

UPDATE- 10:54 am This just in...a yellow-rumped warbler sighting has been confirmed! That has got to be the earliest I have ever seen a warbler here; usually they come in around the first of May.

And don't ask how the chores are going...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

buying local, and real estate

We bought a half hog yesterday, all neatly cut and wrapped, from a friend who lives about 20 miles away. This does my soul good, knowing that the freezer is very full (and God knows in the event of a prolonged power outage I will have the canner going 24 hours a day!), knowing that the animal did not spend its life in a hog confinement building, nor did it travel several journeys to get to my table. And, with those prejudices in mind, I would still rate it in a blind test as the best pork I have ever tasted. We grilled chops last night.

We spent Easter afternoon at my brother's house, in a very prosperous suburb of Minneapolis. He works for a major computer disk drive company, with his Ph.D. in physics. We don't get together that often or call each other up to chat much; we're just not that way. But still we get along fine and have a nice time at family get togethers.

Their house is currently on the market. They somehow decided that, with three daughters and a three bedroom house, they would do better buying something else nearby than adding on. Okay, given that they live fairly modestly for their means, they're not looking for a McMansion or anything. But still I think it's a losing proposition. Even with the profit they will make thanks to nothing but the whims of the market, they will probably still end up with a higher mortgage payment in the end. Oh well. Perhaps they know something I don't.

Madcapmum had a post recently about real estate agents and their sometimes unscrupulous tactics. I'll be quite frank about this: I have never had a good dealing with a realtor, and I'll be damned if I ever buy or sell property through one again. I hate the whole real estate game, the cosmetic bullshit they tell you to do to enhance "curb appeal", like I want to sell my house to some moron who thinks the vase of fresh cut flowers in every room makes the house somehow worth the overinflated price that the market demands. I hate being called on a whim and being asked to vacate the premises for an hour or so while some looker gets shown through. And I hate having a buyer specify on the purchase agreement that they want my stuff off the premises two days before closing, two days before they take ownership, or bank subservience as it may be, and my selling agent not rejecting that as total bullshit, not doing their job to represent me. That still hurts.

Oh well, none of my business anyway, nothing to get worked up over, just another thing that makes my visits to the city so memorable and stressful. Makes me glad I am so far out, so where I am.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

another pupdate

I'm afraid I have been replaced...

It was a beautiful April day here at Sand Creek. Many trees were budding out and flowering, including this young maple. Unfortunately we don't have any mature maples here, or we'd have been syruping the last few weeks.

After a few chores and gardening, we spent our first afternoon of the year at the pond. I was the only one who did not go in past my feet. After all, the ice just went out last week. I walked around the pond and saw many minnows, of unknown origin. I was hoping to see some sign of the crappies I threw in last fall.

These are remnants of last years' times spent at the pond. Pablo should be familiar with one of these.

Friday, April 14, 2006

all is not lost

This is my cold frame experiment from last fall. At that time I was ready to write it off as a failure, being that I had neglected to consider that maybe glass frames should be placed at an angle, to avoid excess pressure from ice and snow. You can see what happened.

On th brighter side, note the spinach plants, two of them, that survived a Minnesota winter under cover of plastic! So Eliot Coleman's four season gardening tactics might work here after all.

getting in-line

A few things you may not have known about me:

I like in-line skating.

I live over a mile from any pavement, making in-line skating an unlikely pastime for me.

But my workplace is close to the head of the longest paved recreational trail in the world.

So sometimes I take a long lunch break and go skating.

That's what I did today. My skates have been in the back of my car since last summer, and today I had no excuse not to go. It's sunny and nearly 70 degrees, I had the time, I needed the exercise, and I felt like doing something more intense than walking. I suppose I could have backed out because my helmet and wrist guards were left at home, but that's never stopped me before. I know, probably not wise to go without.

I made it a short skate today, turning around after just one mile. I had forgotten how much my shins start to hurt when I haven't skated in a while. Not having cross country skied at all last winter, and only having ice skated once or twice, my legs were not used to the sudden burst of exercise. At least the trail is mostly uphill on the way out and downhill on a gentle grade coming back, so I can relax and glide along more then.

I did see a couple unidentified little brown birds, one red tailed hawk, and I heard a loud symphony of Western chorus frogs with a few wood frogs singing along.

Now if I can just do this three times per week or so.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

return of the kinglets

It's a warm, windy evening here. I was looking forward to maybe doing some gardening, but I do not like working in wind. Before sunset I'll at least walk down and see if the greens seeds I planted need any water, and maybe after dinner I'll start some more tomatoes and other seeds indoors. But wind and me just do not get along.

As we were migrating to the cook shed to start dinner (grilled mahi mahi from the freezer, organic brown rice, and broccoli) The Hermit asked me about a bird song he hadn't noticed before and didn't remember. I looked up just in time to see a ruby crowned kinglet presenting itself obviously; its crown was fully exposed and glowing ruby in the evening sun. I remembered posting about them a year ago (well, April 18th), noting their precisely phrased, melodic song. There was a whole flock of them, flitting among the growing buds in the aspen trees. I tried to take a picture, but even with 12x optical zoom it's hard to capture something so tiny, and so active.

I have now gone through my annual frog song re-education. It should be simple, we only have four or five species of frogs here, but it seems I can never remember which is the Western Chorus frog (think running your thumb along a comb) or a green frog (loose banjo string) or a wood frog (resembles a fragmented duck quack). The chorus frogs tend to inhabit the roadside wetlands, while the wood frogs are in the bog near the house. There are not too many green frogs around here, but spring peepers are everywhere, and loud. Toads and tree frogs won't chime in for a week or two. I learned today that chorus frogs are indeed "explosive" breeders, taking advantage of the first available conditions to complete their annual orgy. We also have leopard frogs, but they seem to be quieter and more difficult to distinguish.

A single blue winged teal was on the pond yesterday evening, and I heard a woodcock and a Wilson's snipe at about 4 am, displaying in the near-full moon. Spring is good.

Monday, April 10, 2006

open water

Over this warm weekend, most of the lakes in the southern half of Minnnesota lost their cover of ice. I heard that Grindstone Lake, near Sandstone, lost its ice the earliest in thirty years. The lakes north of my place may still have a mass of slush floating on them for another day or so.

It is such a thrill to see open water, after five months of frozenness. It's an amazing transformation, when you can walk on water one month and float a boat on it the next.

I spent my work day on what my elder fisheries professionals would call a "gravy run". That is, you drive a lot, go pick up fish somewhere and dump them someplace else, not much work involved. In this case it was muskies or muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) , an esocid predator fish that some people in this state are obsessed with. It's not considered a food fish; the minimum harvest length is 48 inches, so if you kill one it generally ends up on your wall. I don't get it, but whatever pays the rent.

The above lake was the rearing pond for muskie. I arrived at the lake at about 10:30, whereupon I waited about two hours for the guys that were pulling the nets to have any fish for me. I spent that time exploring the lakeshore, enjoying the warmth of the sun. The call of the sandhill crane was constantly in the background, and I observed four of them flying around. A frog chorus erupted from an adjacent shallow wetland, with Western chorus frogs, leopard frogs, and spring peepers performing a symphony. On the water I heard a loon give its laughing call, and I watched a small group of bufflehead ducks dive and fly. Buffleheads are among the most beautiful of ducks, in my humble opinion. They are a contrast of white and iridescent black. On the land I saw a red headed woodpecker, something I just don't see where I live. That, and some tree sparrows.

After I received the fish, it was a long drive and an exercise in contrast. The lake I stocked them in is on the northern edge of the ever-expanding Twin Cities metropolitan area. I endured city-like traffic, and monstroso-mansions built where there used to be humble little weekend lake cabins. I hope they enjoy their trophy fish.

Back to the office at last, ten minutes after quitting time, and on the drive home I had a perma smile on my face. I love this day, the welcome warmth of spring and being able to drive around and see so much of it. I love that I don't live in one of those cookie cutter houses on the edge of suburbia like I used to. It could be no other way for me.

I forgot to add, the frog symphony tonight is absolutely intoxicating. Breathtaking. I'm going outside for more. Who cannot be overwhelmed, joyful over this?

Unfortunately, I think I know. But hey, if you can't appreciate the first evening frog chorus, well, you're not goddamn alive. What have you got to lose?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

pupdate: eleven weeks

farmers' market is coming to town

The Hermit was talking to a neighbor couple yesterday afternoon, in usual style; they were out for a walk and he was on his way back from some errands in the pickup truck, so a fifteen minute conversation ensued in the middle of the road, with no passing traffic during that time.

Anyway, they said that the local Audubon center is taking the lead in organizing a farmers market in town this year. This is good news, since the nearest thing that can resemble a farmers market around here is about an hours' drive away. I think this community needs a farmers market for several reasons: 1) to promote and provide locally grown produce and handcrafted products; 2) to help shift the economy to a more local one and encourage more local agriculture; and 3) to add an opportunity for the re-creation of a sense of community.

It's a given in my mind that I want to participate, as a grower. Being a startup market, I'm sure I can probably get in without too much commitment, but there is enough lead time now that I can plan my planting to include some marketable stuff as well as produce for the family. I want to provide some unique items, beyond the usual cucumbers and green beans and big zucchini I'm sure will show up on tables. I'm thinking salad mix, heirloom tomatoes, small, gourmet-size zucchini, maybe some basil and other herbs.

As if I don't have a lot on my plate already! But this is something I have wanted to see locally for so long, I can't let the opportunity slip by; I need to be a part of it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

first pond activity

Yes, that is ice on the pond behind Starflower. She didn't seem to mind the water temperature, which could not have been too much above freezing. The last swim was sometime in October, which means there are only five months out of the year that are considered unswimmable.

As for myself, I'll wait until the water is comfortably warm and the air is unbearably hot. But I did get in some gardening today, cleaning out some of the raised beds and planting lettuce and arugula seedlings. I couldn't wait, it was too nice. While I was working in the garden, I saw my first butterflies of the year, a White Admiral and an unidentified orange one, a fritillary perhaps. And my first fox sparrow of the year, doing its scratch dance in the leaves in the woods.

Friday, April 07, 2006

the cleanup crew

awww, I kind of liked that tree

But alas it fell victim to the wind. That, and maybe carpenter ants; this is the same tree I posted about a month ago: Woodpeckerage. Too bad it's not Christmas; the fallen top would make a nice tree, or lots of wreaths.

whew, that was close!

Looks like it could have been a lot worse.

At least the wind chimes and bird feeder, not to mention the house appear to be relatively unharmed. By the way, the house isn't really all rainbow colored like that; that happened when I resized the photo for some odd reason.

wind and tigers and spruce trees (oh my!)

My neck of the woods is making news headlines this morning. About ten miles southeast of here, a woman was mauled to death by a Bengal tiger yesterday. The good news is, that does not mean there are Bengal tigers roaming loose in the woods. At least I hope. The tiger was kept penned up on the woman's property; apparently she was licensed to keep it and she used to run a wildcat breeding program. The only clue I had that I was living so close to Bengal tigers was the large chain link fence enclosing that property; I had often wondered if they were fencing something in or keeping something out.

The woman was discovered in the tiger cage by a man who had come to do some burning on the property. The tiger was walking around looking "agitated"; eventually law enforcement and a veterinarian arrived and the tiger was put down in order to reach the victim. According to the sheriff, who usually does not venture out into these parts, the cause of death was "obvious", but he "did not elaborate". Oh, the mental image that conjures up.

Why people choose to keep big exotic cats is beyond me. Besides the obvious safety issue, and there have been several maulings around the state recently, I just don't think these animals belong in cages. It is sad that their natural habitat is disappearing, but keeping wild cats for breeding or other purposes in confinement is sad too.

Another question I have is why the guy was even considering burning yesterday; it was windy! The Hermit has seen one "controlled" grass fire, tended by people who supposedly knew what they were doing, get out of hand in a light wind and burn down a barn. Ah, but it's that time of year, and for some reason rural folk just can't stand the sight of last year's growth of grass or cattails in ditches and swamps.

The wind continued all through the night and this morning. Which brings me to spruce trees. I just received a call here at work from The Hermit, who informed me that a fairly large spruce tree had broken off halfway up the trunk and hit the cabin. Wow. Apparently there's little damage, and he and Mr. Attitude are fine, but I know who's going to spend the afternoon with the chain saw. Pictures soon, maybe.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

the "fifteen foot" beach

I don't know where the "fifteen foot" name came from; The Hermit named it, either for fifteen foot waves or fifteen foot high dunes leading down to the beach. Either way, Manchester State Park Beach in northern California holds many wonderful memories for us, and will be known as the "fifteen foot" beach.

I am a water person. It is amazing that I can live in the middle of the continent, as far away from an ocean as you can get. I have Lake Superior a short drive away, and numerous smaller lakes so I can get my water fix, but I have this thing about oceans.

We lived, for a brief but momentous time, in northern California, twenty miles from the coast. It was a stop on our inevitable journey that led us here, to this life. It was not meant to be there, but we had to go there to get where we are. And the beach was a big part of it.

On a Saturday or Sunday morning, we would load up the car. Calvin had just turned five, Starflower celebrated her third birthday on the beach, and Mr. Attitude was under a year old. We always stopped at the Navarro Store for snacks, and a six pack of Hop Ottin' IPA, Anderson Valley's finest, and maybe even a 22 ounce "roadie" of Poleeko Pale Ale. The store was run by a nice couple; the man always smiled and had jokes for the kids. He was missing one hand; the local story was he used to dabble in explosives as a hobby.

Then it was off down a winding road through a tunnel of redwoods, following the Navarro River to the coast. There was a beach there at the mouth of the river, which made for a nice half day trip, but when we wanted a real beach experience we turned south and took the hairpin turns of the highway that followed the cliffs of the coast. Eventually we came to the town of Manchester, and just beyond it, Manchester State Park. The fifteen foot beach.

It was at least a half mile hike over the dunes to the beach. You could not hear the roaring of the waves over the dunes; it was silent until you came to the crest of the last dune. I carried Mr. Attitude, either in the backpack or the sling. We encouraged Starflower to walk, but somehow she always ended up on Daddy's shoulders. And someone had to carry the cooler.

It was always magical, topping the crest of the last dune and finally hearing the roar of the waves. It was loud, deafeningly loud, but a relaxing void, a rushing, a calmness at the same time. It washed away all that did not matter. At the beach we did not agonize over the trivial; we rejoiced in the moment. We did not care where we set up the blanket, or what the plan for the day would be. We were there, and that is all that mattered.

Long walks were always part of the day. We would spend some time at the edge of the waves, running back and forth, chasing the surf. We would look for treasures washed up: polished stones, shells, jellyfish, long strands of kelp, and once, the perfectly dried body of a sea star.

Our base camps always ended up near driftwood, for some reason. There was plenty of driftwood scattered along the miles of beach, and we were drawn to it. We were intrigued by the washed out forms, the muted colors, the hollow sounds the wood made when pounded against larger logs. Pretty soon we were drumming, caught up in some ancient rhythm we felt with the crashing of the waves. We lined up circles and structures of smaller sticks, leaving them for others to discover and wonder at. Somehow at those moments, I felt closer to God than I ever have.

I always felt such calm there. For the previous few years of my life, I had always felt under stress of some sort, but the beach was where I learned how to lose myself, to find myself, and to relax again. The rumble of the surf against the long open shoreline made a noise that drowned out all but the present moment. I didn't worry about anything, didn't think about anything I was just there. It was a great comfort. For the most part, we were alone on that beach. Even if there were others there, it was never crowded, and we had plenty of space.

There are a few places on this earth that I count as my home. The fifteen foot beach is one of them.

Monday, April 03, 2006

first frog!

During my lunch hour walk, I was treated to the sound of a single western chorus frog calling.


We have an abundance of rocks in most of our soil here. I say most of the soil because we have two very different soil types on our 40 acres. Out by the road the soil is sand and gravel, evidence of perhaps a much larger Sand Creek during the melting of the last glaciers. However, as you come up the driveway near the chicken yard, the soil composition abruptly becomes different: darker, a bit more clay, and boulders, ranging from fist size to several feet in diameter.

The most abundant rock is a pinkish sandstone, which also makes up the bedrock in this area. There is also a greenish rock that I don't know the name of; it is a dense, fine grained rock. Occasionally there is granite or gneiss, or basalt with various inclusions.

The soil is so rocky that I have given up using the rototiller and instead opted for raised garden beds. But there are many potential uses for the rocks: flower bed edges, walkways, walls, terraces, perhaps even a garden shed or greenhouse in the future. Some of the bigger ones could be strategically placed in Sand Creek to enhance fish habitat. Most of the pile above is reserved for facing the half wall that will be built behind the wood stove; the rock will provide thermal mass, helping to moderate temperature and store heat. It's nice to be able to use some locally available, free building materials in the house.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

whoaaa...Site Meter, you scare me!

The latest hit on this blog was from a Google search string:

"mystical beach near Point Arena"

That would be Point Arena, California, and... I have spent many wonderful, mystical hours on a beach near there. my knowledge, I have not blogged about it. Or have I? The entry page was the archives for October 2005, a very eventful month in other ways, but in scanning it I found no mention of the beach.

Does Google know my mind or what?!!! Scary indeed.

And, I will post about the beach some day. Significant spiritual moments definitely happened there.

Edited to add: Okay, I might have mentioned it briefly in a meme post. But, like, wow man. That caught me off guard, totally!


Ten weeks old, and GROWING! We got Sally four weeks ago today.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

new growth, and new fridge

I can barely remember planting daffodil bulbs last fall, but here they are!

And, I must really be getting old. Getting a new refrigerator excites me. :)

Our old fridge, which we bought used for $29, was sounding like it was in the throes of a tormenting death, and the freezer, well, didn't freeze in most places, except for the mound of frost in the middle. So we took the plunge and bought a new one, not from the big box store sixty miles away but from a local mercantile that happens to carry appliances. Nothing fancy, although Starflower and Mr. Attitude were both disappointed that it did not have a water/ice dispenser in front. Fred can tell you a thing or two about how Mr. Attitude likes ice dispensers. :)

It is pictured above in its new place in my cook shed, next to the shelf that will, in a few weeks, be full of new seedlings. I got two seed orders in the mail today, from Baker Creek and Territorial. I gotta love the way Baker Creek does business; they were out of two of the varieties I ordered, so for a refund they stapled three dollar bills to my invoice. I so want to travel to one of the two shows they have annually at their headquarters in Missouri.

The real thrill of the day, new fridge and all, came as we were unloading it from the back of the pickup truck. Just then a flock of about fifty tundra swans flew directly overhead. It absolutely does not get any better than that!