January 31, 2009

So where exactly does time go?

It is the end of the week again, and the end of January already! It is as if I am on some fast-flowing river; I keep trying to stay close to the banks in hopes of grabbing a hold on some obstacle from shore that I can hang on to to slow down a bit. I want to savor this journey now that it is finally our time to live the life we dreamt about for so long. I don't want to just float along and go head-long for the waterfall, aka some crisis (blame my European upbringing for that "happy" outlook), without taking in all the views. Hence this journal.

After the hike in the Stronghold we worked on the driveway, trying to keep it from eroding during a summer storm, and we are making good progress. It involves a lot of rock work and I am again so very happy that we have that small tractor to help us out. It would be a months-long project if we were to wheelbarrow this project.

Then a couple of days of riding and Tucson shopping to lay in groceries for a couple of weeks, and the week is gone. It did have some other highlights that I did not get pictures of, unfortunately. There was the pair of hawks that flew over together in perfect harmony, looking for an updraft, and the peregrine falcon who almost got a sparrow in a bush in the front yard. The little bird got away and the falcon sat very still close by, probably waiting for his dinner to return. And there is the Anna's hummingbird who comes to the feeder several times a day. It is amazing that he or she survives our frosty nights.

Here is one picture that I took earlier in the month when this cactus was in bloom. It should have had 4 blooms, but a cottontail happened by and ate the other buds. That's life in the desert.

January 27, 2009

Cochise Stronghold

Delightful though our daily routine is, a rut is still a rut, and we decided at breakfast that it would be fun to do something different today. There's plenty of sun, but a cold front blew in yesterday, so a hike would be a fun activity. Dan made our lunch and packed binoculars and cameras, while I did the outside morning chores.

Initially we picked the Barfoot Lookout in the Chiricahuas, but once on the road and driving by the Cochise Stronghold we decided to take the hike to the viewpoint there. It is a lot less driving, and it had been a year since we had made that trip. We had been on horseback then. It is odd that you tend to ignore the beautiful places that are close to home, like 3 miles away.

The Stronghold is so named because the well-known Apache chief Cochise used this mountainous area to escape the cavalry in the 1860's. You can look across the Sulphur Springs Valley from the Stronghold to Fort Bowie, 50 miles away, where the cavalry was stationed. When the scouts saw the dust cloud signaling the cavalry was on their way, the Indians had a day to retreat into the mountains. Rumor also has it that Cochise was buried in a secret place in the Stronghold with lots of local speculation as to the whereabouts of his grave.

Today there is a beautiful campground with a number of hiking trails, all of them uphill. Our hike today was a little more than 2 miles long, with an elevation gain of about 1500 feet. We had lunch at one of the viewpoints, with the view of Fort Bowie, way in the distance.

It was a great day, and we decided to spend more time going on these types of excursions. We are all tired now: Emma, having run at least twice the distance, is sacked out. We still have to clean stalls and prepare for a freezing night.

January 25, 2009

I could not help myself

Both seed orders arrived last week: one from Seeds of Change and the other from Seed Savers Exchange. It is always a momentous occasion, holding an envelope with the entire harvest for this summer and some for the winter too. Now it's a little package of seeds and before you know it, it has become "The Tomato Forest".

The weather is gorgeous today, and all is still fresh from the rain a few days ago. It's kind of like spring ..., so of course I could not resist. The lettuce in the garden is still producing, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth and lettuce can be planted "as soon as the soil can be worked" as it says on the seed package. Well, that is pretty much year around here.

I put some new lettuce and chives seeds in little (recycled) styrofoam cups, and also started some seeds for prairie-type flowers that should do well here. Frankly, I have never grown flowers from seed, other than sunflowers, so I thought I would give that a shot this year. The seeds were pretty tiny, and one of them (salvia coccinea - Texas hummingbird sage) needs light to germinate so we'll see. I put the salvia in the coldframe during the day, but once the sun has gone down it will join the other flat that is sitting on a heating pad in the laundry room until the seeds have sprouted.

Stay tuned.

January 22, 2009

An "Oregon" Day

It is wall-to-wall overcast, or I should say, mountain range-to-mountain range, Dragoons-to-Chiricahuas. That does not happen often, and I am very glad for that. It does make me realize however, how big our sky is when clouds are low and stretching as far as the eye can see. I never have the feeling here of having a ceiling overhead, but today it is definitely there. We are supposed to get some moisture from it too, and I see light rain in the mountains next door, but nothing much has materialized at the WD.

We took advantage of this cloudy day by trying to repair and improve our driveway. When it was cleared it was done in typical rancher way ("you have plenty of room and why would you want to keep those mesquites anyway"), so its width rivaled I-10 (almost). But because we live in the foothills, or on the bajada as they say here, of Blacktail Hill and Mt Glenn, we get quite a bit of sheet flooding during our summer storms, with water running downhill at a good clip. We have waterfalls in the front yard several times a year. All that water runs across the driveway, and has over the couple of years we have been here made some goodsize ruts.

So time has come for repair. This morning we made the entrance to our property a lot narrower, but still plenty wide for dump trucks or a semi. We used a lot of large rocks, another advantage of living on the bajada: whatever erosion does come from the mountains comes in the form of rocks of all sizes and if your place happens to have a wash across it, there are plenty of big ones. Not so much fun if you are trying to garden or landscape though.

Dan also graded the drive again, and the next step will be to make a rock retaining wall to slow the water down so it does not gouge out the driving surface. But that's for another day. If it's nice weather tomorrow, we are out riding.

January 19, 2009

What was I thinking...?

...when I knowingly planted a mesquite tree over the water line and the electrical supply to the barn? Well, I was thinking that the tree would live forever, or at least our lifetime, that's what. But, thanks to sloppy pruning on my part, the tree got a bacterial infection and was very sick. Nevertheless it saddens me to cut down a tree, but I thought I had better do it before it tried to leaf out again and I would be tempted to save it when it really was beyond hope.

So this morning we cut it down and tried to pull out the stump with our small John Deere tractor. No budging, in spite of the fact that the tree had only been there 4 years. We were more successful digging the stump out with our friend Dave's backhoe, and of course on the last scoop Dan pulled up the electrical wire and broke the waterline. At least I had had the foresight to shut the water off.

Our "small" job turned into an "entire morning and part of the afternoon" job because the electrical had to be dug up in the driveway where it had pulled loose. It had been spliced already once before (you'd think we would learn).

I cannot sing the praises loudly enough of "machinery" when you have a small ranch. The tractor, and the backhoe, have saved us much back breaking work. We at least had the foresight to buy one of them when we started this adventure. And, thanks Dave! for loaning us the other one.

January 18, 2009

Wings Over Willcox

Now here is a picture of a hawk!

This is a Rufus Redtailed Hawk. I had a great advantage in taking this photo: the bird was not in the wild but an exhibit at the yearly birding festival in Willcox, called Wings Over Willcox. The draw to the event is the thousands of overwintering Sandhill Cranes, as well as raptors and sparrows. Aside from the many participants for seminars and tours there are exhibits by the Audubon Society and the various environmental organizations, a number of vendors of books, feeders, art, and knick-knacky stuff, and the big draw for me: Liberty Wildlife.

Liberty Wildlife is a rehabilitation and educational institution, and they bring their avian educators for upclose and personal encounters. I find the raptors fascinating. This year they brought several owls, from Great-Horned to Burrowing, some smaller prey birds like the Kestrel, and several hawks. This is a Ferruginous Hawk. All these species spend time in our valley, some overwintering, some year-round.

I was captivated by Chocolate, the Rufus Redtailed Hawk, and her handler invited me to come back today, early in the morning, to see her fly as part of her exercise program. It was a thrill to be so close to a bird coming in for her "prey".

Back at the Ranch, Dan had to free a little Bewick's Wren who panicked when our still-resident Cooper's Hawk flew through. The wren got trapped between the walls of the tackroom. Thankfully he flew off unharmed. I learned today that "our" hawk will develop respect for humans over the next couple of months and be not so at ease in our presence. We'd better enjoy his company while we can.

January 15, 2009

Here dovey, dovey ...

The juvenile Cooper's hawk that I spooked out of the garden in mid December is still hanging around the house. I once surprised him as he was drinking from the fountain by the front door, and I also saw him from the kitchen window as he was sitting in the sun on a patio chair. He has not met many people apparently as he is not wary, but I never seem to have a camera ready to take his picture.

This morning he sat on the birdbath while we were having breakfast. Dan snuck up on him with the camera, first inside and eventually he was outside and close before the hawk flew off. The hawk must have been waiting for all the mourning doves to land for breakfast as I throw out seed at first light. He will have to learn to be a little less conspicuous to catch his breakfast.

Later in the morning Dan saw a Redtailed hawk sitting on the ramada over the adobe oven. He was a lot more shy, but waited until his picture was taken. I know, the ramada is in need of repair, but we have to wait for the Yuccas to bloom, sometime in May, as we use their stalks as roofing material.

January 13, 2009


Generally, after I add a post to the blog I wonder if anybody really enjoys reading it (but then I mainly blog for my own fun, or I should say, to ensure that I live consciously), and whether I will have something else to write about soon if I have no "new" activities on the schedule. But then I find it is the small, unexpected happenings that give me those special pleasures.

Today we took our horses out for a ride. Nothing new and different in our routine, although a number of people would pay money to go out on a horse in our beautiful "backyard". (And they do: they stay at Grapevine Canyon Ranch nearby). Some of our riding friends think that we are a bit boring because we seem to cover the same ground a lot, but to us that ground is just never the same. The territory we cover is varied, even within the desert shrub, and it allows for the unexpected. As we came to a favorite meadow we saw about 20 Lazuli Buntings! It is not every day that you see a flock of turquoise birds.

We go by a windmill on this ride and the availability of water in the nearby tank makes it a favorite hangout for the birds. As we sit and enjoy the wildlife, the horses graze and though they don't drink the water, it is good enough to rinse your mouth out after all that dry grass. At least Bueno thinks so.

But we don't have to go far to see some cool birds. As I was writing this, the female Roadrunner cruised by on the porch in search for some insect that might have come out to enjoy the warm sunshine.

January 12, 2009


Until I came to live in Arizona, I used to dislike January. And that is putting it mildly. It was a dark, dreary, wet month with short days. Dark when you went to work, dark when you got home. January seemed to drag on forever.

As you might have guessed, it is different now. We habitually wake up to clear skies, and although sunrise is later than in the summer, at least there is one. We see her pop over the Chiricahuas and I enjoy watching it every day. I looked at the long range weather forecast and it is interesting that our meteorologist has a variety of terms for good weather: "sunshine", "abundant sunshine", "plenty of sunshine", "bright sunshine". In Oregon they had as many terms for precipitation: "rainy", "showers", "light rain", "drizzle".

All that sun does have some drawbacks of course. I spent the morning painting the fascia of our south-facing barn. Again. But now we have a great shop to be doing it in.

January 11, 2009

Perigee Moon

I admit, I did not know what a perigee moon was, but it was explained to me on http://spaceweather.com/. This weekend the full moon was 50,000 km closer to earth than any other full moon that we will have this year. Its rise was spectacular.

Its setting was too, but I was not alert enough to take a picture due to a restless night. The moon was so bright that you could literally sit out and read a book. It would have been a bit chilly, but you could have done it.

We enjoy this spaceweather website as it alerts us to all kinds of celestial phenomena that we can observe here, as opposed to our previous home. You can see satellites pass overhead any time and falling stars are a regular observation, aside from the awesome canopy of stars just about any night.

January 9, 2009

Looking for Shadow

Here is a bad thing about living in the country. People dump their unwanted pets in our neighborhood. We are fortunate that we live at the end of a 1.5 mile dirt road, so it is a hassle for someone to be coming up all this way to get rid of their dog or cat. But a number of our neighbors have taken in some of these animals.

The day before yesterday I saw a dog being sniffed out by Shawna in the front yard, and I hoped it was one of the neighbor dogs as it ran off in that direction. In the afternoon I saw it again close by and tried to call it, but it ran off again. During a ride out with my friend Carol I mentioned that I had seen a heeler-type dog around and asked whether it might have been Rio, her dog, who, bless his canine heart, is a follower of this blog. But Rio spends his time at home, and not roaming the neighborhood. However, Carol had been told about a missing dog by another friend. And, this is how word travels out here, I got a call from someone who knew the owners of the missing dog, with a phone number.

Apparently Shadow, the wanderer, had taken off when his owner took a spill on a walk near the Stronghold almost 2 weeks ago, and naturally her owners are distraught. The chances of survival out here are slim as we have several coyote packs that would have no trouble with a 40 pound dog. The coyotes seem very well fed this year though, and our rabbit population appears to have dwindled considerably. Hopefully, Shadow would have been able to stay out of their path. As for water, it is available in our front yard day and night for all manners of animals and birds.

This morning on the daily walk I called for Shadow a couple of times, but the only answer I got was howling from the coyotes. It made my hair stand on end. After breakfast we took Bueno and Cody out and went looking for Shadow some more, but found no sign.

Right now her owners are out there hiking around; I do so hope they find her.

January 7, 2009


I know it is silly: I need to get out of this "when the holidays are over, it's spring" idea. When the temperature is almost 60 degrees and the sun is shining brightly, it is difficult. We do have night frosts, but the garden is not hit that hard. This is probably because we live on a slope and the cold air just rushes across it, and possibly thanks to the lattice/window screen fencing which may hold some of it back. I still have good looking broccoli, swiss chard, escarole and romaine lettuce that do get their leaves frosted a little bit, but the plants are still producing.

When I was cleaning out the garden this morning, I did notice that the soil thermometer said 30 degrees. Not quite time for tomato planting yet.... All the dead plants are out of the garden as of today, and everything was swept up and put on the compost pile. This brought to light a number of rodent holes, in spite of the chicken wire that I have buried around the perimeter of the garden. Some of the rodentia are eating the leafy stuff and some of them have been dragging off the now-dried hot peppers. I wonder if they use them as decoration (as I do), or whether they truly eat them.

No wood rats in the garden, so they must be mice and perhaps some kangaroo rats. And a pocket gopher has also found its way in. This means vigilance is required when planting time comes as there is little else green to eat outside of the garden right now. I am contemplating planting some snap peas tomorrow, so I had better get out the hardware cloth cages.

January 3, 2009

Saguaro National Park

To start the year off right (exercise more), and to get my body moving again after the holidays, I went for a hike yesterday in Saguaro National Park with my friend Barbara and her daughter. Tucson is fortunate in having mountain ranges on its north and east side that are too steep for urban expansion and thus have become its recreation areas. Mount Lemmon is high enough to still have snow after our last storm, and it even has a ski lift.

Tucson is located in the Sonoran desert, which is lower than our Chihuahuan desert. I love both these deserts as the variety of plants is much greater than what I was used to in the Pacific Northwest. Here Ma Nature has excelled in landscape design. So many plant varieties have found their niche in this "hostile", for humans, environment. There are many ways to adapt to high wind, huge temperature swings, and little rainfall. Small leaves, or no leaves, shallow root systems, spines and thorns to ward off hungry wildlife all contribute to plant survival. The picture hardly does it justice.

There is little water erosion in our deserts which means that the mountains are steep and rocky. Our trail was like the treads on stairs, and we climbed rapidly with views of Tucson below. We got high enough that the terrain changed from desert scrub to desert grassland, like where we live. There are more shrubs in this desert and different plants dominate, such as agave and Arizona rosewood.

We had lunch along the trail and several parties passed us, which should not have surprised me as Tucson is just minutes away. I am just spoiled with being able to ride my horse in the Coronado National Forest all morning and never see another human soul. It was a great day spent with friends, and I am sure my calves will not be as sore tomorrow.

January 1, 2009

Happy New Year ...

... to you. We wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year, and may your dreams come true.

To be honest, much as I do enjoy the holidays, I am glad they are over. I am done with eating, and done with desert (never thought I would say that), and done with too much inactivity. Emma and Shawna sum it up pretty well.

I need a project! Thankfully, we never seem to have a lack of those around here. The weather is gorgeous today, with 64 degree temperatures, and my friend Barbara and I took advantage of it to dispose of our old tomato forest. We can't wait to start the new garden!