May 31, 2010

Growing garden

Memorial Day was my garden-planting-day when I lived in Oregon. It was an extra day off work, and seeds were sown and plants planted, come hell or high water. Usually the latter. But I should not badmouth that garden too much: we had fabulous berries (blue and rasp), and greens did great.

The garden here is doing well, and is way ahead of my Oregon one, especially after a couple of warm days. I keep cheering on the peppers which are the only ones not showing a lot of growth. Cantaloupes are setting flower, beans are up, tomatoes doing well. We are on a third sowing of lettuce, and today I added more carrots and beets. The winter squash, zucchini and cucumbers are looking good, the snap peas are setting flower.

The grapes are very promising this year: there must be more than a dozen big bunches forming. The individual grapes are still tiny, but I put most of the bunches in the protective bags that Barbara sewed last year in hopes of at least keeping the birds from sampling every grape. I think that my main competition will be a roundtail ground squirrel; Dan and I did a comical ground squirrel round-up the other day and he finally just climbed the fence to get out. So I know he'll be back. That did answer the question why a coyote tried to dig a hole in the garden fence and tore the screening off.

The yard is looking nice now too, with the desert willow blooming, the blue perovskia, and even the little palo verde that I planted with a hope and a prayer (it is borderline too cold here in the winter) has beautiful yellow blooms all over.

May 30, 2010

A different Stronghold

Suddenly it is summer, or as we say here, it is foresummer. We have about 6 weeks of hot, dry weather, until early July when the monsoons move in bringing the majority of the year's rain. At least, let's hope so. Some years we have "nonsoons", when there are not enough rainstorms to speak of.

It being warm, we decided to hit the trail early this morning and we were out the door before 7 am. We had already done the Stronghold trail this week, so we went up Deer Saddle and explored the east side of this beautiful rock formation.

The soaptree yuccas (yucca eleta) are blooming right now and, thanks to the wet winter, lots of them are sporting a stalk. They resemble an asparagus, as opposed to the agave, which sends up a stalk and then folds out arms that the blooms are part of.

On our way up the saddle we happened to find another small hide-out, or perhaps a cave. Man-made, and it did not go far into the hillside. Once on the saddle we decided to explore a rock outcropping we had not yet climbed. Here you (Webb) can see how the agave (left in the picture) unfolds its blooming branches.

The pictures do not do this area justice: it is huge and spectacular. Moreover, because of the harsh sunlight this time of year, a lot of the pictures were overexposed, but here are some.

This is the top of a now-dry waterfall, about 100 to 150 feet above the valley floor.

On our way back, watching where we put our feet, we found this Arizona coral snake. It is poisonous, but very small and unless really agitated would have a difficult time sinking its fangs into you. As with about any snake, it was only interested in getting out of our way. Fast.

May 27, 2010

They're back!

Well, I don't really know whether it is the same pair, but some hooded orioles are using the nest again that was built last year. There are 4 eggs in it, Dan found out with our "mirror on a stick". The nest is a beautiful contraption with hay twine, grass, and lined with dog hair, and it hangs from wires which were to be used for a porch fan. Initially I was worried whether it would withstand our fierce winds, but it appears to be well-constructed.

I wondered whether the orioles would use the nest again because this year that side of the porch has been taken over by a cactus wren. He is quite territorial and has stuffed any available hole with all kinds of nesting material. Including the grill, which we now leave open. He also stuffed the oriole nest, but apparently the orioles either cleaned house, or are happy with the new furnishings.

The cactus wren has really been an asset to the place. He patrols for bugs, and our patio furniture, and my garden clogs, are spiderless and clean. He is a true bird of the desert: he will drink the nectar from the oriole feeder, and eat the seeds from the feeder. Whatever is available will do apparently. He has a raucous call that sounds like somebody is chewing a rubber band. I cannot figure out this compulsion for stuffing holes, though he seems to roost in one of these nest boxes. As far as I know, no female has taken him up on his offer to set up housekeeping. Maybe too close to humans to be raising a family.

May 25, 2010

Home again

With all that sitting and eating out over the last week or so, we were afraid our bodies had forgotten how to move. We wanted to ensure that we had not completely atrophied, so we hiked our conditioning hike, the Cochise Stronghold trail, this morning. I was delighted to find out that it only took us 1 minute longer than last time, and that was probably because I stopped to take some pictures.

The agaves are starting to bloom and push that stalk up several inches a day. This one is probably about half way done before the blooms unfold. In spite of the fact that people call these "century plants", it only takes an agave about 10 years to bloom. It takes so much energy from the plant that it dies after blooming, but it generally has produced some "pups" at its base to continue the cycle. The cholla cacti are also in bloom now: short-lived flowers, but spectacular.

It was great to be back out again. It is so quiet. Even when there is not one particular sound to get your attention in the city, there is that constant roar. Here we hear the wind. The sky is deep blue, and it is starting to warm up, after a record low of 46 degrees last night.

After just 6 days of being gone there is a lot of difference in the garden. All plants are doing well, with the exception of the basil and the peppers which stand there shivering in the cold. We need some heat to get them going. The weeds have done well during our absence too and I will need to get out there tomorrow and catch up.

May 24, 2010

The wedding

What to say but that it was wonderful: simple, small, classy and sweet. Shannon and Jon had chosen an outdoor wedding at the McBirney mansion on the Arkansas river, with family and a few special friends. They are a handsome couple with a lot on the ball, and everybody was happy about their choice.

The evening before, after the rehearsal, they threw a party in the backyard of their house, and it was fun to get to know some of their friends and to see them relaxed in their own environment.

Here are some of my favorite wedding pictures.

A mini vacation

We were gone for a couple of days, five and a half actually. Drove to Dallas, TX in one day (14 hours, plus 2 hours time-change), en route to Tulsa, OK to see our niece get married. From Tulsa to Albuquerque, NM, and home. Dave and Barbara volunteered to take care of the WD, and Cindy had flown in to take care of her own horses, so we had no worries about everybody and everything left behind. It was a long-awaited trip, and we enjoyed it a lot.

I am always surprised at the size of the country, and I love to see the landscape change. New Mexico and west Texas are still desert country, but then suddenly, somewhere in Texas, you get out for a pit stop and the air smells tropical and moist. There are lots of grasses and wild flowers along the interstate, and it was obvious that it had recently rained. A lot. All that greenery!

We made it to La's (mother-in-law) in daylight and spent the next day doing little projects around the house and loving the dogs. In comparison with Arizona, Texas knows nothing of a recession. There is building going on as if there's no tomorrow, and what was a field yesterday is a mall today. Restaurants are full. People drive huge, new cars.

On Friday afternoon we convoyed to Tulsa, all new country for me. Lovely rolling hills, large meadows interspersed with huge oaks. Very pleasing to the eye, and wonderful for horses. We once considered retiring in Texas, but there are few places to ride as most of the land is privately owned. Besides, as I said when we left Oregon: green is highly overrated. It comes with a price: rain and high humidity.

Tulsa is a nice town, not too big, not too small. Big river running through it, the Arkansas. Large trees, and overall it had a good feel. It also has a brandnew baseball stadium for their AAA team: the Tulsa Drillers. We went there for a game on Saturday night and it was great fun. Our team even won!

After the wedding, and the game, we headed back on Sunday morning, via Oklahoma City and Amarillo, TX to Albuquerque, NM, and then home this morning. I was a little worried that after seeing all the green and smelling the moisture in the air, I would be disappointed at being in the desert again. I do love that tropical air and the plants it brings, such as the magnolia. But while driving, I realized there is little variety in plant and animal life in that part of the country, which is why I love the desert so much. Perhaps the harshness of the climate promotes great diversity. In short, I am happy to be living in SE Arizona.

May 14, 2010

A horsey ride

A ride for the horses that is. It was my original plan to go into the mountains today and combine the ride to the Second Hideout with a ride to the windmill. We did a conditioning ride earlier in the week and Bueno and Buggs did 12 miles in about 2.5 hours. We were impressed, and it appeared that the horses were having a good time too.

But when we started on the long uphill trot into the Forest, it seemed that the handbrake was on. I wonder if the horses had a conversation after the last ride. Something along the line of: "Wow, that was a long way. And did you notice that we hardly had the opportunity to nibble here and there? They were so concerned about time and distance. I think we should slow down a bit, and tell them we want to graze once in awhile."

In the flats, where we have been doing these conditioning rides, the vegetation is pretty much monoculture, or rather duoculture: lovegrass and mesquite, with some poppies thrown in. But in the desert variety abounds this spring. It looks like all the bare spots are getting filled in, and paths get overgrown. There are plants I have never seen here before, like this beautiful penstemon.

It is important to me that the horses enjoy their time out with us, and we are not on a schedule, so today's ride turned into a grazing free for all. There are so many different varieties of grass and the horses were like kids in a candy store: oh look at that, got to have that, and several of those. Bueno could not cram it in fast enough.

We still did some trotting and loping where the terrain allowed, and we all had a great time. Here is Dan, from wrangler to endurance rider. Looking good!

May 9, 2010

Round The Mountain

It's Barbara's (significant) birthday today, and she had long talked about going for a hike in the Pinalenos, the sky island north of us, to celebrate. She chose the Round The Mountain (= Mt Graham) trail to Marijilda Creek, which at 3.5 miles seemed an easy goal. That was before we knew about the 2215 feet of elevation gain and loss. We have since renamed the trail: Grand Canyon of Graham County.

It was a gorgeous day and Dave, Barbara, Dan, Emma and I set off in Subie, with a picnic lunch to be consumed at the end of the hike. This turned out to be a great decision because we might not have made it back today had we cheesed and wined at Marijilda creek.

The landscape is rugged and tortured, and the trail exposed because of a forest fire in 2004. Then, we could see the flames at night, and this is a 90 minute drive from the WD. The trail was all up in the beginning, with a tempting crossing at Noon Creek, after that it was rocky and a steady climb until we came to a little divide and from there it was all down to Marijilda Creek.

Different sky island means some different plants. This cactus does not grow around here. We could see the source of the creek in the snow at the top, and soon the roar was getting louder, but the view was as if we were looking down into the Grand Canyon. When we got there the water was very fast, but thankfully Emma kept her head and ventured in very carefully. We had a short break at the water, but lunch called. So then it was all the way back up, and back down again.

We had a great lunch with cheese, salami, crackers, wine, fruit, egg salad and chocolate cake to celebrate the birthday. A memorable one!

May 6, 2010

Up and around, or a bunny tale

We decided to do some projects around the ranch this morning. It appears that May has arrived: temperatures in the 80's and lots of wind. This month and June are the only months I don't love around here. But, even now there is lots to admire and entertain.

This is a cactus that is in the yard, and not a native, although it does well here. The blooms are spectacular but have 2 drawbacks: the rodents or birds love the blooms and eat them before they have a chance to bloom unless they are protected, and the blooms only last a day. What a shame, all those fireworks for such a short time.

On our way out the driveway we have noticed a pair of kestrels around our birdhouse on the pump house. We originally built the birdhouse for a Northern flicker who hung around for awhile. Yesterday the male kestrel was on the house, while his mate was checking out the inside. We have seen them for about a week now, but are unsure as to their seriousness in keeping house here.

I also noticed a couple of young cottontails venturing out. I found one in the potting shed this morning, but he refused to be photographed. I do want to record my experience of a couple of years ago here, before it is lost for posterity. I was at the kitchen sink window and saw a roadrunner come toward the house with a young bunny in his beak. Fully furred and complete, and too big for the roadrunner to eat. The young bun's mom was in hot pursuit. As they approached the porch, the bird let go of the bunny, who ran toward the house. Bad move as there is no escape against the walls. I could not stand it any longer, ran out and threw a dishtowel over the bunny, who stayed. Everyone else split. I wrapped the bun in the towel, hoping it would not give him a human smell and put him back in the area whence the threesome came. I wish I had some pictures of that adventure. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it.

May 5, 2010

Natural Bridge Trail

It is our anniversary today: thirtytooth! We are getting old, but let's not dwell on that. I like to celebrate these special days by going somewhere new, or doing something special, just so they don't get drowned in our (lovely) day to day routine. I picked a hike in the Chiricahuas, on the other side of our valley. We have to make a conscious effort to get over there because it is a 60 mile drive, and when you have great hiking out the back door ...

But the Chiricahua National Monument is beautiful, with scenery on par with Bryce Canyon. The Natural Bridge Trail is one of the least hiked trails in the Monument, so as we pulled off, another car pulled off right behind us. The brochure showed only 2 elevations and they were about the same, so we thought it would be a level walk. Not so. First you go up (from 5484 ft to 6545 ft in 2.4 miles), and then you go down. Not a big deal, when you do the Stronghold hike on a regular basis. I think we are in the best shape of our lives.

After the hike we drove up to Massai Point for a picnic. We had sandwiches and some homemade potato salad and a lovely dessert. Took a picture of the Dragoons and the WD. What a great day!

May 3, 2010

Nice find, Emma!

With Cindy in Vermont, I have to rely on Emma to help me find bones, skulls and other interesting tidbits to display in the coffee table. This morning she presented me with a just-shed antler. I had noticed a lot of deer tracks earlier on the morning walk. I think the antler had been just shed because the "head-end" was bright white, with not a speck of dirt, and as it has sat here in the house, it has turned beige.

When we first came to live here, six years ago, we hardly ever saw deer, but this year we have seen a lot of them. There is the herd of mule deer that practically lives in the neighborhood. A couple of months ago I watched more than 20 of them cross our road, and we surprised probably the same herd on Cindy's property when we came to feed her horses lunch about a week ago.

We often see deer on our rides too; not all of them mule deer, but there are blacktail deer in the Forest, and Coues deer in the Stronghold. Horses being prey animals are always on the alert for other species and often Buggsy will draw my attention to them by stopping and putting his head in the air to get a whiff of them.

Meanwhile, I spent the morning planting. The peas are doing well, and had to be staked; I sowed more lettuce and beets, and planted the rest of the flowers that were pining away in the cold frame. The sunflowers for the Great Sunflower Project were doing very well, and I put them into the ground by the barn. I wonder if I have fortified them sufficiently against whomever mowed them down last year. Just in case I have planted some in the garden as well. Overall, the plants are doing well in spite of rather cool temperatures, especially at night, and a week of high winds.