November 29, 2010

Inclement weather

It was a bit unusual to have frost before Thanksgiving, but now it's gotten serious. They are forecasting 13 degrees tonight! Lots of sun right now, but a cold west wind blows and it's only 36 degrees. That's just not normal for southern Arizona. At the end of October I was still in short sleeves and bare feet, now it's fleece from top to bottom.

Thankfully the garden has been taken care of, although I don't know whether the frost covers will give enough protection. I have gathered all the potted plants against the house on the east side and will cover them with blankets at sundown. This will almost certainly be the demise of the Palo Verde, which is marginally cold-hardy for this area.

We are leaving the horses in their stalls today so they have some protection from the wind, and I am putting out extra seed for the birds. I worry about the couple of hummers still around, but there are some nooks and crannies around the house that may given some protection.

The cold and wind are giving Emma the "puppy crazies" and she runs around outside like a dog possessed. Shawna enjoys the cold, but is without her usual fur this year and she is happy to come inside. The chickens will be snug in the Chicken Taj.

Turn off all water outside tonight, drain all faucets. We are hunkering down with soup and foccacia.

November 24, 2010

Work those muscles!

After ending up with sore quads from our climb to Rockfellow Dome a week or so ago, I thought it would be a good to keep them in shape and hike up Blacktail Hill this morning. And with Thanksgiving coming up, we would not feel too guilty about eating a couple of pieces of pumpkin pie.

So we walked out the backdoor, across the bajada and up the hill. It is a deceptively steep climb in places, and it is rocky with a lot of scree. Not my favorite surface on a steep hill. But the rocks are very interesting. It is a lot of pudding rock, which is a sedimentary rock consisting of a lot of other rocks that have been glued together. There are a many different colors and textures and I thought this looked very much like a tree branch had been petrified and included.

We made it up and down without mishaps, Emma included. She is an excellent hiker who obeys very well. At some spots she has to jump up way over her head, and on the way down Dan ends up lifting her down rocks that would otherwise propel her straight down the slope. It is difficult to keep from trying to wriggle out of his arms though.

November 23, 2010

The Dig-Me site

Dan has been working on his web page, a place where he could post his photos for friends and family to enjoy. Always the engineer, he started from scratch after seeing some websites other people had done. Then, a revelation! The photo manipulation software he uses had made it easy, so, for the time being, some of the latest (year or two) photos are up there.

Learning new stuff is fun, so Dan is already back to the drawing board with new ideas on layout. He is also waiting for scanned images of his black and white work as far back as before I knew him (Vietnam). So, check back once in awhile, and let him know what you think.

November 18, 2010

I am just another quail - not

When we lived in the city, I never realized that a lot of birds move with the seasons. Hummingbirds, Canadian geese and swallows excepted of course. Here we have distinct population shifts. Some birds just come here to breed (orioles), others spend the summer (turkey vultures, white-winged doves) and of course we have some year-round birds too (house finches, cactus wrens, curvebilled thrashers, road runners, quail).

Our winter birds have arrived. I recently say some white-crowned sparrows at the feeder, as well as the black-chinned ones, and this morning I saw several flocks of sandhill cranes leaving their roost for feeding grounds in the valley. They clean up the harvested corn fields.

Hawks are winter birds here, although there are some exceptions such as the chocolate-morph red tail that always sits on the same power pole along my route to Tucson (always around the same time of day - we all do have our routines). The last week or so we have seen a young sharpshinned hawk hanging around our place. I can't blame him as there are many quail that come by to eat the spilled seed. Even the dogs recognize the quail alarm call, and so far the hawk has not been successful in catching dinner here. I wonder if his new ploy is to sit on the ground and act like a quail. He certainly blends in well.

November 17, 2010

Up to The Dome

A couple of weeks ago, while Dan was in Texas and I stayed here, Dave and Barbara invited me to hike up to Rockfellow Dome with them. This is the most prominent feature of the Cochise Stronghold as seen from the east. Barbara and I had done a part of that hike a couple of years back during the summer, and dipped our toes in some pools of cool water while having lunch.

This is an ambitious hike, not that long, but steep. It is used by the rock climbers as an approach route to the Dome. Because of my fear of heights, I declined the invitation as I did not think I would be up to going all the way to the top, and I did not want to hold anyone back. But Dan had not hiked that trail, and with him I would not feel a spoilsport if I felt I had had enough. So we went this morning, and we took Emma with us.

We got a lot further than Barbara and I had, mainly because there is currently no water running so the rock faces are not as quite as slick, but I did stay behind with Emma when the trail petered out and there was nothing but bare rock at 30 degrees up ahead. So Dan went up ahead alone. Unfortunately, he did not make it to the top of the saddle either (I so wanted to know what the view was on the other side) because the rock did get slick and it got too dangerous. And there was another 1/4 mile to go.

Dan's view below.

This is not a hike I need to do every week, although it is spectacular; the pictures do not do it justice. I have a feeling we are all going to feel our legs tomorrow morning. 

November 16, 2010

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

We have been members of the Desert Museum as long as we have lived here, but somehow never seem to find the time to visit. Probably because it is located on Tucson's west side and it takes almost 2 hours to get there. But it is one of my favorite places, and we decided that we should make the effort to visit once a month during the cooler time of the year.

We arrived in time to have a number of schoolbusses disgorge about a hundred middle-schoolers, but the place can absorb a crowd and we were able to go off on our own. I love being there because it is beautifully, naturally, landscaped, and although not all plants that grow there are hardy enough to withstand our colder climate, I enjoy seeing a place so wonderfully diverse.

As soon as we entered we saw a cactus wren stuffing a nest in a teddybear cholla. Here the cactus wrens are doing the same thing, but not in these very prickly cacti. There were some cacti with multiple nests.

I enjoy the exhibits a lot, and the museum staff have tried to make the living spaces of the animals as natural as possible. In this day and age of everybody being "afraid", it is so necessary for people, and especially kids, to see desert wildlife in its natural habitat. We both were very much taken with this little elf owl (one of the most common owls in southern Arizona as it nests in saguaros), that was snoozing next to its home. It is too cold here for saguaros, so here we see more of the great horned owl.

And then there was the cougar (who is the museum's mascot, and his name is George). I am thrilled to know that we still have cougars in our mountains nearby as one of our neighbors took some photos in her yard of one earlier this year.

November 14, 2010

Such good horses

With the cooler weather it is time to up the ante a little bit on our rides. So rather than doing our ever-popular loop to the windmill today, we decided to swing off at Ocotillo Hill and head up. This is not a walk in the park. In addition to going up to 5325 feet, it is dodging 7+ feet high ocotillos (very prickly), stepping over fallen agave stalks (horse knee high in places), avoiding big patches of prickly pear, and walking on bare rock faces.

But there was little grumbling on Bueno's and Buggsy's part, and we showed our appreciation by letting them graze along the way. Those horses are so surefooted and willing: they are great trail horses. We were able to find a safe way down and ended up on one of the backroads. Next week we should go out on any day but the weekend as we met 3 trucks looking for good hunting. Hide all animals!

November 13, 2010

First frost

All of a sudden it's Real Fall. Before we left for Texas it was Indian Summer: the windows and doors were open 24/7, and we still walked around in sandals and short sleeves. We came back from Texas and it froze the first night home. The heat even runs first thing in the morning. Temperatures during the day are still in the 60's.

Most of the garden is toast of course. Zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes all gone. The greens are still doing well, and this is really the time to eat those heaps of kale. Think I will make Boerenkool (a Dutch favorite) for dinner tomorrow, and serve it with the sausage I bought at the Allen Whole Foods. I am drooling.

The volunteer sunflower survived the cold and is now one of the few plants still with flowers, the other one is the Mexican sage. It must be time for the bees to go into hibernation and leave the hummingbird feeder for the few remaining hummers.

November 12, 2010

Texas style

Our trip to Texas has come and gone. Two 14-hour days of driving and two days spending with family. Although it is a long haul, I do enjoy those trips and a little time away from home: the place looks different when you come back and you get to appreciate what you have. Visiting family is always good as both of us are apparently isolationists. And then there are the two dogs, Zach and Jessie, who love to see us and so love to be loved.

Texas itself is far removed from our home in the wilderness. It is an artificial world where everything is BIG. Big cars that seem to dwarf our little Subie, especially at 70 mph on some Dallas freeway, the roads are wide, the houses expansive, the shopping malls and stores beyond huge and there are more of them than I can imagine people might need. The interesting thing is that a sense of community is attempted to be developed in the new style shopping mall, which is a "village". Not a covered mall, but an assembly of shops where outside parking may be more than 5 steps away. There is even a community garden. The growing there should be great as all "the village" was built on prime agricultural land.

To my Arizona eyes, Texas knows nothing of recession: people in restaurants and people spending money in all those new shops. I added my bit shopping at a brandnew 42,000 square feet Whole Foods store within a mile of La's house. We were back home in 5 minutes!

All that artificiality is not really for me. Too much uniformity, too much forcing of nature. Manicured lawns, lollipop trees, big fences, way too much indoor living, lack of movement and not enough air. Still, Emma and Shawna may be dreaming of a roll on that luscious grass. I think we, or at least Dan, will be back sometime this winter. We ARE part of a family.

November 5, 2010

A sense of place

After all that courtroom sitting last week I needed to get moving, so we went on our conditioning hike this morning. We took our cameras, but the photo emphasis was a bit different. A couple of weeks ago, Dan took a photography workshop with National Geographic in Tucson. It was held at a very nice resort (Miraval), and he enjoyed himself a lot and picked up new techniques and more creative vision. One day was spent in downtown Tucson around the Barrio, and one day in Saguaro National Park. There also was one evening photographing a Navajo dancer at sunset. Every day every one's photos were evaluated and critiqued.

So in addition to getting some exercise, we went out to "get a sense of the place". We always end up taking the same photos of the same rocks and although something may be picturesque, it is not necessarily photogenic. See, I am learning too ...

We got a bit off the trail and tried to capture that "Stronghold feeling". I will continue to post photos to this blog in hopes of seeing some improvement over time. Photos 1 and 2 are mine, 3 and 4 are Dan's.

November 4, 2010

I am done

With jury duty that is. Now that all's finished, I must admit that it was a worthwhile experience. There were a couple of things in my favor, I believe. For one, the case was not murder or manslaughter, or some kind of harming of (wo)men or beast (only the threat thereof), and I ended up with a great team of jurors. We all respected each other and each other's opinions, had some fun, and we were smart enough to choose the perfect jury foreman. We were able to work out our verdict (10 hour's worth) without anybody losing their cool, and be satisfied with the outcome.

The District Court treated us with the utmost respect, kindness, and courtesy (I already got my check in the mail today), and we were given the opportunity to speak with the judge and the lawyers after the verdict had been read. It was enlightening.

Now that it is over I can reveal that it was a human smuggling case. Here the smugglers are called "coyotes" and the smuggled people "pollos" (chickens). Being in southern Arizona this does go on. There were 2 defendants and each were indicted on 5 counts. On all but 2 of the indictments we were able to come to a unanimous guilty verdict. Unfortunately we only dealt with the 2 individuals running the "drop house", and of course there are additional people in the chain, from Nogales, MX to Tucson, AZ.

I learned a thing or two about our legal system, what the term "hostage" really means, and one of the jurors, who used to work downtown, took me to this great cafe for lunch one day. It is in the Tucson Museum of Art and is called Cafe a la C'Arte. It is very small, with indoor and outdoor seating in a beautifully sheltered courtyard. The food is fabulous, and I had to take Dan there today after we went grocery shopping. He agrees with me.

So I am done with the 11 hours away from home and driving 150 miles a day, but with a 9:30 am start and a 5:00 pm end of day it really was not too bad, thanks to Dan who had taken care of the WD and who had dinner waiting for me.

Now it's east to Texas on Monday for a couple of days because we missed La (Verne)'s birthday, which is today.