December 19, 2012

Walkabout, in the snow

We have been having some weather this past week. First it was a little over an inch of rain, then last night winds picked up with 45 mph gusts and we had another "chance of precipitation". It was still dark this morning at my usual get up time and consequently I overslept. When I hurried out in jammies and a robe to feed the horses, I was hit with horizontal snow! And who comes out of the blizzard to greet me but Cody, our youngest and omega, horse!

He was soaking wet and had apparently had a gay old time. He knew the game was up however, and let me put a halter on him without any protest. The door to the stall was closed but the gate at the rear had blown open in the wind. I put him back in the stall and pitched hay, but he was not interested. Heavens no, not only had he eaten his fill in the barn, he had opened the oat bucket too!

Once it was light it became obvious that he had enjoyed himself in spite of the weather. He walked around the barn, squeezed himself between two fences barely wide enough for a person to reach the back of Bueno's stall. I wonder if this was a gesture of "I am out here and you are not, and I can eat whatever I want in whatever quantity I want, so there!" Bueno is Cody's nemesis and regularly pushes Cody around, and was this retribution? Last week Cody had been kicked in the shoulder and had suffered a swollen limb for a couple of days. A small abscess even had to be doctored and stall rest was administered. So did Cody have the last laugh this morning?

This is Cody in better weather (March 2010), having another good time.

December 17, 2012

First visitor

At least a first visitor of this size. In November Dan and I put up a nesting platform for a red tailed hawk, of which we have many in this county. We were inspired by Big Red and Ezra rearing their hawklets on Cornell University's campus last spring, and thought it would be great to have our "own" pair of hawks. I know the platform is not quite high enough for a hawk's taste, but there are no places taller nearby. Not enough tall trees in the desert, and this pole on our small round pen (for horses) was the best we could do without erecting some scary structure ourselves.

Today we had a sighting! He, or she, remained while Dan drove up the driveway, and even stuck around for some photos.

If a hawk will sometime call this home, Roadie, our resident road runner, will have some competition but there is enough rodentia to go around for everyone. Just yesterday Roadie tried to open a live trap, with mouse, that Dan had set aside for a moment before releasing it (privately). And that not 3 feet away from where he stood.

December 14, 2012

It's winter now

No biking today. Perhaps not even a dog walk today. Yesterday morning, when there was not a cloud in the sky, the weather forecast predicted a storm blowing in with 90% chance of precipitation. Yeah, yeah, we have heard that before. But just in case, I gave the horses a spa day and we covered the hay. Good thing too: it rained more than one inch overnight, and it's still at it.

Snow at 5,000 feet, and the snow level is falling. I could be painting molding, but Dan convinced me to have a "play day" and read my fun book: Free country, a penniless adventure the length of Britain. It is also perfect weather to do some cooking, snert (Dutch pea soup) is good when it's cold and rainy, and I should get started on making Kerststol (Dutch Christmas bread) to have my version perfected for the holiday.

December 8, 2012


The weather is still quite mild, it is lovely having doors open in the beginning of December. It is not to last, I am sure, and the animals are giving signs too. Rodents are looking for warm places, and green stuff to eat.

I am normally quite tolerant and do not mind sharing, but when I found my lovely spinach gnawed and my kale assaulted, the gloves came off. Well, sort of, I bought out the live traps.

Over the last 3 days I have caught 12 mice in two garden beds, and 1 fat rat in the tack room. The wood rat taxied 1.5 miles away, the mice walked to the state land at the back of our property.

November 21, 2012

Ready for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and even though I grew up not celebrating it, I much enjoy and honor this holiday because I have so much to be thankful for. It is good to stop and reflect.

We do not do the usual food thing, although I do cook special stuff because it is a special day. This year we are having maple sugar scones for breakfast, a pumpkin-quinoa soufflé for dinner with roasted brussels sprouts, homemade dinner rolls, a green salad and apple-blackberry crisp for dessert. The day will be a relaxed one, just us and the animals.

So where did the summer go? We seem to be so busy that it feels like time is slipping through our fingers. We ride our bicycles three times a week, and love it. Remaining days are spent with projects around the ranch. Lately we have remodeled horse stalls, planted the winter garden and cleaned out the summer one, and started an indoor painting project.

This morning we raised a platform on the highest point on the property in hopes of attracting a nesting hawk pair. After watching a couple of Red Tails raising 3 hawklets this spring via a nestcam on Cornell University's campus, we wondered if we could be home to such an event. It is possible that a great horned owl will evict them if hawks do build a nest, but time will tell. The owls will be welcome too.

We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, and hope that you have reason to be as thankful as we are.

October 18, 2012

Room remodel

The last couple of days we have been working on upgrading Buggsy's stall. He was our only horse still eating off a dirt floor, and, over the five years he has been with us, dug big holes where he stood to eat. In the monsoon season these holes would fill with water, totally unacceptable to an Arabian, born in the Arizona desert. Your hooves could melt, you know.

We built a big platform, bordered by railroad ties, that we filled with gravel, then sand, and 6 stall mats were put on top. With all the cycling, we had not done much upper body work over the last months, but we made up for that in a hurry. So, some sore muscles, but the stall looks great and will be very functional.

Would Buggs love it too? He is a cautious horse, who loves his room, so I wondered if he would mind stepping up into the dining room. No worries, it turned out. He sniffed a bit (the mats still have that rubber smell), but he was up in a jiffy. Happy horse!

September 10, 2012

Proud pepper mama

All from one plant, and more on the way.

September 9, 2012

Whacking back the desert

I never thought it would come to this. At least not in the next 50 years. When we moved into our dream house, the house site was razed. I was dismayed to say the least as I had envisioned living in a natural desert environment.

There was nothing for it but to reintroduce it, and I spent a couple of years planting mostly native Chihuahuan desert vegetation. Now, eight years later, some plants survived, some died, some thrived and tried to take over the place. Most of the time I did not interfere as they would reseed in a more suitable place, but today it was time to tackle the mariola. It is in bloom right now, smells great, but it is invasive and overruns desirables.

This was just one of many carts taken to the brush pile. We now have some of our view back and plants can breathe again. I decided it is not so much creating a well-maintained yard as it is keeping it in controlled mayhem. After all, we do live out in the desert.

September 6, 2012


Probably, because this little bat flew several rounds in the garage, and appeared healthy. Reluctant to leave though, and he was eventually offered the broom as a mode of transportation to the "garbage hole", where it is also kind of dark so he can catch up on his sleep. He went a-chattering: "thank you", or "no, thank you"?

So cool to see them up so close.

August 27, 2012

Finally, some rain

This year's monsoon season has passed us by, or so I thought. Through July and this month it seemed to rain everywhere in the valley but only sprinkle at the WD. Then yesterday we got half an inch or so in the afternoon, and today it was about one inch! In about twenty minutes!

It brought all three families that live in visible proximity from each other out to celebrate the, as one called it, "yearly" event, and to assess any damage sustained. Nothing major, just a lot of sheet flooding well away from the house.

One muddy Oregonian horse. At least all of them had sense to stand under cover during the storm.

August 25, 2012

Busy birds

I generally do not spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink, but this morning I was there long enough to see that the cactus wrens, who have been living in either one or the other of the two nesting boxes across from the window, have another brood about to fledge. It will be this coming week for sure. I can see two young ones, and in the past there have been three chicks in each edition. This is their third brood this year!

I watched the parents bring bugs in and take fecal packages out, and then noticed a cactus wren nearby with nesting material in its beak chasing another one. MMMmmm ... Then a parent arrived with a tuft of dog hair in its beak, but, thankfully, instead of stuffing it into offered open mouths, thought the better of it and deposited it in the nest box next door. Are they really thinking about starting over again? After already successfully hatching 9 cactus wrens this year?

Precarious as the original road runner nest appeared, it must be quite sturdy after all because Roadie decided to reuse it to also raise another family. The nest is close to the walk to the coop, so it is easy to check up on them. Dan had already reported that there were 5 eggs and this morning, with Roadie looking for breakfast, he was able to take a photo of the fledgelings. One egg will probably remain unhatched with these birds already so big.

August 16, 2012

Oh, oops

I have been setting the live trap in the potting bench the last couple of weeks and have caught, and released, some wood rats that had visions of spending the winter in good shelter with an abundance of mesquite beans nearby. But this morning it was a young bunny girl that sprang the trap; no harm done.

She was most anxious to leave but when the doors were opened, she was not sure which way to go.  Once out, she was off like a shot.

August 14, 2012


Dinner prep was interrupted today when Dan urgently called me to the barn. A badger sighting, and this was my first view ever! After a good eyeful, I ran back to the house for the cameras and between the two of us we did get a couple of mugshots. That accomplished without stressing the poor animal too much, we got back to dinner.

But this is what we found after dinner. Do we have a new resident? Anybody have a good idea on how to evict a badger? Should we have him/her stay?

August 8, 2012

Three in three days

The rattlesnakes are on the move. I wonder to where? After seeing very few snakes here this summer, two bull snakes excepted, we suddenly have in influx of rattlers over the last couple of days. All of them have been big, today's was the biggest and heaviest, and, thankfully, very docile after some food.

The WD police force, the extended cactus wren family, immediately sounds the alert with loud cries. We generally go check out what the noise is all about and it is either Roadie, the roadrunner, whose life is being made miserable, or a snake. The snakes are usually on the porch, or in some other protected cool spot, taking a nap. This one was between the cold frame and the porch.

Dan is getting quite proficient in handling the snake tongs, and this snake could not even be bothered to rattle. He, or she, was a number of years old and beautiful. I am happy not to have to kill something that truly belongs in our environment, though not on the porch.

August 5, 2012

Plans gone awry

We were all psyched up to ride 70 miles this morning, but we woke up to rain. A wonderful, gentle, pitterpat-type rain. So what else to do but open the windows, feed the horses, let out the chickens, and go back to bed? Of course by the time we did get up, before 7, it was too late/hot to start a 4 hour ride. So we had a leisurely breakfast and took a little hike out back, around Blacktail Hill.

The rain has greened up the plants and gave them a second wind. One of the most obvious ones is the ocotillo, whose branches are bare most of the year, but will leaf out in 72 hours, given enough moisture. This plant is one of my favorites on this walk, it must be old, and is beautiful in, and out, of "velvet". Make no mistake, in each little cluster of leaves is a wicked spine.

Now perhaps a little reading, a naplet ...

August 1, 2012

A few days away

Like last year, we indulged ourselves and celebrated our birthdays at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. I love the place. It is in a beautiful location in the Catalina foothills in Tucson and constructed with minimal impact to the desert and blends in with the surroundings. The grounds have been kept in native vegetation, except the golf course and around the main pool where some seasonal plants were added for a bit of a tropical feel. The staff is attentive without being oppressive, the food is delicious, and the spa fabulous. And all this without driving great distances or flying to a faraway locale. What's not to love?

We brought our bikes again and every morning after breakfast (smoked salmon, bagel and cream cheese for me) rode a short, but hilly, route to a coffee shop nearby. Then it was either swimming or a massage, lunch, more swimming, watching some Olympics or napping, more food, and sleep. Serious vacationing!

The weather was more monsoon-like than last year and we had a significant rain storm one afternoon that we enjoyed from our balcony.

At home, Denise was coping with stuff: something invariably happens at the WD. One horse, Cody, recognized a newbie when he saw one and calmly walked out of his stall to the hay pile rather than into the arena. And one of the chickens decided to call it a day and keeled over in the coop. Denise lovingly gathered her up and gave her a thoughtful burial. A lot can happen in 3 days!

July 27, 2012

The Apprentice

We are "resorting" again for our birthdays this year. Much as we love our life and our routines here, it is wonderful to be away for a couple of days of biking, swimming, eating, sleeping, repeat. Denise, Dan's sister, volunteered awhile back for ranch duty, so we asked her to come and have a vacation with us during which we could escape for a couple of days.

Denise is not the outdoors type that we are, though capable of any task. This is a marketing executive who works, and has lived, all over the world doing strategic planning for her company. But this morning she got up, after yesterday's training (note the iPad), and did all the chores while we went on a birthday bike ride. What a great present!

Denise's coworkers apparently laughed at the idea of her being a country girl, and requested proof of her being able to shovel horse poop in the most literal sense of the word. They know she can deal with the office generated stuff very effectively.

We will still have some days together after we return from our weekend away, and I look forward to that as I enjoy her quiet company and good conversation. Besides, she eats what I cook.

July 18, 2012

How great are these days

So we ride our bikes three days a week (currently for a total of 120 miles!) and luxuriate in smoothies, cool showers, and naps afterwards. Prepare a salad, some homemade bread, and a Klondike bar and the day is perfect.

On non-biking days I spend some time in the garden. The idea of planting half the number of beds was a good one as it gives us plenty of veggies and fruit for immediate consumption and does not seem so overwhelming in care taking. I have already added manure to the other, winter, half, and all it needs is tilling and raking before planting seeds in August.

June is over, and I am ever so glad for that (too hot, too dry), and with more moisture in the air the plants have gotten their second wind. Best of all, with the outside greening up the quail will not be as tempted to pick at the vegetation in the garden; yes, in spite of all those fortifications.

Some other non-biking days are spent with our animals and doing small projects around the ranch. Afterwards we sit on the porch with some grapes and a glass of water, and watch the wildlife. I cannot think how life could be better, frankly.

July 15, 2012

This year's kids

Judging by the number of young birds at the feeder, and by some just hanging around trying to figure out how and what to eat, this has been a good year. I don't know where the house finches build their nests, but there are a lot of young ones, all vying for attention from the seemingly ever-patient finch fathers who indulge them by feeding them until they are bigger than they are.

The curve bill thrashers were successful in raising their chicks and even Roadie, precarious though her nest was, saw two young roadrunners fledge. She and her mate were diligent and committed parents, and when I feared we would be disturbing her when the propane tank was filled 2 feet from the nest, she just hunkered down and stayed put.

But the laurels must go to the cactus wrens who managed to raise two separate broods in two nesting boxes, eight feet from the kitchen window. The last set of three fledged a week ago and the parents are back in the first nest box making it ready for a third batch. Also they are attentive parents who do us a great favor by keeping the porch insect free. They bring moths to the nest and take fecal packages away. What birds!

Both gamble and scaled quail have brought their young ones to the feeders, and there have been more than can be counted. Sometimes they are good parents, giving even Roadie a run for her money, but sometimes I wonder if they even know that those tiny little birds that behave just like they do, are indeed their brood.

This morning, after a 62 mile bike ride, we had the excitement of having to relocate a big bull snake that was about to snatch up a couple of baby bunnies in Buggsy's stall. The mother was frantic and the babies petrified, and although we like having the bull snake around because he keeps the rodent population under control in the barn, this was more than we could stand. So, he was carefully caught and relocated to an uninhabited part of the desert.

But how I can make a rabbit understand that raising a family in a horse stall, sweet as Buggs is, is a bad idea? And this is the second year she has tried to do so!

A bit of rain

We have had about one inch of rain last week, over two separate days. And look at the result!

This plant is aptly named Rain Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum), and blooms after rain. It takes about a day to set the blooms and then it explodes in this profusion of color. It is about to be carried off by a great variety of bees and some butterflies, and it smells heavenly to boot. This is the only plant I put in the ground but it self seeds readily and there are about six of them on the property now. This one is the most spectacular though.

The three agaves that decided to bloom, and give it their all, are in flower now, but not as exuberantly as I had hoped. Still, they are great perches for the birds visiting the yard and the blooms are food for insects. I was surprised to see this cactus put on its display as it usually blooms, for a day, in April.

And, it is raining again!

June 9, 2012

I can't see you

I feel for this road runner pair. Judging by their size and lack of nest building skills, they appear to be young. They have tried various nesting sites around our house over the last month, but nothing would work. In the horse barn? No level spot big enough to put branches and twigs, they all fell out. Other spots more suited to nest building? Already taken. They finally settled on the middle of the butterfly bush, out by the garden. I came eyeball to eyeball with the female while watering this morning.

The other reason I think they are young birds is that they could have evicted the curve bill thrashers from their nest on the potting shed, last year occupied by another road runner pair, but this spring the thrashers took that nest back and raised a brood, unchallenged.

Meanwhile, it is not easy being a predator. The cactus wrens, who have appointed themselves WD security forces, scream at the road runners whenever they spot one of them. They probably do not realize that the road runners would happily gobble down the snake (rattler or not) they are so eager to point out to us. True, young birds and young ground squirrels are not passed up for a meal, but I have seen the road runner back down from an agitated quail who was defending his or her brood.

We will have to see if this pair is successful in raising chicks. The nest is not in an optimum location with our winds. I cannot help but cheer them on.