December 19, 2016

Hey! Watch out!

Found in 40 degree weather in mid December. A bit slow to move, but understandably mad when he got stepped on by a dog. No strike, just a warning.

December 17, 2016

The weather this morning

We are at the edge of the Polar Vortex which is keeping most of the nation in its grip right now. This means a lot of wind at the WD, a usual phenomenon in the desert but one we never seem to quite get used to.

Rain had been in the forecast for last night, but when we got up this morning it was just dark and very  windy. I fed all the animals, took the dogs (we have The SisTas here for about a month) to relieve themselves and we no sooner had made it back home when the rain finally hit. It pelted against the bathroom window during my ablutions. I thought I heard an additional noise but discarded it.

Then, suddenly, no water pressure! Controlling panic ... having learned from scuba diving: when something goes wrong: Stop, Breathe, Think, then Act. It still being pitch black and now pouring, Dan  drove to the pump house to check the pump: it was running.

Next step: if there is water at the pump house, where is it the leak? Investigation around the place revealed that the garden gate had blown over and water had been pouring out of both water pipes that had been attached to the gate until the water tanks ran dry. The gate had fallen onto the garden shutoff valve so all outside water had to be shut off until we could move the gate. But, we had water at the house.

It took awhile to get light so we could lift the gate and turn water back on for the horses. They will be staying in their stalls and out of the weather today with a little extra hay, while we and the dogs are cozily inside. As long as we have power, and water, life is good. Hint: never have a faucet without a shutoff valve.

November 14, 2016

November garden

Bit by bit I have been cleaning out the garden. Some plants are way overdue, and scorpacciatta is a good thing: eat-what-is-in-season-until-you-are-sick-of-it. I guess that's what happened to the zucchini.

But we have not yet had any frost, unlike last year, and some of the tomatoes are still going strong. All four of them are long in the tooth with some virus, but I pick a bowl of these about every other day. I will leave them until the frost kills.

It is always a sad occasion to pull up the summer garden: plants have given their all and we have had a good garden. Usually optimism for next year's growing takes over, but somehow, this year, I find it difficult to shake this heavy feeling of gloom.

October 16, 2016

A mystery

What happened here? How did this mouse baby get perched on top of the ceramic roadrunner?

The roadrunner was put in a very large pot on our front porch as the flowers that were planted there initially were washed out. The roof line of our house is such that all rainwater accumulates over the front door and pours into the pot. It is the only flaw the house has.

My only guess is that this little mouse fell out of a nest that maybe on the roof. He fell onto soft dirt and must have climbed onto the roadrunner head. It is not looking good for survival but I moved him to a safer and less-exposed place in the nearby, well-protected, rose garden.

September 7, 2016

The sky is falling ...

TS Newton has moved from Mexico into southern Arizona and with it a lovely steady soaking rain and no wind. What is not to love for a desert dweller?

Emma totally disagrees with rain being a good thing. On our morning walk, when it was still a drip rather than rain, she gave me this: what ?! a walk? but it is r-a-i-n-i-n-g, with a shake of the body and paws at the face. I told her that when we lived in Oregon the dogs had their own stack of towels and they were dried off four times a day.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with all doors and windows open and watched the hummingbirds at the feeders. It is not yet slowing them down. A relaxed indoor day for us.

August 30, 2016


It has been six years since I heartlessly, foolishly, and disastrously lopped off the newly arrived pear trees at the knees. And it has taken this long, and some professional coaxing from my friend Phil, to get the trees to recover and produce pears, but this year we have a crop!

We are all eating them: we, the people, Emma, the dog, Cody and Bueno, the horses, and I am sure that the cores of the pears I am eating while outside get snarfed down by the bunnies and the chickens. Nothing of that juicy deliciousness is getting wasted.

August 29, 2016

Hummingbirds on the move

On August 1 the first rufous hummingbird arrived at one of our two feeders. Already on his way from breeding grounds as far north as Alaska to overwinter somewhere in South America. I find it hard to believe that such a tiny, but very feisty, bird covers such huge distances every year, but that is what the books say.

We see the migration at the end of the summer and seldom on the way north in Spring, but we have become a regular stopover in August. All month long we see a couple of varieties on the feeders, mostly black chinned, some Anna's, and the rufous (we call them Rufios) and I end up filling the feeders twice a day. We go through a lot of sugar.

In another couple of weeks it will all be over, but I continue putting a feeder out even in the winter. There always seem to be a few birds who decide late to go south and are happy to find some quick energy, and some of them stick around here all winter and survive in freezing temperatures. They are amazing little birds.

August 13, 2016

Ready to fly

This year we have had some new guests at the WD. Some birds, or rather some of their species, come  here every year to nest and raise a family such as the cactus wrens that nest in the boxes across from the kitchen sink. Such fun to stand there at the faucet and see young birds growing up and fledging.

Another year we had orioles that made a beautifully woven nest they hung from (dead) electrical wires for a porch fan. In a subsequent year they decided that the Ash in the yard was a good spot for a nest. There they got to deal more with bird traffic than with humans walking by and using the grill right next to the nest. The last couple of years we have had kestrels nest in a box originally made for a northern flicker.

This is the year of the barn swallows. I was surprised to see these great fliers in the desert as they need mud to make their nest and water is not in great supply here although there is always water in the horse founts and there is certainly enough dirt to make mud pie with. So this pair showed up and made a beautiful nest on the porch, using the top of a roosting pocket (long since fallen apart) as the base.

Sometime ago two eggs hatched and there has been lots of flying back and forth to feed the young birds and, as of this morning, to get them to fly. The young are quite tame as the faucet and hose are right under the nest and I can do my watering chores without disturbing them. When they do fly and move south, I do hope they return next year to that gorgeous cup nest.

August 11, 2016

Apres rain

At this time of year it is hard to believe this is a desert. We have had good rains over the last two weeks and plants immediately respond. They know these moist conditions will not last and now it the time to "make hay". This includes the weeds of course.

The garden has taken a breather and is putting on more growth rather than ripening fruit but there is still plenty to eat and there are lots of flowers and busy bees to keep the plants producing over the next months.

There are signs of fall though (hard to believe). The tunas (prickly pear fruits), really fat and juicy thanks to the rains, are changing color and will be harvested soon by rodentia or snacked on by the various birds.

Great time of year!

August 1, 2016

That giant sucking sound

We had significant rain yesterday afternoon (almost an inch) and the desert is drinking it in with a big gulp. I was all set for a soppy early morning dog walk with rubber boots, thinking there would be multiple puddles to wade through but not so. It did start raining again, a steady and persistent rain, the kind the plants just love.

I think that some of the birds are enjoying the rain too: while we were having breakfast, there was a white-wing dove sitting on a branch exposed with his or her beak turned up to the sky as if to go "ahh". But many birds are seeking refuge on the porch in between visiting the feeders. The barn swallows who have nest up there with eggs or young are having a job maintaining a safety zone. Another dove was wading in the water underneath the feeder, picking out the floating seeds like bobbing for apples.

We are relishing the sound, smell, and water that rain brings. More moisture in the forecast so perhaps the monsoon is just late this year.

July 20, 2016

Monsoon time

Like a horse, with nostrils flaring, we welcomed a couple of rain showers the last few days. Thankfully they delivered good amounts of rain, rather than some miserable piddle and a lot of lightening instead. Yesterday's storm did come with thunder and lightening but gave us more than half an inch.

The garden is doing well and plants that looked to be on their way out happily put on more blooms, such as the melons and eggplant, or were able to fight off a virus that threatened them. I had just put additional tomato plants in the ground and that should keep us in lycopene until the holidays.

Fruit trees are happy too. We have eaten the peaches off the early tree and are awaiting the next batch to ripen in another week. The apples are doing great, in spite of attempted assaults by a javelina and possibly 5 piglets (saw them come onto the property very early yesterday). We fortified the trees with garden panels and so far we have been more persistent than they have. The rain dumped a number of ripe apples which are being enjoyed by horses as well as wildlife.

One casualty however. The agave that has been blooming by the horse barn and has been a favorite of bees and hummingbirds was snapped in the wind yesterday. The bees were not happy this morning as the plant would have bloomed for many more weeks.

Here is the flower in all its majesty.

And here is the sadness.

July 13, 2016


We are all getting a bit short-tempered: hot chickens, grumpy horses, birds fighting at the bird feeders. After the 0.5" of rain about 10 days ago, there has not been any more. As a matter of fact, we went back to cloudless skies and temperatures in the mid to high 90's. We need RAIN! Where is the monsoon? Will it be a "non-soon" this year?

We and Emma are happy enough inside, by the graces of the power company, but it is tough outside. We are watering and feeding as this may be the most difficult time of year, sort of everyone else's winter time.

Somebody not cranky, lounging behind a watering can. He must have just had a meal as he was not protesting too much at being relocated to the desert.

July 9, 2016

Birthday cactus

It is rather late for a cactus to be blooming, but here you have it. Mom rules! This cactus in our "yard" generally blooms in April, around my friend Kath's birthday, so I call it "Kath's Flower". Frankly, it may have bloomed earlier but as it is hidden by other vegetation, I may have missed it putting on its display. Then again, these fireworks are hard to miss.

Dan noticed it blooming today, and surprisingly, it is another friend's birthday today! Happy Birthday,  Maureen!

June 30, 2016


Big deal, you say? Yes, a Big Deal, as we have not seen any measurable rainfall at the WD in months. It has been cloudy this past week, and it has rained other places (mostly on asphalt). It always seems to take the weather a bit to figure out how to rain again after a long layoff. It spatters a bit, just enough to have you think it may work itself into something, and then it quits.

Now that it has rained 0.25 inches, I hope it remembers how to do it some more, the desert needs it and it is time for "monsoon".

June 21, 2016


It is dry. It is hot. And today is the start of summer.

Everybody is seeking relief: birds, including chickens, are holding their wings away from their body and find shade or a moist indentation (made by someone watering vegetation) to spend the time. The bunnies and hares lay sprawled under the trees, all legs to one side, with only the ears showing.

The ones apparently taking the heat in stride are our horses and the young quail. The horses have ample shade available but stand in the sun by the hour. The baby quail seem unaffected and scratch under the feeders as their parents stand with beaks open trying to stay cool.

Everything appears stressed to me. Plants and trees seem to crisp in degrees around 100 F. I do some extra watering, especially to plants that have many, and thin, leaves. This weather shows who really belongs in the desert. Even our Arizona ash, though native, belongs at a river's edge; here it stands next to a water dish which only supplies water to wildlife.

I would love to know who all comes to the water dish, especially at night. We have seen a bobcat visit in broad daylight, and our neighbor called at dusk last night to report that he surprised a mountain lion at his birdbath. We should hang a night time camera in the ash.

So garden and orchard are getting extra water, and the wildlife appreciates it. The hares have started eating the bottom branches of the apple trees, the birds keep testing the ripeness of the peaches. Still, all is well right now. We are looking forward to monsoons.

June 13, 2016

Remembering Buggs

My Oregon friend Linda loved Buggsy. He was her "ride" when she would visit and she had some memorable moments with him. Once, on a ride that included lunch we took the horses to graze by the banks of a river, the grass was lovely there. Buggs had other ideas: why eat grass when you can beg a bite of a ham sandwich instead?

When Linda came over last month to take care of the WD while we were in Costa Rica she brought her own tribute to him.

Buggs was the gentleman, and we are missing him.

June 11, 2016

By the grace of the animals

The garden is doing well, June not withstanding. It is the month I, and the plants, dislike the most in this generally lovely climate. It is hot (90's to 105's Fahrenheit) and it is dry, and we all sort of shut down in anticipation of moderating temperatures in July and August, helped along with more moisture: our "monsoon".

The animals are having a rough time too. We did not have a lot of rain in the Spring so there are few tender grassy bits. The garden is under siege as it is the only place with tender vegetation. We do our best to protect the plants but rodentia and the birds are highly motivated and they have some time on their hands.

In spite of fortifications in my broccoli raab bed, I still have mice living there that insist on eating the growing tips out of the plants, so I am giving up on them. Too late in the year to be fussing over them anyway and so far the lettuce also growing there is unmolested.

I have had to remove the fortifications from the melon beds as the plants were outgrowing them, but now the quail are eating the new blossoms. I just call it "pruning" and hope that the plants hang in there long enough for the rain to entice them to set new flowers. At least there is some fruit that made it past the initial nibbles.

Tomatoes are doing well, so far. I was able to rescue one plant that was having its main stem eaten by a ground squirrel who dug his way from outside the garden to come up right under the plant. A piece of hardware cloth fixed that one, at least for now.

One thing does boggle the mind however. One of the pepper plants collapsed overnight, looking much like the tomato problem above and I was about to pull the plant up the next day to have it totally disappear from the garden. Please note the spot where it used to grow and the fortifications with the chickenwire. Where did the plant go? No nibbled pieces or other evidence. One of the June garden mysteries.

I am hoping for rain soon, and for new vegetation in the desert, so the garden will be for just humans, please.

June 6, 2016

Costa Rica

We have been on vacation. Last fall Dan's niece asked whether we would like to participate in celebrating her mother's birthday by joining her for a week or so in Costa Rica. I thought this a grand idea and rented a house outside of the small town of Atenas. This being our first time in Costa Rica and with various parties arriving at different times I did not see much value in spending a lot of time driving to and from the airport and staying in the more popular, but further afield, tourist locations.

The added benefit was that people in and around Atenas grow a lot of vegetables, fruit and coffee, which appealed to me. There is a weekly Farmer's Market which I really enjoyed visiting.

May marks the beginning of the rainy season, but living in the desert this was a welcome diversion for us. The mornings were generally dry and sunny, as the day progressed clouds would roll in and it would rain.

We made a number of interesting outings, saw beautiful country, drank outstanding coffee and ate delicious food. The fruit was amazing: huge mangos, pineapples twice the size of the ones we see here in the store, beautiful papayas. Dan even got used to driving the Costa Rica roads with the essential GPS. I would love to visit again, especially if I gain some proficiency in speaking Spanish. Working on that one.

May 4, 2016

Apache plume

Its botanical name is Fallugia paradoxa. This is a native southwest shrub and I planted it in a couple of places in the yard, mostly because it is one of the few shrubs that is available at Tucson plant nurseries. By the way, the popular name refers to the seed head which resembles an Indian headdress.

I wonder what the "paradoxa" refers to? Pro: it is an easily grown plant that looks good in the landscape, has flowers and an interesting seedhead? Con: it produces an incredible amount of seeds that take hold close by and the seedlings are difficult to get rid of? Don't get me wrong, I like Apache plume, but the carpet of seeds below it right now is a bit daunting. Mom is so very generous!

Here is the plant in our driveway circle, its bloom and seed head, and all those seeds just waiting to be carried on our Spring winds and sprout somewhere else.

A little bonus: a blooming Santa Rita cactus right next to it, also in the driveway circle.

April 21, 2016

A last gasp

This Spring we have lived for 12 years at the WD. The landscape is maturing. What used to be a bare, razed plot of dirt is now an attempt at bringing the desert back and I am happy with the result. Trees are getting big, bushes provide lots of protection for small animals and birds, and plants bloom happily without a lot of fussing on my part.

I planted primarily native plants in the yard because I wanted to blend into the landscape and also because I did not feel like fighting Mom every step of the way. I love gardening, but weeding is not a passion and neither is being a slave to the watering hose.

So there are some cacti and agaves in the yard, but it is not a plot of just gravel and prickly plants. Cacti now bloom in Spring and some of the agaves do too.

Thing is, when an agave blooms it dies. People call them "century plants" thinking that they live that long but in truth it is only about 10 years. So now every year we have an agave or two that send up their magnificent blooming stalk and then die because they use all living energy to send up that stalk. One consolation is that they have usually set off a "pup" (offspring) from the roots, so the plant does live on in a way.

One of this year's bloomers is by the horse barn, next to late Buggs' stall and under the Arizona walnut. Growth of the stalk is measured in inches a day and judging by the size of it, the bloom will be magnificent. Stay tuned.

April 20, 2016

I am so excited

And I just can't hide it (Pointer Sisters)! Today most of the plants that I started in the cold frame went into the ground. That is most of the tomatoes, cantaloupes, basil and dill. There are still 2 tomatoes that are on the small side, the 4 peppers and 2 eggplants, also a bit young, but they will be planted at the very first part of May.

It is so exciting to see the garden in its beginning with all those possibilities of great produce and of thriving plants. So far I am encouraged by what has been growing there for a couple of weeks already: beets, carrots, green onions, broccoli raab and various lettuce varieties. Did additional sowings and also planted cucumbers, zucchini and green beans.

Dan made new defenses: hardware cloth cages to replace the ones with chickenwire that the mice just walked through and with those, in concert with the cages donated by my friend Phil, I think we stand a chance against rodentia. If the insects that bring infections from the desert stay off the plants, we will have it made.

This morning, before sun or bird up, a flock of birds flew overhead making unfamiliar calls that got the horses all excited but it was too dark to see them clearly. As I was planting they came overhead again and circled the WD about a dozen times. They finally landed on the roof and have been there for a number of hours. They are Western Willets! Shore birds! They may have been blown off course but according to sources, they are occasionally sighted here. I think they are very tired and are getting reenergized to travel on. Wish I had a pool to offer.

April 17, 2016

Back to normal

After a couple of interesting weeks (isn't "interesting" the euphemism you use for "scary"?), we are back to our usual hike out the back gate this morning.

Emma has been sick. Once with not being able to keep any food down either end, and a week later with an apparent allergic reaction. Both events were on a weekend so several trips were made to the highly qualified emergency vet clinic in Tucson. They have yet to determine the cause for all this mayhem but many tests have been run that have all come back negative. As with humans, when in doubt run a test. In retrospect Dan and I suspect a rattlesnake vaccination that may have not sat well with Emma's immune system.

It is wonderful to have our happy, always hungry, dog back and with The SisTas visiting, we had a great walk. Many plants in the desert are blooming and, with the mesquites having leafed out, it is green everywhere and hard to believe that we live in a desert.

Here are some of the bloomers.

Ocotillo, still in bud but barely
Black dalea
Arizona orange
Hedgehog cactus
Life is good!