October 16, 2017

The new Blacktail Hill

Mornings are getting cooler, too cool for some to go on an early bike ride so we opted for our usual winter exercise routine of hiking around Blacktail. This is part of the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains that had forest fires in early June. From our house we look out on Blacktail and were relieved that, at least from a distance, life reappeared soon after the fire.

It was a somewhat sad hike as a lot of the juniper trees had burned and stuck out in the landscape, but I would have been more devastated had the cause of the fire been man made, rather than lightening strikes. Some of our trails were still visible but the largest change was in the washes.

In July we got good rains, enough water to fill our pond, and a lot of that water had come off the mountain. Where we normally crossed a dry creek 2 feet deep there now was a chasm 6 feet deep and half again as wide as before. It made the landscape hardly recognizable.

We usually have a short break at what I call Happy Valley, right under a large, old, ocotillo for whose survival I had feared but it still stood in all its glory. The view into Happy Valley was not so happy, but Mom will restore it. Signs of new life are everywhere.

October 1, 2017

After the fire

Where did Summer go? October today! I took Emma for a walk out back this morning and saw that thanks to a good monsoon, life is returning after our forest fire in June.

The rain came all at once it seems and there was so much that cattle ponds overflowed and the Forest road washed out. The plants loved it. Immediately the grass greened up, though it has since turned blond again now it is Fall. There was little to no rain in September.

Thankfully there were not many large trees that could sustain the fire although there is some evidence that the area burned.

Now it is Fall, we could do with a bit more rain. Please.

Learning Spanish

After getting lost in Costa Rica last year and not speaking any Spanish, I was bound and determined that would not happen again. Besides, I had wanted to learn Spanish as it is a beautiful language and we are but 60 miles from the Mexican border (not that that means there are people I can practice my Spanish with).

I did a bit of research after our vacation and decided on the Fluenz program. I loved it from the start as it immediately dealt with live situations: what to say in a restaurant, how to get around. I worked diligently for about a year, spending a couple of hours a day doing the lessons and the practises. I was encouraged by the fact that soon I was able to distinguish verbs from nouns in the Costa Rica paper (one of my initial goals).

Then, Fluenz decided to offer an immersion program in September in Antigua, Guatemala and I jumped at the chance. I would be able to practice speaking and get one on one instruction on those things I needed to improve on (verbs among others). I was pumped. I left for Antigua deciding my comfort zone would be awaiting my return.

View from the hotel roof terrace where breakfast was served daily.
It was a great experience: 5 hours of personal instruction, a great hotel with wonderful staff and delicious food, meeting a dozen other, younger, people from all walks of life, some of whom taught in prestigious institutions, and the founding Fluenz team.

My classroom.
My head awash in Spanish I had to think harder than I had in years and it felt wonderful to be challenged by people who nonetheless were patient. Other activities had also been planned: yoga sessions, massage, Antigua walking tour, talk by a Guatemalan UN Ambassador. A long week, with not enough sleep thanks to a head that would not turn off, but so very much worth it. And, my comfort zone had been waiting for me. The quiet life has returned.

July 24, 2017

Serious rain

The monsoons arrived here on July 12. It is wonderful to have rain and clouds after such dry and hot conditions for six weeks or so. Temperatures are in the 80's now, rather than 90's or 100's. We have been having regular showers of 0.5" and the plants have reacted immediately by putting on new growth, especially the tomatoes.

Today we went to pick up my sister-in-law Denise, who will take care of the WD while Dan and I will be in Tucson for a couple of days. While we were gone almost two inches of rain fell here in an hour. We could hear water rushing when we got home so we went to check on the pond ...

We have never seen this much water in it and are glad the low bank is way away from the house. All that white stuff in the water is ash from the forest fire which we had in June.

June 13, 2017


Life is returning to normal. The evacuation order was lifted yesterday although there was still a lot of firefighting in the Forest. Several hot spots which would flare from time to time and there were a number of helicopters tending them. They would fly to and fro with water buckets that they filled at some of the orchard wells, and watching them dump them and hit target in windy conditions was awesome. I have nothing but admiration for these crews; there were 400 of them at one point.

We slept really well last night. No obvious smoke when we got up and it felt very cool outside which will have helped keeping the fires from running away again. We are looking at 100 plus degrees next week which is a typical June for us.

I checked the garden this morning and it is doing well. The grape leaf skeletonizers are terrorizing the grapes, and I find them hard to get rid of but I will pick them off best I can. I cannot be messing about there too long because the towhees have built a nest in the vines again.

Lettuce is doing awesome, picking some tomatoes and green beans. Fed thinnings of carrots to the horses, which was much appreciated. I will seed some more tomorrow to keep vegetables going throughout the summer, and now it is just water, and more water because it is June. Life is GOOD!

June 10, 2017

Another day

The house is still standing, the horses and chickens are fine, as are we and Emma. The fire is still burning: it moved south and is now on Mt Glenn. There is also a big fire on the other side of the valley, near the Chiricahua Monument, hence the ominous sunrise.

All emergency personnel has left: no sheriff deputies, no firefighters. Is the pressure off? Is it old hat now? Do they consider the fire out? Is it Saturday? We are still under evacuation notice and they have issued a pre-evacuation for the village where we have been spending the night, about 10 miles east of the WD.

There is strong wind in the forecast for Sunday, so we are not out of this yet.

June 9, 2017

Bad day - good day

On Tuesday afternoon a lightning strike hit Dragoon Mountain, to our west, and started a couple of wild fires. Not unexpected, and always on our mind this time of year: it is super dry, hot, and windy. We could see the (still small) fire on the east side of the mountain but went to bed and slept uneasily.

The fire was heaviest on the other side of the mountain and people in the hamlet of Dragoon were given evacuation notices, or pre-evac notices depending on their location, on Wednesday night. On Thursday the fire appeared on the east side on the mountain as well and was quite visible. Planes flying overhead, lots of smoke.

We got word that pre-evacuation notices would be coming soon so we packed a bag and food for Emma. How do you pack not knowing what you will find when you return? What is important? I took some photos, meaningful knickknacks, electronics, papers. This house means so much to me ....

Our friend Mary, currently in Nevada with Em's sisters, made her house available to us so we had a place to go to. We had already decided to close off the round pens and the stalls and leave the horses in the arena where there is nothing but dirt and vegetation is not close.

Our evacuation notice came right after dinner. Mary, being a veterinarian, called to urge us to take our eight hens with us and let them into her second bathroom,  the "animal emergency room" that could be hosed off afterwards. Ever tried to round up chickens into a dog kennel with a wild fire at your back? Wish I had a video of that one.

We prevailed and arrived very gratefully in the village (Pearce) and a safe haven. Dan had forgotten his prescription glasses and decided to return to the house to retrieve them and he made some photos on the way. One of the many fire crews were already in the driveway and gave Dan assurance that the house would be safe, even if the landscape might burn. The horses were safe in their opinion. Such a relief!

With this knowledge we slept fairly well and returned early this morning to find two fires still burning  in the Forest, but the house and the landscape safe. They were able to contain the fire within the National Forest, but there is still work to be done. I am leaving our bag packed.

We will call this just another adventure.

May 30, 2017

A tiny bit of unexpected rain

The day started off with red skies ..., sailors take warning? We did not think much of it until it darkened over around 3 this afternoon and we heard distant thunder. As all Arizonans we are sure that the rain always falls elsewhere, but we did get some drops out of it.

These early storms usually start out with a good bit of wind and a dust storm. If that is not enough, the animals go a bit crazy too: Cody and Bueno were running around like very silly horses. Don't strain a fetlock, boys!

The plants are going to love this, in and out of the garden!

May 8, 2017

A little jaunt

We were in New York City for three days last week, celebrating a wedding anniversary and checking out a new camera lens. When you live out in the country and you are limited to Internet shopping and miss the touchy-feely thing, it is fun to come up with these types of excuses 😄. For me, a vacation is also about the food as we have little opportunity to go out to eat: I looked forward to good pizza, good hotdog, good bagel, that type of thing.

Dan had never been to New York and it had been years for me, while I was working. My colleagues had shown me a great time there though and I did not need much convincing to go back.

We stayed at the Wyndham New Yorker in Midtown and I highly recommend this hotel. Centrally located, quiet, caring staff. I had done homework and had planned the days according to the weather. We were very lucky two of the days so we walked and saw the main sites. These photos are but a small sample.

The last day, one planned for the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan, we got soaked like  we have not been in years but even walking between buildings through Central Park was memorable.

We had a great time and will go back to enjoy that city's energy and cosmopolitanism, where English is a minority language. How refreshing!

April 18, 2017


It took some careful planning, cooperating weather, and special tending by my sister-in-law while we were vacationing in Florida, to allow me to plant the garden over the last two days. It makes me smile to be able to do this in mid-April as I planted the garden over Memorial Day when I lived in Oregon ( aka the land of the green tomato).

So far, things look good. I took some extra precaution with the bean seeds (double hardware cages) as they seem to be prime sustenance for the wildlife.

As for keeping out rodentia ...., we will see. When the nights were still too cool outside for my tender seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), we brought the flats into the garage where I thought they would be safe. One flat was stored on the hood of our 4x4 pickup, the other on the freezer. Then a mouse got into the eggplant and nipped the growing tip and ate several dill seedlings. If a mouse can get on top of a truck and a freezer, I doubt there is any place that is safe from gnawing teeth, including my lovely, well-protected, metal-and-hardware-cloth-fortified, garden.

The mouse, meanwhile, has been life-trapped and relocated far, far away.

March 27, 2017

The new garden fence

At the end of last year a part of the garden fence blew down in a wind storm, taking the irrigation supply with it. This put an end to any thought of a winter garden, and made putting up a new fence a priority in the new year. It really was time to replace the old fence as some posts were loose in the ground, the lattice was coming apart here and there, and a javelina had tried to push his way through.

Having lived here for 13 years now (gasp!), we have dealt with a number of challenges in keeping our veg safe from animals: from mice to javelina and everything in between. We have built a couple of fences to deal with the problem but our rodent protection remained inadequate.

Our neighbors have the same challenges of course, and after some persistent javelina incursions, they added metal to their garden fences. Not ones to have to reinvent the wheel, we decided to follow suit and in addition buried a foot of 1/4" hardware cloth on the bottom of the metal to discourage animals from digging under it. The metal is attached to 5' field fence which will help keep the javelina at bay.

In this scheme the garden is not safe from deer or birds; deer seem to have enough to eat in the National Forest next door and have not been a problem. We would have to build an overhead structure to keep the birds (mainly quail) out, but we will discourage them with crop protection, which we have in various configurations.

Will this be the Final Garden Fence, and the Final Big Project? Time, and the animals, will tell. Regardless, this is the best looking garden I have ever had, and I am looking forward to planting the seedlings which are happily growing in the cold frame.

March 20, 2017

The apricot tree

We have been busy this Spring, replacing the garden fence part of which blew down at the end of last year, but I will do another blog when it is all done. Today I want to highlight the apricot tree.

The fruit trees have all bloomed and are leafing out, the Italian plum excepted. As every year, the peach trees were stunning being covered with bright pink blooms that can be seen from far away. My favorite tree is the apricot however. It has white flowers and is very fragrant, but unfortunately the blooms are short lived.

This year the tree was covered in white and the bees tried to carry it away: it was abuzz for days. The bees did their job very well as the tree started to flower on March 6 and this is the tree today, just 14 days later.

I will have some serious fruit culling to do if Mom does not throw a freeze at us. After unusually high temperatures this past week (80's F), the weather is forecast to be moderating to 70's next week. A freeze seems unlikely, but one never knows.

January 13, 2017

In, and out of, Africa

The heart of Africa actually, the jungle of the République de Congo.

Last summer a friend invited us to accompany her, and her brother and his lady friend, to the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park where her daughter is Director of Research for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is one of the managers of the Park. This was an opportunity not to be turned down of course. There were formalities and vaccinations involved but we completed it all in plenty of time and we left the day after Christmas.

This is the most remote place we have ever visited. We left Tucson and flew to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Paris, where we spent the night. Next day, Paris to Brazzaville, Congo, and spent another night. We then took a domestic flight to the other end of the country: Ouesso, where we picked up a "pirogue" that took us up the Sangha river for 5 hours to arrive at our destination: Bomassa Camp at the NNNP. It was dark when we arrived.

A pirogue is a very long hollowed out log, one lawn chair wide, with an outboard motor. Ours took 8 people, cargo and the boat driver.

The objective of this journey was to visit the lowland gorillas in their natural habitat. We might also see some other big animals: forest elephants, chimpanzees, bonobos. The jungle here is undisturbed, with no human habitation and the flora and fauna diversity is truly staggering. The NNNP is part of a huge section of land set aside by the République de Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic as consecutive national parks.

After a day at Bomassa Camp we piled into two Land Cruisers and drove for several hours to be transferred to smaller pirogues and paddled to Mbeli Camp, currently abandoned due to marauding elephants. We shouldered our packs and walked for an hour to reach Mbeli Bai, a natural forest clearing where the wild life is habituated to people on a large, high platform. We spent two nights camping there and saw several gorilla groups (silverbacks, their females and offspring) eating the vegetation, as well as a number of elephants extracting minerals from the water, and some sitatungas grazing. We celebrated a memorable New Year.

Then it was on to Mondika Camp, where gorillas are habituated to people very close by. We were told to backup if the gorillas should come within 7 meters of us! To reach Mondika we backtracked the hike and the boat ride and drove another 1.5 hours to start a 9 km hike, which included a 20 minute trek through a thigh-high swamp.

Mondika Camp consisted of a number of hardwood buildings and was a main research station (only one person monitors Mbeli Bai). We were set up in tents with beds and private bathrooms, the pit-and -pour kind. It was lovely. Food was provided by the camp cook who was a master at his craft in such a remote location.

The next two days we were able to see the gorillas for an hour at close range. They are amazing animals. They were looking for mushrooms and eating greens, and having deep thoughts. They knew full well we were there but were totally unbothered. The WCS research staff and the local forest people, who are trackers, have done an amazing job with the animals.

When we made it back to Bomassa Camp we were told that our flight from Ouesso the next day had been cancelled, a regular occurrence, and this gave us another day to ruminate on our experiences at Bomassa. The downside was that if the flight the next day was cancelled too, we would all miss our flights home. That did not happen in the end, so all ended well.

An amazing trip and those that know us well can count on seeing many more photos, or a video, if they are interested.

White Christmas

I know, a bit late you say, but there is a reason for that as you will see. However, as this is only the second White Christmas I can remember, it is still noteworthy.

Befitting the Rain Goddess from Oregon, aka my friend Linda who always brings rain when she visits, there was lots of rain on her arrival a couple of days before Christmas. I was actually surprised to be able to make it down our road to pick her up at the airport.

Christmas morning we woke up to the world in white and as we were hosting Emma's sisters as well, we had a good time in the snow. The chickens would have no part of it though and stayed in the coop all day. Cody and Bueno ran around like idiots, slipped and fell. The dogs had the most fun: rolling, eating snow, chasing each other.

Dan built a fire in the fireplace and we puzzled and ate our way through most of the day, until it was time to pack our bag and get ready for Adventure.