Archive for November, 2006

Interlude

November 3, 2006

For the millions of you out there eagerly anticipating the next installment of 3SD I’m afraid I have bad news, it’s not ready. I know you’re outraged and in disbelief and I apologize. I offer this instead.

We moved here in the middle of summer in ’02. I’m a native Californian and have never lived outside the state before. Each day of my first year felt strange and alien. I often felt I was doing anthropological studies of a new and undiscovered culture. I still have occasional flashes of fish-out-of-water but they are fewer than before. The hardest adjustment was learning the rhythms of the seasons and feeling part of, rather than apart from, my new environment.

Winter started early that year. There was snow on Halloween, Thanksgiving, and … well you get the picture. My wife woke me during one night. It’s not something she normally does because I’m a grumpy cranky pants when disturbed. Before I could start getting worked up, she shushed me. “There are deer outside,” she said and had me look out the window. A herd of mixed does and fawns, I counted eight, were digging their hooves through the snow for leftover bits from a recently harvested corn field. We watched for 30 minutes, enjoying the unexpected show. I think that night eliminated lingering doubts about moving here and began a sometimes-intense love and appreciation of our new life.

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Three Strange Days: Saturday

November 2, 2006

We knew by early Friday that a storm would be coming in over the weekend. This storm had recently rushed through Texas and Louisiana, leaving flooding behind it. It had also dumped a sizeable amount of early snow in Colorado, with drivers unprepared for a winter-like storm so early in the season. The radar pictures showed an enormous mass covering the eastern part of the Midwest and upper south, heading towards the Mid-Atlantic States and us in the Northeast. We knew it was coming and waited for its arrival.

I woke up a little after midnight to the ping of raindrops hitting the window. Our window faces north and most storms don’t hit it but this one was. Bad sign. The storm was unrelenting, continuing for hours. Our house is fairly tight so we weren’t worried – ok, maybe a tad worried – about damage to it but this year has been exceptionally wet and another dumping of water would not be helping anyone.

It’s my chore to take the dogs out for first potty and they are usually ready at dawn. This morning was much darker than usual but the dogs’ expert timing was on display, amplified by their urgent need. Dressed with a slicker, boots, and hat, I was ready to plunge outside. I’m always curious to watch the dogs’ reactions when they first encounter changed weather. First snows, frosts, and rain always cause them to give a little gasp, gather themselves, and plunge forward, some – Ruthie and Mochie – more eager than others – Toby. Toby especially doesn’t like to walk on wet grass. Rocks, gravel, asphalt or streams are okay but not wet lawns.

Out the door we burst, a collection of legs, leashes, wet noses, and more. We lucked out, as the rain was relatively light, falling in a steady stream. It wasn’t the deluge I had expected and was grateful. The reality proved anti-climactic to my fears. The time outside was almost enjoyable, being neither too windy nor wet. But none of us lingered and we were soon inside getting toweled down and breaking our fasts.

We learned that places near us had received more than two inches and the forecast was continuing showers. The weather was not expected to improve so we decided to proceed with our morning outing of visiting the library and grocery shopping. I don’t know if the cause was the time of day or the weather, but there were few people on the road or in town. It’s funny how the lack of crowds can improve unpleasant or routine tasks. Rhetorical question: Can small villages and towns ever be considered crowded when the population for the entire county is less than 55,000 people?

We finished everything and noticed that the rain was letting up as we neared home, surprising us both. Unbelievably, a tear appeared in the clouds and a line of blue sky winked at us. We hurriedly put groceries away and took the dogs out, taking advantage of the moment of calm. Back inside we had the idea to explore the creeks before the rain machine revved up again.

We have two creeks. One flows through our valley collecting and moving the water from everybody’s property. We call this one the Big Creek though it is actually quite small and is more brook than creek. The other, called by us the Runoff Creek, is in a fold that drains a hillside and bisects our property as it rushes to join the Big Creek. This little creek is lined by old trees and a long but narrow meadow which itself is bordered by a line of trees. We call this area the Horse Run, after its previous occupant. The grass is kept mowed and it now looks like a park. It has become one of our favorite areas to visit, ideal for walking and exploring.

The Runoff Creek is easily observed where it passes under the road. The creek is normally a gentle rush of water moving artfully over and between nature-laid rocks. As our first stop, it was easy to see the color of the water, an opaque milk-stirred-in-coffee color. This always happens when the hillsides have become saturated, reaching their water-holding capacity and are shedding excess water. Pulled by gravity, the extra water races down the inclines, gathering soil, leaves, and any detritus that can be dislodged by the rains. During intense storms like Saturday’s, the water in the creek bed is a torrent of force driving to somewhere, approximating the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We marveled at it.

When we first moved here there was a washout of gravel where the Runoff joined the Big Creek. Lower than the shallow banks, this broad layering of gravel made an easy entry to the Big Creek. The Runoff had pushed a line of gravel and stones across the Big Creek at this point, making for easy and fun crossings to gain the far hillside. We had no idea the Runoff Creek was a fickle and changeable creature until a thunderstorm two years ago. So much water was released in a 30-minute period that the little creek sculpted its delta anew. New rocks and gravel bars were birthed and our little creek was becoming unrecognizable.

This past June, a storm of great magnitude made all of the earlier changes seem like child’s play. Parked over us for two days, the deluge of water reworked the landscape. A great mass of gravel, rocks, and stone were deposited in the little delta, filling the old bed higher than its banks. The power of the water surge in the Big Creek removed all of our crossing stones and replaced them with a large pool of deep water. New banks were carved. Beaches were annihilated, moved, and reformed in new and unexpected areas. Old channels were straightened and new passages formed. The reworking of the landscape still amazes us.

The vigor of this Saturday’s storm energized the Runoff Creek. It was busily eating away at the piles of rock before it, moving and cutting through them and sluicing its way to the Big Creek. The rush of water is exciting and can be loud. By listening carefully, low notes can be heard under the noise, revealing the subsurface moving of stones. As in the past, we will explore the new beds when the water recedes, noting the changes, hunting for fossils, and discovering oddball rocks that can be uncommonly beautiful.

The spring-like rains continued for most of the day, a mix of showers and drizzle. After the early torrents, the calm was welcome. This gave us a chance to regroup and take stock before tomorrow’s wintry mix.

Three Strange Days: Friday

November 1, 2006

The three days of this past weekend were strange indeed. Each day represented a season and ran through time in reverse. I thought of making one posting of what happened but realized the distinctive difference of each required separate postings.

I watch and follow weather news with uncommon zeal. It is a necessary habit for a nurseryman to track weather patterns and trends and how they will affect the immediate surroundings. From the information gathered, plans are made, precautions primed, preparations instituted and actions taken. I knew a storm would be coming during the weekend and tried to think what needed to be done before it arrived.

Number one on my to-do list was fixing the dog enclosure. But before I get to that, let me explain what the dog enclosure is and how we got it. When we moved here, our house was surrounded on two sides by cornfields. Our three dogs never had as much room to run and explore as when we moved here. We vicariously enjoyed the freedom they had and the joy they expressed in living and running, of being.

They are pretty good dogs for the most part. They’re not vicious or mean but are endlessly curious. If a scent needs investigating or they see something, no amount of calling, waving, future threats on their sleeping arrangements or warnings of food withholding will keep them from their chase. It is maddening and frustrating that they do it but we let them get away with it. We don’t want them to act like that but have not trained them to be anything else.

Most rural areas in the country do not have dog ordinances. Dogs are allowed to do what they please within a few parameters: no chasing wildlife (mostly deer and other game animals), no harassing livestock, and no threatening humans. A dog may be shot dead for the first two and written up for the third as a vicious dog. A dog warden can make the determination of removal from the owner, depending on the incident. You’ll notice in each of these cases that action is taken only after something has happened. We wanted to be pro-active and keep our animals from being nuisances, neighborhood bullies and troublemakers. Free-roaming animals annoying people, disregarding property lines and marking territory, harassing and killing livestock, and running after wildlife are what we don’t want our dogs doing. And it’s also a safety issue. Our road has a 55 mph speed limit and dogs and other animals are often maimed and killed.

Our dogs are never outside unless accompanying one of us. This includes all potty and play times, no matter what the weather. We think it is part of being good neighbors and citizens and also being a responsible pet owner. But there are times we would like to have the dogs with us while we are working or exercising outside. As much as I like our pets, I don’t want to spend every moment focused on them. Chores need to be done and most of the time the concentration needed to complete a task precludes being aware of what the dogs are up to.

Our solution was to fence off part of a field and create an enclosed space of safety for the dogs to use. I didn’t want an elaborate (read expensive) or time-consuming project so opted for metal t-posts and vinyl snow fencing. This would give me a lot of flexibility in design and could be quickly built or changed when needed. I used what I call a posthole pounder – a metal pipe closed on one end and two handles at the other end – to drive the posts into the ground. It still takes effort but is much easier than using a hammer or sledge to plant the posts, especially in our stony fields.

Snow fencing comes in two colors – orange or dark green. My choice was dark green but orange was the only color available, so orange it was. After two years you do sort of get used to it. I used zip ties to attach fencing to posts and had it all up in a day. Tip to everyone: use wooden slats or stakes on every post, sandwiching the fencing between. This will prevent tears on the fencing. Also, use the wide part of the fencing, in my case the horizontal bands, when securing with the zip ties. I bet you’ll never guess how I learned about those tips. Yes, my mental how-to manual has been updated as I have learned from my mistakes. The whole area was over sown with grass seed of a play-yard blend. To this day, the grass here is the best on the property.

Now it’s been two and a half years since I put up the fence and it needed a “tune-up”. Friday was the perfect day to do it. The weather was in the high fifties to low sixties with a gentle breeze, feeling like early summer here. Unless it’s an emergency, the fencing is not fun to handle during gusty and breezy conditions. It is a lot easier to handle the zip ties when it’s warm, as most of it needs to be done without gloves. Last winter a section got blown open and I had to be retie it. Brrrr.

I redid all four corners, reconfigured some areas, added new stakes for extra support in certain places, and tightened up the fencing where it was sagging. I finished off by weed whacking both sides of the fence. I completed earlier than I expected and was pleased with the results. My timing for this project couldn’t have been better because the next two days were lulus.