Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Technology and the Summer Wimp

So it is official. We have broken the misery records here in our cool misty environs. Records going back to 1891 according to Jeff Renner of local King 5 News. Why, they have even issued excessive heat warnings. Just in case you couldn't figure out on your own that it was TWO MILLION DEGREES outside. But hey, you can never be too well informed.

In honor of the Great SeaScorcher of '09 I have decided to remind myself of what a difference a few months and a few million degrees can make. Ahh, snow...

Anyway, it managed to reach 107 degrees today here in the cool piny northwest. That's right it was the same as Phoenix. Well by golly, it's like I never left! ugh.
I am up the side of a mountain about 1,000 feet so they tell me that it was actually actually hotter here! Like I needed that helpful tidbit of information. I pretty much figured that out the instant it reached 104 degrees and the power went out. That's right, just as I was complimenting myself on finding balance with the heat wave all the little things that I had in my arsenal of defense simply went silent. Just blip, nothing, Nada. The praise I heaped upon myself this morning for finally getting the pond water cleared up from the last fiasco on a scorching hot day, gone. Melted away just like the ice cubes two minutes after I plopped them into my tea. Gone was my smug satisfaction that the ice water spritzing combined with the fan on high was sure to keep me cool. Gone were my breaks into the cooler office to check the web for new ways to avoid working. All of it gone, just like that.

My stomach sank as I heard the last dribble of water come down the bio falls and stream beds. I was certain I could hear the algae dying and turning brown up there, the little fishes gasping for breath. The brand new smooth white plastic fan mocked me with its idle blades and plug tongs firmly in place inside the dead outlet. My ice water spritz bottle had gone warm, the ice melted away along with my hope. My survival looked iffy. The dogs even worse.

And then just as my panic was mounting modern technology and the power company's greed kicked in. Lights came on, microwaves beeped, water began to flow down the streams and my glorious shiny new white plastic fan began to twirl its miraculous blades again. I could hear the fishes sighs of relief. I rushed right in and filled up my spritzer with ice and plunked more snowy cubes into my tea glass. It was a glorious moment for modern technology and skimpy breathable Cotton clothing!

Tomorrow is supposed to be another toaster and all I can say is that I have my spritzer in the fridge and several bags of cool crispy ice cubes in the freezer. Why I may even have a few items I need to pick up in the frozen food section at my local grocery store. I don't know what those things might be so I may have to spend some extra time there thinking about it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Great SeaScorcher of '09

Yup, it was the great SeaScorcher of aught 9.
Well our little heat wave had me running to the porch for cover and some electric fan action. It really is the humidity that does me in. You just can’t get cool with that. Living in Phoenix I could take the 125 degree temps it reached the year I left and only remark that it seemed a “little hotter today” but that was a dry heat. Someone from Phoenix should kick me now for having said that. In the Pacific Northwest we have been doing our level best to break heat and whine records and I like to think I am doing my part to help out with that. It may well be 100 or more tomorrow and I have been practicing my whining for days now so I'm all ready to go.

I gave up painting in the outdoor studio which had become a sauna and moved some stuff up to the porch which is at least in the shade all day. For any of you not familiar with the PNW weather we are a temperate climate and can expect a week or two of high temps in late July but not like this. This is just stupid weather assuming that weather could in any way be considered intelligent that is.

I am so very grateful that it cools off so much at night. In Phoenix the high concrete, asphalt ratio made evening cool down a quaint theory. You couldn't sit on the cement steps without burning your behind off. A primary concern in everyone’s mind during the summer months was the fear of a car accident in which you were thrown from the vehicle onto the molten hot asphalt only to lie there helpless and in agony. That fear of course came after the scorching antics of getting into your super heated metal oven of a vehicle and trying to drive it without actually touching anything. And yes, it is true; you can actually fry an egg on the sidewalk. It is a rite of passage for all Desert Rat children.

So you see I have earned my right to whine because I have already done my time. The year it hit 125 degrees Sky Harbor airport shut down because as it was revealed later, they had never actually tested the airplanes for those temperatures. They never expected to have to fly in them. The catch is that for the rest of us running around in that heat back then it just “seemed a little hotter” that day. Nothing special, just a little hotter.

I guess I have a different perspective on the weather. I am still making up for a lot of hot dry years in the desert. I don’t want to be cheated out of a pleasant 75 degrees with the occasional rain to water my plants. I don’t want to have to think about planting decorative gravel instead of grass or cacti instead of fuchsia. I already had that. I want lush cool greens like they promised me when I crossed the border and they handed me my complimentary latte` and rain gear. Apparently I need frequent watering.

Smart dog and "Sketchy" the frog.

This was not actually rain but what my neighbor referred to as a "dampening" not truly raining but rather dampening the rocks. sigh. Still, it looked pretty and not everything is wilting or whining. No matter how much I am.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Farming The Past

There is just something about farms and country that puts you back in place with reality. If you can slow down enough to listen you can hear the corn stalks rustle, you may even hear them growing. To touch the worn wooden rails of this foot bridge seemed to turn the entire world into sepia tones and overalls. The past seemed to ignore the present and instead it haunted the future. It made me long for a world whose light was already fading when I was only a child.

For a few years when I was quite young we traveled the U.S. back roads and towns. Small towns and farm communities, we stayed in some, just passed through others. We ate in diners and greasy spoons, shopped in five and dimes and mom and pop stores, while I took in Americana from the ground up. I was closer to the ground then. I saw things differently.

I spent a lot of time looking out of the windows as we traveled along. I saw a lot of farms and ranches; I saw old homes that came right out of Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and a few people who looked like they hadn’t quite yet. In the Midwest the cornfields seemed to engulf the car as we tunneled between the towering green stalks. The big sky of Texas was a landscape unto itself with giant fluffy clouds that looked like ghostly herds of buffalo. All in all I don’t think we missed a single state within the continental U.S. Some we simply passed through and some we lived in for a time. A winter spent on a Reindeer farm in South Dakota, another on a secluded lake in Minnesota, travelled the haunts of Billy the Kid, Jesse James and others. It was America and it was before the world had moved on again.

I developed a deep appreciation for the land, for nature and for straightforward people. My love of these things is not nostalgia for an innocent or carefree childhood. Mine was nothing of the sort. It comes from finding peace and comfort in those things when I needed it most. There is something deeply nourishing that comes from living closer to the land and in rhythm with the earth.

Now don’t get me wrong I love my 4” heels and a shiny fast car to take me where I can happily plunk down $4.50 for a Venti sized latte` no whip. I also like getting the dirt under my fingernails and laying in a field of tall grass with nothing but the sound of cows and blue sky above. I like my swanky art openings, sipping wine and pretending to know what I’m talking about. I also like coming home to house warmed by wood that we cut, hauled and split ourselves. These things keep me grounded and remind me of who I really am. They remind me that I am human, both uniquely fragile and powerful.

All the photos here are my own and from the places I frequent. Surprisingly the shot of the classic pickup was not staged. I just got super lucky! That was one beautiful truck and if I hadn't felt like such a voyeur I might have tried to get a closer shot of it. That cream and golden hay color are my all time favorite.

Summertime Perfection

It was a perfect Friday afternoon and I was off to Home Depot to search for compost destined plants when I was suddenly shocked into sheer joy by this sight!
This song was playing and it was the most perfect summer moment I think I have ever seen. It filled the summer air. (Edited: since this is an older post the songs have been moved to the end of the play list now but please do make the effort to listen to them. They start with "Dancing in the Moonlight" by Toploader. It really makes the whole moment! )

This river is just down the hill from us. It takes three whole minutes to drive down. I timed it. I have a kayak. Kind of silly I suppose that I was so moved by this little happening along the river today. Maybe I just haven't lived in the country long enough to take this for granted. Perhaps it was the lack of drugs and alcohol or rap music that made this look so wholesome as if to belong to another era. They were actually listening to these songs! Either way I was happy for the innocent summer moment and for my handy camera.

A couple minutes down the road I stopped at this red barn. There is a land use proposal sign up where there used to be Hot Apple Cider signs. They boasted the best apple cider for miles. They may have been right.

The place appears to be empty and abandoned now. Perhaps a victim of the economic turns. When we used to take our meandering drives out this way before moving here I admired this place with it's red barns and promise of fresh apple cider. I am sorry to see it empty. I just loved knowing that it was here. Much like the kids on the bridge. I just loved knowing that this was in the world. I think I need to know that this in the world.

Now when you think of it how many actual working weather vanes do you see anymore? Progress is a wonderful thing but there is a melancholy that comes with saying goodbye to the past, to our youth. That would be the thorn that touched my heart when I came across the bridge party. It gave me comfort and hope to see that those things still exist even when they seem to disappear.

For now I keep working on the locks that close out the past and shut off the future. It's somewhere in between the fence posts that I'm shooting for.

It is 3 AM now and I am going to sleep like a dog. I am going to sleep like I mean it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The undersides

The light turned these ferns a beautiful bronze that I had never seen before. Life can be like that sometimes. It is just a matter of getting the angles right and even the undersides look beautiful.

Wow, so Tuesday came and went without so much as a nod in my general direction. I vowed I would be more productive today. Of course Tuesday was something like 90 degrees and humid so my primary activity was finding shady places to hide out. I have my summer studio set up at the end of the pond and it was probably the least inspirational place to be. Mostly I just collapsed in my chair and stared at the painting I was sure I hated. I hated it less today but then I didn't go near it either.

I did however do this...

Because it has been so hot and sunny the pond has been lower than it should be and some of the liner is showing. I have been balancing the water supply and just can't keep the pond topped up all the way. I figure being exposed to blistering hot sun all summer can not be a good thing for this over priced rubber so something must be done. Besides it really breaks the illusion that I have a natural water event going on if the rubber liner is showing all over. That's like seeing Mickey Mouse smoking. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I added another mini bog.
I use the pink insulation
for a barrier to hold the
soil in place until the plant roots take over. It is filled with clay on the bottom and then good soil higher up away from the water. The insulation acts as a wicking agent and keeps the upper level moist without being boggy like the lower level. I have taken to planting the marigolds directly into the pond this year. They seem to like it there. I put various little plants in there that I hope will fill it out for me. Oh, did you notice the little fishes in the beginning picture? What ever happened to "run and hide?" Silly fish.
I noticed this little view from across the way and had to have it. The daisies seemed to be stealing a peek at the bright colors in the other garden.

I especially appreciated this view this morning. Two years ago this was a flat stretch of weeds and gravel. Just beyond that patch of gold is a 4x6 foot boulder and you can't even see it. I am awed and encouraged at seeing the live transformation of a physical space into something so profoundly different. I guess it just gives me a sense of control to know that I can change something negative into something hopeful and living. I think every morning when I come out here and see the gardens thriving I am reminded that I can have impact and can effect change, creating life out of the dust. I guess its our little way of feeling like gods, creating the world as we go.
And I leave you with green. Because we often forget to look at the green as we are so busy looking for the bright flashes. The greens are beautiful if you just take the time to look.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bits of Monday

This is no way to eat popcorn. I discovered this truth midpoint between my fingertips and the tile.

Here lie the remains of my previous beloved popcorn bowl nestled amidst the lavender, alyssum and poppies. This one was actually the cat's fault. No, really it was!

Oriental lilies should be in bloom at all times. I consider it a cosmic flaw that they are not.
Of course I'm easily distracted and the sound of falling water alerted me to the light playing on this ivy. All is forgiven.
These two have been seen in hushed whispers around dark corners. I fear for the little fishes lives. They are the most innocent creatures I have ever seen. We have only had them for a couple of months and they are completely lacking in fear or good sense for that matter. They follow me around the pond when I am near. If I am actually in the pond they will play around my feet swimming between my legs. I had to scoot them along the other day to avoid a construction related injury. No little fish hard hats. They have yet to determine that the dogs and cats are not going to feed them. More like the other way around. Still the little fishes come, just in case.

This is a recent group of rescued plants. I have found that I derived a deep satisfaction from reviving plants near compost fate. Much less complicated than people and often more rewarding. I am considering wearing a green cape and a spandexy shirt with the name Green Avenger screen printed on it. We'll see how this works out before I commit to the tights.

Turns out I don't have much to say about this. I just love water and I loved the way these looked. The pink sedums surprised me. I just expected green. The little pond in the top picture has far to many lettuce plants but they burn up in the big pond's full sun.
The nasturtiums below belong to one of the streams in the big pond and are blooming very nicely. They are actually in a "pocket bed" that is within the pond liner area. They derive their water directly from the pond. I have several of these little pocket beds that wick up water. It's nice not to have to water something. Well sure, I have to "water" the pond because of it but I only have to toss the hose in.
I have given up hope for rain this summer. I honestly can not remember the last time we had rain of any value. Some time ago it rained off and on for two days but the soil stayed dry as bone. I have been doing my level best to manage the water levels in the well while keeping everything watered, the ponds topped off, laundry, dishes and the much needed shower. It's great to be without a city water bill but this is definitely a personal responsibility situation. If I run the well dry, that's it. Lots of talk and infomercials about conservation, water and otherwise but the quickest way to learn is to run out of your allotment. I am certainly not on any "enlightenment" mission here. I am just learning how to live a little closer to the land and keep my plants alive with a bit left over for a shower. Now that's something I think we can all get behind. Showers.

Tomorrow I plant some plants and consider the existential construct of societal norms and bonds within the world wide web. I'll either come up with something profound or do a really good job of fertilizing the plants. Later I will work on my rain dance.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This is us when we were both the same age living seperate lives and many years from meeting.

The weekend for us started on Friday, Thursday night to be accurate. So Friday and Saturday were the weekend we had no plans. We had no plans and we didn’t care. It was our anniversary. It has been some time now since we stood solemn and nervous in a field of wild flowers and towering aspen.

This anniversary night we spread a blanket on the back lawn and looked out into the night sky. A few shooting stars streaked across the black and mocked the satellites that plodded along. We talked and laughed together, much like any other day, much like any day of any year past. It wasn’t a special day, our anniversary. It was another day. Another day in a long happy satisfying string of days that make up the long line of days and years we have spent together.

We did not go out to dinner. We did not give one another gifts or cards. Instead we laughed about our lack of certainty of the date, about how we seem to forget it every year. I forget one year he forgets another. Sometimes we both forget and remember days after. And do we care? No.

I don’t care because he still calls me during the day when he has nothing to say. He likes to make my coffee in the morning. I make him laugh when he takes himself too seriously and especially when I take myself too seriously. He gives me diamond earrings for Father’s day…the twenty-somethingth Fathers day. I lay with him till he falls asleep though he goes to bed hours before I do. He leaves me little notes and I write back. And sometimes… he just looks at me. He looks at me like he did when he was 22 and the world was in front of him. He looks at me as though I were a bright and shining possibility. He looks at me and sees everything I ever wanted to be and he still believes.

There is no date on that. No special day when it counts more than the others. There is no gift wrap or Hallmark sentiment that comes after the entree. There is only that look in his eye after all these years. That look that tells me he truly knows who I am. That look that says he believes in me, even more than I believe in myself. For that I lie on a blanket in the backyard and look up to the heavens and thank God for this man. No gift wrap necessary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ok, so we do not own a pickup truck. There, I said it. Sure no one who lives in the country should be without a pickup but we don't. I suppose we weren't really sure if this whole country living thing was going to stick so why strap ourselves with a car payment was the thought. Well it's been a couple of years now and it looks like we really do need a truck. Of course I hear that owning a pickup can lead to farm animals and I am not so sure I want things to get that out of hand.

So for us city slickers who do not own our very own beat up pickemup truck, we rent. We pay the one time rental fee and play rancher for the day. DH and I had a few things we needed to get done that simply can't be done without a truck. We had a full day planned in order to get the most out of our city slicker dollars.

First stop was the Water Gardens where we get our pond plants. They also sell bark by the load but the delivery fee is $100. Everyone's delivery fee is $100. The place directly down the hill from us and, I do mean directly down the hill, is $100. We had 5 different loads to get that day. Yup, the math works up to $500. So truck rental it is. We may be country now but that don't mean stupid. (add appropriate and offensive twang)
Off to the Water Garden for bark. They know us, of course, so the guy topped off our 2 loads with extra which makes it worth while to keep going there with our business. Thank you Water Gardens! We did two trips for bark taking them each home to shovel out the bed and go back for more.

Next trip was for the horse manure. Now this place was a bit far considering that we live right next door to horses and are also near more dairy and horse farms than you can count. That said these guys had good stuff and they promptly answered my email for setting a time. Turns out you can't just show up unannounced and expect to get your truck loaded with poo. Who would have thought? Besides I figured we could grab a bite to eat on the ride down and take a break from shoveling the bark.

The place was very nice. The manure was nearly all composted which is a huge bonus! Most places give it to you very green and often with gravel. This stuff was perfect, as if horse cr*p could be said to be so. Since it is nearly all composted there is no offending odor. Just an earthy smell that makes you think of leather saddles and hay. Kind of nice.

After unloading the first load we decided that we would go back for a second load. Hey you can never have enough $#** in your life right? The second load was actually better. It was from further down in the pile so even more composted and some of it still actively cooking. That's great because it gets the newer stuff from our own compost pile off to a great start. These guys had 8 acres and boarded horses as well as having their own. They had amazingly clean stables and he took us on a tour. It was probably the best horse poo gett'n experience I could have hoped for. I just wish I had dressed better for impression's sake. But hey, I was planning to shovel horse poo after all!

The next trip was to the local feed store where I wanted to pick up some bales of straw. I had recently learned of staw bale gardening and was eager to get started. The idea is to start the bale composting by adding water for a couple of weeks, then add fertilizer for another week, let it cook then cool and then your ready to plant. I thought this was the solution for my trench project. I could just use the bales to compost right in place and not have to pick ax all that blasted gravel. So off to the feed store we go. We picked up 8 bales. It looked so pretty in the back of the truck. DH was very proud to have a pickup full of straw bales. Pretty cute. Now home to toss those babies off the back.

While we were at the feed store I saw that they had a bunch of free pallets off to the side. I have been nagging, I mean telling DH for some time that pallets would be a good way to keep his winter wood stock off the wet ground. He finally saw my brilliance and agreed to come back for a load of the free pallets. I think we got about 16 in the truck all standing upright. Home to unload those.

Then it was off to pick up some fire wood logs DH had been culling from the lower property. He will cut those down and split them later. He actually will cut and split quite a bit more, oh yes, quite a bit more. Love the wood heat but it takes a lot of wood. It's a very grounding experience to be responsible for your own heat throughout the winter. It is a lot more work than turning a dial but it brings something to your soul that paying the gas/electric bill does not. I think it makes you own each day in a very personal manner. I know every piece of wood that goes into the stove was collected, cut, split and dried months ago with this day in mind. It puts us back in touch with the true meaning of saving and planning.

Back to the poo and bales. I eventually reconsidered my plans for composting the bales in place. I decided that for one thing I needed them to form a corral for all the manure and secondly that the bales would compost right there with the manure and it would all even out in the end. I was actually more excited about the manure haul than the bale gardening and I liked the look of it. DH even said he thought it looked cute and that made me smile.

It was a 12 hour day of non stop work but we had a lot of fun together. The horse poo jokes were flying as fast as our shovels and we loved every minute of it. I've been laying out the bark and digging up more of my driveway gravel ditch and beaming with pride at my big pile of horse poo. I know that come fall I will be dumping loads of chopped up leaves into mix with my composted manure for a mulch/top dressing that will be like spreading country gold over my flower beds and that is going to give me a great deal of satisfaction.