April 25, 2008

Myopic meanderings

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , at 8:19 pm by czygyny

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Today was a day that didn’t go right. People ran out of gas, tasks did not get completed, sick kids, bodies feeling age, grumpy moods prevailed.  Just as I was about to leave for a walk to the creek with the dogs, I was called away on a rescue mission. By the time I got back, some horse riders with their trailers were visiting the creek. I was going to try and beg off on the walk, but the dogs were having none of it, and milling about where ever I went, inside and out, incessant in their urgings, finally pestering me enough to venture out. Not wanting to try to control three dogs in an unfamiliar situation at the creek, I took them out into the 35 acre parcel that sits to the side and to the back of our property.

The grassy stretch belied its dry and fire prone heart. It is a droughty spring, and a feeble crop of grasses barely push up through the tangled mass of withered old straw. Gopher holes and runs crowd each other. Where are my owls, my hawks? Where are my bobcats and coyotes? This is a dangerous fire hazard awaiting the spark!

While the dogs are having a good time, I experimented with my zoom lens. I noticed ladybugs, fierce thistle thorns on prickly lettuce, and a diminutive lotus plant with hairy leaves. The blurred background paints lovely pastels, here and there is a leaf puts on gaudy colors of death.

The day got better and better as it went along, and ended on a positive note, and a few more good photos are stashed away.

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This prickly lettuce looks like Audrey II of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ fame.

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This lotus’ flower head is about 3/8″ in size. I love the hairs.

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Here’s another cheery lady bug, hunting on young star thistle plants.

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A tripod would make these photos a bit crisper, but for now, its fun just to walk about and capture what my eye sees up close. I went many years with poor eyesight before I was given glasses, as a young girl. I think that is one reason I tend to experience life in the small things.

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This last image is of a Western Fence Lizard. I try to make friends of all lizards in my garden. I talk to them and have a ‘secret’ wave of my fingers for them that seems to reassure them that I am not a predator. They let me get up rather close, as you can see. Look at those turquoise spots on her back!

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April 24, 2008

Freaky frost freezes fantastic features

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , at 7:44 am by czygyny

It has been a dry spring here in Redding, California. I have had to start irrigating the pastures, already. I leave each of three stations on for eight hours or so, once a week. Last night came time for the east side of the pasture, the side that has the oak trees.

After another frigid 29° night, look what the sprinklers created for my enjoyment! 

 

 

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 Notice the brown leaves on the branch. An earlier frost (around 25° or so) killed many emerging leaves from my trees.

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The tip of a barbed wire barb makes a good drip point.

I sure hope these freezes are going to give way to warmer weather, very soon. But for now, we can revel in the beauty of the solid form of a lowly three atom molecule that impacts every aspect of our life. Water is the most fascinating creation next to light, as far as I am concerned.

April 23, 2008

Oh, they grow up so fast!

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , at 6:27 pm by czygyny

Eighteen days ago, we brought home six little cuddly, fuzzy bantam chicks. They have recently started staying out in the chicken coop during the days, but still stay in the 55 gallon fish tank at night, since our nights are still getting below freezing. They love getting out into the larger area of the coop, they run and fly with their stubby wings when I lift them out of the carrier. They mill about, picking off the unfortunate spiders that are within reach, while the dogs look on hungrily from outside the wire enclosure. I can get in and right down next to them to take pictures, they aren’t bothered a bit. They are starting to react to the feeding call, which is important to call them in for the night.

Today I am going to give you a slide show of how they have changed, in the same order as the first post. It is amazing how they change as their first true feathers displace the downy baby feathers. 

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The first one is Blue. I am going to predict this one is going to be a boy. Look at the emerging waddles and comb. He is an all over blue-grey color.

 

 

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The real surprise is Frazz, shown below. Look at those feathers! Frazz is either a Frizzle or a Silkie, a mutant gene causes the feathers to lack the tiny comb structures that hold the sections of feathers together smoothly, and just an overall twisted growth. I am hoping Frazz is a pullet (young female), I have read that they make great mother hens. She also has extra toes, and feathers all down each leg, whereas most chicken breeds have unfeathered legs.

 

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Next one is Kiwi. This pullet hopeful is so named for its uncanny appearance to my shoe polish applicator. It is one of the smallest chicks, and most unremarkable in color or markings. 

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This brown one looks like he is crowing already. He is the biggest of the bunch, and Jason has named him Racer, because he had racing stripes, which are quickly changing into speckled and mottled browns.

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The second largest, and most likely a cockerel (young rooster), as well. Jason has named him Rally. He looks like he will have some beautiful markings when he is mature.

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 The last one is the smallest, endearing and most likely the prettiest one of the bunch. This one I have named Lucille, to replace my other favorite hen of the past. She will be a lovely black and white speckled cutie. She looks embarrassed, but it is just the red light from the heat lamp that must stay on, day and night.

 

So, there it is, another installment of Chicky-cam. When I need a lift, I go and sit in the coop and watch them scratch in the shavings, run and fly (sometimes in to each other!) and listen to their soft cheeps. I will miss listening to their tiny voices when they are big enough to stay outside all night, it is so soothing, but I won’t miss the cat-litter dust all over my house from their scratching and dust baths!

 

April 21, 2008

Y’all don’t see this coming up the pike, too often…

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , at 7:59 am by czygyny

 I am blessed to live across the road from one of the few working ranches left in the area. Many a day and night I have enjoyed the lush green pastures, the emerald sea setting the stage for the mountain views to the north, listening to the staccato sounds of the impact sprinklers stretched out on long aluminum pipes, borne on big wheels. I watch as they swath hay, smelling the sweet fragrance of drying grasses that drift over my home, and the machines that deftly cruise by and load the finished bales aboard. I watch the newborn calves jump and run at the simple joy of being alive, I lie awake fearfully at night when the coyotes shriek in triumph and cows bellow, and wonder if a young life has been taken.

A few times every year, the folks that own Lassen Canyon Nursery, the Elwoods, run their cows from one pasture to another, and take it right down my dirt road. Coming on horseback with their red and white border collie helpers, they move the unwilling beasts down the road as they try and stop to take a mouthful of new grass here and there, or perhaps even try to make a break for it and run, but they never get far.

My biggest wether lamb was standing out ahead of everyone else to investigate these behemoths lumbering past his home. The rest were too afraid to step up and check it out.

I love the faces on some of the cattle, they have Angus/Hereford cross cows that end up with the most interesting patterns. They have some of the biggest and best looking cattle and bulls I have ever seen. Their bulls reside up the road from me. They sing their bovine love songs at night, an eerie, bugling sound that has an amazing range of timbre. I’ve heard some neighbors complain about the noise, but I think it is a wonderful sound to hear on a warm night.

 

 

   When one of the cows gets an idea to bug out, those amazing stock dogs are right there to take on a thousand pounds of hoof and attitude. It is obvious the cows don’t like the dogs, and just as obvious that the dogs love their work. I can see that they make the cowpoke’s job a lot easier.

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So, at the end of my experience with this short cattle drive, they ride off into the sunset, (well, not quite late enough for a sunset-but it was into the west) but actually just a bit more down the road. I imagine they will be taking the half grown calves away to the auction and making ready for the new crop of youngsters to drop, and the cycle completes itself, once again.

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I grieve for the day when the last cattle are sold off, and the open expanse of fertile bottomland is covered over with strip malls, asphalt, houses stacked side by side, manicured lawns, street lights, the inevitable litter, noise and loss of another beautiful stretch of nature. The Northern harriers, the western meadowlarks, the savannah sparrows, the red-wing blackbirds and owls, even the coyotes will have lost another home, the skies so obscured by light that the stars, the comets and occasional aurora borealis are obliterated from our view, and the field crickets chatter will be drowned out by car noise.

I miss the patriarch, Kenny Sr., who died a few years ago. He would drive by in his big pickup, always with a smile and a wave. I am glad to see his children still hard at it. Lets hope the Elwood family find ranching to be a profitable venture for many years to come. I will hate to see this scene, shown below, to be marred and ruined forever.

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April 13, 2008

Sunday evening

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , at 9:07 pm by czygyny

Here it is, the start of the third week since I was let go by the newspaper. It has been an wonderful time of drifting from one project to the next. I am amazed at how the things in need of my attention have just swallowed up the hours that used to be set aside for work. It is going to be difficult to start really putting effort into a business or going back to work for someone. I am also amazed at how distant those 26 years of my life seem, now.

The lilac, the apple and dianthus blooms mingle with the fragrances from the meadows and creek in the warming and lenghtening evenings, it makes an intoxicating scent that can almost be swallowed down like a fine wine. Frogs and crickets sing at night and the ever growing number of nesting birds sing during the day. The jazzy cadence of the meadowlarks, the raucous cackling of starlings, and the bickering call of the Western Kingbird starts the day.

A house finch has taken up nesting in the Leptospermum bush by the front door. I sneak an egg out every once in a while to look at. Another old wives tale bites the dust. Most birds have a poorly developed sense of smell, and momma bird always comes back after I return her delicate cream egg with brown spots. Our little finch family that lives in the old, torn macrame hanger in my back yard has produced as many as three separate broods in a good year. I would set up the ladder so the kids could watch the fascinating infant bird’s growth and eventual departure.

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My picture taking hasn’t abated one bit. I am on image 1,461, already! I purchased a case for my camera. As soon as it comes, I will be able to take it with me when I go some place. I have already filled up a 4+GB DVD backup of ‘keepers‘. And, this is all from just around where I live! I love being able to create a tangible memory of every special thing I see.

This image is what I saw when I woke up this morning. This only happens a few days out of the year, when the sun rises through my kitchen window and shines on my bedroom door. I thought it made a cool pattern.

It is a somewhat serene image, I think.

Even the roadside weeds hold a certain beauty if you take the time to look. This is vetch, a common legume found blooming in our area right now.

Even the grill on my old Chevy dually can be a attention grabber. I really should have put this truck up for sale for Kool April Nites! It is a rare year. It used to be a hay truck for the Smith Ranch.

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My soft heart has me in trouble again. My ex asked me to take care of his dog ‘Sammy’, while he cares for his ailing father in Emeryville. His dad lives on the 30th floor of a condo, and it is no place for a Queensland Heeler. I am very familiar with the breed, having had stock dogs for twenty years. I have been used to the slower, mellower attitudes of my other two dogs, Jewel and Ginger. Sammy is the typical highstrung, pushy, exclusive, jealous cattle dog. We’ve already had a few minor scraps between he and Jewel. Trouble is, Jewel outweighs him by about 70 pounds and knows how to fight, so Sammy better get it straightened out before fur flies and blood shed. Sammy also likes to get up on furniture, which is a big no-no in our house. He is, though, a smart, clever, loving, obedient dog, and maybe I can teach him to herd up these stupid sheep of mine!

Here they are, top to bottom: Jewel, full-blood Rottweiler; Ginger, our ‘Parttweiler’; and Sammy, the Queensland Heeler.

I live in a tiny 680 sq. ft. house. There are two adults, three dogs, a 55 gallon tank housing six bantam chicks, a 30 gallon terrarium,  a betta and guppy, a six foot swiss-cheese plant, and numerous other plants, home office, plus too much furniture. There is just a little too much ‘living’ going on in this abode! Walking around at night half-asleep is a challenge.

Well, even though I have no job to go to, tomorrow, I still have kids to get up and get to school, then a garden to put in and many other things. I think I’ll call this Sunday a done deal. A well done and satisfying deal.

April 9, 2008

Chicky-cam!

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , at 10:44 am by czygyny

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‘The Awww factor’ was a popular post, so I want to bring you up to date on the serious business of raising six bantam chicks (nothing but serious fun). They are now taking up residence in a 55 gallon fish tank on the kitchen floor. A perfect setup, actually. They can interact with the world around them, I can keep the air warm, and it keeps Jewel, the rottie, from making them in to snacks.

If I can get a film clip of them reacting to my singing to them, I will post it. They shake their little heads. I guess I am off key.

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They wake up at intervals all night and run along that metal feeder and practice ‘flying’. My house is very small and I can hear them scramble about. Their little wing and tail feathers are coming in and they’re so cute!

The ‘sweetest of springs’, continued

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:26 am by czygyny

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I’ve been wonderfully busy with my garden these last few day. The rock borders have to be pulled out and reset, thanks to the phalanx of gophers and moles that invade my borders. This year I sprinkled ‘Mole-Max’ underneath the rocks as placed them, and poison bait at intervals for gophers. The bait is the most effective means I have found for control of gophers in the yard, but the most hazardous, so I use it with caution.

I’ve been out and about with my camera, as you can see, here are a few images to share:

Below is another miniature dwarf bearded iris. It has the yummy appearance of lemon meringue pie!

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Wood hyacinths with a phlox background.

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Striking red tulips

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Apple blossoms

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The sky-blue MDBI in my rock garden

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My ‘bonus’ bulbs, Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ from a Breck’s double daffodil collection.

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The sturdy and striking Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ . These flowers almost qualify for my ‘Thug Garden’, the penal colony for aggressive and overpowering plants. I pull up a lot of these every year, but I leave some where they are, since they go well with my Dianthus pinks (seen in the background) that grow nearby.

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And, last but not least, my favorite little ceramic lamb amongst golden Sedum. She is a flea market find. The kids laughed and called her ugly, but I think she looks quite happy in her little patch of plants.

 

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It is another fine day for working outside, I hope to finish up the area down the driveway, and then it is just one more strip to weed and my front yard is done!

Then I need to get started on my veggie garden, because I have been invited to write a column about growing edible plants for Doni’s website! That will mean that my veggie garden will have to be every bit as tidy and eye catching as my yard! It is still too cold to plant, it was 30° this morning, but it won’t be long. We have already purchased some of the tomato and pepper plants. Time to bring out the seed boxes, too. I have lots of seeds, with more on order.

Happy growing!

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April 7, 2008

The end enriches the beginning

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , at 7:39 pm by czygyny

This peculiar, and somewhat macabre image is where someone dumped the carcass of a cow last year. When we first saw it, it was still intact and still very identifiable. We marveled at the grisly sight then forgot about it until I went for a lengthy hike with my new camera, yesterday.

It made me think about what has transpired in the last year of my life. The death of something, its demise becoming the enrichment for something new. Look how rich and green and lush the grass is where the body was. Look at the bright buttercups surrounding the bones.

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Today, I paid off all my debt. I went to each bank and paid in full. My car, my credit card, odd and ends–zero balance. I took of the old to prepare for the new. It was a liberating feeling, and I knew I had done well.  No, it was better than that, it was quite satisfying and joyous. The funeral of my debt becomes the seeds to ensure tomorrow.

The dying past plowed into the furrows of the future.

 

 

 

April 5, 2008

A day in the life of my oak trees

Posted in blogging, photography, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 8:38 pm by czygyny

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Quercus lobata. One of the largest species of deciduous trees in California. Known as Valley Oak, California White Oak, or even Swamp Oak, this tree can get 70′ tall. 

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One of ours is very old, rumored to be in an oak registry somewhere. We call her ‘Grandmother Tree’, the other three are somewhat younger, with a smaller diameter trunks, although one is even taller than the ‘Grandmother’. You can tell that she’s lost some whopping big branches over the years.

 

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I love looking up into the trees, their thick, sinuous branches are heavily furrowed and textured, and adorned with moss on the prerequisite north side.

 

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Here, above, is ‘Grandmother Tree’ with Bear Mountain and some of my sheep in a pastoral evening setting.

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This tree, above, is a tall, skinny oak that had to compete with 300 eucalyptus trees around it, so it put all its effort into standing tall. It makes a good frame for a lovely sunset.

These trees are very special to enjoy. There are so many bird species that live and nest here; House finch, American goldfinch, Acorn woodpecker, Hairy woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, Lewis’ woodpecker, White-breasted nuthatch, Orioles, Western kingbird, Red-shouldered hawk, Yellow-billed magpie, Brewer’s blackbird, Black and Say’s phoebe, White-crowned, Golden-crowned and Song sparrow, various warblers, and those nasty Starlings. Great-horned and Screech owls visit, too.

The downside to living underneath these silent giants is their pesky habit of shedding very large limbs, on occasion. They are just as likely to drop them in the summer as in winter, and we have had some close calls with the barn and house. As well, is the constant leaf and twig litter, and in a good year, acorns are dropped so thick that walking on them is much like walking on ball bearings.

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This tree, above,  was the least healthy of the four. Years ago, someone built up a driveway to get to the barn and covered the trunk of this tree about 3 to 4 feet deep. This is a death sentence for such majestic trees. It had already begun to die back when we moved in, so we excavated the soil around the base and built up a dry well with discarded concrete pieces.

The experiment was a success, and even provided a bit of flood control, as you can see. The rain soaked in quickly and left the flare of the trunk open to the air and slowly the tree has regained its health.

I am so pleased to be a steward to such fine trees. Such richness of local wildlife, picturesque modeling and darned good shade in the summer!

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April 4, 2008

The ‘Awww’ factor

Posted in photography tagged , , , , , , , at 4:57 pm by czygyny

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There are few things cuter and more endearing than baby chicks! Perhaps this is why we came home with six little fluff balls, instead of fencing material, when we went to the Tractor Supply Store, yesterday.

Of course it just didn’t stop at the chicks, then came the 25 lb. sack of feed, a waterer and feeder. $29.95 out the door, thank you. I ‘really’ need six more animals to care for! *sigh* 

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These chicks are bantam chicks. They are miniature chickens that can lay blue, green or brown eggs. Tiny little eggs, sort of a 3 to 1 ratio for an omelet. But, these chickens are an amiable, friendly and hardy breed.

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These chicks are ‘straight-run’, which means a 50/50 ratio of male and female. I am hoping for more girls than boys! Too many roosters are trouble, and we have a big black one, already. And, eating them would be too much trouble for such a small meal. Yes, I could kill and eat them, if I had to, but they end up being too much of a pet.

 

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They are temporarily living in a box with a heat-lamp on my kitchen counter. I have had guinea pigs in the bathtub, cows in the swimming pool, and sheep in my car, so I guess it is business as usual for me. (I had a hummingbird in my freezer, once, but that is a story for another day).

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Part of the joy of raising chicks, especially mixed colors like this, is waiting to see how they’ll look when they’re mature. There is no telling what we’ll end up with.

The last time I raised chicks I started with 25 straight-run Aracaunas. They can lay pink, brown, green and blue eggs, too, but full sized. I used to sit on the bales of hay, early in the morning, and sing to my chickens while I fed them. They would sit on my knees and sometimes try to get on my shoulder, but since they ‘drop the goods’ wherever they are, I stopped the ‘shoulder thing’ very quickly! Sadly, only one of those chickens remains, Ol’ Rusty, and the rooster, Victor, son of another hen.

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Now, tell me, don’t lie, don’t you just want to pick those little fuzzy, puffy chicks up in your hands and just cuddle them? You know you want to do it!

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I had one hen from that earlier batch I called ‘Lucille’ and would sing a corny country-western song to her every morning

“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.

Four hungry children and a crop in the field.

I’ve had some sad times, lived through some bad times, but this time your hurtin’ won’t heal.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille!”

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It never failed to make me smile, even if I was sitting there in tears, which I often was at that time. It was during the last awful years of my marriage, when I was weary, frightened and full of anxiety, everything was spiraling out of control. Ah, but that too, is another story for another time. Now, I choose to remember the silly songs with the sun streaming low through the barn door,  the narrow beam of morning light swirled with golden dust motes, chickens milling around my feet, the sweet smell of hay and a hope for tomorrow.

I am quite sure one of my new chickens will be called ‘Lucille’.

I have a silly song to sing to her.

 

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