June 27, 2008

The Firestorm of ’08

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , at 7:42 pm by czygyny

Saturday, June 21, 2008. The year of the firestorm, the year that California burned mightily.

The day started out in a strange way, an early morning thunderstorm, dark, menacing clouds to the west, its skirts a roiling mass of odd updrafts, pokes and pulls of clouds like cotton batting pulled in puckers from above. The grumbling of thunder was echoing in the hills. We were all of uneasy anticipation, knowing that this could end up being a very bad thing.

With desiccated mountains, tinder dry hills and scorching temperatures, summer lightning is a bad omen, indeed. The promise of trouble was not left unfulfilled, trouble visited us and the whole state on that day.

I took a few pictures of the clouds, and then went to my Sabbath fellowship in town. While we sat in worship, the booming came closer, the flashes more intense. Rain and hail began to fall abundantly, the lights flickered. When it came time to leave the storm was overhead. As I made my way home, I drove around chunks of cedar, debarked and laying all over the road, a tree disintegrated by a direct hit!

Looking out over the bruised sky, I could see strike after strike, large, thick, bright bolts, sometimes striking three, four or five times around the same spot. Bolts of lightning came through the outskirts of the clouds, emanating from higher up in the main thunderheads and striking out of seemingly harmless thin clouds.

The storm pounded our area all day, the line of cumulonimbus never moving from their position. Now this was quite odd, because our thunderstorms usually are smaller and on the move, this garrison stood its ground and beat us with a fury.

I finally made it home, fearing the worst. All I could think of was the threat of hail. Hail does quick work of gardens and fruit trees, I’ve watched it in person, a thick dark wall approaches, the first white rocks of plant death bouncing like popcorn, growing in intensity until the roar of it fills the ears and strains the heart as it pummels hours of hard work to a pulp.

Hail! Sure enough it was on the move towards me, lightning striking closer and closer, the countdown going from nine, seven, three-second counts to instantaneous flash and crash. “Please, please let the hail and lightning pass me over!”I prayed, fervently. “Spare my hard work, my beautiful gardens!”
It was so! The hail stopped, the lightning withholding itself until it all passed over to the northeast. I was spared!

But, the fun had just begun. As the clouds passed on, and the evening approached, you could see fires dotted all over the hills and mountains. Rough, rugged, steep terrain, with the grey plumes of smoke rising in the reddening sunset, the evil just beginning. The next day, the fires had spread exponentially, and the news telling us that the state all over was burning.

The smoke has smothered us all week, thick, acrid smoke of a thousand bushes and trees. Ash began falling on the cars and lawn, delicate, intricate ghosts of perfect manzanita leaves that turned to powder at a touch. How could something so ephemeral float some twenty miles away in entirety? The north wind came up yesterday, just enough to reveal the ever encroaching line of fire, and allowing the air tankers the green light to begin casting red Firetrol on the front lines of defense.

At night we can see the fires burning, torches that seemingly float in the night sky, revealing the slope of the mountains, here and there a tree flares up, glowing orange and uplighting the smoke reaching away from the fireline. It is fascinating and frightening all at the same time, a sober reminder of what lies just over the hills.

So far, few homes have been lost, but all it will take is a turn in the wind, a careless cigarette, an inattentive driver to make it all worse. Resources are stretched thin, air attacks can’t be made in zero visibility, people wait in anticipation and anxiety for the evacuation calls.

Let us pray that weather and wind will be a blessing, that homes will be spared, that lives will not be lost and that the firestorm of 2008 becomes a quick if not enduring memory on the collective minds of our communities.


June 12, 2008

Hey, what’s bugging you?

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , , , , at 10:41 pm by czygyny


I know most folks don’t care for the buggy world of insects. Insects are someting to ward off with screened windows, something that keeps a can of Raid under the sink and a can of OFF! close by during the summer as evening approaches. Insects are what we hang the glowing house of death, the bug-zapper for on our back porches to take secret fascination at the gruesome manner of death of a particularly large bug that is having a more difficult time of its bitter demise.

Insects are a monthly visit from the pest control fellow pumping brews so toxic that he wears a spiffy white suit to isolate himself from the exposure. Insects are creepy, crawly pests that ruin picnics and spoil the pantry. And what is it with the six legs, multiple eyes and exoskeleton thing going on?

Well, if you are part of that crowd, it might find this gallery a bit discomfiting, but give it a try…insects are fascinating creatures close-up, their ornamentation and color, from warning hazard yellow/black combos in the venomous wasps to the  baubled and bright color patterned infant katydid to the bee-mimic hoverfly with wings a-whir, flying with the kind of precision that anything man-made can only envy.

Even the wasps are different from each other, some are rusty-red and yellow, but most come in the yellow and black motif, the difference being the size, I show three different ones in these images, and even a tiny black bee dwarfed by its giant cousins. One even has big green eyes.

The little green fella is what I am assuming to be an instar katydid, they go through incomplete metamorphosis so they are small versions of the adults, sometimes with a great difference in ornamentation and color.

The hover-fly is a bit difficult to see in the image, taken as she flies motionless over the creek-bed stones. They are one of my favorite little bugs, they seem the epitome of joyful flight.

The wasp with the green ball in her mouth is a great example of the insect eating capabilities these creatures offer. That is a yummy, chewed up caterpillar in her mandibles. I do my best to make sure nests go undisturbed in areas with low traffic after seeing just how much these little powerhouses hunt! Some hunt infant grasshoppers (before they get large enough to devour your garden), some hunt spiders, others just crickets. They make their brood nests out of paper, out of mud, meticulously gathered dried grass, little circles of leaf cuttings; building them in holes, under eaves, in the ground, some even build minute small necked pots as if a tiny potter had been hard at work.

They nectar on some flowers that butterflies seem uninterested in visiting, like my carrots left gone to seed, and take up the slack in the pollinating game that the bees leave undone, but the greatest reason for keeping them near is their insect control.

I am very seldom stung, always from disturbing a hidden and unknown nest. Otherwise, they fly past me on their ramblings, I stick my camera lens right up on them without distress and they are usually quite tolerant of my presence around their nests.

If this gallery gives you the willies, just wait until I complete a spider gallery. We get some really BIG ones out here in the country, some so large that you can hear them running up the walls!



June 8, 2008

Cactus crazy

Posted in blogging, photography tagged , , , , at 6:26 pm by czygyny

I am an avid collector of cacti, I have hundreds! Some of my favorites are Echinopsis and hybrids of Echinopsis. They have some of the largest flowers around, bright and beautiful, and fleeting. Many of them only last one day! Thankfully, a photo lasts forever. After trying to grow them in pots, I decided to plop some into the dry, gritty soil of my rock garden. Wow, am I glad that I did! The collection that is in the ground (yes, they are quite cold hardy) out-did themselves this spring. I want to share some of these prickly wonders with you. Some of these plants are Schick hybrids from Huntington Botanical Gardens, the largest of the flowers are around 7″ long and can be up to 5″-6″  wide.

Check out the luscious blooms of the Schick hybrids:  http://www.huntington.org/BotanicalDiv/Schick/catalogindex.html