Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Battle for Tomatoes

This is the second summer that cherry tomatoes have self-sown in the packed earth next to the carport.  Surprisingly, they bore more fruit than the store-bought plants in the raised beds.  I built on last year's success by preparing more of a bed for them and adding several loads of compost, a ring of rocks and fencing to keep the chickens out.  In the spring, seedlings again sprouted and the four I kept did splendidly (they are as tall as I am) until the rodent army descended.  After the voles and gophers had destroyed everything else farther from the house, this bed has become the last battleground. It's easier to guard because it's got the concrete pad of the carport on one side plus the back door is glass and looks right to it.  However, the enemy is sneaky and patient...

Voles adore almost-ripe tomatoes.  They scamper up, down and through the plants as they search for the largest fruit -- the same fruit that I've been keeping my own eyes on because I also adore tomatoes.  They also break and bend branches as they fill their bellies.

BV (Before Voles)

AV (After Voles)

Yesterday afternoon when I returned home from visiting Dorothea, the plants looked fine.  When I came back outside a few hours later, the plants had been ravaged -- branches bent down, bare stems where larger tomatoes had been and a scattering of small green ones thrown about the carport.

I stood there and felt the same helplessness and resignation that always comes over me when confronted by this destruction.  Then I noticed fresh digging at an old gopher hole on the edge of the carport and suddenly something in me snapped.  I got a shovel and stuck the hose down that hole and turned on the water.  Then I waited above the hole with the shovel head pointed down.  When that first vole stuck his wet snout out of the water, he never knew what hit him.  Ditto with the second vole that popped up a little farther down.  I have always shied away from killing, but yesterday something shifted inside myself -- I had no squeamishness or hesitation with that shovel.  And I felt absolutely elated afterwards.

This morning there was no vole damage.  Feeling incredibly competent and proud of myself, I went over to congratulate the tomato plants...and discovered the just hatched baby tomato horn worms.

The ones I could find have been picked off and dispatched with my foot.

 I'm curious to see what plague the universe has next in store for my last remnant of a garden.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Frogpond Hits the Big Screen

As promised, here are some pictures of the movie making at Frogpond last Saturday.  They really were a lovely group of people.  They absolutely loved what they were doing and had fun, but were totally focused on their craft.  This movie short is in the dystopian science fictiongenre and  will be shown at a competition in San Francisco this fall.  Although the entire movie is only going to be about twelve minutes long, it took them six hours just to nail down this one scene (I think there are to be three or maybe four scenes in the entire thing).

I wish them great success!

Monday, July 24, 2017


This godawful heat wave that has hit our little section of the planet has now lasted for about a month. Although summer rain here is a rare thing, that doesn't stop me from wishing, longing and praying for a bit of rain to come our way and cool things down.

Yesterday my prayers were answered, as we had our very own tiny (but significant) precipitation event: water was dripping from the light fixture in the hallway.  It appears that the air conditioner fan up in the attic sprung a leak from one of the pipes that drains the condensed water out of the house.  We climbed up there to see if we could fix this ourselves, but can't figure out where the water is coming from.  So a call will go to the nice air conditioner repairman this morning after they open.

In the meantime, I have the lovely sound of rain to brighten my Monday.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

On Location

So after Bruce got home from the landfill this morning, the day took a surreal twist:  Bruce informed me that a small movie crew was showing up to shoot a few scenes for an amateur science fiction short.  Bruce had offered the barn as a location a while back to a coworker who is the producer.  He insists that he had told me that they were coming today, and I believe him -- but he never reminded me once last week.  He didn't even remind me this morning.  He reminded me as we were getting ready to eat lunch that they were coming at three in the afternoon.  I went a tiny bit ballistic.

The stall they wanted to use was the largest one on the end -- the one that the geese sleep and poop in every night.  I've been meaning to clean out the straw for an embarrassingly long time.  Well, now it's been cleaned.  Another thing I haven't done in a very long time is brush down the streamers of cobwebs that festoon the beams, light fixtures and every other surface of the barn.  We were asked to leave all of them, as they wanted the stall to look very old and disused.  Not exactly something to have me glowing with pride, but I will say that the film crew was very excited by the perfect look they conveyed.  So now the cobwebs in my barn have been immortalized and I'm sure the spiders are quite pleased.

Actually, the seven people who showed up to do this are all very nice (they're still outside finishing up)  and I enjoyed watching them at work.  It also did me good to hear the praise they heaped on Frogpond.  I've been so disenchanted by fire, smoke, gophers and weeds that my own eyes have been focused a lot on failure, disappointment, work that hasn't been done and ugliness.  Today was a reality check that Frogpond is an amazing place.  I needed the reminder.

Pictures to come.

Frogpond News

I just waved goodbye to Bruce, the boys, and the two dogs as they set off for the Milton landfill.  The truck bed was filled with trash and they pulled a trailer tightly packed with dry grass and branches.  Every load that leaves makes me a little more easy.

The Detwiler Fire has grown to 75,000 acres and taken 70 homes, but is now 25% contained.  People are being allowed to return to the town of Mariposa and the news is that the firefighters have turned the corner in containing this fire.  Hopefully they will have it completely out in the next two weeks.  Here is a link to a local paper's report on it:


Even though the gopher huge population around here has gone down quite a bit (we manage to kill 15-20 a day), they still are wreaking all sorts of destruction on my plants.  A ten year old scarlet trumpet vine that climbed the fence and a four year old olive tree (that had just begun bearing olives) are the latest casualties.  Gophers also finally discovered my lilies, but at least they were through blooming.  I've decided that when the gophers have been defeated, I won't replant in the areas that are farther from the house.  For some time I've realized that I've given too much time and effort trying to keep the more distant gardens alive.  As long as the trees, roses and vines were doing moderately well, I found it impossible to give up on them, but now that the gophers have had there way I'll pull them up.  If I do replant, it will be with California natives that won't require much care from me once they get established.  With a less spread out growing area, I can then devote myself to more intensively tending plants close to the house.  At least, that's the plan.

Wildfires, gophers, and a heat wave that just goes on and on -- this is certainly not the most pleasant of summers, but I'm doing my best to keep a positive outlook on things.

The last lily to bloom

Plants on the back deck - relatively safe from gophers

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The TimTom Tumbler

Ikea makes awesome cat toys:  not only are they responsible for the most fun wastepaper basket on the planet, but they also put out a carnival-worthy Kitty Tumbler.  The flexible wire sides give it a fine bounce and the orange-red color just makes us happy.

Both kittens are fine acrobats, but TimTom has shown an exceptional talent in the handling of this apparatus.  He's learned how to throw himself against the sides to tip it over.

Once he gets that thing moving, he can erratically bump and lurch it all the way down the hall.

Thank you Ikea.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fire Season

Last Monday the large house that sits across the street and up the hill caught on fire and I didn't even notice.  I came home that afternoon and saw fire trucks, ambulances, and other vehicles in their yard, but there was no fire or damage  that I could see.  I didn't smell smoke, which one would think would linger.  There were a number of people wandering about, some in fire gear, but there was no sense of urgency in the scene.  It had the look of an emergency but not the feel of one.  I called Bruce and described what I saw and he thought it might have been a medical emergency and perhaps extra personnel came along for training.  As we have never met the people in the house, I decided not to go there to find out what had happened.  In retrospect, I'm rather amazed by my appalling lack of curiosity.  Eventually the fire crews and other people got in their trucks and drove away.  The driver of one firetruck saw me in the driveway (I was weeding as I kept an eye on things) and gave me a friendly wave and tootle of his horn as he passed.  

On Friday, when Jonathan and Joseph stopped by, they told us that, yes, there had indeed been a fire at that house.  It had started at noon in their attic but the fire crew had it completely out by the time I got home at four.  The flames had burnt through places in the roof, but on the opposite side of the house from where I was.  When I checked back online, there was information on it, including the fact that a full complement of air and land units was sent due to the extreme dryness of the vegetation and because our residential area backs up to wildland.  One spark, blown on the wind, had the potential to set the entire hillside on fire.  

Which is why when Jonathan and Joseph offered to work for us again, we asked if they could come the very next day to help load and haul away more branches and dead grass.  They did this, and came again today to finish clearing the dry litter and grass from the pad our house sits on.  They'll be back again on Wednesday -- this time to finish clearing dead grass from the sides of our driveway (and also  hunt a few gophers while they're at it).  

The threat of fire is with us every day.  Coming home from shopping yesterday, we reached the highway that leads to our home, and over the hills a thick plume of smoke drifted upwards.  From a distance it was hard to tell where it was coming from, but as we drove closer we determined that it was to the east of us.  Now we know that this fire is about 40 miles away, towards Yosemite and has already consumed over 7,000 acres.  As of the last report, there is zero containment.
The Detwiler Fire from Gopher Ridge

Today, the wind is blowing the smoke west over our hills and my eyes sting.  Every summer seems to be worse than the one before.  I'll admit that I'm becoming tired of this worry that hangs over me.  I dream of rain and greenness... but rain and greenness will come again.  And, lucky us; the reinforcements have  arrived!

Our two young heroes after clearing the hillside today 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fleas and an Unexpected Blessing

Kitten Symmetry 
In KittenWorld, nothing remains the same for long.  They've been spending their nights in the living room, curled in the top level of their cat tree.  This sleeping arrangement suited me just fine.  However, for the past two nights, they've woken from their perch and come pottering in to be with their Mama.  Because I'm a fool for cuteness, I put up with their passionately purring little selves -- one pressed up against my neck and the other deep within the sheets.  My forbearance quickly ended with the stings from the fleas they shared with me.  I carted them back to their cat tree and went back to bed with the bedroom door firmly closed.  I'll be checking with the vet next week to see if they're old enough for a dose of Frontline.

Sparring on the duck raft just before they left for two years

Three years ago we had an unexpected blessing when a family with twin boys moved into a house up the road.  Joseph and Jonathan came knocking on our door one afternoon selling raffle tickets for their high school and looking for odd jobs.  We gave them a try and we were blessed to have them work for us for the next year.  They would take on any job that we pointed them too -- cleaning the chicken coop, weed-eating, raking, loading trash and debris into the trailer, and going with Bruce to the landfill to help him unload.  Their work ethic was amazing -- cheerful, energetic, and competent.  With them, our concern was never about getting them to get the job done but rather that they might overdo it.  Because they had just been accepted into the school's football team they were eager to build up their muscles and we were more than eager to pay them to do this (as long as they stayed safe, hydrated and fed).  Win/win.  They also loved animals and the dogs adored them.  And then, one June day they were gone.  The family moved away and we never knew where they went.  Two years passed.

So last Friday, right after breakfast, the dogs were barking at something and I saw someone walking up the drive towards the house.  I went out to see who it was, and it was Joseph.  Or rather, Joseph the tall young man as opposed to Joseph the lanky boy.  A few minutes later, Jonathan drove up and we got caught up on the news.  The family had gone to a small town about thirty miles away but moved back to their old house a few weeks ago.  They were very happy that they could have their senior year at their old high school and had come by to say hi and to see if we had any work for them.  Oh, miracle of miracles!  Any work for them?????

Yesterday Joseph and Jonathan raked the dry grass from the round pen and loaded up the trailer with grass and brush.  They hauled, cut up and laid oak branches on top of the pile in the trailer.  Then Jonathan took care of a few gophers with the pellet gun.  Bruce, the boys and the dogs all went to the landfill together and I baked oatmeal cookies for everyone.  Even if they weren't helping us, it would have been lovely to see them again to know how they are doing.  I had no expectation that they might be looking for work now that they were older and busy with school and their lives.  But there they were, ready to dig in.  Surrounded as we are by acres of dry weeds, their return is a blessing on many levels.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Every so often I have a strong desire to stroll through an old cemetery, reading headstones .  I enjoy the melancholy.   Generally,  get-togethers that involve standing around,  getting to know strangers makes me anxious.  But in a cemetery it's different.  There, it's safe to get to know folks through learning just the most basic of facts about them: name, dates of birth and death, and birthplace.  Sometimes there's more information than that; sometimes less.  The dead are non-judgmental and have no problem with me pausing for long minutes, studying the few words that summed up their lives.

Oak Grove Cemetery sits atop a hill above the tiny town of Knight's Ferry and dates from the Gold Rush.  I'd been to this one before, but that had been many years ago.  In late June, when the urge to visit a cemetery hit, I invited my friend, Sally, to join me here.

View from the back of the cemetery


We chatted as wandered the paths, reading inscriptions -- it's definitely a more social activity when a friend is along. The morning was heating up and we were getting hungry for lunch as we got towards the far end of the cemetery.

This headstone faces outward towards the rolling hills and this was the first time I'd gone around to read the inscription:

                      Sacred to the Memory of
             the beloved & devoted Wife of
                       CAPT'n THO's DENNIS

Born in London, England in 1805 & departed this Life at
Knights Ferry in 1866.

She died as she lived, peaceably & calmly in a Strange Land
in the arms of a Stranger.  Angels will caress the tears of
those few True Friends (for she had some) that loved her for
her real worth.
{There's also a longish poem on the bottom, but I can't quite read it from my photograph.  I'll go back and get that}

On the back of this stone is another epitaph for her son:

           GEORGE DENNIS
Born in London, England 1831
Died at Knights Ferry 1860

This headstone's two inscriptions, have profoundly affected me and I cannot get them out of my mind.  I was astounded when I read Mary's, and the questions I asked myself then continue to tumble around my head.  Who was the Stranger who held her when she died?  Who were her few True Friends?  What were other people saying about her?  How did her son die?  Why is she at the back of cemetery facing out?  Where is her husband buried?  In short, what is Mary Dennis' story?  She has captured my heart and imagination.

Since that day, I've been on a sort of quest to learn more about this woman who has, in a strange way, become dear to me.        (more to come)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Horrid Kittens

These small kittens of mine -- like the little girl with the curl in the Longfellow nursery rhyme, when they are good, they are very, very good and when they are bad, they are horrid.

Yesterday this mess was waiting for me in the bathroom when I went in to get ready to go to town.  I'd wondered what the kittens were up to as I hadn't seen them in awhile.  It appears that they'd been quite busy.

The sanctimonious look on Arby's face as he checked out my reaction makes me smile every time I look at this picture.  He hopped up on the counter for a good view.

An unrepentant Hecuba wandered in after us and showed off her technique by batting the trash around some more.

Then she climbed back into the waste basket to remove the bits of trash that were still in there.  I think that TimTom might have been behind her (sleeping, perhaps?), because suddenly he appeared and had great fun annoying his sister.

Despite the kittens assistance, I got the garbage back where it belonged without too much difficulty.  Then I finally got ready to go to town.

Now the wastebasket resides on top of the toilet tank where it should be safe for another week or so...if I'm lucky.