Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Approaching Storms

It's the time of year when school is closing in on me from every side.  Frogpond has taken a back seat for the time being as I struggle to keep up with ever-mounting deluge of things that must be done.  I look at the floating frog on the right and tell myself to breathe... and work to remember that all of this will pass!

The good news is that a good-sized couple of storms are bearing down on us and we should have rain by tomorrow.  This is the best news we could have for northern California right now.  The grass in the pastures and on the hillsides is still very sparse, while up in the mountains the snowpack is only at 30% of normal. 

Last weekend, the pond was looking very shrunken indeed.  It would take a good number of strong March rains to fill it at this point, but it's happened before. 

I'm looking forward to hearing rain against the windows tonight.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Springtime Sneaking In Early


Willow Catkins
Captain Jack struttin' his stuff (and being ignored)

The weather remained warm and dry every day last week.  The Frogpond plants and animals have all begun yelling, "Springtime!" Yesterday a cold wind came up and there is a good chance of a storm or two coming our way.  Let there be a deluge! (although I'll settle for a moderate pitter-pat)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Willows and Sandhill Cranes

The lost camera has been found -- it's been riding around in the back of my car for the past week.  Who knew?  Oh, I'm just glad it's back and I don't have to trot around the place looking for it anymore.

Yesterday was spent clearing the willow thickets alongside the water canal that runs from our solar  well to the pond.  I planted these willows from naked little sticks that I stuck in the mud five years ago.  They have, to put it mildly, thrived mightily.  Now we've got willows popping up all over the area, throwing shoots everywhere and sending roots to clog the water outlet and drainpipe to the pond.  It's a struggle to keep up with their rampant growth, but the birds love these thickets and it's a tiny, but very welcome, microclimate of cool green in the heat of our scorching Copperopolis summers. 

It's amazing how many willow branches can be pruned from such a small area.  I was at it pretty much all day long -- and still didn't finish.

It was a good day though -- it felt wonderful to be outside working. Arby, the dear boy, was right there, helping.

But the absolute, very best part was the intermittent passing of the northward migrating Sandhill Cranes overhead.  From time to time, all through the day, I'd hear their musical gargling calls from overhead as I worked.  I'd stop and scan the skies and would eventually spot the flock, ever so tiny in the sky.  They look like this...

Today I read up on them.  I was amazed to learn that our birds, the Greater Sandhill Crane, stand at 5 feet tall.  These birds that look so small in the air are almost as tall as I am.  

Close up, they look like this:

 This picture is obviously one that I "borrowed" from the net.  All I've ever seen of them is the lovely wavering lines they form as they pass over our place. 

But the part that brings tears to my eyes is their calling, calling, calling to each other as they fly. 

They mate for life. 


I think that my lost camera is down in Stockton.  Somewhere.  After days of searching the property, expecting at any moment to see it swinging by its little strap from a fencepost or tree limb, it suddenly hit me that I brought it with me last Tuesday when I had lunch with daughter Liz.  I'm almost certain I  left it on the chair next to me at the Korean restaurant we ate at.  If this is the case, I'm hopeful that someone turned it in -- I have great faith in diners of kim chee.  Even if the camera is gone for good (and I really liked the little thing), it's a relief to know that I can finally stop looking for it.  We'll call the restaurant after opening hours today.

Sniff.  As Bruce says, this is why we can't have nice things.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Day Away From Frogpond

I followed my plan and dutifully drove down the hill to my classroom for a stint of cleaning, organizing and redoing bulletin boards.  Four hours later I called it a day and, after a brief detour to get the oil in the car changed, got back to Frogpond by late afternoon. 

Tomorrow I hope to be home all day long.  I still have all of my report cards to fill out, but, nonetheless, intend to spend a lot of my day outside.  Somehow the schoolwork always manages to get done, so I'm not overly worried.

Tonight, when Bruce got home, he took another picture of the moon -- this time setting and waning.

Such a lovely smile!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tree Planting and the Frogarazzi

The last two days have been tree planting days.  We bought 5 small blue oak seedlings and 3 even smaller grey pine seedlings at a Bay Area nursery last Saturday.  Our getting them all in the ground this quickly is moving at warp speed. 

Originally, the pond had no trees at all around it except for some small cottonwoods and willows on the dam and a single buckbrush on the far side.  The shoreline, mostly shale with very little topsoil,  bakes in the summer heat.  Over the years, we've gradually incorporated compost and planted pines, cedar, live and blue oaks, starting closest to the house and working down the road that leads to the upper pad.  For roughly every five plantings, four don't make it.  With that sort of success rate, I try not to get too attached to my baby trees.  Still... if we can keep a tree going through its first three years, it's usually a survivor.  Some of the trees are now 20 feet tall and their shade and leaf litter have transformed the areas around them -- where there was nothing but scraped rock, we now have a developing ecosystem complete with bugs, toads, birds, and squirrels.  This is a very slow process, but one of the most satisfying projects we've undertaken at Frogpond.

Last winter we planted three rather large blue oaks along the road by the pond in a section where there were no trees at all.  We worked hard all summer to keep them alive.  I planted native wildflowers around them and these grew tall and shaded the roots of the trees.  Nice when simple solutions work.

We bought the newest seedlings to fill in the bare areas between these three oaks.

So this is me going down to do some serious planting.  Note the fortifying glass of wine in my hand and the excited duck in the background -- no doubt yelling, "Drunkard!  Inebriate!" Nothing like getting lectured at by a duck. 

The trudge from the pond to the house is long, so I decided it would be a good idea to save time and bring down the whole bottle.  I wouldn't be mentioning this if said bottle wasn't in such a prominent position in the following pictures.  But there it is. 

 Actually planting the trees is relatively easy -- it's the deciding where to place them that's the agonizing part.  I typically spend many minutes staring at various configurations of the tiny sticks in pots, trying to envision them as tall, mature trees. 

 Occasionally my mind wandered...

I do appear to be intently regarding that bottle of wine, don't I?  Here we have it, direct from the telephoto lens on Bruce's camera (he was standing on the porch of the house):  me, longingly staring at the bottle, apparently trying to envision its contents in my glass. 

Far be it for me to cast stones, but someone is turning into the equivalent of a sort of Frogpond paparazzi.  Frogarazzi?

Never mind -- I stand (literally) by my bottle of wine.  All five oaks were planted yesterday and the three tiny pines today. 

In fifteen years these little guys will be forces to be reckoned with -- helped along by a woman with a shovel and her bottle of Chardonnay.  Cheers!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Bed Cat

The boy...

Well, it's official -- Max has graduated to being a bed cat.  It's taken two months for him to get there, and Mulligan will probably still kick his butt if ever she catches him, but he's definitely arrived.

...has his act together

I came in later in the afternoon to find Arby, Max, and Bruce all napping on the bed --  Bruce sprawled in the middle like the Great Barrier Reef; one cat stretched out on either side of him.  Alas, no picture (don't think the cats would have minded, but Bruce would not have been amused).  Pretty cute!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

First Day of Break

This evening's sunset

I'm zapped.  This whole past week was completely taken over by our school's science fair.  Today was the first day of my week-long February break and I did...pretty much nothing.  Just lounged around the house drinking tea, doing crossword puzzles, cuddling the cats, catching up on blog reading and napping.  I did place an order for some weaving yarn -- but, if it had somehow miraculously arrived today, I don't think I'd have the pep to even open the box, much less begin a project.  When it gets like this, it takes a few days to get my other, non-teacher self back into the picture.  Thank God for next week's break.

Last week's unchronicled Frogpond highlights included the following:

The hens have begun laying again and are now going full-bore.  We're back to 8-10 large golden-yolked eggs a day.  Praise chickens!

Sending out the three Muscovies to be processed proved to be a wise choice.  It only took about 45 minutes for the ducks to be slaughtered, plucked, cleaned and handed back to Bruce.  Of the three, Mama got one, we put one in the freezer and the last became roast duck and then duck soup.

A bird coming back looking like this...

...was transformed into this.  The second time around, our roast duck came out more tender than our first attempt.  However, the best dish came from the pot of duck vegetable soup that I prepared the next day from the remains of this roast.  I made it exactly like I would a chicken soup, but the flavor of the duck was much richer and more flavorful.  Seasoned with herbs from the garden and with egg drop dumplings, it developed into a fabulous soup

To my great relief, I'm over almost all of my uncomfortable feelings about eating an animal I've cared for.  Logic finally won over emotion (nothing like developing a little Vulcan fortitude).  The fact that the duck tasted so delicious no doubt helped with this.  So maybe it was that gluttony finally won out over squeamishness.  However it may have happened, a milestone has been passed. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Science Fair

Such a week: our school's Science Fair is officially behind us.  This is only my second time doing this, so I'm still making all sorts of mistakes as I learn the ropes.  But sixty-one projects were checked in, judged, placed and displayed.  Quite a large crowd of students and parents came last night to see the projects and check out the ribbon placings and eat pizza.  It went well. When the blue double doors of the multi-purpose room opened, an eager throng surged in.  That was great (and surprisingly gratifying)! 

Not only did Bruce get together the judging spreadsheets, but he also came to photograph the event.  I'd wander through the crowd of parents and students, stopping to chat or look at a project -- and then I'd look up and spot Bruce's cap bobbing in the distance as he took pictures from several tables away.  Such a comfort to have him close by!  I want so earnestly for every little thing to go well that I have to get myself back to calmness and perspective.  Last night, Bruce's presence helped immeasurably with that. 

No school next week for February break.  Although I'll be filling out report cards, sorting out my classroom and lesson planning, I'm over the moon to have seven days to do things at my own pace.  And I get to spend time at home.  Joy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Science Fair Week

I run our school's annual Science Fair and this is the week that all the projects came in.  Last year was my first year doing this, so I sort of got my feet wet.  This year, though, our school has doubled in size (this isn't as dramatic as it sounds -- we went from one teacher per grade level to two) and I discovered that this took a lot more planning and work.  Judges, volunteer parents, putting the scores on a spreadsheet (Bruce is my hero!), rejudging projects with point discrepancies, signs, ribbons...and back to the beginning again to fix up everything that went askew the first time. 

Tonight is our actual Science Fair.  No blogging until this thing is behind me. And off I go!

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Little More Rain

Today it rained.  For places where the rain falls regularly and sometimes, perhaps, inconveniently, this may not seem something to be trumpeting to the heavens.  But trumpeting I am!  Because rain is so cherished and needed in this dry, dry place where the summers are scorching and everything suffers from drought.  This evening I heard on NPR that this is the driest winter we've had since they began keeping records in the 1940's.  That's dry.  When we have a dry winter, the water table lowers and by July our well cycles off because the water isn't there.  I've been worried that this coming summer might be a bad one -- I'm still concerned, but have the hope that a rainy pattern might develop before summer arrives. 

This morning, while my students were writing in their journals, I played some Native American rain dance drum music.  I wondered if this might help the rain come down.  The children thought that it would.  I think that they might have been right.  Rain it did!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Little Bit of ...Tuscany?

Walk up our road that passes the pond and goes up to the flattened little hill on the other side and you will see...

No, not this.  That's Tuscany.

     ...Nor this.  Tuscany too.

Nope, not this.  More Tuscany.

                                                                                 Or this.   Yep -- Tuscany  again.

This is what you will see if you peer (with a good set of binoculars) to the north from our hill:  pure Calaveras County, California (with a bit of Tuscany thrown in for good measure!). 

Worries of the World

Frogpond Chronicles has been the vehicle I hoped it would be as a means to bring me back to the "now" on a daily basis.  It's a perfect medium for refocusing negative thoughts -- from inward fretting where I'm stuck worrying about the past and future, to stepping back into the present and actually experiencing it.  That said...

Lately it's been more and more of a struggle to stay positive and in the moment. Centered.  When I turn on NPR on the way home from work and hear in my little car the snap of gunshots and explosions in Syria, all that staying positive and in the moment becomes supremely Pollyanna-ish.  The news from the wide world is bleak. And, on a national level, listening to the pronouncements coming from the Republican candidates is, frankly, terrifying.   From closer to home, our school district is suffering more than ever from economic cuts.  Last week, the talk was of six to eight teachers being laid off this spring.  As of yesterday, the official number jumped up to eighteen -- maybe twenty.  It's also out there that we'll be asked to take a 6% pay cut (along with our current 7 day furlough).  For me, this is only a belt-tightening hardship, as I have a spouse who has a job where his salary is not going down from year to year.  For others, where teaching is their only source of income, a pay reduction like this means losing their house (And this is for teachers who still are fortunate enough to have jobs.  There's irony for you).  Bringing things down to even a more personal level, one of the teachers almost certain to be pink-slipped is going in to have her chest scanned next week for a possible recurrence of cancer.  It's very, very probably just a benign little tumor, but...  And right there in that long line with all the great, truly earth-shaking troubles that occupy my mind and weigh down my heart -- yesterday Bruce brought three of our drakes down to a poultry processing plant.  They left in a wire cage and came back in an ice chest.  

War.  Cancer.  Unemployment. Death. Penny-pinching. Politics. Betrayal.  And yes, Ducks. Yesterday afternoon as I drove home from school (on a Friday, with the whole weekend before me, for pity's sake),  all of this was tumbling around in my mind in no particular order.  When I get going, ducks are right up there with Republicans and cancer with Syria.  I'm an equal-opportunity worrier.  Everything, great and small, just whirls together as my heart grows sadder.

So.  When I got home, what was waiting for me?  Bruce down by the pond building a small bonfire on which to cook hotdogs for our dinner.  He'd packed down the hill everything needed for the meal:  condiments, potato salad, plates, napkins and a bottle of beer for him and wine for me and a bag of marshmallows for desert.  He'd even prepared willow sticks on which to skewer the hotdogs.  This was a completely unexpected and delightful turn of events.  I went back up to the house to change my clothes, and found a bouquet of pink roses on the cabinet in the bedroom.  I fed the cats, got my camera and brought down chairs and a flashlight (Bruce couldn't be expected to remember everything!).  And then, as the sky grew darker and the stars came out, we settled down to an evening in front of a glowing fire. 

An evening of conversation, simple food, and just gazing into the warmth of the flames.  Ecstatic dogs snapped down pieces of hotdog, Bruce pointed out constellations, and we laughed to hear the screetches of the resident barn owls.  I was brought back to the moment.  Love is amazing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moon Max


o(rounD) moon,how
than roUnd)float;
lly &(rOunder than)
:ldenly( Round

                                                                                                    -- ee cummings

I've loved this curious little ee cummings poem ever since my college days. I like the way it looks on the page and the way it sounds when it's spoken.  It comes to me whenever I contemplate a particularly lovely full moon. 

Tonight, as I drove home from a late evening meeting in Stockton, such a moon rose in front of me.  It was so huge and glorious that I had to call Bruce and tell him about it.  I told him that it was the color of Max.  Bruce was suitably inspired to immediately pack up his camera and high-tail it up the hill to take its picture.

  So now I think that every time I admire a particularly lovely full moon, I'll not only think of this ee cummings poem, but also of Max, who is the color of the moon.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Meet our state bird, The California Quail.  They do their best to be inconspicuous -- around here, getting noticed tends to get you eaten.  So the quail do a great job of blending in, becoming one with the scenery. 

Despite their wallflower tendencies, they can also be a noisy bunch when the mood strikes them, and their calls of "pit-pit-pit-pit-pit!" and a strident, "Chi-ca-go!" (some hear this as, "Where-are-you?")  echo throughout  the hills.

Accidentally flushing out a covey of 20-30 of them will certainly wake you up as they explode with a whirring of wings from the tree they were hiding in (this is even more exciting if you're on a horse that didn't want to be there in the first place).  But most of the time they're discretly melded into their surroundings, just hanging out, doing their brown, dappled quail thing.

Enter Bruce with his camera and brand new 300 mm lens.  And, snap, just like that, our little quail morphs into an elegant Jackie O, sheathed in a classic color pallet of gray, chestnut, and cream, with just a touch of black.

Sigh.  I never could resist a bird in a jaunty hat.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

150 Tons of Gravel Later...

Graveling the driveway is officially finished.  It's gone from  this:

To this:

It's been quite the process, getting this project completed.  Amazingly, aside from the drivers of the gravel trucks, one young man did all the work. 

 Naturally, there was the usual nosey supervision from the Frogpond Crew.  But our young man took it all in stride.                                          


 In the afternoon, after all the gravel work was done and things had quieted down, Bruce went down to the well to clean the filter in the water tank.  The dogs, Arby and I , eager to continue our supervisory duties, joined him.  He didn't actually say so, but I'm sure he was immensely grateful to have us there to keep him on track.  What can I say?  We're glad to help.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Driveway Work Commences

A man and tractor (more exactly, per Bruce, Caterpillar Compact Track Loader) arrived unexpectedly yesterday to begin laying the new gravel for our driveway.  Luckily Bruce was working from home that day -- if he hadn't, both man and tractor would have been at the foot of a long drive, staring at a locked gate.  As it was, the gate was open and Bruce was able to welcome both with open arms (so to speak).
Man and machine got to work immediately, grading the drive and reaming out the ditch that runs alongside it.  Bruce sent me this picture:

Today Bruce couldn't be here, but the driveway work continued.  All the old gravel and dirt was piled into a six-foot mountain by the compost heap.  Then several loads of new black gravel were hauled in and spread up top where the drive circles in front of the house and garage.  Tomorrow more gravel is coming and, after it's been graded and smoothed, a compacter will mash everything down.  By the end of Friday, the job should be finished.

It's not even all here yet and I'm freaking out -- it's a lot of gravel.  I'm at that point where everything looks so ripped apart and different that I'm worried that we made a mistake having this done.  Shh -- don't tell Bruce I said that!