Wednesday, April 22, 2015


The days have gotten a little cooler; from the low 80's, down to the low 70's with a hazy cloud-cover.  That ten degrees makes a difference, especially since the strong winds of last week have also died down, which is a blessing.  These iris came into bloom a few days ago and they are holding up beautifully in the balmy weather.  Their colors are so unusual -- a warm yellow shading to a smokey purple-brown.  They have that strong, grapey fragrance that is so delicious.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Hose

Friday afternoon I got home early and discovered that the same idiot who'd left the hose running less than two weeks ago (me) had done it again.  I wanted to beat my head on the wall.  This time I'd managed to empty out the tank by the well completely;  when I turned on the kitchen tap, nothing came out but a hiss of air.  I was furious with myself for being so forgetful about the one thing I'm thinking about, dreaming of, and longing for at all hours of the day and night -- water.

I called Bruce at work and asked him how much he loved me.  He said, "A lot," which was reassuring, so I told him that I'd left the hose on...again.  He was very nice about not calling me a careless nitwit and promised that he wouldn't hold my second lapse of memory against me.  I appreciated that very much.  He then gave a refresher on how to reset the pump.  Patient man.  I flicked the circuit breakers in the garage like he instructed and then there wasn't much left to do but silently berate myself for wasting water and wait for the tank to refill.

I've gotten into the habit of walking every chance I get now that I'm wearing a Fitbit to track my steps.  Since I couldn't water the garden because there wasn't any water, I began walking around the living room and then on down the hall.  I was looking so intently at the Fitbit app on my phone to check my steps that my bare foot almost came down on what looked like a length of striped hose stretched across the wooden floor.  It took only another second to realize that the hose was a snake (in my defense, hoses were very much on my mind at that moment).  A fat, striped, two-foot long garter snake, to be exact.  I managed to rock backwards onto my other foot and hop backwards, which was a pretty fancy maneuver for a 60 year-old woman.  I'll admit that I may have also shrieked just a tiny bit.  More than once.  The snake was unimpressed and immobile.

Once I'd regained some composure, I caught the snake using the dishtowel method:  gingerly drop one over the snake,  wrap the coils in the folds of cloth and then scoop the entire bundle up.  When this technique works, it's a great way to catch a snake.  When it doesn't work, one is left holding an empty dishtowel and there is a snake sliding off somewhere.  Fortunately, the snake was so still that I got it gathered into the towel very easily.  I even was able to hold it in one hand and the camera in the other so I could take its picture.

The dishtowel-wrapped snake and I then took a walk down to the small canal that feeds into our pond.  I set the draped snake near the water and (Abracadabra!) lifted off the towel to reveal my coiled up friend.

The snake was now lying on its back and still not moving.  It actually looked rather dead, but I could see its sides heaving.

I sat down on the dirt and grass about four feet away and watched.  The snake remained where it was, so I began pulling a few weeds that were within reach.

When I looked up, the snake was as still as before, but it had turned part of itself right-side-up when I wasn't looking.

I weeded a few more minutes, and when I looked up the next time, about half of its stripy upper side was showing.  Again, the snake was completely still.  I figured out that it was watching me and only moving when I was busy with something else.  Clever guy.

When I looked up the last time, it was gone.  It was as though there had never been a snake at all.  Poof.

I'm certain that he slithered under the slab of rock that is our bridge over the canal.  It's a good place for a water snake to live and I hope he does well.  Perhaps my adventure with this hose-like water snake that that showed up in the house with such impeccable timing will serve to remind me to always TURN OFF THE WATER.  We can only hope.

Oh, and when I got back to the house, the tank had refilled and we had water again.  So I went outside and did a bit of watering.  I turned off the faucet when I was done.

I do like a story with a happy ending.

Friday, April 17, 2015


The flower beds in front of the house are a hodge-
podge of whatever survives and looks halfway decent.  The cast of characters frequently changes, but a few spunky regulars such as wild mint, Siberian iris and chrysanthemums tenaciously hang on season after season.  I fill in the gaps with seeds or plants from the nursery -- most die, but some thrive.

These foxgloves are from six-packs of plants I bought and put in about six years ago.  Originally the flowers were in all the pastel shades that hybrid foxgloves come in, but they have long since reseeded and reverted back to humble purple-pink.  I'm fine with that, because I love this petal color and their white and maroon-spotted throats.

Wind, sun, chickens, gophers, bugs ... it amazes me that a plant that looks so delicate can withstand everything that Frogpond throws at it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


The last few days have been sunny, but with chilly winds gusting.  The grass on the hills is seeding up and turning yellow and the wildflowers are quickly closing up shop.  So it was a pleasant surprise when this peony (aptly named 'Sarah Bernhardt' ) burst open in all its fragrant pinkness.  It will most likely be past its prime and fading by tomorrow, so I'm busily appreciating it today.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


This has been the briefest spring we've ever had.  Even with last week's rain, the hills are already yellowing as they go dry.  Our daffodils and tulips came and were gone within two weeks and the lilacs and forsythia are almost finished.  Even natives like California poppy and bush lupine are stunted and struggling.

And from the barely one-fourth filled pond, there is absolute silence.  Normally at this time of year the bullfrogs are croaking up a racket as they lay claim to their territory.  Back in January and February, I heard and saw frogs in both the seasonal creek and the pond, but now there is no trace of them.  They have vanished -- a sad mystery.

So I was delighted when I walked down to the edge of the pond and my eye was caught by swarms of small, fat shapes wriggling away.  Hundreds of tadpoles have hatched (the January frogs must have been busy) and seem to be doing quite well.

So even when the weather's totally wacked out and it seems like more is dying than surviving, there is evidence of just how tenacious life is.

It gives one hope.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Queen

Yesterday was a day of memories.  Seal left us in the morning and Bruce and I looked back on the fourteen years she'd been a part of our lives.  In the afternoon, the tree guys showed up -- a crew of three, along with two trucks, a huge wood chipper, power saws, and loud music.  They had come to work on our massive gray pine that stands on the upper pad.  Fourteen years ago, Bruce and I were married under this tree, who we had named "The Queen".  Gray pines are rather short-lived trees (60 years is about the average), but The Queen is estimated to be well over 100.  These pines usually bite the dust by literally biting the dust; one day their roots give out and they just keel over.

The Queen, over the past few years, has been doing the Leaning Tower of Pisa thing.  The tilt was gradual at first, but now she was so far over that her lower branches blocked the path and the ends of largest one was resting on the crown of an unhappy oak.  Our options were to do nothing and wait for her to topple over on her own, have her taken down before she fell, or try to keep her going a little longer by ridding her of the weight of the branches that were pulling her down.  We know that she's old and already past her prime, but we opted for the tree surgery to see if we could keep her a little while longer (I sense a pattern here).

From this side, she actually doesn't look too bad...

This angle shows her struggle with gravity

The unwilling oak that's being used as a branch-rest

I believe that the young man who swung up into this tree is part California gray squirrel.

The similarities between the two were striking.  Give the squirrel an orange helmet and a chainsaw, and they could be brothers.  Oh, and lose the tail.

(The squirrel pix were taken several months ago -- the little guy lives in the pines surrounding our house)

Here the tree trimming is almost complete.  The little oak to the right lost a branch in the process, but it no longer has the pine branch pressing down on it.

Bruce and I took an evening walk up to the pad to see how The Queen was doing.  She looked splendid against the sunset.  There's no telling how much time we bought her by the tree surgery, but we did what we could to help her out.

And that's all one can do.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Goodby, Sweet Seal

Seal and Murphy playing a last (very gentle) game of keep-away with the kong yesterday afternoon.

Today we let Seal go free.  After a week of pills and special canned and dried food, all to help her failing kidneys,  she'd gradually stopped eating entirely.  She didn't seem to mind not eating -- it was as though she had no need for food anymore.  She remained cheerful and she kept her tail wagging, but being sick was taking its toll -- she was losing more weight and spending most of her time asleep.  When I spoke with Dr. Mike this morning, he agreed that it was time.  An hour later, I sat on soft blankets on the floor with her in the clinic.  She lay against me as the vet gave her the injection.  Her passing was quick and easy -- she was gone in moment.

My heart is heavy tonight, but I'm grateful to have had her lovely doggy self as my friend for the past fourteen years.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April Storm

What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday morning, I took this shot of Corny standing in the shade, thinking deep thoughts.  The grass in the pasture is already going yellow from the heat and dismal lack of water.

This morning a decent-sized storm rolled in and we're being blessed with a day of rain.  It's not enough to change the big picture of severe drought, but the short term effect will be to prolong our springtime by a week or so.  At this point, I'm grateful for any sort of reprieve.

One of the things I wanted to do over my break this week is make strawberry jam.  Yesterday I finally believed that this storm was actually going to materialize, so I drove down into the Valley to our favorite fruit stand to buy a flat of strawberries.  Rain damages the ripening fruit, so it made sense to get them before the storm came.

I hauled in the canner and spent the afternoon hulling, mashing, stirring and ladling strawberries.  Some people might say that this seems like an awful lot of effort for something that can be bought from the shelf of any market.  But those poor, ignorant souls couldn't have had jam made from field-grown, just-picked strawberries.

I'm glad I did this yesterday, because today's storm started gently enough, but ended with torrents of rain, flashes of lightning, booming of thunder, flickering of lights and a deluge of pea-sized hail.  I loved every minute of it.

Nothing ever by halves around here.

Oh, and in the midst of all of this, Raleigh, the farrier, arrived to trim Corny's hooves.  We got caught up on all the news while she rasped away and the rain pounded on the metal roof.  Corny doesn't even have to have a lead rope on anymore when she does his feet.  He just stands there and does as he's told -- such a good boy.  I gave Raleigh a jar of jam and a carton of eggs as she left.

Very glad for this storm, but I hope that the strawberry field wasn't hit too hard.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Our Easter Table

After almost a month of very warm days and no rain, today arrived with gray clouds and a few sprinkles to settle the dust.  This is what the weather is supposed to be like in April.

Mama and Ian came up and we lunched on Salade Nicoise (made by Mama), steamed asparagus with homemade Dijon mayonnaise (me), deviled eggs (me again) and fresh strawberry shortcake for desert.  A perfect spring feast.

I have next week off from school.  This break is most welcome -- I'm looking forward to spending it staying home and seeing a lot less of humanity.  A little peace and quiet for the soul.

Speaking of souls, our dear elder dog, Seal, visited the vet last week and the news is that she's losing weight because her kidneys are failing.  There isn't anything that can be done to reverse the damage, but we can try to keep her going by managing her diet.  On Friday we'd decided it was time to put her down because she's gone downhill so quickly and we don't want her to suffer.  But the last couple of days she's seemed happier and Bruce is thinking that maybe she wants to stay with us a little while longer.  So I think we'll be canceling tomorrow's vet appointment.  Loving animals is simple but complicated.

Seal has never been an in-your-lap affectionate sort of dog.  She clearly loves us, but in a sweetly reserved way.  Very British, one might say.

So yesterday I was surprised when she walked up to me gently wagging her tail as I sat on the porch step drinking tea.  I was even more surprised when she stiffly settled her front half onto my lap.  We enjoyed the sun together and Murphy joined us (he was a little jealous, I think).  Maybe she was saying goodby.  Or was she showing me that she still enjoys life.

Complicated.  But we'll figure it out.