Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Path of the Padres, Part I

With my first year of retirement almost complete, I continue to savor this new gift of time that has fallen like a ripe plum into my lap.  I'm delighted by this luxury to be able to turn my attention to things other than all the teacher-related duties that encompassed most of my waking and sleeping life.    For instance, this year when February hit, instead of planning for the annual classroom Valentine's Day party, I was able to shift gears and plan for a valentine for my own Valentine -- my dear husband.
I made March 25th reservations for a boat ride and hike at Los Banos Creek Reservoir.  This hike is called "The Path of the Padres" because this is an area where Franciscan missionaries traveled over a century ago.  The wildflowers are supposed to be spectacular this year and the coordinator I spoke with assured me that there would be time given for photography and wildlife watching.  A perfect fit for Bruce.

But then came the on-again/off-again rains of the week before the big day.  When Friday came, I took no chances and called again to make sure that the hike was still on for the following day.  The woman who took my call wasn't sure, but assured me that all participants would be notified if it was cancelled.  We heard nothing, so the next morning left the house at dawn with lunches, backpacks, rain gear, photography equipment and anything else we thought we might need.

"Today's hike's been cancelled," the young man at the ranger kiosk told us when we arrived.  He went on to tell us that we could reschedule next week when the main office was open.  I had had a suspicion all along that this might happen, so wasn't terribly surprised.  But still.

Since we'd driven two hours to get there, we decided to take a look at the reservoir and perhaps take in something else that was in or near the park.  This proved to be more difficult for me to deal with than the cancellation of the planned trip because we spent the rest of the morning fruitlessly driving to the various places that the ranger had recommended.  No place managed to be good enough.

Our first pick was a long, looped trail through the hills.  When we arrived at the trailhead parking lot, there was only one other car.  However, within minutes, a long stream of cars holding a happy church group. They were very nice and even invited us to join them...

The next place we visited was the reservoir itself.  This initially looked promising, but there was nowhere to go other than the parking lot.  So we drank in the scenery (very ethereal and lovely), took pictures and left.

We then drove to another part of the reservoir where a ranger told us there was a walking trail along the shore.  This turned out to be true, but there was the matter of, once again, too many other people, along with power poles, solar panel farms, and encroaching civilization on all sides.  We stayed for a bit and tried to make the best of it, but it was no use.

I'll admit that as the day wore on, I had to work harder and harder not to succumb to a massive attack of the sulks.  Bruce, bless his sweet heart, was game to keep on trying but I was very much over this excursion and just wanted to go home.  I think that Bruce realized I'd hit the end my rope and we'd just decided to head back when we saw the sign for San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  We drove past that first turn-off where the sign was and didn't have the energy or will to turn around.  So we kept going.  But then, there was a second sign that said "Auto Tour Route and Nature Trails" and this time we turned in.                                                              

 And, just like that and almost by accident, we found that elusive "somewhere" that we'd been hoping to find.  The rutted road snaked through green and watery wetlands and birds were everywhere, both in flight and on the water.

I look at these pictures and realize that not a single duck, ibis, blackbird, or even pelican is to be seen.  My trusty little point-and-click camera has it's limitations -- the landscape is devoid of any birds and there is no sense of the whistling of the dozens (hundreds?) of blackbirds all singing and calling out at the same time.
However, Bruce got quick shots of some of the waterfowl among the reeds and the birds flying all around us.

My own spirits were so lifted by all of this beauty, that not even this sign at the end of the road could diminish my happiness:

Yes, the walking trail at the end of the road was closed.  Never mind -- just another reason to go back.

The bunny at the end of the road

And, we will be back.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Until very recently, I had never tasted a turnip and had never given much thought to them one way or the other.  But last October I noticed their pictures in the John Scheepers Kitchen Garden seed catalogue and had to have them.  I decided that they would be an interesting experiment for the winter garden and two packets were ordered (Le Moulin Rouge and White Lady) plus one packet of parsnips.  

I planted seven rows in a raised bed by the house and pretty much left them alone for the next two and a half months. By February, I had turnips and parsnips in the rows and (thanks to our generous rains) a jungle of weeds and poppies everywhere else.  I pulled some of the weeds, left some of the poppies and thinned some of the turnips and parsnips.  Then it rained some more and I left the entire bed alone for the rest of the month.

A few days ago I noticed that I could see the white and red shoulders of the turnips sticking up beneath their foliage.  I pulled some up and am thrilled that they look exactly like the picture on the seed packet.

This attitude of amazement is in large part because most of my plantings wind up looking like nothing at all, thanks to gophers, chickens, insects, lack of water, weeding mistakes and big feet stepping in the wrong place. 

Even after over four decades of gardening, the miracle of seeds still amazes me.   

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bluebird Houses

One of the great gifts of retirement is this new ability to tend to, complete or even officially abandon the numerous projects that I've taken on over the years.  If my life were to be told through what I started but never complete, it would be a long and sorry litany of abandoned enthusiasms and neglected duties.  The physical evidence of this surrounds me on a daily basis:  the button waiting to be sewn;  a saddle gathering dust on the stand while the horse loafs and gets fat in the pasture; cones of yarn piled on the table by an empty loom; tubs of jumbled photographs, journals and letters stacked in the garage (not sure what I'll ever to with them -- I don't seem to have any desire to ever look at them again, yet can't bear to throw them away.  And what if -- despite the overwhelming reality check of cold logic -- I were to become famous?  My diary as a sixteen-year-old angst-ridden teenage girl would be lost for the ages); a cheesemaking press in an upper cabinet that hasn't squeezed a cheese in years;  an embarrassing, ever-growing stack of books that I bought but never read; the forlorn seed packets stowed in a tin on the gardening table, years past their printed expiration date.  The list is endless and fills me with despair.  I want to take a nap.

The napping is a fact of life, however, I'm also taking on, one-by-one, the tasks that surround me.  To be honest, when I first retired, I generously gave myself a full year to get my life completely in order -- organized and humming.  With only three months left, I now admit how unrealistic this timeline was.  So I've adjusted it accordingly:  I now have until my last day on this earth to complete everything (or not).  And then I'll take a nap.  A very long one.

Now that I've given myself additional time, I'm galvanized by a new energy.  Which brings me to bluebirds.  Twelve years ago,  I found out about something called The California Bluebird Recovery Project, an effort to reestablish Western Bluebirds into their habitats by providing boxes for them to nest in.  It involved not only mounting the boxes, but monitoring them as well (numbers of eggs, hatchlings, problems with predators/natural disasters and diseases) and then reporting the results.  The citizen-scientist in me was enchanted with this project and I set up a bluebird trail of 17 boxes on our property and, for good measure, put up an additional 20 on the acreage of a nearby defunct goldmine.  I kept this project going well for two years.  The third year, I began to slip and by the fourth,  I gave up and let it all go entirely.  I never removed the nest boxes, so have spent a lot of years taking my walks around the property, trying not to look at the moldering, broken, falling-apart evidence of yet another project left by the wayside.

So last weekend, I shook myself awake and Bruce and I (plus the usual assortment of dogs and cats) worked to change that.  We gathered up all of the nest boxes and began putting up new ones.  Any project is more fun with Bruce and we all had a rollicking good time out in the springtime green and sunshine.

This time around,  I'm keeping things small and we're limiting it to four boxes which I'm not even going to officially monitor.  We'll see how this year goes -- perhaps next year we'll do more. However, even if I don't, this more modest endeavor leaves me feeling satisfied.

I'm good with this new perspective.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Synchronized Snoozing

Uncle Murphy and his little nephew, Chance, snoozing (isn't "snoozing" a great word?  Say it aloud, and it sounds exactly like what it refers to).  Usually sleep hits them when they're in different places, but last evening they most eloquently joined forces.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Rooster Amid Daffodils

All this wonderful rain is already bringing us a beautiful spring.  Even though I'm kept busy pulling the weeds that are already rampant, I mustn't forget to pause and take in the beauty that is all around us.  Springtime is so ephemeral...