Wednesday, December 31

Extreme measures

I read somewhere (wish I could remember where) that this species of oak tree handles drought by simply shedding branches! I don’t think it was meant as a joke, but doesn’t that seem extreme? A few years back, about when this current drought cycle started, I was surprised one day to notice all the leaves on the road when I got out of the car to open one of our many gates. The trees around the gate were dropping their leaves with abandon. It was July, certainly a long time before the leaves should be falling. At the same time, there was a big scare concerning Sudden Oak Death striking many trees near California’s coast. Before I found out that SOD was confined to a different variety of oak, I thought that’s what we had here.

It seems to me that dropping leaves is a much more sensible way to handle drought. It makes you wonder—what are these trees thinking anyway?

Tuesday, December 30

House Rock

If that darned tree weren’t in the way, you could see that this is a picture of a great big rock. A metamorphic monolith, for sure. At the lower left is diminutive little Karla, staring in awe at this monster’s magnificent massiveness. We call it House Rock.

Here Karla is shown ascending the “staircase,” on the opposite side of the Rock. It’s a huge sliver that has split away from the Mother Rock. It would be simple to put in a stairway to reach the roof of the Rock. Whether that will ever happen depends on whether we can come to terms with the immutable magnificence of the Rock.

A few hundred feet from here is another, similar rock located in a creek. Massive, metamorphic, and mossy, it has the interesting colors of dissolved elements dripping down its sides. Green, indicating copper. Purple, indicating grapes. And gray, indicating guano.

Monday, December 29


I often wonder how things get shaped the way they are. This rock, which is probably what is locally known as Sierra White Granite, appears to be simply plopped onto the ground. Its edges are rounded as if the whole thing had tumbled down some enormous river. I guess it just weathered over the centuries, being chipped away by the natural forces of freeze-thaw cycles, wind, and the slow eating-away done by the enzymes secreted by the lichens and mosses that cover it.

Further south from here are some metamorphic rocks that are literally as big as houses, sitting on the ground as if, to use the technical term once again, simply plopped there. They tend to be more angular, being more resistant to the forces that eat away so easily at the granite. You could get an education just walking around on this place, or at least you could come up with endless questions.

Sunday, December 28

Maybe it’s not worth the effort…

One of the most expensive and time-consuming things a company can do is to change its name. Or even the spelling or punctuation of its name. Several months ago, Wal-Mart decided it would like to be called Walmart, getting rid of the hyphen and the capital M, while at the same time transcending the trendy NamesSeparatedOnlyByCapitalLetters, such as DaimlerChryslerBigFlop. Now it has to replace the thousands of signs on its stores, re-print all its stationery, re-label all its giant delivery trucks, and so on. But harder still, it has to get the word out to the news media. So far, that part isn’t working.
Above is a snippet of a news article in yesterday’s New York Times. They’re still using the hyphen.

Here’s another snippet, this time from yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Walmart isn’t alone. JCPenney took out the periods after its initials years ago. But, as is shown below from yesterday’s New York Times, that never happened.

As the final irony, below is the copyright notice that appeared yesterday on Walmart’s own Web site:

Movie time!

Time to go to the movies! Today, we’re going to find out how toilet paper is made! Got popcorn?

For the bandwidth-impaired viewers out there, the movie is 14.6MB, 5:47 minutes long. Here is where I found it, and there’s more!

Gold search

On a recent walk, we decided to return to a place where quartz pops out of the ground near a big oak tree. Quartz is often found where gold is found. The piece Karla is examining is about the size of a large watermelon. We have tried to pick it up before, but the rock is so heavy that not even ten people trying all at once can budge it, even though it’s not attached to the ground.

I wish we could move it so we could see if it has any gold in it. But, well, it’s just too heavy.

Maybe we should look for gold in smaller pieces, not quartz but pintz.

Saturday, December 27

Blue-eyed rock

There are lots of rocks where we live. Especially where we want to dig a hole. In fact, there are only about two or three places on this whole 600-plus acre place where you can dig a hole of any depth without hitting a rock. The rock above is fortunately not where we would want to dig, but it is the only blue-eyed rock we’ve discovered so far. We were lucky to run across it when it’s awake and the eye is open. It sees, it listens, but it doesn’t talk, at least not when we’re around.

Friday, December 26

Plug spring

We named this geological oddity Plug spring. Years ago, its shape was quite different. It is a water spring, putting out a steady though small amount of nice fresh water, but only a few years ago it looked quite different. There was a berm of earth, as shown above, but it was more connected-to-the-ground looking. Now it looks like a dirt bedroll, tossed on the ground but not really connected. Before, it was a curved berm with a plug-like piece rising out of its center where the tuft of grass is now, surrounded by water, almost like the bulls-eye of a target. The water source is now to the left of the picture, but it used to be right up against the inside of the berm, with the plug next to it. Walking on this feature was strange, since it bounced as if it were on a bed of jelly.

All the critters on this end of the property visit the spring often, judging by the tracks that surround it. In a few years, it will probably look much different than it does now. Weird.

Thursday, December 25

When all else fails…

When all else fails, stop doing all else.

I heard a commercial saying someone’s identity is stolen every 30 seconds. Poor guy. Probably doesn't even know who he is himself by now.

With these thoughts, have a merry Christmas. We’re going to go open and watch our Blu-ray DVD of Wall-E.

Wednesday, December 24

Thought you’d be interested…

Electric phosphate smelting furnace used in the making of elemental phosphorus in a TVA chemical plant in the Muscle Shoals area, Alabama, June 1942.

This link gets you to the photo on Flikr. The Library of Congress has uploaded a ton of photos for people to tag, since their own labeling system is so minimal. This way people can expand the knowledge base in order to make searching more productive. Great idea!

Tuesday, December 23

Momentary magic

After a dark and stormy night, the morning came and with it a strong beam of sunlight on the road as we drove out to the Big City to buy stuff. A mist rose, drifting to and fro as gentle zephyrs played with it in the shimmering brilliance. Intrigued, I stopped and leapt from the truck, camera in hand, dropped to my knee in reverence and snapped the shot above.

Then we drove off to pick up the mail, dropped off a couple of propane tanks to be filled, bought some groceries and some horse feed, and headed back home. By the time we got to the same spot on the road, it was dark, there was no mist, and we were tired. The magic had retreated into the night, from whence it came.

Monday, December 22


I looked out the kitchen window and was shocked, shocked, I tell you, to see total birdlessness at the feeder. What could have happened? It had been filled to capacity only an hour ago. There weren’t any hovering predatory birds that could have scared our little friends away. The cat was in the house. No wild pigs, rattlesnakes, bunnies—nothing to threaten them.

Then I happened to glance at the clock. It was exactly noon. Problem solved; obviously we have Mexican birds. It’s siesta time!

From Wikipedia:
The word siesta is Spanish, from the Latin hora sexta - "the sixth hour" (counting from dawn, therefore noon, hence "midday rest").

Sunday, December 21


With a swift kick, Karla moves the log off the steep hill.

After a few quick strokes of the chain saw, it becomes easy pickings. A few passes through the log splitter, into the wheelbarrow, off to the wood shed. Done!

Then the rain came.

Good timing!

We are so proud of us!

Saturday, December 20

Wall o’ Wood

This morning we braved the cool and ventured out to gather more firewood. We’re expecting stormy weather for the next few days, and decided to get some more wood cut up and put away before it gets drenched. The awful tree on the hillside was our target this time. Yuck. I’m still sore from standing on a 45° slope and sawing at the same time, then compounding the pain by splitting about forty or so pieces on our splitter that makes you lean awkwardly to get around the ill-placed machinery. When we used to rent log splitters, we got a different one every time, each of which was designed by an idiot. Mostly the problem with them was the placement of the exhaust from the engine — it always blew toward the operator. Now that we have a splitter of our own, we have to contend with the poor ergonomics that make you lean forward all the time while maneuvering heavy log chunks.

So my feet are sore from clinging to a hillside while cutting, and my back is sore from leaning over the splitter. But that wall o’ wood sure is purty!

Thursday, December 18

Fake mob

The wild birds around here are very good at flying away when the slightest threat occurs. Threats like someone is about to take their picture. In the photo above I have taken the liberty of using copious fakery to show how the birds actually look before I threaten them with a camera. (When you have a copy of Adobe Photoshop, you might as well use it to the fullest.)*

The main body of birds is juncos (I’m not positive they’re juncos; I know as much about birds as the average US Member of Congress knows about reality). These birds are picking through the detritus under the feeder, which falls out when their brethren mob it by the dozens. The amount of seed these guys eat every day is astonishing. They certainly don’t “eat like a bird.”

*The actual picture has only five birds in it.

Wednesday, December 17

“Natural” rain gauge

In the title, natural is in quotation marks because today’s cow is far from whatever cows were a few thousand years ago before we domesticated them. But at least the photo shows something that isn’t man-made. I can tell by its size that the gauge was made by one of the bigger, older cows. One with experience and a whole lot of savvy. You see, cows depend on rain to provide needed moisture for growing grass. So they place these gauges in the fields they expect to depend on for feed, and keep in mind the various amounts of rainfall in each of the fields. When the rainy season ends, they can mosey off to the promising fields without wasting time traveling to the ones that will be grass-deficient. And you thought they were just dumb old cows!

Tuesday, December 16






—Burma Shave

35, goin’on 36

Shown above is a fine equine specimen. Miss T is her name and you won’t believe her age: 35 years! In the wild it is generally believed that horses live to 15 years on average. This is primarily due to their teeth no longer being able to properly chew the rough grasses they must eat. A domesticated horse has the advantage of good veterinary care keeping their teeth in good shape, and the availability of very nutritious easy-to-chew foods provided by their keepers as the horses age. In captivity, a horse lives 20 to 30 years. Some live to 40 years, and the record is “Old Billy” who was verified as being 62 when he died. Born in England in 1760, he worked as a barge horse, and was the oldest horse whose age can be proved. In the US the current record is something like 52.

Longevity of other horse types —

• Horse fly — 30 to 60 days
• Horseshoe crab — 9 to 20 years
• Horse-laugh — 3 to 6 seconds
• Hors d’oeuvre — 1 to 7 minutes

Monday, December 15

Horse With Snow In BG

Geronimo practically begged to be in a low-sun-angle picture of a horse with snow in the background a few hundred feet higher in elevation.

So here it is.

You’re welcome, Ger-Ger.

Horse Back With Oak Leaf

Fine art photography, fer sure. On today’s snow search hike, we ran across Video, whose moist hide made the hair do some interesting things. He seemed totally unaware that he had a bright green oak leaf on his back.

Sunday, December 14

Christmas lights

Once again the Astronomy Picture of the Day site has a goodie — this is a picture of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy that appeared on December 11, 2008. Go here to see the original. Accompanying the article is a link to a movie taken over a period of 16 years of the stars closest to the central black hole, which has an estimated mass of four million suns. Heavy. Movie shown below.

Saturday, December 13

More bovines

On today’s pre/post-rain walk, these four bovines were spotted up by our water tank. I think they’re the ones who routinely break through the fence down by the first gate, after their bull buddies wipe out the top barbed wire for them. As big and clumsy-looking as cows are, they are actually rather graceful when they dive over the remaining wires of the fence on their way out.

Once about a year ago we were herding a herd toward the gate which we had opened for them. There is a little dog-leg in the fence just before the gate. The lead cow saw that dog-leg and misinterpreted it as a corner, a trap. So she dove over the fence, getting her forelegs caught between the top and second wire. She did a complete back-flip and landed on her ample butt. The wires broke and she took off, leaving a nice hole in the fence for her buddies to hop over. Being an old fence, her mighty jerk popped the staples out of several of the cedar posts down the line, giving us plenty to do to fix the hole.

If it doesn’t snow too much tonight, maybe a fence-fixing mission is on for Sunday morning. (Hope it snows!)

Friday, December 12

Tough duty

Several months ago, half of a live oak tree broke off at ground level and crashed into another tree. Whenever trees fall into each other, there are some weird dynamics that take place. For example, how much springiness is stored in that meeting place? If I cut one of them, will the other rebound and throw the whole thing back in my face? I have plenty of scars from misunderestimating the power of stored energy in situations like that.

Last spring I made some tentative cuts into this big limb, relieving some of its potential bounce. Today I felt that most of the danger had passed, and used a gas-powered pruning saw to topple the remaining piece. This saw allows me to stand back at a safe distance, in this case about 15 feet (4.5 metres), slowly triggering the engine to see how the limb was reacting to my cuts. The limb came in two and the upper portion simply plopped to the ground with a thud.

The hardest part was to come. In order to cut the limb shown here, I had to cling to a 45° slope of soft grassy ground while holding my other regular chain saw. It was difficult to even get to where I could stand. In fact, the cut shown toward the right above was made while I was sitting on the grass, holding the saw downhill, a very awkward, uncomfortable position. When I cut the limb all the way through, it just stayed where it was, not falling down as it would if gravity worked on hillsides. I couldn’t even kick it loose. I’ll have to pry at it with a crowbar, I guess.

I am not looking forward to continuing this job. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get some rain and the temperature will be only a few degrees above freezing. Might even get snow. Good. Nice excuse to stop this nonsense and stay in the house by a warm fire.

By request…

I mentioned to daughter Hilary that on a walk up to the north end of the place, I had seen and taken a photo of Marie, her latest new foal. Here she is, the buckskin on the right. The other horses are ordinary brown horses. Not shown in the photo are several bovines that belong to a neighbor. They’re not supposed to be on our place, but in California the law is that if you don’t want neighbors’ animals on your place, you have to fence them out. They don’t have to fence them in. Dang.

Wednesday, December 10

Betcha it works on cats, too

His big mistake? He forgot to put on his safety glasses.

Buy the book here.

Tuesday, December 9

Another “Music around the world” video

This is a neat idea — record someone who is singing a song. Play that recording for another person and have them add to it. Take that combined recording to a third person, a group, yet another person. Take it around the world. You end up with a really nice chorus.

If you have high-speed Internet access, this video is also in Hi-Def at this link (click on Watch in high quality).

Thanks to Gary for the tip.

Monday, December 8

Driving blind

Boy, just like old times when I lived in Fresno and driving in dense fog was routine in the wintertime. Today Karla and I went to the big city to do big city stuff. When we came back to the mountains, we drove right up into the overcast. The fog was so wet it was like drizzle, and the centerline of the road was very important for navigation. Visibility was about two car lengths. As we approached our seven miles of dirt road, both county and private, we were concerned about finding the road at all, since it seems to blend with non-road on either side. Fortunately there are white posts marking all the culverts that go under the road, and those were our guides. By the time we got to the house, it was drizzling even more. At least that will keep the horses from drying out.

Many long years ago, when I was a young punk and worked at a television station in Fresno, I lived in the boondocks on the edge of town, out where your neighbors were mostly fig trees. At night, around 8 o’clock or so, I would sometimes drive home for “lunch” (I worked the 4 PM to midnight shift). It was a ten-minute drive normally. I got into fog so thick I could only see one stripe at a time of the pavement’s centerline. When I finally got to my street, which was narrow and didn’t have a line down the center, I was creeping along in first gear, trying to see where to turn off into my driveway. All of a sudden a fig tree appeared in front of me! Right in the middle of the road!! At least that was my first reaction. I had drifted off into a fig orchard. I got out of the car and walked behind it to see if I was very far into the orchard. I didn’t want to back my still-almost-new 1960 bug-eyed Austin Healy Sprite into a tree, since it had really minimal bumpers. I managed to get back on the pavement and just headed back to work. I had already used up 45 minutes of my hour, and didn’t have any time left for eating. For the remainder of “fog season” I brown-bagged it.

Saturday, December 6

Believe it or not!

Mostly not, but it’s a pretty good try! Supposedly this stunt aircraft loses a wing but the death-defying pilot brings it home in 3/4 of a piece anyway.

More about this amazing stunt here.

Friday, December 5

Berries and Barbs

The dull red and dull green in the photo don’t do justice to the brilliant colors of this toyon bush. It’s the closest thing to holly berries we have around here, and is quite the attention-getter when we walk the trail from the house to the horse corral. Anyone have a recipe for anything using these berries?

Less brilliant in color are the two black bulls and one brown cow we chased across the broken-down fence this afternoon. (Again!) Bulls have skin so thick that, to them, barbed wire is about as intimidating as cobweb. They just march on through. Especially when the wire is so old and rusty the barbs are about as sharp as the eraser end of an old pencil. I just hope we don’t have to replace all that wire to keep them out. Last time I looked, a one-quarter-mile roll of barbed wire was well over $100, and we have a whole lot of quarter miles of fence. Maybe I can come up with a barb sharpener we can turn on and send down the wire. Solar powered if possible.

Wednesday, December 3

Unusual tree ornament

Recently some friends of ours made the final move to their new place in Sweden where they operate a bed-and-breakfast inn. They keep in touch with their friends by email, and last week included photographs they took while enjoying the local Christmas parade and decorations.

The tree shown here was part of a Christmas tree decorating contest and has an unusual top ornament, shown below. It’s proof that “Obama-mania” isn’t confined to the United States, but I don’t know of anywhere in the US where we can find such an ornament!

Tuesday, December 2

Fog worms?

A few days ago I wanted to check to see if the San Joaquin Valley was still fogged in. I went to this site and got the above picture. There are odd streaks through the fog that I had never seen before in similar pictures. I ruled out contrail or cloud shadows. Could they have been aircraft flying through the fog and dispersing it? Or, as the headline implies, was it just another attack by giant fog worms?

“Is this Wembley?”

I noticed that one reader of this blog is located in Wembley, in the north of London, England. It reminded me of a joke my father, who was hard of hearing, used to tell.

Three elderly Englishmen are riding the train. The train begins to slow, and one of them asks, “Pardon me, is this Wembley?”

The second says, “I’m sure it’s Thursday.”

The third says, “So am I. Let’s all go have a drink!”

Map: Google

Monday, December 1

Bizzy Beez

Passing one of our loquat trees, I was attracted to all the activity centering on the blossoms. There were tiny wasps all the way to huge bumblebees swarming all over them. But most interesting to me was the number of plain old honeybees, some with pollen on their legs. Pollen provides them with protein, and the nectar is their carbo load.

Another thing I noticed is that their only source of food on this December first is plants that aren’t indigenous to the area.

Everything they were depending on was planted by and kept alive by humans.

So we can’t be all that bad, eh? By the way, I waited at the lone orange blossom above, camera aimed and ready to fire when a bee, wasp, or even hummingbird (they’re busy here too) came along. My arms got sore. I could never be one of those infinitely patient wildlife photographers who wait in a cold cramped bird blind for something interesting to happen. But the lighting on this blossom merited a picture by itself.

Sunday, November 30

Getting high on grass

Or is it getting grass on high?

The horses are finally heading up to the high country parts of the place where the grass is probably more lush, if you can call three fingers high lush. Only two came in for their supplemental feed today, and they will probably keep that up throughout the winter since they’re spoiled and one of them is running out of teeth. At least the herd will not be attacking the strawberry plants for a long time; it will take all winter for them to come back from the roots.

Saturday, November 29

This one is really a stretch

The photo shows the fall colors of dead grape leaves in a vineyard, and among the leaves are some barely visible sparkles of light. It should really be a movie; a still photo doesn’t show the effect very well.

Motoring home from Paso Robles on Friday after a family Thanksgiving feast the day before, we passed by a vineyard that had thousands of little shiny plastic foil strips among the vines. I asked Karla if she knew what they were for. “To frighten birds away,” was her response. “Wrong,” I said. “Those twinkling blinking shiny strips are there because they used those grapes to make sparkling wine.”

Friday, November 28

Another puzzle

For those of you who didn’t get the meaning of my post about J. Jason, here’s a chance to redeem your esteem. This puzzle should be easier. When she was a young kid, Hilary and I made it up over a period of a few evenings, and would use it almost every night before bedtime. As time went on, we made it into a game that I, unfortunately, never really figured out how to win. I’ll explain that as soon as someone comes up with the correct answer to the challenge. Good luck! (Hint: Two languages)

Thursday, November 27

Horse proof

A horse would probably have to be starving in order to eat this orange, even if it were ripe. Raccoons won’t eat them, nor will pigs, squirrels, rats, or vegan rattlesnakes. Even humans won’t eat a Seville orange without at least some sweetening, which makes them perfect for that wonderful sweet-tart taste of marmalade. Come January, we will be braving the nasty thorns on this small tree, picking as many of the diminutive fruits as we can, then going into slave mode to slice, squeeze, parboil, scrape, shred and cook up a big batch of marmalade to die for.

Meanwhile, we’ll wait and watch as they all approach the perfect ripeness, secure in the knowledge that nothing will steal them from us.

Wednesday, November 26

At least they left us a couple…

It was a dark and stormy night, which provided perfect cover for a midnight raid by equines that decimated our two half-barrels of strawberry plants. But they were kind enough to leave one berry for each of us, for which we are very thankful.

About four days ago we were ready to harvest the dozen or so rock-hard little pears off the tree that I have nursed since spring. Karla went to the tree and came back with the accusation that I had already picked them. Nope. The raccoons had picked them. I guess we could make the area around the house into a fortress to keep the horses, raccoons, pigs, rats, and those horrible little leaf-eating finches at bay.

Give me vegan rattlesnakes any day!

Tuesday, November 25


What a workout! We towed the splitter to the wood this time, and tipped it up so we didn’t have to lift the log rounds onto it. Even placing the huge chunks of very wet heavy oak onto the base of the splitter was daunting. The machine moaned and grunted as it reduced it all to nice pieces for stacking in the wood shed. Several times water almost sprayed from the log rounds as the wedge was forced in, splitting them regardless of their having any ideas to the contrary.

All the chain sawing over these past weeks of intermittent work took a little less than one gallon (3.8 litres) of fuel. Splitting probably took a bit more, so the efficiency was very high.

Just putting this full truckbed of wood away in the shed took over an hour. We are going to take a break for a while!

Monday, November 24

The end is near!

The final cut! And we still have all our fingers, our jeans aren’t torn, we’re not bleeding, no bruises, no scrapes — but one finger of one glove has been worn through from handling the rough rounds of oak for lo these many days. We’re not going to lift these last log pieces onto the splitter either. Instead we’re going to tow it over, stand it up, and do some vertical ground-level work for a change.

Overall we’re pleased. This one tree will fill the wood shed with probably a winter’s worth of good solid oak.

Sunday, November 23

Unemployment spreads to foothills

Karla stares longingly at the remaining 50 feet (15 metres) of tree to be parted out for firewood, wishing that we could keep cutting forever. We’ve been working intermittently on this beast for three weeks now, and when it’s done…well…what’s there to do?

Ha ha.