Monday, March 31

The wall grows

This is the most difficult post yet. Blogger software is failing as I speak. I have used three computers to put together this post, and each has failed in some different way. One wouldn’t upload the image, while another did. Editing with another computer didn’t allow any more than the picture and the headline, no body copy. The third, the one I’m using now, only allows the headline and the body copy. Who knows what will be the result?

All right, I have tried for the last time, and the picture seems to be posted. Today we started very late, having to do some tax stuff to keep the California government happy. Then we scouted out some more rocks and hauled them down. More rocks got added to the wall, but you know what? After all the computer glitches and bad response from the Kind Folks At Google Blogger, whose slogan is “Don’t do evil,” I’m through for the day! Good night.

Sunday, March 30

Rockin’ on

This morning, fortified with a hearty he-person breakfast, we ventured forth to gather more rocks for our wall. A couple of the pieces, shown on the right side of the trailer near the back must weigh at least 150 pounds each in the US and Borneo, 68 kilograms elsewhere. I like the US and Borneo weight designation; 68kg sounds wimpy. We kept loading the trailer till the tires started to complain, then drove it down to our work site and unloaded it till our backs started to complain. Then we built more on the wall, which is now a whole lot longer than it was yesterday. Then we had a couple of glasses of really good draft beer. More to come. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 29

A rocky start…

Today we hooked the little flatbed trailer to the truck and went rock hunting. We brought a couple of loads of rocks down to the project site and started stacking them up, drywall style. We live in a part of California where rock walls, put together without mortar, run for miles around the countryside. They were built in the latter half of the nineteenth century by Chinese laborers who had finished building the transcontinental railroad, and who had mined as much gold as they could from the nearby streams. A neighbor told us that the workers were paid 25 cents per rod, which translates to 16.5 feet or 5.5 meters. Of course, 25 cents back then was worth a lot more than it is today, being a silver coin and all. Gold at that time was around $21 per ounce, so do the math. Their walls averaged 4 feet or 1.2 meters high and were rather thick, being two walls with a space between that was filled with rubble. I guess it was cheaper than buying fence posts and barbed wire, and not only that, it cleared the fields of millions of rocks.

Oddly, when we finished work for the day, we had a strong craving for stir fried veggies and fried rice. A little pork would be nice, too.…

Friday, March 28

This plant hates me

Last summer I dug a trench and laid in a 30-foot pipe to drain rain water from our driveway. To keep people from driving into the intake, I put in a wooden post nearby that sticks up maybe six feet so you can see it from any car or truck you’re driving. On top of the post I screwed down a saucer for a planter pot and put a succulent called a ghost plant there for decoration. During the winter the plant was moved off the post to protect it from freezing. Somehow it got bumped off its place and fell and broke the pot it was in. A new pot was purchased and the ghost was re-planted. When spring came, it was perched on the post again.

Today I used our road grader to prepare part of the driveway for a rock wall to hold up a bank of soil. I was very careful not to bonk the post with the plant on top, but as fate would have it, I bonked the post. The plant fell, the pot broke, and once again I have to find the plant a new home.

Never before in my life have I felt such hate from a plant. I’m going to replant it in real down-to-earth ground level soil and let the gophers have a go at it. Sorry plant, but sometimes life is cruel. But I’m not sure if I should anger a ghost.

Thursday, March 27

Gotta run…

No big thoughts for the day today. I have to get down to the headquarters of the Sierra National Forest to sign a document that will affect my and the family’s lives for the next 20 years. It’s a permit to operate our businesses in the forest, and we’re not sure if we will be doing the horse thing when the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal renders its decision on that very issue pretty soon. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 26


The ground squirrels are emerging from their winter homes. On this morning’s walk, we saw this fellow right near the road who seemed not to know that most two-leggers (us) are not very nice to his kind. He waited till we were probably no more than five feet from him before he ducked into his burrow. We continued the walk and on our way back he was out on the road again, begging to be photographed. I obliged, but told him not to expect any prints; he’d have to get on the Internet to see himself.

These squirrels easily lose their fear of humans. Every day during the summer of 1998 I was feeding a supplement to White Horse, one of our oldest retired horses. I poured the feed into a trough that was very low to the ground, and 14 squirrels would hop right over my feet and into the trough to stuff their fat cheeks with as much as they could before I stepped in, waded through them and tossed them out so the horse could get something to eat. The problem was solved when I switched to a higher feed trough.

You’d think that having a large squirrel population would attract rattlesnakes. Once they’re mature, ground squirrels are immune to the venom, and can harrass the snakes to the degree that they flee. And I’m sure that if they managed to kill a snake, they would eat it, being omnivorous. Here is a good article in Scientific American on the squirrels’ unique use of their tails to ward off rattlers. Some rattlesnakes manage to get by the squirrels’ defenses to get to the babies, which don’t have venom immunity and make up a large part of their diet.

Tuesday, March 25


As big around as a finger (my finger, anyway), this beast crashed onto the house around 7 this morning, making us run outside wondering if we had been hit by an airliner. We think Mothzilla was trying to locate the late Clarence D. Frogge, having somehow stumbled across all the pictures of him eating moths on this blog. Boy, you gotta be careful what you publish these days — now even the insects can get connected to the Internet. Look at those Wi-Fi antennae on this guy!

To think that only a few days ago, this animal was in a cocoon, and a few weeks ago it was a big old caterpillar. Reminds me of once when I was in North Africa, I metamorphosis. Nice people, those morphosises, if they would just stop changing before your very eyes!

Monday, March 24

Good eatin’

Yummy! Two horses enjoy the lush grass we have now, getting positively fat from the abundance. It’s interesting to see where they like to graze. Most of the time they are over a mile away, down at a neighbor’s place where we get to use their 80 acres of mostly open country, with not as many trees and steep hills. Since horses prefer to see what’s going on around them, they don’t spend much time in dense forest if they can help it. Fewer predators to worry about, like bears and mountain lions. Of which we haven’t seen many in the past few years. Someone shot a bear that was on one of our high hills a few years ago, and we haven’t seen a lion since Karla got within maybe 20 feet or so of a young lion almost 10 years ago. The lion was upwind, sitting by the gate Karla wanted to open, and had its attention on something as she got closer and closer, thinking, “Hey lion. Wake up. Go away!” She made clicking and shooshing noises. The lion, startled, ran off lickety-split. (When’s the last time you read the term, lickety-split? Must be an old geezer writing this stuff.)

Coyotes aren’t much of a threat except to very young horses. Rattlesnakes won’t try to eat a horse, but could nip their noses and make eating and breathing a bit difficult till the poison wears off. Wild pigs don’t seem to be interested in them, and they’ve learned to live with bunnies and squirrels. Turns out horses aren’t bothered by much at all, except flies. But then that’s what forelocks, manes and tails are for — built-in fly swatters. Being a horse wouldn’t be all that bad, except for the severe paucity of brain cells.

[For you readers in southeastern California and parts of Nevada, that earth tremor you felt was my daughter exploding when she reads this.]

Sunday, March 23

Neighborhood gathering

Today there was a gathering of most of the neighbors in our little valley for a pot luck get together. Several interesting people that we hadn’t met were there, and some old friends we hadn’t seen for awhile except maybe as we pass on the unpaved roads around here. One, a retired machinist who used to take the ideas of the physicists at UC Berkeley and make them into working objects, lives on a nearby hill and is totally off-grid, solar powered! Just like us. Except being on top of a hill, he isn’t actually in the valley and gets a whole two or three hours of sunlight per day more than we do. We found out from him that the local utility will install power lines for $22.50 per foot! That means that at our current location, we would have to pay almost $120,000 for the privilege of getting a big power bill every month.

Another neighbor, who raises show champion llamas (one of hers is second in the nation), informed us that the local telephone company can get DSL to her place, the first in our valley. I’m hoping we can get it, but I think even though we could almost see where the fiber optic line ends down here, we are still too far away as the wire goes. As the crow flies, no problem. Hm-m-m. Maybe we can work something out where we use our ravens to get us connected. Nah, they’re too lazy.

Another neighbor will soon be retiring from the Park Service. He worked in Montana and Alaska where he owns two houses he built himself without government involvement or permits. He’s getting a taste of California and especially Madera County bureaucracy. He wants to build a house and is finding out about all the hoops you have to jump through to do anything around here. After paying $15,000 he is now in the position to apply for a building permit, which will cost plenty more. But it will only take seven months. Normally it’s a little over a year, but nobody’s building houses anymore so things have sped up. I mentioned that we had spent about $4,000 and a year to do what would have taken me a sharp pencil and five seconds to do. We wanted to make what is called a lot line adjustment on our property. There is a 40-acre parcel that sticks out and is well defined on the property map. We wanted to break off that 40 so we could build a house on it. One four-inch long line is all it takes. But no, it had to be surveyed. All the buildings we have over a mile away had to be measured and plotted. What it really comes down to is the local surveyors had to be given work to do!

We found out from another neighbor that the county is considering putting water meters on all the private wells!! Whoa! Break out the sledge hammers, boys. You break mine, and I’ll break yours. And pity the poor meter reader when he gets on these back roads where trees could fall onto his truck unexpectedly or he could get back in his truck and sit on a rattlesnake. Or a fully-charged cattle prod.

Another neighbor, a retired physician, was stuck in her house for two days because the wild pigs had torn her driveway up so much she couldn’t get her little Volkswagen out to the main road. When the pigs are onto something, they leave the place looking like land mines have gone off.

You can certainly learn a lot at a neighborhood gathering.

Saturday, March 22

When pigs fly

See the level of sugary water in the hummingbird feeder here? See how low it is? It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, and that feeder was filled at 10:30 this morning. That’s six hours, and the flying pigs have consumed at least 6 ounces already (175ml for people outside the United States and Borneo). What do they think I am? Their fawning servant? Good grief! There must be a little tube that goes directly from their greedy mouths to their sphincterless anuses! Sugar pumps! Give me a break—after all, I have a dog to medicate, a cat to satiate, five fish to ingratiate, and I’m already running late! All day I’ve grubbed around in the dirt on the sidewalk project, then all of a sudden the filter in the fish fountain clogged with algae, floated to the surface and had to be taken apart and cleaned (stinky stuff inside!) then reassembled and put back without upsetting the fish too much, I’m tired and achy, and it looks like I’ll have to refill the feeder (one of two feeders) before I can even have a beer! When does this relentless daunting responsibility let up? How much more can one person take? I should have embarked on a more sedate life—been a matador, or a flight controller. Actually, forget the matador part, too personally gory; if a flight controller makes a teeny little goof he doesn’t actually see the planes crash into each other except as intersecting blips on his radar. As a bonus, there’s some interesting video on the nightly newscast. Gives meaning to his life. I’ve never been on the news for missing an empty hummingbird feeder. That’s nice. Who needs all that excitement? I think I’m confused.

Friday, March 21

Telling lies for amusement

It’s not nice to tell a youngster a total lie, unless of course it’s funny. One morning several years ago we were listening to an AM radio broadcast from San Francisco, which is pretty far away. There was some kind of disaster, like an earthquake or something, and I was interested in getting news from close to the source. As the morning wore on, the radio signal got fainter and fainter and finally disappeared. I said to young daughter Hilary, “Do you know why the signal faded and finally disappeared?” “No, Daddy. Why?” “Because as the day goes on, more and more people turned on their radios, and that finally used up all the signal.”

Was I a Bad Dad? After all I did explain that it was a joke. It’s all part of home schooling; get your lies from a source you can trust.

My kingdom for a spoon!

Or is it “My kingdom for a horse”? Anyway, the family returned last night from their week-long adventure in Death Valley. I got to experience a lot of what they had seen through pictures Hilary sent via email. A few days before everyone left, I made a couple of spoons for the kitchen out of our local live oak, one of the hardest woods in the US. The early European settlers in California used this wood to make splitting mauls for other wood — this stuff is HARD! A few years ago I used it to make a spatula which has endured with hardly any wear, so I decided to try spoons since our lone wooden spoon was broken, partly burned, and just flat worn out. A band saw cut out the basic shape, and chisels, a belt sander, a pad sander and four hours of labor pretty much finished it off. (Four hours? I told you it’s hard!)

I sent one with Karla to give to Hilary and Luke for their Furnace Creek home. They loved it and in return sent a drawing Hilary had done in her sketchbook. I’m going to frame it; will Hilary frame the spoon? Hope not — it’s for cooking after all.

Thursday, March 20

Take my cat, please…

Many of you must think I don’t have anything to do all day, but I do. Like find dumb things for this blog when nothing interesting happens all day. Here’s an amusing bit of two minutes:

Near the end, you’ll see a little kid who will never learn how to throw a ball, and you will also see an enticing little actor with a fuzzy face. Unfortunately, in spite of my fervent hopes, the little fuzzy-face isn’t substituted for the ball. If they run out of balls I have this cat I could lend them…

Wednesday, March 19

Town trip

I broke out of the foothills today, venturing warily some 60 miles south to Fresno. I had to buy some more bricks to finish a project, building a sort of sidewalk around our backup generator. When the clouds gather and we don’t get many kilowatt hours from the sun, we start burning propane.

The Highlander drove well, happy that it had a newly- and properly-installed oil filter. The old one was on so tight I think it must have hurt. I filled the tank at the Costco gas station, feeling lucky to find gasoline at only $3.50 per gallon. On the way to town I saw that diesel fuel was $4.15, but then it’s home heating season in the midwest and east, and that’s what they use. This summer it should drop to below regular gas price. While at Costco, a woman drove up in a Prius. I was going to ask her if the dash display started blinking with the message, “Springtime starts tomorrow — Don’t forget to buy fuel for the season!” But she was bigger than me, and didn’t look too friendly, having to put fuel in her car every month or so. I almost envied her for her fuel-sipping car, but don’t think I could easily haul 70 heavy bricks plus a week’s worth of groceries over our rough road in that little thing.

Tomorrow I get to crawl around in the dirt and lay some more bricks. Yay.

Tuesday, March 18

Food fight

The drama! Pretzels, burgers and fries, fish’n’chips, croissants, sushi, bagels … the list goes on, and it’s an epic battle! It’s American war history from WWII till the present as it would be fought by food!

Then it’s a feast for the roaches and flies, followed by a seared battlefield and peace at last, for the moment at least. For the story behind this five-and-a-half minute film, go here.

By the way, the producer/writer/director says no food was harmed in the making of this film. It was all eaten by him and his dog after appearing before the camera (the roaches and flies are fake).

“BigDog” could replace mules

Yesterday’s entry involved a safety-minded mule. Mules are mostly known for their ability to haul a big pack load. In this 3-1/2 minutes of video we see that competition is coming to replace these load-hauling equines. The Army wants a pack mule for its soldiers, and this could be the answer.

The stability of this machine and its ability to recover even when kicked hard on its side, nearly knocking it over, is astonishing. It can cavort like a young mule when asked. Now if they could only stop making it sound like it’s powered by a hive of angry bees!

Monday, March 17

Seat Belt Mule sez: “Buckle Up!”

Feared foe of seat-belt-shirking kids, Seat Belt Mule lurks behind utility poles till a car stops at a red light, then leaps out and brays, “Buckle up!” As a public service, SBM carries an extensive line of children’s underwear for immediate purchase.

Photo credit: Fakesteve

Sunday, March 16

Now back to you, Wolf.

A tornado hit Atlanta, Georgia, last Friday. Cable News Network was born in Atlanta, and later moved its headquarters to New York City. But Atlanta is still Number One in its corporate heart; if anything happens there, CNN will be sure to cover it. And cover it. And cover it.

CNN anchor, Wolf Blitzer: We’re going live to downtown Atlanta. Here is CNN reporter, Tina Brown—
Brown: Wolf, I’m standing next to what appears to be a very large piece of wood lying here right in the middle of the sidewalk. We asked an eyewitness what happened—
Eyewitness: Could be plywood. Could be particle board, maybe OSB.
Brown: OSB—I’m not familiar with that term.
Eyewitness: Stands for Oriented Strand Board. Made from wood chips.
Brown: I understand you saw where it came from—
Eyewitness: It was leanin’ against that dumpster an’ this gust of wind come by and blew the whole sheet right over, I swear.
Brown: That’s pretty graphic. Now back to you, Wolf.
Anchor: We go now to CNN reporter JD Hicks in Tulsa—
JD Hicks: Wolf, CNN has just been informed that a consortium of wildcat oil drillers discovered what they believe to be the biggest oil and natural gas field on earth. Here is spokesperson, JD “Sandline” Perkins—
Perkins: This field is enormous. We think it goes all the way from Helena Montana to El Paso Texas, and from Los Angeles to Virginia Beach, and points in between. It’s under pressure so we don’t even have to pump. Plus we’ve got a well putting out about a billion cubic meters a second of natural gas mixed with soccer-ball-sized chunks of pure gold, and another well producing high-octane unleaded gasoline, diamonds, and cocaine.
JD Hicks: Preliminary estimates indicate that gas, oil, diamonds, gold and cocaine will soon be cheaper than dust bunnies. Now back to you, Wolf.
Anchor: And we return to CNN reporter, Tina Brown in downtown Atlanta.
Brown: Wolf, a few minutes ago we heard a loud bang and believe it came from a wine bottle flying through the air and hitting this car behind me. We talked to the driver—
Driver: It sure gave me a start. I was sittin’ here at this stop light and all of a sudden, BANG this bottle hit me right upside the window. I don’t know if it came from the wind or that ol’ drunk guy when he tripped over that piece of plywood there.
Brown: We’ve determined that it’s OSB. Now back to you, Wolf.
Anchor: We’re getting a bulletin from our CNN bureau in China. Let’s go now to CNN reporter Feng Shui in Beijing—
Feng: Wolf, CNN has just learned that between a hundred and fifty and two hundred million Chinese were killed when their province was suddenly sucked into the earth.
Anchor: Thank you Feng. We’ll have more as that story develops. Now back to our CNN reporter in downtown Atlanta.
Brown: Wolf, I am now standing next to of a lot of broken glass. We’re not sure where it came from, but suspect it could be from what appears to be a shopping bag full of bottles that was blown from on top of the recycling bin here on the corner. It’s a LOT of glass, more than I’ve seen since a garbage bag I was taking out at home broke open and several bottles and jars fell out onto my back porch. It took me over half an hour to clean it up, and it looks like this mess will take at least that long—
Anchor: Thank you, Tina. We’re getting breaking news from NASA. Here is CNN reporter Rocky Blastov in Houston—
Blastov: Officials at NASA have just informed CNN that the moon has suddenly broken out of its orbit and is headed straight for earth. They predict it will be hitting our planet in approximately six hours and thirty minutes. Now back to you, Wolf.
Anchor: Thank you Rocky. Now back to our CNN reporter in downtown Atlanta—


Saturday, March 15

Solar power’s nemesis

This morning I was filling the bird feeder when suddenly a dark shadow came over the place. I looked up to the bright blue clear sky and saw a very large cloud coming in. Just one cloud, and it seemed to stop and get ready to sit there for a while, casting its heavy, dark, molasses-thick shade. I looked out over the valley and saw that this was the only shade; everywhere else it was sunny and bright. Then it hit me—of course! We’re the only people in this whole valley dependent on solar panels! This day isn’t unique, either. Many times when I am approaching from the south, driving down the steep grade that allows a view of the entire valley, I often see cloud shadows on the ground, a few here and there, but always one over the part of our property where the solar panels are.

Kind of like how tornadoes seek out trailer parks, clouds seek out solar panels.

Friday, March 14

Sure beats computer solitaire…

Have you ever run across the swoopy letters you have to read then type into a box in order to submit an order, send an email, or other computer thing? One of the sources of these puzzles is reCAPTCHA. It works like this: they put a scanned word from a book they are digitizing in a box with another scanned word that has already been scanned and deciphered. You look at the words and type them in the box to submit. That gets you access to whatever you were trying to do (send an email, for instance) and gives the reCAPTCHA folks one more guess at what the undeciphered word is. There is a more in-depth explanation on their Web site, along with a sample of how to do it that you can use again and again and again.…

It’s addictive, at least to a word guy like me. You get scored on your success. So far I’m at around 250 words deciphered, which is nowhere near the 1203 wins out of 7960 plays I’ve accomplished in MacSolitaire. But it feels more productive somehow, don’cha think? By the way, if you get addicted and have to go into rehab, please don’t blame me. It could be that you don’t really have a life…

(6:45 update—I’m at 501. Better get back to solitaire.)

Thursday, March 13

Bite Me, Bite You

What are these horses doing? Becoming carnivores? Nay, matey. They’re doing the equine equivalent of You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Your Back. When I had finished my cold beer and a heaping serving of crow*, I happened to look out the window and saw the pinto Gypsy and the young filly Marie doing a vigorous bite-fest on each other. Horses love to chew on each other’s withers and can do it endlessly, first on one side, then the other. The pace varies, but usually is at the rate of a bite every second or so. Another mutual aid action they engage in is when the flies get really annoying in the spring and summer months, they’ll stand head-to-tail beside one another and swish their tails in each other’s faces to keep flies away. Horses are so darned cute and when they’re not fighting or kicking or chasing, really love each other.

*Okay, it was actually chicken. We’re out of crow.

Oil Filter Removal Success Is Celebrated

Due to the competence of the advice from the owner of the NAPA store in Oakhurst, I was able to remove the over-tightened oil filter mentioned a couple of blogs ago. Injuries sustained were limited to a negligible nick on a little-used knuckle, requiring only a quick lick to assuage the pain. Now I am going to enjoy a cold beer, with a side of crow.


“You know, that puddle should have its own blog”

Pretty much says it all. Check it out when you want a peaceful moment contemplating something so mundane you forget it can also be shown to be beautiful if seen by the right person. Gorgeous photography and paving stones to die for. Be sure to see both pages.

Photo: Puddleblog

Wednesday, March 12

Am I the dummy?

Today was the day to run around to get food and supplies for a huge adventure in Death Valley the family will be on for the next five days or so. Them, not me; I’ll be staying home feeding the animals who can’t go anyway. (Fish don’t travel well, nor do cats or very ancient dogs.)

Today I got the special tool it takes to remove the oil filter from yesterday’s blog car. Turns out I don’t have the full kit of tools that every mechanic uses on cars. A visit to the Oakhurst NAPA store and the kind attention of the owner brought to my awareness a tool I didn’t know existed but thought should. And it just might work! I got home too late to try it, so tomorrow if it doesn’t rain too much, I will see if it works. If it does, Toyota is off the hook and I will eat crow. Not raven, though. They’re too cute.

Tuesday, March 11

Bad design

Have you ever tried to change the oil filter on a 2003 Toyota Highlander V-6 (arrow at left points to its evil blackness)? No? I thought so, or you too would be tossing stink bombs into the service bay at your Toyota dealer’s. I was looking to save some money and do this routine maintenance task I had done to cars since I was a pup. Apparently the last ape that did an oil and filter change forgot the part about putting the filter on hand tight. But still I wonder what kind of tool he/she/it used. I tried from underneath the car and found that a standard used-by-every-mechanic-in-the-world filter removal wrench won’t fit onto the filter in a way that gives you any room for your hand to reach past all the obstructions. The same problem approaching from the top of the engine where you get about 1/2 degree of movement once the tool is on. It would be a snap if I removed a motor mount and the front exhaust manifold and disconnected the exhaust pipe. Or I could go in even easier if I removed the grille and radiator.

I think I know how to recognize the mechanic that does the filter removal: He/she/it has a hand the size of a squirrel’s attached to an arm the size of a gorilla’s. Tomorrow it’s off to town to find out what special tool is needed for this task. I knew a mechanical engineer who told me that the number of special tools needed for any machine is directly proportional to the amount of bad design that was used in creating that machine.

Monday, March 10

Spring has sprung!

Two large dead oak limbs were threatening to fall and smash one of our steel corral fences. Yesterday I used our pruning saw to lop off many of the high branches. This morning we returned to cut those brushy branches out of the way to make room to finish falling the rest of the limb. I backed the truck into the area, got out, and saw the most promising sign that spring has sprung — a whole field of succulent round leaves of Claytonia perfoliata, one of my favorites! I munched a big leaf and savored its succulent freshness.

Nearby was some Urtica dioica! Another favorite (after cooking of course). Eating it raw would be folly, what with its sharp little trichomes that contain acetylcholine, histamine, and 5-HT! I mean, who needs paresthesia?

Okay, joke’s over. The first plant is commonly called miner’s lettuce, having been named that by the old gold rush workers. Before their arrival, it was Indian lettuce, according to Wikipedia. It gave them vitamin C and helped prevent scurvy. The second plant is stinging nettle, another very nourishing edible that helps satisfy your need for calcium and iron. Pick it young and tender while wearing gloves, then steam it. It tastes a lot like spinach, only with a wild edge to it. Both of these plants enjoy being nourished by horse manure, and where the manure’s piled high, so is our veggie plate!

(By the way, that’s not a fence in the photo. It’s an old busted pallet.)

Sunday, March 9

That ol’ Mariah horse, R.I.P.

Once we had a man working for us who would never simply call a horse by its name. He always had to add “That ol’ [insert horse’s name here] horse.” Today at 2PM, That Ol’ Mariah Horse passed on to her reward. We discovered her lying on the ground when we returned from a hike, and hurried home to call the vet. Before he arrived, Mariah had died.

She was the fastest horse we ever had — fast as the wind, in fact — and boy could she jump! I witnessed her at the ranch one morning, tied up in our corral at the feed trough. I looked away and heard a loud thud. When I looked back, she was standing completely on the other side of the trough, having made a single forward leap and spinning 180 degrees over a four-foot-high railing. This wasn’t a running leap, but a standing start while being tied on maybe a two-foot lead rope. Incredible!

When horses shed their bodies, they go running off to the heavens to see what they’ve been missing for the last 30 years or so of earthbound existence. I told Mariah that the Sombrero Galaxy was looking really fine yesterday on the Astronomy Picture of the Day site, and hope she takes the time to see it for herself.

Photo: Hubble Space Telescope/NASA

Saturday, March 8

“Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”

At six this morning, the cat jumps on the bed and starts his “Feed me! I’m starving!” routine. As I stagger to the kitchen, fill the cup, and pour the dry food he prefers into his window ledge dish, the dog looks forlornly at me and starts smacking her lips. So I go to the back room and open the bin with the dry dog food, grab a can of luscious turkey, duck, and chicken mix canned food, open the drawer with her medicine bag in it and dole out one-and-a-half thyroid pills, half a painkiller for the hips, half a pill for her Addison’s disease and a whole anti-peeing-all-over-the-house pill and put them in a dish and grind them to powder with a kitchen knife handle, pour the powder onto the wet food and stir it in. I drag my old bones to her room and let her dive in. Soon she will finish, walk to the front door, stand there as if to be telepathically signaling that we should let her out, then after a minute or so of no response from us, let out a single loud bark. I let her out, fully expecting to soon hear another bark to let her back in.

Meanwhile I walk by the fountain and see five fish all lined up at the surface, staring longingly, waiting for me to pour some flakes of nourishment into the stream flowing in. They ravenously pursue each piece till they’ve disappeared. Buncha pint-sized sharks. I walk back to look out the kitchen window at the hummingbird feeder and see that it’s well stocked. The other feeder has maybe a cup of sweet sugar water, so I’m off the hook there. The feeder with bird seed in it (see repurposed spacecraft here) is still good. Whew! Done.

No, wait. Loud squawks bring my attention to another feeding job, the ravens. They have been with us for at least 20 years, maybe longer. They wait patiently in the oak tree by the back door while I go back to the bin with the dry dog food and grab a handful, then toss it onto an unfinished mosquito nursery and go back in the house. Immediately they’re clearing the food away and either eating it or burying it in the “yard” down the hill for later use. I hope they dig it up before nightfall or the marauding wild pigs will sniff it out and tear up the ground to get it. Or maybe the raccoons will find it, or the little fox, or the gray squirrels or ground squirrels or…

To me the whole world looks like a bunch of hungry mouths. Disgusting! I think I’ll go have breakfast now.

Friday, March 7

Easter mice

What a day. The daffodils are bustin’ out all over, and I fixed two computer mice. Other things happened too, but fixing two dead mice is supreme over all. The mice are made by Apple, and they do things that other mice just don’t do, like scroll so smoothly it’s like buttered silk. I have other brands of mice, but they’re jerky and, well, jerky. The problem with Apple’s mouse is when the scroll ball mechanism gets dirty down inside, it gets really jerky. Finally it simply doesn’t work. I had one mouse die on me, so I bought another and enjoyed fine mousing for several months till it too died.

Apple makes its mice so you can’t just locate the magic screw and open them up and clean them out; the exterior shows no point of entry. In an inspired moment I remembered a really old technique I used when fixing radar sets in the Navy—violence. Only difference is back then it involved using a shoe against the side of the machine (usually the right side)—a swift kick. Boots got a better result sometimes. I did have to modify this method though. My new technique was to simply drop the mouse on its “head” from about five feet (1-1/2m) onto a ceramic tile floor. Pop! Parts fly everywhere, so be ready to do some sweeping to get them all back; some of them could be essential.

After checking out how these things are put together, I found a much kinder way to get inside. All you need is a thin knife blade and a modified Phillips screwdriver. I tore into the scroll ball mystery box and marveled at its clever construction, then took all the incredibly teeny parts out and washed them in degreaser. I lost a couple of parts in this process, but determined that I could live without horizontal scrolling to the left (never used), and put it all back together. Four drops of Krazy Glue made everything whole again. I repeated the whole process (sans the floor drop and parts loss) on the other mouse and got it working too.

Parting-out mice isn’t totally new to me. When daughter Hilary was a little kid, the family dog brought home a prize he had just killed, a ground squirrel. With an X-Acto knife, we parted it out as an anatomy lesson. We couldn’t make it work again, though; we must have lost some parts.

Thursday, March 6

Repurposed spacecraft

As so often happens around here, a look out the kitchen window can reveal many wonders. Imagine my astonishment when I saw a little spacecraft hovering under the lower branches of our apricot tree. It seemed to be stuck because it kept tugging back and forth, up and down, but mostly staying in the same place. “Goodness,” I thought to myself, it seems to have gotten snagged on the wire hook I had put on the branch where I was planning to hang a bird feeder. As I watched in amazement, six teeny little people, barely bigger than fat mice, jumped out of the craft onto the ground. Soon after, little pieces of machinery were being thrown out of the craft! The six on the ground dragged them to a nearby gopher hole and tossed them in. They were stripping all the propulsion, navigation, surveillance and personal gear out so we humans couldn’t use it! Dang! I’ve encountered that kind of thing before and frankly I got very angry. Two more tiny people jumped to the ground, having finished the job. I started to leave the house to investigate and the cat shot by me out the door and chased all the little people into the gopher hole. Only the shell of the craft remained, swinging slowly on the hook. I was too late.

The following morning, the cat was still at the gopher hole. Suddenly he leapt and grabbed what seemed to be one of the little people. He strode toward the house with his prize, but when he arrived on the porch, it turned out it was a gopher. Wow, I thought—those little folks had transmogrified themselves into what looked like gophers! Such technology. Man, they’re clever! Hating to waste anything, I modified the shell of the ship into a bird feeder, probably saving maybe $25 or so.

Wednesday, March 5

You’ve gotta love this man

In his annual letter to shareholders, Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha, said the following: “I’ve reluctantly discarded the notion of my continuing to manage the portfolio after my death—abandoning my hope to give new meaning to the term ‘thinking outside the box’.”

Oak Branch Constrictor

I sensed skepticism on the part of readers when I mentioned the Oak Branch Constrictor in my last post. To prove that such a thing exists, I grabbed the camera and went over to retrieve one from the slash pile we made from our last parting-out of the two big fallen oak limbs. When we had cut our way to the bottom of the disarray of broken branches a few days ago, we noticed a piece of “wood” that didn’t look quite right. Sure enough it was a dead constrictor, shown here. Apparently it was lurking on the lowest part of the large limb when it crashed to the ground, killing the snake instantly. How do I know it died instantly? Easy—there were no thrash marks on the ground that would have been there if the snake were only pinned down. Once dead, it’s easy to tell a real oak branch from a constrictor. If you cook a slice of branch, it tastes really bitter. The constrictor, on the other hand, tastes like chicken.

Tuesday, March 4

Flying leaves

This morning I was outside doing my biennial window cleaning when I noticed some dried-up oak leaves sticking at odd angles to the screen. On closer examination, they weren’t leaves at all, but moths! Moths that somehow had escaped the attention of the late Clarence D. Frogge. I quickly grabbed the camera and the model, Karla. We searched the ground for appropriate dead oak leaves to compare to one of the moths. The color and texture matched so closely we simultaneously let out a gasp and retreated to the safety of the house, looking apprehensively out the window at a gnarled oak branch with patches of moss on it, thinking it could actually be an Oak Branch Constrictor, a deadly snake that exactly matches the bark of the white oak and lies in wait for people approaching the tree with chain saws.

Monday, March 3

Today’s mail is here!

A couple of really good magazines arrived, along with some really exciting bills and remarkable junk mail that included self-adhesive return address labels that we could add to our collection of, oh, I don’t know, maybe ten thousand return address labels, with pictures of flowers, American flags, puppies and kitties, fish, ancient airplanes, US Navy ships, horses, frogs (my favorite!) and weird things like deadly bacteria. Who knows how they identified me as a recipient. Must be my eclectic-ness.

But in the midst of all the exciting stuff was a box from the Peter Stone Company with our very own Hilary Hurley Painter model horse, Bernadette (that’s the real name of the real horse from which the model was made). It was wrapped carefully and arrived in perfect condition. Not even a fingerprint marred its perfection. It is simply beautiful.

Right now it occupies a space in our Cabinet of Hilary’s Brilliant Accomplishments. When she gets home from Death Valley, she will be thrilled beyond description. Wow, how neat to be a dad.

Sunday, March 2

A plug for the kid…

Many of you know that my daughter, Hilary, has been drawing and sculpting horses for well nigh her whole life. She was commissioned to make a model for a company that makes model horses in both resin (polyurethane), which are pretty much made by hand, and plastic which is a mass-produced two- or three-part steel injection mold process. The resins have sold out and can only be purchased from the few lucky buyers who glommed onto them at light speed, and wouldn’t give them up even if you pounded their heads with nerf bats for weeks on end. The plastics, however, are slowly being made available at premium prices before the model is finally cranked out by young slaves in China till everyone on earth will own at least two of them, maybe three. Right now, if you act fast, you can find one on eBay. (I bought one!) They’re eighty bucks plus shipping. Out of the original 150, only about a dozen remain. Act now!

Saturday, March 1

Archaeology can make you sad

While cutting up the last of the big oak branches by the corral, I kept noticing a couple of little round pieces of iron poking out of the ground. Nearby was the very top edge of what looked like a piece of angle iron. Figuring the horses might mistake the two pieces of iron for acorns, and therefore bite them and break off their front teeth and then require us to feed them for the rest of their lives by taking a whole bunch of hay and grain and water and running it through a blender and pouring it into a bucket and teaching horses to drink through a straw, I thought it wise to dig up the little pieces of iron. Lo and behold the two pieces were connected to a long square bar of iron, and not only that, said bar was lying next to another long bar. Turns out what we had here is a pair of wagon axles from way long ago. A cursory examination failed to find any Egyptian hieroglyphics or even Mayan or Incan symbols. Heck, not even “Made in Occupied Japan.” The axles were probably hand-forged by some old blacksmith with biceps the size of modern folks’ thighs in a dimly-lit hellishly hot dungeon of a shop with some poor 8-year-old kid pumping the bellows for ten cents a week if he’s lucky to keep the filthy coal-fired forge going white hot for twelve hours a day, missing school and eventually growing up to be the village idiot because he breathed toxic mercury-laden fumes just so some rich customer wouldn’t have to get up on a horse’s back for his ride into town to woo the painted lady at one of the sinful saloons of which there were way too many for a town that size.
Kinda makes you sad.