Monday, July 25

So many subjects…

I have a ton of ideas for blogs, but I always like to accompany them with pictures. It seems that whenever I go to take a picture, the light is crummy, or the tadpoles run and hide, or the huge colorful spider dashes off to the hidden corners of his/her web, or some other thing. Like when the horses were engaged in their version of Swan Lake, the ballet, over by the corral, I didn’t even have a camera with me. Imagine! Huge horses and even huger mules twirling on their tippy-toes! Stunning. And when the squirrels and the rattlesnake were sitting on a flat rock playing poker, once again—no camera. (The snake appeared to be winning by a huge margin, by the way. Unless those “chips” in front of him were actually squirrel turds.)

Dang! It’s really getting to me. I makes me want to start making things up and not even using pictures.

Tuesday, July 12

Summer snow

Early this morning I went to check the irrigation to the olive trees up the hill. When I came back toward the house, I noticed the hood (bonnet) of the car was covered with a thin layer of what looked like snow. Mid-July doesn’t often give us that phenomenon. Sure enough it was tiny blossoms that had fallen from the privet trees near the car.

The trees were alive with bees and wasps taking advantage of the millions of blossoms coming into full nectar-bearing, and they were knocking them off by the handful. A steady shower of pale blossoms landed beneath the trees, making a wintry scene till the wind blew them away to make drifts against any upright surface. Nature’s abundance is astounding. Who knows—maybe one of the mature seeds from one of the seven trees may become a tree some day, but most likely that won’t come to pass. But that’s okay; Nature made a lot of fat bees instead.

Sunday, July 10

Abundance strikes again

Sometimes abundance can cause a lot of work. For the first time ever, our apricot tree started to crank out fruit like it was going out of style. Many dozens of apricots fell to the ground daily for weeks. I couldn’t just scoop them up, eat a few, and toss the rest away, so I dried some (turned out ugly) and finally decided I had better make jam.

Birds and insects found many of the fruits before I did, and did minor to catastrophic damage to them. A few apricots received only a tiny bruise from hitting the ground. Overall, most of the fruit was usable after only minor trimming. It is always surprising to see that a large pile of fruit in the food processor shrinks so much when the whirring blade does its duty.

The first batch I made was tiny. But it was gaggingly sweet because of its nearly-one-to-one ratio of sugar to fruit. For the second and subsequent batches I picked some lemons (huge!) off our tree and added a generous amount of lemon zest and juice to cut the sweetness. I thought I might be in trouble altering the basic recipe with lots of acid from the lemons, but it worked out just fine. It seems jam-making isn’t as touchy as candy-making.

I sent the first batch of jam to the crew at the high ranch. They loved it. If they’re nice to me, maybe they’ll luck out and get some of the second batch.

Hey! Get outta my plum!

For several years I have been feeding local birds. While I’m sure they appreciated my generosity, they were risking their lives because we always seem to have at least one cat living with us. The hummingbirds were a tasty snack when the cat would lie in wait under a quince bush. The little birds seemed unaware that the blob of fur beneath the bush had claws and sharp teeth. Other birds would gather under their seed feeder to pick up the seeds that had fallen to the ground. The furball with claws kept nice and fat feeding on them.

So I stopped feeding the birds. As a benefit, the cat now gets only veterinarian-approved official government-inspected cheaper-by-the-ton Costco dry cat food. He’s getting fat and lazy and lethargic. Another benefit is to our fruit crop. Without an artificially-boosted gang of birds around, the plum tree is actually producing enough for us humans to harvest. So far the raccoons haven’t been by to break the branches, probably because of the growing abundance of feral/wild pigs eating what the raccoons used to eat, crowding them out. And we all know that pigs can’t climb trees worth a hoot. I don’t think they can even stand on their hind legs to reach up.

Only one local natural creature remains a threat to our plum crop—yellow jacket wasps. They seem to be growing in number because there was a bumper crop of apricots this year, and the plum tree is trying to catch up. I don’t know what to do about the yellow jackets. They usually only eat half a plum before moving on, so I get to eat lots of half plums. I just hope I don’t bite into one that still contains a wasp, though.

Friday, July 8

We both have dangerous jobs

Our favorite helicopter company, Ambrosini Helicopters, Inc. in Fresno is run by a man who faces danger every day. A few days ago he flew one of our guests in from Fresno, and he came back to the ranch a few days later to pick her up and take her to Mammoth, on the other side of the Sierra. For several days we had been getting afternoon thunderstorms up there, so he asked me to get ahold of the ranch and make sure she was ready by 9:00 in the morning. That way he could beat the storms. “I hate flying in hail,” he told me. I emailed the ranch and got a response: She was ready.

Contrast what he faces daily with what I face daily. Last week I slipped on some dry grass as I walked down a steep slope to the creek on the way to feed horses. I fell flat on my back. My head missed a rock by mere inches (mere centimeters). The following day a horse, anxious to get to the feed I was putting in his trough, pushed me into the steel teeth of a hay bale cart. I still have a very swollen shin. While I was stirring a pot of 220°F (105°C) apricot jam, the boiling got especially vigorous and I got splashed by hot jam. I can still find the red spot on my arm in the right lighting conditions. I am dreading the day, when opening a bill from one of our suppliers, that I get a paper cut.

Thursday, July 7

Another astonishing achievement

Life has few moments as exciting as going through the deck one time and getting a win in solitaire. It’s happened to me maybe six times in my life. But every time it’s something to swell up with pride about, kind of like getting a triple Ph.D or becoming pope. While those are pretty decent achievements, they don’t quite have the—what can I say—visceral thrill of turning one card after another and placing them with such skill and certainty and knowing a win is coming. As it starts to look like it’s going to happen, I slow down a little just to prolong the excitement. Then, finally, the “Bravo! You did it” pops up and I am elated for a couple of hours at least. Nothing like it.

Tuesday, July 5

Why I bought Apple stock way back when

Here’s one more reason I love Apple. This company has its finger on the pulse of the future. It’s astonishing the number of industries and enterprises that are adopting the iPad as a fundamental part of their operations. Airlines expect to save millions of dollars annually in fuel costs alone by adopting the lightweight iPad instead of the 40-to 50-pound flight bag with its paper charts and manuals required to be on the flight decks of airliners. I don’t know why the iPad won out over the myriad of tablet computers available now, but I think it is because of Apple’s reputation of “innovation that simply works.”

Don’t be surprised if your San Francisco to Tokyo flight crashes and the cause is that the pilot was playing Angry Birds instead of monitoring the killer storm that brought the plane down. We’re all human after all. I mean even in the paper chart days, he could have been doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

A friend of ours who is a retired Delta Airlines pilot said that after he gets the airplane off the ground and aimed at its target, he just punches the autopilot button till the airplane is ready to land. In the interim, his chief responsibility is to keep the toilets working.

Photo: New York Times

Monday, July 4

Depressing, isn’t it?

As things get more expensive, things don’t seem to cost more. I noticed this when I was in Costco a few weeks ago. I was used to paying just under $40 for Chevron Delo 400 motor oil, the product we use in diesel engines. I grabbed a box of gallon bottles and put it in the cart. It was only later I realized that instead of four one-gallon bottles in the box, there were three. Another instance was yesterday when I asked Hilary to pick up a 5-pound bag of sugar so I could cook up some apricot jam. She brought home a 4-pound bag, which superficially looked like the old 5-pound bag. She noticed the deficiency and bought an additional 2-pound box to make it up. [Thanks Hil! I used every speck of it!]

Check out a box of breakfast cereal on the supermarket shelf. Same width, same height. But front-to-back it’s thinner, and the price hasn’t changed.

Is it a nasty conspiracy? No, it’s marketing. If prices go up, people start changing their buying habits and instead of buying a brand name product, they’ll pick a generic.

Behind all this is the unacknowledged fact that here in the United States we are in a depression. No politician dares to mention the D word, but every historic indicator points to the conclusion that it’s true. And we can only get out of this mess by cutting spending on the part of governments. Stop the stupid wars, too. It will hurt short-term, but if we keep kicking the can down the road, we only prolong the pain. This is a rich, powerful country with resources, both natural and human, that match or exceed any country on earth. We can save ourselves from a lingering demise if we confront the problem directly and stop calling it a recession with recovery on the horizon.

The first step is to declare the truth: We are in a depression. Period. Even though things seem to cost the same as they did before.

Second batch of equines heads to ranch

Hilary headed out this morning with six horses stuffed into the big trailer. As the trailer passed by me, I could hear wheezing and grunting as the tightly-packed horses struggled for breath. Hilary told me that when they get up to highway speed, the horses will cool and shrink and be able to breathe normally.


She’ll return tonight with Emily and repeat this activity until the ranch has enough horseflesh to meet the needs of the guests for the summer. We don’t have any French chefs scheduled to cook this season, so I don’t know why they need so many horses. Maybe they’re just up there to fatten up on the rich meadow grass, for use later.


I’d better quit before I get blasted.

Sunday, July 3

Pendulum waves

Courtesy of Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations. (Thanks for the link, Bill.) Fascinating to see what we mostly see on an electronic display such as an oscilloscope. In one minute these pendula (pendulums to those not comfortable with Latin) go through some very interesting wave motions. One of the professors suggested that “the demonstration could be used to simulate quantum revival.” The writer concluded, and I quote: “So here you have quantum revival versus classical periodicity!”

No wonder I almost wet myself!

The article mentions that halfway through the 60-second cycle, half the pendulums are at one amplitude maximum while the other half are at the opposite amplitude maximum. That occurs at the 57-second mark in the video.

Someone should build swing sets like this for playgrounds to teach kids that cooperation can actually be fun, to the outside viewer at least.