Friday, November 5, 2021

There And Back Again, Again

The Inyo Mountains from the secret campsite
Once one begins to list “retired” as one’s “occupation,” the notion of taking a vacation becomes increasingly moot. When The Beloved Spouse and I began to plan a late-fall road-trip out west to see family, it was hard to think of it as a vacation. Fortunately, “road trip” is a “thing” now, so it provides a useful substitute.

Our window of opportunity was somewhat narrow, because we wanted to avoid family crowds in state and national parks (where we prefer to stay), and to leave late enough to avoid remnant summer heat but get home before cold weather started creeping in. Although we did manage to miss almost all the hot weather, we had to change plans several times to avoid encroaching sub-freezing temperatures in many places we wanted to visit. Porco is a great travel trailer, but his underbelly isn’t insulated, so we need to camp in predictably temperate climes. 

After dealing with some mini-disasters related to bad packing and insufficient plumbing expertise, we settled in for a reasonably comfortable couple of "shake down" days at Copper Breaks State Park near Quanah, TX. Our first hint of trouble arrived as we drove into Trinidad Lake State Park, in southern Colorado, and started mapping out our route for the next day. We were rather gob smacked to learn that the predicted weather for the next few days in mountainous central Colorado involved nights dipping below freezing, so we quickly changed plans to head for the Colorado/New Mexico border instead, to Navajo State Park, and stay there for a couple of days in order to re-map the route. We’d have to traverse the fabled Wolf Creek Pass, but the aspens had started changing color and the views were spectacular. 

The stay at Navajo was quite pleasant, even though it offered us the first of many reminders of encroaching drought (very low lake levels), and gave us time to rethink our plans a little. We shifted over to Utah after that, and moved up toward Salt Lake and across to Nevada, where we rejoined our original route and drove up the "most dangerous highway in the US" (93) to Idaho to visit family near Boise. The foretold danger--on an otherwise smooth, well-paved, lovely road--appeared in the form of a nasty multi-vehicle accident that parked us for an hour and a half. We still made it to the Boise area in good time, though, and had a nice visit with my step-family, who had only recently moved up from southern California. From there we drove through a good chunk of eastern Oregon into Washington, over the Cascades, and spent time with my son and his wife in their new-ish rainforest aerie in Redmond, WA, my former student Jane and her husband in Bellevue, and my uncle, aunt, and cousins and family in the Greater Tumwater Area (where we got to see my cousin Jeff's champion pumpkin before it shuffled off to glory in Half Moon Bay, CA). We ended up spending three days in Tumwater, enjoying my aunt Geri and uncle Art's gracious hospitality and amazing food. Molly and Nylah had a great time running around in the house and yard sans leash, for the first time in two weeks. 

Remnants of the Dixie Fire
Things started going south (metaphorically as well as literally) as we drove toward Eugene, OR through a cold rain and had to change plans again because the temperatures were falling along the Oregon/California border, where we had planned to join Highway 395 and follow it south. So, after changing a flat in one of Porco's tires, we kept on I 5 into Redding and then went east to Susanville—through some of the remnants of the recent Dixie Fire (which had not yet been entirely contained) near Lassen Volcano. We had reserved a couple of nights at a funky campground beside the Bridgeport Reservoir, but had no cell service and thus no way to check on the weather. By the morning after we arrived we got enough information to know that the temperatures would not be favorable overnight, so we abandoned the rest of the booking, sacrificed the fee, and got on back on to 395 south. 

The trip down was lovely, with dramatic clouds, a significant dusting of new snow, and gorgeous views down to Mono Lake. We dropped in at a viewing spot near the tufa and snapped a couple of pictures, and then drove to Big Pine where we filled our freshwater tank. Our preferred RV park in Lone Pine was full, so we decided to try one of the BLM areas (not the Alabamas, which have become an RV cult spot). We found a terrific campground that would only cost us USD 2.50 per night thanks to our Geezer Parks Pass. I’ve opted not to name it, because I’m a selfish old bat and just don’t want to share the discovery. But we loved it, the animals loved it, and we had three days of peace with only one “neighbor” for two of them. TBS hooked up the solar array and kept us in electricity, and we got in some hiking and trips to sacred family sites in the valley. 

Bridgeport Reservoir, with geese if you look closely

New snow in Mono Country

Mono Lake from outside of Bridgeport

Mono Lake Tufa

View from the campsite with haze from
Sequoia/Kings Canyon fires

Unfortunately, this idyll marked the end of our journey out, and everything that followed focused on getting us back to Texas, which would require more re-routing, a missed opportunity to visit my beloved 99 year-old cousin Willma in Sedona, and some of the scariest driving we’ve ever experienced. We were leaving just in time to avoid a freeze, but also just in time to have to negotiate one of the periodic katabatic wind storms I’ve known since I was a child. 

Owens Valley frequently experiences very high-velocity winds that blow from north to south and west to east (at the same time). The dust kicked up by these storms, especially off of Owens Lake (mostly dry) and the dunes at the southern end of the valley can blind drivers and cause horrific accidents on 395. After attending to some necessities (fixing Porco's flat, dumping our tanks, and visiting the Interagency Visitor Center for Valley swag), we got on the road just as the storm got serious. We probably should have waited it out for another day, but decided to take it slow and easy, and to get off the road if necessary; it was supposed to freeze in Lone Pine that night, so our options were slim. Our rig is relatively short (20’ for Porco, 20’ for the Gladiator), and pretty low-profile, presenting less of a wind target than most RVs. 

We managed to get around one accident blocking the southbound lane by moving over to Old 395, and later saw two semis overturned in the northbound lanes. We got to Pearsonville before we lost visibility, and pulled off. GPS told us that we were near where the highway curved east, so as soon as it was clear enough to see anything, we drove past the junction with CA 14, just as it was being closed, and found out that 395 had been closed both north and southbound. Turning east meant that we had the wind at our tail, were out of the valley, and the most dangerous part was over. 

Coming into Kramer Junction 

After that we got some of the best mileage of the trip. The winds caught up with us as we turned south again, but they weren’t nearly as strong. We ran into another visibility problem as we drove into Kramer Junction (the only photos I got of the storm were through the windshield here), but instead of 0 feet, we could see for 10 or 15. By the time we stopped for gas, the dust was gone, and we were headed east again: to Needles for the night, and then on to a stretch of old Route 66. 

While we were cruising along the next day, reading old Burma Shave signs and stopping at a couple of tourist traps, we learned that the overnight temperatures along I 40 would be well below freezing, resulting in yet another change in plans, and direction. We had to abandon our reservations at Meteor Crater, and our plans to visit Sedona. (We’re now thinking of making that one up with a special trip out to Arizona next spring.) We took a sharp right turn just before Flagstaff, and headed toward Phoenix, where we stayed in an RV park right out of the Twilight Zone. If I ever do a review of the places we stayed, I’ll tell that story. But think Stepford Wives meets Heinlein Mars colony and you’ll get the idea. 

We managed not to have to take an extra day by abandoning all plans to visit interesting places, and sped on back through southern New Mexico (where we stayed at a campground with Great Horned Owls) and into Texas. We spend our last night on the road in Sweetwater, and got home by early afternoon, twenty-five days after we left. 

In the end, it was wonderful to be able to visit most of the folks we had planned to see, and to drive through parts of the country I hadn’t seen since I was a seven year-old on a caravan trip with my grandparents. Future trips, however, will involve many fewer one-night stands at RV parks and more, longer-term stays in more remote places. The unfortunate (for us) boom in recreational travel has meant that many state parks are booked months in advance, the national parks have been over-run, and some of our favorite places (like the Alabama Hills outside of my home town) have become RV Disneylands. I once remarked that if Los Angeles hadn’t taken all that water from Owens Valley, the towns south of Mammoth would have become overpopulated and overcrowded themselves. Although I don’t really see that happening now, the tourists have become far more abundant than I’ve ever seen them. This creates a bit of an economic boom for valley dwellers, but lessens the enjoyment quotient for lovers of peace, quiet, and dark skies. 

As I go through my travel journal to fill in gaps and have a chance to ruminate more deeply on the trip, I’ll probably add posts that expand on this one. But for those of my well-wishers who’ve been waiting to get more than brief text messages, I thought it prudent to get this part out. 

Daylight savings time ends this weekend, the leaves are falling, it’s getting much cooler, and we’ve turned on the furnace in the house. We’re also enjoying a bumper crop of pecans, which require endless shelling, but are welcome nonetheless. We’re both now boostered, and still sport our Ghibli masks when we go out, so feel about as safe as we can in this part of the world. There will be a Thanksgiving this year, again hosted by daughter and her partner, for which I have little to do but enjoy when we get there. 

Now that we’re back, we can get back to work on making the house livable for the foreseeable future, with measures to withstand future, climate-related difficulties. Despite the fact that everybody in Real Estate Land seems to want to buy our house, the trip has provided one more insight. No matter where we travel, this house is where we all—spouses, cat, and dog—feel at home. So no, we won’t be moving west. But we’ll still get out there once in a while.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Deep Summer Busy-ness

As the summer begins to wane, we on the Farm find ourselves busier than we've been in quite a while. There are injured trees to fell, caravan projects to complete, software programs to learn, clearing out to accomplish--all in addition to the daily necessities of newspaper reading, puzzle solving, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and pet service. 

I suppose I've mentioned innumerable times that we do a large measure of the daily stuff without benefit of central air conditioning. This isn't generally a problem, at least in the morning, when things are cool enough (if we're sitting under fans) to read the paper, do the crosswords, and even tidy up. But after noon, we try to shut down and work in one of the rooms with a window unit (living room, snug, study, bedroom) in order to conserve power. Fortunately, Porco has its own air con, so any of the projects we're undertaking in preparation for our rather ambitious, month-long road trip west can be done in relative comfort.

We still take time in the morning and evening to spend time out of doors with the animals, and so our activities are pretty well-paced. Not long ago, we installed a more efficient ceiling fan in the kitchen, which makes it easier to cook. If I'm on the ball, I get something prepped and put together in the morning, then put it in the oven to bake later, rather than simmer on the stove top. Or we have salad nights. Having come from pioneer stock that made their lives in the western Nevadan and eastern Californian basin and range deserts, I have good models for dealing with heat, and because the humidity demonstrates the relative abundance of water in north Texas, there is really little to complain about. 

But climate change is certainly "messaging" us, and strongly nudging us in the direction of some preparatory gestures. Last winter's Big Freeze (as they're now calling it in the Daily Poop) has prompted us to buy a lovely ceramic cast iron log burner, which will take its place in front of the fireplace at the end of this month. The greenhouse also falls into the prepper device category, and after we're home from our trip, stepped up efforts to fortify our food-growing capabilities will begin: enhancing the veg space wherever we can. My old, battered copy of Ruth Stout's No Work Garden Book (saved from some flood or another), and Helen and Scott Nearing's books on the Good Life are on my autumn reading list, and there are several more books on my shelves with similar themes: making do with less, all written before it became trendy again to "make do and mend."

Work on Porco Rosso has produced new "classic" faucets with metal handles, a cargo carrier for hauling what TBS quaintly refers to as the "honey wagon" (don't ask) and extra water. We also installed, inexpertly but eventually adequately, a new awning. The old one was once white, but the spring rains and dying trees had ruined it, so we got something a bit too cute but much more serviceable. 

There are also a new lock and new keys, after it proved too difficult to get a damaged key replaced. We also got better locking devices for the exterior storage bins. Interior storage will be enhanced with numerous IKEA amenities, from boxes to baskets to small shelves for stashing spices. And my makeshift pillowslip curtains will finally be cut to fit and insulated. We're planning to leave just before the solstice, camping first at Cedar Breaks State Park on the night of the Full Corn Moon (they call it the Harvest moon around here, but I grew up with the Corn moon). The new binoculars TBS gave me for my last birthday will be put to use taking photos for a later Skywatch entry, from a good Dark Sky site.

The travel planning is pretty much complete now, and we've had time to clear out some of the winter damage and tired remains of spring's extravagant growth. Pottering around in the yard has led to a few wildlife discoveries, the best of which is another spider. Last time, I included a shot of a tiny argiope in a cedar tree--the first I'd seen in years. This last week, however, we discovered a much larger variety and I've been watching it faithfully over several days. The first time I noticed her, Nylah had already barged through her very large web (strung between the downspout and rain butt on the northwest corner of the house, and a large pecan tree about six feet away), and the spider (now known as Shelob; much smaller, but with similar habits, for those of you Tolkien fans) was already busy repairing it.

My feline correspondent, Tigger (see last post's comments) hasn't seen this variety before, so I thought I'd provide her a much larger example. Two days ago, there was also ample evidence of mayhem. I'm including a sequence of photos to illustrate the dramatic goings on, and to give you (perhaps) an idea of why my family has always been so fascinated by these industrious beasties.

Argiopes are orb spinners, which you should be able to see in the last picture; it and the one above it were taken after she had devoured her packet of Japanese beetle. The opening shot on this post is the only one taken from behind the web. At first she was pretty skittish, and every time I came near, she'd run up to the eave to hide. But more recently, I've been able to get closer--although getting my cheesy excuse for a Skywatch Friday entry required crouching down in back of the web. 

The next few days are forecast to be a little cooler (93F instead of today's 97), although the rain promised for the weekend seems to have left the map. But now that the major project work is done, I'll be spending a few more hours trying to master a new web design program (Pinegrow) which I'm hoping will allow me to get back to work on revising the old page and a couple of other web efforts.

Stay safe, folks. And have a good weekend (to those of you for whom weekends still mean something).

Friday, July 23, 2021

Midsummer Murders


The title of this post is a (shamelessly opportunistic) corruption of the perennial British crime fiction TV favorite, Midsommer Murders, but roughly describes the latest observations in the accidental/anarchist's garden.

A few days ago, during my first perambulation of the morning with Molly, I noticed evidence of utter mayhem: feathers everywhere, apparently from a mockingbird, which had met its demise at the claws of one of our local raptors.

She looks guilty, but is not responsible.

I attributed the carnage (although there were no grisly bits) to a hawk or an owl, both of which hunt in our yard, and went about my business. The next day, however, evidence of further havoc appeared in the same area, and this time it might have been a mourning dove. Since we often see barred owls, and sharp-shinned, red-tail, and other hawks flying about, activity like this does happen occasionally, and I thought I'd identified the culprit(s) when I captured some video of the swoops and glides of a group of raptors a couple of days later, after hearing their cries. The winds were up a bit and these birds (which I now think might have been Mississippi kites) were having a great time soaring on the thermals.

As it turns out, however, if these were indeed kites, as insectivores they were not the perpetrators of the previous days' butchery. If I were Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, I would be able to rely on the skills of an excellent forensic scientist and his or her team in order to solve the crime. But I'm not terribly good at this sort of investigation, and haven't even been able to reliably identify the birds I filmed for two minutes after I caught one of them in the opening shot. I've only managed to locate a couple of websites that can help with silhouettes, and will just have to keep the real camera handy for the next time I hear tell-tale raptor noises. Maybe then I can get clearer evidence. 

I should probably note that the day before all this happened, I had caught in mid-air a downy, floating feather from what was probably a large juvenile bird--possibly an owl. Since we've had experience with these chaps (one is likely responsible for the untimely demise of our beloved Emma, Molly's predecessor), one of their young'ns is now my chief suspect. 

In my last post I mentioned the relative absence of butterflies (exactly one monarch and one black swallowtail so far), but that at least means that I haven't had to spend any time protecting caterpillars from death-by-anole or -cardinal. Part of this has to do with the fact that my usually voluminous fennel and parsley plants were devastated by the spring rains, and there isn't nearly as much black swallowtail food around. One of our three cardinal pairs has successfully nurtured a chick (finally, on their third try), but they're all foraging elsewhere. 

I have had a couple of insectivorous surprises, though: spiders.

I finally have an argiope, which is my favorite garden spider. One built its web in front of my kitchen window when my daughter was a baby, and her first word was "'pider." Ever since, I've made sure to nurture any that show up, but we've only seen once in the twenty years we've lived in this house. Now, however, there's a small one in the cedar tree outside my study window. It has managed to construct its web next to one of the failed cardinals' nests, but nobody seems to have bothered it, and it's been a couple of weeks since I noticed it. It's also getting bigger by the day, and the characteristic stabilimentum that gives it the "zipper spider" common name is growing.

Also, just before our last rain (at the weekend), I almost literally ran into an orb spider in action, spinning an enormous web (the supporting ends had to be at least eight feet apart) across the sidewalk that leads out of our back door. The speed at which she worked was astonishing, and I caught a couple of minutes of her before I had become food for one too many mosquitoes. [Unfortunately, my lack of video editing skills and the file-size limits of Blogger have prevented me from uploading the evidence.] The web was almost complete, and I wonder if she managed to catch anything tasty before the downpour next morning obliterated the whole effort. I had left a note on the back door ("SPIDER WEB") to alert anyone letting out the dog or cat, but by the time I got down to check, it had disappeared without a trace.

So my efforts to track down predators this week have shown very limited success. Still, I'm glad that some of the faunal members of our little garden family are thriving; and even if some of them become victims of others, it's all part of the process. Sometimes it's comforting to know that something in the world is still working properly.

Image notes: The first "forensic" shot was taken in situ; the second is of a representative cluster of feathers, and the third was posed; Molly is not guilty of avicide, but rather had plopped down nonchalantly amidst the crime scene. The opening and closing shots were, unfortunately, obtained quickly and under sub-optimal conditions for getting the best out of an iPhone 7 camera.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Suburban Soundscapes

I was driven from my comfy chair just now by the onset of the weekly brigade of neighborhood lawn maintenance workers. Not neighbors themselves, because aside from us, I've only come across about two other households in the immediate area that "do" their own yardwork. Rather, there are a couple of "landscaping" companies that descend on our block and a couple of others nearby and drive us batty with their racket: usually on Thursdays and Fridays, as the homeowners prepare for visitors at the weekend. Their gas-powered lawn machines (not just mowers, but "ride-on" contraptions), trimmers, and (especially) leaf-blowers, all sporting noise levels so high that we have to close windows and doors and retreat to rooms as far away from it all as possible. 

The cacophony from each only lasts for a half hour or so, but it happens in sequence, from yard to yard, and it only involves two companies, so it goes on for as long as it takes to cover the contracts each day. There seem to be at least eight properties close enough to cause discomfort, but I've had to adjust my reading, writing, and gardening times to their schedules in order to avoid raising my blood pressure. 

By a somewhat ironical coincidence, this morning's reading involved the newest issue of Dumbo Feather--one of the Aussie magazines I subscribe to digitally.  It's a quarterly that features "conversations with extraordinary people" on a broad range of topics. This time it's on music, and I had just finished reading a lovely little piece on "The Dawn Chorus"--the phenomenon of morning birdsong. Thus inspired, Molly and I then went out for our morning stroll in the garden, with the particular purpose of enjoying the relative quiet (post-rush hour) and noticing what birds were about.

As often happens, Molly was startled by a loud truck thumping by and was easily persuaded to "run like the wind" (an actual command) into the house, where I made myself a cuppa and prepared to resume my morning read. And then the mower started up, and I had to move in here to the study. I had already planned to hunker down with the air conditioner on later, when the temperatures rose along with the humidity (it's actually quite comfortable now, under the fan at 86F/62%) to work on planning the coming trip west in September. So I decided to use the opportunity to grouse about one of my current preoccupations: aurality. 

According to my elderly 1971 copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, compact edition, "aurality" isn't even a word, although Merriam-Webster says that it means "of or relating to the ear or to the sense of hearing," which I know only because the Fandom Wiki has a whole section on aurality in its article on "Writing Across Media Wiki." Discovering this was fortuitous, because it offers a perspective I hadn't thought of: aurality itself as a medium for conveying emotion, memory, and other phenomena often provoked by sensory input.

My own auditory capabilities are fading, slowly but irrevocably, into the common plight of the elderly: the hearing aid quandary. At the moment, The Beloved Spouse, whose own hearing is almost canine, is patient when I ask him to repeat what he just said (mumbled?), or to turn up the TV sound just a tad. And I'm actually happy that I miss some of the annoying noises that sift in and bother him. But this same condition means that I don't hear the far-off hawk calls or bullfrog choruses that he does, and will ultimately have to decide about taking advantage of my health plan's offers to help out.

For now, though, I'm still navigating other aural conditions that have arisen over the years. Like "stuck song syndrome" (earworm), which has afflicted me for some time now, so that I cannot bear to hear catchy tunes, and popular music-even my beloved early folk stuff--has become problematic. I'm still okay with jazz and classical music, because of their innate complexity, but easily repeated choruses and jingles can take days to get rid of, and often haunt my sleep.

But the Dumbo Feather issue I'm going to go back to reading (now that the lawn blowers are finished for the time being) is about music and musicians, and I'm thinking about winding up the old Victrola (I actually have one--see left) for a little Artie Shaw, or maybe putting one of my Musical Heritage Society tapes, or a CD from one of my old issues of Esopus, or even Bob Dylan's vinyl Blonde on Blonde album, because I woke up this morning thinking about "Visions of Johanna" for reasons I will probably never understand. Time to put all those old media to work again.

Come to think of it, though, Dylan's music was often punctuated by musings on sound, so it's probably fitting to consider lines like "Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet," and myriad references to the noises associated with cities, such as those in "Johanna." They didn't bother me much when I actually lived in cities, like Philadelphia and Chicago, where subway car screeches, Harry Caray's announcing Cubs games over the loudspeaker, and street urchins' playing stickball seeped into windows and onto balconies and stoops as part of their aural landscapes. But McKinney a sub-urban town, not a real city. It still wants to promote a country-like "vibe," claiming to be "Unique by Nature," all the while pouring more and more concrete for more and more strip malls. And the ambient noise is pretty mon-aural: traffic and lawn machines.

And occasional fireworks. The recent Independence Day holiday lasted for four days here, and sounded like a war zone, beginning Friday night and not abating finally until Tuesday. Fireworks are illegal within the city limits, but that doesn't deter the enormous number of scofflaws who go out of town to buy their ammunition and then fire away. On Saturday and Sunday nights, the blasts went on unabated until well after one a.m. Despite ample public displays put on by municipal and other groups, people around here just can't seem to survive the 4th without blowing stuff up. I'm pretty sure they were all making up for not being able to celebrate amply last year, but I'll never be able to enjoy fireworks again, after four sleepless nights with two frightened animals.

Our little half acre was considerably quieter twenty years ago when we moved up from Dallas. That quiet has gradually been overwhelmed by new highway lanes and increasing construction in what has become just another suburb of Dallas. The only respite came during the early part of the pandemic, when things shut down for long enough that I actually could remember what it was like in our early years here. And perhaps some changes in modes of conducting business will provide a small measure of noise-dampening as we begin to work out how we're all going to live from now on.

It's quiet at the moment, though, and the back yard is lovely and shady. The temperature's a little higher (88F, with a high of 91 expected), but the humidity is down to 56%--quite tolerable with the little 6 mph breeze going on. Time to stop whinging and enjoy the now-tolerable, rather peaceful late morning in summertime Texas. 

The opening photo was taken last year at this time, and shows just about how much sky we can see from most of the yard. The leafy canopy makes it difficult to grow food, but it does help keep the soil cool and the house shaded--which is about as good as it gets in July. I just wish all these trees were better at dampening the acoustical contributions of suburban life.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

On the Cusp of Summer in the Anarchist's Garden

This weekend has become both nationally and cosmically momentous, what with our first federally official Juneteenth celebrated today, and the occurrence of the Summer Solstice tomorrow.  Fathers' Day doesn't much come into the equation, since we are both now fatherless, but the children usually send greetings and often bring up a nice beer; if they do so this year, we'll have even more to celebrate. 

As the early onset of summer heat has settled into our daily lives, we've already begun to take mitigation steps. Those who live in drafty old houses without central air conditioning probably understand better than anyone that cooling is an especially expensive enterprise around here. We are, however, fortunate to have a two-level attic fan that draws air both in and out of the house, forty windows to help direct that flow, and numerous large shade trees. 

The garden is so shady, in fact, that finding a place in which to deploy our solar collectors to juice up the Bluetti portable power station isn't easy. It turns out that the best spot is on the north side of the house, next to our already-sagging veggie garden, where a strip of lawn gets sun most of the day. Elsewhere, nothing stays sunny for long, which in summer is mostly a good thing. I discovered this morning, however, that the solar panels are killing the grass, so we'll have to figure out how to elevate them. The power companies are predicting grid problems, and it will be up to consumers to deal with blackout periods in August. This being Texas, there are no plans for actually correcting the problems. So the solar collecting effort is designed to give us a couple of off-grid air con when we need it.

Our habit now is to open up the house in the early morning, for as long as it's cool enough to get by with just the fans. As things warm up, we vacate the living room for the snug and/or the study, where we can turn on a room air conditioner. The real challenge is cooking, since the kitchen has no A/C, but the ceiling fan usually does the job for as long as it takes me to prep for the main meal. We're keen on salads or casseroles for supper, the latter being fairly simple to deal with in the "pizza oven" in the range. So I try to cook what needs to be cooked while it's still cool, and then chuck the results into the fridge until time to assemble.

My early childhood experience without any real air conditioning in both tropical and desert conditions has made me fairly tolerant of heat, but the combination of high temperatures and humidity is more difficult to accommodate than desert conditions.

These days, Molly and I have begun a new routine of walking in the garden early, where she can lurk and pounce on unsuspecting insects and reptiles while it's still somewhat cool, and I can practice what I'm calling Mao Qigong (cat Qigong). This involves following her around to make sure she doesn't 1) reduce our already endangered bird population or 2) leap to the top of the fence in pursuit of squirrels. Yesterday I managed to complete an entire Ba Duan Jin (the Eight Brocades) while she explored her usual haunts. I don't get to concentrate much, but I do get to practice out of doors which is supposed to be good for my Chi (Qi). I'm not a believer, but I respect the discipline, and the exercises have helped me to not turn into a blob. The neighbors who walk their dogs past our yard have long since decided that I'm a complete nutter, so I'm no longer bothered by being spotted. 

The garden itself, after being totally sodden for so long, is baking out, and I've had to water the tender herbs. Mosquitos are rife, despite the fact that I've used Bt granules everywhere water stands for more than a few minutes, so I have to spray myself down as soon as I get out. Because my warfarin-laced blood is so attractive to the mozzies, I must rely on a low-level DEET spray, but it's the only deterrent I've been able to find that actually works. When bitten I welt up and itch for days.

My efforts to attract bees seem to be successful again this year, even if butterflies haven't discovered the non-toxic pleasures of my abundance of parsley and fennel plants. I even have a butterfly shelter to help save larvae from the anoles and cardinals that have had their way with caterpillars and chrysalises in the past. As soon as I notice a caterpillar, I'll tie a mesh bag around its feeding area (courtesy of a local farm from whom I buy seasonal veg and which packages them in these rather than in plastic), and when it's big enough, I'll transfer it to a pot of food in the shelter until it pupates and then hatches. Or so the plan goes. Last year my one successful chrysalis rescue in October ended when the butterfly froze after it hatched during Snowmageddon last February. I hadn't thought it would overwinter and hatch, and left it unattended in the greenhouse, only to discover its beautiful corpse after the storm.

The Accidental Garden invariably becomes the Anarchist's Garden as I let nature take its course after spring efforts to get things established.  Except for mowing and occasional weed-yanking, disorder reigns. Of necessity, we do little out of doors after about ten or eleven in the morning, unless the humidity drops below 50%. The critters like to get out later, though, so I bought a collapsible swimming pool for them, hoping to engender some frolics in the evenings. Both Molly and Nylah are fond of water, but I'm not sure how eager they'll be to hop in and wade about. They both examined it when I unfurled it next to the greenhouse, in an especially chaotic corner of the garden that gets swamped when it rains and has thus been shamelessly neglected. But they quickly lost interest when Molly noticed something moving in the sea oats. We shall see. This morning she stuck her front feet in the scantily filled pool and took a drink, but withdrew before too long. We'll find a better place for a more formal test later.

Our mychorrizal habitats (large amounts of dead wood) continue to fruit, with both the usual culprits and some interesting newcomers. I've recently found some "dog barf" fungus (slime mold, in a rather lovely orangey color) in the copse next to where we park Porco. And our long-dead hackberry stump keeps feeding a colony of some variety of inkcaps; these commonly arise after rainy periods. They look very pretty for a day or two, and then collapse into goo.

The weatherborne energy of nature is also expressing itself in aggressive growth and abundant flowering. As I showed in my last post, the Virginia Creeper and our neighbor's ivy are taking over wherever I let them. The Creeper is sending out tendrils everywhere, and I've had to trim it back when I notice it. But the extraordinarily long flowering season for Wisteria is particularly welcome, and I've been documenting the development of new blooms on a daily basis. One of the spaces for Mao Qigong includes our "secret garden" behind the garage, where a mass of Wisteria grows unsupported and unconstrained, and it's just lovely to breathe in the heady scent as I move through a practice.

It was by this very blossom that I watched a veritable orgy of Cardinal sex the other day, and wondered what would result. Today I got my answer, since one pair (of the three involved) is reestablishing its home in the cedar tree outside my study window. Two nests have already been built there, and several eggs lain, but only one bit of fluff ever seems to have emerged, and I'm not even sure that it survived to fledge. The weather was so stormy and wet for so long that even in the dense cedar needles I doubt that the mother could have protected any babies for very long. Three pairs have built nests in various parts of the garden, but only this couple has persisted. Shepherding Molly past the tree every morning will once again become part of our daily routine.

I'm not sure what to think of the coming three months. There's little chance that we'll be able to travel anywhere, since state parks are booked up forever. We do plan to head west to visit family after children are back in school and the roads less traveled, but things have changed over the duration of the Plague so much that this summer should be somewhat different than what we've experienced over the two decades we've spent on this little plot of land, and certainly in the last year. 

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Image notes: The photo of the sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice (21st June 2005) was taken by Andrew Dunn and used with a Creative Commons license. All the others are iPhone 7 snaps.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Welcome to Subtropical North Texas

I probably spend an inordinate amount of time on this blog grousing about the weather. Usually by this time of year it's started getting hot, and the tomatoes are already overheated and about to give up. But I am currently reminded of a terrifying novel I began reading just before my valve replacement surgery eleven years ago: Robert Charles Wilson's Darwinia, a sort of alternate history/quasi-horror steampunky sort of story about a giant blob of vegetation's dropping on top of Europe in the early twentieth century.

Kind of what our little "farm" looks like now.
Just outside our kitchen, and to the east of our greenhouse our Virginia Creeper and our neighbor's ivy have joined forces to cover just about everything they can, as you can see from the opening photo. And to the west of the kitchen and the laundry room, the two vines (plus a bit of miscellaneous wild grapes) are conniving to keep the sun out of the kitchen in the afternoons--if we ever get much more sun.

It's difficult to find local precipitation totals because it can be pouring at our house and sunny across town. But we've had some rain nearly every day for the last two months, sometimes in sheets, and The Beloved Spouse recently read something about "record rainfall in McKinney." On our way home from a tardy Mother's Day celebration last weekend in Dallas, we were greeted at the city limits by this:

Although April and May are usually our wettest months, this year's rain has meant repeated backyard flooding, even though it's not dangerous for us because we're somewhat elevated and the water flows downhill to the houses at the south end of the street. Nylah spends a good portion of her time in such weather "crated" next to my side of the bed upstairs; she was scared witless by a thunderbolt not long after she came to live here, and she's adopted several semi-enclosed areas for cowering during thunderstorms. Molly, on the other hand, is intrepid. She also has a thunderstorm space, but she's usually fine as long as lightning isn't flashing all over and being punctuated by really loud thunderclaps. She even enjoys light rain, if it means she can go out of doors. She gamely tiptoes through puddles a couple of inches deep, and leaps over deeper ones.

The result of all this wealth of moisture is that I'm being constantly reminded of warm, muggy, Taiwanese spring weather, and the onset of typhoon season. The highlight of my first year in Taiwan (we arrived in January of 1958) was the category 5 Typhoon Winnie that July, which blew past the north of the island and weakened on route to the mainland. Taipei was heavily flooded, although our Japanese-built house was raised high enough above ground to stay dry. The following year the island was bisected by Typhoon Joan, another category 5, but by that time we had moved up to Yangmingshan (now a national park) and were better protected by the mountains. In September of 1961 we got whacked with Typhoon Pamela (another 5), causing our living room roof to fall in, which explains why I completely freak out now every time there's a tornado warning. Pamela hit Taiwan with winds of about 180 mph. Since this was all happening in the Cold War, we were also ducking and covering at school due to the military confrontations taking place between Taiwan and the mainland that summer. Both of my parents were involved in these events--my mother as the only reporter on Quemoy when TSHTF, and my father in his role as a "listener" for the Air Force (long story--which I may tell sometime, since the events are back in the news). As a ten year-old, though, I was more preoccupied with being a kid and thought it was all such larks.

Hurricane season begins this year on June 1, so I'm hoping the weather will settle down for a while before something comes roaring in from the Gulf.  My main problem with hurricanes around here is that, this far inland, they're notorious progenitors of tornadoes.

At any rate, all the rain has meant that the garden is now quite lush. And it really does look, in some places, as though a big lump of space flora has landed on various parts of the back quarter acre.

Molly observing the overgrowth of parsley.

New additions to the mycelial network. (Variety of Bird's Nest Fungus?)

The eyed click beetle, Alaus oculatus

To add to the increasingly alien landscape, Molly recently found something interesting on one of her hunting expeditions: an Eyed Elater (Click Beetle), according to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension site. It might well have dropped off another planet itself, since I've never seen one before. We thought it was dead, but turned out to be a master at fakery (in more ways than one), and eventually left the old garden table where we had let it recover.

All manner of mushrooms and other fungi grow on the property, due in large part to the amount of ground up old trees that have been added over the years. The newest variety had been generated by the added moisture, and seems to be some kind of Bird's Nest fungus but without any little "eggs." There are hundreds of them, none more than about 1 to 2 cm in diameter. More alien life forms.

When I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, the sun was out, so I took a shot of the sky. Nothing exceptional to most folks, I imagine, but it was just wonderful to see blue sky and white fluffy clouds. The ground even dried out a bit. But by evening it was muggy and warm enough to turn on the air con to keep the dog from panting. By midnight another line of drenching storms came thumping through, followed by an even noisier one a couple of hours later.

So this morning we were living in a swamp again, although the sun's back out (for now). More rain is forecast for the weekend and into next week. I know we'll miss this in August when we're mired (not exactly the right word) in drought, but thanks to river flooding in many areas, some people are having a much tougher time than we are. We actually sat out with our evening tipple and enjoyed relative quiet last evening, before it started clouding up again.

In reality, it's probably only slightly warmer and wetter than it has been since we moved to this house, and learning to live with the changes is going to be part of life in the era of climate change and the abundant challenges we're all facing. So I hope everyone has a good weekend, that you're all vaxxed up (but still masking appropriately) and that life is--in one way or another--beginning to take on the trappings of normality.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Rewilding in the 'Burbs

Mind-wandering is a perennial problem among the naturally curious. One reason for my having fairly recently (within the last three years or so) adopted the habit of keeping a reading journal is so that if I do get sidetracked while reading an otherwise compelling book, I'll be able to get back to where I was when things started going off on another path. 

In September of 2019 I started reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland: A Deep Time Journey, which contains the best opening lines of any book I've ever read:

The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree. Late-summer heatwave, heavy air. Bees browsing drowsy over meadow grass. Gold of standing corn, green of fresh hay-rows, black of rooks on stubble fields. . . .  

I copied the first three paragraphs into my reading journal as if they were a poem, separating sentences into lines of a stanza. I read the first chapter, and got lost running after things that needed further illumination. I got back to chapter 2 in November, and then next picked it up the following August. On the 27th of this month I went back to Chapter 4, which I had clearly already read (marginalia abound), but because of the amount of time that had passed, I could remember little. I also wanted to recover some of the initial sense of wonderment I'd felt. 

The number of coincidences and rabbit trails I noticed and started following almost immediately keep tempting me away, so that it takes hours to get through a few pages. I am not, however, complaining. I'm pretty sure, even only a hundred or so pages in, that this is one of the best books I've ever read.

So now I've decided to savor chunks of it every morning, after the Times crossword is done, and after Molly and I have been out for our morning walk. I'll cultivate the habit of spending time with it, and more purposefully following where it leads. 

The topic of Chapter 4 is, essentially, mycelial networks: connections, interconnections, intersections, and entanglements in what has come to be called the wood wide web. This latter link is to Macfarlane's 2016 article in The New Yorker, "Secrets of the Wood Wide Web," which covers some of what he writes about in Chapter Four. It takes place primarily in Epping Forest, an ancient woodland of about 2400 acres that  extends from Essex in the north to London in the south. I already knew about it as the place where William Morris used to ride about in miniature armor on his pony when he was growing up in Walthamstow on the edge of the forest. (The William Morris Gallery is now located in the home once occupied by Morris's widowed mother and her eight children.) 

In a way, Macfarlane is responsible for my many side-excursions into what I often refer to as "the accidental garden" (since 2007 there have been many such mentions; if you're curious, type "accidental garden" into the search window and you'll get a chronological record).  He is a walker and a noticer and a lover of words, with the most deeply felt understanding of the natural world I've encountered in my long reading life. Reading his books inspires close inspection of one's surroundings, and my phenological efforts are certainly one result. Every year I launch a campaign to notice seasonal changes: the first indications of coming-back-to life, the consequences of summer, the ebbing of fecundity. Spring's effort has been rather protracted this year because the Great Freeze damaged plant life so deeply that some has yet to recover.

My Beloved Spouse knew the moment I saw the back yard of this house that we would buy it. It was entirely too orderly for my taste, but it had good wild bones. Over the next eight years or so, our schedules would allow for little real gardening. But as we approached retirement, we invested time, energy, and a contractor into improving the house and reclaiming the garden.

April 2008

Spring 2015

We often used felled timber to create small enclosures, perhaps not quite what Morris had in mind for "garden rooms," but certainly discrete living spaces that fostered wildlife and provided interesting play areas for the animals. As these "rooms" evolved, we attracted new inhabitants (raccoons, opossums, anoles, toads, snakes, rabbits), and gradually our little suburban habitat recovered from its more cultivated history. It also began to participate in more complete life cycle.

Even before I had read any of Macfarlane's books, I had been a noticer of fungus. I began to collect a large "album" of photos of various species as they appeared in the garden. I'm both fascinated by and leery of the various fungi that emerge everywhere on our property. The abundance is caused by the sheer number of dead things lying about: tree stumps, branches and twigs (in a "wall" that separates the main garden from where we house Porco, the travel trailer), and mulched wood that we pile around the yard after the arborist visits, or when The Beloved Spouse tidies up after storms. Every few months, a load of stuff goes to the tip to be recycled there, but we use as much as we can. And as it all rots, out pop the most interesting looking things: mushrooms, shelf fungus, jelly fungus, slime mold (which looks very much like the dog barfed), and other interesting life forms that fall somewhere between animal and vegetable.

Throughout the many years we've lived in this house, the one certainty we've established is that if something intriguing "accidentally" arrives by whatever means (wind, bird poo, or squirrel), it will be allowed to grow until I can figure out what it is. Often, I know instantly (one comes to recognize regular squirrel plantings), and if it's wanted I'll either let it stay in situ, or transplant it to where it might serve a useful purpose. That's how we got several now-large privet trees, and several more are being fostered. There's also an enormous Chinaberry tree behind where we keep Porco; it grew very quickly and I was terribly happy to see it because they grew in Taiwan and I loved them there.

I've let many of these "trash" trees grow. They're most of what makes this garden accidental. But I like them because they're free, well adapted to the climate, and up until the February storm, could withstand most weather conditions. Ever since everything started leafing out, though, we've waited for two of the largest privet groups and the Chinaberry to show signs of life, and they finally are. How much will come back waits to be seen, but at last little leaflets are showing up along major trunks and there seems to be hope.

There's a great deal of talk in the UK about "rewilding," the large-scale "restoring and reinstating as wide a range of natural processes, habitats and missing species as possible." (The quotation is from the link.) It's designed to mitigate the problems caused by climate change, land degradation, over-grazing, and other byproducts of human interaction with the environment. There is some silliness attached to the conversation about what all this means (it does not refer to our returning to hunting and gathering), but the basic notion of not concentrating all of our efforts on controlling nature is attractive to those of us who would just rather not mess with Mom. 

Besides that, in my vocabulary, "accident" is a pretty expansive notion. It can refer to something that happens unintentionally (as with bird-planted Chinaberry trees), but it can also describe the kind of serendipity that occurs at a plant nursery when one chooses without a list. Inspiration can be accidental, as when one is confronted with a pile of logs and decides to create a memorial garden out of it for a beloved dog. Or the logs can be stacked to form an enclosure for a seating area and a habitat for small critters.

Mind you, I am well aware that my little suburban enclave is far from truly wild. Once upon a time it was blackland prairie. And then it was "tamed." It's been in and out of more or less wildness ever since we moved in. The pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been gone for twenty years, and the very large and nasty corrugated fiberglass "compost" bin that occupied the back corner of the garden (apparently designed to hold schnauzer poo) has been disposed of. There are numerous organic mulch piles, a hugelkulture mound, and two inoffensive compost bins, situated around the property for reusing as much of the plant trimmings as possible (and for avoiding food waste, which we've largely eliminated). 

What Macfarlane's book has added to my experience of our little patch is the urge to look even more closely at what's going on, especially under the trees, and the mulch and leaf litter surrounding them. Only last week I discovered that wildflower seeds I had arbitrarily (although not accidentally) scattered in one spot had produced several little baby blue-eyes--natives of California, as well as Texas. So yesterday I cleared away a heavy layer of leaves from another spot and tipped onto it several decades-old packets of various wildflower mixtures. No doubt, little will come of it. But even one tiny surprise will be worth it--and will have given me something to do with all those old packets.

The Virginia Creeper, which blew into the yard many years ago is now threatening to envelope the whole property--including a very large pecan tree. But it helps hide the ugly fence next door in summer, so there is that.

I'll continue meandering about the garden and documenting progress  (of things both accidental and purposeful) in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I'll get back to Underland.

Image notes: The first photo is of the southwest corner of the property that we neglected due to heavy teaching loads. It was actually full of wonderful things that have since found homes elsewhere in the garden. This section has been cleared, the hackberry taken down (but accidental replacements have grown up outside the fence line), and a TBS built a driveway for our Shasta ("Lola") and later our Retro ("Porco Rosso"). Porco was featured in the Lake Mineral Wells post. Lola appears in the background of this photo, and our much-missed dogs Woody and Arlo in the foreground.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Earth Day 2021: Travel in Troubled Times

Lake Mineral Wells from Penitentiary Hollow Overlook
To celebrate our newly vaccinated status, The Beloved Spouse, the Adventure Girls, and I recently took our retro canned ham, Porco Rosso, for a mid-week getaway to Lake Mineral Wells State Park. We're still masking in public, although we're no longer topping N-95 masks (made in Fort Worth) with the cute Studio Ghibli Porco Rosso and Totoro masks we bought through Etsy. Just the Ghibli masks now, mostly to send a message, and to prevent inadvertent spreading around of bugs that might be emitted by others. Traveling responsibly nowadays requires both following pandemic mitigation procedures--and preventing as much environmental degradation as possible.

As I've often whinged about on this blog, we are decidedly ambivalent about where we live, but one thing I can say for Texas, it has some splendid State and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks. To help us come to terms with what seems to be a permanent situation, we decided last year to begin visiting these oases whenever possible. So in January of 2020, just as the Plague was descending upon Occupied Mexico, we found Palmetto State Park near(ish) Austin (the subject of my last Earth Day post), and in October we celebrated TBS's birthday at Lake Benbrook, just outside of Ft. Worth. This time we decided it would be nice to revisit a park I hadn't seen in about thirty five years, and that he had never visited at all. It's also only a short distance away, which is always good for our patient girls--especially Molly (the cat), who is the best traveling feline I've ever encountered, but doesn't like been cooped up forever. So, an hour and a half travel time means no food or potty stops for anyone, and a good long snooze for the animals.

We arrived by around three in the afternoon, got set up, and Nylah got a nice introductory walk. The campsite (in the Live Oak Campground) was wonderfully private, and the weather--although pretty windy--was fine, and we settled in well. We spent the better part of four days there (three nights), and saw gorgeous buzzard ballets every evening, lovely sunsets, frolicking rabbits, deer, geese, herons, egrets, myriad songbirds (a pair of cardinals lived at the campsite), and a few million (it seemed) oak leaf rollers or cankerworms floating on long strands from the live oaks. Every time we went out, we came back with several little inchworms clinging to various parts of both humans and pets.

Molly finally decided to use her new harness and get out of Porco for a couple of walks. She has been reluctant to emerge from the trailer, but we got her a new harness recommended by one of the RV people we watch who also travels with pets. This seems to be more comfortable than the previous attempt, and it's easier to get on and off her.  She also spent some time in the catio TBS made for her out of her old travel crate (a large screened dog crate we used for her in the old Wrangler, but replaced with a crash-tested, smaller carrier when we got the Gladiator).

The trailer itself attracts a fair amount of attention from passers-by because it's far smaller than most of the rigs we've seen in the parks we've visited. At only 20 feet, it looked somewhat out of place among the 35+ foot fifthwheels and gigantoid motorhomes occupying most of the nearby spaces. It's also really cute, with simple red and white trim, the Retro's retro logo, and its canned ham profile. It also doesn't have any swirls or other trim typical of many RVs on the market these days. We know, because we watch an embarrassing number of YouTube videos about what's new on the market. In general, European RVs are much nicer looking and more cleanly designed than those in the US, but there are a few exceptions, and the recent trend toward nostalgic travel trailers first offered us the re-issued Shasta Airflyte, and then the Retro. 

Here's where the Earth Day meditation comes in. One might fairly ask how, if we're so environmentally conscious, we can justify using up all that gas to pull a largish vehicle with a Jeep truck? Why aren't we driving a more fuel-efficient car and sleeping in a tent, or in one of the shelters provided by many of these parks?

Several reasons come to mind. One is the animals. We don't have anyone who can look after them, and since they were both abandoned by previous "owners," we're not happy about boarding them. And while we could probably make do with a smaller Jeep and a teardrop, it would be a tight squeeze for two adults, a 75 lb. dog and a 20 lb. cat. Tents would be a bit flimsy in some camping situations where one or both of them might start feeling territorial, so we chose a small-ish trailer with a bunkhouse layout (hence the two windows at the rear) so the cat could have some room for exercise.  Of course we moon over Airstreams and the new InTech Terra Oasis, with all their space and windows, but we are trying to minimize the footprint. And 20 feet is about all we can park in our hand-built driveway. What doesn't show in the photo is the solar array we used to power the trailer when it was sunny out (thus not using the shore-power), even though we had paid for a 50 amp hookup (we only use the 30 amp plug when we are using the park's power). 

TBS is keeping his eye on the progress of electric vehicles capable of towing Porco. Jeep is even making noises about a hybrid Gladiator, which we'd be happy to trade ours in on at some point. I should also mention that we don't fly, so there's that. I've developed a ridiculous phobia and haven't been on a plane since 2004--even though both of my parents were pilots. But that does keep us grounded, and long trips require careful planning and slower paces. It also gives us a chance to visit beautiful places and to spend time enjoying the scenic wonders of the American west.

I should also probably point out that while we're traveling as conscientiously as we can, we're also generating very little waste. We recycle everything in the trailer that we do at home, and even keep a compost bag in the freezer to hold whatever little food waste we generate. Our total trash output for the four days we were camped amounted to one tiny biobag with a few unrecyclable scraps of paper and odd bits of refuse. All of the recyclables went into a bag to be taken home to our municipal blue bin. 

When we make our big trip out west next fall, we'll map out recycling centers ahead of time, and make use of family compost bins when we can. Meals will be carefully planned so that we eat up everything we make, and have little or nothing to trash. No paper plates, no plastic forks, no styrofoam cups. We'll use as little propane as we can (we have portable electric induction cooktop), and take advantage of dispersed camping sites when available and accessible--and where we can use the solar setup.

We have noticed that many of the RV folks we watch on YouTube are manifesting interest in generating less waste and are making increasing use of solar power, so it may well be that climate change is raising awareness in the sphere of recreational travel.

When I think back on my earliest trailer travel experience (with my grandparents to Yellowstone National Park when I was about seven), the main difference I can see is simply in the size of the rig. They had a little sixteen-foot canned ham (which was later replaced by a sixteen-foot real Shasta Airflyte in the early sixties), which had an ice box instead of a 12 volt refrigerator. There was no air conditioner, but even now we try not to use ours by not traveling during the hottest part of the year. And we can't travel in freezing weather because ours is a three-season (only) trailer. Physical limits also kept travel down in my grandparents' day. Of course, weather was rather more predictable then, and the extremes weren't as pronounced. So we adapt.

Responsible traveling in this particular climatic "moment" requires thinking, planning, and foresight, as well as finding ways to compensate for environmental impact.  What we hope we're doing is that by keeping our everyday footprint as small as possible, we can compensate for any increase that might occur while we travel--and work diligently to keep that small as well.

I opened this post with a photo of Lake Mineral Wells (like almost all the lakes in Texas, it's a reservoir), and I'll close it with one of the sunset on the first night. Have a happy Earth Day, folks. I'm hoping more people will be able to get out and celebrate this year. Things do seem rather more promising in many ways than they did last year at this time.

Sunset at Lake Mineral Wells