Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Bums Untethered

Someone threw a wrench into the works. We were supposed to be on the road Thursday, driving down to Capitola to the beach house, while we waited for our charming little rose-covered cottage to be vacated for us to move in on July 15th. But someone changed their mind about moving out of said cottage, and left us scrambling our retired butts off to find another rental in a rental-starved university town. We found something that is barely acceptable. Old and funky doesn't even begin to describe it. Picture, if you must, a house from the 50s that has never been upgraded. Lemon yellow formica in bath and kitchen, lime green backsplash. We've been burning incense throughout just to remove a slightly weird stench that permeates the ancient, industrial gray carpets.
But that's not even the worst of it. Can you imagine this: Because we were unprepared for such a quick relocation, we didn't set up our landline telephone or dsl connection. So, this will probably be the last post here for a week. All we have is our trusty little cell phone (pay-as-you-go, no plan) to keep us slightly tethered to the outside world. We are as marooned as any space cadet whose lines to the mothership have been severed by unseen hands. No one may be able to hear us scream in space, but that doesn't mean we are not screaming.

These fox kit photos were sent to us by our friend CCorax who comments here. She has been watching kit and mom for weeks, and every now and then manages to take the most amazing photos of them. We are lucky to be the recipients of these beautiful pics. They are the most pleasant reminders of the good planet and good friends.

See you next week.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Local Bird Sanctuaries

One of the things that has made transitioning to our new hometown easy is this: Within a ten mile radius we have the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the Arcata Marsh Bird Sanctuary, Eel River Wildlife Area. In fact, check out this map. We're literally surrounded by everything we love. I used the search engine on California Department of Fish and Game's website, their Species List Search, and was blown away by the sheer numbers of different species that are resident here at some point during the year. There are seven species of amphibians, seven of reptiles, 53 mammal species, and a whopping 265 species of birds. That's just at Eel River. The wetlands provide an incredible diversity of habitat. It's truly an embarrassment of riches.
As I mentioned the other day we've already learned that summer is really not even the optimum birding season here, and yet we're seeing new birds. One of these is the Black-crowned Night Heron. The Cornell Bird Guide says this is a common heron, but I'll tell you, it doesn't look common the first time you lay your eyes on it.
We had been hiking around one of the marshes the other day and stopped in at the volunteer center to check out their exhibits. Roger was talking with the volunteer, swapping stories about birds we've seen, when the guide asked if we wanted a treat. A treat? Of course we do! He opened the desk drawer. We didn't know what to expect: Candy? Some earthy token? He handed us a key and told us if we could be back in ten minutes we could take it to unlock the gate to a private part of the sanctuary. There, he said, we would see the Night Herons. We checked the time, and said, "We'll be back in exactly ten minutes." That's how we had our first glimpse. Out there on a private floating dock, with the lushness of the marsh all around us. Such a scene added to the splendid features of the Night Heron with its long, thin, white plumes coming out of rear of its cap. What a beauty.

We had that key back in ten minutes, and had an experience we'll remember for life.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Something Else Was On My Mind

I had a post planned about our walks in the Arcata Marsh, an incredibly interesting place even in summer, which is not the optimum season for birdwatching. We're still seeing some new species (to us) there, while enjoying being immersed in the ambiance of our new surroundings. We also appreciate the innovative water treatment aspects of this sanctuary. A perfect melding of beauty and smarts. Okay, I admit to calling some of the bodies of water "poo-poo ponds," but that doesn't make me love it any less.

I will definitely revisit this subject soon (maybe Monday), but I just have to write about an email that Roger and I received Thursday morning. A friend of ours wrote to say that she had had a heart attack over the weekend. She wrote at length about what she had been experiencing on Saturday and Sunday, and how she had misinterpreted the increasing pain as gastric reflux disease. The details of her experience are both alarming and familiar. We all have aches and pains that we dismiss, mischaracterize, or worse-- ignore. She ended up in the emergency room on Monday, and had surgery to put stents into two of her FOUR blocked arteries. She will be having additional surgery next month on the other two arteries.
She reminded us how important it is to take our bodies seriously, to listen when we experience pain, to pay attention to the details. You know I could go on a soapbox here and write about how important it is to have universal health care, how we postpone treatment because of cost, how preventative care should be an absolute basic human right. But that's not the point of this post. The point is to remind you to listen to your body. It gives you information all the time, and your life will very well depend upon it. So, what test have you put off lately? Come on, have it done.

Even in a marsh as beautiful as the Arcata Marsh on a sunny day, and seeing this lovely ctenucha rubroscapus for the first time, I just couldn't stop thinking about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Great Egrets Without Words

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Looking Into a Horse Pasture

I look out into Indigo's horse pasture. Fifteen acres in the middle of a forested 40. It's quiet out there, just a handful of humans and horses, dogs and cats. I love every moment of this. Yet, I look out into that green pasture and think we aren't meant to live like this. Two people on 40 acres. A family on the next 40, another family on the next, then maybe 20 acre lots, 10 acres, and so on as you head to town, until lots are 50ft. X100 ft. The real estate professionals call that a city lot.

We live alone on our private property. Nuclear. Family. Each house with its two cars, washer-dryer, lawn mower, television, computer, toys. How fantastic the way it all works out that we each must have our own. The individual is truly the most profitable market size. We have been left with very little choice about how we live, but plenty of choices about what to clutter our lives with.

I've had the same dream all of my life. The one where we don't live the way we do now, but instead live communally, like all human creatures lived before the worst mistake in the history of the human race was made. Even when I was young, I dreamed this dream. I bought ten acres of land when I was 20 years old, thinking that I would share it with other dreamers, where we would eke out a living while creating our utopia. It's not even that what I imagined was original. It had been lived by every pre-human, early human, and human community that ever walked the earth. What made it original is that I dared to desire it in a post-agriculture/post-industrial world where it is suspect (and presumably a health hazard of the highest order) to gather on one piece of land with more than just a nuclear family. Imagine that.

I have often thought that war, disease, inequality, injustice, even malaise, all the human ills of our times are an extension of lives lived utterly out of balance with the earth. But even more than that, the real nightmare is that it has become nearly impossible to fashion lives that are in balance. I often wonder, What have we done? What have we done?
So, I look out into Indigo's horse pasture and let my imagination run wild. I pretend that I can see into the past where smoke rises from communal fires, and like-minded tribal members gather to share a history, a belief, an effort, a dream. I am not idealizing a hard life, or idolizing peoples who may have lead their own lives of inequality and brutal injustices. I am remembering something that beats out an ancient rhythm deep inside my own chest, and know instinctively that how we live now is wrong.

Top photo taken at Indigo's horse ranch, Wednesday June 11th. Bottom photo photoshopped Saturday June 14th.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Looking East, Looking West

The Mad River flows out of the coast range in Trinity County as it wends its way to Humboldt County to the ocean. Here we are standing on the shore looking east toward the coast range.
We turn our gaze west and follow the river as it flows into the Pacific. The Mad River provides drinking water to the Eureka - Arcata communities and other smaller, unincorporated areas.
The water supply suffers from the same problems most watersheds experience: Like many rivers in this area of the state, the watershed's greatest problem is erosion causing excessive sediment buildup in the river and it tributaries. The main causes of the erosion are excessive road building and logging, especially historical logging practices. In addition, the removal of riparian vegetation, which also increases erosion, and urbanization are also causing decreased water quality.
We watched seals come upriver two and three at a time. They headed to their favorite sleeping spot on the seaside of the river mouth. Each one stopped and looked at us as they swam by. It wasn't like they were acknowledging or communing with us as much as checking warily to see if we meant them harm.

Aside from degrading the water and environment, we felt innocent.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Urban Critters with Opossum Update

We slowed down and took a look around. Even here in condo-land there are things buzzing and crawling around quietly at the edges.
There's a bottlebrush bush right outside our door. The bees and flies are busy there all day long. This hummingbird stopped by for a little nectar delight.
I liked it sitting on the fence like this. Its iridescent feathers so beautifully contrasted with the gray plastic and metal links.
The real surprise though was this young opossum sniffing around the crawlspace openings. I think it probably lives under the building. It may be more at home here than we are. I hope so.

Opossum Update:
FC and Rurality commented that they were surprised to see opossums out west. I checked the handy-dandy wikipedia resource and found this:

Their unspecialized biology, flexible diet and reproductive strategy make them successful colonizers and survivors in unsettled times. Originally native to the eastern United States, the Virginia Opossum was intentionally introduced into the west during the Great Depression, probably as a source of food. Its range has been expanding steadily northwards, thanks in part to more plentiful, man-made sources of fresh water, increased shelter due to urban encroachment, and milder winters. Its range has extended into Ontario, Canada, and it has been found farther north than Toronto.

I did not think "food" when I saw this opossum. It doesn't look yummy to me at all, but then neither does a chicken, which I do eat. I wonder how green chili opossum enchiladas would taste? Just kidding.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

cactus, cat, and african violet

don't you all travel with plants and pets? well, we are relocating, so the pet part is understandable. maybe even the african violet, which we've had for at least 15 years. but a 40 pound barrel cactus? it's a golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii). robin's father collected it in the desert where her parents lived years ago. it's very heavy and obviously awkward and potentially dangerous to lug around. it lived in my truck for the first week we were here in humboldt county. we moved it in to the covered deck here in our second temporary lodging, and then into the bedroom, right on the bed, for the afternoon sun. yesterday we put it on the landing outside our second story condo for a bit more direct sunlight.
-----------------------------cactus on bed-----------------------------
we also put cartons on the stairs down to the parking lot to stop the cat from escaping, and let him out on the landing too. i'm sure the cactus pot smells familiar to him. the african violet graces our meal table. the plants, though wanting air and light and water (and careful handling) don't require food and a *box* with attendant cleaning and more importantly are mute and don't wake us in the night or moan about boredom, and are almost as affectionate as our maine coon cat.
----------------------------cat under different bed--------------------------
those things and the foodstuffs and spices and pillows and blankets and a small rug that came with us do give us a bit of home grounding while our future is up in the air. bonsai the cat has been very patient as we go from house to motel to week-long cabin to month-long condo. we will feel better when we have a real house arranged. bonsai will feel better when we move in and he has a fenced yard to explore.
----------------------african violet gracing our meal table----------------

life here is not all about the frustration of finding housing all the time. we have met many nice people and have enjoyed a wonderful time with our daughter. she took us to a saturday matinee of a ballet that her stepson is in. we figured that as we are family we should go. part of why we moved here. it began a bit slowly but soon got into the story and we enjoyed the whole thing. we took her to dinner at a cafe she recommended. the waitress and several other diners knew her and obviously love her. we do too.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Have You Ever Seen A Western Bluebird?

We hadn't. So it was exciting to find this pair spending much of the day sitting on the fence posts around Indigo's garden. We have a plan with Indigo to go up to her place to help out in the garden once a week (or more, of course!). So, we went up the other day and there they were sitting calmly, even while Roger mowed the knee-high grass that had grown between the garden beds.
I wish I had thought to photograph the garden, but I just couldn't take my eyes off these little beauties. You'll have to imagine the full bed of garlic, the beds of spinach, onions, carrots, blueberries, artichokes, salad greens, raspberries, potatoes, chives, oregano, etc. She planted extra tomatoes and basil for us. She knows what we'd miss most this year, not having our own garden space. We're lucky, we know we are. Homegrown tomatoes, bluebirds, and love.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bluet, Blue Skies, and Wren

Photography is imprecise, maybe even misleading. Doesn't this look like a fairly large damselfly? Something easy to spot and photograph. It's not.
It's a tiny thing. Maybe just slightly longer than an inch. It hugged the rocky ground darting in and out of sight. It's in this photograph, can you spot it? (You have to click to embiggen the photo for a closer look.) I couldn't even see it through the viewfinder. Roger was directing me where to point. Then it finally landed right at our feet. That's the only way I could take the top photo. I think this damselfly is some kind of Bluet, but I could be wrong. I know nothing about Odonatas except that they are often quite beautiful. Look at that blue. It's as blue as Monday's sky.

When we first heard the song, we both said, "Did you hear that?" It was a new song for us, cheerful and full of trills and clicks. So we looked around until we could find what little bird was making this big, beautiful sound. Oh it was you, House Wren or Bewick's Wren.

Singing your beating little heart out about something...

...maybe something as grand as the first African-American nominee for President. That's something to sing about, head back, throat open, gladly singing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bagels and Corn Rye

We've put 300 miles on the car in the past few days, driving around looking for a suitable rental. OMG. The housing stock here is shockingly bad. I mean really, god-awful crap. Creepy, scary, dirty, old, funky, dilapidated, weird. We had to drive through a herd of cows to reach one place, and that was definitely the high point of the adventure. The house was probably a hundred years old, and had not been cared for in the past 50. But we really loved the yard, the swooping vultures, hawks and swallows were everywhere. It almost made us, for a brief insane moment, consider renting it. Then we turned around, looked at the house behind us and ran laughing back to the car.

We answered a different ad on craigslist. It had obviously been written by a mad man, but it was a mad man with a three-bedroom house, room for garden, right by the local hiking trail, fireplace with pellet stove. I said to Roger after I spoke to the homeowner, "This guy is definitely challenged. I mean he seems to not have boundaries, not a good emotional filtering system. He says everything that pops in to his head. Something is definitely not right with him. Let's go look at his house anyway." So, we drove over there. We gave ourselves plenty of time to get lost, so arrived early. Walking up to the front of his house a voice came from inside before the door opened, "I knew you'd get here early." It was spooky.

He opened the door. A small, tired, sad, vulnerable man stood there. He opened his mouth, and then never stopped talking. He told us everything-- why he was fired from his teaching job; that his father had recently died; that his mother listens to right-wing radio even though she's a staunch Democrat; that he smokes pot, doesn't grow it, but thinks about it; that he lives in the backyard in a plywood shack; that he would lower the rent, raise the rent, pay for the electricity, not pay for the electricity; that he can't find good, stable tenants, etc. etc. etc. He never stopped talking.

We figured out how to extricate ourselves, shook his hand, looked him in the eyes and told him we would not be back.

So, that's how it's been. We're tired. We're paying $4.45 for a gallon of regular gas. (There's an ad on the radio that says here in Humboldt County we pay the highest prices in the country. Is that true? Is anyone out there paying more?) The skies have been relentlessly gray. We're still dressing in layers when we head out on the trails. But, and this is really the thing about being here, the local bagelry "Los Bagels" is making us a special-order loaf of corn rye bread for us to pick up Monday morning. Bagels and corn rye! What's not to love about being here?

Wish us luck on our search. We definitely need it.