It Must be Spring

The weather has been perfect the last week or so and I’ve made some headway in my outdoor chores. The rock garden (AKA Rabbit Salad Bar) is looking better and I’m planting more aromatic plants that rabbits won’t eat. I discovered the Curry Plant at my local pueblo nursery. It has a strong curry aroma from the leaves and it can be used in cooking but it is actually part of the daisy family. It looks a little like lavender or rosemary but gets small yellow flowers. I have lavender, Mojave Sage, Yucca (red), and Agave in the rock garden right now along with the curry plant.

The goldfish pond is looking better but still needs a lot of work. As best I can tell all of my goldfish survived the winter. The pond never actually froze solid. Right now I have too much vegetation in the pond and need to remove about 60 percent of it but that is going to be a major effort. I’ll need to hire somebody to help with that. (ca-ching).

The storage building roof has been repaired — good for fifty years they say. I won’t have to ever do that again. I repainted the doors and the wood trim but it needs a little bit of stucco repair in the back…local critters must have tried to get inside. I’ll patch that up for now. Eventually the house and storage building will need to be re-stuccoed as well as the garden wall. Big bucks for that.

Rabbits are at it again. We will have a bunch of babies. I’ve seen more coyotes the past few weeks than I can remember. They tried to lure my neighbor’s dog away, a big dumb pit-bull, and he was happy to go but the neighbors were able to corner him in my back yard and take him back home. Coyotes have sort of a Lorelei effect on dogs…they lure them away and they eventually become dinner. My lizards are lined up like soldiers on the rocks and the garden wall soaking up sun. Roadrunners will get them later in the season but they seem to be having a couple weeks of peace.

My quail are back in droves again. They seem to be all paired up — no bachelors calling for a mate. Sometimes the women are fickle and will keep looking for a better match but things seem settled. We have Gambel’s Quail and Scaled Quail and the two can hybridize. Gambel’s have a dark plume on their head like a California Quail. Scaled Quail have a scaled feather pattern and a white tuft on their head. No babies yet that I’ve seen but the pairs keep running back and forth across the road in front of cars like it is some sort of game. They only fly in an emergency or if the car is getting too close.

No hummingbirds yet…at least none that I’ve seen. My flowering plants are still a month away from full bloom so hummingbirds are hanging back or visiting the valley orchards further south. I have never been able to tell the species apart — we only had one type where I used to live but there are six or seven varieties here.

Goldfinches are here in big numbers. I’ve noticed quite a variety in them as well. It might be different types or it might be that some birds are changing to summer plumage at different schedules.

 

The windy season came and went. Tumbleweeds were flying and bouncing down the highway. I have a few tumbleweeds that I need to get hauled away along with some overgrown sagebrush and four-winged saltbush that are encroaching in various places. Shortly after I moved here I was bragging to my neighbor about the pretty green shrubs I had growing along the fence. They were bright green and had a uniform rounded shape…nice I thought. He informed me that I was growing tumbleweed. It gets thorny and brittle as it matures and then snaps off at the base and spreads seeds by rolling along in the wind. I sheepishly pulled up my pretty green shrubs.

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A Transitional Season

The wind has picked up today and is so strong that the birds and small animals have taken cover. We are transitioning into the fall season but summer doesn’t want to let go. We are still in the last tattered shreds of our Monsoon season – it has rained almost every day this week. The Monsoons should have ended a few weeks ago but they got a late start so we are thankful for the lingering rain.

The wind is poking around in every nook and crack. I can hear it protesting in the chimney because it can’t come all the way into the house. I always have windows open, even in the dead of winter, so the wind is finding another way to get in.

chamisa-1The Chamisa is in full bloom so the sometimes dry and dreary desert landscape is cloaked in bright yellow. I’ve never seen it so thick and bright…but this is just my third year in the desert so almost everything is still a surprise. Chamisa is our Spanish name for the local variety of what some people call Rabbit Bush. If you have been out west you have probably seen it. Ours is usually small and neatly clumped as if someone tended and trimmed it every day. The rabbits, of which I have many, do not eat it but tend to hide among the clumps. The quail do the same thing.

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Fall, and October, means two things here just north of Albuquerque: Balloon Fiesta and the arrival of the Sand Hill Cranes.  The Balloon Fiesta is the first full week of October (including both weekends) and we will see several hundred thousand visitors pour into town. It is a beautiful time of year anyway and the 800 hot air balloons add to the color and delight. They have mass ascensions every day and on most days they fly to my neighborhood and land all around me. So far no one has landed on the house but they are in all the vacant land around me. They have an interesting procedure each morning…they send up a “Dawn Patrol”, five brave balloonists with flashing lights on their baskets just before dawn to see what the conditions are. If they are good then the other 800 will go up…if not they postpone or cancel the mass ascension and try to locate the five guinea pig balloonists.  It reminds me of the videos I’ve seen of Penguins in the Antarctic that shove a couple Penguins into the water to see of the Leopard Seals are waiting.

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The arrival of the Sand Hill Cranes is a little later in October but almost as spectacular. Most of them continue south to Bosque del Apache wildlife area but we have a resident population of several hundred just in my area. They are noisy birds and you most often hear them before you see them. If they are flying overhead you might not see them at all in the dazzling sunlight. When they are roosting near the river they sound like croaking frogs. I went to a Christmas event one year and the birds almost drowned out the carolers trying to sing Silent Night. At this point we still have a few hummingbirds but they will be gone soon. I had a falcon sitting on my garden wall earlier in the week hoping to grab a dove or maybe even a hummingbird.

I made a last-day-of-summer visit to our botanical garden. It seemed tired and a little worse for wear. The summer was exceptionally hot and dry from June to August. By the time the rain arrived most of the flowers and plants were too far gone. There were a number of bright spots and the Japanese Garden is always pleasant. They installed a special rose garden featuring roses that do well in the desert climate.  The roses looked pretty good in spite of the weather. The “Heritage Farm” section, a replicated Rio Grande valley farm, was selling apple cider from the apple orchard.

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I’m doing some garden work of my own. When you landscape your property with native plants they don’t always know that they are supposed to stay where I put them. Being acclimatized to the desert and doing what comes naturally, they send out little volunteers everywhere. If I left it alone I’d have a jungle of sorts. That’s what I had when I moved here and it took over a year to get it under control. The previous owners planted Russian Sage, a pretty plant but one that sends out root runners and then one plant becomes ten plants and then thirty plants if you don’t keep it under control.  I also have a 1,500 gallon goldfish pond that needs frequent care. I have sixteen large fancy goldfish and it is pretty to look at but also can get out of hand. I noticed the water level was too low a few days ago and started filling it with the hose. Something happened and I got distracted and then had to go someplace. The hose ran for about ten hours and when I realized what happened I had more than a foot of water above the normal level. Goldfish were swimming where no fish has gone before. It was still contained but the pond will not need any additional water for quite a while.

watson-2Watson, my elderly cat and almost constant companion going back sixteen years died this summer. He is often missed when I work outside because he stayed close and was a watcher, not a doer. In his entire life he caught one vole that I know of and a few lizards. He never quite understood the goldfish and was puzzled by the very idea that something could live under water. I miss him also when I write because he would curl up on a rug close by and fall asleep or watch out the door for anything interesting. He was also a snorer. I’ll find a new cat at some point but not for a while. Watson was on medications twice a day and that required me to stay home unless my daughter could take care of him. I’d like to do a little travelling before I get another cat.

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So now we are looking at changing seasons. We have a nice long fall season going up to late November or early December. Nights will be cool and there might be an early frost but daytime temperature will be in the 60s into the first week of December. This windy cold snap is a hint of what is in store – they say it will be down to 41 degrees tonight. We don’t have many of those golden Aspen trees – they are up in the mountains or farther north in Colorado – but in a while our Cottonwoods will put on a show to rival the Aspens.

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Well, I think I just heard that the wind blow away my watering can so I have to stop and retrieve it.

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End of Summer

I had an out-of-town visitor this week and we took part of a day and visited the Albuquerque Bio-Park’s Botanical Garden. It has been a hot and dry summer and the monsoon season seemed late in coming and has stayed a while longer than usual. The late rain didn’t provide much help to the parched victims of Albuquerque’s sun…plants, that is.

That being said, there was still a lot to see and it was an enjoyable visit.  Here are a few pictures….

 

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Hummers

Trumpet flower calls

and the hummingbird responds

the moon sees it all

This has been quite a year for hummingbirds. I can’t guess how many I have around the house…and almost in the house.  They are a marvel and a joy to watch but this year, with all of our rain, we have a lot more than usual. It’s getting sort of ‘ho-hum’ in some respects. Where I moved from we had only one variety. If it was a hummingbird it would be a Ruby Throated Hummingbird…period.  Here, in the New Mexico desert, we have four or five types and I still can’t identify them after two years of trying.

If I sit outside on the front or back portal it won’t be long before I have a visitor. One visitor brings another and then there is an aerial acrobatic fussing match. The little hummers are very territorial or else I must be regarded as something of a prize to be fought over.

I have a Trumpet Vine in the front courtyard that climbs up a pueblo-style ladder on the wall. In previous years, under earlier owners, it just laid on the ground more like a ground cover but I built the ladder and now it is upright and is Grand Central Station for hummers. There are also Mexican Bird of Paradise and a Desert Willow trees in the courtyard  that bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds.  I have a large goldfish pond with large water lilies but that seems to be the domain of the dragonflies. I’ve never seen a hummer go to a water lily.

Watson, my cat, enjoys snoozing on the portals and must birds will make a fuss about it if they are close by and he is roaming around or even just lying quietly. The hummers don’t seem to mind and I don’t think they even notice him. He’s fifteen years old and is a slow mover so they think he’s part of the geography. He sees them but doesn’t quite know what to make of them — he’s accepted them, too. “Live and let live” is his motto…unless you are a bug.

Some birds seem to be front yard hummers and some are backyard hummers. One of my backyard birds needs a lube job because it sounds like one of his bearings is going out. He makes a high-pitched metallic clicking sound when he flies.  Maybe he is actually a drone and I am under close government surveillance. They say the military has perfected small drones that can pass as hummingbirds……nah, there’s nothing to see here.

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Xantico’s Garden

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA garden unfolds. Tended by three dark sisters with bright colored skirts.

Xantico watched – the old Aztec fire god gave it a blessing.

Somewhere there’s water. Search for it. It lies below broken stone and sand.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a good place. Unseen basins filled with sand hold the key to life.

This is a cruel place. Exposed to wind, sereing sun and winter’s cold breath.

The story begins. A seed falls in a crevice — that could be the end.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut it is deep down — not destined to be eaten. It will bide its time.

Winds blow and snow falls. It is a living thing and it will bide its time.

Sun scorches, fire burns, it is lying protected in its deep sanctum.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAsh and dust blow in. Rain falls — the stones shed water into its cradle.

The seed awakens. What bad fortune placed it there?  How can it survive?

It bursts its hard shell and sends out tentative roots.  Time is critical.

 

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A toehold is gained and soon it secures its own place deep among the rocks.

A shoot, a small leaf, and a thorny twig appear reaching for the light.

Conditions are right. A little rain and sunlight is good – not too much.

 

 

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So many things could go wrong – but it is alive. It will bide its time.

An accident of placement and sheer persistence brought it this far.

Adversity and determination combined with fortune win out.

 

 

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Life is very hard. Not all struggles end this way. It’s good that some do.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Roam — Water Wars and Aggravation

Some weeks it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.  It has been one step forward and two steps back here at the home place. Not all bad but just a lot of aggravation.

I’ve lived here for over a year and a half but my learning curve is still bothersome. There are several “systems” that are new to me — things I never encountered before that are major components of how things work. I had no idea of what an “evaporative cooler” was or how radiant heat worked when I moved here. I never had a well or a septic tank before.

I grew up in a place that got around 40 inches of rain each year and no one had a need for a sprinkler or irrigation system. Here, we get about 8 inches of rain and it is common to have some sort of irrigation system. I’m the fourth owner of the place and the first owner, way back in the late 1990s, installed an expensive sprinkler system. They had horses and were hoping to grow grass out of the sandy soil and sagebrush.  Twenty years later I come along and try to figure out what they had installed. My neighbor says the system hasn’t worked in ten years….or at least was not used for that long. The original owners left in a huff when the city told them that they not only could not install lights around their horse corral for night riding but they were not allowed to keep horses on the property over night in the first place.  Seems like they didn’t check the zoning rules before they built the house and brought in the horses….or figured they could bluff their way through.  It didn’t work.

So, here I come. I figured out how to turn the sprinkler system on but only one sprinkler worked and it sprayed water on the gas meter.  That made no sense to me.  I would periodically go and fiddle with the system controls and ponder why it didn’t work. My neighbor said I should have a manifold somewhere.  Manifold?  I searched the yard and found nothing other than what I figured was the access to the well and pump.  Finally I got the system working just by resetting the controls and starting from scratch.  This was just dumb luck because there is no manual or instructions to speak of and no map telling me where the sprinklers were. Suddenly I had things popping out of the bare ground and squirting water around the front yard. the little drip spigot by my fig tree started bubbling water. I suddenly saw potential.  Maybe I could get the fig tree to do something!!!  Maybe I could get the yard to have some living plants other than sage and saltbush!!!

I was happily planning out the future. I bought a few plants.  I discovered a second sprinkler system that is a manual sort of thing connected by a hose to the well hydrant. I raked and cleaned up the yard and removed the dead debris.  I planted a red osier Dogwood over by the driveway. I planted some blazing star bulbs and planted some native wildflower seeds. I turned on the hose/hydrant system to provide some water for my new plantings.

Nest morning I realized I forgot to turn off the hose/hydrant system. That was not good but I should be more careful. Live and learn. “Don’t get distracted and finish what you start” should be my motto.

I noticed that the goldfish pond was low so I turned on the hose and added some water to the pond. It was down about six inches and it’s a big pond so it takes a while to add the water. I went inside to get another cup of coffee. About midnight I remembered that the pond had been filling. YIKES.  I ran outside and turned off the water. Happily, the fish were still there. The pond was quite large and the fish were swimming places where they had never been before but that was okay. They were having a great time. My pump and filter system was under water…not good.  I pulled out a couple buckets of water but realized I’d be at it all night if I was going to use a bucket.  I went to bed.

Next morning I figured out how to drain the water using a large funnel and a hose at the waterfall where the pump returned the water to the pond. It took most of the day to get the water level back down to where it belonged.

Meanwhile, every day I was doing more raking and planting and the sprinkler and drip system seemed to be fine. Then one morning I noticed that two sprinklers were running at 9 AM when they should be off. Why is that? Apparently they had been on all night because there was a lot of wet mud and puddles of water. I tried to turn them off with the controls…nothing happened. I reset the controls back to zero….nothing happened. I unplugged the controls….nothing happened. Hmmm. I have rogue sprinklers.  Since I have no manual or instructions, I went to the trusty Internet.  There were lots of pictures of sprinkler systems and manifolds. I figured I needed to go out and take things in hand and turn off the water access to the whole system. Inside the manifold box there should be a valve that cuts off the water. I went out and got into the only box I could find and it didn’t look anything like what the pictures showed on the Internet….but there was a valve with a handle that did look like what they were showing in the manifold pictures. With some difficulty and some WD-40, I managed to get the old valve turned and the sprinklers died down to a dribble. Ah…success! Things were looking up. I called the local sprinkler company emergency service number (this was a Sunday) and they said I probably got it fixed temporarily and they could send a repair guy next week.  Great.

A couple hours later I realized there was no water coming into the house.  The valve turned off the flow of water from the well.  So I was back out in the yard and re-opening the valve and the sprinklers came back on but only at a low trickle.

There has to be a sprinkler manifold box somewhere. I got my rake and started scraping away some old brush and — Surprise! – there was another box under an old sage bush. The box hadn’t seen daylight in years. So…I opened it up and recognized what I had seen earlier on the Internet…except there was no shut-off valve. Of course….why would I think that there would be a shut-off valve? There was water inside the box…not good. I took a couple pictures of the box with my phone and jumped in the car and drove to the sprinkler store….which was open by that time.

“Yep…that’s a manifold box and you have water in it.” he said.

“Yeah…where is the shut-off valve?”  I asked.  “I have sprinklers going and can’t turn them off.”

“Did we install it?”

“I have no idea….it’s twenty years old…probably not.”

So we were not really getting anywhere. He wanted to be sure he wasn’t to blame — CYA.  Finally we took the picture on my phone over to the spare parts bin and found something that looked like what was inside the manifold box.  He showed me how to turn off each sprinkler valve until I found the right one.

Okidoke. Maybe this will work.  When I got home my daughter had arrived so I enlisted her help in my battle against the rogue sprinklers.

“Tell me when they go off” I shouted. I started fiddling with the sprinkler valves inside the box. Almost immediately I heard screaming. She was drenched. She didn’t know which way to run.  That is probably the last time I’ll get much help from her…

But…we got the sprinklers turned off, eventually.

As a payback for her help I took her for a short hike up in the foothills. She has been wanting to find out how to find the trailheads and parking areas to access the trail system. It was cool and windy but we had a nice short walk. We had a nice dinner and I think she almost forgot about getting wet.

Here are a few pictures of the foothills trails. It is spring and things are starting to bloom. Maybe next week will be better.  The sprinkler guy shows up on Friday.

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Spring Peeper

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s me…a Spring Peeper. I can’t get enough of the many different shades of green that start to show as nature comes alive again. Even in the desert where I live we have many different shades of green. It is still early so I took the plunge and went back to the Botanical Garden. Here are a few pictures…..nothing too exciting.

Japanese Garden

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Ro0adrunner stare down…willing to stand his ground

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In the conservatory

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The cactus nursery

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We seem to be well into spring but there is a lot more to come. Lots of birds have returned and are living in my saltbush and sage thicket. The quail are more active and the cranes have been heading north for several weeks already. Lizards are out as evidenced by the Roadrunners hunting for them. No Hummingbirds yet…still too cool. We’ve had a couple days of rain so things will start to pop soon. My Goldfish in the pond are as excited as I am with the change of seasons. My Mountain Mahogany is budding out. I’m seeing signs of the Wild Heliotrope (AKA Scorpion weed) coming back again so everything will be accented in blue once it starts to bloom.

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Good things come to those who wait but better things come to those who get off their butt and work for it. I bought a package of native plant and flower seeds as well as a bunch of milkweed seeds so I’ll be out planting my seeds this week. Bring on the butterflies!! I also found out (after a year and a half) that my sprinkler irrigation system actually does work. My neighbor is astonished because it hasn’t been used in over ten years….not since the first owner moved away.