Sunday, May 30, 2010

Five Hundred and Fifty-Five

Tomorrow is the last day of a five day weekend. I took off Thursday to work around home but the wind thwarted those plans.

Friday was another bust due to wind but Saturday was perfect. Julie and I worked in the garden all morning doing various chores. We expanded the drip system to every bed and to some proposed beds. Julie helped a neighbor during the afternoon with a moving sale and I added five additional raised beds and filled them. During a break I calculated the total area in raised beds. I have 555 square feet in four rectangular beds (320 square feed) and twelve circular beds (235 square feet). I've reached the limit. In order to expand the garden I'll have to move a fence.

Today we went to the first farmer's market of the season and stopped by two nurseries. About 4 PM we planted tomatoes and peppers and did some other work. I noticed the sun was getting low on the western horizon when we quit. Three hours had passed and it felt like one.

I had to destroy some cucumber, squash and melon plants. We started all of them from seed except one cucumber which was a gift from a friend. I noticed a problem with the leaves of the cucumber first. The mottling from mosaic virus spread to the squash and mellons. I'm going to seed more directly in the garden and keep an eye on them. I don't think the gift cucumber came with the virus so I have the problem myself.

Ash-throated Flycatcher.
Ash-throated Flycatcher.

We quit feeding and watering birds and other wildlife last fall when we turned the cats free. We have one hummingbird feeder and one oriole feeder mounted ten feet off the ground on the motorcycle shed which is sided with corrugated metal. Maggie used to sit under the feeders but finally admitted the hopelessness of a jump that high.

Lately we've been seeing a new bird in the yard regularly. He likes to sit on the fence which is in the cat danger zone. This is the first summer that we've seen an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

The electric system has been doing fine since I removed the failed battery and three other batteries. The system has charged fully each day. I changed the configuration of our amp-hour meter to reflect 675 amps of capacity rather then the previous 900 amps. The percentage full has dropped from the typical 85 percent each morning to the seventies which was expected. Today the system hit 100% by 2 PM and the voltage reading confirmed the batteries were fully recharged.

I connected two of the good batteries that I removed and charged them with a 12 volt charger. After sitting 24 hours they held their charge and the voltage reading on both was the same. Tomorrow I'll recharge the third battery and I'm set for the immediate future.

I started the motorcycle today. It had been about two months since I last started it and it's been six months since I've had it out. I have a small solar panel on the roof of the motorcycle shed that keeps the battery charged throughout the winter. A few weeks ago Julie bought a mesh jacket for riding in hot weather. The temperatures have been getting into the low forties at hight and the high eighties during the afternoon, Tomorrow we'll test her pink jacket.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plan B

This morning I implemented Plan B.

I installed the batteries for our photovoltaic system six years ago. I've tried to take good care of the system and hoped to get more than six years out of the batteries. The typical lifespan of the batteries is three to five years so I'm already ahead.

Three weeks ago the batteries failed to fill on a day with plenty of wind and sun. I checked the system, equalized the batteries and topped them off with distilled water. The next two days they filled but just barely and failed to recharge fully each day for the next few days. Yesterday they filled but I noticed the low voltage reading was an unheard of 20 volts. I reset the memory and checked it again this morning -- 18 volts. I had a problem. I easily identified the battery that failed.

It's not wise to replace one battery in an array. The older batteries will significantly shorten the life of the one new battery. The best choice is to replace all sixteen batteries. I paid $65 each in 2004. The current price for the same battery is $140 to $153. To replace 16 batteries will cost approximately $2,600. That's $1,400 more than I paid six years ago.

This is were Plan B begins. Since I have a 24 volt system I need multiples of 4. I removed the bad battery and 3 good batteries leaving an array of 12. I can easily function with this number but won't have the extra capacity for extended cloudy periods which won't be a real problem. I'll take care of the 3 good batteries and keep them charged. When another battery fails I'll replace it with one of the 3. I can repeat this process twice more until I have 12 good and 4 bad batteries. When the fifth battery fails I can replace all the batteries or drop to an array of 8 depending on my experience with 12. I'll balance this plan with the cost of fuel to recharge the smaller array during cloudy periods.

Plan B is not just an attempt to save money. It's a reaction to discarding 15 good batteries prematurely just because one battery failed. That is irresponsible in my value system.

I'll work Plan B until it's time for Plan C. I refuse to pay $2,600 for a set of batteries.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strange Plants

Our lithops is producing new leaves!

Over the years I looked at lithops in nurseries and was fascinated by them. Lithops are known as "living stones" and "pebble plants". The plant consists of two succulent leaves, no tall stalk, an unusual appearance somewhat like an inverted elephant foot.

Last November I bought a lithops at a nursery in Amarillo that we visit each time we're in Texas. Once I over watered it and one of the leaves swelled and developed a small split. Now the two leaves are wrinkled and separating as four new leaves are emerging. I hope to maintain the correct environment so the plant blossoms in fall. Another interesting experience would be to propagate it.

Lithops on the left and an unknown succulent on the right.

At the time we bought the lithops we bought another succulent that obviously had a strange leaf lying next to the stalk. The clerk said something like "Look, you've got a freebie" and pointed to the leaf. I planted the leaf in the same pot with the lithops and it sprouted. I don't have a clue as to it's identity. With a little luck I'll give it the care it needs and it will grow to large enough to identify.

Cathedral Wash

On Friday, May 21, we hiked down Cathedral Wash to the Colorado River below Lee's Ferry.

Slot Canyon.
At the beginning.

Slot Canyon.
Getting deeper.

Slot Canyon.
Bypassing one of several pour offs.

Slot Canyon.
At the bottom of the highest pour off.

Slot Canyon.
Nearing the Colorado River.

Slot Canyon.
Cooling bare feet.

Slot Canyon.
Enjoying a strong breeze while the temperature is about 90 degrees.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Forked Tail

Living with a forked tail can cause problems as we learned this weekend.

On our Sunday hike Julie took along a small video recorder for the first time. I was leading the way when I came upon a chuckwalla. It ran under a boulder before Julie could get a good look at it or I could get a photo of it. It had a forked tail. Strange.

I got a still camera ready and Julie took out the video camera. Almost 15 minutes of standing still waiting for it to come out into the sunlight got us the photo and the video below.

After I photographed the chuckwalla and we watched it for a while I asked Julie to keep recording as I walked up the trail. As I did the lizard moved to hide but got his tail caught.

Chuckwalla with a forked tail. (Larger version)

Later in the morning we saw four more chuckwallas about the same size but colored differently. However, this was the only one with the unusual tail.

I know some lizards can intentionally detach their tail to distract predators. I once saw a small lizard do this to evade our cat. She stopped immediately and began pawing the detached tail that was wiggling as the lizard escaped safely.

Was this a birth defect? Could it have been a tail that didn't fully detach but stimulated another tail to grow? I wonder what would happen if this chuckwalla detached his tail? Would it detach beyond the fork? Is this really uncommon or does it happen occasionally?

I don't know the answers to these questions but it was an exciting fifteen minutes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Play Before Work

We've been working too much. Julie asked me when we went hiking last. I couldn't remember and she couldn't either. So, this weekend we decided to take an overnight trip and hike Friday and Saturday.

When we got home Saturday afternoon we encountered a roadblock about twelve miles from home. It's what is becoming the routine block during wind storms when Interstate 40 is closed. County employees stop traffic attempting to take an alternate route east across the reservation that will lead back to the closed Interstate. Travellers will waste gas and time but get nowhere.

We passed the roadblock, got to the turnoff to our house and found our mailbox and nine others lying on their tops. The wind had rocked the boxes and cross piece to which they are fastened until the assembly broke loose and fell to the ground.

At home I discovered two-thirds of the roofing on my utility building had been rolled off and scattered. I had expected this because the last wind storm had done some damage.

This morning I repaired the mailboxes. Next weekend I'll repair the shed roof. There's no rush. The likelihood of rain is about zero.

We had a good weekend. Saturday we were in slot canyon that ended at the Colorado River. Saturday we climbed 1,500 feet above the river. Tomorrow I'll have photos.

Mailboxes on the ground.
Mailboxes turned right side up..

Mailboxes repaired.
Mailboxes remounted on the posts.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Getting Closer

Ten days to wait.

It was forty-one degrees this morning. We had a frost last week but are nearing the time when the probability of frost will be low. Between June 1 and June 15 I'm going to plant warm weather vegetables.

Yesterday evening I bought more drip irrigation parts. Another task is to prepare wind protection for peppers and a few other plants.

We installed a sun umbrella to the east of the two Adirondack chairs in the garden. We're getting closer to the time when we can have morning coffee in the garden and watch it grow.

Pansies in the early morning sun.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


(Julie wrote the following after reading an article in Arizona Highways magazine.)

Unreasonable - not governed by or acting according to reason; not comformable to reason; exceeding the bounds of reason or moderation.

Is unreasonableness necessarily bad, as I was taught? When is it good? What do I miss when I stop at that familiar boundary? Could my life be better if I dared to be unreasonable?

I read today of a young man who broke his back in a 1993 Army training accident. He became paralyzed from the midchest down but retains full use of his arms and shoulders. He uses what muscle power he has to propel himself down hiking trails and up mountainsides on a special bike that allows him to be the active outdoorsman he was before the accident. He is so active that, in 2003, he suffered a broken neck in a ski-jumping accident. I can't imagine the mechanics of a paraplegic ski-jumping, but my automatic reaction is, "that is unreasonable!"

My reaction is not unique, as evidenced by the story of a time he was confronted by another hiker on a challenging trail and told how unreasonable it was to be there and that he should go someplace more reasonable.

Is it unreasonable for this young man to challenge himself to these limits? Does he harm others in the process?

An argument could be made that he is costing the medical system undue expense by risking additional injury. So, that is a point on the side of reasonableness. Just to be completely fair, I'll also say that he causes his loved ones anxiety by embracing his chosen lifestyle. So, two points for reason.

On the flip side, he is a vibrant man with many friends. He established a nonprofit organization that introduced the disabled to outdoor sports and wilderness adventures. In this modern world where we are bombarded with unhealthy pressure to emulate celebrities or to chase the all-mighty dollar, how can you measure the positive impact of his example and inspiration to others? And his loved ones? Their anxiety would be immeasurable if he had given up on the lifestyle that defined him before the accident and settled for a safety that would susrely sap body and spirit.

Two pathetic points for reasonableness while the positive affects of his unreasonableness cannot be measured. Unreasonableness is a clear winner in this case. Change comes slowly for a gal my age with entrenched reasonableness but I feel a pull to boldly go where I've never gone before.

I recently gave the worst interview of my life for a job which would have thrown me back into the world of full-time. After recovering from my embarrassment and sense of failure, I looked for lessons to be learned. Today, I found my first. My summer at home provides more time to contemplate life's mysteries. I'm unreasonably grateful.

Tough Life

Jackrabbits have a tough life.

A few years ago there was a jackrabbit in the area who had one ear split from his skull to the tip of his ear. He appeared to have two ears on the right side. I've seen them running at full speed under barbed wire. Just before the fence they will snap their ears down on their back and pop them back up after passing the fence. Apparently this hare's timing was off and he snagged the fence.

A jackrabbit cautiously entering the yard last Saturday morning.

Another memorable hare picked the east side of a Juniper on the west side of the drive to the house to scrape out a form to endure the heat of the afternoon. Each day when I arrived home from work he would struggle to get up from his dusty resting place and limp off as I drove by. The temperatures of 100+ degrees were almost too much. One one occasion I walked within three feet of a jackrabbit. He just couldn't muster the energy to leave the shade.

The population of jackrabbits seems to rise and fall frequently. At the moment it appears to be on the rise. I suppose that's good news for the cats. However, if I was a predator I think I'd prefer plump feline.

Monday, May 17, 2010


The weekend is over.
  • Friday was windy. No surprise there. I got a load of water and the car wouldn't start when I prepared to return home. A large water truck was behind me and he agreed to tow me forward out of the way. I hooked up a tow strap and tried to start it again as he pulled around in front of me. It started. Hmmm? Second time in three days. I need to check on this.

  • Saturday began with a delayed trip to town to get materials. The plan was to be in town by 7 AM but as I hooked up the trailer I noticed a low tire on the Explorer. The cause was a screw which was easy to fix but put us behind schedule. In town we stopped for gas and the car wouldn't start! Fortunately I was facing down grade on a slight incline with no one in front of me and was able to let it roll forward to start it. I dropped Julie off at the grocery and picked up materials. The car started. We got home, carried in the groceries and I went out to unload the trailer. When I tried to start the car it did nothing. Once again I used a hillside starter.

  • On Saturday I framed a small structure to protect two propane cylinders. Last weekend I poured a small slab using cement and crushed glass. This weekend I planned on framing the building and installing used corrugated metal siding. As I was working I noticed the auto-switching regulator changing to the second tank. Coincidence! I had estimated three months per cylinder. I connected to the tank on February 14 and it emptied on May 15. (Three weeks ago or so Julie phoned requesting pickup of the 250 gallons rental tank. We're still waiting.)

  • On Sunday I decided I had to do something to fix the Explorer since the problem had become permanent and it wouldn't start. A few quick tests and I decided it had to be the starter. I removed the starter which took two hours! The bottom bolt and ground cable were easy unlike the top bolt and electrical connections. I could see the top bolt with one eye and get one hand on it. After a few tries I settled on the best wrench and began the slow process to break loose eleven years of dirt and corrosion. As I worked I wondered about a guy lost to history. Someone had to be the first person to decide that open ended wrenches need to be offset by fifteen degrees. Turn a bolt until the tool hits the frame, flip the wrench over and repeat the process. Slow but effective. He was a smart guy. Anyway, I got the starter off, went to town, bought a rebuilt starter, returned home and installed it. Five hours and $140 later the car started. Good deal. By this time next year I hope to have a work building under construction -- smooth concrete floor, a creeper, a floor jack, a CD player, tool boxes and work benches along the walls. Yes, I'm still young enough to lust.

  • On Sunday evening we were waiting for a guest for supper so I began drawing plans for two cold frames. I decided to angle the lids at 35 degrees since we are at 35 degrees north latitude. Knowing the size of the glass and frame lid I had to calculate the depth (front to back) of the bottom and ends which would not be as deep. Simple trigonometry. I haven't done trig in many, many years and don't have a clue where I've stored my CRC (Chemical Rubber Company) book of tables. (I bought the book in high school and it has too much sentimental value.) I hit the web and looked up the sine of 55 degrees (not 35) and learned the value is 0.819152044. Use it or lose it. I've forgotten so much. Sometime in the future I plan on taking a class in physics which I had in high school but not college. After yesterday's experience I think I need to retake geometry, trig and calculus before physics.

  • It was beautiful weather on Saturday and Sunday. No wind and temperatures in the low eighties. Lots of hummingbirds and Orioles. Saw the second snake of the season. Worked a few hours in the garden. Read some essays in Sapolsky's The Trouble with Testosterone but haven't come to the essay on testosterone as yet.
It was a good weekend in our dry, dusty paradise.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I'm not a collector. I tried but it wasn't and isn't me. As a kid baseball cards were big. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and others were popular. I had a few but really didn't care about them.

I'm not a collector with the exception of two things: memories and photos.

I have a box containing items from my children's childhood. My son had a favorite pair of shorts that he wore when he was about four years old. He wore out the seat of the pants and they became too tight. I took them out of the trash and put them in a box where they remain 35 years later. I have some checks from my daughter's first checking account and other items that bring back memories of her.

Fourth of July 1955.
I think this photo was taken on the fourth of July in 1955. I'm standing behind my sister Jean who is on the tricycle. The others are cousins who lived next door.

When my son visited in March he gave me an 500 GB external hard drive. I began dumping photos from CDs and discovered I have 52,000 photos. I knew there are some duplicates so I wrote a script to find the duplicates. Ultimately I want to organize them in some system. It is an enjoyable task. I'm finding photos that I had forgotten or didn't know I had.

Checking the motorcycle in Yellowstone.
I'm dusting my hands after checking the motorcycle during a visit to Yellowstone National Park. One of my brothers-in-law took this photo and sent it to me.

When my son bought the external drive and case I wished he hadn't. The company for which he worked went out of business and he was unemployed. Now, he has another job and I have another memory of his generosity.

I like collecting memories and photos.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Wind, more wind, ceaseless never ending wind. We woke to the sound of moaning wind, a shrieking wind generator, grit peppering the sides of the house and creaking noises. As I turned on the coffee maker I heard a sound from the outer door on the sun room. The wind had pulled the latch loose, ripped the safety chain anchor form the door and bent the shaft on the cylinder. This morning equaled or exceeded the worst wind storms that I remember.

In my part of the world April, May and June are the windiest and driest months with the most sunshine and the lowest relative humidity. Gardening is a challenge that I'm losing at the moment. Last weekend I missed an opportunity on Friday to plant a few items. Saturday and Sunday were too windy. Today I left young seedlings inside rather than putting them outside. Seeds, young plants and tubers are waiting.

When I first went in the army I made $76 per month and cleared $72 after taxes. Money was tight. After a year I made ninety-some per month. On one of the occasions that I was the armed guard for the pay officer I was left waiting with enough cash to pay about 200 men. As I looked at the bag containing thousands of dollars I thought of what it could buy. My father paid $9,000 for his house. I could buy three houses and have money left over to buy a new car! And still have cash!

I looked at the money and had an interesting feeling. Money that I didn't earn with some hard work would be valueless. It may buy a house but there would be no sense of accomplishment, no memories of overcoming challenges, no satisfaction of enjoying something that came with anticipation and struggle.

I feel the same way about gardening. It may be a struggle at the moment but there is a salad in my future that will be delicious in part because of the struggle.

Tomorrow morning the wind should lessen. If so, tomorrow evening I'll get back to the garden.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Waiting For Julie

Julie was in another building, the door to her office was locked and she said "Wait for me on the bench". I walked to her building and took a seat on the bench beside the walk.

It was a beautiful day enhanced by the anticipation of the season. Finals week and the end of the semester always have some festive feeling. Next Monday we start summer hours and some employees will begin wearing shorts.

I sat on the bench enjoying the clouds that painted the sky. A pigeon streaked low overhead aided by a strong tail wind. His speed and quick maneuvering brought to mind the 1970's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I could never understand why the book was considered anti-christian. But it was a fleeting thought because a kite snagged my attention.

To the north beside a dorm (the current terminology is 'residence hall' but 'dorm' evokes more pleasant memories) someone was flying a kite. It was higher than any kite I've seen in recent years. The string stretched over the dorm, above the trees, across some roads and beyond a parking lot. This, too, tugged a memory from the past.

I was a kid flying a kite in the local park. There were several of us. One guy had a kite that kept going up and up. He ran out of string. Someone gave him another spool and he sent the kite higher until the spool emptied. It was off in the distance above huge cottonwood trees that lined the creek. I brought my kite down and gave him another ball of twine. Before long someone else did the same until it could go no higher. I don't remember names. I'm not certain I knew the guy. It was a spontaneous community challenge. Everyone was contributing and cheering the kite higher.

As I watched today's kite it suddenly took a dive, circled up a few feet, resumed its descent and shot below the tops of the trees. I wondered if it was destroyed, hung in a tree or impaled in the ground among a surprised group of students. After perhaps 20 seconds it suddenly appeared above the trees and climbed back into the sky. A miraculous resurrection.

Resurrection! That reminded me of a poem Julie heard on NPR recently. She enjoyed the reading, did a search for the poet, found the poem and sent a copy to me.

My Father's Corpse
by Andrew Hudgins

He lay stone still, pretended to be dead.
My brothers and I, tiny, swarmed over him
like puppies. He wouldn't move. We tickled him
tracing our fingers up and down his huge
misshapen feet - then armpits, belly, face.
He wouldn't move. We pushed small fingers up
inside his nostrils, wiggled them, and giggled.
He wouldn't move. We peeled his eyelids back,
stared into those motionless, blurred circles. Still,
he wouldn't, didn't move. Then we, alarmed,
poked, prodded his great body urgently.
Daddy, are you okay? Are you okay?
He didn't move. I reared back, gathered speed,
and slammed my forehead on his face. He rose,
he rose up roaring, scattered us from his body
and, as he raged, we sprawled at his feet - thrilled
to have the resurrected bastard back.

A couple walked by, a native American couple. I'm not being racist by commenting on their ethnicity which is pertinent in this case. I'm sure they have experienced some prejudice. I live in Arizona, the state that has legalized racial profiling. The young lady was wearing a shirt printed with large letters: "To all the haters, thanks for the love". I'm not certain how to interpret it but I like it. It's pointed but not aggressive.

Yes, this also reminded me of another memory. In this memory a young lady was wearing a shirt with an interesting saying: "Trust in God, she will provide". The young lady was a theology student in seminary. I liked and still like the message and the unsettled reactions that it elicited (and elicits) from some people.

As I watched the world around me and let memories come and go the phone rang. It was Julie. I was waiting on the wrong bench.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Catching Up

The last two and one-half weeks since my last post have been controlled by the weather.

While Julie was in Texas I thought I would finish the continuing education hours needed for the year to maintain Master Gardener certification. On the weekend after she left I worked in the garden and enjoyed temperatures in the low eighties. On the following Tuesday at 5:30 PM I scheduled a composting workshop conducted by the city of Flagstaff and a presentation at 7:30 entitled High Elevation Organic Gardening by a long time master gardener. The composting workshop was outside. It was cold, windy, gray skies threatened rain and a wind chill exceeded my light fleece jacket's ability to retain body heat.

Next day, Wednesday, I planned to attend another presentation at a local nursery. The one hour lecture would bring my continuing education hours to the point that I would need only one and one-half hours. During the day it rained, snowed and hailed. No problem. I was confident the presentation would be inside. At 5 PM when I got off work everything was white including the roads and the wind was driving the snow almost horizontal. I decided to skip the presentation and go home to cover my garden bed before dark.

That night the temperature dropped to 19 degrees. The water mass that I have in the garden bed didn't freeze but everything was stressed, particularly brussels sprouts and red cabbage.

Over the last two weeks we have been getting a mixture of sun, some warm days, too many cold nights and several strong winds. Last week about one hundred miles of I-40 was closed due to blowing dust. The forecast had been for 70 MPH gusts at home and the forecast was correct. The batteries had been charging near full and the house had maintained a comfortable temperature until yesterday. We got up to rain and snow, enough snow to turn the ground white. For the first time in a month or more I built a small fire and ran the backup generator.

Hopefully, the weather is about to change. This week should be sunny with high temperatures in the seventies. Next weekend I'm going to plant portions of two more garden beds. Also, I'll finish the continuing education hours on Saturday. Julie and I have registered for a Landscape Design Workshop at The Arboretum at Flagstaff.