pameladean: (Libellula julia)
The pattern of the weather has been remarkably consistent for several weeks now: heat and humidity during the week, often with severe thunderstorm warnings and torrential downpours; then a cool front comes in and Friday and the weekend are much cooler and drier. Sometimes the heat pounces on Monday and sometimes Monday is just a bit less pleasant and then the heat sidles up on Tuesday and the window air conditioner suddenly starts leaking water all over the floor, to the great alarm of Cassie.

So we keep having to go hiking on Friday. Then on Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well there are social events, and I also generally have a date with Eric over the weekend. This means that, since there is no way I am doing any major work in the yard in the kind of heat we've been having, and anyway with all the rain the grass is too wet to mow, I am not getting any yard work done. I think there are no social events this weekend (the last one had a MinnStf meeting, which was very pleasant indeed; and then a smaller party on Sunday evening, which was also lovely), so with luck on Sunday evening I might be able to do very basic maintenance before heading off to Worldcon.

In the meantime, last Friday Raphael and I were not really feeling a strong enthusiasm for going hiking -- or, well, if someone else had done the necessary laundry, made us some sandwiches, and teleported us to a nice spot, we'd have been fine with it, but the preparation did not thrill us. However, Friday was a gorgeous Minnesota summer day of a sort that I often fear is on its way out as the hell of climate change sweeps over us. So Raphael, after consideration, remarked to me that while we have visited the Minnesota part of the Carpenter Nature Center several times, there's a Wisconsin annex that is almost entirely comprised of prairie walks. The Minnesota side is a good mix of woods, wetland, and prairie, but it is too woodsy for the level that the mosquito population has reached this year, with so much rain in a month that is often dry if not actually drought-stricken. So a preponderance of prairie walks seemed like a good idea. The drive was also not terribly long. So I did the laundry, and in the morning I made the sandwiches, and we set out, late, because I usually prep lettuce and tomatoes and make salmon salad the evening before, but we did manage to get out of the house.

There was construction on 94 and a terrific amount of slow-moving traffic until we were well past St. Paul, but eventually we crossed over the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, took Exit 2 for Carmichael, and drove on increasingly smaller roads until a short gravel one led us to a clearing with a house, some small outbuildings, a large flower and vegetable garden, and a gigantic Porta-Potty. We weren't sure it was the right place, but one of the outbuildings had a supply of maps and a notice that Henslow's Sparrow, which nests on the ground, was doing so in the area. A pleasant man introduced himself and asked if we'd been there before, and recommended a particular trail when I said we hadn't. We ungratefully went a different way, on the reasoning that the trail he recommended was higher up than most of the prairie walks and would be nice near sunset.

Since we were in Wisconsin, we were up on a ridge; there was a trail called the Ridgeline Trail with views of a valley with a farm in it and the next ridge over. We went along this until we came to the first prairie, and eventually crossed the road to another one. Each prairie had bluestem and other native and, probably, non-native grasses, intermingled with wild bergamot, gray- and green-headed coneflowers, rudbeckia, daisy fleabane, prairie primrose, a little butterfly weed, hyssop, vervain, a bit of liatris (most of it being visited by monarch butterflies). The paths were mown grass and white clover. The distribution of the flowers and grasses was different in each section of prairie we walked through, though most of the plants were the same. The texture and color variations were different, and the sound of the wind in the grasses. We passed a little grove of aspen seedlings, their leaves rustling. We saw the monarchs, and a butterfly that turned out to be a common buckeye. There were sparrows in the grass and in a clump of trees, but they didn't look like the picture of the Henslow's Sparrow. We saw two birds with white tail feathers flying away fast; they might have been meadowlarks, but we couldn't really identify them. And we saw smallish browny-golden dragonflies, flying fast, tilting like turkey vultures on the wind and flapping more than familiar dragonflies usually do. Raphael thought they might be wandering gliders, and a look at the dragonfly book when we got back to the car confirmed that they were. The wandering glider is the most widely distributed dragonfly in the world, migrates thousands of miles, and has been spotted by ships at sea. But this was the best sighting of them that I'd ever had.

We went back to the car and around one more short prairie loop, reluctantly deciding to leave the rest of the Ridgeline Trail to another time, possibly in the fall when there would not be any mosquitoes. The little prairie we walked around last was different from all the others. Next time I should try to take some pictures.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Ooof. Well, I voted in the Hugos, in the nick of time. I had actually, in the course of trying to keep up with the field, already read almost all of the legitimate nominees. I made an earnest attempt to read the others, and even got right through a number of the shorter ones, just in case there was a hidden gem, or a trick ending to a drearily predictable beginning. Alas, there was not. I didn't vote in a number of categories, including the dramatic presentations, short and long, because I didn't have enough information. I read quite a bit in the Related Work category but was not much enlightened. I'm glad that's over.

I'm still working on setting up the Patreon. I hope it won't be too much longer. There's a myriad of tiny decisions that are surprisingly difficult to make.

The weather has been wild and not altogether predictable; though the overall implications are grim, I love looking at the Scientific Forecaster Discussion on Weather Underground and seeing remarks like "The models have not been notably helpful in determining convection" and similar sentiments. I actually feel for the forecasters quite a bit. In any case, the effect on me so far has been mild compared to tornadoes, dangerous straight-line winds, repeated flooding, the loss of trees, the death of campers in the BWCA, and damage to buildings, cars, and people in both northern and southern Minnesota. Mostly it's meant that scheduling hiking has been difficult. Raphael and I did make it to Hyland Park Reserve two or weeks ago and to William O'Brien State Park last week.

Hland had a resonable number of dragonflies, notably widow skimmers; also swallows feeding their young in snags sticking out of a pond, a young bullfrog making its rubber-band noise where you could actually see it, an osprey and one youngster on the osprey platform, and a space of emergent vegetation cut down almost to the waterline, which I thought at first must be the work of park staff getting rid of unwanted plants, but turned out to be the work of a very assiduous muskrat. The muskrat was closely focussed on its task, so we got the closest view of one that either of us has ever had. It shied once at something we weren't sure about, unless it was alow-flying skimmer; and again when we walked around to its other side. But it soon returned, nibbling away and letting us admire its little blunt face and tucked-in ears and even its long flexible tail. The meadows were full of wildflowers, wild bergamot, coneflowers, butterfly weed, a tiny white flower I can never recall the name of, some leadplant, anise hyssop, and more.

At O'Brien we saw more widow skimmers, a twelve-spotted skimmer or two, an Eastern amberwings or two out over the water, a stray Hallowe'en pennant or so, many blue dashers, and some powdered dancers and meadowhawks. Both the lake and the river were very high, so that the sandy verges we can usually walk upon were under water. We decamped to the prairie sooner than usual; it was abundantly flowery, with wild bergamot in greatest numbers, but also gray- and green-headed coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, purple prairie clover, leadplant, horsemint (a very weird plant indeed), and much more. Goldfinches were calling everywhere; the thistle has begun to go to seed, so it's their nesting time, and their "potato-chip, tato-chip, chip-chip-chip" was everywhere. Once or twice we saw them swoop by, but mostly we just heard them. On the upland prairie trail we stopped by a group of five or six dead trees, one live tree, and a dense growth of bushes. It was full of birds: a cedar waxwing, a nuthatch, two elusive woodpeckery birds that were not flickers but were probably sapsuckers, a brilliant and enormous robin. We heard Eastern wood peewees but never saw one; the same with wrens, except that Raphael was pretty sure of one wren sighting. Swallowtail butterflies were also abundant, including a giant swallowtail that ws very impressive indeed. There were the usual bluebirds and tree swallows on the lower prairie and around the parking lot where the birdhouses are.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Wednesday, Raphael and I went for our first expedition of the year, to see the ephemerals at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. To see the early ones at their peak we ought to have gone last week, but the weather didn't cooperate.

We got a reasonably expeditious start, especially for the first hike of the year, and even though we had to stop at my clinic so I could pick up my medication. We usually get off the freeway at the Northfield exit and go through town to pick up Highway 246, thus giving me a glimpse of Carleton and the Cannon River. But the GPS suggested staying on the freeway til the next exit, going instead through Dundas, and picking up 246 somewhat further along its length. Dundas is not Northfield, but I had fond -- mostly -- recollections of biking there from Carleton for a huge annual used-book sale. I didn't like biking along the shoulder of the road in the dust, but the books were excellent.

I had said to Raphael as I put on my fleece sweater and picked up my raincoat that I expected to be alternately too warm and not warm enough, and this prophecy was amply fulfilled. It was very sunny and intermittently very windy. Up in the picnic ground it was quite chilly. Down by Hidden Falls the air was almost still and the sun really beat down.

One of the pleasant things about Nerstrand is that there are ephemerals even in the picnic grounds and the campground. Anywhere the grass is not mown are trout lilies and false rue anemone and occasional other native wildflowers. You can see the tiny trout lily leaves spreading out through the mown grass. If Nerstrand ceases to be able to afford to mow its lawns, or civilization falls, the trout lilies will fill up all that mown space now occupied by grass, dandelions, and creeping charlie.

The Park Office was closed, so I sat on the bench they have on their west-facing porch and watched for birds while Raphael filled out the form for an annual park pass. One downy woodpecker and three or four little delicate sparrows with a rufous crown and a black eye line, were scratching around in the leaf litter under the bird feeder. And there was one white-throated sparrow, or what I took for one, though we didn't get a good identification until later. We had a sandwich at a very windy picnic table.

Then we walked through the campground, keeping an eye out for red-headed woodpeckers, but we'd arrived at the height of the afternoon and most birds were silent and absent. We went along the short gravel trail pointing out false rue anemone, purple and yellow violets, swamp buttercup, and the leaves of wild geranium to one another. Then we took the very steep path down to Hidden Falls. Larger patches of false rue anemone, clumps of wild ginger, nodding trillium, a few blossoms of cut-leaf toothwort; and as we got down to the damper areas, dark-green horsetail ferns and, below where a stream went down to join Prairie Creek, some marsh marigold blooming away. Things were intensely green and there were many flowers, but it looked strange to me. I finally realized that, while the false rue anemone was more or less on schedule, it would ordinarily bloom in a much emptier landscape where the understory plants were not leafed out, nor the wild geraniums so far along in their own growth. The trees would usually show just a hint, a mist of green, and you could see quite far into the woods because only the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs impeded your view. The view was much shorter and more cluttered this time. In some years there would hardly even be any violets yet, but they were thick along most of the damper trails that we took. And the spring beauty, while we did find some eventually, was not nearly as widespread as you would expect. We had also missed most of the Dutchman's breeches, though we did find a stalk or two here and there.

We went down the wooden steps to the rocky shore below the waterfall, and sat on a bench in the sun for a while. Clouds of tiny insects were dancing in the sun, coming together in a dense ball like a globular cluster and then bursting apart only to coalesce again. I was just about to point out to Raphael that they were a dragonfly's dinner without the dragonfly, when a green darner darted into their midst and started snapping them up. I made sure I had remembered to tell Raphael that Eric and I had seen darners at Eloise Butler, and Raphael told me there had actually been one in the back yard.

Eventually we got up and went back up the other side of the trail, the steeper side with steps. Last year we got to see the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily in bloom, but it was done this year. There was plenty of false rue anemone, newly-opening ferns, early meadow rue with its flowers like little fringed lampshades, more violets, a little spring beauty, one or two blooming wild geraniums, fantastical ash buds, and hundreds of trout lily leaves, with here and there a patch of blossom in a shadier or cooler spot. At one point Raphael asked me what pollinated trout lilies; we thought it was bees but weren't sure. A little further along the trail, Raphael saw a bumblebee taking a good long time inside a trout lily flower, so that seemed to be that. We saw a number of bumblebees zipping around in the course of the day.

We climbed the trail and sat down on the bench that the park has kindly put just before the really steep part. The wind was fitful. All the green was fresh as fresh. The sky was almost autumnal in the intensity of its blue -- we thought this might be because the humidity was low, but we didn't know. It was hard to get up and go on up the hill, but we did. We came almost immediately upon a large number of extremely weird plants that we were fairly sure we had looked up before but failed to retain the name of. I think, having poked around online, that they were wood betony.

Once back at the top of the hill, we had a hunt for the yellow lady-slipper orchids we'd seen there just once, and then went back to the picnic ground and had another sandwich and took a different trail that crossed Prairie Creek and then gave us a choice of which way to go. We decided to take the White Oak Trail back downhill to the water, since it was such a dry spring; sometimes it's too wet to take the lower trail by the creek at all. The upper part of the trail was full of trout lilies, violets, and false rue anemone, with the occasional Jack-in-the-Pulpit or trillium. As we came down into lower and damper levels again, the false rue anemone came into its own. Along the creek banks it grew lushly with ferns and reeds and violets and some lovely clumps of blue wood phlox, which I think of as blooming much later. We stood on the bridge admiring the phlox on the other side for a while, and then walked on to the where the Beaver Trail intersects the White Oak, and sat down on yet another bench. The light was starting to mellow out, and everything was still the tenderest green imaginable, starred with flowers and yet-emerging leaves and dancing small insects. Several times we saw the shadow of a butterfly -- or maybe just of a blowing leaf.

At last we began the walk back along the creek to the steep trail with the steps. The flowers were still very lush and intermingled, but there were fewer ferns and grasses or reeds. At some point something in the soil or light changed, and the understory thinned out, and there was a bit of what I'd been missing: mostly bare shrubs arching over patch after patch after patch of false rue anemone. "So many windflowers!" said Raphael, and I looked at them closely. The air seemed quite still, but they were still moving just a little on their flexible stems.

Raphael suggested that we climb the half of the Hidden Falls trail that we had previously come down. The light was much better for seeing small things by then, and that half of the trail isn't quite so steep. The main discovery was a single hepatica blossom still hanging on in its nest of three-lobed leaves. The last third of the trail was a bit of a slog, and we sat on the bench at the top of the hill when we got there. The light was mellower yet. Through the green and gray of the woods a barred owl called, and again, and again, and then after a pause yet again. Eventually we went and sat on the porch of the park office. The tiny sparrows with the rufous caps, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows (we saw the white throat this time), and a single chipmunk, flew down to get seeds or suet, or kicked up the litter on the ground. You could hear the whoosh and ruffle of their wings as the birds came and went, and the scratch and rustle of the chipmunk's feet. There was some squabbling amongst the sparrows, and two nuthatches had a battle over the suet feeder. More distantly, we saw an elusive woodpecker that could have been a flicker or a red-bellied woodpecker; and finally we saw a flash of black and white and red as a red-headed woodpecker appeared briefly and then provided a glimpse, a longer look, another glimpse, always moving around to the other side of the tree or flying across the road to hide in trees with too much foliage. On our walk back to the car, a flash of black and red and white showed amongst the plants by the path. "It's a towhee," breathed Raphael, and it was, kicking up the litter much more violently than the sparrows had.

We had our last sandwich at a now really chilly picnic table, and Raphael got me to take the Sibley out of my backpack, and looked up the sparrows. Like the wood betony, they had been looked up before but we'd forgotten. They were chipping sparrows, and the first elusive woodpecker was indeed a red-bellied one.

We drove home in sunset and twilight. Then we had to come back to earth and do the year's first tick check, but that's just part of going hiking.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Eric and I visited the garden briefly last weekend; we were having a discussion of different driving routes for his old and new apartments, and he mentioned that we hadn't taken this bit of 394 in quite some time, but used to use it as a fast way to get to Eloise Butler from my house. "Eloise Butler," I said reflectively, meaning, hey, the garden is open and it's not a horrible day in terms of weather. So we dropped by quickly, postponing our grocery shopping.

It was classic very early spring in the garden. No overall mist of greening leaves, but the occasional fantastical bud, sticky-tight, or half-open, or frothing out its small leaves in unrecognizable shapes. We heard red-bellied woodpeckers saying Quirrrr quirrr quirrr. Here and there the little white candles of bloodroot stood about, wrapped in their gray-green fringed leaves. On the slope where they surprise us every time, clump after clump of sharp-lobed hepatica bloomed in pink and blue and white, bowing and shaking on their thin stems in the spring breeze. Trout lily leaves were up in abundance. The false rue anemone was up here and there, many of its leaves still reddish. Skunk cabbage was red and redolent in the marsh.

The little snow trillium was blooming furiously just up the hill from the swamp boardwalk.

So that was our first visit, and we were very glad to have made it. We went back with forethought yesterday. It was a hot day. I resent hot days in April more than I can say. It should not be hot before the leaves are out. It should not be hot in April at all.

That said, by the time we had left the steep driveway and taken the little gravel trail that leads down the hill to the front gate of the garden, I had become resigned to the weather. Before we were halfway up the drive, Eric pointed out a deer crossing it, in a very leisurely manner. We were able to spot her again, standing in the brush on the righthand side of the drive and looking at us, ears alert. She was mostly able to blend into the thin wavery brush, but the ears gave her away.

We were hearing a lot of red-bellied woodpeckers, and one flew past and gave us a couple of good quick views in between its trips behind whatever tree we were looking at it in. Then we heard a Woody the Woodpecker laugh, and Eric said, "That's not quite big enough to be a pileated -- no, wait, it is a pileated." Sure enough, that crazy hammer-head with its stripes, and the remarkably huge body of the woodpecker showed briefly before this one too, in the manner of all woodpeckers, moved around behind the tree so that we couldn't see it any longer. We were enormously pleased, feeling that anything after this would just be extra-fancy icing.

We decided to go up to the meadow first. We had left it unvisited the last time because not much in terms of flora happens there early in the year; but I'd recalled that there is a little prairie smoke and some pasque flower up there and we thought we would look for them. There were some nice clumps of bloodroot along the trail under the white pines, and then many leaves of Virginia waterleaf, and some thistle and aster rosettes, pushing up through the few remaining fallen stems of last year's prairie. When we came around the bend and saw the first part of the meadow, everything seemed very open and empty; in summer and fall, the plants and grasses are shoulder-high on me, but now nothing more than a few inches high was visible. It looked as if they might have burned the slope of meadow visible from the approach, not recently but maybe last fall sometime: the thick layers of fallen grasses and prairie flowers were missing. We'd seen plum trees blooming in people's yards as we rode the bus to the park, but the little arch of wild plum that leads to the meadow proper was just coming into bud.

We went down the slope and onto the path that goes around the central meadow hill, where we were intercepted by a tall dark-haired young man with a walking staff. He asked if we wanted to see the owlet. Well, yes, we did. He pointed it out to us, but we couldn't see it -- he was much taller than I am, and there was a screen of brush that confused the eye. "I'll walk you down to it," he said, so we followed him down to the lowest part of the meadow, where finally, just the other side of the garden fence, we saw a big cream-colored ball of fluff with an owl's face, clinging very firmly to a short stub of a branch not very far from the ground, blinking from time to time, and looking like any fledgling simultaneously terrified, winsome, and bewildered. We had encountered one of the staff on our way down, and she and the young man were discussing the mother owl, which after quite a lot of work Eric and I managed to see high up in a white pine behind the owlet's tree. "Look for her little white bib and the horns," the young man urged, and they were there, but she was very well camouflaged. So they were great horned owls, which we've hard hooting many times and seen silhouetted against the sky on the other side of the garden. But we had never seen an owlet before, or had a glimpse of an adult that showed the white bib.

After a while we thanked the young man and went on up the next hill, stopping to look down at a little loop path that is packed with ferns during the garden's proper season. The ferns weren't up yet, but there was a good patch of bloodroot down at the bottom of the loop. A cardinal was tuning up from the evergreens, and a few more red-bellied woodpeckers quirred somewhere hidden. We went along the edge of the hill and sat on a bench, marvelling at the view when there were no leaves to block it. The clump of birches at the other end of the meadow had new pale green leaves. The meadow was still brown, but Eric noticed a dragonfly, a migrating green darner; and then another; and then the sun came out from behind the clouds and backlit six or eight darners and the cloud of tiny insects they were hunting.

We finally tore ourselves away and went back to the bottom of the central hill to check for asparagus spears, but it was too early. We went down the steep trail through the woods with its sheets of emerging trout lily leaves, and I saw a single plant of Dutchman's breeches, fine frilly leaves and ridiculous white and pink flowers on their tiny stalk. Further down were more hepatica, a number of clumps of actual rue anemone in pink form for easier identification; and, increasingly as we went downhill, big patches of false rue anemone, in bud and blooming shining white, according to the light they were getting. We decided that we'd see the most flowers if we bypassed the marsh and went along the far side of the woods, so we did that, noting in passing that the marsh marigolds, which had been up last week, now had minute yellow buds. The skunk cabbages had put up bright green leaves and were somewhat less stinky. Eric noticed that the patch of Virginia bluebells on the left side of the path had buds, some still pink and some blue already. The snow trillium was still blooming ferociously, and we started to see first individual trout lily buds and flowers, and then, as we went up the far slope of the woods above the marsh, a patch of yellow trout lily, and another, and another, and then sheets of white ones interrupted by clumps of yellow. I remarked that another name for the yellow trout lily is the dog's-tooth violet.

We passed some people who told us that they had seen four deer and three wild turkeys. We felt smug about our owlet, but when we saw the first wild turkey hen poking around under a fallen tree trunk, we stopped and gaped at her anyway. At some point we sat down on a bench overlooking the marsh, and Eric checked the time and the bus schedule and we realized that we'd have to hurry. We didn't do very well at that, however. There were other hen turkeys; there were flowers and fantastical shrubs budding, the trillium leaves we had seen last week, had their pointy buds well out, and it's a bit of a hilly slog back up towards the Martha Crone Shelter. When we got there, a nice man told us there was a tom turkey displaying, and he was, right on the path that goes past the periwinkle further on; so we watched him for a while. He was missing a tail feather, but still a splendid sight. I've seen a tom turkey displaying his feathers once before, but hadn't really noticed how the rick black feathers of the back get into the act as well, so that he looks as if he is part very upset cat. The hen turkeys stalked stolidly through the dead leaves, poking with their beaks for insects, and at least pretended to ignore him. We got our best view when a woman with a camera made him decide that he should turn back and go into the woods just below the shelter.

We had missed our intended bus by then, but they were about to close the shelter, so we dawdled up the hill and, when one of the staff came to lock up, out the gate and up to the parking lot, where we sat on a bench under the beautiful river birch they have there and watched the quintessential common animals disport themselves in the grass: a robin, a gray squirrel, and an Eastern chipmunk. The disparate birdsong that we'd had as background had changed to chickadees saying, "Cheeseburger," over and over, establishing their nesting territories. Wee went slowly back down the driveway, now lined with robins about twenty feet apart, and found our bus stop, and went home.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
I just took down the 2015 Minnesota Weatherguide Calendar (it does not do to be hasty about these things), the December photograph in which was a lovely one of a snow- and icicle-encrusted evergreen branch in the foreground, with a wave caught breaking in white spray behind it, and snow- and evergreen-encrusted islands on the horizon, somewhere on Lake Superior. The January photo for the 2016 calendar is also of Lake Superior, at Gooseberry Falls State Park, a rocky beach with lumps of ice perched atop the rocks, each one perfectly sized for its perch, as if a wave had come in and instantly frozen. In the background are the lake, looking very cold, and a low but brilliant sun. I read the Phenology section with great pleasure, because it almost always tells you to listen for the "fee-bee" call of chickadees establishing their territories, and the drumming of downy woodpeckers. And even in the middle of the city, I have heard both of these things already, birds not being great devotees of the Gregorian calendar.

Today a lot of house sparrows are yelling their heads off in the neighbors' pea-bush hedge, and occasionally a crow makes a pronouncement about some esoteric matter.

I'm hoping to post more, however mundane the content of the posts is. Here is a bit that I wrote but never posted just before Christmas.

Read more... )

"Today I made vegan cream of mushroom soup, which is quite delicious, if extremely rich; but I didn't make it to be eaten as soup, but rather to be used in a casserole the recipe for which comes from the family of one of my partners. Then I made dinner for Raphael and me (macaroni and goat cheese and steamed broccoli), and now I am roasting some mushrooms, to be followed by green beans and cauliflower. The last-minute roasted vegetables I made for Thanksgiving (turnips, broccoli, and carrots) were so wonderful that I want to have some more at Christmas dinner. Sadly, some people I seem to be related to don't like turnips, so I'm doing these different vegetables. I had more mushrooms than I needed for the soup, and that is how it all arose. I expect these vegetables will still be wonderful, and I also got some turnips to roast later in the week." In the event, the roasted vegetables were very good, and I did roast turnips, carrots, broccoli, and more mushrooms a few days later. Also very good. I was sneaking the leftovers cold out of the fridge as if they were cheesecake.

The day before Christmas was a better day for pie crust than the day before Thanksgiving. All the pies came out fine. David has heroically finished the mince, and both pumpkin pies are still being worked on. I didn't assist the situation much by making two loaves of banana bread and then lugging one all over on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day but never actually getting it out at a party, so now we have to eat all of that too. The horror. It's a good batch. The recipe uses up to six bananas, with enough whole-wheat flour and sugar to hold them together and some rising agents, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon, with optional walnuts. Aside from the quality of the bananas, which is not really under our control, the keys to a good batch of banana bread seem to be increasing the amount of walnuts, toasting them thoroughly, using fresh cinnamon and good vanilla (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] carbonel!), and not under-baking the result. It's also useful to gauge the level of moisture in the bananas and lower the number used if they seem too gooshy.

Christmas dinner was small this year, but we all had a good time. [livejournal.com profile] lydy was gallivanting about the East Coast and David's sister couldn't make it, so it was just five of us. We had lots of leftovers, which was very satisfying. I tried to recreate my youngest brother's balsamic-mustard-maple-syrup reduction for the salmon, but it came out too mustardy. Still very tasty, just not sublime. And the oyster casserole was a great success with [livejournal.com profile] arkuat as a birthday treat. Follow Your Heart vegan cheddar substitute melts like Velveeta and makes a grand cheesy sauce with homemade vegan cream of mushroom soup. I had leftover soup and ended up making more cheesy sauce and putting it over baked potatoes after I'd eaten all the proper leftovers.

This seems to be a very foodish post. I suppose it's the time of year.

David and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary by going to Kyoto All You Can Eat Sushi. My favorite piece was the sweet potato hand roll, but it was all very good. On New Year's Eve Day David had to go deal with a complicated computer project. I made rosemary shortbread that was too dry and crumbly and slightly greasy, and oatmeal shortbread that did not work right at all. The rosemary was demonstrably shortbread, not greasy oatmeal candy like the oatmeal attempt, but it still wasn't right. I think Earth Balance has messed with the formula of their tub margarine so that it doesn't work right for baking, and I will henceforward need to only use the Buttery Sticks for baking. These are sadly no good for just putting on your toast or potato, which is annoying.

On New Year's Eve, David and I went to two parties. I actually hate this, and cherish a useless nostalgia for the comparatively few years when everyone I wanted to see attended the MinnStf party. Even then, when I had first joined MinnStf, there was at least one splinter group that had its own party; I just didn't know those people well and didn't care. The MinnStf party was hosted in a really grand fashion with chicken noodle soup, tacos with a vast array of possible fillings, and, it was rumored, a turkey breast; also huge tubs of hummus, interestingly flavored chips, vegetables (including what looked and tasted like heirloom cherry tomatoes of several varieties), and a plenitude of fruit and candy. The banana bread seemed surplus to requirements, so I didn't get it out. I had several pleasant conversations, and the general conversation upstairs was also nice. I felt guilty leaving, but was very glad, at the second party, to see at least six people I always love to talk to and a number of other congenial sorts, as well as two very self-possessed and fluffy cats. This party was also more than well supplied with edibles, so I didn't bring the banana bread out for it either.

We got home before 2, when I realized that I'd forgotten my knapsack with the lonely loaf of banana bread in it, so we had to drive back to get it, David exhibiting remarkable patience at my fecklessness. I am looking after Lydy's cats while she's gone, so there was half an hour of washing food bowls, parcelling out wet food to the healthy in small doses and to the cat with kidney issues in a larger one, refilling waterers, scooping litter boxes and cleaning up the floor where Naomi, the kidney cat, earnestly pees from inside the box. I don't even, but we love her a lot. Then when I got upstairs, Saffron produced a long fussy lecture about my deficiencies in being gone so much and then clattering around downstairs instead of attending to her. She had been quite adequately looked after by Raphael while I was away, but that was not, I take it, the issue.

She was very snuggly overnight. When I woke up I glanced at the clock and thought, 11:09, that's not bad at all. However, a closer look showed that it was 1:09, so there was some scrambling around. However, David and I had agreed that we would get to the Hair of the Dog party after three but before five, and we did manage that. This is one of my favorite parties, and it was really lovely. All but two pieces of the inadequate rosemary shortbread did get eaten. There were goat butter and good bread and goat and sheep cheeses and fava bean dip and Thai hummus and taramasalata and sesame brussels sprouts and fancy olives and six kinds of herring and celery and grape tomatoes and carrots and cornichons and a very chunky guacamole and a gingerbread trifle, which was not at all Pamela-safe, but Beth offered me a bite and it was stupendous. I had a nice conversation with Katie and Magenta and got to hear lemur anecdotes from Karen, and Josh let us look at the portable museums he'd contributed to the Kickstarter for. They are small blocks of lucite in which are embedded very small bits of museumy objects, like dinosaur skin and bone and a bit of tape from an Apollo mission's music selection. I liked the Japanese star sand the best (it's microfossils), but it was all well worth looking at and pondering. I also got to talk a bit to Laura Jean, which almost never happens, and to Tamsin, though most of my conversation with her had occurred the evening before. The general conversation around the museums also included Eric and David, and Beth and Barb J. and Bruce. It was not actually alliterative, though.

Eric and I had decided to just have our date continuing on from the party, so we went back to my house around ten, and I did a bunch more cat work. Ninja helped us make the bed, as usual, with an interruption from Lady Jane, who keeps trying to play with him but hasn't persuaded him to return the desire yet. We read our books and didn't stay up terribly late. Lady Jane leapt onto the bed for petting several times, but didn't want to stay. We had most of our date on Saturday, ending with brunch at the Himalayan Restaurant, a brief stop at the new coop on 38th Street, and a stop to fill up the tank of Lydy's car, which she had kindly lent Eric and me in her absence.

Then I came home and caught up on LJ and had many thoughts about people's 2015 roundup posts, about whether I am remotely a working writer any more and other somber musings. It's easy enough to fix this. Well, no, it's not easy at all. But it's very simple.

Saffron had more to say to me about my various absences, but this week will be normal, so perhaps I won't be scolded so much either by my cat or by my brain.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Tuesday, Raphael and I went to Elm Creek Park Reserve. After a generally lovely hiking season, we'd missed three weeks in a row: one because it was too hot, one because of a dental appointment and Cats Laughing concert, one for reasons I can't recall, but that probably included inertia.

Tuesday was forecast to have a high of 83 F and to be sunny but very windy. We don't normally go hiking when the wind is gusting to 30 mph because it makes photography difficult or impossible. But summer is ending and our weekly hikes with it, so we went. We had gone to Elm Creek in the spring to see ephemerals and the wild plum blooming, and on the pond by the Nature Center we had seen a pair of trumpeter swans.

When we went out onto the boardwalk, there were a lot more than two swans on the pond. A woman who had been observing them through binoculars came and talked to us. "There are eight cygnets," she said, "And there's the male, on the left." There was another large all-white swan on the right. The rest were a mottled gray, though almost as large as their parents. She told us that Lake Rebecca (I think; another Three Rivers Park District park) had four cygnets and that there had been a sandhill crane with offspring on Goose Lake, though they had disappeared sometime in July. We expressed pleasure at all the good swan news, and she wished us a beautiful day and left.

The adult swans were stationed on either side of the mass of young ones, which mostly moved as a group. Looking at one adult through binoculars, we saw that there was quite a large group of ducks on the bank behind it. It was very shady over there, and at first all I could see were some of their orange feet. Raphael, with better vision and better binoculars, said some of them were wood ducks, and once I had that clue, I could see their markings. A couple of them eventually slid into the water and swam around into the sunshine. A parent swan swam by, dipping its large black feet in and out of the water like oars, followed by one young one, the wind ruffling its mottled feathers until some of them stood straight up. There was a partially-submerged log full of painted turtles of various sizes, with their heads all pointed in the same direction. A green darner swooped over the reflection of sky and clouds. All around the pond, small yellow flowers bloomed profusely. I think they were Nodding Bur Marigold. I've seen them near water for years but never looked them up before.

As we were leaving the boardwalk, Raphael pointed out an Eastern phoebe in a dead tree.

We had a sandwich, refilled our water bottles, and head out to the prairie restoration. On the way there, abundant stands of goldenrod (possibly showy, but anyway one of the kinds with a feathery flower head) and clouds of blue and white asters lined the path, with a few larger purple ones for contrast. The leaves of sumac were beginning to turn candy-red. Once we got to the prairie proper, there was stiff goldenrod with its flat flowerheads, and more asters, including one large pink one that looked a little unsure of its welcome. The liatris had mostly gone to seed, but we found one or two plants still blooming.

At the top of the hill is a bench beside a red-stemmed dogwood bush, with a small oak tree across from it. We sat down for a while. Blue asters were growing up through the red branches and red-spotted leaves of the dogwood. Everything rushed and rustled in the wind. The bluestem was turning golden brown at the top, and if you looked across the hills, at first they seemed all grass. Within the grass, held upright by it, were goldenrod and asters and the dull green of leadplant with its seedheads very dull purple.

The restored prairie runs downhill to a bike path, on the other side of which is a shrubby meadow backed by woods. As I remarked to Raphael, I have probably a dozen photos of that view from later in the autumn. Today most of the trees were still green, but there was one on the horizon with a puff of orange at the top, and some poplars far off to the left that were turning pale gold. We got up and walked down the hill. Just short of the bike path was what used to be a river of goldenrod, now being infiltrated by bluestem, with islands of aster and red clover. Raphael said it was the quintessential Three Rivers Park meadow, on what used to be farmland and hasn't yet been completely restored as prairie. We reminisced about our first visit to the park, when we had hiked the meadows on the other side of the pond. They had contained almost no native grasses or plants, but reminded me of the floral background of a medieval tapestry in their variety and precision.

It smelled like autumn, though most of the leaves were still on the trees and green.

Because it was September, I said to Raphael as we crossed the bike path, "Let's get a ring and take it to Mordor, shall we?" Raphael suggested that it would be easier to sell the ring on Craigslist. "Some might consider that irresponsible," I said. Raphael noddd. "Wizards, what are you going to do." "Really. Making marks on people's doors and ruining their paint jobs." "You could sell it as scrap," suggested Raphael. "Yes, then somebody else would melt it down for you." "It might end up as a filling, though." "That would be bad." "Chips have gold in them. You might end up with a secret computer."

We went through small oaks and leftover fruit trees, around a corner dense with reddening sumac, and onto the wooded creek path. We had taken it in the spring when all budding shrubs and trees were full of fantastical half-open leaves in many shapes and colors. There was blue wood phlox blooming. Now it was dense greenery and goldenrod. All the time the wind whooped and roared and swooped and all the leaves rustled and the grasses and goldenrod bent and rippled. We saw a bird riding the wind like a child on a scooter. It was small but very raptor-like, with a pale underbelly. We couldn't get a clear look at it, but it was lovely to see how the wind was its element.

In the deeper parts of the woods, the wind died a little and mosquitoes started trying to eat me. I moved along as fast as I could, but it seemed very hot. Eventually I got out my phone and was affronted to see that it was 88 degrees. At least the humidity had dropped a great deal. We were glad of the wind.

We went down to the bridge over the creek and along to a clearing that has a vault toilet and a couple of picnic benches, because I needed to sit down. The clearing has the creek on two sides; you can't see it when things are so lush, but you can hear it, and the light over it is different. There are maple, basswood, and birch trees in the clearing, and a tumble-down stone oven. Bluejays yelled over our heads, and chickadees explained things to one another. Eventually the mosquitoes found us, and we went back over the creek, past the dense sumac hedge and the river of goldenrod islanded with its asters, up the steep hill to the bench and the tiny oak. We sat for a while, and then came gently downhill, looking at the backlit golden grasses and the leaves on the oaks and lindens.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Hi, you guys. I'm sorry that I haven't posted in so long. There's no particular excuse other than general harriedness.

The weather has been of the sort that makes mowing the lawn difficult to schedule. It will rain a lot and be very hot and sticky; then there will be a nice day when the grass gradually dries out, but then either it will rain again, or there will be another nice day and Raphael and I will go hiking; and then it will rain some more. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that I don't really want to mow the lawn at all. It's not that the task is so very onerous in itself, but I find lawns boring and am much more interested in seeing what comes up and blooms if I leave them alone. Sadly, the city of Minneapolis, while willing to permit prairie meadows, is not on board with simply neglecting one's lawn, however experimental the spirit in which it is done. And it's true that one would need to scythe down or burn volunteer trees, and that it is useful to be able to make one's way from the house to the garage with trash or recycling, and even to sit in the yard to watch for bats or chimney swifts or swallowtail butterflies.

Today is not great for dragonflies because it's too cloudy, so we did not go hiking; and I decided I'd actually mow the front lawn. I had taken the lawn mower around from the back and was eying the fallen branch of the neighbors' pea-bush hedge with disfavor when I noticed a bright eye in the grass. A little stripey bird stared at me, bits of gray fluff protruding from its stripes and vibrating with its breathing. It did not gape for food or make any sound at all, and no parent bird clicked or chirped or shrieked at me. I got the pruning shears and did some haphazard reduction of the volunteer trees in the side gardens and the back yard. When I was tired of that, I went back around. The bird was still there. I came into the house and grumpily told Raphael, who suggested looking up what one was recommended to do. I was pretty sure we both knew, but I looked it up. Sure enough, fledglings of most species spend two to five days on the ground being taught important life experiences by their parents. One is strongly advised by the Audubon Society and other similar organizations to leave the babies alone and let them get on with life.

It's very sad, but I cannot mow the front lawn. Raphael said that the city (which, in addition to its lack of enthusiasm for unplanned spontaneous meadows, also dislikes grass and weeds higher than eight inches in one's yard -- there is simply no pleasing some people) would surely understand this situation. I said I looked forward to explaining it to them.

Both appearance and statistics suggest that the baby bird is a house sparrow, but I am not going to mess with it even so. It can't help being part of an imported rapacious species, any more than I can.

In other news, David and I are working on re-issuing my 1998 novel Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary as an ebook and a POD. I'm about three-quarters of the way through reading the OCR and checking it against the previously published version. I remember writing it well enough, but it's been long enough that I keep reacting to it as if someone else had written it. This means that sometimes I enjoy it so much that I stay up late to keep reading, and other times I address the author in exasperated terms.

It is an odd sideways book in some ways. I still feel that my actual point was overstated and obvious, but this has not been the experience of most readers. I don't plan to rewrite anything, though. The people who love the book do love it a lot, and I have plenty of new stuff to write. But JG&R probably didn't even reach all of the small audience it should have, because it was published right around the time that the mass-market distribution system broke down, so that it had no mass-market paperback edition and people were not yet resigned to trade paperbacks. So I hope to at least remedy that.

We hope to reissue "Owlswater" and The Dubious Hills as well.

Pamela

P.S. Parental chipping and high fledgling eeeeeings are now coming from the front yard. I'm glad someone is on the job.

ETA: I saw the parent. It might be a chipping sparrow, or maybe an American tree sparrow, only I didn't see a chest spot. I didn't want to stare too long, since the bird was busy and not best pleased with my arrival.
pameladean: (Default)
The snowdrops came up all of a piece, leaves and drooping white flowers, three or four days ago. The purple snow crocuses are blooming in the front flower bed. The peony on the south side of the house is showing red shoots, as is the evil but beguiling Japanese knotweed. The bleeding-heart in the front flower bed has put up red-and-green shoots, already frilled with proto-leaves, right out of its mulch. The blue-and-yellow thug irises are putting up leaves, as is the burgundy one that hasn't bloomed much in recent years. I should feed that one.

The dames' rocket and the motherwort have greened up. The daylilies are four to eight inches high, depending on where they are. The bare earth of the south side yard is filling up with tiny violet leaves, a bit of periwinkle, and the aforementioned Japanese knotweed. The grass is greening up. There are small leaves on both mock-orange bushes, and on the neighbors' peabush hedge. I really ought to rake the leaves off the remaining plants, but I have a deep conviction that we are going to pay for this weather with sub-zero temperatures and a raging blizzard, pretty much ANY TIME NOW. So I walk around in bemusement instead.

Ari and I saw a morning-cloak butterfly a few days ago, sunning itself on the back of a lawn chair. I've also seen various small flies and beetles, but no queen bumblebees yet, and no green darners.

Juncoes are still here, and there are so many I think they may be either passing through or preparing to leave. We have a pair of cardinals, which is always cheering. The chickadees and house sparrows and house finches are singing in their various ways, and crows are rattling.

In a rash frenzy, I ordered a bunch of plants from the Lake Country School just down the street. They used to send out six-year-olds with forms to go door to door, and you never knew exactly what you would get when you went to pick up your plants. But now everything is online. I confidently expect that the edited manuscript of my book, with a short deadline for return, will land on me on the weekend I am supposed to pick up the plants.

The mint hasn't come back yet, which concerns me. If it doesn't, I had better buy three plants of it and put them in different locations. This is a good recipe for disaster, but maybe the mint can fight back the Japanese knotweed.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
The snowdrops came up all of a piece, leaves and drooping white flowers, three or four days ago. The purple snow crocuses are blooming in the front flower bed. The peony on the south side of the house is showing red shoots, as is the evil but beguiling Japanese knotweed. The bleeding-heart in the front flower bed has put up red-and-green shoots, already frilled with proto-leaves, right out of its mulch. The blue-and-yellow thug irises are putting up leaves, as is the burgundy one that hasn't bloomed much in recent years. I should feed that one.

The dames' rocket and the motherwort have greened up. The daylilies are four to eight inches high, depending on where they are. The bare earth of the south side yard is filling up with tiny violet leaves, a bit of periwinkle, and the aforementioned Japanese knotweed. The grass is greening up. There are small leaves on both mock-orange bushes, and on the neighbors' peabush hedge. I really ought to rake the leaves off the remaining plants, but I have a deep conviction that we are going to pay for this weather with sub-zero temperatures and a raging blizzard, pretty much ANY TIME NOW. So I walk around in bemusement instead.

Ari and I saw a morning-cloak butterfly a few days ago, sunning itself on the back of a lawn chair. I've also seen various small flies and beetles, but no queen bumblebees yet, and no green darners.

Juncoes are still here, and there are so many I think they may be either passing through or preparing to leave. We have a pair of cardinals, which is always cheering. The chickadees and house sparrows and house finches are singing in their various ways, and crows are rattling.

In a rash frenzy, I ordered a bunch of plants from the Lake Country School just down the street. They used to send out six-year-olds with forms to go door to door, and you never knew exactly what you would get when you went to pick up your plants. But now everything is online. I confidently expect that the edited manuscript of my book, with a short deadline for return, will land on me on the weekend I am supposed to pick up the plants.

The mint hasn't come back yet, which concerns me. If it doesn't, I had better buy three plants of it and put them in different locations. This is a good recipe for disaster, but maybe the mint can fight back the Japanese knotweed.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
On my second full day in California, I awoke for the second time to a world without Jordan. Things felt both terrible and unreal. I was so far away; she had flirted her tail at me as I went out with my suitcase, and I had said, "Hello, pretty girl," and then put down the suitcase and rubbed her head and scritched her fine white spiral-permed ruff. She had a great chuffy purr when she was pleased, but it was reserved for less brief encounters.

Eric and I made an early start because we wanted to make the most of the low tide at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. We invariably refer to any expeditions to this reserve as "going to Moss Beach," but that's actually the town rather than the beach itself.

We stopped at Whole Foods again for lunch supplies and noted with pleasure, as we neared the marine reserve, the new location of the Flying Fish Grill. We had tried to visit it in 2006, on [livejournal.com profile] mrissa's recommendation, but inadvertently arrived on a Tuesday, the day it is closed.

The day was overcast and extremely windy when we got there, and I feared I was under-dressed. But we read the sign explaining that it is a felony in San Mateo County to go within 300 feet of a harbor seal, noted that the beach was closed off on its southern end because a lot of harbor seals had "hauled out," as the proper phrase apparently is, and were lying about on the rocks looking spotted and satisfied; and clambered down from the high point. We crossed the stream with its warnings about e. coli, and began walking cautiously around on the exposed rocks. At first all we saw were snails. I was having a lot of trouble just making my way around and feared I had lost a lot of my acquired sure-footedness in such circumstances. However, I think it was a bad combination of very slippery rocks, which the sun soon came out and half-dried, and the height of the nasty side effects of my blood pressure medication, which soon abated. Eric found the first sea anemones. Most of them were tightly closed and decorated with a scattering of sand. As the sun warmed the rocks and water and our eyes remembered what to look for, we saw hermit crabs tugging their temporary snail-shell homes about, and small fish startling from shade to sun and back to shade again, as fast as fast. And we saw a large, intensely red crab hiding as well as it could under a small overhang of rock in one of the tide pools.

There were also ravens, sailing about on the wind and making "gronk" sounds. In the lagoon left by the receding tide were oyster-catchers, and we got to see one of them taking a bath, with great splashings and preenings and then more splashing. A few small and larger sandpiper-like birds ran about, but the light was so strong that they were hard to identify. We were also fairly sure that we saw a western grebe.

I spent some time looking at the main mass of harbor seals. It was early for them to have many young, but one or two small ones were rolling about and poking the larger seals with their noses. The adult seals would emit gusty breaths or outright groans, turn over, and go back to sleep, and the young ones would go poke another adult or two. Eric came back from one of the further spits of rock at the other end of the tide-pool area, looking agitated. "There's a harbor seal out there," he said, "and it's pointing its nose superciliously at the sky, and if I can see that I think I'm too close." After a little discussion, we decided to leave the beach to the harbor seals and drive into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Neither one of us had thought in time that we should bring Eric's California atlas, but he said that he had spent enough time driving around the Santa Cruz Mountains that he was unlikely to get lost.

We drove along the coast for a while, with Eric telling me to just sing out if I wanted to stop at a particular beach. I looked fondly at San Gregorio, but didn't sing out. In time we came to Alpine Road, which led up into the hills, and took it. It was narrow to begin with, extremely winding, and after a short time full of views. As we went up and in, the dry scrubby landscape of the coast gave way to evergreens, redwoods, and damp. The road was often too narrow for two cars to pass, and had a habit of going to the extreme edge of a drop before curving abruptly back in a different direction. The car had a compass, and if you watched it for a few moments you could see almost every direction available.

In a particularly lush and drippy stretch, we saw signs for the Heritage Grove. This is part of Pescadero State Park, it turns out. We parked in a minute damp parking lot and crossed a wooden bridge encrusted with moss, from which tiny mushrooms stood up along the railings. There was an entire dead tree completely covered with brilliant green moss. At the time, this seemed beautiful.

The Heritage Grove is believed to contain the largest remaining redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trees were already marked to be logged in the 1970's when citizens of a nearby town got themselves together to protest the logging. They succeeded in saving the trees. We had a choice of visiting the upper or the lower grove first. I suggested the upper, on the grounds that that would be more tiring, so we should do it first. We climbed a wet path with occasional wooden steps, winding around boulders and roots. There were firs and redwoods, intensely green moss, fallen branches laden with lichen, and banana slugs. By the time we returned to the car we had counted eight of them. I found it strange, given their color, that they were so well camouflaged. Eric pointed out later that they were pretty much the exact color of a fallen, yellowed leaf from a California bay laurel. Everything was pearled and starred with minute drops of water.

The old-growth redwoods, when we got to them, were fully as amazing as most of the ones we had seen when we went north to Humboldt County in 2007. And you could in fact see, cracked and grown apart and sometimes interrupted by bark, the blue paint laid upon their trunks by the failed loggers while I was still in college.

We pressed on past the immense grove, drawn on by the greenness. I had noticed a lot of brown oak leaves, which struck a strange note in the overall lushness. Eric said now that those were tan oaks, and that they suffered from Sudden Oak Death, a plant disease first noticed in the 1990's but only recently traced to its source. I looked out among the spaces of the forest, seeing more and more trees and branches completely covered with moss. They no longer seemed so beautiful.

The path eventually became too steep or muddy, or perhaps was blocked by a fallen tree, and we turned back and came down again through the many shades of green and rich dark red and gray and brown, past the sky-touching old redwoods, past our bridge, and down to the lower grove, which was near a small stream. We found the rest of the ancient trees and looked at the blue paint on their trunks. I may have said something triumphal to the long-gone loggers.

When we got back to the car we decided to go on upwards rather than retracing our path to the coast road. Alpine Road continued narrow, or narrower, on and on, pushing itself out to the edge of a drop and back to a cliff, showing us layers of hills, valleys full of trees, mountains of trees and mountains of grass, damp forest and dry and damp again. There were no intersections for what seemed like a long time. We finally got up to Highway 35, also known as Skyline Boulevard, which was cheering because at least we had heard of it and had been on other parts of it. Eric became concerned about ending up in suburbia or even in Silicon Valley, so we turned south on Skyline. At last we came upon Highway 9, also known, though we didn't at the time, as Big Basin Way; and then, not being completely tired of wandering around at random, we turned onto Highway 236, Big Basin Way. There continued a general dearth of choices to go much of anywhere, aside from the roads mentioned.

We began to see signs for Big Basin State Park. Eric remembered visiting it in September of 2003, when he moved back to California and I came with him and stayed for a week to make the transition less painful for both of us. I couldn't recall anything about it, though I remembered a lot of the other redwood parks we had seen. We went on and on, around and around and around, up and up and up and up. We were hungry and bewildered by now, and there was some doubt, in the absence of a map, as to whether the road we were on would go through Big Basin State Park, or maybe only to it, whereupon we would have to retrace our convoluted route. I had felt for quite some time that it was getting dark, though this impression was created by the density of much of the forest and the intermittent overcase rather than by the sun's actually having set.

We arrived at Big Basin State Park, and if I recall correctly were so intent on making sure that the road went on to the coast that we did not avail ourselves of its amenities. Eric said that our previous visit had involved arriving late in the day and walking around among the largest trees for a while. Since we had seen large redwoods in more salubrious conditions that same day, we gaped but did not stop. Eric, however, was getting tired after all the hairpin curves and scary views, so I got him to pull into a turnout and eat a battered Luna bar that I had been carting around for months. He said this was very helpful.

We drove down, then, down and down through deep green forest and blue-shadowed hills and valleys, and came at last to the coast road, and turned north. The sun was very close to setting. We stopped at one beach because there were surfers and also people flying kites. Then we realized that these were all the same people -- they were kite-surfing. The ocean looked wild and temperamental; the sunset light caught the sails and the wind alternately billowed and flattened them. We watched for a while, and then drove a little further to another beach, where we elected to watch the sunset. It was a quite nice one, but what remains most in my memory now is the birds. There were surf scoters in the surf. ("Do surf scoters have clown faces?" I asked Eric, having left Sibley in the car, and he affirmed that they did.) And as the sun set and twilight came on, there were ducks on the beach. "Are those MALLARDS?" demanded Eric.

They were. But they were behaving as I have not seen mallards behave. They would run after the receding waves, and at the edge of the water they would plunge their bills into the sand, wrench their heads back and forth, yank unidentifiable things out of the water, and swallow them. Then the next wave would carry them up the shore, and they would right themselves and run after it and yank more food out of the sand. We watched until it was too dark to see and the wind was cold and we were hungry.

Then we drove back to Half Moon Bay and had dinner at the Flying Fish Grill.

Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] arkuat for confirming our wanderings on a map.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
On my second full day in California, I awoke for the second time to a world without Jordan. Things felt both terrible and unreal. I was so far away; she had flirted her tail at me as I went out with my suitcase, and I had said, "Hello, pretty girl," and then put down the suitcase and rubbed her head and scritched her fine white spiral-permed ruff. She had a great chuffy purr when she was pleased, but it was reserved for less brief encounters.

Eric and I made an early start because we wanted to make the most of the low tide at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. We invariably refer to any expeditions to this reserve as "going to Moss Beach," but that's actually the town rather than the beach itself.

We stopped at Whole Foods again for lunch supplies and noted with pleasure, as we neared the marine reserve, the new location of the Flying Fish Grill. We had tried to visit it in 2006, on [livejournal.com profile] mrissa's recommendation, but inadvertently arrived on a Tuesday, the day it is closed.

The day was overcast and extremely windy when we got there, and I feared I was under-dressed. But we read the sign explaining that it is a felony in San Mateo County to go within 300 feet of a harbor seal, noted that the beach was closed off on its southern end because a lot of harbor seals had "hauled out," as the proper phrase apparently is, and were lying about on the rocks looking spotted and satisfied; and clambered down from the high point. We crossed the stream with its warnings about e. coli, and began walking cautiously around on the exposed rocks. At first all we saw were snails. I was having a lot of trouble just making my way around and feared I had lost a lot of my acquired sure-footedness in such circumstances. However, I think it was a bad combination of very slippery rocks, which the sun soon came out and half-dried, and the height of the nasty side effects of my blood pressure medication, which soon abated. Eric found the first sea anemones. Most of them were tightly closed and decorated with a scattering of sand. As the sun warmed the rocks and water and our eyes remembered what to look for, we saw hermit crabs tugging their temporary snail-shell homes about, and small fish startling from shade to sun and back to shade again, as fast as fast. And we saw a large, intensely red crab hiding as well as it could under a small overhang of rock in one of the tide pools.

There were also ravens, sailing about on the wind and making "gronk" sounds. In the lagoon left by the receding tide were oyster-catchers, and we got to see one of them taking a bath, with great splashings and preenings and then more splashing. A few small and larger sandpiper-like birds ran about, but the light was so strong that they were hard to identify. We were also fairly sure that we saw a western grebe.

I spent some time looking at the main mass of harbor seals. It was early for them to have many young, but one or two small ones were rolling about and poking the larger seals with their noses. The adult seals would emit gusty breaths or outright groans, turn over, and go back to sleep, and the young ones would go poke another adult or two. Eric came back from one of the further spits of rock at the other end of the tide-pool area, looking agitated. "There's a harbor seal out there," he said, "and it's pointing its nose superciliously at the sky, and if I can see that I think I'm too close." After a little discussion, we decided to leave the beach to the harbor seals and drive into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Neither one of us had thought in time that we should bring Eric's California atlas, but he said that he had spent enough time driving around the Santa Cruz Mountains that he was unlikely to get lost.

We drove along the coast for a while, with Eric telling me to just sing out if I wanted to stop at a particular beach. I looked fondly at San Gregorio, but didn't sing out. In time we came to Alpine Road, which led up into the hills, and took it. It was narrow to begin with, extremely winding, and after a short time full of views. As we went up and in, the dry scrubby landscape of the coast gave way to evergreens, redwoods, and damp. The road was often too narrow for two cars to pass, and had a habit of going to the extreme edge of a drop before curving abruptly back in a different direction. The car had a compass, and if you watched it for a few moments you could see almost every direction available.

In a particularly lush and drippy stretch, we saw signs for the Heritage Grove. This is part of Pescadero State Park, it turns out. We parked in a minute damp parking lot and crossed a wooden bridge encrusted with moss, from which tiny mushrooms stood up along the railings. There was an entire dead tree completely covered with brilliant green moss. At the time, this seemed beautiful.

The Heritage Grove is believed to contain the largest remaining redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trees were already marked to be logged in the 1970's when citizens of a nearby town got themselves together to protest the logging. They succeeded in saving the trees. We had a choice of visiting the upper or the lower grove first. I suggested the upper, on the grounds that that would be more tiring, so we should do it first. We climbed a wet path with occasional wooden steps, winding around boulders and roots. There were firs and redwoods, intensely green moss, fallen branches laden with lichen, and banana slugs. By the time we returned to the car we had counted eight of them. I found it strange, given their color, that they were so well camouflaged. Eric pointed out later that they were pretty much the exact color of a fallen, yellowed leaf from a California bay laurel. Everything was pearled and starred with minute drops of water.

The old-growth redwoods, when we got to them, were fully as amazing as most of the ones we had seen when we went north to Humboldt County in 2007. And you could in fact see, cracked and grown apart and sometimes interrupted by bark, the blue paint laid upon their trunks by the failed loggers while I was still in college.

We pressed on past the immense grove, drawn on by the greenness. I had noticed a lot of brown oak leaves, which struck a strange note in the overall lushness. Eric said now that those were tan oaks, and that they suffered from Sudden Oak Death, a plant disease first noticed in the 1990's but only recently traced to its source. I looked out among the spaces of the forest, seeing more and more trees and branches completely covered with moss. They no longer seemed so beautiful.

The path eventually became too steep or muddy, or perhaps was blocked by a fallen tree, and we turned back and came down again through the many shades of green and rich dark red and gray and brown, past the sky-touching old redwoods, past our bridge, and down to the lower grove, which was near a small stream. We found the rest of the ancient trees and looked at the blue paint on their trunks. I may have said something triumphal to the long-gone loggers.

When we got back to the car we decided to go on upwards rather than retracing our path to the coast road. Alpine Road continued narrow, or narrower, on and on, pushing itself out to the edge of a drop and back to a cliff, showing us layers of hills, valleys full of trees, mountains of trees and mountains of grass, damp forest and dry and damp again. There were no intersections for what seemed like a long time. We finally got up to Highway 35, also known as Skyline Boulevard, which was cheering because at least we had heard of it and had been on other parts of it. Eric became concerned about ending up in suburbia or even in Silicon Valley, so we turned south on Skyline. At last we came upon Highway 9, also known, though we didn't at the time, as Big Basin Way; and then, not being completely tired of wandering around at random, we turned onto Highway 236, Big Basin Way. There continued a general dearth of choices to go much of anywhere, aside from the roads mentioned.

We began to see signs for Big Basin State Park. Eric remembered visiting it in September of 2003, when he moved back to California and I came with him and stayed for a week to make the transition less painful for both of us. I couldn't recall anything about it, though I remembered a lot of the other redwood parks we had seen. We went on and on, around and around and around, up and up and up and up. We were hungry and bewildered by now, and there was some doubt, in the absence of a map, as to whether the road we were on would go through Big Basin State Park, or maybe only to it, whereupon we would have to retrace our convoluted route. I had felt for quite some time that it was getting dark, though this impression was created by the density of much of the forest and the intermittent overcase rather than by the sun's actually having set.

We arrived at Big Basin State Park, and if I recall correctly were so intent on making sure that the road went on to the coast that we did not avail ourselves of its amenities. Eric said that our previous visit had involved arriving late in the day and walking around among the largest trees for a while. Since we had seen large redwoods in more salubrious conditions that same day, we gaped but did not stop. Eric, however, was getting tired after all the hairpin curves and scary views, so I got him to pull into a turnout and eat a battered Luna bar that I had been carting around for months. He said this was very helpful.

We drove down, then, down and down through deep green forest and blue-shadowed hills and valleys, and came at last to the coast road, and turned north. The sun was very close to setting. We stopped at one beach because there were surfers and also people flying kites. Then we realized that these were all the same people -- they were kite-surfing. The ocean looked wild and temperamental; the sunset light caught the sails and the wind alternately billowed and flattened them. We watched for a while, and then drove a little further to another beach, where we elected to watch the sunset. It was a quite nice one, but what remains most in my memory now is the birds. There were surf scoters in the surf. ("Do surf scoters have clown faces?" I asked Eric, having left Sibley in the car, and he affirmed that they did.) And as the sun set and twilight came on, there were ducks on the beach. "Are those MALLARDS?" demanded Eric.

They were. But they were behaving as I have not seen mallards behave. They would run after the receding waves, and at the edge of the water they would plunge their bills into the sand, wrench their heads back and forth, yank unidentifiable things out of the water, and swallow them. Then the next wave would carry them up the shore, and they would right themselves and run after it and yank more food out of the sand. We watched until it was too dark to see and the wind was cold and we were hungry.

Then we drove back to Half Moon Bay and had dinner at the Flying Fish Grill.

Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] arkuat for confirming our wanderings on a map.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
I don't know why I'm so thoroughly out of the habit of posting. One of the things I like about reading my friends-list is the combination of homely everyday detail and really chewy intellectual posts. I am not very good at making the latter -- I start them, revise them, get bogged down in some detail of nuance or research, and eventually lose them somewhere. But I can do daily life.

The juncoes are here. I was concerned for a week or two that the Norway maples would not get a chance to turn yellow, instead dropping their leaves madly while still green; but they have managed, and if I walk to the end of my block and look back, there is the proper tunnel of gold, leaves drifting down onto the black asphalt of the street. They are not mallorns, and there is certainly no asphalt in Lothlorien, but the effect seems Tolkienesque in any case.

It was a peculiar summer in many ways. As I mentioned at the time, I cracked or bruised a rib at the end of April, and just when that was healing up nicely I got the Wiscon Death Cold and coughed for five or six weeks. While I put in basil, mint, thyme, and two tomato plants much earlier than I had managed in 2010, only the herbs thrived. I forgot about the thyme and have not used it for anything. David and Lydy kept the mint well pruned by harvesting it for their drinks, and it is probably going to take over the world next year. Eric and I were going to make spring rolls using the fresh mint and basil, but we never did. The basil is unhappy with the frost or near-freezes we've been having at night, but the mint and thyme are still looking fresh and happy. I should put some thyme in the soup this evening. We had a pot of rosemary on the front porch, too, and I did make good use of that; but I failed to bring it inside the first night temperatures threatened to go below freezing, and it gave up and died.

Raphael and I did fairly well with hiking, under the circumstances -- my rib injury and the horrible virus from Wiscon weren't the half of it. June was cold and rainy; then Minnesota Republicans forced the shut-down of the government because they have an insane desire to control women and oppress poor people, so the state parks closed on July 1. Raphael and I were up on the North Shore at the time, at Temperance River State Park. The park, I think like most of the parks thereabouts, is divided by Highway 61. We started with the lake side. When we went out to the lake, there were no notices. When we came back, all over were simple printed pages saying that the park was closed. We went across the highway and up the river anyway. We were there because somebody in the 1990's had seen boreal snaketails in the powerline clearance. They did not appear, but the river and its rocky surrounds were spectacular. The powerline clearance runs over a tilted slab of basalt, broken up by water, scattered with patches of thin sand shading to soil in which hawkweed and other wildflowers grow, with here and there a juniper or an aspen sapling. A young deer with just the velvet stubs of antlers wandered out of the woods beyond the clearance and set about grazing. He knew we were there, but he did not give us any wide-eyed paranoid looks, did not freeze and think about running. He looked us in the eye, swaggered, and ignored us. His dignity was upset, however, by the fact that his antlers obviously itched. He had to stop from time to time and scratch them with a hind leg, which was both impressive and hilarious.

We had planned to stop at Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock on our way back south, on the grounds that the parks would still be in perfectly good order even though officially close. However, both parks include rest areas that had been blocked off with barricades, so we had to give up, cursing the Republicans in the legislature. Even if they had behaved like reasonable beings, the closure of St. Croix State Park would have distorted our hiking year. We did have several excellent visits to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

Eric was working night shift until July, and then a classic mid-continental heat wave moved in, so we didn't do any hiking until much later in the year. We made one road trip to look at fall color, staying in LaCrosse but spending much of our time at Great River Bluffs State Park. We did also visit Perrot, avoiding any bluffs this year but hiking along the Riverview trail, where we saw an egret sitting atop a muskrat lodge; and also along the Black Walnut Trail, which was more hilly than we expected but full of goodness, including the biggest black walnut tree either of us had ever seen.

Writing has been frankly terrible. I don't even want to try to come up with the number of words I've written. I certainly don't need even the fingers of one hand to do so. I'm feeling a little cheerier since I did a reading of the new second chapter of the Amazing Expanding and Shrinking Novel at Conjecture -- many thanks to Laura Krentz for asking me. It was useful to see that the new structure actually worked rather than being a heap of disassembled incidents bunged together with semi-colons. I'm looking at my present projects with somewhat more equanimity, at least.

Aristophanes, although bony, seems to be thriving. A failed attempt to remove a mat from his belly us to the emergency vet late on the day before I was to go to Wisconsin with Eric. They were very nice to us, calling the wound a grooming injury, as if he had done it himself; I guess some cats do damage themselves yanking out mats. The vet tech who brought him back to us also exclaimed, "You guys, he's in such good shape for his age! You must take very good care of him!" He had to have ten days' worth of antibiotics, which Raphael heroically put down his throat; and he had to wear a blue cone, which he bore with great insouciance, much to my surprise. He did have epic grooming sessions when it was taken off though. He seems fine now. When I take him out for walks, he mostly patrols his yard, sniffing carefully, and then goes back in. But a few days ago he tore across the front yard to the maple on the boulevard, ran six or seven feet up its trunk, dropped down, tore through the side yard to the back and all the way to the garage, tore back to his favorite mulberry and ran up that, and then tore to the back door and pawed at it to be let in. I must have been a very funny sight, lumbering after him fast enough that the leash was never taut but quietly enough that he wouldn't take fright at the MONSTER FOLLOWING HIM.

I'm rereading the Aubrey/Maturin books, finding all much better than I remember. This is especially gratifying for the volumes after The Thirteen-Gun Salute, though I still expect to be very annoyed with O'Brien for one or two things nearer the end.

I am reading all of you, but I tend to forget that I actually can comment now, Opera's update having apparently fixed my problem with LJ. I'll try to provide more blather soon.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
Three hikes, behind an LJ cut for your convenience, and in rather less detail than some earlier ones:

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park )

Frontenac State Park )

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve )

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