Monday, August 31, 2009

Macro Monday: Leaving Impressions

It's neat to discover something I missed before, like how the agave plant leaves an impression of itself. I checked all our agave plants, and every leaf holds a record like this of its unfurling growth. Being succulents, they have saved up for the rainless days.

In Mexico the sap of this plant is fermented to produce a drink called pulque which is distilled into mezcal, or tequila. These can leave an impression on you, too.

Visit Macro Monday for more sights of the up close world.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Stills: Sound

Ed has given us quite the challenge with this week's subject of sound!

With fifteen roosters, there's really no lack of sound to photograph in my world. Here's King Avelino, a Gold Laced Polish, telling the world good morning, as Gino, a Sicilian Buttercup, waits his turn.

Otto, an Apenzeller Spitzhauben, puts in his opinion about the day. It seems all of them decided it was a day for endless crowing. Could it be they know our neighbors are trying to have a wedding next door right now?

Thought you might get a kick out of this. Out of kindness we took our rescue sheep, blind Phoebe and her son Finley, to the far side of the property early this morning to graze since their pen is not too far from where the wedding was going to take place. When they hear people around they like to tell you in a noisy way they are hungry, because no matter how much we feed these two they are always looking for a handout.

While I was uploading the chicken photos, I heard Finley's distress call, a loud, low, persistent baaah that means "momma, come quick!" (Any hope for a peaceful country wedding by this time was crushed). So I rushed down the creek, and there was Finley coming to get me to lead me to the problem. I love it when he "boings" as if all four legs were pogo sticks.

Up the hill we go to a thicket and he shows me the problem: Phoebe is tangled in green brier and juniper. He's been caught in green brier before and thought something was "biting" him.

I was getting dressed up in case they invited me to the wedding! Sheep!

For more noisy photos, be sure to visit Sunday Stills!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to the Basics

Since the wet wipes method of body hygiene really wasn't cutting it, I detoured Farmer Rick off of coop building this week to construct an outdoor shower. I've seen them in magazines like House Beautiful set in lush gardens and thought it would be nice to have one. But then, that's different than actually needing one!

You can see the dirt where our lawn has bit the dust. The view to the fence is the same from the open side of the shower. Fortunately it's wooded, and we also own the land on the other side of the fence. The shower base is made from a wooden pallet set into a gravel box. A foundation block was placed in each corner to hold the structure.

Except for the plumbing hardware, the shower was almost entirely built with recycled materials. It's enclosed on three sides by heavy canvas curtains that came with the house. They were so heavy they were pulling the circular shower rod down that I replaced them with lighter ones and stored them for 9 years. See...I just knew they'd come in handy someday! (In the background, that's the gazebo that came with the house that we turned into a greenhouse last year).

Here's a curtain rod detail...

a corner detail...

and the plumbing hardware detail.

Here's what it looks like on the inside. I see some dirt has already been tracked inside, but guess what? I don't care, ha ha!

And finally, the neighbor's garden hose that's keeping us watered. I'd like to get a little shelf inside for the shampoo and soap, and will look for some neat driftwood down in the creek for towel hooks. Maybe we can talk landscaping--after a rainy year or a new well, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Water Canto

Dear Saint Isadore the Farmer
I don't believe we've met, seeing as how I'm not in your flock
but farmers are a family of sorts, so I thought you might
understand our predicament

The neighbor's new, deep well has so much pressure it keeps bursting hoses--theirs and ours. Farmer Rick repaired ours late the other night and connected it to the pumpkin patch--which we located at the furthest reaches of our property as recommended by permacultural practices, with the assumption they need little tending--HA!

Emily Dickinson said water is taught by thirst
yet our parched land can't seem to command the clouds
and our well is bone dry--nothing down there
but echoes of better times

After adjusting all the spray emitters to the new pressure, I got back to the source and discovered a huge loss of water at the repair site. One inquisitive touch sent parts flying and a geyser of water up my nose, drenching me before I could reach the lever to turn it off. Then, it was off to the tool shed to repair it again.

I thought I'd start with you--
kind to animals, patron saint of farmers and rural communities
--because I like the looks a saint with a shovel
and water springing forth

After completing the mend I had to walk back over to the pumpkin patch and reset all the emitters to yet another pressure. By now the 103 degree temperature has rendered the water in the black irrigation hoses to scalding. It's burning my hands and probably not making the plants too happy to have their thirst answered like this. I feel awful about it, but what can I do?

D.H. Lawrence said water is H2O,
hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing,
that makes water and nobody knows what that is
(I believe God knows)

Because of the mineral content that clogs the emitters, each one has to first be turned on full blast to clear the holes, then turned down to reach only the plant roots, no more. But the last one scalds my hand and I inadvertently let go, blowing the emitter cap to the heavens or at least into the surrounding grass where I cannot find it. There is now another geyser and I scramble to turn off that lever.

Who made it follow the path
of least resistance, yet strong enough to carve a canyon
there is a lesson in there somewhere for us
if we would stop to ponder

I go in search of our stash of irrigation parts and do not have another. The nearest one is a three hour round trip away. I apologize to the pumpkins for our lack of preparedness. It is now noon, and I have spent the better half of a day spraying myself in the face while my vegetables are wilting.

Loren Eiseley said if there is magic on this planet,
it is contained in water, but I think it is spirit he's talking about
like the angel of the flower contained in each seed
that brings forth the fruit

I spend another half a day getting the parts, and a few extra. Now a pond from the back pressure begins to form in the neighbors yard where the spigot lives, where this kind gift of water originates from, where their daughter is getting married this weekend. We decide a solution is perhaps to turn down the pressure on her side and up the pressure on my side. This means going back to the pumpkin patch and readjusting all the emitters. It is 104 degrees outside, the water much hotter. Both the plants and I groan accepting the only water we have.

Your prayer is for all Creation
--the fields, the plants, living water, fresh air, all creatures,
love for one another--this has been my prayer, too
we both know the worth of water

If there ever was a time Farmer Rick wanted to talk me in to relocating to a cooler climate, like the one he grew up in, this would be it. I'm frustrated and exhausted, and I can't even find the towel to throw it in. I'm hot, thirsty, sweaty and a magnet for west Texas dirt. I'd like to cry but I don't think I'm hydrated enough to make the tears.

So, I'm throwing some dirt in the well
tierra bendita that came from the Santuario de Chimayo a place of miracles
asking for clouds and rain to keep our well replenished
and our souls succulent

The well service calls to say, no, they can't deepen a hand dug well. Just to get the rig out to dig another shallow well is $4,500, but eight others already called before me and there's no guarantee in this alluvial gravel. All the new wells drilled around us are at 800 feet or $15,000 dollars deep.

And if your compassion can be so moved, Saint Isador the Farmer,
for our fields, plants, and creatures, to drive your spade
we'd be very thankful for the water!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Macro Monday: Old Man's Beard

These are the achenes of our native Clematis vine (C. drummundii) known as Virgin's Bower or Old Man's Beard. The flower is nothing like the garden variety type you may be familiar with. These are beautiful to photograph back lit on a fence but this one was growing in the prairie, photographed in the wind today. It is a host plant for the larvae of Metalmark butterflies (featured last week in my Macro Monday submission).

The species is named for Thomas Drummond, (ca. 1790-1835), naturalist, born in Scotland, around 1790 who came to Texas in 1833 to collect and name many of our plants. Tea made from this plant is used for treating migraine headaches.

For more up close and personal images, visit the folks at Macro Monday!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Stills: The Open Road

This was an experiment Saturday on a nearby road to see if I could get more road in the shot. I kind of like all the converging lines and the texture of the macadam in the foreground.

Please click to biggify

This panoramic photo is one that I took on a business trip to visit west Texas clients a couple years ago. I'd actually stopped to photograph the large wind farm running along the left mesa as my subject. But perhaps the neatest thing about the photo is that--just like the song--the road goes on forever.

I'm sure Ed can attest to this, since he was driving through it earlier this week! Visit him and the rest of the gang at Sunday Stills.

Friday, August 21, 2009

When the Well Runs Dry

So many of you have kindly sent condolences over our situation here--thanks. I will never take running water for granted ever again!

This is the Frio River--or what's left of it--and I'm standing on both banks. Farmer Rick and I were mystified last weekend when a commercial river shuttle dropped off two tubers that looked to be in their 70's at our crossing. I hope someone told them it would be a long, hot, rocky walk back to their car toting those inner tubes!

Compare this with last summer's shot of the same river. When a river gets shallow and warm, fish die, algae grows, bacteria breeds.

Here's a rare glimpse into our dry well, which is basically empty save for a couple of gallons in the bottom. Many of you out in blogland may not even know where your water comes from--you just pay the city each month and it miraculously comes out of your tap when you turn it on.

Some of you may have your own well that's just a teeny pipe that encases a hole bore through hundreds of feet of earth like an iron straw sucking at the water table. If your pump went out you could get one of those old-fashioned hand pumps to draw the water up.

We have a shallow well that was hand dug through limestone by a pioneer pick axe in the 1860's, later encased with concrete. Where that ends there is a dark emptiness--a narrow horizontal cavern--where the water usually flows just like the nearby river it undoubtedly feeds. You see, an aquifer is like a large rock sponge. Some of the holes are as small as your pinkie, and some of them are underground lakes you could swim in.

The hole below the cavern is where the water is usually stored when the spring is flowing. The pioneers would have hauled it up with buckets and ropes over a wood beam, wishing well style. Assuming your bucket held a gallon, that's 8 pounds to haul up and carry to wherever you needed it. At some point the submersible pump was invented and that's what you see going down on the left side. It has to be submersed to run. We've turned ours off.

Think about all the ways we Americans use water: flushing toilets, cleaning house, bathing, cooking, household drinking, washing dishes, doing laundry, washing cars, keeping lawns, gardens, animals alive, recreation if you own a pool. How much would you use if you had to pull every bucket up yourself? What would you do if suddenly you had none?

We are bathing with wet wipes. Since I work from home, I wash my hair only when I know I'm going to be seen, about once a week. We drink and cook from bottled water. Fortunately we have a lot of dishes and clothes. I may soon have to drive to another town to use a laundromat and resort to paper plates. That little puddle is managing to keep our animals watered--so far. We can only hope for rain.

I've begun to realize Life, as we've known it, is pretty luxurious compared to what the pioneers must have experienced. I think about all the people today in third world countries who live on about 3 gallons of water--or less--per person per day and that water might even be as skanky as what's in our river right now.

So, the next time you turn on your faucet be conservative with your use, and remember to be thankful!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Was I Really That Fashionable?

This morning I was catching up with my blog friend Dana over at A Cat in my Lap, and--being a purveyor of blog fun that she is--was introduced to where you can upload a photo of yourself and see how you might have appeared over the various years in yearbooks.

It looked like loads of fun, so I gave it a try...only to find out I really did look like that in those years. In fact, I think they must have been using my yearbook! See what you think...


This was when I tried to have Farrah Fawcett hair only we didn't own a blow drier and hair conditioner was not invented yet. I think there were only about three choices in shampoo then, all of which were pretty harsh on natural curls. I was probably singing some sad folk song by John Denver when this was taken.


These were the years of big hair, and I had just come from Dallas, Texas, where the bigger the better. I believe this volume was created by a root perm (invented for Rod Stewart?) and hot rollers. This shot was taken by the newspaper for a write up on a one-person show of my paintings. I had just begun modeling high-end clothes for a department store because computer graphics hadn't yet been invented and there wasn't much I could do with an art degree.


This was the decade I dispensed with makeup, high heels, and uncomfortable clothes and embraced my more natural, laid-back self. I became proficient in computer graphics and also had a successful nature tour company. These were the years I felt and looked my best.

And of course the fun one for me was the '60's since I was still a kid. But I still had the 'do'.


I think I was the only kid that had a Tressy instead of a Barbie. You could change the length of her hair by pushing her belly button. Growing up, I always felt unfashionable. Awkward. A misfit. But in retrospect I was more fashionable than I remembered!

What did you look like in those years?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Macro Monday: Coneflower and Friends

I planted this Purple Coneflower last fall in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators and it bloomed for the first time this weekend. This morning it had attracted some new friends.

Here's a little Folded-winged Skipper of some sort enjoying the nectar. When basking in the sun, they hold their fore winds and hind wings at different angles unlike other butterflies. They have really big eyes! I would say they fall into the cute category.

Here's a male Little Metalmark or Fatal Metalmark. Don't you love how butterflies uncoil their proboscis to take a drink? His striped antennae are interesting.

Closer up you can see the metalic lines in his patterning that give these butterflies their name.

For a more detailed view on life, visit Macro Monday!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Stills: Clouds

It's official: We are now in both the hottest and driest spell on record here in southwest Texas. I had to dig through the archives to find this photo of clouds taken in 2007 since we have almost forgotten what they look like. I chose this one because I like the oculus where the sky is peeking through. It also gives me hope we will see some rain again someday. I will go out and dance in it!

For some wonderful examples of clouds, visit Sunday Stills. I know I'll enjoy seeing everyones clouds!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two Finds in One Morning

Yesterday morning we found our first little Cuckoo Marans egg in the new coop. They are known as the "Chocolate Eggers." Yup, the girls are now entering their point of lay. This means Farmer Rick needs to hurry up and build some nest boxes!

Perhaps the more unexpected find, though, was this large stone artifact at the intersection of several of our trails near the new coop, where I have undoubtedly walked right by it a zillion times. I am not sure if this is an early biface or a blank that was to be later made into something more refined.

Several decades ago a nearby field was excavated by the Texas Archaeological Research Lab of UTSA, and yielded many artifacts of Native American encampment. We suspect that our land, too, was a camping ground as we find the dark and angular limestone rocks used in their "ovens" and signs of worked chert. Back when the two creeks flowed, the place where I found this would have been a prime hunting spot.

Many times I've looked here for artifacts, and of course I only did the finding when I wasn't looking!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Stills: The Elements

We were certainly out in "the elements" on our recent vacation. Here's a storm rolling in over what used to be the Kiowa National Grasslands in the panhandle of Texas.

The last time I visited a couple decades ago, the grass was as tall as me. Back then, you might have recognized it as the place where the buffalo scene in Dances with Wolves was shot. But there are no longer any signs (or signage) of it being a protected grassland. Perhaps it was lost to the last administration. What a pity.

click to biggify
I wish I could figure out a way to upload a larger file in Blogger, as these next images are humongous files and very sharp. I will be writing more about this exciting trek along the Rio de Pueblo de Taos River gorge in New Mexico and getting caught in this electrical storm without shelter, dumping two inches of hail on us. You can see the faint line of the trail along the left side of the gorge wall. My husband kept asking if I should really be standing there shooting in it.

click to biggify
Lucky enough to live through it, but not fortunate enough to catch one of the many lightning bolts in my photos! Do you like it better in color or altered color?

For more photos of the elements be sure to visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Color Carnival: Yosemite Sam

Click to biggify!
While on vacation and looking for an apple farm in the quiet farming community of Velarde, New Mexico, along the banks of the Rio Grande, we came across this beautiful wall, each section with a different cartoon character and graffiti name. It was quite a contrast the the surrounding greenery, and very well done. I would have liked to have known about its origin. Yosemite Sam was my favorite panel.

For more colors visit the other participants at Color Carnival.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Send Rain

My area of the Hill Country--often referred to as "God's Country"--is looking and feeling more and more like the devil's playground. We are in our 8th week of 103-106 degree temps. Many living things are--as one of my horticultural friends would say--"taking a hit". We have lost several older shrubs and one of our two apple trees.

The Frio River is running at 2 cubic feet per second, which is basically zippo. Any water left in deep holes is stagnant and breeding bacteria. I think this chart tells the story. You see, even 100 cfs is not very good.

I feel as if we're stuck in the Elmer Kelton novel "The Year it Never Rained" which was set in a fictitious Texas town not far from here. Today the inevitable--our well went dry. There was only a trickle--not enough pressure for our garden's drip irrigation, so we had to turn off the pump to keep it from burning up.

In just one afternoon the effects are already visible. There will be choices, and more losses as we figure out what to do. Not good for farming. I've been running around all day trying to direct the trickle from one sad looking plant to another.

Even the cacti are dying. Having just returned from visiting cliff dwellings, I can now understand why the Pueblo Ancestors (the new politically correct name for Anasazi) had to move on down the road.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Stills: Fences

Still trying to wash the New Mexico dirt out of our laundry from our week long adventure. Along the way I was able to visit another Sunday Stills photographer, Lisa at Laughing Orca Ranch, so be sure to check out that story. (I figure it can make up for my lost post on Sunday).

Our fences are pretty dull around here, so I thought I'd show you a few from my travels.

Santa Fe



This last one was long and colorful, but I'll be saving those shots for my next Color Carnival post!

For more images of fences, visit the other photographers at Sunday Stills.
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