Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
cloudy week....

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Corvallis Hike plant list

Bald Hill to Mulkey Creek to Fitton Green and back again Plant List
We wandered through several mirco-climates on our hike today, from roadside and stream, to oak savannah, doug fir forest, upland meadow, and back down. Sixty species, finishing up with the common dandelion.
Tiger lily
English daisy
Vetch (sp)
Wild rose—two sp.
Mules ears
Bleeding heart
Foam flower
White allium
Cranes bill geranium
Twin flower
Spring beauty
Phantom orchid
Stinky bob
Sweet cicely
Heal all
Mariposa lily
Checker mallow
Buck horn
False dandelion
White clover
Oregon sunshine
Poverty clover
Menzie’s lupine
Tarweed (sp)
Inside out flower
Fringe cup
Footsteps of spring
Small flowered buttercup
Death Camus
Blue eyed grass
Cow parsnip
Western geranium
Native blackberry
Himalayan blackberry
Western Buttercup
Butter and eggs
Birdfoot buttercup
Wild chamomile
Field madder
Mystery geranium that is also in the driveway

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Green Rain

                Green rain.

                In late April, May, and early June, we have green rains. They come after a week or so of dry, clear, warm days, when all of the plants in the yard stretch towards the sun, bloom fully, and begin to set fruit. But, as they grow, they lose water, and contract slightly. Then, one afternoon, the wind picks up and clouds tumble over the Coast Range, back up against the Cascades, and cover the valley. Sheets of low grey cloud form; huge golden puffs pile up above them. The barometric pressure and the temperature drop overnight. This week, the rain was ushered in by a thunderstorm rolling over the house at midnight. We sank into a deep sleep as the rains began.

                In  the morning, we awoke to a green rain. Green rains are steady, all day, wet-footed rains, not mists and drizzles. They fill all of the dry plant cells so that everything, from apple tree to tomato plants, to the grass, swells with moisture. Branches dip down over the paths. Water soaks into the ground once more. A few bean seeds rise above the soil; I walk the beds to tuck them back 
underneath. We can no longer see the low apartment house behind us because the hazelnut trees are so huge and full. The entire space, the entire county, begins to glow deep green against the grey skies.

                There will be no yard work done today. It is too wet outside. We walk to the library, huddle under an umbrella, pick up a pile of books, and come home. We make a pot of tea, maybe some Alfred’s Long Johns, and settle in. I start a fire, and we sit near it with a window open to let in the fresh, wet, green air.

                Green rain.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Fir Tree Tops

Cabin Collage
In the grey afternoon
Rain haze, clouds glow
With the late sun.

Fir tree tops
Bend green and grey, fade
Into night. Rain. Wind.

The creak of chair.
Soft voices. Pencil tracks.
What do we know.

With thanks to Gary Snyder and "Pine Tree Tops.

Brown Bread:

2.5 c whole whet flour
2 c white flour
1/3 c sugar
1 T BP
1/2 t BS

1 egg
1.5 c buttermilk
1 c milk

Pour into a round baking pan. Bake in 350 oven until done. Eat with soup or yougurt for breakfast. Toast.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Kindness of Strangers

Tow Truck Drivers
Mark and I packed the Ark and headed for Roseburg this weekend. We have been through the city, about two hours south of here, several times, looking for food on Sunday afternoon and have always been disappointed. But, Mark thought we could move out of the rain clouds blanketing the valley and find some new trails—which we did. We had an amazing hike along the ridgeline of an old ranch, now managed by the BLM and found a small campground by the Umpqua River for the night. As always, I chatted with strangers in the campground; we all agreed that the occasional downpours which infinitely preferable to last summer’s drought.  After an excellent night listening to rain on the roof of the Ark, we headed further into the mountains to hike waterfalls.
Then the transmission felt funny. We stopped at a small store, Mark went in for juice, and I tried to move the gears into first—but... We were stuck in second gear. I turned the engine on, eased the clutch to see if it would budge, but no. Whacked it. No luck. Slipped backwards a bit. Nothing.  It is not uncommon for the Ark to break down far from home; we only drive long distances. We have broken down all over the country.  In fact, when we stopped in Cottage Grove on Friday morning, I felt a bit smug that the transmission was working. It has died not once, but twice, in Cottage Grove.  Mark called AAA. Half an hour later, the tow truck was hitching up the Ark. By then, I had it in neutral.
“So,” he asked, “what do you want to do? I’m towing you to the only place that’s open, but they don’t do transmissions. There’s a place down the street that does, but they are closed until Monday.” 
“Great,” I muttered. “Any ideas?”
“Well,” the driver considered the options. “You can drive it slowly to the other place on Monday. It’s only two lights away. Or…you can rent a U-Haul and a trailer and bring it home.”
“Could you take it home?” Mark asked.
“AAA only goes a hundred miles…”
We pulled up to the one open shop in Roseburg. The mechanic on duty laughed. “We can’t fix that! Maybe a U-haul home?”
Our driver looked at us. He did not drop the Ark on the streets of Roseburg.  We climbed back in the truck and headed to the U Haul.
“I guess I can drive a U-haul with a trailer…” I said. Mark did not even offer.
“Well,” our driver considered the options and did a little GPS research. “It’s probably cheaper for me to drive you home than for you to rent a U-Haul.” And he did.
The Beaver

A week and a half ago, the ancient willow in our neighbor’s yard came down, in two chunks, in the middle of the night. We were all sad to see it go; no one wanted to cut down the remaining dramatic tall stump, but it had to happen.  Last Saturday, the tree came down, leaving a stump about five feet around and four feet tall in the back driveway of our neighbor’s house. This Saturday, Jean walked by it on the way to the grocery store. Someone had carved a life-size beaver into the side of the stump, turning the sad remains into  Art.  We have no idea who did it or when.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bee Mysteries

Bees are mysterious creatures.  I never quite know what they are about in my back yard, but as long as the hive hums like a well-tuned VW vanagon, I don’t worry too much.

We had a swarm move into a hive this spring. The old home, a huge willow tree, developed cracks then came crashing down in several pieces, so the colony was looking for a new home. My bee box was set up with some old, crossed comb in it, waiting to be cleaned out. I’d harvested the honey back in early February, when I knew the old colony had died, but left the wax for another day, which had just not arrived yet.  The scouts found the already furnished apartment and moved in. A few days later, the whole family arrived, cleared out the worst of the mess, and settled down. Pollen was carted in quickly, but I did not realize, until I opened the hive a week or so later, that they had also relocated all of their honey. The top box was two thirds full, by weight, and the bottom box at least half full, of dark, overwintered honey. There was no way they brought in and processed that much nectar in a week and a half.   I was a little distressed—I wanted to clean out some of the worst crossed comb—but thrilled to see the size and health of the swarm.  Who knew that colonies moved all of their food stores?

The swarm colony likes to camp out. For the first week, there was always a bearded clump hanging off of the entrance board in the evening. I was worried that they were thinking of swarming the first morning I saw this, but there was no other sign of movement, so I shrugged it off. After seeing how full the two boxes were, I added a third, which helped reduce the size of the camp-out, but it never went completely away. Over the next week, more and more bees moved inside at night, probably because it has been raining in the evenings.

Yesterday, we went into both hives. The “new” hive, of purchased bees, had not shown any queen sign for the first two checks, so I recruited a friend with sharp eyes and we cracked the hive. This time, there was considerable honey, pollen, and larvae in the hive, so we cleaned up a bit of weird comb and reassembled the hive. We both turned to the swarm hive, which had the new, empty box on top. “Do you want to drop that one down?” my bee partner asked. “Do you feel brave?” I replied. He shrugged, “It’s going ok so far.” Together, we lifted off the roof, quilt box, and burlap ad peered inside.

The swarm hive was packed with bees. They were building comb, nice and tidy, in the top box, which we lifted off. Bees flew everywhere, but not in a threatening manner. I cracked the second box and lifted it. Bits of honey comb stuck to the tops of the bottom bars. We scraped it all off and placed it to one side, then lifted the last box, also heavy with bees and honey. “What a mess,” my partner observed, looking at the crossed comb in the bottom box. “Yeah,” I agreed. We quickly placed the empty box on the bottom, the lowest in the middle, and the bottom one, which was the messiest, on top. “Harvest that one first,” my partner observed. “That’ll clear it out.” Lid on, no stings, bees everywhere.

Later last night, I went out to settle the chickens and rabbit in and checked on the hives. The New Hive was quiet, everyone tucked in for the night. Once again, the Swarm Hive had a camp out going—one small clump, perfectly circular, in the front of the hive and the other, much larger, on the small pile of honey and comb that we had scraped out. Bees, some laden with pollen, piled up and hummed softly to themselves. This afternoon, the clumps were reduced, but not gone. I think there is a contingent that just likes sleeping outside. Bee mysteries.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Earth Day Rant

I am a bad role model. I yelled out during the Earth Day presentation at school Tuesday. I am the teacher. It is my job to make sure students do not interrupt the speaker. I should not model bad behavior. Even from the floor…   Because the audience was already titillated by the concept of “showering with a friend,” fortunately most of them did not hear me.

                I am deeply frustrated by our responses to Climate Change, both locally and internationally. We have denied the existence of the changing climate for so long that simple solutions will no longer suffice,  but we refuse to take the problem seriously.  We are all deeply concerned—many of my students are highly anxious, and I am sure that it is related to the belief that their world is doomed, because they all know—but we do not talk seriously about the issue. Instead, we have presentations like the one I sat through yesterday, which left me shaking.

                There were three groups presenting to half of the CHS population—ninth and tenth graders. The student organizers were earnest and serious, suggesting small changes everyone could make, like riding a bike to school, and ending with a slam poetry video on how we need to work together to save the planet. They set up the adults well—but the adults bombed. One, in a t shirt, jeans, and bare feet (seriously, does he ride his bike around our glass strewn streets barefoot!), asked lame questions about Facebook and lectured them on ways to get involved. He was boring and quickly lost his audience. I slid to the floor and thought about my grading pile.  He was followed up by one of our local leaders for sustainability, who talked about her trip to Germany to see their solar power—but quickly lost the audience by mentioning beer. High school and beer—bad combo. The audience, already restless and warm, squirmed.  Then she moved into the “what you can do” portion of the lecture. Well, we can eat one less meat meal a week. We can change a light bulb. We can shower with a friend—seriously, if there is one thing more distracting to the audience than beer, it’s that. The boys in front of me, all friends, began hugging each other and laughing nervously.  Or, we can talk with our parents about solar panels. That’s when I lost it. “Insulate the damn house first,” I yelled from the floor.

Seriously people, there is a HUGE GAP between the totally lame “change a light bulb and you have saved the planet”—because even changing every light bulb on the planet would not stop climate change at this point—and installing solar panels. And this is where my frustration peaks. It is a three part frustration.

First, we suggest actions that are so tiny as to be meaningless in the face of this crisis and the kids know it. Light bulbs. Showerheads. Carpool once a week. Recycle.  Bring a bag to the grocery store. Turn down the heat two degrees. (From what? 80? 68? 62, where we are?) These changes are often couched in vague numbers; this is the equivalent of taking five hundred cars off of the road. What does that mean? What car? How many miles? With a head or tail wind? If it was 1976, when Jimmy Carter put on a sweater and installed solar panels on the White House roof, these steps would have been the beginning of meaningful change—and maybe they still are today. If everyone did this, it would be one wedge against the changing climate. But if we stop here, we are kidding ourselves—and my students, who will face the crisis head on in their lifetimes—that we have averted the worst of the changes.

Second, especially in my town, we believe in technology and engineering. Corvallis is highly educated—and many guys riding funky bikes and going to sustainability meetings are retired engineers.  They think in terms of technology. What do we do in the face of climate change, besides ban plastic bags? Solar panels. Prius purchase and many variations. Plug-in stations that are rarely used.  Georgetown Energy Prize. We go big and we go tech. We suggest changing the building codes to require solar panels on all new construction. We request loans for the City to install panels on people’s houses.   We try for big prizes and give out light bulbs everywhere. What do we not do? We overlook the human element involved and the low-tech basics. Fifty five percent of our housing stock is rental, and much of that is before code changes on insulation. This means that renters, mostly students and poor folks, are living in poorly insulated houses, where heat and air conditioning leaks out the windows, walls, and roofs. Renters cannot insulate their spaces, but we could have a program that requires and supports insulating all of our housing stock. This would not only reduce city-wide energy costs, but would benefit the rental community, who are struggling in our town to pay their bills. New technology alone cannot save us, old technology will certainly help.

                Finally, we deny the fact that there are no easy solutions. The problem has grown too big and terrifying. We, as a society, need to cut back—probably way back—on our carbon usage. This will mean—no flying across the country for a weekend. No more 3000 square foot houses, filled with stuff. A lot less meat, new clothing, long drives in the country in a huge pick-up truck. At one point, I thought we might be able to work our way out of this without sacrificing most of our creature comforts and travel, but I no longer believe that this is possible. We are in too deep. There will be radical changes in lifestyle—some more than others, yes—if we want the planet to survive and support future generations. These radical changes will be embraced by some, fought by others. We need to have the political will to vote for candidates how will say the words “climate change is real” and policies, like carbon taxes, that will direct practical solutions to the problem.  Terrifyingly, this has to happen in the next five years.

                And so, when the “What you can do” list includes shower with a friend, eat one meatless meal a week, and replace one bulb with the one we are handing out at the door as you leave, I grow frustrated. And when the presenter (whom I like, personally)—who owns a solar installation company—suggests these tiny responses or solar panels with nothing in between, I yell. 

 On Friday afternoon, Earth Day, about 55 people are coming to my house to view the solar panels on the greenhouse. And we will talk about how much we love them, watching the dial, watching sun and shadows play over the surface and change the reading. But before that, they will head into the basement, where the real change begins, with an efficient furnace and an insulated house, because, really, on a homestead scale, solar panels are the last step to take.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bee News

A swarm moved into our empty hive! After years of sending bee swarms off into the world—I even chased one six blocks to see where it was headed—we had one move in this week. So exciting!

We had a fairly empty hive box sitting on the Bee Bench. The hive died over the winter. I cleared out and strained the honey, but left the empty comb in the box. The plan was to go in again in the next few weeks, clear out the comb, and melt it down. Then I was ill for two weeks, it rained hard every day, and it was still sitting in the back yard when I noticed a few bees moving in and out.  Just looking for honey scraps, I thought.  The next day, there were a few more—a couple of dozen bees, poking around. A bit of old comb fell to the bottom of the box and was shoved out. Scouts?

On Wednesday, a warm and sunny day, I came home around five. When I walked through the back gate, something was different….there were hundreds of bees swarming around the hive box, feeling a little turfy. “Welcome,” I said and dropped down onto the hive viewing stump. What was up? Bees crowded around the entrance, butts in the air, madly fanning. Others crawled down the front. Some pushed dirty wax comb off the edge.  Mark came home and saw a Bee Dance. I wanted to look inside, but they were clearly not welcoming. We wandered back to watch the hive all evening.
After dark, I goggled “bees with butts in the air”   and learned that it was the way marker bees sent their scent into the world for the forager bees to find their way home. Home. They were setting up housekeeping. A pile of wax bits formed under the hive.  I was not positive until Friday, when I spotted cream colored pollen moving in on bee haunches. By Saturday, the hive had settled down to deliberate  hive actions. The flight paths were straight, not mazey. Pollen was coming in on most bees. The fanning was over.  We had a hive.  When I laid a piece of burlap over the bars on Saturday, they were all over the comb inside.

Saturday was also the day we picked up our new bees, because I had placed the order a month earlier, not know a swarm was on the way. After cobbling together a hive bottom from some old wood and a  roof from an old langstrom hive we had around for decoration, we were able to use two of our stored  boxes to create a second hive body.  The bee installation went smoothly and all of the bees were inside a hive within two hours (I suspect some moved in next door) rather than the usual lingering clump for 48 hours.  Within a day, both hives were operating separately, with clear flight paths up and out.  I have not checked on either hive for egg laying; the queen was out of the purchased hive this afternoon and they were building comb.

I don’t know where this gift hive came from. As I have had and observed at least five swarms pass through my yard,  I do know that there are wild hives in the neighborhood. One lived in the ancient and rotting willow next door, which lost a huge branch a few weeks ago. Although I  had not seen any action there this spring, a small hive might have been disturbed and looking for a more stable home. I don’t know. I do know that the universe sent us a gift hive this spring, and  I will do my best to keep it around.