Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"School's Out For Summer!"

I can now tell this story—anyone who would be mad at my actions is dead. I do not sing “School’s out for summer,” although I do chant it in my head every June. This is why.

When I was in sixth grade, the song was popular. I heard it over and over again as I rode home on the bus, clutching my lunch box and library book.  I even sang along. On the last day of sixth grade, I hopped off the bus, hauling all of my papers and books from my desk homeward. I climbed a couple of backyard fences, dropping over, shouting “School’s Out For Summer!” as I went. The neighborhood dog pack followed along.  I stopped to pat the ponies that lived in my backyard, wandered into the house, dropped my stuff in my room, and changed clothes before heading to the back yard once more. The ponies called. I had been slowly building up a relationship with them from months, patting, feeding, combing…I knew ponies. I’d had one a few years before. The owners didn’t mind. They even encouraged me.  That was probably the big mistake.

On this afternoon, I watched them peacefully grazing in the field, still humming. “School’s out FOREVER!” It felt good to be done with mindless worksheets and struggling through math, rather than reading a book under the desk. The ponies called. “I could ride one,” I thought. “I have ridden ponies before.” I convinced one to come over to the fence, climbed up, and dropped down on her back. For a few moments, everything was fine. Then she spooked and started to run. I grabbed for the mane, missed, and slid off, landing on my wrist and butt. It hurt. Feeling guilty, I left the field.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch with a book. When my parents came home, they put ice on my arm and decided to wait until the next day to take me to the doctor. “Maybe it’s another sprain, “ my mother muttered.  I told them that I had “tripped over the dog,” which had happened before, so they believed me.

The next morning, it still hurt, so we headed to the hospital. I had a broken arm. They put it in a full plaster cast and sling and I spent the next six weeks of summer unable to swim, ride a bike, or wrestle with my cousins. Although it was an excellent weapon—I bonked by cousin on the head one day after he broke something of mine—it did put a damper on my summer plans.

And so, even though I may be thinking of Alice Cooper’s song, you will not find me singing it in the last few days. Too risky. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Shrinking Corvallis, one step at a time

                Three years ago, Mark and I walked across England. For 17 days we walked, about 200 miles total(not counting wrong paths and hunts for dinner places), and was one of the coolest things we have ever done. To prepare for the walk, we decided to walk 12 to 14 mile loops from our front door, throughout town and into the hills. Because it was springtime, we could not head for the mountains; the trails there are still covered in snow. So, every Saturday, I used google maps to lay out the walk, and then we hit the sidewalk on Sunday mornings, rain or shine.

 The first one was easy; we followed the route of the Corvallis Half Marathon which took us through neighborhoods we rarely visit. 13.5 miles. We discovered a new park and play structure, some nice bike trails through the suburbs, and came home through Ranchland.  The next was also easy—we walked the ridgeline north of town through the McDonald forest, which helped me understand the relationship between the hills, saddles, and valley floor. 11 miles. Now, when I am driving the countryside, I can line myself up with the hills and know where I am. For the third walk, we rounded the university, visited the urban horticulture center with its beehive museum, walked through Avery Park and the old community garden, then strode along the Willamette river to the south edge of town. We came home through downtown and stopped for iced tea. 14 miles. I traced routes through town for two months; on our final walk, we headed to Dimple Hill from our house, fourteen miles with considerable elevation change. We came home triumphant.

                The hikes prepped us for our long walk, but they had a more profound impact as well. They shrank and expanded our understanding of our town and local geography. Corvallis was smaller because we had walked all through it, and how big can a place be when you can reach all of its corners on foot?  We never hesitated to bike anywhere within city limits, but walking felt more difficult. Now it does not.  Walks that felt distant now feel close. We can do that—no problem. Our town is compact (thank you,  Tom McCall and land use planning laws!) and we know it’s dimensions.  We can be walking up a forested hill in less than an hour, admiring the view from the top in an hour and a half.

                Corvallis also grew when we began to walk disances. We noticed small details, changing house designs, interesting landscapes, bee museums….everything that you can see while walking that you miss on a bike or in a car. We talked with people as we passed. We’ve found benches and views, hidden staircases and paths, and old developments where the houses were all built with the same pattern, but have all been altered with time to reflect their owners.  We learned where the rolling ridges and valleys of the old landscape are. We have studied the sidewalk markers. We know our neighborhoods. Kids started commenting “I saw you…” on Monday morning—usually far from my home.

                We love these long walks now. There is something about knowing that you can step out your own front door and head off down the street, wend your way through the neighborhoods, find soft paths in the woods, and come home, sore-footed and ready for dinner, without ever stepping into a car. Shrinking Corvallis, one step at a time.

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.