Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

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.
Columbine
Tiger lily
Oocow
Daisy
English daisy
Anemone
Vetch (sp)
Wild rose—two sp.
Flax
Mules ears
Bleeding heart
Foam flower
White allium
Cranes bill geranium
Twin flower
Spring beauty
Phantom orchid
Stinky bob
Cleavers
Sweet cicely
Heal all
Mariposa lily
Checker mallow
Buck horn
False dandelion
White clover
Oregon sunshine
Cinquefoil
Yarrow
Poverty clover
Larkspur
Menzie’s lupine
Delphium
Tarweed (sp)
Inside out flower
Iris
Waterleaf
Fringe cup
Plectrius
Footsteps of spring
Nudicalia
Small flowered buttercup
Death Camus
Clarkia
Blue eyed grass
Cow parsnip
Snowberry
Western geranium
Honeysuckle
Native blackberry
Himalayan blackberry
Ninebark
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.