In the Garden of Life

My yard is a garden of Life. At various times, rattlesnakes, our resident garter snake, a King snake, the Rock Wren, the thistles, grasses, a plant that I don’t know the name of that next year will have a spear covered with seeds they sell at the Farmer’s Market as medicinal herbs, the lizards, a rabbit, a rock squirrel, lots of moths and butterflies, ants, bees, hornets, me, my dog, my solar oven and my solar electricity panels, and the climate. And more and more. Most of these things would be very healthy without human interference in their cycles of Life. Looks like our snake is in process of shedding. She has been basking all day, which is not her usual pattern, and her eye is glazed over.

140715-snake-ASC_0206RLSssThis morning the climate is based on a thin veil of filmy clouds between us and the source of energy to drive all of this Life. My camera and my nose are buried in the purple thistle blossoms, which in the early morning is one of the sweetest perfumes made by man or nature (and not chemically harmful).

My question for this morning is: “How many Life cycles depend upon and/or benefit by this wonderful thistle?” Or maybe it’s not such a good question, as clearly I will never be able to learn the answer. And of course the thistle is only a small part of my garden of Life.

140712-plants-asc_9911SssFirst the thistle benefits itself by making seeds that can float out over the earth, plant themselves, and bring their legacy into the future of Life. It also benefits from all these various insects that feed on its nectar and pollinate its eggs so they can grow into those seeds on a time frame that cycles according to the genetic programming of the plant interacting with the climate and weather of the ecosystem.

140714-bugs-ASC_0171RLSssBut then – looking closer – there is a garden growing on the stem of the thistle, nurtured by a tribe of ants. A garden of aphids that live on the “climate” of the thistle stems, drawing food energy from the plant and producing a sweet substance savored by the ants and also a great many other insects, including the fly shown here holding a glob of the sweet stuff. Check it out, the ants nurture the aphids, rather like we nurture cows for their milk. And the aphids feed a multitude.

So my thistle is growing in the garden, and on the thistle is another garden of aphids that is nurtured by the ants. And inside the aphids?

140714-bugs-ASC_0152RLSssYes indeed, gardens of micro-organisms are nurtured by the climate that the aphid body provides for their needs, providing the biochemical cycles that produce the sweets. It’s rather like we are growing inside the Biosystem. And the whole shebang is only a tiny part of the biological system that is supported by the climate. And all this together produces the sweet substance of Life. Without which there is no us.

That’s how nature stays alive, with gardens of life within other gardens of life, and that is how we must learn to think if we want to survive as part of Life on earth.

Meanwhile, Somewhere Near the Continental Divide

Just now I looked up from my typing to see the wild turkey family jerk-step across my yard, halfway up the hill. The mother leading, followed by a new brood of young on wobbly stilt-legs, and a couple of dispensible males behind. My camera was in the car and of course they were gone by the time I had it in hand.

A few days ago, before my recent overnight trip to Santa Fe, I looked out the side window to see a breath-takingly beautiful snake cross the yard and disappear into the wild oats beyond. Sharp, clear concentric colorful stripes. Not a rattlesnake, obviously, but I rushed out into the yard nevertheless to get a good look at its tail, and to make sure the stripes were not red, white and black – so it was gone before I could get a picture. Fast. Big. I think it was a King Snake. Maybe. It’s amazing how many and various are the snakes. I have two inadequate snake books and it seems that all the species have multi-various color phases and patterns. Actually our one resident snake (one that I know of, living under the morning porch of the cabin where there was a rattlesnake last year), we have coffee every morning while it appears with the sunrise and moves on to its daily chores under the cabin, even that one snake – I think it’s one snake – seems to be of different color and pattern under different conditions. I think it’s a garter snake maybe.

Bitsy barks at rattlesnakes, and backs them into corners. These snakes don’t back up like a rattlesnake. They run. So far this year we only have killed one rattlesnake in the yard. Last year we had to do away with six, one of which was heartbreakingly lovely. Like the pink rattlesnakes in Tony Hillerman’s novels.

Anyhow, we are trying to encourage the non-venomous snakes to stick around and eat the mice and rats. Better to have a colony of garter snakes than the alternative residents. And we do have a few remaining Peromyscus (which may or may not carry Hanta virus and/or plague). I hope no more pack rats. I’m trying to concrete up the major entries from outside the cabin, now that I’ve discouraged those that lived inside, and hoping to ease out those in the outbuildings while preferably demolishing the Assasin Bugs that live in those nests. That may or may not carry Chagas disease.

No pictures. All the best pictures get away, either because they happen too fast or because I am too busy thinking self-defense. Except for the mountains that stand forever – at least in human time.140630-canyon-asc_9799RLSss

Meantime, Somewhere Above 7000 Feet

An average day consolidated from an average week if there is such a thing.

We have moved into the faithful travel trailer for sleeping, because it is devoid of toxic man-made substances and mostly lacking normal environmental challenges. In the cabin, we were attacked by assassin bugs. This can be serious. So now we park at least 300 feet (or is it yards, as far away as we could get without being sideways on a hill like one of Dr. Doolittles creatures.) It is very pleasant. We can watch the sun go down in the warmth of its own lifegiving light, cooled by a nice breeze consisting entirely of clean air that is God’s gift to the commons. Or it was until we the people decided we should use it to dispose of our toxic trash.

140608-Canyon-ASC_9321RLSss copyAnyhow, all that aside, we wake up whenever it’s time. Time seems to be sunrise, except that our personal sunrise is about two hours later when it finally tops out over the highest cliff in our area. The one in all the pictures. But, Bitsy and I both know when it’s time to get up, though we don’t know why or how, and so we do. Usually, until this week, it is frosty, so we have plenty of warm clothes ready to jump into, except Bitsy, who has lost both of the sweaters I bought for her.

We are parked right next to the road, but as there are only two people living beyond, we usually see no one. Last evening Bitsy invited Denver to stop, and he came down to carry the old stove out of my way at the cabin, and then drove on another half mile or so to his place.

Today we jumped in the car and drove back down to the cabin, which is still warm from yesterday, opened up the opposing doors to clear out yesterday’s air, fed Bitsy, reset the solar panels and the solar oven, shut the gate to keep Bitsy in until the sun comes over our peak, and sat down to desk for a couple hours of work.

Bitsy, all excited again, I thought Denver must be leaving because she was giving a full-on happy human wiggle, but it turned out to be a mother elk and new baby, walking across our front yard where the water used to be (I guess I need to get a new tub, this one seems to have sprung a leak over winter) and then up the road to the gate. I know this not because I saw them but because I put on Bitsy’s harness and lead and followed her up where there were tracks in the dust of the road, and then down to the gate.

140613-lilacs-ASC_9380Rss copyI had shut the gate, because of the cows that I told you about previously, and of course not thinking that a baby elk would not be able to get over it. The tracks showed that they turned back at this point, so I opened the gate and see if that helps. They only need to go a quarter mile southeast or northwest, where the fence ends, so I’m not worried about them. Except for no water, they are safer on my place, but of course the mother needs water. By this time, the sun was creeping down the hill past the trailer toward the cabin, and so I turned Bitsy loose and, still with my red coat and pink stocking cap, I went to sit on a rock, checking carefully for rattlesnakes, just where the front edge of sunlight struck the side of our hill, and watched these pretty little flowers bobbing in the breeze. There is almost always a breeze morning and evening as the canyon opens its pores to breath.

On this particular morning, a low-flying private plane, not an oil company plane, it was noisy and had square wingtips, accompanied the sun, rising over the top of the cliff and flying very low to it. “What is this?” I said to myself, shading my eyes to watch it circle overhead, and it did circle when it saw me, right around my position and back again over the rim of the canyon and disappeared from sight and sound.

“What on earth? How long since I have been on line? Are my friends worried about me again?” Then I remembered balmy clear evenings on my front porch in Bryan, listening to planes flying overhead without lights. But those planes were even more quiet than the oil company ones. And it was actually the next day that the elk went by with her child and then I finally put two and two together. Hunters. Out of season, out of sight, except for me. I have perhaps become guardian to my mother elk. Better replace that water trough.

And I got up and started shedding garments and set up the solar panels facing the sun and put some water in the solar oven to heat up for coffee, and generally began the morning chores, hauling water, watering our wimpy garden, washing things, following Bitsy around to locate the latest mouse/rat access into the house, and blocking it off before sitting down to the computer again to finish the podcast.

Later in the day, Bitsy cornered a rattlesnake in the back yard and stood guarding it while she barked her special rattlesnake bark, for me to come and deal, which I did, (no I did not throw it into the stew that was brewing in the solar oven, but of course I should have) and then back to the computer again, recycle the chores, and off up the hill to bed.

And there is the occasional trip for food, drinking water was $1.15 per gallon refill this morning. Egad. Yesterday we went up to Pagosa Springs to Abraham Solar, because now that I have internet access I have not enough energy to use it (they told me that modem uses 4 watts, but it seems to be more like 40, which is about twice what I could use and still store some energy for later) and this morning I went over to the Jicarilla reservation Laundromat because I have been for two weeks ace’d out of my regular Tuesday laundry facilities by a bunch of tourists. Smog, too, all around, but the canyon continues reasonably comfortable, and so that is where I will plan to be most of the time. I am having a rather impressive lesson in microclimates.

The Annex is for sale: Perfect for two horses and big enough for a family – fenced in 2 x 4 woven wire.

Meanwhile, at the Simple Life – 140601

I think my solar oven has arrived ☺ !!

Hot water
Assam Golden tip Tea
Where did I put that cowboy cook book? As I remember it assumed one would have all sorts of ingredients that one is unlikely to have handy barring a refrigerator. Odd. Oh, refrigerators don’t seem to take much by way of amps – not like heating water — no, the computer is more important.

But not sure because of course the notice arrived in my mailbox on Saturday and I took it out of the mailbox after the PO was closed. ☹ So will drive out tomorrow and see. I am quite eager for some real food. Maybe a tuna casserole?

Also, my vegetables have started to grow.


Even though all danger of frost has obviously not passed, this morning it was warm enough to wear my red and white fuzzy Christmas shirt from Jo Ann, but unfortunately before noon it was so hot I had to take it off.

Otherwise, now have internet access on those days there is enough electricity, so the next and final addition to this property will be a couple more solar panels, and after that it will be subtraction efforts: rats, mice and assassin beetles. Rats have been very substantially discouraged, mice are about even (tell you that story some other time, Bitsy not keeping up her end), assasin beetles are a concern. I don’t know about the bear; someone claims to have shot her. I was happy with that one once I realized she didn’t want to talk to me any more than I wanted to talk to her. Rattlesnakes substantially reduced by mowing, but keeping the battery charged is going to be improved by additional solar. And yes, I would rather deal here than live nauseous, as I did most of last winter in Bryan, because someone else wants to use my air to dump their garbage.

— And my water – check out the Wellborn Special Utilities District (that now includes OSR) report of violation of clean water rules in Brazos County. Wonder how that trihalomethane got into our water supply. I bet that’s one of the ingredients they use in the fracking fluid !! ) If you don’t have a copy I’m sure they will send you one, and if they don’t I can. —

The rug might have to go, but perhaps washing will be enough. I tried to rent a washer but it didn’t mention how many watts of power it pulls, so then I came home and researched and found that watts equal volts x amps. We know the volts is generally always 120, and I think I remember the amps was 2. If so, 240 amps seems very reasonable for a monster machine. Must be wrong. My little plug-in coil that heats only one cup of water is about 240, and this is a monster machine. If so, the generator could easily run it, but I’m not sure I could get it in and out of pickup. It is a monster machine. And I would rather not run the generator.

So I bought a spray can of something that is supposed to clean up urine stains, but the problem with ALL modern sprays that claim to have no smell is that they very likely contain a chemical that attacks your sense of smell receptors in your nose and it MAKES ME SICK (literally, nauseous) and I can’t smell it, which I consider to be the most heinous attack on my well being, to create things that make me sick and I can’t tell I am breathing them until I get sick. Which, of course, is why I am sitting here in the pristine wilderness. Perhaps the substance has a name, but actually it’s not one of what they would consider to be the “active ingredients” so they very likely will refrain from listing it.

So, I have moved back in to the trailer and will do some work on the cabin in absentia. Can’t be all bad for me, but of course it is all bad for the pristine wilderness and everyone else who needs clean air to be healthy.

Almost caught up from moving to the point where the receipts get posted and whatever is in the mailbox gets dealt with timely

Meantime, Above 7000 Feet

I said:

I couldn’t imagine what the hummingbirds eat up here on the mountaintop, when they arrive in May when there is still danger of snow and there are very few flowers, excepting the ubiquitous little purple ones that are supposed to be edible (for people) but have very tiny flowers. Or so I thought. I know from last year that they will be eating thistles – but the thistles haven’t even begun to grow.

And then Larry said:

“Hummingbirds seem to be able to make use of surprisingly small flowers.

We have a “bee balm” native plant in the front garden with very small flowers — less than 1/8 inch I would guess — and the hummingbirds spend a surprising amount of time at each blossom.

Hummingbirds also eat a lot of insects, we’re told, and we recently saw slow-motion videos of them doing just that. They open their beaks very wide, and catch the flying insects way back toward the base of the beak. Looks pretty humorous, but it appears to work just fine.”

Now, I don’t know what these little purple flowers are, but I do know bee balm, and these are quite a lot smaller than bee balm, and yet the hummingbirds are definitely staking out territories. But what do you know if you open your eyes you see these perfect hummingbird flowers on bushes all over the place. It’s not my inattention – it’s my cataracts ☺ And now I’m trying to photograph all the flowers on my little hill and can’t begin to keep up with them all.

Then I sat in the front yard for a cup of coffee, my back to the sun in the crispy morning, when BZZZZZZ, and before me on the table lay the shadow of my head with our hummingbird hovering, first one side then the other. I could feel it probing at the red and pink of my stocking cap, and then zip – gone again. If it’s there, they will find it.

Outside the Circle

I had an insight this morning, when I woke up after a couple hours’ sleep, trying to finish my book 11. The insight was that an entire chapter is missing, so once again I will not have time to finish and who knows how many years will go by before I can find a few clear weeks once again to try to get the whole thing in my head at the same time.

And then I connected that up with our modern inability to see anything but the bits and pieces (reductionism) of our lives, and something I wrote about teaching people to think about one thing at a time. That memory was about a highly respected teacher of university level teachers, who told me I was doing bad teaching and “unfair” if I required a student to know more than one bit of information per test question. Astonished me speechless, because if I were to actually DO that, it would be impossible to teach biology. All emergent properties would fall apart if they only functioned one bit at a time. Everything is connected. If we can’t understand that —

Oh, yes, we haven’t taught biology for at least three generations. Well, now we know where that came from.

So it becomes impossible to see the big picture because we simply can’t think about a big picture one bit at a time. Climate change is one example. All the people who are trying to pretend it isn’t so (even though we could have saved ourselves if we had stopped pretending) they are all looking at one thing at a time, and so long as they can believe that thing is manageable, they are happy even as we drown.

Because that’s what I was doing. I was looking at one picture at a time, trying to make it perfect for the photo book, and forgot the book was missing an entire chapter. Without one of its chapters, it doesn’t matter if the pictures are perfect because there is no book.

Outside the Circle

I’m just finishing my new book, Outside the Circle. What a pain in the neck. I’ll be glad when it’s over and glad I wrote/photographed it. It’s about the facts of life.


Of course this particular picture I had very little work to do, only to see the shed by the railroad station, but I’m also very glad I took the picture, as they tore down the shed the next week, and I think this is an impressive work of art.