Sunday, July 30, 2017

Forest Bathing

Have you heard of it?  Forest bathing?  I heard a story about it on the radio; I think the practice started in Japan -- if I remember correctly (which is always up for debate).

Its not what you think; or, what I thought when I first heard the term.  You don't go into the woods and take a bath, or swim in a pond, or submerge yourself in water at all.

Rather, its bathing in the sense that you let the forest wash over you, seep into your pores, and settle in your heart.  It's not about exercise; climb every mountain and all that.  It is about taking deep breathes of fresh air and being still.  Studies have shown that forest bathing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and instills a sense of well-being.  (Well, duh, I thought).

This month has been beyond stressful for me.  I've needed my garden and the horses and the forest.   And Brett, of course.  He's been incredibly supportive.  We've taken the kayaks to a lake every weekend.  Last weekend, we went to Echo Lake which is near Lake Tahoe.  It was beautiful, but it was also packed with people.  Cars were parked on top of each other, blocking the road, for a good mile.  There is a trail head at the lake which leads to many trails; short day hikes and long backpack trips to lakes deeper in the Sierra.  The lake itself, wasn't crowded.  But it was choppy and windy and that, combined with all the people, made it pretty much impossible to relax and refresh.

Today, we tried another new lake.  Woods Lake is very high -- up at 8200 feet.  The lake is very small and quite shallow.  No motor boats are allowed at all; not even fishing boats.  Despite that, the lake was dotted with fishermen in canoes, rowboats, kayaks and on the shore.  Schools of trout streamed under our kayaks, speckled brown, slipping and sliding beneath us.

We paddled over to the far side of the lake where granite cliffs rose from the snow, still deep at their base, to jagged peaks and ridges.  Waterfalls coursed and tumbled and sang on their way down.

A large beaver dam rose out of the water on our right, close to another waterfall behind the reeds and rushes.  After we finished paddling and loaded the kayaks on the car, we walked up a trail to get closer.

We learnt that there is a trail that crosses the stream at the bottom of the lake, and climbs up and around, passing by two more lakes before returning on the opposite side of lake.  We made a promise to come back and spend the day on that trail.

As we paddled and drifted on the glassy surface of the lake, I closed my eyes and felt the sun warm, the breeze cool and the hint of a thunderstorm on its way in.  I breathed in Ponderosa and cedar and reeds.  And I felt my worries drift away on the wings of the osprey that soared above us.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer Garden Invaders

Last summer, tree rats were in the midst of a hostile take-over of my garden. They ate my plums, my apples, tomatoes and a baby chick.  They dropped from the rain gutters to the ground by my feet and scuttled off in the dry leaves, leaving me standing with my heart pounding.  They built nests in the hen house -- they were beyond brazen.  And, I was beyond angry.

I tried every version of trap known to man.  I planted mint around the base of every fruit tree (they supposedly don't like the smell of mint and I really don't care if I've got an invasive mint problem in the orchard; it smells great underfoot).

The nests have disappeared from the hen house (having fourteen chickens to share space with has probably helped there).  I lost some fruit to birds, but not to rats.  Knock on wood, my tomatoes are getting plump and starting to think about turning red.  The trap in my tool shed sits empty, with its bait ball of peanut butter untouched.

The rats aren't completely gone.  I've seen one or two; but it isn't an epidemic.

Ground squirrels are out in full force and, while I hate their burrows and their thieving ways, they don't creep me out like rats.

There is a family of ground squirrels living in the pile of compost I have in a corner of my garden.  I can see them from the window, the little ones wrestling and tumbling down the pile, the older ones scaling the fence and surveying the garden from a fence post.  And, when Richard was visiting last week, he caught a squirrel raiding the bird feeder.

I was very careful when I set up the bird feeder.  There is a wobbly upside down cone on the pole that holds the feeder, so squirrels can't climb up.  It is in an open area, not close to the fence or a tree branch.  The feeder is full of black oil sunflower seeds and the birds spill quite a bit on the ground.  Mostly its empty shells, but sometimes they drop entire seeds.  And, some of those seeds sprouted in the spring and gave me wonderful sunflowers in the garden.  One of the squirrels climbed up a sunflower stalk, and when it bent over under the squirrels weight, it launched itself up to the feeder.  The squirrel couldn't fit on the ledge, so he dangled hanging by his front paws, and gorging on seeds.
"I couldn't believe the strength of the little guy," Richard said to me. "He was dangling there for a long time."

I couldn't believe how many seeds were gone.  I cut down the sunflower closest to the feeder and crossed my fingers that there aren't any acrobats in the family.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wood Shed Project

When we moved into the house, there was an existing wood shed just off the porch, between the house and the girl's pasture.  It was also directly in front of the window facing that direction from the family room.  So, while relaxing on the couch I had a lovely view of... the leaning, sinking, warped wood shed.  It annoyed me because it blocked my view and was ugly.  It annoyed Brett because it was falling down and because he kept hitting his head while stooping to retrieve or stack wood.

About a month ago, I had a simultaneous burst of energy and a surge of "hate wood shed" feelings.  I went outside and started pulling it apart -- which wasn't hard, given its rotten wood and rusty nails.  Brett drove his tractor over and knocked over the pieces I didn't pull off.

Since then, Brett's been trying to decide where to build a new wood shed.  It needed to be accessible, and level, and not block our view.  He decided to build it against the side of the garage.  Brett's friend, Richard, came up last week and stayed through the weekend, helping to pour the concrete base and then to construct the shed.

Consistent with everything Brett does, this is a massive and sturdy wood shed.

It looks like a room addition, not a wood shed.  Richard and I teased Brett about what Brett's "real" plans were for the structure.  I wondered if he and Kersey were going to move in together.

Brett still needs to put up the sides, add shingles, build pallets, and paint.  He can do all of that stuff on his own.  Well, maybe not the shingles.  Notice that Richard is on the roof in all the photos.  Brett does not like heights.  At all.

While they worked on Saturday, I was busy with my own projects.  I also picked wild blackberries and made cobbler for dinner.  I knew the menu would be popular with the boys: ribs, baked potatoes, fresh bread, and cobbler.  Yes, I know the menu is missing a real vegetable but they didn't want one.  Boys.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Wednesdays with Tex

Tex is fabulous.

Remember when fly masks were the devil incarnate?  Now, he comes to me for his fly mask, stands quietly, and lets me fiddle with his ears while slipping it on.

I'm not careful, I put it on in the same matter-of-fact way I do with all the other horses.  The other morning, he leaned into it, turning his head and dropping it so I could more easily slip in his ear.

We aren't doing much that is "constructive" in a traditional training sense, but we continue to build our bond.

He will leave his hay and Flash to hang out with me.

He walks with me at liberty in his pasture, sometimes for a decent distance, and I'm able to pull him close with my energy when he drifts.

He has days where he is less brave and days where he is more, but I can always approach him and he always comes right back to me.  On his brave days, I walk around him, drape my arm across his back, hug his neck and rub him all over.  He cocks his hind foot, turns his head, and looks at me with a soft, amused expression.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Trying to Crow

Our new flock of chickens is (knock on wood) doing well.  The 12 chicks that survived the skunk attack are thriving.  Nothing gets into the chicken area anymore except an occasional ground squirrel, tunneling in from a distant location.
Two white Delawares and a Buff Orpington

We ended up with one rooster in the bunch; one of the two surviving Cuckoo Marans.

This week, he started to crow.  Well, started trying to crow.  A mature rooster lets loose with a loud, robust cock-a-doodle-do.  This little guy tries really hard.  But all he manages to eek out is a pretty weak cock-a-a.... and then he rests before trying again.

It's cute.  And I'm trying hard to like him.  We will let him stay as long as he isn't aggressive.  Any aggressive actions toward us, and he will be history.

Unfortunately, he bears a strong resemblance to Calvin, who was a mean barred rock rooster.  Since Marans are a French breed, I've named him Jean-Coque.  I'm hoping that giving him a name will help me like him.

In the meantime, his attempts to crow add an element of amusement to our morning chores.
Two surviving hens from our original flock in front: Amelia, a lagenvelter and an Auracana

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When You Need a Garden

I love my garden.

I love sitting in my garden; watching the goldfinches fight at their feeder and the sparrows sprint to theirs, grab a quick bite, and hop over to the fence.

I love watching the bees.  There are some really yellow bees on my lavender -- they fascinate me.

And, I love the sunflowers that the birds planted.

When I'm stressed, I walk in the garden.  I pick a few weeds, check the fruit swelling on the trees, and pluck the spent blooms from the flowers.

Or, I sit.  Just sit.  Drink in the peaceful, chirping, buzzing busyness of my garden.

This week, in particular, I am very thankful for my garden.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer Schedule

There isn't much to blog about in the heat of summer.
Pistol and Jackson, headed to dinner.
We are up before the sun to feed and finish barn chores before the heat of the day starts settling in -- around 7:30am.
Brett bringing in the hay cart.  Pistol has her nose in it -- they all ignore the manure cart.
During the day, we hide inside (I hide at work during the week).  Brett tosses more hay at lunch, but other than that the name of the game is trying to stay somewhat cool.
Wait for me!
In the late evening, we venture back outside to feed.
Brett always has cookies.
There isn't much else going on.
That's all?  Just one cookie?