Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fruiting Seasons

Not this past spring, but the spring before, I bought a new nectarine tree, and planted it.

This year it produced a ton of fruit. The fruits are small; we really could have thinned the tree out much more savagely, and I'm not convinced that the poor creature is getting as much water as it should.
Today I went out to swim with the granddaughter of the house, and when I went to the deep end of the pool to dive in, I noticed a small dried-up nectarine on the ground. I started testing the fruit, and found that many (but not all) of the nectarines were ready. I bit into one and got a very big surprise.

I'd bought this tree to replace the one I'd ordered from Stark's nursery catalog (I was going to link but the bastards don't have a website), which was the worst-tasting excuse for nectarines I've ever found. The label on this little tree said that the fruit was known for intense flavor. Yes, intense nectarine flavor is what I was hoping for.

And it is very tasty ... but the label didn't mention that this was a white-fleshed nectarine. Not my favorite. Luck is with my husband, however, who prefers the white-fleshed nectarines to the yellow ones. The granddaughter loves them, too. She and I went out and picked a big bowl of them to chill.

Both the granddaughter and the neighborhood mockingbirds are already after the seedless pearlette grapes, too, even though they won't be fully ripe for another few weeks. Some of them are ripe enough to taste good, some are bitter as only unripe grapes can be. It warmed my old-time scavenger's heart the other day to see Lil out in the back yard filching grapes without a worry in the world.

But today, after we discovered the nectarines, we swam and played in the pool until I was worn out (she wasn't, of course), and when we had harvested our fruit, we rewarded ourselves by jumping into the pool again.

Ah, summer!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Horse Teeth

Today started with me sliding out of bed like a slug, oozing across the floor, and pumping tea into my system so that I could be out at the ranch. I knew I ought to be there.

My friend Cathy the Mad Horsewoman's older horse has been losing weight. It could be because he's an old dude, it could just be his time coming on, but I knew from watching him eat that he needed his teeth floated.

Horses' teeth grow unevenly, and they wear unevenly. Older horses' teeth sometimes wear SO unevenly that they can no longer chew their food well enough to digest it properly. I'd watched the old horse chew up a carrot and have half of it fall out because his teeth weren't grinding it up and holding it to swallow. He's such a good horse, too, a retired ranch horse who has an unusual horse mentality -- he's a workin' dawg, and even though he's old, he wants to show the world that he still knows exactly what to do.

My horse, Dink, the Stinky Dink if you want to be precise, was underweight his first winter we had him. He'd been a paddock horse and had no idea how to graze, but even when he figured out you have to eat all the oat grass, not just the tips, he was losing weight and becoming gaunt. A "horse person" suggested that we have his teeth floated. We did, and the little snothead got fat as a tick in no time.

"Floating" is a funny term. It means filing the horse's teeth down so that they can meet and chew and grind food. The vet drugs the shit out of the horse, uses a variety of methods to hold the horse's mouth open, and has at the teeth with something that can reduce the teeth to evenness. When Dink was done, dear old Doc Boero (God forgive him for suiciding) took a big-ass rasp to his teeth. Today, young blonde pretty Dr. Janeway (not making that up) used a long armed power sander to even the old horse's teeth.

I learned from reading the James Herriot books what floating teeth involved. But Cathy the Mad didn't know. So I went out to help her get through it. I'm glad I did. She was a bit freaked. We, when we think of dentistry, think of finesse and novocaine. Horses don't have nerves in their teeth, so the vet just thinks of "Get in there and saw off the high points." A bit unnerving.

It's done now, and I hope the old horse gets good and fat and fit and lasts another 10 years.

Day Trip to the City

Tuesday, we celebrated Bernie's birthday a couple days early and went to San Francisco for the day.

We had the usual leisurely lunch at Sinbad's (the best calamari tempura we've ever tasted, of course), sipping wine, watching the bay and the bar patrons (men in expensive suits having liquid lunches) and drinking in the sweet air of the bay. (The restaurant keeps doors and windows open, flies and mosquitoes being too declassee for SF.)

From there, we hopped a streetcar and went to Pier 39 to see the flower arrangements. Bernie was taken with a barrel of clarkia, their white ruffles dominating the planting. I got a couple good macros of them, and a number of shots of other plants there, but you'll have to go to Flickr to see the rest.

Walking around on Pier 39, we saw a kid hanging over a railing on the upper storey, with a seagull on the little overhang below, screaming at him. The bird wasn't begging, though, the calls were angry and warning. Suddenly we saw why: babies!

I had never seen a baby seagull before and was stricken by how unbelievably CUTE they look. They're fuzzy, and spotted. How on earth do they grow up to be such unutterable raucous rude squawking crap machines?

Finally, we went on to the Aquarium of the Bay, and spent a long time in the underwater aquarium tunnel, watching a horde of anchovies. If I was Bill Gates, I'd have an anchovy aquarium in some room, with a sitting room beneath it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Keeping It Up

Yesterday I had not a single minute for writing, the first day in a long, long time that I didn't get to that kind of creative effort.

However, I did make this little graphic for a 2-year-old's birthday card. It was fun, and didn't take too long, about which is the cool part: I've learned enough to pull something like this out of the hat with a minimum of swearing!

Monday, July 07, 2008


On the Fourth of July, I staggered out of the bedroom with one thought only: hot tea.

However, before I reached the kitchen, Alex and Lillian waylaid me, enthusiastically telling me I MUST see the wonder of the age NOW!

And when I saw it, I forgot about tea for a while and instead grabbed my camera and was privileged to have a photoshoot of a dragonfly that had just emerged from the shell of its nymph stage.

Dragonfly nymphs live underwater for over a year, dodging fish, growing, and shedding their skin from time to time. Then when the time is right, they respond to some biological signal, and climb out of the water.

This one climbed up the wall beside our front door and clung there, safe from predators, but not from paparazzi. Poor patient creature, it gripped its old shell, its abdomen slowly stretching from a lumpy blunt mass to a long, graceful body.

My camera has a low-light setting, fortunately, because the porch is in full shade in the mornings, but so that we could assure ourselves of some good pictures, we brought out a flashlight, and on macro setting, got some spectacular views.

One of the most dramatic of these is the Peek of the Week over at the Piker Press.

Not only is the transformation from nymph to adult an amazing thing to see happen right outside one's front door, but also a stunning validation of the success of our water habitat in the fish pond off the front porch.

We have often watched dragonflies skimming over the little pond, marveled at the one year the wasps had an population explosion and frequented the pool for water, and caught a great egret stalking the remaining fish (the dastardly villain ate all but one of the named fish), but this year has been a triumph, as we discovered five baby fish swimming with the big guys ... and now this creature, grown in the waters of a front yard fish pond.

In this second side shot, you can see how much longer the abdomen of the bug has become. And still the creature hung there, unmoving. After a while, I saw two water droplets fall from the abdomen, dropping ballast, I suppose, getting ready for the aerodynamics of flight.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated by dragonflies (and damselflies, too). There was a small lake about twenty minutes from where I lived called Zook's Dam; I loved visiting there in the summer, seeing the bluegills beneath the water lilies, the dragonflies lighting on top of the flowers.

Over the course of the morning of the Fourth of July, we went to the porch again and again to see how "our" dragonfly was getting along. I took dozens of photos, most of which were blurred in the dim light, and the awkward way I had to position the camera.

I didn't want to risk touching the insect with the close-focus lens -- emergence from the husk (called an "exuvia", by the way) leaves the bug very soft and vulnerable. If it tried to fly away too soon, one of our scrub jays would find it and eat it in seconds.

At last, on one of our visits, we saw that the dragonfly had unfolded its wings and held them out to the side. The abdomen was thinner, the color of the body darker. The time was at hand.

And then the bug was gone, and I was able to get very close in with my lens and take a picture of the exuvia.

Little filaments were visible, but I was not able to find a single reference on the web to tell me what they were.

The husk is still on the wall outside the door, a reminder of the fantastic "birth" we were allowed to witness, and a testament to the peculiarity and complexity of Life.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The First Movie

This is my very first attempt at moviemaking.

Howie and Sebastian were playing with Lil in the front yard. We get to hear Sebastian's big hound voice complaining that Howie got the stick...