Friday, February 28, 2014

The Bird Bath Had to Go

As most of you know California is in the middle of a drought. I say middle with a bit of optimism but honestly I have no idea how long it will last or if it will ever end. The drought might even be over for all I know. Mother Nature keeps her own counsel and we humans have to adjust as best we can. If we’re smart.
 If today is any indication there’s hope that it will end. Our rain gauge in the back yard registered about 3-1/2” of rain in the last 24 hours. It was the first significant rain since September 2013 when we had almost an inch. Big Whoop. Tomorrow the weatherman promises heavy rain. We’ll believe it when we see it because we’ve been disappointed too many times to bite that hook.
Speaking of optimism I am one. An optimist that is. So in keeping with that philosophy I decided that it was time to really put some effort into the rain catchment system. We’re trying out a simple system of roof, rain barrel and downspout. This is the possible first step in making a substantial rain catchment system. We were inspired by how they do it in Hawaii. There they have metal roofs and good gutters and 10,000 gallon above ground cement cisterns or if push comes to shove a great big above ground swimming pool.

My system is a large barrel positioned smack dab underneath the downspout of our house rain gutter. I’ve got one at every downspout. Inside each barrel is a cheap submersible pump that can be had for about $15 on sale at Harbor Freight. When I want to decant some of the precious water into a bucket or trough I plug the pump in and away she goes! I just have to be there when it’s done and elevate the hose into the air otherwise we get this annoying effect of siphoning all the water out of the barrel. I almost did that the other day when I got distracted by the phone. Mid-way through conversation I say Hold on got to go be right back! Only a few gallons siphoned so it wasn’t a disaster. Just a wake up call to Pay Attention.
So now I’ve got a motley assortment of barrels, buckets and tubs all chock full of rain water. Remember when we lived in the garret above the dimestore in days of yore and whenever it rained we set out pots and pans to catch the water from the leaky ceiling? Well, now, just imagine that outside around my house. It’s got to be the latest news in landscaping.
This leads me to the birdbath. During the period when we were getting no rain for months on end I felt sorry for the birds and constructed a casual bird bath out of found objects: a planter pot platter on top of a plastic garbage can with a rock inside to hold it down in the wind. I filled the platter with water and it’s true if you build it they will come because they did. But now that it’s raining bird baths are all over the place in the form of puddles and stuff. The birds don’t need it. So the bird bath had to go. It’s now under the downspout in front of my house with its maw wide open so when the down pour happens I’ll get a garbage can full of water. The Rain Man Cometh! Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Northern California Rambling

Don’t Call No Tune Without Me. I’m a Dancin’ Man

Marty and I were watching re-runs of Gunsmoke last week and there was an episode where a young boy and his grandfather got in a peck of trouble with some bad guys. Marshall Dillon got them out of it but before that happened the grandfather demonstrated his pluckiness by hiding out and shooting at the bad guys singlehandedly. Marshall Dillon had told him not to take matters into his own hands. The marshall said let me take care of it. The grandfather rejoindered “Don’t call no tune without me. I’m a dancin’ man.”
There’s two kinds of people in this world. There’s the ones that will sit back content to watch others while they do all the work. Then there’s the ones who jump right in to whatever task is at hand. Well, hail, they’ll make up a few tasks on their own! I loved what the grandfather’s said. It about sums it all up for me. I love the action for its own sake.

Drought Conditions

            Marty and I took a little day trip up to Mt. Shasta the other day. I was feeling house-bound or “same-old-thing-routine” bound and I needed to see some new scenery. Mt. Shasta is just the ticket because it’s not too far and it’s astounding. It’s also in the piney woods which is about as different as you can get from parched grasslands where we live. On the way up I-5 I started noticing hay trucks. After what seemed to be about 10 hay trucks zooming past on the way south – we were on the way north – I started counting. Within the space of the 3 hours on the freeway to and from Shasta I counted 35 hay trucks. Ranchers in the Central Valley have no natural pasturage this year. Hay farmers are making out like bandits. Isn’t that the way it always goes? What’s bad for some is good for others.

Castle Crags State Park
            We stopped off at Castle Crags State Park to stretch our legs. Since it was Friday no one was there. Just a little bite in the air from the elevation and we had the trail to Root Creek to ourselves. They say there’s orchids out there but there weren’t any this day. It’s still too early in the season. The trail was what I would call flat even though it was advertised as a 150 foot elevation gain. It was wheelchair accessible until about 50 feet from the end. I hope they fix it all the way soon because Root Creek is the most pristine babbling brook and would please and soothe any soul who needed soothing. Including those bound to a wheel chair.

Some day I’ll bring my hiking stick and try the strenuous trail to the Crags.

Mt. Shasta is the Only Mountain I Know That Can Survive What You People are Doing to It

            Mark Twain is supposed to have said that about San Francisco. Or was it Frank Lloyd Wright? Mt. Shasta is an incredible mountain. Actually it’s a dormant volcano. Anyway, it’s pretty much all by itself except for a few lowly hills at its base covered with pine woods. So because it’s sort of an anomaly in the center of the northern part of the Central Valley you can see it for miles. I mean miles as in a hundred miles. As a matter of fact, as we passed over the railroad tracks in Willows the other day I glanced north and there she was. Smack dab in the middle of the railroad track way out on the horizon. The old engineer says to the apprentice engineer “just point 'er for Shasta and open 'er up!” Mt. Shasta has a couple little towns nestled at her feet. They don’t have much to recommend them. They’re typical old lumber towns. As we exited the restaurant in Weed I gazed up at Mt. Shasta and thought of the words of Twain/Wright/whoever and thought “Mt. Shasta is the only mountain that could survive what you people are doing to it.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sutter Buttes

Have you ever driven on I-5 going north toward Mt. Shasta? If you have you might have glanced at an intriguing pile of rock east of you just by the Colusa exit. Then, of course, the magnetic quality of Mt. Shasta bends your eyes back and you’re drawn in by the tractor beam of that unbelievably majestic dormant volcano which commands the view for hundreds of miles before you even get close.
If you can rip yourself away from that pull, the Sutter Buttes in Colusa County are very much worth the side trip. Even though the Buttes are privately owned so you can’t drive up into them and even though it has not been officially named as a park - but will be some day when California is back in the money  - it’s still a great drive. From far away on I-5 they look completely different than when you get up close. It’s a great anomaly in the middle of the almond orchards and cattle ranches.
Get there by taking CA-20 to Colusa and then turn south on CA-45/20 toward Meridian and over the Sacramento River. After Meridian keep going and when you find West Butte Road turn left. Follow your nose north, then east, then south and back west until you have circumnavigated the range. It’s not hard to do this because the "Smallest Mountain Range in the World" really has one road around it and there’s only one way over it. The range dominates your view for the entire way. If you want to drive through it the best way is to take Pass Road. This very scenic road gets you as close to the interior of this little range as you can get. The whole trip doesn’t take long unless you want to stop and take pictures. Then you can stop as much as you want and it might take all day. We did it in an hour from the time we started to circumnavigate until we came back on our loop. We took a few pictures. They’re at the end of the text.
The following is taken from the Yuba City website:
The range is actually circular with a diameter of 10 miles and covers an area of about 75 square miles. The mountains are the remnants of a volcano that has been dormant for over a million years. South Butte, the highest peak is 2,117 feet above sea level. North Butte is 1,863 feet and West Butte is 1,685 feet above sea level.
Before modern levees and dams were built to contain the rivers, winter storms and spring run-off frequently turned the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea making the Sutter Buttes an island refuge for Indians, settlers and wildlife.
The Buttes have had many names over the years. The Maidu Indians called them "Histum Yani" which translates as, "Middle Mountains of the Valley" or "Spirit Mountain" depending on the source. According to Maidu legend, after death, the spirits of their people rest in the Buttes.
Gabriel Moraga, a Spaniard trying to locate possible mission sites, was the first European to see the Sutter Buttes in 1806. Another Spaniard, Luis Arguello, led an expedition in 1817 to explore Northern California by water. He called the Buttes "Los Picachos" or the peaks.
Here are some pictorial highlights of our recent trip.

A view from the West Side of the Buttes  

A picturesque old barn

Many rocks make good fences

John C. Fremont and his bunch camped here. Near here.

A camel wonders what he's doing here.

Pass Road is breathtaking.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No, Really, Actual Rain!

In my last blog I poked fun at the drought situation here in Northern California by suggesting that we could remind ourselves of what real actual rain was like by going to Hawaii. Oddly enough when we came back to California it wasn’t long until the tropics decided to follow us and bring with it the California edited version of tropical rain. I kid you not. There it was for all to see on the weather report the big glorious system drifting north from Hawaii straight into our open Californian arms. I wanted to say that the suction behind the jet plane we flew in on brought the rain with it. But we know it didn’t. Still and all, we were very happy to see it. Now I want it to go away. Well, not quite yet but pretty soon.
All semblance of neatness and cleanliness has gone somewhere else. Where, I know not. There are muddy dog paw prints and muddy cowboy boot prints tracked all over the house. There are chips flying every which way from wood being cut up in the house for the wood stove. Some one whose intellect I will not cast aspersions on thought in their brilliancy to make our mud room the size of a coat closet. They also didn’t think ahead enough to create a roofed chore barn where wood can be cut and messes are tolerated in greater detail. My dear Aunt J advised me to pick my battles so when Marty tromps in and out doing his chores I am loath to say “take off your boots, honey!” It just seems like adding insult to injury when he’s toting 100 pound bales of hay around to feed cows, horses and who knows what-all. When things start drying up – as they eventually will – I’ll sweep out all the detritus and “normalcy” will return.
In the meantime I just look out the picture window from the main living room at dusk and admire the low clouds across the Mendo Range and think things aren’t all that bad. I’ll just keep looking and not turn around. What I have blocked out won’t hurt me!

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Most of you probably know we’re in a drought here in California. Some of you probably realize how this impacts ranchers and farmers. The rest of you know how it impacts everybody in terms of water usage.  Not a happy situation. Out here on the ranch we were fortunate to buy 4 loads of alfalfa so our cows are good for feed. The supplier just ran out of the forage mix that my one horse eats. That horse is a very easy keeper. I had to scrounge to find more. 
We've been on well water since fall and now that cows are coming we've had to pump water out of Grindstone Creek. Usually rain has choked all our above-ground storage by this time. But the coastal Mendocino National Forest mountain range has been reaching out like a center fielder for the fly ball of whatever rain comes in off the Pacific. So it’s been caught up there and since Grindstone Creek originates up by the divide we've been getting that flow down through our property. I simply don’t know how other folks are making it. I do know that the local water hauler says he hasn’t hauled so much water in the 25 years he’s been doing it. I could go on. Suffice it to say it’s dire.
So it’s with irony that I say we recently went to Hawaii to remind ourselves what rain is like. And we did get reminded. Whew! It certainly was nice. That good old breeze flowing through the open window laden with humidity at a temperature fit for human existence. Here are some highlights from the trip.

Mauna Kea beach

Hawi BBQ

Ropin’ at Rocking Chair Ranch near Waimea

Southern-most point of the United States - Ka Lae point near Na’alehu

Horses on a windy hillside above Na’alehu

Puka hole at Ka Lae getting ready to blow.

Kilauea belching sulfur dioxide; me holding my breath

Mixed Bento - white rice, fried chicken, teriyaki beef, hamburger, fried mahi mahi

Lava Tree; I'm calling it "Lot’s Wife"

 Pololu; end of the road in North Kohala

My new favorite food - Red Jamaican Bananas