Sunday, December 28, 2008

The black and white world

Even the animals are black and white, like the ermine (sounds like vermin) in the picture above.

It was running past the window towards the house when J saw it.  Jr.  just got a mammal book for Christmas, so he identified it right away.  He/she was so cute, scampering across the snow.

Later I found prints going around the house and to the wood pile.  Must be some tasty snacks in there.

Very light feet

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice


It's the shortest day of the year!  Hip hip hooray!  Sunrise:  7:32 am.  Sunset:  3:59 pm.  Eight and a half hours of light, fifteen and a half hours of darkness.  Look at how low the sun is in the sky and the long shadows it casts.

Brighter and longer days are on the way, the sun is returning to our hemisphere tomorrow.  I hope it turns up the temperature a bit.  This ice age weather has got to go.

We had some beautiful blue skies on Friday, in between storms.

The little grand fir has a nice blob of snow at the top.  It's right outside my bedroom window.
The next storm has arrived and is dumping a new batch of snow to shovel off the driveway.  The temperature?  A toasty 10 degrees.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Happy Birthday Xenon.  I love your song!

It's been snowing.  And snowing.  And snowing.  Two school snow days in a row.

The driveway is impassable.  The crew attempted to dig out.  Uncle's tractor is broken.  
It may swallow the house...
And the trees...

And the children...naaaahhhh.

It's super fluffy snow, because it's been so cold, so it's easier to move.  Tomorrow's high is predicted to be 3 degrees, as another arctic blast is coming.  I told you the ice age was coming.

It's 31" deep in front of the porch.  Not a big deal.'s still snowing, and more storms are in the forecast all week.

The sun came out for a few milliseconds!
It's 23 degrees, light snow at 12:00 pm.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter approaches

It snowed about 8 inches. Then it cleared up and some arctic air from Canada came down and decided to settle in and get comfortable for a while. It's also windy. It feels like the ice age has arrived, like in that movie, The Day After Tomorrow.

It sure is pretty though. It's almost worth the cold, to get to see blue skies, the sun, the moon and the stars again. Almost.

Is that Santa's sleigh?

Tropic-arctic sunrise

It's 5 degrees with clear skies and light wind at 6:00 pm.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I guess somebody was hungry

Rusty investigates the carnage.

I left the row cover fabric on too long and it froze and then ripped, exposing a bit of the tall broccoli in the middle of the box. An invitation to a hungry passerby. I've been trying to remove the fabric for awhile, but it's a solid sheet of ice.

Note to self: take off the blanket next year before it freezes.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Aahhhh, the foggy forest primeval
The day we first looked at our property, this is not what I saw. I saw a lot of treeless areas, and not very happy looking trees where there were any. I took one look and said, nope.
The land had been "selectively" logged a couple of years before, to improve the health of the forest, but it looked pretty sad. There were great bare patches, forlorn looking wispy trees and bulldozer tracks criss-crossing to piles of half-burned trees and slash.
But...nothing better turned up, and I thought, wait a minute, I like trees a lot, but I also like the sun, and maybe this opened up forest is just the thing. So here we are.
On further inspection, I learned that there are still some nice foresty areas on the property, with larger trees, native vegetation and nice little thickety mossy pockets. So here is the best of both worlds, really, sun and forest in one parcel.
I never saw the before picture, but I learned that it was crowded with Lodgepole pines and not enough light made it in to grow healthy trees. Prior to the recent logging, it had been logged 100 or more years before, and the huge stumps from that event are still here. The recent removal of the Lodgepoles was no doubt necessary to make things better, although it didn't look very good at first.

Now, finally, baby trees are filling in the bare spots. And the skinny, light starved trees that the loggers left behind are filling out and taking advantage of all the new space.
Someday, there will be a forest in there again.

We're in charge of making the forest healthy and "productive" since we own it now and have the forest land designation, which considerably lowers our taxes. We've burned all the remaining piles and cleaned up a lot of slash, to discourage beetle attacks. And we try to get rid of dying trees quickly for the same reason.

There are a couple of things I wish I hadn't done, that have done some damage.

One, I planted grass seed, which competes with the trees. A big no no. But I do love a meadow.

Two, I had Firesmart come out to trim the trees up (it's a free service provided by the county to protect your house from fire). The trees look terrible without their lower branches! But more importantly, I think they're harmed by not having their root area shaded, and by the wounds made in their trunks, which invite insects and disease in. Some of the trees that were trimmed(mangled) have succumbed to beetles, and a couple looked so ridiculous that we cut them down for Christmas trees. Thank goodness they didn't do all the trees.

Not to ignore fire safety though. I think the safest thing is to have an area around the house that doesn't have any trees, or anything else flammable, and to keep any landscaping well watered. Not that we do that, but that's another story. At the very least we need to cut down the Douglas firs near the house, which are extremely flammable.

One positive thing we've done for the trees is to keep the knapweed invasion at bay. Nothing can grow where knapweed takes over.

And one thing we need to do in the future is thin out the excess Lodgepoles coming up and favor the Ponderosas over both them and the Douglas firs.

Whew! So much responsibility.

This is a list of tree species that I've found, starting with the most abundant.

Douglas Fir
Christmas tree! And that wonderful smell.
The needles on D. firs go all the way around the stem, like a bottlebrush.

A baby Doug fir growing with Bearberry
Lodgepole pine
The weed tree, to some, to others, very useful for making poles and log houses.
Groups of two needles per bunch - these used to be the dominant species before logging, now most of them are little.

Ponderosa pine
Love this tree!
Groups of 3 needles per bunch - we have all sizes of these but many young ones are coming up now that there's more sun.

The telltale puzzle piece bark - we have a few large Ponderosas still, good for hugging.

The differences between the pines: Lodgepole on left and Ponderosa on right.

Grand Fir
It is.
Needles lie flat in a row - we have quite a few of these beautiful trees, mostly young ones.

Our pet G. fir, in the lawn so it gets summer water; far too close to the house for fire safety, but isn't it lovely?
Western red cedar
We only have two of these, that I've found. This one is a baby near the house that I water in the summer to keep it alive.

The tip top of the tree and some of the branches bend over - our only one, and my favorite tree, probably because it's the only one.

Small needles

It's growing out of a massive decayed tree lying on the ground, which Rusty is standing on. I wonder if it was another Hemlock?

Western Larch - We planted about 50 of these one summer, only 3 or 4 survived. Burned to a crisp! We have a few wild ones too.

I'll have to add a Western Larch photo later, because I missed my chance to photograph them this year. They put on such a beautiful show with their golden needles in October. But now they are bare, so nothing to see.

And last but not least, the mysterious...

Western White Pine! Not a one here, but our neighbors found one on their property. By what the old-timers around here say, this tree was everywhere up in these here parts. Then they all got logged and completely decimated by White pine blister rust. Now we are encouraged to replant with a new improved variety. After the Larch experience, I'm not so sure it will work, but I guess we have to try.

That's the story on the conifers. In the spring maybe I'll go looking for some deciduous trees in the neighborhood. I've seen a Mountain ash, and some Aspens up the road...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter begins on the 22nd

Ugh. Aagh. Haaahghhghchooo.

Even the pine needles are cold.
It's the time of year I dread, the days preceding and following the winter solstice.

Although this is generally a miserable time for me, I have to admit that it may have purpose. As in, without dark there can be no light. Ok, but does it have to be sooo dark?

Every winter I wonder why we live so far from the equator. Why don't we live down there where it's always warm and sunny? The answer is, I'm a glutton for punishment. Yes, but also, wouldn't it be a little boring to have the sun all year? Maybe, but so is winter. I'd probably be happiest in a place where there are four seasons that rotate quickly. Or a place where it's spring most of the year, my favorite season.

For a gardener, winter is a welcome rest. It's time to organize the cupboards (oh boy, that sounds fun), or start a new hobby. People always talk about making plans for the garden in winter, but that doesn't really work for me until spring.
Wild strawberries

So, I've had time to experiment with the camera. I didn't read the manual yet. I decided to just start pushing buttons. I found the manual setting and discovered how to change the aperture or the f-stop or whatever (two photography classes really made a lasting impression, didn't they). Experimentation makes it a lot more fun.

I went around taking pictures of everything outside, and discovered a camera is a great device for getting me out of the house and into the real world. Part of winter's problem for me is that I don't go out enough and I get cabin fever. The camera will give me something to do out there.
Wild rose hips
He follows me everywhere.

This little viola still blooming against a nice warm rock reminded me of somewhere warm and dry and Mediterraneany. That's where I'd be right now if I had a magic wand, in a nice little stone house with a stone walled garden where I'd grow zucchini and tomatoes and green beans and I'd bake out in the sun with them. Then I'd sit on the stone patio at a little round table under the shade of lemon trees or maybe a grape arbor for lunch. No sweater necessary. Aahhh, sounds perfect.

The violas may be covered up in snow tomorrow, if the forecast is correct.

I'm prepared for the deluge this year, with two brand new snow shovels and new snow boots. Last year was a disaster with our broken shovel and none in the stores. I pledge to shovel often and early this year. Or to get someone else to do it for me.
My next post will be about our wonderful trees.

It's 31 degrees, mostly cloudy at 8:45 am.