Tag Archive | spring

The Oxytocin Factory

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Yes, things have been happening in the garden, and in the woods. Full on spring has sprung at last after a weird winter, way too warm and dry followed by a frustrating cold and wet spell. Growing things started too soon, stopped, held back, weren’t sure what to do next. But now things seem on track for summer.

The most beautiful thing I saw this week was the first purple asparagus spear poking up from the bed where I planted the crowns a couple of weeks ago.

The most beautiful thing I saw this week was the first purple asparagus spear poking up from the bed where I planted the crowns a couple of weeks ago.

European pasqueflowers continue to delight myself and visitors with their lush purple blossoms and airy seedheads. I observed in another bed that the seedheads fall outward after they grow so tall, and thereby make a ring of babies around the mother plant.

European pasqueflowers continue to delight myself and visitors with their lush purple blossoms and airy seedheads. I observed in another bed that the seedheads fall outward after they grow so tall, and thereby make a ring of babies around the mother plant.

Gabrielle is a born naturalist, and every time she comes to help in the garden she finds a special creature, like this baby garter snake.

Gabrielle is a born naturalist, and every time she comes to help in the garden she finds a special creature, like this baby garter snake. Or maybe it’s a baby bull snake, I can’t remember, they look similar when they’re so small.

In the woods the wildflowers, which started so early like this Indian paintbrush are now more timely.

In the woods the wildflowers, which started so early like this Indian paintbrush are now more timely.

The skies have been crazy gorgeous with all this moisture hovering around.

The skies have been crazy gorgeous with all this moisture hovering around.

And also crazy in an unsettling way like the other morning.

And also crazy in an unsettling way like the other morning.

But the real story of the past few weeks is still the kittens. For the first week I visited twice a day with wet food for Heidi, and just to watch. They grow so fast! Since their proud grandparents returned home I’ve been going every other day to sit with Mary and coo and cuddle with the kittens. Before long, mama felt more comfortable with us handling them, and seemed to enjoy taking a short break from their pawing and suckling. Still, if one of them starts squeaking too loudly she comes running back from her food or her bath to take charge again.

Sitting with that little cat family, just watching them and hearing her purr purr purr, feels like I’m in an Oxytocin Factory. The love fills the air and washes over me. Once I decide it’s time to go home, I just can’t tear myself away. Eventually I leave, but I carry them with me, the feel of their velvet fur and their warm little wiggly bodies, and her consuming devotion to them, and her non-stop purr.

In the two and a half weeks since they were born they have changed so much. At first just a swimming swarm like they were in her womb, they have begun to differentiate into individuals with personalities. Starting at about nine days old their eyes began to open, and it took about four days til the last one peeked out. Then they started to wobble around on unsteady legs. Now some of them can almost stand up straight, and they’re swatting and smooching and playing with each other. Just yesterday the first of them started to react and turn their heads to look around, as if they’re really starting to see the rest of us for the first time. In a few fast weeks more, they’ll all be going off to new homes. I continue to insist that none of them, two in particular, will be coming to mine.

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Out Like a Lamb

Orangetip butterflies were out in numbers today feeding on little purple mustards and the first rockrose to bloom.

Orangetip butterflies were out in numbers today feeding on little purple mustards and the first rockrose to bloom.

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March came in like a lion with cold and snow. All the young bucks were grazing at my place.

March came in like a lion with cold and snow. All the young bucks were grazing at my place.

No sooner had I assembled and hung the bluebird house that Jean sent onto the south fence...

No sooner had I assembled the bluebird house that Jean sent, and hung it onto the south fence…

... than a flock of western bluebirds descended.

… than a flock of western bluebirds descended! Whether a pair chooses to occupy the house remains to be seen.

The valley is filled with smoke; everyone is clearing fields with fire. Plumes rise in all directions, some thin, some billowing. At home I bravely burn the ornamental grasses. After years of cutting through the old stalks, usually too late to avoid nipping new growth, I finally realized I could fold the tops in on themselves and light a match.

The valley is filled with smoke; everyone is clearing fields with fire. Plumes rise in all directions, some thin, some billowing. At home I bravely burn the ornamental grasses. After years of cutting through the old stalks, usually too late to avoid nipping new growth, I finally realized I could fold the tops in on themselves and light a match.

Within days this pillow of cinders began to green up again.

Within days this pillow of cinders began to green up again.

Little purple irises came and went without benefit of bees. It took me all month to realize how depressed I am about the loss of the hive.

Little purple irises came and went without benefit of bees. It took me all month to realize how depressed I am about the loss of the hive.

I rescued the first little lizard of the year from inside a friend's house.

I rescued the first little lizard of the year from inside a friend’s house.

And Gabrielle found the first frog of the year while turning a vegetable bed, a western chorus frog.

And Gabrielle found the first frog of the year while turning a vegetable bed, a western chorus frog.

We moved him to the pond...

We moved him to the pond…

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The first tulip opened last week.

The first tulip opened last week.

Then one more, then some more...

Then one more, then some more…

Tiny corner pockets of beauty are emerging as the garden greens this spring, exquisite groupings I couldn’t have planned.

Tiny pockets of beauty are emerging as the garden greens this spring, exquisite groupings I couldn’t have planned.

All the little pockets of pasqueflower growing at different rates, budding blooming expanding.

All the little pockets of pasqueflower growing at different rates, budding blooming expanding.

Honeybees have found the apricot tree, and I look at them differently. They’re not my bees; they’re the bees that preceded and competed with my bees, and they’re the bees that ultimately brought the disease that killed my bees. They’re beautiful, they’re stoic bees, they’re chemically treated bees.

Honeybees have found the apricot tree, and I look at them differently. They’re not my bees; they’re the bees that preceded and competed with my bees, and they’re the bees that ultimately brought the disease that killed my bees. They’re beautiful, they’re stoic bees, they’re chemically treated bees.

I ran into a friend at the grocery store yesterday who told me that the beehives across the canyon have had mites for years. “They’re too close to you,” she said. It was cold comfort, a theory validated that suggested once and for all it wasn’t my fault. It’s been bleak watching flowers open one by one with no honeybees to pollinate them. Until two days ago I’d only seen an occasional bee; finally, a handful in the apricot tree. Then yesterday more, and bumblebees, and tiny wild bees. As they return I feel more and more alive.

I guess I despaired of finding the same joy in photography as I did last year with my bees. And in a strange way, my pleasure is tainted knowing they’re not my bees… still, they’re bees, they’re sturdy hardy bees that are surviving, and that brings with it a more astringent joy than the wallowing I was doing the past three summers, that first inebriated love that lasts a few years before something goes awry and love becomes a choice to share in suffering.

Honeybees back on the sweet smelling almond tree.

Honeybees back on the sweet smelling almond tree.

I remember last year forsythia covered in snow. This spring how it glows brilliant yellow and grows tall in full bloom.

I remember last year forsythia covered in snow. This spring how it glows brilliant yellow and grows tall in full bloom.

The first leaf and flower buds of chokecherries are opening.

The first leaf and flower buds of chokecherries and other trees and shrubs are opening.

Redwing blackbirds sing in symphony around the pond. I sit silent, eyes closed, listening to their beautiful cacophony.

Redwing blackbirds sing in symphony around the pond. I sit silent, eyes closed, losing myself in their beautiful cacophony. 

Each morning for weeks this flicker has greeted me, drumming on the roof cap and shrilling to the sky, calling for a mate, claiming his terrain. Oddly, the first time I heard him drilling on the roof, it put me right to sleep. I'd been tossing and turning, then recognized that startling staccato. It somehow signaled some security, and my body just let go, softened into the sheets, and fell back to sleep.

Each morning for weeks this flicker has greeted me, drumming on the roof cap and shrilling to the sky, calling for a mate, claiming his terrain. Oddly, the first time I heard him drilling on the roof, it put me right to sleep. I’d been tossing and turning, then recognized that startling staccato. It somehow signaled some security, and my body just let go, softened into the sheets, and fell back to sleep.

Rapid Change in an Ambivalent Season

The return of bees to the early crocuses thrilled and salved my soul.

The return of bees to the early crocuses thrilled and salved my soul.

The first few days after the crocuses opened there were no bees. When I was outside and I paused the noise in my head for a moment and just listened, the silence was eerie. I felt so sad. The naturalizing irises and daffodils began to open, and they were empty. It’s all starting for you, I’ve done everything I can to make it good for you, so please come! I thought to the bees I knew were somewhere near. I saw plenty of flies, even some small fucking grasshoppers. On Valentine’s Day! It was too weird.

Chris called that morning. I was just heading out to hand-water some things. “Already?!” she said, aghast. “Your damn onions!” I said. “They dried out over winter in that hoop house.”

In truth it wasn’t just the onions. The whole spring bed, the border on the south side of the house with the early bulbs and groundcovers (the crocuses, naturalizing irises and tulips, the thymes, veronicas, mat penstemons, mat daisies) was desperate for snowmelt. My approach to this bed in particular is “Prolong snowmelt.” This year I began prolonging snowmelt in earnest the second week in February. In previous years I haven’t had to water until late March or April, rarely as late as May. For all the fun of the balmy weather we needed snow badly.

We talked as I watered, and the conversation quickly turned to the bees. She said, “I thought you might tell me about your ambivalence.” I knew it was going to come to this, I’ve just been putting it off. What are my deeper, more complex feelings about the loss, the death of the beehive? What are and were my responsibilities? How did I succeed and fail? What did I learn? Shall I choose to feel guilt?

Chris talked about really learning to let go, and being amazed every day at how much she thinks she knows and then finding out how little she really knows. I think it was her way of encouraging me not to feel guilty, and it helps, but I still have this fundamental feeling that it was my fault the hive died because I didn’t know enough; going into this project, I acted in confident ignorance rather than in a “beginner’s mind” spirit of learning. I’m still unpacking my feelings. Meanwhile, as we talked, I saw a bee in a crocus!

“Gotta go!” I said, hung up the phone, and ran for the camera. For a few hours I was ecstatic.

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The Bee Doctor told me two years ago that these bees chose me, and the reason was mine to figure out. All along my intention was for the hive to act as an incubator, to grow enough bees for them to swarm out into the forest and the canyon, year after year, to populate the wild. The experiment was to try to establish a hospitable habitat for wild bees, not for me to get honey. I hoped they would manage themselves appropriately with minimal intervention from me.

I forgot the beekeepers’ wisdom, “When in doubt, wait it out,” and I made a mistake at the end of their first summer. Their hive was pristine before I opened it that time. I flooded it with honey and dead bees, I stole their larvae accidentally, and they were righteously angry. I can’t help but wonder if I derailed their success in that one stupid move. They had been calm until then; after, they were defensive. I went in the following spring with the Bee Doctor, and he told me they were more ancient, more wild, than any other hive he’d seen around here. When we opened the hive he mentioned that some of their behavior was more like Africanized bees. “Don’t wig out,” he said, clarifying that it was just an example of their wildness, not that they were Africanized. But in that moment, they were cast in a more primal light for me. It’s the honeybee not the bear, but it’s still a wild and dangerous organism.

Perhaps I subconsciously arranged their demise with my reluctance to try again, to persevere with this hive. Last fall I did have, in the most private inarticulate place in me, the thought that maybe they would get honey-locked this spring and leave. I could start over with more mild-mannered bees. When I saw how few bees were in the dead hive, I hoped it was because they had swarmed. But then, a few days after pulling the last combs from the hive, I found this:

It pains me to share this picture.

It pains me to share this picture. In front of the hive, behind the insulating straw bale, a mass of bee carcasses. Maybe they didn’t swarm. Maybe they were busy all summer and fall hauling out mite-killed bees, and that’s why there were fewer bees going into winter. Maybe there just weren’t enough healthy bees for the hive to survive.

How did the mites get into the hive, anyway? Where did they come from? Unfortunately, as one local beekeeper said, “The mites win all too often.” From what I’ve read, these mites arrived in this country in 1987, and spread rapidly through the wild honeybee hives. Originally parasites on another species of bee, Apis cerana, the mites jumped species, and Apis mellifera has not been able to cope well with them. In combination with neonicotinoid pesticides and possibly other environmental factors, the varroa mites are wiping out honeybees everywhere. I’ve read that they can travel from one hive to another on the bodies of drones, which are apparently allowed to enter any hive. In a sense, the mites are like a sexually transmitted epidemic. Once inside a hive they reproduce inside brood cells, raising a whole family in the time it takes a larval bee to mature, and compromising that bee’s health.

It’s time to really let go. I know today how much I don’t know about bees and how to keep them. If I’m going to continue to try to help save them, I’ve got to do it with Beginner’s Mind, and a lot more courage and skill. I hope that more good than bad has come out of my first foray into bee guardianing. Either way, I need to forgive myself my assumptions and mistakes with them and move on. Forgiving and moving on have never been easy for me, but I’m learning, and not just with the bees.

Honey candy, dense crystallized honey and comb.

Honey candy, dense crystallized honey and comb.

The last honeycombs from the salvage operation, three on the right from the middle of the hive and four on the left from the front.

The last honeycombs from the salvage operation, three on the right from the middle of the hive and four on the left from the front. There’s not much honey in the front combs, I may do something else with them.

Honey in various stages of salvage.

Various stages in the honey salvage.

Experimenting with the best way to get the honey out of the combs.

Experimenting with the best way to get the honey out of the combs.

I’ve got one loaded comb left to process. The honey is so thick it’s taking a long time to drip out of the combs. After slicing the caps off sections of comb and letting them drip, then flipping them over and letting the other side drip, I squish them and let them drip again. Not very efficient, but I get to lick my fingers a lot.

Meanwhile, outside I’ve been cutting back and raking paths and pruning shrubs and trees. This is the best place to be on any day in any season in the garden: I can look out with pleasure at what I’ve accomplished thus far, and simply sit with the joy of it, a dog rolling at my feet, far more done than undone at this point in the season, the whole garden vista ahead of schedule.

A bitter wind blew in a few days ago, ahead of the snowstorm that started yesterday morning. Evening grosbeaks peck in a frenzy at the sunflower feeder. The patio rug blows up with a thump against the table. I scramble to batten down the hatches. This constantly shifting spring weather heightens minute to minute uncertainty: A cold shadow falls over the yard with a bleak wind, the mood becomes more urgent; the sun blows free of the clouds and optimism surges. There is this apocalyptic deep fear: what will happen next? The clouds exacerbate that, the sun relieves it; being thirsty exacerbates it, a drink of water relieves it.

Just yesterday morning when this snowstorm was starting.

Just yesterday morning when this snowstorm was starting.

Twenty-four hours later we have eight inches of snow. All the little flowers and shoots are buried, and getting a deep drink. More snow is expected later this week. What do we call the spell of spring that lasted almost a month and brought so many species out of their winter sleep? If the warm weather that follows the first cold spell in fall is called Indian Summer, what is the name of the first warm spell that precedes actual Spring?

I never thought I’d be grateful to live in Colorado because of the mild winter! Though we loved this balmy break in our short winter, everyone is celebrating the return of the snow. We think about “percent of normal” snowpack in the mountains, and what it means for our water this summer. Skiers are ecstatic with feet of new snow in the high country. Down here at 6800′ we welcome the moisture in fields, yards, gardens that were already drying out. The almost non-winter this year is as eerie as the absence of the bees. So with deep relief, after a brief frenzy of garden cleanup, I settle back into winter pace. When the snow melts again the garden will be well ahead of itself, and maybe the grasshoppers will have frozen.

Free at last, thank Dog, I'm free at last!

Free at last, thank Dog, I’m free at last!

And once she was off the leash, Stellar just had to make her play.

And once she was off the leash, Stellar just had to make her play.

Big goofball heeling for no reason.

Big goofball heeling for no reason.

A dark-eyed junco fluffs in the desert willow outside my office window.

A dark-eyed junco fluffs in the desert willow outside my office window.

A young buck mule deer passes in front of the lion gate after digging and browsing around under the snow in the garden.

A young buck mule deer passes in front of the lion gate after digging under snow and browsing in the garden.

Highs and Lows in Crazy Early Spring

IMG_3384 First a word about my breakfast. I am so aware of where my food comes from. I realize it might seem off the deep end to friends in other places, other lives, other worlds. But here, in this fertile creative valley, it feels so easy and right to be mindful of every bite. Or nearly. Time to focus on slowly consuming what’s in the freezer, because in a couple of months or less we’ll have half a pig to put in there. I found a couple of rolls from Monica’s brick oven bakery, so I thawed and toasted them. Pamela’s hens are laying and I’ve got a dozen fresh eggs. Suzi called the other night and squealed “I picked up your birthday present today!” That’s when I started thinking about a homemade eggamuffin. She’d asked me a few weeks earlier which part of her pig I would like for my birthday present. Bacon! I cried without hesitation.

This year when friends announced a joint birthday party for Elena and me, she said “no presents.” Great idea, I thought. I have too much stuff! But I’d already told a couple of friends all I wanted was socks. Socks used to be a bit of a disappointment at Christmas. Imperceptibly over the years I came to appreciate the gift of socks. Maybe it began after my mother died and I no longer routinely got socks for Christmas or birthday presents. Auntie sent me socks in recent years, and I’ve been delighted to get them. So I replied to the group invitation, “Me too! No presents. Unless I can wear them or eat them.” Because I suddenly remembered the fresh oranges and other gifts of food I’ve received since living here, and I didn’t want to discourage more of those. So it was a meaningful breakfast, chock full not only of pure and local nutrients but also full of neighborly friendship and love. A fulfilling and tangible taste of community. Yum.

The lettuce was store-bought organic. The garden is crazy early waking up, but no edible greens yet except the early blue mustards, whose bright green rosettes are popping up in vibrant patches as the snow melts. All manner of other little green shoots are poking up or unfurling, crocus and iris leaves, miniature daffodil tips, curly grape hyacinth leaves, and the hardier perennials like RatibidaGallardia, and columbines. I’ve been puttering in the garden for at least a week, and the past few beautiful days we’ve started spring cleanup in earnest.

Time to break back the columbine stalks to free the new growth sprouting.

Time to break back the columbine stalks to free the new growth sprouting.

It’s only been a couple of weeks since the snow has melted off the front of the hoop house, and when I opened it the other day I realized I should have done so as soon as the east side was free of snow. The Vidalia onions survived! At least, some of them did, and when I checked, expecting frozen ground a finger depth down I was stunned to find the dirt was bone dry. So I dragged out the hoses and watered the bed deeply through the afternoon.

I'd say maybe 35% of the Vidalia onions in the hoop house made it through winter. I texted this image to David, who sent me the starts last fall from Florida. "Look who made it through the winter!" I crowed in a text.

I’d say maybe 35% of the Vidalia onions in the hoop house survived winter. I texted this image to David, who sent me the starts last fall from Florida. “Look who made it through the winter!” I crowed in a text.

"Their cousins," he wrote back with this image. Well, but to be fair, the southern cousins did not have to contend with below freezing temperatures through the winter.

“Their cousins,” he wrote back with this image. Hmmm. Well, but to be fair, the southern cousins did not have to contend with below freezing temperatures through the winter.

Three years worth of amaryllis add color and structure to the sunroom in winter. I can't eat it or wear it, but each year a friend gives me an amaryllis for Christmas. This year's amaryllis popped open this week, while the other two are growing great green leaves. One of them bloomed twice last summer out on the patio. Three years worth of amaryllis add color and structure to the sunroom in winter. I can’t eat it or wear it, but each year a friend gives me one for Christmas. This year’s amaryllis popped open this week, while the other two are growing great green leaves. One of them bloomed twice last summer out on the patio. Raven, all well again, naps outside the windows.

This year's amaryllis.

This year’s amaryllis.

Sunset on Saturday night.

Sunset on Saturday night.

With all this rejuvenation in the garden I was surprised to notice in these recent warm days that there were no bees coming out of the hive. I went closer and listened; no buzzing from inside. I realized with mixed emotions that the hive had died. Deborah came over yesterday afternoon to help cut back penstemon stalks and other seedheads, and we embarked upon the adventure of opening the hive, which revealed a Bee Tragedy…

the Merry Month of May

Before.

Before.

One thing Katrina taught me last year is that no matter how hard it is, it’s essential to cut back your flowers early so they’ll double and triple their blooms as they grow. It’s so hard to snip those little blips of color when you pot up the annuals, but trust me ~ trust Katrina ~ you’ll be glad you did.

After. The same pot trimmed of flowers, with an Early Girl tomato behind it in a wall-of-water; again, hedging my bets.

After. The same pot trimmed of flowers, with an Early Girl tomato behind it in a wall-of-water; hedging my bets.

After After. Don't despair. Clipping back the blossoms isn't a total loss.

After After. Don’t despair. Clipping back the blossoms isn’t a total loss.

Another pot whose blossoms contributed to the vase. After a feeding and a few weeks its flowers will be spilling over.

Another pot whose blossoms contributed to the vase. After a feeding and a few weeks its flowers will flourish.

The Fuji apple. All the apples are in bloom except the wild one, which has finished and is already leafing out. Tomorrow's predicted snow and two sub-freezing nights may do them in. I've got my fingers crossed.

The Fuji apple. All the apples are in bloom except the wild one, which has finished and is already leafing out. Tomorrow’s predicted snow and two sub-freezing nights may do them in. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

I bought a little blue tractor from Gardeners' Supply for a well-spent ninety dollars. No motor, but I can scoot along the paths sideways, sitting and weeding. After two years of consideration I finally ordered it, and assembled it, when I was hobbled a few weeks ago by plantar fasciitis.

I bought a little blue tractor from Gardeners’ Supply for a well-spent ninety dollars. No motor, but I can scoot along the paths sideways, sitting and weeding. After two years of consideration I finally ordered it, and assembled it, when I was hobbled a few weeks ago by plantar fasciitis.

The Bombay Wall and the crabapple in glorious bloom.

The Bombay Wall and the crabapple in glorious bloom.

The birch tree leafing out to shade the beehive, with grape hyacinths still in full bloom. Joseph left a message yesterday telling me he just caught a swarm, suggesting my hive could swarm any minute, wondering if I was out catching one right now. Such a thoughtful call; I wasn't, but I think the bees have been out scouting for awhile now. If in fact they did choose me this is why: I am going to let them fly.

The birch tree leafing out to shade the beehive, with grape hyacinths still in full bloom. Joseph left a message yesterday telling me he just caught a swarm, suggesting my hive could swarm any minute, wondering if I was out catching one right now. Such a thoughtful call; I wasn’t, but I think the bees have been out scouting for awhile now. If in fact they did choose me this is why: I am going to let them fly.

The delicate scent of lilacs held in limbo ~ they started to open in last week's warm weather, and seem to have stopped themselves the past few days of lingering winter.

The delicate scent of lilacs held in limbo ~ they started to open in last week’s warm weather, and seem to have stopped themselves the past few days of lingering winter.

Last year's self-sown lettuce (clipped back yesterday) spilled over the corner of the bed where yesterday I planted two types of carrots.

Last year’s self-sown lettuce (clipped back yesterday) spilled over the corner of the bed where yesterday I planted two types of carrots.

Fall-planted spinach and cilantro interspersed with feral garlic and two winter squashes I put in the tunnel a few days ago, hoping they'll withstand the next few freezing nights and get a good head start for summer.

Fall-planted spinach and cilantro interspersed with feral garlic and two winter squashes I put in the tunnel a few days ago, hoping they’ll withstand the next few freezing nights and get a good head start for summer.

Digging into the south border to plant a new little silver thyme I uncovered this chrysalis. Or casement. Bigger than my pinkie finger. So huge and unexpected I thought it might have been a stray seashell accidentally buried in the garden, I gently squeezed it. When it gave slightly, I dropped it back into the dirt. I hope it's not a giant green tomato worm waiting to hatch.

Digging into the south border to plant a new little silver thyme I uncovered this chrysalis. Or casement. Bigger than my pinkie finger. So huge and unexpected I thought it might have been a stray seashell accidentally buried in the garden, I gently squeezed it. When it gave slightly, I dropped it back into the dirt. I hope it’s not a giant green tomato worm waiting to hatch.

Mountains shrouded in winter mist and freshly weeded flagstone, with the sweet young aspen sapling in spring green.

Mountains shrouded in winter mist and freshly weeded flagstone, with the sweet young aspen sapling in spring green.

Dog and hose.

Dog and hose.

Stellar the Stardog is a hopeless lounge lizard. Seriously.

Stellar the Stardog is a hopeless lounge lizard. Seriously.

Bling on my big toe.

Big toe bling. Fresh happy nails for summer.

“How many cats do you have?” asked Andy, the young Vietnamese man massaging my calf before polishing my toenails. He was looking at the various hairs on my pants. Deb treated me to a mani-pedi when I accompanied her to Montrose for a dentist appointment.

“Just one,” I said, “and two dogs.” I realized with a slight shock as we waited our turn and I observed the shining shins of the women already underway that I hadn’t shaved my legs since last summer. “All this,” I added, sweeping my hand up my calf, “is also hair from the cat, all stuck on my legs.” I shrieked as he cleaned one of my nails. “Baby guts,” said Deb. I doubt she’ll ever take me out for a spa day again.

“You want cheese grater?” he asked, and scraped and scraped at my calloused heels. “I’m a gardener,” I explained. “You want flower?” he said, after he’d painted my nails red. I have only had a few pedicures in my life, and never a professional manicure, and never ever painted flowers on my nails. “Sure,” I said. You can’t have too many flowers. A tiny work of art is what he did, with a drop of white polish, a toothpick, and a little bead.

With all I’ve had on my mind lately ~ this inexplicable dizziness, a new foot pain, the flush of lush spring weeds and bad grasses, and peer pressure to exterminate prairie dogs ~ this little indulgence brings a jolt of joy each time I look down in bare feet.

 

“Beauty is not optional. Art is not something peripheral, but literally a strategy for survival.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

 

My Fleeting Infatuation with iPhone 5

The first cactus blossom on a walk to the canyon.

The first cactus blossoms on a walk to the canyon.

I thought I’d upgrade my phone, so shopped around for the best deal on phone and server, and chose to switch to Virgin Mobile from AT&T for a couple of reasons: Over the course of two years, I’d save a bunch of money, and the service is better in the remote valley where I live. I could even use my cell phone inside my home, instead of having to step outside and angle for decent reception. I was thrilled to open my new iPhone 5. There’s no denying I’m an Apple fan; the products are elegant in every sense of the word, and customer service is beyond reproach.

The first wallflowers bloomed a week ago, early according to my records.

The first wallflowers bloomed a week ago, early according to my records.

After a great setup experience at the small local cellular store, I returned home to find that the sleek, sexy phone would not sync with my computer. Every time I tried to open iTunes with the phone plugged in, iTunes “quit unexpectedly.” After five hours of troubleshooting on the phone with a total of five Apple techs, the last one patched me in to Virgin Mobile support, and my wasted afternoon turned into a customer service nightmare. The upshot of it all is, in order to get another brand new phone from them rather than a refurbished phone I have to mail them back the phone at my expense, and only then will they credit my card. Then I can buy another new phone from them. They refused to email or text me return instructions and transaction numbers, which feels shady to me, insisting I copy them down over the phone; I wonder if I’ll get my not insignificant amount of money back at all.

I kept my cool the whole five hours with Apple tech support. I lost my temper pretty quickly with the two Virgin Mobile reps I spoke with. For one thing, their Hold Music, of which I heard a lot, was so jarring, a repetitive jangle of a few bars of hard music interspersed with various bands announcing with commercial radio enthusiasm “Hi! We’re some band you never heard of! You’re listening to Virgin Mobile Live! Stay tuned!” on a staticky connection. The main guy I talked with, Paolo, was the most obsequious long-winded person I’ve ever encountered on a service call. I can’t even repeat his redundant blather. And I have to ask myself the difficult question, did their challenging accents contribute to my frustration with them? Am I biased in favor of native-English-speaking customer support?

The wild pink phlox opened a few days before the wallflowers. Most of the May flowers started to open in April this year. Not really a surprise given the mostly mild wet winter.

The wild pink phlox opened a few days before the wallflowers. Most of the May flowers started to open in April this year. Not really a surprise given the mostly mild wet winter.

So knowing that today I would erase the little I had added to the new phone and send it back, I took it out for a walk last evening to check out the camera. One reason I wanted this new phone, after almost four years of immense satisfaction with iPhone 4, is that the camera is supposedly significantly improved. I also needed more memory, because I became a fan of apps like the Audubon Field Guide to Butterflies, and Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America. They take a lot of space, and I need more than most people for photos and videos, too.

Ice Canyon shot with iPhone 5 on the Square setting. I guess these images are better quality than with iPhone 4, but not as dramatically different as I had hoped. But at least I've captured the last little bits of ice remaining at the base of the cliff.

Ice Canyon shot with iPhone 5 on the new Square setting. I guess these images are better quality than with iPhone 4, but not as dramatically different as I had hoped. But at least I’ve captured the last little bits of ice remaining at the base of the cliff. And that’s a good sign of the warming season.

I liked using the phone. The camera has some nice features like a Square setting. I became enamored of square shots using the Hipstamatic app on my trusty iPhone 4 (my “girlfriend camera” because of her pink case and flirty form), and took to cropping many of the shots I take with my “husband camera” as squares also. I like the perspective. It also has a panorama setting with which I had no success, not too surprising since I didn’t bother with instructions. And it offers slow-motion video, which holds promise for a lot of fun. The rest of the phone also has some enticing new features, like voice texting, and many more I haven’t taken time to explore.

The West Elk Mountains with plenty of snow for summer's irrigation. Not as crisp an image as I expected from the new phone.

Beyond Buck Canyon, the West Elk Mountains with plenty of snow for summer’s irrigation. Not as crisp an image as I expected from the new phone. Imagine! Expecting any kind of image from a phone…

I guess I got all I could expect from any kind of fling. A fleeting infatuation and some deep disappointment. Today I break up with iPhone 5 and return to my sweet, dependable 4. Will I switch carriers back to spotty but professional AT&T? Will I try again with another and more compatible iPhone 5? Will Virgin Mobile come through despite their questionable protocol and actually return my money? And how many more precious hours of this beautiful spring season will I waste trying to find the perfect cellular plan with the right carrier? Meanwhile, as soon as it warms up a little, I’ll take that phone out for one last walk on this gorgeous morning, and see what other wildflowers I can find in the right light. In fact, I’ll try hard to see everything in the right light today.

Without my botanist friend Gretchen to remind me on our annual spring walks, I have forgotten the names of many of the native plants that adorn the forest floor. Or maybe it's just age, or the continuing effects of whatever is going on in my brain that's causing the dizzies. Anyway, here's something lovely blooming out of sheer rock on the rim.

Without my botanist friend Gretchen to remind me on our annual spring walks, I have forgotten the names of many of the native plants that adorn the forest floor. Or maybe it’s just age, or another effect of whatever is going on in my brain that’s causing the continuing dizzies. Anyway, here’s something lovely blooming out of sheer rock on the rim. 

Screaming Orange Globemallow, Sphaeralcia, one of my favorites, took me quite by surprise when I noticed the first open bloom next to the snake den on the rim.

Screaming Orange Globemallow, Sphaeralcea, one of my favorites, took me quite by surprise when I noticed the first open bloom next to the snake den on the rim.

Again whose name I forget, in a perfect circle amid cryptobiotic soil beside the trail home.

Again whose name I forget, in a perfect circle amid cryptobiotic soil beside the trail home.

Claret cup buds already forming

Claret cup buds already forming on the largest consistently blooming cluster in the woods.

A rare native plant which hasn't come up for the past three years, Thelypodiopsis juniperorum; I've found five individuals in the past week, just one of the many reasons this habitat is so special. This image and the next were shot with Hipstamatic on iPhone 4; all the previous images were taken with the new, faulty, disappointing iPhone 5. I may just stick with my girlfriend camera after all...

A rare native plant which hasn’t come up for the past three years, Thelypodiopsis juniperorum; I’ve found five individuals in the past week, just one of the many reasons this habitat is so special.

The juniper tumblemustard above and the next image were shot with Hipstamatic on iPhone 4; all the previous images were taken with the standard camera on the new, faulty, disappointing iPhone 5. Is it really that much better? I may just stick with my girlfriend camera after all…

Snowmelt roaring down the North Fork River with

Snowmelt roaring down the North Fork River at the Hotchkiss bridge, with Mt. Lamborn and Lands End beyond.

 

Words Fail Me

April 11

On April 11, the honeybees finally examined the hybrid tulips.

April 11

And I caught the elusive white butterfly.

April 11

The honeybees also started enjoying the creeping thyme.

April 14

April 14, that sweet snow decorated the forsythia.

Today the wind literally blows bees off the Nanking cherry as another spring snowstorm threatens. Inside for awhile, I catch up with images from the past two weeks.

April 17

April 17, the bumblebees showed up.

April 19

April 19, honeybees were all over the European pasqueflowers.

April 20

April 20. Surprise!

April 20

And a bigger surprise, the broad-tailed hummingbirds showed up five days early.

April 20

As the golden currant blossoms begin to open, the green (or blue?) bottle flies arrive.

April 20

Nanking cherry buds begin to burst open and the little native bees are among the first to partake.

April 21

April 21, dandelions begin to pop open throughout the yard.

April 21

Bumblebees and honeybees continue to sip at the almond blossoms.

April 22

April 22, the Nanking cherry calls all species of bees in the vicinity.

April 22

April 22

And begins to get crowded.

April 23

April 23: Meanwhile, down at the pond, the honeybees have found a sweet place in the reeds to sate their thirst.

April 24

On April 24, the Nanking cherry exploded with bees of all kinds, in clouds, drunk, like me perhaps, on all the pink beauty.

Count the bees and types of bees in this image. Spring wave of the roller-coaster is in full swing. On this day, the Colonel would have been ninety-five years old. I spent the entire day with one of his last gifts to me, my Canon 50D, in a pursuit he might have considered at one time in his life a waste of time; but he introduced me to cameras, and took great pleasure during our last visit looking through his album of special photos, seeking his personal best, a shot of a duck with water dripping off its beak. I think he would have liked these. Meanwhile, my days fly by so full I can’t keep up.

April 24

As the jonquils continue blooming the occasional bee investigates.

April 24

Prunus besseyi “Pawnee Buttes,” a ground-creeping variety of the western sandcherry, begins to draw bees.

April 24

“Pink Chintz” creeping thyme blooms.

April 24

Occasional native bees and honeybees check out this little rock-garden plant whose name I’ve forgotten.

April 24

Buff little bumblebee on the golden currant.

April 24

The frenetic beeflies are everywhere, on the sandcherry…

April 24

…the dandelions…

April 24

…and the omnipresent Nepeta