Tag Archive | wildfire

Color Explosion

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Color everywhere! From the garden to the skies. Last weekend was the Crawford Pioneer Days fireworks display, possibly the only one in the state for the rest of the summer. Through the year, the Crawford Fire Department, a dedicated volunteer corps, keeps boots out on cashier counters everywhere, and people drop in change or a larger donation. They shoot off a spectacular long display from the peninsula in the middle of Crawford State Park reservoir, so there is no danger of sparking a wildfire.

Everyone in my house seemed a little wigged out when I got home. They haven’t seemed to mind fireworks before now. The dogs rushed outside and one was reluctant to come back in, and one of the cats streaked through the house from door to door as though she couldn’t wait to get out. A little more active energy than has greeted me in previous years when I returned home from fireworks. But everyone settled down quickly. I’m glad I’m not home for the fireworks, so I can imagine it doesn’t bother my dogs. Rocky trembled in our arms for awhile, but then he settled down when we kept his ears covered.

They are routinely among the best fireworks displays I’ve seen in my life, and that includes Manitou Springs 4th of July, and the 1976 US Bicentennial fireworks over the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in DC. Those were both spectacular in their own way, but never in my life would I have ever imagined that I would sit in a small group of good friends year after year enjoying the best fireworks ever in our own back yard.

This year we watched from the yard of a Reluctant Host at the north end of the reservoir. Here, in the shallow V formed by the valley, fireworks filled the sky, sometimes startling us with how high they blew up, or their size, or color and intensity, the largest blooms filling the entire night sky. Patterns, colors, trajectories, subtleties, each firework is its own one-time moment, taking up our attention completely as we watch its trajectory.

Our host was reluctant because for years his dogs were undone by the explosions. Also his tender heart knows the terror that numerous other pets and wildlife feel with that horrendous violent noise. It’s been a few years since his sweet old dog died, the one he hid in the closet with to comfort during every fireworks, while the rest of us partied and watched from across the reservoir. I persuaded him, bribed him actually, to let us watch from their house this year; promised they wouldn’t have to host anything else for five years. Silly me. Because (despite having some grim thoughts about “rockets red glare” and our increasingly militaristic society) after that display I want to watch from there every year.

And then the next morning, at the top of the driveway as I was heading out, a small white dog, some smooth-coated terrier, ran in from the road. I stopped and got out and crooned to it but it ran on past the car too fast for me to catch, clearly running from something, likely the previous night’s fireworks. He wore a collar and was panting hard but not close to stopping as he trotted on over the hill through the sage flat toward the neighbors’ fence. I hope he was on his way home, but he looked disoriented and lost. I notified a few neighbors to the south, and hope someone was able to stop him. It made me so sad.

The tracks my mind goes down sometimes. I let my feelings turn into thoughts and pass through me, but still sorrow lingers when I let my speculation go again. Exactly the kind of heartbreak that’s made our Reluctant Host unfond of fireworks for years. 

Weights and measures. One night of fireworks, though, is nothing compared to the havoc the 416 Fire is wreaking on the San Juan National Forest north of Durango, well over 100 miles south as the crows fly, and flying they are now. We’ve waked to the smell of smoke several mornings this week, and I come inside off and on during the days depending on winds. I woke yesterday early and shut all the doors and windows to keep out the smoke, then lay back down and meditated on the ramifications.

The last known grizzly bear in Colorado was killed in the San Juans in 1979, but no one has been able to prove that no more survive. I imagined a grizzly mother with two cubs trying to outrun the rampant monstrous fire that has been devouring those mountain woods for the past two weeks, now up to 33,000 acres and unstoppable. Or a black bear mother with cubs. Or a herd of pregnant cow elk or mule deer does. Rabbits and foxes and coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, mice, and birds: hawks and eagles, songbirds, hummingbirds, all fleeing for their lives and getting incinerated as the fire creates its own erratic winds in what is known as extreme fire behavior. Access to the entire national forest has been closed for the foreseeable future, with some hikers and campers alleged to remain in the wilderness. More than 2000 homes north of Durango have been evacuated. The fire is not expected to be contained until at least the end of July.

It’s on our minds. We can’t help it. We’re praying for rain, not only for the San Juans but for our own parched ground, our fields scorched and fraught with water wars. Blessed is standing in the rain this morning, a single three-minute sprinkle with the sun shining, wetting me no more than if I’d stepped through my garden sprinkler slowly. We have high hopes that remnant fringes of Hurricane Bud will saturate our sad land tomorrow. We are not concerned about new shoes or handbags or golf clubs, or where to go clubbing tonight. We country mice are praying for rain.

Meanwhile, while I have water I am spreading it liberally throughout my own little paradise, my refuge, my sanctuary, and sanctuary to birds and butterflies and bees, and any other wild creatures who pass this way; and I am breathing deeply the penstemon perfume, and thinning peaches, and cutting lettuce, and doing the best I can to cultivate some peaceful shred of mind in the midst of climate and constitutional chaos. Making these images soothes me, and may seeing them soothe you also.

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Western tiger swallowtails circle the yard in seemingly random loops that resolve into patterns when observed over a long enough afternoon. The ancestral butterfly bush, Buddleia alternifolia, attracts them as well as other butterflies and lots of bees.

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Penstemon palmeri, and hybrids, self-sow with abandon throughout my yard, and are buzzing now with Bombus borealis, huge yellow and black bumblebees, gentle giants.

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Yellow Bucket

 

Summer Trees

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Mindfulness teaches us to be with all things as they arise, and let them pass through us in the moment, and move on. May I remember to be with both despair and joy as they come, and let them play on through.

The fruit trees are generous this summer, and none more so than the apricot. Throughout the valley, peaches, pears, apples, all ripen extravagantly. A banner cherry harvest for the commercial orchards, and I’ve enough in the freezer for three pies thanks to Ellie and her prolific sour cherries, tiny shiny scarlet globes best pitted with a simple squeeze between fingers and gentle tug on the stem, too small for the pitter. No one has seen a fruit year like this for a very long time. Everyone is grateful.

Everyone is rolling in apricots. Neighbors are having a cookout to lure people to take away theirs. Suzi is generously drying the first round from my tree, and I’ve just picked the third. As many remain on the tree as I’ve already harvested. I’m staying just ahead of the birds; they peck the very ripest and every few days I pick what’s almost perfect and finish ripening on the counter. I get lucky and find some at their peak unpecked.

The more I pick the more I see I never saw before. Fred tried to warn me: Don’t be greedy, he said, and encouraged me weeks ago to thin them to a fist width apart. I couldn’t do it. I did thin them some, a couple of times, as I did with the peaches both before and after he gave me a hands-on lesson. Eight or ten peaches on a limb this size, he said. Maybe I should go thin them again, if the apricots are any indication. Which, of course, they are. I’m so grateful for his pruning, his advice, his instruction.

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I have three times more apricots in one wooden bowl than I’ve ever had on this tree in all its fifteen years. (When did I plant it? Fifteen? Twenty years ago? Somewhere in between? I’m grateful I can no longer remember everything. It makes interacting with people easier, but it doesn’t really help in the garden.) Fresh apricot recipes are stacking up in my recipe folder. The tortoise and the mule deer eat those that drop, or that I throw over the fence if they’re scarred or nibbled or too green, or if there’s a wasp feasting inside.

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After the third harvest... still plenty for people and other animals.

The apricot tree after the third picking… still plenty ripening for people and other animals. Never in any of my gardens through the years have I seen such bounty.

I’ve harvested three big bowls and one small one in the past week, with more to come. A generosity of apricots. And still they glow in abundance on the bright green tree, strolling grey storm clouds behind them. An uncontrollable satisfaction rises in my soul, the joy of a gardener. Because of me, the time, the water, the help tending through the years, this fruit tree thrives and gives back lavishly this summer.

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Another summer tree didn’t fare so well last week, a big juniper. We had a knock-down drag out lightning storm. People were talking about it for days. It was right on top of us, some said. I felt the electricity, said others. It was SO loud! more exclaimed. At Tai Chi, Deborah said The whole sky lit up, you could see every leaf, and there was a bolt through it, and in the bolt a fireball. Twice I saw that. I saw it and thought, Did I really just see that? And then it happened again.

In twenty-four years in this valley I haven’t experienced a lightning storm quite like that. An occasional strike too close for comfort in a wide-spread or fast moving cell. Once while I was standing in my open French door lightning struck a juniper not far in front of me and knocked me back a step. But never an intense cluster for fifteen minutes right on top of the neighborhood, one hard bolt after another, sky lighting up and crashing in the same instant, over and over. The dogs pressed close on the couch where I lay watching a movie. Then it passed, and we all started to relax.

After awhile I smelled smoke. Oh no! From the tower I scanned all directions and could not see flame or flickering, but the strong smell blew on a steady wind from the south. I called dispatch and learned that a truck was on the way to a burning tree somewhere in the next block.

I couldn’t sleep for hours. I climbed the tower again and checked the air before turning in, and found it sweet and pure.

It turned out Cynthia had also smelled smoke, ventured out with a lantern toward the canyon, and found the burning tree, initiating the chain of calls that led the brave fire laddies to it. Grass was burning all around it, she said. It was scary! It could have lit the woods on fire and burned down all our houses if she hadn’t located it right away. It was scary. The volunteer fire department put it out and chopped up the tree with chainsaws to make sure the fire didn’t lie down overnight, to spring up again the next hot dry day with a breeze.

It happens sometimes that a fire lies down in a snag or a hollow and smolders for hours or days before just the right wind ignites it and literally blows it up into a sudden monster fire, like the Wake Fire outside Paonia in ’94. A guy dutifully went out that night and put out the tree, but it blew up the next morning while the whole community was downtown celebrating July 4th at the Cherry Days Festival. The fire burned 6000 acres and three homes in just two days, at that time the fastest fire on record in the state.

Or just across the mesa in ’05 when a ditch burn crept into a stump and lay down for days after the rancher thought he’d extinguished it. Ladies started arriving for a Clothes Exchange, and when I greeted them at the gate after setting up the patio, they said What’s that behind you? A thick plume of black smoke rose beyond the trees. A dozen women ate and drank and tried on each others’ cast-off clothing as a helicopter hauled water from the reservoir and the slurry plane flew overhead. We were half naked anyway and flashed our tops. The pilot dipped his wing. Ellie called to report that a half dozen more guests were turned away at the fork in the road, the mesa was closed at all roads leading in, and we might be evacuated in ten minutes. There was a scramble to load up the Mothership with pets and valuables just in case.

The day after Cynthia’s Tree burned up, a gullywasher, a real Florida frog choker my visitor called it, dumped half an inch in half an hour, with only a few thunderclaps and lightning bolts in the distance. The monsoons are upon us. That evening we went down the road for dessert. It was a relief to know the smoke that greeted us came from the fire in the metal pit that would toast our marshmallows, on a perfect cool summer night in the warm company of our million dollar neighbors.

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Gourmet s’mores made with Lindt salted caramel chocolate, pre-melted in a skillet in the fire.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

The next day I got my bumblebee on the rose.

The next day I got my bumblebee on the rose.

...and a few days later on the Penstemon palmeri...

…and a few days later on Penstemon palmeri

And then on gallardia...

And then on gallardia…

...and columbine.

…and columbine.

I stumble into evening, into this playground of beauty. It is dusk and the garden is still buzzing and fluttering with pollinators. I feel great. I’ve reclaimed two major areas of weeds, and tamed the pathways between them. I worked inside in the heat of day, went out to a client in town, drove home and saw again the smoke from the roaring fires to the southeast. Yesterday, too, in the afternoon, under thick cloud cover, as I drove home I saw sandwiched between the low, grey sky and the dark ridge of horizon, a different, dark, curly billow, the roiling plume of this monstrous blaze. Today, the big fire more of an ominous smudge, and a smaller plume a little farther west. This beauty feels precarious.

Saturday, June 15

Prince's plume (Stanleya pinnata, or Stanley's Piñata Rosie called it) waves brilliant yellow behind purple and pink salvia, firecracker penstemon, blue flax, gallardia, silver sage, and milkweed.

Prince’s plume (Stanleya pinnata, or Stanley’s Piñata Rosie called it) waves brilliant yellow behind purple and pink salvia, firecracker penstemon, blue flax, gallardia, silver sage, and milkweed.

Prince's plume provides a wealth of lovely insects sipping at its flagrant flowers.

Prince’s plume provides a wealth of lovely insects sipping at its flagrant flowers.

A Saturday. A morning rounds day. The dogs agitate restlessly, subtly, for a W-A-L-K. But I can’t go yet. I must spend this morning among the wildly blooming flowers of such variety, and the infinite shades of green in the lush growing leaves. Winecups, Callirhoe, with pink salvia; palmer penstemon at its best. Time to pick up all the buckets, pails, bales, bags and hoses strewn about, and make this garden the showplace that it is.

Cloud cover rolls in as I’m photographing flowers with bugs and bees, sun in, sun out, the wind stirs and calms. Camera is best set aside. I have another day of roses, of pink penstemons; yellow and orange columbines, creamy panicles on the golden elder, aromatic lilac twigs of Larry’s eyebrow, purple penstemons will last at least a few more days. Gallardia, salvias pink and purple will last a long time. The roses will be gone overnight when they go, replaced by swelling green hips then ripe red ones. A bumblebee lands on a wild rose blossom… I cannot resist despite the fickle light, and move to the rosebush camera in hand.

These two tiny bugs danced around the same rose for awhile before meeting face to face and greeting one another.

These two tiny bugs danced around the same rose for awhile before meeting face to face and greeting one another.

It looks like this insect is eating an ant. I can't be sure.

It looks like this insect is eating an ant. I can’t be sure.

Rose bee.

Rose bee.

Though I couldn't catch the bumblebee on the rose, this wasp cooperated.

Though I couldn’t catch the bumblebee on the rose, this wasp cooperated.

All kinds of bugs disappear into the corollas of penstemon strictus, then either turn around to leave...

All kinds of bugs disappear into the corollas of penstemon strictus, then either turn around to leave…

... or back out.

… or back out.

As the honeysuckles wind down they continue to attract wild bees.

As the honeysuckles wind down they continue to attract wild bees.

Still and overcast, excellent for the firefighters throughout the state, and the west. Last night smoke from a new fire on the western slope, just north of I-70, layered the northwest sky purple and pink as the sun set. Today, after a calm morning with clouds intermittently obscuring the sun, the winds have picked up and thick grey clouds are trying to spit rain. One brutal long gust and one rolling thunder lay all my peace of mind to rest.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Haze from a new fire in the San Juan Mountains to the south gave a somber glow to morning.

… while last night, the first sweep of smoke lent sunset a lovely, alarming tint. Irrigation wheel lines on Fruitland Mesa are dry now, after only five weeks of water. With six big fires in Colorado and more in surrounding states, everyone is getting a little on edge.

Nevertheless, there was a great turnout yesterday for the dedication of the Jacob Hoover Cowen Herbarium at the museum in Hotchkiss. A remarkable resource for our small town, making “the extraordinarily diverse world of Delta County wild plants available to the widest range of people possible.” Carolyn Sue Savage Hall spent years collecting and preserving specimens, including the rare Thelypodiopsis juniperorum from the forest under my stewardship. Instead of a ribbon cutting, she released a hatbox full of painted ladies to mark the opening. One landed in the white hair of an elderly lady, one stayed on the spray on our table.

NEW LENS! My lovely bees have persuaded me that it’s time for a serious macro lens for their individual portraits, and this has taken my garden photography to a deeper level. The key to anything is the right tool for the job. The bees are clearly foraging somewhere else, though; all yesterday morning I only saw them at the hive, but my hunt for them disclosed plenty of other insect treasures.

Yucca bugs, crawling like clowns from a desiccated bloom.

The tomato starts from Suzi are thriving despite daily hot dry wind. Violet Jaspers will ripen first.