So, Enough With The Snakes Already!

I took the wheelbarrow down the hill to a big pile of wood chips, to bring back a load to spread up by the cabin. A couple hundred feet down the road – yikes! – oh, only another snake skin.

Okay, whew, heh, okay. Back down the road with the wheelbarrow and – yikes! shit! heh, just another snake skin. Okay, tactical sensors are cranked up to 11.

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I push the wheelbarrow full of wood chips up the hill under the sultry and sullen smoke-filled sky. By the time the wood chips are spread, I’m soaked in sweat and cherry red and a tad jumpy.

I head into the relative cool of the cabin, turn on the shower, shed my soaked and grimy clothes, and step under the refreshing stream of tepid water.

And nearly pass out when a little green frog wriggles out of a hole in the shower drain one fifth its body size and stares balefully up at me.

This drain here.

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Snakes!

It’s hot up here. Really, really hot. And dry.

I was walking around the hill a couple of days ago when I first got up for a visit. It was about 6:30 AM, a nice and cool 72 degrees. As I was walking through the grass my reflexes kicked in and I jumped back because I’d seen something in my peripheral vision.

A snake skin, shed by a snake about 4 feet long, skinny. Not a problem, it’s a friendly snake because the tapering tail is without rattles.

Which is all I care about when up here from May through November, out walking in the tall grass of the meadow or through the manzanita or wherever. Rattlesnakes. Ugh. It lends an extra layer of tactical stress to what should be a simple walk around the property.  This is one reason winter is my favorite season up here. No rattlesnakes. They’re hibernating.

But then yesterday, while following the driveway which circles around the house, again the reflexes, and again a shed snakeskin in a drainage ditch on the side of the driveway about 20 yards from the cabin.

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Only about 2 feet of skin, but much fatter around. Hey, what’s that pattern on the skin?

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Diamonds. What joy. A big fat diamondback rattlesnake moved in.

There goes the neighborhood.

Wasps!

Brr. There’s a cold front visiting from Alaska, and the sky is thunderstorm cloudy and it’s cold. It’s been a somewhat cool June so far, but the thermometer dropped from 42 down to 40 degrees in the half hour I was walking around nuking wasp nests and suspected wasp nests.

We don’t usually countenance chemical weapons up here on the hill, but make an exception for wasp spray.

I try to take a live and let live stance up here, but when I come right up to a nest crawling with adults and grubs right out of a freaking nightmare, why, I just aim the nozzle and press the button and the bad dream goes away.

Nothing ruins your day like being stung by a wasp.

Spring is almost over, but not just yet.

A light rain for a couple hours early yesterday morning.  It has been a wet winter and spring, and it is good to see an extra splash or two before the hard light of a hot summer hits.

After so many years of drought, the trees are really responding to the good rains. The pines and oaks have a “leggy” look to them, as they race to grow as tall as fast as possible. They are not only shooting out new tips and leaves, but the main branches themselves are growing in between the places where other branches have forked off.

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The picture above is a good illustration. The tree on the left is shooting out new growth up and out from the trunk at a furious rate, giving it a more stretched out look. It’s sibling to the right is more compact, not expending as much energy to grow out and taller.

Speaking of which, I’ve been reading a new book called “The Hidden Life of Trees” by a German forester named Peter Wohlleben. Quick review: Broken into small, easily digestible chapters, this book discusses how trees exist together as a community in forests and live alone in urban centers as street foliage or in parks. It’s a good book, folks who spend time outdoors under the canopies of trees would do well to read it. It’s been a real eye opener, I’ve been totally rethinking how to coexist with the forest which surrounds the cabin on the hill, as well as seeing the forest and the trees with new eyes.

An example is demonstrated by the picture above. The two trees are cooperating in a mutual growth strategy. The tree on the left is the one which is utilizing the local common water and nutrient resources to sustain a burst of growth while its sibling to the right is content to grow at a more conservative rate. It is in fact likely that the tree on the right is contributing the sugars produced by its leaves through the underground root and fungus network to the tree on the right to “help” it grow.

Mind. Blowing.

I love this place.

Vultures!

We were wondering why so many vultures were swooping so low over the side of the hill, close to the cabin.

One of the great things about the hill upon which our cabin perches is that it is pretty steep and tall, looming over the nearby meadow and the canopy of the forest around the foot of the hill. Birds passing through the area, flying 20 feet above the trees, fly right over the cabin at rooftop level. So we are used to raptors and vultures wheeling overhead, but not like this.  Again and again the vultures would swoop down the hillside a few feet above the ground.

Peggy solved the problem when she noticed eggshells midway down the hill. On a visit earlier in the month I had “composted” the remainder of a carton of eggs by lobbing them down the hill. The poor vultures thought there might be something dead down there, and were looking in vain for a corpse.

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Sorry, guys. My bad.

Turkey for breakfast, hail for tea.

It’s been getting warmer for the last few days, and all around the hill, a few of the more daring oaks have started sprouting buds and getting ready to unfurl this years leaves.

Around breakfast time, the turkey troop came up onto the hill pecking at the ground. The kitchen window afforded an excellent front row seat, so I sat with my coffee and admired the show.

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Though the toms are more flamboyant, the hens also possess iridescent feathers, and break out in unexpected patches of colors sometimes when they move and the light is just so.

The day started getting cloudy, then breaking out into light scattered rain. In between showers, the local birds carried on making a living.

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Birds love perching on the kindling and logs around the fire pit in the front of the house when they sweep by to peck around for food.

This is a black phoebe.

 

 

The true sign of spring, a robin sitting among the buds of an oak.

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Then a thunderstorm blew in, with near constant lightning, and hail suddenly started to fall hard, loud rapping on the metal roof overhead, for about half an hour. Some of the hail was an inch or so in size. Glad I was inside!

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Okay, what a day.

Zero complaints.

Wild Life

Wow. This has been a pretty great critter day, additionally so because I have the new crazy amazing Nikon Coolpix P900 camera up here.

I managed to capture a blue jay during the dawn patrol shift of feeding birds which visit the hilltop here in view of the kitchen windows.

After working all day hauling dirt to make a nice flat spot, I was sitting out under a large oak coppice when the late afternoon patrol of feeding birds flew in to catch some dinner in the trees surrounding the oak.

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Maybe a female Yellow-Rumped Warbler?

 

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A male Western Bluebird. This feller looks a little aggravated about something.

 

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A Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

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A red-breasted nuthatch.

 

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Being still for a few minutes on a plot of land with no dogs is great. Stuff happens, like this squirrel who came over to some pine trees about 40 feet away from where I was sitting  quietly. It went under a pine tree, grabbed a pine cone, put it in its mouth, then climbed the pine tree, where it safely ate the pine nuts out of the cone, then tossed it to the ground and then scrabbled down to the ground and repeated with another pine cone until I stood up and it scampered down the hill. A little later, I saw it at the bottom of the hill, a slash of gray, about 300 feet away and snapped the picture above. Have I mentioned what a cool frikken’ camera this is??