Since I am still working on my next post on the 1908 Great Race, I decided to throw in a quick update on life here on Oregon’s Upper Applegate River. First, fall has arrived. Leaves are beginning to turn and the white oaks have produced a bumper acorn crop— a fact that has the deer all but climbing the trees.
NEXT POST: We will rejoin the Great Automobile Race of 1908 as it makes its way to San Francisco.
On Tuesday, our whole county was on a Level 1 fire alert, “Dangerous fires are lurking in the area.’ Level 2 is ‘Pack what you need and prepare to leave.’ Level 3 is ‘Get out now.’ The sheriff’s office called to urge everyone in the county to stay off the roads unless they were being evacuated. Portions of Ashland and Medford plus all of the communities of Talent and Phoenix were under a Level 3 alert. I-5, the major north-south freeway for the West Coast had been closed near Ashland. Truckers had abandoned their big rigs on the road.
We had started our morning with a power outage. Extreme winds were playing havoc with the power grid in Oregon as well as creating extreme fire danger. I walked up to where we park Quivera, our small RV, and brought her down to the house. At a minimum we could make coffee. At maximum we could power up the van’s generator and turn on the air conditioner. Temperatures around here have been soaring over 100 degrees F. Fortunately, the power was back on around 10 AM. I quickly filled the bathtub so we would have an emergency supply of water. We have our own well and pump. No power, no water, no toilet. Quivera works in a pinch— and then there is the mountain side. Years of backpacking have trained us. Our shovel is handy…
At about two, we saw a huge plume of smoke southeast of our home boiling up above the mountains where Peggy and I had backpacked two years ago. We watched nervously and discussed putting together our emergency evacuation packet of necessities and a few treasures— like Bone and Eeyore (grin). If the flames topped the mountains we’d be out of here. Bye, bye. The fires can move at incredible speeds. Where we’d go was something of a question since so many areas in California and Oregon are burning. But with Quivera, at least we would have our vacation home with us.
The plume was back yesterday. I did a quick internet search and discovered it was the Slater Fire that had started in Northern California on Monday night. It has now crossed the border into Oregon and burned over 120,000 acres. Fortunately for us (not so much for others), it is not moving in our direction. So far.
We are used to fire danger in our area since our home borders on national forest land. Four years ago, we had to evacuate under a level 3 alert. Towns and cities have always seemed safer. Not this time. Talent and Phoenix, which had been under the level 3 alert, were devastated on Tuesday night. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, including possibly our doctor’s office. National news coverage showed footage of the fire. It looked like a war zone.
Meanwhile, the pandemic hasn’t slowed down. Jackson County which started off with one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 in the state, now has one of the highest. We’ve been moving backwards in our reopening status. Our masks won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
And then there is the incredibly weird political situation America finds itself in. I cringe each time I read the news. Each day there are new revelations on the national level. And then there is the local scene. Peggy and I were at the Bi-Mart in Medford on Monday doing our weekly shopping when a guy came in wearing a Trump mask. He asked the woman checking people in if the store carried ammunition for his assault rifle. Who knows what his motivations were, but we kept our distance. Have I mentioned that these are scary times?
NEXT POST: I’ll get back to the Great Race— assuming the fires, Covid-19, and all of the scary people out there behave.
I had another post on Rome in the armchair series ready to go. All I had to do was hit the publish button. And then Floppy brought by her twins late yesterday. She has had them well hidden ever since the bear made an appearance. But he hasn’t been around for several days. Apparently it is safe now. Anyway, I promised you photos of Floppy’s babies. Here they are. Enjoy. Peggy and I kept handing the camera back and forth so these pictures are from both of us.
“Curt,” Peggy called, “come here quick! There is something small moving through the grass.”
I hurried over to the window. You never know what new animal, bird, snake, lizard, etc. is going to drop by for a visit. This time it turned out to be a fawn, probably on its first venture out from wherever it had been hidden by mom. The doe had just jumped over our fence, leaving her baby behind. Peggy’s mother-instincts kicked in. No need, the fawn easily crawled through the fence.
Peggy started snapping photos. So did I but my camera was beeping at me. I’d forgotten to put the memory card back in after downloading photos. Oh well, Peggy took enough for both of us. It was our first fawn of the season.
And now for the bear.
Peggy and I came out of a deep sleep at 2:30 am yesterday. Something was crashing around outside our bedroom window. “Bear!” we simultaneously exclaimed! Our neighbor Bryan had texted us on Wednesday to tell us that a large, black bear had rummaged through his garbage the night before. Apparently, it was our turn!
I jumped out of bed without getting dressed, grabbed our heavy duty Mag-lite and made a dash for our patio door. Bears can do a lot of damage in a short time. I threw the door open. Nothing. Our garbage can was my next thought. I had spotted fresh claw marks on it a couple of weeks earlier. I ran though the kitchen and threw open the back door. Again, nothing.
Then I heard a crash on our porch. Damn, the bear is going for the grill, I thought, and went charging through the kitchen, dining room and library. We had already had one Weber grill tipped over and damaged by a bear. I didn’t want to see it happen again. I threw open my third door of the night, this time shining my light on the grill. It, too, seemed fine. Then I noticed that the bird feeder was swinging back and forth and been turned into a crooked parody of itself. The bear had been playing tether ball with it! I pointed my flashlight up our driveway to see if the bear had taken off. He hadn’t.
He was standing 30 feet away staring at me. And he was big, as in BIG. I had only seen one that was larger, and given that it was standing on its hind legs with its feet and claws raised above its head growling at me, I may have exaggerated its size.
“What are you staring at Bear?” I asked. “Haven’t you ever seen a naked man before?” And then I yelled. He leisurely turned around and ambled off up our road. I prefer that my bears run.
I’m sorry I don’t have any photos for you. My mind was a bit preoccupied. He really was a magnificent creature. I suspect we will have more opportunities for photo ops. But here are three pictures for perspective. I’ll close with a final ‘cute shot of mom and baby.
NEXT POST: I’m assuming it will be on the fabulous market in Barcelona unless the bear comes back or more fawns show up. (Grin)
It’s time for more nature tales brought to you by the wild animals that live on our property and entertain us continually by doing what comes naturally.
Our property is a regular herpetarium. We have wall to wall lizards ranging in size from tiny babies that have hit the ground running up to foot-long alligator lizards that can scare the heck out of you. We also have skinks, beautifully iridescent lizards with bright blue tails.
Fence lizards dominate, however. You can’t go outside without seeing dozens at this time of the year. They are fun to watch as they scamper across our yard in search of bugs. And they are even more entertaining when they try to impress another lizard by doing push-ups and puffing up their bodies to almost twice their normal size.
They are also quite curious. Or at least they seem to be. Anytime I am outside working around the house, they show up and watch me, often choosing a high perch for a better view. If I do something that chases them away, they’re back in a minute or two. The fellow below came out to watch me when I was building a brick planter around our yellow rose bush earlier this week.
I think we have seen all of one wren since Peggy and I moved here. But a couple of weeks ago, a pair showed up looking for a home. It was pretty funny. The male wren, it turns out, is responsible for house hunting and nest building. The location may be a tree cavity, a birdhouse, a drain pipe, etc. Even an old shoe will do in a pinch. Once he finds what he considers the ideal site, he fills it with twigs and invites his lady love over to check it out. She’s the one that makes the ultimate decision about his nest finding abilities. I can see where she might be concerned if he has picked an old shoe. The poor guy may find himself building 3 or 4 nests before she finally says yes.
I think ours must have been on number four— or maybe five— when he showed her our bird house. He seemed very eager, or maybe he was nervous, like a real estate agent about to close or lose a big sale. He talked and talked and talked. Finally, she hopped in to take a look. And immediately hopped out with a feather in her mouth that she spit out. I could almost hear the discussion. “You are trying to sell me a used house!” “No, no sweetie. Think of it as an already feathered nest.” Whatever he said, she went back inside and came out with another feather. This time she ate it! Apparently that meant yes because the little guy started hopping around and talking twice as fast. Then he zoomed off to pick up some grass to add to the nest. Soon, they were both busy at work.
I’ll close today with a few more photos of the deer herd. Do you remember when I did the post on young buck and his fearless leaps over a wall and a fence to get at our honeysuckle and native shrub garden? Well, it turns out he isn’t so young…
Peggy and I were sitting in our library downing an English muffin and a bowl of fruit on Friday morning when a movement outside caught my attention. A fox was climbing our eight-foot deer fence after a Stellar jay that was hassling it. Once again we found ourselves in a zoo looking out from our comfortable cage. The fox climbed down, made its way through our shrub garden, and climbed under the fence. I took this photo right after it climbed under the fence.
Given its reddish color, my first thought was red fox, but its black capped grey tail and climbing ability quickly identified it as a grey fox. Grey foxes are the only ones that climbs trees (and apparently deer fences). They have even been known to raise their families in tree dens high above the ground. We catch glimpses of them occasionally on our property but normally they are secretive. One time, we watched a doe stalk one, following along behind, carefully raising and placing each hoof. That was neat.
My guess is that they have a den (or dens) on our property. The male and female raise the kits together. For the first couple of weeks the mother tends to her babies while the male hunts and supplies food. Our experience is that they form a close bond. A few years ago a fox was run over on the highway below our property. Each night we would hear its partner howling down on the road. Only when I went down and buried the fox did the howling end.
Having enjoyed the fox, it was only appropriate that we would see a coyote as well. We met up with it last week as we were hiking in the forest behind our house. It seemed as curious about us as we were about it.
This is hot off the press, and it isn’t about Covid-19. Woohoo! I was skimming through Apple News this morning and I came across an article that bumble bees bite plants. How could I not read the article? Had the plants somehow irritated the bees. Was there a bee-plant war going on? No, there wasn’t a war. The bees depend on the pollen from the plants for their survival. But they were irritated. The plants weren’t blooming and providing the pollen. So the bees bit the plants to speed up the process. Apparently it cuts two to three weeks off the wait period. I rushed outside to see if I could spot a bumble bee biting a plant. No luck, the flowers were already blooming. I did catch a couple of photos of bumble bees harvesting pollen, however. I conclude my post with them. Bzzzzzzz.
NEXT POSTS: Tomorrow I’ll take you window shopping in Venice. Thursday: Part 2 of nature tales. Among other things, you will meet a Buddhist lizard.
I’ve been avoiding writing about Covid-19 directly. There is more than enough out there without me adding my two cents worth— to say the least. But an incident happened to Peggy and me the other day when we were out shopping while wearing our masks that deserves a brief post.
Peggy and I were shopping at Home Depot a couple of days ago, buying what I needed to make a gate for our shrub garden. We had worn our face masks while we shopped and then worn them back to the truck while we were loading our purchases into the back. A man in his 60s was parked next to us and digging through his car trunk. It was stuffed to the brim and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned or organized in 10 years. He spotted us and quickly started sifting through the mess and came up with a black sweatshirt. He held it over his nose and mouth and pretended to shoot us.
Peggy was stunned and I was angry. I was sorry I didn’t have my black cowboy hat along so I could slap it on my head and pretend to shoot him back.
But I didn’t have my hat and wouldn’t have done it anyway. What we don’t need during this pandemic is more tension and confrontations. For all I knew, he had a gun in his trunk and may have pulled it out. It was probably an irrational fear— odds are, he was just being a smart ass— but people have been shot lately over the mask issue. And I thought of the armed men who invaded the Michigan Statehouse a couple of weeks ago demanding that the state be reopened. People marching around with military-grade, semi-automatic weapons and screaming, or just standing silently, are scary. And they mean to scare us and to intimidate us. They aren’t freedom fighters, or true patriots, or heroes; they are bullies.
The real heroes are the men and women working in hospitals and serving as first responders in the fight against Covid-19.
We all want to see America up and running again. We all want to see the world up and running. It has to happen. The point is: It can be done in a reasonable and relatively safe way. We have all the information we need. It involves widespread testing, identification of those who have the disease, voluntary isolation with support, and tracing the contacts of the people with Covid-19. For the effort to work effectively in the US, it needs to be carried out on the national level with national funding. A small portion (estimated around 5%) of the two-plus trillion dollars voted by Congress for economic relief will cover the cost. Countless lives saved and a healthy economy will be the likely results. With true leadership, we can return to a relatively normal life while we wait for the more permanent solution of a vaccine. Prevention works.
Peggy and I have found a number of ways to maintain our sanity and sense of humor in this time of Coronavirus. I will share a few today. We laugh a lot. If that doesn’t work, there is always wine!
Number 1: Catching ground squirrels. In the world of dastardly rodents, few are more dastard than the ground squirrels. We have a catch and release program. Of course these criminally inclined rodents steal birdseed, but that isn’t what gets them banned. They can chomp though a garden faster than Superman can leap a tall building. And even worse, they see nothing wrong with climbing up in our vehicles and chewing on wires! “Some fun,” they think.
Number 2: Learning about nature.We took you on a nature walk in our last post, so there is no need to dwell on it here. I did want to share one more thing, however: How to spot deer beds. I’m pretty sure it is a critical skill.
Number 3: Working puzzles. While lots of businesses have suffered during this pandemic, I can pretty well guarantee it hasn’t been the puzzle industry. It there is one item hotter than toilet paper, it’s puzzles. Peggy is the addict in our family. I’ll put in a piece on occasion, but mainly to show support. She sits down and there isn’t a peep for an hour. If she disappears, the first place I look is the puzzle table.
Number 4: Watching flowers grow. Our flowers are deliriously happy. Normally, they just get started and off we go on another adventure. They would turn us into the SPCP, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants— if we gave them access to a phone. Not this year. I’ve put in 10 new trellises and moved at least 11.32 tons of dirt and rock— as least it seems like it. I’m the muscle in this operation. Peggy is the gardener. She is out every day futzing with her babies: planting them, talking to them, and watering them. We both work at trying to keep Buckus leapus out.
The four activities listed above are only the beginning of how we have maintained our sanity and sense of humor during the age of coronavirus. Here are a few other things we do while ‘sheltering at home.’
I’ve eaten rattlesnake but it has never been a part of my regular diet. Nor do I eat rattlesnakes whole or squeeze them to death. The California kingsnake regards this as normal behavior. They are said to have the strongest constriction power of any snake of similar size and can eat another snake almost as big as they are. (You wouldn’t want to meet one the size of a boa.) I assume they also use this ability on the other prey they like to eat including rodents, birds, lizards, and frogs. One valuable attribute that they have in relation to eating rattlesnakes is that they are more or less immune to the venom. A final tidbit I picked up in my research: The guys win their lady’s love by vibrating rapidly. I wonder if this leads to a shaky relationship.
We weren’t looking for the snake. Peggy and I had hiked up the mountain to check out some possible cougar scat (poop) and see if anyone was home at the bear cave. We were also looking for other signs of wildlife and anything else that caught our fancy— like the weird trees and pretty flowers I have already shared. I am sure that you are thinking now, “Oh joy, Curt is going the share poop with us.” And you are right.
But first the bear cave. It isn’t that we have ever found a bear in it. But it looks like a bear should live there and we found bear tracks in the snow heading toward the cave this past winter. As you may recall, Peggy refused to walk over with me to check it out. This time we found fresh bear scat on a trail up the mountain nearby and Peggy immediate burst into song, The bear went over the mountain. I told her it was wishful thinking, that maybe the bear had come down the mountain. None-the-less, we checked out the cave and no one was home. Peggy insisted that I throw rocks inside just to make sure. I’ve never quite understood the logic of this. If I were a bear and got awakened from a deep sleep by a rock, I’d be grumpy. I’d come roaring out of the cave wanting to bite someone.
And now for the scat. Our fascination with it may have you scratching your head why— especially if you have a dog or a baby. The fact is, if you are interested in what animals are visiting your neighborhood or live in the wild areas you visit, scat is an important clue, and sometimes the only clue. Many animals are nocturnal and others have figured out that the less people know about their presence, the better off they are. Cougars fit into the latter category.
So what are we looking at. Given who lives in our area, I would say either a cougar, a coyote or a bob cat. The size, especially of the lower scat, suggests cougar. If it’s deer fur, as it appears to be, it is one more clue suggesting a cougar. On Wednesday we were hiking up another trail near our house, the Mule Mountain Trail, and definitely came across cougar scat.
NEXT POST: Other ways we’ve been amusing ourselves in the Age of Coronavirus
I ran out of time to do today’s post on our hike up into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest behind our house in search of bears, cougars and snakes. Oh my. The best laid plans of mice and moose— you know how that goes. There were chores to do. So, I decided to pull a post from 2014 I did on kayaking a small lake that’s about 8-miles from our home. I’ve blogged on Squaw Lake since. You may have seen photos but each trip is different. It is quite beautiful. Enjoy.
Since Squaw Lake is only a few mile from our home, we can easily head up there when we have a couple of hours to spare.
I don’t know if you kayak, but it is hard to find a more peaceful experience than kayaking on Squaw Lake. We hope to be back there soon. (Look for another post!) We are also planning a trip to Klamath Lake where you can follow ancient trails through the tules once used by Native Americans. That, plus the fact that large numbers of water fowl stop there in the spring and fall, makes it another favorite of ours. And finally, if you are ever in our neck of the woods, we would be glad to take you kayaking on Squaw Lake.
FRIDAY’S POST: The blog on our trip up the mountain, assuming I’m not distracted again!
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