Today, Peggy and I continue our ‘walks on the wild side,’ which are a primary form of entertainment for us while sheltering at home. Our local spring wildflowers provide the focus but I couldn’t help adding the rosebush that came across America in a wagon train.
Our common names for flowers are often amusing. Hound’s tongue and elegant cat’s ear certainly are. But they can also be confusing. For example, one of the flowers I will feature today is Oregon grape. It isn’t the plants only common names, however. I found one list that included holly-leaf barberry, mountain grape, Oregon grape holly, Oregon barberry, blue barberry, creeping barberry, holly barberry, holly-leaved Berberis, holly Mahonia, Mahonia, Mahonie, scraperoot, trailing Mahonia, Uva de Oregon, Vigne de l’Oregon and water-holly— in addition to Oregon grape— for a total of 18 different names! Probably the best physical description is Oregon grape holly, but the plant is neither a grape or a holly. Nor is it found only in Oregon. It’s easy to see why botanists depend upon the plants scientific name, Mahonia aquifolium. Or is that Berberis aquifolium? (Grin) There even seems to be some debate over its scientific name!
I started out mis-identifying hound’s tongue. I thought it was a forget-me-not— lots of pretty little blue flowers lighting up the day. I even had an old rant of mine prepared for today’s post. Legend has it that someone in Europe fell off a cliff or drowned in a river while clutching the flowers. His final act was to throw throw them to his lover while yelling, “Forget me not!” My experience with the plant is that when it goes to seed, all of its pretty little flowers turn into hundreds of obnoxious burrs that end up on your pants, socks and shoe laces! They are extremely hard to brush off and leave numerous stickers in your hands. Once you have had this experience, you never forget the plant.
My apologies to hound’s tongue (Adelinia grande), who apparently only wanted to lick me. (Kidding on the latter.) It gets its common name from its leaves that are said to look like a hound’s tongue. They can be found along the west coast of North America from British Columbia to California.
And now, for the rest of the flowers:
On Monday… We are going to check out the bear’s cave to see if anyone is home and visit with some of our local wildlife, or at least check out some of the signs they left behind! Who ate the turkeys? Who ate our baby Douglas fir? Who left the fur-filled scat (non-scientific name: poop) behind. And that’s just the beginning.
Peggy and I are continuing to hike around our five acres and the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest that abuts the back of our property. It serves as a form of entertainment and exercise during our ‘sheltering at home.’ On Monday I featured white oaks with personalities. Today I had picked out ten flowers to feature but the California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) growing down our hill in ever-increasing abundance demanded their own post. These guys produce a gazillion seeds (something like 100,000 per ounce) and are a bit aggressive. Since they are invading territory previously occupied by star thistle— in serious competition for being the world’s most obnoxious plant— we encourage them to invade away. Go, poppies, go!
Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies…
Remember this rhyme from your childhood? London Bridge is falling down. I don’t remember anyone telling us the grim story behind it in the second grade, but it isn’t totally irrelevant today. The ditty was created during the time of the plague and the rosy was a red spot on a person’s body that indicated that he or she had caught the dread disease. A pocket full of posies were a pocket full of flowers and herbs that the individual hoped would keep the disease away.
The posie evolved into a small bouquet of flowers that could be warn in a person’s hair, fit into a lapel, or placed on a dining table. I’ve further adapted it to mean all flowers. Thus, pretty poppy posies. It’s good for alliteration. As for the plague, if our California poppies want to keep covid-19 away, we won’t complain. They are, after-all, said to have several positive medicinal benefits including managing pain, anxiety, and insomnia, which sounds pretty good, given our present pandemic.
If this also sounds like heavy-duty drugs, you might recall that the California poppy’s distant cousin, Papaver somniferum (which translate as the poppy that brings sleep) is the opium poppy. Derivatives of opium include morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and heroin. Used properly they bring relief from pain. Used improperly, they are all sorts of bad news. Just think of the hassles that Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto had when they crossed over the opium-poppy field to get to the Emerald Palace. Snore. Fortunately Scarecrow and the Tin Man didn’t suffer the affliction.
You’ve probably sampled the opium poppy. And I don’t mean that you are shooting up heroin. Its seeds are included in muffins, on bagels, in salads, etc. While the trace amounts of opium aren’t enough to get you high or lead to addiction — although I confess to an unnatural fondness for poppyseed muffins— they are enough to disqualify you for the Olympics or possibly get you fired since they show up in drug tests. “But Coach, I was just eating a poppy seed muffin.” Right.
California poppies don’t have the same package of alkaloids that opium poppies do, but what they do have is enough to discourage deer from eating them, which is the number one criteria for range-free flowers at our place. And that certainly seems to eliminate a lot of pain, anxiety and insomnia for us. So maybe the claims made by the herbalists are true.
But enough on that; it’s time for the pretty poppies posing part of this post!
FRIDAY’S POST: The rest of the interesting and gorgeous flowers that Peggy and I have found hanging out on our property and in the national forest.
Peggy and I continue to shelter in place and find ways of entertaining ourselves. One is to go for extended walks around our five acres and in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest that abuts our property. Naturally, I carry my camera on these daily excursions and look for things of interest. I’ve done several posts on these ‘walks on the wild side’ over the last ten years. It’s time for another one.
Walking is one way that many of us are dealing with our extended home-stays. One doesn’t have to live next to a national forest. A local park that is still open, the neighborhood— almost anywhere that is safe— works. It gets us out of the house and it’s great exercise. Looking for things of interest adds to the fun. Peggy, for example, is infinitely curious about what the neighbors are up to. She is constantly urging me to go on detours to find out.
As I was going through my photos last week for this blog, I decided I had enough material for three posts. It’s all about weird trees today. On Wednesday I’ll feature the spring flowers that Peggy and I have found over the past few weeks, including one on the endangered species list. Friday will be pure nature as in who is doing what. For example is a bear living in the bear cave? Peggy makes me throw rocks into the cave to check before we venture in. I’m pretty sure that all that will do is irritate the bear, but I accommodate her wish. And I am sure you will want to help us figure out whether a cougar, bobcat, or coyote left the scat (poop) we found full of hair. How could you not?
But first the trees. A few years ago I decided to do a inventory of what trees grow on our property. White oaks were the most common. I counted over a hundred. For the most part, these are handsome representatives of the tree world— standing tall while providing shade in the summer and a plethora of acorns in the fall. Just about everyone joins in the harvest, or so it seems: deer, tree squirrels, ground squirrels, turkeys, bears, etc. We watch the deer play human and stand on hind legs to reach beyond where their imagination normally takes them. Ground squirrels leave the ground and can be seen precariously perched in the highest branches while they madly chomp away with sharp incisors to free acorns before the acorn woodpeckers arrive.
But not all of the white oaks stand proud and tall. Some are stubby and twisted, and ancient— almost scary. A little horror music please. They look like they could easily fit into your favorite scary flick, or a fantasy movie, or a nightmare. My post on last Friday where I featured gargoyles from Dubrovnik made me think of them. Here are some of our favorites:
When I was a child, I used to believe in the Easter Bunny who hopped around delivering brightly colored eggs to children all over the world. He was like Santa, magical, but he didn’t have a sleigh and flying reindeer. So he had to be very, very fast. I believed that he was a jackrabbit, which happened to be the fastest bunny I knew. So what if he was a hare.
As an adult, I sadly gave up the idea of one Easter Bunny. It would take hundreds, thousands even millions of bunnies to make all the deliveries. But why not. Given the proclivity of bunnies to make other bunnies, lots of other bunnies, it is completely feasible. So I now believe in bunnies, bunnies everywhere. I even found one of their bunny production facilities. A few years ago I was traveling up the Northcoast of Oregon and came to the town of Tillamook. You may know it for its cheese, or even better yet, its ice cream.
I pulled into an RV campground and found enough bunnies to easily handle the city and surrounding countryside on Easter. I also noticed bunnies chasing each other around. I stopped one and asked one what was going on. “Are you blind,” he asked in amazement. “We are making more bunnies so the old fat bunnies can retire. They get nasty if they have to work too hard.” Oh,” I had replied.
NEXT POST: It’s another arm chair travel day as I head off to the lovely city of Dubrovnik.
I have several writing places around our property. In general, all that is required is a flat spot and a comfortable chair. And a view. Inclement weather normally calls for a more protected environment, preferably with heat. Thermometer-busting heat also sends me scurrying inside. This time with air-conditioning. I’m such a wimp. But the view is still required. As I mentioned on Friday, the variety has proven particularly valuable in the Age of Coronavirus. It helps counter the stir-crazy feeling of isolation.
It can’t decide whether to rain, or snow this morning. Blue skies are predicted for this afternoon and seventy-degree weather later in the week. It’s spring! I started writing this morning at 5:30 in the living room and then moved back to the bedroom at 7:00. Peggy, on occasion (2-3 times a week), likes to be served breakfast in bed. Who doesn’t? And she likes company. Nine a.m. is our limit for getting up and about, however, and I have now landed in the library.
Today I am going to take you on a tour of my favorite outside spots. I’ll start from the top and work down.
WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s off to Athens as part of my armchair series.
Word-smiths are able to handle seclusion better than most people. Self-isolation provides writers with the focus needed to craft sentences. At least that’s true for me. The smallest interruption in the middle of a creative moment and zap— it’s gone. And boy is it grumpy about coming back! Of course, life is full of interruptions. The phone rings. More often than not, it’s a spam call. I have won a free cruise. All I have to do is buy a time-share. Woohoo.
More common, Peggy has something to share. Nothing unusual about that. As a husband and friend, it is my duty to listen and respond— in a positive way. I think she wrote that into our wedding vows. We’ve been happily married for 28 years, so I guess I’ve passed that test. And vice-versa. But Peggy is also sensitive to my needs as a writer. She made me a small hanging quilt with two sides. The side with books on it means I am writing. It’s quiet time. She walks by and smiles at me while pretending to zip her mouth. The little devil. Or plants a quick, quiet kiss on my lips. No way I can object to that. Or brings me a cookie still hot from the oven. Now she just walked out to fit me for a coronavirus mask she is sewing. But, for the most part, she honors the sign.
I turn the quilt over when I am not writing as my part of the bargain. There are lots of things I do related to working on my blogs or books that don’t require the same concentration. Doing research and processing photos are two examples. Interruptions are okay, even welcome. Except for spam calls. I particularly like the kisses and warm cookies.
Like many writers, I discovered that I can also work in coffee houses. In fact, I like to. The noise of people talking becomes background, a form of white noise. It’s a way I can have human companionship while still being able to focus on writing. Plus, it gets me out of the house. When I lived in Sacramento, I would start my day with a 5-mile hike along the American River and then head for one of my favorite coffee houses for a couple of hours of uninterrupted writing. And then move on to another, and another.
It’s not so easy now. We live 30 miles from town, on the edge of being off-the-grid. Try as I might, it is really hard to justify making a 60-mile round trip into Medford so I can spend a couple of hours writing, or even several hours. Coronavirus has eliminated even that option. I make do here. It’s not hard. As most of you know, Peggy and I live on a beautifully wooded five acres with the Applegate River on one side and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on the other. Views of the Red Buttes, still covered in snow, dominate our views out the front. It’s a great place to write— or hide out from Covid-19.
My primary writing space is the library. I am surrounded by books and reminders of our travels for inspiration. The major attraction, however, is my window on nature. My chair turns so I can either stare at books or check the action outside. Right now, a pair of rosy finches are pecking it out over who gets first right to the bird feeder while two grey squirrels are chasing each other around and around a tree trunk. Love is in the air.
The downside here is that nature itself serves as an interruption! And the woodland creatures don’t give a hoot which way my quilt is facing. Of course, I can turn around or look down, but how do you ignore a deer looking in the window, or bringing a fawn by, or a pair of bucks fighting over who gets the doe. Or a whole herd coming by while I am working on this post…
The creature that wins the trophy for the most flagrant violation of my quiet time is a male flicker. These large members of the woodpecker family would normally win their lady loves by holding drumming contests on hollow logs. He who drums loudest wins fair maiden’s heart. You know how that goes. One particularly large fellow has discovered that drumming on our vents creates a noise louder than the loudest log. To us it sounds like someone is using a jackhammer on our roof. And the ladies gather round. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve discussed his obnoxious behavior with him— or lobbed pebbles in his direction— it’s rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. Over and over again.
But even here with all the beauty and wildlife to amuse me, I get restless. The need to wander is buried deep in my soul. Fortunately, there is a temporary solution. I’ve designated a number of different locations inside and outside as writing spaces. When I get itchy feet, I move between them. And that, my friends, will be the subject of Monday’s blog.
This coming Thursday we were flying out to Fort Lauderdale in Florida to climb on a cruise ship that was going to take us through the Panama Canal. There were to be stops along the way in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico. Peggy was super excited. She had lived in Panama in the late 70s BC. (The BC here stands for Before Curt. DC is During Curt. We are hoping to avoid the AC.) She wanted to see her old home at Fort Amador, to revisit where her daughter Tasha was born, and visit the Canal again.
I was equally excited. Just watching Peggy would have been enough. But Panama, Columbia and Nicaragua were new countries for me and I am always up for seeing new places. Cartagena has been on my bucket list for a long time. I figured I would get enough blog material to last up until summer! But it wasn’t to be.
We watched nervously as coronavirus made its way from China into other countries. Given the nature of the disease and its rapid spread, the President’s words that we had only 15 cases in the US that would soon number zero rang hollow. It seemed to us like it was time to gear up and get ready, not play down the danger. It was hardly rocket science, or so it seemed to us.
Nothing focused our concern more about the trip than people being stranded on cruise ships with a highly contagious disease. Countries were refusing to let them land. Reluctantly and sadly, we came to the conclusion that the trip wasn’t worth the risk and cancelled. A few days later Princess Cruise Lines cancelled all of its cruises. That’s how fast this pandemic has developed.
As my post goes up this morning, I expect that our Governor, Kate Brown, will issue the same stay-home order for Oregon that our neighbors in Washington to the north and California to the south have. Our trips into town will be limited to quick in and outs to buy groceries and other necessities. (And no, we aren’t hoarding toilet paper.) We will practice the same social/physical distancing and hand washing/use of sanitizers that people throughout the world now find themselves doing. And we will try ever so hard to avoid touching our faces. The mere thought of it makes my nose itch.
We are lucky in that we live on five acres out in the boonies with our property backed up to a million acres of national forest. Social/physical distancing doesn’t get any easier. Our property is excited that we are going to be around to give it more attention than in normally receives— and the star thistle is bummed that I will be around to yank it out by the roots. It’s a nasty plant that spreads rapidly like coronavirus, kills off native plants, and sucks up precious groundwater. I’ll probably do a blog on it. Woohoo. Also on my to-do list: go looking for Bigfoot. There’s a reason why the world’s only Bigfoot trap is located three miles from our house. And I may go searching for gold. Why not. An old gold mine is located a few hundred yards behind our house up in the forest. Maybe Bigfoot hangs out there. I’ll let you know.
And speaking of blogging, it is hard to imagine a more positive activity in these perilous times we are facing. For one, it is the ultimate in social/physical distancing. Two, it keeps me occupied. And three, most importantly, it allows for safe social interaction with a number of people I have come to consider as close, Internet friends over the past several years. So keep blogging, stay safe, and don’t scratch your nose.
NEXT POSTS: Still thinking about Wednesday. I may take you back to my journey down the Pacific Crest Trail, or off to Europe. Since travel is out, I have plenty of posts to remind me us of the how fun, interesting, and exciting travel there can be. Friday will be special. Peggy and I just made a trip up to Crater Lake National Park to see what it looks like in the winter. One word comes to mind: beautiful.
I figured the Devil had to cook with ghost peppers, and that got me excited. I like my food spicy hot and it doesn’t get much hotter. A tiny bit goes a long, long way, even for me. Lacking that, I thought I might at least find a churning, boiling sea like you find at the Devil’s Churn. Instead, I found a quiet, bucolic scene. Crooked Creek flowed peacefully out to the ocean.
But wait a minute, I thought. The Devil is sneaky, right. Maybe Crooked Creek was indeed crooked. Maybe it tricked people into crossing and then sucked them under with quicksand. With this in mind, I went seeking other subtle reminders of the Devil’s presence.
NEXT POST: The Wednesday Photo Essay. Four years ago in February, Peggy and I went for a ride on the Alaska Railway from Anchorage to Fairbanks with our son Tony and his family. Join us as we check out Mt. Denali and attend a world championship ice carving contest.
I was up on a cliff studying one of Washed Ashore’s sculptures made out of ocean trash when I heard the statement. It was a classic. The perfect senior moment! “Excuse me ma’am,” the young woman called, “do you know there is no dog on your leash?” I turned quickly. At 76 going on 77, I take notes on such incidents for future reference. Yes indeed, a bent, elderly woman was walking down the pathway holding a leash that was strung out behind her— without the dog. She turned, glared at the leash, muttered something, and stared back down the trail like Clint Eastwood on steroids. There came Fido (the name has been changed to protect the innocent), who was equally old in dog years, about 30 feet down the path, tottering along with no obvious desire to catch up. I could almost hear him chanting “Free at last, free at last,” as he stopped to smell the dog pee and dream of his puppyhood days.
With the help of the young woman, Fido was soon recollared and the three went on their way. As did I. But I wanted to write down the story down before it wandered off like Fido. And since I was still hanging around Bandon, I decided to show you more rocks today instead of the American River flowers I promised. I am sure you are excited. Plus, Friday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect day for flowers.
NEXT POSTS: I promise flowers for Valentine’s Day. On Monday we will visit the Devil’s Kitchen. Scary? We’ll see.
I dropped Peggy at the airport in Medford on Friday. She’s off to spend a couple of weeks in Virginia on grandkid duty while their parents make a quick escape to Mexico. “Please come Mom,” Tasha had requested while Clay had sent her first-class tickets. Hard to ignore that appeal. I was invited as well, but having just spent Christmas and New Year’s back east, I opted for a solo trip in Quivera the RV over to the Oregon Coast with plans for making my way south to Redwood National Park in Northern California.
That’s what I am up to now as I put this post together. I decided what better time to write about our coming travel/blogging plans for the year than when I am out traveling. I’ve just spent the past three days in the small coastal town of Bandon, which has some of the most impressive rock formations on the Oregon Coast. They make up several of the photos for today’s blog.
Travel-wise, we have a full year planned. 2020 started with our trip home on Amtrak from Washington DC, which I’ve already blogged about. This is trip number two. (Although it’s sans-Peggy, I’m counting it.) In late March, we are taking off for a 16-day cruise focusing on the Panama Canal. Peggy lived down there in 70’s for a while in her life before Curt. It is where Tasha was born. She has been wanting to get back there for a very long time. When I mentioned the possibility of the cruise, she jumped on it. Peggy’s sister Jane and her husband Jim are going along. In addition to Panama, we’ll be making stops in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico.
We plan to kick off our backpacking season with a 40-mile trip down the Rogue River trail. It is beautiful in spring and makes an ideal beginning of the season hike. Peggy turns 70 this year and wants to make sure she celebrates properly. She also wants to explore more of the Pacific Crest trail through Oregon this summer as well. I’ll plan a 70-mile trip to go along with her years and my 77. We also have a 7-day kayak trip planned.
The biggie in celebrating her 70th, however, is a 7-day Rhine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Bern. We’ve invited our children and grandchildren along and, needless to say, they are excited. We will be in the middle of our trip when Peggy has her birthday on July 5th. Afterward, we will pop over to France to spend several days with Peg’s brother John and his wife, Frances.
We have tentative plans to return to Burning Man this fall. That, of course, depends on our ability to get tickets in the BM lottery, never a sure thing. Throw in the fact that we will be in the middle of the Panama Canal with iffy internet connections when the lottery takes place, I am not optimistic.
Peggy is off on another cruise in September, this time with her sister Jane from San Francisco up to Victoria, BC, a girls’ trip. I’ll take advantage of it to drive Quivera south down through Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Carmel and Big Sur. I love that area and have been escaping down there since the 60s and 70s, when I used to camp out along the road in my VW van. It’s as close as I ever got to being a hippie.
October will be time to jump in Quivera and do another month-long exploration of the Southwest. This time we want to include Death Valley NP, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion NP, Bryce NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, and Arches NP. (This may be news to Peggy, grin.) After that we will be traveling east to spend the holidays with our kids. We are contemplating using Amtrak again, following different routes. Does that sound like enough for the year? Do you think I will have adequate material to blog about? Heck, I still have lots from last year? I never seem to catch up. Do you? And then there is the book I am writing…
I’ll conclude with a note of parental pride, if I may. Our son Tony just received the Coast Guard’s second highest award for coordinating the massive rescue effort the Coast Guard undertook in the Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian. The storm was a devastating category five hurricane with record-setting winds of up 175 mph. He and his fellow Coast Guard helicopter pilots spent 5-days more or less without sleep on the ground and up in the very dangerous air. The Commander of the Coast Guard and the Secretary of Homeland Security awarded Tony with the medal.
NEXT POST: It will be time for my Wednesday Photograph Essay. This time it will be mainly flowers I photographed along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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