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!
I am continuing my exploration of the wild side of our property and the surrounding forest by looking at deer behavior today. While I am not sure that it is amusing to the deer, it is amusing to us, except of course, when it involves their eating Peggy’s carefully grown plants. We try to maintain a sense of humor about that. Watching the deer, and all of the wildlife around our property, is also an education. That’s half the fun.
A buck is up at the deer block having a discussion about his right to eat first. It isn’t so much about eating as it is about dominance. If everyone agrees, he will have a few bites and be on his way. And then someone else will have the discussion. It works it way downward. This time, a teenage buck was chased off— rather dramatically. But it doesn’t end there. Buck number one is sent packing by buck number three, who has bigger antlers. Size matters.
I’ve watched a scene unfold several times where the dominant deer chases away the next deer in line, who immediately goes over and kicks the next deer, who goes over and kicks the next one, etc. until there isn’t anybody left to kick. The confrontations are rarely violent. They often end with a gentle tap— as long as the other deer gets the idea. Sometimes there is no confrontation at all, especially among families. And everyone lets fawns eat their fill.
Peggy and I usually don’t put up a deer block. We prefer that the deer behave like deer and eat plants. (As long as they aren’t ours.) But I do put up one when the moms are in their last stages of pregnancy. My reason/excuse is that it helps supplement their diet. But I confess, I like the fact that it encourages the moms to bring their kids by, not to mention all the action we get to see.
While the deer block is only up for a few weeks, our bird bath is open for business 24/7 year round. I’ve never seen a bird bathe in it (maybe we have dirty birds), but just about everyone stops by for a drink.
NEXT POST: More wilderness encounters and lore. Peggy and I hike up the mountain looking for cougars and bears and snakes while a small bird feeder provides more entertainment than either the deer block or the bird bath spring. It’s the law of the jungle out there!
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.
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