For some time now, Steve and I have talked about identifying the oaks in our pasture and front yard. Turns out it’s a lot trickier that we thought. According to David Sibley, author of the Sibley Guide to Trees, there are 400 species of oaks worldwide, 90 of them in North America. Most are deciduous, some are evergreens. Oaks account for about half of the annual production of hardwood in the United States, and are used mostly for furniture and other fine carpentry.
Using Sibley’s guide, I determined we’ve got scrub oaks (and a variety of their hybrids), as well as canyon live oaks, valley oaks, interior live oaks, and coast live oaks. The photo above shows some of the leaves I used for identification, as well as an acorn (whose hat has since fallen off).
Just finished Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. That I read the book in two evenings — and looked forward to doing so — speaks volumes about its content. The jacket cover explains Still Writing by saying “Through a blend of deeply personal stories about what formed her as a writer, tales from other authors, and a searching look at her own creative process, Shapiro offers a gift to writers everywhere: an elegant guide of hard-won wisdom and encouragement for staying the course.”
I first met Dani at the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy, where she was teaching a workshop on memoir. I happened to have signed up for a short-story workshop, so I missed out on taking her class; however, after reading the common-sense and wholly reassuring vignettes in her book, I know I’ll find a way to work with her one of these days.
If you’re a writer — or thinking of becoming one — read this book. And then pick up Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Stephen King’s On Writing. They’ll get you on your way.
Steve and I bought a bat house yesterday at ACE Hardware. According to the BAT FACTS that accompanied the house, this small wooden box can hold 20-25 bats, which can easily catch over 20,000 insects each night.
Here’s Steve driving his putt-putt (I can never remember what it’s called…Go-Daddy?…Go-Cart?…Golf Cart?) into the pasture, where he’ll hang the bat house on an ancient gray pine.
Now he’s readying the ladder, preparing to hang the house approximately 10-15 feet from the ground, as directed on the BAT FACTS handout.
This pine lost one of its primary branches just before we moved in, and it’s not the prettiest tree in the pasture, but it’s got a nice southern exposure and it’s close to water, so it’s a suitable location.
Up goes the box; now let’s see what happens. (It takes up to 1.5 years to attract bats to a house. I don’t know if we can wait that long.)
Here’s a shot of Miner’s Ravine, which is low in early fall. After the first winter storm, however, it will flow like a mighty river. (Not really, but in spring we’ll see a wood duck or two, and that will make us happy.)
Here’s Steve and Donner in the whatchamacallit, driving the perimeter of the pasture. While we’re out here, we may as well check things out.
Skunk fur, which means the gray fox/bobcat/resident vultures had a tasty, if odoriferous, snack.
The goats follow us wherever we go, especially if Steve has almonds in his pockets.
Boo takes a page from Donner’s book: Photo-bomb 101.
Every winter one of the live oaks or gray pines toward the back of the pasture bites the dust. Here’s a stump that’s been decaying for decades — in springtime it’s covered with grass.
Critter cave at the bottom of said stump. DO NOT stick your nose in there.
The creek that cuts through the east end of the pasture is dry now (and has been, since August), but like Miner’s Ravine, it will roil again in winter.
We think these are skunk holes. Skunks like to dig for grubs, and we suspect that’s what they’re doing here — surprising, since their normal MO is to decimate the lawn in the front and back yards — I mean really tear things up.
As we round the corner nearest the house, we come to a goat canopy. Goats are browsers, not grazers, and will eat anything green within reach.
They’re also creatures of habit. This is Boo (again…I know), and if you look at the ground, you’ll see the trail that he and Starr walk every time they meander to/from the corral. Some of their trails fork, however, which means one goat is singing “You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll get to Scotland ‘afore ye.”
All that singing and high-roadin’ adventure makes an old gal thirsty…
…and while Starr drinks, Boo poses. Will someone please, please, please, take his picture?
Steve and I are members of the California Rangeland Trust (CRT) Legacy Council, and we’re delighted to share the news that Whole Foods Market selected CRT as the recipient of their “5% Campaign” for this fall. This means that on Wednesday, September 25, CRT will receive five percent of all gross sales generated in the 38 Northern California and Reno Whole Foods stores! This honor is due to the great partnership between Whole Foods and Panorama Grass Fed Organic Meats (Panorama’s founder and president is CRT’s emeritus director and past chairman, Darrell Wood).
In our area, the Roseville and Sacramento (Arden Way) stores are participating, so come out, graze the aisles at Whole Foods, and help protect the places where your food grazes and grows.
One of life’s great pleasures is feeding the goats each morning. Today it’s sliced peaches, apples, and half a bag of carrots.
Normally breakfast is a flake of alfalfa. Donner “helps” by grabbing a mouthful and carrying it to the corral. Today, though, their snack was a fruit bowl and so Donner wasn’t sure what to do. (I gave her a carrot to carry, but she ate it.)
Next we ring the breakfast bell…
…and Boo comes running.
He eyes the treats and strains to get at them, but I make him wait a bit. Starr is still approaching, and when she arrives, too, I divide the fruit, ensuring they each get equal amounts in their feeders.
Starr appreciates this, since it takes her longer to chew.
Trust me on this.
Meanwhile, Boo doesn’t even come up for air.
When we’re done feeding the goats, Donner and I plug in the fountain, so the house finches have water to bathe in.
And then one of us (I won’t say who) runs over to the pool and gets a drink, to wash the carrot down.
Every evening around six, Donner and I walk the perimeter of the Wren Ranch. I like to count the apples remaining on the tree, and tonight there were two. Two. The squirrels love apples, and begin to pluck them from the tree weeks before the red streaks are even faintly visible.
After I count the apples, I scream. Donner runs for the hills. Later, when I’ve collected myself and Donner has ventured back, we wander somewhat stiffly toward the flowers. This is an azalea; for some reason, it blooms in spring AND in fall. And by fall I mean October. I don’t know why this guy is so early…
…or why the lavender is so late. I harvested these plants in June, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a second run. But not this year. I’m actually holding three sprigs with my left hand here, and I’ll harvest these young buds too. Placed in a vase with a bit of Rosemary, they make a fragrant, calming bouquet.
Basil (above, far left), our 14-year-old Nubian, died last Monday. He’d been sick off and on for about a year, struggling with arthritis and a tumor in his belly. We had the vet out last fall, when he wouldn’t come out of the shed and join his twin brother, Boo, or our little Toggenburg, Starr (a/k/a Lady Baa Baa), in the pasture. I thought then we were losing him, but the vet checked him out, gave him some pain meds for his knees, and told us she thought he would rally.
And he did, for a while.
Then, two weeks ago, he discovered the birdseed I’d spread near the fence for the raccoons (the seed was full of ants, so I couldn’t put it into the feeders). Basil was bloated from all that gorging, so the vet came out again. She doused him with probiotics and mentioned the tumor in his belly, suggesting we let her know if it got bigger. She thought he would again recover. I kept an eye on him for the next few days, noting that when he followed Boo and Starr into the pasture, he wasn’t interested in browsing. And then gradually, he started hanging back. He wouldn’t nibble the grass or eat the hay or apples I offered. This went on for five days, and on day six, when I awoke, I didn’t see him with the other goats. I asked Steve to walk the pasture, to see if he was okay.
I watched from the kitchen window, expecting Steve to wave, say he’d found Basil, that “Brother Grimm” was standing near the creek. But when Steve walked toward the gate, gloves in hand, he looked deflated. I walked out to the porch to meet him. He said Basil was laying in the grass, and wouldn’t get up. “He let me pet him,” Steve said — code for: not good news at all. I called the vet, and she came out right away. She was quiet and respectful, and very kind to Basil. And though I couldn’t tell her then, I was grateful.
Sacramento author Jodi Angel is enjoying wild and well-deserved success, following the release of her latest story collection You Only Get Letters from Jail. She’s appearing at Stories on Stage — where actors read regional authors’ stories — on Friday, July 26. Jodi’s student, Deborah Meltvedt, is also appearing as an emerging writer.
Ron Carlson, author of At the Jim Bridger, said this about Jodi’s new collection: “…I was captured by the power of Jodi Angel’s fresh, uninsulated prose and I read toward the secret harm in each story like a man who has heard a noise in the other room. You Only Get Letters from Jail is a gripping collection.”
Particulars: Friday, July 26, 7:30 p.m., Sacramento Poetry Center, 1719 25th Street, Sacramento. Donation is $5; doors open at 7 p.m. Come early to grab a seat — the room will fill fast.
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to an interview with Stephen King on NPR. He was talking about his new novel, JOYLAND, which had just come out, or was about to. He mentioned that he had imagined a young boy in a wheelchair, flying a kite at the beach. How for some time he had wanted to write a novel about the boy, but hadn’t been able to — it wasn’t a story yet. And then one day he “looked” down the beach, saw an amusement park, and a situation came to mind.
The comment resonated, and so I pulled his book ON WRITING from the shelf. I’d read it years ago, and remembered thinking then that his advice to write without an outline wasn’t for me. But now, as I thumbed through the pages, smiling at the highlighted segments that had spoken to me back then, I reread the paragraphs encouraging writers to concern themselves far less with plot, and concentrate on situation, instead.
I wasn’t prepared to hear (or reasonably consider) this advice ten years ago, but I am now. I’ve got a character, a setting, and a situation, but no specific plot. And for the first time I’m ready to let go of my need to control, and allow the story to go where it will, to tell me what will happen.
Steve and I crawled into bed last night, eager to tackle the books we’re reading. Steve’s about halfway through A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT by Spike Van Cleve, and I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s WILD.
As soon as WILD hit the book stores, I knew it was something I’d want to read – it had all the elements that appealed to my outdoor sensibilities, and focused on a topic I was curious about: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. (I sometimes imagine myself walking across America, and have mentioned this to Steve, knowing it’s something I’ll probably only fantasize about, and never actually do.) But after reading a couple of Amazon reviews that put me off, I didn’t buy Strayed’s book.
Then, recently, I stumbled on an interview in Mourning Goats, in which Cheryl Strayed said she writes like a motherfucker, meaning she’s fierce, and pursues it all out. This resonated – hugely – and so I decided to set my reluctance aside, and order Strayed’s book. I’m about three-quarters of the way through, and while I find some of the author’s decisions frustrating and even outlandish, I admire her drive to push forward. All in all, the book’s a terrific read.
(As an aside, the little lump beneath the red comforter is our black Lab, Donner.)