Saturday, January 2, 2021

Is 65 Really the New Elderly and Other Thoughts: December 2020

Sandhill Cranes with Mt. Diablo in the Background

During a normal December we travel to celebrate Dan's birthday, we have family gatherings, and we look forward to the new year. This year nothing has been normal since March. Because of the November surge in Covid-19 positive cases and new travel restrictions, we mostly stayed home. Dan got a nice dinner at home with chocolate cake instead of traveling. Maybe next year ... No family gatherings either as we didn't want to spread or receive germs. We sent Christmas and New Year's cards and exchanged texts and had What's App video conversations. 

More interesting was the ability to see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter as well as the birth of the newest Clark member. Sophie Clark was born at 8:55 am on the winter solstice (12-21-20) to my nephew Johannes and Amber. Sophie wasn't due until January 21, 2021, but decided she'd rather be one of the few good events that happened in 2020. She was 6lbs 4oz and mom and Sophie went home in time for Christmas. Looking forward to meeting my second grand niece in 2021.

At the beginning of December we had a photographically wonderful evening in Lodi watching sandhill cranes at sunset. Our friend, Janette Vine offered to meet us so we could follow her to the Sandhill Crane Reserve. The evening was still warmish and the sunset stunning.

We had several nice local hikes to see the last of fall colors and practice photography skills. The first hike was the Gerle Loop/River Trail loop.

Moonwalk at the American River

Chaz and Dan at Cronan Ranch's Down and Up Trail

When not hiking or walking our neighborhood, we were with our cats. Syd's hyperesthesia is less pronounced. He still has twitching episodes, but he seems to be able to limit his reactions. When he begins to have an episode, we all end up in the laundry room where we groom Syd on the washing machine which now doubles as our grooming table. 

Grooming immediately calms him. Never one to be left out, Pandora takes advantage of every opportunity to place herself next to Syd.

Two of the most obvious triggers are 1) not eating when he wants to eat, and 2) the great outdoors. The first one is a problem even though I feed him on a regular schedule. Unfortunately, both cats are on diets. In the 2 months they have been suffering through reduced rations, there has been no detectible weight loss. Both cats lobby for more food long before their normal feeding times. One day this month Syd tried to help himself to treats stored on a pantry shelf 4 feet up. The treats now have been relocated to a cupboard above the refrigerator. Suddenly, the refrigerator has become very interesting to them. Every time it opens, they are there. 

Until Syd developed this condition, he loved going outside which he still wants to do. Unfortunately, each time we've taken him out, it proves to be a trigger. Neither cat is getting much exercise, and therefore, not losing weight.

I don't do much decorating for Christmas because we're usually away celebrating Dan's birthday. I do always make wreaths for our door. This year, we added an outside Christmas tree that we harvested from our woods and "planted" in a pot. I have given away most of our decorations, but I found Dan's collection of Mardi Gras beads and they were the festive touch the tree needed in these strange times.

A couple of years ago, some people (Baby boomers) said that 60 was the new 40 because many 60-year olds are in better shape than previous generations, blah, blah, blah. Age is supposed to be all in the mind. So imagine my despair when the New York Times published a calculator to determine where our  place in the Covid-19 vaccine line would be in California. I entered my info: age 66 no risk factors and saw that I my place was "You with 868k other elderly." I don't object to my place in line but do object to the term "elderly." I could rage a lot more about the implication of the term, but I won't. 

So, that brings me to the December stats for our County. The steep increase in positive cases began before Thanksgiving and has continued throughout December. In December positive cases more than doubled the number at the end of November. December brought 3,173 new positive cases bringing the total to 5,719 positive cases. At the end of November the total number of deaths was 4; at the end of December the total number of deaths is 24. Most of the deaths are in the 65+ (yes, elderly) category. On New Year's Eve there were 29 Covid patients hospitalized with 11 of those in the ICU. So much for the personal responsibility as practiced in El Dorado County.

I've seen crazy and thy name is Republican or so it seems with all the outlandish lawsuits brought by Trump supporters (do any of them actually have law degrees) alleging election fraud. But the current craziness so far is limited to 11 senate and house members plus VP Mike Pence. I had hoped that post Electoral College vote, all this weirdness would be done, but sadly it continues without regard for a population suffering due to job loss, housing loss, and Covid-19. To paraphrase Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), ambition has eclipsed principle.

We ended 2020 with our traditional New Year's Eve meal of cheese fondue and this year a Moldovan Sparkling Wine. We didn't wait up to usher in 2021, but went to sleep to dream of a safe and bright future with saner politicians.

Wishing all a happy, healthy 2021. Be safe!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better: November 2020

November began with a nod to Dia de los Muertos, the end of Daylight Savings Time, and a scheduled Biden car rally. We decided to have a downtown lunch to watch the scheduled Biden car rally motor down Main Street. Unfortunately the Biden campaign canceled their planned rally because of aggressive thuggery elsewhere by Trump fans in pickups. So instead it was Trump fans cruising Main Street with Trump flags on their vehicles. Their flags/signs had conflicting messages. There was "Keep America Great" while "Make America Great Again" was on the signs of those who were too cheap to buy 2020 signs. Flags with "TRUMP 2020 STOP THE SHIT" and "Trump 2020 FUCK YOUR FEELINGS" fly in El Dorado County. Flying Trump flag while wrapping yourself in an American flag is the antithesis of patriotic. The Biden rally cancellation was disappointing because we are a threatened species in this red-pink county. We were already on pins and needles waiting for election day. 

For Dia de los Muertos some Placerville Main Street shops displayed shrines inside or in front of their storefronts to honor those who have died. Main Street Yoga set up a comprehensive shrine honoring the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Yoga studios must be off limits for El Dorado rednecks because the flowers and photos set up outside were not vandalized.

Getting past Election Day didn't help allay the pins and needles. As the counting, recounting, lawsuits, and decision dragged on in the swing states, we were still holding our collective breath. The final, certified result in El Dorado County was 43.7% for Biden and 53.25% for Trump. There were 118,133 votes cast, and Trump won by 10,000 votes. 

For much of the month we returned to our cat walking/chaperoning chores and taking photos to capture the color changes fall weather was bringing to our yard. The sasanqua camellias began to bloom as did the very short-lived autumn crocus. While November was initially quite warm, we soon had a freeze that put an end to our tomato plants and dahlias.

Autumn Crocus
Oakleaf Hydrangea
Next month a flock of Cedar Waxwings should fly in to eat the toyon berries. This month we were delighted by multiple visits of a flock of Western Bluebirds. In all the years living here we've only had sporadic sightings of these chirpy bluebirds. A good omen?
Toyon (a California native)
Toyon with Orange Berries
Coral Bark Maple
Crimson Queen Maple
Purple Heart Redbud
Our backyard

Our rainfall season begins July 1 but our first rain of the season was just this month. On November 8 we had a short, pea-sized hail/snow storm that left the air fresh and clean. Our last rain was November 19. In total over several days we've gotten 2.01 inches rain plus snow in the mountains. Our precipitation is far behind what we received by this date last year and our normal average rainfall to date is over 8 inches. The weather service now advises that we shouldn't expect to see any rain through the end of the year. If January and February 2021 continue dry, it is going to be a very bad year for drought and more fire. 

On November 14 we took both Syd and Pandora to the vet for their annual checkups. The vet bluntly said both cats were fat. Pandora needs to lose 1 pound and Syd 2 pounds either through more exercise, less food, or both. Pandora is a little squishy around her midsection but Syd doesn't feel or look fat at all. Despite that, I complied by feeding each one 1/4 ounce less per meal for a total of 1/2 less food per day. Syd almost immediately began acting like he was starving but I held firm. Neither cat has adjusted their body clocks to standard time so they also start lobbying for dinner one hour early.

Then the next week, we weren't home by 5pm one night and Syd's dinner was three hours late because Dan and I had dinner with my brother and his family who live in Antioch. It must have been a perfect storm combination because two days later, Syd began having twitching episodes (rolling skin, manic grooming, hiding under furniture). Current triggers are going outside, watching birds through the window, and using the laser pointer inside. So now neither is getting any exercise. We returned with Syd to the vet for an unsatisfactory appointment and a diagnosis of Feline Hyperesthesia about which not much is known. 

Syd has always been so comfortable with vet visits. In fact, the vet was never able to listen to his heart because his purr was too loud. On the second visit, Syd did not purr. The vet did hear his heart and judged it normal as were the lab tests. 

Pandora looks delicate, but she is the unsinkable Molly Brown with a garbage disposal for a stomach. We are gradually transitioning Syd to an organic food, no seafood, no once-a-month Heartgard pill, and the vet thinks he shouldn't have his rabies shot next year. Right now both are indoor cats and no one is losing weight. 

When an episode begins, we gather Syd up, sometimes wrap him in a towel, hold him tightly, and begin grooming his head and neck until he starts purring. This seems to short circuit whatever impulses are happening with him. So far, he hasn't been aggressive with either us or Pandora. He just seems scared; we are on pins and needles. 

Sweet Syd

With family Thanksgiving dinner canceled, we were invited to an outdoor/patio heater Thanksgiving late lunch at the home of friends who were once our neighbors. In this year of social distancing that has turned into almost a hermetic existence, dinner and conversation with friends was just what we needed. 

For a post Thanksgiving meal I made a small turkey breast dinner for the two of us (cats were confined to the garage) with some of the wild rice we bought on our canoeing vacation in Ely, Minnesota.

This month we reactivated and quickly re-suspended our gym membership. We went a couple of times at less busy times, but as so few people at the gym wear masks, we decided it wasn't worth the risk. Without twice daily cat walks Dan and I have more time for walking ourselves.

Tis the season of deer mating and we've been seeing a number of large male bucks following does around. On one walk we spotted an 8-point buck (4 points on either side) stalking a disinterested doe. One evening when I was driving and also had my camera, I spotted another large buck and managed to get a photo of him in a neighbor's yard.Last week, at the end of a neighborhood walk, we spotted a tornado-shaped cloud at the end of our walk. I think it's called a tail created when cold air from above drops through a cloud layer and pulls the vapor with it.

A tornado-shaped cloud

In November, as our county was adjudicating our progression from the orange tier to the red tier and county supervisors were advocating for "personal responsibility" instead of mandates, the county zipped right into the purple tier. Needless to say, the county did not receive a pass on advancing to red because we were already in Deep Purple. 

There were 1158 additional positive Covid cases just in November. At the end of November our county had a grand total of 2,546 positive Covid cases, 9.5% positivity rate (8% moves the county to purple), 16 in the hospital (5 in ICU), no new deaths.

Trump is still fighting his loss to Joe Biden. I expect Trump will leave deep fingernail groves on the top of the Resolute Desk as he is jerked out of the Oval Office in January. BYEDON!!!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Rest of the Month: October 2020

Catching up was what I did in October. Catching up on housework, errands, appointments, writing my travel journal, and editing photos. I also had a several freelance photography assignments from the Mountain Democrat newspaper. 

Our dahlias were blooming profusely and both our lemon trees had ripening lemons. I harvested our butternut squash and pomegranates.

Syd and Pandora really seemed to miss us, and we had a lot of missed cat walks to make up.

It was still hot and still smokey when we got home. As the month progressed, temperatures finally moderated while advancing toward fall.

Because high winds were expected our electric company, PG&E, shut off our power, the power to around 38,000 households in El Dorado County, and about a half million homes in Northern California. We were lucky because we had barely a breeze at our house and power was off for just 20 hours.

While we were traveling, two more people in El Dorado County died of Covid-19. September and October, respectively, added 213 and 208 new positive virus cases bringing the grand total to 1388 positive virus cases.

Back at home it was same-same, making bread, and still anxious about the election.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Road Trip Part 5, Heading Home: September 29-October 4, 2020

Mural in Shiprock, NM

From our overnight in Albuquerque we headed toward Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado first stopping at Malpais National Monument, New Mexico, just to see what it had. The "ranger in a glass box" directed us to La Ventana Arch. The photo he showed us captured the separation of the arch from the rocky background. When I got to the arch I discovered that in order to get the separation, we had to go beyond the fencing and scramble up rocks for that shot. As I was scrambling up the slope I heard a guy below tell his kid, "what that woman is doing is very dangerous." I didn't want to find myself an example of what not to do, so I stopped.

La Ventana Arch at Malpais National Monument

In Shiprock, New Mexico, even though it was midday and hazy, we found a closer position to photograph the enigmatic Shiprock formation. As we resumed our travel northward, I stopped to photograph a colorful Beware of Covid-19 mural shown above.

We arrived at Mesa Verde late afternoon. It's a long, slow drive from the front entrance to the sights within the park. Along the way there are signs identifying the name of and date of past fires that have ravished the land.

The light had faded by the time we got to some of the cliff dwellings. As we turned and headed out, the full moon was rising.

We checked into the quirky, cheerful Retro Inn in Cortez, Colorado. Each morning they gave us a bag lunch of snacks, water, and breakfast burritos (to be heated up in the in-room microwave) which made it very easy to get to the park early and stay late.

The construction of the Cliff Palace occurred between 1260-1280 CE. The dwellings were inhabited for one to two generations before being abandoned. 

Square Tower House
View of Cliff Palace from the other side of Cliff Canyon
Panorama of the Cliff Palace from above

National Park Service information states:

Sometime during the late 1190s, after primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, many Ancestral Pueblo people began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms. While still farming the mesa tops, they continued to reside in the alcoves, repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms for nearly a century. By the late 1270s, the population began migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended.
Spruce House

The Spruce House has been closed to visitors for several years because the right side of the ledge is not well supported so the entire ledge is slowly falling. 

The 3-mile loop Petroglyph Trail begins below the Spruce House cliff dwelling along narrow paths gradually working its way up to the mesa above Spruce House.

Axe Sharpening Grooves
Cliff dwellers used stone for tools. Axe heads were made out of hard rocks, sharpening them by rubbing the stones on sandstone.

Wall of Petroglyphs

This eroded mountainside reminded me of Roman Coliseum Ruins

Our next night was in a B&B near the east entrance to Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way we detoured to Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. 

Our first stop was a hike to Sipapu Bridge which is 220ft/67m tall and 268ft/82m wide and involves descending/ascending 3-4 ladders, polished sandstone, and flights rock steps. Bridges are formed by the erosive action of moving water. Standing under the bridge the bridge looks too narrow and fragile for its span of 268ft.

Leaving Natural Bridges, we continued north on scenic Highway 95 crossing over the Colorado several times.

We still had light when we arrived at the eastern entrance of Capitol Reef so we kept going into the park to see petroglyphs. From 600 to 1300 CE Fremont Culture people made their home at Capitol Reef. This panel has anthropomorphous and bighorn sheep. Some petroglyphs have been lost as panels of sandstone crack, erode, and fall.

We checked into our room at a B&B in Notom just in time to see the sun setting. The view is toward the Golden Throne in Capitol Reef.

The next day Capitol Reef had smokey, hazy skies. In the morning we hiked 1.8 mi round trip to Hickman Bridge a 133-ft natural bridge.

We drove the scenic drive taking photos of fascinating geologic features along the way.

Smokey view from the Goosenecks Overlook

We began the long drive to Ely, Nevada for our last night on the road. Skies and air continued to be disappointingly smokey at this point and continued all the way back to our house.

Wind Power and Smokey Skies in Utah
It was quite cold overnight in Ely, Nevada, but we got going early because we were headed home. Just west of Ely on Highway 50, we passed a guy slowly headed east riding a Segway. There was an advance car in front of him and a chase car behind. 

We had lunch in Fallon, Nevada, at The Running Iron Cafe. When we got there, tri tip slabs were being smoked out back. Masks were optional for staff, but lunch was fabulous. It is almost worth making the trip there just to eat lunch. In our 34 days of traveling, we haven't had many meals worth raving over, but this one certainly was.

Along Highway 50 in Nevada west of Ely

We got home just in time to feed Syd and Pandora their dinner. It was good to be home, but if we didn't have appointments to keep and cats, we might have kept driving a few days longer. In total our road trip loop logged 7300 miles.

Unlike our time around Salt Lake City in the north, masks were mostly non-existent in southern Utah. There were no masked workers at restaurants, at the visitor center in Blanding, or even at the B&B we stayed at in Notom. As I write this journal, we've been home almost one month. We are well. Except for our family visit in Arkansas we were masked or socially distant from others. At this point in time, North Dakota, Utah, and many of the other states we visited are on the list of top 10 hotspots for Covid-19 cases per capita.

I look forward to more road trips and eventually more travels abroad.