Thursday, December 2, 2021

November 2021

November brought glorious fall weather and fall color. It is bird migration season for our area so we had a couple of trips to nearby birding locations. The mute swans (not native to North America) were hanging out at Bass Lake in Rescue, California. Also present was a black swan, native to Australia, who probably escaped from someone's bird pond collection. He's been coming to Bass Lake a couple of years. Unfortunately, he was too far into the lake to get a decent photo.

We visited the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. We saw a couple of red-tailed hawks and a group of Long-billed Curlews (rarely seen inland) manically hunting for food in the marsh area. I relish the peacefulness of birdwatching and trying to identify them.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (dark morph)
Long-billed Curlew
Thanksgiving Day on our way to my brother's house in Antioch, we stopped in at Cosumnes River Preserve for more birdwatching. In the far distance we could see Sandhill Cranes in the fields and also at the preserve. Up close in the marsh areas, there were cinnamon teal, beautiful male pintails with their blue beaks, black-necked stilts, and greater yellow-legs.

Northern Pintails and a couple Northern Shovelers
Thanksgiving at my brother's home was wonderfully calm. The main chefs, Leonard and Kristin, made turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, retro jello salads and the rest of us filled in with side dishes and desserts. Everything was so very good, and there were leftovers to take home.

Leonard carving the 24 lb turkey
Kristin working on gravy preparation
Crimson Queen Maple peaked early this November
One of our fall-blooming camellias (camellia sasanqua) outdid itself this year maybe because of the October rain. It is about 30 years old and about 20-feet tall. We've never had so many flowers on it.

There was lots of walking of/or sitting with cats.

Pandora thinking twice about swatting a Bumblebee
The huge pile of brush is gone for this year. The tree trimmers came on a rainy November day to remove the dead tree next to the house and transformed the huge brush pile into a relatively small mound of wood chips.

A few evenings ago, I decided to walk our two cats by myself while Dan was elsewhere. Syd is easy, but Pandora is definitely an Explorer drifting from place to place. She decided to explore the roof of the porch. 

I had a few more fun freelance assignments for our local paper. The last one was the Christmas Tree lighting in Downtown Placerville. Main Street was closed to traffic and the area around the Christmas tree was packed with people. I had to hold my camera arm's length above my head to get photos. Here are some of my favorites:

Main Street with the Bell Tower in the background
Yes, snow. The city turned on a snow-making machine as the tree was lit
The Official Placerville Christmas Tree with fewer people around it
Christmas Tree Lane along Highway 50 at Placerville
The Christmas Tree Lane tradition on Highway 50 as it travels through Placerville began in 1971. Each year the Christmas Tree Growers Association donates cut trees to be decorated. Trees are assigned to El Dorado County residents through a lottery system. Interested persons must submit their application in October and the lottery is November 1. 

Covid continues at a high rate in our county. The cumulative total of positive cases and deaths at the end of November is 16,609 and 169. The cumulative total of fully vaccinated persons is 56.3%. Some residents are protesting mask/vaccine mandates for school children, and now there is the Omicron variant and waiting for more bad news.

And, indeed we have had bad news. Three friends died in the last 8 weeks. First, Stephen Proffitt, a 67-year old minister in Springfield, MO, died October 6. He and his wife Berna were at one time my mother's pastors in Sacramento and my mother loved them like they were her children. When my mother died in 2017 it seemed like the church she was attending was falling apart and although all her life my mother had visited the sick and often acted as a hospice person for the dying, not one church person visited her when she was hospitalized. I contacted Steve and Berna who graciously came to support us and conduct a burial service on the rainiest day in 2017. In those few days together, I came to love them as well and am eternally grateful for their comforting presence. Steve will be missed by so many people whose hearts he touched. He was a wonderful listener and advisor.

This month brought the deaths of two more friends. The first was my friend and photographic mentor Jim Ginney. Jim was my second photography teacher so long ago when we had film processing and darkroom printing to discuss. That friendship and mentorship continued through digital, and in fact, I took a digital processing class from him at the local community college. He had a wonderful photographic eye, and I often relied on his eye to improve my photographs. He was generous always. In my early student years when I really didn't know what I was doing, he bought some of my not very good photographs. It was a kind, supportive act of a generous man. Jim, 79, died November 21, 2021, just five months after receiving a stage-four cancer diagnosis. His passing leaves a hole in my heart, but my memories of his thoughtfulness will remain. And, every time I have an espresso, I’ll think of you Jim.

The last death was a lawyer friend of Dan. Clyde Blackmon was a long-time defense attorney whom Dan respected greatly for his fairness and competency. Clyde was in hospice care at his home and for several weeks Dan had been stopping in to visit him. On his last visit, the day before Thanksgiving, I came along. Clyde was no longer able to speak but while Dan visited, I chatted some with his wife. She was planning a friends and family Thanksgiving because Clyde had said Thanksgiving was his favorite day. He wanted to once again smell the foods and hear the talk on that day. He did have that chance. He died the day after Thanksgiving.

So that was our November 2021 almost 2 years into the pandemic. Regardless, Dan and I are headed to Costa Rica for 11 days in December to celebrate his December birthday. We are traveling and enjoying life while we can. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

While At Home: October 2021

The first several days of October still felt like the summer with lingering smoke in the air and continued worry about additional wildfires. Then we had rain and everything changed. Fresh air, fully contained Calder Fire, cooler temperatures, and fall color. October 2020 we had zero rainfall but this October we had a total of 8.82 spread over nine days of the month. One of those storms was an atmospheric river that dumped 5.49 inches in a 24-hour period. 

On October 2, my friend Chaz and I participated in the Women's March for Reproductive Rights in Folsom. One year after RBG's death there is still a large hole. We miss her and "We are Ruth Less."

We had a week mid month in southwest Texas. Texas seems like a poor choice of a travel destination for someone who just participated in the Women’s March for Reproductive Rights, but Dan was jonesing because it had been a several weeks since our last travels. So off to El Paso which was a blue county in the 2020 election. We did have a great week hiking, exploring, and seeing a place where a border wall cannot possibly be built.

On the 30th Dan and I drove 81 miles east to Esparto to attend the last 2021 Art and Ag event in Yolo County. This one at Grindstone Vineyards (so named because the patriarch told his kids to keep their noses to the grindstone). The skies were filled with beautiful clouds which is something we have been missing. We ended the morning event tasting wines.

A pomegranate tree near the tasting room. A new vine vineyard and the coast range are in the background.

The vines closest to the tasting room are young and still green because of their ongoing irrigation. Vineyards farther away and unirrigated have turned a rusty bronze color heading into fall.

To capture a reflection, I clomped my way through mud to a flooded (due to the recent rains) part of the winery. I wish I had been wearing hiking boots.

October was unusually busy both for us and for our county. El Doradoans were ready to mingle--closely with each other. Our local newspaper, The Mountain Democrat, gave me five event photo assignments this month. By far the most fun was the Main Street Halloween. When I had this assignment in 2015 it was 83℉. This year it was at least 20 degrees cooler and there were clouds.

Pain Elemental and Dome Slayers

And, Syd and Pandora in October

At the end of October, El Dorado County had a cumulative total of 15,849 positive Covid-19 cases and 155 deaths (10 of those deaths were fully-vaccinated persons). That is an increase of 910 positive cases and another 17 people dead. Fourteen percent of the total positive cases and 84% of the total deaths were those 65+. Very slowly our vaccination rate has creeped up to almost 55%.

The 2021 Brush Pile soon to be chipped

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Hiking in Carlsbad Caverns, NM, and The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX: October 22-23, 2021

The next morning there was little obvious evidence of the prior night's storm. The Rio Grande did have a bubble of about four times more water than the river had when we visited two days before and residents of the area were thankful that there was rain to catch in their water tanks.

On the way to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, we drove through Marfa for a very short drive by tour of various concrete art installations. From within our bus, it didn't look like any were worth spending time on. Outside of Marfa we did stop at the never open "Prada Marfa" building. Prada Marfa is just outside of Valentine, Texas, on one side of US Highway 90 and railroad tracks are on the other side. That's it, nothing else. According to the Atlas Obscura website: 

The brainchild of Berlin-based artistic team Elmgreen and Dragset, Prada Marfa was meant to be a “pop architectural land art project.” Built of a biodegradable adobe-like substance, the building is meant to slowly melt back into the Earth, serving as a surrealist commentary on Western materialism. Interesting, then, that Miuccia Prada herself was consulted on the project, handpicking the merchandise for the store’s interior and allowing Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Prada logo. Costing a sum total of $80,000 - or, put another way, about 40 Prada handbags - Prada Marfa’s grand opening occurred on October 1st, 2005, and the perplexed press spread the news all across the country.

With all the press coverage, it was only a few days before vandals converged on the site, breaking the windows, looting the store, and graffiting the walls. Elmgreen and Dragset came in and repaired the building, but this time around they’ve taken precautions: all of the store’s Prada wares are heavily alarmed, and stronger windows have been installed to protect the interior from forced entry. Additionally, the handbags have no bottoms and all of the shoes are right-footed. While the vandalism might be the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to Prada Marfa, the site still gets thousands of visitors a year, despite Route 90’s low traffic flow.

Most people buy the artists’ story, but a few vocal dissenters have flooded the internet with conspiracy theories. Some even argue that Prada Marfa is a trap set by aliens meant to attract potential abductees. Visitors beware.

Fortunately, we were not abducted and drove on to hike in Carlsbad Caverns.

The Descent into Carlsbad Caverns
Once inside the caverns the artificial lights gradually decreased in intensity to allow our eyes to adjust to almost total darkness. Visitors are instructed to keep their voices low or not talk because the sound carries easily in the caverns. At times, Dan and I felt we were the only ones inside. It was fantastic and the shapes were also fantastic: stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, lily pads, brimstone dams, popcorn formations, and helictites. 

We hiked The Big Room Trail in Carlsbad which is 1.5 miles and an easy 30' elevation gain. This trail follows the perimeter of the cave's largest room of 8.2 acres.

In some areas the formations were as intricate as the exterior of a Thai temple. Some of the "figures" looked like Buddhist sculptural figures especially with the "lily pads."

We overnighted in Carlsbad and the next morning headed back to Texas. Our hike on this last day was The McKittrick Canyon Trail in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park of Texas. The hike was a moderate 6.8 miles with a 300' elevation gain. We walked below the Capitan Reef mountain which was once part of an ocean reef (now a fossilized reef), along a spring fed creek through desert areas, and into a canyon woodlands ecosystem. We ate our bag lunches at the Grotto and headed back to the bus.

Hiking one of the dry stream beds with Capitan Mountain overhead
Deciduous trees were just beginning to show some fall color.

The Grotto
Our last overnight was the return to El Paso where the next morning we caught our flight back home. 


This, Hiking at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns, was our first Road Scholar trip. We thoroughly enjoyed our guides Erin Little and Joe Landreth and the knowledge they shared with us. I liked how varied this itinerary was as well. It was well organized and low stress. With Erin and Joe, there were just 12 of us on this tour.

Erin and her twin sister Erica Little own Big Bend Boating and Hiking Company in Terlingua. They can arrange float trips, canoeing, rafting depending on the depth of the river, hiking, day trips, backpacking trips. 

During our bus journeys when the scenery wasn't spectacular, Erin and Joe put on various DVDs that complemented the areas history. One of the most interesting for me was The River and The Wall. Five friends by bike, horse, canoe, hiking follow the Rio Grande as it flows from El Paso to the Gulf. The scenery is stunning, the wall not so stunning, and while the interviews are of ranchers, residents, environmentalists, farmers who are against the wall their opinions are valid and their voices need to be heeded.