Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yuletide gay.
~Ralph Blane~

Friday, August 10, 2012

Heat Wave II

One year ago today was the fire that almost took our house, animals and everything with it.
  A bewildering anniversary that still makes us nervous and jumpy.
 The memories of the drive back up to our house and the wonderful firemen who saved everything.
 The oddly beautiful color of the spot fires that kept appearing for days after...
And how we would hike down below the house with buckets of water to douse the never ending branches and logs that continued to burn.
 We would see smoke.
And rush to extinguish a small branch that continued to burn, as if it were alive and determined to find more... to reach our home... to destroy everything.
Finally all the fires were gone, but not the memories. I will always remember that day and having to run, leaving everything because there was no time... only escape... only a road to the top of the mountain, two corgis and so much fear.
A year has gone by and today we waited, and listened, and relived the fire. This evening we are still lifting our faces into the hot evening air for that smell of smoke... but it is not there... It's not there.


So we walked early this morning, the Prospector and I. We drove down to the main road, the river road. It was beautiful and amazingly cool in contrast to the hot afternoons. I forget how different it is to walk on the old river road. We don't have to worry about snakes in the grass.
As lovely as the dirt road above the house is, it's all about watching your every step and listening for certain sounds... being prepared at all times and being aware of any movement in the grass. But, the main river road is safe and we can see the rattlers coming.
Yesterday morning I did hike up to the well on my own walk. The Prospector had a small "encounter" the day before. He was putting a piece of plywood up on the west side of the well house to block the afternoon sun. The heat has been intense enough to do some damage to the exposed parts of the pump so he wanted to block the sun on one side. He was on a ladder and started hammering when he looked up and realized that the paper wasps had multiple nests under the eaves.
This is a scary proposition for my husband because he is allergic to bee stings. I would imagine that the whole scene of his retreat from the ladder and the dance he must have done to escape the wasps would have made a good You tube video but, luckily, he still has a good amount of agility (for an old dude) and he move away fast enough not to get stung by these rather defensive and aggressive bees. He did not , thankfully, get stung.
When I took these photos the morning after his encounter, it was cool. They didn't seems to be bothered by my presence. I was at a distance though. I have cropped these photos to show them much closer than I really was.
They were very busy and they were building a new nest (on the left). It's really quite amazing.
I think THAT ONE on the wood was watching me. It could have given a signal at any minute and I would have been toast... but for some reason it didn't. Maybe this small insect sensed my love for "all creatures, great and small" HA!
They didn't seem very interested in what I was doing... except for THAT ONE on the 2X4. I think he must have been the "guard" wasp. I know he was watching me.
I finally decided not to tempt fate any longer and stopped taking pictures.
I got stung the other day, in the garden. It was early and I was watering. I felt something crawling on me and I reached around with my hand to brush whatever it was off. It didn't like being touched and it stung me. . There is nothing like a wasp sting. They are intense.  I went into the kitchen and got an ice cube. That helped. Then I made a paste of baking soda and water. I packed that on the sting and the pain went away. This works well. I'm not allergic to bee stings, so this usually does the trick.
The prettiest thing about "morning" walks is the color. This is called "tombstone" rock here in the foothills.
Tombstone rock is metamorphosed volcanic rock that crops out in isolated slabs in the gold country. It is the product of undersea volcanoes 140 million years ago, now upended and changed by upward  mountain movement.
 A field of these slabs reminded early miners of a cemetery so they called the rocks "tombstone " rocks or "gravestone" slate. These rocks are very common in this area. Generally they are more gray in color but early in the morning when the sun comes up they are the lost gold of Amador County.
In the afternoon, yesterday, the temperature was 101 degrees on the front porch.
Nasty, beastly, horrible weather.
Today, the breezes died and the air stood still. The thermometer read...
Yes, folks. That says 108. You can hardly breath out there.
The tomatoes, the flowers and the pumpkins don't seem to mind this horrible heat. As long as we water them, they seem very happy. This is one of the etched pumpkins down in the vegetable garden.
They are getting huge. They love summer. I'm trying to be a happy pumpkin... but I'm not.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Heat Wave

The hot weather has struck again. In four days it will have been a year since THE FIRE. It is an ominous, overwhelming fear that doesn't pay heed to the old adage... lightening doesn't strike in the same place twice. I know that the odds of a fire happening again, near us, is slim but still....A fire did finally happen and it only takes one carelessly tossed cigarette, a simple act of stupidity, to spark a wildfire. Only one crazy person tossing one match, from a car window. It could happen again... in this same place.
Yesterday morning I woke up at about 5:45 a.m. The rooster was just starting to make a few attempts at crowing but he wasn't being very energetic about it. I could feel the coolness from the open window over my head. I knew that I wasn't going to fall back to sleep, so I quietly got up and closed the bedroom door behind me. The Prospector appeared to be a dead man sleeping so I left him to his dreams, slipped my tennies on, grabbed the camera and went out the door. I heard Carl say something from his crate, but it was a quiet remark like, "What are you doing up so early and where are you going?" He was content to put his head back down and wait for The Prospector. Carl was still in his sleep mode.
I went out the back door, let the cat out of the garage, went through the side gate and walked up the hill to the old orchard. It was beautiful. I watched for Rattlers, just in case one had decided to spend the warm night on the dirt trail. None had.
The sun was giving some distant hills to the east a lovely greeting.
I could hear a bird in the distance and  movement in the grass... some little resident going to tell others that a human was in their midst. I imagined this little creature moving through the glass, as quietly as possible, to warn his buddies of my presence. The sound stopped. Maybe he went into a hole of safety.
The sky was becoming... pinker, brighter and making ready for the day. Pretty soon the sun would come up over the Blue Mountains like a force to be reckoned with, bringing the heaviness of a hot day with it.
I  said hello to Maggie, who is buried on the hill and walked back down toward the house. It was still early and I couldn't hear the dogs, so I walked down the road to the switch back, a sharp turn on our lower road..
I heard a "meow."
It was Annie. She had followed me down the road and was making her presence known.
"Come on, Annie. Come kitty. What are you doing down here?" She meowed again and walked toward me.
Just then the sun came over the hills and the dry summer morning turned to gold.
Someone must have called the state of California "golden" because of this sunlight on the dry summer morning and not so much for the discovery of the veins of gold in the ground. Everything turned to gold and then...the shadow of Annie and I stood out against the rock hill.
We look like a petroglyph.  A shadow of life... with  a cat...like the ancient cave paintings.
Annie was nervous and on guard. I don't think she usually comes down this far by herself. She would be a "house" cat if it weren't for the dogs ,who seem to have a vendetta toward her. She is a little "fur person" (May Sarton's cat who prefers people and makes a choice to live with them.) and she loves Farmlady and the Prospector. Annie would be a house cat if it were her choice.
I told Annie to come  and she did... watching the hill above us and looking to me for direction.
We walked back to the house.
  She headed to the chicken coop, where she usually hangs out with "the ladies". I went into the house to find the Prospector making coffee and letting the dogs out of their crates.

Later, in the morning, we picked grapes and made grape juice. Yes, this is a messy, time consuming project but it is worth it.
The Prospector picked a bucket of grapes. We forgot to weigh them so I don't know how many pounds we had. They were Concord and some other varieties, which we can't remember, but they are a beautiful, light purple, almost pink in color. The Concords are the dark blue ones that look like blueberries. All are sweet table grapes.
Then we sat on the porch and removed all the grapes from the stems.
Carl is a grape eater and he's not suppose to eat them. We had to build a small fence to seperate him from the grapes because he would not leave them alone. He's still mad about that.
 He was waiting for a few to fall out of our hands so he could catch them quickly before we did.
 Look at that sly dog.
He had been told "No grapes, Carl." and was not happy about it.
This is his "I don't like that word." look. It's the determined Corgi look.
"I will have a grape if I want it." he is thinking.

We ended up with a large colander filled with grapes. I took the grapes into the kitchen, cleaned them, squished them with a metal potato masher and put them into a large pot. I added some water (not much) and brought them to a boil, skin, seeds and all. Then I simmered them for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Then comes the messy part. Do it in the sink.
 This is a Jelly Strainer. This is how you separate the good stuff from the bad.
I use a strainer on top of the juice bag to get the bigger pieces of skin and seeds before they got into the straining bag. I think it drains better without all of the fruit dregs.
If I'm not making jelly, I squeeze the bag to make the juice drip faster into the bowl. It's kind of like milking a cow, if you're into that sort of thing.
 If you do this with juice that is going to become Jelly, you will get more sediment in the juice and the jelly will be cloudy. That's a no no in the jelly making world. Jelly must be CLEAR, so you don't squeeze the bag.
But this is juice and it doesn't really matter if there's some sediment. It still tastes wonderful.
I used a large spoon to squeeze the juice out of the fruit mixture.
This juice was so sweet that it didn't need any sugar. We bottled up almost two quarts of juice in an empty,  cleaned out bottle from Trader Joe's.
I pulled the "Green Plant" wrapper off of the bottle and made my own sign. I hope Trader Joe's is OK with this
Very professional... don't you think?
Go Here: for a complete guide  for making juice. It's easy and it's good for you.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Invitation to The Lake

"THE LAKE"  only means one thing here in California. There are many smaller lakes, here in northern California, but there is only one magnificent Lake... 
LAKE TAHOE.
My cousin emailed me last week and invited us to come up for a few days. She and her husband recently bought a house on the western shore of The Lake in Meeks Bay.
 As you know, the Prospector and I rarely go anywhere TOGETHER because of the dogs, chickens, threat of fire, water issues and isolation of our property in the summer. So I headed into the mountains, alone, to visit with my cousin and her husband on Wednesday.
This drive is one of the most beautiful mountain passes in California. Not the most famous but certainly the most magnificent. It is called the Carson Pass...where Kit Carson found a new trail to Sutter's Fort in 1844.
I passed Silver Lake,

  Drove over the Carson Spur, which scares the c#*% out of me every time.
 It's an avalanche area and they are ALWAYS working on it in the summer.
These folks were from another state and I felt like yelling to them, "Watch out for falling rocks." but I didn't. That would have been asking for trouble... since I was right behind them.  I really didn't want to scare them anyway. They were laughing and having a good time, so I just waved at them and gave them my best "California" smile.
We were escorted through the "cone" zone and when we finally reached the turn off for Kirkwood Ski Resort, I took a deep breath and continued on.
 I drove passed Caples Lake,one of my favorite lakes, and over Carson Pass ( El. 8,573 ft.). Then passed Red Lake where I learned to ice fish a few winters ago... and on into Hope Valley.
This was where I turned north, traveling over Luther Pass into Meyers and on to South Lake Tahoe. I left home at 9:00 a.m. and reached my cousin's place at about 1:00 p.m. That was with a stop for lunch and quite a few for taking pictures, waiting for road work and communing with nature. Not too bad.
This is the road that goes through Camp Richardson and up around Emerald Bay.

The scenery is spectacular and , yes Jan, I STOPPED the car to take pictures. I have a friend who doesn't like my habit of taking pictures while I'm driving. This is an awful habit and almost as bad as texting while driving but I'm trying not to do it... especially where there is a cliff below the road like the photo above.

I was greeted by my cousin, "L". It was good to see her again. We had been at my sister's on the forth of July but, as with all family holidays, we never get to spend a lot of time together... just talking. So this was going to be an opportunity to spend some personal time together.
 Her husband was on a 30 mile hike somewhere in the Desolation Wilderness. He is a hiker extordinare! I was intimidated by their activity level and their hiking and swimming regime. They are only a couple of years younger than me and they are both in fantastic shape. I need to UP my game.
We walked to a beach at the end of their road. Then "L" showed me the boat dock that is used by some of the owners of houses on the street. It was down a long flight of stairs

 and extended out into the Lake. Beautiful!
I could get use to this.
The water is still so clear, like I remember as a child. My parents would take us on vacation here. The water was still as cold. The views still as lovely.
Oh, the water. You can see the bottom clearly.
It is the most beautiful and luminous, turquoise blue.
When Mark Twain wrote about The Lake in his book ~Roughing It~.
He said,
"So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air! Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep. Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand's- breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and avert the danger. But the boat would float on, and the boulder descend again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface. Down through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline, but of every minute detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same depth of atmosphere. So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that we called these boat-excursions "balloon-voyages".

It is still very much this way. 

We had dinner outside that evening and I sleep like a proverbial "log". Next time I will tell you about my drive around the lake and swimming off the boat dock with my Olympic level swimming cousin..