Saturday, August 27, 2011

Low and Slow

Text and photos by Trina

Since the days of the Death Wave, things have changed a bit in this neck of the desert. With the fading of the last pockets of melting snow in the high country, the river has mellowed. Dropped a few inches. Chopped its windows. Installed bouncing hydraulics. The river is low and slow.

Favorite beaches have re-emerged, both sandy and muddy, which record the daily meanderings of killdeer, regular deer, raccoons, rodents, great blue herons, mysterious tunneling and squiggling things.

Islands of rock and willow that were lost in the spring runoff are found again.

This evening we ventured out to a favorite spot, a secret island landscaped with smooth, water-and-sand-polished rocks, an island I frequented much more, well, frequently when I had big water dogs who could comfortably and capably swim out on their own while I waded across a thigh-deep channel to the island. Not so with the little beasts. They don't have the power or natural love of water that a big, beefy Chesapeake does. They needed the "briefcase-assist" for the crossing: they were carried like little doggie briefcases by the handles on their lifejackets, sort of swimming, sort of panicking.

Things improved greatly for the dogs once the river crossing was behind us, their lifejackets were tucked into my pack, and we made our way down the island shoreline to discover that what used to be My Secret Island is now My Secret Islands with an "s," cut in two by a newly carved river channel that was too deep and too fast to cross with little dogs, with me on foot, without my packraft. (Next time..!)

We managed to enjoy ourselves even confined to the new, smaller island, romping, sniffing, rooting around in giant tangles of sticks and dead trees, stacking rocks, watching birds, wandering aimlessly, just sitting, watching everything and nothing until the sun set and washed the river and rocks in rust.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hunting and Gathering

Text and photos by Trina

Lest I be accused of exaggerating when I say I killed over 100 squash bugs in the garden this morning, I've put together this handy multiplication table of them:

Need a closer look?

Yes, you'll have noted by now that 10x9 does not equal over 100. This is the 90 I caught. Half again this many (do the math: 45ish) jumped and scrambled to safety or fell to the ground after being squished, cut in half or otherwise mutilated, and for various reasons were not retrieved.

The damage to squash plants is extensive. All the marina di chioggias died early on, long before they even thought about making flowers or fruit; the Amish pie pumkins are heading that direction; and the last remaining kikuza pumpkin is a wash, as every one of its blossoms has withered, I presume due to the stress on the plant caused by the squash bugs:

There are a handful of organic methods for dealing with squash bugs: manually searching for and killing them and their eggs every morning and every evening; planting nicotiana, nasturtium and marigolds to deter them; planting a trap crop (in our case, the marina di chioggias volunteered for this role); spraying with Neem oil... all of which we did, apparently to no avail. In fact, our observation has been that the nasturtium which squash bugs are supposed to fear and loathe -- and which I seeded in dense rows between the squash rows -- have actually been serving as a quite desirable habitat and hiding place. I sent them all to their next incarnation as compost this morning.

The butternuts appear to be the only squash bug resistant variety, in our garden anyway (and perhaps the only variety we should ever try to grow again.) The challenge with those, because we grow them on a vertical trellis, is remembering to get them tied up, or in mesh bags or pantyhose, before they get so heavy that they start to break off from the vine... which is what happened to this one:

~ ~ ~

Would that the mushroom hunting were as productive this year as the squash bug hunting! My "office" affords a view of the nearby mountains where the mushrooms grow when it has rained enough, and every afternoon for the past two weeks I've been watching as great, billowing, cauliflower-y would-be thunderheads brew and... and... and... make no rain.

As a result, the pickins so far this season have been slim, but we've still enjoyed seeing the variety of bizarre and beautiful fungal life forms, edible or not, that do pop up (just not in great quantities) even after just a single day of showers.

A modest (compared to this time last year), early season haul:

If nothing else, the romp in the forest made the dogs happy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nothing Special

by Greg

Nothing special except the usual attempt to look around ourselves, to keep our eyes and minds tuned to the special moments that inhabit our daily lives. Garden. Kitchen. River. Trail.

We've managed to trim our town-style bikerafting setup down to this. Not exactly sleek. Not yet. But good enough for a ride to the river, a quick evening float, and a ride home under the darkening sky.

We haven't been able to figure out what kind of creature these tiny eggs belong to.

We do think these might be unlaid eggs inside one of our nemesis squash bugs. But we're not insect anatomists. Could just be bug guts.

Pinyon Juniper forest fire beyond the cliffs north of town.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Death Wave

Words by Greg
Photos by Greg and Trina and Mike

Dirty Water and Dogs?

Our local rivers are filled with enough dirt to justly be included in this blog. And silt is not the only thing floating in the water. There's also, well, us.

One fine evening, Trina in her inflatable kayak, Mike and I with bikes on our little packrafts, we floated a stretch of river that became rather wilder than we expected. Trina, in her big boat paddled through the churning waves ahead of us. As I attempted to maneuver through the big waves, I paddled harder than I had expected to, and SNAP! One end of my light-but-not-strong paddle came out of the water minus the blade. Instead of maneuvering, I stared at the stubby end and then smashed into the biggest wave, which smashed into me even harder and flipped the raft over. Mike, just behind, was also fascinated by the stump-end of my paddle waving around in the air. The wave caught him, too, and flipped him over. Both of us and our bikes took a swim and Trina helped fish us out below the rapid.

My one-ended paddle lasted the rest of the float and then snapped off as we were taking out. Trina threw me her paddle from shore and I didn't have to try to beat the water with my stick to make it let me go.

We've been trimming the fat from our float set-up. Here, my raft and life jacket is the little bundle on the rear rack of my bike, with everything else I needed in my pack. Trina's inflatable kayak took up the whole trailer, and the rest of her gear filled her baskets.

But lo, there suddenly appeared in the mail a beacon of smaller-ness in the form of a shiny new packraft that Trina could call her own. Or could have, if Sprocket hadn't claimed it before it was even inflated.

Being flipped over on the rough stretch of river did not urge us toward caution. Rather, we wanted to try it again, to see what we could learn from it. Mike and I headed back one day (without bikes onboard) and Trina, Mike and I headed back another two days. It's a new wave, the product of this spring's high floodwater that changed the river channel and modified something on the bottom. There are two wave trains of seems-like-big-to-us waves. The second set of waves happens where the river hits the bank and takes a sharp bend to the right -- adding reflection waves to the mix. Churning, frothing, and maybe 3-4 feet from trough to crest on the biggest wave. We named it the Death Wave, just to try to bolster ourselves for its challenge.

Photos below tell the story. Lots of splashing. Lots of flipping and swimming. Lots of learning what to do and not do and maybe even a little bit of learning to know which is which. Not obvious in these photos are the streams of other river floaters, most on inner-tubes or dime-store rafts carrying coolers of beer and not wearing life jackets. These people have probably blissfully floated the gentle river in past years and are immediately surprised to find this new rapid in the midst of it. Many end up being flipped by the Death Wave and their many belongings scattered along the gravel bank or floating downstream.

I would like to urge them to use more caution and to know what they are getting into and to be properly equipped. Except that I'm not sure that hitting a rapid of any kind in a blistering old packraft gives me a very high platform from which to speak. My little platform, bouncing along in the waves, does, however, seem to to make me smile.

Mike got smacked in this sequence.

Trina Paddled by Mike's boat which was caught in the hole and ghost surfing.

Walked back up to do it again.

Mike photo of Trina

Bulging in three or four places, but not bursting. More glue!

Mike has been shooting pics and video on a bunch of his and our local floaty adventures. He put together a great video. Take a look!