Monday, May 28, 2012

Adventures on the Colorado Prairie

In early May, my girlfriend Misty asked me to run away with her for the weekend, go camping, and fix barbed wire fences.

Of course I had to say yes. Who would refuse such an invitation?! Run off to the middle of no where in South East Colorado? Volunteer to spend 2 1/2 days exposed to the sun, wind, stars and possibly rattlesnakes? Sleep on the ground, grungy and unwashed? Develop calluses and play tetanus tag?


She had volunteered to go fix fences for an organization she is a part of and suddenly thought of who else she knew that might be interested in going with her when she realized that I was the perfect sucker friend to ask. It took me all of 2 minutes to think it over and after verifying that Eric would be okay with being abandoned with the mini horde, I joyfully called her back and gushed, "Yes!"

We began the trip on a bright and sunny Friday afternoon, went grocery shopping to ensure that we'd have the bare minimum of food in case the folks we'd be hanging out with were only supplying food filled with Misty-poison (Gluten). After gathering supplies and many gallons of water, we headed East on our new adventure.



Without the children.

Without the husbands.

Without any need to be anywhere but exactly where we were: together and driving off into the distance, laughing and talking and talking and giggling and being terribly rude, crude and silly just as we pleased.

Without interruption. For six hours.

If you have children, you know how incredible that experience is - to be all alone and have uninterrupted conversation. To do it with your best friend? Fan-freakin'-tastic! The time just flew. Even with stopping at two different grocery stores (And having been followed by a fellow shopper from one to the next...Creepy.) and assorted gas stations, becoming temporarily displaced (For the record we were never "lost", just temporarily displaced!) and finally finding our destination, it really only seemed as if we were driving for an hour. Amazing.

The place we were staying was a buffalo ranch in the middle of no where.

The road to no where.

Click to enlarge the photos. You won't regret it!

We drove down miles and miles of dirt roads that only had numbers and letters. The GPS unit had no idea where we were in the vastness of the Colorado plains. The landscape didn't roll so much as it unfolded before us as we drove mile after mile away from all we knew.

After fretting about whether we'd have access to running water and a coffee pot (For Misty, of course. After all, I'm a tea person!), it turned out that there was an entire house on the ranch. However, since we came prepared to camp, we set up our tent off to the side and thanked our lucky stars that we wouldn't have to pee behind a cactus. At night. With coyotes howling in the near distance. In case you're wondering, trees are few and far between out on the plains, while there are plenty of cactus and yucca. Colorado is basically a desert plain with those measly 14" of rain per year, thus no respectable amount of cover for covert urinating.

You've been warned.

After getting our sleeping arrangements worked out, we hung about and traded stories with the other weekend volunteers. Gardening stories were exchanged. Volunteering credentials were presented. ("I'm here because of the blonde.") That night, Misty and I stayed up way later than we should have, giggling and thinking about how much we resembled our own daughters at sleepovers. It was the first time we'd ever had one together! Eventually, after staring up into the infinite night sky that bloomed with stars and a radiant moon, we finally slept.

Then, typical of an early Saturday morning, we woke to the roaring of a lawn mower.

Outside our tent.

What the bloody hell?!

It was our host's way of waking us all up in a...distinctive manner. Well, we did need to wake up early to get the fence repairs done before it got too hot....

After mental threats of unspecified violence, we organized ourselves, slathered on sunscreen and drove to an unremarkable stretch of land that sported sagging barbed wire fences. There we received fence repair and rattlesnake avoidance instructions.

That's right: rattlesnakes.

For the record, I was utterly disappointed that there were no rattlesnake encounters the entire weekend. We did almost run over a bull snake, but they aren't deadly poisonous and thus are disappointing for near-death-seeking fence repair teams. OK, maybe that was just me.

He blends nicely into the background, doesn't he? Watch your step!

Then, tools in hand, our host set us loose on a half mile stretch of sagging fence that needed to be taken down so that it could be repaired, re-stretched and re-attached.

Grab with pliers. Unwrap post clip from wire. Remove mangled clip. Drop wire. Repeat ad nauseum.

Misty shows us how it's done.

The work wasn't hard...repetitive tedious, yes, but made much more fun when chatting with Misty and the other volunteers as we leap-frogged one another down the fence line. Hours later, with hands beginning to cramp and considering blistering, I took advantage of Misty's recent concussion to declare we needed a shaded rest back at the ranch for lunch. It was hot and she was clearly fading, while turning bright red in the sun. The fact that I, too, wanted a break was totally beside the point! (Wink!)

After lunch, a whole lotta water and a short nap, we returned to the blistering heat of the late afternoon sun and reclipped all the fence we'd unclipped after it was all re-stretched, repaired and ready to go.

Yes, all of that fence.

We had a little excitement in the form of cattle from the neighboring ranch that were interested in snacking on the greener grass across the way (The grass really was greener since no grazing was allowed on the conservation land we were working on. It was long and luscious and apparently too tempting to miss for the bovine crowd that snuck in through an opening while we were off having lunch.). Our fearless leader chased them off her land with cowboy-like prowess. That's when I learned that Colorado is what they call a "fence out" state: if you don't want cattle noshing on your land, you put up a fence or deal with the consequences.

The snack bar is now closed!

Most of the cattle easily crossed the road and hooked up with the rest of the herd, however there was a pair that were dumber than a pair of old boots that took off on their own down the road. Only after watching us repair the fence and then back the car up several hundred feet away from them, did they feel safe enough to come back down the road towards the herd. First, though, they needed to check to see if the snack bar was still open.

Seriously! One of the two walked to where the opening had been and then looked over at the car in what appeared to be a bovine glare before they finally crossed back onto the neighbor's land and shuffled off to the rest of the buffalo.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

That night, we had a full moon. The Super Moon, they said. Unfortunately, my photo doesn't do it justice at all. I blame my lack of previous nighttime photography experience.

I can attest to the fact that the night was incredibly bright in a way you can't experience within the city or suburb. Way out on the plains, where there aren't any other houses and light sources for miles and miles, it was huge, bright and stunning. The quiet of the evening wrapped around us; bugs hushed, birds made their last calls to one another, and the soft wind were the only sounds we heard aside from our own breathing.

That night the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up.

A lot.

So much so that it woke me up at 2 am to the sound of the tent flapping around us, and the tree above us creaking as the branches whipped back and forth. The light from the huge moon dispersed behind the thick clouds was so bright I could see everything clearly. I turned to Misty and suggested we might want to move indoors since sleeping under such conditions was impossible while also being somewhat dangerous should the weather get worse. She had to think about it for a bit and suggested that I could go in without her.

I reminded her that we were in this adventure together and that if she wasn't going to go then I certainly wasn't going without her. After she cogitated a bit more we agreed that we could weigh the tent down with gear from the car and take ourselves in out of the windstorm. For those of you unfamiliar with Colorado, we easily get 100 mph winds without having actual tornadoes tiptoeing over our heads, but being out on the plains it could have easily turned into a tornado. Staying outside just to tough it out just wasn't feasible. Inside we were quietly welcomed by our fearless, cattle chasing, leader. Turns out that we were the last ones to take refuge indoors. Heh!

The next day, after a few more hours of taking down and clipping back up barbed wire fences, we said our goodbyes and headed back home. This time, since we weren't in a rush to return to family, friends and all of those responsibilities we ran away from on Friday, we took our time and I took a few landscape shots.

It's been a long time since I've shot anything that wasn't short and related to me or a plant I grew in my own yard. I was worried that I'd lost my mojo. My chops are rusty, it's true, but they still appear to be there.

I present to you the barren beauty of the plains.

Yes, it's flat. Still not as flat as Kansas. 

This is the effect that rock gardeners want. 

So very flat and mostly featureless. 

Pointy devils. I don't plant cactus in my yard because I just know that I'll fall on it. 

I couldn't not photograph this after it immediately reminded me of Lois Lane's car in Superman. Now you know where it ended up. 

I love how big the sky is out here in Colorado. 

Mesas and yuccas. 


A quick picture of the intrepid explorers! 

Turns out that I like my prairie with more trees on it. Go figure. 

Turns out that cattle love yucca flowers like kids love ice cream.

Wild flowers on ungrazed land. 

You know you're way out there when you can stand in the middle of the road without fear of cars coming by any time soon. 

Giant hammer meets earth. How else did it get broken up that way?

A tree grows alone. 

As we drove home we declared our undying love for one another that we should repeat this adventure every year. While we won't necessarily repair fences every year, camping alone is definitely a must. Getting away from it all, even when you love all of "it" is a treat when you take one of your favorite people with you. Silly stories, new inside jokes, terrible food, good food, fabulous conversation, and uncertain outcomes are the stuff of a life well lived.

Even when there aren't any rattlesnake encounters.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Caitlin Graduates

Another milestone has passed in Caitlin's childhood - she has graduated from elementary school.

A funny thing about endings and me: apparently I'm a sucker for them. I was ecstatic sending her off to kindergarten 6 years ago and yet immediately ready to cry the day of her graduation.

I know that everyone says time flies, and truly it does as you get older, but the proof is startling when you are suddenly faced with key milestones. That 5 year old turned into a 10 year old while I was watching, slowly but surely.

She's the same girl and yet not.

Tears started welling up in my eyes as soon as I read the opening poem in the program:
Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go! --Dr. Seuss
It is true that she has brains in her head. I tried to get to them, but apparently I needed to work harder at it.

The song they sang after entering the hall, the words from their teachers, walking across the stage, all of it had me verklempt. The best and worst was yet to come, in the form of the video slide show that one of the mother's put together as a memento. Set to music, they had images from picture day from kindergarten morphing into the 5th grade photo. It was a very dramatic change from cherub-like cheeks and smiling eyes to longer faces and serious expressions. My mother-in-law noted that it's a lot harder to get Caitlin to really smile in photos these days, I know all about it. I think it comes from the embarrassment of ever having relatives that want to photograph you...ever. The happiest and most relaxed photos are when she's with one of her best friends.

Perhaps, like me, she has a height requirement for best friends? "You must be this tall to be my friend." It's not like we're short or anything. They are just tall! (You girlfriends know who I'm talkin' about!)

After the ceremony was over and my newly minted graduate was returned to me I squished her hard. I can't keep her from growing up, but I'll try like hell to pay close attention as she does so.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In Bloom In the Garden - Early May Edition

My mother and I were talking on the phone yesterday and she told me that she missed my blog. Clearly, I needed to get back to editing photos and writing again if even my mother was concerned! So here I am again, months and months after my last post.

I don't have a fantastic reason, or a million new stories to share, but I've finally had a couple of adventures and am editing the photos that go with them. Today, after reading a gardening magazine, I realized that I should probably go document what is currently blooming in my yard. I took pictures in April, but still haven't edited those. Perhaps this will get me started!

I have been gardening fairly constantly since the temperatures warmed up to 70 degrees in mid-March. I ripped out the majority of the plants in the Bees Below Your Knees garden and replaced them with blue and orange flowering plants and a few Blue Fescue grasses. The crazy floppiness of the 'Blue Hills' sage and the rampant wildness of the Keys of Heaven were making me feel a little twitchy. Also, I had a burning desire to see the California fuchsia's bright orange blooming near some cool blue, and started thinking of what else I could put in that 21' L x 3' W space that would look coordinated and low maintenance.

Bees Below Your Knees, now in orange, yellow, blue and purple (Not that you can tell from this picture...)! April 13th, 2012

If you click to enlarge, you'll see lavendar, knautia macedonia, California fuchsia, Johnny Jump Ups, Blue Fescue, Phlox subulata, 'Walker's Low' catmint, columbine, prairie tickseed, 'Rocky Mountain Blue' penstemon and a few leftover 'Johnson's Blue' geraniums. Considering that I just installed it in March and that the plants were all roughly pulled from locations all over my xeric garden, a good number of these plants are already blooming in May.

Here is what it looks like a month later, May 12, 2012.

I went to the Cactus and Succulent Society plant sale in late April and bought a pile of plants for my pots out front and for the deck.

Click to enlarge the above image

I'm beginning to wonder if I need a Gardening Intervention. When I saw the huge range of succulents I really wanted one of almost every type. Instead I filled a flat and called it good.

In the first image, the largest pot:
  1. Starting from the back right corner: the strappy plant is a Red Yucca. It's actually a perennial that I will lift and put into the garden in the fall.
  2. Middle right: Echeveria lauii.
  3. Rt corner front: red sempervivum.
  4. Middle front: echeveria 'Lilacina' 
  5. Bottom left corner: Crassula volkensii 
  6. Middle left: Graptoveria species
  7. Behind Graptoveria: echeveria 'Black Knight' 
  8. Behind and to the right of the 'Black Knight': Cotyledon orbiculata
  9. In the center of the pot: Senecio talinoides 'Blue Chalk Sticks'
Squished in here and there are some random sedum that overwintered in a pot. They should fill in over the summer and look all spiff.

The next two pots have Red Yucca, 2 different forms of cobweb sempervivums (Cebenese and Baronesse), a 'Blue Boy' and an 'Oddity' semper, along with more sprigs of sedum that overwintered well. I love tough plants.

Sempervivum bowl 2012.

This pot was filled and overflowing with Oddity, Blue Boy and a surviving 'October Daphne'. I pulled everything out and started over. Now it has 3x October Daphne, 4x Blue Boy, 3x Oddity, 3x Limelight, 5x Baronesse cobweb, and 1x red I-can't-remember-its-name sempervivum, plus 2x Angelonia sedum and a good looking flat rock from the garden. Did I take a picture before I ripped it apart? Of course not.

My strawberry pot of sedums and sempers got a tiny refresh as well. I'm continually surprised at just how often my plants survive despite me. Whew!

Then there are the flowers going off right now. Here's a selection.

Top: Johnny Jump Ups, Flax, Keys of Heaven
Middle: Siberian catmint, Japanese honeysuckle, culinary sage
Bottom: Columbine, 'Walker's Low' catmint, Bleeding hearts

Top: 'Johnson's Blue' geranium, phlox subulata, 'Bowl of Beauty' peony (closed since it was so overcast)
Middle: Candytuft, Prairie smoke, Spiderwort
Bottom: Knockout Rose in hot pink, Carolina Allspice, Halls' honeysuckle

I've got tons more work to do editing the long shots of the garden, so I'll get to those. I also have a story about a trip out into Colorado's prairie where I helped to fix barbed wire fences with my girlfriend. I'll get to those in the next few days.

I hope you've all been well, while I've been working away in the kitchen and the garden!

P.S. Hi mom!

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