Saturday, November 13, 2010

"God's Country"

Had delicious pancakes with my brother and sister in law this morning. They were thick and warm and very tasty. I even think there were a couple left over, everyone was stuffed.  The sky is blue and sunny. Its cool but looks to be another great day in Colorado.  All this scenic wonder and perfection sure gets old...oh wait no it doesn't.  Have a great day dad :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quiet

Behind us lies the hectic fury and nonstop pace of prepping the house for the market. We cleaned, sorted, organized, decluttered, updated, purged…on and on for a couple weeks. As a result the house looks great. Clean--welcoming. Even despite my ever present pessimism I have to say I’m starting to see the optimistic angle on this one. The first week of traffic exceeded my expectations and I can’t help but start to agree with Kate; maybe we’ll be out of here sooner than I thought. And with all that anticipation yet to sort itself out with our reluctant friend the future, our home is now quiet. Even without a sold sign in the front yard there’s something deeply rewarding about the turn around in appearance, the successes of our productivity, the fruits of our labor. With a bit of free time now I can sit back and appreciate the transformation and peace of mind; the welcome return of quieter nights.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stuff

We’ve made two Goodwill trips in a week’s time, had one successful Craigslist sale of a weight set, sold some books to the used book store and tossed out a pile of otherwise useless junk, and I doubt that will be the last of it. The savvy, Better Homes and Gardens word for this would be: decluttering. I can translate that as getting rid of stuff. As much as Americans seem to have issues with our expanding waistlines we also have issues with our expanding domains of material goods and piles of junk. People are more like crabs than I would have thought given our differences in outward appearances. Both species, however, certainly grow to fit our shell. We moved from a small cabin in the woods to a considerably larger urban home and I suppose for want of filling rooms with the pitter patter of little feet, have instead filled them with things. Now we are to the point where we stand on a precipice of stuff.

I suppose on some levels I’ve always been a collector of sorts. As a child I took good care of and held on to what things I had. I kept my toys and odds and ends in good shape and enjoyed their use in all likelihood much past what would be expected of a childhood plaything. This habit continued on into adulthood. I acquire this and that and kept it in relatively good, usable shape, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. I also suffer from a sickness of over sentimentalizing material possessions. I hang onto things because of some intangible ‘meaning’ associated with it. The net effect of this syndrome is boxes of mementoes and random bits of otherwise useless trifles which gets hauled around from place to place marking the passing of time not in hours or years but in pounds. This hording behavior coupled with my fastidious care of things makes it a shame to get rid of a perfectly good, ‘valuable’ item. And therein lies the trap of it all, the accumulation, the personification or sense of comfort in this stuff, the ease of storing things in a back corner room and then the eventual suffocation on junk.

What compounds the issue is my accomplice in crime:  Kate is a collector as well. One is bad enough, but two under one roof; watch out. While I think she suffers from a similar psychosis of sentimentalizing things, she has a knack for finding things that nobody wants and then brings them home. A rescuer of sorts, this is at face value not a sin but a merit. However in excess or unrestrained, it translates into wonton accumulation, albeit a cheaper and more environmentally friendly version of it. Bits of unwanted office furniture, chairs, odd bins found on the sidewalk, things pulled out of dumpsters, dead or dying plants, unwanted and largely unsalvagable bicycles and other miscellaneous things. This stuff piles up, and while there's a tremendous value to repurposing and reusing old items, one household shouldn't look to be the savior of the world's island of misfit toys.

Better to not accumulate the stuff to begin with, I would say. There is something to be said for the untrammeled simplicity and beauty of a clean room with very little in it. Turning off the supply chain of things certainly would make the seasonal ritual of purging and cleansing more manageable if not altogether unnecessary. And when an item has long since run its life of purpose, best to be done with it and pass it on to the next person. There’s something quite cathartic about seeing otherwise unused items head out the door in another person’s hands to be otherwise purposed and reused. It helps to reinforce how silly it was to hold on to it for so long, and how worthwhile it can be to just let it go.

So now that our purging is well underway, at least for now, I’ve got my ‘clutter’ sensors working on overdrive. Every likely candidate for the recycle or thrift store bin gets a nod towards the door. I’ve declared a war on things, and I have to say I’m doing a pretty good job. Hopefully this lesson won’t be one that I’ll repeatedly learn over and over again throughout the years, but I have a feeling that’s easier said than done. Maybe I’ll enact a one in-one out policy on stuff…that way our balance of equilibrium here doesn’t get too out of whack--if not for peace of mind, for peace of back. Al this stuff at a point gets pretty heavy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Outtahere...well eventually

Is it the caffeine now unheedingly coursing through my system, the promise of an unscripted day off before me (furlough), or the changing winds and long shadows of fall that has me sitting here staring at this blank page, antsy and restless? Kate and I have spent the last two weekends feverishly reworking our small, suburban home to the suggestion and guidance of our real estate agent: we’re out of here. Well, we’re not out of here, at least not just yet. We’ve still got some finishing, sprucing up and decluttering to do. We’ve got to sell our home in the worst of imaginable markets, and we’ve got to do so without losing our shirt in the process; otherwise we’re not going anywhere. Its an unenviable, ‘stuck’ place to be.

Fortunately we’re not in the boat as many, those strapped between payments, facing reduced income, piling debt and the ominous loom of foreclosure. We’re thankfully in a very different boat, yet no less comforted by this fact; we just desperately want to be someplace else. And our timing really stinks. This has been a fine place to live, but its not felt like ‘our home.’ It was crafted in the imagination of the previous owners and countless HGTV episodes. It’s the perfect house for that great American buyer seeking domestic perfection. But for me, I can’t get comfortable and look past the fear of scratching or denting the precious surfaces of our grand ‘investment.’ Even before any of our furniture was moved in to this place I knew that our tenure here would be short, and with that knowledge I’ve neurotically watched over the pristine appearances of this 1950’s gem to ensure its attraction to future buyers when that time would certainly come. As painful as that has been, hopefully its paid off because that time is now: I want out, plain and simple.

I don’t want the neighbors eye balling the length of my grass, and suspiciously discussing the extent to which I’ve sacrificed beloved bluegrass to “what is that?…vegetables?” I don’t want my neighbors to largely avoid us because we’re not in our 50’s, or we don’t have children, or because badly played banjo music emanates from our home, or we‘re just weird--those bike riding, yard destroying, childless weirdoes. I don’t want to drown in all this unused, superfluous space. I don’t want to fill rooms with unnecessary crap for the sake of appearances. I don’t want to be told we cannot have bees, chickens, privacy, freedom to explore our interests and passions without the admonishment or judgment of municipal codes and paranoid neighbors.
“Is that compost bin too close to the fence?”
“Are you going to spray those weeds?”
“Is that a Pit Bull?”
“I think the bin is fine. I’m not spraying poisons on anything and yes that actually is pit bull mix, We rescued her. She’s like 9 years old, allergic to everything, old, tired, and very gentle…wait where are you going? Nice talking to you.”

But with our readiness to end this chapter and begin another we’re faced with the grim realities of how likely it will be that we’ll be here for a good long while yet. Despite the optimism of our agent, the eternal faith and positive thinking of my wife, the assurances of our friends; I’m not quite so cheery and hopeful. Ever the practical realist, I’m not quite content that this is just going to go our way. And that bums me out, pure and simple. So I’m trying very hard, spending good cash on appliance upgrades, paint, trim; spending my free time and weekends working hard on those ‘final finishing touches’--“but it may be all for naught.” Those nagging, realist thoughts of mine are an annoyingly hard pill to swallow.

So I’m not going to dwell on what may happen, what could be. I’m just going to focus on right now; what needs to be done, what the next step is. Its like that point in a very long ride, where you’re done, taxed, and miles from the end. So you get into that carefully focused zone and just pedal continuously into the weariness and infiniteness of time and space; every lane marker passed, each seam in the pavement crossed is a sign of progress, grindingly slow, yet eventual, progress. That’s where I am; head down, pedaling hard, steady and marking my slow progress.  Time to get back to work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pickin' & Pumpkins

A dreary and damp day stands to ready to deliver on the threat of Denver's first autumn frost.  And while some gardeners might be inclined to rush out to cover their remaining summer flowers and veggies, I'm ready for the turn of seasons and welcome it with open arms. My small amount of cool veggies, the ones left uncrushed and not trampled upon by the neighborhood cats, are ready for a bit of cold. All of my warm season crops are done with one exception.

This morning before too much of the day's soaking could get to them, I went outside to pick the 8 or so pumpkins we've been nurturing for the better chunk of the summer. Our two 'large' and mostly squatty pumpkins made it the entire season along with a compliment of smallish ones of varying hues of orange and red. I lost one to birds, one to rot and another to its own stubborn unwillingness to sufficiently ripen. And yet despite this, and the somewhat misshapenness of my survivors (everyone, including the neighbors, made it a point of noting the wide and simultaneously dwarfish shape of these 'jack-o-lanterns') I consider my first attempt at pumpkins to be a success. Next year an earlier feeding, sunnier location and spot away from the grass and its clinging moisture, will hopefully yield even better results. Until then we'll decorate, cook with and hopefully carve up this crew.

And after a bit of pumpkin picking, a nice warm bowl of homemade tomato soup and maybe some tea, its going to be time for another kind of pickin'. I do love the slower pace of these lengthening fall nights.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Mostest Liberal Ever

And this is why the ‘left’ continues to devour itself at the expense of its precious agendas. I get more and more tired of supposed ‘liberals’ every day. This morning while lounging on the couch enjoying a warm cup of coffee and the brisk 46 degree morning I cruised some of my favorite blogs and sites on the internet. My default windows open to Google and MSN, and while I generally don’t spend much time on MSN an article about ‘Giving up Cable’ caught my eye so I gave it a read. You can read it for yourself here. It talks about the savings one can potentially experience by cutting out cable and perhaps TV altogether. As one who’s also pulled the plug on cable TV, and thanks to the digital conversion don’t have functioning network and local TV, I enjoyed commiserating with people of likeminded principles. And then I read the comments…I really need to stop doing this.  Most of the comments were all very supportive of the concept; testimonials of folks who’ve made similar decisions and have been pleased with the results. And then there was the troll.

“…I know it is "trendy" to say you have given up tv, but please, don't watch movies from the library or netflix and tell me you have "given up tv". You have failed to reach the "gucci plateau" folks.”

I’m generally pretty tolerant of people’s opinions and whatnot, but I’m getting a bit fed up with this type of judgment and admonishing of people for not being ‘idealized’ enough in accordance with some holier-than-thou, self-aggrandizing standard.

I attribute this type of behavior to the ‘left’ based on personal experience, however I’m sure it permeates both ends of the political spectrum. I remember going to a CSU Extension presentation on small acreage management, where the extension office brought in a variety of resources to talk about alternative energy, bee keeping, pest management and noxious weeds. There were donuts and handouts and it was generally pretty informative and innocuous. And then there was the ‘super liberal’ in the back. HE just bought 90+ acres in eastern Colorado. HE was going to turn the land into an organic farm. HE was going to eat all of his weeds for the Vitamin C. HE was going to fight big agriculture. HE thought it prudent to point out the shortcomings of every extension presentation and their collusion in every large scale agricultural crime against humanity and nature since the dawn of time. I couldn’t stand the guy and as he droned on with this incessant inquisition the audience grew audibly more uncomfortable. And these types seem to be everywhere, whipping out their ‘liberalism’ to measure it up against the next guy or gal. “You eat organic vegetables? I grow organic vegetables.” “You grow organic vegetables? I AM an organic vegetable….”--etc.

I’ve seen this behavior prevalently with the environmental movement. Here the extremes are palpably visible fighting between more moderate groups like the Sierra Club and even Al Gore and the more activist centered organizations like Greenpeace and EarthFirst! Its almost a hobby to deride Al Gore for his hypocrisy of millions of dollars and flying around presenting “Inconvenient Truth.“ Indeed think of all the greenhouse gases he produced jet setting to China and back…not to mention the fact that he probably educated more people world-wide on the grim realities of our current climatic conditions than oh…just about anyone. The idealists are right though, he should be shot, or at least be drummed out of the ranks of the environmental movement.

But I’ve also seen Sweat Shop activists actually call each other out on their clothing labels and ridicule each other for the type of footwear they wore. I've heard the sermonizing of local food activitists and organic farmers, measuring the radius at which they get their food and disdaining those who only practice organic methods and not organic PERMACULTURAL ones. I’ve seen bicycle advocates engage in the game of one-ups-manship of how long they’ve gone without a car. “How long have YOU been a bike commuter?“ I hate that question for the condescending tone in which its generally asked. I’ve seen child advocates fight about the interests and well being of children who all the while languish in long term institutional settings. And now apparently it’s a sin to not have cable and get DVD’s from the library.

Person 1: “My family gave up cable a year ago to save money. We still watch the local news on the free TV and some of our DVD’s”
Person 2: “Oh yeah, well we gave up our TV’s altogether by selling them in a garage sale.”
Person 3: “Oh yeah! Well we burned all of our TV’s in the back yard while dancing around them naked and chanting.”
Super Exemplar Person 4: “OH YEAH! Well I’ve never even seen a TV--ever. And I moved to the Outback of central Australia where TV waves won’t even inadvertently penetrate my house.”

Since when did an extreme become the standard or ideal? Or for that matter, when did there become an ideal? It is not enough that everyone tries to do their part: take the bus, recycle their pop cans, buy CFL’s, eat local etc. Instead many on the left seem to perpetuate gross stereotypes by extolling the virtues of an aesthetic set of inapproachable extremes. These are the types who pick at Thoreau as being too urban and civilized for his living close to town and having regular visitors, or Gandhi for not doing enough to assist all levels of India’s diverse caste system; really, I mean REALLY!?! No wonder more moderate or conservative Americans reject many of the causes and values of the liberal agenda, despite that fact that your average American probably agrees with them. I bet you’d be hard pressed to find people that don’t believe that: we should use less energy, we should do more to protect endangered species, we could take better care of our water and air, we should be more attentive to the chemicals in our food. There are those who are oblivious and those who are not informed, and then there’s probably the majority; silently agreeable yet reluctant to be more vocal for fear of the judgment and derision of the extremes.

But the worst part is that this end fighting ultimately only leads to inaction or ineffectiveness. It becomes a distraction from the actual issue itself. The left seems to tear itself apart and implode, which shouldn’t be too surprising when you think about it. Rather than building a movement of diverse efforts along an entire spectrum of action, you’ve got factions. The extremes won’t associate with the moderates (because they’re not extreme enough--in fact they’re viewed to be part of the problem) and the moderates disassociate themselves from the extremes because they’re polarizing.

“Can’t we all just get along?” It seems somewhat of a trite sentiment, but perhaps there is still value to asking the question. What more could be accomplished with more understanding and support within these movements than jockeying and ‘yardsticking’ for the who’s who of exemplary activism. I suppose there will always be those who think more should be done, and find frustration at the sight of those who aren’t as impassioned or as angry as themselves. And yet no one can do it all. If we don’t acknowledge the efforts of all then we ultimately squander the efforts of both the large and small contributor: united we stand, divided we fall as someone once said. “Oh yeah, but I bet I can fall the most…” "Oh no, I'll fall the most...just watch."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This Place

Yesterday on the road in to Crested Butte I passed an old farmer out digging in his kitchen garden. He held his shovel firmly and stabbed it at the ground with precision, attempting to extricate some plant or weed. He was singly focused on his task whatever it may have been. The prior day I saw a similar fellow doing something equally mysterious, albeit assuredly productive, in his garden on the windy slog into Gunnison. This gentleman looked up from behind his white picket fence and gave me a wave. He wore overalls, a straw hat, the entire works. His old farmstead still held some of the polish and pride of its former years though I couldn’t see any livestock in the field or horses in the corral. I’ve seen a number of such figures along my route across Colorado. From the gathering of ’old-timers’ in Holly to the man I saw digging yesterday, they all appear at a glance to be of a similar generation, remnants if you will, of a prior era.

Another common sight amidst the grandeur and natural beauty of Colorado is the ‘For Sale’ sign. Usually advertising large lots, ranches, farms and other rural properties they generally appear with great regularity along the route I‘ve traveled. Even today descending Kebler Pass the first real ‘sign’ of civilization I saw amongst the vast unspoiled beauty of that wilderness was a Remax sign: “140 Acres for Sale, borders National Forest Land.” Some advertise development opportunities for subdivisions, others like many that I’ve seen riding around the streets of Paonia, offer what I’d imagine are great deals on largely depressed and neglected properties. “Its hard to make a living here,“ a fellow cyclist told me while I was at the car wash today, rinsing the layers of mud from my bike. I imagine that’s why folks can’t afford to stay here.

Juxtaposed together, the images of aging farmers and signposts of rural flight, I’m left wondering what might happen to these places in another 10 to 20 years. When all of the old farmers have tilled their last field, baled their last round bale, or raised their last herd of cattle what will become of their land? With so many other properties already on the market it’s a toss up as to what will happen to these rural landscapes in the future. What is becoming more clear is that fewer people are opting for farming and ranching as a lifestyle. Our society largely disregards the work, we undervalue the end product in our demand for cheap food and it is becoming increasingly more costly to acquire land, work it and keep it. Land values have sky rocketed out in western Colorado even despite the economic downturn. Property adjacent to National Forest or resort land is in high demand, and often current landowners struggle to keep pace with the increasing property tax demand of their valuable asset. As Wendell Berry once noted, land doesn’t make you any money until you sell it…and then what? You may have made enough with the sale of your property to pay off your debts and settle your affairs but your lifestyle is gone.

And with the sale of those properties to a real estate developer, venture capitalist or industrial agricultural enterprise something is taken from the landscape, erased from the living memory of these wide open places. You can see the progression of the lifestyle in this part of the country with the changing style of home found on these properties. The oldest, and often frequently abandoned, boast only a small cabin, log or timber, and broken down fencing. The focus of these old lots was the large bank style barn, network of corrals and pens. Simple and straightforward these structures are often still standing if not fully functioning. Then there are the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s era homes, more solidly constructed yet showing their age and wear, often times more clearly than their older counterparts. There’s a continuity of purpose to these structures, however they represent the travails of the costlier forms of modern agriculture. Expensive facilities, equipment and miscellaneous junk often litter the lots; so much hope and promise banked on new methods and technologies which never delivered. And then there are the new developments, vacation properties, sprawling homes packaged with acreage and a Morton building. Everything you need to plug into the country for a quick escape before you jet back to the city for ‘real life’. I imagine it is hard to build a sense of community when many of your property owners don’t actually live here. They aren’t interested in the place as much as the location.

Wineries, orchards and small farm plots fill the North Fork Gunnison valley trailing down from Paonia to Hotchkiss and Delta. These small communities feature a tight network of new farmers, individuals attempting to rekindle the agricultural spirit of the west using new tools such as CSA’s, organic methods, agritourism and strong local farmer markets. Thanks in large part to a wetter than average summer, the valley is an explosion of color as well as a bounty of fruit and vegetables. Just riding around the town of Paonia one can see orchards full of apples and peaches, small home gardens brimming over with squash, corn, tomatoes, beans and pumpkins. Every neighborhood plot here in this town surrounded by farms seems to have some connection to growing and food production. Perhaps I’m reading too much into an afternoon’s worth of visiting. Perhaps I’m secretly hoping that this community is in fact coming back from the dead, rebuilding its community roots. “Its like stepping back into the 50’s. Its smaller here, but closer,” I was told by an 11 year resident of Paonia. He still keeps a property in Golden, but admitted he can’t stand to go back any more. While this valley of farms, small businesses and local enterprise lies well across the state from my home it gives me hope that this quieter, friendlier, more neighborly form of existence might still make it, and it will do so without the benefits of a ski resort or destination theme resort hotbed. It gives me hope that the bedroom communities and sprawling burbs may not quite get to every corner of the state. That when the old timers are gone, a generation of new timers will be there to take their place; their place of being and not just their location.

You can get updates on my travels across Colorado by bicycle at http://www.spokedintheeye.blogspot.com/ or use the link to the right.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Damn You Angry Winds

So what happens to the tallest tomato plants on the block (the tallest Fran has ever seen remember) when a low pressure front storms through the neighborhood propelled by 30-40mph gusts?  Well they just flop right over. Or they pull their cages out of the ground and flop over. Or they have a fit and throw their half ripened fruit all over the garden. Or they just kind of bend and wither slowly...a half flop, half snap.

Both Saturday and Sunday (Sunday particularly it seemed) featured late afternoon bouts of heavy winds as a tease of rainless clouds amassed above our house and then passed us by for two days in a row. So on top of no precipitation, which we're sorely lacking, we got a tomato bending kick in the teeth as a courtesy. This morning on my usual rounds through the garden, the water and weed patrol, I surveyed the havoc. I righted three plants, resetting their cages back in the beds and then tried to prop up the now weeping vines. This afternoon I returned home with a renewed conviction to make things right. I purchased 4 large garden stakes from Ace and created a perimeter of twine to hang the vines on and stop them from flopping over on themselves. Hopefully this will help the plants at least finish the season with the fruit they've produced thus far. I also pruned the hell out of the lower branches of several of our plants, hoping to increase air flow and assist in the ripening of the remaining fruit. We'll see what happens in the coming days. Hopefully they don't kick the bucket before the fruit finishes. If I had light left to keep pruning I would have taken pictures but as it stands I pruned until I couldn't see sucker from main stem (a dangerous proposition) so no pics today. Its not a pretty sight anyway.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Mornings

I can wake up at 6:00 on the weekends with a precision and enthusiasm that makes my weekday self interminably jealous. Weekday Jason is Lazarus waiting patiently for the call back to life. Weekend Jason is Lazarus up and doing the hokey pokey. Today was no exception to this rule. After quickly shepherding Presta out of the bedroom so Kate could continue to snooze (Bean can get up at 6:00 every day and indeed thinks all days should start promptly at 5:45am with running around and rolling on the floor) I wander out to the living room to sit down on the couch. Last night we ate chicken burritos with fresh corn from the garden. The night before it was jerk chicken with cucumber and zucchini salad, fresh cherry tomatoes providing the garnish. I can see more tiny red orbs on the tomato plants from my spot on the couch: the promise of more garnish yet to come. The zucchini leaves are starting to show their age. The corn stalks are beginning to brown at the base. I should be able to get our third cutting of broccoli florets off the stalks this morning, but that may likely be the end of their performance. On the other hand, in the cool season beds I expect to see even more lettuce, chard and spinach shoots than the day before: before too long these tiny sprouts will be all that remains of our lush summer garden.

The thermometer reads 63 degrees outside: a warm morning but the patchwork of clouds implies a cooler day. I make coffee from the remnants of a few different bags, which I generally reserve for such occasions when I’m out of anything better and coffee stew will suffice. I flip back through issues of Grit, focusing on the articles towards the back that I only glossed over my first time through:  an article about home brewing beer, a story about direct sale dairy production, nature profiles of bullfrogs and snipe. If I look just out the window I can see the tops of corn stalks, our towering tomato plants and sprawling raspberry brambles. I can blur my vision slightly to erase the chain link fence and backyard neighbor from my view. I can close my eyes and distract my head from the sounds of traffic, sirens, the constant hum of motors in the background. Its as if I’m almost in another place; sipping my delicious coffee concoction, enjoying the cool morning breeze through the screened window, content with my work for the week long enough to enjoy a Saturday morning on the couch before the full advent of day draws me back outside in search of more to do.

Gotta love Saturday’s.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Garden Update

With my recent bout of blog-negligence I’ve not posted any pictures of our garden in a while. So today after I went out to check on things (make sure its still there and all) and water everything in preparation for the 95 degree bake-off to come later in the day, I took some pictures of the health and productivity of the garden. Below are a couple of the highlights.
Our little pumpkin patch.
 The pumpkins are doing well now that I've turned off the sprinklers in that part of the yard and been more resolute in my pinching off of blooms and new vines. We've got 5 very promising, large pumpkins ripening and several more that should make it to the small to medium size category. If the temp stays warm and the days dry, these should do well in the remaining months before Halloween.
 Pumpkins have proved a bit challenging to grow. Initially I was concerned they were not getting enough sun, and they may not have been who knows. Feeding them was also somewhat dicey as well as they require fertilizer at strategic points in their development, same thing with watering. My biggest problem has been keeping them dry with some of the rain, watering and cooler days we've had recently. We've lost two already to rot. These guys, now resting on small plywood boards, are comfortably off the ground enough to keep dry and grow nice and big.
 King Corn as Michael Pollan described it. Corn is another new one for me that I'm not sure if I'm doing quite right. If I had it to do over I'd have fed it more at the beginning and watered it a tad less towards the end. We've got ears but our stalks are starting to look a bit starved and the fruit isn't quite large enough just yet. I pulled off one ear the other day to reveal wonderfully plump kernels, but they probably would have benefited from more time on the stalk. I've also got some succumbing to borers or some other bugs. We use an organic safe pesticide but its just not cutting it on this one.  In the foreground you'll see our broccoli, freshly topped off yesterday afternoon. We're having some friends over this afternoon for a BBQ and one of the main dishes will be freshly steamed, garden broccoli:  yum!
 According to various web sources the world's tallest tomato plant was grown in England to a height of 65 ft by a fertilizer company (go figure). So mine aren't tall enough to be the world's tallest, but according to Fran behind us they're the tallest tomato plants she's ever seen. I'm kind of proud of that fact, though now we're left with a giant jungle canopy of intertwined tomato plants. Our heirloom cherries, brandywine and yellow plants are doing well enough though they're not ripening with the rapidity I'd hoped for. Some of you might be thinking, "Well you fertilized too much and got all leaf and no fruit." Well to any doubters I'd have you know we've actually got 6ft tall plants loaded with fruit as well as blossoms yet to bear fruit. We've had a sporadic summer and inconsistent temperatures so I blame my lack of ripening on that. I also think that next year I will space the plants farther apart from each other and probably not use my raised beds any more. I also will need to either buy more and bigger cages or go rogue and build my own trellising system.
Another view of the mass with my random carrots and cool season beds ready to go. The wire mesh over the bed is used to keep neighborhood cats out of my planters...nasty little things cats.

Now that's what I'm talking about. Kate likes to think that we've actually produced a lot of cherries...but they've just not made it into the house. There may be more truth to that than she knows!  I can't help it, quality control is a job I take very seriously.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The other night after a late dinner I walked outside to check on the garden and noticed that the light had faded from the horizon; the sun long since set behind the row of homes and trees behind us. Summer is winding down. It is clear from the shortening days, the cooler evenings, and the crispness in the air in the morning that we’re on the downward slope into fall. The neighborhood schools start tomorrow (odd to start on a Friday I thought), and they will be the last of the local metro districts to start. I generally enjoy this time of year the most as fall is my favorite season, but with so much summer seemingly left to soak in it was starting to stop and realize the depth into August that we’ve traveled thus far.

So once again the flurry of busy summer activity will recede and calm as the slow, pleasant days of fall take over and signal an end to the busy summer months. At that point my blog "minions," I’ll be back and writing again more regularly…I promise.

With that I’ll offer a quick recap of some of the more recent events and going’s on with us.

Our garden is still thriving and doing amazingly well. We’ve now got broccoli, one ripe ear of corn, several growing pumpkins, thriving squash and cucumber, tomatoes ripening and cool season veggies on the way. Thus far it has been a productive and enjoyable gardening season. We’re actively in search of bargain canning equipment to begin preserving some of the fruits of this season’s labors. As brave as Kate has been in trying daring new zucchini recipes, this week I resorted to taking it in to work and foisting it onto my team and co-workers: next year fewer zucchini plants.

This month I’ve begun prepping and preparing for my solo ride across Colorado the first week of September. I did a solo camping effort where I rode up from Denver with a full complement of gear, crossed Squaw Pass and descended down towards Idaho Springs where I camped for the evening and then climbed back up the US 40 route back to Denver; about 92 miles of riding round trip with a significant amount of climbing (under load) the first day. Two weeks ago Kate and I did a ride around the entire metro area; myself loaded with a slightly lighter pannier and front bag load and Kate with her regular commuting set up. My intent was to ride on the flats a long distance in incredibly hot weather with a bit of weight for added enjoyment. We accomplished both tasks making a giant circle around Denver totaling 112 miles. Also in preparation for the trip, I ordered a new Tubus Logo rear rack for my bike. Capable of carting around 80lbs on the rear rack alone I’m now a bit closer to being ready for my journey.

We’ve done several odds and ends projects around the house, mainly cleaning, weeding, mowing, and weeding again. We got some solar lights on clearance at Home Depot last week and added a bit of flair to the backyard. And we resealed our countertops: thrilling stuff. When not blowing our minds with adventures such as weeding and sealing, Kate and I have made a couple little trips about town to see different things. Last weekend we went down to the Chatfield Botanic Gardens to walk around the old homestead and check out the large Community Supported Agriculture garden down on the grounds. We enjoyed a completely sunny day but without the oppressive heat of previous weekends. Last night we went and saw one of my favorite bands from my high school punk rock days: Screeching Weasel. It was Kate’s first punk rock show and while she joked that both the music and I were now ‘Vintage’ we had a good time and the band put on a decent gig for a bunch of lightly aged punk rockers. (The lightly aged crowd did pretty well too.)

So as I try to squeeze every bit of the day out of the sunlight that remains I’m finding it leaving more and more day with less and less sun. So it is back to the indoors and the comfort of the keyboard. It is exciting having so much to do from day to day, but it does feel good to have some time to sit back and reflect as well. And while the keyboard doesn’t seem all that dusty to me, I suppose it has been a while. But I suppose that’s all in the past now: I’ll talk to you again soon.

Below are some pictures from our trip to the Chatfield gardens.







Thursday, July 29, 2010

Storms A Coming

"Sweet summer rain. Like God's own mercy."
O Brother Where Art Thou

Although the clouds first rolled in around 4:00, carried on the current of cool, northern wind, the ominous, grey-black wall now looming over what I’d guess to be Golden finally affirms that mother nature apparently means business. These clouds serve as a good metaphor for mood as of late: tumultuous and unsettled. I am agitated about something and for lack of any real indication as to what that something might be I instead affix as my target any convenient patsy. Lightening can apparently strike anywhere, and with my current state of disquietude there’s certainly a stockpile of bolts for tossing around at folks. I suppose this is fair as it is the time of year for unsettled weather, therefore a time for being a bit disturbed or off kilter. July is after all Colorado’s rockiest season. Ok that was a bad pun, but it illustrated the point. I only need to reflect back on the images of last year’s devastating micro burst and hail fiasco to confirm this. While it is easy to focus on the destructive aspect of these storms, there is a restorative and rejuvenating side to them as well. The frontal lows bring cooling winds to wipe away the smog, heat and dust of the mid summer’s day. The cleansing rains replenish the soil, quench the thirst of animal and vegetable alike and therefore carry with each drop the assurance of another day of life. And while, when amplified, these monsoonal events can leave a swath of devastation in their wake, all is not entirely lost. So I suppose I’ll just rise and fall along with the barometer and hope that eventually September will arrive and calmer winds will prevail. Perhaps then I too will feel these restorative effects with the passing of our mid summer storms…gray skies are going to clear up…Good grief: I wasn’t quite cheered enough for that one. Here’s a bolt for your’s truly for a bad pun and Singing in the Rain allusion. And now I suppose I do feel a little better.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Clear Creek Historic Park

Sunday we rode out to Golden to check out “Buffalo Bill Days.” The weekend festival commemorates the history of Buffalo Bill and the wild west by encouraging people to shop for knick-knacks, eat meat on a stick and look at classic cars. The festival in and of itself was nice enough and some of the old cars were actually really neat, but we didn’t stick around too long. Instead we went and had lunch at the Windy Saddle CafĂ© and then ambled down to the Clear Creek Historic Park to check on the progress of their gardens.

Operated by the Golden History Museum, the park offers a real-life entreat into a microcosm of pioneer life. Every summer a corps of volunteers (and I presume a few paid staff) support the living history exhibit at the park by hosting school groups, reenacting settler life and keeping the garden at the park. Centered around a handful of authentic pioneer buildings, the park includes a livestock pen, chicken coop and sprawling garden. While we didn’t see any demonstrations or living historians on Sunday we did get a chance to roam around and see what progress the gardeners had made this season.

Checking out the strawberry patch.

One of the historic timber buildings at the park.


Timbers half-lapped and dovetailed for a tight fit.

Little train which runs on weekends along Clear Creek.

A great trellis design for tomatoes. Each tomato plant is wrapped around a strand of twine, held up by these A-Frames.

While the Clear Creek garden certainly surpasses ours in terms of scenic beauty and variety of vegetables, we seem to be similar in terms of what is blooming or ripening. This gives me a degree of comfort in terms of gauging the progress of our season so far. There is certainly no ‘greener’ envy than garden envy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

No Need to Be Frightened

This evening I watched a guy in a “Psych Ward” t-shirt and his compatriots loving craft a scarecrow out of a pair of Goodwill jeans, old boots and a flannel hoodie. Then he reminisced fondly at the sight of a faded blue crowbar in the back of Jim’s truck: just like the one he used to have for busting out car stereos. Not exactly reflections on Walden Pond, but the crew got a good laugh out it. They stuffed the scarecrow full of trash bags containing packing peanuts from Kate’s work and even used an old basketball for the head. The portly and somewhat anatomically correct scarecrow ‘man’ certainly doesn’t conjure up wholesome images of Oz, but definitely reflects the pride and enthusiasm with which this year’s crew of guys have taken to their weekly garden forays. I didn’t have the camera because it was actually supposed to rain all day today but next week I will definitely take pictures.

In any case, Breaking Ground is thriving again on second chance soil with second chance gardeners. We’ve been harvesting full grocery bags of lettuce, kale, swiss chard and spinach. Now that these cooler season friends are finally leaving us we’re starting to spot our first tomatoes and pumpkin blossoms. Painstakingly tended each week by residents of the Independence House half-way house the garden is in good hands. Jim keeps the crew supplied with tools, $.99 cookies and the worst knock-off, generic soda you could imagine. It has been a great season so far and we’re only about half way through. Running out of building projects and garden tasks (other than weeding, watering and harvesting) it will be interesting to see what the crew comes up with next week…before we left they suggested that our scarecrow needs a girlfriend: good times down on the farm.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rainy Afternoon

A welcome cold front crept in to the Denver area overnight and ushered the heat wave of this past weekend off into memory. With the 70 degree temps also came much appreciated rainfall. We’ve had a wetter than average summer, at least by my calculations, and this afternoon’s bit of moisture came at the right time.
Very faint double rainbow.
 I don’t know if our garden has ever looked better. Well actually last year it was looking pretty good at this point and then heavy winds and hail came and tore it all to shreds…that was about this time in July too… In any case, for the moment, we have three healthy rows of corn, a raised bed chock full of potatoes, zucchini, three varieties of tomatoes in bloom, carrots, sage, thyme, basil, pumpkins, kale, peas (can’t believe we’re still getting peas), eggplant, broccoli and cucumbers (-1 one that Zin killed today while digging and wallowing in the bed). With the devastation of last year’s storm our raspberry canes were reduced to just a few for this season’s harvest. We had enough to enjoy, give to our neighbors and taste while picking and weeding. Next year though this year’s set of new canes should offer quite the bounty, assuming all continues to go according to plan.

Monday, July 19, 2010

One Hot Weekend...In Pictures

No you've not wandered into one of "those" sites, by hot I actually mean scalding...or boiling...or roasting...whichever word you'd care to describe the 102 degree heatfest we had on Saturday. In preparation for the certain death to come in the great Denver Metro basin over the weekend we opted to loaded our crew up into the Vanagon and seek solace somewhere cooler. We made our way up to the Peak to Peak highway from Golden (avoiding the route up through bike banning Black Hawk) and made our way out to Rollinsville. From there we went west along the gravel road to the base of Rollins Pass where good camping could be found...and the Vanagon quite frankly could go no further. Here are some pics of the weekend.  (Sorry I've not been posting much lately...I'm going to work on that. For now content yourself with some stunning images of some of Colorado's more scenic places and two goofy people and a dog.)
The old school house in Tolland heading out to Rollins Pass

We tucked in on a small lane and set up our camp near a large stream.
Note the homemade awning action.

Vanagon in the bush.

We went for a hike after we got settled. Kate and Presta left the photographer behind.

Rollins Pass and the Moffat Road were used for the construction of the Moffat Tunnel.

These buildings were used by railroad and tunnel workers back in the day.
They also apparently played basketball.

The Moffat railway tunnel is still used and takes you from Denver to Winter Park and beyond.

On our hike we found plenty of water to cool off the Bean.

More wonderfully cold water. Bean is refreshed.

Dark Eyed (Grey Headed) Junco

We hiked up above tree line to a series of mountain lakes.
White Capped Sparrow

The scenery was impressive.

I took the path up to Roger's Pass along the ridge (11,800ft ish).

 
Day two we opted to sit by the stream and hang out.

Bean was again pretty refreshed.

American Dipper
We enjoyed ourselves in the cool mountain air immensely and were very disappointed when we had to leave Sunday afternoon and head back home...to the sweltering 98 degree sun. At least next time the temperature soars you'll know where to start looking for us.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beaver Brook Trail from Windy Saddle

Untitled

Ensnared by your verdant undergrowth
I stand mesmerized at the entrance to your kingdom.
My senses overwhelm me.
Warm, rocky earth under foot,
A cool whispering breeze spoken sweetly against my face,
The smells of soil, dust, a hint of pine,
Honeysuckle and primrose,
I can see the path before me for a moment
Then diving deep into your wooded dell it hides itself;
Then I close my eyes and am surrounded,
Enveloped, enraptured--
Birdsong, squirrels playing in the canopy
A bee buzzing in pursuit of sugary delights
Your softly whispering summer winds
Calling out to me, beckoning--
Breath quickens in anticipation
But one step and I am lost,
Here I am.

--jlm 6/2010

Decided to go on a hike today and I sure picked a great day to get out and wander a rocky trail for a while. I've tried to capture some of the splendor of the days sights, sounds, feelings above in words and below in images. Enjoy!

Lazuli Bunting

Yellow Breasted Chat
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
If you open this image it almost looks like he's staring at me.
Mountain Chickadee
Verrry bizzare birds
Stellar's Jay, though the blue doesn't really come through in this shot.
Western Tanger
This guy was raising the alarm so I snapped this pick (with flash) without even looking. I think he was surprised.
Columbine
Just in time for the 5:00 shower.
Rufous Sided Towhee singing his heart out.