Ten More

A Toast to the Next Ten

The Twenty-Oh's are nearly done.

Tough for many. Good for some.

With -isms, crises and a bit of warming,
the past ten gave us all fair warning:

Make change! Make right! Make peace!
If not, what we know will certainly cease.

The century races fast to be a teen,
Stretching, reaching and somewhat lean.

Teenage years are full of "Remember when?"
So, let's kick them off right in Twenty-Ten!

Happy New Decade!


Duck Parade

Quack! Quack! Quack! It's showtime!

Like clockwork, we have daily shows of the new off-Broadway hit, "Duck Parade." Generally, there are three performances: Early morning, a mid-afternoon matinee and a final show in the late afternoon. (What would the unions say about this schedule?)

Taking cues from their friends at the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, our flock of 35+ wild Mallards, treks up the hill from Shadow Lake, usually single-file, to dine on corn and grains left untouched by other bird visitors. The performances play out under Big Mama Cedar, our primary bird feeding station. Even though the tree is like a hotel to many animals, there's no Red Carpet like the one the Peabody ducks waddle over!

While they feed, they remain alert and wary of the presence of others. It's taken them many months to relax enough for us to not regularly frighten them. Whenever they spook, they launch off in one big blast and quickly glide to the safety of Shadow Lake.

Our cast starts assembling in September. Though we may have a few spring hatchlings on the lake already, the primary flock is composed of migratory birds that have learned about the banquet table at Big Mama Cedar. They hang out for several months until it grows too cold and stormy, then they head down to warmer weather in the Valley.

One of their more spectacular and curious reprises occurs near dusk. The birds don't remain on the lake at night and sleep elsewhere. When the light reaches a point of near blurry darkness, with a little glow remaining in the pine tops, the ducks begin to chatter incessantly. All of the sudden there's a unified hush, followed by a lightening fast water launch and they head southeast. There's an occasional late flier worried that they're left behind, but one can easily set their watch to their grand finale.

(Photo: Duck Parade under Big Mama Cedar)


Autumn Exclaims

Three opening exclamations:

How time flies!

What a busy year!

Blogs take time!

Here it is, almost Halloween, and we haven’t posted any entries since early summer (yet another exclamation)! Several loyal readers have nudged and queried about the status of Life at ShadowWoods. They wondered if we were okay. They've asked about the garden, the gang of pets and the never-ending list of projects. However, their leading question is usually around the status of the blog.

First off, we’re fine. After our late spring home consolidation (no longer SF residents...A very BIG exclamation), we’ve had a lively season of rewarding projects, cherished visitors and memorable events.

We finished the guest cottage interior, added a fly cage to the “BirdBarn” and have begun work on a large, walk-in pantry, a much needed addition when living rurally remote.

Our highlight visitor was Aunt Dude from Durango, Colorado. She’s always such a joy and inspiration. Can’t get enough of her!!! (She’s worthy of more than one exclamation point.)

One sad event this summer was the passing of our 17 year-old family member, Shadow. She lived a long, loyal and happy dog life. We think of her daily. And, yes, she’s one of the inspirations for the naming of ShadowWoods.

Our garden was late, but surprisingly productive. As always, we learn new things to better inform the next season. We’ve put in some winter vegetables with the hope of eating fresh in the cold of winter.

With the onset of colder, wet weather comes the gift of more time to contemplate and write. We’ll reflect on the Summer and Autumn of ’09, chock full of successes and challenges, to whip up and write down stories, thoughts and helpful information.

So, hang in there dear readers. There’s more to come soon! (end exclamation point…)

(Photo: Fall color at ShadowWoods)


New Views

As mentioned in the past, wildfire is one of our biggest fears at ShadowWoods. Over the past six years, we’ve cleaned, trimmed, brushed, cut, chipped and burned undergrowth, overgrowth, diseased trees and logging slash. It’s been a constant, never-ending, endeavor.

Early on, the trees and brush were literally upon the house and created huge barriers around the property - The lake couldn’t be seen from the house, let alone accessed easily. Hikes were like running an obstacle course. Lower canopy trees suffered as they competed for a skyward opening. ShadowWoods had too much “shadow” and too much “woods!”

While family members sometimes helped in the clean up effort (Thanks Mike and Gary!), the bulk of the work fell upon us. We sectioned the "Compound," the 10+ acres around the house, into smaller, more manageable areas to be tackled. This helped alleviate the overwhelming aspect of the project, as well as gave us a continuous fresh location to address. Still, the sheer magnitude of the task would see us shake our heads and wonder if we would ever attain a safe, park-like setting around the house.

This month we got some help. We’ve brought in a fantastic “tree guy.” Actually, Noah is a tree specialist and spends much of his time up in the evergreens, hanging and swinging from ropes, while meticulously grooming trees and trimming dead, fire-ready branches. He “elevates” the trees and fells the tricky, sickly ones we’ve hesitated on. His ground crew associate, Cody, guides, winches and stages branches into a hungry chipper. We jump in from time-to-time dragging debris and cutting oak and madrone into firewood.

This first phase focuses on a wide swath of forest between the house and the lake, along with a narrow band near the vegetable garden. It’s roughly 3-4 acres and has a dense lower canopy of dogwoods making the larger tree removal more challenging. It’s taken nearly three weeks to complete.

The result is remarkable: We now see a continuous western horizon, complete with blue sky, clouds and sunsets, through majestic firs and pines. Mornings are brighter as the rising sun illuminates a nearby ridge of the Plumas National Forest previously hidden from our view. Sunlight is reaching the deprived lower canopy. Fire-prone trees are gone and the remaining forest is made safer by the removal of lower branches that can “ladder” a fire into a horrific, canopy wildfire. We’ve got mountains of chips that we’ll return to the forest floor, as well as mulch our plantings and garden.

It’s been an emotional project because we pain at the removal of any growing tree. However, our concerns are softened knowing that we’ve given longer, healthier life to the remaining stand and their offspring. While we’ll never change the name of this special spot, there’s now a little less “shadow” and a more vigorous “woods.”
(Photo: Noah swinging in the trees)


Green Fields

It clumps, quakes and waves. It can easily grow an inch a day. It perfectly hides snakes, birds weave it into their nests and it’s the basic energy source for many ecosystems. It’s mostly green, but under closer examination it’s often yellow, gray, blue, red and purple among other colors. It makes some people headachy and sick, while others are just fine napping in a tall field of it. So, what is “it” and why has “it” kept us too busy to post to our blog more regularly? It is GRASS!

We’re not talking about the lovely, clipped, nitrogen-green, front lawn stuff, but a hodge-podge of heirloom species that shoot up faster than the time-lapsed, green fur on a Chia Pet. It’s lovely when it’s freshly sprouted blades, but before you know it, you can be wading in an ocean of the stuff. Deep grass is a lovely image too, however, this time of year, grass grows abundantly, and after a rare, seven inches of rain in early May, well, it’s growing into an unmanageable jungle.

Armed with power weed-eaters, scythes and heavily gloved hands, we wage war daily with the green monster. We’re on a time critical mission: We must get the green grass down and away from buildings, before the searing summer sun bakes it into a golden, fire-rich kindling. We amass mounds of the stuff and load it into the compost bins. Sometimes, when feasible, we plow it under creating a rich, green compost to improve the soil. Managing grass definitely keeps us busy.

Now, we must be fair, not all of what we cut down and pull is grass. There’s a patchwork of other green lovelies that also crisp up with the daily rising temperature. Thistles, cockleburs and many other assorted weeds add to the battle. However, we just clump it all under the heading of “grass,” quake at how fast it grows and wave it good-bye for this season, knowing too well that it’ll return next year with the same determination, importance and loveliness.
(Photo: Zea species, aka Foxtails)


May Fire

It’s the first of May, raining hard and there’s a fire burning brightly in the living room.

Currently, our only source of heat is a wood stove located centrally in the home. We have a fire, non-stop September through May. The cut-off date is determined by how well the house holds the day’s heat through the evening and into the cooler morning hours. Mid-May usually marks the beginning of constant 70+ degree days and 50ish degree nights, a comfortable range allowing us to close down the wood stove for the season.

Wood stoves (and less efficient fireplaces) are dirty business. While they’re great for the pocketbook, wood debris, soot and ashes provoke constant cleaning. The flue needs to be brushed several times a year ridding creosote in order to maintain a better, safer fire. Occasional smoke escaping in the room adds a different layer of cleaning complexity, however, there’s something pleasant about the scent of a lightly, wood smoke-scented home. And then, there’s the carbon footprint caused by burning wood, but we make exchanges by driving less, using less power, using organics and reducing our CO2 output overall.

Supplying wood for the stove is another level of business to attend to. As we strive to make our land more fire safe, as well as manage the forest, we have to thin. With a mixed woodland forest, we have ample black oak, tan oak, madrone and red cedar. The madrone and tan oak are especially oily, resinous and combustible, so we ardently remove them during our cleanup to become our staple fuel source. We cut, split, stack and season wood throughout the year and usually burn 4-5 cords (a cord of wood is 4x4x8ft) during the colder months.

Henry Ford said, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” I wonder how much firewood Ford really cut, split, stacked (“ricked,” my Dad’s term), lugged inside and burned? Yes, heating a home by woodstove is a bit more work than the nostalgic Ford hints, but it’s really not that bad - When you finally get to put your feet up, gaze at the dancing flames and doze off feeling all toasty and warm, well, it’s pretty special.
(Photo: Madrone firewood)


Blossoms Bower

Looking like a flock of white doves, the dogwood blossoms now bower over the soon-to-be shaded earth.

We’re blessed with extensive groves of Mountain Dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) that form a lower canopy under the evergreens each summer. The trees range in size from small 3-4 foot high shrub-like bushes to 40-50 foot high "ancient" trees. An ancient tree is usually 40+ years old. The older trees are uncommon since they are susceptible to anthracnose, battle established trees for light and suffer limb-breaking snows in the winters.

While the trees favor moist areas, we find that the trees with the most blossoms are those that receive a healthy dose of sunshine. Sometimes you’ll see a large tree with only a single side branch with flowers. More than likely, that branch probably receives the only sunlight while the rest of the tree remains shaded by taller trees throughout the day.

The trees provide year-long interest - When summer draws to a close, the seemingly dead flower heads swell into bright red clusters of berries. The Stellar Jays and Flickers go wild over them. After gorging on the fruits, the birds spread the seeds through their droppings. In the autumn, the leaves turn beautiful shades of red, yellow, pink and bronze, proving that the West Coast has fall color too.
(Photo: Dogwood blossoms)


Sunshine Clothes

With the arrival of warmer weather we turn off the very-expensive-to-run electric dryer and exercise our arms by hanging our laundry outdoors.

I wore fresh, air-dried clothes as a kid. My mom never saw the shiny chrome of a dryer until about 1969, and even then it was used sparingly. Hanging laundry, as well as bringing it in, was a family chore. I learned early on how to prepare (wipe) the line, double up on clothes pins and the best way to shake out winkles. I also acquired a knack for hanging items in a specific order, so when taken down, folded and returned to the willow basket, there would be less effort once I was back in the house putting things away.

Today, those experiences continue to be of value. But now, there’s even more thought put into the task:

Line placement – Filtered sun is best as it lessens fading. Turning clothing inside out helps with this problem too.

Heavy loads – I don’t seem to remember my mom using these cool, little, dual-roller, plastic gizmos (the white thing in the photo) that you insert periodically to lift the bottom line to the upper one, thus preventing heavy, wet items from stretching to the the ground. I think we used wire coat hangers crafted in some weird manner to solve this.

Fabric Softener– I’ve never been a fan of anything more than eco-friendly laundry soap and some occasional beach, so I snub fabric softeners. However, if you’ve ever hung your clothes out, you know all too well the stiff and crisp nature laundry takes on. Usually, this can be removed with a quick snap of the item prior to folding, but towels seem to suffer the most. We cheat from time to time and gather the towels, before they turn into plywood, and throw them in the dryer for a couple of minutes. We’re experimenting with natural fabric softeners to reduce this issue and we'll report our findings in the future.

New learning aside, we still use wooden clothespins, a few of which have remained gainfully employed prior to 1969. Sunshine remains the same also, sort of, given all the climate change stuff going on. And, the smell of the finished product, well it’s still the same take-you-back-in-time scent that you just can’t find in a bottle…
(Photo: Drying work clothes)


Three's Company

Each spring, for a few brief days, and in only two secluded locations that we know of, an unusual and uncommon plant bursts into bloom at ShadowWoods. With such a scant and short display, it’s easy to miss this plant and even forget its existence.

Trillium, whose name conjures images of eerie toadstools, forest elves and magic potions, quickly sprouts and unfurls three leaves close to the ground which showcase a creamy-white blossom of three petals.

Its full name, Western Trillium (Trillium ovalum), is usually found in the California Coast Range in the moist redwood forests and is somewhat rare in the Sierra.

We wonder how our two growing areas, about 100 yards apart and sporting maybe half-dozen total plants, got started? How are they able to survive the colder winters here and continue the species? Perhaps there really are forest elves?
(Photo: Trillium ovalum)


Buster Bobo

Part angel and part clown (and a dash of monster!), our newest addition, Mr. Buster Bobo, keeps us on our toes!

Last Christmas Eve, a good friend asked us to foster this little guy. Since he was a stray, all attempts were made to locate his owners. After nothing clicked, this little character easily found a cozy place in our hearts and home.

Bobo, (aka Bolicious, Botron, Boboli, and other “Bo” morphs long before the First Dog came along) is an Affenpinscher. “Affenpinscher” translates from German to mean “monkey terrier” and like most small terrier breeds, he’s always on and ready for a good time. Inquisitive, sensitive, always underfoot, and sometimes selectively deaf, he rouses the other dogs, alerts us to wildlife and dines on a varied menu of leaves, bugs and feathers. Of course, this diet is his choosing, particularly when away from our supervision.

His fur is a bit sparse making him a lover of anything warm. With the nice spring weather, he enjoys standing guard while in a sliver of sunshine. When he seeks the shade it’s difficult to see him and interestingly, it’s when he most likely turns off his hearing aid. He's giving new meaning to the word "Shadow" to say the least...
(Photo: Bobo posing for the paparazzi)


Forest Cafe

It’s interesting how the things we miss most from city living become eager challenges for us to replicate at ShadowWoods. Usually these yearnings revolve around food and eating experiences. Take for example the morning visit to a neighborhood café –
In San Francisco, café life abounds, and with it a multitude of morning treats and crazies, I mean pastries. It’s so easy to satisfy sweet cravings while slugging your caffeine and taking in the awakening street scene.

To mimic what we took for granted when living in San Francisco, I employ my rural upbringing, you know, those things learned from mom, like weekly baking and annual preserving, to whip up our own little Café ShadowWoods experience. This morning, thick, toasted slices of fresh-baked, grain-laden bread with a healthy smear of home-canned jam are our substitute for the City’s doughy concoctions.

Grab a cup of coffee from the French press, head out to the deck or porch and watch the day begin. One big difference though is that our street scene is not of the human kind. We’ve got a different kind of flora and fauna to watch, and pretty crazy too! Come to think of it, with this view, the old street scene seems pretty tame now...
(Photo: 2008 Raspberry Jam )


Easter Turkey

When you think of the classic tom turkey running around in the wild, you might envision something that looks like those brown and orange tissue paper, Hallmark centerpieces that grandma set out annually. You imagine a brisk fall day, with vibrant leaves crunching under foot and a bird that is in full, puffed up regalia. Just add cornucopia, pilgrims and gourds.

Well, sorry to dash your long held icon of autumnal bliss! Around here, tom turkeys are barely to be found in November, and when they are, they’re scrappy, lean birds.

All their splendid costume can be seen now. Yes, springtime is mating season and the toms look like they’re on steroids. They strut, gobble, turn red and blue (legs and snood), fan out their tails and drape their wings all in hopes of attracting a harem of hens.

Often, several gobblers will present their show in unison, like Radio City Rockettes, without fighting or antagonizing each other. Their focus is on the seemingly aloof hens. Apparently, the male pecking order is worked out in advance.

Once the hens hatch their clutch, they ban together to raise the poults. The crash (a group of turkeys) stays together during the spring and summer months, while the toms generally go solo.

A funny sight is when turkeys prepare to roost for the evening. Around dusk, the crash will quickly trot, one by one, lifting off into flight. Even though they’re a large bird, they fly quite well once off the ground and gracefully glide through the trees. At ShadowWoods, they fly into the pines, first landing on lower branches, and then hopping up the tree until they’re high off the ground safe from nighttime predators. They're less graceful during the hopping stage...
(Photo: Three toms near North Road)


Think Fresh

It’s that time again…Time to plant the annual vegetable garden!

The seeds are sleeping in the cool basement. A few seedling starts are crying to be outside. The compost piles are eager to get moved and spread. The barren soil is dry enough for tilling. And, the yet-to-be-installed, cedar/solar fencing is ready to fend off the eager deer.

We photograph and chronicle every summer garden. We take notes on what worked and what failed. This has proven to be the best way to map the next season’s layout, to be smart about rotation and to know what seed to buy/keep.

This year we’ll plant more corn, okra and melons. We could do with fewer tomatoes and string beans, but hey, you can always give away vine-ripened tomatoes and snap-fresh beans. As always, we’ll plant a large area of basil to freeze enough pesto to last through winter. We’ll also increase root crops since we’ve added some rock-free, raised beds.

It’s always a lot of work, but the payoff of fresh, tasty and less-costly food far outweighs the labor. Speaking of weight, one can loose a few pounds gardening too!
(Photo: A snippet of the 2008 garden)


Spring Trumpets

Daffodils…Such loyal little guys! Every year, they stretch for the spring sun, require little care and reward you when all else is bleak.

Because of this rich simplicity, we plant hundreds (daffodils, jonquils and narcissus) every fall around “The Compound.” The Compound is an area of about ten acres, surrounding the house, which we devote the most attention to. The “daffs” are set out in natural drifts in hopes to blend, rather than showcase their brief, razzle-dazzle explosion of color.

Like heirloom roses, daffs often map long-gone, home foundations. If mistakenly dug up and left to the elements, their enduring nature still forces an annual bouquet. In these habitats, they stand as a permanent marker of a past family heritage, a lost garden or a buried pathway.

So, fifty years from now, will the daffodils at ShadowWoods tell similar stories?
(Photo: "Jetfire" daffodils)


Warm White

How quickly things change! It was snowing last weekend and it's 74 degrees today. I'm running around in shorts with a set of very white legs.

Our biggest fear at ShadowWoods is forest fire. If the rain spigot is turned off too early, the forest stresses till autumn, and makes for a longer, scarier and more probable fire season.

I hope that a cool down, married with some rain, is in the not-too-distant forecast. I'm more than happy to cover my legs back up!
(Photo: A dusting of snow, late spring)