Wild Geese

Last night as my husband and I stood in the garden, admiring the growing things and enjoying the reddish hues the sky had thrown on as the sun sank behind the hill, two flocks of Canada geese flew over our heads in typical “V” formation. As they passed overhead, honking away in what I assume is conversation, I heard the sound of their wings as the feathers and sinew and bone cut through the air. The collective flapping of synchronized wing beats. The whish whish of flight.

I’ve never heard that in my life. As a child of the big city, anything other than the honking as the geese flew by was drowned out by the city sounds of traffic and construction. Not so, here. My husband seemed amused at my wonderment. I asked him if he’d heard that sound before, to which he replied, of course, while hunting. Not the first, nor the last time I’ll envy his country upbringing.

But that point is moot. I hope that today, wherever you find yourself, you find wonder in your life. We all could use a little more wonder.

Advertisements

Creepy crawlers

Not only is the garden a place for plant growth, it’s a gathering place for insects and animals eager to enjoy nature’s bounty. Sometimes those animals and insects are what we consider pests, such as gophers (the war for the backyard continues!) and caterpillars in my cabbages. But many insects are beneficial in the garden. Bees have been headlining the list lately with the issues over hive collapse disorder, but other bugs are important, too. Ladybugs are a good example, because they eat aphids.

Anyway, here’s a sample of what’s creeping and crawling in my garden lately:

Here is a bee (it only looks green… it’s not a fly) gathering pollen from a male pumpkin blossom (the pumpkin is one of many plants that is considered “bisexual,” having both male and female flowers… more on that in a minute). Can you see the pollen on the bee’s legs?

A ladybug/ladybird beetle chillin’ in the dill. Hopefully protecting it from aphids and other pests!

Joining the ladybug beetle in the dill is a wasp. Humans definitely value bees over wasps for their pollen spreading services, but wasps are predators and are helpful in their own right. In the lower righthand side of the picture, there is an ant. There’s another in the middle bottom of the photo. I hope the wasp was hunting ants!

Here’s a crab spider (not sure exact kind) in the marigolds!

Oh, and since I mentioned the pumpkin flowers earlier, here’s a brief biology lesson: Many plants are considered bisexual or “perfect,” which means they have both male and female flowering parts.

Pictured above is the male pumpkin flower with its slender, pollen-containing stamen. Male pumpkin flowers usually come onto the scene before the female flowers, but eventually there are both at the same time. Pollen from the stamen will be carried by bees (or you can be your own bee: pick the make flower and rub the stamen on the female flower) to the female flower’s multi-segmented stigma, shown in the photo below. The pollenated female flower will go on to become a pumpkin!

I have to say I find it endlessly amusing that while some humans seem to consider anything but heterosexuality peculiar,
bisexuality in flowering plants (“angiosperms”) is considered perfect. Oh, the irony.

Anyway, that concludes today’s bug lesson! I hope you’ve enjoyed the up-close-and-personal view of the bug world in my garden. All this talk about bugs has me wanting to re-watch “Ants.” Remember that movie? It was the more adult version of “A Bug’s Life,” and the better of the two in my opinion. Think they’ve got it on Netflix?

How does your garden grow? … Mine? Slowly.

OK, I’ve been promising a garden update for some time now. So here it is! It’s been an interesting season for me. I live in a place that’s sort of on the cusp of both zones 3 and 4 (less than 100-day growing season). Which means it’s hard to grow here! I would have liked to start planting in March, but was delayed until May because of snow and frost. So my garden looks woefully behind those of friends in friendlier climates it would seem. But despite that, I’ve had some successes, some failures and overall a fun time.

In the front garden, I planted an assortment of flowers and raspberry cane. The flowers that are thriving are bachelor’s button (the photo above) in white, lavender and blue and orange poppies. My sunflowers are coming up FINALLY, but they’re only six inches or so tall and I don’t know if they’ll make it to six feet before the frost. They’re Mexican torches, supposed to be bright orange.

There was a bee buzzing around the poppies yesterday.

I have to be careful to water the front garden every day. I usually dump two water pails on it, most of which goes to the raspberries. Since the garden is south facing and narrow against brick, it’s a hot place and the flowers and raspberries need a lot of hydration.

My romaine is going positively gangbusters. The spinach bolted at the first sign of heat (sigh), but the romaine just keeps on going. We’ve had a number of salads from the romaine patch now! Those salads always taste fabulous because about five minutes before they were eaten the lettuce was still in the ground.

The rhubarb is still growing like the giant beast it is. I had to somewhat decapitate it yesterday because it was shading out the beans. The carrots, which I’ve gradually thinned, seem to be growing well. When I thinned yesterday, I pulled out some tiny carrot nublets. Despite being only a centimeter or two long, they were delicious and orange! I thinned the onions again, as well as the rainbow chard. The pumpkins and squash I planted must have drowned in the couple long rains we got a few days after I planted. Alas, they wouldn’t have made it anyway, I don’t think. Too short a growing season.

Raspberries and romaine from the garden.

I also toddled up the street a few houses to snap some photos of a neighbor’s flower garden. It’s really quite beautiful. The folks who live in the house must have the garden planted in a succession because there are have been flowers there since May and they’re always changing.

These red and yellow sunflowers are called Velvet Queens. The pretty white butterfly was having a heyday amidst these beauties. In addition to the Velvet Queens, the neighbor’s garden has some great orange lilies, but I’d have to go up the stairs and into the garden to gets good shots of those and well, that’s creepy.

The neighbor’s garden.

In other news, my husband and I are moving about an hour east Friday. We’re moving so we can both go to school. Shawn will be doing most of the commuting, but I’ll be taking a free bus to campus. I’m so excited for school to start! I am so NOT excited to move. The only thing that’s really keeping me going on the packing process is the knowledge that the new apartment has a dishwasher, washer and dryer. Amenities I’ve lived without for four years. It’s time to rejoin modern society. Huzzah! I’m sad to be leaving the garden behind, but we’re planning some veggies raids later on in the season. On the positive side, though our new apartment doesn’t have a yard or space for a garden, we’ve already located a community garden nearby that I hope to join.

I hope your gardening this summer has been successful and delicious!

My thighs are killing me…

… and my butt hurts even worse. But that’s OK because it means I’m one step closer to getting in shape.

This is a story of a girl and her bike.

Let’s begin with the bike. It’s a nice bike, bought in high school for the price of a summer’s worth of babysitting and chores. It’s nothing fancy, just a run-of-the-mill mountain bike. The handle bars are starting to rust a bit. It’s had a tire replaced and a couple of tune-ups. But the bike gets the girl from Point A to Point B.

Now a little about the girl. She’s a nice girl with a nice husband, a nice apartment and nice kitties. What’s not so nice? The fact that she’s been carrying around about 25 pounds more than she should for the past three years or so. She hides it well, but she’s tired of hiding. So she’s resolved to lose those 25 pounds this summer and the bike is going to help her (and the fact that she lives in a crazy hilly town). As are the hikes with the husband and eating less.

Don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out, 25 pounds!

The view from Lone Pine

For all you vista gluttons out there:

Shot this photo from Lone Pine State Park above Kalispell. I drove there to cover an event, which I found out when I got there was canceled because of the “possible government shutdown.” But the government didn’t shut down! Oh well, at least the Hubs and I got to walk around on a lovely, sunny day in a nice state park and take in the views. The above is a view of the Swan mountain range, which starts around my town and runs a hundred miles southeast or so. (And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve cropped out “town” in the bottom of the photo. Remember that nearly 80,000 people live in this “remote” valley, after all.)

Oh, and I need to wish my lovely husband Shawn a happy three years together anniversary today! (Our six months married-iversary is next weekend.)

To the good life and back again

The Hubs and I went to Nebraska to visit family this past week and had a great time, though it sped by and I’m certainly not ready to be back at work! We stopped and spent time with my grandparents, then went on to his parents. The highlight of the trip for me was bottle feeding a calf I affectionately called “Burger” (a little morbid, I know). Burger’s mom had twins and rejected the poor little guy, so he’s getting raised on a bottle. He’s a greedy little pig and sucks down the bottle twice a day as fast as he can. Don’t think he even tastes it. Then he tries to suck off your fingers.

We’re buds. Can you tell?

We also visited Shawn’s sister and family about an hour away from where Shawn’s folks live. Had a great time bouncing around on a trampoline with my niece and nephew.

But it was a short trip and we didn’t even think to shoot many photos, so the vast majority are from the drive back.

Sunrise in western Nebraska, framed by a pivot.

Traffic jam in Lander, Wyoming.

I-80 was closed just outside Rawlins because of a nasty wreck, we think (saw lots of emergency vehicles and smoke, didn’t see the actual cause of the closure), so we had to take the long way home through Lander, Jackson and down into Idaho. But the upshot was getting to see some pretty country neither the Hubs nor I had ever seen.

The strange part for us was that around Lander it seemed like summer time and vaguely Arizona-like. By the time we reached Jackson, though, we were back to winter (even though it was the first day of spring yesterday!).

We wished there hadn’t been such a low cloud ceiling so we could see more of the Tetons as we drove past, but the view was still beautiful.

Oh, and we hit a major milestone yesterday in Darth Truffle, the mighty Honda Civic.

I’ve put 127,000 miles on my little car in the past 8 years. Yikes.

Also, I would like to note that as I was writing this post, four deer went tearing past the window. I’m in a building at the busiest intersection in town. Oh, Montana.

Remember that post I promised? Here it is.

OK, OK, I know I’ve been a delinquent blogger for the last week or so. I blame it on boys basketball. I spent the weekend covering the state championship in Bozeman (my town’s team won — Yay! Go Wildcats!). When not covering the game (which, dare I admit, has increased my interest in basketball from zero to that of mild entertainment — what can I say, we’re a football family!), the Hubs and I had a fabulous time hitting up Bozeman’s darling Main Street. We did window shopping since we’re hanging on to our two pennies to rub them together, but had a great time nonetheless.

But moving on… a few weeks ago now I had the opportunity to go on a snowshoe hike on the Apgar Lookout trail in Glacier National Park with Ryan Alford, publisher of Snowshoe Magazine.

Here are some gals we met on the trail. They came over from Browning (though they have scads of snow in East Glacier) for a day hike. We also saw another couple. And, sssshhh, don’t tell, but we didn’t make it to the top. Neither did anybody else we saw that day. I’ll blame it on the “considerable avalanche danger” and just plain wussing out (hey! the snow was like waist deep even with snowshoes!). But enough about me, let’s talk about some snowshoes.

I was handed a pair of snowshoes by the lovely Hilary at Outside Media (She said “test drive?”.  I said “yes, please!”). Easton Artica Hike snowshoes to be exact, a pair that won’t hit the market until 2012.

First of all, I’ve noticed a trend. Women’s snowshoes are pink. Metallic magenta to be exact. Not that I have a problem with that, nope not at all. But I guess pink is the new… pink? Anyway, I traded my Atlas Elektra 11 Series snowshoes (you guessed it… also pink) for a date with the Artica pair.

The first thing I noticed (besides the color) was the articulating frame. Is it just me, or are you wondering why no one else thought of this sooner? Pretty dang bright whoever thought that up. The frame of each snowshoe is actually two pieces held together in the front and back, which allows the snowshoe a little more “give” and “twist,” easing up the pressure on knees and ankles.

I also noticed (especially when we were descending a 45-degree ridge) the crampon under the heel for that “aggressive rear traction” Easton Mountain Products touts. Worked like a dream on some slippery snow (soft powdery snow on top of a slick layer… hence the “considerable avalanche danger” warning) and got me down the hill way faster than I would have otherwise been comfortable (yes, I’m poky). The flotation on the Artica shoes was great.

I had no trouble with the decking, but Ryan did. He wore a pair of men’s Artica Hike snowshoes and his decking actually tore on the test run. Not a terrible tear, but something I’d be hopping mad about if it happened to me and I’d paid for the ‘shoes.

I loved the binding. My feet didn’t move at all, letting the snowshoes do the work for me and saving me energy. That’s my big gripe with my Elektras — my feet are always coming loose. I think the fact that the cinch is made from fabric and not plastic really helps. It doesn’t slide on itself so easily.

A bell/whistle of the snowshoes were the front crampons. Instead of just one single crampon, each ‘shoe has a split crampon that pivots, allowing more traction on one side of the ‘shoe than the other. Nifty, but I didn’t notice a difference from my regular M1-A1 crampons. Perhaps if we’d had more sloped terrain to walk along instead of up and down I would have noticed.

Did I mention that the snowshoes are 80 percent recyclable? As a person who considers herself very eco-conscious and “green,” it’s important to me that what waste I produce doesn’t sit in a dump for half-life of uranium (which is like 4 billion years if you’re wondering). Although I don’t know why exactly you’d want to recycle your snowshoes — in my experience they last a long time. Or if they wear out, you toss ’em in the garage for 50 years, then take ’em to an antique store and make more money on ’em than you paid in the first place!

Really, I had just three problems with the Artica snowshoes.

1.) Didn’t solve my “snowshoe hip” problem. By about five miles into the nine-mile hike my hips were definitely starting to smart. My Elektra snowshoes don’t solve this problem either. I’d be tempted to say it’s just me, but I know lots of women with “snowshoe hip” issues. Easton attempts to solve this problem with snowshoes that curve in, becoming thinner, in the back. This keeps the shoes from knocking together and helps prevent a person from walking like they just got off a 10-mile trail ride on a fat horse. However, my “snowshoe hip” issues persist.

2.) Weight. The 7075 aluminum frame was a bit on the heavy side. Definitely felt heavier than my Elektras and that made a lot of difference when we were going up a 45-degree hill.

3.) My biggest problem? Giving them back. Wish I could’ve kept ’em forever! I tried to tell Hilary they were going to a good home, but no, Backpacker Magazine or some such rooks had to take ’em next.

Alright, this post is getting near epically long, so I’ll keep it brief. Just one more shout-out to this baby:

(This photo either screams “product placement!” or it’s nifty and artsy… you choose.)

I took my brand new Hydro Flask water bottle with me on the snowshoe hike. I’ve always been a Nalgene fan, but I’ve got to hand it to my bright orange buddy here, Hydro Flask has got me converted. While Nalgene holds more water (and it went on the hike too, holding water), the orange water bottle above got filled with steaming hot chocolate at 8 a.m. And was still mostly warm at noon. Did I mention it was -7 degrees outside? So cold my Nalgene’s lid froze shut. And started forming ice cubes. The Hydro Flask kept the hot chocolate not hot, but at least warm until lunch time when I appreciated the sugar rush and the warmth. And I like that it’s orange. For someone as clumsy as me, it’s good to know that if I dropped it in a snowdrift, I’d be able to find it!

Oh, and MAJOR props to Hydro Flask for its fivepercentback.org initiative. Hydro Flask donates 5 percent of every sale to the non-profit of your choice when you enter the code on the sticker on the bottom of the water bottle. My choice? Well, I vacillated between NPR (since Congress seems hell-bent on getting rid of it and everything else good in life) and the American Hiking Society. But since I recently donated to NPR, I chose the Hiking Society. Got to support the good things in life!

All-in-all, a day well spent. The snow was luscious and powdery, the skies brilliantly blue, the company good.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perk’d for testing the snowshoes or water bottle and writing this blog post. Just my honest-to-goodness opinions in the name of awesome snowshoeing!

100 daily hits

Today this blog hit 100 daily hits. Highest ever in a single day! So it’s not a ton, but it means a lot to me! Thanks for helping this happen, faithful readers. My daily totals have really increased over the past month or so to averaging between 70-90 hits a day. I’m closing in on 5,000 hits total in a hurry, too, so I’ll make sure everyone hears about that when the time comes! Here’s a random pretty picture for you from a recent work assignment: