Sunday, March 25, 2012

Adventures in Paint

1. Thank you for indulging me in last post's rant.  I shall try not to do it often.  Be warned, though: I am liable to rant as often as 2x per year, and when I do, I gesticulate with the vim and intensity of a crowd of Italian mothers debating their rival sauces.  One wants to stand at a safe distance.

2. Do you ever have one of those weekend where you go out with all your old college friends and you hit up the G Street bars you used to hit regularly in college, and then somehow someone orders shots and the beer chasers don't really drown the buzz and another few rounds later and another few bars later, you suddenly wake up in your own bed with your mouth tasting fuzzy and the absolute certainty in your mind that whatever you might have done in college, you are clearly too old for that now?  And what on earth were you thinking?

That is exactly how I feel.  Only there was neither friends nor bars, nor sadly, even drinking involved.  Just that delightful wrung out and put away wet feeling of utter inability to move another muscle, even to blink your eyes.  Ho baby, that was a weekend.  And like the alcoholic version above, the only cure - I'm certain of this - is hair of the dog.

I must. keep. painting.

Since the day I bought this house, I've fretted over the foyer.  Actually, I've fretted over the entrance hall, because I'm not really a foyer kind of girl.

This is how it goes: You walk in my front door.  You're standing in a big, empty room, with a pile of shoes on the floor by the door.  It's one story high at the door behind you, sloping up to 1 1/2 stories directly in front of you.  Straight ahead, through a double door, is the dining room.  To your left is the playroom/den, to your right, a staircase and the door to the living room.  It's physically the central room in the house.  It's the room that's supposed that's supposed to welcome you.  But it's dark, and gloomy, and the wood panelled walls are stained a muddy mushroom brown green grey.  The only lighting is from grimy, brassy can lights on grimy brass tracks.  Some of the bulbs don't work - not because the bulbs have burned out but because the lights are just very far gone.  The ceiling has wood beams in the same muddy mushroom as the walls, and the panels between them might have once been white, but are now stained yellow with age and cracked.  There's one window: a small, octagonal thing next to the door, in the shade of the house, that lets in no direct light.

(I think that if you shift and click on a photo, it will show it to you much larger in a new window)

From the moment I bought the house I've been trying to fix this room.  18 months, and the number of paint colors I've tried has long past into double digits.   I went a bright sunny yellow for awhile, but my husband couldn't stand it.  "Mexican restaurant,"  he said, dampingly.  And somehow, even with bright yellow walls, it remained a dark and depressing room. 

I cut the front door in half to let in more light.  That didn't help.

I looked past the entryway and painted the dining room, which had been the same muddy brown, until it glowed and shone.  I took off the door frames and sanded them down to their original redwood and laquered and waxed them till they glowed.


In progress

After left

After center

After right

Now the view from the front door was vastly improved - you enter the house and your eye is drawn straight past the entryway and into a bright and welcoming room.  But you were still standing in a dreary, dark, hall.  I primed the walls white - that brightened it a bit, but what color to paint on top?  I tried ice blue, faint blue, light blue, middle blue.  I gave up for six months.

Then, finally, in utter despair,  I called Victor.  Victor is a color consultant, and I had never consulted a color consultant before.  I do my own colors, blast it!

He offered grey.  I rejected grey, absolutely.  He argued that my dining room's green had a lot of grey in it, and as the two rooms are closely ensconced, that grey would mesh well.  I spurned grey, and offered red, in shades of brick or terracotta.  He sneered.  We had already tried and rejected yellow, in a myriad of hues.  He found a slate blue, and in a 6" by 6" square, it looked great.

I painted three of five walls in Victor's slate blue, and despaired again.  It was green blue, it was grey, it was one color here and another there, and over all hung those grimey, horrid, depressing  track lights and cracked ceiling.

For a year I'd been hiding from that ceiling - it was terrifying, daunting, in the amount of labor it represented.  I thought I could ignore it, hide from it, pretend it would go away if I didn't look.  We talked about someday stripping and restoring the redwood beams.  We talked about antique tin tiles.

But Victor's failed blue, if it did nothing else, shook something awake in me.  That room was not going  to remain another month in that condition.  So I stopped consulting Victor, or my husband, and I bought lights, and I called in reinforcements.

This is Ruben.

And this is Chuey.

They built my mom's house last year from the ground up, and by god they were going to save my entry.  Yesterday, Ruben and Chuey and I spent the day on ladders.  Today, we sent the kids away and my husband and I spent another day on ladders. 

And it is not done.

But it is getting there.....

Painting the ceilings

Wall 1/2 painted, tester lights hung.  We may go down a size.

Front wall.  No door frames yet.  N looking as blurry as he feels.
I walk in now, and the ceiling is bright, and the whole room, even with half finished walls, feels bright.  The new lights, although only two, give more than twice the light of the 8 cans that used to be.

The walls are Victor's slate with stripes of Mozart Blue.  The ceiling rafters are marscapone and the panels are glacier (a super pale blue).  The door frames will be the same refurbished redwood that the dining room doorframes are. Color for the two side walls (behind the staircase and towards the playroom, visible in the pic where I'm painting the ceiling) is yet to be determined.  Something very pale, I think. I'll take suggestions, happily.

Halfway through Saturday, N was out with the kids, and I stopped painting to text him: "Happy happy happy."

Happy.  But utterly, drunkenly, full body exhausted.

When the entry hall is done (and yes I will post pictures), the upstairs bathroom will be tackled.
You want to see my test paints??

Clearly, I haven't found the right ones yet.  Yes, I'm testing paint on the mirror.  That mirror will go away and become a wall.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why there's a kid in my kayak

It's been one of those weeks.  You know, the one where stress gets followed by bad news gets followed by worse?  This week, I heard that one of my best friends was being referred for advanced cancer screening.  Each subsequent test fails to rule out cancer, so we move on to the next test. Her son and my youngest are only weeks apart. Then I learned of the death of a very dear relative.  He was in his 90s, but he was very loved.  And I learn that his wife's best friend, another family friend, is losing her daughter to cancer.  Next, an email from another friend.  She's cutting down on her obligations due to what looks like a third recurrence of lung cancer. 
I put my kids in kayaks before their 2nd birthday.  That's the rule in my house.  You can not go two years without sitting in a kayak.  This is why:  When you're in a kayak, when you're down in the hull with a paddle in your hands, there is no way not to be part of nature. Half your body is below the water line. Every ripple in the water will move you.  Every stroke of your paddle will tie you in.  You're not racing above the water as you do with sail.  You're in it. You have no motor to pollute the water with diesel and heavy metals,  you use no resources other than the strength of your own arms and back.  You're as silent as the deer poised on the shoreline, and the shorebirds skimming the waves. Which means that you move at the pace of the natural world, and can hear the natural world, and smell the natural world, and feel the natural world.  With your face, your arms, your legs, your back.  It's you, and the wind and the water and the birds and the turtles and the snake who darts across the shallows.
I want my children to grow up feeling a part of that.  Feeling a part of the world that existed long before humans began twisting it to suit their needs. I was at a community meeting recently, and a high school girl gave a speech about the importance, to her, of a particular community natural open space.  She said that when she got to spend time in that place, when she was small, she got to be whoever she wanted to be.  She could be riding with Pocahontas or exploring with Marco Polo.  She said that she's always had great extracurricular activities - soccer, or art classes, or gymnastics, and she's glad of them all.  But that the best times have been the unscripted times, running around in nature, letting her imagination run free.
That's what I want for my kids. That confidence and imagination that comes from knowing spaces where they can run around free and unscripted. I want them to learn to trust themselves there, not to fear it, the way so many city kids I've taught fear nature: snakes and bugs and frogs and centipedes and mud and Blair Witches hiding in the trees.  And I want them to learn what should be feared: how to cope when the winds are too strong, when to stay out of fast water, that nature can be strong and wet and cold, and requires respect, thought, planning.  
This is what I fear:  that the changes we've wrought through 200 years of growth, industrialization, resource exploitation and pollution are killing the people I love before they've lived their 90+ years.  That 2 year old Andy will grow up without his mother, or Dan will lose the wife that he adores, because we've filled our world with poison and called it fire retardent, low cal sugar substitutes, and conveniently packaged snacks.  That the incessant feel of asphalt and concrete under our children's feet will make them forget that they evolved to walk on soil, grass, and rock.  That the "21st century learner" our schools keep talking about will be so well tuned in to technology that they believe having a photograph of a beautiful lake or a polar bear as their laptop screen wallpaper is in some way enough to counter the fact that they never see that lake, and we're driving the polar bears to extinction.
So I put my kids in kayaks before they're two.  And I give them live frogs to hold gently and put back where they were found, instead of decorating my bathroom with cute little colorful frogs made in China. Because real matters, and anything else is lip service. I feed them as much as I can on organic and whole foods, and when my brown thumb cooperates, on vegetables from our garden. I serve meals on ceramic plates and give them real water glasses and real utensils, because children's dishes and forks made of plastic just ensure that we are feeding our children plastic until we deem them old enough not to - horror - break a plate.  I'd rather they break a plate or 20 - in 7 years and two kids we've broken maybe 3 - then hear my kid has cancer before they're 30.  I keep them out of soft fleece jammies because our nation in its wisdom has mandated that all childrens' soft fleece jammies come presaturated with fire retardents.  And I balance the reading and math and screen time with great doses of "go outside and run around," or "here's a shovel, make mud pies."
And I hope they learn, these 21st Century learners of mine, that we can't survive on asphalt alone, and that to keep our world, we need to know it, and care for it.  And that nature is real, and it is beautiful, and it is powerful, and is going to teach us many lessons this century that require respect, and careful thought, and a lot of advance planning.
That is why I keep, as often as possible, a kid in my kayak.  And while we're out there, and I'm paddling, and my kid is in the forward hatch, (or standing on the deck of the Santa Maria, or climbing the rigging to watch for pirate ships on the horizon, or rowing to beat of a native drum)  I make sure to spend some of that time silent, letting their imaginations run free.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hidden World, Part IV

The first time I met a tiger salamander in the wild was on a morning following a night just like this.  A downpour of a rain, steady and hard and long.  My colleagues and I had been offered the opportunity to assist, on a voluntary basis, with a research project studying a population of these entrancing and intriguing creatures. 

The researcher, properly trained and permitted, had set up a number of pitfall traps throughout the prairie.  Normally the traps are closed, so nothing can fall in and be injured or killed.  But on the evenings when rain is forecast, he goes out and opens the traps.  Then he sends out his email to his team of volunteers: the traps are open.  We'll meet at 5 am to check them.

Traps must be checked first thing in the morning for two reasons.  First, there are a lot of them, and should we find a salamander, we must measure it, weigh it, photograph it, find a nice squirrel hole for it, and release it.  Should we find a lot of salamanders, as we sometimes do in this bit of protected land, we weigh, measure, photograph and safely release each one, and that takes hours.  So we start early because we never know whether it will take 3 hours or 8.  Second, a salamander in a trap is easy pickings for any predator that wanders by - a hungry bird, or a raccoon.  From dawn onwards, each one is at risk, and it is our job not to let a single one come to harm.  Every trap must be checked, emptied, and closed, every rainy morning.

Two years ago was my first sojourn into salamander trapping.My colleagues and I were driving well before dawn, through a rain that grew harder the longer we drove.  When we arrived at the meeting spot and tried to step out of the car, we found it easier said than done - the wind was howling around us, and it took all our strength to force the car doors open.  We huddled in the parking lot in the sheeting rain, broke into teams with the other volunteers, were given our assignments, and set out.  The wind died down some, and as we moved along the line of traps, the exhilaration of meeting and holding these extraordinary creatures was enough to keep me warm.  But after an hour or so, the already howling wind picked up.  What had been a forceful 40 miles an hour picked up to 50, and possibly 60 mile an hour winds.  If you've ever driven down a highway in hard rain, you know exactly how wet that is.  But we didn't have cars around us, or even umbrellas - which would never have held up to that weather, even if the salamandering hadn't required both hands.  The few trees I could see were bent impossibly over at 90 degrees - and so was I.  To walk into the wind I had to go bent double, using all my strength to force my way forward, my entire body from hips up exactly parallel to the ground.  When I turned my back to the wind I went with leaps and bounds, the wind pushing me forward three steps to every one I tried to take.

Every story I'd ever read as a child about hurricanes was central in my mind.  Jacob Have I Loved, or Captain Courageous - the characters dashing desperately through the storm or lashing themselves to the decks were bent just the way I was bent now.  But we couldn't lash ourselves down, nor dash for shelter.  There were another 60 traps to check.  Who knew how many small, fragile endangered species crouching at the bottom of buckets, with no way out of this storm and sure death but us.

At one point I sunk to my knees in mud and had to be hauled out by a colleague.  By halfway through the morning, the wind had found flaws in Gina's rain pants and torn them to shreds - they fluttered from her waist like long yellow wind socks, and the pants she wore under them were soaked black.  None of us, with rain gear still intact, were much drier. And yet, by the end of the morning, when the last trap was checked, and emptied and closed, and the last salamander safely underground, the four of us found ourselves back in my car.  Dripping.  Shivering.  Starving. and Grinning.  I'm not sure who started laughing first, but it took us 10 minutes before we could stop. And then we high-fived, and drove home.

This year was a dry winter, but there were a few nights of rain, and last month I got to go again.  This time, the morning held only a light drizzle, and no wind.  But it held a lot of these:

This one's just a juvenile, tiny and skinny.

A bigger one.  Look at his smile!

Checking the traps

Weighing him

You can tell them apart by their spots.  Each one has a different pattern.

By photographing them carefully, you can tell how many times you've caught the same one, and thus learn about both their movement and their population size.

Release him where he can see a burrow

And watch to see him safely underground

They know just what to do.

So where are they?  Where can you see one of these charming, tiny spotted creatures for yourself?  Their numbers are dwindling, and their range is shrinking.  But if you've ever hiked across a grassy meadow in northern California, or wandered by a cow field, or past sheep grazing, or visited a new housing development on the edge of wilderness.... you've walked right over them.  They're always there, hidden right under our feet.

And on nights like tonight, in this rain, they're walking.  Get out a flashlight, if you like, and go for a wander.  But be careful where you place your feet.

The Hidden World, Part III

It's raining.  It's been raining for a couple of days, without pause, after a long, dry winter.  I've been watching my garden fill up with puddles, and then rivers.  The fountain has overflowed and taken over the patio.  As I drove up to my house last night, I had to turn on my brights and drive at a crawl to avoid the frogs, who have apparently taken these long-sought rains as a sign to go awandering.

And I'm here in my warm dry house, under the roof we had replaced just last year, snug in my pajamas, and where I'd rather be, tonight, in this rain, is about 40 miles from here. Forty miles from here there is a piece of prairie.  For whatever reason, whatever trick of fate, this prairie, surrounded by bedroom communities and in the midst of agriculture, has remained unploughed for the last 100 years. And tonight, in this rain, it's coming alive.

We believe in what we see, for the most part, don't we?  We believe in other people, and we believe in things like cows, and sheep, because they're big, and when we drive by at 70 miles an hour, there they are, sitting there, picturesque on the landscape, and we moo at them out the window.  Admit it.  You moo at the cows.  And we believe in polar bears - most of us haven't seen them, but they're big and the photos are impressive.  And we believe in whales and dolphins and sea turtles and elephants and eagles.  Charismatic megafauna, is the affectionate - and also derogatory - term that biologists use for those big, handsome animals that nonbiologists most often get charmed by, that the average person walking down the street can generally be counted on to care, at least a bit, about.

I've got nothing against whales and dolphins and polar bears and elephants.  I'm as charmed by them as the next girl.  But what I'm thinking about right now are those creatures that we don't see, the ones we walk right over every day of our lives, never knowing they're there.  And if someone tells us that they're there - well, the first reaction is stark disbelief.  I've never seen them, you might say.  How can they be there if I've never seen them?  You're making it up.

A chap I work with, Matt, was once hired by a housing developer, who wanted to build on a bit of as yet undisturbed grasslands.  It was during the McMansion boom, when new developments were springing up in seemingly every unclaimed piece of grass in California.  This developer felt that way.  He wanted to build his houses and he didn't believe there was an endangered species right in the very field he planned to bulldoze.  He said he would prove they weren't there.  So he hired my friend Matt, who came armed with a very small camera on a very long thread, and Matt threaded that camera into every ground squirrel burrow on the place, one burrow at a time.  Until he found it.  A California tiger salamander.  The endangered species that is hidden right under our feet.

CTS spend nearly their entire adult lives  under ground.  They don't dig their own holes, they cozy up with their neighbors and share the burrows of any small ground dwelling mammal they can find.  The only time they surface is on nights like tonight.  In the rain, in the soaking wet darkness, they make their way up out of the burrows and set off across the grass in search of love in a nice full pond.  And when they've made it to a pond, and mated, and laid their eggs, they'll hightail it back, crossing roads, crawling under bushes, under the hooves of the sheep and cows grazing in their fields, climbing banks, to wherever it is, sometimes more than a mile away, that they feel is the right place to hide out underground, waiting for another rainy season, another year.

The eggs hatch in ponds, where the young live until their gills turn to lungs and they too can make the long and perilous journey overland to just the right underground squirrel oasis. By daylight they're underground.  By the time the rains have dried, they've disappeared.  99.99% of Californians have probably never seen one, though they've likely walked over more than a few.

Tonight the salamanders are walking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sundays in the Frog Pond

There's a fabulous nature area in our town.  It's acres and acres of oak woodland and olive trees and has creeks and ponds and a giant willow teepee for playing in and logs to climb and all the sorts of things that a nature area ought to have, if kids are going to run around in it.  It's used by all the schools, and I recently discovered, quite serendipitously, that it has a pond known to host California red-legged frog.

(remind me to upload a photo when I get to work)

CRLFs, as biologists fondly call them, are one of those rare species we get all starry-eyed about.  They used to run rampant across the landscape - indeed, they show up in Mark Twain and also, I suspect, Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  But they've fallen victim to a combination of modern ills - habitat loss and invasive species.  Bullfrogs, for instance, are one of their most voracious predators.  So these gorgeous, colorful, big staples of the California landscape have been reduced to the point where they are now on the US endangered species list as "threatened," which is one level less bad than "endangered."  After endangered, of course, comes extinct. 

Since the US government has laws against causing extinctions, threatened species, such as the CRLF, are monitored, and their habitat has certain protections.  And googly-eyed biologists, such as myself, are always up for spending a Sunday making their habitat just a little bit better for them, and, by removing excess vegetation which bullfrogs love and CRLF don't need, we can give them just a little bit more protection.

The Nature Area is run by a fabulous woman who has spent years getting local kids outdoors, and on Sunday she had a group of middle schoolers out at the pond, ready to rake, weed, dig, clean, and otherwise tend to that pond.

The not-as-overgrown side of the pond

The very overgrown side of the pond.  Tule rushes have taken over and too many of them provide great habitat for bullfrogs

Waiting for the kids to arrive

Look at these super-awesome kids:  they give up their Sunday, with no more incentive than a thank you and a few snacks, to put in hard physical labor restoring this habitat.
Walking out the work areas

This little lady was hiding under a rock.  Literally. 

Look who we found!  California newt.  Female.

Cutting Tules, and stomping them down to make walkways
No sign, while we were working, of either bullfrog or CRLF, but we'll be keeping our eyes out for egg masses over the next month or two,

Monday, March 5, 2012

This week in the garden

My house turns 80 this year.  While unimpressive anywhere in, say, Europe or Asia, or even New Hampshire, that's pretty good for California.  80 years - it's practically ancient!  Why, think of all the earthquakes it's survived! As it turns out, 80 year old farmhouses, and in particular, the lands surrounding said 80 year old farmhouses, come fully equipped with eight decades worth of expectation.  Obligation.  Cultivation.  Agriculturability.  This is not something they advertise in the real estate sales brochure.  "One 80 year old farmhouse.  Heaps of charm, needs a little love, bad carpets throughout, upon purchase you will be overcome with an intense need to hyperactively grub in the dirt and raise chickens."

That would be truth in advertising. We hadn't been here three months before someone mentioned chickens.  And not just one person, but heaps of people.  The neighbors downhill have chickens: "Oh, raising chickens is so easy, your land is perfect for it.  We'll give you all the information you could want.  It's fun.  You can get chickens who lay colored eggs."    Our kids see the neighbors' chickens:  "Mom, can we have chickens? Pleeeeease???  Little baby chickens???"   One of my best friend, also encumbered with that same sense of expectation on her land:  "Our kids looove our chickens. They carry them around in their arms and call them in the mornings. Chuckchuckchuckchuckchuck."

We don't have chickens.  Yet.

But that sense of "must do. something. with. land."  She is growing heavy.  Our garden, I'm certain, will be a 10 year project, minimum.  It's not quite an acre, but there's just so much of it, to a city girl's eyes.  And so many bits and pieces.  The patio.  The kitchen garden.  The top slope.  The deer woods.  The place where I want to restore the creek (now culverted under my neighbor's yard).  The kid's garden. The patio hill, the house hill, the vegetable patch, the flower beds, the redwood patch.  It all needs love and recovery.  So, in the spirit of long-term egging self on, I think I'll add a regular blogspot to document the good, the bad, the new, and the improving.

Inaugural photos.  This week, in the garden: Late February and early March are all about the first signs of spring. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hangin' with the Girl Scouts

For the space of one board meeting every month, and assorted and various other activities in between, I get to dive head first into my local creeks.  Sadly, not literally.  Just into their world.  Which is a very mixed bag, locally.

Remember those listed species I get so starry eyed about?  California red-legged frog, baby, right here in town.  Well, in a location that shall go unnamed for the protection of said frogs, but right here, in the local creeks.  Portions of our local creeks are gorgeous - protected lands, healthy riparian corridor, beautiful walking paths.  Dragonflies and wood ducks and loveliness.

And portions need... a lot of help.  Trashed, culverted, concrete lined channels covered with invasive species.

Recently I was contacted by two separate troups of local girl scouts, both wanting to help out the local creeks.  These moms are awesome - so enthusiastic about getting their kids involved in nature and about teaching them to care for the environment.  So excited that we're excited to get them involved.

So Girl Scout Troupe #1 (not their real number), a group of 12 first graders, is dedicating three meetings this year to the creeks.  Yesterday was Meeting 1: Learn about why creeks are important and what they can do to help creeks.  Next month will be a hands on creek clean-up.  And (this is my favorite, these girls are so awesome), the following month will be where the troupe goes class room to class room in their school, teaching the other kids in their school about the importance of healthy creeks in their town and for the environment.

The best part is that I didn't come up with any of this.  The girls and the moms came up with this completely on their own, and just contacted us for technical assistance.  Heck yeah, I can do that!

Hidden world (II)

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to get (and sometimes get my kids) up close and personal with some of the enormous variety of wildlife that hide right here in our midst.  California has the luxury of encompassing dozens of different ecosystems from sparse deserts to lush redwood rainforests to rolling, grassy, oak covered hills to the towering Sierras, and many, many more.  And in each new habitat comes a whole host of wildlife species.  Many are struggling hard to survive as humans spread ever farther across the landscape.  Some have gone extinct.  Some may have, we just don't know.  And some, particularly those listed on the state and federal threatened and endangered species lists, we're doing our best to help hang on.

You know how some people feel about meeting a movie star?  Or their senator, a president, the Queen?  All jittery and "it's a honor" and "ohmygosh did you see who I just met? Wow wow wow."

That's pretty much how wildlife biologists (WBs) get about listed species.  Star struck.  Googly eyed.  We compete in the office for the prime assignments that will get us hands-on experience with whoever our favorites happen to be.

Yeah, I think that makes us suckers.  This is how it goes down:

WB#1 email, Monday morning to the whole office:  "Hey, I was hiking last weekend and found a three inch puddle under a bush.  I pushed my face through the thorns to investigate, and sure enough there were spadefoot toad tadpoles.  It's a six hour drive to the puddle, which is near a dirt road in rattlesnake filled dust in the middle of nowhere.  Anyone want to go back Saturday to see it?"

newby WB#2 email: Spadefoot toad tadpoles?  I've never seen spadefoot toad tadpoles! Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh, whaddathey look like? Did you see the toad?

WB#3 email: Nobody ever sees the toads, man, they live underground.

WB#4 email: In my previous job, we had superfancy cameras that could see through the sand, so I totally saw spadefoot toads.  It was magical, man. It  Everybody should see these toads.

WB #1 email: Anyway, if anyone wants to see the tadpoles, we're leaving from my house at 2:30 in the morning Saturday.  You'll need to bring hiking gear, and standard issue personal protection equipment for a half hour hike: three day's supply of food and water, a turbo-sized first aid kit, fire extinguisher, sunscreen and a sunhat, rattlesnake gaitors,  a bullet proof vest, and a movie-size box of m&ms.

WB#5: Well Saturday is my sister's wedding and I'm supposed to be Maid of Honor, but she totally won't mind if I miss it for this.

WBs #6 -15:  Who wants to carpool???? 

No, I swear.  That's exactly how it goes.  Italics and all.  This is how we bond.  Group field trips to see totally obscure gobs of goo.  A few times a month, we all give up our lunch hour to give each other lectures, and we all show up, totally excited, for an hour on topics that have included how to identify different frog species when they're all still tadpoles.  or eggs.  I'm not sure this is something normal adults do.

Here, I'll show you some very very exciting gobs of goo:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The hidden world in which we live

We haven't met yet, and that's ok.  There's plenty of time.  Unless, of course, one of us gets hit by a bus tomorrow, in which case there's not.  But it's cheerier, isn't it, to go on the assumption that one will have a bit of time to get to know people, as pretty much everyone gets more interesting, the more you get to know them.  That guy who stole my parking space, or the grumpy mail delivery guy who's so ridiculously put out every time I get a parcel and he has to (terrible!) actually get out of his mailtruck/race car and hoof it down the steps to my door.  I'm pretty sure they've both got fascinating lives, if only I knew them better.  The parking space guy might be a concert cellist who plays in Berlin and is one of those fascinating people who spill all sorts of High Art World scandals at the dinner table.  And the grumpy  mail guy who drives his mail truck likes he's training for Nascar?  Maybe he's ... well, ok, I honestly can't find a secret hidden life for the grumpy mail guy.  He's young yet.  I'm sure he'll come up with something, given time.

The point is, here we are, not knowing each other at all.  The basics of me, just to start us off on a stable sort of footing, is that I'm a mom, I live with my husband Nathan, two sons, a cat, and across the patio in her own little house, my mom.  We all moved in together last year, onto a bit of land on a rural hillside near a big city somewhere in California.  We live in an old farmhouse, falling down in bits.  We renovate how and where we can, try to fix up the garden, and between times, work, volunteer, hang out with friends, and drag said sons out of doors as often as possible.  They're usually willing.

When you buy an old farmhouse, you never know what secrets will turn up.  A beautiful hardwood floor under the living room carpet.  Appalling, dark green asbestos-infused 1940s linoleum under most of the other carpets.  It's a crapshoot, and a hodgepodge, and if nothing else, it keeps life interesting.

Living in the country is exactly like that. Hodge podge.  Never know what will turn up next.  I pulled into my driveway yesterday, and it was filled with a flock of wild turkeys. Why?  I don't know. Stopped by for tea?  Just passing through?  Point is, they aren't there, and then suddenly, apparently, one has a driveway filled to the brim with very large, very odd looking fowl.  Nathan went down to the gar - nevermind. See?  It did it again.  I was sitting here typing about hidden things popping up in the garden, about to transition into talking about salamanders via a skunk story, when **clearly** Nature went "Rebecca, dude, lame transition, let me GIVE you one."  Because my husband just walked up - he'd been planting blueberries over by the kitchen - and handed me this:

California slender salamander.  This one is tremendously common, but like most salamanders, very rarely seen, even when all around us, because they're freaking brilliant at hiding.  In the 18 months I've lived here, I've only found one other, but I'd estimate there's probably somewhere between dozens to hundreds in the neighborhood.  This one was in a pile of rocks above the driveway, near the puddle of spilled wine which is yet a different and surprising story.  With which submission from Nature (thanks Nature!), I could right here transition to telling you all about the tremendously uncommon California tiger salamanders I was hanging out with last week, and What to do When Caught in a Hurricane with a Salamander, but my kids think I ought to pay attention to them.  Fair enough, for a sunny Saturday afternoon. Also, I want tea. So next time.  Amphibians.  Hidden world.  It's a date. Carry on.