Christmas is sneaking up on us…

Snowflakes on Mullen
Snowflakes on Mullen

Here I sit warm in my bed with wifi. It’s been about three weeks since I had wifi in the gNash. Besides working hard and fighting the cold and dark, the lack of wifi had made posting more difficult. Yesterday we moved for the fourth time since we arrived in Portal, AZ in late April. Today we are at the Fagan’s compound on the banks of Cave Creek.  Last year we spent the spring and early summer here. Marge and Bob, the owners, were still alive then. Both are gone now and the place is for sale. I’ll never forget feeding Bob his last meal or seeing Marge’s face when she heard her son sing a song for the first time. Beto and his family are still here caretaking the property and its very productive orchards.

Last week we took a short walk up the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon. The road was washed out in September 2014 by the remnants of hurricane Odile. It recently reopened to within a third of a mile of its original destination. Winter has arrived. The leaves are down. Frost covers the dark corners and the sun only peeks over the canyon edge for a few hours up there. The season has its own charms. It was very still the day we walked. There were puddles from the recently melted snow and the creek was flowing. I found a few snowflakes preserved in the folds of a mullen leaf. I thought about the difficulties of migrants trying to cross in winter. I hoped nobody was suffering nearby.

Work is progressing. The short days have caught us by surprise. Our project is on the west side of a house and it remains dark and cold until about 1PM. the sun disappears over Silver Peak around 5PM. Soon we’ll be sealed in and working indoors with heaters. One more week of hardcore exterior work. By then the days will be getting longer.

Leaf filled mullen
Leaf filled mullen
Sycamore tree reflecting from a puddle.
Sycamore tree reflecting from a puddle.
The sun about to clear the canyon walls.
The sun about to clear the canyon walls.
Olive and Burt.
Olive and Burt.
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Hand out the cigars!

Green Lynx Spider
Green Lynx Spider and spiderlings

Weeks of regularly checking in finally paid off with seeing the newly hatched spiderlings. This ferocious mama arachnid charged me twice while I took photos. Green Lynx are known to be very attentive and protective of their spriderlings. Some mothers starve to death keeping watch over their egg sacs. This individual did very well. She was observed with a buggy feast just a couple of days before the big debut of her many, many babies. Some unlucky bug wandered too close.

Over the course of studying this lynx spider I discovered that this spider is also a chameleon and changes its color, much like the crab spider. Over the course of a couple of weeks they can change from bright green to orange or purple or, as seen here, off white. Our specimen matches her habitat very nicely. The spiderlings are also very well camouflaged. The spiderlings will hang around with mom until their first molt (shedding of skin) then they well send out parachutes of silk and fly away on the breeze to make a life of their own. It seems so improbable that any survive. I plan to check in again and see if I can catch a picture post-molt but pre-flight.

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Big Day in Sierra Vista

South Fork of Cave Creek
South Fork of Cave Creek

Last night both Gypsy Carpenters were insomniacs. Burt finally got up at 2:45 and headed to coffee and work. I took a pill just as he gave up. This morning we moved the gNash to a new job site. Our current project’s clients just arrived today to move into their home. We thought we’d get out of their hair and so moved to another site just a few hundred yards away. The Mother-in-Law cottage is not quite done so Burt will have to commute for a couple of weeks to finish the trim and install doors and cabinetry.

After we moved Olvis and we piled in the Dodge for a drive to Sierra Vista. We were going to finally get the test results from my month long heart monitoring and visit Home Depot for the (hopefully) final shop of the current job. Word from the doctor was the same. The monitor caught some minor atrial shenanigans. Some Premature Atrial Contractions most likely but nothing dramatic. The plan is to continue on living life with no restrictions. If I experience another bout of intense and prolonged wackiness then we will discuss further diagnostic options. One option is to install a 3 year heart monitor under my skin. The other is to put me on the table and try and induce an event in the lab. Neither sound enjoyable. Procrastination is my new best friend. We’ll just skip this for now. Maybe, as Burt says, I’m cured. So I have an appointment for June 17,  2016 for follow-up.

One of the things keeping me up at night was a follow-up letter I was asked to write to the Forest Service about my experience as a volunteer. I loved my job duties but until now I have refrained from complaining about the Forest Service culture.  I was not too impressed with how the USFS works in this part of the woods. Ha ha. I was voicing my concerns to the people from the organization that has actively tried to keep my position filled. They wanted something in writing so they could try and improve the circumstances at the VIS for volunteers and paid staff. Here’s what I wrote:

I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to volunteer at the Cave Creek Visitor Information Center this summer and fall. I love the Chricahuas and it was a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for the area with our visitors.
I enjoyed all of my interactions with the public and didn’t mind the mundane cleaning chores. I do have some ambivalence about working with the Forest Service in general. As a volunteer in a visitor center I was the public’s representative of our government and your organization. After a nearly 20 year career as a former federal regulator I take this responsibility seriously. The lack of coordination between the various offices of the Coronado National Forest and Region 3 of the USFS and the visitor center made it impossible to always give out accurate information. Since I live in Portal I am frequently asked for USFS news by local citizens, too, not just visitors. This was an uncomfortable situation for me.

My main source of information about the status of campground closures and road construction was Facebook. USFS staff only contacted me directly once to inform me about a campground opening and it was already 12 hours after I had learned about it on Facebook. Despite a few attempts on my part to remind staff that I had email at all times, staff seemed to not be able to recall my email or to add me to local email mailing lists. I am not the only volunteer that found communications infrequent and often too late. Meanwhile my requests for much needed supplies (hand soap for the public restrooms) remained unfulfilled the last 6 weeks I worked there. Recently I was in the awkward position of hearing from one USFS source that the USFS would never open Idlewild Campground and two days later hearing from another USFS source that Idlewild was under repair and would be open for camping next spring. Imagine my consternation when people here ask me what is going on. I have to respond that the USFS doesn’t know. I suspect two different organizations are responsible for the road repairs, campground repairs and campground management decisions and that this has led to confusion amongst staff.

My last day on the job was Saturday, October 31, 2015. I had offered to work into the late fall but was told that through October was sufficient. I was told more volunteers would be found to replace me by the end of October. I have not heard, nor has the community, if the USFS has found staff to keep the VIC open through fall. Meanwhile, I have left the job. I considered staying on and just opening the VIC until somebody told me to stop but with the communication issues and the failure to heat the building (I inquired but nobody would turn on the heat) I decided to only work the dates I was assigned. I have not heard anything from USFS on what to do with my keys. I had expected someone would contact me before I left. Perhaps they lost my email. Again.

As an aside, I have been informed that the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon Organization has offered to supply the VIC with a new computer and pay for the installation of Wi-Fi. This offer was made at least a year ago but, according to my sources at FOCCC, the USFS has not figured out how to manage this simple donation. Wi-Fi would greatly enhance communication between the USFS and the public. VIC staff could find road reports, weather predictions, and get emails about real time USFS decisions.

What do you think?

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Flying Solo at the Cave Creek VIC

Cave Creek Visitor Information Center
Cave Creek Visitor Information Center

I completed my first day solo at the Cave Creek Visitor Information center today. We had ten visitors and a rain storm. I successfully answered all questions. One visitor signed the guest book and mentioned that I was a ‘very pleasant hostess’. I surmise the day was a success. In between the 10 visitors I practiced mandolin, read a novel, researched gila monsters and quail, and cleaned the bathrooms.

Can you find Portal on the map? This is the Chiricahua Mountain range.
Can you find Portal on the map? This is the Chiricahua Mountain range.
This is a hand made sculpture of the Chiricahua Mountain range.
This is a hand made sculpture of the Chiricahua Mountain range.
Arial view. The white dot in the upper right corner is the VIC location.
Arial view. The white dot in the upper right corner is the VIC location.
Pretty but non-native butterflies.
Pretty but non-native butterflies.
The main room. The table in the foreground holds the 3-D map of the Chiricahua Mountains.
The main room. The table in the foreground holds the 3-D map of the Chiricahua Mountains.
These two snakes get along but are not related. One is a black rattler from the Rincon Mountains. The other is a black-tailed rattler.
These two snakes get along but are not related. One is a black rattler from the Rincon Mountains. The other is a black-tailed rattler.
The Gila Monster is peeling.
The Gila Monster is peeling.
The Diamond back was lethargic today.
The Diamond back was lethargic today.
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