Our largest and most successful ever Portal Irish Music Week is done and gone. Fifty students and staff converged on tiny Portal, Arizona for five days of music and walks and birds and we had a great time. Every year I feel more and more blessed to be a part of this event. Pete and Will and I had a dream of starting a camp where inclusivity and love were the main themes. Somehow we’ve succeeded. Our staff and students come together and they make a space better than any of us could imagine. Mitch and Lonnie and their Portal Cafe staff are a big part of it, too.
This year we had a man come and learn despite his brain cancer and looming experimental surgery. Tim is living every day like we all should. Fully present and pursuing his dreams. His experimental treatment begins today. Let’s send out some positive vibes for Tim and his family and friends.
Today is Laura and Barry’s wedding day. We’ve been hanging around Portal waiting for this day since the bridge was finished. An event well worth waiting for but, my, there’s not much going on when we’re not working or super hiking. I practiced some of my new Irish tunes this week. I read a book. Burt and I visited centenarian Bob again. A bear attacked the gNash. I saw a couple more tarantulas. We took a hike. A mouse landed on my shoulder.
Yesterday Mimi was dropped off at Dodie’s for her extended kitty B&B stay. I left Dodie with Mimi’s bed, food, snacks, bowls, litter box, litter, blankie, and more food. Mimi’s luggage weighs more than mine. We also left Dodie with our minds at ease because we know she won’t mind having an elderly stink ball as a companion. Mimi isn’t so sure what to do with all the floor space. When I left she was completing her 53rd circumnavigation of the living area. The gNash is soulless without our feline companion.
Two nights ago was the incident of the bear under the gNash. Just after 11:00 I was woken by two quick Olive barks. Olive has a sophisticated system of barks. These two barks were ‘I hear something’ and ‘GoAwayBear!’ I woke up and, with Ollie ears in tune new we were under assault. Olive was quiet and there was a dragging/grating sound emanating from just outside the window on Burt’s side of the bed. I leaned over and peered out blindly but thought I saw a very large and dark hump moving. I said, “There’s a bear” as I shook Burt. Like all husbands roused from sleep he yelled, “There is NO bear.” Insert murderer, robber, thief, rapist for bear and you have all men waking up to wife saying: There’s a …. Is this in their DNA or are they taught by their fathers or is it learned after millions of false alarms?
Clearly Burt hadn’t fully assessed the situation. Nor was he awake. Still I thought, maybe he’s right. It’s probably a mouse. Suddenly more dragging noises and I hit Burt again and I said, “There’s a bear.” This time he bolted straight up and yelled, “There’s A bear.” This was the first time in history that I feel Burt actually met or exceeded my level of concern for our physical safety. Wide awake he knew instantly what I did not. Burt knew the bear had found a stash of food under our trailer (Hellooo, Hell, no…) and now the bear knew our trailer was a flimsy tin can of filled with delightful food. Burt closed his window and the window over the dinette. I left mine open. Menopause, bear or no bear. Our noise making scared the bear enough so that noises stopped and we couldn’t see it. Not much sleep was had as we both envisioned the bear ripping off our grey water tank or stretching a paw in to find the dog food. The next morning the bear was still on the pile of dry beans (my zombie apocalypse supply) when Burt went out to check the damages. He chased bruno away. Our storage cooler had sustained minor bite damages and the rice and beans were spread all around. I presume that bear got a mean tummy ache from eating dry beans. Burt cleaned up the mess as best he could. We seal up the windows whenever we leave now but if a bear wants into a trailer it can make it happen. Today we are moving to a new location. Hopefully the bear doesn’t follow.
Also this week we played music for Bob. It was a kind of practice session. Whiel visiting Burt asked Bob if he had any of his instruments still. Bob still had his fiddle which he had inherited from his father. He showed it to us. I got it in tune and played some tunes on it that Bob’s dad might have played. Bob practically seized the thing from me and gave it a go himself. Despite his torn rotator cuff, deafness, long finger nails, and lack of practice the phrase of a tune came out. Bob commented that he liked my bow. You can see the video on Facebook. This private session was further rewarded when Bob left his house and came to our concert the next day. He doesn’t get around like he used to. He and his gal friend Gloria were all the audience we needed to make our day special. We made plans to have another jam session between our Mexico and Galapagos trips.
Another recent wildlife encounter happened when I decided to clean out a bird nesting box on the old adobe stage building where we are parked. I lifted the front of the box and it was packed full of bedding. Fearing biting bugs and the mites I’ve found in other nests I grabbed a stick to clean the place out. As I dug in a very alarmed mouse jumped out and landed on my shoulder. I screamed. She screamed. Then she ran down my chest, jumped to my knee, and then the ground. I stopped cleaning for fear of finding babies. The birds will have to battle it out come spring.
Dear readers you must be tired of the sad news. Please don’t despair. I’m not stuck in the tar pits but things are happening all clumped up and I can’t ignore them. 2016 has claimed another gem. I find it comforting to know my friend Bruce is no longer suffering. He flew away at 10:06 AM today.
Burt and I met Bruce 7 years ago on a hike with the Portal Rodeo hiking club. He became a fan of this page and I became a fan of his page called Blogging from the Bootheel. The link is in our blogroll. On Blogging from the Bootheel Bruce (known as BAlvarius Alvarius) documented life in this remote part of the world. He was a staunch adherent to the third person and liked to say he wrote about concepts and ideas and avoided people and personalities. Quite the opposite of my style but we had much in common. We shared a love of the landscape and the quirky. Dead things and odd ideas infiltrated our work. Bruce liked to document and share the news of the Flying Trees of the Chiricahuas and time incongruitiees inside the ‘bubble’. He could use the internet to fix almost any physical problem he had managing an isolated desert resort. He even used the virtual world to build a computer from home and learn to weld. What I am going to miss most though is his virtual support. Bruce was a regular reader and commenter until about a year ago. He was one of my core group of readers that I imagine in my head when I am writing. I noticed his slipping away and figured he was tied up with his work managing the Painted Pony Resort. Burt and I saw him and noted he looked unwell but never said anything. Bruce had a previous fight with cancer and we knew he was very private about it. We also knew he had accepted that he (and we) could die at any moment.
Bruce saw us in the very best possible light. He gave me this gift and I hope to pass it on to you. He said, “When you come to the table you never say, ‘where is my piece of pie?’ you always say, ‘Here’s how we can make the pie bigger.'” He got this idea from watching the birth and growth of Portal Irish Music Week. Clearly he hasn’t seen me hoarding chocolate. Still, it is true enough that I can hold it up as an idea and/or concept that will lead me to live the life I want to live. Thank you for the very flattering mirror, Bruce. It reminds me to be the best I can be. I’ll miss you out here in the virtual world but this gift will be with me always. Fly away free. I hear there’s lots of pie up there.
My photos are downloading blurry. I have a big post planned on wildflowers and some other pretty things but I don’t want blurry pictures. An IT savvy friend is coming over today. I hope to have fine pictures up soon.
In the meantime consider the pomegranate. The name comes from Old French and means seedy apple. This eye dazzling fruit originated in Iran and northern India. I had my first taste in my Big Grandma’s house in NJ at about age 10. Her home was not a bright or colorful place (think 70s avocado and brown decor) and those ruby red seeds blew my mind. Grandma was nuts for them. So nuts she didn’t mind picking them out of their labyrinth like wrapping. I kept thinking there must be a better way but Grandmas said it was tedious work and it had to be done. She said the same thing about drying silverware when I asked why we couldn’t air dry. I can picture her in her shapeless house dress, looming large with a happy smile as she slowly demolished the fruit. Grandma was big when I was 10.
Since that day I never fail to think of her when I see a pomegranate. Oh how I want to love eating it like she did. I do love that sharp tangy taste. I love the strange look and the bright red color. But, lord have mercy, what a pain to clean. I have never bought a pomegranate because I am just that lazy.
Here in Portal, AZ, pomegranates thrive. The shrub was brought to the New World by the Spaniards in the 1500s. Small pox and pomegranates for all your gold, potatoes, and tomatoes. The pomegranate was slow to get to California (mid-1700s) and from there it made it to Portal in the late 1800s. This befuddling fruit is found around many old structures. This year has been a very prolific year. There is a shrub in our yard with more than 20 softball sized globes. Faced with nature’s bounty and the ghost of big grandma goading me I had to do something. Facebook saved the day. With this pomegranate crisis niggling in my subconscious a pomegranate cleaning video crossed my feed. I ignored it for a day or two. I figured it was more click bait or self promo and promises of wonder fixes can never be trusted. Grandma beat me down. She wanted to know. I clicked.
The miracle cure was in that video. I have now made my own video. You can see it here. Rather read than watch a video? Here you go:
1. Use a paring knife to score a pomegranate around the equator. Cut all the way through the skin but not into the fruit. Pry apart the two halves.
2. Set aside one half. Take the other half and place it in your hand over fingers, seeds down. Hold your hand over a medium bowl (juice splashes). Take a wooden spoon and beat the skin side of that half of a pomegranate. The seeds will slip out of the cask and fall through your fingers into the bowl. Beat all around. Beat because it’s fun. Empty that thing.
Enjoy your pomegranate. Add it to salads. Sprinkle it in drinks. Eat it with a spoon. It’s good for you. Big grandma is smiling.
Last week on an evening drive we found the Southwest Research Station’s lepidoptera class. We were hoping for a jaguarundi or a black bear but these guys turned out to be friendly and interesting so we weren’t disappointed. So far every researcher we have crossed paths with in the wild has been hospitable and eager to share their knowledge with us.
These people were hoping to see a lot of moths. Moths and butterflies are in the lepidoptera family. While we hung around we saw several interesting things but not too many moths. It was early yet. They say the good moths come out very late. As usual we go to bed before things get interesting. We did see a weevil and this, of course, piqued my interest since I have been in close contact with acorn weevil larvae in my acorn eating binge. The weevil’s antennae were located on its proboscis. A very interesting arrangement. Then we also found a whispy, floating, diaphanous beauty. She floated by and landed on my arm. It was the adult morph of an antlion. Antlion larvae are the better known stage of this bug. Adults are rarely seen in nature or are frequently confused with damselflies. The larvae are famous for building conical traps in sand that ants can’t escape and making doodle like tracks when wandering around. Southerners call them doodlebugs. The antlion or doodlebug then captures the struggling ant in a quick and violent match of wits and eats it if it wins. The adult looks like Tinkerbell and sips on nectar. It might nibble a leaf. This particular antlion in the picture does not build traps when it is a larva. It lurks in cracks and leaps out to grab ants as they pass by.
The last picture is the only lepidoptera I paid attention to during our visit. It is the death head hawk moth. This type of moth was made famous in the movie Silence of the Lambs. It has a pattern that looks like a skull on its back. My picture is a little blurry but you can see the skull. Cool, huh? Burt and I left before they could charge us tuition and we hit the hay.
I was hanging laundry today when I heard a distant rattling sound. My ears told me something was going down in the rocks and shrubs about thirty feet away but my brain said, “there is no way you can hear something that far away.” The sounds persisted. It was a short rattle and it reminded me of something I had heard very recently. It was the sound a rattlesnake makes while moving but not actually rattling. I learned of this while sitting in the Cave Creek Visitor Information Center. The snakes on display there make noise as they move over twigs and sand. Sit at the VIC quietly and you can hear soft rattles at irregular intervals as the snakes move about in their enclosures. But my doubts lingered. I thought maybe it was a Cactus Wren or a grasshopper trying to make me a fool.
A few more rattles later and I was compelled to look further. The laundry was hung and I rounded the chicken coop where I was met by a very large and angry Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. I screamed and ran for backup. Burt and our neighbor Barb came running as I ran towards them. Then I remembered that I was looking for a snake. Why was I surprised to nearly step on one? I was surprised because this was not the snake I had heard. It was in the wrong spot. Anyway he was as scared as I was and had disappeared under the shed. The three of us proceeded to try and figure out what I had heard. Barb was skeptical but Burt knows I have a keen ability to distinguish sounds. Pretty soon we found what I had been hearing. It was a pair of mating blacktailed rattlesnakes. The male was amorously caressing the female with his head and flicking her skin with his tongue. Whenever he got too fresh she rattled at him and he would back off. It was the quickest of tail flicks. They were entwined but the deed was not completed. He’d whisper a little Barry White in her ear and nuzzle up the length of her spine. After a nuzzle of about 6″ she would rattle or shake him off. A few second breather and he’d try again. It went on and on and on. Over and over he tried. I watched. Barb and Burt left. The female was substantially larger in girth than the male. After a long while Burt came back and tried to clear away the vegetation so I had a clearer view. This startled the snakes and they fled right towards our feet. They and we were not amused. Everybody took a step back. The snakes changed direction. The male stayed with the female and they picked a new spot out in the open. We watched some more. The neighbors came. More nuzzling. More irritable female. More nuzzle. More irritation. It got boring. We left for lunch.
I read up a bit on these snakes. Not much is known. Mating rattlesnakes aren’t everyday occurrences. The literature says the blacktails breed in the spring (occasionally twice a year) but these green lovelies were doing it in the fall. Live birth of six or seven young is the norm. The babies stick with mother for a day or less. Males follow scent trails of ready (randy) females. Sometimes the males guard their females. It is believed these are monogamous snakes. It’s possible there are several males hanging around hoping to get lucky.
After lunch I tried to find the pair but they were gone from their love nest. I poked around and eventually found the male or a male. His head was peeping out from behind a rock. I watched him as he slowly meandered and peered and probed looking for something. It took him twenty minutes to cover ten feet. Two of those feet were very nearly mine. Finally he disappeared in the brush and I decided I couldn’t safely follow.
I’m struggling to keep up these days as a carpenter’s assistant. I’m not strong enough, quick enough, or smart enough. I feel like I might be retiring soon.
After three weeks of convoluted emails and phone calls I was hooked up to a 30 day cardiac event monitor on Saturday. I am to wear this beeper sized device with two electrodes for a month. We hope to see what is making me collapse on the tennis court. It can record irregular rhythms that it detects or that I detect and tell it to record.
The thing recorded an event in the wee hours of Sunday morning and woke me from a very vivid dream. I was in the process of doing the bird-of-paradise yoga pose in front of an audience. This was at the behest of a medical technician trying to make my heart do the funny thing it does. The heart monitor alarm went off just as my arms were bound behind my back and I was shifting my weight to my left foot and preparing to stand up. BEEP BEEP BEEP. But here’s the weird thing. I’m not sure if I was having a cardiac event or only dreaming I was having a cardiac event. It took several rounds of beeping for me to rouse myself from sleep. Eventually I discovered one of the wires had become disconnected. Did this trigger the alarm? Better go download the data.
Burt and I trudged to the house and I called the hotline. It was 1:30 AM. We downloaded the data. There was data so that means there might have been an event. The woman with the slight German accent reminded me if the monitor goes off from a monitor detected event the alarm will sound until I call them and download the data. If I trigger a recording manually no alarm will sound. So much for sleep.
Then Sunday came. I recorded an event manually. As evening drew I saw that the machine indicated two events for the day but I had only intentionally recorded one. I decided to download the data since the machine can only hold three recordings. Long story short, it was malfunctioning. The recorder would not download the data. A new machine is on it’s way. Yesterday I had another massive event (while playing tennis). Alas, it went unrecorded. I should have my new machine today.
All of this to say wearing a heart monitor is enough to make a person meltdown or have a cardiac event. All activities and clothing must take the device into account. My mind is filled with recurring thoughts. Thoughts that do not make for an easy demeanor. Is it working? was that a blip? Am I still attached? Is it going to jam? No wonder I want to retire.
On the positive side I am practicing fiddle and mandolin regularly.
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.
Burt was on the job at 6:00. At 7:00 he was feeding me oatmeal (punishment). By 8:00 we were both on the job for a major push. High winds in this canyon make us loathe to partially frame something. Better to get it all done in a day so it has some stability if the winds pick up.
I despaired of my ability to work after a few hours of dragging ten foot 2x4s to the saw and then over to Burt for nailing. It was a hot. I teetered a few times. Those earmuff hearing protectors hold in the heat. I never appreciated the cooling role of our external ear flaps until I started wearing the muffs. After lunch I felt better and finished out the day feeling like I did my job. There were some miscuts and a poorly placed sill plate but Burt had to rip out some framing he misplaced. These things happen.
Tomorrow we’ll apply the sheeting and this part of the remodel will be fully safe from the wind.
I’m totally ripping off my friend BAlvarius. He suggested I promote the Chiricahua Peloncillo Heritage Days of 2015 and it was a great idea. I went to his blog and stole this pictures. I have them somewhere in my email but it was easier to steal from him. BAlvarius would not call it stealing. He would say I am making the pie bigger. And I am.
Check out this agenda. If you love this area then this event has something for you. History, geology, nature, archeology. All that and THE GYPSY CARPENTERS providing music. I’m aiming for a historic theme. We’re talking old time fiddle music and cowboy songs. We’ll see how practice goes this month. It will be fun.
The Heritage Days event starts Friday night with a lecture on the Elegant Trogon. Saturday, September 12th the lecture series continues and on Sunday the 13th there are three field trips to chose from. Many of the presenters come from our knowledgeable field of locals. Burt and I are planning to split up on Sunday. I hope to see you there.