May 31, 2022 May Play Days

Mattie in the high mountains on our day of exploring

Sometimes a month simply flies by because so much is happening. Other times a month merely slips by with everyday life, and I have to review calendars, photos, Google TimeLine, and anything else I can come up with to figure out, “What in the world did we do this month?” Mo and I are sitting at our desks in the office, drinking Sunday morning coffee and looking forward to daughter Deborah visiting later for omelets and conversation. It is raining. Hard. It has been raining for two full days now. I stepped outside at 6 and reveled in the dampness, the birds singing, everything wet and green the way outsiders picture the “real” Oregon. It is beautiful and so refreshing. After years of drought and the lower part of our non–irrigated property turning brown in early May, it is a wonder to still have green grass growing in early June.


When we both look back over May, what comes to mind most is mowing, weeding, raking, hauling, and more mowing. We brought up other activities as we were talking, but somehow the pleasure of the green yard and all the growing things seems to supersede anything else at the moment.


Yes, the deer are always trying to figure out how to eat whatever is growing on our property.  Sometimes I can stay ahead of them with Deer-Out, other times they win.

We began our month with a rather exciting kerfuffle. Home from our most recent trip to Silver Falls, we parked the rig in the yard for a few days so Mo could wash it and I could get the interior cleaned up. Once it was clean, I did the typical backing maneuver we use to put the MoHo safely in her shed. Mo had the door open. I am backing watching her in the mirrors to get the rig lined up perfectly. I can’t see much in the camera at this moment. The inside of the RV shed is dark, and the sun usually reflects so that I can only see Mo in the mirrors. She carefully directs me in, just far enough to let me miss the mirrors and far enough right that I miss the kayaks hanging on the wall.

CRUNCH>!!!

 

WTH happened? I holler, and Mo says it must be the air conditioner. We both look at the RV Shed door, raised as usual but just not as high as usual. Neither of us saw it. So much for the fancy double domed skylight over the shower. At least it wasn’t the air conditioner. So, in addition to mowing, Mo spent much of the month obtaining the replacement, removing the old skylight, and replacing it. The only good thing about the entire process is that the rig was in the shed with plenty of room for her to work in a sheltered space.


While Mo spent her days dealing with the skylight, I dinked around in the yard for a few hours each day. I do love dinking in the yard. We knew that getting the drip system that we installed last year up to speed again was a priority. But with the heavy rains we had all month, at least the gardens weren’t drying out with the usual spring desiccation that happens almost instantly as winter ends. We have fresh gravel to spread in the areas of the yard covered with decomposed granite to bury the red clay that would destroy everything if exposed. That rock pile has been around for a few weeks and is still waiting. We will get it done eventually. The DG gets thin over time, and with limited water, we need to have areas of the property that aren’t dirty but don’t require water.


Happily, the sprinklers are now working, almost 100 percent updated, and joy of all joys, the well seems to be recharging at a fantastic rate. I have a geology mindset that groundwater will recharge quickly with good rains, but our deep bedrock groundwater aquifer will take decades to recharge after a long drought cycle. With only 2.5 GPM, this matters. Hence the areas of our property are either unirrigated or covered with gravel. Yes, there is a lot of green in the good parts, and I have a postage stamp green lawn that my eco-conscious grandchild chides me about.


But back to May. Looking at the calendar, I suddenly remember Cinco de Mayo. A holiday that I have never really celebrated, and I have read that it isn’t even celebrated much in Mexico. But what better excuse to have friends over for Mexican food and margaritas?


Mother’s Day was simple and sweet.  I received beautiful flowers from each of my daughters and Deborah treated Mo and I and her son Matthew to lunch at Red Robin.  She asked if I wanted to go somewhere nicer, but no, I was in the mood for a fat blue cheese burger and no fancy crowds.  It was a lovely afternoon.

Mo and I fiddled with my puzzle addiction and went to the Downton Abbey movie in between mowing and hauling debris. It was fun for me as an old DA fan who has watched the entire series. I could see how it would be utterly dull for someone who didn’t care about the people in the movie. Mo didn’t know any of them, and a lot of the film is spent with long stills of large groups of faces of people the fans know and love. It was a reunion of sorts. Mo slept through most of it.

Maryruth and I
went to the Farmer’s Market, thrilled by the gorgeous displays of early spring produce and coming home with huge fat radishes and fresh strawberries.

I enjoyed a great book group meeting in our founder’s front yard, complete with California poppies on the table. Sarah was so tickled that she could actually pick the poppies because, in California, where she lived before her move here, it was illegal to do so. The poppies are growing like crazy at our place after years of babying the one plant that made it through our home construction. They finally took over the rocky slope of fill that supports the RV shed.


Everything is later this year. Blooms are showing up at least 3 to 4 weeks later than usual, and I have lots of photos to remind me of that. Obsessively I cruise through my yard photos of the previous years, wondering when the roses will show or when the rhodies will bloom.


I decided that May truly is the best month here in Grants Pass. The rhodies are in full bloom, the magnificent iris are everywhere, the pink dogwoods are still blooming, and the leaves on the trees are still bright green without that dark olive color that takes over when the heat comes. I love May, and it is my favorite month. Mo says, “You said that about October last year too. You are fickle.” Maybe so.


Toward the end of the month, we actually did something unrelated to the yard. We loaded up the kayaks for a day trip to our old world near Rocky Point. Long-time readers have undoubtedly seen a bazillion photos of Recreation Creek and Malone Springs, but here we are again, kayaking in our favorite place to kayak. Even better than Florida. There isn’t as much wildlife compared to verdant, rich Florida, but there are no alligators, and we don’t have to drive 6,000 miles to kayak here.

We ended our lovely day of kayaking with a visit with good friends from our Rocky Point days.  Mata and Jim Rust have lived there for decades and know all the ins and outs of that small, somewhat tightly knit community.  It was wonderful to sit on the porch with a good glass of wine enjoying their magnificent view and great conversation.  We hadn’t seen Mata and Jim since they visited us at our Rogue River boondock site a couple of years ago.

Memorial Day is a big deal in Grants Pass. For 62 years, a non-profit foundation has put on a huge celebration called “Boatnik.” The big draw is the boat races on the Rogue River, but the parade and the fireworks are also big draws. I had plans to go to the fireworks, but at ten at night, with cold weather and clouds, we decided to stay home for the Friday night festivities. Saturday morning, it dawned cold and rainy, and once again, we decided to skip the fun hometown Memorial Day parade. I just couldn’t get excited about sitting in the rain. A friend who went said it didn’t actually rain, but the parade was so long that after two hours, she finally gave up and took her kids to the carnival. Once again, we talked about going to the second night of fireworks on Sunday night. Instead, we listened to them from our balcony with tiny flashes of light over the river showing through the big, fully leafed oak trees to the north of the property. We are so lucky that Mattie could care less about fireworks and barely notices them.


Finally, on Monday, we decided that we really wanted to at least attend some of the festivities. The weather had turned nicely with some gorgeous blue skies and puffy whites. We drove to Riverside Park, and I reveled in the very best benefit of all from my disability. That blue parking tag gets us through all the gates and closed roads to the handicapped parking zone right at the park’s edge. From where we parked the car, it was about 100 yards to the midway and all the delightful carnival noises of happy kids. I celebrated with my favorite fair food, a giant, perfectly lightly crisped corn dog.


Walking to the river’s edge, we could barely hear the choir singing for the Memorial Day Ceremony. Still, I did manage to stand in a perfect place to take a video of the flag being unfurled over the Caveman Bridge as the Star-Spangled Banner sounded over the loudspeakers. I cried like I used to when I was a kid in school in the mornings before class when they played the anthem and raised the flag. Sometimes that old memory of patriotism and love for my country will surface. There were no politics to think about on that gorgeous Monday in the park.


The big event we came to see was the flyover of the fighter jets from Klamath Falls, doing their rounds over southern Oregon all the way to Gold Beach and back, flying low over the Rogue River here in Grants Pass. I stood in an area along the river, hoping for a great shot. There was a zoom, loud and instantaneous. Only one plane flew over, and it was much too fast for me to catch it, even in a video. A bit of a disappointment, actually. Others said there were two planes over Medford, and some said there were two over Grants Pass, but others said only one. Either way, it was fun to be there. Maybe next time, instead of being right in the park, we will attempt to be on a bridge. There are three that cross the river in this town.


That was the end of May, but we began the month of June with an exploration that we had talked about for a long time. Readers and friends know how much we love the Applegate Valley, filled with farms and wineries and gorgeous views. One of the views from the valley is of the magnificent mountains to the west and south, part of the Siskiyous. Few roads penetrate those mountains, but a few weeks ago, Mo said, “We need to explore the mountains above the Applegate.” Instead of simply saying, “We sure do!” I put it on the calendar, and June 1 was the day.


I did a bit of research, traveled the roads as best I could with google maps, and figured out a route for us to attempt to get to a high point in the range closest to the Applegate Valley .Our goal was the Whiskey Ridge Viewpoint, technically in California just south of the state line. Once we left the main road through the Applegate and headed up Thompson Creek, the road turned narrow and twisty. Turning onto FS Road 1035, we began our ascent to the high country. I was so happy that I had researched and downloaded our route and the maps for offline viewing. I printed a map, and we took the Oregon Gazetteer but would have needed an actual quad sheet to actually be able to navigate that road and all the side roads. With the offline google map, we had no trouble knowing exactly where we were and exactly which turn we needed to take to get to our destination.


It was a gorgeous day, with lots of sun and some clouds. We made it as far as the Whiskey Peak Trailhead, but just a few hundred yards beyond that point, we were stopped by snow deep enough that we didn’t feel like tackling it in the Tracker. Maybe another day. The wildflowers were beautiful at that elevation and I saw two that we had never seen before. The first photo is Calochortus tolmei, sometimes called white cats ears.  The second is a flower familiar to many of my California friends, but not to me, Silene hookeri, Hooker’s Indian Pink, although a few of those friends had to guess at the exact variety.  We all know it is impossible to key out a flower with a photo.


The fun part of this ride for me was the quiet. Mo drove much of the way, and I spent long moments in mental solitude reminiscing about all the wild mountain dirt roads I navigated as part of my work as a soil scientist in many backcountry mountains for soil survey. I had enough time to mentally attempt to figure out just how many dirt roads like this one I had driven over my career and came up with something like 300,000 miles over 30 years. As Mo drove down that mountain, it was like a crazy deja vu where every road I had traveled in every survey in four states rolled by in my mind. I remembered enjoyable times when I would tease my grandsons by driving as fast down those dirt roads backward as I could go forward.

As we continued back down the mountain, there were a few overlooks where it was possible to see Mt Shasta to the east and Mt McLoughlin to the north, both at the same time, with Applegate Lake, the source of the beautiful Applegate River, a tributary of the Rogue.


It was a precious day in the mountains, with gorgeous views into the Red Butte Wilderness just south of the Oregon border. Even though it was actually June, I still think of it as a fitting end to the play days of May.

06-30-2021 Better Write About June Before it Disappears

Hot.  It is Hot.  A simple three letter word that at the moment seems like it should be a 4 letter word.  We do sometimes get hot spells in June, but not this long and not this hot.  As everyone out there not living under a cool rock already knows, we in the Pacific Northwest have been experiencing an “unprecedented” wave of record breaking heat caused by a phenomena called a Heat Dome.  Hot air is mounding over several states and most of British Columbia, held in place by high pressure and winds coming from the east instead of our usual cooling flow from the Pacific. 

We are laying low, with a few short hours outside in the early mornings.  Our hottest temperature was 116F degrees on Sunday afternoon, June 27.  On the hottest day the temperature never went below 70F and by 8am it was 84F. We aren’t used to that out west, with our nights cooling to something more comfortable even on the hottest days.  Word has it that the heat dome is made worse because it has come so close to the summer solstice, with long days adding many hours of heat buildup.

It seems like a very long time ago that Mo and I celebrated the Memorial Day weekend at home in Grants Pass.  Things were somewhat normal back then.  Our lovely city once again celebrated a 62 year tradition with the annual BoatNik festivities, including a parade, a carnival in the park, hydroplane races, and fireworks.  Everything was cancelled last year due to COVID, and with vaccination levels increasing in Oregon and cases going down, the rules lifted. Just two weeks prior to the celebration, permits were granted and it was a “go”.  Everyone involved received high praise for putting on such a great combination of events with such short notice.

On Memorial Day weekend we packed up a chair and my handy dandy walker chair and drove downtown for the parade.  We parked just a block away from the very center of town, and had no problem locating a nice spot in the shade.  If I remember right, it was even a bit cool.  Although remembering “cool” at the moment is somewhat difficult.

The parade was a good one, with many displays celebrating the troops, the country, the police, all the good parts of what makes a community run well.  Sadly, there was only one marching band, the bagpipes at the very beginning of the parade.  We knew that for more than a year, school bands weren’t able to practice and I missed what I consider to be the best part of a parade. 

However, toward the end of the parade, we were treated to quite a spectacle with 12 huge tow trucks stacked up end to end behind one big tow truck.  No clue how they did that, but it was impressive.  Daughter Deanna said that those tow trucks that can move semis get 10 to 12 thousand  bucks per tow and with I-5 so close to us, I guess Caveman towing gets lots of calls to pay for all these fancy trucks that cost about 500K each.

After the parade we drove to Riverside Park and found an easy spot in the parking lot reserved for people with the proper blue hang tag. I am not happy dealing with this leg thing, but that hang tag does have some perks now and then.  We were within feet of the busy carnival with rows and rows of “fair food”.  The smells reminded me of my childhood at the fair.  We bought a hot dog for Mo and a corn dog for me, my evil “notgoodforyou” favorite.  The sounds of screaming kids on the big rides and happy people were actually fun.  After months of not being around people it felt good to be in a crowd, especially when we didn’t have to wait in line for anything and could leave whenever we felt like it.  For us, that was about an hour at most just wandering a bit.

We skipped the boat races, hearing the roar of motors rising from the river all the way up the hill to our home.  We also skipped the fireworks, although I did watch a live video of them that night after Mo went to sleep.  They weren’t all that great, but with just two weeks notice and not a lot of money I was impressed that the show promoters even managed to do that.

On Monday, I set an alarm so I wouldn’t miss the F-15’s from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls flying over the city.  We took our drinks, set up our chairs in the yard and I had the camera ready.  Lots of noise and not a plane in sight?  Geez!!  I guess I later heard that they flew very low close to the river and then west toward Brookings.  After a few minutes, without warning, they suddenly appeared flying back toward the east high enough to see them, but of course I didn’t have the camera ready. 

I stole this photo from someone who was down by the park during the flyover and sent me the photo after I commented that we missed it.

Love those planes in spite of everything.  Yes, I know, lots of money, lots of fuel, but they thrill me.  I miss the sight and sound of their weekly training flights low over my home in Klamath Falls. Mo’s brother Don was an F-16 pilot in the Air Force, so that adds some special interest in the fighter jets.

We decided to give ourselves a small treat mid week, driving half an hour south into the Applegate Valley to visit the Red Lily Vineyard. There are so many lovely wineries in the Applegate Valley in addition to a many more throughout the Rogue Valley near Jacksonville, Medford,  Ashland, and Central Point.  It will take us many years to visit them all. Especially when we tend to return to old favorites like Red Lily and Schmidt which are so close to home.

We took a picnic, homemade quiche and cucumber salad, bought several bottles of wine to take home, and ordered a bottle to drink at our picnic table.  The tasting room was closed for tasting due to COVID, but we were still allowed to go inside to order our wine and make sure that we could sit by the river for our picnic.  The people at Red Lily are so welcoming, opening our bottle and offering glasses and an ice bucket.  We had brought our own but it was a nice gesture.  We enjoyed sitting by the river in the cooling shade.

During the next week I spent time preparing for guests, making sure things were spiffy and that there was plenty of food to share.  Wes and Gayle James, our friends and neighbors from the old days in Rocky Point were traveling south from Portland and we invited them to stay with us.  We greeted them with some homemade snacks and a pitcher of bloody Mary’s.

It was a lovely time sharing memories and stories, and enjoying a lovely dinner of fajitas made with tender New York steaks.   We thought we might play a game or two, but somehow eating, visiting, and relaxing together didn’t lend itself to games. 

The next morning we had an eggs benedict casserole, with a favorite family recipe from daughter Deborah.  I didn’t find out till later that Gayle didn’t often eat eggs, but she liked it enough that she asked for the recipe.  Last week she said she was making it for company.  I love those types of recipes that can be made ahead for a group.

The day after Wes and Gayle departed, Mo’s brother Dan came south from BeaverCreek to pick up a piece of equipment that Mo wanted to give him.  Mo and Dan spent most of the afternoon fiddling with some lights on the MoHo before Dan offered to take us to dinner.  We went down to the Taprock Grill, right on the river.  This time we opted for inside seating at a table by the window since outside deck seating was at a premium.  Eating in a restaurant seems so very unique after so many months.  I find that I enjoy being around other people in a way I never imagined.  I don’t know them, but the ambience of happy people, conversation going on around me, and excellent food that I don’t cook is more fun than I ever remember it in the past.

The sweetest thing that happened mid month was a beautiful cool soaking rain that lasted for 2 days and nights.  With everything so terribly dry from the extended drought it was so very sweet to see the plants and grasses respond to the gift of moisture.  All the watering in the world can’t do the same good that a full soaking rain can do.  Now, two weeks later, that rain is a distant memory.  We probably won’t get another one until fall.  In this climate, we have winter rains, and long periods of no rain during July, August, and September.  The nice thing about that soaking rain was that it didn’t have thunder and lightning, the evil precursor to fires.  I loved the sound of it and kept the windows open all night to soak up the sound and the softness of the rain.

Mo spent a considerable amount of time during the month creating some lovely stepping stones using concrete cement and more of her antique Batchelder tiles.  It was a slow process, but by the time she had made a dozen stones she had the process perfected.  I love the colorful tiles used around the property in ways that limit walking on the gravel.

Mo and I had a week of time on our own between Dan’s visit and a scheduled trip to Portland. Once again I had to go to Oregon Health Sciences University for more tests.  Once again Dan and Chere opened their home to us to make the long drive easier.  We drove up on Wednesday, arriving in the afternoon in time for drinks on the front porch before I cooked the main dish for our supper and Chere made a salad.  A recipe for Tuscan Chicken with sun dried tomatoes and basil and cream served over angel hair pasta is always a hit and this was no exception.  It was the least we could do to say thanks for letting us stay once again.

I wasn’t concerned about the EMG scheduled for the next morning since I had one last fall which wasn’t terribly difficult. Little did I know.  This time Dr Chahin, who is head of neuromuscular medicine at OHSU conducted the test and he made sure he hit every nerve he could find.  After 11 needles in my legs and groin with electric shocks to test the nerve I was a crumbling mess.  I will NOT do that test again, no matter what.  Never.  I am still waiting for his evaluation of the results.  Still a diagnosis of IBM, but still wanting to know “more”.  Do I really need more?  No drugs work, no treatments work, there is no cure, why do I need to know more?  Ugh. Mo drove back home and I couldn’t stop crying for no reason whatsoever.  I felt weak and stupid.  As I said, won’t be doing that one again.

We were back home by Thursday afternoon, and Friday morning I had more excitement in store.  Phil and Joanne Hartwig were at last coming to Sunset House after a few aborted attempts over the last three years.  They live in Eugene and we have visited them there, but the two other times they planned to visit something came up with family and they had to cancel, and of course last year COVID intervened.

Just a bit of history: Phil was the first soil scientist to train me in 1977 on the finer details of digging soil pits, describing soils, and making soil maps in Northern Idaho when I was a brand new soil scientist.  We worked together for a few years, camping for weeks at a time at Priest Lake coming home on the weekends to our families.  We built a solid friendship, and in the process I became friends with his wife Joanne as well.  Through Joanne I got to know a large group of women in Northern Idaho that became my main support group during that time of my life.  Phil and Joanne remember my husband Lance with love, and my kids when they were young.  I knew them when their children were born and shared so much of life with them.  Joanne and I talked about how incredibly wonderful it is to have ‘old’ friends with a shared history.  Such a treasure.

This time they made it, pulling into the driveway with their rented RV early in the afternoon.  Joanne was adamant that she wanted to arrive in time to go to Schmidt Family Winery for wood fired pizza, wine, and live music.  She has seen my photos of our outings there and it was top on her list of things to do.  We had a lovely time, once again enjoying the space full of happy people and good wine.

The next day we had a late breakfast before heading downtown to check out Grants Pass.  Joanne kept exclaiming that she loved our town.  Her friends in Eugene call it Gramps Pass and she had no idea it had so many great eateries, cute shops, and a lovely historic downtown great for walking.  Once again we were treated to dinner by our guests, this time at the Twisted Cork, another favorite of ours.  With several tables under umbrellas in front of the restaurant, we opted instead for the quiet air conditioned comfort of an inside table.  Arriving at 4 pm for an early supper was smart since by 5 the line of waiting people was quite long. Lately that has been my favorite.  Late breakfast, early supper. 

On Sunday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and bid goodbye to our guests as they departed for a few days camping near Jedediah Smith Redwoods.  The heat was building here in Grants Pass, and our friends were enveloped in a thick marine layer of fog that kept their temperatures below 60 degrees for most of their 3 day coastal visit!

We had just a couple of hours to regroup before another pair of friends were due to arrive.  Merikay and Craig are in another category of friendships.  Not “old” friends, but friends we made through our blog.  We have enjoyed having them visit us in Rocky Point where we went kayaking.  They stopped by Sunset House 3 years ago as they were traveling through, and I set out a decent salmon supper and we played some games before they returned to their camp at Valley of the Rogue State Park.  This time they wanted to treat us to dinner, and Merikay rescheduled their original plans to leave this area earlier and added two extra nights to their stay in town at a local RV park so they could visit with us.  Yes, once again we were treated to dinner out.  Once again we decided to go to the Taprock Grill, hoping for a nice outside table on the deck overlooking the river.

We arrived within minutes of each other at the restaurant, taking the time while we waited for a table to wander the lovely parklike grounds along the river.  It was hot, very hot, but Merikay was still thinking it might be wise to eat outdoors rather than indoors.  By the time our table was ready about 45 minutes later, as we walked into the cool restaurant, Merikay changed her mind.  We didn’t have to wait another minute and they seated us at a nice 4 top in the air conditioned space.  We could still see the river and it was a welcome respite from the heat that was continuing to build in the Northwest. Thank you two for a lovely dinner and taking the time to meet us and treat us!

Mo and I ended the month with a visit to the English Lavender Farm celebrating the annual Lavender Trail Festival that was cancelled last year due to COVID.  There was no charge for visiting, but we were required to make online reservations in order to keep the number of people within the current COVID restrictions.  I made the reservations a month ago, not knowing the the Heat Dome was arriving on the very Saturday that we planned to visit the farm.

That morning I got a notice that restrictions were lifted and reservations were no longer required.  We wanted to go on this day specifically because a vocalist /pianist that we enjoy very much, Sarah Dion Brooks, was scheduled for the afternoon entertainment. By the time we arrived at the farm, there were a few people walking in the brilliant sunshine, cutting small bundles of lavender. I didn’t need to buy lavender since I have plenty ripening right here at home. But the smell of the fields in the hot sun was delightful and we wandered up the pathways between the blooming lavender to the only piece of shade in the fields. 

The shelter was red, very red, as were the plastic Adirondack chairs.  We managed to snag a couple and enjoyed baking in the heat under the red shade and watching the people and their kids as they explored the fields.  Finally completely overcooked, we headed back down to the main shop area where there was lavender sorbet, lavender lemonade and thankfully, some misters under the porch.

We enjoyed the music but the heat finally cut our visit short and we decided to leave.  The temperature then was only 106F.  This was the Saturday before the 114F degree day that we had last Sunday. 

It was a nice way to end the month of June, something to remember besides the relentless heat. At home we are babysitting the well, the cisterns, and the drip irrigation systems, juggling water supply with water needs that are higher than they have ever been this early in the year.  Using a sprinkler only rarely for missed hot spots. So far, so good.  The rhododendrons show signs of leaf burn, the oakleaf hydrangeas wilt in the afternoon, and the hot tub refuses to stay at the 97F degrees I have set, returning to 99 or 100 after the heat of the day.

I do hope that this is just a bit of an anomaly and not a precursor to a record breaking summer.  It has only just begun.