Earth Wind and Fire

It has been a difficult time for Southern California this past week. The fire up in Ventura, California is where my parents spent their retirement years. They are both gone now, but left the dream of a botanical garden a reality by donating funds toward its creation. They are founding benefactors and will some day have a plaque on the third tier of the trail leading up the hillside. On the plaque will be the words- BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED! lovingly embossed for all to see as they hike. I try to live by this motto and am applying it to my own life as I live in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t always easy to bloom in the desert! The plaque is still in storage and the gardens are far from finished. Earlier this week, fire consumed the infancy stages of this dream garden and destroyed much, much, more in its wake.

One of my parents rental houses succumbed to the flames and neighbors and friends fled for their lives in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens will hopefully some day be rebuilt, but the damage to Ventura and neighboring Santa Paula is horrific. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed and over 200 square miles scorched to the ground. The fire is far from contained and is now roaring toward Ojai and Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile south in Bonsall, the Lilac Fire is raging and bore down on San Louis Rey Downs, a thoroughbred horse training facility. It has killed many horses in its wake as it burned out of control yesterday afternoon. It started in the early afternoon and crossed over the 15 freeway and barreled down the 76 at a staggering pace. The horses that died were mostly trapped in barns and stalls and couldn’t escape. Hundreds of horses were let loose in hopes of surviving the horror, but because they are such pampered, sports animals that are frequently hand walked, many panicked, and stampeding occurred. As herd animals, some ran blindly towards the smoke and flames instead of away from them. Del Mar Fairgrounds has taken in over 1,000 animals and a day of mourning was scheduled for today at Santa Anita and the Del Mar Racetrack because of all the horses lost- possibly 47 or more!

The dry conditions of Southern California and the infamous Santa Ana winds contributed to the overall perfect storm. These fires are still burning out of control, but the winds have hopefully died down. The rains that came last year produced a bounty of foliage which has dried out and become fuel for the raging fire.

And to top it off, Borrego Springs has been experiencing a series of earthquakes that have rattled the house and my nerves when it shook 4 times in less than 24 hours. Is Mother Earth sending out a message that the “big one” is on its way?

When are we going to acknowledge climate change, and most importantly, that it is human induced!? What is it going to take as a country to recognize that we have a responsibility to this planet and to our children, and that we need to curb our gas house emissions? It is too late for those beautiful horses and to all the people that have lost their homes. But let us please try to find common ground and do something about climate change before it is too late for all of us!

Callie in the mean time is doing what cats do best, sleeping the day away and getting herself ready for another road trip. We are planning on taking off again some time next week. Be safe dear readers and take care of yourselves during this holiday season.

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Hello dear readers,

I have been so manic about my blog posts lately, and have uploaded so many short videos, that I have run out of storage space and need to upgrade to business in order to continue. I have to think about that for a bit, and since I am not on the road, I will take a break from posting. May everyone be doing well in spite of the political climate, and Trump’s inability to lead with wisdom and compassion.

Vallecito Stage Station

Saturday morning Michael and I biked over to the Vallecito Stage Station- about 4.5 miles across the Anza- Borrego Desert State Park along S2 toward Julian. The weather was perfect after several days of wind and clouds and a drop in temperature.

The building that is left standing is a historical landmark and a reconstruction (1934) of the original adobe structure built in 1852. This was an important stop on the first official transcontinental route serving San Diego/ San Antonio (jackass) mail line that ran from 1857-1859. It later became The Butterfield Overland Stage Line and the southern, emigrant caravan route.

Biking over from Agua Caliente on a relatively cool day, left me in awe of these early pony express mail carriers and the bravery of both horse and rider. It is a desolate desert with sparse water, but maybe there was more of it 150 years ago.

The adobe structure is low lying and the walls are thick to keep it relatively cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Acacia trees, ocotillo, sage and creosote dot the landscape along with cholla and barrel cactus. The sand along the wash is deep and must have been very difficult for the horses and mules to gallop across while carrying rider and heavy bags of mail or worse, pulling covered wagons.

I walked around the structure and smiled at how tiny the doors and windows were and what a welcoming sight it must have been after a long, stressful ride across the desert. Wild honey bees were swarming the damp ground searching out moisture and the green belt and wash must have been a welcoming sight after many miles of galloping across the scorching hot, arid, desert.

Biking back was somewhat easier because it had a gradual downhill slope, but we had a headwind that evened out the playing field. We had to get back to our campsite and move before noon because on the weekends, and especially Saturdays, Agua Caliente becomes a party campground. The pools are reopened at night and the campground was completely filled. The ranger was kind enough to place us in site # 68 because I believe Michael was polite and not demanding when asking if we could stay a couple more nights.We were placed in a spot that is not rented out and saved for volunteers or if another camper has to be moved. It was very nice of the ranger to provide this camp site for us. It has a beautiful and unobstructed view of the valley with no one in front of us.

So we will stay 2 more nights before heading back to Borrego Springs. The weather has been wonderful and Callie has gone on several walks over to the Marsh Trail and all around the campsite. She spooked at a cottontail that was bigger than her as it raced passed us and under the cat claw shrubbery. It made Callie just a little bit nervous. I had to soothe her with reassuring words that bunnies are herbivores and would not hurt her. I listened to coyotes howling last night and owls hooting early this morning and love camping in this campground.

View from site #68

I Brake for Tarantulas

Michael and I went on a bike ride this morning over to Borrego Palm Canyon to see what the status is on camping here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We are considering heading to Agua Caliente for a 40 year relationship anniversary and haven’t been able to get anyone on the phone to let us know if the campground is full or not. Borrego Palm Canyon is not full, so that is a good sign for Agua Caliente.

The bike ride to the campground is around 5 miles each way, and when we were pedaling past the headquarters, what should I see but a large, reddish brown and very furry tarantula, attempting to cross the road. I was afraid it would get run over by a car, so I got off of my bike and escorted it across the street. He was beautiful but didn’t have a clue to the possibility of danger, and was just sauntering along while minding his own business. When he got to the other side of the road, I blew on him gently to nudge him safely off of the shoulder and only then did he get all indignant and puffed himself right up and stuck his abdomen in the air while tucking his head and fangs down to the ground. He was a menacing sight to behold. I was very impressed and waited until he headed out into the desert before I got back on my bike.

I can’t help but think of tarantula wasps whenever I see a tarantula. These wasps are very large, sinister, jet black with bright red wings and search out tarantula’s to lay their eggs unsuspectingly on the tarantula so that the offspring can feed off of the living tarantula when they hatch! Isn’t that horrible? So I was glad to see this beautiful spider making its way across the wild desert and there wasn’t a flying insect anywhere in sight to bother it.

Borrego Palm Canyon suffered a lot of damage during the past winter rains, but it is open again and ready for the camping season. The campsites are spacious and for those willing to dry camp, some of them are incredible. The campground only had a few campers out and about and it was so quiet and peaceful. It made me very excited about the possibility of camping again soon myself!

If all goes as planned, I will be joining them in spirit as I camp at Agua Caliente. The advantage of this campground is that there are heated pools to swim in and to soak your weary bones. Trust me on this one, after you reach 60 years of age, your bones will be weary. It is hard to imagine when you are young and fit, but it happens to the best of us. Biking helps ward off the inevitable, but you can’t be in a relationship with someone for over 40 years in length and not be getting old and weary. Maybe the hot pools will revive my aching bones and rejuvenate my tired soul. How could it not? I will toast to that!

Miss Adelaide

I am always writing about Miss Callie, but every once in awhile I will refer to my deceased Jack Russel Terrier, that passed away just months before Callie came knocking on my door. I was still grieving and in no way ready to adopt a cat for God’s sake, when Callie came scrambling up to my front porch, very frightened and lost! She had other ideas though, and clearly adopted me as much as I reluctantly adopted her. I have told the story of reluctantly deciding to adopt her several times and won’t get into it again, but thought I would instead show off an acrylic on canvas, self portrait I did of Adelaide and me years ago.

She was an incredible dog. Really funny looking, but brave to the point of fearless and spoiled, rotten, crazy beyond words. I always joked that if her legs were any shorter, she would be upside down. If Addy gained too much weight, she looked like a little pig and was addicted to chasing tennis balls. If you got tired of throwing a ball for her, she would soak it in water before dropping it in your lap. That always got an immediate reaction out of you!

When Addy became an only child after our beautiful and regal white shepherd Coya, was put down at the age of 12, Addy never even grieved for her. Coya was always protecting Addy and she really should have been missed. But Jack Russel Terriers are extremely narcissistic and the thought never crossed her mind.

One time, Addy was carried off unceremoniously by a coyote and the coyote had her by the throat, but lived to tell the tale. I heard her screaming for backup and the white shepherd and I both dashed outside to come to her rescue.The coyote let her go at the sight of both of us bearing down on it, only to have Addie go right back after the coyote in outrage. Fortunately the coyote had had enough and took off running with my shepherd running after it.

So Addie was the love of my life and we did everything together. When she died, I never, ever thought another pet would take her place! Well, Callie has managed to do just that, and she has become one of my all time favorite pet companions. When she first arrived, I told her that if I was going to adopt her, she would have to try really hard to act like a dog, because I wasn’t thrilled about having a cat. Callie heeded the warning though and walks on a leash, rides on the dash of the RV, as well as a basket on my bike. You can’t ask for more than that from a cat. Everywhere we go, I get the same response from people. “Is that a cat on a leash?” and “How did you teach that cat to walk on a leash!”

And even though I have said my goodbyes to Miss Adelaide. I didn’t have much time to miss her because Callie wouldn’t have allowed for it. From day one, Callie has stolen the show, as well as my heart.

A Beautiful Day of Biking in Borrego Springs

The weather is finally starting to cool off, and bike riding in Borrego Springs is a treasure to behold! There are very few cars out on the road in the center of Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, and as I have always like to say- in the middle of nowhere.

Wildlife viewing is abundant and there are very few hills. The conditions of the roads vary according to tax payer dollars and some of them like Henderson Canyon, can be quite poor. The extreme temperatures here in the desert are hard on the asphalt and they heat up and crack. In spite of the road conditions, this area is by far my most favorite place to bike.

Heading west on Di Giorgio – you pass a plant nursery that specializes in herbs, and the smell of basil and rosemary, fill the air with a delicious scent. Several orange groves have been left fallow this year, and it breaks my heart to see these trees die an agonizing and slow death. I wish they would cut the trees down right away. The good news is that maybe citrus growing has lost its appeal here because of heavy water usage and the price of water has gone up! We have a deep aquifer out here, but because growers have unlimited use of wells, the attitude is starting to change and people are complaining about it.

Coyote Canyon is at the end of Di Giorgio, and there is a Swainson’s Hark viewing station and counting bench where you can watch these magnificent raptors when they migrate through from Argentina and Mexico, on their way to Oregon, Washington and as far away as Canada. They are capable of hunting in midair, and it is fascinating to watch them capture Hawkmoths that have morphed from caterpillars to really large moths. These moths help pollinate the Sacred Datura, so the circle of life, not always fair, continues. The caterpillars can be so abundant here that they cover the street on their way from one side of the desert to the other. The plants that have made it through the summer and winter, grow fast and flower right away, only to be mowed down by insects, and the insects fall prey to the birds.

Swainson’s Hawks can have a wingspan of over 4 ft and are large, stocky fliers. They travel in what is called a “kettle” and circle the air currents high up above in large numbers. It is a world event when they pass overhead from February through April, and attract birders from all over!

As we biked around the De Anza Golf Course, who should I see but the 4 hen turkey sisters that came through my backyard during the summer. They were pecking seeds off the newly planted golf course and are always looking out for one another. These gorgeous creatures constantly talk back and forth, and it amazes me that they have traveled down from the surrounding mountains and are calling the harsh desert, home. I would think that coyotes would capture them because there are so few trees in which to roost. Maybe it is all the tamarack wind breaks that ranchers plant. These rows of large, leafy bushes are tall enough to shelter these birds. They have survived through the summer though and look healthy. What a joy it is to see turkeys in the wild. They are so smart and alert and make our domestic turkeys look rather pathetic.

Roadrunners are abundant too, and we usually spot at least one coyote straggler in the mid morning before it heats back up, trotting into Coyote Canyon to sleep off the rest of the day. Biking is a pleasure and very rewarding here in the desert during the spring and winter months. I can only imagine that in the years to come, this will become a much desired biking destination. We have one bike rental and repair shop on our teeny tiny Main Street shopping mall called: Bike Borrego. The owner, Dave, is a really salty character, but very knowledgeable about bikes and has serviced ours, frequently. Visitors coming to Borrego Springs can rent a Cannondale for less than $50.00 a day.

The tourist season has started again and Borrego Springs opens its restaurants and shops and people start to appear from everywhere. The home owners like us, who have survived through the heat of the summer, usually flee in June and come back in October. We were fortunate to head out this summer in our RV with Callie. Last summer we hunkered down and marveled at how anything survives out here!

The Roadrunner

The fascinating thing about roadrunners, is that they are members of the cuckoo family. They are born to run and can outrun a human being. Roadrunners can take on a rattlesnake, eat mammals and insects and are very territorial. These cheeky birds mate for life, but live solitary lives until the springtime comes, when the male and female will join forces to build a nest together in order to raise their young. Roadrunners survive in some of the most inhospitable environments and have made Anza- Borrego Desert State Park- home. You can see these birds racing down the side of a road, or if severely threatened, will take to the sky in short bursts of flight.

One day last winter, Michael and I were biking along Borrego Springs Road toward Seely Ranch- a grapefruit, date and orang farm, when we spotted a roadrunner sitting in the middle of the road. I biked passed it and did a double take because it was staring off into space and didn’t react to the sight of me cruising by. When Michael also biked past him and he once again didn’t react, I knew something was terribly wrong and we circled back over to check on him.

He was breathing rapidly, with his beak slightly open, and looked dazed and confused. I thought to myself that it must have been hit by a pickup truck that had passed us on the road a little while back. We both got off of our bikes and I knelt down to get a closer look. There was no blood or obvious harm, and the only thing I could see that was wrong, were maybe a few feathers misplaced on the upper, right hand shoulder.

I stood up and ran over to the grove to get a long stick and went back to the roadrunner and gently nudged the stricken bird. I chose a stick because of all the photos I had seen of roadrunners leaping up in the air and grabbing rattlesnakes with their beaks. I didn’t want the roadrunner to fly up in my face and send me running in alarm! It didn’t leap up in my face, but only reacted just enough for me to continue prodding it while I carefully guided it off the road. If we would have left him there, he would have been hit by the next vehicle that drove past.

Once I got him over to the shoulder, it continued to pant with its beak slightly open. I stayed with him, and after awhile, his eyes started to clear and he slowly came to his senses. I continued to speak softly to him just to make sure he didn’t go back out into the street. After 5 minutes or so, the poor thing shook his head in dazed confusion, but then looked me square in the eye before taking off at a lopsided, but much steadier lope, back down the row of orange trees. By the time it disappeared into the trees, he appeared to be almost normal again.

The truck must have just barely clipped him as he was dashing across the street; just enough of a blow to daze him, but not enough to cause any lasting damage. I have seen this happen to me, when a roadrunner dashes across the street and I have narrowly missed the bird. Roadrunners are incredibly adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert and smart enough, and tough enough not to get hit by cars very often. I have never seen one dead on the road.

And this reminds me of the rascally roadrunner that has claimed my backyard as his own, and visits almost daily. If he so much as spots Callie looking at him, he will let out a prehistoric screech and start running over to her.

This scares the living daylights out of her and she tries to play it safe by sitting on the inside of the screen door. Even that isn’t a safe zone for her though. He has actually gone so far as to come looking for her inside of the house if the door is left open. Now that is one, tough, bird!

Heading Home!

We are heading back home to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park after a month of being on the road. We forgot to pack toys for Callie, so a thrift store bag and iPhone chord will have to do! The thrift stores in Monterey and Carmel are incredible. The Human Society Thrift Store, The Yellow Brick Road and Joining Hands help the homeless and animals that need to find a home too. Callie loved playing in the bag after we finished shopping.

The Sky is Falling- The Ravens are Calling

Callie has become quite the darling wherever and whenever she goes out on a walk with me and Lara! People are always fascinated that a cat can and will walk on a leash. She takes it all in stride though and tries to keep her cool in most situations.

Everyone walking a dog marvels at her calm disposition and the dogs cannot believe their eyes, ears and nose. The smaller ones always want to touch noses with her, and if they go about it in a smooth and controlled manner, she will allow it. Otherwise she lies in wait at the end of her leash, and I have to warn the owners that she will get the better of the dog if they get too close. Callie is wickedly fast with her claws and before she rakes the poor dog swiftly over the nose, she will let out a warning shriek that sends most dogs running in a blind panic!

But today we saw a different beast all together! This afternoon we had several ravens following us high up above in the oak trees and they would cackle and crow and make all kinds of clicking noises as they jumped from branch to branch. It was almost like they too could not believe that there was a cat walking on a leash below them. They both peered down at us intently and with keen curiosity, tried dropped acorns on our heads to see just how we would react to the taunting. I looked up at them in return and mimicked their sounds right back at them and that set them off even more. They flapped their wings and cawed even louder and flew off muttering to themselves about the impossibility of a cat walking around on a leash. This caused Callie to drop down into a fake crouch position, but because they were so much bigger than her, there was very little threat in her posture. I think the tables would have been turned if the ravens called her bluff and it would have sent her running in a blind panic.

We are having a lovely time staying at the Monterey Campgrounds again, and Callie has her favorite oak trees that she loves to rub up against. I wonder if every dog that has ever been walked on a leash in the area, has lifted its leg and peed on the trunks of these trees. She gets this weird look on her face and then drops and rolls at the base of the tree in total ecstasy and rubs her back and face along the base of the tree. And if owners neglect to pick up after their dog? Why she goes about burying all the exposed poop with dirt and dried leaves and you can tell that it bothers her that dogs are so sloppy and thoughtless. She is the most fastidious cat I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and can’t stand it when others are dirty and leave a mess!

So Callie and I will ignore the ravens that hop from branch to branch and taunt us high up in the oak tree. And I will let them wonder just how it was that I taught a cat to walk on a leash in the first place. It must be a first for these ravens to observe and for most people to witness too, but I believe that Callie has opened the eyes of everyone that sees her out walking to the distinct possibility that their cat too, could walk on a leash!