Right in your own Backyard

We are preparing for a trip to Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada, in the next couple of weeks, just as soon as I get the OK to head north after my cervical stenosis surgery. I am hoping that the neck brace can come off in two and a half weeks. The concern is whether the two level fusion took and is healing correctly. It really hasn’t been that big of a deal and I am so appreciative that it hasn’t slowed me down with my photography. As long as I only use the 70-200mm lens with a teleconverter, all is well.

I am also testing out the use of uploading my blog post via laptop. I have been using my iPhone believe it or not and thought since I have the use of the internet now thanks to a next-door neighbor across the street, I would like to see what it is actually like to type on a keyboard and sit at a table. What a difference it is making as far as visualizing what the text looks like, and it is certainly more comfortable on the eyes.

Every morning now I am getting up and walking through the neighborhood in search of birds to photograph for 500px. I am thrilled to say that I am finding more birds than I thought were possible without even getting in the car. My favorite is an Allen’s Hummingbird that only breeds along a narrow strip of coastline in California and Southern Oregon. It has beautiful golden feathers with rust and green and looks very similar to the Rufous Hummingbird. I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk the other day on a power line, and Say’s and Black Phoebes are also numerous. Northern Mockingbirds serenade me with their stolen repertoire and Monarch Butterflies settle down silently on brightly colored flowers that grow in well-tended gardens. It is with great pleasure that I can actually find wonderful subject matter to photograph right here in my own backyard.

Callie will have to be current on all of her vaccinations and I am taking her into the vet at the end of next week. It is necessary for her to have a Health Certificate in order to cross international borders and we will need passports too. I just about have everything in order and am really looking forward to this trip. Our friends, Becky and Fred will be caravaning with us and it will be Becky’s first time RVing for an extended time. We hope to be gone for about a month. Camping can be so much fun, but it is also a lot of work. I can’t believe it has been over 3.5 years since we flew to Huntsville, Alabama to pick up Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C Icon. It has given us loads of fun and excitement and an escape route out of the desert during the hot summer months.

 

Lake Cuyamaca

The temperature is really heating up in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, so we decided to get away for the day and meet our RV travel partners, Fred, and Becky up at Lake Cuyamaca. It is less than an hour drive to the lake from our home, and the 110-acre reservoir provides natural air conditioning to the surrounding shoreline and kept the temperature at a comfortable 85 degrees. We sat around the table at the only restaurant that overlooks the water, and this eatery is famous for its chicken pot pies and fresh, fruit pies. You can be seated outdoors on a wooden balcony and hummingbird feeders hang from the eaves and Brewer’s Blackbirds wait patiently for you to finish eating before descending, somewhat mannerly, onto the leftover French fries when you get up to leave.

I pigged out on both the chicken pot pie and the Mountain Berry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with whip cream that was then generously sprinkled with cinnamon on it for dessert. Fred and Becky had the veggie burgers with coleslaw and fries, and that too was fresh and delicious. All of the meals were served in a timely manner and were very delicious. Our waitress was good-natured and accommodating, and even filled up the hummingbird feeders so that I could take photos with my camera. I highly recommend going there because it is also a fabulous place in which to camp overnight in an RV. I have written about Lake Cuyamaca in past posts, so I won’t get into a lot of detail, but just wanted to once again reiterate what a nice place it is to visit and camp at.

The lake provides food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. Canadian Geese and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-winged blackbirds, and Great Blue and White herons can be seen fishing along the shore. There is also an elusive pair of Bald Eagles that nest there every year in the fall way up high in the branches of magnificent evergreens on the island. If you are so inclined, easy hiking and biking trails are also available and you can’t go wrong if you are looking for a great way to spend time outdoors and escape the summer heat. One can also rent a boat and go fishing or just enjoy bobbing on the surface of the water and checking out the wildlife.

On the way back home, just as we were heading down the hill at San Filipe Wash in Anza- Borrego, a handsome bighorn sheep ram, dashed across the street in front of the car and up and over the rocks. Michael slammed on the brakes so that I could take one photo of him before he disappeared. I was still in the passenger seat with my seat belt on and used Michael’s shoulder for a tripod. I was very lucky he stopped for just a brief moment in time to look around. What a magnificent beast. He was probably searching for water and looked very healthy.

We came back home to Callie sound asleep on her chair and it appeared that she didn’t miss us one bit. We are heading back to the beach tomorrow and had a very relaxing time in the desert.

Summertime in the Desert

Michael, Callie, and I decided to head to the desert for a few days in order to have a little more room in which to live and move around in. The RV, a 24ft Class C, does feel a little small after a while and our desert house in Borrego Springs, even if it is 110 degrees outside, is still a fun escape.

Callie is able to race up and down the stairs and can follow her passion for bat patrol and taking early morning walks with her leash and the vest that has cute little fish patterns on it and a bright blue bow-tie. I don’t walk her as much at the beach because she can roam free in a safe environment with no fear of dogs or coyotes. But in the desert, Callie can’t run loose because of all the predators searching for something to eat and has had to learn to walk alongside me like a dog.

This morning I walked across the street with the 200-500mm lens, camera and tripod in hand and took some photos of flowers, bees, butterflies, and an Anna’s Hummingbird. Yesterday, I saw a roadrunner, white pigeon, White Egret, and a Night Heron. It never ceases to amaze me that wildlife still abounds in the summertime heat. I guess for most of them, the desert is home and they make the best of it in spite of the soaring temperatures. At least they have free access to water because of the ponds at the Ram’s Hill Golf Course.

We have been swimming every day, as it is an approved form of exercise after my cervical surgery. The collar needs to be worn for 5 more weeks. I can hardly stand it in this heat, but I am being a good patient and want to get well. There is a certain percentage of failure with a 2 level fusion, which is what I had done 3 weeks ago, so I had better follow the doctor’s orders. I can still go out and shoot photographs though, and that is all I need to stay sane. That and to be able to write, read, and to walk Callie.

The Circle of Life

Life in the desert is paradise right now. The temperature has stayed below 100 degrees and even though most of the wildflowers have dried up and blown away, there is still ample ocotillo, agave, acacia, beavertail cactus, and so much more in bloom. The Anna’s Hummingbird, Orioles, Costa’s Hummingbird, Verdin, Red-winged blackbird, Killdeer, Says Phoebe, Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, and White Egrets abound. At night, the pond is filled with the croaking sound of frogs in full throttle mode and dragonflies zip around along the surface of the water. Bats come out in the evening, and this is when Callie gets very excited. She adores watching the bats almost hit the window but somehow manage to veer off at the last second. Her head swivels back and forth as they dart about right before her very eyes. The fragrance of flowers fills the air with a lovely scented perfume and the caterpillars that haven’t been consumed, feed voraciously on what vegetation is left. The Painted Lady Butterflies are so numerous, that if you drive around to take in the sites, they flutter by in droves that many, sadly, are then hit by cars. The circle of life is steadily moving toward the season of summer and soon it will be too hot to live in the desert heat again. Fortunately for us, we can escape the soaring temperature and drive to the beach where our RV is parked.

Callie gets so excited when she knows we are heading for the beach that she stands up in the car to look out the window and starts to meow loudly when she sees the RV. She loves being on the road and is especially fond of the ICON. It is something to look forward to when we have to escape again. We are planning on a trip up the coast to help a friend out who’s husband passed away and she is flying in from Australia to scatter his ashes in May. We will get as far north as Monterey to see the otters. We plan on traveling for 2 weeks. I have much to look forward to.

The Bonds of Friendship are Strong!

Callie has become so bonded to me, that when we are separated, she gets very agitated. I in return feel lost without her. Most creatures experience similar emotions as we humans do, and I am convinced of that without a shadow of a doubt. Animals that have to eat other animals may express less empathy as an emotion, but that is only due to the fact that they have to kill in order to eat. If they stopped to comprehend the act of murder they are committing and feel bad about it, they would starve to death. We, humans, have become so distanced from raising our own animals on a farm to butcher in order to eat, that we hardly recognize our packaged meat, chicken and fish as having once upon a time been a living, breathing, sentient being before it is unceremoniously served as a meal.

I am not a vegetarian and this isn’t about preaching the horrors of how cruel many farm animals are raised and the health risks of eating meat. I love to eat fish and chicken, but it does make sense for the overall health of our planet to stop raising cattle, chickens, sheep, and pigs on a massive scale for human consumption. And to get back to Callie, she wouldn’t think twice about killing a lizard, mouse or bird, but boy does she feel separation anxiety when I am not with her. She developed cystitis a month ago when we went skiing up in Big Bear with my sister from anxiety, and it now appears that she is prone to more and more stress-related illnesses as she ages. As a matter of fact, so am I!

Because we adopted Callie as a stray, we don’t really know for sure her exact age, but we do think it is somewhere around 11 years old. And because she is getting older, she is much more dependent on me than ever before to get through her day. I have had to train her to walk on a leash in the desert due to all of the dangers outside, and she does seem to understand that I am her protector when we are staying in this wild and arid place. When we are camped at the beach in the RV and Mobile Home Park, she is allowed to run free, but because cats are so territorial and love nothing more than to get into a catfight, I have watched her being chased back into the RV at a fast run with her neighbor in close pursuit!

The trade-off is that she is much more affectionate and certainly a lot sweeter than she used to be. I would also have to admit that Callie was quite a handful in her youth and has mellowed out a lot as she has grown older. The same might be true of me, at least the becoming more mellow part of it, I am not exactly sure about being sweeter though.

Today, Michael and I have taken the RV into Temecula Valley RV Service and Sales to have it worked on before our next summer travels. We had to travel from the beach to Temecula in separate vehicles, hence the topic of this particular blog post. Callie had hidden in the upper loft when we were ready to pull out because she loves life on the road and didn’t want to leave the RV. I had to abandon her then and follow behind in the car. When she discovered that I wasn’t in the passenger seat when she finally came down once the engine started, Michael told me she was visibly upset that I wasn’t there. She has to park herself on the dash when we hit the road.

Once we got there, I put her in the car with me and I hung out with her while Michael checked the Rv in for service. I can’t express enough the importance of maintaining your vehicle so that when you are out on the road you can have fun instead of experiencing a breakdown. Blowouts and engine failure are the opposite of fun to go through. It is best to be safe than to be sorry. We have learned the hard way. The three of us, Callie, Michael and I have been doing this for 3 years now, and the learning curve is getting easier, and familiarity, of course, makes it less stressful. But still, there is a lot to RVing that can’t be taught. You just have to get out there yourself and experience it firsthand.

I am now waiting in the car while Michael goes over the estimate of repairs that need to be done on the RV. Callie is resting comfortably on the front seat of the car while I write, and now that we have once again been reunited, we can both enjoy this beautiful day in Temecula. All is well and living once again is easy; at least for the moment it is. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Life in the Desert

With the Arctic Vortex blasting much of the United States, the Sonoran and the Mojave Desert are a seasonal paradise for many creatures including Michael, Callie and me. There was another lovely rainstorm last night and I am hoping for a super-bloom of wildflowers this spring. I have a pond behind the house that is a temporary home to Canadian Geese, Mergansers, Mallards, American Wigeon’s, a lone, lost Double-Breasted Cormorant that kept looking to the sky for his fellow travelers, a single, male Vermilion Flycatcher that I have affectionately named- Romeo, my darling Costa’s Hummingbird that I have aptly called, Sweet Pea, Say’s Phoebes, frogs that have just started to emerge from hibernation that are croaking out their romantic mating call, and of course the coyotes, desert foxes, and numerous predators that hope to make a meal of all of the above.

Callie has a ringside view of the scene playing out below her from a love seat that I have positioned by the window. She can watch bats swoop back and forth in search of insects at night and the ducks loudly quack and squabble during the day and even one lone male coyote that has as of yet failed to catch a bird in the late afternoon. When it gets chilly out, and it sometimes does, Callie makes short order of the lovingly prepared bed that I have made and crawls underneath all of the blankets when she gets chilled.

Wildflowers such as the tiny red chuparosa shrub are in full bloom already and this is the favorite food for Sweet Pea, the hummingbird. The Painted Ladies, a lovely butterfly which favor the golden yellow brittlebush are unfortunately often consumed by the flycatchers, and the bats and frogs attempt to catch the rest at night. It is quite the ecosystem playing out right before my eyes. It has really inspired my photography and the new Nikon D850 camera that my husband gave me for my 63rd birthday has improved my skills; I rarely take iPhone pics anymore.

We are moving the RV back to the Riviera possibly this weekend after having all the batteries replaced and the loss of hubcaps too! This particular RV seems to like to ditch them on the roadside along with blowouts that we have had with just about every tire. It must be a flaw in the design of the Class C and the fact that Michael has a hard time replacing them if there is still plenty of tread. The weakened sidewall is the issue and a gentle warning to all who RV, don’t be fooled like we have. Blowouts are dangerous and costly, not to mention the inconvenience and discomfort you have to go through in such an emergency. We also had the generator oil replaced and are now ready to park it back at the coast. I am looking forward to another adventure though soon and our first one may be to head up to Lake Cuyamaca or Agua Caliente if it is still too cold. Such is the good life of an aging retired couple and their adorable cat named Callie.

Badd Ass Catt

Callie is doing really well and has adjusted to a life in the desert that only allows her to be walked outside with a leash. There are just too many predators in this wilderness area that could harm her. She seems to know it and has accepted her loss of freedom and not to be able to climb her beloved olive trees. When we take her to the beach where we have the RV parked, Callie will be allowed to explore outside once again. In the meantime, I am taking lots of photographs and appreciating the abundant wildlife that either call Anza- Borrego Desert State Park home, or are just passing through.

Another Year has PASSED!

Yikes, the time is flying by so quickly. All is good with Callie and us. We finished a wonderful trip to Vegas to meet our daughter and to camp at Valley of Fire and Death Valley. Callie got a spooky, bright red, furry tarantula for Christmas and we are back home in the desert once again. It is a big, beautiful world out there in spite of the government shutdown. We hauled all of our trash out of Death Valley when we left and most people were doing the same. Happy New Year to all of you and may this year be filled with peace, joy, and happiness.

Joan and Callie

Peace and Joy be with You!

It has been a long time since I have posted an update on Callie. She is doing really well and loves this desert house with a view of a pond. She spends hours in the evening watching bats swoop back and forth and in the morning she has hummingbirds and a beautiful male Vermilion Flycatcher that is absolutely gorgeous. Coyotes head out in the evening to hunt and return when the sun starts to climb in the sky. We are planning on hitting the road again during Christmas and may go to Death Valley again. Thank you all for checking in and may the holidays be joyous and full of peace and joy. Happy New Year too!

A New Camera

I celebrated my 63rd birthday last month and my husband bought me a new Nikon D850. I have been practicing all day today and cannot believe how fabulous it is. My 500px photography site has taken up a great deal of my time lately but I just wanted my readers to know that Callie is doing well and loves it here. The pond is an ever-ready source of entertainment and she can sit outside on the balcony and lie in the sun. We will be heading to the beach on Saturday and will be staying in the RV for a couple of weeks. I have to go through eye surgery again and this time, I will take super good care of myself.