Early May was sunny and perfect for the baseball, softball and tennis playoffs I covered, but by the middle of the month, a consistent rainy pattern had set in.
I made several photo walks around the patch after walking the dogs.
At work, I’m shooting and writing well, and feel like I am succeeding in mentoring our intern, Mackenzee Crosby, well. I have a pretty versatile skill set, but I don’t do everything. I couldn’t tell you, for example, the first thing about covering a court case as a reporter.
At my suggestion, she called her column “Ellen in Grey.”
Thank you everyone who asked with concern about my wife Abby. She had a rough winter and spring, but seems to be very much back to her usual self lately. This morning, for example, she asked for grits and runny fried eggs, which is a long-time favorite or hers.
For the past few years I have observed a mysterious puddle come and go near my orchard south of the house. I suspected it was a leak in the main water line leading from the water meter to our house, but as the years went by, it didn’t seem to be getting worse, and would sometimes disappear entirely.
Then in February, we had the worst winter storm in recent memory. A foot of snow covered the ground, and temperatures dipped below zero on two nights. We were careful to open the cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around our water pipes, and, unlike hundreds of area residents, we avoided a messy and expensive plumbing problem.
The extreme weather was not without consequence, however. The mysterious puddle at first shrank to insignificance, but in the last few days, it got much large, and I dubbed it “Lake Milligan,” after George Milligan, Abby’s first father-in-law, who installed the water line when Abby moved back to Byng in 1993.
It grew so quickly this week that it was apparent that the water line would have to be repaired, and Abby and I were certain it would take forever, and cost a fortune.
Enter Nickerson Plumbing. They were able to send out a friendly pair of young plumbers, one of whom remembered me from when I covered his Ada Cougar basketball games, and the other recalled being bitten by our neighbor’s dog last year.
The two determined that we did have a growing leak, and set out to find it. At this point, Abby and I were sure we would be leasing a backhoe for days, and this repair would completely consume our income tax refund.
Then, the Miracle on Main Street.
“We found your leak,” one of the plumbers announced after a 20-minute search. It was right where the puddle had come and gone over the years, and at this point, the leak had gotten large enough to see and hear. One of them showed me the joint that had cracked and leaked very slowly, but had, in the last few days, turned into a pinhole, then a larger hole.
They patched it up and buried it, and turned on the water. One of them had a billing app, and added it up: $204. Wow.
I know it seems a little early to be getting the garden in the ground, as in years past I have frequently dealt with mid-April frosts and freezes, but if you can get plants in the ground early, then have a little luck with the weather, you get a longer growing season, and a better yield.
I might have to replant some if we do get a freeze, but it’s only about $20 worth of plants.
My soil has gotten depleted over the years, so prior to planting, I tilled in a large bag of organic tomato/vegetable garden fertilizer.
Yesterday I planted…
Ten Early Girl tomato plants
Three Big Boy tomato plants
Five red bell pepper plants
One green bell pepper plant
One orange bell pepper plant
Three Sun Sugar cherry tomato plants
My variety selection was based entirely on what was available at the garden center Sunday.
That leaves cucumber, radish, and marigold seeds to plant, hopefully tonight.
I got my second coronavirus vaccination this week. My arm is very sore and I have some muscle aches, but that tells me it’s working.
I posted on social media this week that my peach trees had gone straight to leaves this year, and did not appear to be making blossoms, which, according to my photos from previous years, almost always happened before the first day of spring. I was convinced that I wouldn’t have peaches, though I was encouraged to see that I did have plum blossoms.
Then today, as I walked Hawken, I caught sight of a few peach blossoms on a couple of my trees, and I felt encouraged, both because I might actually get peaches, but also that it seemed to me that nature, after years of cruelty to it by humans, seemed, in the last 15 months or so, to be fighting back.
My readers might be aware that I previously owned two small gasoline-powered tillers, also known as cultivators. The second one, Tilly, was purchased exactly eight years ago, worked properly most recently three years ago, meaning its useful life was five years. I consider that a complete rip-off, since that boils down to about ten hours of actual garden tilling, since I only need it once a year.
I thought about last year, when I dug the garden by hand. Not only was it slow, back-breaking work, it didn’t get the soil really chopped up like a tiller could. I am all about working hard, but I was not looking forward to another five-hour hands-and-knees session.
Local retailers had that exact model for an insulting $300, so I poked around on the interwebs and found an electric tiller for just $133, minus a small discount from rewards points. “Buy Now.”
My Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator arrived in just two days. It was easy to assemble and ready in minutes. The question would be one of electric vs gasoline, which is why I opted for the more robust 13.5 AMP plug-in model.
At the first turn of dirt, Tyler dug like a champ, including some very rough areas that had gone to grass several years ago. We’ll see how long it will live, but so far, the newest tiller in the family is working well.
I asked Abby what I should name it, and she said, “Tyler.”
2020 has been a difficult year, for reasons I don’t need to rehash because we’ve all been through it.
Abby and I have been lucky; we haven’t been exposed as far as we know, and we haven’t been sick.
Mother nature is somehow responding to 2020. It might be a coincidence, or it may be in response to a reduction in atmospheric, noise, and light pollution because of the pandemic, but this summer was pretty and green, and this fall ranks as among the most beautiful I can remember on our patch of green in southeastern Oklahoma.
Our next door neighbor’s efforts to corner the chicken market seem to be coming along nicely. In addition to his 32 chickens, he recently added five guineas and a puppy that he says will grow up to guard the henhouse. They’re all fun and fun to photograph.
Hawken, our Irish wolfhound, cornered another opossum tonight, or possibly cornered the same opossum he encountered two weeks ago.
Hawken’s bark is unique to the situation: it is forceful, loud and urgent, and is meant to get the attention of the animal he is addressing as well as us.
I have no desire to kill animals like this, but I can’t have them stubbornly staking out Hawken’s food, and I am quite sure this animal or others like it are responsible for killing our next door neighbor Mike’s chickens recently.
I tried and tried to shoo it away, but it was too determined to dine on Hi-Point “Highly Active” 28/15 dog food, and would not retreat. I shot it with my M&P 15/22. Once it was down, I gave it one point-blank to the head so it wouldn’t suffer.
After a rather intense couple of days covering the news, I was able to pad my tension with a bit of good news: the garden center at Walmart had mature-ish tomato plants to I could replace some that I lost to cutworms or the weather. I was able to plant three Better Boy plants and two cherry tomato plants.
There was a time in my life, around my college years, when I imagined that total isolation, on a mesa in a home built into the cliffs at the end of the Boys Ranch Road northwest of Amarillo, would be the way I wanted to live.
*** As I wrote this, the phrase “no contact with the public at all” floated by through a television program. ***
But I am not that college kid any more.
There are news reports of people feeling isolated, and a lot of people are creating memes for social media that express isolation.
But for Abby and me, and the next door neighbors, the Nipps, life hasn’t changed all that much. They cook out and cut the grass. The next day, I cook out and cut my grass. I walk the wolfhound and the Chihuahua past them as they put ribs on the grill, and we chat or a few minutes. Mike is building a chicken pen, and plans to get some chickens, which I look forward to naming and photographing.
What has changed dramatically for me is work. I still have a job, but everything about it is different, because of what my newspaper covers. Sports have stopped. There won’t be any graduations this month. There are a lot of parades and gatherings designed to get people together, yet keep them far apart enough to check the possible spread of the coronavirus.
At an evening event I covered Thursday, 15 people called me by name.
At Walmart today, in the egg aisle, with both of us wearing Rona masks, “Hey, aren’t you here to take pictures?”
My community knows me, which I love. It’s also something that lets me do my job better.
So, here we are, May 2020. We are trying to “reopen” America bit by bit while the pandemic still rages, and while I hope for the best and prepare for the worst, I expect something in between.
I got half of my garden planted today. I went to town and got three kinds of tomato plants, pepper plants, and onion sets, all of which are now in the ground. I also bought seeds for cucumbers, cantaloups, rainbow carrots, and marigolds, which I hope to get in tonight or tomorrow.
I am presently coughing my fool head off, but don’t worry. I don’t have the covids or the amtrax. I do, however, have a face full of dust after completing a task I’ve been avoiding for a couple of years: moving Abby’s mom’s curio cabinet into my dressing room and making it into a camera cabinet.
I actually accomplished this while Abby was napping, a variant on the saying, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission,” though when she woke up, we were all happy with it.
This started with me seeing a dusty camera, dusting it off, then seeing I couldn’t set it down again without dusting the spot where it sat. There was a lot of dust, then a decision, then action.
I sometimes wish all our actions could come about so organically.
The only remaining task is to find a new piece of glass for the front door, which was broken while moving it here with a bunch of other stuff.
The cameras on display in it are items Abby bought for me at various thrift and antique stores over the years.
I was feeling pretty grim for much of the day, weirdly motivated by caution and advice to keep my distance from my fellow humans, worried more about the social and economic consequences of our situation.
When I got home, Abby sneezed, reminding me that we both were aware that the weeds in the yard have grown pretty tall all the sudden.
I fired up my push mower, then my riding mower, then finally the power washer, and they all worked fine.
I mowed and mowed, and even had a chance to power wash a spot on the front of the house.
The smell of cut grass and weeds and dandelions and wild onions was the opposite from the rest of my day, opposite from the smell of disinfectant and surgical masks.
Mom and Dad had orange trees in their back yard in Florida. My sister Nicole and I bought them and planted them as Christmas presents. There were always lots of big, ripe fruit at Christmas, so I guess that’s when they naturally ripened. Mom and Dad did little to them other than picking the fruit.
I thought of this as I found two new-to-me orange varieties at Walmart this week, the Cara Cara with it’s pink meat, and blood oranges, which are dark reddish-purple inside.
At Walmart, I was witness to part of a current panic in the world, people buying hoarding items as they fall prey to fears they will suffer or be deprived in the Coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. As a group, humans tend to gravitate toward their fears, believe absurdities, and follow unqualified leaders who often lead them off cliffs. It’s not new. It is the way humans are made: selfish, scared.
If I knew how to calm and comfort them I would, but maybe it’s enough for me to remain confident and rational. I know it’s easy to fear disease; I was seriously ill with influenza last month, and COVID-19 is a more serious illness.
It rained all night last night, and even stormed a little this morning. I wonder how spring, in general, will affect the current pandemic.
Many sports were canceled, including, much to my chagrin, the state basketball tournament. Covering those games is definitely hard work, but some of the funnest I do all year. Games leading up to it were definitely epic, and the teams, fans, coaches, and I were very excited about the games to come this week.
The ultimate question, of course, is will we – you, me, the dogs, my wife, my coworkers, my waitress, my nurse, my friends, my town – get sick and die from this disease? The answer seems to be probably not. All we can do is wash our hands, sneeze into our elbows, and stay calm.
I don’ t know if any of you ponder New Year’s Day, but I don’t. The year 2020 is only significant because we sort of started counting 2020-ish years ago. The winter solstice was December 21, and the spring equinox isn’t until March, so those two clearly more significant celestial benchmarks have been largely ignored.
So, 2020. Meh. I’m not 2020, Abby’s not 2020, the dogs aren’t 2020.
From the "Special Projects" bin...
I asked a friend, who I think should be writing, to start the new year by writing just one sentence. She texted, “She didn’t believe me, at least not at first.”
When I was young, 2020 sounded like science fiction. “By 2020, we’ll have bases on the moon and Mars.” NASA says right now they expect to be on the moon in five years, and on the way to Mars after that. But who are we going to beat to the moon? Who thinks it’s a good idea to spend 5% of the GPD on NASA? Look up this entry in five years and see if we’re on the moon.
Abby and I watched the Tournament of Roses Parade on The Hallmark Channel this morning. It’s comforting to see how archaic and underproduced the coverage is, and how much this event is just like it was when I was a kid.
Readers know that with the arrival of late autumn, I am able to take Hawken the Irish Wolfhound on much longer walks, deep into the woods to the west.
Today I made a quick trip to town, heated up some leftover baked ziti for Abby, made baked sweet potatoes with sautéed green onions and mushrooms and a veggie burger patty for me, then took Hawken on our longest walk of the season.
These walks are so good for us. We never see anyone else back there. We seldom even see traces of anyone else. We disappear. It’s quiet and clean. We both get sun and leg time. We never get bored. Good times.
With a weekend during which I am not teaching last Monday and a period of warmish weather, I decided to prune my fruit trees for the first time in a couple of years. This task became more significant due to last summer’s nearly perfect growing season, which made my trees grow wildly.
Fruit tree owners know that keeping your trees cut back is a good idea for several reasons.
Shorter, stouter branches can hold fruit better during windy conditions and as fruit weighs branches down.
Fewer fruit on shorter branches mean individual fruit will be bigger.
Trees taller than about eight feet require a ladder or lift to harvest, whereas short trees can be harvested by anyone without any additional equipment.
Pruned trees have space between each other for moving and harvesting.
So for the last few days I’ve been using a Fiskars® brand limb lopper to cut back as many runaway branches as I was able to reach. It’s been pretty effective, and most of the work is done.
However, during an attempt to remedy an extra-high, extra-thick branch tonight, I pushed a little too hard, and mistakenly relied on a branch that immediately collapsed, kronking the sh!t out of my left knee.
(Please, nurds, don’t sing that Monty Python song. Thanks.)
Abby and I had a few items to tick off in town Monday, including getting her truck serviced. As we often do, we had lunch at what has become our favorite place to eat in Ada, Prairie Kitchen, also known around town as Prairie Chicken. I have one favorite go-to item, their Rio Grande omelette, since it is vegetarian, and they make it well. The last time we were at the Chicken, Abby had liver and onions, but Monday she got a Monterey mushroom steak.
Like a lot of married couples, we have each other comfortably figured out, and that includes dinner. We both know, for example, that when a waitress asks Abby what bread she wants with her meal, I answer, since she doesn’t eat bread. (If you want to know why, ask her.)
Yesterday she ordered fried okra “because I knew you’d like some.”
In other news, the antenna crew finally arrived to install the antennas and 5G LTE transceiver equipment that will allow customers like us to use the service. It appears they are installing three pairs of 65º 12-foot panel antennas. The installer told me they are also putting in some kind of repeater for first responders. I walked Hawken the Irish Wolfhound, and they met him and liked him.
Speaking of Hawken, last night he cornered another armadillo, which I shooed away and shot. I don’t like killing them, but I can’t have these animals harassing our dogs.
We had a freeze Friday morning. I tried to cover my tomato plants with two rain flies from two of my camping tents, and it was partially successful.
The changes in the weather make Abby’s bones ache, but she remains in great spirits as we begin our 16th year of marriage together.
Our community now seems to have more medical marijuana dispensaries than Baptist Churches, and a friend of mine with several health problems just received her “card,” permitting legal purchase of medical cannabis. I’d like everyone to feel free to weigh in on this in the comments: is this good, bad, ugly, a trend, a mistake, an answer?
Among other tasks, Abby is crocheting new sweaters for Summer the Chihuahua, including one that is the exact same color as the afghan she just finished…
Hawken the Irish Wolfhound won’t wear sweaters, and didn’t seem to want to wear the bandana I put on him this morning, or maybe he thought it was a funny game of keep-away, but I finally got him to wear it. It was a gift from my sister, and is supposed to be infused with a substance that repels insect and arachnids.
Our 16-year-old water softener recently died. By the time the entire system was depleted of soft water, I remembered why I like soft water: showering in the City of Ada’s treated Byrd’s Mill Spring water is like showering in dirt.
We got a new softener late last week, and it’s good to lather again.
Some other notes…
It appears there is a good chance Donald Trump will be impeached soon. That doesn’t mean his presidency will end. Bill Clinton was impeached. Of note: someone in office can be a complete bastard, and you can hate him or her to tiny pieces, but you can only impeach a president for illegal acts. But Trump supporters continue to assert that accusations against him are liberal efforts to … well, things are less clear in their minds about why liberals want to get rid of him. They hate freedom. Yeah, that’s it.
A Boeing B-17 warbird I photographed in March here in Ada as it toured with the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour crashed this week in Connecticut, destroying the aircraft and killing at least seven of the 13 on board.
Work continues on the cell tower: this week, a dude is over there with a tiny track hoe, digging something. Hopefully it will soon have antennas and equipment, and we will have a signal in Byng.
Abby’s iPhone 6S Plus died slowly over the past few months, so we finally replaced it with an iPhone XR. An Apple aficionado at my office is thoroughly offended when I refer to it as an iPhone SEX, so I do it as often as I can.
Today is Sunday, and I am bouncing around doing about a dozen things, not finishing any of them, starting another one, getting distracted, going down rabbit holes. This must have been what I was like when I was four. And like a four year old, I expect within an hour I will be sweetly napping.
So now I will go do a focus stack, learn about Adobe Premiere Pro CC, fold my towels, make the bed, feed my wife, feed myself, help a fellow photographer in the yard while he makes macro photos, cut the grass, help Abby throw out clothes that don’t fit, and … hm. I’ll think of some other stuff.
One thing I am deciding just today is to try a lot harder to post stuff here, then link to social media, rather than posting straight to social media. I think posting to social media sites is a little like doing drugs… we take the hit by posting, then feel the high when we got likes. It feels unhealthy to me somehow.
This isn’t about clicks or metrics. This is about identity. Zuckerberg vs Barron. “And I’ll do it myyyyyyyyy wayyyyyy!!!”
Every dog falls somewhere on the washability index, from “Okay, this group of four-year-olds is soaping me while I calmly sit in a red wagon” to “I will kill you the next time you lift that garden hose.”
We don’t use groomers. Abby worked for a veterinarian for years and knows how to do all that stuff, so she and I take care of it, including washing our dogs. Chihuahuas Max and Sierra, who have both passed away, were tolerant of baths but not enthusiastic, while Summer the Chihuahua is still figuring it out. One thing Summer does surprisingly well is get her nails trimmed.
Hawken doesn’t get along with water. To bath him, I have to leash him to a rung at the bottom of the stairs on the front porch.
If Hawken looks particularly filthy, it’s because he is: to keep cool in the summer, he wallows in holes he’s dug under the back porch. If it has rained recently, he gets even muddier, and after we wash him, it’s difficult to get him dry enough that he won’t get completely filthy as soon as he lies down for the night.
I made an effort to cut some of the mats out of his fur, which are just tangles of hair mashed together when he lays in the grass or dirt.
He’s such a happy dog, though, and while he seems super-annoyed to be getting bathed, he is then instantly glad to play with us. Last night as I was drying him, he decided it was a game, and before the game was done, the towel was torn in half.
One evening earlier this summer, I had just finished walking Hawken the Irish Wolfhound when I came across a nest of red wasps in the gap between the back door and the siding, and I guess I got too close, because they broke the treaty and stung me twice in the left arm.
Within 90 seconds they had been sprayed into oblivion in what could only be described as a mission of destruction. The stings were painful initially, and lasted for more than a week.
This morning I opened that same door to bring Hawken breakfast when I heard the papery whisper of dozens of red wasp wings coming from that same spot. I backed off quickly and avoided getting stung this time, but come on: They reoccupied the position! Again I sprayed them into oblivion, and tonight after walking both dogs I looked around to see dozens of dead wasps on the back porch.
Wasp stings are a nuisance for me, but if Summer the Chihuahua got stung, it could be fatal. She has recently discovered that she loves for me to walk her, so I have doubled my daily dog walking.
Finally, a unique feature of our exactly-east-facing house is that as the autumnal equinox approaches, the sun shines through the peephole (mistyped at one point “poophole”), in the front door in the morning, which is neat.
If we are what we eat, at the moment I am about 30% peach.
It’s been the spring and summer of the peach for me. I’ve had peaches on my trees before, but this summer was the bumper crop. I believe this is due to a normal, cold, wet winter, and a wet spring, so my trees had abundant deep moisture, and healthy pollinating insects.
I have picked peaches almost every day since May, and I have been able to eat most of them. Except for some losses to brown rot, my peaches have been big, beautiful and nutritious, and I couldn’t be happier with them.
Harsh, but True...
It aggravates me to no end when people immediately suggest that I make something out of my fruits and vegetables. “Are you going to make peach cobbler?” “Are you going to make peach ice cream?” No, fatty. Peaches are food. I’m going to eat them.
Mike, our next door neighbor, rolled his tractor while brush hogging, his business now that he is retired. He was injured and spent some time in the emergency room, but he’ll be okay. It’s a good reminder that something as simple as mowing merits extra care to be safe.
My DR all-terrain mower started with no effort last night, which is nothing short of Twilight Zone weird because I hadn’t started it in three years, and when I did, it took half a bottle of starter fluid to get it going. “Maybe it just needed the rest,” Abby jokingly suggested.
So, with the pasture partially mowed last night and the last of the peaches picked, I hope to get some more of that done today, and concentrate on my next crop, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and cantaloupe.
Today is the first day of summer 2019. Spring brought tremendous rain, gorgeous pastures, peach and plum trees sagging from the weight of fruit, and early yesterday morning, widespread thunderstorm damage in our neck of the southeastern Oklahoma woods.
A fortunate collision of timing allowed our good friend Robert to join me in our coverage of the storm damage from a fast-moving line of severe thunderstorms that rolled through about 3 a.m. Damage was widespread and caused damage to numerous trees, and downed power lines across the region.
More than 15,000 residents were without power, including us in Byng. As luck would have it, we did have power at the office, so we got the paper out, but the Pauls Valley paper wasn’t as fortunate, and I don’t know how they eventually got their product together.
Robert lives in the D.C. area, but came to Tulsa to photography his niece Rowan’s wedding, and had some time to come down yesterday, just in time to round up some nice storm cleanup images, which are in today’s Ada News.
After a long day of that, and Abby texting us “Power!!! Power!!!” at 2:04 p.m. (for an outage time of about 12 hours), we went home to shift to phase two of our day of photography, photographing our pets, our patch, and each other.
Readers might recall that Robert photographed Abby and me in November, and those image ended up being some of my all-time favorites of the two of us, and I hoped to recreate the magic, and the session was everything I wanted it to be.