A Day of Chaos and Mystery

This is the source of the mystery.
This is the source of the mystery.

Readers probably know now that tornadoes struck across Oklahoma Saturday night into Sunday morning. I listened to non-stop amateur radio and public safety communications, and when tornado warnings were issued for my location, I brought Hawken, my Irish wolfhound, inside, and sheltered in the center of the house with him and my Chihuahua, Summer.

Those storms passed us without causing any damage, but nearby Sulphur, Oklahoma, wasn’t so lucky, and late Saturday my notes from the radio traffic say, “11:17 p.m., Murrah County is requesting help, houses leveled.”

Knowing I could do little until day break, I planned to go to Sulphur first thing Sunday morning.

The downtown portion of Sulphur was devastated by a tornado Saturday night. I made this image with the drone my newspaper bought for me. Mine was not the only drone in the air that morning.
The downtown portion of Sulphur was devastated by a tornado Saturday night. I made this image with the drone my newspaper bought for me. Mine was not the only drone in the air that morning.

At the time I left my house in Byng, the water and the electricity were both off. I got a text from the power company saying it was back on at 12:13 p.m., but got home an hour later to find that it was not, so I went to the office to work my photos, video, and the storm story.

Home around 5 p.m., the power was back on, but the water was a muddy trickle. My neighbors said their water was back on. I tried all the faucets inside, but it seemed the pressure was near zero. I decided I need to be able to flush, so I grabbed a bucket and started toward the pond, but quickly checked the outside faucet, which, much to my surprise, was flowing like a waterfall.

Hmm. No water inside, full pressure outside, all connected to the same pipes.

I summoned a buddy of mine, who looked around with me and was just as baffled. We found the tub ran full flow, but the sinks and toilets did not. He then got the idea to remove a screen from the bathroom faucet, where we discovered it was fully clogged with tiny, yellow plastic balls. It looked like resin from the water softener, which shouldn’t be able to make it into the flow.

We concluded that when the house was re-pressurized after the outage was repaired, the shock must have dislodged resin, which traveled to the screens, clogging them.

Neither of us had ever seen this before.

I thanked him, then set out to clean all the screens in the house, with an unexpected result of  improving the flow from all the faucets, which is a sign that I should clean them out regularly.

This is the screen from the backroom faucet, completely clogged with resin from the water softener. It is shown with a quarter and a penny for scale.
This is the screen from the backroom faucet, completely clogged with resin from the water softener. It is shown with a quarter and a penny for scale.

Eclipse Postscript

A Native American woman prepares to perform a traditional sage smudging ceremony, while a man plays a quartz chakra bowl.
A Native American woman prepares to perform a traditional sage smudging ceremony, while a man plays a quartz chakra bowl.

As we all wind down from the excitement of Monday’s total solar eclipse, I thought I would weigh in on what worked, what didn’t, and what was fun and what wasn’t.

For more than a year, Tulsa photographer Robert Stinson and I planned to travel to the Moon.

The drive from Ada to Moon, Oklahoma, a town that is little more than a wide spot in the road and a mark on the map, took about three hours, about what we expected.

We got an early start, so we were just the second vehicle to arrive in Moon, but as the time of totality got closer, more people arrived.

As some had predicted, we had clouds for most of the day in Moon, but that didn’t squelch the mood at all. In fact, the crowd at Moon grew and became more festive, almost like a block party.

A Native American woman held a sage smudging ceremony.

A man played a quartz chakra bowl, telling me, “this is a chakra bowl for the third eye chakra, for balance and harmony.”

A family showed up with blankets, then played baseball on the gravel road to pass the time as we waited.

Eclipse viewers had chairs, blankets, and, of course, paper eclipse glasses for viewing the moon from Moon.
Eclipse viewers had chairs, blankets, and, of course, paper eclipse glasses for viewing the moon from Moon.

As the totality arrived, we had cloud cover, so the experience of the moment became the sudden, profound darkness and quiet. The clouds parted briefly, so we did get to see the totality for maybe 30 seconds.

All that, rather than the actual eclipse, ended up being the best part of the day, and on a bigger scale, the shared experience of millions of people became the most memorable part of the Great North American Eclipse.

On the drive back to Ada, we experienced a 45-minute traffic stoppage south of Antlers, which was exactly what happened to Abby and me on the drive home from the 2017 eclipse. It was the only negative thing about the whole day, and it really wasn’t a big deal.

Overall, the trip to the moon was a great experience.

You can read more about the Great North American Total Eclipse on my travel site here (link.)

To paraphrase Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, “That’s one small step for Moon, one giant leap for Moonkind.”

We were all equally struck by how dark it got, and how quiet it got, at the start of the eclipse totality.
We were all equally struck by how dark it got, and how quiet it got, at the start of the eclipse totality.

Life on the Patch

Here are a few images of my life this week on this patch of green in Byng, Oklahoma.

There were three corn spiders making a living in my tomato garden this week.
There were three corn spiders making a living in my tomato garden this week.
Hawken chased an adult eastern cottontail rabbit the entire length of the back yard this week. It was amazing to see 180-pound dog move so fast.
Hawken chased an adult eastern cottontail rabbit the entire length of the back yard this week. It was amazing to see 180-pound dog move so fast.
Someone challenged me to make a photo with the theme "fall," so I thought of all the times Abby and I took an anniversary trip in the fall, and made this image.
Someone challenged me to make a photo with the theme “fall,” so I thought of all the times Abby and I took an anniversary trip in the fall, and made this image.
I made this dreamy rendition of a morning glory vine on the fence in the front yard. These vines once covered that entire fence, but have mostly died off.
I made this dreamy rendition of a morning glory vine on the fence in the front yard. These vines once covered that entire fence, but have mostly died off.
Someone sent me this snapshot of me working in Ada's Wintersmith Park. Based on my attire and the white brace on my elbow, I think this was made in about 2002.
Someone sent me this snapshot of me working in Ada’s Wintersmith Park. Based on my attire and the white brace on my elbow, and looking at my files from that day, this image was made July 4, 2002.
We have tons of grasshoppers this year. Infer what you will about antennas on antennas.
We have tons of grasshoppers this year. Infer what you will about antennas on antennas.
Summer sniffs the morning air this week.
Summer sniffs the morning air this week.
The mornings are beautiful right now. This is the front yard.
The mornings are beautiful right now. This is the front yard.

Mission Accomplished!

No matter what else is going on, there is always time to photograph a beautiful sunset.
No matter what else is going on, there is always time to photograph a beautiful sunset.

There is a joke I used to tell. Robert Oppenheimer and Erico Fermi are in the bunker at the Trinity test in New Mexico in July 1945. After the bomb goes off, they turn to each other, high-five, and Oppenheimer says, “fission accomplished!”

I stopped telling that joke because so few people got it or laughed at it.

This was the scene of my driveway blocked by huge portions of a maple tree that had broken off July 11 during a severe thunderstorm. The tree is now about three stories tall, which amazes me, since I pulled it out of George and Dorothy's garden as a leafless, 24-inch stick, and planted it in our front yard, in about 2006.
This was the scene of my driveway blocked by huge portions of a maple tree that had broken off July 11 during a severe thunderstorm. The tree is now about three stories tall, which amazes me, since I pulled it out of George and Dorothy’s garden as a leafless, 24-inch stick, and planted it in our front yard, in about 2006.

Flash forward to May 1, 2003 with George Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, declaring “mission accomplished!”

Well, my most recent mission has been accomplished. After more than three weeks of cutting, pruning, sawing, and dragging, I finally got the mess of tangled branches cleaned up after a July 11 severe thunderstorm wrecked a huge number of trees in the Byng area.

This was the chaotic scene under my 100-year+ old black walnut after the thunderstorm.
This was the chaotic scene under my 100-year+ old black walnut after the thunderstorm.

As I cleaned and cut and lifted and dragged, I got into one really great rhythm after another, with my ipod shuffling song after song that made the work fun, and very good for my body. I felt strong and healthy.

I have no trouble identifying poison ivy, as in this shot of some very classic poison ivy growth. The reason I got a bit of it on me is that a few of the hairy vines on the walnut were active years ago, and the oil remains in the plants even after they die.
I have no trouble identifying poison ivy, as in this shot of some very classic poison ivy growth. The reason I got a bit of it on me is that a few of the hairy vines on the walnut were active years ago, and the oil remains in the plants even after they die.

On the last day or two, I got a tiny squinch of contact dermatitis on my forearms, probably from long-dead poison ivy vines that clung to high branches that fell from the walnut tree.

Your host poses with a rake by his giant brush pile of branches cut, sawed, and dragged over a three-week period.
Your host poses with a rake by his giant brush pile of branches cut, sawed, and dragged over a three-week period.

As I cleaned, I decided that the thunderstorm must have been in the dissipating stage, since none of the damaged branches were moved anywhere, but just forced straight down to the ground.

I stole this graphic from the interwebs.
I stole this graphic from the interwebs.

In a perfect finale to the clean-up, a friend of mine who does wood turning came by last night and got most of the black walnut logs that sat on the ground after the clean-up was over, giving them a good home.

This whole incident reminds us all that we are always at the mercy of forces much larger that us, like the atmosphere.
This whole incident reminds us all that we are always at the mercy of forces much larger that us, like the atmosphere.

Slow Motion Clean-Up

Branches lay strewn across the area just north of the house.
Branches lay strewn across the area just north of the house.

Readers might recall that the town where I live, Byng, Oklahoma, was hit by a severe thunderstorm in the predawn hours of July 11.

We were fortunate that very few structures were damaged, but a huge number of trees, including some of the trees on the patch where I live, were damaged. The neighborhood is buzzing with the sound of chain saws, and the air is full of light wood smoke as we all slowly, as time permits, clean it up and burn the branches.

The big, beautiful black walnut tree looks pretty pitiful after the storm torn it up.
The big, beautiful black walnut tree looks pretty pitiful after the storm torn it up.

Here on the patch, the big, 125-year-old black walnut just north of the house got the worst of it. It didn’t look too terrible at first, but as the damaged branches turned brown, it became obvious that more than half of this huge, beautiful hardwood was damaged.

I mentioned this to a photographer friend of mine, Wes Edens, who offered to bring his three chair saws over to help cut it up so I could drag it all down the hill and burn it. When I mentioned this to my next door neighbor Mike Nipps, he offered to bring his tractor over to pull some of the biggest broken branches out of the tree, where they hung by threads and tangles.

There are a couple of very large branches that none of us could reach, and I’m not interested in hiring an expensive tree guy to get them, since they don’t threaten to fall on any structures.

Abby loved the old walnut, and she would be sad to see it so torn up. But it’s not the first time the weather has roughed up this tree, so time will tell if it can recover.

Thanks again to Mike and Wes for the manpower and the horsepower.

One thing I was not able to do was cut up larger branches, like this 14-inch-thick walnut trunk.
One thing I was not able to do was cut up larger branches, like this 14-inch-thick walnut trunk.

The Hard Work After the Storm

Readers of my newspaper and my social media friends know that Tuesday, July 11, 2023, a severe thunderstorm struck the town where I live, Byng, Oklahoma.

A very large branch from the maple tree in my front yard dangles from the tree by a thin piece of bark, blocking my driveway. The tree closer to the camera, a redbud, also contributed to the mess.
A very large branch from the maple tree in my front yard dangles from the tree by a thin piece of bark, blocking my driveway. The tree closer to the camera, a redbud, also contributed to the mess.

I don’t know if the storm was straight-line winds or a tornado, but it made a lot of noise, and did a fair amount of tree damage.

Fortunately, only a small number of structures suffered any damage. The house where I live, for instance, lost just one siding panel, which I nailed back up with no trouble at all.

Power lines across the street were taken to the ground by falling trees, and the power was off for 13 hours as a result.

The trees – mine and most of my neighbors’ – got pretty roughed up. Two maple trees along my 100-yard driveway, for example, dropped large branches onto my driveway, such that while I was trying to figure out how to clear them out of the way so I could use the driveway, my next-door neighbor Mike showed up with his tractor, attached a chain to the branches, and pulled them into the pasture, out of the way.

Neighbor Mike Nipps ties a chain around the largest of the down maple tree limbs to move it from my driveway.
Neighbor Mike Nipps ties a chain around the largest of the down maple tree limbs to move it from my driveway.

Those weren’t the only trees of mine that shed limbs or need further pruning, but it allowed me to get the cars out of the driveway without any off-road excursions.

The last couple of day, I’ve use my six-inch, battery-operated chain saw to dice up some of the branches into manageable sections, allowing me to drag them to the brush pile.

Marry this for a minute with the fact that our guest at Ada Sunrise Rotary Friday was Briana Coureur, who talked to us about paths to health and fitness. I told her that this activity, dragging branches across a pasture on a summer evening, was a legitimate workout, and she agreed.

I still have a way to go. My most-damaged tree is the giant black walnut on the north side of the house. One entire main branch blew down, though only mostly, since it is still hanging on by a sliver of bark. Other parts of this 125-year-old tree are damaged too. My plan is to clear out all I can by hand, then re-assess.

You can see that the 125-year-old black walnut tree north of the house took quite a beating in Tuesday's storm.
You can see that the 125-year-old black walnut tree north of the house took quite a beating in Tuesday’s storm.

My Life in Two-Way Radio

Updated July 2023

As some of you might know, I am a licensed amateur radio operator. My FCC-assigned call sign is kc5tfz, which is also the custom license tag on my Nissan Juke. I have several friends who are licensed “ham” radio operators. Almost universally, we use our amateur radio privileges less and less. I got my license originally to aid in storm spotting, but like most communications in the 21st century, amateur radio has been, or is in the process of being, replaced by the Internet, or more fundamentally by the “datastream.” Even our personal two-way radio needs are better met by Family Radio Service handheld radios available everywhere. Abby and I each carry one when we hike.

Uniden, Radio Shack, Kenwood, Icom and more; I don't have a favorite brand, but certain radios have stood out as the best over the years.
Uniden, Radio Shack, Kenwood, Icom and more; I don’t have a favorite brand, but certain radios have stood out as the best over the years.

I have made a few antennas in my day, like the occasional j-pole or quarter wave, but I was never all that into it. I am actually pretty good at identifying antennas on towers and vehicles.

As I was driving to Utah a few years ago, I had lots of time on my hands, so I decided to make a list of all the police scanners I have owned. It was no small number, due in some part to improvements in technology and changes in the scanning environment, but also due to scanners wearing out and dying. Sometimes even boredom takes a role, and I’ll pick up a scanner as a bargain from a pawn shop or a garage sale just to play with it.

I have a vague recollection of picking up some scanner traffic on an analog multi-band radio I got as a birthday gift when I was a young teenager. I was 15, because I noted it in my journal. “Does this subject want to breath or bleed?” I quoted in my writings. The question was asked to determine if a DUI suspect wanted to take a breathalyzer test or a blood test. I suspect this was on an unpublished frequency, since my radio didn’t pick up the UHF band used at the time by Lawton police.  That was my first experience with listening to public safety communications.

This was my communications stack in the mid 1990s. Most of the scanners in this image have died and been replaced.
This was my communications stack in the mid 1990s. Most of the scanners in this image have died and been replaced.

In 1982, I got an internship in a newspaper in Lawton, and there was a scanner in the newsroom, and one in each of the cars the paper owned that we photographers used. I recall that one of the scanners was the venerable Bearcat III 8-channel crystal-controlled units, and the other a 16-channel programmable. They were getting long in the tooth even then, with the emergence of better microprocessor-controlled scanners, but they got the job done, since Lawton only used about four frequencies on a regular basis.

The Bearcat BC-100 was among the first programmable scanners. Although it wasn't a great radio, it worked, and I used it for a few years in the 1980s.
The Bearcat BC-100 was among the first programmable scanners. Although it wasn’t a great radio, it worked, and I used it for a few years in the 1980s.

I was so enamored of the notion of “spying” on the police and fire departments (which prior to that I thought was illegal) that for my July birthday I asked for a scanner, and my parents obliged. Thus began a hobby that has lasted to this day. The list of scanners I owned throughout the years goes something like this (red ones are dead):

  • Bearcat BC-150, 10 channel (birthday gift 1982.)
  • Realistic Pro-21 4 channel crystal scanner (scanned VHF great, but very poor for UHF, which it was supposed to do. I had the front end readjusted a couple of times, which didn’t really help.)
  • Bearcat III, 8 channel crystal (garage sale, installed in my first car, a 1973 VW.)
  • Bearcat BC-100, 16 channel, the first ever programmable handheld scanner (bad battery setup, bad antenna design. I later got one from Ebay just for kicks.)
  • Fox BMP 10/60 10 channel, died decades ago, replaced with a half-working copy from Ebay for$20 in 2023; red LED display plus red LEDs for each channel, with Service Search (installed in VW and later Renault Alliance.)
  • Radio Shack Realistic Pro-2001, 16-channel, acquired in 2023 for $30 from a guy who called it “untested,” but it works fine. Interesting hybrid of crystal-controlled-style LEDs for each channel plus red LED display on the face.
The Fox BMP 10/60 sits atop the Realistic Pro-2001.
The Fox BMP 10/60 sits atop the Realistic Pro-2001.
  • Radio Shack Realistic Pro-31, 10 channel handheld (big radio that uses six AA batteries, hard to carry, but nice and loud.)
  • Realistic Pro-37, 200-channel handheld. Regarded as one of the best handheld scanners in 1987, I got one from Ebay in 2022. Uses six AA batteries.
  • Realistic Pro-2006, 400 channel base station. Regarded as one of the best base station scanners in late 1980s, I got one from Ebay in 2022. Sticky keys meant I had to open it up several times to spray with tuner cleaner, but it mostly works. Electroluminescent display is sketchy.
  • Realistic Pro-2004, 300 channel base station. This was regarded as the base station scanner to own in 1986, so I got one from Ebay in 2022. It turned out that bad soldering during production meant none of these work any more. It looks good in my stack, however.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2021 200 channel. I bough this radio new in 1986 when it got marked down and discontinued, but despite the fact that it scans too slowly, it receives well and is loud and clear. I had it my car for a short time in the early 1990s, and it currently resides in the garage. In early 2024, I saw one in mint condition on Ebay for $25 and bought it, so I have two of these.
  • Cobra SR-15 100 channel handheld (with leather case, one of the best handhelds I ever owned.) Update: in 2020, I found one of these for $10 on eBay and bought it for its nostalgia value. It looks great but doesn’t run well.
  • Regency MX-3000 80 channel (slanted front, blue display, worst receiver circuit of any I owned.)
  • Uniden BC760XLT 100 channel mobile. Good audio, good form for car mounting. But mine forgets all it’s frequencies when power is interrupted, so I have relegated it to single-channel listening and band searches.
  • Uniden Bearcat BC560XLT 16-channel with 2-digit display x2 (very cheap, good speaker – one was destroyed in a crash in 1990.)
  • Sporty’s Pilot Shop A300 aviation band transceiver.
  • Icom IC-A3 aviation band transceiver given to me by a ham radio buddy.
  • Uniden 500 UBC9000XLT 500-channel (most expensive scanner I even bought, died within three years.)
  • Radio Shack Pro-2026 200 channel
  • Bearcat BD144XL 16 channel (pawn shop, gave to a friend.)
  • Radio Shack Pro-23 50 channel handheld (bought for next to nothing from a coworker.)
  • Radio Shack Pro-94 1000 channel handheld (confusing “trunk” radio programming, terrible battery performance, tinny audio)
  • Radio Shack Pro-2035 1000 channel
  • Radio Shack Pro-2039 200 channel
  • Alinco DR M06TH 6-meter amateur (not really a scanner, but will scan 30-50 Mhz in addition to 6m; at home, fed by Cushcraft AR-6)
  • Cherokee AH-50 6-meter amateur handheld (not really a scanner; 6m; not in use.)
  • Radio Shack HTX-202 and HTX-404 handheld 2m and 70cm transceivers (not scanners)
  • Icom IC-2820H, great, very capable dual band amateur radio with full scanning ability, including tone squelch; my primary news-gathering radio in my Nissan Juke
  • Icom IC-2350H amateur dual-band + public safety, installed as a second radio in the Nissan Juke
  • Icom IC-207H amateur dual-band + public safety, currently in my stack in the house
  • Icom IC-V8000, a high-wattage 2-meter radio mounted in the Nissan Frontier
  • Kenwood TH-79A amateur handheld + public safety
  • Kenwood TH-22A amateur handheld + public safety
  • Uniden BD175XL 16 channel (given to me by Abby’s late father)
  • Radio Shack Pro-2030 80 channel
  • Radio Shack Pro-2028 50 channel
  • Uniden BC72XLT “Nascar” handheld 100 channel (one of the best handheld scanners I own because of its small size and good audio.)
  • Uniden BCT75XLT 300-channel handheld scanner, given to me by Robert Stinson, who bought it and two others at a thrift store, giving one to Scott and one for himself as well.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2055. After installing an additional quarter-wave on the roof, I poked around a couple of pawn shops and found this radio for next to nothing.
  • Radio Shack Pro-163. This radio is very similar to the Pro-2055.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2020 20-channel scanner of 1978 vintage, bought from Ebay for its nostalgia. I took it apart and cleaned it out with contact cleaner, which was a chore, but which worked. I paid about $10 for it. It is the heaviest and largest scanner I own, maybe 10 pounds and the size of a cassette deck.
  • Radio Shack Pro-2002, a 50-channel radio, also as a bargain from Ebay.
  • Icom IC-2200H. I got this from a pawn shop for $80.
  • Baofeng UV-5R multi-role transceiver. This tiny radio is all the rage, so I bought one in June 2019 for next to nothing to see what the fuss was all about. Read it’s review here (link).  I had three of them, but the red one seems to have disappeared.
  • Uniden Pro501HH Citizens Band radio. I got this recently after patiently scouring garage sales, estate sales, and used equipment websites like Ebay, with no luck at all finding anything CB at all. I don’t expect to use it a lot, but the tipping point for me was learning that Jeep events still use Citizen’s Band.
  • Radio Shack DX-394 all-mode communications receiver, bought on eBay in 2023 as a replacement for my long-dead DX-400, which got done-in by corroded batteries.
Radio Shack DX-394
Radio Shack DX-394

I had a few Citizen’s Band (CB) radios over the years, and found them to be just as useless as most of the internet is today, littered with vulgar, ignorant, undisciplined chatter.

The Radio Shack Pro-2055 was added to my home stack July 2012. Although it is not able to be rebanded, its low pawn shop price makes it a good choice for local listening in my area.
The Radio Shack Pro-2055 was added to my home stack July 2012. Although it is not able to be rebanded, its low pawn shop price makes it a good choice for local listening in my area.

My wife was annoyed by the daily chatter of the scanner, but I am able to filter it very effectively, and my ears perk up every time I heard a code that corresponds to something that might be newsworthy, like an injury accident, house fire, missing person, high-speed chase, severe weather, and more. The best example of my brain filtering scanner traffic was one night in March 2000. I kept the scanner on at a very low volume level, so that I could barely hear the routine comms, but sirens or urgent voices would wake me, as did, that night, the very urgent words, “The roof of the Ada Evening News is on fire!” After hearing that, I was downtown covering one of Ada’s biggest fires, of the Evergreen Feed Mill, in about three minutes.

So as long as I am able, I’ll be listening.

My main source for scanner frequencies is http://www.radioreference.com/

Nothing says "Get out of bed!" at three in the morning like an urgent voice yelling that downtown is on fire.
Nothing says “Get out of bed!” at three in the morning like an urgent voice yelling that downtown is on fire.

The Spider Paradox

I am living in an uncomfortable paradox, and I am sure I am not alone. The issue: spiders, and more specifically, the paradox that spiders in my yard and garden are more than welcome, yet spiders in the house instantaneously and intensely trigger my fear response.

This is a very small American house spider I found in the bath tub tonight. Just looking at this picture is triggering me.
This is a very small American house spider I found in the bath tub tonight. Just looking at this picture is triggering me.

I shared this with a neighbor, who said his trigger is snakes.

Just tonight, I saw a beautiful Argiope, a very large spider that I often see in my garden this time of year. She hung on her web between the tomato plants, and I was so glad to see her making a living eating the bugs that would otherwise eat my tomatoes. In fact, while I was picking tomatoes tonight, I saw her ambush and wrap-up a small grasshopper.

Some people are afraid of cats, mice, rats, even dogs. But for me it’s spiders, and only in the house.

This is the Argiope that stood watch in my garden tonight. Isn't she beautiful?
This is the Argiope that stood watch in my garden tonight. Isn’t she beautiful?

Please tend my marigolds

This year is my first vegetable garden since 2020. In both 2021 and 2022, my wife’s failing health took priority over getting a garden planted and attended.

As usual, my mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps a watchful eye on me and my garden.
As usual, my mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps a watchful eye on me and my garden.

I’ve had a garden most years since I moved to Byng in 2004, and it is among my very favorite things to do. The best thing about it isn’t the produce, although it is fantastic, but the beauty of being outdoors in the evening sun, tending to and caring for live plants.

For the years I was married, I would come into the house with a basket or bag full of tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe , onions, lettuce, strawberries, spinach, and bell peppers, with a huge, proud grin on my face, eager to show Abby what I had grown.

Despite her absence, I am still going to be grinning with pride when I start getting produce this year.

I also very regularly grab a camera, especially when the light is nice or when I see something unusual, like the large caterpillars I spotted recently.

I spotted two or three of these large caterpillars in the yard this week, eating their fill. I use a biological pesticide called thuricide to keep them out of the garden.
I spotted two or three of these large caterpillars in the yard this week, eating their fill. I use a biological pesticide called thuricide to keep them out of the garden.

Wednesday night I mowed the grass for a bit, then dug weeds in the garden. At some point, I stepped in some fire ants, but it took them a while to migrate past my shoes and socks to get to some of my leg to start biting me. And bite me they did. I know they are just doing what fire ants do, but they really do hurt. Fortunately, I am not allergic, so it’s more of a nuisance than anything else.

Tomato blossoms catch evening light in the garden. It's an optimistic sight, since I know that soon, these will become tomatoes.
Tomato blossoms catch evening light in the garden. It’s an optimistic sight, since I know that soon, these will become tomatoes.

In addition to the fruits and vegetables I cultivate in the garden, I have a small orchard with peach, plum, and cherry trees. Some years I have unlimited peaches and plums, and some years, like this year, I have none at all, due to a late frost.

These vines grow quickly in the spring, and while they are fun to photograph, if I don't cut them back, they'll take over the back yard.
These vines grow quickly in the spring, and while they are fun to photograph, if I don’t cut them back, they’ll take over the back yard.

I almost always plant marigolds in the garden, ostensibly because they attract beneficial insects, but mostly because I love the look and smell of marigold flowers. When Abby was still with us, I often brought her marigolds from the garden, along with wildflowers from the pasture.

In the spring of 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic brand new and remaining largely unknown, I wrote to a friend that, “if I get the Rona and die, please tend my marigolds.”

I caught the last rays of the sun making the evening extra beautiful, and photographed these walnut leaves at last light.
I caught the last rays of the sun making the evening extra beautiful, and photographed these walnut leaves at last light.

Natural Born Tillers

My worn-out work gloves sit on my tiller recently. I ended up tiling the garden three times, hoping to dislodge some of the grass and weeds from a couple of years of neglect. I also tilled in some garden fertilizer.
My worn-out work gloves sit on my tiller recently. I ended up tiling the garden three times, hoping to dislodge some of the grass and weeds from a couple of years of neglect. I also tilled in some garden fertilizer.

I write this on Easter Sunday, April 9.

Friday I bought 18 Celebrity tomato plants, 6 Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato plants, 2 tomato plants of unknown type, 12 Yellow Giant pepper plants, and 24 slicing cucumber plants from the Byng FFA/Horticulture sale, the program at the high school near my home.

Tomato, bell pepper, and cucumber plants sit in the garage Friday afternoon.
Tomato, bell pepper, and cucumber plants sit in the garage Friday afternoon.

Yesterday I got all but the cucumbers planted.

One of my new tomato plants stands in waning sunlight after I planted Saturday.
One of my new tomato plants stands in waning sunlight after I planted Saturday.

I normally plant cucumbers from seeds, but since they had them at the sale, and they weren’t expensive, I thought it might give me a head start.

A teeny cucumber plant is visible after tonight's planting.
A teeny cucumber plant is visible after tonight’s planting.

Till, We Meet Again, or Tine After Tine

The early peach tree varieties on the patch are blooming now. We almost always have a late freeze, but even if we do, we might have peaches, plums, cherries, all three, or none at all. Even when I don't get fruit, tending my orchard is very satisfying.
The early peach tree varieties on the patch are blooming now. We almost always have a late freeze, but even if we do, we might have peaches, plums, cherries, all three, or none at all. Even when I don’t get fruit, tending my orchard is very satisfying.

My first tiller was named Tilly, of course. It was the smallest gasoline-powered tiller available.

Abby decided the new (2020) one’s name is Tyler.

I tilled a nice patch for the garden yesterday, which was tougher than before since I did not get a garden in last year.

I expect to till it at least two more times before I get anything planted, especially to dislodge all that stubborn Bermuda grass.

Choppa choppa dig dig.
Choppa choppa dig dig.

Limb Day

After a stressful but satisfying ten day stretch at work that found a bit of closure today when I put bed our newspaper’s contest entries, I got a bite of lunch, then looked at a forecast: clear and mild today, with a 100% chance of rain tonight.

I’ve been aiming to prune my peach and plum trees for weeks, but circumstance always had a say: too cold, too rainy, too busy at work, and so on.

So today, in the stretch of a couple of hours, I got all the pruning done.

It wasn’t an easy task, since I hadn’t really been able to do it the last two years, so there were lots of tall, thick branches that both kept fruit out of reach, and were about to reach to power line to the house.

Now it’s done, and my gripping muscles and my scissoring muscles are already complaining, since I seldom task those parts of me this strenuously. Will I even be able to make a fist tomorrow?

I pruned six peach trees and two plum trees. It was a nice day to be working outside.
I pruned six peach trees and two plum trees. It was a nice day to be working outside.

Green Day

Wake me up when September ends

An unexpected rain yesterday dropped about three quarters of an inch on us. This is a morning image of the crepe myrtle in the front yard.
An unexpected rain yesterday dropped about three quarters of an inch on us. This is a morning image of the crepe myrtle in the front yard.
  • After a summer that got browner and hotter from the end of June through most of August, our patch of green got some unexpected – and sometimes unforecast – rain.
  • The Shoffner family reunion was this weekend, and I went Saturday.
The Shoffner family trades stories and secrets Saturday afternoon in Sterling, Oklahoma.
The Shoffner family trades stories and secrets Saturday afternoon in Sterling, Oklahoma.
On the way home from the reunion Saturday, I stopped to photograph this gorgeous Catholic Church in Sterling, Oklahoma.
On the way home from the reunion Saturday, I stopped to photograph this gorgeous Catholic Church in Sterling, Oklahoma.
  • Our hosts Troy and Rachel had portobello mushrooms on hand to make as veggie patties, but I had a longish drive home so I didn’t stay for dinner, so they sent them with me, which I made for my last two meals, and which were delicious.
Portobello mushroom caps sizzle as I sauté them for lunch today.
Portobello mushroom caps sizzle as I sauté them for lunch today.
  • I washed my wallet. It was probably time to replace it, but I was super annoyed with myself for throwing those jeans in the washer without checking the pockets first.
After washing my wallet, I decided to replace it, the first time in maybe 15 years.
After washing my wallet, I decided to replace it, the first time in maybe 15 years.
  • I traded a pistol I didn’t like for one I think I will like, the Ruger LCP-II in .22lr. It didn’t do well the first time out; I think I have a bad magazine, since rounds kind of pop up and strike above the feed ramp and won’t feed. I ordered two more magazines, so we’ll see.
I heard good things about the Ruger LCP II in .22lr. Except for a flawed magazine creating a couple of issues, it seems like it will be a very fun pistol to shoot.
I heard good things about the Ruger LCP II in .22lr. Except for a flawed magazine creating a couple of issues, it seems like it will be a very fun pistol to shoot.
  • I just finished teaching a really fun photography class. We made lots of great photos and had tons of “aha” moments.
Classmates Stephanie and Cara share images as we shoot at the Pontotoc Technology Center two Mondays ago. I think I gave them the tools they need to be better photographers, and we all had a great time.
Classmates Stephanie and Cara share images as we shoot at the Pontotoc Technology Center two Mondays ago. I think I gave them the tools they need to be better photographers, and we all had a great time.
  • The fall sports season has started, and it’s kept me busy, including a super-fun evening covering the Ada Cougars at Ardmore Friday. The drive down there was brimming with rainbows, which I chased a bit.
I took several stabs at photographing this rainbow Friday night on my way to Ardmore to cover a football game. This is nice, but I feel like I should finesse it more. I'll work on it.
I took several stabs at photographing this rainbow Friday night on my way to Ardmore to cover a football game. This is nice, but I feel like I should finesse it more. I’ll work on it.
It has become a bit of a tradition to have my picture made with my good friend and partner in crime Courtney Morehead.
It has become a bit of a tradition to have my picture made with my good friend and partner in crime Courtney Morehead.

Today is also the 44th anniversary of my journal.

My students and I had beautiful light for classes in August.
My students and I had beautiful light for classes in August.

Self-Picking Plums

A bright red plum hangs on a branch of one of my two plum trees this evening.
A bright red plum hangs on a branch of one of my two plum trees this evening.

My plums have started to ripen. Hawken the Irish wolfhound started eating them off the ground last night, so this morning I told myself that I would pick plums this evening.

Minutes later, I heard a morning thunderstorm rolling in, and before it was finished, the ground around the trees was scattered with a couple of dozen ripe plums.

I cut them up and had them as my evening appetizer, and they were great.

Small, ripe plums sit on my cutting board tonight.
Small, ripe plums sit on my cutting board tonight.

A Piece of Good News

In a season that seems covered in complexity, uncertainty, and sadness, I got a small piece of good news this week: the last freeze of the year apparently did not reach as far south as Byng, and my peach and plum trees appear to have abundant fruit on them.

This very young, small peach clings to a branch on one of my trees this afternoon. It is about the size of an English pea. The plum trees have similarly-sized fruit.
This very young, small peach clings to a branch on one of my trees this afternoon. It is about the size of an English pea. The plum trees have similarly-sized fruit.

The Gunsmith’s Daughter

The Gunsmith’s Daughter, a poem in memory of Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron by Robert Stinson.

The gunsmith’s daughter is gone. How and what we know of him by her love remains witness.

By her we see the skilled days. By her we know a fixed bolt, a straight fence, a neighbor done right.

We see endless repair, genius innovation, a heart set right.

What can we do to save this metal, but to carry the stock and save from the day’s rust?

Our sights are well set. Because of their training, because of Her training in love, we can now also shoot straight.

Abby takes aim with her Winchester .22 magnum rifle; the scope is a 3x-9x zoom; note the Walther P22 on her side.
Abby takes aim with her Winchester .22 magnum rifle; the scope is a 3x-9x zoom; note the Walther P22 on her side.

Christmas Eve Range Time

Our Ruger 22/45 Target, Walther P22, and Ruger 22/45 Lite sit on the bench at our range in the back pasture this afternoon.
Our Ruger 22/45 Target, Walther P22, and Ruger 22/45 Lite sit on the bench at our range in the back pasture this afternoon.

I made time today to shoot a few of our firearms, including the NRA Special Edition Ruger Mark III 22/45 Lite I bought Abby for our 12th anniversary, my Ruger Mark III 22/45 Target pistol, and the Walther P22 I bought Abby for Christmas in 2009. I put about 140 rounds downrange, all .22LR, both to stay current and because it was an amazingly warm Christmas Eve day to be outside shooting. I had a lot of fun.

Afterwards I cleaned all three pistols. The Walther is easy to disassemble and reassemble, but the Rugers are notoriously difficult to reassemble, so much so that the Ruger Mark IV’s have been completely redesigned for one-button takedown and reassembly.

That said, getting the Mark III’s put back into working order isn’t undoable, as long as your learn and practice the tricks. You can find the full set of instructions elsewhere on the web (here, for example), though webizens have half a dozen or more slightly different versions of this. But I am here to encourage you that it’s not that hard to do. I got my pistols reassembled in just a few minutes.

This is how the Ruger Mark III's look once you have them field stripped.
This is how the Ruger Mark III’s look once you have them field stripped.

Also on my Christmas radar is the early morning launch tomorrow of the James Webb Space Telescope, the next generation deep-sky space telescope that will in some ways replace the Hubble Space Telescope. I have an alarm set to get up and watch the launch at 6:20 a.m. central time.

This is the Ruger 22/45 Target pistol, ready to shoot.
This is the Ruger 22/45 Target pistol, ready to shoot.

 

National Pickle Day

Robert wears a pickle suit and holds "The Pickle" in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.
Robert wears a pickle suit and holds “The Pickle” in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.

Our long-time photographer friend Robert visited today, both to see Abby, and because today is National Pickle Day, and he brought The Pickle.

Wait, “The Pickle”?

Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.
Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.

Well, it’s a long story, and I haven’t talked about it much because really, it’s not my story. The Pickle has been on television and in newspapers, and, as pickles go, it is famous.

The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first "pickled" in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.
The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first “pickled” in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.

Abby enjoyed her visit, for which Robert dressed in a pickle costume. He brought her flowers, and said she looked good.

Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.
Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.

As always, Robert and I did photography together.

Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.
Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.

Abby and I were glad to see him.

Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.
Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.

More Green, More Grey

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.

I mostly planted these cherry trees for the fun of watching them grow.
I mostly planted these cherry trees for the fun of watching them grow.
Little green tomatoes on the vine are such welcome visitors.
Little green tomatoes on the vine are such welcome visitors.
Deep, contrasty late-afternoon light shines on my garden hose.
Deep, contrasty late-afternoon light shines on my garden hose.
Abby got this coffee mug from her daughter this week.
Abby got this coffee mug from her daughter this week.
Is a pasture selfie a thing?
Is a pasture selfie a thing?
My marigold seeds got scattered by a heavy rain right after I planted them, so they are coming up all over the garden.
My marigold seeds got scattered by a heavy rain right after I planted them, so they are coming up all over the garden.
A Virginia creeper vine reaches for the light earlier this week.
A Virginia creeper vine reaches for the light earlier this week.

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.”

She came with me to document me donating blood this week, and wrote her column about it.

By Mackenzee E. Crosby - You host prepares to squeeze out a pint.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby – You host prepares to squeeze out a pint.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby - Mac got a Nutter Butter as a reward for blasting through her fear of blood and needles, and I got salted peanuts for donating my blood.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby – Mac got a Nutter Butter as a reward for blasting through her fear of blood and needles, and I got salted peanuts for donating my blood.

The Patch in May

Here are a few images from our home in the bucolic splendor of southern Oklahoma.

A wine cup wildflower sits tangled in other wildflowers in the west pasture.
A wine cup wildflower sits tangled in other wildflowers in the west pasture.
I spotted this tire track full of rainwater yesterday.
I spotted this tire track full of rainwater yesterday.
I had just hooked Hawken up to his retractable leash when he spotted a rabbit across the yard and tore out after it, breaking the leash.
I had just hooked Hawken up to his retractable leash when he spotted a rabbit across the yard and tore out after it, breaking the leash.
With the pond about as full as it's ever been, this grass peeks above the waterline. Normally, I would mow it.
With the pond about as full as it’s ever been, this grass peeks above the waterline. Normally, I would mow it.
Wires hang on a tree branch in the neighbor's yard.
Wires hang on a tree branch in the neighbor’s yard.
This is one of my shirts waiting to be ironed.
This is one of my shirts waiting to be ironed.
I had good cherry blossoms in April, and I now have lots of cherries about to ripen.
I had good cherry blossoms in April, and I now have lots of cherries about to ripen.
Irises only bloom for a short time in the spring.
Irises only bloom for a short time in the spring.
Hawken looks at me from under the back deck, which gives him plenty of shade.
Hawken looks at me from under the back deck, which gives him plenty of shade.
These bearded irises are my very favorite flower.
These bearded irises are my very favorite flower.
I bought Abby one of these recently, and it is now her new favorite drink.
I bought Abby one of these recently, and it is now her new favorite drink.
Lilacs take on evening light.
Lilacs take on evening light.
I made this image of a gate in our front yard right after a thunderstorm rolled through.
I made this image of a gate in our front yard right after a thunderstorm rolled through.
A small redbud blossom gathers vanishing evening light.
A small redbud blossom gathers vanishing evening light.
Reinventing the selfie? I made this after a thunderstorm. The water was cold.
Reinventing the selfie? I made this after a thunderstorm. The water was cold.
It has been cloudy and gloomy for over a week.
It has been cloudy and gloomy for over a week.
My first marigold of the year appeared recently.
My first marigold of the year appeared recently.

Picking Up Some Slack

I apologize for not posting more often. May is always like that – playoffs, proms, graduations – there’s lots of stuff to cover for my newspaper in a very short time.

But I am not dead or in a mental institution. I’m right here, and here are some images from what’s been going on.

A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don't care, because they are fine.
A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don’t care, because they are fine.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
That's me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
That’s me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.

Yes, She’s Better

Abby and our Chihuahua Summer pose for a photo this week.
Abby and our Chihuahua Summer pose for a photo this week.

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.

Hawken the wolfhound pants after taking a big drink from his water bucket recently.
Hawken the wolfhound pants after taking a big drink from his water bucket recently.

I am fine as well.

I ate the last of my pinto beans a couple of days ago, so today I made anasazi beans.
I ate the last of my pinto beans a couple of days ago, so today I made anasazi beans.

Miracle on Main Street, or The Mystery of Lake Milligan

One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.
One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.

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.

This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.
This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.

Early Girls and Big Boys

Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.
Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.

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.

One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.
One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.

Nature Fighting Back

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.

My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.
My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.

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.

A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.
A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.

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.

I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.
I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.

First Day of Spring

Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.
Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.

I have been on vacation all week, and Abby and I have really enjoyed being together all the time.

The weather turned warm, and for the first day of spring, I chased down a few images of our redbud tree.

Also of note, my plum trees are putting on blossoms, but my peaches are going straight to leaves, which might mean I won’t get peaches this year.

Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.
Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.

Tyler the Tiller

Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.
Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.

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.”

One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.
One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.

Autumn 2020

Red and yellow leaves cling to the fence in our front yard.
Red and yellow leaves cling to the fence in our front yard.

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.

The leaves along the driveway are ankle-deep in spots.
The leaves along the driveway are ankle-deep in spots.

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.

This image only partly captures the beauty of this morning scene last week.
This image only partly captures the beauty of this morning scene last week.
The last of a Virginia creeper vine clings to the fence in the back yard.
The last of a Virginia creeper vine clings to the fence in the back yard.
Morning glory vines mix with crepe myrtle branches at sunset.
Morning glory vines mix with crepe myrtle branches at sunset.
Maple leaves are set against a perfect blue sky last week.
Maple leaves are set against a perfect blue sky last week.
I photographed this sunset while I was walking the dogs last week.
I photographed this sunset while I was walking the dogs last week.

Know What? Chicken Butt?

This chicken wasn't at all shy about me being in the pen with her.
This chicken wasn’t at all shy about me being in the pen with her.

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.

These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
This chicken's feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.
This chicken’s feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.

Life and Death in the Night

Our next door neighbors recently got chickens, and immediately had losses of the animals to wildlife like coyotes, racoons, and opossums.
Our next door neighbors recently got chickens, and immediately had losses of the animals to wildlife like coyotes, racoons, and opossums.

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.

Opportunistic animals of the night are part of living in the country.
Opportunistic animals of the night are part of living in the country.