Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Little Tarantula Research

Our recent encounters left me curious. Fortunately, research can be done online these days, and not up close and personal.

Our tarantulas would have been males, out looking for females. It's mating season. Many will not survive it. The Sonoran Desert location decrees that they were "Blonde Tarantulas" or Aphonopelma Chalcodes, and the darker coloration furthers decrees that these were males. Females are lighter in color, and tend to stay near their burrows. They also live about twice as long as the males, partly due to less wandering, partly due to making a tasty post-coital snack of their mate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Apache Trail: Watch For Wildlife

Wildlife was the very last thing on my mind when I thought of the Apache Trail. First was offering it up as a bribe/reward for Paul for finishing the wall of bookshelves in the den in time to do something more fun, rather than digging his nose into a set of books by an author he'd never encountered before, James Doss. (We offered him the opportunity to bring the set home with him to finish, and I could bring them back down to Arizona in the spring.) This trip was close enough to be doable, and still offer him a great desert experience.

Second was my memory of how harrowing a drive it had been for me years ago when I drove my folks over the trail. I remember little of that trip except extreme relief that I was eastbound, where my side of the road was the uphill one. Westbound was the one where any inattention, or encounters with foolish RVs, could send one in an extreme downhill direction. That spurred me to hustle Paul up enough to be able to finish the drive, at least as far as Lake Roosevelt, by the time it got dark. No way I'd want to be anywhere on that road after dark. Besides, if you can't see the scenery, what's the point?

And scenery there is to be seen! It starts modestly enough, low hills covered with saguaros, prickly pear, bushes and grasses. True Sonoran Desert habitat, unchanged for the most part by humans. It's nestled right in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains, and as the terrain became more rugged, my appreciation for its history and the earlier inhabitants grew along with my awe at its beauty.

Late in the afternoon, the sun was hitting that golden light which photographers love. In the two hours it took us to drive the trail's 44 miles, half unpaved, light was the main feature. It was most noticeable when Paul pointed out some bright lime green rocky surfaces. We wondered whether this was a fluke from the sun angle or perhaps there were some lime-colored lichens covering the rocks. As we drove and climbed, eventually we got close enough to these rocky areas to determine lichens were responsible. It was tempting to think about bring a sample home for the garden, but nearly everything I saw was the size of the car. Too, there was the idea of not being stopped on the trail when the hypothetical next car behind us caught up around a tight curve.

Actually, that never happened, not once on the trek, though we did see perhaps 20 oncoming vehicles. Once was on the "one lane road" spot along a cliff face the signs kept warning us about. I hit a pull-off and waited for it to decide we were stopped and it could proceed around the two more curves to pass our position.

Every curve was a new view, more spectacular rocks and cacti, cliffs and valleys, lake views, and as the afternoon progressed, glimpses of salmon, rose, fuchsia, and finally grey clouds. So even with the signs telling us to watch for wildlife, it was the last thing on our minds.

There were birds, of course, mostly small unidentified ones startled out of bushes as the car came around  a corner. A pair of black squirrels and the occasional chipmunk or ground squirrel were what we thought completed the wildlife show. But Paul was the first one to spot what became the show-stopper - and the car stopper. A wild tarantula was crossing the road!

Neither of us had seen one other than TV and pet stores. Paul got out for a closer look. It didn't bother the spider. It just kept steadily on its way across the road. Once it cleared the way, we went on ours. Paul was close enough to tell by the pedipalps just what the gender was, had he remembered what that configuration meant. He also couldn't tell species,  just noted it was solid black except for a light brown/tan band across the top of the torso. He had thought about offering the critter a chance to walk across his hand, but decided not to risk the spider-hair itching powder phenomenon.

We commented on the irony of having not brought any camera. I had judged before leaving that there was too little time to complete the trail in good light for us to try to pack in any photography as well. I know me. It would have added at least an hour onto travel time. Having not done that what was what put us in place at the right time to see the tarantula, but again, nothing to record it.

Oh well.

About ten minutes later, or a mile along the road, it was my turn to spot a tarantula crossing the road. This one was far enough across that I pulled the car up next to it safely for the spider, where Paul could roll his window down and look straight down on it. This one decided the car was a threat, posturing as if ready to attack. Since we were upsetting it, I decided to just drive on.

Several minutes later, yet a 3rd tarantula was crossing. Paul again got out to observe closely. This one was slow, and in an effort to speed it on its way so we could drive on without harming it, he blew on it. It backfired. The spider completely stopped for a minute or so before finally continuing on its way.

All three were the same species, by their markings. He also reported (did I say I never left the car?) that the first and third were the same gender. The 2nd was posturing enough he didn't get a good view. And all three were crossing the road going uphill. Was it for the nearly-gone light? Temperature changes? Leaving or approaching shelter or prey? A combination? Coincidence? We may never know and they weren't telling.

We managed to reach Roosevelt Lake and Dam with enough light to appreciate the size of the lake and the shrinkage apparent from the rime left behind. Also the lack of facilities, aka bathrooms. It turned out to be 30 miles on good, paved highway to Miami, where after a brief stop we hooked up with Hwy. 60 and a (relatively) speedy drive home, with enough time left for a little packing for next morning's departure.

There was one more incident along that 30-mile stretch. It was a passing lane, and I'd moved over so a pickup with obnoxious lights could pass. Suddenly it braked and veered into the empty oncoming lane, and seeing no possibility for it making a left turn, I went on alert and slowed. That turned out to be a good choice. What was that? My first reaction was an armadillo, low, long snout and tail. Second reaction was it was furry, and as I finally braked to a stop, got a good view of the white stripe all along its back. It, like the tarantulas, passed our trail safely, for them and us.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Landscaping, Phoenix Style

It's going piecemeal. The first fall, warped sickly cactus were removed from the back yard where the dogs could/did get spined. That winter, a fellow was hired to remove the oleander bushes from in front of the house and dig up the stumps from where the realtor let two citrus trees die because she wouldn't spring for water to keep them alive a few months until the house sold.

My 35-year-old ponytail palm (called bottle palms down here) was set in the front yard last fall to see if it would survive, and last spring I brought down 2 small ponytails to add in the front of the house, arranging to have them watered over the summer. As a bonus, they received rabbit cages. While nothing had bothered the old one, the new ones had low foliage which was being sampled regularly, until then. I'd thrown some seeds in the ground near the old one where watering would occur, to see if red yucca plants could be started that way. I harvested them out of a couple pods I plucked off a plant before I left AZ last December. No signs of life yet.

This fall, the verdict on the old ponytail was it was living and growing but set where it was getting too much sun. It needed a new spot, and has been relocated next to the two little ones where the roof shades it much better, as the house faces north.

I also arrived with some plans for that north side: aloes and similar shade tolerant plants. Like all plans, things changed.

It started with a visit to a well-reputed garden center. What I found was high prices and low selection in succulents. No sale.

A trip to WalMart included an impulse stop in their garden center. Yes, I know. Caution is advised. Know your stock and its limitations, check for vitality. So... They had a variety of Aloe Vera, the basic aloe one uses for burns. I grabbed two. Riding through the plants rows revealed two sizes of Red Yuccas. Again I picked out two, the cheapest size. No major gamble.

After more thought, I talked Steve into a drive. It was also a scouting trip to see if the Desert Botanical Gardens had suitable little plants for sale in their gift shop. Just hitting their shop, one avoids paying admission, and it's right by the entrance so little walking. Plus frequent benches and water fountains. Win win. It turns out they just had their semi-annual plant sale (50,000 plants) the previous weekend, and there were a few remaining in what I was looking for. We would up with 3 varieties of baby aloes and 3 varieties of agaves, two pots worth of one kind.

We also picked up a sunny area plant, called variously a pencil plant or ladyslipper. It basically grows waxy twigs, sprouting the occasional leaf, and blooms in a weird-looking flower which attracts hummingbirds. It's in the back yard next to the patio. The larger agaves needed sunnier locations, so locations had to be adjusted to that. The circle where the old ponytail had been now holds both red yuccas in the background and the variegated agave in the front. After the first night, they each also received a chicken wire cage. The local coyotes are not quite keeping up with the rabbit population in the neighborhood. Holding that thought, the ladyslipper also got a cage. The aloes hadn't been touched, so must not be as tasty as the others. Not having an unlimited supply of cages, that is a good thing.

Think we're done?

My next move was to go online, trying to see what else might be out anywhere, new and different varieties which met the criteria. I found something. It happened to be local, if you can stretch the boundaries of "local" to include southwestern Chandler. I called the listed number to find out if what I was interested in were actually in stock, justifying the long drive. Yep, about a dozen or more, and best yet, if we picked them up, the price was half the listed price which included shipping and lots of risk to the plants.

Road Trip!

Steve again came along to lend an opinion. We settled for six more plants, this time including some haworthias, much more shade loving even than the aloes but with similar forms. I could have bought more, but there's time for research before next fall this way. Plus, the plants needed to go in the ground and I was only going to be around one more day. Digging that crap is hard work, even when you water it thoroughly to change it to mud.

Then there were rocks to scatter among the plants. I still recall those folks who teased me for moving rocks down in the truck from  Minnesota. Didn't I think Arizona had rocks? Well, yes, of course. Not, however, the lovely granites I spent months collecting for my northern rock garden. Mostly they sunk in the clay and hid under weeds up there. In Arizona, dry as it is, they'll just sit and stay put showing off, as well as tactfully discouraging people from walking through the area where right now teeny little plants are hiding, trying to become bigger weird little plants. And Arizona rocks? Well, I've seen them. Solid red. Or solid off-white. Don't forget grey.

My favorite plants? Ponytails, of course. But of the new ones, there's an aloe hybrid named "Christmas Carol". It's red and green, swirling leaves out from the center horizontally, with each leaf tip curving over toward the next leaf. I actually bought two, part of that run out to Chandler to a place called Arizona Cactus.

I'll likely go back next year. And maybe head down early enough next October to hit that 50,000 plants sale at the Botanical Gardens.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 5: Last Leg

Steve wanted me to admit I was wrong. I've been saying for years that you don't see pronghorns in the same field with cattle. It's been my experience, 'till now, and I've been wondering why. Well, yesterday he pointed out to me that we were passing a field where they were clustered separately but adjacent to each other in the same field. Now mind you, he'd been sound asleep until then and popped his eyelids up just in time to spot this and point it out to me. I'm not sure he believed me that I would have commented on it but didn't want to wake him. I'd have thought of it later.


 I also was too tired to mention yesterday that I stopped with Steve in Milan, NM, at a place called "Kachina Country". He oohed and ahhhed over the kachinas, pottery, and their bank vault door, among other things, and wound up buying a carved bear pipe. I picked up a couple tiny dishes with Mimbres designs, one fish, one turtle, and a small black pottery bear with carvings on its back.

The room in this motel was hot. We turned on the AC a bit last night until we got chilled, and again a bit this morning. The extra heat has proven enervating, and it's taken a bit to get ourselves going. Good it's a short drive, relatively.

It took a detour on the way. Not a long one. Just over to the local Del Taco.  Steve's been dreaming and drooling about this chain, noticeably absent in Minnesota. So after hitting them for lunch, we pulled into our driveway what turned out to be about ten minutes later then the neighbors from British Columbia did for their winter stay.  We got power and water on upon arrival. Gas waited until after dark the next evening. We turned the dogs loose in the fenced back yard - all of us happy for no more leashes. After a little list making, the first of what became several shopping trips to the grocery store stocked the fridge. A call to Dish got the TV up and working. WiFi would turn out to be days later than promised, so this is being typed from the community center.

Paul showed up via his Super Shuttle ride in time to go out for supper, joining Joan and Bob, Minnesota friends who moved down here permanently years ago. We went to Steve's favorite local sit-down Mexican restaurant in scooter range, where he was welcomed back by the entire staff. I'm just guessing, mind you, that he visited it a bit more often than he told me he did last year. Whether or not that's true, he was still thrilled by all the recognition the next day. We kept this visit short, leaving just enough time to hit the pool/spa at the community center before they closed.

Temperatures are in the 80's, low 90's now. Kids call from home with tales of snow. We sympathize.

And smile.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 4: Nothing Much

Posing the philosophical question: If there wasn't much to write about, and the camera stayed in its case, did anything happen?

Drove from Pueblo, CO to Holbrook, AZ. Another time zone change. Tired, tired, tired.

Day 3: The Dam Store and a Family Reunion.

As lazy as we were getting up and out, there was still frost to scrape off the windshield. Of course the Weather Channel had declared the temperature to be 39, but perhaps water freezes at different temperatures in the mountains like it boils at different temperatures? No? But the weather people are always right, aren't they?

Once frost was scraped, we had a lovely view of the mountains. Steve's mountains, according to him. The front range of the Rockies was the view he grew up with. With figuring we still had time before the noon shindig in Aurora (yes, that Aurora), we decided to head to Loveland, see what we could see a month after the flood. I hoped to make it as far as The Dam Store (Best Store By A Dam Site!), if it even still existed, and if we were allowed to get that far. 34 was closed at some point before heading up Thompson Canyon.

The first stop in Loveland is always the lake. They have great bronze statuary in a park along the lake, and I love to shoot it. Plus, if you can zoom in, you can get white-capped mountains in the picture, the "fourteen hundreds" of RMNP. While I was doing the latter, a woman walked by and we started a conversation. While a local now, she was originally from Little Falls, MN, and you know how the next couple minutes of conversation goes. We got to my hope to visit The Dam Store: did she know if it still existed? Not only did it still exist, it was the turnaround on the road past the semi-baricades where you could still proceed to "local businesses only".

Hearing that, we got back on the road and started that trek.

It was quite a sight. Huge piles of bulldozed mud lined yards, roads and parking lots. Piles of household now-junk littered the highway shoulders, along with other huge piles of tree branches, chopped down to a size that wouldn't impede traffic. Views of the riverbed showed new mudbanks, downed trees, a couple wrecked RVs, and occasionally heavy equipment parked, possibly due to it being Sunday morning. One small bridge over the river going to one of those local businesses, an RV park, bore yellow tape in places. Though about 30 feet up from where the river sat now, it had steel side rails either removed or severely bent from heavy debris slamming into it on its way downstream.

Yes we took pictures, though not until on the way back, after visiting the Dam Store and having a better idea of our remaining time.

Once at the store, there were seriously manned barricades, allowing only the cement trucks through, about one a minute each way. A sign pointed us off the road to a small parking lot. Upon hiking in, we announced to the cashier our feeling that if she was keeping the store open under these conditions, and we both had been occasional customers in previous years, that we considered it a moral obligation to stop in now and support her with our shopping. Which we did. Steve, a lover of bill caps, got one with their name on it. I picked up a "basset hound guard dog" kind of sign, a glass hummingbird window hanger, and a little something as a present for somebody who occasionally reads this, so nevermind. We found wonderful t-shirts with PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals, and a smaller print statement that wildlife always looked best next to mashed potatoes and gravy. Of course, they had only smalls and mediums in stock. Dang!

There was an amazing amount of traffic on the freeway into Denver for a Sunday morning. Not sure if it's up due to other roads being closed for repairs or if this is typical. Not going to stay around to find out. Despite that, we made it to the reunion only a minute late, if that counts. My excuse for that is not turning on the only corner that allows access to the park, which in this case translates to a side street which allows parking and a hefty walk in to the playground/picnic tables area. I do mean hefty. The other sides border back yard fencing or a 4-lane road with no parking allowed.

The playground in Rocky Ridge Park is great for kids, a huge slightly sunken pit with an elaborate system of things to clime and slide down, along with a "dinosaur" skeleton in pieces which also encourage climbing and imaginative play. There were a whole lot of kids there. I'm not sure about how many were with our group.

Start with Steve's long deceased grandmother Stanberry, and come down through the generations of cousins, kids, in-laws, and everybody was connected somehow. Steve saw people he hadn't seen for 50 years, and many more he'd never met. Ages ranged from 85 to 4 months.  Some were local, as in from Colorado. Others came from Alabama and Ohio, to name just a couple places.

Despite his intention to take lots of pictures, he was so busy talking to everybody that I decided to do duty capturing everybody I could, know them or not. (Usually, not. No earthly clue.) Do not assume I didn't have a great time, despite my usually hating crowds of people. There was always a new one or two people to chat with. There was one really odd duck there who I decided after a bit must have (undiagnosed?) Asperger's. The 4-month-old was very cuddly and got passed around to everybody who need their baby fix, including me. Before everybody left, groups were lined up for pictures - all the cousins in a particular generation, or a family. Eventually Steve and I had our turn before the line-up. Of course they waited till the end after wind had blown my hair into a freak show, and where we lined up it came from the direction guaranteed to raise the most hair rather than smooth any down.


About 2/3 of the way into the event, I just had to go open my mouth, wondering aloud to Steve (Yes, I did see him occasionally) just when people were going to start calling this the "first annual" family reunion. Vi, Steve's young half-sister by his dad's 2nd marriage well after Steve was grown and gone, spoke up.She was the one who planned this on the Denver end after Steve suggested it. She found us a park, changed the location after that one got flooded. She announced she'd gotten involved when it was just a "let's get together for lunch on our way through" with Steve, and suddenly he announced there's be 50 attending. The next one would be planned by somebody else!

And so it was, right on the spot. Lee and Joan live in Kersey, just outside Greeley, and have a large yard for parking right next to their front door. Instead of waiting a whole year, let's all do it in April, when Steve and I are on our way back up to Minnesota.

Eventually it was time for hugs good-bye and the long trek back to the cars. It was only 5:00, so Steve decided we'd head down to Pueblo, getting a good start on the next day's drive. I was more let's see how it goes, but Pueblo it was.

Ahhhh, bed!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 2: Digging Out the Camera

Yes, things got more interesting visually. We skirted around the eastern side of the Black Hills, avoiding traffic slowdowns, and still found several occasions to pull over and shoot. Stream beds, even if dry despite melting snow and another 3" of rain a few days earlier, sported meandering rows of yellowing cottonwoods, or occasionally one lone sentinel tree. Different variations on that theme caused several delays. With less than 400 miles planned, there was plenty of time.

While I happened to see a few more dead cows, I neglected to point them out to Steve. They were few enough to overlook if your attention was elsewhere, and he'd been upset enough with the carcasses of the previous day.

Our route took us through Hot Springs, most noted by us as having a great back lot behind a closed business for the dogs to get a little practice in leg lifting. At some unmarked spot we crossed into Wyoming. Steve and I both looked at the terrain and decided this was perfect country to spot pronghorns. Within two miles we were proved right. It was too quickly upon us to stop the car safely and without startling them, so I pulled over another quarter mile up the road and circled back as traffic allowed, this time to slowly pick the perfect shooting vantage point on the wide shoulder. This particular grouping contained three, and we shot at length.

Shortly thereafter we spotted over a dozen, then a pair, then over 25, and on and on. There were easily over a hundred spotted in about an hour. None of the others were any place where good shots might be had, so we just appreciated them as we passed. One of the nicest herds was on a field inside the city of Lusk, just past the Port of Entry. We figured there must have been no shooting allowed in city limits and they felt safe there, just far enough back from the road to be left alone.

Coming over one rise in the road, suddenly there were real honest mountains in front of us. We had been close, but the long hills blocked our view until then. Steve dug out the map (it was my turn driving) and identified them as the Laramie range, with the significantly tallest one being Mt. Laramie. There was no good spot to grab a shot, and before we got much closer, we hooked up with our freeway and were heading south, leaving them behind.

My original thought for that night had been to stay in Estes Park, with a quick duck into Rocky Mountain National Park before heading into Denver the next day. The flooding changed all that. I got over (most of) my disappointment a month earlier, and the government shutdown proved no further inconvenience on that particular score. So maybe Loveland instead?

We had the 1-800 number for Super 8 with us, and Steve started by asking if there in fact was a Super 8 in Loveland. She couldn't understand him until after he spelled it out the 2nd time. Did he want to make a reservation? And they had this deal whereby we could save $30 on our next reservation. (Sound familiar, you regular readers of this blog?) As we were still moving, but planning to stop at the next McDonalds we found, he just told her we'd call back later.

This time I made the call, only to be greeted by a super chippy voice like the guy who does the Movie Phone recordings on steroids insisting everything connected with this call and their company was WONDERFUL!!! I'm not even sure what he actually said because I was recoiling from the attitude. When the sweet young thing finally answered the call in person, asking how she could help, I suggested the first thing they could do was rerecord the intro and take it down a peg. There was a pause, after which she asked again what she could do for me. At least I'm pretty sure that's what she said. The accent was pretty thick. Hmmm, overseas call center, maybe? I asked her whether she understood anything of what I had just said to her? Apparently I was off the standard script, because her only response was to ask if I wanted to make a reservation. I didn't think we were communicating very well. I asked her what country she was located in. She was in the call center. Yes, but what country was it in? Up to this point I was just curious, and still willing to try to work with her, difficult as it was. That is, until she started spouting some baloney about not being allowed to disclose that information for security reasons.

Security reasons?

So... what? If I find out she's in, say, India or Pakistan, and that somehow ticks me off because she's not American, I'm going to come over there and search through the whole country for her? The ridiculousness of that excuse does in fact annoy me, enough so that I decide my best course of action is to just hang up on her because there obviously can be no meaningful communication here.

I did have a Plan B, but it just wasn't going to be free. Dial 411, and get the specific number for the Super 8 I wanted to talk to. Once connected, I found out what in retrospect was obvious: they were fully booked. Of course: construction crews, displaced canyon residents, cleanup crews, all needed places to stay. I'd be surprised if there was a room open in the whole town.

So we went to Plan C: drive into Colorado about 40 miles or so and stop and ask at the next Super 8 we found. Or possibly the next after that. We wound up in Fort Collins. Nice room, tired travelers, lots of sleep. Didn't even use the free WiFi. Slept in, even.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Day 1: Who the Hells Cares Where's Wall Drug?

Well, actually, we kinda do. We're in a nice Super 8 about 4 blocks away. After 600 miles driving, it seemed a good place to quit for the night, unwind, and be familiar enough with the TV to find "Blue Bloods" in a timely manner.

Theme for the day: WINDY. I think we circled most of a strong high pressure area. Or it circled us. The winds changed from southeast to south to southwest to west to northwest to, finally, north. Brrr! And yes, there's still snow in patches from that monster blizzard that hit here last week. The other holdover from then is clumping of dead cattle along the last 20 miles or so. It is unexpectedly cheering to see scatterings of live ones grazing here and there.

Going back to the winds, the first time I stepped out of the car, with just the first foot, the door slammed back on my leg.  I should be used to that, as this car has doors which fail to "lock" in the open position, and a slight upward slope when parked will let them swing shut without any help. A headwind has the same effect. Everywhere we were today, the wind was a headwind. By afternoon, it was so steadily strong that Steve wound up holding my door open long enough for me to get in again. I sometimes found it impossible to hold it with even two arms long enough to sit and pop the second leg in by myself. Steve then managed to go around to his door and get himself in without assistance.

The rest of the trip has been smooth.

The car got packed last night with Paul's help. It started with Steve's new scooter getting getting put in its component parts: platform with folded down steering column, front basket, rear basket, seat, 2 arms, 2 batteries, battery casing, ans rear wheel section. Oh yeah, almost forgot the charger. No, really, it was left on the ground plugged into the extension cord until I spotted it, unplugged it, and set it behind the passenger seat. To be suitable impressed, first understand that he got the BIG scooter, then recognize that it had to fit in what was left in the hatchback with the larger part of the 60/40 folding back seat reserved as seating for the dogs, and finally, find spaces for two carry-ons, a case of water bottles, two bags of Brisk bottles, a box of apples, trip foods for us and dogs, plus dog dishes, a laptop bag, a camera bag (Steves. Mine both fit in my carry-on.), and all the tools Paul needed in the car for doing the first wall of bookshelves in the den for us. Said tools included a chop saw. The two jackets just got tossed on the top of everything else prior to locking the car up. I'm not counting maps, purse, napkins, ibuprofin bottle, sunglasses, pens, and miscellaneous smaller items as they fit in door pockets and little nooks and crannies built into the car.

The dogs have been well-behaved. A few short walks on leash next to trees, a drink of water mid-trip, a generous supply of Milk Bones as bribes to retake their cushy seat with a quilt over it, and they're good.

Weather started good, aside from ever-increasing wind, mostly a blend of sun and clouds. Half an hour's downpour did a splendid job of soaking the previous day's collection of windshield bugs for easy removal without leaving the car. The scenery hasn't been much to blog about, though there has been one mystery crop in the fields which neither of us recognized. It's about half the height of corn, total, and the lower part of the plants somewhat resemble corn without ears. The top is a fat seed spike, green before maturity, a lovely reddish brown after. Every so often a taller seed spike pokes above the rest.

Blackbirds are beginning to flock, particularly around sunflower fields. Corn stalks have been rolled up like hay littering fields. Combines raise huge clouds of soybean dust. Fall colors mostly mean tan, brown and black down here, making me miss our local abundance of sumacs and maples.

But tomorrow the terrain becomes vertical. We'll pass lots of great places to see, with plenty of time to see them before we're due in Denver.

Of course, most of them will be closed. Unless, while we've been traveling with no radio on, the government shutdown has ended. I don't know about you, but I'm holding my breath. It'll all end in the next 3 minutes, right?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

For Want of an "A"

I haven't played Scrabble for years, and am thus hazy on some of the rules. After all, when I was a kid, nobody cared if you came up with a foreign word, as long as it was in common usage and properly spelled. Post WWII, lots of German, French,  and Italian words were familiar from war movies. Try ciao, herr, blitzkrieg.  Back then "burrito" was not only foreign but exotic. Now it's on every McDonald's menu board. Does that mean it's fair game now?

I had occasion to play Scrabble with Steve and his son Josh last weekend. It's a good thing I'm not that competitive, because Josh had us beat hands down, and Steve... well, let's just say I was dependably last every time. I'd get my new tiles, make sense of them, and watch while one or the other ruined whatever space I had in mind for my play. Even going out first didn't make up for a plethora of short words with few extra points. But still, it was fun, and in good company.

I nearly had my moment of glory. All I needed was a playable "A". My consonants in my rack were M, G, C and N. I also had an A and two Is. There was plenty of room on the left side of the board to make my golden word, either vertically or horizontally. All I needed was that last "A" and I had an 8-letter word and I'd be out. Josh was no help, playing into a small space on the right. Steve didn't help either, providing only consonants, using up a vowel already played. At least he didn't "steal" a playable "A".

In order to win, I had to be what I wanted to play: a "MAGICIAN". Alas, not. All I came up with was the memory of near glory. Points: zero.