Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer in Georgia (the country, not the state)

Last Night on Erik's Arm

The Darkling Beetle...aka the Stink Bug. He was walking through our construction site.

Pipe's Canyon Scenes

I've been too busy to blog - the move here to Pioneertown, then off to Tbilisi for work, with friends and family visiting in between...its been one hectic month! More to come on byway and home building adventures. Until then, here are a few recent photos from my new home here in Pipes Canyon/Pioneertown, CA, plus a few from Joshua Tree National Park. Dramatic clouds, big sky, Joshua Trees, quail and doves, dirt roads...peace and tranquility. Its a beautiful place!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pioneertown Sunset - July 10, 2012

Yesterday's gorgeous sunset here in Pioneertown.

First Coyote Siting

We were in the kitchen and suddenly Paul spotted a coyote in the back yard! My first coyote siting. I saw one run fast across a road once in Arizona, but other than that I've never seen one - certainly not this close.

I had just put sold old bread crumbs out for the birds and bunnies who frequent that area of the yard because there is a water bowl there. The coyote came and ate the bread crumbs! I felt bad - it must be very hungry to be eating measly bread crumbs. S/he (I think it was a girl) was thin and she was very nervous and alert. She would eat for a few seconds and then look up quickly everywhere to make sure she was safe and nothing was coming to get her. She was soooo beautiful. I hope I see many, many more coyotes out here and I don't think the novelty and the beauty will ever dissipate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Desert Living Life Lessons, Part 1

I am taking notes of the little things I am learning on a daily basis about this new environment and life in it, and sharing, such as...
  • Much like living on the beach, get used to getting sand in your shoes, and your pant legs, and to tracking it into your house. If you aren't careful you will drag sand into your bed. Concrete floors are the bomb. Why would you want anything else? Easy clean up.
  • Stay away from the tarantula wasp. Not aggressive, but excruciating sting. And no, I haven't experienced this firsthand and I do not plan to. Ever.
  • You need to have a fly swatter in your house. No matter how hard you try, flies and moths will get in your house when you walk in and out of doors. The moths are only annoying at night when you have the only light on in the house, trying to read in bed. Its a regular moth party. The flies on the other hand are annoying all day long. And I swear they congregate at the sliding door just waiting - its like they know. I can't seem to get in and out without letting at least one fly in. We just bought a fly swatter and I am now on a killing spree. I think this will be my new way to release work tension. 
  • Cottontail bunnies are adorable and everywhere. Jack rabbits are cute too, just in a huge and freaky way.
  • Shade is the most wonderful thing in the world. It gets hot out here, but its always ok if you stay out of the sun. I will take this dry heat over the humidity I endured back east for so many years. Any day. And no matter how hot it gets during the day, the evenings will be cooler and pleasant. And you want ceiling fans in your house. And you want a swamp cooler too.
  • I've never been a hat wearer, but you can't survive out here without hats. You need lots and lots of hats. I currently have like 6 of them. So don't worry, we'll have extras for you if you come and visit.
  • When desert plants get wet - either from rain or if you water them - the smell is powerful and amazing.
  • This should be an obvious one, but, anything metal that sits out in the sun is going to burn you, and I mean really burn you. I burned the heck out of my hand the other day grabbing some keys that accidentally had been left sitting in the sun. It doesn't take long for your iPhone to overheat and shut down, or to ruin a guitar left in an unshaded car (happened recently to a friend), or to burn your hand opening a car door. 
  • It is so quiet and peaceful you will sleep like a baby every night.
  • Your laundry will dry immediately.
  • If you don't want your car to be a death machine you have to be watchful when driving because little critters (mice, chipmunks, road runners, rabbits and such) will dart across the road in front of you. I really don't ever want to run over anything if possible.
  • We need to get a snake stick and bucket so we can catch and remove snakes that come near the house. I can't wait for my first time attempting that one.

Desert Creatures - Tarantula Hawks

Saturday I learned about the tarantula hawk which is actually a wasp - a spider wasp to be exact. We were up on our land watering some bushes around our building site and the water attracted them.  At first glance we thought they were dragon flies, but quickly realized they were too large and strange looking to be dragon flies. I had read about the tarantula wasp somewhere and thought that was what they were so when we got back to the house I researched online. Yes, they are indeed tarantula wasps. Tarantula wasps hunt and kill tarantulas and other large spiders. They lay their eggs in the spider's carcass and use it to nourish there young. All I can say is yuck. They don't look scary, but they apparently have one of the most painful insect stings around. Thankfully they are not aggressive. Here is what wikipedia has to say about that: 

"However the sting, particularly of Pepsis formosa, is among the most painful of any insect, though the intense pain only lasts for about 3 minutes.[3]Commenting on his own experience, Justin Schmidt described the pain as "…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one's ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream."

It goes without saying that I will be watching out for these guys. Here is a photo from Wikipedia. Oh and one just flew by as I sit outside on our porch writing this...

Friday, July 6, 2012


Moving is stressful, but it is also liberating.

It gives you the freedom and opportunity to reinvent. You get to purge and reorganize and start fresh. It is all up to each of us to choose what comes next. I always liked that saying about how when one door closes another one opens somewhere else. I believe that. One can keep same old habits and patterns, or one can change. Moving offers such an opportunity.

After being in one location for 20 years, I was so ready for a change. And we made it happen. I've moved twice now in the past two or so years. And this last move is the best. Washington, DC to Salt Lake City, and then on to Pioneertown. Each move an opportunity to step off of the crazy, busy merry go round, to slow down, to be closer to nature and try to live a little more simply. It is a life time endeavor.

Change can be a beautiful thing, and I am grateful for every change and every day of new discovery. 

Have a great weekend!

The view in my back yard in the evening. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wild Fires

Fire is in the news a lot these days. And on my mind a lot too. This summer is giving us record breaking high temperatures, no rain, and a lot of really bad wild fires. Fires in Colorado and Arizona have been all over the news. Closer to home we had some smaller wild fires in Utah, including a big one that kicked up yesterday in the gorgeous Alpine Loop area of the Wasatch mountains near Sundance. I read this morning that a lot of Independence Day fireworks have been canceled, some due to the fire risks and concerns.

Just a few days ago, this past Saturday, we left Salt Lake City for our new Byway adventure and life here in the California desert. Paul drove the Penske truck and I drove my car. Heading south on I-15 in Utah the skies became cloudy and dark. Not the kind of cloudy and dark you see when a storm is brewing, but rather the kind of sky that you get from a lot of smoke or air pollution - in this case the culprit was wild fires off in the distance.

The skies were grey and everything else appeared grey as well. It was such a depressing sight. It was exactly like the skies you see in those apocalyptic movies where its the future and we've destroyed our environment and gangs of violent scavengers roam the lands fighting to survive. You know what I am talking about? I couldn't help but think about those films and the world they depict and what would life be like if everything was grey like this all the time. Climate change and all of these scary record high temperatures, along with the drought and the increased risk of wild fires - all of this is kind of scary in my book. All of us here and now are going to be ok, but a few generations ahead of us? Sorry. Those folks are screwed. I know, I know - people tend to be resilient and finally figure things out, so maybe it won't be that bad. I hope so. What do you think?

As we drove further south the skies finally cleared, but then, as we got just north of Scipio (yes, my favorite gas station petting zoo!), we saw a wild fire off in the distance. I have never seen anything like this before. I've never seen a wildfire up close. We couldn't see the flames as it was off in the distance and it seemed to be somewhat under control, but the smoke was unbelievable. Again the scenes looked apocalyptic. It was blowing my mind, so eventually I had to pull over to the side of the road and get my camera and take some shots.  Incredible sight, huh? Have you seen a wild fire up close?

Growing up and living on the east coast, I never thought much about wild fires. They exist out east of course, but it isn't like what you have in the western wilderness areas. As a child I lived in a heavily wooded mountain area, but we never had any fires (thankfully). Since then I have always lived in more developed areas, so while there is always that fear of a house fire, its not the same as the fear of a wild fire. Living out in Utah at the edge of the Wasatch mountains, I could start to appreciate more the fear of wild fires. When you are living in heavily wooded areas, they can just sweep through and grow so strong and large that they become tough or impossible to contain.

But I really started thinking about wild fires when we started building our house down here in Pioneertown. This is a very dry area and even though its desert, there is a lot of plant life. The desert is blanketed with a huge number and variety of small plants, bushes and Joshua trees - ready made kindling to help a wild fire spread fast and furious. This area did suffer a really bad fire back in 2006. It destroyed the plants on a lot of land and took some houses and structures and one life. It just missed my husband's old cabin. You can still see the scorched Joshua trees where the fire tore through. The land is slowly rejuvenating - nature always does - but it takes some time.

When we started designing our house plans and building our house we started to become acquainted with all the fire protection requirements, some probably standard for most new construction, but some specific to this remote and fire prone area. I was a little shocked.

We will be living in an area full of desert plants, and of course, dry. If a fire starts out there, depending on the winds, which are around a lot, you can imagine how quickly it could spread. We are probably about 20 minutes (best guess?) from the closest fire station and its all rough, dirt roads which means you are constrained in how fast you can drive to our house, especially a big fire truck. As a result, we are required to install a sprinkler system in our house, and to have a separate water tank specifically for fire fighting. There are other requirements for all of our doors and windows and the materials we use for the outside of our house. All of this costs a lot of extra money, especially the sprinkler system. However, in spite of my initial sticker shock, I've come to realize that it will be worth it if it can help us protect us, our house and our belongings in the event of a fire.

I've never had to think so seriously about fire before now with building a house and building it in this environment. Fire can be so terrifying and so devastating. I think I will need to, and I want to, read up about fires and learn more about what to do in the event of such a wild fire or home fire (obviously we also need to be concerned that we don't start a house fire that would turn into a wild fire). We obviously have to think about a fire plan for our house. Where do we go for safety? How do we get out of the area? People get trapped in wild fire areas and die all the time, including fire fighters. It is a legitimate and serious concern.

Down the road from our property people sometimes go out and shoot guns against the butte. Its illegal, but people have been doing it for many years and there really aren't many folks out here to stop them. However, living so close, we will try to stop this, mainly because that type of shooting is one cause of wild fires. I am not against shooting or guns (I actually love shooting!), but it is far too risky to be shooting out in this dry area. The fire risk is too high.

If you've got any fire prevention or safety planning tips and experience, please share.

The Gift of Rain

Happy Independence Day from Pioneertown!

While most people wish for warm, sunny weather for this summer holiday, I was blessed to be awakened early this morning by the scent, and then the sound of rain.

Rain in the desert is not a common occurrence and its been a dry year. Spring did not bring rains and the usual desert blooms. I don't think there has been any rain here for many months. So, what a beautiful "welcome" for me to this new home; me who has never experienced rain in this desert. I feel grateful and blessed to experience this so early on here, having just arrived days ago. It adds to the feeling of this being a holiday.

Around 4:30 am I was awakened not by sound, but by smell. I don't know how to describe it - something like burnt sugar, but not exactly. Our bedroom was full of the scent, just from one open window. It was intense and amazing. It was the scent of the desert when it rains - the scents of all of the plants, awakened by this incredible gift. It rained on and off for a few hours and the the colors of the desert grew dark - their true colors when the desert dust is gone. You can just imagine how exciting this rare gift is for all the plants and birds and animals.

Living out here makes you appreciate so much, including the simple gift of rain. It all feels somewhat magical. It is hours later now and the scent still lingers in the air. It has remained cloudy and cool - a beautiful, beautiful holiday.

Wishing you and yours an equally beautiful, fun and relaxing holiday.

The full moon setting early this morning after the rain.

Driving in the neighborhood, in the rain.

The desert after the rain.