My Thanksgiving Cactus

An early blooming Christmas cactus is back in my life.

I’ve always been a plant lover. When I was a kid, the windowsills and shelves in my room were lined with plants. I even belonged to the Horticulture Club in my New Jersey high school.

My love of plants stuck with me throughout my life. I had plants in my various homes — especially in the early years of my life in Arizona. That house was so bright that there was plenty of light for plants — even the ones tucked up on top of shelves in my kitchen. I had a vegetable garden for a few years and did some minor landscaping work out in the yard.

The trouble with plants is that they need water. Watering the plants on the high shelves was a pain in the butt — too much of a pain in the butt for my wasband to deal with while I was away every summer in our later years together. So those plants died and I replaced them with silk plants that actually looked a lot better. (I have those plants now in my new home.)

Christmas Cactus Bloom
One of the blooms from my Christmas cactus.

One plant I always took care of, however, was my Christmas cactus. Started from a very small plant acquired not long after moving into my Arizona home, I repotted it multiple times, allowing it to grow into ever bigger pots. It lived on a handwoven Navajo mat in the middle of the kitchen table where it was handy enough to get water when it needed it. Christmas cacti are extremely drought tolerant and can take a lot of neglect. The plant survived my summers away — even my wasband didn’t find it too difficult to care for — and thrived.

In late October every year, the plant would produce buds. Then, by Thanksgiving, it would flower. It had two flower colors — likely because it was started from two different plants — fushia and pinkish white. Over a period of two or three weeks, the entire plant would be covered with flowers. It was spectacular.

In 2012, while I was away in Washington for the summer, things back home changed. For some reason, my wasband moved the Christmas cactus off the kitchen table — where it had always been — and put it in the much darker living room. He apparently wasn’t home very often so all the plants in the house left were neglected. When he did come home, he overwatered everything — which was quite apparent from the water damage on the living room floor near a tall potted tree there and water stains on the glass-topped living room tables.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this until I got home in September. That’s when I found the Christmas cactus looking half dead on the coffee table. I brought it back into the kitchen and began nursing it back to health.

As I said earlier, these plants can take a lot of neglect. Within a month or so, it was looking much better. But when late October rolled around, there wasn’t a single bud on it. There were no flowers that Thanksgiving.

All that autumn, I was under the mistaken impression that my future wasband would settle by Christmas and I’d have to leave the house, which he wanted to keep. (What an idiot; he could have saved at least $120K and kept the house if he had.) So not only did I spend much of my time at home packing up my belongings, but I also started giving away my things, including my plants.

For months, every time someone invited me to their house for dinner, I’d come with a potted plant. It became a bit of a joke.

A few weeks before Christmas, I decided to spend the holidays with my family in Florida. Although I wasn’t in any hurry to leave — I had nowhere else to go — I still clung to the hope that my future wasband would see the light and settle. That could mean I’d be out of the house soon, possibly by New Years Day. I might even spend the whole winter in Florida.

Budding Cactus
The first of many photos Rose Marie has sent me since I dropped my Christmas cactus off at her home.

At that point, the only plant left was my Christmas cactus. It had fully recovered and was just starting to show a few tiny buds. There was a good chance it would bloom, possibly soon. So I loaded it up into my car and took it to the home of two of my friends, Stan and Rose Marie. I was sort of sad to leave it there — it had become such a fixture in my everyday life.

I went to Florida and spent some quality time with my family. On December 17, Rose Marie sent me a text with a picture of the plant: “Starting to bud.”

A few weeks later, she sent another photo.

Christmas Cactus in Bloom
Fully recovered, my Christmas cactus bloomed right around Christmas time in its new home.

Since then, Rose Marie has sent me annual photos of the plant in bloom. It seems to bloom around Christmas time each year in her home. I’m not sure why it blooms a whole month later for her — it might have something to do with the amount of light it gets. But she seems to prefer it blooming around Christmas, so it’s all good.

Early this year I was back in Arizona for a few weeks and had dinner at Stan and Rose Marie’s house. It was February and the plant had finished blooming for the year. I got a sort of crazy idea: maybe I could take a few cuttings from it and try to root them at home? When I left that evening, I had three cuttings from various parts of the plant wrapped up in a piece of wet paper towel.

In the guest house I was staying in, I put the cuttings in a small glass of water. A week or two later, I packed them carefully in my carryon bag and took them home with me on the plane. They looked pretty ratty when I put them into water. Within a week, I’d moved them into some potting soil that I kept moist. I honestly didn’t have much hope for them — it was relatively dark back in my RV where I was living, parked inside my garage for the winter.

But they rooted. And they grew.

I repotted the cuttings into one of the nice painted terra-cotta pots I’d brought with me from Arizona. When I moved upstairs into my new home, which is even brighter during the summer than my Arizona home was, the plant thrived.

And on Thanksgiving day, the plant started to bloom.

New Christmas Cactus
Here’s the descendant, so to speak, of my old plant in its home on my new coffee table.

I just sent a photo to Stan and Rose Marie. Their response: “Good deal! You’re on a roll. Small but looks great. Obviously you have a green thumb.”

It’s a start. I hope to be able to share a much more impressive photo of my Thanksgiving cactus next year.

Winter Prep Shed Fix-Up

It’s all about keeping things organized.

My Little Shed
My shed in its original location. The bench was inside when I bought it. I subsequently painted the bench and set it up at Lookout Point.

About two years ago, not long after buying my property and moving my RV to it as temporary lodging while I built my new home, I bought a small, 6 x 8 shed. The shed was used but in excellent condition and remarkably cheap. I had it delivered to a spot on one side of my driveway and subsequently had it moved to a spot on the other side of my driveway. Months later, I brought electricity out to the shed and wired it with 20 amp and 30 amp (for an RV) power. There was a standard 110v outlet outside and another one inside, along with a light. That came in handy later that year when I put a heater in the shed for my new barn cats and had to plug in a heated water dish for my chickens.

At first, the shed was for convenience. I planned to spend that first winter in my RV on my property and simply didn’t have enough space in the RV to store the things I might need. The rest of my belongings were stored with my helicopter and other vehicles in a rented hangar at the airport and that was a 40-minute drive each way from my home. I installed shelves that I’d brought with me from my old Arizona home. Later, when my building was finished, storage space was no longer a problem — heck, my garage/shop area is 2,880 square feet — I decided to use the shed for gardening supplies and beekeeping equipment. The barn cats came around Christmas time; that’s when I put one of my electric heaters in there.

Over the next year or so, I began accumulating garden tools — I’d only brought a few items from Arizona — and beekeeping equipment and irrigation parts. Often, after working in the garden, I’d just sort of toss tools and supplies in there. The shed turned into a mess. Last week, when I brought the heater back out for the cats — or cat; I’m not sure if I still have two — I realized that there was barely enough floor space to walk in. Clearly, the shed needed to be cleaned up.

I’d already begun moving the beekeeping supplies — mostly space-consuming hive boxes and frames — from the shed to some new shelves in the 12 x 48 “shop” area of my garage. I needed to move the rest of it out, vacuum the dust and dirt out, reorganize the shelves, and throw away the chicken feed bags and other garbage that had accumulated. (Chicken feed bags make excellent garbage bags for a place like the shed, but one is enough; I’d saved about ten.)

Shed Shelves
The shelves after tossing the garbage and organizing a bit. I do have some extra space. The wrapped items on the upper-left shelf are ceramic flowerpots from Arizona that I haven’t unpacked yet.

So that’s what I did yesterday afternoon when the sun was full on the shed, helping the heater keep it warm. I made many trips between the garage and shed and threw out a lot of stuff. I also mounted a 5-foot rack on the wall to store gardening tools. The result was amazing — not only did I regain all the floor space so I could set up the cats’ food, water, bed, and heater, but I also wound up with some empty space on the shelves.

Shed Tools
All my gardening tools fit on the rack I installed on the back wall. This keeps them off the floor so there’s room for the cat(s).

I also have a number of hooks I can use to hang larger tools from the walls or rafters. I have my leaf blower (from Arizona), hedge trimmer, weed wacker, and chainsaw hanging up there. Again, this keeps them off the floor so there’s more room for the cats. I even managed to fit my lawnmower in there, although it’s not in any of these photos.

Cat Home Cat Door
I had plenty of room to set up the cat food and water, along with a makeshift cat bed and the heater, which I leave turned down to low just to keep the chill out. The shed is not insulated — I might do that next year and put up interior walls with T111 plywood. The cats come and go through a cat door I installed last winter. The garbage pail holds dry cat food, which I buy cheap in very large bags. The cats don’t eat much of it.

In a way, this is sort of Shed 3.0; the third incarnation of my little storage shed. It’s a semi-permanent structure now; with electricity and water running right to/into it, it would be difficult to move. I certainly no longer need it for storage, but it’s a lot more convenient to have all those gardening tools under one roof close to the garden. It has become a sort of cornerstone for my garden, with a wildfire protection sprinkler and weather station on top. Next spring, I’ll spruce up the garden I planted on its north side and I might even paint it.

There’s always something to do here; never any reason to be bored. I think that’s one of the things that makes my new home so appealing to me.

On Being an Early Riser

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For a long time now, I’ve been an early riser. Sometimes, a very early riser.

While I clearly remember my college days when it was nearly impossible for me to wake up in time for an 8 AM class and my early professional career days when I dreaded hearing the alarm go off at 6:30 AM, I can’t remember when I made the switch from late riser to early riser. I suppose it was a gradual change as I aged, embraced my freelance lifestyle, and allowed my life to go off-schedule.

For the past 20 or more years, I haven’t had much of a need to set an alarm or wake up at a certain time. Every day is different. Although I do occasionally have early appointments or even earlier planes to catch — my favorite flight out of Wenatchee when I’m traveling leaves at 5:40 AM; yes, I do set an alarm for that — there usually isn’t any reason to get out of bed by a certain time.

I go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up naturally when my body is done sleeping. Or thinks it’s done sleeping. Yet these days, I’m invariably up before 6 AM, often before 5 AM, and occasionally before 4 AM. (If you read the blog post about my recent cruise, you learned that I was up most mornings by 4 AM.) I am naturally an early riser.

Some folks seem to think this is a problem. They have encouraged me to stay up later in an effort to shift my body’s clock forward a few hours so it’s more in line with everyone else’s. I’ve tried this. No matter what time I go to sleep, I’m awake before 6 AM — even if I stay up until a crazy time like 3 AM. And I don’t know about you, but I operate better on six hours of sleep than three. It’s fortunate that I apparently don’t need eight.

I like being an early riser. I like getting up around dawn in the summer or in the darkness of a winter morning. I like the quiet and the solitude of those early hours before most people are awake. I like hearing the crickets in the dark as I brew my morning coffee and my rooster crowing almost precisely a half hour before dawn. I even like the sound of the sprayers in the orchards below my home during the summer months, and seeing the headlights of the tractors as they make their way between rows of trees in the dark.

Do you want a more detailed description of a summer sunrise at my home? Read “Sunrise from Lookout Point.”

I like watching each new day being born — the gradual brightening of the sky, the fading of the stars and city lights, the glow to the east, the golden hour sunlight light tentatively touching the mountaintops to the west and then slowly blanketing their slopes all the way down into the valley.

Morning View
I never get tired of the morning view out my windows.

I like the fact that I can experience all of this at my own home, at my own convenience. I like taking my morning coffee out onto the deck and looking out over the new day as cool air caresses my skin and hair and the aroma of a recent rain or my fresh cut lawn competes with the smell of what’s in my mug.

I’m a morning person and get most of my work done in the morning. That’s good and bad. It’s good because it leaves the rest of the day wide open. But it can be bad if I have a lot to do and I run out of steam by 2 PM. I try to manage this drawback by scheduling appointments in the afternoon whenever possible, leaving the morning open to accomplish the things I need to do.

My usual routine consists of morning coffee as soon as I get up — whenever that is — and quiet time to reflect and write in my journal. Then I sit down at my computer and do some writing or paperwork or both. “Paperwork” usually consists of bill paying and filing, website maintenance, correspondence, client communication, and marketing material creation for my businesses. That usually takes me to 10 or 11 AM. Then I switch into more active work around my home or in my garden. There’s always something that needs to be done, especially as I finish up construction work that includes the tedious task of trimming doors, etc.

If I have scheduled an appointment or have errands to run in town, I’ll clean up, dress appropriately, and head down into town with Penny. I always have a list of destinations on a Post-It note stuck to my windshield so I don’t forget anything — I live 10 miles from town and I don’t like to make the trip more than once a day if I don’t have to. I keep shopping lists on my smartphone for the same reason. I can get a lot done on one trip into town if I stay focused and organized.

By 6 PM — especially in the winter when it’s already dark — I’m pretty much physically and mentally done for the day. That’s the time I set aside for socializing with friends and relaxing. I even find it difficult to write during this time, although I’ve been trying hard lately to make that my blogging time, leaving the morning open for writing jobs that bring in revenue. If I went to town earlier in the day, I sometimes meet up with friends in the late afternoon or early evening: wine at Pybus Market, cocktails at the Sidecar Lounge, dinner at Tastebuds, or a movie at Liberty or Gateway Cinema. If I’m home, I sometimes try a new recipe — I’ve recently rediscovered my love of cooking — and read the news or waste time on social media while eating it.

I think I watch too much television these days — more than an hour a day when I’m home in the evening — and it bugs me; my wasband was a slave to the television, channel surfing for hours every evening when he could have been working to achieve one of the life goals he claimed to have. I worry I might end up like him: unproductive and stuck in a rut.

I love to read, but if I do it in bed, I’m usually asleep within minutes. So I try not to read in bed before 9 PM.

I’m usually asleep by 10 PM — unless I’m out with friends or entertaining.

I don’t think I can adequately express how happy I am to be single and have full control of my life and time. There’s no one trying to put me on his schedule or make me share his time-consuming responsibilities. I do the things I want or need to do when I want or need to do them. I don’t have to schedule my life around someone else’s.

Best of all, I can wake up any time I like and not have to tiptoe around my home because someone else is sleeping.

I admit that I’m very fortunate to have the flexible lifestyle I have. But it isn’t “luck.” I’m a firm believer in the notion that we make our own luck. I worked hard to get where I am today and having this lifestyle is the reward for all that work. I’m a morning person and I earned the right to enjoy my mornings.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My Tree of Life

A Navajo rug with a story behind it.

One of my few prized possessions — indeed, one of the very first things I packed when I returned to Arizona in September 2012, expecting the quick divorce my wasband claimed he wanted — is my Navajo rug. This is the real deal, woven by a woman named Rena Mountain who lives on the Navajo Reservation at Cedar Ridge, AZ. Ms. Mountain is known for her pictorial rugs and seems to be an expert on the Tree of Life design.

Re-Hanging My Rug

I unpacked the rug about a week ago to show Kirk. I’d been thinking about it for a while, wondering where I could hang it, and I didn’t want to pull it out until I was ready. But I also wanted to show off this prized possession to someone I thought might appreciate its beauty. (I’m not sure how impressed Kirk was.) I knew that finding a place to hang it would take some thought.

One of the great things about my new home is the windows that line most of the walls. But those windows leave very little room to hang art. They also let in a lot of sunlight — much of it direct at certain times of the day and year — that can fade colors and cause sun damage. Where could I hang it where I’d enjoy its beauty while protecting it from direct sunlight?

And if you’re wondering why I don’t just put it on the floor — after all, it is a rug — you’ve probably never owned something so beautiful and relatively valuable. Simply said, this isn’t something I could imagine walking on. Ever.

I finally decided to hang it in the hallway across from the bathroom door. There’s a little stretch of hallway there and the walls of the hall perfectly frame the rug’s 45 x 60 inch size.

Back in Arizona, I’d hung it in the living room near the fireplace with velcro on a piece of wood that fastened directly to the wall with screws. I’d sewn the soft side of the wide velcro strip to the back of the rug using big, fat, easy-to-remove stitches. I’d stapled the rough side of the velcro strip to the wood using a staple gun. Then my wasband had drilled holes in the wood and, using molly bolts for extra support in the drywall, screwed the wood strip onto the wall. When I’d taken down the rug, I’d taken down the wood strip, too. I’d even, by some miracle, kept the molly bolts and screws. So I had everything I needed to re-hang it in my new home.

Tree of Life by Rena Mountain
My Navajo rug, hung in its new home.

I did this yesterday afternoon, using my stud finder to confirm that a stud was not available and a level to make sure I mounted the wood strip properly on the wall. The whole job, including fastening the rug to the wood strip, took just 10 minutes.

And it looks great. I can even reposition the track lights in the hallway to shine directly on it if I’d like to.

I posted this photo on Facebook when I was done. Almost immediately, my friend Jeremy asked for the story behind the rug.

How did he know there was a story? There is and it’s a pretty good one. I promised a blog post — this one — to tell it.

The Story behind the Rug

It was in September of 2000 or 2001. Or possibly 2002. I’d been living in Arizona for a few years. My writing career was building momentum and I’d finished my Quicken book, which ruined ever summer, a few weeks before. I had free time and was eager to get away for a while after working too many 12-hour days at my desk to get the book done on time.

I don’t remember who came up with the idea — it might have been me — but I decided to take a road trip with two friends to the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock. This is an annual event, like a county fair, but its held on the reservation and has a definite Navajo flavor, with lots of Navajo arts and crafts, food, and dancing. Along the way, we’d go exploring on the Reservation, visit the Hopi Reservation (which is completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation), and do whatever struck our fancy. In other words, we make things up as we went along. I love traveling like that.

My two companions for the trip were Shorty and Martin.

Shorty was about 10-15 years older than me, a real cowgirl who spoke with a Texas drawl and had been married four or five times. She was short (hence the name), lean, and kind of gnarly, with skin browned and somewhat wrinkled from too much time in the sun. She was currently between husbands, living in her pickup camper in a friend’s yard, with her horse staying in a pen there. Over the two or more years we were friends, she’d move from place to place — even spending a few weeks camped out in my yard and housesitting for me — work at a local dude ranch, and train my rather difficult paint horse. I’d also be the maid of honor at her Las Vegas wedding — and that’s one hell of a crazy story — spend an evening catching Colorado River toads at an off the grid adobe house she lived in for a while, and dog sit for her three dogs while she went to England with what she hoped would be her next husband — another long story.

Martin was a young — maybe 35 years old? — good-looking guy from Germany. Like so many Europeans, he’d fallen in love with the west and dreamed of being a cowboy with a Fresian horse. (Not exactly a practical choice with all that hair to keep neat and brushed.) He was in the U.S. on a visa and was friends with the man who owned the local German restaurant. He tagged along with us, smoking whenever we stopped for a break. Shorty insisted on pronouncing his name mar-TEEN, claiming that it was the German pronunciation. Since he never corrected her, I got into the habit of doing the same.

The three of us headed north in my Jeep from Wickenburg, AZ. Martin sat in the back with the luggage in the tiny space behind him.

We pretty much bee-lined it up to the Hopi Reservation. Shorty wanted to send a friend a postcard from Old Orabi, which was founded back in 1100, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements within the United States. We got there and I don’t recall there being much to see. That has a lot to do with the simple fact that the Hopi people do not generally welcome visitors and many of them prefer to continue their traditional lifestyles. We walked around among a lot of seemingly deserted pueblo style homes — the Hopi are a Pueblo tribe — and then moved on to a Post Office where Shorty could mail her card. I’m pretty sure that was Hotevilla-Bacavi, also on Third Mesa.

The post office had a bulletin board and there was a card on it advertising fresh ground cornmeal. We found a payphone — back in those days, we didn’t all have cell phones — and called the number. We then got directions to a Hopi woman’s house nearby. We drove over and were welcomed in. The house was simple but modern, sparsely furnished but clean and comfortable. I clearly remember there being a bunch of kittens playing together in one of the rooms. The cornmeal, we were told, was leftover from a wedding ceremony. (Corn is an important crop to the Hopi people and plays a big role in their traditions.) It was stored in a big galvanized trashcan, lined with a plastic bag. The woman used a tin can to scoop out the cornmeal — did I mention that it was blue? — and put it into a Bluebird Flour bag (which I still have). Shorty paid for the cornmeal — I can’t remember how much, but it wasn’t much. The woman, likely seeing the opportunity of spreading tourist dollars to friends, told us about another woman who made dance shawls. Before you could say Kykotsmovi Village, we were off to another home. Shorty wound up buying two or three of the shawls. They weren’t my style, so I declined.

I totally enjoyed this side trip — cornmeal and dance shawls — because it gave me an opportunity to see the modern culture of these very private people.

Afterwards, we stopped by the Hopi Cultural Center, where I bought a “Grandmother” cradle Kachina, thus starting my limited Kachina collection. Our last stop in the Hopi land was Tsakurshovi, a native crafts shop in Shongopovi. That’s where I was introduced to Hopi Tea. I’d later come back to this wonderful shop several times to add to my Kachina collection.

We continued on our way, leaving the Hopi Reservation and continuing through the Navajo Reservation. We stopped at the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, which is a National Historic Site and still a trading post. I wandered into the Rug Room and that’s when I saw it: the most beautiful rug I’d ever laid eyes on. Rena Mountain’s Tree of Life.

I fully admit that when I looked at the price tag I had a serious case of sticker shock. I’d never spent that kind of money on anything that couldn’t be driven or slept in.

I left the room and continued wandering around the Trading Post. But I kept thinking about it.

I wanted the rug. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything as utterly impractical as that rug as badly as I wanted that rug.

I grabbed Shorty and brought her into the room to see it. I was hoping she’d talk me out of buying it. But how could she? It was beautiful. And we both knew that I could afford it.

Yes, I could afford it. As I said earlier, my writing career was booming and I was bringing in more in royalties every year. I’d been investing in real estate and, in October 2000, bought my first helicopter. But my mind was stuck in budget mode and the idea of spending that kind of money on a rug I couldn’t even walk on was outrageous.

But I could afford it. And Shorty wasn’t going to talk me out of it.

So I got a sales person and brought her over to the rug. I timidly asked if they could do anything for me on the price. She cut it by $500. The next thing I knew, I was at the cash register with my American Express card out.

The cashier had to call American Express. They wanted to talk to me. I’d never spent this much on my card before and they wanted to make sure it was me.

The clerk folded up the rug and they put it in a plastic bag that looked remarkably like a garbage bag. I put it in the Jeep, way under the seat. For the next few days, I’d take it into the motel room at night and worry about someone stealing it out of the Jeep during the day.

We continued the trip. The Navajo Nation Fair was an amazing event. We saw more rugs on display — if I hadn’t already bought one, I would have bought one at the fair — ate mutton, saw traditional dancing and costumes, and watched the country’s only all-Indian rodeo, which was announced in both English and Navajo.

After two days of that — staying in a Gallup Hotel because Window Rock’s were booked — we headed out to Canyon de Chelly near Chinle, AZ. This is a National Monument with limited access. Because we had a 4WD vehicle, we hired a Navajo guide who rode with us in the Jeep and told us about what we were seeing. I loved the sound of his voice and the way he phrased things and repeated certain things in almost a sing-songy way. It was there that I learned about the brutality of Custer and his soldiers and got an idea of how mistreated Native Americans were in the 1800s. When I saw a point of interest — some rock formation — and asked him about it, he was strangely quiet. I asked him if there was some significance to the place that they didn’t share with visitors and he nodded. I asked him if there were many places in the canyon like that and he nodded again. I didn’t ask any more. I respect the culture and privacy of these people. Not everything needs to be a tourist attraction or photo opportunity.

I don’t remember getting into Monument Valley on that trip. I suspect we went home right after Canyon de Chelly. I do recall exploring a road back near Tuba City with views down from a mesa top and seeing petroglyphs that weren’t on any map. Real exploring — not following tourist guidebooks — that’s how I like to travel.

Certificate of Authenticity
The Certificate of Authenticity, with a photo of the weaver, hung beside the rug for years.

I got home with the rug and, with my wasband’s assistance, hung it on the wall as described above. I took the tag, which featured a photo of Ms. Mountain holding up the rug, and asked my friend Janet’s partner to mat and frame it for me. It hung on the wall beside the rug. (I just spent about 30 minutes looking for a photo of how they hung together but can’t find one — all the photos I have of my house’s interior are either of damage/neglect by my wasband while I was in Washington or after I’d begun packing. As I mentioned earlier, the rug was one of the first things to be packed.)

Postscript

Time marched on. Although that was one of the most memorable trips of my life, it was not to be repeated. Shorty married Martin to keep him from getting booted out of the country. I was maid of honor/witness at the crazy Las Vegas wedding. Later, Shorty met her “soulmate,” a retiree from Britain who stayed at the dude ranch where she worked. Their courtship lasted a few months, during which time I assume she and Martin were divorced. But the wedding plans fell through and it wasn’t long before both she and Martin fell out of my life.

I went back to the Navajo Nation Fair the following year. It was a non-event. The Navajo young people were wearing the same falling-down pants as the rest of the brain-dead youth in our country and much of the charm I’d experienced the year before was gone. You know what they say: you can never go back. This is a perfect example.

But the rug remains and now it hangs in my new home to be part of my new life.

I’m glad to have it and the memories that go with it.

Creating Defensible Space

Fire season is serious business in the west.

Every fire season seems to get a little worse in the west — particularly in the Pacific Northwest where I now live. For the past four summers, we’ve had widespread wildfires, most of which were started by lightning strikes. Fires have been particularly threatening, if not downright damaging, near my new home:

  • In September 2012, lightning strikes started over 100 wildfires from Blewett Pass to Lake Chelan. Visibility dropped down to less than 1/2 mile in smoke and mandatory evacuations affected the Wenatchee Heights area that was my temporary home not long after I left for Arizona.
  • August Fire
    I was at a party at the airport on the evening of August 10 while Jumpoff Ridge was burning.

    In August 2013, lightning strikes started a handful of fires on Jumpoff Ridge, the cliffs that tower behind my current home. Although I’d just purchased the land and didn’t have anything on it, I was as alarmed as my neighbors when my road was put on mandatory evacuation, mostly because firefighters feared that burning debris would tumble down the cliffs and start new fires on our level. (Fortunately, that didn’t happen.)

  • In July 2014, more than 300 homes were destroyed when a fire hit the community of Pateros, about 45 miles upriver from Wenatchee. Other fires up the Methow River near there destroyed forests, orchards, and a few more homes.
  • Sleepy Hollow Fire at Night
    I shot this photo of the Sleepy Hollow Fire on the night of June 28, 2015 from my deck using a 300 mm lens. It isn’t cropped. Although the fire was more than 8 miles from my home, I found it terrifying and could not sleep that night. A pair of heavy rainstorms the next day put the fire out — and started the Wolverine Fire up near Lake Chelan that’s still burning today.

    In June 2015, the Sleepy Hollow fire destroyed more than 20 homes in a Wenatchee subdivision overlooking the town. Burning embers from the fire traveled on the wind and touched off fires a half mile away, destroying 3 warehouses and fruit packing and storage facilities.

As I write this, there are dozens of fires all over Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. These fires are growing at alarming rates. The Okanogan Complex Fire, for example, started on Saturday, August 15 — that’s just 8 days ago — and has already grown to 227,206 acres. That’s 355 square miles — larger than the entire city of New York (all five boroughs).

Can you imagine all of New York City burning in a week?

And that’s just one of the monster fires. Chelan Complex has burned 87,412 acres in the Chelan area, North Star has burned 132,000 acres on the Colville Indian Reservation, and Grizzly Bear Complex has burned 59,150 acres in the Umatilla National Forest. The Interagency Inciweb website is currently tracking 26 fires in Washington State alone. The President has declared Washington a disaster area. This is some serious shit.

Although the closest fire is at least 20 miles from here, a wind shift has brought smoke into the valley. Visibility is less than 3 miles — I can’t even see the airport from my home. The smell of smoke is in the air. I spent much of yesterday outdoors doing light work and wound up with a sore throat from breathing smoke.

Visibility.jpg
On Friday, the air was very clear, although I could see the smoke cloud coming our way. This morning, the air is thick with smoke. I can barely see the buildings at the airport just 3 miles away.

The scariest part of fire season for those of us who live on the outskirts of town, surrounded by natural vegetation, is the fact that it doesn’t take much to start one of these crazy fires. Lightning is the most common cause, but fires have also been started by cigarette ash, sparks from chainsaws or mowers or ATVs, and even cars with hot engines parking on tall, dry grass. If Mother Nature doesn’t start a fire, some careless idiot might.

As you might imagine, the idea of “defensible space” is on many people’s minds. In theory, it means keeping enough clear area around your home so that firefighters can defend it from wildfire. That usually means cutting down trees and bushes and trimming long grass, surrounding your home with heavily irrigated vegetation such as green lawns or orchard trees, and removing any firewood or scrap wood piles near your home. If your home does not have defensible space, not only is it more likely to burn in a wildfire, but firefighters may not even try to defend it because of the danger it could put them in.

I did much of this over a month ago when I used my string mower to cut back the tall, dry grass on the side and back of my home. I debated cutting a few of the small sagebrush in the area — they burn hot and fast when ignited — but left them. The other two sides of my house have concrete and gravel and a small lawn.

Of course, some of us take it the next step by installing sprinkler systems that can be turned on, when needed, to soak the area. I did that the other day. I drove two 6-foot T-posts into the ground, one at each corner on the road side of my home. Then I fixed 50-foot sprinkler heads to the top of each one. I ran hose from my shed — which has extremely high water pressure — to the first sprinkler and another hose from that one to the second one. When I turned them on, they provided coverage along the entire road-side of the building, as well as about 50 feet down the front and back.

Sprinklers
Here’s my sprinkler setup on the road side of my home. I do need to move some of the scrap wood there, or cover it with some of the metal panels I have.

I want to add a third sprinkler to the roof of my shed, which would protect the shed and chicken coop. A fourth sprinkler head can be mounted on my deck in the other back corner of the building to provide some protection there.

My friends have been asking me whether I have a generator for the water pump. They assume I have a well. I don’t. I have city water which should keep flowing as long as the water company keeps it coming. I guess I should hope that they have generators.

Yes, I know it isn’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

The good thing is, my building is made of metal. So flying embers landing on the roof or against a wall should not be able to start a fire. There are some exposed wood beams, however, and I’m not fooling myself into thinking the building is fireproof. As too many folks around here have learned over the past few years, even metal buildings can burn if they’re subjected to enough heat. My goal is to prevent that heat from getting close enough.

I’m not the only one thinking about fire. Kirk has moved his vehicles into his orchard, which is far less likely to catch fire if fires come through the canyon where he lives.

Anyone who lives in an area prone to wildfire damage who doesn’t create defensible space around their home is an idiot, plain and simple. As we’ve seen this year, even homes in subdivisions that are normally safe from wildfire danger can be completely and utterly destroyed. Why would anyone fail to take steps to protect their home before such protection was absolutely necessary?

When the fires come, you often don’t have time to act before evacuation. I feel a bit of comfort knowing that I can get my sprinklers going in a matter of minutes now because they’re already in place. This might mean the difference between keeping my home standing and losing everything I own.