Photo of the month

Hey, hey, it's the Monkees!... OK, we'll never make it as pop stars, but you have to admit this would be a pretty cool album cover. Ben, his Uncle Sean and Dad Glenn strike an impromptu pose during their almond blossom walk at DuPont on Feb. 4. Photo by Glenn.

February 2006

The bare oak trees await spring as they are photographed during a school field trip to Los Vaqueros Reservoir Jan. 24. Photo by Glenn.

A couple dozen sixth-graders and their chaperones make their way up the trail at Los Vaqueros. Photo by Glenn.

Here's Ben, who was happy to have Dad along for the day. It wasn't a long hike up to Los Vaqueros Dam, but it was all uphill. Photo by Glenn.

At the top of the dam, Ben (far left) and other students take a moment to look at the reservoir. Photo by Glenn.

We're on another hike, this one along a trail about a half mile north of the dam. The sun peeks out from behind the oak trees. Photo by Glenn.

This is what was left of a rather large tree that was struck by lightning at Los Vaqueros Reservoir. The gnarled and somewhat torched trunk is visible in the background. Ben thought it made a cool backdrop for a photo. Photo by Glenn.

Ben enjoys lunch with his classmates and a school faculty member. That's his pal Joey with the jacket hood over his head. Photo by Glenn.

Time to check out the progress on that new fence. This is the third section under construction on Jan. 27. You can see the other two completed sections to the right. Photo by Glenn.

And here is section three complete. Compare it to the fifth section next to it, which will be the last one we tackle in March. All the junk in the foreground is our garden. Photo by Glenn.

Seeing the new fence inspired us to clean up other parts of the yard. We started with an easy project: reclaiming the garden stairs. Photo by Glenn.

Here's Roni next to our sprawling rosemary bush prior to giving it a good trim. We were giving away fresh rosemary for days afterward. Photo by Glenn.

The rosemary is one of the few plants we own that seems to do well on its own. We give it very little water and yet it rewards us each spring with these feathery purple flowers. Photo by Glenn.

We have worked in the garden all day and now get to see a spectacular sky at sunset. Too bad we have all the power poles marring the view. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is proud of the work he has done helping to clean up the garden paths. With the new fence and the clean paths it is actually starting to look like something. Photo by Glenn.

Who needs a dark room when you have a portable curtain close at hand — or paw? Eevee enjoys a cat nap on Roni's desk chair. Photo by Roni.

Glenn and his brother Sean pose for the camera as they conclude their football picks for another season. Sean finished with the best record and gets to keep the Surfy trophy for at least the next year. Photo by Roni.

Ben enjoys a tall one — orange juice, that is — while waiting for our lunch at Mimi's Cafe. Photo by Glenn.

Ben thinks he can master any crane game he sees. He has won a few times, but not today on this game at Harvest Park Bowl in Brentwood. Alas, success would elude him. Photo by Glenn.

Last month we promised you blossoms and this month we deliver. This is one of the trees we saw on our Feb. 4 walk at the DuPont property. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his Uncle Sean are all smiles at the start of our walk. Photo by Roni.

Ben discovered some large tumbleweeds on our blossom walk, including this one that was about twice his size. Photo by Glenn.

With the camera propped on a rusty rail and set on timer mode, we capture the three hikers as they stroll through the DuPont switchyard. Photo by Glenn.

Don't try this at home, unless you have a good long stretch of clear track and someone keeping watch out for trains, as we did. Photo by Glenn.

Imagine a whole orchard filled with trees just like this one. Imagine all the petals falling like snowflakes, blanketing the sandy earth below. Unfortunately we have to imagine, because this and a handful of stragglers are all that remain of a once huge almond orchard at DuPont. Photo by Glenn.

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The pageantry of spring

February 14, 2006

The Winter Olympics are in full swing. But it is hard to sit and watch people with snowsuits, skis and ice skates when outside our California abode it is warm and sunny with signs of spring everywhere we look. It always seems to happen like this. January is always cold and dismal, and then the final week of the month the almond trees begin their annual color pageant, bursting to life in a dazzling display of clean white blossoms. That leads us into February, when the groundhog inevitably emerges from some dank burrow and proclaims (to someone, somewhere, in groundhogese) a protracted winter. And then we happily ignore the overgrown rodent as the succeeding days grow sunnier and warmer, and we gradually shed our sweaters and slippers and start making more frequent appearances outdoors. Besides, who needs a groundhog when you’ve got gophers tearing up the yard, as we have endured for as long as we have been attempting to grow plants we actually care about.

Spring is a lot like discovering a box of childhood memories you squirreled away in the attic years ago and dusting them off for a second look. Everything looks a little fresher in some ways, a bit more ragged around the edges in others. You have to decide what of it you really want to keep, and how you might use it if you do keep it. You have to decide what gets a makeover, then assemble a plan for how to go about it. Such is the case with our back yard, which year after year we look at and shake our heads when we see how far it has declined in less than a decade since we rolled sod and planted fledgling trees. This year was no different. The weeds that greeted us were just as tall, the dying shrubs and roses even more dilapidated than before. But this year unlike others we have new momentum. Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can find the strength to climb again — if the fall doesn’t kill you, that is — and we seem to have found that energy through the repair of our fallen fences.

Last month we began the Great Fence Project of 2006. We have been making slow but steady progress since then, working our way through the five aging sections of our rear fence and reclaiming our patio from the pile of new lumber we’ve been keeping there. This past weekend we conquered section four, which was one we’d been delaying because it isn’t entirely ours. Actually, it’s about 80 percent ours, with the rest stretching over the property line of our neighbors to the northwest. Roni finally got to talk to the lady of the house who was ecstatic when told we were interested in fixing their part of the fence when we tackled ours, free for nothing. She and her husband had been watching our progress and were impressed with the workmanship.

In fact, all our recent fence construction has gained us a bit of celebrity in town as folks passing on the nearby frontage road slow down to take a look at the crazy man digging holes in the sand and hefting 10-foot posts like a participant in the caber toss. Glenn has received a fair number of compliments along with a few cat calls as he has worked through days of baking sun and chilly, misting drizzle wearing nothing more on his upper torso than a short-sleeved T-shirt. It is only when you start to see the completed panels all lined up fresh and new and compare them to what was there originally that you begin to realize why complete strangers are taking such a keen interest in our progress: Our fence is the first thing you see when you drive into our neighborhood. For at least the past five years it has been falling over, its peeling paint betraying its advanced age. Now it looks sharp, and you can almost hear the property values around us rising.

The building of the fourth section sparked a dialogue with our neighbors about the fence we share between our homes that also suffered in the New Year’s weekend storms. Right now it is propped up with ropes and wood scraps, but the neighbors are as eager as we are to replace the thing. They have given us the green light to pick out the lumber and have freely offered to help pay for it, which means that we’ll probably begin construction in March rather than having to wait until late spring as we had originally planned. We’ll keep you posted on the progress.

If the new fence is getting raves from folks looking at it from the street, you can imagine what it is doing for us. Seeing all that beautiful redwood when we look out at the yard has made us want to spruce up the rest of the yard. We’re tired of stepping in gopher holes and seeing our patio covered in sand. On Jan. 29 we spent an atypically warm and sunny day pulling weeds and uncovering the brick walkway that runs through our garden area. Roni tamed the giant rosemary bush that is about the only thing left from our garden of five years ago. Glenn took a broom to the sandy stepping stones, and Ben collected trash and broken toys from the area. We raked out a well-irrigated corner to prepare it for planting strawberries next month, and we used some of the reclaimed lumber from our old fence to build a low retaining wall for the strawberry planter. There is still plenty to do, but it feels good to see it cleaned up a little, knowing that this year maybe we will have a real garden again.

Roni has been actively planning how to pretty-up the embankment along the new fence, buying bareroot roses on our recent visits to Home Depot and Orchard Supply Hardware. We will plant them in pots or wire cages to protect them from the gopher menace. We also have this idea of using some of the free wood we have lying in a giant discard pile to make planter boxes. It’s either that or we have to pay someone to haul it away. Might as well get some use out of it.

One of our springtime traditions has been our annual walk to see the almond blossoms on the former DuPont property. Glenn and Ben have used it as father-son bonding time for at least the past seven years. Now that Ben is older we are teaching him to appreciate the blossoming nut trees because we know all too painfully that one day they will succumb to development. But for now the trees are safely out of harm’s way, still providing a bit of color and marking the changing of the seasons. We took this year’s walk Feb. 4, accompanied by Glenn’s brother, Sean. About the only change from last year was the new fast food restaurant going in near the corner of Main Street and Bridgehead Road. Ben had fun checking out their pile of asphalt before we left the urban scenery behind and found a sandy country lane littered with fallen petals. The unauthorized trail is still one of the best places in town for a quiet stroll. We spent at least an hour and a half exploring the scenery along the BNSF right of way.

Ben has been getting plenty of exercise this past month. In addition to our blossom walk, he has been learning how to do line dancing in P.E. at school. And on Jan. 24, he took a field trip with a couple dozen other sixth graders to Los Vaqueros Reservoir south of Brentwood. Dad helped chaperone on the 4-hour trip, which included a pair of hikes and lessons in the water treatment process and groundwater contamination. Some of it went a little over the heads of the kids, but any day you don’t have to sit in a classroom studying math and spelling must be a good day.

Ben has recently discovered the joy of conversing with friends on the telephone. For the past couple of weeks he has been spending an hour a night or more chatting with his classmate Joey. He is also preparing for what promises to be an exciting adventure — a four-day trip with classmates to a wilderness camp in Marin County. We first heard about it late last year and have spent the past couple of months trying to decide if Ben was going. Having never spent even a single night away from us, it is understandable that he was apprehensive about the idea at first. After plenty of family discussion and weighing of pros and cons, Ben decided to give the trip a shot. The fact Joey and other friends are also going should make the experience more enjoyable.

Our Valentine’s Day was typically low-key. We made cards for one another, but being that it was a weekday we all had work or school. Roni and Glenn celebrated a 20-year romance with a trip to Home Depot to check out lumber prices and then a burrito lunch at Fresh Choice restaurant in Antioch. Cost about the same as a dozen roses but was a whole lot more edible.

Hope that you’ll be able to take advantage of the warmer weather as spring takes hold. Until next month…

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Wednesday, March 15, 2006 at 01:26 hrs.

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