Photo of the month

Mount Diablo rises in the distance as Glenn poses for a picture along the Halsey Trail on Jersey Island. We checked out the trail June 19 during our visit from Glenn's brother, Sean, part of a very busy month for us. Photo by Roni.

June 2005

Oakley started holding weekly farmers markets in May, and we visited the second one on a cloudy Saturday, May 28. Photo by Glenn.

Ben checks out a display of fresh veggies at the farmers market. It's pretty early in the season for much of a selection. Photo by Glenn.

Ahhhh, here's what we came for — fresh fruit! We came home with a flat of strawberries that were gone in a couple of days. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the mighty gopher hunter with his trophy shot after bagging the big beast. OK, so Glenn didn't actually catch the gopher, but he did cage it in the plastic bucket. Photo by Roni.

Aw, isn't it cute? Not. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn transplants Mr. Gopher into a grape vineyard. In our experience gophers don't much care for grape roots, so these should be fine. Photo by Roni.

We visited the Contra Costa County Fair on June 4. Here, Ben checks out the prize winners in the photography display. He's more interested in the cats than the photo technique. Photo by Glenn.

This was a cool art display at the fair. It is very three-dimensional and lifelike. Photo by Glenn.

Ben holds up his old man during a photo op at the fair. Or maybe it was the other way around. Photo by Roni.

Inside the farm equipment display barn, Roni rests her feet while Ben answers questions for his treasure hunt. Photo by Glenn.

Ben looks ready for work atop this 1965 John Deere. Now if we could just hook it up to a plow he could turn over our weedy back yard. Photo by Glenn.

All he is saying is give peace a chance. Or something. That's Ben on the left. We have no idea who that dummy on the right is. Photo by Glenn.

Ben tries to select his prize after winning the ring toss game at the fair carnival. Photo by Glenn.

Ben had a successful day on the midway. Here he is surrounded by his new stuffed pals. Photo by Glenn.

A fair ain't nothing without its Ferris wheels. This is the big one out on the carnival midway. The crowd remained small until just before sundown. Photo by Glenn.

Now we're at the Livermore Rodeo. If you want to truly enjoy the rodeo you have to have the proper attire. Not sure that a blue cowboy hat is it, but it was the one Ben liked. Photo by Glenn.

An Army unit displays the American flag during opening ceremonies of the Livermore Rodeo, June 11. Photo by Glenn.

A rodeo is pretty much nonstop action from start to finish. Here a rider tries to chase down a calf in the calf roping competition. Photo by Glenn.

Wild cow milking is not a true rodeo event, but it was truly hilarious. This cow doesn't want to be milked without a fight, and this cowboy is going to give him one. Photo by Glenn.

Got milk? A quick jog back to the sidelines will help work off that gut. Now if he could just shake that clown who's mocking him. Photo by Glenn.

Ladies barrel racing is one of the rodeo highlights. Bet you'll never guess who sponsored the event... Photo by Glenn.

If your image of a bull rider is some studly cowboy with his Stetson flying as he bounces along on the bull's rump, look at this. This dude's wearing a crash helmet and body armor. Probably not a bad idea. Photo by Glenn.

Oh yeah, they had the studly cowboy types on the bulls, too. Well, some of them stayed on the bulls. Photo by Glenn.

Whoa, stand back, boys! You can see the snot flying from this bull as it fights to buck its rider. Photo by Glenn.

Look out, this is gonna hurt. Photo by Glenn.

Think she's a happy rodeo fan? Photo by Glenn.

Mr. Gopher may be gone, but he's left his mark on our front yard. Here is what was left of our giant pittosporum bush... Photo by Glenn.

...And here is what it looks like after we pruned it back to its bare trunk. It may be too late to save it, so we've got a new shrub waiting in the wings. Photo by Glenn.

Needing more space to display postcards in the writing sanctuary, Glenn added a bulletin board across one wall of the room. Photo by Glenn.

Ben wanted his own bulletin board after seeing Dad's, so we built one in his bedroom. Here he is loading it up with school memorabilia. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his Uncle Sean match wits in an intense Pokémon battle. Well, it was intense for Ben anyway. Photo by Glenn.

Steve Walde takes a hot lap at the Antioch Speedway on June 18. He is the husband of one of Roni's friends and currently sits atop the points in his division thanks to a second place finish this night. Photo by Glenn.

A little Father's Day weekend activity in the pits as a young fan is introduced to the trophy dash winner, dwarf car driver Ricardo Rivera. Photo by Glenn.

Our seats were directly behind the flag man, who had an adventurous night. He waved every one of the flags in his collection at least once. Photo by Glenn.

Sean takes a photo of the sign marking the entrance to the Ted and Helen Halsey Trail on Jersey Island. Photo by Glenn.

You can see what we mean when we say this is a primitive, unpaved trail. To the left you've got water, to the right there are stickers and cow pastures. Sean and Ben talk as they walk. Photo by Glenn.

A closeup of yarrow in bloom. There's a lot of it along the trail. Photo by Glenn.

We've reached the end of the trail at the second gate, which is about half a mile from the first gate. Gotta close the gates behind you to keep the cows inside. Photo by Glenn.

Roni indulges the photographer while taking a break against the cattle paddock. Photo by Glenn.

We're heading back to the car after our hike. The weather was cool and clear, and there was quite a bit of wind. Photo by Glenn.

Bull thistles create an interesting display. We actually saw a few that were still in purple bloom. but most of them looked like this. Photo by Glenn.

Roni strolls along the levee top beyond a sea of yellow flowers. We think these are some kind of thistle, but they sure are colorful in large clusters this time of year. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Travels, tales and travails

June 25, 2005

It was Memorial Day — or rather the waning minutes of Memorial Day — and we were experiencing our first real heatwave of spring. Glenn returned home from work late that evening after putting in time at the newspaper covering the newslessness that is a holiday weekend in the Bay Area. The rest of the family had gone to bed, but our cat Ariel greeted him at the door as she often does. The temperature had swelled into the 90s during the afternoon and our home had been baking all day like a burger over hot coals. But now a Delta breeze had moved in and it made sense to invite in some of the cool night air. He decided to prop the front door open for a bit to let the heat escape through the screen door. But the hinge of the screen door was stuck, preventing it from closing all the way. It would take just a moment to fix by pushing the door open and sliding back the catch on the pneumatic arm. The screen was propped open for just a couple of seconds, but that was all it took for opportunistic Ariel to thread the gap and escape into the darkness. @&#^!

Glenn called to her, made noises like her favorite dry food shaking it its box. But she had vanished. Fine, he decided, if that was the way she wanted it then she’d just have to fend for herself until he was good and ready to let her in, when she came begging for food or the litter box. But our cats are not outdoor creatures. They lack both common sense and front claws. So we try to keep them inside whenever possible, protecting them from the neighborhood, and the neighborhood from them. In the past few days we had seen raccoons and smelled skunks wandering through our cul de sac, and knowing what they can do to domesticated animals was enough to make him think twice about just letting kitty roam around in the darkness.

So 15 minutes later, he was back at the screen door, calling Ariel’s name and making little squeaky noises through pursed lips. In the dim light from the street he could make out the cat’s form, seated statue-like at the end of the porch. He flicked on the porch light, expecting her to bolt in order to evade capture. But she just sat there, her back to the door, looking straight ahead. He opened the door, coaxed her back. She sauntered over in no hurry at all, peeked her head through the crack in the screen door and made her way unethusiastically inside. He scolded her, in no mood to deal with a finnicky cat when there were better things to be doing.

He was about to head back in when he noticed a small, dark-colored lump at the end of the porch that hadn't been there a few minutes earlier. It was just beyond the reach of the porch light and impossible to identify from a distance, but it was either a dirty wash rag or a small animal, quite possibly deaceased. He moved in closer to inspect. He had to do a double take, because there, lying on its side on our porch, was our Public Enemy Number One — the ever-elusive, ever-destructive Mr. Gopher.

What were the odds! It was like the Marines stumbling across Saddam Hussein in his hidey hole. For the better part of nine months Mr. Gopher's buck teeth and voracious appetite had made mince meat of our front yard. We’d tried traps and baits and ancient mystic shaman chants and nothing had worked. Then, in the 15 minutes it took our arthritic cat to sneak out of the house and prowl about the yard, we had the bounty on that little critter’s head. Ding dong, the witch is dead! Munchkin Land is free again! And the roses will bloom... and the trees will thrive... no more potholes in the weed-filled grass. Our yard would once again be safe for agricultural pursuits.

Despite his glee, Glenn realized he couldn’t just leave it there on the porch, its rumpled corpse lying at the end of the walkway as Roni and Ben headed out to greet the new day on their way to school. The evidence had to be disposed of. Not that Ariel’s act needed to remain secret — we could have kissed her a thousand times for this. A full pardon granted. You may escape our home whenever your heart desires if you continue to earn your keep this way.

Grabbing a yard rake to perform an unceremonial burial in the garbage can, he approached Mr. Gopher’s still form and gently pushed the rake’s tines under its side. It was then that he realized the critter had moved Involuntary muscle constraction? He blew gently on its fur once, twice, and the gopher stirred again. Yikes! It lives! Yes, the beady black eyes were open. It was playing dead, just as any small animal knows instinctively to do in the face of a jagged, fanged feline death grip. Quick! Trap it!

He grabbed a 5-gallon bucket from the porch, emptied it of its week-old soapy water, and clamped it over the gopher who had barely made an attempt to escape. There it would remain in its pail jail until morning when we would decide what must be done next. But knowing that Ben’s curiosity might be the trap’s undoing, he grabbed a Post-It note and scrawled a quick message that he affixed to the bucket: “GOPHER INSIDE! DO NOT MOVE.”

The incident was the subject of great curiosity and discussion the following morning. Roni scoffed when she saw the note, convinced that any critter mighty enough to carve tunnels through solid earth and pick off rose bushes like hors d'oeuvres at a cocktail party had to be smart enough to figure out how to escape its plastic prison. But an inspection of the bucket proved otherwise. The gopher was still inside, and now we were able to turn the bucket over so that he skittered along its bottom, its 2-foot-high sides too slick to climb. But could gophers jump? We didn't think so, but why chance it? We covered the top with a sheet of cardboard and debated about what to do next. The decision seemed obvious: transport it somewhere where it would do no harm and would be guaranteed not to return to our yard.

So we piled into Roni's car and drove the prisoner to the sandy edge of a grape vineyard a few blocks from home, where we knew he would find plenty of company from his own kind. Standing near the fence, Glenn tipped the bucket and waited for Mr. Gopher to slide out and scurry for safety. But it didn't want to leave. Gradually he tipped the bucket at steeper and steeper angles, and still the gopher fought to stay inside until it could no longer hold out against the laws of physics. At last it plopped onto the sand. But it didn't flee. It didn't try to dig a burrow. It just sat there, looking at us like we had betrayed it. Could it be in shock from its brief journey in Ariel's jaws? Or had it started to feel as comfortable in that bucket as it had been in our front lawn? That innocent little face was almost enough to melt our resolve. Almost.

We got back in the car and drove away slowly, watching as we left to see if Mr. Gopher would make a move for safety. His tan coat blended well with the Oakley sand, but not well enough that some sharp-eyed hawk wouldn't be able to make a meal of him. We have to believe that he probably found his way back underground where he has since set up a new home. At least it isn't our home.

We'd like to tell you that this story has a happy ending. That our yard is healing in the days and weeks since Mr. Gopher departed. That we have new resolve to replant and restore our landscaping to its pre-gopherous state. But as Lemony Snicket might say, "That, dear readers, is not how this story goes."

After waiting a week and seeing no sign of new gopher activity, we ventured to Home Depot and stocked up on more plants — flats of alyssum and a potato bush, a new pittosporum to replace the one that Mr. Gopher had devoured outside the window of the writing sanctuary. We were about to plant these when we discovered several fresh mounds had erupted overnight in the middle of the lawn. @&#^! Apparently Mr. Gopher had company. Not that we are all that surprised, but we had hoped our luck would be better. Gophers tend to operate like L.A. street gangs, staking out their turf and warding off other gophers. We've heard the average gopher population is something like three to an acre, but given that we're on less than an eighth of an acre and we've had at least two in the front yard and one in the rear, we'd say that estimate might be horribly flawed.

So for now it's back to barrel gardening as gopher number two (maybe we'll call him Gopher Too from now on) continues to confound us. Just today, Roni embarked on an ambitious plan to rescue her munched rose bushes in the front yard. We dug up five of them and transferred them to temporary plastic planter boxes that we have relocated to the back yard where they can get water and some rehab time. A few of the bushes are in better shape than others, but they have all been feasted on at one time or another. The goal is to start again with new rose bushes that we will plant with wire cages around their root zone. With luck, next time we show you pictures it will be of spectacular blooms and fresh landscaping.

Before you start thinking that the last month has been filled with nothing but heartbreak and misery from the gardening front, be assured that we have been active in other, more entertaining ways. The cool, drizzly weather that has plagued us all spring finally showed signs of abating about mid-June. Aside from a weeklong stretch of rain and dark skies there were plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy some sunshine.

The Contra Costa County Fair rolled in to Antioch June 2-5. We decided to pay a visit on Saturday the 4th. It was the first time we had all been to the local fair as a family since Ben was about six, mostly because it has never been that entertaining a fair. It's under new management this year, and they tried to add some new attractions to bring in casual visitors like us. Right away Ben got involved with a treasure hunt sponsored by the local miniature golf course. The object was to answer several questions about exhibits at the fair and then return the completed questionnaire to enter a drawing for a chance to win free golf tickets or somesuch. He left no stone unturned in his search for the correct answers, asking just about every exhibitor we encountered — including the carnies, food vendors and 4-H animals — if they could help him complete his form. Somehow he got most of the answers he needed before the end of the afternoon.

Part of the "fair experience" is checking out the sights, sounds and food. We bought sausage sandwiches for lunch, along with a hotdog on a stick for Ben and a tray of curly fries. Mmmm... Grease! We pored over the art and baking exhibits, visited the animal pens, and paid a buck a piece to see what someone billed as the world's largest anaconda. Yeah, right. Later we ventured into the carnival zone to watch the rides in action (we rarely do the rides ourselves) and let Ben try his skill at some of the games. He did pretty well at the ring toss, nabbing a big stuffed dog that he toted around with him the rest of the day. He picked up a couple of other prizes at the dart toss and the booth where you use a water gun to shoot into the mouth of a plastic clown and pop a balloon. Not so bad for about 20 minutes of work and 20 bucks of Mom and Dad's money.

The following Saturday, June 11, we left behind the Ferris wheels and cotton candy of the fair for the cowboy hats and bucking broncos of the Livermore Rodeo. It was our first rodeo, and something Roni had been itching to do ever since our trip through Texas last autumn, the night we drove into Mesquite near Dallas at the end of a 350-mile journey. We were too exhausted to visit the rodeo on the *spur* of the moment that day, but this time we planned for it well in advance, buying our tickets a couple of weeks before the show. We arrived at Livermore's Robertson Park about noon, which gave us a couple of hours to peruse the vendor booths and grab some lunch before the start of the show.

Our seats were about midway up in the grandstand, high enough to get a good view of the arena and benefit from the shade of the awning. It was lucky for us that we had shade, because it was easily the sunniest day we'd seen in weeks. We all got a bit sunburned nonetheless. The pageantry of the rodeo is something to see. They start with a grand entrance of mounted riders carrying flags. They circle the ring a couple of times and line up in the arena. They introduce all the queens for various local rodeos, then do some patriotic salutes. There was a big tribute to the Army, and a parachutist who floated down into the arena trailing a large American flag that was promptly gathered up and displayed by the soldiers while the National Anthem played. The rodeo crowd is a pretty patriotic bunch, so you can imagine how all of this was received.

The rodeo itself is a fast-moving spectacle. They start off with the horse events — bareback and saddle bronc riding, calf roping, team roping and ladies barrel racing. There were some humorous moments provided by "Utah" the rodeo clown whose first profession was performing motorcycle stunts. He jumped a motor home during the intermission, much to the delight of the kiddies. There was also a non-sanctioned rodeo event called "wild cow milking" in which contestants work in pairs to tie and milk a bucking cow. One guy rides in on a horse and lassos the cow around the neck, then his partner runs in from the sidelines, grabs the rope, and literally wrestles with the cow to keep it under control while the rider dismounts, grabs a plastic water bottle, and *tries* to squeeze a few drops of milk from the beast's udder. If successful, the first teammate runs the milk container back to the sideline and a time is recorded. A couple of teams were successful, but more often than not the result was a Keystone Cops-like performance as the cowboys were dragged through the dirt in a failed effort to get the cow to hold still long enough to milk it. It was easily the most entertaining event of the day.

The second half of the rodeo card featured bull riding. The goal is for the rider to stay on the bull's back for 8 seconds, after which he receives a score of up to 100 points. There is no score for those who don't remain on for the full time. Most of the few successful rides were scored in the 70s to 80s, but a couple made it into the low 90s. A couple of riders got trampled. Not your safest sport, but the money is good for those who do it professionally.

All in all we had a great time. We'd recommend it to anyone who's never been.

Our busy weekends continued June 18 when Glenn's brother Sean came to visit. We'd planned to barbecue, but the threat of rainy weather kept us indoors for lunch. Not to worry, as Roni tried some tasty new salsa recipes and broiled up some pork tenderloin. Ben kept his uncle busy playing Nintendo Gamecube and showing him the finer points of the Pokémon trading card game. Later, Sean and Glenn went to the races at Antioch Speedway, where the weather held out and there was plenty of action, not to mention a spectacular fence-bending crash in the midget sprints feature.

Sean spent the night, and the next morning we took a walk on the Halsey Trail out on Jersey Island. It was sort of mixing business with pleasure, as we wanted to gather a few more photos for use by one of Roni's clients. The trail runs along a levee top and takes you right next to the Delta. It's unpaved and very primitive, but it's a great way to see the wildflowers and enjoy the water scenery. Our area is surrounded by the Delta, but there are few public places where you can walk along the water's edge. Since Oakley started putting more houses up along the Marsh Creek Trail we don't go there like we used to. Halsey Trail will one day be a good alternative, but right now it is still in development and hard to access; the road to get there is close to five miles of bumpy gravel and potholes — not good for our Toyota Corollas.

Ben wrapped up his primary school years June 9 as he graduated from fifth grade. He's happy to be on summer vacation, but sad that he has to leave behind his teacher and friends he made at Oakley School. He's not sure how he feels about going off to sixth grade in a couple of months at a new campus, but it is the district's newest campus — Delta Vista Middle School. Meanwhile, Ben is entertaining himself by watching some of his favorite cartoon shows and reading chapter books from Avi's "Tales From Dimwood Forest" series (i.e. "Poppy and Rye," etc.). He got turned on to the stories in fifth grade and could hardly wait to buy the other books at Barnes & Noble. He has also been writing his own stories based on characters from his favorite books and shows. A few have been quite detailed. This coming from a kid who hates writing anything longhand assigned in school, but sit him in front of a computer keyboard and give him free rein of the subject matter and he'll keep at it for hours.

Ben also has been enjoying his new bulletin board that Dad made in his bedroom from rolled cork, acoustic ceiling panels and vinyl flooring adhesive. It's 4-by-4 feet, which we thought would be large enough to handle all Ben wanted to place on it, but evidently we were mistaken. He filled the space immediately with mementos from the school year, spilling some of them over onto his wall. He has since rearranged the display with post cards, pictures of Yu-Gi-Oh characters and little things we've printed from the Internet. The bulletin board project was inspired by Glenn's similar effort in the writing sanctuary, where he covered the top foot of one wall with a bulletin board strip. His board is more sparsely decorated than Ben's at the moment, but give it time.

We hope you've enjoyed this month's newsletter. It is quite a bit longer than we intended, but that seems to be what happens when we have a lot going on and we go too long between editions. It all sort of accumulates. Hopefully we'll have something left for July!

Glenn, Roni and Ben
This page was last updated on Monday, July 25, 2005 at 03:03 hrs.

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