Blowing in the wind
June 21, 2008
We've been getting quite a bit of enjoyment out of the back yard these past few months as we watch it take shape from the hideous weed patch it was in January to the more inviting place it has been of late. With all the political and economic turmoil that has put a damper on just about everyone's activities, we take solace in the fact that 2008 will go down in our books as the year we finally took back control of our yard, even if only modestly.
Now if Mother Nature would just shape up and stop pretending that it's winter and shut off that big attic fan she keeps turned up on high. We aren't accustomed to big wind storms much beyond April, yet we've had a couple of them this May and June that have undone some of the hard work we did planting seedlings and cleaning off the patio. Just before Memorial Day weekend we got a particularly nasty breeze that deposited piles of sand from our garden and above the retaining wall all over our concrete. It literally took about a dozen 5-gallon buckets to remove it all. And soon after we'd accomplished that, another strong wind put much of the sand right back. Perhaps it is a test of our resolve.
The late-May wind also did a number on the flimsy metal arbor we'd built last year to stake up our chenin grape. In a clear cut case of you get what you pay for, Roni had purchased an aluminum arbor kit for around six bucks from the grocery store. Fully assembled, it created a simple green archway about four feet wide and seven feet tall, sort of like a metal ladder with rungs screwed in all the way around. It was barely adequate for outdoor use, and in fact was falling apart from the moment we put it in the ground. Our chenin grapevine is a massive thing that has thrived from the constant water it receives, being right next to a couple of sprinkler heads. This year's vine is the largest it has ever been, and it has dozens of grape clusters that need a place to dangle as they develop.
The weight of the vine combined with the massive wind was more than the metal arbor could handle. It buckled from the pressure and we found it the next morning sagging against the retaining wall, the grapevine and its fruits and leaves wilting on the hot sand.
We had planned to eventually replace the metal arbor with something more permanent, just not this year. But necessity being the mother of invention, Glenn quickly cobbled together an idea for a wood arbor that we were able to manufacture for about $25 in parts from Home Depot. Patterned after the gate we built during the fence replacement project of 2006, we spent a couple days painting the 4x4 posts and 2x4 cross members, then sawing the top rungs from a pair of 8-foot 2x2s. We assembled most of it on the ground and it took both of us to lift it into place. We inserted the legs into a pair of pre-dug post holes, resulting in an arbor that is roughly six feet wide and seven feet tall. It took a couple of hours to reattach the vines to the arbor and tie them up with plastic straps. But the grape now has more room to spread out, and it looks impressive as a backdrop to Summer's Garden.
It was probably a mixed blessing that the old arbor blew over, because propping up the grapevine on the new arbor allowed us to continue working on the sprinkler line that runs along the retaining wall. It also revealed the location of new gopher holes, and you all know how much we love gophers. Not. We have been particularly upset with the gophers lately because their tunneling activity has made a mess of the retaining wall niches which we had recently cleaned up and replanted with morning glories. It didn't take the buggers long to find the flowers, however, and within days they were eating the morning glory seedlings or covering them in piles of sand along with the irrigation drippers we've been installing. More frustrating was that one of them nibbled on the roots to our red flame grape, which was just on the verge of producing grapes again this year and now has retreated into shock once more.
The sight of the gopher poking his head out of the hole one morning after the big wind storm was enough to spur us to action. As luck would have it, we'd been doing some cleaning of the garage recently and stumbled across a pair of steel gopher traps we'd purchased some time back. Once we figured out how to set them, it was a simple matter of shoving them down the hole and waiting. When we returned the next morning, the trail of ants leading into the tunnel told us all we needed to know about the success of our mission. The gopher had succumbed, impaled on the green wire spikes.
There was a time when such a sight would have filled us with remorse. After all, it isn't natural to enjoy killing little wild creatures. But little wild creatures with long yellow teeth and voracious appetites for our expensive plants was another story. Emboldened by our success, we reset the traps in the front yard where another gopher had been tunneling for months, chewing on our roses and stealing our alyssum. We simply found a spot where an alyssum plant had recently vanished, dug down to the tunnel below, and set a pair of traps facing opposite directions. A day later, more success. Glenn joked that we should start stamping pictures of dead gophers on our traps like the bomber pilots did during World War II after each successful raid on the enemy.
But our work is never done when it comes to the gophers, and soon we were hunting a third beast that had begun working the opposite side of the retaining wall from where we caught the first one. We tried and failed at least four times to catch him, growing more frustrated with each evasion of the steel jaws as more plants disappeared. At last, on June 19, he surfaced again and we saw him in the act of kicking sand out from beneath the wall. There would be no better chance to catch him.
Quickly we dug into what turned out to be a very wide tunnel and set a pair of traps facing opposite directions. Within an hour he returned and kicked out more dirt, completely missing the traps! We were beginning to think we'd encountered Super Gopher, or at least one with multiple lives. Undaunted, we dug out the tunnel a second time and reset the traps, crossing our fingers and vowing to wait until the following day to check the traps.
On June 20, Glenn went outside to the wall and was encouraged when he didn't find a new mountain of sand. That likely meant we'd caught the gopher. Finally. But when he knelt down to inspect the tunnel and retrieve the traps, he wasn't prepared for what he found. We'd caught a gopher, all right a gopher snake. Yikes! All we could see was its side and that it was huge. We think it probably happened along after the gopher got stuck in one of the traps and tried to score a free meal. But in the process, the snake got stuck in the second trap. It wasn't dead, but as you might imagine, it wasn't real pleased. We couldn't free it while it was still in the tunnel, so we enlarged the hole until it fell out, trap and all. While Roni kept an eye on the snake's head, Glenn tried to open the trap so the snake could go free. At last it wriggled its way off the spike and slithered rapidly up the wall and into another hole, all six feet of him. We don't think it was mortally wounded. The gopher, however, was not so lucky. When we retrieved its carcass from the hole it was covered in slime and looked like it had been partially digested. At least now the backyard is gopher free for the time being.
Any day now we are expecting our newest statue to arrive the one we purchased back in late March. We swung by Statues N Stuff in town last weekend to see how our order was coming and were told it was in, but they needed to send someone to San Francisco to pick it up for delivery. Our anticipation has been building. We spent some time over Father's Day weekend preparing the future Winter's Garden by running sprinkler hoses around the area and setting drippers to the small Verdura wall and along either side of the flagstone pathway. A couple of weeks ago on a shopping trip to Home Depot we found two flats of white and purple verbenas that we eagerly snapped up, hard to find that they are. Roni planted some of them along the base of Winter's wall and a few others on the large retaining wall between the chenin grape and the needlepoint ivy. Verbenas have proven quite hardy against the gopher, who seems to ignore them.
Roni has had great success with her tomatoes and corn. For Father's Day, she prepared a special salad recipe that incorporated the first tomato harvested from one of our plants. They're all starting to ripen, and there are plenty more blossoms to ensure that the crop will continue well into the summer. The corn is getting bigger and should be ready for harvest by the end of the month. We've got four or five ears, it looks like. Enough for our own CornFest!
After more than a year of talking about the need for a new cell phone, Roni finally saw her wish come true June 1 when she got her new BlackBerry Pearl from BestBuy. It took so long to find the new phone because she wanted to make sure it had all the features she needed and would fit her existing contract with AT&T. So far it's exceeded her expectations, enabling her to use it as a camera, camcorder and MP3 player in addition to its Internet, bluetooth and GPS capabilities. Oh yeah, it's also pretty handy for making phone calls.
The phone's camera function proved especially useful while we were out trying on glasses recently. We all went to the eye doctor June 10 we actually managed to schedule three appointments sequentially and learned that Ben is slightly nearsighted. This comes as no surprise to anyone, given that both his parents have worn glasses for decades, and he's the same age Glenn was when he first had to get glasses. As the doctor told Ben, the deck was stacked against him. We spent a couple of days checking out frames and prices. We don't have insurance coverage for glasses, so filling three prescriptions was tantamount to buying a new major appliance. Maybe that's why we wound up at Sears, which proved the least expensive option. We all found frames we liked, which was a plus. Just to be sure, we used Roni's phone to snap pictures of us wearing our choices, so we could take them home and study them a bit. It's always difficult to tell how a new pair of frames will look on you when you can't see the mirror clearly because you aren't wearing your prescription while you try stuff on.
Ben is enjoying his summer vacation after graduating from Delta Vista Middle School on June 5. We celebrated by taking him out for a Mexican dinner at Orale's restaurant in Antioch. He's been spending much of his time chatting with friends online and writing, trying not to get too anxious about starting high school next month. He attended a couple of birthday parties on Friday, June 6, and Sunday, June 8.
Glenn has seen a lot of changes at the newspaper in the past month. His boss stepped down in May to pursue other interests, and on June 13 non-management editorial employees voted to unionize following a long, intense and divisive campaign. The company's revenue picture remains bleak despite the buyouts that were completed in early March, so folks are wondering how long it will be before the next round of belt tightening.
We haven't yet gained new neighbors since Gustavo and his family moved to Discovery Bay a couple of months ago, but over Memorial Day weekend he and his wife were back to remove the dead pine tree that bordered the corners of both our yards. The tree started dying a couple of years ago and had been shedding its needles like hail in all the wind storms we've endured. It was a chore constantly raking up dead needles from the yard, so we're not sorry to see the tree finally gone. But now there is nothing to screen the setting sun in the late afternoon. Combined with the fact that our mulberry tree is still a shadow of its former self, we now get quite a glare on the back patio. We're hoping that with the arrival of our Winter statue that we can add some tall hedges or similar shade plants to that corner of the yard.
That's about all for this month. Hopefully the warmer weather that has arrived with the onset of summer will stick around for a while.
Glenn, Roni and Ben