Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Swarm

Now that the air is smoke-free, the hummingbirds have arrived in full force. We always put up one hummingbird feeder in late April, then gradually put up the second and then the third as the flock gets bigger. It goes from "a few hummingbirds" to "a swarm" and then finally "an infestation of hummingbirds." We're at the final stage now, with all three feeders up. This year, I think they were a little late getting to stage two, but once I put up the second one, it was only a day or two before I put up the third feeder.

Yesterday evening, around 6:00, I filled up all three with fresh sugar water and by noon today, the little one was completely empty! It's a good thing sugar is so inexpensive. Saturday we went to the grocery store and bought six bags of sugar (4 pounds each). We told the cashier it's for the hummingbirds and we must've distracted her too much; when we got home and looked at the receipt, we discovered that we'd been charged for nine bags instead of six!

We've been getting a small amount of rain at home lately, and maybe a little more out at The Ranch, judging from the radar. We're planning another trek out there this weekend to check on the prairie dogs. We've gone from worrying about the drought to worrying if they can swim. OK, not seriously, just in a joking way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rain Delay

I promised to post last night, but then the most extraordinary thing happened. It rained. Twice! I wanted to get the final rain count before I posted anything.

But first, the prairie dogs. On Sunday we went out to the ranch to check on the prairie dogs.

(For new readers or longtime readers who have forgotten, two years ago (almost exactly two years), we "took in" a colony of prairie dogs who had to be relocated. Taos County was getting ready to build a new administrative and judicial complex on what was a prairie dog town. Rather than kill them, which would have outraged animal lovers and environmentalists, they hired a company that specializes in such relocations. We have 40 acres of land, fondly referred to as Scott Valley Ranch or just The Ranch, that we knew would be perfect for prairie dogs, so we offered our land. For details about the move, click on The Taos News to read the story.)

But back to Sunday. We've been worried about how the prairie dogs were handling the drought, but we know there's nothing we can do about it. We can't take them water (although Ron thought about taking them water-drenched lettuce). When we went out there Sunday, as soon as we turned off the overgrown road onto our property and drove a very short distance, we saw a tiny prairie dog head peeping out of one of the holes. Then he/she came all the way out, turned around, and went back in. It was a baby prairie dog! That was a good sign.

We drove further, got to the spot where we camp, and parked the car and started walking around, inspecting the burrows. We could tell by the pebbled appearance of the dirt that it had rained lightly in the last 24 hours, but there wasn't much sign of activity near the burrows and that concerned us. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up and saw an adult prairie dog standing up and then running to its hole and diving in. We walked around inspecting various burrows; most of them looked completely inactive and a few looked slightly active. We were pretty depressed about the situation, feeling like we'd brought these poor animals to their doom. As we started to leave, we saw another baby prairie dog.

When we got home, Ron did some research on the Internet and determined that the babies we saw were six weeks old. He also read that often, adult prairie dogs will leave the babies in the old burrows, where the babies are comfortable, and the adults will move to new ones, often several miles away. So that gave us some hope that just because we didn't see evidence of activity meant that they were all dead. But we still worried because of the drought. The grasses out there that they eat are dried up and brown.

Then yesterday the rains came. During the evening news, it started raining so hard it disrupted the satellite signal. The rain was so loud, I wished there were some kind of volume button for the rain so I could turn it down! The back courtyard became a muddy mess, with huge puddles in various places. I kept checking the weather station and reporting the rapidly growing accumulation. When the rain stopped after about half an hour, we had 0.57 inches of rain. That's huge! I looked out back after another half an hour and all the puddles had absorbed into the ground, leaving an almost totally dry yard, just barely damp.

We weren't sure if there had been any rain at The Ranch. We kept looking in the general direction of where it is from here.

A couple of hours later, it began to rain again! This was a slow, steady, soaking rain, the perfect kind. And this time we could tell it was raining at The Ranch. We could tell by looking at the sky and we verified it by looking at the doppler radar on the computer. It was raining more over there than it was here, and we got an additional 0.14 inches of rain for a daily total of 0.71 inches. If we get a few more storms like that, the prairie dogs may survive after all.

With ironic timing, I've just received a summons for jury duty. It will be at the recently-completed judicial complex, built where "our" prairie dogs used to live.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tales From the Monsoons

The monsoons have finally arrived, albeit with a whimper.

Friday night as I was getting ready to go to work (the hotel night job, 11pm to 7 am three nights a week), Ron and I heard the unfamiliar but unmistakable sound of rain. Fairly hard rain. We cheered. Rain!

I left for work, and even though it's only a ten-minute drive, I was only halfway there when the rain stopped. Ron told me later that it didn't even rain enough to measure one one-hundreth of an inch (0.01) on our weather station. Sigh.

Saturday night (or more accurately, Sunday morning, about 3:00), I was at work and again heard the sound of rain and smelled the scent of rain. A few minutes later, Chris (the security guard) and I went outside. It was raining very lightly, hardly more than a mist. We stepped out from under the porch overhang to feel the rain. We joked about singing in the rain, and we both spun around a few times (individually), arms outstretched. We knew we were being silly, but he's a nice kid and we were OK with being silly. We were just enjoying the rain for a few minutes.

When I got home in the morning, I checked the weather station and sure enough, it hadn't rained enough to register anything on the station. I wonder if we could adjust it somehow so it would register one one-thousandth of an inch, but maybe that would be too depressing.

Then yesterday we got real rain. Hard rain that lasted about half an hour! Complete with a few rumbles of thunder. It happened late in the afternoon when I was at my other job (psychologist, 2:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday). I drove home in the pouring rain, reminding myself how to drive in the pouring rain. By the time I got home, the rain had stopped, of course, and I checked the weather station. We'd gotten thirty-six-hundreths of an inch (0.36), which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's actually huge. Prior to that rain yesterday, we'd only gotten 2.15 inches of precipitation since January 1, mostly in the form of snow. So to get 0.36 in half an hour or less is a LOT of rain. It puddled up along the shoulders of the roads, causing some cars to almost hydroplane. The ground was so dry, the rain soaked in quickly, too quick for the dirt courtyard to turn into mud (thank you, rain gods).

I'm writing this in the afternoon and the sky is turning dark and cloudy again, and I'm hoping for more rain. I think everyone in Taos is hoping for more rain (except the tourists, I guess).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How I Spent My Fourth of July

We watched the fireworks shows on TV -- all of them. We started out on PBS with "A Capitol Fourth" (the Washington, DC fireworks show, preceded by various musical groups/individuals) and when that was over switched to NBC to see the last half hour of the fireworks show in New York. Then we watched a delayed broadcast of the Boston Pops and the accompanying fireworks in Boston on CBS. All three displays were very impressive.

We thought about grilling steaks outdoors, but even though we grill inside a courtyard, the wall isn't very high and we didn't want to take a chance of a stray spark flying up and out and starting a fire, so we (Ron) cooked them in the oven, under the broiler. He added a bit of Liquid Smoke to the marinade to give it a "grilled outside" flavor. I made Potato Salad from the old family recipe (Thanks, Mom).

Los Alamos Update

Residents of Los Alamos have been allowed back to their homes, although people with respiratory ailments are encouraged to wait until the air is better to come back. The smoke there is still very heavy. The fire is about 130,691 acres and is 30 percent contained.

The air up here in Taos is much better and we can run the swamp cooler whenever we need to, which is pretty much all afternoon and in to the early evening. The high temperature today was 92.7. The sky is looking cloudy and I heard a faint rumble of thunder, so maybe we'll get some rain.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's A Conspiracy

The squirrels are in on it, too.

Squirrel Blamed For Small Fire At LANL

It's Official

The fire at Los Alamos is officially the largest fire in state history. That's a record that really didn't need to be broken. The fire is about 104,000 acres. It's working its way north and has burned 6,000 acres of Santa Clara Pueblo, sacred land, according to the Pueblo people.

The fire that until Friday was the largest in state history burned for five months!

Officials at the Los Alamos National Laboratory continue to say the air is not contaminated. They've taken air samples and they say the air is no different than the air around any wildfire. The Environmental Protection Agency is also taking air samples.

The air may not be contaminated with plutonium, but smoke-contaminated air is nothing to sneeze at. Well, actually it is. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)

This afternoon, the air was free of smoke and very hot, so I turned on the swamp cooler and finally got the house nice and cool. Then around 6:30 this evening, I started to smell the faint smell of smoke, so I turned off the swamp cooler and closed the window. Then I looked outside and saw that the air was turning orangish-brown with smoke. It's hard to explain, but it isn't just that the sky changes color; so does the light and the very air.

Ron had just gotten back from Albuquerque about two hours before the smoke invaded; he's been there during the week for the last three weeks, only coming home for the weekends. He has respiratory "issues" and is very sensitive to smoke and other irritants. He had a long coughing spell that made my coughing spells a few days ago seem mild in comparison. I coughed some, too, and sneezed a couple of times (see, it is something to sneeze at!).

The air quality (or lack of) depends on which way the wind is blowing and Friday evening, it was blowing our way. The smoke got thicker and thicker. I watched as the smoke filled the valley below us. It reminded me of the scene in the movie The Ten Commandments, when the final plague, the Angel of Death in the form of smoke, creeps into Egypt, killing the first born. It was the smoke that killed them, choking the breath, the very life out of them.

In Taos, at least, we're supposed to get some rain every day for the next four or five days. Of course that could mean rain for five minutes, but we're all hoping for more than that. Everyone is hoping for rain in Los Alamos. And Santa Fe. And Hondo. And wherever all the other fires are. There are too many to keep track of the the one in Los Alamos is the main concern. I guess we're just hoping for rain all over the state.