Friday, August 21, 2009

What Summer?

From what I have seen and heard from others, we are not the only location experiencing unusual weather this summer. I mentioned previously that we have had more rain than I can remember at any other time since we moved here. Couple that with cooler than normal temperatures and this has been the summer that wasn't! We are finally getting some warmer days this weekend and Ken and I are going to celebrate by hiking up to Deep Lake for a few days.

The weather has had an effect on plant and animal life in the area. A number of species of birds that we normally see as occasional visitors migrating through in spring and fall have decided to stay around for the entire summer. The wildflowers have been spectacular and longer lasting and the few pine trees we harbor have had a bumper crop of cones. We knew the cones were ripening when we were suddenly invaded last week by flocks of pinyon jays and Clark's nutcrackers. I don't know how they knew but suddenly, all in one day, we were overrun with the two species of birds that we had not seen all summer. The pinyons are beautiful birds that many visitors mistake for giant bluebirds. We have quite a few visiting our property every year even though they seem to be pretty scarce in the rest of the area.
I like this photo because it shows one with an actual pine nut in its mouth. It is funny to watch the rock doves as they will follow the pinyons from tree to tree and sit at the base hoping to snatch up the nuts the pinyons drop on the ground.

Another effect of the cooler weather this summer has been the smaller number of snake encounters. We are used to having at least a couple dozen meetings each summer and this year we are probably at about a dozen so far. This good sized rattler was camping out in the chicken coop when I went down to feed yesterday. You can tell by how fat he looks that he had been doing a good job eating mice in the area. When Ken went to relocate him you could clearly see three mouse bumps in his mid-section. That coupled with the patch of warm sunshine made him lethargic and easy to grab. He wasn't too happy about being relocated to an area well away from the chickens and llamas but it beat chopping him up like most people do. The funny thing was that when he was in the coop the chickens were wandering around like nothing was out of the ordinary. They gave the reptile a wide berth but they weren't in a panic and he seemed totally unconcerned by their presence. I think he knew he couldn't eat them and they posed little threat to his existence so he just settled in to digest his breakfast.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I know I said I would talk more about this summer's Search and Rescue events but I am going to leave that for another day. Ironically part of the reason is that we have our annual SAR picnic this afternoon and I find myself in a bit of a hurry. I thought I would tell you a little bit about one of my favorite llamas instead.

Hobbit is one of the smartest llamas we own. Unfortunately that doesn't mean he stays out of trouble. Just the opposite, in fact. Intelligence, at least in llamas (and often in people I think) seems to go hand-in-hand with curiosity. And curiosity can often lead to trouble.

Hobbit came to us at the tender age of 6 months at which point we gave him his unusual name because of his decidedly unusual appearance. He was born on a ranch just south of here on a night when the temperature dipped to minus 15 degrees F. By the time his owners discovered him the next morning his ears had frozen solid. Over the next few days his frozen tissue proceeded to slough off until he was left with just stubs where his wonderful banana ears should have been. I am not sure if his brutal beginning also did something to his eyes but they just don't seem to be set properly into his face - one always seems to be pointed the wrong direction although he has shown no signs of difficulty with either his sight or his hearing. Because the ranch where he was born was in the business of raising show llamas, Hobbit did not fit into their plan at all. Until we brought him home he had been living his life inside a paved dog run with a very limited area in which to roam.

The first night we had him on our place we put him in a small (20 acre) pasture with two very gentle older llamas. By the next morning we had our first clue of what life with Hobbit would be like. As he came running up to us we noticed something did not look quite right. Closer examination showed dozens of porcupine quills sticking out of his face and up his nose. We live in the desert. In the 15 years we have been here I have never seen a porcupine or any sign of one within ten miles of here. It didn't matter. Hobbit found one. He was smart enough to let us remove the quills and life went on. Fast forward six years. We have lots of Hobbit stories, all of which have happy endings, thank heavens. He has turned out to be one of our best pack llamas because once he learns something he doesn't ever forget it. But last night he proved once again that maturity does not mean lessened curiosity. As I went out to feed the animals this morning I noticed a distinct odor of skunk as soon as I opened the door of the house. A glance down at the pen where all the males were taking pains to stay as far away from Hobbit as possible confirmed the source, as if I had any doubt. Like the porcupines I have never seen a skunk in this arid environment. Doesn't matter. Hobbit found one. Lucky for us he learns quickly and I doubt he will approach another one anytime soon.

I also thought I would post this photo of Capola I took this morning. The cottontails around our place are relatively tame and put up with Ken and I getting pretty close. They are totally comfortable with the llamas and will often share a bowl of food in the morning. This one was walking unconcernedly down the trail in front of Capola who was following him as if the bunny was leading him to some special place.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


If I had any sense at all, I probably would have thought a little more about the timing before I started posting again. Both Yellowstone Quilt Fest, which I am co-chairing, and the national SAQA exhibit, "Fibrations", which I am curating, are scheduled to take place in the next few weeks. My life seems to be a mad flurry of organizational busy-ness at the moment. Add to that the fact that eight childhood friends of Kens are arriving a few days after YQF ends and you may begin to understand my current stress level!

At least the weather continues to be cool and conducive to working indoors.

Earlier this week we received a package in the mail that made me smile. Over the years I have been incredibly fortunate in meeting a number of very talented artists. Never would I have imagined however, the circumstances under which Ken and I would meet Tom Forrestall, the well known Canadian painter. We went "home" for a week in July. Home is Prince Edward Island, the land where I grew up and where my parents still reside for much of the year. The visit was timed to a similar visit by my sister, living in Ottawa, and one of her two sons, and my brother and his family from Nova Scotia. Without going into a lot of detail, I will simply explain that Mr. Forrestall was visiting some friends of my parents in the area when he discovered a tick that was making himself very comfortable in the artist's leg. Ticks are basically unheard of on the Island and no one knew quite what to do about the unwelcome guest. The friends called my mother who mentioned that Ken and I were both on Search and Rescue in Wyoming and had, no doubt, lots of experience dealing with the little buggers. As a matter of fact she was right. So Mr Forrestall arrived at the door and, with great practicality, dropped his drawers so Ken could perform the tick-ectomy. What made the whole thing funny was that Ken was in his usual teacher mode and left the poor man standing in his (very civilized) boxer shorts while he lectured on the life cycle and habits of the North American deer tick. Eventually the operation was successfully completed and the tick-free artist could proceed on his way to deliver a scheduled lecture at a prestigious gallery in Charlottetown.

Anyway, as a thank-you, we received a lovely catalog of Mr Forrestall's work from an exhibit at a Toronto Gallery. I find his painting very compelling - a little mysterious and dark.

The excuse for visiting the Island this summer was to celebrate my dad's 75th birthday. He actually reached that venerable age in April but we were not all able to travel at that time so chose a PEI summer week instead (we're not stupid!) Neither my mom nor my dad look their ages and they certainly don't move like they are more than 7 decades each. While we were there we went for a bike ride on the new "Confederation Trail". It stretches more than 100 miles across the Island from end to end and is a beautiful route with no fear of facing the traffic of the narrow PEI roads. The day we went Ken and I rode to Kensington and back - about 20 miles - and mom and dad did about 15 miles of the ride. They are talking about getting the entire family together next year for a multi-day trek from one end of the island to the other. Sounds good to me!

Dad and I took advantage of the low tide one evening to dig bar clams. We got a big bucket full in no time and man, were they good!

To Ann Marie and Louise - How wonderful to hear from you both! You asked about the llamas who are all well but really in need of a week or two in the mountains.

Ann Marie asked specifically about Quatro so I included a photo of him taken today. He is an interesting story. He has inherited the incredibly gentle nature of his father. Unfortunately he has also apparently inherited the stunted growth gene. About five years ago Wyld Card, Quatro's father, sired a male llama we named Curry. Curry was small to start with and seemed to stop growing at about 6 months of age. We hoped it was just a one time fluke but now it seems that Quatro (with a different mother) has inherited
the same trait. Curry was given away to a family that loves him dearly and wanted a pet llama. Quatro may go the same way if a suitable family comes along. He is lovable and funny but he will never be a pack llama. Maybe we need to start a new breed of miniature llamas! With 18 mouthes to feed, we really need to pare down the herd a little and Quatro would make an excellent pet for someone who would love him.

Now I've gone and spent way to much time writing about various things. Next time I will talk about some of the SAR calls we have had lately - summer is here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I'm baa-aack

Over the last nine months since my November post, a number of people have asked when I would be getting back to my blog. In each case I answered "soon" and I always meant it at the time. Somehow though, life just kept getting in the way. And the more that happened, the more I felt that I was so far behind I would never catch up. So I finally decided the only way to get back in the groove was to start as if today was the first day missed. You will just have to take my word for it that the last 3/4 of a year has been wonderful and busy.

One unusual aspect to the last three months has been the weather in our part of the world. This is the first summer in 15 years that I have not spent one day wishing we had put air conditioning in our home. Even more unusual is that we have already reached our average moisture level for the year and we still have five months to go. Our home is situated in an area that seems to encompass the dividing line between rain on the prairie in front of us and dry air in the mountains behind. Because of that we get more than our share of rainbows, even in a typical year. I can guarantee there is no pot of gold at either end because if there was, I would be a millionaire many times over this year!

I took this photo a couple weeks ago as the rain moved off to our east. It looks like our house is captured in some sort of weather dome. I wish I could have caught the rainbow ends but that would have meant running much further uphill and I could see a second rainstorm moving in from the west.

Last fall I posted some photos of elephanthead flowers, including a few images of very unusual albino plants. At the time I was disappointed that I couldn't find my close-up lens for my camera so I could show those who have never seen an elephanthead how they got their very obvious name. Well I have since located the missing lens and yesterday, when Ken and I went fishing at Fantan Lake in the Beartooths, I took a close-up of this wonderful plant. Can you see the head? and the ears? and the trunk? Who says there are no such things as pink elephants?

Fantan Lake was full of Brook Trout. It took no time at all to get enough for supper and one extra to take home for an experiment. Even though I seem to have far too many projects on the go right now, I have been wanting to try my hand at "Gyotaku" or fish printing. So I took a half hour today and slapped some fabric paints onto the one brookie left whole and then transferred the paint to a t-shirt. I didn't quite get the image centered so I added the hook
and line and the words "Brook Trout" with a fabric marker. I think I like it!