Saturday, February 18, 2012

What I Did on My Winter Vacation

Usually, I take some time off from the restoration project around Christmas to give the Yuletide celebration my full attention. This year, however, my hiatus was a great deal longer for several reasons, mostly beyond my control. First of these was the wind storm and its aftermath, of course, as I have already discussed; there was a lot of debris removal and regrading I had to do just to make the south side of the house accessible again. Frustratingly, I was within a week of finishing that side when the storm hit. Now, I have some new repairs to make, and I'll have to pressure-wash the side before I paint.

Soon thereafter, I came down with a bad case of whatever bug was making the rounds at the time, and that took me out of commission for most of the rest of the month.

Then, just before Christmas our new Malamute pups arrived, Peter and Sally. I anticipated that attending to them would take up all my time for a few weeks, judging from our fairly recent experience rearing Travis from puppyhood. He was no piece of cake to take care of, so I figured I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

As it turned out, we were woefully under-prepared for Peter and Sally, and it took us until the end of January to figure things out and get on top of the situation. Much of the problem stemmed from trying to follow the dictates of the "experts", which flat out didn't work. So to be precise, I guess I'd have to say we were studiously mis-prepared. It was only when we threw out all the books and returned to the techniques that worked with Travis that our sweet, spirited little pups began to follow the paths of righteousness. Still, with them it's often a case of two steps forward, three steps back. Then again, there's very little in life that is both worthwhile and easy.

Without further preamble, here's what we've been up to lately, in too much detail.

Windstorm Aftermath

I've already covered this subject fairly thoroughly, but there is one matter that remained undone when I last discussed it: the broken limb hanging over our power drop. As I mentioned in "Paul Bunyan Jr.", our arborist was not comfortable with the task at the time because of its inherent danger, and recommended we tell Pasadena Water & Power about it, because they could get it done more safely. Unfortunately, PWP was simply too swamped with emergency work to get to our less pressing matter, so when our arborist drove by at the end of December and noticed the limb still hanging, he stopped in and said, "Okay, let's get that done."

One of the many things I like about our arborist is that he gets things done the old-fashioned way, with rope and tackle instead of cranes. I'm not comfortable with heavy machinery rolling around over the trees' root systems. I find the skill and fearlessness with which he and his men go about their work quite inspiring. This was especially true of their removal of the broken limb over the power drop, because of the significant added danger of the power lines directly underneath the limb. I made a point of taking pictures of the process so that I could show you all.

In this picture, the man up on the limb has already removed the broken limb (you can see where it was directly ahead of him on the limb he's standing on). The broken limb is hanging below him, suspended by a rope secured to a limb above him. He is guiding the limb away from the power line below.

In this picture, the arborist (in blue t-shirt) has looped a rope around the power line and is gently pulling it out of the way, as another man (in orange safety vest) helps guide the limb away from the power line as the man above gently lowers it. You can see how close a thing it was, but they got the limb down without incident.

I've failed to mention that there was another limb broken facing the street, about the same size as the one over the power line. Here's a picture of that limb on the ground:

You can't see it here, but the limb stretches all the way to the street. That's over 45 feet! As one of the men commented, this one limb is itself as big as a tree. I was astonished at its size, because when it was hanging from the tree it looked much smaller. After all, it was just one small part of one of many dozens of limbs on the tree. That should give you some idea of just how massive these trees are.


We spent Christmas alone at home, we and the pets. It wasn't a quiet Christmas, thanks to the pups, but it was one to remember. My plan to put lights up along the big side gables was thwarted by the wind storm, so I just put them along the veranda as usual, but we did the tree up as grandly as we ever have.

I say "we", but I was still pretty ill, so Wifey did the tree all by herself. She came home with a tree so big that we could hardly get it in the house, but that's fine, because we have many hundreds of lights and enough ornaments for three big trees. This year, she outdid herself.

Up in Heaven, Dad was smiling. Both Dads, in fact.  It was breathtaking, with great depth, ebullient color, and rich textures. Here's a close-up, to give a better idea of what the tree looked like in person:

And of course, most of the ornaments carry with them some sort of special meaning or tender memory of loved ones and Christmases past, just as it should be. It was so beautiful that we kept it up through Wifey's Mom's birthday on the 15th. It stayed fresh, because I conditioned the tree well and kept it watered.


Now we come to the main part of the story. We were kept busy not just with the care of two seven-week-old puppies, but also with helping the rest of the Pet Division adjust to their presence.

Peter and Sally came to us several days before Christmas, and made themselves at home right away. Travis was happy to have some reinforcements, and the pups liked him immediately.

As one would expect, the cats were a harder sell. In fact, at first it seemed as if they couldn't quite figure out just what manner of creatures they were dealing with.

Here, Adam looks as if he could really use a Tricorder: "What is this strange creature? Hmmm. . . it's put together like Travis. it kinda smells like Travis. It makes similar noises. But it's so dang small!"

Actually, Adam quickly made his peace with the pups. Given his Brobdingnagian size and feline curiosity, he's afraid of very little. I often find him walking right up to the pups, trying to engage them in discourse.

He and Peter are not pals yet, but I think they eventually will be.

Evangeline has no problem with them, because she loves dogs, but she does expect them to maintain a respectful demeanor befitting her status as CEO of the Pet Division; they do not always comply, but she always stands her ground. 

Benny, a cat through and through, is no big fan of dogs, but he has at least accepted their presence. Still, he does tend to take out his annoyance on Travis, batting him mercilessly whenever the pups get in his face: "Take that, you canine, you!" He is nevertheless willing to be friendly, if they approach him nicely.

The addition of two spirited puppies could not help but cause some upheaval with the other pets, and except for Evangeline they've all required a lot of special attention. But everyone's beginning to become accustomed to the new order, and at times things are positively placid.

Most of the time, however, the puppies simply tire the rest of us out.

That's why during the day I like to keep them outside. It gives the rest of the household a break, and I'm able to keep an eye on them while I work. I can't let them roam free unsupervised, because they have a disturbing habit of eating yard debris and dirt. Thus, much of the time they are in a pen we put up on the astroturf-topped pad that used to house the gazebo. It may seem a bit severe, but they are fine with it. As a matter of fact, they seem to enjoy it.

They're changing on a daily basis, as puppies of their age do, and they're both growing into quite beautiful dogs.

Farmhouse Fauna

As I've discussed over in the Journal, we have a lot of resident animals here. Actually, there used to be a lot more—huge raccoons and it seemed like a hundred possums—but Travis, as he was bred to do, chased them all away. Now, what we have are thriving bird and squirrel communities, and some skunks as well, which Travis has not been able to chase away (not that he hasn't tried, unfortunately).

A lot of people hate squirrels, but all of us here love them. All, that is, except for Benny. Benny is a dedicated squirrel hunter. Think of how Captain Kirk felt about Klingons, and you have some idea of how Benny feels about squirrels. 

One day a few weeks ago, Benny and I were sitting out on the garden swing. I ran into the house for just a second to get something, and when I came back out, I didn't see Benny anywhere. I was momentarily confused, because he hadn't had enough time to get out of sight. And then, I looked up.

Benny had actually climbed up in the persimmon tree after a squirrel! Notice that the squirrel is not overly concerned by this; as Benny stares up at him, the squirrel is staring right back, as if to say, "Surely, you can't be serious." Hey, you can't blame a cat for trying.

We have an amazing variety of birds here at the Farm House. We have the usual resident species: crows, mourning doves, band-tailed pigeons, various finches, and our dear friends the scrub jays.

The jays are the cornerstone of our avian community. They always say "good morning" to us, and they always let us know when it's time to replenish the feeder. Once, they even left Wifey a present. One morning they were squawking at the feeder. Wifey wondered what was up, because she'd just put out some food for them. She looked out and saw something odd hanging off the feeder. It turned out to be a necklace!

We also get some interesting birds passing through during migration periods, and some birds that are local but not often seen: tufted titmice, bluebirds, robins, and the most spectacular of our periodic visitors: the Acorn Woodpecker.

With all our oaks, our yard is a perfect fit for them, but they don't usually eat from feeders, and with that big target on their head they need to keep out of the open as much as possible, lest they attract the attention of our local hawk. It's thus a big day when we see one of these beauties.

It may come as a great surprise to non-Angelenos, but we have a number of large parrot flocks in various parts of the city. In Culver City, the flock consists of some sort of long-tailed parakeet: colorful, slender-bodied birds with (of course) long tails. We actually had one of them land at our feeder there; I have a picture of that somewhere.  I think it was a Mitered Parakeet.

The flock here in Pasadena, on the other hand, is of some sort of Amazon variety, with substantial bodies and stubby tails. I haven't gotten a close look at them, because they for some reason never light in our yard, but they are mostly green. They typically fly by twice a day, in the morning and late afternoon, and they make a great noise as they pass, because parrots are in constant communication with one another as they fly. Here is but one platoon of their huge regiment:

I was lucky to get this shot, because these parrots fly with astonishing swiftness. I'd estimate that they took about a second to fly the distance captured in this picture.

Well, that's about it for this time, folks.

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". . . and stop calling me Shirley!"