Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Flurry is Over

When a grand child spends a week here, it feels as though the house is lacking something when they leave. 

Morris takes it to heart.
He wanders the house and makes frequent trips up the stairs to see if his pal is really gone or perhaps he can find a sniff of them somewhere.
Eventually he ends up curled up on the couch and will spend most of the day there.

On Saturday afternoon I went for a walk and he started out with me and then turned around and went to the house. He sat in front of the door and looked at me. This had me worried. Morris refuse to go for a hike? Impossible!
Yet he did.

Sunday I took advantage of the free day and picked produce from the garden.

I had a bounty of food. A garden cart full of beets and turnips along with two buckets of green beans and a sinkful of red lettuce [thanks to the cooler temperatures ~ it didn't bolt!]

I spent all day Sunday blanching and freezing the green beans and the beets. I used my vacuum sealer. I also dried lemon basil herbs with my old dehydrator. I finished one jar for the neighbor and am working on another jar for my step daughter.

Monday I decided to do some wandering in the woods. I gathered some items in my back pack and grabbed the Nikon with the Nifty Fifty [50mm prime lens]. 
Morris perked up. He bounced in his usual manner and came with me. 
Apparently it takes him about two days to get over missing kids.
Though he still checks a few times a day by going upstairs to look in the bedrooms.

I let him hike with me without his bell on at first.

He keeps getting 'lost' in the thick undergrowth, so I eventually put his bell on so I could hear where he was.

For fun, I'd brought my Flea Market tea cup and saucer. I found shelf fungus on a dying tree and thought it would be fun for 'outdoor' Still Life. 

Faerie Tea Time

In the creek I thought it would be fun to try out the tea cup and saucer in a long exposure with water running past it.

The overcast day was perfect for some flowing water photos. I added a polarized lens to get rid of water reflections. I took quite a few shots to get the one I was happy with.
Personally though, I sort of like the tea cup on the shelf fungi best. I think it is odd enough and unique enough to satisfy my tastes.

I spent yesterday working on my flower garden and the vegetable garden. I purchased some black bark mulch and I really like how it looks. Seems I will need to go back and get some more to properly cover the area I want.

Last but not least, I took an afternoon break and sat on a stool in the garden between my malva flowers and zinnias to watch bees and butterflies. Of course, I had my camera.

The grand kid flurry is over, only to start up again in another week or so. 
The Kenosha gang will be coming at the end of the month with their dog Scout. 
My Flurry of Fun Summer has not ended!

I can say I am certainly enjoying this beautiful summer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Love Affair of Sorts

What happens when you introduce a young lady to equine? What happens when this young lady learns the feeling of self confidence and awe when she learns to ride?

I've always felt Siera had some potential in some sort of fashion.

I recall the power of attraction when I was Ariel's age. I recall the how my heart soared each time my uncle would let us go riding. I recall staying at his place and him telling me that a horse he was keeping called 'Buddy' was mine to ride and care for during my week long stay.

At the begining of the week, I told Ariel that Siera was her mule for the week. Hers to groom, to ride, to hand walk if she felt like it. Hers to handle for her stay.

Imagine suddenly having the confidence to walk into a pasture and gather up the mule you are to take care of.

You can catch her at any time and take her out. You've learned to properly saddle her by yourself.

These are the things Ariel learned this week. She also learned so much more about riding.
Siera has been an excellent mount for Ariel. The mule is calm, relaxed, easy going, and quite attached to her handler.

Experience ... Experience ... Experience. Practice and practice. Riding is a long and gradual learning curve. Each experience builds on another.

But the experience becomes more real and more incredible with each ride. Slowly, each piece of the puzzle that comes together.
Catching Siera,
grooming her,
and then saddling her properly by herself.

These are things Ariel has learned and can now do with confidence.

We took our first extended long ride. I rode Sunshine my little redhead.

We passed along the ridge top and then headed into the valley where the creek is. The snow mobile/camp road has not been used at all this year so we had to make our way slowly. It involved a bit of 'ditch diving' which is mule-speak for dropping off or climbing up ditches that are about 5 feet tall.

I led with Sunshine and for a moment Ariel sat on Siera and said, "Um, that is steep! I don't know."

I smiled and said, "Trust your mule, Siera won't let you get hurt. She likes you."
Actually, mules are self preservationists and normally refuse to do anything dangerous.

Ariel asked Siera to drop down the harsh steep bank. Siera balked and then calmly made her way down.
The realization and the smile of wonder that lit up Ariel's face was worth all the hard work we've done for the past three summers.

We rode down into the forest where I stopped to check saddle girths before we rode down the steep hill.

The trail had suffered some fallen trees so we did a bit of brush busting. We rode into the valley and Ariel was surprised at how different yet same things looked and how much more fun it was to ride to the creek than walk!

We explored for a while and I told her that in the future we'd cross the creek and explore some more amazing places. I lamented too that now that I had a fun riding partner ... she had to go back home.

We rode quietly back towards home as the sun was setting. Our very first sunset ride.

And I leave you with this....a Quote I found while browsing Horse Quotes. I changed the one word to Mule.

Why do I ride mules?
Because I look at my mule and I see
My Hopes and Dreams.
I see my Happiness.
I see my Hopes and Dreams.
I see my Pride and Soul.
I look in a mirror and I see a
I look at my mule and I see

And that I think, says it all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Healing Powers of Equine

For those who own horses, donkeys, or mules I guess I don't have to really say much as an introduction.

There is something wonderfully healing about being around an equine.

When Rich had his stroke and we were looking at downsizing, he thought we should sell Mica and Sundance. Sundance is in training and Mica hasn't been ridden in quite a while.
His reasoning was that "I'll never be able to ride again."
I told him that was not so. Never say never.

At that moment however I did have doubts but held out because without hope there seems to be nothing, right?

I asked him to help me out with Mica and see how much re-training she would need to get her riding again.
She was a roping mule when we got her, trained by Chris French of Rafter CF Training Mule Company.

This was long before Chris was a well known trainer.
Anyway Mica was herd sour and wanted to be with the other mules, but she quickly started thinking like a trained mule would. She knew her manners and what she should do, she just didn't quite want to do it.

Yesterday morning as we were eating breakfast and planning our day, I casually slipped in "We will catch Fred and saddle him up for you so you can ride with Ariel and I."

Rich barely blinked. I thought he didn't hear me. He smiled and nodded but didn't react. I pulled Ariel aside.

"We have to get Grandpa on Fred and take him for a ride. It will be good for him. I need your help to convince him."
Ariel agreed and said she'd help me clean up Fred and saddle him too.

We saddled the mules and got things ready. Ariel was going to ride the now very much loved Siera, I'd ride the little redhead, Sunshine...and Rich had his old stand by, Fred.

Next thing I knew Rich was mounted and wanted to know why we were still on the ground.

We were soon on our way. Ariel and Rich were in the lead and I of course was bringing up the rear.

We rode out on PeeWee's driveway towards the old cabin and then cut alongside the soybean field.

Fred walked with purpose and Siera just did her thing with Ariel. I enjoyed the view from behind.
I then realized that this was the absolute first time that Grandfather and Grand daughter had ridden together.

Two years ago Rich was ready to give up on riding when he went through throat cancer treatments and his TIA that affected his balance. This year he had the stroke, again he was ready to give up.

None of that was on his mind as he rode with Ariel. They didn't have to talk, they just rode quietly mostly side by side. Rich would give Ariel a direction or two, or maybe say something.
But mostly the ride was in peaceful silence. The sort of comfortable silence that riders get when they are concentrating and just enjoying the view from the saddle.

When we got closer to home Rich started talking about riding the cropland on the ridge. He thought that we should ride through the oat fields that had been harvested and baled.
I thought that was a good idea.

He agreed.
I then had the two of them stop and turn their mules towards me.

My guess is that I won't have to urge the two of these guys to go riding again.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Siera shines through

When we got Siera I never imagined that she would be good for novice riders. However, I've been working with her for quite a while now. I love the fact that when something confuses her she stops.
When something startles her, she ... stops.
When she is upset, she'll back up and she stops.

She can't really buck. I've seen her try. She can't really rear up. She is a gaited mule with different hindquarters than those of her quarter mule pals.
She is calm and quiet 95% of the time.
She will get excited if she is left behind in the pasture. She is calm when she is with a human.
She is even calmer if she is with another mule. Even with the redhead Sunshine.
The redheaded mule sisters tend to stick together. The bay mules tend to stick together out in the pasture.

Still, Siera can be a challenge. I told Ariel that Siera would give her grief in the Merry Meadow because that has been her summer home for many years and...Siera could hear Fred braying his mournful sounds of love for her.

I figured Sunshine would be the problem mule. However she really wasn't. She did exactly what I asked of her and I rode her as if she were her 'mother'. The ditsy Cheyanne.

What the Ariel and Siera learn?
Siera learned that indeed Ariel can be the boss. And that Siera was not in charge of the direction we were going. If Ariel wanted to go around an apple tree, then they would go around it.

After riding the meadow, we tied Sunshine and Siera up to the trailer so they could stand and think about things. We moved to the porch and had a snack.

I decided that Ariel and Siera were ready for another challenge.

We decided to go explore the fields on the ridge. I texted my 'upstairs' neighbor and she was kind enough to take a few shots of us riding together since I never really get the chance to do so.

We rode out towards PeeWee's and simply enjoyed the view from the saddle.

As we rounded the edge of the soybean field and stopped to look over the ridge...Siera did her thing.

It generally surprises the rider. I always joke: "Hey your broke my mule!"
It gets a good laugh.

Sunshine was outstanding. I like to compliment my girls each time we go out and they do the expected good job. We sat on the mules and watched deer graze in a field close to the woods below us.
That is our next riding goal is to do a ride down the old 'camp' road to the creek and explore.
Since no one has cattle on the land anymore the woods have gotten overgrown and choked with nasty weeds. The creek crossing has been washed out again, but I am sure I could get Sunshine through it and Siera too.
We probably won't challenge the creek quite yet with Siera.

After enjoying the view, we headed back along the driveway towards home. The girls were absolutely amazing.

I think I 'll keep these two!!

Three Months Later

How have things changed in three months? Well.

Rich is coming along well with his speech and language. We've seemed to hit a road block of sorts or a plateau of gaining ground. Rich sees it as a road block and feels frustrated. I try to keep him encouraged to keep moving and doing things and to keep using his language.

If we have a dreary day he is dreary himself and it is hard to get him motivated to do anything.

Lately I have been leaving part of the chores unfinished in the morning so when I come into the house I can say to him, "Oh by the way, the cattle need water. Or I need your help with getting some hay out."
Anything to keep him involved and engaged.

He still has an issue with memory or processing. We started to work on that in Speech Therapy and I soon realized that Rich always sort of had an issue of being a bit distracted when he went out to do something.

Changing what he was like before stroke can't really be fixed now. I have to ask him often if he recalls what it is he went to do. He stops for a moment and sometimes he does remember.
Those times he will give me a sly grin and say, "Oh I think I am supposed to water Thor!" He will wink at me and then tell me that he thought of something else first.
Those other moments he will stand and stare at me while he thinks. He'll frown and then say, "Nope. It is gone."

Do I miss work? Well I hadn't really thought about it. But one of my old supervisors called on Thursday to see how things were going. I told her things were working out well and I didn't miss the crazy shift hours or being called in the middle of the night because someone had called off.

I do miss the conversations I had with co-workers.
Do I miss the income?
Well. Yes and no.
I find that we have saved money by me not working. No more 60 mile round trips in the car up to four times a week. I find that I don't have to fill up the gas tank very often. Our grocery bill has dropped. I am not getting off from a 12 hour shift and driving through town and picking up take out for our supper any more.
Meals are planned and are much more healthy. I'm not exhausted all of time either!

The garden is producing a great variety of summer food and I am freezing food for the winter as well as drying herbs for winter stews.

Three months have flown by. We have been busy with visiting kids and friends, mule riding, fishing, and just keeping things going with the animals we have left.
I find myself doing more now than when I was working.

I have time to get up in the middle of the night to watch the stars, or to watch the moon set from the comfort of our porch.

How are things now?
Pretty darned good I'd say.

Three months later and Rich still improves a small bit. Our routines have changed. How we do things has changed.
But all in all, things are working out rather smoothly.

Who knew, right?

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Old dog

Most mornings I can find Mr. Morris like this. He prefers to sleep on HIS couch snuggled up with his blanket. He feels he has reached the age where he can dictate when he wants to get up and do something and when he should be left undisturbed.

On the mornings I go out to watch the predawn sunrise or those nights I go out to look at stars, he simply watches me walk out the porch door and lays his head back down on his blanket.

He never let me set foot outside of the house in years past without trying to go with me or voicing his displeasure with a bark.
I know it. He is starting to show his age.

We did go for a late afternoon walk together on Friday afternoon. I took him with me to the Merry Meadow to check out the wild apple trees.

I had to convince him that he wanted to go. Once we were out the door, he was his old self for a while, running, sniffing, and trying to 'water' everything he could.

Saturday morning I woke up and asked him if he wanted to go out on the porch with me and check out the *Moonset*. He yawned and dropped his head back into his blanket. He never even looked at me a second time as I gathered the keys for the Subaru.

When Ariel and her family arrived late afternoon on Saturday, he was happy and trotted around the living room for a few moments. Then he jumped up on the couch and promptly laid down in between Ariel and I. He dropped his head on Ariel's lap and shut his eyes.
We all sighed. Morris was surely showing his age. Our conversation leaned towards him and how the grand kids have grown up having him underfoot all of these years.

My biggest fear of time and age creeping up on my wonderful pal, was happening. I put my hand on his back and softly ran my fingers down it.

When Ariel's family left I asked Ariel if she'd like to take Morris for a ride in the Jeep. It was something I knew that Morris deeply loves. Car rides.

She said sure and off we went. She helped Morris into the Jeep and we went exploring the back roads.
We went down to Tainter Road and drove passed the Road Closed sign. The bridges and culverts have been out and under repair since the floods last September. There are only two places on the road. We drove down part way and parked to take Morris for a walk. Since the bridge/culvert is out and this road has no real year round residents, it is safe to walk down the road.

Morris was loving it. So many things to smell and stick his nose into! He trotted along and once disappeared into the tall grass. We found him digging out a rabbit nest.
Good ol' Morris.

We got back in the Jeep and let Morris enjoy his ride.

And he did.

What more could a dog ask for? A quiet road, a chance to hang out the window and let the breezes blow back your ears while you sniff the world going by.

Life is good when you are an old dog!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Soft Pastel Mornings

It has gotten to be a routine the last month or so. I check the weather before going to bed to see if we will have skies worth looking at during the night hours or at dawn.

I would like to get a shot the works out of the Milky Way before it leaves the hemisphere this year. However I find that it is awful hard to get up and go look on the clear nights.

I got a free app for my Smart Phone that lets me know where the moon will rise and set from wherever I am at, the same with the sun. I find it quite handy! When I start going to Jersey Valley or Sidie Hollow for fall sunrises or sunsets I'll know the exact place and time for them!

So I got up on the morning of August 2nd and glanced outside. The morning didn't look like it would be a spectacular sunrise, however I was awake and the weather for the rest of the week predicted clouds and rain.

At 5:15 am, I left with my travel cup of coffee and started up the driveway. As I passed my neighbor's house, I glanced at her office window. She was up and at work as she is every day. She teaches English to Chinese students on line. She adores her job. The time difference between our countries can be a challenge, but she has worked that out.

I've gotten used to seeing that light on in the mornings when I go for my excursions. I lift my hand in a wave that I am pretty sure she couldn't see anyway.

When I got to the ridge I was sort of surprised by the fog I could see way off in the distance. I shouldn't have been. It hovers over the Kickapoo River Valley and from my high spot on the ridge, I can see pretty far.

I pulled over and parked on our little gravel road. There was not going to be a spectacular blaze of colors this morning. I was a bit disappointing but thought perhaps this would be a challenge to come up with something more interesting.

I included our road with the cropland. Getting the focus and the light right was a huge challenge. But I liked the way it came out.

The skies gave off a beautiful pastel glow.

And then, in just a few moments, it was gone.

I swatted the bugs and watched the fog in the distance. Then I drove over to 'fog' island and got a quick shot.

I took the gravel road down into the valley and got surrounded by fog. The sky turned gray and everything was steeped in murky fog.
I thought about taking a shot of Black Bottom but the fog was so dense, I didn't feel like the effort would be worth it, so I turned around and headed back home.

I went past the Harless place and snapped a quick shot of some of his latest acquisitions. Not sure why he bought them or why he moved all of these broken down mobile homes onto his land, but there you go. He had old cars and other items he is collecting also.

With my coffee finished and the fog moving in, I headed home. I'd put a fresh pot of coffee to brew on when I left.

The pastel morning and fog had been worth it.
Mornings are definitely my time of day.

I had stood alone next to my Subaru on the ridge watching the sun glow on the horizon while coyotes barked and sang their farewells to the night. I'd witnessed night turn to day in that magical time of twilight.
I was refreshed and ready to go start my day.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Tales of Tails

This is what happens when the Merry Meadow can't be clipped for weed control. The Burdock must have grown monstrous overnight, right?
No, I saw tails getting cluttered up with the nasty burdock heads, but waited to do something about it.

I took a stroll through the meadow and found that the redheaded sisters had been forging down into "The Island" area which is loaded with multiflora rose and other nasty weeds.
They are the adventurous mules who will go anywhere to search for goodies. They will eat the burdock leaves and sometimes even the flowering burrs themselves. Multiflora rose can be a delicious treat as well as thistle flowers.

I made the Executive Decision to move the mules across the fence to the our pastures. The one wooded pasture is being cleaned by the Dexter cattle who love to eat burdock and nettles.

Anyway, back to the tails.
What a mess! Sunshine's tail was one massive lump. The hair was twisted tightly around the burdock.

I got out Showsheen, a brush, a comb, scissors, some thinners, and some hair conditioner.
I worked for over an hour cleaning out knots and burdock.

I had to cut out the twisted lump, there was no way to untangle the mess.
However, if you didn't know that, her tail didn't look too bad.

She was rather unconcerned about her tail, however since I know she has a beautiful full tail, I'll be working on making sure it grows back in nice and full.

Fred's tail was not much of a mess. He, unlike Sunshine, stood like a statue for his tail grooming.

He and Siera have nice full tails. But that is probably because I haven't had to cut out much burdock from them in the past few years. They have been spared the Meadow area with the burdock mostly because I keep them close in for riding.

Thankfully out of all 5 mules, Sunshine's was the only one that needed trimming. I'd cut Mica's tail last fall to hock length to let the damaged ends regrow. I'd cut Sundance's tail this spring to get out the snarls.
Now the gals and Fred will get some extra TLC for their tails. Siera's tail had to be trimmed as it is long enough for her to step on it when she backs up.

Everyone enjoyed several minutes grazing the nicer grass that is in the yard. I was tempted to just put a hot wire across the driveway and let them loose. However I have a feeling that I'd have mules on the porch staring in the windows.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Hiking the Wintergreen Trail at KVR

KVR stands for the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

I hadn't hiked this trail since April, so I wanted to get out and see what it looked like in the summer. Plus when my Grand daughter and I went, we stopped at the ice cave and didn't go all of the way to the end.

The trail is supposed to be only 1.5 miles round trip which sounds pretty easy. The hike itself is not hard at all if you are used to hiking. There are no terribly steep parts that go on forever. There is a set of stone stairs that seem to be almost hidden in the summer growth, but those are the steepest part of the trail.

The trail promises 'views' of the Kickapoo River. However there is only really one spot to get a good view of the Kickapoo.

Here is the view we had in April:
This overlook not hard to get too and I think by the worn down trail that most people stop here and go back. I wanted to see where it ended.

One of the things I knew I'd run into was bugs. Lots of bugs. We've had a very wet July and the recent flooding and heavy rains along with the warm and humid weather has been a real boost to the mosquito population.

They were pretty ferocious when I got down on the trail to photograph some incredible fungi I found alongside the trail.

Coral fungi, a very beautiful and unique fungi.

Unknown type of fungi or mushroom. It was very brightly colored and worth setting up the tripod in the dark woods to get a steady shot. I fought off buzzing mosquitoes to get these fungi shots.

I was amazed to find Indian Pipes already. Normally I don't find them in the woods until later in August. However I found several spots where these were sprouting up. They are not fungi however and are plants that are related to the blueberry family and do not have chlorophyll which explains their white color and the other common name they are known by "Ghost Plant".

Here is a snapshot of one of the 'outlooks' over a bluff.  20 years ago the view would have been different. The view of the river would have been easier to see. You can see the river but it isn't what I would call a 'scenic view of the river'. Still it was fun to stand on the finger of rock and look down into the river below.

Once you find the stairs you end up on a trail that indeed is under a pine forest canopy. The trail is sandy and dry littered with pine needles. The walking is rather easy. 

On either side of the trail, the bluff does fall off quite steeply. It is heavily forested and I wouldn't recommend going off trail at this point.

Here is the end of the trail. I can see where people have gone down the bluff to explore but I didn't feel it was a good idea to try it by myself.
At this point you are on another 'rock finger' so to speak.

I was relieved to away from all the nasty buzzing bloodthirsty bugs and sat for a while at the end.

I will definitely do this trail again in the fall and  winter. I have snow shoes and ice/snow traction cleats that slip on over my hiking boots. Then I could say I've done the trail in each season.

Kickapoo Valley Reserve had something they call the KVR Trail Challenge. If you complete 20 Trail Segments you get some sort of little prize. I guess it isn't the prize I am looking for, it is the challenge of the hikes. With about 50 miles of hiking trails, I could easily get it done.

I explored the Reserve quite extensively by mule in the late 1990's while it was still run by the Army Core of Engineers.
I've changed over the years and now think a good challenging hike [with camera gear of course] is in some ways more fun.

In my opinion, there are more chances to simply stop and look around when on foot.

For the spring hike... see this post.