Tuesday, July 29, 2008

White Lightning Strikes Twice

This White Lightning rose is another one that was knocked for a loop when my home was covered with a tent and filled with Vikane gas to kill termites.

The White Lightning tends to flower in bunches. When I’m maintaining it responsibly, if I clip out the center rose from each bunch, the others are supposed to come in stronger. Generally I’ve found it stays ahead of the pruning shears, and its blooms have never been weak enough for me to worry about making them more full.

It snapped back pretty quickly after the tenting.

These bunches are usually pretty in a wide-mouthed vase. The solo red Mr. Lincoln roses grow on much longer stems. (They make tricky gifts, though: Mr. Lincoln is a prickly traditionalist when it comes to thorns.)

Monday, July 28, 2008


Steinbeck used the Salinas Valley as a setting for many of his stories. In East of Eden, Caleb Trask likes to jump onto freight trains heading down from Gilroy, at the north end of the valley, over the Coast Range to Monterey with its wharves and canneries. The fertile valley lies parallel to the coast, long and relatively narrow. This view is across the north end of the valley, south of Gilroy, facing west. Unlike Silicon Valley further north (once called the Valley of Heart’s Delight, with its farms and orchards), Salinas Valley still has plenty of acreage devoted to farms.

(P.S. To really see this picture properly, click on it and look at the big version. All the endearing details—farmhouses, trees, tractors—get lost in the thumbnail above.)

My brother lately sent me a very fine picture of an oak tree that he took years ago. One picture. That’s sensible. Seen one tree, seen ’em all. I mean, they’re not really that different one from another. So he has one picture, and it reminds him from time to time of what an oak tree looks like on a hill, and that’s all he needs.

With some chagrin, I told him that I wasn’t sure exactly where that particular tree was, but that I seemed to be on my way to documenting every individual tree through Pacheco Pass on my frequent drives. Each time you go through, the light’s different and the weather’s different. Sometimes one tree catches your eye, sometimes another.

I have heard this outcropping called different things. (Technically I suspect it’s an igneous intrusion, the old magma core of an ancient volcano that has long since eroded away from around its old hardened heart.) At one point I thought it was called Eagle Mountain, and you’ll notice a bird of prey circling in this picture, which I’ll call an eagle.

On some maps it is marked as Lover’s Leap.

California has been watching a fire or two burn this summer. We’re not that deep into fire season yet, and we have already had over 1,000 wildfires at various points across the state. A few weeks ago, heading south, I found this patch of blackened hillside. I don’t remember that it even rated a mention in a news story, much less a headline. A month before that, I’m sure it looked like any other oak-dotted hill.

This time through, I found another blackened patch. A few weeks ago, these hills were golden and green.

An old friend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

When a Stake Is Not Enough

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the smell of Gilroy. The town bills itself as the Garlic Capital of the World, and every year they have a big Garlic Festival. (When I reached a certain age, I started to realize the smell I loved in Gilroy was onions, not garlic.) I had never been to the festival until this year, although I’ve stopped at my share of roadside stands before to buy garlic braids, elephant garlic, loose garlic cloves, garlic jams and butters, and the occasional shallot thrown in for variety. For years I’ve heard about this rare delicacy, garlic ice cream, which is available only at the Garlic Festival.

Once a genius has a great idea, everyone copies. Note that this booth is giving away the garlic-flavored ice cream. Not that nobody would pay for a taste, but, uh . . . well, they give you a really small scoop on a cone, too. Everybody takes a bite, then looks around to see if everyone else is having the same reaction. “That’s not right,” I heard one guy near me mutter.

The feel is like a country fair, but the focus is on garlic, garlic everywhere, with informational seminars and brochures, plus every conceivable garlic-flavored concoction on sale, plus a few that should never have been conceived.

The festival, which lasts three days, drew a remarkable number of people. The parking lots were large enough to be serviced by shuttle buses. The festival had a garlic cook-off, several stages with live entertainment, heaps of booths selling food, and a crafts fair where you could get everything from henna tattoos to old-style bar signs. To give you a sense of how much business they were doing, the folks surrounding the table in the picture above are doing nothing but making garlic bread, all day long, to serve just two rows of booths selling food.

Not every booth is all about garlic.

When you’re the Garlic Queen, you and your court can go around to any of the several stages around the festival and get invited straight into the mosh pit.

Monday, July 21, 2008


My sister wanted to be a more distant relative, so she moved to Spokane. The pixels have faded with the years, but the picture above is from the last time I remember being in Spokane, which was long before I knew who Sherman Alexie was. (My sister’s picture is from the same dammed river, but from some other dam spot.)

Back in the olden days, before fossil fuels were even a twinkle in a green alga’s eye, I had to fly there to stand on a bridge and take this picture. Nowadays with all this global warming and nobody’s got free time, you don’t have to kick up all that dust. You can just plug in a link to your browser and see what Spokane looks like without ever leaving the comfort of your kitchen.

Time flies like a pterodactyl; fruit flies like a banana.

Double Delight: Second Life

Double Delight got its name because its flowers are two-tone: red and creamy yellow.

This plant and the White Lightning rose bounced back sooner after the Vikane incident than Mr. Lincoln.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


For letting tractors use my biofuel, I reap an aesthetic reward.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mr. Lincoln Comes Back to Life

A few months ago the condo complex I live in was tented for termites. We were told the gas inside the tent (Vikane) would kill houseplants too.

I removed all my houseplants but left everything out on the balcony. The company putting up the tent asked us to turn off any automatic watering systems.

Under that tent, I have a feeling it got pretty hot. Normally the plants are watered daily; they missed a few days. Everything looked dry and brown when I got back.

I did believe sleeping in the tent would be bad for my health, but I had taken the plant warning with a grain of salt. I saw my mom’s patio plants before and after her house was tented a few years ago, and she had received the same warning.

So I took with me what plants I could, but when I got back and found a lot of crispy rose bushes, I didn’t despair right away. I suspected more damage had been done from lack of water than by the Vikane. I cut back all the dead growth and turned the water back on.

This series of pictures shows one of my rose bushes (a red rose called Mr. Lincoln, with a fragrant damask musk) over the past few weeks, as its roots have refused to surrender to the prognostications of Dow AgroSciences.

The other roses (Double Delight and White Lightning) have done similarly well. Soon I’ll be able to make good on my promise to a neighbor that I’ll give her cuttings from these bushes so she can grow her own.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

You Can’t Get There From Here

Las Vegas isn’t ordinarily on the road from Phoenix to Long Beach, but a customer needed assistance, so I took a detour.

I had to cross a lot of this to get there.

My escorts.

This shows the water level at Hoover Dam. The more we drink and shower and make ice and brush our teeth and water our yards and grow rice and tomatoes and alfalfa and cotton, the faster the water level goes down.

These days, a few miles before you cross the dam, all vehicles have to pull off the road and go through a security checkpoint. Trucks and buses are not allowed on the dam.

In the background of this panorama (click on the picture to see it larger), you can see a highway bridge being built downstream from the dam. When it’s finished, it will let traffic move through much faster (more lanes) and also relieve some security concerns.

This picture is about dam time.*

Finally, customer mollified, I was back in the Golden State.

*That caption may well be the only reason I bothered making this blog entry.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pillar of Sand

Leave it to the Europeans to schedule a business conference in Phoenix in mid-July.

You know how sometimes when you go back and look at pictures of a trip from many years later, you see a sign in one of the pictures that clearly says “Stop!” and you wish you had noticed it back then when you took the picture?

As I rocketed south and east, I enjoyed the scenic cloud formations building around my route.

We have been seeing a lot of wildfires (something like 1,500) in California over the past few weeks, and when I saw this dark smudge rising in the sky up ahead, I knew I’d want my camera out in case I had a chance to capture open flame, heroic work crews, or a dramatic helicopter retardant drop.

I had never seen fire clouds merge with weather clouds quite like this; I had trouble deciphering which way the wind was blowing and which clouds were rising and falling and where they were coming from.

I kept getting closer to the head of the cloud, over on the right side of the road.

Suddenly the wind redoubled its strength. All the wild brush on the side of the road tossed and tugged in a frenzy. I realized this was no fire I was driving into.

The color was an eerie darkened yellow, but it was much like driving in snow or fog in terms of visibility. When you can see, you drive. When you can’t see, you crank the speed way down, put on the flashers, and make sure you’ve got an out in case someone ahead has come to a full stop. You keep a nervous eye on the rear-view mirror and sigh with some relief when you see someone back there with his flashers on: He’s going the same speed you are, and you’re not about to be rear-ended. So you both crawl along, at the same speed as the big rigs, until you get through the worst of it. If it gets worse, you’ll pull off on the shoulder, but being stopped in this visibility could be worse than moving slowly.

There were a few minutes of driving when it really seemed as if getting off the road would be the better move, and then I looked around and saw I had punched through the worst of the cloud, and the road opened up again. Slowly the sky brightened, and I could see landmarks on the horizon.

As I headed on out of the cloud, in my rear-view mirror I saw flashes of lightning as the thundercloud over the sand storm opened up and started its own show.