California Day 6

Woke up this morning, rubbed the sleepers from my eyes, tumbled out of the van and went staggering up the road to the office-slash-general store to get a cup of coffee.

Halfway back to our camp site I slowed to a stop as I caught sight of B standing just outside the van, binoculars in hand, getting quickly back into the van and closing the door behind her.

Turning to see what she might possibly be looking at that would make her seek the safety of the car, I noticed an elk standing among the trees. Then I noticed a couple more elk just beyond the edge of the treeline. And then, finally, I noticed there was a whole freaking herd of elk slowly making its way through the field just beyond the edge of the RV park. Okay, so I missed them at first. I bet you’re not exactly Old Eagle Eye before you’ve had your coffee, either.

We found out later that they come though almost every day. And they’re used to having lots of people around. They weren’t in the least spooked by us, and a few of them came startlingly close as they made their way through an open field to the trees on the other side.


Elk, by the way, are huge. You don’t realize just how big they are until one of them is close enough to spit in your eye. Or stomp you like the bug you are.

After the excitement was over and we had all our crap packed up, we hit the road to look for some breakfast. On the way, we stopped at the entrance to Redwood National Park to take a few selfies with the notices that the park was closed due to the federal government shutdown. I was on vacation, so why did I care? Oh, I am so glad you asked. Because: Of all the places in California I’ve wanted all my life to visit, Redwood National Park was in the top five. This was my third visit to California, but only the first time I was close enough to the park to stop by. And what happens? The doot-brains in Washington get into a pissing contest and shut down everything, even the parks. When the feds shut down a park, they don’t just tell the guys in the Smokey hats to take the week off. No. They make the rangers set up sawbucks to block the entrances, then stand outside them and turn away visitors. No trees for you! Natural beauty is off limits this week! Thanks, federal government, for availing yourself of yet another opportunity to reinforce my opinion that you’re a sack of bastards.

You know what? We camped in one of your goddamn campgrounds anyway. Up yours!

government shutdown

Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. We stopped at Antlers the last night we camped in California and found three or four other campers at the site who said all the forest rangers packed up and left when the feds shut everything down. Before they left, though, they told the campers that what they didn’t see, didn’t happen. The bathrooms were open and the lights were on, so we slipped thirty bucks under the door of the office and stayed for the night. The photo I took of My Darling B expressing her outrage at The Man for shutting everything down was too good not to share it with you at this point in the story, though. Now, back to Wednesday.

We had breakfast at the Palm Cafe and Hotel in Orick, and it was amazing! Their hospitality was top-rate from the moment we walked in the door. The host greeted us right away and showed us to a table by the window in the morning sunshine where he poured us a couple mugs of hot coffee and made sure they never got cold the whole time we were there. B zeroed in on the biscuits & gravy, her very favorite thing to order any time it appears on the menu, and she was very happy with the freshly-made biscuits and generous portion of gravy she got. I had a stack of the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever been privileged to stuff myself silly with. We were both well and truly serensified by the time we climbed back into the van to hit the road.

Welcome to OregonFrom Orick we went straight north, or as straight as the twisting road would let us, planning to make as few stops as possible until we got to Crescent City to fuel. We made a hard right turn onto State Highway 199 out of Crescent City and crossed into Oregon shortly afterwards, making a big loop just over the border through the town of Grants Pass before heading south again.

Grants Pass, by the by, is probably not a place that you’ve ever heard of but was made famous, or maybe infamous, by the initiation of Tony Roberts into a club known as Mountain Man Anonymous in 1993. To become a member of the club, Tony let one of the club members try to shoot a one-gallon fuel can off his head with an arrow. The arrow went a little south of the mark. “Surgeons removed the arrow from Anthony Roberts’ head by drilling a larger hole around the tip at the skull’s back and pulling the arrow through,” the AP story explained, which has to be the single most ewww-inducing sentence ever printed in an Associated Press news item. I used to carry it around in my wallet for years so I could read it to people just to watch them squirm.

We did not plan to go to Grants Pass just so I could be in the place where this happened; it was just a lucky accident.

We made one stop at Medford to visit the Apocalypse Brewery, but they weren’t open, darn it, and didn’t open until four o’clock, too late for us to hang around and still make it to the show in Ashland we were headed for, so I can’t say anything about their beer, too bad. If you go looking for it, it’s really hard to find because it’s at the back end of a business park in what looks like a U-Store-It unit. Don’t give up until you check behind the fast-food store.

Caldera Brewery Ashland OROnward to Ashland where, after driving all freaking day, we stopped for a much-deserved beer and some food at Caldera Brewing, a brewpub in a cavernous metal barn where hundreds if not thousands of beer bottles are lined up on shelves up the wall. I spent way too much time searching them to see if I could find two that were alike, then gave up after the food arrived.

Before heading into town to see the show, we checked in at Glenyan campground, an old KOA that still has the easily recognizable teepee-shaped front office. I still feel a happy little twinge of nostalgia whenever I see one of those. My family used to stop at KOAs whenever we went on our annual winter camping trip to the warmer climes of the southern states. A lot of the campsites at Glenyan were occupied by big RV trailers, most of them with pop-outs and most of them more or less permanently affixed to the property, making the tightly-packed grounds seem even cozier, but we were there just to stay the night. All we wanted, really, was a place to park and go to sleep. They let us use the rec room to charge our phones and tablets even though everything else was shut down or turned off, so bonus points, Glenyan, and thanks!

The show we were going to see in town was Cymbaline, just one of the many shows being staged at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. We picked Cymbaline because we hadn’t seen it before and because it was presented on their Elizabethan stage, an open-air theater encircled by the audience seats, sort of like the old Globe Theatre in London. Figured that would be a more authentic Shakespearian experience, somehow.

There was a stage just outside the theater where a local and apparently well-loved band was performing a few of their own numbers just prior to the start of Cymbaline, so we hung around outside the doors to see what they were like. I’m not sure how to describe their music without resorting to clichés like “drug-induced” and “hippy-dippy weirdo with a side order of dissonance.” I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it bothered me, either. Mostly, I was just bored with it. Not so the gathered crowd; they lapped it up and cheered for more, which made me feel as though I was somehow missing something. I kept listening for it, whatever it was, but I never got it.

Because the theater was open to the weather, naturally it rained on us. Quite a lot. We had seats right up front by the stage, which would have been the greatest if they hadn’t been out in the middle of the open roof. “I’m sure it’s going to stop any minute now,” B kept saying to me, as we were slowly being soaked through to our bones, and once or twice it did seem to be letting up just a bit, but then it would start coming down again, and of course it seemed like it was coming down a little bit harder, but that was probably only because we were already wet, chattering and miserable.

We eventually found an usher and begged him to change our seats for a couple in the shelter of the balcony, which would’ve been great if we weren’t already sodden as disrags, but since we were, we slowly froze all the way through to our cores as the first two acts played out. At intermission, we ducked out to the car, cranked up the heater as high as it would go and headed back to camp where we huddled together in a tightly-knotted ball under the quilts. I didn’t start to feel warm again until just before daybreak.


Slept in until seven this morning, in spite of the best efforts of a woodpecker, two cats and a passing thunderstorm to keep us awake all night long.

The woodpecker keeps pecking on the bird house I put up for him even though he seems to be able to get in and out just fine. I suppose the hole might be a tight fit and he’s just fine-tuning it, or maybe he just needs to peck. Or he likes waking me up.

Beginning in the wee small hours of the morning the cats started jumping in and out of bed, never satisfied with where they were or happy with knowing what the other one was doing. I know they got down several times to eat because Bonkers came back with water dripping from his muzzle and shook, sending me scurrying to the bathroom to wash his splatter off my face.

The storm squall was a riot in the sky, with lightning flashing almost as much as the flash bulbs on the cameras of a squadron of paparazzi when they catch sight of Kate Middleton. The thunder never quit, and the raindrops were so big they sounded like bricks hitting the roof of the house.

But I stuck it out. I promised myself I wouldn’t get out of bed until seven on Saturday and I meant it.


image of a typewriter ribbon“Your woodpecker’s back!” My Darling B called to me as I was making coffee Saturday morning. Five seconds later, if you’d been my neighbor you would’ve been treated to the sight of me galloping across my back lawn in an undershirt and pajama pants, waving my arms in the air and cussing, “Get the hell away from my house, you goddamned motherless bastard!” because that’s the cool, calm way I react to wildlife in a suburban environment.

I like animals as much as the next guy. I get all gooey-eyed over soft fluffy things like cats and rabbits and hamsters. Birds aren’t cuddly but they sure are pretty, even the one that comes to visit Our Humble O’Bode in the fall. He’s white with black speckles and he has a spot of red feathers like a cap on his head. He’s no bigger than the fist that I wave at him when I hear him pecking holes in the wood siding. Big holes.

He did this last year, too. There are several small patches of wood putty in the siding on the south corner where he started to peck holes, and one big temporary patch made of three-quarter inch plywood over a hole that he must’ve finished by waiting until I was at work, or by investing in a stealth beak. No, it’s not that. He’s pretty noisy this year, so unless he lost it, or only rented it, it couldn’t have been that.

When I asked The Mighty Google to tell me how to keep woodpeckers from eating holes through the walls of our house, it only laughed. There is no way to stop them, is the conventional wisdom. Short of tearing all the aluminum siding off the house and replacing it with aluminum, or battleship armor, woodpeckers cannot be deterred. And they cannot be trapped, either. It’s illegal. I can have all the guns I want, but I can’t use them to shoot woodpeckers, unless they come in through the front door and menace me so as to make me fear for my life.

I can’t shoot them, but I can offer them an alternative. They’re supposed to be drilling holes in our house because they’re looking for a place to nest, so I put up a bird house that I just happened to have handily laying around in the garage. Maybe it’s even a woodpecker house, I don’t know. If the hole’s not big enough, I think he’ll be able to handle drilling it out a little. He seems to have a knack for it.


bunny!A quick pass with the lawn mower last Sunday uncovered the hiding place of this little guy in the tall grass next to the planter. The little pocket of grass he was curled up in didn’t look like a rabbit nest, which are usually lined with fur, so I assumed he was hiding out while his mother was away. He stayed hunkered down there even though he wasn’t hidden at all any more, so I cut the end out of a cardboard box and put it over him to keep the sun off him.

When I showed him to My Darling B she cooed, “He’s so cute!” and started worrying about him half a second later. “What’s he doing out here? Where’s his mommy? Is he okay? I hope a dog doesn’t get him!” And so on. She was so worried about him that she spent the next two hours Googling every scrap of information about wild rabbits she could find. She even called the Humane Society to see if they did wild bunny rescues the way they rescued injured birds.

The Humane Society told her not to worry, that it was normal for the mother to leave her bunnies alone all day and come back at dawn or dusk to feed them. She watched him all afternoon and, sure enough, right after dinner an adult rabbit came into the yard, wandered around for a bit to make sure the coast was clear, and then jumped up into the planter.

B just about wet her pants when three or four bunnies appeared from under the cover of the dead leaves and daisy stems in the planter to crowd around the mother and feed. “The nest’s in the planter! The nest’s in the planter!” she burbled. We’d been poking around the planter all afternoon, but somehow it had never occurred to us to look there.

As soon as the mama left, the bunnies disappeared again. B put on a pair of gardening gloves and went straight out there to scoop up the little lost bunny and put him gently back beside the nest. He seems to jump out every so often, but the mama must be finding him and putting him back. They’re almost big enough to leave the nest anyway, according to the web sites B read on the intertubes, so maybe he’s just impatient to see the world.

hickory dickory dock

mouse, miceWe have mice.

I figured the cats were keeping them down. Well, one of the cats, anyway. Bonkers is a pretty enthusiastic mouser, when one happens to cross his path, but, as it turns out, he doesn’t go out on the hunt to track them down. Boo is really very ambivalent about mice. They can come, they can go, maybe she’ll check them out when they get here, whatever.

Two or three times this winter, Bonkers brought us a mouse he caught in the basement. One morning I got up to find him batting one around on the kitchen floor. And lately I’ve been seeing little mousie calling cards all along the walls in the basement. I should have set traps before this, but, as I said, I thought the cats would be going after them so I wouldn’t have to.

Then the other day, as I was raking the cat pans, I found a trail of little black mouse turds along the wall leading behind the chimney into the next room. That solved the mystery of what they were eating. The kitty litter is wheat-based; it’d be a mouse smorgasbord, wouldn’t it? “We must have made the front page of the Monona Mouse Bulletin when we brought that stuff home,” My Darling B said. “Party at the O-Home! Don’t worry about the dumb cats!”

So how to get rid of them? On our weekend trip to the hardware store I grabbed a packet of old-fashioned mouse traps off the pegboard wall. My only worry was that the cats would be tripping them all the time and probably even get caught in them. My Darling B’s worry was that it would kill the mice.

“But they’re mice,” I pointed out.

“You want to kill them?”

“Well, no, I don’t want to kill them. Do you want them in your house?”

In the end, we agreed to try a live-catch trap, a tiny plastic box with a trap door on one end that drops and latches shut when a mouse walks into the box. I have to reset them several times a day because the cats trip them shut every time they stepped in and out of their litter pans, but this morning when I picked one of them up it was a little bit heavier than it should have been, so I upended it over this apple sauce jar and out came a mouse.

Huh. Bigger than I thought it would be.


December 10, 2009: A crazy powerful snowstorm hammers the Madison metro area:

snow, snowstorm, stormThe snow was heavy and wet. It clumped up on trees like badly-applied Christmas flocking and tore branches off all over town. The lilac in our back yard was quickly overwhelmed, but it wasn’t until a few weeks later that it became apparently how badly it was mangled by the heavy snowfall. Several of the thick, old-growth trunks were snapped clean off at about head-height, and just about all of the rest of the boughs were bent all the way to the ground.

yard workFlash-forward to today: Home owners all over Monona have been hacking broken, dead branches off the trees and bushes in their yards and piling them up along the curb. I cut down the big cedar in the front yard yesterday, with a lot of help from a neighbor with a chain saw, and today I hacked away at the big lilac in the back yard until it was a leaner version of its previous self.

I really had no idea how much dead wood I had cut off the body of the tree until I was finished and stopped to take a good look at the pile of branches that had built up in the middle of the back yard:

yard workHoly crap! That’s enough wood to make two more lilac bushes! I guess I probably let it get a little too overgrown.

skullI pulled this out of the lilac bush along with a big handful of dead wood.

skullSquirrel, I think.