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A year in books

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

This year was an uneven year of reading for me. The pandemic started with me being very unfortunately midway through The Stand. I toughed it out, but after that my reading slowed. After months of being home, I wasn’t able to focus on much, but then I jumped into some lighter fare, including a lot of Michael Connelly (Bosch). In the fall, I read quite a few food politics books as a part of an Eat Local work project I’m doing. By the end of the year, I exceeded my normal 50 books by a few.

  1. Coyote Destiny by Allen Steele
  2. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. The Stand by Stephen King
  4. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende
  5. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
  6. Security by Poul Anderson
  7. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
  8. Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
  9. Navajos Wear Nikes by Jim Kristofic
  10. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  11. Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller
  12. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  13. The Peripheral by William Gibson
  14. Agency by William Gibson
  15. Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
  16. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
  17. Sundiver by David Brin
  18. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
  19. Heart of a Lion by William Stolzenburg
  20. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
  21. The Guardians by John Grisham
  22. The Black Ice by Michael Connelly
  23. Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
  24. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
  25. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
  26. Camino Winds by John Grisham
  27. The Concrete Blond by Michael Connelly
  28. The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly
  29. The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben
  30. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
  31. Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
  32. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  33. My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
  34. Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl
  35. Savage Feast by Boris Fishman
  36. Plenty by Alisa Smith and JB MacKinnon
  37. Trunk Music by Michael Connelly
  38. Eat Here by Brian Halweil
  39. Growing Tomorrow by Forrest Pritchard
  40. The Poet by Michael Connelly
  41. Local by Douglas Gayeton
  42. Blood Work by Michael Connelly
  43. Angels Flight by by Michael Connelly
  44. Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini
  45. A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly
  46. Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
  47. Void Moon by Michael Connelly
  48. City of Bones by Michael Connelly
  49. Waging Peace by Diana Oestreich
  50. Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly
  51. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  52. Earth by David Brin
  53. Each Step is the Journey by Patricia Klinck
  54. Hippie by Paulo Coelho
  55. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball
  56. Food from the Radical Center by Gary Nabhan

SOPA, NEPA, and more — your government at work

Monday, December 14th, 2020

In an otherwise rather boring month, we had a bit of activity here around a proposed change to the road into the national forest near our house.

This had come up a few years ago when there was some local discussion about an easement being purchased and thoughts that it was exorbitantly priced and some kind of boondoggle. (For those unfamiliar, an easement is a non-possessory right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose.) As a frame of reference, it was said that an easement on a three acre piece of land was being purchased for $80,000. The going rate for undeveloped land here is about $1,000 per acre. At the time, we weren’t that connected to what was going on and there was no public comment period that I was aware of. Afterward, we didn’t really hear much about it, and there was no activity on it that we were aware of.

Then last month, we heard that there was a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) proposal out for constructing a new road into Horseshoe Canyon.

As background, Horseshoe Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains is directly to the west of us. We are about three miles from the forest service border, and we hike there regularly. Between the highway and the forest service border is mostly private land like ours. At the mouth of the canyon, there is a fence and cattle corrals which are used by a local rancher, who free ranges cattle on this side part of the year and has a lease to range them in the forest part of the year. There are currently two ways to access the forest land by vehicle: Sunrise Road (where we live) and Zent Road (one mile north of us). Both of the roads then go into Horseshoe Canyon Road through the corrals and into the canyon

The USFS proposal said that the new construction was being undertaken to “construct small sections of road to connect existing system roads to system roads that currently do not have public access due to intervening private land.” Further they said that Horseshoe Canyon ” lacks legal access.”

(Note the labeling of “Future Public Easement.” Unclear the status of this.)

This surprised me since for the twelve years we’ve lived here, there have been two roads that access the canyon and no problems with motorized access. I understand that other areas, notable the Peloncillo Mountains to the east of us, have had large amounts of public land rendered inaccessible by private land owners who have locked off access roads. However this was not the case here.

By the time we heard about this, there was a very short window for asking questions or submitting public comments. In talking with our neighbors, no one had heard about this. (The USFS says that they posted the project publicly on their web site and in some far away newspaper no one here gets, but did not contact any of the affected landowners. Like many other things, they said this was not their responsibility.) We asked for a public meeting to discuss this. We were told that would not be done. Another neighbor requested the same and got the same answer. In the meantime, we submitted comments based on the information we had. (Other public comments were typically in two categories: hunters, etc. supported the proposal and said motorized access is essential and conservationists, etc. who opposed the proposal and said no more roads were needed.) When a third (or maybe more) person asked for a public meeting, one was finally granted.

We had that meeting last week, standing outside the mouth of the canyon. There was a good sized group of people, including the most affected land owners.

 

The meeting was…unsatisfying. Here were some highlights:

  • The forest service District Ranger made it clear that this was all his decision and said several times said this was a done deal. (Not very helpful given that this was a meeting to discuss this with local landowners who were previously unaware of it and that the project is still in early stages of evaluation.)
  • There was considerable opaqueness and misdirection on the part of USFS.
  • There was a lot of talk about the process, why people weren’t contacted, etc. There was also a lot of confusion because the current NEPA only applies to the small piece of proposal road in the forest; the other access road will apparently be treated differently. 
  • According the District Ranger, there is no plan in place for how the new road will be paid for. (I suspect outside funding may be used as was done for the easement.)
  • Border Patrol is a significant user of this access and has said that they would not pay for maintenance of the forest road unless there was a clear public easement from the highway. (Consensus was that they would be unlikely to fund that in any event. I  agree.)
  • The easements were bought (unclear if this is all done or not) by Arizona Fish and Game in part because “it’s … frequently looked upon badly when the federal government is buying up big tracks of land.”
  • There are not only issues on the easement for the small area proposed for the new road, but also all the way down Sunrise to the highway. The District Ranger claimed that the easement did not previously exist but was recently purchased (news to us). Others claim that there is no easement. (This is something I’ll need to research.)
  • Forest Service’s plan after building the new piece of road is to make Sunrise a forest service road (one that they will have no commitment to maintain, but no one but landowners maintain it now anyway). From our perspective, this is likely to increase traffic into the canyon.
  • The key landowner is the cattle rancher who owns the corrals. (Note: He is a new owner and the easement was purchased before his ownership.) I had talked to him before the meeting and then also asked him his feelings at the meeting. He was very careful and conciliatory to say that he didn’t want to make waves and wouldn’t take a position one way or the other. However, based on his comments and the District Ranger’s mention of discussions they had prior, it was clear that he would not oppose the new road and would lock his gate when this was done. (After the meeting, I jokingly asked him if he would have sold the easement for $80k, and he said, of course.)

Based on this last point, it’s hard for me to object to the proposal formally. (I’m still thinking this through though.) It’s his land, and if he wants to lock his gate, that’s his right.

But I suspect he’s persuadable to other view points, and the real decision was made by forest service who has made a real shit show of this process.

I think building this new road is a complete waste of taxpayer money, as was the purchase of the easement. (Longer story on that which I’m not going to detail here.) There are ways to achieve everyone’s goals at a lower cost. However, like many others, the USFS seems unfamiliar with ideas of sunk costs, transparency, and consensus. Further, I think that the building the new road will be harmful to animal and plant life. In addition, it seems likely that Sunrise Road will have damage from additional water runoff.

The good news is that it seems unlikely that any construction is going to happen in the near term. My guess is that it will years. And in that time, who knows what will happen? :)

Family

Sunday, October 25th, 2020

We’ve had a family of three bobcats around the property this month. A mom and two little ones. Older than kittens but still very playful. One of them is especially curious. Here she is checking out the house.

 

Weather

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

As I’m seeing pictures of the first snow in many parts of the country, here I staked tomatoes today. 

We had an unusually hot couple weeks (even for here) this summer that prevented my tomatoes  from fruiting. Then a couple weeks ago, we had a dramatic drop in temperatures. Since then, it’s been a pleasant 80-90 during the day and into the low 50s at night. Perfect weather. And my tomatoes have done well since then.

Next week it’s forecast to go into the low 40s, so a freeze could happen anytime. Until then though, we’re enjoying it.

In other news, we’ve been working on refinishing the outside wood doors before winter comes. The sun and wind here is very hard on exterior surfaces so there is always work to do. One new twist on this is our recently adopted cat. I didn’t designed the house with a cat in mind and having no interior doors makes it difficult to contain her. She is the best thing that’s happened to us this year though, and we aren’t complaining!

For those interested, I’m also working on a project now to encourage people here to eat local. We’re on the web, FB, and Instagram if you want to follow along. In the spring, we’ll be doing a couple “big reads” with virtual events and online discussions that anyone is welcome to join.

Garden news

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

It hasn’t been a great year for the garden. I suspect our soil is getting “tired,” and we also had a stretch of very hot weather with little rain that challenged everyone’s growing.

Despite that, September tends to be our peak harvest for many things. Our biggest success this year has been eggplants. These Rosa Biancas are beautiful.

We also have watermelons, cantaloupes, and tomatoes coming along. And as usual, our greens have been solid all year. We’re expecting to get an unusual cool spell next week, so we’ll be planting more then for the fall and winter.

And in other news, we’ve seen another gila monster — this time right outside our house. This was a big one that appeared to be at its peak age.

 

It’s hot

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

As you may have heard, it’s unusually hot here this week, as it is in many places. It was over 110 both days this weekend and didn’t cool off as much as usual at night. 

The heat leads the birds and other animals to be especially desperate for water and has led the jackrabbits here to find a way into the garden. You may recall that we fenced the garden a couple years ago with heavy cattle panels and hardware cloth on the bottom foot or so. As the heat has risen, the jackrabbits apparently found a way to get over this and squeeze through. We caught one in the garden twice in the last day.

So today we added another row of tighter fencing higher up. We didn’t have enough hardware cloth so we used what we had. Fencing is hot work even at 6 in the morning.

In other news, a swarm of bees left our front tree a couple weeks ago. This has happened before, but in the past, it always seemed to be just a portion of the hive. (We assumed it had gotten too crowded.) This time though, the bee hive in the tree seems empty, temporarily at least. This is a welcome change.

Pandemic at the ranch

Monday, May 25th, 2020

It’s taken me awhile to be in a mental space to write about this here, but I just read an article that prompted me to write something about this weird time. It was about a couple who had always lived in different cities and for whom, lockdown provided a chance to explore what it was like to live together. (They charted their activities and emotions “Dear Data” style, which is how I came across this thanks to a friend. I’m a big fan of “Dear Data.”)

So those of you who know Brad and I know that we have spent nearly all our time together even before the pandemic. We’ve shared the same office space for 15 years or so and since we’ve been here have spent most of our time together in the same room. So being “really” together wasn’t something new or difficult for us. In fact, we’ve both remarked on how much we’ve appreciated having each other to go through lockdown with. There aren’t many (any?) other people I’d want to spend 8 weeks in isolation with.

In addition, we already had a pretty good supply of food here and an active garden (not to mention our own source of water and power). Living out in the middle of nowhere, even before this, we have adapted by keeping large supplies of things like flour, beans, and rice, as well as canned goods (and wine). Since we’ve lived here, I’ve baked my own bread. We seldom eat out, and since I’m a good cook, we eat very well. That has been a blessing during this time.

So what has changed for us? Well, not going to the gym has been a hard transition for me. I’ve started running again, which I’ll keep doing as long as my knees hold out. And Brad has us walking 4-5 miles every day. (We always walked a lot, but not this much or this regularly.)

Since we’ve been home (62 days as of today), I’ve been to town a handful of times; Brad less. I’ve taken a 91 year old friend to the doctor twice and done grocery runs for neighbors on the same trips (delivered to the car; I love that). We’ve also gone to get our local co-op food pickup twice. (It’s a highway-side pickup from a truck.) We’ve been inside no retail establishments or restaurants since late March and have no plans to do so any time soon.

Work has slowed down for both of us, more noticeably for me, since I was in the middle of several things that have been put on indefinite hold. I don’t mind that particularly, but it is different. I sometimes miss interacting with people face to face, but honestly not that much. Brad has worked from home for the last 10 years, so that’s no different now.

And like many, both of us have longer hair now. (I’ve always trimmed my own bangs.)  

Other than that, we’re both fairly depressed about the world situation, as I suppose most are. The pandemic itself is bad enough; the reaction of folks compounds our misery. People’s stupidity is disappointing; their meanness is beyond words.

I’ve been writing a lot of letters and connecting with folks, which I suppose is a positive of all this. I’ve also been baking a lot more sweets, cakes, cookies, scones, etc. The fact that we’ve both lost a couple pounds is surprising.

Most of all, we feel very fortunate to live where we do and to be in a situation where the reduction in work and the economic turmoil that will undoubtedly result from all this is not an immediate concern to us personally. Still, we are worried about the consequences  for society at large and for our community. 

The number of cases in our county is relatively low, but a disproportionate number have been in Douglas. (None in our zip code yet, but there are few people here at all.) Testing has also been very low in Arizona. (I personally know two people who had symptoms and possible exposure, requested a test, and were unable to get one.) As testing has increased in the last week or two so has the number of reported cases, so who knows what the real numbers are?

As of a week or so ago, Arizona is pretty much completely “open.” Restaurants, gyms, salons, and even swimming pools are open for business. We are staying home for now.

A lot of people have talked about what they most want to do when the lockdown is over. The only thing we both really want to do is make a trip to Costco. But that can wait.

Lastly, I hear the preppers nationwide are “disappointed” in the way this world disaster has played out. Not here. The preppers here, of which there are many, are feeling quite smug.

The desert is abloom

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Babies

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

They seem to think I was going to feed them.

Springtime

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

The poppies are in full bloom, and the creek out of Horseshoe is running strong.

There is not usually water in this creek. (This is taken from inside the canyon.) We’ve had a lot of rain in the last month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was taken from outside of the canyon. The hillside is covered with poppies.

 

This nest is behind our greenhouse in the blackberry bush enclosure.