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Brad's Blog



April 1
I walked the half mile to our lake and back today. The ice is gone from the mill pond, and the lake is high. The most interesting thing I saw was ants.  These are the large ones shown on my outdoor photography page.  Although it was cold and overcast, they were crowding out of their large nest, probably two deep, milling about, but not leaving the main nest.  Probably cabin fever.  I identify.  But hope to walk more daily as it's one thing I can do, as my ribs heal.  I saw quail, ducks, geese, and evening grosbeaks as well.  No flowers yet...

April 3

I took a walk around the mill pond today.  This mountain chickadee was poking around about 6 feet from me as I started out from my own backyard.  You can tell it from the black capped by the white streak above its eye.  I also saw the first buttercup of spring (for me).  Spokane gets them several weeks earlier. There are still piles of snow in the shady areas.  The water is up to the bottom of the dam in the mill pond, leaking through only to disappear into the gravel before the culverts (any water outflowing from the lake always disappears into the gravel within a mile or two of the lake outlet).  Since the snowpack in the mountains is not  melting much yet, it looks to be a good year for the lake level.
The other thing to note is that the walk is fairly strenuous, about two miles long, and with a few rests I was able to do it.  The only after-effect was sore calf muscles, from maintaining tighter control over my frame than I would if I weren't injured. I only wish more flowers were coming up, but the grass widows are poking up pretty well.

April 5

Part of my enforced vacation is the ability to thoroughly enjoy the approach of Spring in slow motion.  Part of that slow motion is me, being able only to walk slowly.  I usually walk up stairs two at a time, but at the Library today I realized one is my limit.
The other slow motion is spring itself, as it's cool and drizzly, so things aren't happening really fast.
So I caught this picture of a rufous sided towhee today.  I've never been sure how towhee is pronounced, but today I learned its call, which could be connected to its name, making a warble whistly toe -whee noise.   These birds are fairly common here in the summers, but also furtive, darting about in the brush a lot.  Right now, before the leaves are out, was a good chance to take its picture.  One interesting characteristic is their red eyes.  The "rufous sided" refers to the ruddy brown breast color, reminiscent of robins...
I also saw the second wildflower, spring beauty.

April 08
We've been busy with company.  My wife's been busier, as they're more her friends, but I've tried to hold up my end of the social engagement as well.  Being off the beaten path, we get fewer guests than someone who lives along the interstate, but they're always interesting.  They run a logging company, and just came from a logging convention so were pepped up on logging issues.  I'm ambivalent about logging.  I like the woods a lot, and I also like woodworking.  So I guess I support selective environmentally aware logging.  From what I can tell, that's what these friends do.  I don't like the spin that gets put on the politics of logging, such as arguing that in order to protect the forests we must log them, even though it's true that the underbrush and small trees have run rampant from fire suppression policies of the last hundred years, resulting in increased fire danger.  Forestry is just one more area, like fishing and agriculture, that needs to be managed since we've made such deep inroads into the natural processes.   Just as a farmed field won't revert to natural prairie just by leaving it fallow, a clear cut forest won't regenerate into a normal healthy forest without intervention, at least not for a long time...

April 10
I wouldn't have guessed two weeks ago I could be back at work after breaking 3 ribs, but I started today, loading and firing a bisque kiln.
Things are slower, and a bit painful, but it gets boring doing nothing but reading and goofing off.  I'm still putting off the harder work of mixing clay and throwing for a week or so...

April 11
Another day of regaining competency in the workforce-- unloading a kiln, glazing, and loading a glaze kiln.  In the afternoon I trimmed a bunch of raspberry plants and bicycled down to see the water pouring over the dam at the end of the lake--first time it's made it in about 10 years...   We went for a walk on the ridge and saw the grass widow flowers were coming on strong, just in time for Easter...
 

April 13
The next flower of Spring I've seen is the yellow bell,  which I noticed on an undeveloped lot in Rathdrum while driving through town yesterday.  The most significant development from yesterday was that Sam, one of Musicians Anonymous, finally decided he couldn't play for our performance this weekend at the Bluegrass Thang.  He's fighting cancer and a lot of associated pain, not to mention the treatments...  Both he and I are sleeping in our easy chairs-- being the most comfortable, given our respective conditions...

April 14

I had to take one of our cars to Coeur D'Alene for service, so I walked around Tubbs Hill.  On the most isolated point, I saw an osprey nest, and as I was leaving one of the pair returned with a mossy branch for the nest.  The day was rainy and grey, which made for the blue-gray background.  The photo was shot through the dead branches of a pine tree (with a burl), contributing an eery background...
The only other comment for the day is that I took the car in because the check engine light was on (although the car was running well). That cost $350.   I noticed it was running a little rough at idle.  That cost $250, and when it was done he admitted it was still running a little rough at idle (misdiagnosis?).  So after $600, the car seems the same as before...

April 15

It's rained one and a half inches in the last couple days.  The next  flower of spring , spied on the walk yesterday was the Yellow Fawn Lilly, also known as Glacier or Avalanche lillies, as they bloom soon after the snow leaves.  I decided yesterday, walking in the rain, that their flower design is very umbrella like, most likely to keep the stamens dry, so they'll produce pollen earlier in the wet spring...

April 19
Sorry for the hiatus--I've been traveling to Whistler B.C. with a son and two of his friends.  They skied and I walked and photographed.
Whistler village is sort of a combination of Las Vegas and Disneyland--at least the Matterhorn part...  Both Las Vegas and Whistler are paved with money.  My son and his friends might have come out ahead on their part--both days they won free Ipods worth about twice the cost of their lift tickets...


There were lots of people-inured birds in the village, like this white crowned sparrow.  But being very early spring, I wasn't struck by a panoply of new birds or flowers--the only flower starting to bloom was the skunk cabbage...  I did see a yellow and a ruby crowned kinglet, but they darted constantly and resisted efforts at photography...
Ski mountains are not a pretty sight to non skiers, with their clearcut trails and cables, but this mountain was in the neighborhood:

There were also free concerts outside, which I sort of enjoyed, and trick bike riding demos on high parallel bars that I won't try at home...
Here's my son (middle) and friends, waiting for the first ride up in the morning):

April 20
I made more figurines today, but pottery orders are trickling in, so I plan to start wheel work again next week.  Today was the first day without having a fire to heat the house in the morning, and the temperature outside was 70 degrees, so I worked in the garden pruning and weeding as well.
I heard that the water is running off Spirit Lake sufficiently to cause some flooding downstream, where the outflow normally drains into the gravel (and the aquifer).

April 21
There's nothing like absence to make the heart grow fonder.  In this case I'm referring to making pots on the wheel.  When my wife was in seminary I would go for 9 months without making pottery.  But currently, the absence of ability due to my rib injury made it seem the end of the rainbow.  So, just a day shy of 4 weeks since I fell, I started throwing pots again.  It was actually easier than the hoeing I've been trying to do in the garden.
To restart the studio, I had to start with clay recycling--my wheel had a number of dry scraps inside it, and the pans I dry them in on the kiln were full.  Clay recycling is sort of the pulse of a functioning studio--it's part of its life, and if production stops, the clay recycling must be suspended as well, or it will dry up in useless lumps.  Like a pulse, the drying pots and drying recycled clay must be monitored, which insures daily visits to the studio.
Professional potters, like professional writers, can face a psychological block to working.  I did a lot of garden putzing before jumping in to the studio again.  But I'd rather have a psychological hurdle than this physical one to contend with.

April 22
Today I sprayed our fruit trees with a dormant oil spray.  The oil smothers the eggs that are laid in the bark that grow into bugs which nibble the trees that yield the fruit that we like to eat, by the house that Jack built.  Ok, I don't know who built the house...  Anyway dormant oil is one of the few ways acceptably organic to control pests on fruit trees.  I'd never done it before, but we inherited several sprayers and the oil from some relatives, so I took the plunge and sprayed the trees.  It wasn't hard, just tedious.  The main pests we have trouble with are codling moths, cherry maggots, and aphids.  With luck the oil will help with the aphids.

April 24
A rant.
I don't spend much time ranting, but it's one of life's major irritations that, although theoretically our technology is amazing and wonderful, in actuality a lot of it is cheesy and disfunctional.  My wife got a laptop for Christmas that started one day last week with a message that it needed a file that was missing.  Fortunately having two sons with lots of computer experience got her rolling again in a few days.  Otherwise we would have been stuck in that special level of purgatory called "phone tech support".
I've got two boombox type CD/MP3 players, less than two years old.  One of them only works with one half of the stereo, the other one only works with the remote, and then squawks at odd moments.  The car we got recently has a very impressive name brand after market CD player which has all its front buttons totally confused, so that only the remote control for it makes it work halfway decently.
And everything that used to have a couple knobs now has  mysterious unlabeled buttons and a complicated instructional manual.  Some of the instructions are arcane.  To keep our van from locking itself everytime you drive it, the instructions are to turn the car on and off 4 times in a short time (mystic chanting optional). And most gadgets require a special charger which looks quite a bit like every other charger you own, but is not identified in any way to tie it to the device that needs it, AND IS GUARANTEED TO FRY WHATEVER WRONG DEVICE THAT CONVENIENTLY FITS INTO IT.

April 25
I was back to full pottery production today, working on pots all morning, and gardening in the afternoon.  Most pottery work is less hard than gardening.  My son is helping spread manure.  Some years I till the gardens by hand with a spade fork.  This year I'll just till where the row will be planted.  Gardens, like life, expand to the amount of time and energy you want to put into them.  They don't have to be weed-free, only slowing the weeds enough to give the vegetables a headstart...  Currently in the greenhouse the little cabbages and tomatoes are awaiting their first true leaves.  Also a  large deep bed of peas and spinach is coming along quickly.  The greenhouse spinach is racing the volunteer spinach in the garden which came up earlier, but is growing slower as well, due to colder temperatures and less fertility...
I've also added a new page of pictures I took yesterday of Downtown Spokane.

April 26
In the mountainous west, some people plant by when the snow level on the surrounding hills is down to a certain place. To me this is a better indicator of the snow pack than the right time to plant, although if the snow is gone that's a good sign either way (the snow's still on the nearby ridges).
I planted peas, carrots, spinach, green beans, and corn today in the smaller of our two gardens.  Nearly all the seed planted came from seed we've saved, of which we have a lot, so even if a frost were to hit after the plants come up it's just a wee gamble gone awry.  Actually only the corn and green beans are susceptible to light frost, so I'm optimistic.
In recent years corn has been a reliable crop here.  20 years ago we would get frosts around the 4th of July that would do in the tomatoes and squash.  In spite of global warming, the vagaries of weather mean it could happen again, but we'll pretend it won't.

April 27
Sales have been slow the last couple weeks.  As much as Americans try to be oblivious to gas usage, I do think the current prices are making people think twice about pleasure trips...  I also think if prices stabilize, they soon adjust to the new reality as "normal."  So just when we got used to $2.50/gallon gas, now we've got to adjust to $3.00 gas.  Western U.S. people drive a lot farther on average than a lot of others--it's 30 miles or more to our nearest bank branch, for instance...   Gas, taxes, and health care seem to take about equal chunks of our budget.  Like many others, that leaves us with less discretionary spending.
Usually sales are a bit slow until the end of May, so it's easy to tie two events occurring simultaneously together, whether there's a firm linkage or not.  So I'm not overly concerned, but it's hard to ignore the price of the core commodity of our civilization...

April 28
I've never been a big proponent of lawn mowing, but our new house has a large yard, and as the saying (that I just made up)  goes, it grows, ergo I mow.
This was the first mowing today, very early by my lawn mowing standards.  I've not accumulated statistics, since it's not (to my knowledge) a competitive sport, but it seems ominously early--part of the global warming which we of the north country greet with mixed feelings...  On average, up here, a little warmth is a good thing...  Of course it's rendering our climate hospitable to Californians, which is, again, a mixed blessing...  Today was sunny and nearly 70, which is good enough for anybody.  The tulips and daffodils are opening, as are the windows.  Everything is atwitter.  The red red robin is bob bob etc.  You get the picture.

April 29
From my web statistics, I know that this blog is visited 3 times as much as my cartoon page   (If you are viewing either, you are Special People and members of an elite club numbering no more than 15 average per day in the entire world...) .   I like the cartoon, but can't draw it to anyone's satisfaction, and may eventually run out of daily cartoons to post.  But in a curious blend of fiction meeting reality, I hit on a storyline of having the cartoon characters visit Whistler ski area several months before my wife suggested my son and I actually do so...  This is not Twilight Zone weird--my wife and sons visited there several years ago, and my wife always thought I'd enjoy seeing it, so I knew it might happen.  But only after I drew the cartoon series did she actually propose my taking my son (and his friends) for his 21st birthday.
The coincidences don't stop there.  Although I mostly regard Ipods as annoying ads during TV football games, I pictured one of the characters using his Ipod to find out if the lifts were open (not realizing they don't include a radio, which seems to me an oversight--what's a few more transistors...)  No one in our family has an Ipod--make that HAD an Ipod.  My son won two Ipods in free giveaways on the lifts at Whistler (his friends won several as well).  (Play Twilight Zone music here...)
When I created the storyline several months ago, I used some pictures from the local ski area for the cartoon backgrounds.  But when I actually got to go there, I took photos with an eye to incorporating them into the cartoon.  So the series starting this week ("Lawyers are wonderful") starts off with my prescient predictions, and eventually includes a bit of actual Whistler footage...

April 30
Today I played banjo and sang a couple old hymns with a gospel music group in both morning church and at a spring concert tonight.

While in church today, possibly because:
A. My sinful nature causes my mind to wander during the sermon, or
B. The service is dreadfully boring,
I was thinking of the old finger-play, "This is the church, this is the steeple," where you make a steeple with your index fingers, and when you open the thumbs door, there are all your fingers hanging from the rafters like bats, supposedly being the parishioners...
Now what I was thinking, was that if you start with your hands laced together in prayer, when you open the door, the inside is empty.

This is not intended as a commentary on the negative effects of prayer on congregational growth ;-).

But the concert tonight was the last sanctified event in an 101 year old Methodist church in Rathdrum before it faces an uncertain future in private hands.  Although the building has some structural problems (could use a new foundation, for instance), I think the dwindling congregation was the real reason for its demise, in keeping with national trends in all the mainline churches.  Our church in Spirit Lake probably has an average age of over 60 in its membership (though new retirees move into the area often enough to keep the numbers stable).
In my history, I've spent a year or more associated with each of : the Society of Friends, UCC Congregrational, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, and Presbyterian churches.  Most of these are in the declining category.  The church I've spent the most time with, the Lutherans, has done a lot of things intended to stop the outflow, but probably were as likely to increase it.  This includes trying to update the liturgy frequently, resulting in losing the older members without capturing the hearts of the younger.  My wife is captivated by the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, which has remained mostly unchanged for 1500 years.  I'm not sure how their repetitive liturgy has affected their church attendance, but if you go, at least you know how the service goes...
On the other hand, once or twice I've gone to the large gymnasium churches (churches that hold worship in their own gymnasiums) that offer a law oriented but "light" service with coffee break in the middle instead of communion.  These churches are growing rapidly in our area, offering plenty of family services.
At the church tonight a lifelong member of the church described Sunday Schools with 100 kids in them in his youth, and mentioned the 5 kids he grew up with in church satyed with it until high school, when they dropped out...
Like him, I also have memories of well run youth programs and a functional church.  Also I'm inclined towards liturgy and sacraments from my Lutheran background, and gospel over law as an understanding of our relationship to God, so I'm not inclined to join a gymnasium type church.  Mostly I'm waiting for my wife to get a church call again, but that's a slow and complicated process...


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