Monday, February 28, 2005

Saving water

Posted by Hello Peggy pumping water from the rainbarrel this morning for the chickens.
Note the diverter on the raingutter downspout behind the pump which enables us to either fill the barrel or bypass it for other purposes.
Presently we have two of these barrels with pumps and hope to get two more this year.
We plan on connecting the bypass downspouts to a pipe which will feed our future vernal pool.

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Peg & Jim - Car-Free!

Posted by Hello How did we get here?

We were asked this question at a sustainable living forum about our car-free lifestyle.
It was a big question requiring a long answer.
Here is my response, I think it will give you an idea of who were are.

The place we are at in our lives right now is just another small step among many steps that are leading us along our path.
The main reason we have arrived at this particular point has more to do with what we couldn't, or wouldn't do, than what we planned on doing.
I just couldn't work in certain industries because of their contributions to war efforts, or the toxic polluting side-effects of their products.
I also couldn't stand working indoors, and took a job as a mailman, just to save a few bucks so I could travel.

Once I started walking around all day, delivering mail to people, I fell in love with the job.
This was before the advent of mass mail marketing, and all the junk mail that was then generated to fill our landfills with what used to be our forests.
And by the time I became active in trying to encourage the Post Office to recycle (a mostly futile effort) I was well into my career.

Peggy and I both have a strong aversion to congestion, traffic, noise, pollution, concrete and asphalt, and as soon as I finished high school in the San Fernando Valley (outside of Los Angeles), when my friends all rented apartments with pools in Reseda for $125 a month, I ran for the shelter of the Santa Monica Mountains, renting a little shack in Topanga Canyon for $65 a month.
They all thought I was crazy.

When inflation took off in the 70's my sacred mountains became increasingly unaffordable on a postmans salary, so when Peggy and I got married in 1979, we couldn't find a place we could afford that we were willing to live in.
A tiny duplex or condo in the foothills (no kids-no pets allowed-and rules & regulations up the kazoo) was going for $125,000 and interest rates were very high (around 11 or 12%). We didn't want to live in a place we hated and be saddled with a huge mortgage, so we started looking for somewhere to move to.
Our postal jobs allowed us the freedom to transfer to another location, and my uncle lived here in Big Bear, where he sold real estate.

We bought this little 950 sq ft cabin in December of 1980 for $72,000, all knotty pine, huge fenced in yard and pine forest everywhere.
We immediately put in for transfers so we could get out of the L.A. area and into our lovely little vacation cabin.
Again, our friends thought we were crazy.
It took some time, but we finally got transfers and moved up here a little over 2 years later, on April 1st of 1983.
Peggy was transferred to the Big Bear City Post Office, 1 1/2 miles from our house, and began walking to work whenever she could.
I was stationed in Apple Valley, 40 miles from here, and had to commute there for 8 years (they were very difficult years and I began to think our friends were right) before getting transferred to Big Bear Lake, 4 miles from home.

We had always considered ourselves environmentalists, driving compact cars, recycling, being active in conservation groups and supporting causes like public transportation, habitat preservation, restoration, and social responsibilty, that sort of thing.

But living without TV has perhaps had the greatest impact on the direction our lives have taken. In my adult life I've only owned a television for two short periods, once in my 20s, when I was laid up for several months with a badly broken leg, a friend gave me one to keep me company.

And when our kids were in elementary school we had family meetings where anybody's grievances might be addressed. Well the kids said we were being very unfair not letting them have a TV, they felt so out of it at school (I so wish we had home-schooled) when all the other kids talked about their favorite shows & "stars", and my kids were clueless.
So we relented and agreed they could have TV under certain conditions, or the TV would go.
No sooner was the thing in the house when the agreement was violated time and again, so out went the tube after a couple of months.
It's not that there's absolutely nothing on TV to like, there may be, but there's just too much to dislike!
The time most families spend in front of the tube, we spent playing board games, doing crafts, or just going outdoors to play.
We see TV as a media tool for brainwashing, for maintaining the status-quo, & basically just can't stomach it!

So again, it's not so much what we could do that has guided us as what we couldn't do.

Then along came the first Gulf War! There were our tax dollars flying through the air in million dollar scud missles killing innocent men, women & children, destroying lives & families, so we could have abundant access to the cheap oil fueling our wasteful lifestyles.
We started driving less, the car stayed in the driveway much of the time, and we bought bicycles for the whole family.

One day in 1996 Peggy used the car to drive our daughter to a birthday party across town.
On the way home she was hit in the drivers door by a kid going 60 miles an hour through a blind intersection.
It's a miracle she's alive, and even more of a miracle that she wasn't seriously injured.
The car was nearly a total loss, but they repaired it, and then it sat in the driveway for another year.
We had already been walking or riding our bikes to work for several years when we began to realize that decisions we'd made over the years, through avoidance of things we didn't care for, had brought us to this small community where everything we needed was within walking or bicycling distance, including our jobs.
Rather suddenly, we became more acutely tuned to our own instincts, and started making deliberate changes in our lives.
Around that time, out of curiosity, I wrote a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board asking for statistics on traffic deaths and, to my surprise, they sent me a complete list of yearly fatalities since about 1906.
By the mid 1990s over 3 million Americans had died as a result of automobile accidents.
And that doesn't take into account the scarred lives & bodies, the crippled victims, or the incredible toll on wildlife that has been killed by cars and displaced by habitat destruction, or an entire century of air & water pollution and strip mining.
We didn't need the car anymore, and we came to see it as a liability not an asset.
Our lives, and life on earth itself, were suddenly much more important than a car.
We just couldn't do it anymore and we didn't have to.
My wife first suggested that we try living without it for awhile so we made a pact to go one full year and then re-assess our feelings about it.
A year later, to the day, I asked her with a knowing smile if she wanted to get another car, "when hell freezes over" she smiled back.
For us it has meant newfound freedom.
Freedom from the expense of gasoline, maintenance, tires, oil and insurance.
Freedom from fear, freeways & parking lots, and freedom from being confined in a hurtling tin & plastic capsule.
Our culture, our jobs and our wages, are designed around the automobile, and when you choose not to own one it's like suddenly finding an extra income, life gets easier.
We find that the more we disconnect ourselves from the garbage that is fed to us by the government---and the corporations who run it---the more we feel like the human beings we'd like to be.
We don't see ourselves as yet living up to our ideals, but we are on a path and we're trying. Every change we make brings new challenges that usually guide us in whole new directions.
But it mostly seems like we're just going on intuition, we avoid what we don't like and try to focus on what we love.
I really wish we could have found a way to live without paying taxes for war, murder and corporate welfare, but this is the world we were born into and we all have to find ways to survive.
It's taken a lifetime time to get this far and we are learning every day.
Eventually, we'd like to live each moment with deliberate clarity, and share what wisdom we may have gained as elders.

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

November Sunrise

Sunrise in the habitat November 23, 2004. Gives you and idea of the climate extremes we experience and love every minute of. Posted by Hello

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Rose Sage

Native Rose Sage (Salvia pachyphylla) blooming in the habitat on October 21st, 2004. This gorgeous plant emits a most incredible fragrance that drifts through the yard all summer. Posted by Hello

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Veggies For Dinner...

Another picture of Peg's Sept. 9th harvest. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see tomatoes just over her right shoulder, growing in the hothouse we made from old windows. Posted by Hello

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Peggy In The Garden

Peggy harvesting squash and eggplant in the garden on September 9th, 2004. Note the handplow leaning on the fence which we use for tilling. Posted by Hello

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Our Native Garden

Posted by Hello Our Big Bear City Native Plant Habitat has been constantly evolving for the past 6 years and now supports over 70 species of plants native to this area. Since staring this project we have seen a large increase in the numbers and diversity of wildlife that visit here.
Our garden has been included in Big Bear's Xeriscape Garden Tour for the past 2 years and during last summer's tour we had about 400 people visit the yard.

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Humboldt Lily

Posted by Hello Lilium humboldtii, native to these mountains and blooming in our habitat in the summer of 2003.

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Grape Soda Lupine

Grape Soda Lupine - Our Notecard Photo

Description on back of card;

Lupinus excubitus

Grape Soda Lupine is found blooming in great profusion throughout Big Bear Valley during Spring. Most prevalent on rocky slopes and in dry meadows Lupinus excubitus is recognized from a distance by the silver-gray tint of its foliage which is caused by fine silvery hairs covering the leaves. Lovely violet flowers accented with yellow banner spots give off a sweet scent reminiscent of grape soda. A member of the Pea family, this butterfly attracting California wildflower is native to many dry rocky areas (between 3,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation), from the eastern Sierra Nevada to Baja. Grape Soda Lupine will start from seed sewn directly in your mountain garden but germination may take a year or more. Try speeding up the process by filing a nick in each seed just before planting. Posted by Hello

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Hedgehog Cactus

Echinocereus triglochidiatus

The pretty flower belongs to the Hedgehog Cactus and grows all over these mountains.
Ours came from a local nursery where a property owner from the east end of the valley had donated them.
He was grading his lot for construction and was thoughtful enough to dig up the cacti first.
We bought several of them for the habitat. Posted by Hello

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Tiger Swallowtail On Thistle

Another of our Native Plant Notecards

Description on back of card;

Cirsium occidentale

The jagged outline and spiny foliage of our native California Thistle lend a coarse rugged character to wildflower gardens, while the nectar of its furry purple flowers lure butterflies of many species. Thistles are commonly found in open areas of the forest, and by roadsides, or scattered across the vacant lots of Big Bear Valley. They are in the sunflower family.

Papilio rutulus

This gorgeous swallowtail inhabits woodlands near streams and residential neighborhoods. In Big Bear they feed upon willow, quaking aspen and a variety of wildflowers, including thistle, milkweed and penstemons. The female lays green spherical eggs, singly, on the undersides of leaves. She may deposit several eggs on the same leaf.
Posted by Hello

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Scarlet Penstemon

Scarlet Penstemon - Our Notecard Photo

Description on back of card;

Penstemon labrosus

Probably the most common penstemon in Big Bear Valley, the beautiful labrosus can be found in nearly every meadow, vacant lot or field. Scarlet Penstemon grows beneath Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, where its dark almost-green foliage lies inconspicuosly flat on the ground, waiting for June and July when two to four foot spikes shoot for the sky, busting out in vivid splashes of orange, red, and more rarely, yellow flowers. Labrosus grows at elevations between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, in the Transverse and Peninsular Ranges of Southern California, and on down into Mexico. Scarlet Penstemon is very easy to grow from seed and lends itself nicely to a mountain wildflower garden, even tolerating a bit more water than some of our other natives. Labrosus is also a proficient hummingbird attractor. Posted by Hello

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California Poppy

Posted by Hello One of the first pictures taken with our new digital camera in 2003, this was shot in the front yard, and is part of a series of 10 photos we used for a set of native plant notecards.

The description on the card reads a follows.

Eschscholzia californica

California's State Flower is highly variable throughout its vast range (over 90 taxa described) and many new species may yet be indentified. Historically the California Poppy was not among the more abundant of wildflowers in Big Bear Valley and those found growing in the wild today are very likely hybrids of commercially grown varieties. California Poppies range in color from pale yellow to deep orange and may be the most universally recognized wildflower in the Southwest. This photo, taken from beneath a flower, was backlit by the sun to emphasize the simple elegance that is Eschscholzia californica. Readily available and easy to grow drought resistant California Poppies are always a favorite in wildflower gardens. They seem to do especially well on south facing slopes with occasional light watering.

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Prickly Poppy

Posted by Hello Another of the pictures we used for the native plant notecard set. They were all taken in our yard and this one was slightly rendered in Photoshop to give it a kind of water color look.

Description from back of card.

Argemone munita

Prickly Poppies bloom in the hottest driest parts of Big Bear well into the summer and you'll notice them beside parched dusty roadways. People often mistake them for Matilija Poppies because their massive white tissue-paper like petals and central cluster of yellow-orange stamens closely resemble those of the Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri). Both are in the Poppy family (Papaveraceae) but not of the same genus. The Prickly Poppy's flower is smaller than the Matilija Poppy and after a glimpse of the spiny foliage you'll think twice about picking one of these. Plants of this genus were once used to treat cataracts, and the name Argemone is derived from the Greek word argema, meaning "cataract". The latin munita means "fortification or defenses" and this poppy is certainly well defended. Prickly Poppies are easily grown, if not over-watered, thriving in full sun and poor soil to create a dazzling floral display.

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Painted Lady On Thistle

Painted Lady on California Thistle - Notecard Photo

Description on back of card;

Cirsium occidentale

California Thistle is a fine butterfly attractor and it's also a host plant for the Painted Lady. In the wild you might find stands of these thistles with their delectable flower-heads completely covered in butterflies. Cirsium occidentale's pale grayish-green leaves, spiny profile, and fuzzy purple flowers bring both rugged character and delicate wildlife to your garden.

Vanessa cardui

Painted Ladies, thought to be the world's most widely dispersed butterfly, are known to irrupt in great numbers during El Nino years. Vanessa cardui lays barrel-shaped eggs, singly, on the top of host plant leaves. In some places they're known as Thistle Butterflies because of their great preference for the nectar of Cirsium.
Posted by Hello

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Pine-Needle Basketry

Posted by Hello These are a few of the Pine-Needle Baskets (or bowls) that I've crafted from the endless supply of needles that fall on our property each year.
The bowl on the left is the first one I made, about 6 years ago, and it's 12 inches in diameter at the top. It took about 80 hours to construct.
The bowl in the back is the first one where I combined pine-needles with a gourd and it was completed in about 20 hours.
The bowl in the front was done with an orange dyed twine which makes the spiral pattern in the stitching very prominent.
I use hemp twine to stitch the bowls together, and finish them with a brushed on coat of beeswax, which is then baked into the needles in an oven at about 150 degrees.
This makes the bowls quite sturdy and gives them a nice looking sheen, almost like a satin lacquer, only these materials are all natural and non-toxic.

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