YEAR OF THE ROOSTER

Each Chinese calendar year is governed by one of 12 animals.

2017 is the Year of the Rooster.

Rooster

Based on cycles of the moon, the Chinese New Year begins the first day of the first new moon after winter solstice.

Rooster

Those born during a Year of the Rooster are said to be:

  • Outspoken and unafraid to speak their minds
  • Basically loners who do not trust most people
  • Capable of attracting close and loyal friends

Rooster

Thanks to Lee Schaefer for shooting the accompanying photos.

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BEFORE and AFTER, SUMMER and WINTER

Below normal single digit temperatures during December 2016 and January 2017 resulted in above normal snowfall in Central Oregon’s high desert at 4,000 feet.

Lee and snowblower in driveway

Lee and snowblower in driveway.

Covered wagon in the snow.

 

 

 

 

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Tribute to National Squirrel Appreciation Day, January 21

My right-handed uncle used to call left-handed baseball pitchers “squirrely”.  As a youngster, I thought “squirrely” meant “nuts” or “goofy” until we moved to the Oregon woods and I observed the crafty little critters first hand.

I enjoy watching a variety of wildlife from my kitchen. A squirrel leaps up to the bay window screen, clings spread-eagle, and glares at me with dark, beady eyes, demanding more peanuts. Startles the beejeebers out of me!

In winter, I watch bushy-tailed squirrels race for tossed peanuts and skid on the icy deck only to slide past the nut.

Western gray squirrels are patient, intelligent, determined, and use logic to pilfer seed from a bird feeder.

Our first feeder was wood, painted as a Western general store with a cloth sack of flour and round yellow barrel in front. Our first mistake was to hang it from a branch too close to the tree trunk. The squirrel anchored his back feet on the lodgepole pine trunk and easily stretched out with his front feet to the general store door for the seed.

Squirrel and bird feeder

Three weeks later I find the flour sack and yellow barrel on the ground and one corner of the store chewed to a sliver. We move it to the middle of a wire strung between two trees and suspend it three feet above the deck bench. We also suspend a suet cage on the same wire.

The squirrel studies the new position. He tries to walk the highwire, topples over clinging upside down, and falls to the ground. He repeats his attempts again and again, all ending in failure.

Time to try a different approach. Poised on the deck bench below the suspended general store, he leaps straight up and falls down. Like a cat, he always lands on his feet. He jumps again

and again. Finally, his front feet clutch the feeder roof and his hind feet grasp the bottom edge. Firmly planted on the store front, he is unable to reach the seeds at his belly.

A few more leaps and his depth perception is on target. He also opens the suet cage and runs off with half a cake of suet.

We move the suet cage to an arm attached to the kitchen window frame. The little acrobat launches himself from the top of the barbecue four feet away to the suet, and both swing like a pendulum. He drops the cage to the ground, opens it, and runs off with another cake of suet.

Squirrel on suet

Our second feeder was a small wooden box with a short shelf as a bird perch. The top opened to pour in seed that filtered out the bottom through a clear plastic, half-moon shaped opening. The plastic shield slid in and out for easy cleaning. The feeder box screwed on to the top of a seven-foot metal pole firmly secured in the ground.

For a few days, the squirrel is unable to reach the seed. The little gymnast quickly learns to scoot up the metal pole as if he has suction cups on his feet, but he bangs his head under the shelf. Dazed, he falls to the ground. Eventually he discovers that if he stops short of ramming his head, he can stretch his feet around the side of the feeder and pull himself up over the edge. Except on icy mornings when he leaps up the pole and s-l-o-w-l-y slides back down to the ground.

His sharp claws dig under the half-moon opening to reach seed in the back of the box. A few days later he masters the art of lifting the lid without it dropping on his head. It is comical to see his rear end and bushy tail hang out from under the lid. Not satisfied with this position, he rips out the plastic half-moon shield, tosses it to the ground, and gains easy access to all the seed.

Squirrel on a bird feeder

Our third, and present, feeder accommodates squirrels and birds, large and small. Lee built an edge around a 12×18-inch platform with three 1-1/2-inch posts on each side to support a slanted copper roof. Both ends are open. It took the squirrel a few days to figure out he could easily enter the feeder from the open ends instead of squeezing his little body between the side posts.

Squirrel in bird feeder

Gray squirrels do not play well with others, nor do they share seeds, nuts and water. They chase each other, flickers, downy woodpeckers and Steller’s jays off the feeder. When a jay glides down to the deck, the squirrel pounces on him from the feeder. The squirrel chases a male quail away from picking seeds that fall on the ground under the bird feeder. The quail zigzags through the tall grass with the squirrel zigzagging in pursuit. The chase ends once the quail leaves the squirrel’s territory. The squirrel also pounces on the back of another squirrel drinking from the birdbath.

Squirrels quench their thirst frequently. Before we provided a heated birdbath, one squirrel stood on the frozen ice, and with sharp teeth bit a piece of ice at the edge. He held the icicle in his front feet as if it were a Popsicle and bit off drinks from the tip. Another squirrel bit the frozen edge and tossed aside the icy disk on top in order to drink the water underneath.

Not all squirrels sport the usual silver gray coat and bushy tail. Some tails are thin and sparse, short or long or missing hair on one side or the tip. Sun glints off the bronze-tinted coat of a Douglas tree squirrel with a white stripe down the middle of its tail. Another has two white front feet like socks.

Squirrel resting

Squirrels are especially feisty late fall through early spring. One squirrel with a white blaze on his nose has raw, red skin around one eye; another has raw, red flesh on its forehead and around its neck like a collar; and a third is missing fur from its neck, shoulder and hind leg.

Severe cases could be mange. One squirrel, barren of fur from head to mid-section, looks like a sheared sheep. His ears stand out as if they were little horns. Ugly as a sewer rat, all the fur is missing from his tail. Another squirrel without a tail survived winter.

Chunks of fur are missing from poor little “Gimpy’s” hip and back. His injured right hind leg hangs limp. It looks difficult and painful for him to climb trees and to pull himself up on the deck bench to drink from the birdbath. A few days later, however, he climbs the metal pole to the feeder using only three legs.

Six squirrels, all plump with furry winter coats and bushy tails, appear within seconds after I replenish the feeder following a snow storm. Playful and curious squirrels chase one another across the snow playing hide and seek and catch-me-if-you-can as they zigzag around trees bouncing from tree trunk to the ground to tree trunk again and round and round the trunk spiraling to the top of a lodgepole pine.  Another acts squirrely by chasing itself cartwheeling and somersaulting, and one claws and clatters straight up the house siding to the roof, takes a flying leap down onto the deck and scampers away.

Douglas tree squirrels, or chickarees, dart quickly with feet barely touching the ground. One smells fresh seed up in the bird feeder. He tries to climb the slippery pole but is unable to reach the platform edge to pull himself up and over. He jumps to the ground, runs about six feet away to climb the nearest lodgepole and studies the feeder from above. He flew three feet from a lower tree branch to plop himself prone across the snow-covered peaked roof then rolled over and under to reach the seed.

Douglas squirrels are not intimidated by the larger gray squirrels. If the Douglas is in the feeder first, he fights and bites, forcing the gray to retreat.

One day three gray squirrels, a flicker and three evening grosbeaks competed for seed at the feeder. Little Douglas also wanted to eat so he climbed the nearby lodgepole, ran out on the short branch, leaped, spread his feet, and sailed over to the feeder roof. He peered at one of the big grays, lashed out at him, and the big gray jumped off. The other big grays took turns trying to chase Douglas off. The little Douglas stood his ground. The grays played leapfrog over Douglas, barely touching him, but he never flinched.

Squirrel in mid air

The hyperactive squirrels are seldom quiet, constantly chattering while stomping a front foot rat-a-tat-tat. So I am concerned one warm day when I see a squirrel stretched out flat as a bearskin rug on the deck. Nothing on his little body twitched. I open the door, and away he runs. I often see squirrels stretched out draped over a tree branch and on our deck bench dangling their feet over the edge.

A squirrel wants to come to the feeder one afternoon but our daughter is relaxing nearby. He chatters and stomps his front foot but she doesn’t move. So he drops lodgepole pine cones on her until she gets the message.

Some squirrels look like they’re having a seizure. One rolls in the dirt, jumps up in the air with all four feet off the ground at the same time, chases itself as if being chased, jumps up a 3-foot survey stake and pulls and tugs the pink ribbon tied on top.

Another chews the electric cord on the birdbath heater, wraps his body around the cord and kicks it with his hind legs. A squirrel in the feeder looks over the edge as if to say, “What in the world are you doing down there?”

And a third jumps onto the deck bench, runs back and forth along its 18-foot length, leaps over to the back of a chair, then to the tabletop and up the chrome umbrella pole. He explores the spokes at the top, pauses to look around, and then begins twirling like an exotic dancer on a brass pole. Now that’s squirrely.

These squirrely distractions may be goofy but like southpaw baseball pitchers, they are always entertaining.

Squirrel eating nuts

 

 

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Daylight Saving Time

Today is one of those two annoying times of the year when we turn our clocks either back an hour (fall back the first Sunday in November) or ahead an hour (spring ahead the second Sunday in May).

She: If it’s pitch black at 6:30 a.m., will it be darker or lighter after we turn the clock back an hour tonight?
He: Think about it. Tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. it will be 5:30 a.m.
She: But we don’t get up at 5:30 a.m. We get up at 6:30 a.m. Will it be darker or lighter when we get up?
He: If we get up at 6:30, it will be 7:30 so it will be lighter.
She: But 7:30 is too late to get up.
He: We go through this every time. Why don’t they just abolish it?

Daylight saving time in the United States began during World War I and continued during World War II. During the energy crunch several years ago, many thought it saved energy. Energy saved during the morning hours was consumed in the evening and vice versa. Office workers liked the extra daylight in the evening for recreation.

Swedish researchers found an increase in heart attacks after the spring change, and sleep deprived people are at risk because they should avoid sudden changes to their biological clocks.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “I’m really looking forward to changing all the clocks and timers on appliances, hot water heater, furnace, and drip irrigation sprinklers. (Don’t forget the car.)

Do you think Elsie the cow waits an hour later to be milked?

Seven years ago I wrote our three Congressmen asking to help end daylight saving time because it has outlived its usefulness. None replied.

 

 

 

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Francis Drake and the Plate of Brass

Drakes Bay, CA

On June 17, 1579, British explorer Francis Drake landed his ship, Golden Hind, for repair in what is now Drake’s Bay (pictured above in foreground) at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Drake supposedly left a plate of brass proclaiming in Elizabethan prose the land of America for England. In 1934, a six-year old boy claimed he found it while digging near Agate Beach in Bolinas.  In 1937, Herbert Bolton, director of the Bancroft Library at University of California Berkeley, paid a Greenbrae resident $3,500 for the plate to display in the Bancroft Library. Scientists and metallurgy tests proclaimed its authenticity, but other experts claimed it a fake. In 1977, scientists determined the plate to be a hoax.

Members of E Clampus Vitus, (See my November 22, 2015, blog post for more information  about E Clampus Vitus) a fun loving fraternal organization dedicated to preserving California history, admitted the practical joke they played on their friend Herbert Bolton got out of hand. Five Clampers, including a San Francisco attorney, two historians, an art dealer and restorer, and an art critic, arranged to buy a piece of brass at an Alameda shipyard. To make it look hundreds of years old, they battered, burned, and gave it a patina. They also left a clue to their prank by painting “ECV” (for E Clampus Vitus) on the back to show up under black light. Clampers wrote Bolton letters spoofing the plate, issued a booklet Ye Preposterous Booke of Brasse, and etched another plate from the Miwok Indians reclaiming America from England.

Bolton, however, believed the plate was genuine. He died in 1953 also believing that finding the plate was the high point of his career.

Drake’s memorial anchor can be seen from a 1.7 mile unmarked and uncleared trail at LOW TIDE ONLY on the beach east of Drake’s Beach Visitor Center. Continue 0.3 mile from end of bluff on beach around head of cove to marker at utility pole. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way. At high tide, we hugged the bluffs, carefully watching for falling rocks; crossed onto ranch land to follow a dirt road up and down a steep hill; tip-toed around cowpies through a herd of Holsteins; and climbed over a gate to Drake’s Estero (estuary) and the marker.

Drakes Bay Marker Location   Drakes Bay Marker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WAGON WHEEL RUTS

Few wagon wheel ruts worn into the barren landscape more than a century ago remain accessible for curious rut rats to trace on foot. Many are on private property; others are buried under blacktop or shopping malls.

The 1844 Emigrant Trail-Truckee River Route in California’s Sierra Nevada is easily visible gouged into granite boulders near the Big Bend Ranger Station. Located in Placer County on old Highway 40 at 49685 Hampshire Rocks Road, the California Historic Landmark 799.2 plaque in front of the Big Bend Visitor Center estimates that more than 30,000 travelers used this trail on their way to the gold fields.

Follow a wheelchair accessible path from the parking area to the bridge. Look under the bridge over the Yuba River.

Wagon wheel ruts at Big Bend Ranger Station

A quarter mile north from the Visitor Center at Loch Leven Trailhead, park at east end of parking area and look north for a dark stake among boulders to begin trail. Walk northeast looking for green metal markers on trees. Follow wagon wheel ruts over granite. Return to original stake and walk northwest following markers to Yuba River and Big Bend Campground Bridge.

Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California is another great location where it’s easy to see and touch wagon wheel ruts on dusty trails in barren landscape much as it was during the 1850s.

The San Felipe Valley Stage Station (1858-1861) (CHL 793), built at the southern trail of explorers, trappers, soldiers, and emigrants where it crossed ancient trade routes of native Indians, was later used by Banning Stages and the military during the Civil War.
0.9 miles North of Highway 78 on San Felipe Road
Plaque on northeast hilltop.

Wagon Trail, Blair Valley

Vallecito Stage Station (1852) (CHL 304)
An important stop on the first official transcontinental route, the Butterfield Overland Stage line, and southern emigrant caravans.
19 miles North of Vallecito at Southwest corner of Highway 78 and Route 2.
Also see Vallecito Stage Station County Park, Route 2

Butterfield Overland Stage Trail

Butterfield Overland Mail Route (1858-1861) (CHL 647)
Blair Valley; marker at top of Foot & Walker Pass.

Box Canyon (1847) CHL 472)
See rough, hand-tool cuts carved by the Mormon Battalion in January 1847 on the rocky walls for their wagons to pass through the narrow gorge, thus opening the first road into southern California.

 

 

 

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DESERT WARFARE TRAINING CENTER

In early 1942, after the U.S. was drawn into World War II in Europe, the War Department believed the first place to confront the enemy would be in North Africa. U.S. Army Major General George Smith Patton Jr. selected 18,000 square miles of California’s Mojave Desert as a training ground for realistic war games under climatic and geographic conditions similar to Libya to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps.

Patton established the Desert Training Center in March 1942 and administrative headquarters at Camp Young, named for Lieutenant General S.B.M. Young, the first Army Chief of Staff.

Eventually, more than one million troops in eight armored divisions and thirteen infantry divisions trained in eleven sub-camps in the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA) making it the world’s largest military installation in size and population.
Desert Training Center Map

Tent city camps contained field artillery units, tanks and repair shops, hospitals, aviation facilities and anti-aircraft units. The population of 191,620 included officers, flight personnel, nurses and hospital attendants, and enlisted personnel.

Temperatures ranged from below freezing to 120 degrees in the shade. Sand found its way into eyes, food, water, clothing, bedrolls, tents, weapons, and engines. Elevation ranged from the desert floor to 7,000 feet above sea level.

Within one month after arrival, every man had to be able to run one mile in 10 minutes wearing a full back pack and carrying a rifle. Water was rationed at one canteen a day. Standard field rations and salt tablets were issued. Diesel fuel poured on the ground around living areas discouraged rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantulas. Troops called the Mojave “a desert designed in hell” and “the place God forgot.”

Patton lived with his troops in the same primitive conditions. Within 23 days he conducted 13 tactical exercises, including some with two nights in the desert. His contributions to the training and discipline at the camps included piloting his own plane as he crisscrossed the maneuver area giving orders by radio to the tank crews below.

In a very important sense, many battles of WW II were won on the Mojave Desert during those maneuvers.

In late July 1942, Patton was ordered to Washington to plan, then sent overseas to lead, “Operation Torch”, the Allied assault on North Africa in November that resulted in a decisive Allied victory.

On April 30, 1944, the Army closed the CAMA and abandoned the camps. Access to most camps, some of which now include private lands, is limited to four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Accessible sites in Riverside County:
General George S. Patton Memorial Military Museum
At Chiriaco Summit 30 miles east from Indio on I-10

Skeletons of Camp Young sign

Camp Young Headquarters Desert Training Center, California Historic Landmark 985
I-10 exit Cottonwood Springs Road N 0.3 mi;
E on dirt road 8 miles

Patton Museum Tanks   Patton Museum Tank

Camp Coxcomb Desert Training Center, California Historic Landmark 985
I-10 exit Desert Center N 16.8 miles on Hwy. 177
(9.8 mi S of Hwy 62)

Blythe Airfield constructed in1942 as the Army Air Force Base to train heavy bomber crews. Four squadrons of the 390th bombardment group B-17s joined the 8th Air Force in England and completed 301 bombing missions over Europe between August 1942 and May 1945.

I-10 exit Mesa Verde North to Blythe Airfield; plaque placed by Billy Holcomb Chapter E Clampus Vitus and Riverside County Board of Supervisors in front of FBO building.

San Bernardino County sites:
Camp Clipper
E-bound I-40 at Fenner Rest Area
Camp Granite
2.4 mi E of Hwy 177 on Hwy 62
Iron Mountain Divisional Camp
0.2 mi E of Camp Granite plaque on Hwy 62

 

 

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