Friday, February 29, 2008

Pack rat heaven

Continuing the last blog--

The preferred method for killing a pack rat is trap or poison. There are many choices, even a chamber that the rat enters only to be electrocuted instantly. The latter had no appeal to me given I even hate the sound of bugs being zapped that way and can you imagine what it'd sound like if it was a rat?

Pack rats are about 4-5" long with a tail of about the same length. They are sometimes called kangaroo rats or trade rats and have acquired a mythology that they will always leave something when they take something. That might well be true, but it's not from any moral sense of fair play. They have to hold things in their mouth to carry them. When something more appealing comes along, first item is dropped. They are drawn to many things. Who knew some of those are phone cables, auto hoses or wiring, as well as holes in ceilings?

When we began considering how to kill the ones in the space above our ceiling and along the ducting, we considered poison, but more experienced people said it does not work very well. The most successful method appeared to be live traps. We bought one that fit into the available space and waited. The first night it was tripped but the sneaky rat had managed the bait without getting caught.

That next morning, we also discovered it had also rebuilt its little nest (which we had removed)-- determined creature. More lessons came in learning to put foil under the trap, so that the rat couldn't reach up through the bars and get the peanut butter (the preferred trapping bait). These little creatures are not dumb.

Second night of trapping reaped success-- one shivering, terrified, tiny, mama pack rat. That explained the rebuilding of the nest and probably why she didn't leave through the extrusion wire which let rats out but not back.

Realizing she was pregnant made us glad we found her before the babies were born. Ack! It also explained her determination to stay and have her babies in the safest place she knew. I wondered if she was last year's mama, who appeared much younger. I wrote about that experience last March in Predator or Prey.

The expected method to dispose of her would be drowning. Most Tucsonians would consider us nuts to even think about whether that was the right approach. I can hear conservatives now saying-- typical liberal; but this is more about only killing when need be. We had time to think about this.

Any rodent can carry diseases like Hanta Virus, but that happens when their population is high. We had observed on our acre and a quarter, we currently have very few pack rats-- although lots of holes. That might be due to king or rattlesnakes as they will go into their holes and hunt them. Population might also be thinned by a bobcat that our neighbor told us had her kittens on our place. He even watched the kittens fall out of the ironwood tree near the house.

Whatever the reason, although we have many holes in the ground made by pack rats, there appear to be few rats.

We had found the hole through which she entered our house. She was doing what any animal, including us, does in trying to improve her natural environment and have a safe place to raise her babies. Having plugged the hole to our satisfaction, we weren’t worried that she could return.

We could have taken her in the live trap to a new area and let her go, but that didn’t seem quite fair either; so we took a gamble and decided to release her right back on our own piece of desert.

When the trap was opened, she ran for it; then she stopped and looked back. Did she remember last year when she was chased from her other nest? Was she curious why we didn’t do what most predators would— kill her? Whatever it was, there was a few seconds of the meeting of the eyes. There was, at least on our end, an awareness of a commonality of all being alive and wanting to stay that way.

There will probably be no happy ending for this little pack rat (which you can see running away finally in the last picture). She will have to find one of the holes to rebuild a nest for those soon to be born babies. She is still at the bottom of the food chain and any owl, hawk, bobcat, coyote or big snake will consider her a nice meal. They have a reason to try to kill her. We didn’t. We just needed her out of our house!

(Click on photos to enlarge if you can't see her as she's in each photo)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ratatouille Redux

When we arrived at the Tucson house, we expected to find a water problem. It was the reason for a trip right now. Something had gone wrong in the house or outside system. We'd had one month-- with nobody living here-- that used 100,000 gallons of water. In a desert that's a disaster—pretty bad anywhere actually.

As a temporary fix, we had asked that the water be totally turned off. That stopped the water loss but left another problem. Auto waterers around the house provide a drip system for xeriscape plantings which though they need less water, do need some. For this reason we felt compelled to find time to come down even in the midst of lambing season. The trip was never intended to be about fun—although I had hopes for some. Surprises lay ahead.

In unpacking the cat (we brought our old one with us), our clothes, and things needed for a month here, I opened a living room closet to see cholla chunks on the floor. I've seen such before and it is definitely not in the good news category. Since most people don’t collect cholla pieces, there was only one possibility… pack rats. No droppings, no sign of a rat having been on the ground. That was good; so what was up? Up was where the answer lay-- a nice round hole had been gnawed in the corner of the closet's ceiling. Then I heard their little bodies scurrying around. Their secure environment had suddenly run into its own glitch.

This is all like one of those mixed blessing. It’s ugh that we have rats in a minimal crawl space, intended only for ducting, wiring and phone lines, between the roof and the ceiling. Whew that we came when we did because otherwise, the inside of the house most likely was next on their emigration plan.

It didn't take long talking to the hardware store and exterminators to learn a few things about the problem. For instance, did you know that they like to eat phone cable? Neither did we but that now meant no extensions in the house. Actually, upsetting as it was, it was not an unusual problem in a desert environment nor in an older home, which this one is with is wires and pipes coming in many places with often a haphazard plan. It also happens to be located in a region considered to be pack rat heaven. They even have a name for them on the poison containers-- roof rats. No kidding. We did find how they had come in but then came how to get them out—dead or otherwise.

In the movie Ratatouille, the rats are driven from their colony's home by an old woman with a shotgun who blasted holes in her own roof in her determination to get those rats. The hero is the rat-- the villain the old woman. After a few days of realizing the severity of this problem and the difficulty of trapping or poisoning these cute little creatures, I began to see myself in her shoes. Too bad the shotgun is locked in the gun safe in Oregon-- or maybe for the sake of the ceiling, that's a good thing.

(The beautiful Tucson sunset was from the second night here. It's an example of how even in difficult times, there are compensations if we look around.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mountains, rocks and sky

Southern Nevada's

endless expanses of

mountains and sagebrush

rocks, sand and sky

and then... there's Vegas, a place I go through and stay as little time as possible. Yes, there are good shows, entertainment, gambling, swimming pools, but there are also a lot of people. For a country gal, where there are crowds is not high on my list of wanta spend time places.

(All photos are along 95 in Nevada. Because of the time of day and a series of storms, the sky was the best I have seen along that stretch of highway. The late afternoon sun was tinging everything with intense colors, and we were driving between two sets of storms with mostly dry pavement.

The last one is the result of darkness, holding a small, digital Pentax, shooting through the window with Vegas lights in the distance. The effect was not deliberate; but I thought it said a lot about my physical, mental and emotional attitude as I had no idea where we'd find a place to stay overnight that was preferably a long way from the casinos and glitz.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Heading South

In mid-February, heading south, the scenery changes around each bend-- of which there are not many. Often the snow is right along the highway but the pavement clear.

Residents groan that they are due for more snow the next day. This has been a year of more snow than I remember seeing along this route; and although I have never lived here, I've been through many times and in many seasons.

Some don't see the beauty in craggy hills, eroded slopes, barren landscapes. For me, I love the starkness of a desert, the lines, the emotional impact of rawboned ridges, the stories hidden above, and below ground. To see it with snow outlining all of the eroded lines, was a real treat.

Not many people live in this part of these two states. Some might call this a no man's land. It is a harsh country but it does have its residents.

two coyotes on a hopeful hunt

part of a herd of 10 or 12 mule deer in the sage and juniper

bald eagle in a lone tree

All photos from February 21st, along highways 395 or 95 heading south from Alturas, California to Tonopah, Nevada-- some from the moving car with a telephoto (I wasn't driving).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Night of the Eclipse

Wednesday we drove south with no decided route in mind. The only thing certain was ending up at the Tucson house-- a necessary trip because of needed maintenance. We arranged for a very dependable couple to look after the Oregon sheep and cattle. This is not something we like having to do in the midst of lambing, even knowing the couple would be as dependable in looking after the place as we are; but there were several big problem in the Arizona house-- and one we didn't even know about but found once we got here.

We didn't get an early start because of feeding stock and an unexpected problem-- small ewe with baling twin wrapped around one of her hooves. She has done this before and not sure what impels her to tangle herself, but it required running after her until she got more tired of running than we did.

The decision to head over the mountains and go south through Nevada was made in Eugene. Central Oregon was pretty with snow alongside the road but easy driving with bare pavement. Klamath Lake was frozen solid-- the first time I ever saw that. The sky was just fantastic as the sun began going down.

Driving after dark isn't something I generally favor but Klamath Falls was too early to stop. Right outside of Klamath Falls, a huge full moon began to rise with a bite out of its side. I had completely forgotten about it being the night of the eclipse which is strange given I had been reading various opinions about the spiritual power of this particular eclipse.

We pulled over alongside the highway several times to photograph it at various stages; and even without a tripod, a few of them came out pretty good. Because for me, the real beauty of watching this eclipse happen was the setting around it, I decided to do a little combining of photo and digital painting to create the above image which doesn't do justice to what it was like to be driving through a snowy forest and watching that full moon gradually redden and then be totally swallowed.

What inspired me, as much as the snowy landscape, were the three stars closest to the moon. They didn't photograph at all but they were part of its mystical quality. I can well believe this was a special eclipse.

(Posting from Tucson where I will be for about a month.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Aging Expectations

Being out with the sheep, watching the old ones, then seeing the babies as they are born and so quickly are whipping around the pastures, it makes me think about my own aging-- not that I don't now and then anyway. Humans are aware of what animals experience with no expectation, no dread. For them, it is what it is.

Humans are too often caught up in the expectation game. When we are young, it's I can hardly wait until I can drive, or go to college, or get married or or or. Even when we get old, we may wish away days hoping for a change of seasons or for a favorite vacation to finally arrive. We may wish we were back to some earlier point in our lives where we think things were better. If you look at a calendar, how many days on it were spent totally experiencing the day and how many were spent anticipating or regretting something?

The family in which we were raised, the culture where we live, so many things determine what those expectations are about old age. This was an article I saw awhile back (hope the link still works) about one culture's approach to being old and how women there are seen by their culture and themselves-- French women don't get fat and do get lucky

Recently I read a woman in an interview talking about how she wished she had known how cute she was when she was young. Yet, she didn't appear to see how cute she is now; so nothing has changed unless she stops comparing herself against something else and appreciates what is. That's hard to do-- boy do I know.

In making some prints, I was looking at photos of myself from 2000. That's only 8 years ago. How could I have changed so much and boy have I. If I was a sheep, I'd have lived half my age span in those years (if I was one of the lucky ones). As a human, it's only about 10% of my probable life expectancy-- which still isn't nothing.

In the midst of lambing season, we had to very reluctantly put down a ewe with severe aging problems (believe me, you don't want to know what the symptoms were) which no amount of treatment had helped. I really admired her spunky spirit, how she'd be the first ewe out the gate in the morning, the last one to come in at night. She was born on this place. Once upon a time, she had been one of those having babies or bouncing all over in glee. One day they will be her. Life cycle is amazing. All I can say about it is-- make the most of where you are. Never live in the future or the past. Today is all there is.

(The young ewe who looks so exhausted has good reason. She had those triplets that morning. She was lying in the sunshine, gathering her strength. It may or may not be possible for her to raise them all. All three are equal in size. She wants them all; so we shall see how it goes and keep an eye on the weight gain and energy of her babies.)

Uncle Jay Explains Congress

Someone made a comment regarding how can these candidates run all over the country and still do their jobs which reminded me of this little explanation of how hard Congress works. On top of that, they decide on their own ethics, their own salaries, their own health care. Is it any wonder people are as dissatisfied with Congress as with the President.

Last subject the comment was made about why would Congress spend all the time they were on steroid hearings with so many major problems out there-- which is a good question. Steroid use is illegal. Where are the police in investigating it. Considering how little time they actually are there, it makes it even worse.

Enjoy Uncle Jay. He has many topics he explains on other YouTubes. In case YouTube doesn't come in well for you-- Uncle Jay Explains Congress

Sunday, February 17, 2008

the media and truth?

It was interesting to hear Sen. John McCain attack Sen. Barack Obama for not honoring a campaign financing promise that, from what I have read so far, McCain can't prove Obama even made. The news media immediately picked up on it-- will Obama keep his word and go public for his financing in the fall? Obama Waffles. Except did he? How many readers or listeners bother to find out what was actually said? Why do you suppose this has come up right now? The Carpetbagger blog describes well this situation. That's not what I've been reading in the news.

We learned with President Bush that when he would say something, the newspapers and the right wing spouted it out as truth. People hear it enough and some believe it must be so. McCain has learned well to play this dishonest game. Straight talk express long ago became crooked express twisted by his desire to become president. This well-known picture says it all. This is what McCain has done to gain power.

It's not hard to understand why he would try to intimidate Obama into committing to depending on public financing. Small donors are what Obama has been depending upon to challenge the Clinton machine-- and the small donors have come through big-time. It is likely that in the fall, with Bush's low ratings and how McCain has hitched his wagon to that train, he would be outspent if he has to depend on true believers sending him donations.

Why now, however, makes less sense. Unlike the Republican party, where the candidate is definite, the Democratic party has yet to choose a presumptive winner. My guess is McCain would prefer to run against Sen. Hillary Clinton. Anything he says to put down Obama plays to her benefit.

The primary is not over. Hillary could still easily win. The media pontificates as though it's all been decided. It has not been. We will know more after Ohio and Texas. These primaries, however, could end in a statistical dead heat which might not be settled until the Convention.

Elections have been stolen before. There was something odd that happened in New York City-- Unofficial Tallies in City Understated Obama Vote. These understated results in 80 districts wouldn't change Clinton's win, but might they impact delegate count? What if this is repeated in Ohio where a lot of us were suspicious of the results in 2004.

Hillary and the media are both distorting Obama's position on issues and his experience. There is extensive information online regarding his plans, what he would like to do, his experience in state politics, his education, his ability to bring people together as he is doing right now, but the news media follows along with the Clinton line-- no meat. I realize some people who deride Obama are doing so because they want a president who is a dictator, not one who is a leader. Maybe some have forgotten leadership is supposed to be about inspiring and gathering together others where together we do the work.

IF you want to know Obama's exact policies, do some research. Andrew Sullivan, in Daily Dish, writes about listening to Obama's in depth speeches on various topics and provides the transcripts-- in his own words. If you have been one to believe Obama has no statements out there on specifics, please click on the Sullivan link.

I guess sometimes we all want information spoon fed us in easy bites. The news media has gotten used to that for themselves. After all, that's how the Bush administration has done as it provided the news outlets the stories as they want them delivered-- in convenient clips.

On one program after another, I hear the media talk about how honorable McCain is. He appears to have been at one time-- although he was tangled up in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s: McCain and the Keating Five. Even remembering the questionable ethics of his connection to Charles Keating, I thought at one time McCain was a good man-- even if he had made some mistakes in judgment. I thought that in 2000; but if he was honorable, he does not appear to be anymore. You see it in statement after statement as he plays the fear card, promises genocide if we leave Iraq, backs off on whether torture is okay, toadies up to the religious right, and, I think, tries to aid Hillary in getting the nomination. The picture above says well who John McCain is today.

Whatever you do, however you get your information, whoever you favor for the presidency, don't trust any one media as your sole source. Go looking for actual quotes when something is claimed. Check multiple outlets. If you don't do that, you are going to get the government you deserve. It's not too late to turn this country around, but it takes us as a people doing it, not expecting it to be magically delivered.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Steroids - Sports - Politics- Credibilty?

Treading cautiously into this water because I know so little about sports, but I do know something about politics.

Yes, I had heard the name Roger Clemens, but I didn't know what his record was other than in baseball. When a record was being broken, and recently I understood a lot had been broken, it would slip by me with a that's nice and ho hum. Not so a lot of the rest of the country. Not so kids who follow these sports' heroes, mimic their behavior, and hope for the same sort of success.

Even with the hearings on Capitol Hill, I was not paying a lot of attention. Seemed weird that a trainer would save a bloody syringe with DNA and steroids-- but then that preserved, semen-stained dress didn't make much sense either. Did the trainer do it for potential blackmail, an unusual souvenir, or a protection in case something came along where perjury was a possible issue?

Listening to the Daily Show last night, I saw clips of various Representatives asking Clemens questions and a bell dinged. How did this become a partisan issue? Republicans directed their questions away from possible steroid use to how great a career Clemens had had. Democrats went for the jugular by saying they didn't believe him and how he had disappointed them. Democrats also believe in Santa Claus and Republicans in the dollar.

Apparently athletes using steroids is okay with Republicans and for Democrats it's not. If Republicans think it's not big deal (as long as the guy has a crew-cut and fits their all-American prototype), and that the results of using them are good, why haven't they legalized them? (It could be a tit for tat. We give them steroids and they give us marijuana.)

Actually the Republicans didn't need Democratic support to legalize steroids for pro athletes. For most of the Bush administration (7 years but seems like an eternity), the Republicans have had the power of the Legislature and Presidency (a president who they say will pardon Clemens if he gets in trouble for his perjury). So what was the reason for not legalizing something that they clearly approve of athletes using even if it atrophies their sexual organs, makes them prone to rages, has unknown cancer-causing effects, but improves performance on the field. And aren't gladiator shows part of their plan to keep the masses ignorant of what is really going on to their country?

I find this business of conservative and liberal labels to be very confusing. How can a conservative encourage the use of something that is not only illegal but encourages kids to use it to create their own sports careers? I can't figure out how this party of the moral right can be defending this while the supposed immoral left is saying it's wrong.

And Democrats? You thought those thick necks came from what? You thought a man like Roger Clemens, who had a good career as a young man but suddenly exploded with power in his 40s, was naturally getting there? How shocking to find out the gifts of the tooth fairy aren't really without cost!

If people want these gladiator shows, they could make the use of steroids legal, make the playing field even, keep them illegal for kids (they will get them anyway as they do other illegal drugs).

Or we could all accept sports at a bit lower level and not demand super human results from our athletes? Oh that doesn't sell as many tickets? Guess that explains the Republicans defending its use while not explicitly saying that.

[Finally, I got an email alert about a virus that has been around since last year, but evidently is out again in force. Watch out for cards you get even from friends or family. There are safe ways to open them, just don't click on the link, go to the card site and use the code number you are given. This sounds like a particularly nasty virus-- Snopes on Storm Virus.

And finally, don't forget the petitions circulating from MoveOn.Org as well as other groups like Democracy for America. If petitions aren't your thing, do let the super delegates from your state know that there will be a price to be paid if they ignore the majority will of the Democratic voters and workers in the caucuses. Hillary Clinton cannot get the nomination through a regular vote of the primaries, but she can get it through back room deals. Those are never good for us and could easily cost the party the November election.

I think the whole super delegate and caucus system should be scrapped. Caucuses are there because they are cheaper for the party to run, but they are not fair to older people, to those who don't have a whole day or an evening to put into the selection of a candidate. Leave caucuses for organizers and get back to primaries where the people in the party decide who they want.

And party primaries should probably not allow the other party to cross over to foul up the meaning of the votes. Voting for someone because they are not the best person but you think you could most easily beat them is not beneficial for the country or even the party system. I still would like to see a third party become viable.

I also think Florida and Michigan should have the financial help of the party to hold new elections to be sure their votes are counted in the Convention. If they simply let them give it to Hillary, than those voters who didn't bother to vote, knowing it wasn't going to count or threw away their votes on a candidate unable to win, will lose any voice in who our Presidential nominee will be. Howard Dean wants to have those states vote again. It seems the only fair thing to me as the original disenfranchising of them didn't seem right to start.

The primary season has turned on its head and instead of states like Oregon, who don't vote until May, having no voice, every vote is going to count! That may be the only good part.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

feels like spring

Our first lamb arrived Monday.
I had walked outside to water in the greenhouse
The mothering sound caught my attention.
I looked more closely, and there was the ewe
with something new beside her,
something I haven't seen in a year.

The mother's twin crowded close.
intrigued with the new life--
But we have always shared everything.
Not this. It is mine.
The lamb gave a little leap into the air.
trying out its new abilities.
It looked around with some amazement--
My goodness, so this is what was out there.

Spring really must almost be here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's our environment

Every day I hear new debates on what is happening with global climate. It's changing. It's not changing. It's changing but it's not our fault. Storms are due to global warming. We always had storms. We all have to switch to new light bulbs to stop greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases aren't it. Yes, they are.

Whenever anything is claimed (and the claims can be confusing), some dismiss it all if the expert is labeled an environmentalist (to some synonym for party-pooper at the least and communist at the most ). They are not to be trusted because their goals are suspect. So what does being an environmentalist, as I consider myself, mean?

The dictionary says first it's an expert on environmental problems. (Well, I am no expert. I am, however, an observer of life and an explorer of issues, does that count?) Second definition: any person who advocates or works to protect the air, water, animals, plants, and other natural resources from pollution or its effects. (By that definition, I am one, supporting such efforts on a broad scale and working on them in my own life on a small scale.)

Some right wingers lose it before they get to the word environmentalist. Just saying environment triggers defense mechanisms, but what is environment? 1. the aggregate of surrounding things, conditions, or influences; surroundings; milieu. 2. the air, water, minerals, organisms, and all other external factors surrounding and affecting a given organism at any time. So it's what we live with and within.

The problem some have with environmentalists is a word missing in the list above. Where is making money or maintaining the stock market's growth? Profit is not a factor in assessing environment. No wonder environmentalists are such impediments to a fully functioning society. Given the deification of capitalism, it's no surprise some have seen environmentalists as the stumbling block on their way to Utopia.

To see how this impediment interferes on a practical issue, let's take highway construction. Who doesn't like wide, safe roads? Not surprisingly, when a new road is proposed or even an existing road going to be widened, the questions environmentalists would ask would not be asked by truckers, those who make construction materials, nor by people in a hurry to safely get to a new ski resort or a development tucked into a beautiful, wooded terrain.

If you look at the environmentalist's list of concerns, the freeway will be considered for how it impacts air quality, community life already there including animal, and water (as roads cut through natural drainages). The developer won't care about whether there is an elk habitat that this cuts in half. They won't even want to know it. Besides, what is an elk to a developer who only sees progress in terms of building?

The extreme environmentalist would develop nothing while the extreme developer would develop everything. The need is compromise so that nobody gets it all while we try to balance the needs of environment with those of growth.

Some environmentalists go too far with their demands as a way to stop any development. Protecting an endangered three-toed squirrel when there are plenty of four-toed squirrels is silly. Don't dare plow that field because the habitat is of a striped scorpion that is almost extinct while ignoring the fact that the environmental niche is filled by tan scorpions which are everywhere.

We are living on this earth that some call Gaia. We do not understand totally how it works. There could be many reasons for observable changes, but isn't it conservative to go slowly figuring out when it we might be us doing that would impact our environment in a way from which we can't come back or it takes centuries?

When environmental issues are closer to home, they are easier to see the consequences. I faced an unpleasant one on this farm recently-- too many cattle on too small of acreage. I have shown pictures of the cattle herd. I take great pride in watching and tending them, but walking back in the pasture this winter has shown a problem impossible to ignore. It isn't like reading about the ocean or the air quality thousands of miles away or an ozone layer overhead, it was right here-- ground getting chopped up. Grass down to 1/4" in places.

The problem was evident and undeniable. The solutions were repugnant to me. We try to market our beef direct to buyers. This means healthy, grass-fed beef for the consumer as well as good, quick death for the animal. The market this year has not supplied enough customers = environmental problem = emotional one for me.

The only real solution, since buying more land was not possible and would only delay the issue, was selling animals at auction. I have written here how much I value giving our animals a good life. It's called husbandry. There was no way to solve this problem, however, without sacrifice-- the animals and mine.

Last Friday, we sold at auction 13 young animals. My heart hurt for this, but I had to grit my teeth and bear it because their environment had reached its limits and only a hard solution would solve the problem. Any less painful solutions would have had to be enacted months ago, even a year. We tried but it hadn't worked and so here we were with a solution that was painful but had to be done. The herd seems relieved as their life is now better with less pressure for space and food. I still feel sad; but solutions don't always come without cost.

When it's immediate, most people can see environment as mattering. Like when we were driving into town one morning last week and suddenly a small black and white critter came scurrying out from the side and crossed the road right in front of us. Oh no, oh no, were the vocals while brakes were applied and a swerving mechanism avoided the skunk. Talk about a risk to our immediate environment!

Sometimes we have to do things, that might cost us individually, to improve our environment in a worldwide sense. Cute movie on this topic is Happy Feet, give it a try. It is a sweet, animated story with a lot of good music and a lesson about how one group can impact another. Even there some argued, who cares! We all should.

A blog coming soon will be on something science is observing regarding the environment but over which we might not have a choice. No light bulb solutions. No sale of animals. Maybe no way to swerve around. When such things happen, then we, as a world community, need back-up plans. Do we have them? Yes, they cost money. :)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gender Expectations

Because of the last little test and our current presidential election, I have done some thinking about gender. The culture in which we grow up, the parents we had, what we watch on television or in a movie, what religion we practice, all are factors in what we expect as women or men. Certainly biology plays a role, but sometimes, even in a farm herd, it's hard to separate nature from nurture.

When my daughter was a little girl, she liked me to play Barbie dolls with her, but she would become insulted when I'd have my Barbie be a truck driver or some other equally inappropriate, to her 10-year old mind, profession. When she grew to be a woman, being an archaeologist, my daughter did things that were dangerous and made her mother shudder when she would hear, but throughout her life she had learned to not limit her choices based on her gender alone.

A few years ago in Tucson, I had a friend walk around my home and say it all looked so masculine. I didn't take offense and did know what she meant-- strong, intense colors, sculptures of men larger than sculptures of women, art that was of the West or strong abstract designs, nothing frilly and nothing pink. I didn't decorate it that way because I was putting down women anymore than I played with my daughter as I did because I wanted her to be manly. It's because of not limiting oneself by expectations of anything except what suits the individual; and if that happens to be pink and frills, go for it-- man or woman.

There are obvious biological and hormonal differences between men and women. Until hormones kick in, all babies look much the same regardless of sex, but at a certain age, the differences become apparent-- no matter what a parent tried to create.

I grew up in a generation where women had certain roles and expectations. My mother, although she was a stay-at-home mom, was also a woman who pulled on her boots and helped a ewe birth her lambs, helped run a dairy, was as apt to spade up a garden as my father. I saw the gender differences but also that they didn't have to be the limitations some would have us think. Mom did have more expectations that she pushed onto me (due to the era) than I pushed onto my daughter or son. It was a time where girls did one thing and boys another, but even then I could see some of that was not nature but rather nurture.

Many cultures encourage while others enforce roles for men and women, as tragically we are seeing now with Iraqi fundamentalists literally killing women who don't keep their hair covered or who chose the wrong color of scarf. Once again male dominance, using religion, is closing over women in Afghanistan.

To a much more limited extent, some of that kind of expectation is in my country also. It is impacting the current presidential race with women who say they are voting for a woman because she is a woman-- or men who say they are voting against her for the same reason. To me, either are equally wrong.

Some gender expectations don't work to our advantage-- a few add to the joy of life viva la difference. We just need to watch for which is which and not let ourselves be limited in ways that detract from a full life.

The photos here are a few gender photos from the farm. Commenters had asked how the calf was doing from Pasture Melodramas (she's doing great). Top picture is of her, after being fully treated, and her mama heading through the gate to the pasture where she and another little one (second photo), born at the same time, immediately hooked up again.

Calves can be as as close to each other as siblings-- spending more time together than with their mothers. In this case, one, a little bull, will be castr
ated and someday eaten while the heifer lives out her life as a cow producing more calves. Their fates are mostly determined by gender.

This last photo is of two of our rams. Is that 'testosterone' in the lead there or what? I mean he's so masculine that he illustrates everything about being macho.

That ram, nicknamed Gabby by my husband, lives out his life as leader of the flock, dominating the other males [until one gets stronger and takes over his position], and taking his pick of the females. I don't know how he learned to be as he is. I think it's got to be mostly nature but part nurture as sheep or cattle raised apart from herds have to be trained when they enter them as to correct behavior. (By the way in flocks, other than in breeding season, the males hang out together. If he can't find a bunch of rams to hang with, he prefers the cattle.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

How well do you understand men?

Another of those little tests-- this one made me smile although I would not remotely claim to understand men-- appreciate, now that I will say. (I didn't see an equivalent test for men to take about women; so guys, if you want one, go looking-- otherwise you could take this one and let me know if it is any good.)

You Have Your PhD in Men

You understand men almost better than anyone.
You accept that guys are very different, and you read signals well.
Work what you know about men, and your relationships will be blissful.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Webcam Portraits

If you are one of those who hates photos of yourself, a computer webcam is a tool that can teach what works for you. With webcams, you instantly see results of this angle or that, how lighting works if it shifts, what backgrounds help, how to hold your hands, and as you begin to see positive results, the camera becomes a friend, not an enemy.

Webcams have the advantage of not using a flash and that actually is a big one when it comes to portraits. Professional photographers use lights, filters and reflectors to get their photos. Webcams can offer some of the same results with a lot less set-up. Yes, you can't blow it up to an 11x14. Did you need to? A webcam with less pixels generally won't be as sharp as a snapshot-- and, at my age, that's a problem why?

Having played with cameras for photographs since I was a little girl, I have tried many different methods to get mood photos, the kind I most enjoy taking, and have to say my favorite is the webcam. If I use my laptop, I can get almost the whole body in the shot. If I want to change backgrounds, I move to the place I prefer.

One thing I have mentioned before when discussing portrait photography, I am the cameraman. I don't see these photos as me. I am the one behind their creation.

Photographs are images and illusions taken for a reason-- sometimes to use in art, sometimes to have fun, sometimes because a photo is needed, but they aren't me-- to me. No picture is anyway, but these are done for a product-- picture of woman who is sexy, kind, moody, happy, angry, or to illustrate something. The best way to describe it is they are about an idea, not just a person. When you divorce your physical self from the image, you are more capable of looking at whether it met your goals.

A lot of my personal photos in Rainy Day have been taken with my Canon Rebel. To get them with auto-timer, I set it up, click the button, move quickly to where I plan to be, hope the camera focused there, wait for the snap (assuming I got in position before it did), look at the results, see if the lighting was right, change it if it wasn't, and do it all over again until I get what I wanted. Try getting a mood right after that-- let alone any kind of interesting pose. Having someone else take it, who says oh no, not that way... doesn't do a lot more to get a mood right-- unless it was frustration.

Webcams are low pressure, let me work by myself, play with angle, expression, lighting, see what I am getting, and only then snap the picture. Surprisingly when I printed some the other day, just to see how they did in 4x6, they were almost as sharp as with the digitals. The more light on the subject, the clearer the image will be.

Of course, the other advantage of owning a webcam is in instant messenger conversations with family or friends. If you have a wireless, you can take someone through the house, show them anything you want, but most importantly make your conversation seem more real.

Some people feel webcams are not flattering and don't like using them for that reason. Most of the time, that is because of lighting. Play with it, adjust it to where it hits your face where you want. Generally speaking, more light is better as it allows for more details but you want it where it works for you, not against you.

For me, webcams have been a fun tool. Mine right now is a Creative because I am very color particular. I have tried other brands, but they had too much coolness for my computer and light situation. Looking at other people's webcams and liking their results is how I found mine. Its price was under $50 (the microphone is separate which makes it cheaper). It gives me focus and color adjustments to get as close as possible to actual color. There are fancier ones with zoom but nothing matters more to me than color and simple adjustments.

All of these photos were taken with one of my Creatives (I have one for the portable also) illustrating how mood, angle and lighting can change the message. Want to look happy, sad, thoughtful, illustrate a topic, take some fun shots, need a profile picture for an internet site, all are easy to do with computer and a low cost webcam.

And then, suppose you don't have a background that says what you want, with computer tools, you crop your photo, copy and paste it onto a different background more like where you wish you had been when you took the photo. Hey, the lighting might not be exactly the same, but it's all part of the fun of working creatively.

(The background sky was taken in Montana using the Canon Rebel.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

It's all about the light

[This should be obvious but sometimes I find even what is obvious is good to repeat now and then. I am not a professional photographer. It is a hobby I have enjoyed since I was a child. I have observed what talented photographers, such as Ansel Adams, have done, have read books on the subject, but the following is my opinion.]

Lighting might not be everything in photographs or paintings, but it comes close. Where is the main light coming from? What does it highlight? Which colors does it bring out? What shapes are visible that were not before? How do the colors change as the lighting changes?

Any pretty scene can end up just a pleasant vacation snapshot, or with wise use of light, it becomes something so exciting it ends up framed and on someone's wall.

The goal of any art is always to do more than replicate a scene but to instead impact the viewer with the 'feeling' of what is being seen. Great art, whether of photographs or paintings, is not in the details but in the emotions.

Paul Cezanne said, "A work of art that does not begin in emotion is not art." I have those words above my desk as a reminder because it fits with writing also. Craft is all very well, but it's passion that is life changing.

For an artist, learning to use light can be a life long challenge. I have seen painters who learn one system of lighting that works and forever after, they replicate it until you know their work each time, and it's so boring, you no longer care.

Where a painter can decide to change the lighting at will (hopefully remembering to keep the source consistent), a photographer has to find the right lighting. It can be enhanced by tools but it cannot totally be created. Some photographers see a scene they like and wait all day or return for the right moment, season or weather. Light often doesn't last long. Lighting needs vary for what is being depicted and the mood the artist wants.

In photography, a polarizing lens is a valuable tool. With an inexpensive polarizing lens, a photo can be turned from so-so to stunning or likewise ruined because a forgotten polarizer dulled or washed out the entire scene.

One morning in January, when I went outside to get some snow photos, the brilliant colors in the sky changed my plans. The sunrise was being reflected into the western sky turning it an interesting yellow-orange-- something that seems to happen here mostly in the winter.

When I walked through the snow down to the creek, I saw something even better as the pale orange sky reflected into the water with a tree perfectly positioned to add more interest.

Moving closer to the bank I wanted to get as much of that yellowish orange as possible. The closer I got to the bank, the better it got and the more I began to wonder where the edge of the bank might have been undercut. My fall would only have been two feet, three at the most, but the icy water is what would make it interesting. I can't-- won't-- count the times I have actually bumped into something or fallen because my eyes were on the possible photograph and not what was under my feet.

When I felt I had gotten the right shots (digital is such a great tool with how it lets me take so many to get just one), I turned around, and noticed the light and half moon were working with the oak branches (You'll definitely have to enlarge this one to see the moon to the left of the oak).

It was in shooting the moon and trying to get more intensity that I remembered-- polarizing lens-- reflections-- duh! I walked back down to the creek, tweaked the lens. The photos above are within a few minutes of each other; so the main difference is where the polarizing lens was turned and composition.

This last photo is cropped for composition, drama, subject, and darkened just a bit with my photo program. These are al the kind of tools that at one time only professional. photographers had as creative options. I personally wouldn't call any of them better than the others-- just different. It's all in what story the photographer wants to tell.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Today is one of four, seasonal Celtic festivals-- Beltane, Lammas, Samhain, and Imbolc. Typical of our culture to downgrade its meaning, most know Imbolc better as Groundhog's Day. The early Christian church renamed it Candelmas (representing 40 days after Jesus's birth, the purification of Mary, and the presentation of Christ to the temple).

Imbolc is also known as the festival of waxing light-- meaning the days are growing longer. It's midway between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. This is the season where we all look toward the branches to see if the buds are starting to swell-- or we would if it wasn't snowing or freezing rain outside.

Some call this day Brigid's Day for the ancient Celtic goddess of water and fire. "She [Brigid] presided over smithcraft, poetry and healing-- all forms of sacred fire, inspiration. Her holy flame at Kildare was tended by nineteen vestals. Later, when the worship of the Goddess was disguised as the worship of the Saint, her priestesses were replaced by nuns." by Starhawk 2007 and in We'Moon '08.

Basically it is a day for us to think about justice, about what we want the growing light to bring to our world. One way to celebrate it is with water and fire. If I was a wiccan, which I am not, I might gather together with others who had a desire to see justice and healing grow throughout the world, and we would bring our water, light the fire and say words that had meaning to us.

My heritage is French Celtic, something I discovered in the family ancestry many years after I felt it in my heart. I have long been drawn to Celtic music and simple rituals, using natural elements, which add symbolic meaning to my own intentions both for my personal life and for what I hope to see manifested in the world.

Many of the so-called pagan ways, have more depth than what some today consider to be religious but instead seem to be empty of any meaningful symbols to help us focus on what we most need for ourselves and others.

"One by one, in tiny increments, candle by candle, gesture by effort, wish by prayer, concern by care, we feed the life-fires of the soul and light the infinite universe, little by little from within." by Donna Henes 2003 in We'Moon '08

So sometime soon, it's not so important what day (Imbolc can officially be between January 31st to February 3rd), gather the water of life and light the fire of intention for change in the coming year-- meaningful change that makes our own life and that of others on this earth better-- even though it might be bit by bit.