Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Husband, the “Sniper”!

Note: No, I have never seen Caddyshack. But I can relate!

You know what they say: “When in the Wild West, do as they do!” – right?! Right!

Well, I have been waiting (and watching) patiently for two years to learn how things are done out here, in The West – where the skies are tall and the land just strolls for hundreds of thousands of miles with no shame, into the sunset.

Things are different, here, my friends. They shoot people who walk into their houses, they still sit on the signal when the train goes across the plains, because, you see, the rails have made it out so far – it’s a big deal when the train arrives in town! They still look for fortunes – lost people of The East, moving here, in search for a better, richer, simpler, less “political” and more free lives. People still make their own justice here . Sure they do. Who knows whether they even have a sheriff in these parts, right?! Or when the sheriff is out of the bar and ready to take action.

You get the idea! Whatever the John Wayne movies taught you, back in the day – it’s all alive and well, out here in the Wild Wild West. And that’s part of the charm!

But I never would have thought that the Wild West would be alive and well in my own back yard. Literally. Let me explain.

We have had gophers. Since early last fall, we have lived with mounds and mounds of dirt being unburied by the little (or huge) cheeky creatures and with plants dying all over the yard. We have tried poisoning them – no good! Not sure if they eat the poison, but if they do, it’s definitely agreeing with them. We have the “buzzers”, these rods you stick in the ground and they vibrate, making these “horrible” electric noises, apparently meant to shoo them away. These devices moved them about 10 feet away from the flower beds, … till last week (for about 2 months). But now, they can’t hear the buzzing, either. Or if they can, they don’t care.  

Pest control people didn’t want to kill them last winter, because, apparently, gophers hibernate, and they don’t eat poison during winter months. Wrong! No hibernation here! Feeding off of plant roots?! Definitely! Now, in the summer, pest control people are not returning calls. Evidently, too busy killing the suckers everywhere in town! Or who knows …

Well, this weekend, my husband decided to do what every good Westerner does – take the matter in his own hands! So, while sipping coffee on a lazy Saturday morning, on our kitchen bar stools, I point to him the little rodent digging in the back yard. Before I could even say “gopher”, Aa. stands up and marches, resolute as anything, to the basement. He comes out with a freaking huge (to me!) rifle  to shoot the thing.

Calm as ever, he pries the back patio door open just a few inches, sits on the floor, Indian style – so that he could “hide” behind our fence so the neighbors across the road won’t see a tall man pointing a rifle at the road, with the rifle to his eye, waiting for the thing to come back out. This gopher was the size of a small rat. Same color as the dirt. I doubted very seriously that he could shoot him with one bullet. I am all freaking out, because I think: “oh, crap! The gun will make so much noise, the neighbors will call the police on us, for hearing gun fire within the city limit.” Aa. explains that “the gun is a .22. It makes no more noise than a firecracker”. – like that’s supposed to mean anything to me.

A gun is a gun is a freaking gun for me!!! What do I care?!! It will make noise and it will make damage – that much I know! I am freaking the hell out!  I am sitting on the floor, in the front room, caressing, and reassuring my cats, who, in their infinite wisdom, are hiding away from the back of the house, where Mr. Aa. is on the lookout, carefully, and feeling that something is “off”. I can see Aa. but I can’t see the back yard.

After about 3 minutes of waiting, a short, brief, very confident shot is fired. Aa. was right. Not louder than a firecracker! No resounding noise. No echo. Almost no pull!

“Did you get him?” – I ask full of fear and awe.
“Yep.” – he comes back in one breath.
After a few seconds, he says: “Oh, sh^t! Not all the way. He’s walking away, but he’s hurt!”
“Go out there with a shovel and finish him off!” – I find this voice inside of me coming out with definite hatred!

And off he goes. And I watch him bury the thing, after finding  “lots of blood” – making the mound all “clean” and all.
And there the gopher goes … Hopefully, one down, the rest of them left for the pest man to “finish off” on Wednesday, when we finally made the appointment.

I am not sure how to put into words how I feel about this whole thing?! I didn’t grow up with guns! I hate guns! I am even scared they could misfire and kill me if they just sit there, in front of me, laying down! I am that scared of them. Is it right to shoot a gun within the city limits? I am not sure. He has a permit and everything, but is it OK? As long as we’re safe, and he was!, is it still wrong to protect your house? As I have said – nothing else worked. I am sick of the critters! I am sick like you would not believe it! I would kill them with a shovel, too, but some of them are enormous – the size of a medium dog, even! A shovel and my lack of strength would only annoy them! We need something sure. A gun and a precise gunman is definitely that! Sure.

I am positive my “gun friends” are laughing out loud reading this, but I am still nervous! Although a small piece of me smiles with joy that one set of teeth is not going to ruin my work of two years anymore, a huge part of me is afraid of what consequences gun use can have. My best friend shoots foxes in her back yard in Virginia, who threaten her chickens, and she lives smack dab in the middle of a bigger city than we do. So, I guess it’s all OK. But such an out-of-body experience for me to witness!

Apparently, I am not all the way American, and definitely, not all the way Western, yet! *sigh*.

A shallow grave: somewhere, under this mound, there is a dead gopher - next to their favorite plant.

A Weird Season

You all might remember my year of wealthy harvest last year. Especially in the realm of tomatoes. This year, however, it’s very – very different.

Here we are, at the end of July, and I had about … 5 tomatoes out of my garden and one green bell pepper. Some green onions for a salad or two. As for our herbs, I did make a couple of batches of cilantro and basil pesto, and Aa. has made dill bread I think twice.  And that is that so far.

The tomatoes are good and tasty, but not as incredibly sweet as last year, and definitely not as huge as last year – they are small and dense. The pepper was tiny. Maybe the size of a golf ball! 

 Small harvest (in so many senses on the word): tomatoes, one pepper and pears ...

Everything just barely started to grow about two weeks ago. I water the garden every night, but the drought has just been way too serious this year for my water to be enough. The tomatoes are about 3 feet tall now, and very thick, but they don’t have tons of fruit nor blooms! So, they have enough water to grow, but not enough of a good combo of shade, sun, natural rain water and healthy air (I’ll explain in a few) to really produce.

Cabbage, kale and cucumbers just now spreading out ...

The funny thing is: we used the same spot in the garden for the veggie beds as last year, but we bought more good soil, with manure in it, and we tilled! With a tiller! Tilling is something I don’t believe in, especially with a  bonified tiller, but we did it this year, just because Aa. believes our soil is way too dense for anything to grow in it. And yet, the results are not as impressive as last year.

Every time I water for at least an hour at a time, my whole yard sucks the juice dry in seconds after the hose stops. It’s really quite depressing to watch. I guess, this is life in the real desert. And I have said it before: why the Mormons thought this is God’s blessed land, I have no idea! It’s definitely not easy to keep anything green here. We’re back at hunting down tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market this year, but, surprise-surprise!, the farmers are not that fortunate, either! 

The whole garden - to the left of the tomatoes, there are peppers and herbs (yes, that small!), and in the front bed, in the middle, between the cucumbers and cabbage: eggplants... 

Another thing that’s been plaguing us this year has been just the filthy air. I have been surprised at the air dirtiness in Utah since I moved here – none of those “clear mountain mornings” Willy Nelson sings about in his cowboy songs – but this year has been the worst, I think, in my two years of being here. Part of the problem is the wild fires that have scorched the desert all summer long. We have had so far around 600 wildfires statewide. You have no idea what the air smells like and breathes like when all you have around you is brush smoke and ashes!

I have never heard of trees exploding from extreme heat till I moved here. But apparently that’s what has happened this year in Utah: once a wildfire starts, even in the desert, the dry trees and dry roots and brush self ignite and burn extremely fast! And the proverbial desert wind carries the plunder in a hurry! They burn for weeks. My migraines and sinus garbage have been insane this summer!

I know that ashes are supposed to be a natural fertilizer, but I am not sure the simple (lack of) air quality has not been extremely poisonous to plants this year! 

 The sky above our house, earlier this month, while fires were burning all around us ... 

I look at my garden and it tries as hard as it can to stay green. In sort of a forced grin, it thanks me for the little water I give it. But the stuffiness in the air and the dryness of the sand torture it.

As I have said – some of the things just started to expand in the past two weeks (we have had some random, very, very short lived and rapid summer showers), so maybe all is not hopeless yet! There will be slow growth and some lost plants, I am sure. But I am still patiently waiting to see how strong and stubborn life really can be, even in the absence of life’s juice and clean oxygen!  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Things I’ve Learned from My Dad

How to tie my shoes …How to wear my shoes correctly – are all parents such sticklers for wearing the right shoe on the right foot? My dad surely was …
How to do math, by “seeing” it – we both suck at it, so he taught me this trick where you have to write the numbers in your head like they were on paper, and add them, imagining you’re writing the total down, with your pen … You can’t make a mistake. He was right.

How to cook pretty much anything with anything. There is no ingredient that is taboo; there is no mix and match that is wrong.
How to bone a chicken in no time flat! How to butterfly a chicken breast and a steak.
How to marinade and pickle things.
How to stock up for just about the rest of my life, in food, especially.
How to make wine.

He taught me one of my biggest passions – photography. We shot the pictures and worked them together, in his dark room, ever since I can remember.
He taught me to see, to really pay attention, and to notice what’s beyond the surface. Always.

He and I being born with the same affliction, he taught me how fragile health is, and how to make the most of my life – as limited as my body allows it to be.

He taught me the incredible wealth of books. He taught me to have opinions and stick to them. He showed me, through him, the power of consistency and perseverance. He taught me stubbornness.

He taught me how to party hard and laugh even harder. In my darkest and saddest days, I can never imagine my dad not smiling, laughing out loud or cracking a joke. Sure, he can seem very serious at times, but to me he will forever be a clown. There is no one who can make me laugh harder than dad! And I am not alone! He is famous for his hilarious parties, where people leave with stomach aches, not from his delicious food, but from laughing so hard! People flock to him, for fun and good times!

He taught me how to save for darker days. He taught me how to look for bargains and save, save, save. I never did inherit his love of shopping, though!

He pushed me off the edge – always. Whatever I was doing, I could always do better, go further, reach higher. He was right – I always could.

He taught me not to be afraid. He was afraid of things, I think, but he always demanded me to not be; to believe that fear is stupid. My dreams have come true, because dad’s permanent encouragement.

He taught me to always say the truth, and if it gets me in trouble by saying it, to keep fighting for it. It is the right, most valuable thing.

He taught me how to be a real friend. He was always loyal to his friends and family. But he also told me that it’s OK to let go. If someone is not worth the trouble, you can let go of their friendship.

He taught me to fight for what I believe in, but also to give up a fight not worth having. “The smartest one gives up first, a fight not worth it” – he says. 

He taught me the love of mountains and of clear pasture mornings, where the dew is thick and cold and the cows are mooing in the valley. He taught me how to pick wild mushrooms and make wild strawberries and cream.

He taught me to love animals, sometimes more than people.
He taught me to love my sister and care for her.

He taught me how to make fire and smoke meat. How to tend to a garden and how to not live without pets or even adopted strays. A typical Cancer, his home is his heaven. And he taught me that, too. I love to travel more than he did, but I surely love to have a home I can come to.

He taught me everything I know about music. He taught me The Beatles, Janis Joplin and CCR. These are names I remember hearing back in the days of baby food and diapers. Seriously. I can’t imagine a family gathering where dad is not playing the air guitar and dancing on some old 60’s rock song.

There is one thing dad tried to teach me and he never could: he never taught me how to ride a bike. I think he considers that his personal failure to this day. I don’t. 

I look at parents today, especially dads, and especially dads of girls, and I am flabbergasted how little they are involved in the life of their children. My dad taught me almost everything I need to know about life, growing up, being tough, living, giving, loving and having no regrets. He taught me “things” and he taught me values, and feelings, and stands.

My dad is 60 this week and I still think of him as young. He’s a goofball and as serious as a heart attack all in one person. He’s the first I think of when I head to a concert, and the first I think of when I head for the kitchen island with a butcher’s knife, ready to chop a piece of chicken: “what would dad make of this?!”. 

I only think 60 is a scary age when I think I’ll get there in 23 years – way less than I have lived so far. But 60 for dad is just coming of age, to me.

I called him yesterday, and I asked: “So, dad, do you feel old today?” He goes: “How can I feel old? I was just born today!”

That’s my daddy – in a nutshell.

Love you dad, and hope you make us laugh for many, many, many long years to come!

You tell me who the 5 year old is!
(dad, dancing on CCR for my birthday this year) 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

When the Mood Strikes, Head for the Hills

A photo journey through Snowbird, UT

I have been craving shooting lately. The tame kind, with a camera, you know. For some reason, we have not gotten out this year to just take in, on digital space, the beauty of all that is around us. Call it busy life, call it laziness, whatever it is, we have not been shooting in a while.

About a week ago, I was in one of my “let’s pick up and leave” moods that strikes still, luckily, every now and again. Because I always want  to make the most out of my very limited time to travel, we decided to go somewhere close (so we can get there comfortably right after work on a Friday) but somewhere new. As hard as that sounds to believe, there are still plenty of “new” places for us, right around our county.  So, we ended up in Snowbird.

Known to skiers as one of their favorite getaways, Snowbird is now being advertised as “a winter and summer resort”. And that tagline is not a lie: there are plenty of things to do in the summer, for old ones and little ones, for the more active kinds and for us, the more laid back, lazy ones, too (make sure you see the whole album for all the possibilities).  

The drive up the mountain from The Utah Valley, on winding roads and around piney slopes is a thing of beauty and a dreamlike experience: as you drive higher and higher and the terrain becomes taller and taller, and more remote, you have a very surreal and yet very material sort of sense of leaving every piece of the noisy world behind and stepping into a new universe – of peace, solitude, freshness and awesomeness.

Once you make it to the resort, you feel like a new world, very small, very contained and yet very sufficient has swallowed you whole. The resort is not very big and it’s nested in the heart of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It has several hotels, several restaurants with world renowned chefs and hostesses, a grocery, store, a pharmacy, several gift shops – you know, everything you can possibly need in a short stay.

 The grocery store was called 'General Gritts'. Reminded me of The South. 

Unlike the semi to very high end resorts around Park City, Snowbird gives you a feeling of normalcy and down-to-earthness. You’re not blinded by the super rich, nor made feel uncomfortable. The crowd is very diverse here and it takes literally all kinds: families with (many or not so many) kids, singles, on mountain bikes, young couples or retirees. There is something everyone finds to do, and everyone seems to go about doing it, without hindering everyone else.

On our first night, to add to the serenity, we were welcome by this beautiful moon, while eating on the patio of the El Chanate (“Blackbird”) restaurant, outside The Cliff Lodge:

 And speaking of El Chanate: I have had Mexican fried ice-cream before, but this plate was beautiful: 

And the churros (on top) were delicious. I have never had them and the waiter told me they’re like donuts. But they are not. They were doughy and not very sweet, but very tasty – a balanced taste of chocolate and cinnamon, and if you know anything about me you know I hate both – but these were well balanced, even for my taste!

The resort was built in the 70’s and early 80’s. And the buildings and some of the d├ęcor still has that same wood panel – kind of vibe to them.  But some of the restaurants, like The Aerie and The Atrium have had some overhaul re-dos, and they have a more contemporary, simplified, and slick feel to them.

This is the sit-down dining room at The Aerie (they also have an all couch and armchair lounge):

The architecture of the whole place is somewhat interesting. The buildings copy the physique of the mountain for the most part, its incline and tallness. It is slopey, and every single floor has a beautiful view of a mountain valley and of vegetation up close, at the same time. At any given floor you can be at level 5 or ground level, simultaneously. And then, you have trails that lead you to the bottom of the valley, or to another altitude level / floor where you have more facilities. The architecture mingles in well with the natural beauty of the surroundings. Nothing pops as out of context – it’s all a beautiful marriage between god-made mountain and man-made abode.

I have seen some of the most interesting mountain architecture in Snowbird and Alta (its neighbor city to the North) alike: 

 The Cliff Lodge, in Snowbird

 Store by the roadside in Alta

 Rental shop in Snowbird

On Saturday, we took the aerial tram (sort of like a gondola, but bigger) up Hidden Peak – which, at 11,000 feet, is the tallest mountain of the resort. You "climb" up from 7000 ft to the top in less than 9 minutes. Be prepared for your ears to pop!

The views from up there were amazing! We could see all the way down to Utah Lake and the Salt Lake Valley … mountains and winding roads and streams and the whole world as far as your eyes could see! It was a crystal clear day, with almost no clouds in the sky so the visibility was endless! 
More than anything we did this weekend, just looking at the mountain and taking every piece of its beauty in was my favorite!

Vistas galore! Your eyes will hurt from staring at such beauty!

Snow is still melting, even in July, on this mighty hill! Some parts of it were thicker than 5 feet:

From the valley, you see just barely traces of snow, but up here, they become bottomless pots full to the brim of the white stuff:

I really loved getting back to shooting nature, in its close-ups and distant beauty!  Although we didn’t meet with the moose nor the mountain lion, just finding bugs and insects and beautiful, fragile wild flowers was enough. Everything up there was fresh, lively and so excited the sun was finally out and the earth was warm.

 My husband took a picture of this lady bug 

After exploring Hidden Peak for half and hour or so, we decided to climb down about half a mile, to The Peruvian Express station – one of the chair lift stations on the mountain. The hike was very easy, and it was all downhill:

You can see the Peruvian Express Station (the blue building) in the valley - we are atop Hidden Peak while taking the picture

 Once we made it to The Station, we also found the Peruvian Tunnel, a 600 ft tunnel that pierces the mountain to provide access to the Mineral Basin, or the other side of the mountain. There is always something awe-inspiring when in the heart of the earth – and this tunnel was no different, although it was not as closed in and claustrophobic as a cave or a mine proper:

For the first time in my life, I think, I was a bit nervous on the chairlift! I am not sure what it was, whether the distance to the ground was bigger, or the architecture of the chair itself was different, more tipped backwards than other chairs – I am not too certain, but I was almost shaking all the way down the lift, as we approached the resort: 

 The ride downhill was scary (for me), but always worth it!

One more word about the wildlife! They had signs everywhere picturing a moose and warning us not to feed them! They should replace the moose with ground squirrels, though, as they were everywhere and they were friendly as all so they can talk you into feeding them. Lots. As you can tell, by how close I could get to them, they were not in the least shy:

Once we were back in the valley, we just took everything at a slower than slow pace. We walked around, we people watched, we ate snacks and had drinks on a patio, we spent some time on our own balcony, drinks in hand and mountain on top of us. We read, we surfed, we napped. We had dinner at The Aerie and for those of you who love fresh trout – it was delicious, on a very yummy polenta cake. 

On Sunday morning, we had a  beautiful and plentiful brunch on the patio of The Atrium, where, for the first time in my life, I had two plateful of fresh sushi for breakfast. Talk about decadence and being on vacation!

More than anything, this weekend, we breathed in and unwound! The pace was slow and the possibilities were endless to just … be.

Click on the picture for experiencing the whole album. 
Enjoy and, if you can, go and check it out yourself.

What could be more relaxing in life than just hearing the wind through the pines and watching the butterflies hop and skip the rocks in a mountain stream?! Not many things, if you asked me.