The graveyard shift: Beaver encounter

A few weeks after we had some trees cut down and limbed along the creek, we started seeing this:

It was obvious there was an active beaver (or perhaps more than one) gnawing on the limbs, but I could never catch it in the act.

So we borrowed a wildlife trail camera from the in-laws, attached it to a tree near the chewed limbs and waited a few days to see if we got anything. During the day, it looked like this:

At night, however, lo and behold, we captured this:

Am I crazy or does this look like Oregon State’s angry beaver mascot?

Technically, a rodent, the beaver is the largest rodent in North America. They are active mainly at night, which explains why I never saw it during the day. They eat the bark off trees as well as cattails and other aquatic vegetation. This one seemed to be most active between 2 and 3 a.m.

So far, all they’ve done is gnaw on the cut limbs. They haven’t built a dam. I’m fairly sure they actually live a bit farther down creek and only visit here at night.

They say beavers mate for life, and I think there may be a couple of them on our creek, so I’m wondering if we might capture some offspring if I put the camera in the right place.

I’m having fun with the trail camera. I’m hoping to capture some otters and coyotes. There’s such an abundance of wildlife out here, and unfortunately, these critters seem to be most active when we’re asleep. The trail camera gives us the chance to see what’s going on out there even in the wee hours of the morning. Stay tuned.

Bugs, frogs and other critters

A praying mantis looks as me quizzically while I photograph it from all angles. Seriously, I probably took a hundred pictures while he patiently waited for me to finish.

The longer we’re here, the more I find myself noticing the little things. When we first moved to the desert, I continually marveled at the sweeping vistas, the pink-hued sunsets and the snow-capped ridges. Now my eyes drift down to the ground seeking out bugs or parsing the trees with binoculars in search of birds. I had some really good bug sightings this summer and managed to capture a few of them with the camera.

The dragonflies were abundant and amazing, and I finally figured out that they molt out of their nymph stage leaving behind a bug husk. They emerge as a translucent-winged creature before finally gaining their beautiful brilliant color.

Transforming from a nymph to a dragonfly.

The husk they leave behind is called an exuvia.

The dragonfly in all its glory. It seems they come in all colors. I’ve seen blue, green and orange ones here in the high desert.

On one occasion, while trying to pick some salt grass out of the walkway, I almost grabbed a praying mantis that totally blended into the green mass of grass. I saw quite a few around the house this summer. I could sit and watch them all day. They can actually move pretty quickly at times. I even read a piece in the New York Times claiming that they not only eat other bugs but can attack humming birds, punching through their skulls to eat their brains. They are a formidable bug, perhaps to be both feared and admired.

And don’t get me started on the frogs. It was a good year for frogs here. They were all over our yard. I couldn’t take three steps without having multiple tiny frogs leaping to get out of the way. It was almost comical at times. Usually they would congregate on some potted tomato and pepper plants we had sitting in the backyard. They especially liked the bell peppers and would pile up on one another perhaps because the real estate was a bit limited.

How many frogs do you count?

I call this one “Frog on leaf.” Gravity-defying.

Butterflies and moths were in abundance as well. A Swallowtail butterfly and a Blinded Sphinx moth were especially pretty (at least, I think that’s what they are thanks to a quick internet search).

Swallowtail butterfly

Blinded Sphinx moth

In the past we’ve seen coyotes come into the yard this time of year to feast on olives courtesy of the Russian olive trees. This year however, the raccoons have taken over. We’ve counted no less than seven and frequently see a family of four traipsing around gathering olives on the ground or climbing the trees to get better access.

These three. It’s like they’ve never seen a woman with a camera before.

These two elusive creatures can often be found throwing rocks in the creek during the daylight hours and can be identified by their distinctive giggles.

Last gasp of summer

Fall truly is just around the corner. This morning I felt that autumnal chill, which is both welcome and unwelcome. I love the change of seasons, but I’m not quite ready to let go of tank tops and summer’s warm embrace. I love crisp, frosty mornings, but I dislike having to don multiple layers to go outside. I love the beginning of the school year with its new supplies and new year optimism, but I miss the long lazy days of summer when a meandering walk was all we had on our to-do list. These are the gasps of summer.

Throwing rocks in the creek: one of our favorite pastimes.

We had a really good pepper crop this year. These jalapenos are especially tasty.

DJ loves the hot peppers, so these habaneros are right in his wheelhouse.

We have pumpkins this year! Plural, as in exactly two.

We’ve had a good tomato crop this year. These purple Russian romas are especially tasty.

Cherry tomatoes are as sweet as candy.

This tomato tart is an especially good way to utilize a surplus of cherry tomatoes.

We’ve seen a few snakes this year, thankfully only one rattler. I much prefer the non-venomous kind, like this guy.

The boys are attempting to build a fort in the garden. We’ve got at little space cleared out. E wants to put a bed in there.

Summer we love you.

Until next year.


New Year’s bonfire

2016 bonfire 02

We decided to start a new tradition by having a bonfire on New Year’s day. We had a bunch of branches that needed to be burned, so we added our Christmas tree to the pile. We bundled up ourselves and the boys to brave the 4-degree chill and lit the match at dusk.

2016 bonfire 04

As the light in the sky faded and the fire grew bigger, it made an impression on the boys.

2016 bonfire 03


It’s a new year, a fresh slate. Welcome 2016!

2016 bonfire 01



Trials and tribulations

Rats! Foiled again.
Rats! Foiled again.

You are more resourceful than you think you are.

That’s the one piece of wisdom we’ve centered on in the year since we’ve moved to rural Harney County. Sure, we knew we’d be giving up some conveniences when we left town, but we didn’t realize how much we’d have to rely on our own ingenuity and physical labor. So let’s focus on the unglamorous part of living in a locale so remote people rarely find it on the first try, even with directions. Here’s our top 5 list of things you can’t do in this rural place we call home:

You can’t:

  1. Drive to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk when you run out. Trips to town are planned in advance and come with an extensive to-do list. There will be at least five stops at varying locations, but the gas station, post office and grocery story are permanent stops you will make every time. And lately, so is the Dairy Queen drive-thru.
  2. Go out for Mexican (or Chinese or pizza or input your favorite kind of take out here) at the end of a long week or when you don’t feel like cooking. If you don’t make it, you don’t eat it. There is no corner espresso stand for a quick caffeine jolt in the afternoon. You are your own Starbucks.
  3. Simply hire someone to fix something if it breaks. We found this out the hard way with a backed-up septic system. We had the tank pumped when we moved in, but the problem quickly returned. The only reputable plumber in town had recently had surgery and couldn’t drive. We researched the problem online and dug up the tank and the drainfield ourselves. Willow roots some 30 feet from the nearest tree had totally obstructed the perforated drain pipe. We knew it could be bad but we hadn’t expected to find THAT!  We pinpointed the problem, rented a power auger and blasted the darn tree roots out of the way so that the toilet would quit backing up on us.
  4. Count on the roads to be passable. One afternoon we were going to watch a football game with the in-laws and it had rained so much the day before that the gravel road was muddy enough to stop us in our tracks. After 6 miles of worrying about getting stuck, we turned around and headed back home.
  5. Always rely on your vehicle to start. We have had a terrible time with mice and packrats chewing wires under the hood of our truck. So far they have sampled the wires to the crankshaft position sensor twice (?!) and several spark plug wires. The pests have managed to thwart us three times so far, rendering our truck useless in the driveway. We’ve tried traps and keeping the hood up to discourage them from getting in there, but so far it’s the rodents 3, Browns 0. If anyone has any constructive suggestions for us, we’d love to hear them.

So those are a few of the frustrations we’ve dealt with in the last year. Sometimes after we fix something, instead of patting ourselves on the back, we look around warily and wonder what is going to break next. And I’m sure this is only the tip of the ice berg. We haven’t even had a bad snowstorm yet. Even so the positives clearly still outweigh the negatives for us so far. So as not to dwell on the negative, stay tuned for our top 5 list of things we love about living the rural life.


This is February …

72 degrees in mid-February at the Double O. Unbelievable.
72 degrees in mid-February at the Double O. Unbelievable.

Perhaps it was the angle of the sun on the deck or perhaps our thermometer is haywire, but we have had a stretch of unbelievably nice weather here in Harney County. While we’re basking in the warm rays, we know that if we don’t get some more snow here this winter, it could make things difficult this spring and summer in the form of drought. These warm temps make me daydream about tomatoes fresh from the garden, iced tea and barbecue. However, we aren’t the only ones who appreciate the sunshine. Hello mosquitoes.

"Look Mom, no coat!"
“Look Mom, no coat!”

Undercover birder

Birds mallard

I’ve never considered myself a birder. I mean birders wear funny hats, sport numerous pairs of binoculars, expensive digital cameras with massive lenses and drive Subarus, which they insist on parking haphazardly just off the highway when they’ve spotted a rare bird off in a meadow. At least that would be a description of some of the birders I’ve seen here in Harney County during the migratory bird season.

However, since we’ve moved to the country, I find myself bird watching quite a bit. We live near a creek that attracts many different kinds of water fowl. I inexplicitly find myself looking up unfamiliar birds in books and looking through the binoculars to see if I can identify color patterns and feathers. White egrets look like ghosts gliding through the sky, while the Blue Heron seems more like a prehistoric throwback with its startling call.

This summer we had the pleasure of watching a mama Mallard successfully usher 10 little ones from ducklings to ducks. We’ve had several owl and hawk sightings (some of which have scared L’il E half out of his pants as we were walking along the road).

Four pelicans called the creek home for a while this summer. I had no idea they were so huge. But despite their awkward proportions, they move quite gracefully in the water. Hummingbirds were also frequent visitors this past summer, with as many as 10 buzzing a little feeder we put out.

Birds pelicans

Birds humming

Right now California quail call this area home and grebes have dominated the creek landscape for the last few weeks. L’il E and I were outside at dusk one night when I heard some unfamiliar bird calls getting nearer and nearer. We both looked up just in time to see a group of about 12 swans sail overhead. It was one of those moments that I was certain would not have happened if we lived in town and reminded me that nature can be filled with a wild grace for those who open themselves to seeing it. Maybe I’ll become a birder yet.