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Flowers Again

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After years of drought, this spring was a mass of wildflowers. We’re still trying to cut down all the dried weeds and flowers, many over 3 feet tall, before the June 15th fire abatement deadline. But we were grateful for every drop of rain, and all the greenery that came with it.

I’m sorry for not having written in this blog for a full year, but I got interested in other things, and decided to start a new blog. It is much like this one, but instead of focusing solely on events that happen in and around Sand Canyon, it also includes other places, events, and concerns.  It’s called Earth to Humans, Ponderings and can be found at the following location: http://www.earthtohumans.org.  I hope you will read and follow me there.

Thanks, and love you!

Threat of Rain Brings Hope

The weather service announced a “threat” of rain today. It seems that a low pressure system is funneling in moisture from ex-hurricane Blanca. For Californians, the weather service needs to change its terminology, because in this drought-ridden state, rain is not a threat but a hope. Here in Sand Canyon, we have a forty percent hope of rain this afternoon. But it’s not just the people who are hoping for rain, it’s all of us, animal, vegetable, and mineral included. This morning my rock rose opened its flowers, wide, like little pink saucers and pointed them straight up, hoping to catch even a drop of rain. The ants, in search of a water source, that are drowning themselves in my bird bath are hoping for rain. The distressed cottonwood in my front yard, its many leafless branches reaching skyward, is hoping for rain. Even the cactus seems to be holding back its blooms and waiting for some rain. I have a story. It’s true, though I probably don’t have all the details right. A friend of a friend was doing research in a village in Asia somewhere. It had been dry there for quite some time, and the villagers hired a rainmaker. He disappeared into a hut for a few days, and then sure enough it rained. The researcher asked the rainmaker how he did it. He answered something like this. “I did not make it rain. When I arrived, the villagers were upset, and in turmoil. I knew that when they calmed down and got back into balance, the rain would come.” Perhaps if we could all calm down and bring some peace to this big village we call our world, it will rain again here in Sand Canyon. Meanwhile I sit quietly, not with a threat of rain, but with hope. And not just a forty percent hope. Today I hold out a one hundred percent hope for rain.

Thirsty ants

Thirsty ants

Tree praying for rain

Tree praying for rain

Rock rose hoping for rain

Rock rose catching drops

Cactus waiting too.

Cactus waiting too.

Goodbye SpaceShipTwo

If you are a Sand Canyon resident and were outside this morning, you may have seen the White Knight with SpaceShipTwo attached to its underbelly. They flew directly over Sand Canyon about five minutes before the two fighter jets roared through. You probably heard those, even if you didn’t see them.

My friend Jeanne texted me that the White Knight had just taken off and might be flying over, so I grabbed my binoculars and ran barefoot into the dust outside my back door. I heard the echoing drone of White Knight’s engine as it flew over the house low enough that I could read the Virgin insignia on the underside of the SpaceShipTwo. Climbing higher, the mother ship and its charge eventually disappeared into the wispy layer of clouds that preceded the coming storm. That would be the last time I’d ever see SpaceShipTwo.

I hopped into the car and drove down to meet Jeanne at our viewing spot in the desert due south of the airport. It would take over an hour for the White Knight to reach altitude, and I had just enough time to get there. When it got high enough, the White Knight would drop the space ship. If this were a glide test, the small craft would simply ride its wings back to the airport. But this was a burn test. SpaceShipTwo was going to fire its rockets in flight. I was excited about seeing a burn again, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit worried. Igniting a rocket is always dangerous and the space station bound Antares rocket had just exploded spectacularly a few days before.

When I got to the site on a narrow dirt road running parallel to the highway, the wind had picked up again. Jeanne and I leaned back against her car, keeping a lookout in the direction of California City, waiting to see the long plume of flame that powers the craft toward space. But we saw nothing. Someone tweeted that the burn had started. We still saw nothing. Just wispy clouds beginning to build. I got out my phone and googled the flight test. In a banner with the heading BREAKING NEWS, the words Virgin Galactic and Anomaly scrolled slowly across my screen.

Anomaly is a calm and simple word. It means something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected. But over the years I’ve learned that space officials like to use that word when something very bad has happened. So exactly what was it? Did the space plane spin out of control? Did it blow up? Were the pilots okay? What about the White Knight? Or was I just imagining the worst? Perhaps it really was a simple anomaly – just a slight deviation from normal. Perhaps I should quit worrying.

Climbing to altitude can take a long time for the White Knight and its cargo, but the descent is fairly fast. After what seemed like forever, Jeanne and I both agreed, something should have been here by now. I fixed my sight skyward, scanning left to right, top to bottom, wishing to see SpaceShipTwo gleaming in the sunlight as it glided toward earth, hoping to see the mother ship flying several proud loops around the airport, as it usually did before landing. But still I saw nothing. I pricked my ears for aircraft engine noise, but heard only the roar of a small jet as it practiced touch and goes on the runway, the hum of a motorcycle zipping by on Highway 58, and the chug of a train winding its way along the tracks near the Silver Queen mine.

We were about to give up and leave when a solitary White Knight approached without sound or fanfare in a cloak of white haze. The mother ship touched the runway lightly then vanished from our sight. Jeanne and I breathed a sigh of relief for the aircraft and its pilot.

More breaking news. Jeanne read it aloud. “Parachute deployed. One probable survivor.” SpaceShipTwo had indeed crashed. A dark cloud billowed above the airport like smoke— brown and foreboding.

When I got home, I pondered a photograph of the debris left by SpaceShipTwo, remembering how stunning the spacecraft had looked as it flew over my house just a few hours before. The Mojave desert is littered with wreckage, and in an area with ties to Edwards Air Force Base, China Lake, and the Mojave Air and Space Port, every crash is close and personal. There’s really only one degree of separation here. I may not know the co-pilot who died, or the injured pilot, but I probably know someone who does and I am sorry for their loss. I’m sorry for the loss of SpaceShipTwo as well. But I hope the dream lives on.

Cloud over Mojave Air and Space Port.

Cloud over Mojave Air and Space Port.

Summer Bears

Before he died, my father said that  he’d come back to visit as a bear, and though I haven’t yet personally encountered one, members of the Ursidae family seem to be holding their reunion in our canyon this year. If one of them is my dad, he’s been living it up in high fashion. The Sand Canyon bears have been swimming in tubs of water, drinking cold cokes straight from a back porch fridge, and eating tasty scraps from garbage cans. One neighbor walked out on his deck in his new scivvies and bare feet only to confront a mother bear with two cubs. Later, when a bear went after the goats, his llama broke down the fence to chase the intruder away. The bears aren’t trying to cause trouble. It’s just that with the long drought and hot temperatures, pickings are slim up in them there hills.

After hearing about the numerous encounters with omnivorous black bears at a CERT meeting, I was almost afraid to go home. I’d been told to hold my ground, and fight back if I was attacked, but I was pretty sure I’d run. Spraying ammonia around the house was rumored to ward off bears, but pepper spray on the ground smells like food and actually attracts them. Also, we were warned not to wear perfume and other exotic smells. The bear might mistake us for a bag of candy, and that’s never a good idea.

When I pulled up to the house after the meeting, I ran inside, called in my dog, and battened down the hatches. But now that I’ve heard the most recent news—that one of the bears was treed by a neighbor’s dachshund and chihuahua, I’ll quit worrying. I have a German Shepherd, and I’m pretty sure a chihuahua-fearing  bear wouldn’t mess with her. But if the bear is my Dad, maybe he and my dog will recognize each other, the bear will stick around, and I’ll be lucky enough to get a chance to say what I’ve been longing to say one last time. “I love you, Dad, and I always will.”

Thanks for stopping by.

Big black bear in Sand Canyon.

Black bear in Sand Canyon  (photo by  J. Hamrick)

 

Visiting bear left his calling card on Jeanne's front porch.

Visiting bear left his calling card on a front porch (photo by J. Hamrick)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirsty bear at Jeanne's house.

Thirsty bear. (photo by J. Hamrick)

For Dad Who Is Always With Me.

My father, Rodger Waldman, passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve, surrounded by family. We had all gathered for his favorite holiday, which he ended up spending in heaven. My book, The Butterfly Basket, will be dedicated to him.  For those of you who are awaiting its publication with bated breath (and you all should be🙂 ) its current ETA is early spring 2014.

Here is a photo of Dad and me on Mt. Rainier circa 1960. I am wearing my signature style, a coat, a dress, and pants, and I’m hiking up the volcano in red canvas keds.  My mother would have forced me to wear the head scarf. Dad was wearing a wool sweater, no coat, but the sweater was warm. I know because he gave it to me when I was a teenager, and I wore it for years. I guess the binoculars were for looking up at the summit, because the two of us headed back down the mountain right after the photo was taken.

Dad and Me

Dad and Me

Miss you, Dad!

Celestial Events: Summer Solstice, Lenticular Clouds, and Super Moon

Life has been interesting here in Sand Canyon. My friend Georgette and I, with special permission, hiked up to a local cave to find out where the sun hit it during the summer solstice. Got up before dawn to make sure we were at the cave when the sun rose above the ridge, and hoofed it up there watching the dawn break as the coyotes howled.

From my house, I see the morning sun casting its golden glow on the distant cliffs every day. It was incredible to actually be standing on those cliffs at sunrise, warmed by the light that cut through a chill morning breeze. I felt so lucky!

Last time Georgette and I went up to the state park, we saw bear tracks on the path leading to the spring. This time, we saw fresh bear prints inside the cave. The he or she bear may have been close by watching us. Andy Greene, the late Kawaiisu elder, liked to tell of the time his mother was chased out of that cave by a bear, and I was a little bit worried that the same thing would happen to us!

Close on the heels of the solstice, my husband and I awaited the super moon. That evening the clouds were spectacular. We are fortunate to live in a place that spawns lenticular clouds. Sand Canyon is located on the downwind side of the mountains, where clouds of this type tend to form, and lately they have been plentiful. According to Wikipedia, glider pilots love the conditions that cause these clouds because they provide great lift. And we do have a popular glider port in town.

Lots of wonderful celestial happenings. Enjoy the photos! All were taken with my iPhone.

P.S. You can visit this cave too by booking a spring or fall tour to Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park.

Summer Solstice dog shadow by raven rock

Summer Solstice dog shadow by raven rock

Bear tracks over footprints

Bear tracks over footprints

Lenticular cloud at sunset

Lenticular cloud at sunset

Mushroom-shaped lenticular cloud

Mushroom-shaped lenticular cloud

View east. Awaiting the super moon.

View east. Awaiting the super moon.

White Knight Takes Space Ship

Last week my friend Jeanne and I headed down to Mojave to see a test flight of the White Knight Two and Virgin Galactic’s new suborbital space plane SpaceShipTwo.  Unable to go onto the airport, we parked in the desert along the highway to watch the fun. I had borrowed my husband’s camera and for reasons that I will soon reveal, have decided that it would be a good idea if I actually read the directions and learned how to use it.

It was a gorgeous Mojave Desert morning, the perfect temperature, no wind. First the insect-like Proteus with its predatory nose and thin double wings took off and circled heavenward. Jeanne said it was probably checking out the winds aloft. Through the binoculars I was able to see White Knight Two sitting on the runway, its lights blinking. Even from a considerable distance I could tell that it was much larger than its predecessor.

Eventually, the White Knight started down the runway and took off flawlessly, heading straight to the patch of desert on which we stood. White Knight Two looks like jet twins joined at the wing tips, with SpaceShipTwo attached firmly to the underside of the center wing.  I took a few pictures as it soared slowly over our heads, and onward into the future.

Then there was the wait. It takes about an hour for White Knight to get to the altitude where it drops the spaceship. While we waited, we wandered around the desert on foot, enjoying the view of the hills, the trains, an old mine, an abandoned RV park, cacti, rocks, and the detritus of man scattered about on the sand. We happened to catch a glimpse of the spaceship when its bright white skin briefly caught the sunlight. It shone like a falling star.

Before long, Spaceship Two was gliding in for a landing. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at, just that it was something I’d never seen before, a compactly beautiful gleaming white vision, with a chase plane following. When I realized it was the spaceship, I dropped the binoculars and grabbed the camera. But alas! the camera suddenly refused to focus on anything airborne and when the space plane flew by the moon, I was unable to take the picture. A local writer Bill Deaver did get the shot and it’s lovely. You can go here to see it.    http://www.space.com/20530-spaceshiptwo-virgin-galactic-test-flight.html

But it’s not all about the picture, is it? I thoroughly enjoyed being out on the desert on a beautiful Mojave morning, a lucky witness to space history in the making.

(P.S. If you have $200,000 saved up, consider a trip to the edge of space aboard SpaceShipTwo. It’s sure to be an amazing experience!)

Mojave Airport. White Knight Two sits on the runway next to the control tower.

Mojave Airport at dawn. White Knight Two sits on the runway left of  the control tower.

White Knight Two with SpaceShipTwo attached.

White Knight Two with SpaceShipTwo attached.

Abandoned RV Park and Silver Queen Mine

Abandoned RV Park and Silver Queen Mine

Cholla Cactus glowing

Cholla Cactus glowing

White Knight, Proteus, and a chase plane

White Knight, Proteus, and a chase plane

White Knight landing

White Knight landing

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