Constabulary notes from here, there and yon

The rainy summer season is slinking away without the landscape reaching its peak kelly-green hue:  We’ve had only half the amount of rain we normally get. I gauge rainfall by the amount of water collected in our cistern and it’s only half-full. No reason to panic though: As I write this, dark clouds hover auspiciously overhead; maybe the rains are not done yet.

Rain or no, I’m not complaining. Temperatures at the ranch have been in the 80s during the day, and down to 60—or even the fifties!—at night. It’s light-comforter sleeping weather and a blessed relief from the oppressive heat we encountered in San Antonio during our three weeks there, in August, when Stew had back surgery.

To pass the time during his convalescence we toured four of the five beautiful Franciscan missions around San Antonio. We were so grateful for the air-conditioning in some of them that we almost felt like praying. Forget St. Anthony, I say to San Antonians, and make St. Friedrich Frigidaire your patron saint.

During the summer, things in our life went up, down and sideways, though mostly up, for which Stew and I are very grateful. Here’s a roundup:

A medical “event”

After numerous delays and false starts, Stew went for his back surgery at the beginning of August. And despite much trepidation and hand-wringing on my part, the operation, and the recovery, went fine.

The day before surgery, the doctor gave us a preview, something about plates, fusion of pieces of bones from cadavers, plus bolts and screws, all of it sounding a little Frankenstenian. It didn’t lessen my anxiety.

The actual operation took place at seven in the morning. I waited in the hospital lobby for three-and-a-half hours, during which, with unnerving regularity, messages blared through the P.A. system about a “trauma emergency” in Room X or a “code blue” in Room Y, or some other calamity somewhere else. Whatever happened to Muzak?

I tried to concentrate on the recipes or gardening advice in some dog-eared copies of Better Homes and Gardens lying around in the lobby but that didn’t help. Finally, some doctor came out and told me everything had turned out alright. He looked so somber initially, I thought he was going to tell me I was the father of twins.

For the next two weeks, it was up to me to clean and dress the five-inch wound on Stew’s lower back daily, and was not as stomach-churning as I’d feared. Indeed, I carried out my duties with aplomb, with just a few yechhs and ughs.

Planting and reforestation efforts continue

We planted an additional 15 trees at the ranch, and this time we tried to do it in a more professional manner, hiring a backhoe, and buying mature trees, between eight and ten feet tall. We hired Félix’ compadre Juan, to help with the planting, and listen to Mexican music while planting.  So far we’ve had only two fatalities, both of them evergreens.

In years past we tried to plant trees the cheap way, buying three-foot saplings that didn’t survive the transplant. Among the new trees are three red oaks, four or five cedars and the rest evergreens.

Now, if we could only get a few more downpours before the dry season.

Agricultural research and development

Watermelon waiting for bees. 

A friend suggested that our bees would enjoy slices of watermelon, a fruit rich in both water and sugar, and so we tried it. Three days into the experiment the watermelon slices are only attracting grasshoppers and ants. Pfft.

Also I ordered ten dollars worth of cactus seeds from a place in Germany. Immediately after pressing the Enter key to finalize the order, I fretted that the chances of getting seeds of any kind all the way from Germany were about zeeero, and that I had fallen victim to a scam.

But leave it to those ultra-punctual krauts: About three weeks later I received a letter-size envelope with six plastic packets of seeds. This morning Félix and I planted them according to instructions downloaded from the internet. We’ll see.

Three trays of zee cacti, percolating away, I hope.

The plague of grasshoppers has returned. When you walk on the grass, grasshoppers jump up by the hundreds, almost as if the grass was alive. We gave up on manual spray bottles and bought an industrial pump sprayer so Félix can really go at it with those toxic chemicals that are probably banned by the EPA.

We keep using mosquito cloth over the vegetable beds, though, which makes the lettuce and arugula plants underneath look like cloistered nuns.

Fred, one of our cats, decided that peeing on the roses and some of the potted plants would be more entertaining that using the litter box. A combination of ground pepper and moth balls on the plants made him change his mind.

In our little-league greenhouse, we are trying to root cuttings from succulents and just about anything we prune, rather tossing it. That strategy fits perfectly with Félix’ deep conviction not to throw away anything—animal, vegetable or plastic. “You’ll never know” is his mantra. So now we have a collection of a few small trees, plants and flowers of all kinds living there.

Eat your vegetables

The supply and demand problem continues with regard to our vegetables. Félix plants and plants seeds without considering who’s going to eat the stuff. So we typically ended up with a bumper crop of various types of tomatoes—big yellow ones were particularly excellent—about a dozen cucumbers, lettuce, Swiss chard and green beans. Peas never materialized, and the grasshoppers took care of a lot of the produce.

Sorry remains of this year’s crop,
hiding under mosquito netting.

Stew made a tomato-basil soup and a particularly excellent cream of cucumber soup. I’ve suggested that he consider canning some of the stuff but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Missing in action and surprise appearances

I don’t know if it was the shortage of rain, but some of the perennial wildflowers have failed to materialize yet. Lavender cosmos that cover much of the ranch are not here, and neither are the orange daisies harbingers of fall. And the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) that self-seed from year to year have barely shown up.
One surprise was the appearance of several

One of only two Mexican sunflowers that popped up
this year. They grow to three or four feet tall. 

Red Hot Poker flowers (Kniphofia). They are showy, bright orange flowers I had seen in catalogs but never around here, but here they were. I don’t know where they came from.

The back-from-the-dead award goes to our rose garden. Fred the cat had been using it as a litter box, and damn near had killed the six or seven rose bushes. I paid 20 pesos for each, so it was not a big investment, but still. Should I quarantine that cat?

Undeterred, the roses came back from sad stumps to beautiful flowers, as if nothing had happened.

A solitary Red Hot Poker

Missing in action were a crop of Idaho potatoes we planted. The foliage popped out of the ground as expected and everything seemed to going along well, but only a few golf ball-size potatoes resulted. So back to the brand-X potatoes they sell at the Mega.

An unexpected arrival

About two months ago, a peculiar-looking black canine showed up at our garage door, wagging his tail and wiggling his skinny body from end to end, as if he’d been here all his life. We calmly explained to him, in English and Spanish, that we already had too many dogs, and there was no room for more.

We kept escorting him outside the fence but he kept coming back, climbing over or under the fence. Naturally, Félix kept sneaking him food. This went on daily for about a week.

Then Stew—over my objections—joined forces with Félix and in a rush of creativity, named him Blackie. Yes, he’s still here.

Should I euthanize him? Keep putting him outside the fence? Take him to the perpetually full animal shelter? Shoot him? Or just let him hang around? I don’t think he’s a candidate for the next Westminster Dog Show in New York, unless there is a category for long-eared dogs with odd markings that can’t stop wiggling and wagging their tails.

Here he is. Let me know what you think.

Meet Blackie. 

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