Posts Tagged ‘clouds’

Farm Lesson: Weathah

I had another idea for the first lesson, but part of farming is the ability to roll with what life throws you. That means that this lesson is currently more important.

In my family, we recognize two kinds of weather. Weather is sun, rain, clouds, snow- no big deal. Weathah, on the other hand, is when you batten down the hatches and put on your sou’wester because the nor’easter is going to beat the tar out of you. Not being a coastal state, Colorado doesn’t really go in for nor’easters, but we do have our own versions of weathah. One of the worst types for farmers being hail. Overnight between August 25 and 26, the farm got nailed by hail. The hail itself wasn’t so big, but it just kept coming until most of our plants were little more than stems, their leaves all shredded. This would have been bad if it had happened in spring or the early summer when most hail strikes, but because it hit at the end of August, it’s devastating.

The reason that this hail is devastating rather than just a royal pain is because it’s too late in the season for most of the plants to recover. Many of our crops have already set the fruit they were going to set and don’t have time to set new. This is particularly true of the winter squash that I’ve been looking forward to since May when we planted them. We are able to start harvesting many of them anyway, but we found very few that look like they’ll be able to keep the way they usually should. I’m starting to think of things in terms of self-sufficiency, and having squash that won’t sell well is one thing, but if this were being harvested to be our carbs for the winter, we’d be in serious trouble. Our potatoes are in great shape, since they were hidden underground, but just potatoes for carbs gets pretty boring.

The other aspect of this is that we went from too many jobs and not enough hands to not enough jobs and too many hands. If the farm weren’t backed by PPCF, most or all of us would have been out of a job on the 26th. As it is, our hours are being cut because there just isn’t enough to do. As a farm employee, I knew that the work would go from crazy to nothing pretty much overnight, but that wasn’t supposed to happen for another month and a half or two months. However, I also know that this is a job that tends to be feast or famine. Rather literally. When you can plan and prepare for the down times, they can be a wonderful break from the intensity of the work. However, this wasn’t in the plan. Having some extra time of is pretty nice, but it’s going to be less nice when I get the smaller paycheck.

We are telling our customers what happened and that we will have less to offer for the rest of the season, but I got the impression that only some of them realized what this actually means. I think most of them are so accustomed to going from farm stand to farm stand at the market and then picking up anything else they need at the grocery store on the way home, that our lack of produce means very little. They’ll just get it somewhere else. It’s not their fault, we’ve been conditioned this way for 50+ years. However, something like this could spell the end of a small farm, which would mean one less producer of local food. You can only always get it “somewhere else” as long as food is being brought in from “somewhere else.”

What this lesson is really driving home for me is the fragility of our food system. Whether you “believe” in climate change or not, I think it’s getting pretty clear that weather is getting more extreme. It’s not going to be long before weathah is as common as weather, and that’s a problem. For the time being, we can import what we need, but what happens if California dries up or, worse, falls into the ocean? What happens when gas gets so expensive that it’s not worth shipping food half-way across the country- or world- to us? How are we going to handle an already delicate food system that is going to be battered by too much need and not enough predictability of growing conditions? I don’t know, but we need to figure it out.

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Black Forest Fire- The Wind-Down

The cable for the cable car fell into the gorge, but the swing that goes over the gorge is still in good shape. Come visit- your dollars will help us rebuild!

The cable for the cable car fell into the gorge, but the swing that goes over the gorge is still in good shape. Come visit- your dollars will help us rebuild!

The Royal Gorge Fire is now 100% contained, and they just announced the birth of a white buffalo. Maybe this is like a rainbow at the end of a storm. An indication that Mother Earth wants to give us a break, if we’ll let her. On a human note, the 41 year-round employees at the park have retained their jobs, but the seasonal ones had to be let go until it is rebuilt.

Our fire, up in Black Forest, is at 75% containment, and they are letting more people return home. They are hoping that the people in the hottest zones will be able to go home for a visit tomorrow, even if they can’t yet return permanently. The houses lost are holding steady at 482, and the fire hasn’t grown in a couple of days. We have had a thunderstorm every afternoon, once they started, which is helping to smother the fire. Unfortunately, thunderstorms come with lightening, and I just heard that there might be a new, small fire east of town. Even with daily rain, it is still very, very dry.

Pretty, rain-bearing clouds.

Pretty, rain-bearing clouds.

Containment, however, does not mean it’s out. It just means that they are pretty sure it won’t cross the established fire line. This fire was apparently a “dirty” fire, in that it didn’t burn out all the fuel in the section it went through. That means that there are untouched trees and houses within the containment area. In other words, it doesn’t have to get any bigger to do more damage. The way this fire burned, it was snaking along the ground through the duff under the trees as often as it was hopping from tree to tree. The hot spots are harder to see if they’re buried in the pine needles and such that make up the duff under the trees. The firefighters will be making three “cross-hatches” across each area before it is declared safe. To do so, they will be literally walking across the area in a line, then moving the line 90 degrees to walk across it a second time in a new direction. That is one cross-hatch. The plan is to have a new set of firefighters do each check just so that nothing is missed.

During the updates, it was pointedly noted that the houses that had “defensible space,” as had been requested, were more likely to be saved. When I have been up in Black Forest, I couldn’t help but think that it felt like Maine without the water. “Without the water” is important. I love living under trees, and you can get away with that in Maine or in other places where the average water content makes fires rare. Around here, as too many homeowners discovered the hard way, living right under trees means that it is way too easy for the fire to jump from a highly flammable tree to a highly flammable house. As much as firefighters want to save every structure, they have to weigh their own safety and the likelihood of success before they enter the fray. If the fire is up in the trees, and there’s no space between the trees and the house, they simply cannot do anything about it.

As people move in from the coasts, they have brought in the trees and grasses that they know best. What they couldn’t bring was the moisture. A development here looks depressingly like a development almost anywhere. Unfortunately, this lulls people into forgetting that the environment in Colorado is harsher than many other places. I was looking at the scar from the Waldo Canyon fire when I was out doing errands, and I couldn’t help but think that while we want to think we can bend the world to our will, in the end, the world will only be bent as much as she allows. She may have reached her limit for Colorado.

The burned trees right beside the unburned trees are a stark reminder that fire is part of our world.

The burned trees right beside the unburned trees is a stark reminder that fire is part of our world.

Black Forest Fire Day Four

I tried to go up to Pine Creek High School again, since it had such a great view, but it has been totally taken over, so we civilians weren’t allowed in. When I was trotting around looking for another good site, I got this picture:

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 003

Yay, rain!

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 004

Colorado does this awesome (read, potentially annoying) thing where it precipitates by zip code. It might rain in the mountains, but nothing in town. It might rain in the north part of town, but not the south part. You can see here, rain where I am, but blue sky not so far away.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 008

I headed out to Falcon to see if I could get some pictures of the eastern side of the fire. You can see how windy it is from the thunderstorm. My camera and I aren’t fast enough to get lightening pictures, but we had that, too. You can also see the development in the bottom of the picture. As you head east out of town toward the plains, you tend to see either open farm/ranch land or housing developments. Sadly, those are usually on old ranches because selling to a developer is more lucrative than farming or ranching.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 009

Between the clouds and the road blocks, I didn’t get anywhere near the fire. However, I’d rather have the weather finally helping with controlling the fire than awesome smoke and fire pictures.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 012

In tonight’s update, they were very clear that while the rain was helpful, the fire is far from out, and it wouldn’t take much at all to return to the hot, dry conditions that were fanning the fire earlier in the week. However, the cloud cover, higher humidity, and brief rain shower did help the firefighters make some headway. We are up to 30% containment, and some of the mandatory evacuations were revised down to pre-evacuation status. The count is up to 400 homes lost, but 2,833 are fine. They have about 5,000 more to check in the mandatory evacuation area. It is very tragic for each of the 400 families who lost their home, but the ratio of buildings lost to buildings saved is impressive. Many thanks again to all of the people working to keep the damage as limited as possible.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 002

So what have I been up to, aside from trotting around taking pictures? I am living about 10 miles south of the fire, and the wind hasn’t really blown it south much at all. However, I have still been cooking, doing dishes, doing laundry, and working in the yard. They are normal tasks, but they take on new meaning in these circumstances. A hotel room may not have a kitchenette, but it will probably have a microwave. Pre-made meals mean that I can still feed myself on a budget even if I have to leave. It also means that I’m leaving less food behind to be lost. Dishes and laundry need to be kept up with so that I don’t have to do them while I’m packing my car to evacuate. Plus, I prefer to travel with clean clothes. I’ve been slowly taking last year’s dead weeds out of the yard this summer, but the task took on new urgency when the dry weeds changed from unsightly to potential tinder. I don’t want to think about the yard if the wind changes direction and we are put on pre-evacuation status. At that point, all I want to think about is getting my car packed and hitting the road before anyone else does.

The other thing I am doing is planning. Last year there was one fire, and it was a bit north of us, so my roommate and I fled to Pueblo. This year, Pueblo had a small fire, and the Royal Gorge Fire is also south, so that’s out. The fire is north of us, and has closed down 83, which leaves 25 as the only direct road north to Denver. Well, evacuees plus construction would make for a mess. North is out. The plan is to head east out of town. Maybe, depending on the fire direction, I would feel safe stopping in Calhan, or maybe I wouldn’t stop until I hit Kansas. To that end, I’ve been watching my gas gage, and if it hits half-full, I’ll top it off. If I have to leave, I don’t want to stop.

This year I’m also much more on top of what I’ll take with me. I finally re-packed my trunk so that it held the things that I don’t use on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t want to lose. I have also made a mental note of what else needs to be taken, and in what order it goes to the car. The most important stuff gets loaded first just in case I get interrupted and have to leave now. I haven’t packed any clothes, but if the wind starts blowing this direction, I’ll do that immediately. I have no intention of waiting for a mandatory evacuation order to get out of the house.

Given the wild hurricanes out east, the tornados in Oklahoma, and the increasingly early fires out here, I suspect that this is not a fluke. This is the beginning of a trend of increasingly wild weather and natural disasters. How fast can you get out of your house with the people, pets, and items that matter most? Will it be fast enough?

Class: How to Hire a Landscape Professional plus the Denver Botanic Garden’s Spring Plant Sale

There are mountains over there. Somewhere.

As I was driving up to the Saturday class this past weekend, I was noticing the change in perspective that low clouds can cause. Our landscape is dominated by the mountains that we live in the shadow of. On the rare occasion that they disappear, all of a sudden the foreground is visible. On the drive, I saw buildings and shapes in the landscape that I had never noticed before because my eyes are usually drawn past them to the mountains. I also noticed that the horizon-to-horizon gray had a different effect on me than it did when I lived in Maryland. In Maryland, the effect is just depressing. Part of that is probably because it may stay that way for a week or more. Out here, I got the impression of a fuzzy, comforting blanket. This may or may not have been influenced by the fuzzy fleece I was wearing and the fact that the car heater was on to combat the chill. However, it was good to know there was moisture in the sky and that the low clouds were keeping the sun from immediately drying the rain that had fallen the night before.

I loved the wagons. It was just like going to an Amish market with my Mom when I was growing up.

When I read the description for the class, I got the impression that it was someone who had been burned by a landscaper and they were trying to keep others from suffering the same fate. I felt like I was taking it under false pretenses, as I intend to be a landscaper of sorts but I wanted to know what questions might be asked. I clearly mis-read the description, though, because it was presented by Curtis Manning, one of the partners of the Arcadia Design Group, a design and build landscaping firm. He decided to give this class because when it comes to landscaping, design in particular, the market doesn’t understand the product. The class is to help educate homeowners so that they have some idea of what to expect from a landscaper and how to communicate effectively with the person or firm they choose to hire. While he conceded that there are some bad apples in the industry, like every other industry, most of the problems are caused by lack of understanding or insufficient communication between the firm and the client.

I like this idea of using food plants as ornamentals. It’s both decorative and useful.

The two major points I got from this presentation were budget and details. Know your budget. How much are you willing and able to spend? If you are not willing to provide a hard number, at least provide a range so that your landscaper doesn’t plan a $50,000 overhaul when you have $10,000 to spend. Details came up over and over again. The more detailed you are in describing what you want, the more information the landscaper has to work with. They, in turn, should be able to provide you with details about timing, materials, and how to contact them with questions. Woven through this was the idea that a good company will work with you. They want you to be happy with your investment just as much as you do. While it is a job, and they do have to make a living, for many it is also a passion.

Your budget can actually affect a fair number of pieces for this puzzle. The amount of money you have to spend can help you narrow the choices of firms. What is too large or small for one firm to be able to handle might be exactly what another firm is set up for. If you have a particular firm in mind but have less to spend than their usual clients, you may need to wait for a slower time of year for them to fit you in. The other thing to consider is whether the budget is all you are willing to spend on the project or if you might have assets to spend on it in the future. Curtis, and other landscapers I have been taking classes from, are generally happy to phase in a project over time if that is how your budget can support your dream.

I think this modest selection showed remarkable restraint. It’s also supporting a good cause.

When Curtis was discussing what to look for in a design, he showed us a couple of what I hope were unusual examples first. They lacked detail and explanation. If the company that is doing the design is also doing the building, they can omit some minor details if certain things are always constructed a certain way. However, if it is a stand-alone design that you are taking to a different company to build for you, the construction company should not have any questions. Then he showed us one of his. There were multiple views and so many details that it looked like a building blueprint or electronics schematic. While his company both designs and builds, his designs are sold separately from the building bid. On the off chance that the client liked the design but chose to go with another construction firm, all of the details the other company would need will be in the design. The contracts should have a similar level of detail so that it is very clear who is responsible for what along with how and when it will be completed.

The short version of the class is to be an educated consumer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and follow up with references. There are nearly as many kinds of landscapers as there are landscaping businesses. During the busy season, which is now, they are very busy and may not be able to answer your questions immediately, but a good firm or individual will answer your questions. The class was slated for one hour, but took about two because of the amount of information he had to share and his willingness to answer our questions. I am going to blame mulling over the information for distracting me and causing my window-shopping at the end of the plant sale to turn into actual shopping.

Colorado Weather

I am working on a proper post, but I thought I’d add a note about Colorado weather. It cracks me up.

Blue sky and clouds

As I was dashing out for lunch today, I was entertained by the fact that it was doing that thing it does. Directly above me was a bright, hard blue with the intense sun shining through. In every direction were clouds, many of them low enough to obscure the mountain tops. Out of this bright blue sky, there were still flakes of snow falling. This, I’ve discovered in the months I’ve been living here, is pretty normal. My general understanding is also that Colorado Springs happens to be in a weird bubble where we are sheltered from the worst of the extremes.

The saying “if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait five minutes” is pretty accurate. For a long time, I thought that it couldn’t do anything for a full 24 hours other than offer clear skies. Anything else would be intense, but brief. I have since discovered that it can also snow for a full 24 hours. However, I think I’ve been spoiled by a family from the North-East. After it had snowed for 24 hours, including both rush hours, I looked out the window and had to ask, that’s it? I later found out that out east of the city, they got about 22″ from that storm. I knew there was a reason I wanted to move out there.

Missing mountains

I was raised in Pennsylvania but my family is from New England. Our family has taken bits from each version of English to build our own slang. Things like “water” versus “wutter.” Water is what you drink. Wutter is what is in the Chesapeake Bay. If you aren’t familiar with that location, trust me, it’s not water. In my own mind, there’s “weather” and then there’s “weathah.” Weather is your standard, non-exciting sun, basic rain, basic snow. Weathah on the other hand, is serious. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think two or three times about needing to leave the building you’re sheltering in. Maryland, where I had been living, was really mostly just weather. I am very excited that I get to experience weathah out here. Even if it does mean things like driving home from Denver in 50 degree winds that kept me from doing the speed limit due to their strength followed by driving to work in the snow the next morning.