Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Rain Drips and Rattlesnakes...

...and corn cobs and chickens, 

Warm chocolate doughnuts and puddin that thickens,

Rose crested roosters with bright shiny wings,

These are a few....

For some whimsical reason (in my impetuous youth) I seem to have garnered a minor in Broadway show tunes from Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe.   Those two prolific songwriting duos wrote an incredibly delightful amount of toe-tapping happy sing-a-long feel-good sappy songs that I have occasion to break into at any given moment with (or without) any sort of insipid inspiration.  You know, like when that wind comes sweepin' down the plain...  

And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet 
When the wind comes right behind the rain...

It's a problem, I know. 

I think my relationship with the musical began when I was eleven and my mom took me and some old lady from the old country to the brand new Century 21 theater in San Jose to see The Sound of Music.  1965.  From there it was an on going parade of movies and live stage, culminating with a live performance of Hair, the musical, in San Francisco when I was sixteen.  I mean, what sixteen year old wouldn't want to go to a musical where there were nude women in a scene?

I don't recall being incredibly enamored with the musical back then, I think my mother was.  I must have caught collateral exuberance because she brought me along.  Or was I forced to see the musical?  And this propensity of breaking into song insipidly inspired really needs to be saddled by a therapist?  I also have this propensity to rhyme.  Hmmh.   I think I'm getting confused.

So anyway, there have been remnants of a sprinkler system for the front lawn at almost every home we've ever owned, dating back thousands of years.  Well, at least thirty-seven.  They've also never worked and I never bothered to get into them and make repairs.

This house also came with an automatic sprinkler system for the front lawn.  About half the sprinklers were toast, the other half old and really not suited for what I had in mind.  The control area, with electrical wire connections, was exposed to the weather for years and looked a lot like this: 

I couldn't make heads or tails out of the mess, kind of like your first time driving in Washington D.C. and trying to figure out where you are when there are two of every named street.  Some are over here and some are over there.  Kind of like that.  The first summer here I just used a regular hose and sprinkler, that mess looked way too scary and there were way too many other priorities.

But then this black, round, valve type thinger kept leaking a bunch of water when I turned on the main underground water line to the front yard area.  It's that black, round whatzit with the wire running over the top below, an anti-siphon valve I later learned.  That new looking black hexagon thing to the right of the anti-siphon valve is a solenoid, I also later learned.  But for this part of the story, they were just whatzits.  And thingers.

So the black round thinger was leaking and I didn't know why.  I needed the water on in that area of the yard but didn't want to lose buckets of the stuff an hour just to water the apple tree.  I figured I would just get a cap and then figure it out when its time came around.

It was about time for another sojourn down the road to Home Depot, one of my most favorite stores in the universe, so this cap was added to the list.  And by the way, I am all about buying local when it makes sense.  BUT, when the local wholesale plumbing store is selling a water heater for $150.00 more than what I can get it on Amazon for, I gotta save the money.  It's true of the hardware stores here too.  They're a good twenty percent higher than twenty miles down the road.  Sorry, I gotta make the drive, especially if I'm buying a bunch of stuff.

As I ambled around the depot between the indoor and outdoor plumbing sections I was just not finding anything that made any sense.    I was apparently trying to compare apples with power tools.  Did you know there are like, over 7,500 varieties of apples?  There's a lot of different kinds of power tools too, at least a hundred.  Can you see why I was getting confused?

I first learned there were more than seven varieties of apples when we lived in Oregon.  My wife and I took a road trip from Portland to the enchanting Hood River Valley right in the middle of the apple harvest season.   We, quite by accident, ended up on the Hood River Fruit Loop, "a 35-mile, scenic drive through the valley's orchards, forests, farmlands, and friendly communities. Sample delicious fruits and take your favorites home, visit a winery, experience fields of fragrant lavender, meet adorable alpacas, savor delicious baked goods, and create memories by participating in family activities hosted at Fruit Loop locations throughout the year. The Fruit Loop is just an hour away from Oregon's largest city, Portland. Located in the national scenic area called the Columbia River Gorge, and the nation's largest pear-growing region, this is one of the few places that offers the complete experience of growing, producing, and then enjoying fruit and wine."

I couldn't have said it better!  And didn't for that matter.  It was a lovely drive and we did stop quite often to sample (and purchase) various fruit growers wares. We didn't meet any adorable Alpacas though.  Why would I want to meet an Alpaca?  What on earth would we talk about?

I first learned there were lots of kinds of power tools when I was twelve and went into a hardware store and saw them there.

Anyway, as I was ambling along, confusing myself, one of Home Depot's finest could tell I was consternated (much different than constipated) and asked if he could help.  Man, if I was constipated I really would have refused help.  For that matter, I probably wouldn't have told anyone either.

It has been my experience of late, like the last thirty years or so, that most folks that find themselves in a position to offer assistance at an expertise place like a hardware store don't know a good bologna from a decent salami.  So I usually say I'm doing OK rather than get sent on a wild goose chase in over half the store when I'm just looking for a new Pez dispenser.  Or thermal coupler. For the nuclear fission experiment I'm working on in the basement.  Just kidding. We don't have a basement.

Well, as luck would have it for me, and probably not he, this guy knew what he was talking about.  I'm thinking he used to be a landscape contractor, or something along that line, but with the construction downturn he was now making $12.00 per hour at Home Depot.  Lucky me!

The whatzit ma jigger I was trying to unsuccessfully find a cap for was actually an anti-siphon valve and should definitely NOT be capped, since it prevents the flow of that irrigation water back into the house supply.  Or something like that.  If it was leaking the solenoid was probably stuck open.  I would need to replace the solenoid (I got four of them for twenty bucks) and that should take care of it.  He sounded pretty sure, so I went with his recommendation. 

Since I had no friggin idea what a solenoid was, or really what he was talking about in general, when I got home I thought I would do some research.  I stumbled upon this great site called:, saw the irrigation light and I was changed.  Forever.

I discovered the solenoid is the gizmo that receives the electric current from the control panel and then opens and closes a valve so water gets through. It basically controls the water flow to each "station", or set of sprinklers.  I then learned how they work, and was able to go out, trouble shoot and replaced or fixed every darn one of them solenoid thingers, just by perusing "How to Repair an Irrigation Solenoid Valve."  I also replaced the main solenoid in question and that stopped the arbitrary flow of the anti-siphon valve.  The guys fix worked.  Hot diggity dog.

I then "mapped" which section of the yard belonged to which solenoid by electronically activating said solenoid manually from the old control box, you know, the one that was NOT digital and therefore about eighty-six years old.  Give or take a few decades.  I then selectively capped about half the existing sprinklers by removing any existing parts.

That included risers, which are from one to six inches long and are a threaded piece of PVC that screws into the threaded female of a supply line to increase the height of the sprinkler.  If necessary.   The take apart also included some working sprinkler heads as well as parts thereof.  I then selectively put in new pop-up sprinkler heads with a wider swath all around.  They work perfectly.  I've just got one small area of lawn that is not covered, and fortunately, it is in the shade almost the entire day.  I am currently watering that area with a sprinkler every two weeks in the summer, and will work out an automatic response for coverage this next spring. Or when I don't have anything else better to do.

I bought a new timer at a cost of about thirty bucks, a digital one.  Easy.  It's much like replacing a new thermostat.  Sounds like it might be hard, but with the thermostat, for instance, you're only re-connecting 2-3 wires. I had about six to connect with the timer, but it took no time at all.  It's color coded and everything.

I set up the three main lawn stations to go for twenty minutes each (each day) over the summer.  There are two more stations, one for the front planter area and one along the slope beyond the picket fence.  Those will remain idle at least until next spring, or until I get the perimeter of our land fenced and secure from those dang deer.

With new wires and new solenoids all nicely connected and working, I also decided I'd shelter all that from the elements.  Here's what we got; it's a little made to fit two-sided plywood affair with (leftover from the main house) composition shingle roof.  Cute and functional.

As the story progresses, a couple weeks before Mothers' Day of this last year (2012), I was down on the lower forty weed whackin with a hired hand for the day.  "Tennessee Dale" was a mediocre handy man at large.  He came mildly recommended, and did a fair enough job for the fifteen per hour we paid him.  But I know there are a lot of other folks out there that can sweep off a poop deck in less time than it takes to make the poop.  Or something like that.  But he was a congenial sort with a bit of that southern accent accustom to the Great Smokies, or "Grace Monkeys" as my wife would tell.  Funny hard of hearing story here... 

The Great Smokey Mountains are on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, a lovely mountain range that hosts a National Park, Gatlinburg, home of the Gatlin Brothers, Pigeon Forge, home of Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Dollyworld, home of Dolly Parton.  Dolly needs a whole world for her, well, you know, her well endowed frontal apparitions. Or Appalachians.  You know, those other mountains.

My lovely wife and I were on a visit back to the country suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee, where her sister and brother-in-law (of  "Florida, Ann Curry and the big's Midlife Crisis" fame) were currently living.  As is our custom, we usually try to get out on our own for a couple days when visiting anyone just to give them a break, although we are great guests.  Just ask us.  Plus we get to have motel sex.  I can scream, or yodel, depending on the particular situation, unabashedly in a motel, but I really can't scream or yodel at the in-laws.  They usually start laughing and it spoils the moment.

And, color us strange, we absolutely love the old style motel or motor inn, the one story, privately owned Shan-gra-las where you can drive right up to your front door.  It's gotta be CLEAN, and cute, but otherwise we're open to most motel adventure.  And most of the owners love showing you around their worlds.

It was this case when we ambled on over to Asheville, North Carolina, to take a cruise through the Great Smokies as well as take a gander at the Biltmore, George Vanderbilt's eight thousand acre escape from everyday life.

George Washington Vanderbilt III was the youngest child of industrialist William Henry Vanderbilt.  He was born with oodles of money, and really had nothing to do but read lots of books and build a two hundred fifty room country escape with over four acres of floor space.  To get away.  Get away from what I wonder?

It was simply stunning, and for some reason didn't seem quite as ostentatious as its west coast counterpart, Hearst Castle, publishing magnate William Randolf Hearst's overindulgent extravaganza of unrestrained arrogance.   I mean, I'm all for enough room, but wouldn't ten thousand square feet be enough?  Twenty?  For your second house, your get away place?   Does anyone really, truly need over an acre of square footage in which to live?  I mean, maybe if your family is the size of the population of Milwaukee...

On the other hand, they are both now open to the public and offer a fantastic visual array of "Gardens and fountains and gargoyles and space ships, big naked statues and paintings and stuff..." 

So we stumbled onto this lovely motel with impeccably manicured lawn abounding underneath lush southern trees, whatever they were.  They had leaves.  And bark.  Branches, things like that.  There were quite a few cabins with efficiencies scattered about, here and there, like a bunch of really large, structurally sound non- pastel Easter eggs hanging out amongst the lawn and trees.  This place also had a very congenial owner who was all too eager to show us around.  The rooms were charming and clean, and Floyd was a great host.

When we were back in the office dealing with the pertinence, Floyd continued on with some recommendations about what to see and do while in the Great Smokies.  After what seemed like about forty-five seconds but was probably only really thirty, my enchanting bride interrupted Floyd and asked, "I'm sorry, but just what are the Grace Monkeys?"

Floyd looked a little bewildered until I interjected that he was indeed speaking about the Great Smokies, not making something up about Dali's famed painting "The Three Graces of Monkeys." 

It was just a hard of hearing misinterpretation of audible expression.

Another funny one happened when we lived up in Portland.  Some friends were over for dinner and our female guest had started talking about male rain coats.

"London Fog?" I inquired.

"Leather thong?" she responded, trying to maneuver this new article of apparel into her conversation about Singing in the Rain.

So, anyway I'd a been a weed whackin and a hackin, and ended up having to cross the lawn to get to the garden shack to get some more string.  Or something. 

I walked by our front deck, that looks a lot like this:

BTW-that white lattice covers a fairly fine meshed screen, because you have to enclose any "under" locations; such as under the house, under the deck, or what's under the raincoat.  Otherwise, not only will you have homeless rodents, raccoons and reptiles moving in, but probably homeless people as well.  Eventually there will be luscious blooming plants in the planter there, once we have our deer problem taken care of.  You can read all about that battle in "Bambi Can Eat My Drawers" somewhere around this here blog.

So as I amble by, I hear this hissing, or phissing sound.  And I think, hmmh, sounds like a pipe had sprung a leak.  I had, after all, just spent the last couple days working on irrigation issues and the sound was familiar.  So as I continued on to retrieve whatever I was after, I thought about the sound and location.  I walked back by and heard it again, continuing on my mission for another ten to fifteen seconds until I said wait a minute, there's no plumbing there and that sound is probably not going to go away by itself.  Dang.

So, I ambled back by and continued to hear this sprite little phissing sound, seemingly coming from under the deck.  I hopped up on the deck and walked over to the corner, and that "leak" got a whole lot louder.  I was starting to think "snake" at this point, so I walked back down the steps and around, pulled out the grate and looked in (underneath the deck) the opening, which looks a lot like this:

And there, right in the corner to the left of the opening was a little rattler all coiled up and raring to go.

We pretty much just have the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake up here in Northern California, or "Crotalus" something or other.  I'd rather have one of them under the deck than an Anaconda, or a Hippopotamus for that matter.  Or an alligator.  Those creatures would pose a whole nother problem. 

Tennessee Dale had come up to the house at this point and we hatched a plan.  Rather than have me plink it with a pellet gun, he really wanted to rescue and relocate the little critter.  Fortunately, I appeared to have all the necessary equipment.

The first was a bucket with a lid.  I have a small metal ash bucket that looks a lot like that one down there on the right behind the white furniture.  It's a good eighteen gallon or so.  That's also a great shot of "Gaga's Amaryllis", which is a whole nother story altogether.  Some other time though.  I'm sorry, but we got deadly snakes and things we're dealing with right now!  

With the bucket in tow, we also needed an old t-shirt and the most important tool of the entire operation, one of those litter picker upper grabber things, that looks a lot like this:

BTW, that thing is actually called a litter picker upper grabber thing, in case you were seeking particulars. 

With the bucket positioned by the door, Dale tossed the t-shirt on the frightened but deadly little guy to blind him.  Or her.  Whichever.

How do you tell the sex of a snake?   Why bother, unless you're a herpetologist, or Strother Martin.

The shirt toss was to minimize any strike potential.  What do you do in the case of a snake bite?  Click here.

Don't cut it open and suck the venom out, unless your name is John Wayne and the victim is Rita Hayworth.  Or Glenn Ford.  And the bite happens in the Mojave desert.  Or Utah.  That's it.  John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, Mojave Desert, Utah.  Otherwise, just don't friggin do it.

With the snake blind, Dale reached in with the grabber, gobbled up the shirt with snake and made the drop in the bucket.  I put the lid on and then he ended up dumping the snake out along a creek somewhere quite a ways away from any homes.  BTW, this was Dale's second or third rattlesnake capture-I was all too willing to let him run the show.  My solution was a couple pellets to the brain.  (I didn't want to use the .22 because the snake was coiled up next to the concrete foundation and I was concerned about the potential of a ricochet.) 

Since he was a little guy, I was acutely concerned about the potential of more.  I was also concerned as to how he got under there since it is all walled with a concrete foundation.  After some very close scrutiny, I did find a couple cracks and minor breaches.  It's amazing the spaces these varmints can squeeze through.

I have since closed all of them with that spray insulation stuff that really expands and is soo sticky that if you got some on your hair you could attach yourself to the bottom carriage of a hot air balloon and dangle in the wind for a number of hours.  I mean, if you wanted to that is.

Fortunately, as of this writing (some six months later) we have not had a repeat snake performance. 

I ran across a gal  on some acreage outside Smartsville, CA (Yes, Mathilda, there is such a town) which is about fifteen miles West from here and about half way down into the Central Valley.  Give or take a few miles.  It's about ten degrees warmer down there, just a drop of a thousand feet or so.  She said they employ seven cats to take care of the rattlesnake problem around her place.

I have also heard that Guinea Hens are good reptile hunters.  I do plan on adding a few birds of that faction possibly next spring.  I'm still a bit hesitant about upsetting the harmony within the current flock. 


Rooster Update

I have discovered (quite by accident) how to silence a crowing rooster at 05:30 in the morning.  Invite a pack of yipping coyotes to have a yip-a-thon across the street and up round the bend.  Far enough away so that I do not have to engage, yet close enough to dissuade Goldie from offering up any further "good Mornings" until mornings first light was more pronounced.  And the howling pack had left for at least an hour.

With the first major rain of the season (and the first ever in their your lives), I have also duly noted the rain seems to dampen his enthusiasm for crowing.

Just yesterday we discovered one of our red hens has gone missing.  Betty Lou was the little renegade that was continuously flying the coop, literally.  We would find her wandering around, usually trying to figure out how to get back in with the rest of the gang. We could usually coax her back in pretty easily offering some sort of vegetable treat.

And then one day last week Goldie was out, and he doesn't coax so easily.  So I decided to open the gate and let them all roam free.  I figured what the heck.  The night before deer had ransacked our front deck (Yup, up the five steps and then down the planks to some yummy Violas.) and we're heading towards winter so there shouldn't be too much for them to tear up.  That way they'd all self-migrate to the cage and their perches once it got dark.  And they did.  Or most of them anyway.

To be honest, I'm not sure when she went missing.  Or how.  I haven't stumbled across any feather piles which would indicate she became some wild one's dinner.  No idea.  I'll keep you posted.