Life is Twisted

We have a couple of wisteria trees.  Their branches, with each passing year, become ever more twisted and intertwined.

Wisteria Twisted 2

The swirling branches, new and old, remind me of the paths some people take during their lives.

New shoots, which can lengthen a foot or more each day, wander aimlessly skyward until their weight makes them drop down into the existing branches.  Children exploring their universe, eventually coming home to the familiarity and safety of friends and relatives.

And, like typical children growing up, some shoots are a bit rebellious and seek new paths away from home.  A nearby chimney to cling to and wrap around, or the adjacent maple tree with its branches beckoning like an exotic, far away town to run away to.

Wisteria Twisted 1

As branches grow more mature and seek their own spot in the world, they continue to wrap clockwise around their elders.  They embrace their siblings and support previous generations.

Sometimes they actually fuse with another branch and become one — a wedding of sorts for these young lovers.  As the years pass, however, one may end up choking the life out of the other until one or both succumb to the suffocating griphold.

Occasionally a branch will be reclusive, finding a path for itself with a minimum amount of twisting, touching, or interacting with others.

Our grape vines are also like perpetual children, year after year.  New growth is fast and furious and chaotic — like children at recess on a mild spring day.

As they run and skip and play, though, they seek friends and support.  “Hello, neighbor leaf.  Will you be my friend?”, a growing shoot may ask as it wraps its tendril around the adjacent vine.  “Hello, Mr. Steel Cable.  Will you help keep me in the air and sunshine?”, another asks on its seasonal journey.

We all have our twisted paths to follow and obstacles to face and overcome, and we can learn from the plants.

It is easier when you have another to hold onto.

Liquid in Form and Function

Liquid conforms to its container whether it is a glass, birdbath, or lake.

Sailboat in Fog

Liquid is differentiated from gases or vapors…

Ice Storm Tree

… as well as from solids.

Some molecules, like carbon dioxide, transform from solid to gas (or vice versa) usually with no intermediate liquid form.  Liquid carbon dioxide can be produced with high pressure — above 5.1 atmospheres, about 75 psi.

Liquid doesn’t apply solely to fluids.  Dancers can move with a liquid grace, people can have limpid, liquid eyes.

Liquid Assets

And let’s not forget those liquid assets.  Though, in this household, they more closely resemble vapor.

Place in the World

Sunset on the Butte

Growing up in southern California, in the San Fernando Valley, there were no seasons.

It could be 90F in January as well as July.

Any time a stray cloud passed we would hope some rain would fall to turn the dry brown foothills back to a lush green and, as long as it was raining, maybe wash away the smog.

Although beaches to surf and mountains to ski were relatively close at hand, they were shared with millions of others who wanted to play in the sand or snow on any given day.

As were everything else — restaurants, theaters, freeways, sporting venues, lakes — too crowded for my tastes.  By the time I was in junior high school I knew my future place in the world would not be living in southern California.

Shortly after high school I, along with two close friends, embarked on a month-long motorcycle journey.  We traveled north the length of California, into Oregon and Washington, east to Idaho, north to Alberta, Canada, back to British Columbia, returning home via the Pacific Coast Highway.  This adventure was my introduction to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Mercy at the Beach

Beaches and mountains remain close at hand and, without hordes of people descending upon them en masse, are peaceful paradises to enjoy.

Off-season you may find yourself alone on a two-mile stretch of sandy coastline.  Ski mid-week and not worry about lift lines (the lines are not all that long on weekends, either).

Middle Fork

There are numerous clear lakes and rivers to frolic in, plentiful enough to accommodate all visitors easily, yet still retain their serene and blissful qualities even during the heat of summer.

I will admit, however, that we do get a tad bit of rain.  Fortunately, most of it occurs only during a roughly seven month period (November through May).  Late spring is drier, early fall is drier still, and summer (which we hope will be on a weekend this year) is dry.

Rain in the Pacific Northwest is different than the (occasional) rain in southern California.  Up here we don’t melt if we get rained on.  We hardly even rust.  Umbrellas are for visitors.

In southern California, on the other hand, rain is always a double-edged sword.  While it is generally welcomed, at least the first quarter inch or so, it also creates havoc.  Freeways are choked from increased wreckage, outside construction projects are shut down, class recess and physical education classes get relegated to the auditorium, mudslides frequent the neighborhoods hit by the last fire season.

Those are my memories, at any rate.  Nobody worked or played outside.

If those rain-aversion traits were practiced in the Northwest we wouldn’t have any construction for most of the year, all the kids would go cabin crazy, people wouldn’t bicycle or jog — in short, things would stop.  But we don’t stop when it rains, even during commuting rush minutes (they’re not long enough to be called rush hours unless you live in Portland or Seattle).

As I noted on that fateful motorcycle trip so many years ago, seemingly nothing here stops because of the rain.  Roofers still roof, cyclists still cycle, and joggers still jog.  Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you can’t play your softball game in the mud.

It’s raining here at this moment.  We have a view of a park and elementary school down the hill.  It’s raining, and the school children are out playing tetherball, swinging on the playground apparatus, shooting hoops.  It’s raining, and not a single kid has melted.

(Usually) Unlikely

Hummingbird in Snow

It is unlikely, in any given year, for us to receive appreciable amounts of snow.

At an elevation of about 800 feet in the lower Willamette Valley of Oregon, we can count on a lot of liquid sunshine (others refer to it as rain, but we need all the sunshine we can get so liquid will have to do).

Not that it doesn’t get cold enough to snow.  Plenty of times our winter temps will drop into the teens or twenties, sometimes even single digits.  But those cold days and nights are typically the result of a lack of cloud cover which lets all the heat escape into the stratosphere.

Occasionally, though, Canada will send us a blast of cold arctic air which will mix with moisture coming in on the jet stream.  If we’re unlucky the precipitation will fall as freezing rain or sleet.  We prefer the snow.

Snow does create a few obstacles and challenges for us.

Our home is on the end of a street, and the street is on a pretty steep hill.  It doesn’t take much for us to get snowed or iced in.

And snow creates a few obstacles and challenges for some of the wildlife we share our neighborhood with, like the hummingbirds (and robins and crows and all the rest).  It has to be cold to snow, yet our avian friends still need water in liquid form — with or without sweetener.

Snow on Deck

Anna’s hummingbirds live here year round, and during the winter they stake out their favorite feeders to get nourishment throughout the day.  But when the temps drop to 15F or 20F, the nectar freezes (as does water in the bird baths, street gutters, and pretty much everywhere else).

At night we bring the hummingbird feeder inside the house.  In the morning we hang it back outside where the little birds anxiously await its return, claiming their territory a bit before dawn.  To them it’s their eternal flower, and they can be very protective of it.

We pour boiling water in the bird baths to thaw them out as well.  I never knew robins stayed around this area during the winter until a few years ago.  We had an extended period of frigid temperatures (no snow), and one day shortly after I thawed the bird baths about two dozen robins stopped by for baths and drinks.  It looked like they were having a party.

Of course, pouring boiling water on a glass hummingbird feeder isn’t a good idea, but some method was needed to keep the feeder from freezing solid again after an hour or two outdoors.

So a little wood box was constructed and placed atop our slatted-wood plant stand.  Standing it on end resulted in a nice platform, perfect for a small personal-sized propane heater — the catalytic kind with no flame you can place under a chair or inside a tent to take the chill off your chilled and weary bones.  (Being out in the open, the minimal amount of carbon monoxide produced wasn’t a concern.)

Hummingbird Feeder Heater

On its lowest setting, the propane cartridge would last the entire day.  Positioned about 12 inches below the feeder, enough heat rose to keep the nectar from freezing (but not so much as to make the feeder overly warm) — and the hummingbirds were very content to split their time between the feeder and a nearby branch.

Hummingbird with Heater