Saturday, June 17, 2017

Restoring the Desert Part 5--in 2017 everything was an emergency

Hi all,

Unfortunately, the perfect combination of rainfall,temperature and the timing of the two seemed to have germinated every weed seed on our property. Our weeding began in late January when the horrible burr marigolds emerged--everywhere.

burr marigolds start off green but turn a bristly gray when mature
Then came the filarees and grasses and it was all we could do to keep up.

the carpet of burr marigold, filaree and dried grasses.

Between surgeries, my weeding was almost constant and I didn't have much time to do much but get up in the morning and keep the house up. My husband and I finally declared ourselves done with weeding in early June.

But the results have been fantastic! Baby sagebrushes and daisies are coming up in the abused 'back forty'

Before weeding--dried filaree and burr marigolds
After weeding--baby sagebrushes

after weeding--rhizomatous daisies
daisy closeup

and native plants abound.

Although the weeding was extensive, we could see a definite trend. It was easier and, for the first time, we managed to weed the entire property--including the 'back forty.' In addition, many native plants came up this year that we've never seen before, including 

loco weed

evening primrose
Mariposa lily

Popcorn flower

Four o'clock

Scott also found a cache of pinyon seeds when he was weeding. A few pinyons had sprouted, but were eaten by the next day. I took the rest of the seeds and put them in a pot. A few weeks later, 13 seeds had sprouted and I transplanted them into pots. Only a few have survived the transplant. Now that the weather has warmed up, I hope at least one or two survive.

Pinyon seedlings in pots

From 2015 to 2017 we've come a long way!

May 2015
July 2016

May 2017

May 2017

May 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Restoring the Desert-Interrupted

Hi all,

A lot has happened since October 2016! I rewrote and renamed my manuscript (now it is called "She Will be Remembered") and resubmitted it to my agent, who is marketing it now. I also endured three weeks of contractors laying new wood plank tile in most of our house 

Finished living room . . .

dining room . . .

and kitchen.
and two surgeries--one surgery to get my appendix removed and another surgery 16 days later to remove part of my intestine. If you are curious about the surgeries, here is my story:

On a Thursday in early February, when my husband Scott and I were hiking at Paradise Rim trail in the Red Cliffs Tortoise Reserve, I felt a stitch in my right side. My first thought was that I was out of shape, but throughout the rest of Thursday the pain stayed steady and did not go away. But Scott did. He left for California on Friday morning to go to his best friend's funeral on Saturday. Before he left, we discussed what I should do if the pain got worse and concluded that I should go to the hospital. 

The pain had not increased on Friday, but it stayed in the back of my mind as I weeded the back yard to escape the tiler's commotion. After the contractors left, I had dinner, watched a movie on TV and googled "pain in right side" before going to bed. I suspected appendicitis, but my symptoms didn't fit and the pain continued to be mild. Since I have such a high pain tolerance (I walked 5  miles on a broken ankle, for example), I should have known something more more serious was going on.

I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and noted that the pain had increased slightly. After spending a few minutes deciding what to do, I finally settled upon driving myself to the emergency room. I changed into leggings and a comfortable top, gave the cats extra food and water, climbed into Scott's truck and drove to the hospital in St. George. When walking to the emergency room entrance, I noted that the pain had increased. Throughout the early morning the pain steadily increased until I finally relented and allowed an emergency room nurse to give me morphine. By 5:30 a.m. tests revealed appendicitis and they scheduled me for laparoscopic surgery later that morning. As events progressed, I texted Scott and left him messages, but never heard back.

I waited until 8:30 a.m. to call my friends Mimi and Larry, asking them if they could take me home after surgery. They had hoped to get me into surgery at 9:30 a.m. but I ended up having to wait until almost noon before they finally wheeled me into the operating room. I was looking forward to surgery because by then the pain was excruciating. After surgery, I woke up to find Mimi and Larry standing by my side. They told me that they had talked to the doctor and he said he had gotten my appendix out just before it ruptured.

After I proved to the nurses that I could walk, go to the bathroom, etc. etc. Mimi drove me home in her car while Larry followed us in Scott's truck. After getting me settled on the couch, Mimi stayed with me while Larry drove home. It was only five-thirty p.m. and the living room was still an obstacle course, but I managed to eat saltines with my pain pill, drink tons of water, and select a romance movie to watch with Mimi. I called Scott again, but he didn't answer.

The obstacle course.

Finally, Scott called about 8:00 p.m. It turns out that he had turned his phone off, left it in our car, and rode in someone else's car all day Saturday. When he called, I asked if he had gotten my messages. He said no, so I told what happened and his response was, "What!?!" On the drive home from California, he called me frequently and arrived home at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

I was healing fine, although my stomach was still sore, and weeding again, probably much too soon, and feeling better than I had in a long time. Then, ten days after my appendectomy, the surgeon called. He told me that he received the pathology report and my appendix was cancerous. I must say, that came as a shock. He told me to google appendix cancer and make an appointment to see him ASAP. It turns out that my appendix was completely filled with a malignant mucinous adenocarcinoma, which is an extremely rare cancer of the mucous glands. Thank goodness my appendix hadn't ruptured! Otherwise, I would have had cancerous cells spewed all throughout my abdominal area.

When meeting with the surgeon a few days later, he explained the pathology report to us. The cancer, although slow-growing, was found at the point where my appendix attached to my intestine, which means it could have spread to my colon. I decided to go ahead with another laparoscopic surgery to remove that part of my colon on the following Monday. The surgeon took out 6-8 inches of my intestine and numerous lymph nodes and, while it was not fun, the surgery and my recovery in the hospital and at home went well. I received phone calls, emails, flowers and get-well cards galore. 

One friend made me a pot of chicken noodle soup that I added more fiber to each day as my intestines healed. That soup lasted me two weeks! Other friends made food for Scott so he wouldn't have to cook for himself while waiting on me all day. The kids even made trips out to visit as soon as they could. I had no idea I meant so much to everyone.

Meanwhile, Scott and I waited on pins and needles for the pathology report. I googled everything I could find about appendiceal mucinous adenocarinoma and read some scary stories. But everything worked out--both my intestine and 16 lymph nodes were "negative", which means no cancer.

Well, people have asked me if I have gone through any life transformations after this close call. I am happy about how everything turned out, but I don't feel like a cancer survivor. I had an appendix removed that I didn't know was cancerous, had another surgery that I may not have needed but had given me peace of mind, and I didn't have to go on to chemotherapy. I also feel better than I have in a long time--I've had a lot of infections over the past few years, probably because my body was fighting a cancer I didn't know I had. But I do feel incredibly lucky, grateful to have family and friends by my side, and thankful for each new day. Perhaps that is a transformation, after all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Restoring the Desert--Part 4

Hi everyone,

Sorry I've been lazy and not keeping up on my desert restoration journey. I've been busy traveling, camping, weeding, planting new trees and shrubs, arranging and supervising home improvements such as installing a barrier fence (below),

Newly planted blue point junipers, ponderosa pines and barrier fence on the east side of our property
a new shower, and gates. I've also been enjoying our wildflowers and accompanying wildlife,

Galleta grass, sunflowers, snakeweed, newly planted aspen

Rabbits under the front yard bird feeder

and discovering that I have allergies! Yes, the new sagebrush-pinyon juniper habitat we moved into last year brought out a juniper allergy and ant-bite allergy I never knew I had. Or maybe that's old age speaking. Anyway, now I'm taking desensitization shots. Fortunately, the needles are short and the shots barely hurt!

administering an allergy shot

As of right now, the weeds on our property are not so bad.  Filaree rosettes are coming up, but they are not as thick as before.

And puncture vine is almost nonexistent, although we continue to find mature seeds stuck to our shoes. 

The annual grasses have not sprouted yet and much of last year's grasses and seeds have been either raked up or pulled out. In a few weeks, we will plant another batch of seeds, which will hopefully survive. I ordered some of them and collected others during walks around the neighborhood and in the nearby mountains. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed that everything survives the mice and birds that eat newly sown seeds, the rabbits that chew down the grasses, the deer that relish most of our deciduous shrubs and trees, and the gophers that have so-far killed a wide assortment of plants on our property.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Restoring the Desert Part 3--Triage

Arrgh! As our spring rains dry up and, the most pervasive weeds (filaree, foxtail, tumble mustard, bur marigold and cheatgrass) begin drying up and brand new weeds (the evil puncture vine aka goat heads, black mustard, tumbleweed and pigweed) begin moving in. What to do? Deal with the widespread weeds that are drying up first, that's what. It's crisis mode now and my husband and I are shifting into high gear.

My hubby, Scott

Me holding a huge filaree

Together, we have succeeded in clearing out huge patches of what used to be a solid mat of weeds with a tiny amount of native plants thrown in. It's not perfect, but a person can only do so much.

Drying foxtail

Drying cheatgrass & filaree

Weeded area on east side of house
 As our weeding progressed, I've been taught a few important lessons:

Number 1--preventing future weeds is all about eliminating their seeds.
In my mind, annual weeds exist for only one reason--to reproduce. And they are very good at that. They germinate when moisture is sufficient, make the most of that moisture, and produce as much progeny as they are able. That means if the spring turn dry, they don't waste time on growth. They will remain small and put all their energy into making seeds as quickly as possible. In our case, we have had abundant moisture this spring. The foxtail, cheatgrass and filaree have had the luxury of growing tall and wide and producing a huge amount of seed, which means ample weeds next year unless they are all gathered up and thrown away.

Number 2--don't weed-wack mature weeds. We made the mistake of weed-wacking that awful foxtail, which spewed out seeds everywhere.

Weed-wacked foxtail

In our case, not only did the original foxtails grow back, but brand new plants grew from some of the weed-wacked seeds. Arrgh!! Since many annual weed seeds mature after being cut off, we learned the hard way that the key to preventing this disaster is to always collect the seeds and throw them away. Even raking them up after weed-wacking or picking them off the plant is better than leaving them on the ground.

Number 3--Leave some "nice" weeds behind. But don't forget to control their seeds. Last year, we decided that we liked the weedy native verbena and desert tobacco plants. The rabbits ate the verbena and it provided good ground cover while the hawk moths and hummingbirds visited the desert tobacco flowers frequently. But what was the occasional plant last year has turned into a nightmare this year.

Seedlings: Desert tobacco, center left. Verbena, center & top left. Pigweed, right.
We like those plants ... but not this much!

These desert tobacco seedlings need serious thinning.
 Number 4--don't seed in the wind. It was very windy the day we seeded our native wildflower and grass mixtures and seed got everywhere. It looks good in the area around our house this year . . .

Desert bluebells & California poppies, as well as desert tobacco seedlings that still need to be weeded.

but next year we may have a repeat of the desert tobacco nightmare. We'll just have to make sure to collect the seeds and distribute them where we want them rather than have them distribute themselves. Oh well, we have lots of places to put them.

This sounds like a lot of work, right? And it is. But the payoff is satisfying. The native perennial grasses are healthier than ever, we're providing open spaces for sagebrush to come in, and without the weeds, we are helping the native wildflowers grow without competition from weeds.

Indian ricegrass & Squirrel tail

Baby sagebrush
Showy Golden Eye

Scarlet Beeblossom

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Restoring the Desert-Part 2

After taking a break over the winter to remodel and paint the house and finalize my manuscript, Remember Me (now renamed Absolute Recall), spring temperatures and rain have brought the weeds back with a vengeance. Our nicely cleared and seeded patches of land became completely dominated by the Big Three: filaree, foxtail, and tumble mustard, with lots of annual grasses and what I am calling bur marigold thrown in.

Filaree rosettes
Filaree, the green rosette shown here, is originally from Europe but is now found at latitudes below 70 degrees north and south. In southern Utah, filaree and annual grasses dominate areas that have been overgrazed, burned or otherwise disturbed, crowding out native perennial grasses and shrubs.

If you look closely, you can see a maturing bur marigold reaching above the center filaree. What begins as a cute little yellow flowered plant turns into a wickedly sharp bur that must contain formic acid because if it pokes you, it leaves a sharp, lasting sting.

A filaree dominated weed patch.
To my chagrin, we watched two other notorious weeds spread throughout our previously weeded and seeded areas: foxtail and tumble mustard. Foxtail, especially, is difficult to remove. It forms deep fibrous roots and large mats that have to be dug out. Not only are foxtails a pain to dig up, they can also be hazardous to dogs:
When digging the foxtail out, I am inadvertently also uprooting some of our carefully seeded grasses and wildflowers along with it! I think we should have waited another year before seeding. :(

Now weeded, filaree, foxtail and cheatgrass grew thickly between the native galleta grass and sagebrush.
Foxtail and tumble mustard

What looks like a nice green lawn is actually thick green foxtail waiting for dry weather to be dug out. What a lot of work!

But all is not lost. Native squirrel tail and galleta grasses are coming back and sagebrush seedlings can be found in the open areas (particularly in areas we don't want them, such as the rock around our house). I have tried transplanting some of the sagebrush seedlings into the desert but, alas, most of them died. However, the ones that remain are growing fast and some of the wildflowers that have managed to survive my intense weeding are flowering!!

Gilia tricolor

California bluebell

baby sagebrush

one-year-old sagebrush