Sunday, November 30, 2008

Alpaca adventure

Long, long ago, when I had a one mile walk to the little Chicago neighborhood weekly I edited, no matter what the weather, I bought the coziest, warmest coat I've ever owned. It was reasonably priced, too. Something like twenty-five or thirty-five bucks. Wool on the outside, a fuzzy alpaca lining on the inside. And not sold as a luxury item, either -- straight off the racks at Wiebolt's, a low-end department store. Today, alpaca remains quite as warm, but it can be somewhat pricey.

This was the weekend of the Alpaca Holiday Boutique, way out in Chino Valley. Oh, I wanted to go so badly and so begged friends to drive the lot of us out to the event (begging -- that's the price one pays for being a non-driver). And so I thank sheoflittlebrain of The One Acre Wood for a wonderful outing at the Singletree Farm where five local alpaca farmers were displaying their wares. A Christmas tradition, I guess, because I've seen the sales advertised for several years now.

There were hats and scarves and gloves and sox and plenty of beautiful yarns.

Not to mention a drop-dead-gorgeous sweater. Another nostalgia trigger, that. Back in the day when I still indulged in needlework, I came into some brown alpaca yarn for which I designed a raglan-sleeve sweater knit in the round. The body was all purl; the feature was a 4-stitch cable where the raglan "seam" would normally appear. It was a very pretty garment, but there was one big problem -- there were few places I could wear it, as it was so very, very warm.

Another feature of the boutique: spinners working with the yummy fibers. And, below, one more product of the alpaca farm: camelid poo, recommended for fertilizing indoor plants.

But there was more than just the boutique -- we got to meet the source of the fiber goodies, gathered around the farmer who was passing out carrots. Look at all those beautiful natural colors on the hoof. BTW, the cute little guy in the upper and lower picture is almost all of three weeks old! As Wikipedia tells it, alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years. There are no wild alpacas. The closest living species are the wild vicuña, also native to South America. Along with camels and llamas, the alpaca are classified as camelids. The alpaca is larger than the vicuña but smaller than the other camelid species. Of the various camelid species, the alpaca and vicuña are the most valuable fiber-bearing animals: the alpaca because of the quality and quantity of its fiber and the vicuña because of the softness, fineness and quality of its coat. Alpacas are too small to be used as pack animals; instead, they were bred exclusively for their fiber and meat.

After reading the Wikipedia article, I finally realize why those alpaca garments were so warm: the creatures normally graze at an altitude of 3,500 m (11,483 ft) to 5,000 m (16,404 ft) meters above sea-level. Yikes! Those are elevations at which I wouldn't survive! Even though the local animals are sheared each year in May, I'm surprised they survive through our summers. More info: there are six alpaca farmers in Chino and a total of ten in the greater Prescott area.

Note: this post is dedicated to my SIL, who has longed for a llama of his very own for as long as I've known him.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Improving on the past

Perhaps Loki is the chief photo god, the prankster who makes sure that the one image you needed to complete the set magically appears once you have published. The neighborhood tuxedo cat above, for example, posing strategically next to the cat crossing sign. Two weeks too late. Loki is also likely to hide pictures in plain view in the archives -- for example the library's miniature of the big rodeo bronze.

I doubt Loki has anything to do with my Thumb Butte problem, which is simply that I keep finding and/or taking new views of our city's landmark. Here are a couple; the viewpoint of the upper picture is at the entrance to the posh Hassayampa Village; the other is quite close up to the volcanic plug at the top.

Did I mention that Loki let me make a fool of myself by declaring that there were only two splendid towers on Mt. Vernon Street. Nope. I've already back-pedaled with one excellent example from our prime Victorian neighborhood. Now, here's another, thanks to my Halloween excursion. And here's a cute piggy weather vane that he hid, again in plain sight.

Yes, I should have seen these kachinas to include in my post on these Hopi "dolls" though these were in the midst of a wonderous and thoroughly miscellaneous batch of collectibles over at Batterman's. As for the NO sign below, you may recall that I posted a select group from my vast accumulation over a year ago. I rather liked this one because 1) it is a double NO and 2) the sign designer bothered to say please.

And I just wish I'd delved deeper into the archive to bring up this shot for last night's collection of signs, reason being that neat reflection of yours truly in the act of photography.

Photo Link: Talk of synchronicity! My Google alert let me to another view of the McCormick Street hippie sign, this time on Flickr. Take a look.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Signs of the times

Public signs are curious: in prosperous, comfortable times, one interprets them in a positive light. When times are tough, the implication of a sign's language is often portentous and forbidding. For evidence, consider Exhibit A above.

Similarly, there is always a bit of churn in the business landscape of a town. But as the markets have tanked, the visibly empty store front becomes a harbinger of worse to come.

Why should I feel it worrisome when businesses put up "for sale" signs? Possibly because, if the economy were better, these same operations would be hot properties, selling quickly through business brokers, no "for sale" sign necessary.

Rack down to the bottom sign -- this is the first I've seen "owner may carry" in a long, long time. Apparently this owner is not waiting for a buyer to locate a no-money-down loan (and yes, apparently these still exist, believe it or not). Actually, in more normal markets, owners often had to carry in out-of-the-way locations such as Wilhoit, down SR89 south.

We're also entering a world in which it may be necessary to hire citizen-handymen once again, as many illegals return home. The magnetic auto sign above reminds me that it took several Sci-Fi stories worth of reading before I finally figured out just what "Billy the Joat" did for a living. That's a word that should enter our everyday vocabulary -- let's hear it for the Joat!

What does this sign tell me? First, that our population includes louts with nothing better do with their time than randomly muck up the right of way. Second, that the city doesn't care -- that sign has been missing letters like a six year old is missing teeth for ever so long.

Not bad. Data. Wonder how often a speeder actually has to pay out such sums. OK, I also wonder how many speeders have read that sign.

I suspect that we'll be seeing a lot more conspiracy theory signage -- another predictable side effect of an economic downturn, especially one in which public trust in our financial and political institutions is low.

And, of course, there's always prejudice to worry about ... over on McCormick Street, at least.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Patterns from a Thanksgiving day dinner

Today, thanksgiving, was primarily a day of friendship. I enjoyed a comfortable, laid-back visit that did, not just incidentally, include an awesome feast. Our world out Williamson Valley way was alternately drizzly, misty and bathed in brief bursts of sun. Weather patterns. Patterns, too, on the land.

I don't often get the opportunity to look down on the circle of the leaf fall from an apricot tree. Any tree, for that matter.

Another tree almost ready for winter, stark against Granite Mountain. Odds on it's an aspen

The namesake rocks and boulders of the mountain were sometimes visible through the mists that clung to its top and sides.

Another pattern -- by accident. I was aiming for the mountain in the distance; my Canon was focusing on the screen nearby. I decided to make lemonade.

Far to the north, catching late afternoon sun, a canyon cutting up into the western edge of the Rim country.

Back in the house, next the wood burning stove, what I choose to call beetlewood -- a tree branch that has been tunneled beneath the bark by beetle larvae. The pattern looks somewhat like hieroglyphs! I hope that your Thanksgiving was as pleasant and relaxed as mine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your family and your friends on this simplest yet most thoroughly American of holidays.

For Your Linky Pleasure: Warren, of Touch the Wind, took his camera to the glass art exhibition at the Desert Botanical Gardens in the Valley. Wild and wonderful stuff! And Prescott. with its heroic bronzes, is mentioned along with Real Cities like Naples and SF at this week's Carnival of the Cities. A reader (Lola by name) sent me an unexpected link: it seems the Pomona Public Library over in SoCal has a collection of nearly 50 digitized 30s postcards of Prescott on line; thanks, Lola. If you follow the link, the next step is to enter a search on "Prescott" in the upper right hand corner of the page.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trimming the hillside

This is the arid west and fire is an ever-present danger. Those periodic deadly conflagrations in and around LA serve as a regular reminder of what can happen. Yes, I live in the city. Yes, there is a fire hydrant right at my property line. But for many years, I have worried about all the deadwood in the mountain mahogany thicket up the hillside immediately above my house. Finally, I gave into my worrywart self and hired a father and son team to 1) take out the dead stuff and 2) trim everything back.

But that wasn't all. What to do with the huge piles of debris? Take them to the transfer station and pay the city to store all that good organic material in the sanitary landfill, where it wouldn't turn into soil for centuries? No way. Instead, we rented a chipper ; now there are mounds of lovely, soon-to-be mulch scattered about the hillside, as you can see above and below. The better to hold our precious rainwater as moisture in the soil instead of drying out immediately.

On a tour of inspection this afternoon, I was able to get a good look at parts of the yard I'd never really seen previously. For example, just look at the twist in the big fat honeysuckle stem/limb. Is that spiral growth part of what it takes to be in the vine business?

Up among the ivy, a fallen oak on its way back into the earth. Forgive me the picture below; I couldn't resist something so suggestive! BTW, I asked my yardmen to leave the large logs behind when they take the middle-sized small branches away. Their plan is to drop those in streetside heaps out in a countryside development. The mountains have a lot of people who heat with wood who will clean up such piles in no time.

This long-gone oak stump looks almost anguished in its death throes! As for the large tin can below, it's been moldering certainly for far longer than I've lived here (almost 25 years).

At this point, the hillside looks rather naked and I worry about how well the ivy will adapt to the extra sunshine. Hope it doesn't fry. However, if our winter rain and snow ever arrive, the scrub will send out new, green shoots looking to fill in all that empty space. I might even scatter a wildflower mix in the sunnier locations.
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