Bugging Critters

Since it’s summer, I have been spending some time outside sitting in our front porch. In fact, that’s where I prefer to read as I prepare for my Boards (read previous post). I am taking advantage of the warm season while it last.

But while I am studying, I have been distracted by some critters, and I cannot help but take photos of them.

One morning, I was bugged by this little bunny (above photo). I thought I heard it say, “Hey, what’s up doc?” Maybe it was only in my head as I was thinking of another famous “bugs” bunny.

Moments later, another rabbit passed by the driveway and he seems to be exchanging stories with the squirrel (photo below). Maybe they were discussing what they want for breakfast: “I crave for a 24-carrot delight,” said one. “I go wild for nuts!” said the other.

There were also lots of birds, and they were noisily chirping around as if they were intentionally disturbing me. It was alright by me for I can’t hush them anyway. “Ssshhh, this is a study area.”

Here’s a cardinal at the bird bath. He seems to be contemplating if the water is cold and if he should take a bath. “To bathe or not to bathe.” But he did eventually.

Below is a mother deer and her fawn. The fawn was taking a drink at the bird bath, “Mmmm, taste like a cardinal punch.” “Oh, don’t drink that!” warns her mother.

I took the photo before I got out to the front porch, but they scurried away the moment I opened the door.

Lastly, there were other critters that were buzzing around me, including bugs that bite. Bzzzzz….”Ooohh, happy meal!” They left their marks on my legs, which I am annoyingly scratching now.

Damn critters!

The Unconquered Hill

There are places that are hard to conquer because of their natural physical barrier. Like the Masada in Israel, a fortress on top of a rock plateau 1400-feet high. This was the last foothold of the Jews against the Romans. Or the Maeda escarpment, which is a 350-foot high ridge in the island of Okinawa, Japan. The Americans lost hundreds of lives trying to capture this place, a story featured in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

But I am not really going to talk about battles or wars today. The unconquered hill that I was alluding to was a hill in a bike route. Yes, no shedding of blood here, only sweat for it’s just a bike ride.

I participated in the RAGBRAI*, which is a popular annual week-long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. This was my second time to join this event.

Before you really get amazed on my undertaking, I want to let you know that I only rode for one day, and not for the whole week. And I chose the day with the shortest route too, which was only 40 miles. I say only 40 miles, because on the other days, the course ranges from 60 to 88 miles.

see my shadow taking photo?

I did not train much for this bike ride. Since I run at least 2-3 times a week and can run 3 miles comfortably, plus knowing that I have finished several half-marathons in the past, I was confident that biking 40 miles should not be a problem at all. After all, I am reasonably fit, right?

When I run for the half-marathon, I usually train for at least 2 months. But the only preparation I did for this bike ride was I performed a 5-mile exercise in a stationary bike at a gym a week before, and I rode a 10-mile road test 2 days before the real event.

That was a mistake.

My cardiopulmonary function may be alright, and my determination is like titanium, but I overlook one thing. Riding a bike uses a different set of muscles than running.

So on one of the steep uphill climb, I felt my quadriceps muscles cramping and almost giving out. They were not trained to pound on the pedal for that long. As you probably know, running uses more of the hamstrings and calf muscles, not so much in cycling.

We stopped for a while after that grueling hill, and sat at the side of the road to give my cramping quad muscles a break. This bike-ride is not a race anyway. You can do it at your own pace, and can stop several times if you want. In fact, stopping to sample the foods being sold along the way and hanging out in the small towns we passed through was encouraged.

bikers and bikes taking a break

I made it through the 40 miles ride in one piece, and without keeling over. No bruises, no fractures. Only fractured confidence.

On the bike course of that day, the last leg was a couple of hills. I don’t know why they chose a steep hill for a finish after already pedaling 40 miles and passing so many hills. But since we were already within the vicinity of what was considered the end of the route, we skipped the last hill climb and called it a day.

the last hill of the course

We then phoned for our ride to fetch us at the street before the last hill – the last unconquered hill.

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(*RAGBRAI- Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa; photos taken with an iPhone)

Alliums and Peonies

This period is one of my favorite time of the year when it’s not too cold and not too hot either. Plus the flowers are blooming. Smelling flowers are much more enjoyable than shoveling snow, you know.

I would like to share some photos of what are blooming now in our garden, that have not been eaten yet by the deer or the wild rabbits.

Purple allium and white alliums:

By the way, Allium is the Latin word for garlic. As you can surmise these plants belongs to the family of onions, garlic and shallots. Since these blooms are in the family of onions, they have the trademark smell.

Peonies:

Peony is named after Paeon, the Greek god of medicine and healing. I don’t know if these flowers have curative properties. But one thing for sure, they are fragrant and maybe that’s healing enough.

These large flowers last about two weeks only, so might as well take the opportunity to gather them and display them inside as well.

Below are flowers not from our garden but from a grocery store. I included them here since I like my photo of it.

Despite allergies and all, there’s one unwritten rule in our household: No fake flowers allowed.

The last photo is the harvested peonies. And a selfie of course.

(*Credit to my wife, the master horticulturist; all photos taken with an iPhone)

We’ll Be Alright

We had a very cold winter this past season. It was among the snowiest too that I can remember. According to the weather almanac, this past winter in Des Moines set some records in snowfall.

In the 15 years that we have lived here in Iowa, this last one was the most brutal winter we’ve experienced.

But winter is gone. Everything is forgotten. Above photo is our front yard in mid March when snow and ice were beginning to thaw.

Here it is today:

Life is like seasons. You may be undergoing harsh winter now, yet keep in mind that winter will not last forever. Life will flourish again.

Just like what the song “Leaves” of Ben and Ben (a Filipino indie/pop band) says:

Leaves will soon grow from the bareness of trees,
And all will be alright in time,
From waves overgrown come the calmest of seas,
And all will be alright in time.

In this case, flowers grew too from the bareness of trees. Yes, we will be alright in time.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

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Here’s the official lyrics video of the song “Leaves.”

No Bird’s Nest

It’s spring time and all the snow are gone, but I have not put away our Christmas lights at our front door. Well, it is still cold. That’s my excuse.

Then this morning, we have noticed a lot of bird activity in our Christmas light topiaries. When we peaked, we found that a bird was trying to build a nest in our topiary.

It was flying back and forth with some small twigs in its beak. However, it sensed that we were watching through the glass, that it stopped working and dropped the twig from its beak.

It eventually flew away and abandoned building the nest in our topiary altogether. Perhaps that is a good thing as I don’t think it would be a safe place for a bird’s nest anyway.

Needless to say, it forced me to finally put away our Christmas topiary lights.

Wind Farm

It is officially spring time, and not too long from now our farmers would be busy working on their fields.

Since it is still too early for planting season here in Iowa, here’s the only grown farm that we are harvesting right now.

These “plants” are really humongous by the way. A wind turbine has 3 blades that are 116 feet long that are affixed atop of a 212-foot tower for a total height of 328 feet. The blades sweep a vertical airspace of just under an acre.

Iowa is a national leader in wind power. Here it is by the number:

We are 1st in share of wind energy used.

2nd in installed wind capacity.

3rd in number of wind turbines installed.

In 2016, 37% of Iowa’s total power is from the wind. That equals to 1.85 million home here were powered by the wind. There are more than 4000 wind turbines in Iowa (there’s about 30 wind turbines in this photo if you look closely).

With continued expansion and addition of wind turbines, a power company in Iowa projects that by the year 2021, wind-energy capacity will equal customers’ energy needs. Iowa can be totally powered by the wind.

Maybe the proverb of “when you sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,” can be a positive thing sometimes.

(*photo taken on my way to one of our outreach clinics)

Deer at Dusk

Iowa is one of the top five states in the US with the highest deer collision rate. According to one estimate from an insurance company, 1 in 73 drivers in Iowa have reported hitting a deer from July 2017 to June 2018. Oh deer!

Autumn has the highest risk of collisions with deer because that’s when the herd is mostly on the move, though it can happen any time of the year. And dawn and dusk are the most dangerous time of the day as deer are more active during these times.

One day last week, it was dusk and we were on our way home. In one lonely stretch of a country road I spotted a herd of deer standing at the side of the road. I believe they were planning on crossing the road. But it seems they were waiting for our car to be just close enough, and then they would dart off across the road when I have no time to hit the brakes. They can be that crazy, you know. They are also notorious to stop at the middle of the road with their proverbial “deer in the headlights” look.

However, I outsmarted them. I slowed down as I approached where they were standing and even came to a full stop just in case they still would jump right in front of our car. Since there was no other car on the road except us, it was safe for me to stop (even gave a chance for my wife to take photos).

I think I disppointed them, so they turned around instead of pouncing at my poor car.

Scat you rascals! I will not be one of the insurance’s statistics.

Tag, You’re It

With fresh snow on the ground and with temperature of 14º F (-10º C) that we trekked down to the nearby tree farm. It’s that time of year again to choose a Christmas tree.

From our previous experiences, it usually takes us several minutes (though it feel like hours) to go up and down the line after line of trees, before we could pick the “perfect” tree.

Not this time.

On the first line of trees that we approached, we already made our choice. We did it in less than a minute! It is a record!

Here’s a close up photo of our Christmas tree with my wife tagging it with our name.

We’ll be coming back in two weeks to have this tree cut and bundled and for us to bring it home.

Since we did it so quickly, there was plenty of time for me to eat popcorn and sip hot chocolate inside the tree farm’s store. 

Actually I was looking for Santa, who usually is sitting inside this store, to give him my Christmas list. But he was not there. Perhaps he’s still busy preparing the turkey for the Thanksgiving.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)