Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Skeptical Gardener

I’m very happy in my new home. I’m especially happy with my large yard. I’ve already picked a small patch for gardening, and may try to weasel my way to expanding the borders if I can get the BF to cooperate with my plans. As spring planting time is nearly upon me, I’m gathering all my supplies. Reclaimed wood, containers, seeds, and information.

As I’ve been researching for things to plant, I’ve found that some are being claimed to have special properties. For instance, I’ve often heard it claimed that marigolds repel aphids and that nasturtiums repel rabbits. Such a thing is incredibly useful to gardeners, if true. And even if it isn’t true, there’s no harm in pretty flower borders decorating the veggie patch, is there?

Still, I would look very silly if I said to someone who knew better that this magic flower over there kept pests at bay, only to have him turn around and tell me that it’s doing no more to ward of pests than it is to ward of tigers. Just because the pest isn’t around doesn’t mean my plant actually put up an effective force field. Why did I think it would? Because someone told me?

When I first heard claims of pest-control plants, I was eager to accept it as truth. After all, I heard it from gardeners, people who have been working the land longer than I’ve been alive so I’d think they know a thing or two. It would certainly benefit me if the claims were, indeed, accurate. But just wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so, nor does hearing it from a perceived authority. This is something I gave little though until I considered another kind of plant use claim, on that I doubt, that being medicinal plants.

I’ve always found the effects certain plants are said to have for humans very interesting. Some flowers and herbs, I am told, have medicinal properties and can cure things like headaches and stomach upset, can promote healing, or can help you lose weight. I’ve even heard such lofty claims as this or that plant can prevent or cure cancer.

Do some plants really have the medicinal effects claimed? Maybe. I mean, it’s known that some plants can have an effect on animals. I mean, as an example right off the top of my head, the effects (medicinal and otherwise) of cannabis on humans are well known. And if I’m not mistaken, the developers of pharmaceutical have been known to look to plants, on occasion, in the development of new drugs. Plants can affect people as more than just a source of nutrition, and sometimes do so in some pretty strange ways.

I’m not questioning whether or not plants can possibly have medicinal uses. It’s whether or not the specific plants claimed really work as claimed, and whether or not they are really more effective and safer than commercial drugs. I’m not one to just believe whatever I’m told. Not without proof.

Sadly, I’m finding research on the matter a bit difficult. Actual scientific studies on such matters are hard to come by, and definitive conclusions harder still. Meanwhile, there remain so many claims out there, and it seems like more are sprouting up all the time as the “alternative medicine” movement gains steam online. It is therefore difficult for me to determine which claims are true, or at least plausible, and which are just “alternative medicine” hogwash. Honestly, I’m inclined to doubt “alternative medicine.” I doubt that any plant is medicinal until I can verify that it is.

It would be nice if I could grow my own personal pharmacy. However, until I can find proof that the herbs and flowers I’ve been told can do this or that really do as advertized, I will have the lingering and uncomfortable suspicion that I’d just be doing the gardening equivalent of superstitiously throwing salt over my shoulder, getting, at best, a placebo effect.

This doubt in herbal medicine makes me also wonder about the pest-control claims of companion plants. These claims too would be nice if true, but are they really? I don’t know.

This feels like an odd post to write because I’ve basically proposed a problem and then didn’t follow with a solution, making this post seem somewhat incomplete. The truth is, as of right now, I don’t have an answer.

Molly The Mountain Dog

Yesterday, we took Molly on a nice hike in the mountains. This wasn’t the first time we’d taken her on a dayhike. We took her to Garden Of The Gods and wandered the trails in the woods before. It made for a great, though short trip. The only problem was keeping her attention. We weren’t the only ones on the trail. There were hikers, joggers, and it was clear that horses had been through as well. Everything was a distraction so we had to hold her leash short.

We had no such issue this time, as we took her up onto some trails in the mountains where we like to go offroading. Yesterday, there was no one around. Molly was just a delight, she stayed on the trail and listened to every command. She didn’t even try to chase the squirrel that she saw. She had a blast, trotting ahead of us a few yards, her nose to the ground the whole time, then stopping to look back at us over her shoulder as if to say, “Hurry up, slowpokes!” She’s a smart dog, never wandering too far ahead. If she went around the corner and could no longer see us, she’d come bounding back. A few times, my boyfriend and I would just suddenly stop walking and be very quiet, only to giggle at how the dog would immediately stop and look over he shoulder to make sure we were still there.

She has small paws, and trimmed claws, and seemed to have an issue with traction. So did I, in my military issue desert boots. Off the side of the trail you have the slope of the mountain, which is rock covered by a layer of dirt and some fallen vegetation. The ground tended to slip away under you if you strayed from the trail too much. But it was the bare rock outcrops that worried me. Molly liked to prop herself up on them so she could peer over the edge. It was hard not to worry about her slipping off. She wouldn’t fall far, it’s not as if we were on a cliff face, but I don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Thankfully, Molly minded her step.

As we got climbed higher, we encountered more snow, and Molly went nuts. This dog gets so excited around snow. I don’t know if she really loves snow or if the cold makes her want to move more for warmth, but she wagged her tail like crazy and charged all around, only stopping to bury her face in the powder. My boyfriend managed to snap a picture of her with snow on her nose. We had a good laugh when he put it on his facebook page with the caption, “Retired drug dogs have some issues.” He might have a somewhat twisted sense of humor, but so do I so we’re a great match.

Eventually, it did come time to leave. It was getting dark and we knew snow would be rolling in soon. We stopped our truck a few times on our way down the mountain. Once to take a picture of a shot up sign, another time for BF to adjust his lights. At one of these stop, I noticed Molly, who was normally very still during car rides, and twisted her seatbelt harness around herself. As I was correcting it, I noticed that her paw was bleeding lightly. The poor thing ripped her dew claw again, as she had done the day prior. As before, she didn’t limp or whine or give any indication that she was bothered at all. As my BF had brought his medic bag, he quickly patched her up and now she’s doing just fine. I do worry about dew claws. I’m not convinced that a surgery to remove them is worth the risks or the stress to her, but I am looking in to dew claw protectors.

The three of us had a really great time. I’m hoping we can go once more before the weather makes that impossible. After today’s excitement, Molly was very much ready for bed. All she was waiting for was us.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Watch the dew claws. They could snag.
  • People aren’t the only ones who might need first aid so be prepared. I have a first aid kid just for the dog. On a related point, know what’s in the aid kid and where to find it.
  • Dogs seem to never look at the camera when you want them to. Somehow, they always know…
  • Remove the dog’s harness if it would absorb moisture. No one wants something wet on them when it’s cold out.
  • Dogs are not impressed by chess.

Fire Safety Lesson

Yesterday, I drove up to Rainbow Falls, where my BF and I sometimes go offroading, to visit some friends who were camping there. These friends of mine are soldiers that are also getting out of the Army on medical discharge, who were there with their significant others. One of the soldiers, who was having a birthday this week, had asked me to camp out with them. As my boyfriend was working and could not come and I would have felt bad camping without him, I answered that while I would not stay overnight, I would come and visit.

As I was driving my Aveo, one of the soldiers picked me up in the staging area. It was a fun ride in his jeep to where they were camping out. Once there, I was introduced to the SOs and regaled in the tales of what had missed. Apparently, the soldier who picked me up had to be rushed to the hospital last night after severely cutting his hand on a piece of metal he’d found on the ground, which caused squirting arterial bleeding. As this soldier was, apparently, the camp chef, breakfast the next day wasn’t that great. At some point, someone tried to fry beacon on a machete.

That’s something else that I noticed right away, the group was very well armed. The one who cut himself had with him a machete, an axe, countless knives, and probably a few firearms. Other soldiers in the group were also packing. Before lunch, the man with the cut hand tried to cut wood with his axe one-handed, much to the amusement of his companions who cracked jokes but didn’t help. Eventually, he got the wood split and made some nice steaks.

I asked them if they were allowed to have a fire, as there had been a fire restriction and there’d been a major fire north of the Springs lately, but they said it had been lifted. Of of the SOs was a firefighter and said she’d checked with the appropriate service.

Later, the one-handed soldier and I, and later a few others, searched the forest for more dead vegetation to burn. They’d decided to have a bonfire. I gathered a few large sticks while they cut up a dead, fallen tree. I helped built a tepee style burn pile, at the location they selected. I was very proud of our work and excited to light it. Although I didn’t think it needed it, one soldier sprinkled some gasoline around the base of the pile. He told me to light it by throwing in some paper, miming a trowing motion towards the fire as he spoke. As he flicked his wrist, the whole pile suddenly caught ablaze to the surprise of both of us. Apparently, the fumes from the gas caught from the nearby cooking fire.

The fire was much larger and hotter than we expected. We had to move some the the vehicles and a tent. As for ourselves, we all stood far back, about 20ft as it was too hot to get any closer. “Great, how are we going to cook now?” The laughing birthday soldier asked. The flames were so high that when the breeze blew, the flames can disturbingly close the to branches of a pine tree we thought we were far enough away from. We watched intently as the fire died down a bit to a more manageable size after about half an hour, relieved that no significant incident had occurred. Colorado is highly flammable.

Going Green Fail

I love green bags. You know, those reusable cloth bags that help cut down on the  use of plastic bags? Yeah, those. Love them. I have a few, and I always mean to bring them to the store with me, although I often forget or don’t bring enough. I’m thinking that maybe I should just keep them in my car.

Not everyone understands the purpose of reusable shopping bags. For one thing, they aren’t without drawbacks. Reusable shopping bags may actually require more energy to produce than plastic bags, which means more carbon emissions. It’s my hope that in the future, methods of production will improve to remedy this. Currently, the advantage of using reusable bags to plastic bags is waste and pollution reduction. It’s worth the trade off. Plus, some stores offer discounts for people who use reusable bags, and I love to save money.

It may be because I haven’t been able to do much this week, as I’ve been recovering from surgery, that I’ve remembered this story. Some time back, while on our way up into the mountains, my BF and I stopped at a gas station to fuel up and collect snacks. As I neared the counter, I noticed green bags for sale at the counter. Having forgotten mine, I purchased one and made it the first thing I handed over to the gentleman at the counter.

I paid for my goods and was out the door. I took five steps towards the Pathfinder, looked down, and laughed. I had a plastic bag in my hand. The cashier put all of my items, including my (unpackaged!) green bag in the plastic bag. Clearly he hadn’t understood what I was trying to do here.

Lessons Learned: Lol, I guess that will show me to use clear communications rather than just assuming that other people will automatically know what I mean to do.

More Horses

Last week, I went back to Penrose to play with horses at Equi-sense. I spent the entire week working with Brandy, asking her to do things horses normally don’t do. With the help of one of the workers there, Brandy and I took on the obstacle course every day, and worked on improving communication skills. As the owner said, a horse will put forth no effort to communicate on your level, you must communicate on the horse’s level.

The end goal was to get the horse to walk sideways in an open area, and to stand with it’s front legs on a tire while rotating around it. To get the horse to understand what I wanted took a lot of work, divided into small steps.

For the first task, I brought the horse up to a fence so it couldn’t walk forward, then I held my hands up, one towards her face one towards her rear to ask her to move sideways. We practiced that for a while before moving to a smaller obstacle, a log on the ground. She kept wanting to just walk around or jump over the log, so the man helping me stood in front and moved with the horse. Brandy had a harder time with this, but we were able to get it done. We also had to work in small steps to achieve the tire rotation. We started by having her in an open area. I waved one hand at her rear while pulling her head towards me to get her to spin around. We worked on this for a while.

It paid off beautifully. On the last day, we had no trouble getting her to spin on a tire. We still had some trouble getting her to walk sideways in the open, but for only four days of training I think we did pretty good. We did get her to walk sideways from the open over some barrels (so her front legs were on one side of the barrels and her rear legs were on the other) and continue to walk sideways across their length. That was pretty cool.

I did get to ride Brandy a bit the last two days. Fortunately, there was a smaller saddle available, and we did eventually get the stirrups shortened to a length that allowed to me to lift myself off the saddle (I’m quite short) so this time I was able to ride a galloping horse (couldn’t do that with Boots.) I had a great time.

Lessons learned:

  1. Take small steps when training an animal.
  2. Horses are heavy, and they won’t care if they’re standing on your foot. Happened twice that week, once with each foot. Ow.
  3. When riding a horse, it’s best to have it walk or gallop. The speed in between is… painful. I still have bruises from bouncing on the saddle.

I figure now is a good time for a round-up.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,299 other followers

%d bloggers like this: