Category Archives: Castle Willett

Everything In Motion

And yet that new iPhone 13 “night mode” camera takes a pretty decent photo without even a tripod…

Jupiter at top, just left of center, Saturn just a scooch above center to the left of the tree, the quarter moon setting between the tree and the house. Various other stars visible if you click on the image to blow the whole thing up to full sized.

No tripod, so this image shows a little blur and jiggle – but as I said, everything is in motion.

The Moon in its orbit around the Earth has now moved to be visible at this time of night. The Earth has rotated so that we’re in night. The trees are all blowing in 16 knot winds, gusting to 24 knots, so they’re waving about a bit. And I’m trying to hold the phone/camera as still as possible while standing in those winds as a faux tripod.

Yet – the picture is lovely.

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Filed under Astronomy, Castle Willett, Photography

Hunting Alligator Lizards

No pictures, yet. But I’ve seen it.

First, happy to report that yesterday’s goals of getting some down time were met. Groceries, football, a nap (naps are SO wasted on toddlers, they have no clue how wonderful they are) – it was an excellent start. Of course, tomorrow’s Monday, but little steps.

Anyway, anyone who’s read this site for any length of time has seen lizards. Almost all are fence lizards, at most about eight or nine inches long, most smaller, some very small. At first I thought they were California alligator lizards, but it seems that they’re in fact western fence lizards. The body size and shape gives them away. The alligator lizards are long and thin and can get bigger, well over a foot long, while the fence lizards are shorter, thicker, squatter, and rarely get over nine or ten inches.

Knowing that now, I think the only time I’ve seen an alligator lizard was the one at the old house about four years ago. The one that showed up in our toilet in the house. Fredzilla.

Looking through the pictures you can see how much longer Fredzilla was, how much longer his tail was in proportion to his body, how skinny he was, how his head shape is different. Best guess – California alligator lizard.

(As always, I’m guessing, not a herpetologist.)

So a few days ago, new house, no Fredzillas here, starting to see fewer of the fence lizards as it starts to cool and they start go bed down for the winter. Out on the front porch, tucked away in the corner, there’s one of those big plastic bins that you get from the hardware store that are used to stash away about fifty feet of garden hose. I picked it up and slid it four or five feet until I got to the end of the connecting hose…

…and underneath was an alligator lizard that was probably 20% to 30% bigger than Fredzilla. It was over two feet long if it was an inch. And it was just as surprised as I was.

In about two seconds it had scuttled back under the hose reel box where I had put it down. I considered lifting the box up again, but a) it was heavy and I didn’t want to throw out my back, b) I was awkward to lift and I didn’t want to put it down on top of FredZilla II and squish it, and c) I didn’t want FredZilla II freaking out and heading for parts unknown where I would never see it again.

For now I’m assuming it’s still under there from time to time, and in the vicinity in general. I do have to move that hose reel box back at some point, so maybe I’ll set up a couple of cameras to watch when I move it back to see if it’s under there then. If not, I’ve got a trail cam that I can set up at ground level out there, maybe that will catch some photos of it.

The hunt is afoot! Photos only, no captures or injuries or death. Is FredZilla II real or just a hallucination of my aging brain? Time to gather evidence!

Everybody have a good week, starting with Monday tomorrow. Face the day and your fears head on, kick ass, take names. EGBOK!


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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters

Unwanted Guests

Being where we are and the ecosystem we’re in, we get gophers. Annoying little bastards, they’ll ruin your lawn in weeks if allowed to. Our gardeners deal with them as needed. But this morning…

As soon as I came to a spot in the house where I could see out of the sliding glass doors to the backyard, it was obvious this was no simple visitation from gophers.


The other problem with them, especially since the back yard is on the edge of a sizeable hill, is that if left unchecked the gophers can dig enough holes and tunnels to undermine the stability of the hill. Given enough gophers and a good soaking rain this winter (please, we could REALLY use that rain!) then a chunk of our (rented) house ends up in the downslope neighbor’s back yard and the house gets red-tagged and we’ve got 24 hours to find a new place and move out.

Not my idea of a good time.

So the powers that be have been notified and in a couple of days someone will be out to encouraging the gophers to move to someone else’s yard. In a couple of days.

In the meantime, tomorrow morning might be “interesting.”

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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography

No Context For You – September 19th

I love color.

In a world that’s increasingly grey, black, white, puce, putty, and bland, I like bold, bright colors and find them in the oddest places.

Someday we’ll get our own house again and I’m going to decorate it so, color-wise, it’s going to be the equivalent of the Weasley house in the Harry Potter books.

Sunglasses will be provided for guests at the door.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Photography

Other Stuff I Learned This Week

First of all, what I as a kid referred to as a “steam roller” is obviously not run by steam any more (and probably wasn’t then). They’re now called just “rollers” and the ones being used in our street are smaller than the huge ones putting down interstate highways. (See #4, the combination roller, on this page.)

The second thing I learned is that the “HMA” these machines operate on are NOT “Health Management Associates” or “Health Management Administrators,” although after everything that COVID has put them through, I don’t doubt that those HMAs feel like they’ve been run over with a roller. No, in this case “HMA” means “Hot Mix Asphalt.”

I’m assuming.

Finally, you might have noticed that one page refers to “Vibratory Compaction Rollers.” It’s the “vibratory” part that sent me down this particular rabbit hole.

You see, during this whole re-paving process (which, as I said last night, isn’t over and will start over again first thing Monday morning) there has been a significant amount of noise. Noise-cancelling headphones help, but even they have met their match with the grinders, sweepers, dump trucks, pavers, rollers, asphalt spreaders, and so on. But the rollers have by far been the worse. When you get a couple of these right out in front of your house, maybe 30 or 40 feet from the house, the whole house starts to vibrate and bounce from the noise.

But I realized that it wasn’t just the noise. There were moments that got MUCH louder, accompanied by vibrations that had stuff on my desk bouncing around and pictures on the wall threatening to come down. But it wasn’t random. A little bit of observation made it clear that it was occurring when the rollers were rolling forward. It didn’t take too much of a leap of logic to figure out they were the cause and that they were probably doing it to more efficiently and thoroughly compact the newly laid layer of asphalt. And the results of the rabbit hole dive proved that guess to be correct.

On the other hand, before I figured it out… Well, let’s just remind everyone that I’ve lived out here in SoCal for over 47 years, including a VERY close encounter with the Northridge Earthquake back in 1994, so when everything vibrates and starts bouncing and getting very loud, my first instinct is to “desk dive,” assuming that it’s an earthquake. The repeated and rhythmic nature of the vibration events gave it away quickly – but the brain stem knows what the brain stem knows, and the PTSD memories come back quickly.

Monday we do it again!

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Filed under Castle Willett, Los Angeles

Long Live The Big Blue Bomber

Today’s photos aren’t about astronomy, since this is what the sky looked like. The brown stuff in the lower right is smoke from the brush fire in the Palisades and Malibu. So, no moon or stars or ISS (and it was a GREAT pass) tonight.

(Click to enlarge image)

A couple days ago I, subconsciously or randomly or somewhere in between, picked some “random” old photos, and it turned out to be my van that brought home just about twenty years ago. Here are their matching photos from today.

She was a great car, over 203,000 miles, but it was time. She never got driven much any more, and we don’t need an eight-passenger van.

She was often ridden hard and put away wet, but she rarely failed me.

Just shy of twenty years – can you count all twenty tags?


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Random Old Photos – May 11th

If I’ve learned one thing as an adult that I wish I had known as a small child, it’s that naps are SERIOUSLY underrated by children. We should be allowed to have many, many more.

It’s odd that my “random” search through the archives pretty quickly came to these – it really makes me wonder how much heavy lifting the subconscious is doing and how truly random it is.

These are from June, 2001, almost twenty years ago, the day I brought home the new van. Coincidentally, or not (ask my subconscious), I’m tying up loose ends to find a place for it to go off to be stripped for parts or sold to anyone who will give me a couple hundred bucks for it.

It’s carried on for over 203,000 miles, and could go for another 100,000+ or could go belly up in the next mile. But now it’s the spare 3rd car and while it gets used occasionally to haul stuff around, it’s driven so rarely that it would be cheaper to get a U-Haul if/when it’s needed.

An inanimate object that has been ridden hard and put away wet – but it still feels weird.


Filed under Castle Willett, Photography

Hiker Down, Choppers Up

Just to our west about three-quarters of a mile you get into some park and wilderness areas, with Castle Peak the most prominent feature. I’ve shown it to you many times since we moved in here almost two years ago.

Folks go hiking here (which is good) and occasionally have an accident (which is bad).

Much like my experience with the cargo 747’s going overhead and rumbling the house, our first indication of a hiker in distress is usually the sound of multiple loud LA City or County Fire Department helicopters orbiting repeatedly past our house.

The green line will show their path over the last hour or so… This guy was the eyes, followed by the actual rescue crew.

And if we need confirmation,

What did we do before we had these supercomputing telecommunication devices in our pockets? Just stand out in the yard and wonder what the helicopter was doing?

More importantly, what did the hikers do before they had them, or had rescue helicopters? I mean, besides bleed and pray to be found by someone friendly before the coyotes found you first?

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Filed under Castle Willett, Flying

Hummingbirds Are Assholes & The Tree Is Reading My Website

Wasn’t it just two days ago that I showed pictures of the (finally!) barren tree in our back yard, noting,

“The winds have taken the leaves and the tree is pretty much stripped now. Just in time! Next week it will be March and we’ll need to start seeing those spring buds come out. I hope that sap didn’t get too comfortable down in the roots.”

I was out there today and noticed this, NONE of which was there forty-eight hours earlier.

Honestly, a week ago I wouldn’t have thought that this tree shed its leaves in the fall or winter at all.

Even with the nasty winds we’ve had on far too many days this winter, while a few leaves would fall, overall it was fully enfoliated. (My computer says “enfoliated” isn’t a word – it has to be a word, I just typed it twice in this paragraph! Stupid computer.)

Then, overnight it seemed, 99% of the leaves were on the ground. Prompting Tuesday’s pictures and my snarky comment.

This afternoon the tips of the branches on a good chunk of the tree are exploding with the 2022 model of Leaves-A-Go-Go! Don’t stand too close! You could lose an eye if one of these suckers pops out at Mach 3!

I can only believe that my tree is, in fact, reading this website and taking my advice. It’s the only logical explanation !

But that wasn’t why I was out in the backyard with a camera…

I’ve been working on several “deadline from Hell” projects and needed a break. I had gone into the kitchen and saw three or four hummingbirds flitting around the fruit trees and the feeders, so I grabbed my camera and went out.

The instant I went out, still 20-25 feet from them, they all bailed. I could hear them up in the pine trees at the back of the yard, clicking that weird little electronic-sounding chirp of theirs, but they wouldn’t come out.

I waited.

Eventually I noticed the new buds on the tree and went to document it. Now that I was otherwise occupied, the hummers started coming back out, flying overhead near the field of view where I was looking up into the tree. But the second I started to shift the camera over to them… “Warp Factor Eight, Mr. Sulu!! Get us out of here!” And they’re gone again.

I waited.

They came back over by the feeders, which by now are 40-45 feet away because I’m over by the big tree. Every time I took a step in that direction, they flew away like little emerald, iridescent UFOs.

I waited.

Again they were back, but every time I started to raise the camera, they teleported away to Planet Hummingbird.

I said, “Screw it!” (Close enough…) I have deadlines, I had gotten some sun and air, I was going to go back in. I got back to the porch, walking right next to one of the feeders, when…

One of the little monsters flew up to the other feeder, over by the fruit trees, about eight feet away. I froze, verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry carefully and slowly started to raise the camera…

And the little asshole flew over and started sucking out of the feeder six inches from my head. I could have (in theory, at least) reached out and grabbed him, BUT MY CAMERA IS USELESS BECAUSE I CAN’T FOCUS A TELEPHOTO LENS THAT CLOSE!!!

They were toying with me. I hope they had fun.

They were teasing me. Little assholes!


Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography

Fall Arrives

It’s late February and we’ve had more and more windy days than I can remember. Time is all screwed up, in so many ways – even the trees are confused. At least our tree is.

The big tree in our back yard has just this last week decided to drop all of its leaves for fall. I guess it just didn’t feel like doing it in November or December.

I know that the season may arrive a bit late in these temperate, warm, semi-desert conditions, but this is ridiculous!

The winds have taken the leaves and the tree is pretty much stripped now. Just in time! Next week it will be March and we’ll need to start seeing those spring buds come out. I hope that sap didn’t get too comfortable down in the roots.


Filed under Castle Willett