Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dead Leaf on Moss

On the forest floor, as well as the Garfield Park Conservatory floor, there are processes that are easily overlooked, yet are very important. Each year, many tons of leaves fall from the trees and shrubs and other plants, and without the decomposers, those things would accumulate and allow no seeds to germinate and would lock up all the nutrients to that the soil under there would become too impoverished to support the plants, and it would all come to a grinding halt. Yet the insects and slugs and snails grind it up and the bacteria and other microorganisms break it down and the fungi break it apart and dissolve it and soon the tons of leaf litter are tiny parts and liquid chemicals that leach into the soil to be used all over again. We hardly ever think of them, but there is more biomass of decomposers on and in the forest floor than there is above ground in the plants! If you think of it next spring, get down on your hands and knees or even lie on your belly and take a look at what is going on there on the surface and dig around a bit to see what is happening just underground.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Living at WomanSong

I lived for several days here, again last September. At the camp ground at Park Rapids in LaMoure County. WomanSong is held in the adjacent park. At the campground, there are restrooms and showers. There is running water that has good flavor. There is an electrical outlet at some campsites.
This is my house. I love to sleep in it when it is raining, but I hate to get up and go out in the night to . . . well, you know . . . when it is raining.

This is my kitchen. I have a cooler of ice for Mountain Dews and another for things like fruit and cheese and opened jars of salsa. I can make coffee, hot chocolate, tea, oatmeal, heat up soup, and make any number of dehydrated camping meals. This morning, I had preserves on English muffins and coffee and fresh strawberries while I reviewed the event schedule.
This is the neighborhood. There is hardly anyone when I arrive a couple days before the event, and it is packed for the event, and hardly anyone at all the night after the event. Life is good!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where Bananas Come From

When you see a banana in a cluster, I bet you think it grows hanging down from the point where the bananas are joined to each other. You would be wrong about that. Here is a cluster of bananas hanging from a banana tree. And yes, the stalk hangs from above, and is not supported from under the bananas.
And did you ever wonder about peanuts?

One day it occurred to my kids and I to wonder about peanuts. We knew peanuts grew underground. Peanuts are seeds. All other foods that grow underground are roots or tubers, parts that BELONG underground. How does a SEED grow underground. We asked people. Most of them didn't get the issue. "They grow underground: So?" Well, in order for there to be seeds there has to first be flower, a flower that can be pollinated, and it would be highly unlikely that such a thing could grown on part of a plant that is under the ground. Finally, we looked it up and found out that the peanut flower grows above ground at the top and edge of a bush and once fertilized, the stem arches down and elongates until the developing seed in buried just underground. Now how very weird is THAT?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Scarf Painting Class

They all whine and say "I am not an artist" or "I am not very creative" or "I can't draw". I show them a few basic skills and teach them a few little tricks and each of them, every single one of them, makes something beautiful! I teach a technique, show them how I do it, and yet, look at the variety and diversity of beautiful designs they made! Each was unique and uniquely beautiful! Everyone is an artist! Everyone can create! Each day of your life is a creation! Everyone can draw with a few tips and a little practice! You can do it too! You have beauty and art and music and joy in you! Let it out! Let it shine!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some of My Heroes

They take my class. They say nice things to me. They say nice things about me. But they knew about WomanSong before I did! They were there one maybe two years before I even heard of it! They are smart and funny and fun and kind. The one in the cool layers and amazing scarves performs on stage, playing guitar and singing! Wow! A real artist! And she takes my class! I am wearing lots of scarves this year in honor of her. It makes me feel more expressive, more womanly, more . . . like I am finding my song! Thank you, women of WomanSong and see you in September!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Checking the Crops

Shortly after the storm has passed and the television or radio has verified that the entire weather system has truly moved on, posing no additional danger, the crops must be checked for damage. There could have been too much rain that washed them out, standing flood water to drown them, hail to crush and shred the leaves and stems, high wind to snap them from their roots, tornadoes or twisters to bend and torture them. A call might go out to neighbors to assess the extent of known damages or to determine the directions where damage was most likely. Windows were rolled down to get a better look and sometimes, we had to stop and get out to walk to the edge of the field to make absolutely sure all was well. The feeling of relief in the car built with each verification that a crop had survived intact and the silence when damage was found was crushing. A kind of celebration sometimes occurred at the end of the journey if all was found to be well and good. We would head off west, in a direction where we had no fields of our own, to see the place where the water ran in the ditch in such as way as to appear to be running uphill. It was our own little 'mystery spot' where the angle of the road and the angle of the ditch allowed a tricking of the eye. Our dad would pause the car a bit so that we could revel in the relief that the crops had defied the storm just as the flowing water defied rules of gravity.


Very Strange Plant.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The First Time I Flew

I was enjoying one last glass of wine on the steps of the porch, listening to the light wind move the leaves in the trees down by the road. He walked up the drive in his long black coat, making me aware the evening was cooling off. I pulled my black lace shawl close around my shoulders. "Can I share your wine?" he asked. I handed the glass to him. We talked a while about little things, nothing really. He handed my wine glass back to me. I finished the bit of wine remaining and set the glass on the step. "Fly with me." he said. As I was thinking what he meant by that, wondering if he had a pilot's license or if he meant taking a trip somewhere, he flicked open his hand. Long black feathers streamed from his fingers and along his forearm. I looked to his face, where his nose was a long black beak and his eyes were shiny black, glistening. He shrugged his shoulders and lifted his elbows, and his arms were wings. He folded them behind his back, and said to me again, "Fly with me." As I was thinking that I would love to if only my shawl were magic, I looked down to pull it closer around me and opened my hand to see that it too streamed with feathers. A little stunned, I spread open my shawl that was now long black flight feathers covering my arms and hands, and the unexpected force of feather against air rocked me gently. He opened his black wings and lifted off, raised them high, and pushed down. Flapping, he rose, flew over me, circling back around. I spread my wings too, and pressed them against the air, and rose with him. We flew in the moonlight over the rustling trees, gliding along the creek, past the big oak, down to the lake, swooping low, then climbing high, soaring, sailing, and returning along curving lines of the creek to land, back in the yard. "Thanks for the wine" he said, as he pulled his coat around himself and began to button it. I watched him leave down the drive, then turned myself, gathering my shawl to me as I went inside with the empty glass.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Going To The Basement

It was the thunder of the last strike that woke you. Boom, and you opened your eyes, waiting to catch the next flash when it lights the window and x-rays the curtains. Sure enough, flash flash flicker, pause, boom and crackle. You'd gone to bed after a day of hard play, muggy and hot, and slept fitfully, knowing you were dreaming, but not remembering any details each time you awoke. But now, well, this is something! Soon, your mother is up and coming down the hall to your room and your dad is rummaging around the tool drawer for the flashlights, because the power is out. Next he is in the living room, unplugging the television set and the console stereo. You all meet in the kitchen, pausing long enough for someone to notify the power company. Then you all pad down the stairs into the basement, dragging blankets and pillows, your dad in the lead with the biggest flashlight and your mom tailing, shining hers at your feet to light the steps. You and your sister and your mom huddle on the old velvet sofa with the carved wood trim that came from grandma's house. Pillows and blankets are layered and piled and prodded into comfortable nests and she might read you a book by flashlight. Your dad might sit on an old chair, alert and protective, or he might prowl about the nether regions of the basement to make sure there are no leaks or windows open or to check the status of the various beasts of utility to make sure there is no lightening damage. He might rummage around the workshop for the battery radio to see if there are tornado warnings or merely storm warnings and to gauge the extent and duration of the event.
There is no feeling so safe as being down in the basement with your family while the storm rages and wails all around.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Living Fossils

The human brain cannot really comprehend geological time, the expanse of years since the earth has been first formed and is contiuing to be formed. The amount of time that life has been on the planet is tiny compared to the time the planet has been, and the time that life has been in forms we recognize had been a sliver of that. And of the time plants and animals have been evolving together to form ecosystems, humans have been in existance for only a tiny sliver of that. And yet that sliver of time is still a number too large for us to really comprehed. These are some of the forms of plants that are considered 'living fossils' because they are some of the earliest forms to evolve, yet they are still with us today. The growth pattern is from a central point much like the ferns, but lacks the fiddlehead shape of the uunfurliing fern. These plants are huge, many feet across, and beautiful in their radial structure. They can remind us of the vast amount of time that has passed that allowed wonders like these to evolve.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Ferns might be my favorite plant unless it is summer and I am near a prairie. They are considered among the most 'primitive' of plants, yet their diversity of form and size and shape and color is awesome. All have some basic characteristics in common though.
1) They are not flowering plants: Their reproduction process begins with spores. They require a humid environment, due to the complex two phase reproductive process. Ferns as we know them make spores. Tiny new plants grow from spores, and this second stage plant makes eggs and sperm. The sperm requires water to swim to the egg of another tiny plant. That fertilized egg grows right there inside the tiny plant as it shrivels away, to make the fern plants that we know. This need for water on the surfaces where ferns live for the fern sperm to swim in makes Garfield Park Conservatory's fern greenhouse have the most the most humid tropical feeling of all of them.
2) Ferns have leaves that grow radially from a central stem, with most having a long lance shaped leaf. Some have strap like leaves and in others, that strap is divided or double divided into a lacey pattern. And the leaves unfurl from the central point in the shape of a curl that is called a fiddlehead, to the joy of my fiddle playing oldest son. It has been one of our traditions while in the fern room of the Garfield Park Conservatory to hunt for fiddleheads.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Rules of Chocolate:
1) Any chocolate is better than no chocolate. Even a 'lowly' Hershey's bar can bring back childhood memories of being allowed to pick one out at the grocery store checkout and of the many ways to eat it. If you ever get one of those cheesy heart shaped boxes from the drug store, be happy! Okay, he didn't go to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for hand dipped, but you know how parking is there and at least he thought of you on the way home from work when he stopped in for athlete's foot powder and that is better than most women get most days. Savor that chocolate and treasure the box forever. Keep old handkerchiefs or love notes or dried rose petals or funky costume jewelry in it, but never throw it away.
2) Good chocolate IS better than ordinary chocolate. Buy the best you can afford at the time. Savor it to realize its full value. If you can't afford the box at the fancy place, get just one or two. Take it home and treasure it; don't snarf it down in the car. Put it on a nice napkin on the table, as sort of a little shrine to chocolate, while you make a cup of coffee or even a nice glass of fresh ice water. Sit down. Take a careful bite out of the side, and let that bite melt around in your mouth before you move on to the next.
3) Truffles are THE best form of chocolate. Fancy flavors and nuts and fruits are fine, but truly, the best is a creamy chocolate filling inside a milk or dark chocolate coating. The quick melt of the cream and the slower melt of the shell make the sensation last. If you can alternate a bite of truffle with a bite of fresh raspberry, you know what the idea of heaven was modeled after.
4) Never expect to get chocolate from anyone ever. That makes the getting just a regular thing. Always be surprised and always be grateful and always open it right away and share one with the giver. Then SNAP that lid back shut pronto and hoard the rest to be shared or savored later!
5) On occasions where you might have expected chocolate but now no longer do per my wise advice, buy it for yourself. This is a good thing. YOU get to pick out what brand and what form and dark or milk and what added textures or flavors. You can savor it on your own time, then, and enjoy a feast or make it last. It is yours and yours alone. Or you can chose to share, with the whole family or just one special person. It is best to have a balance in ones life of shared chocolate moments and private chocolate moments.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kitten Fighting in Chicago

My son and his friends needed a ride to the kitten fights in downtown Chicago, so I agreed to drive. You could tell we were in the right place, due to all the people with their shoe boxes with the airholes. We got there early, so the kids left me with their kittens while they found a bite to eat. The line was long for check in, but that was an excellent chance to meet people and there were carts to hold your kitten carriers if you needed them. After check in and number and match rotation assignments, rules were explained at the fighting cages in the auditorium. Modern technology allows odds to be quickly calculated on each kitten as various data points are entered into computers. You can enter your smaller bets into automated machines that pay out in coins when you read your card in after a fight round. For fun, I put $2 on my son's kitten and won $8.75. Most people treat their breeding cats and kittens well, but there is some cruelty, just like in other fighting and racing sports. Sometimes, the losing kittens get abandoned like these on cafeteria table or this poor one left in the garbage. It was an exciting evening in the Windy City!

The Bridge Building Contest in Chicago

My son and his friend needed a ride to Chicago for the bridge building contest. Four entries from each high school in the surrounding area went.
The kids build bridges from kits of balsa wood supplied by the contest organizers. There were specifications regarding length of span and size and such. The bridges were then stressed by loading on weights until they failed at a contest at the high school. The four kids whose bridge load to bridge weight was highest went on to this regional event. Obviously, they had to rebuild the bridge for the regional event, as their original was destroyed, so they could apply what they learned from other bridges and from how theirs failed to make a better one. Usually that means beefing up the places your bridge failed and paring away weight from areas that held strong to make your bridge both stronger and lighter. The variety of entries was amazing, but the geometry gave them all an inherent beauty. It was fun to watch them be loaded and startling to hear them fail and just a great time to hear all those kids excited about a physics project. Smart kids can be so much fun and I had a great time talking to my son and his interesting and smart friend and to some of the other kids there. The camera is a great way to get to talk to someone about what interests them. I'd ask if I could take their picture because they were the first one to break their bridge in the contest, or because their bridge was especially pretty or some other little unique thing and they always said sure and always told me more and answered my questions. I had more fun than I thought I would and it reinforced my views that this generation of kids is pretty darn amazing.

Here is the page where you can click on links for the data on the bridges such as their weights and the load at which they failed.