Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prairie Diorama

What the prairie looked like before we carved it up into agricultural fields. From a diorama at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Butterfly Collection at Milwaukee Public Museum

Another day, another impressive museum to make my brain hurt. This is just part of the museum's vast collection of butterflies which represents a tiny portion of all the butterfly species on our diverse planet.

Helix Sculpture at the Discovery Center

This beautiful sculpture of a double helix opens and closes and is surrounded by a double helix staircase so that you can view it from all angles. Amazing, beautiful!

Nuclear Propoganda at the Discovery Center

Yep, no one in the US or western Europe has died from it and "It's only natural". Beware of who is sponsoring your museum exhibit and what message they might have an interest in delivering. From the Discover Center in Milwaukee. Remember, you can click on the photo to make them fill your screen if you want to read the details.

Beauty Of A Boat

So much of the beauty of a boat is in the functional details. The lines of the hull that make if cut efficiently through the water make a graceful and beautiful curve. The repetition of the pulleys and ropes and sail attachments are pleasing, soothing to look at, yet interesting in their richness of detail. The simple efficiency of the pump handles and connecting mechanisms, the bit of ornament where the blacksmith has added a bit of stability to the tip of the bell bracket by widening it in such a way as to suggest a flower, the functional bracket for the cabin roof overhang that is embellished with a simple vine carving. The Challenge is a handcrafted reproduction of a Great Lakes ship that resides in the Milwaukee Discovery Center.

Spring Break at The Beach

Self-Portrait Convex


I could watch jellyfish for hours - or until my son drags me away to see the rest of the amazing stuff at the Discovery Museum on the lakefront in Milwaukee. They float and pulsate as they drift around their blue tank of simulated ocean and I stand mesmerized as little kids lose interest in the jellyfish to stare at the crazy lady before their parents drag them off. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Monday, March 30, 2009

What A Welcome To Milwaukee

I was quite impressed to find, on arrival, that the City of Milwaukee had erected a sculpture of a K to welcome me to town. It is huge! What an honor! Thanks, City! Isn't it a cool nifty K sculpture?

Winter Leaf - Ginkgo


It bugs me to not know how something works. It really does. For years, I have been fascinated by the banana clusters and banana flowers on banana trees in conservatories but never really understood how they worked. The 'flower' bud is always at the bottom of the hanging cluster and yet, you never never see a banana cluster there at the end, which you would think would happen when that last end flower opened and got pollinated and turned into bananas. Well, on this visit to the Mitchel Conservatory, otherwise known as the 'domes', there was another plant nearby, a small relative of the edible banana, that told the story. I could examine its smaller flowers up close and figure some of it out! The 'flower' at the end is not really one flower at all, but a series of flowers layered between single 'petals'. The maroon 'petal' opens up to reveal a series of yellow-orange tube-like flowers that lie flat along the next 'petal'. If that series of flowers is pollinated, it grows to be a banana cluster. If it is not pollinated in time, the petal and flowers fall off, and the next one matures and opens. This failure of a set of flowers to pollinate, because whatever insect that pollinates them is not available, is what leaves the gaps between banana clusters. The ones at the top of the hanging assembly are the oldest and the closest to being ripe, so one would harvest from the top down.
I still have questions. For how long does that 'flower' continue to make new flowers and new petals from the inside out? What are the pollinators, in greenhouses such as these and in the real world?

Dome from Inside Dome

The Domes in Milwaukee

I remember in architecture school in the late 70s, the geodesic dome was going to be one of the efficient marvels of modern structural design that saved the world from suffering and despair. Well, something like that. But in real life, a home or office with a round footprint cannot easily be divided into rooms and furniture does not easily fit into rooms with curved walls. I think we have pretty much given up on it as a feasible architectural concept, but for a conservatory, it sure is beautiful. I really love things that are beautiful because of their form, not requiring extraneous ornamentation. Boats, bicycles, and conservatories are a few examples of this beauty of form. It was a lovely place to be on a cold and very windy first day of 'spring break'.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken

If you know what you are doing, you can expand your appreciation of nature to the sense of taste. This plant, for example, tastes like chicken. That is a lie. It really tastes like lemon. It is a plant called fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) which is a shrub about 5 or 6 feet tall and as wide or wider. Recently a dware version has been introduced called Gro Low sumac (Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low') that is only knee high and spread about 8 feet wide. These plants are closely related to the more commonly know small trees, staghorn sumac (Rhus typhinia) and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra). Sumacs are plants of the prairie and savanna, native to regions where oak savanna occurs, where they frequented the edge of the shade made by the mighty bur oak trees. The berries of all these sumacs have a sticky coating on them that tastes sour and lemony. You can put them in your mouth to suck the flavor off, you can touch the sticky with your fingers and lick the lemon off your fingers, or you can soak the seeds in water to make delicious 'lemonade' drink. The flavor is brightest and strongest when the berries are fresh in summer, but even into winter, the dried seeds still have some lemony goodness that can be soaked out. The later you use them, the more likely you are to need to strain out some bits of dried plant parts, but the flavor is still worth the work! Get out there and taste some nature!
Note: Added photo of staghorn sumac seed heads on 4-06-09. When I stopped the car to take the photo, there was a squirrel hanging onto one of the seed heads nibbling away at the seed coating! Must be plenty of flavor left even in April!

Getting The Boot

We planned it for months. It started with me complaining about poor service that caused us to almost miss a plane one vacation. Everyone had a story about bad service, delays, employees who just don't care how much this is wrecking your life. It made us want to pull a caper, get them back somehow. One of us had a friend of a friend who worked there. We found out where the cash is stashed and spent some time faking that we were waiting for planes doing recon on the patterns of who came and went and when things were watched and left unwatched. We organized ourselves, assigned roles, took our time, made a plan involving distractions, handoffs, disguises changed for other disguises. We rode in together with plenty of time to have a coffee and get into position. The plan went flawlessly, leaving no need to employ contingency plans or back up options. We had the cash. There was much more there than we had even optimistically anticipated. Our fresh disguises meant we all looked much different on the way out than we had going in and even during the elegantly executed theft. We were going to get away with it. We were cautiously elated on the way down the elevator to the parking garage. Then everything changed for one little detail. We were . . . stunned. The car was booted. Big yellow metal scruffy thing bolted right to the wheel of the car. Stopping us in our tracks. How could this happen? The driver had a few parking tickets from last summer, he sheepishly admitted. We sent one of our party to two terminals over to ditch the cash and change to yet another disguise just in case. While we called the police to pay the tickets and the debooting fee with our own credit cards. We left the garage, having pulled off a successful revenge caper but . . . instead of richer in the wallet, a little poorer than the day before, all because of the boot.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Snow . . . in March

Snow is so lovely.
In October, then the first few flakes fly, it signals at long last an end to the summer ragweed allergy season; all those nasty plants will be finally frozen and shut down. The big white flakes tumble down and kids rush out to catch them on their tongues and make trails as the ground is covered. It is cute when the Halloween pumpkins have a tam of snow. And those early autumn accumulations usually give way to thaws and a few more warm days.

In December, we all long for a white Christmas and the idea of snow for the holidays is oh so romantic and fun. We want enough to coat the ground but not so much so that it will interfere with our travels to and from holiday celebrations and gatherings. We are willing to dress warmly and walk and drive more carefully to be blessed with the beauty of the sparkling crystal snowflakes coating trees and covering the ground in a foamy blanket.

In February, the whole thing starts to sour a bit. The novelty has worn off and the romance is gone. In February, we want our romance to be chocolate, not frozen airborne crystals of precipitation. We pine for spring and curse each new snowfall, but generally resign ourselves to at least a few more weeks of less than pleasant weather before spring arrives. Yet fools like me are apt to rush out after a February snow storm to catch one last set of beautiful scenes, especially if the branches are coated and the day is sunny. Optimism can reign when you think it is the last big storm, and beauty can be found in it.

But snow in March? Especially snow that follows a flood caused by a ground frozen still and deeply by an early end to last autumn and a blizzard dumping massive quantities of the stuff just a few weeks ago? Such a snow that paints the tops of the sandbags and adds frosting-like edging to the swollen creek is cruel. There is nothing pretty or interesting or fun or romantic about such a snow and I do not blame the North Dakota and South Dakota and eastern Minnesota residents that cursed the white stuff these past few days. In March, one can be forgiven for being curmudgeonly about snow. In March, I will not ask anyone to see the bright side or find the silver lining to snow on the sandbags. I will not ask anyone to find the beauty in a March snow that comes during a battle against an oncoming flood.