Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Flowers Make Me Happy

You can have them any time of year. You can buy a bouquet or a single stem. It is a luxury that does not cost much. A yellow rose in a tall vase. Daisy mums in a bunch in a quart jar. Alstomeria is one of the least costly cut flowers and it lasts longer than most. These were on their seventh day. Look closely at their leaf. It grows attached to the stem upside down, with the smooth protective surface down and the surface where transpiration takes place through pores facing up. So the plant twists each leaf to right it. To me, yellow flowers are the ones that make me happiest, though alstromeria are rarely available in pure yellow like this. They are nearly as lovely in rosey pink, burgundy pink, and rosy purple.
Brighten a day and bring home flowers for yourself.

Sheep Do What Sheep Do

I don't know why the sheep were all clustered at the end of the little pasture in a spot where there was not even any grass to graze. It seemed an unlikely spot for them to want to be. And I do not know why these two were butting heads, pushing a little now and then, testing to see if the other was still resisting. Sheep do what sheep do and I have no idea why they do any of it.

Nature Vs. Us

The bald-face hornet is not really a hornet but a wasp. They are all black with white markings on their all black face. They use their mouth parts to scrape wood from dead trees and logs and wooden furniture and wooden siding and mix it with saliva and shape it into paper with their feet. Inside are horizontal layers of cells where the eggs are laid and the larva are raised.
I cannot find information to verify this but in thinking about how the nest is enlarged, as they add more layers to the outside, they must remove them from the inside so that the internal chamber is enlarged so that the layer of cells can be enlarged.
They are reputed to be aggressive defenders of the nest and since this nest is along the end of the house that faces the driveway, the only way to get to our back door, I suppose we should spray it. It will be with great reluctance that I do so, and only after I consult a few more experts to help me decide.

The Writing On The Hand

I must have gotten in serious trouble for writing on my hand in grade school with Mrs. Buchanan, because this feels so WRONG to me, so very very wrong. Or maybe my mother the former school teacher or my grandmother the school principal impressed on me that it was forbidden thing. But my son taught me that this is the perfect answer for certain situations. When he is at school and there is something that me MUST remember for the next day, he writes it in ink on his hand. You cannot forget it in your locker like you can a note and you can't lose it in your pocket or backpack or drop it on the floor or lose it in some other unknown manner. You can't forget to read it like you can a message left for yourself on your phone. It sticks with you through the evening and lingers even after your morning shower, so if is something you need to remember to do in the morning, writing on the hand is the perfect solution. It is also the green solution, as it wastes no paper. So when my other son's girlfriend gave me fresh eggs to take on my almost three weeks stint up north, I did not want to forget to take them out of the refrigerator to take them with me in the morning. And I did not! Thanks to the writing on the hand.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I parked illegally to dash into the store and came out to find this beautiful leafy shadow on my dashboard. Sometimes you find it where you least expect it. The composition changed with the breeze and it went in and out of focus, so had it not been in perfect focus when I came back to the car, I might never have noticed it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pick Axe

I must be using it wrong. Clay sticks to the pointy end of the pick axe so that when I swing it back up over my head to drop it again, little chunks of dirt drop off into my hair. Did I ever mention that I would much rather design a landscape than install it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Too Damn Hot

The 16 house guests hit the road and I settled into for a good day's work. I was gathering up the towels, upstairs and down, kitchen and bath, to start the laundry to run while I planted those shrub and trees, when the phone rang. My friend was on her way through and wanted to stop. We spent a while sitting on the deck, rocking in our chairs and talking about friends and family and events of the day. And complaining a bit how it is hot, too hot to do anything but sit, and it was nice. Made me remember taking 'lunch' to the fields on a hot July afternoon back when the farm still had some hay fields that had not yet yielded to the plow and it seemed to me there was nothing to do hotter than haying and no place on earth hotter than that hayfield. We went back home to the luxury sitting with our books in front of the humming droning fans, while the men went back to the hottest job in the hottest place. And now after an unusually cool and long spring, 'seasonable' weather is finally hot upon us and we have a new thing to gripe about, how it makes us sweat and makes the work seem twice as hard. Or, we could just sit on the deck and drink iced lemonade and plant when it cools in the evening.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Questions for Daddy

One of the most common memories I have of my dad is when he would be doing improvement or repair and I would be hanging around aimlessly and ask questions. Like we are in the basement and he is working on something and I hear water going through this big pipe along the ceiling joists and I ask "Daddy, what's that pipe for?" His answer would ALWAYS be "To make little girls ask questions." Damn, damn, damn, I certainly did HATE that. Even though the books were not written yet about such things, I was pretty sure that if you had a kid inquisitive enough to ask such questions you should encourage the curiosity by providing a good and cheerful and honest answer. Yet, I am pretty sure I phrased those questions such that he could use the easy canned answer. For example, instead of saying "Where does that pipe come from?" or "What does that pipe do?", I would remember to ask what it was "for". "What's that hole in the floor with the motor over it for?" I would ask about the sump pump. "What is that tool for?" I would ask of the big wrench with the screwy adjustment. "What is that wire in the wall for?" Or he would be reloading shells and "What's that part for?" Or he'd be tinkering with some engine: "What's that belt for?"
And so we would play the game. I would ask using the right phrasing, he would answer with a great big grin, I would get a little annoyed, I would keep asking only maybe in different ways, now that I had afforded him the privilege of the annoying jokey family-traditional answer, and after a few rounds, the number depending on his project deadline and frustration level, he would put down his project and give me a damn good and thorough answer. Lead me to the spot under the kitchen where the pipe came down from the sink and lead me around to where it turned the inside corner with the basement wall and explain how that sharp ninety degree turn shoulda been a couple more gentler turns because egg shells from the garbage disposal get stuck there and lead me to where the pipe goes under the stairs and along to the point where I had noticed it and asked and along further to where it joins a larger pipe that goes out the basement wall and into the septic tank. Or regarding the sump pump, he might take the flat lid off so I can see down the hole and run the shower next to it and show me how the float rises and eventually triggers a switch that turns on the pump that pumps the water to the big pipe to the septic tank. Yeah, I had a pretty good understanding of the bowels of a house and the workings of a farm shop and the mechanics of some farm machinery and how to load shells and how a watch worked and how a car was put together and an odd and varied assortment of how things worked and what was inside things and what caused what to happen by the time I was old enough to not think it was cool to hang out and watch my daddy do stuff.
And sometimes even, when my kids were little, I'd take a crack, just once in a while, at answering their questions with "To make little boys ask questions" though I didn't have the heart to carry on quite as long as he did, and I had all that book learning about fostering curiosity and all. Daddy, I miss you. Thanks for all the 'splainin' you did. Even if I had to put up with the "joke".

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I bought some good intention. The hose is along the house right where people will walk if going from the driveway to the back deck. These 'hose pots' are supposed to contain the hose neatly. Hah, I know this is the last time it will ever be coiled this neatly in the 'pot' but at least visitors will know I had good intentions. The road to Margaritaville is paved with good intentions, or at least the walk to Margaritadeck has a good intention adjacent to it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kitchen Composting

For any kitchen composting program to work, you must have a secure non-stinky holding bin for the kitchen. The best one I found is metal with a filter in the top. The metal is heavy so less likely to tip. It is also attractive enough to leave sitting about the kitchen. If you do not have such a holding bin, you will be tempted to run compostable stuff down sink disposer. Or you will put in many layers of plastic bag and in the garbage can headed for the landfill. If you try to use something not designed for the propose, it will stink or spill or leak and your motivation will dry up.
The second step is the outdoor composting bin. If it has contact with soil, all the better. The best design allows for turn over in some non-labor intensive way. Tumblers work well for this but can be pricey and not that attractive in the garden. Bins that you add material on top with openings at the bottom can work, but unless conditions are perfect, it will be some work to reach in there with tools and dig out the compost from the side door.
I designed a bin made of leftover lumber from our deck. There were scraps of 2x6 and 2x8 so I made a square layered tower. First I cut the planks into 2 foot long pieces. Then I formed then into square frames by screwing the corners to a 2x2 scrap with deck screws. (One pound of 7x2) The frames are stacked to make a square tower for a bin. A lid is make of 2 foot long pieces of the wood, attached together with small strap hinges. The top stays on because it is heavy, but I added a hook and eye to hold it shut and I added some scraps of wood to make handles. Either side of the lid can be opened for access.
To install the bin in the landscape, I placed the first layer on the ground. Then I dig the center of it out and settled a bit into the soil, making it level. If it were less muddy out there, I would try to bury the bottom layer a bit deeper. Then I set the next layer on top, followed by the other layers. I added the lid is added and the bin is now ready to use. I dumped in the brewing stew of contents of the metal kitchen bin. Looks like some moldy cauliflower, eggshells, a wrapper from something that was made of biodegradable cornstarch, wood skewers from grilling, soggy caramel corn, and some other stuff that had already turned to moldy slime inside the holding bin. Yep, it stank to high heaven, attesting to the effectiveness of the filter in the lid, but once it was closed inside the wood bin outdoors, and a bit of a breeze picked up, all was well. Now I can clean my refrigerator!
When compost is needed for use, or the bin is full, the lid will be removed, and laid aside. The top layer of the bin will be removed and placed on the ground next to where the bin is now, and dug in as before. Then the uncomposted contents of the top of the bin will be forked into the now-bottom layer in its new location. The next layer will be removed from the old bin and place on the new bin. If there is still undecomposed matter in that layer, I will fork it into the new bin. Otherwise, I will spread it where needed. I will continue until all layers are moved to the new bin, flipping the bottom layer of the old bin so that the hooks are up to become the top layer of the new bin. I'll place the lid on the new bin to start a new batch!

Why I Love Europe

Okay, I have never BEEN to Europe so my sole means of judging the place is by people who claim to be "from Europe", and one of the things I like is the "say what you mean" aspect. Take yesterday: I was enjoying a break from not planting in the mud to look for more plants cheap online, and a woman rang the obnoxiously loud doorbell that needs to get dampened somehow. She came for the phone number of the man who built our stairs because she had him do an estimate for her last year and lost it and wants to hire him. So as I looked it up in my computer's address book, we talked. After we discusses the process the farmer uses for making hay of the alfalfa field across the road and how it is that you can leave those big round bales outside in the winter, I offered her a tour of the house. She complimented everything but was especially lavish in her compliments about the things we have done ourselves. Gotta like that. When I mentioned that the "one big room upstairs" for both the "master bed" and the "guest bed" did not afford much privacy but preserved all the views for everyone, she snorted and said there were hotels 7 miles from here and if our guests "would rather have sex than party with" us, they could "just go ahead and do that in a hotel". If they were "crazy enough". No beating around the bush, just right out and said it like that. That is why I love Europe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saved Kitty

This kitty almost died. Well, he almost almost died. He was roaming loose in the neighborhood, uncared for, with a gash in his side. My friend feeds strays sometimes and was leaving food out for him. When she saw that the gash was bigger instead of healing up, she trapped him and took him to the vet. She paid to have him stitched up and then kept him inside while he healed. She put up "found cat" posters and notified the local animal authorities. One woman actually came and looked at him, but her missing kitty was a she. When my friend took this unclaimed cat back to have the stitches removed, she had him 'fixed' and kept him. He is beautiful! He is sweet. He is intelligent and curious but otherwise well-behaved. What a great cat and what a great person to rescue him. She has rescued other cats and one case in particular is dear to my heart: A pair of kittens would have been neglected and probably died horrible deaths over a winter abandoned outdoors, but she saved them. I can't say more until I am sure any applicable statutes of limitations have run out. There are those who overdo the animal thing with silly grooming and painted toenails and silly coats and fancy beds and toys and expensive unnecessary foods and taking them in their cars and to public events. There are those who get puppies and kittens and neglect them when the novelty wears off and abandon them or turn them loose outdoors to fend for themselves. And there are people like my friend who see a need and respond to it in a caring rational reasonable way to give a home to an animal in true need. Balance, in all things, is the key.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The screens are installed and the windows are open!
There is a fine storm brewing so the wind is blowing through the house and I can hear the rustling of the trees and it is exactly like I imagined it would be oh so very long ago when I first started designing it!
I wanted it to be like camping, only indoors. I mean by that that I want it to have the amazing views of nature and night sky and the morning light and the evening light and the sounds of the trees and the birds and the coolness of the moving air that makes you feel like you are sleeping in the great wonderful magnificent outdoors, but that you get to sleep on a comfy mattress and use convenient . . . um, restroom facilities, and nice showers in the morning. And there is a refrigerator for cold Dew and ice and a stove and running water. The very best of camping without the nasty inconveniences! Oh, I am so happy indeed! I am camping tonight indoors!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Raindrops on Roses, Well, Okay, Pansies

I had a wonderful friend who was a photographer. I was in my teens and he introduced me to a number of concepts. He was my first adult cross-gender friend. As a teen girl, you might have 'boy' friends, but because they are never quite removed from the 'datable' pool, you are not quite as 'free' with them as you might be with girl friends. But he was married, a minister, and much older. Not 'datable' so more 'friendable'. He was also my first friend that was not my age. It never really occurred to me that you could have friends that were not your age. There were potential friends among people your age, and there were 'little kids' and 'old people'. But he and I became friends based on a shared hobby of photography. I traveled once with him and his family and on that trip, we photographed together. Mountain scenery, close-ups of wildflowers, people, each other, bits of strange folk culture, more scenery, more flowers. He taught me many things, technical and technique, but he also exposed me to the idea of a philosophy of art. He explained his 'rules' to me and made it clear that they were not the same as the timing-and-aperture-and-ASA sorts of technical things that were truth based, but that these things were clearly of the take-it-or-leave-it variety. He also make it clear that I ought to be developing my own artistic philosophy, a reason for doing it and rules that I would adhere to. One if his 'pet peeves', if you will allow me to use a phrase that is one of MY pet peeves, was photographers who faked things. You were not allowed to spray water on the roses or move a bug from one flower to a more perfect one or to snip off an imperfect leaf. You photographed it as you found it and if there was an imperfection, you either skipped that shot or you made it part of the photograph. So when I see a flower with a naturally occurring drop of water, be it from morning or evening dew or after a rain, I love to rush out there and capture the drops of water, smugly sure that I did not spray them there! It is my little tribute to my photographer friend and my little chance to remember the things we talked about and the special friendship that we had so many years ago and that we carried on by letter, actual hand written letter, about every year or so until he died. And yeah, it WAS his turn to write . . .

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I thought it was golden Alexander from a distance, but as I got closer, I saw that the flower umbels were too large and too flat across the top. I do not know what it is. Those who grow dill will recognize it as a member of the carrot family, along with the white Queen Anne's lace that is a frequent non-native weed of prairie gardens and prairie restorations. On close inspection, you can see that each yellow dot of the flower cluster is actually a tiny flower all on its own, with tiny yellow petals around a greenish center. From my online searching, I suspect it is a parsnip, but I cannot tell if it is the yellow version of the native purple parsnip or a yellow non-native invasive species. So while it is lovely, I do not know yet if I am happy it is out there in that particular prairie!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dragonfly Sex - Really!

I knew it was strange, but I'd never seen it before. I managed to snap one poor photo before they flew off. Remember you can click on these photos to make them really big so you can see details. Go ahead, search on "dragonfly mating" to read about the weird process of how and why they do this and to find out which is he and which is she and read more details and variations.
Or search on "dragonfly mating photo" so see better shots of this and of other species.
I will summarize: Dragonfly sex parts are at their tail ends like most animals. Most insects have a head, a thorax where their legs and wings are connected, and an abdomen, which in the dragonfly, is the part we call the tail. So male dragonfly sperm is emitted at the end of his long 'tail'. When he wants to mate with a female, he grabs her by the back of her head with special pincers on his tail. So now is tail is 'busy' and can't deposit sperm, right? Well, that is okay, because BEFORE he grabbed her by the head, he moved the sperm from his tail end to the bottom side of his thorax. Once he grabs her, if it 'feels right' to her, she moves her tail end, which is where the sperm needs to be, up to his abdomen where he earlier placed it. There are 'plates' in their exoskeletons there, and if they match and can link up, the sperm transfer occurs. If not, she flicks him off and flies away.
Now, why did such a multi part mating exchange evolve? Because in the insect word, the mating is the last useful thing a male does and egg laying is the last useful thing a female does, since few species help raise the young. So for the female to make a quick meal of the male gives her fabulous nutrition for forming the eggs with the newly acquired sperm. It is fairly common among predatory insects for the female to eat the male after mating. But if the male has her grasped behind the head, she can't very well eat him. But with his tail pincer busy grabbing, well that made that sperm moving step necessary. In many dragonfly species, he remains attached to her head, and she straightens out her tail and flies off to find places in water to lay eggs. His continued attachment guarantees no other male gets to mate with her.
Isn't nature . . . amazing?

Shattered Rose

The day after the rain, the rose lies shattered against leaves and stems. Still, the sweet beautiful fragrance is there, and the pistils and stamens remain in the proximity of the separated petals, so it is possible, even likely, that bees and wasps and assorted pollinators will still find their way to this crushed beauty and others like it, and the flower's purpose will be fulfilled: A rose hip with seeds inside will develop from this apparent disaster and no evidence of any harm will be found. Too bad people are not as resilient in the face of unexpected disappointments. Or are we after all?

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Walk With The Kids

I've walked these trails in all sorts of conditions and for all sorts of reasons. I have strolled leisurely passing the time and found pleasant surprises and had lovely chats and paused to observe details of flora and fauna. I have pounded down them with a destination in sight or tramped them in anger or hiked briskly in training for some wilderness adventure. In one way these trails irritate and aggravate me because they are often ill-maintained, infested with non-native invasive plants and crusted with disgusting litter. Yet, they present a far better place to walk than a house- and car-lined sidewalk and a far safer place to run or bike than a car- and truck-inhabited street. In various places across the country, they are shared by horseback riders or even all terrain vehicles, depending in some cases on what groups volunteer to maintain them. It took courage and foresight by those who initially lead the movements to change these old railroad beds to trails as they were abandoned by the rail companies. But now, these trails link up to each other to allow long hikes or rides for serious recreation or use by bicycling commuters. They allow for experiences in the green world that surely must lead us to a greater appreciation of and desire to protect and preserve the natural aspects of our planet. Some saw them as merely recreational trails, but they serve a deeper need for green and relative quiet, for a world that changes with the seasons and offers glimpses of the cyclic nature of nature. These trails are far greater than the sum of what any one of their founders and champions saw in them, and for that, we are all richer.

Adventures in Worry

Six years ago today or thereabouts I was obsessed with bears. My first born baby was going on his first Boy Scout High Adventure wilderness canoeing trip. There were bear bags mentioned for stowage of food at night and sessions where they learned to prevent their clothes or bodies or tent from becoming 'smellables'. They learned how to eat and deal with other 'details' to keep free of the smell of food and things like mint and perfumes that a bear would take as a signal of food. They learned to make a moderate bit of noise while hiking to prevent surprising a bear and they learned never to approach or run from a bear. I woke up around 4 a.m., certain my baby was going to die in the wilderness. Certain. I went out into the backyard in my pajamas and robe and walked around trying to figure out how to tell him he could not go. I eventually realized that if I kept him home, I would save his life and make him hate me forever: This was not a 'no' that we could ever recover from. So I sent him off later that morning and cried all the way back from dropping him off. My friends invited me on outings and took me to lunch and tried to distract me, but there were too many hour in each day for them to cover and so I worried and cried and cried and worried. And worried and cried.
When he returned safe and full of stories some 10 days later, I was so proud of him. The adults had tales of his hard work and maturity and helpfulness while his centered around the fun they'd had paddling and swimming and portaging the canoes through various adverse conditions of trail and weather and the beautiful and amazing sights they had seen. He seemed taller and definitely more grown up, and when I sent him off to summer camp with the rest of the boys a couple weeks later, I missed him almost as much, but I sure didn't worry. Summer camp in Wisconsin was a safe haven at a luxury resort compare to the wilderness he had just returned from where hungry bears roamed freely.
So they both go off again in the morning. The bags are packed and the lists are checked off and the international and local paperwork is done. This is the oldest's seventh summer high adventure and the youngest's fifth. I had the privilege of going with them on two of them and I know they are competent, skilled, and wise young men, and I look forward to their safe return in 10 days! And I look forward to their stories! Paddle safely, men, paddle safely!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Aaahhhhhhh . . . . . . . . . . .

The First Flower of Summer

To me, spiderwort is the first prairie flower of summer. There are prairie flowers that bloom earlier, but when I see my first spiderwort of the season, I feel like summer has arrived. Spiderwort knows what is good for us, for she blooms only in the morning of a sunny day, soon turning her petals into an unattractive glob as the day heats up, encouraging us to take our prairie walk in the cooler morning. But on a rainy day, she keeps her flowers longer, rewarding us for venturing forth into the cool drizzle.

In The Rain

The bald cypress in a 'deciduous conifer', meaning it is in the same 'family' as 'evergreens' like pine and spruce, the needled cone-bearing trees, but it loses its 'leaves' in the fall and regrows them in spring. Because the new needles are a bright lively green, they stand out in lovely contrast to the darker woods behind them, especially when all the world is darkened a bit more by a gently rain. I suffered raindrops and mosquitoes to get these shots so I hope they please you.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Leaf

The plant itself is a clump of leaves growing from a single point on the ground. We plant nerds call that a basal rosette. Each rough textured leaf is about knee high to the tip. The older the plant gets, the more the clump opens out.
Later in the summer, one or two or maybe three tall leafless branched stalks will rise, with yellow sunflower-type flowers at the tips. These flower stalks will be around five or six feet tall so pollinators can find the flowers above the tops of the tallgrass prairie grasses.
A single leaf is most lovely when lit from behind, when you can see the veining structure in detail and each individual plant cell. There is beauty in the functional structure of this plant before it even takes to setting on the buds for its flowers!
It is prairie dock.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Promise of Blackberries

It was a long winter for me. It seemed like the earth would never green again. It seemed like the snow would never go away. It seems like this meadow now white with blossom was just a few weeks ago still covered in snow! I know it was at least a couple months ago, but it does seem that once the long long winter ended, things greened up awfully fast! And now, the earth is covered with lush green and the green in many case is covered with lush color of some delicate bloom. This frothy white is the blossom of the blackberry, a bramble with thorny burgundy canes and leaflets in fives. Soon, oh, soon, if they are pollinated by wasps (can you find one in the blossoms?) and bees, these flowers will give way to luscious deep dark blue-black berries that can be picked by the handful and eaten in the field. If you are lucky enough to be there in the morning, after the sun has been fully up for an hour or so. the berries on the top will be warmed by their exposure to the sunshine, and the berries below, protected in the shade of the leaves, will be cool. You can alternate warm and cool berry and taste the delicate nuances brought out by the temperatures and know that this is the very best the earth offers to us! For now, these blossoms are hope incarnate.


Some land is poorly drained and collects winter snow melt or allows rainwater to stand for a few days or weeks before it soaks away. Some land is low and flat and near to rivers or streams so that when the water level rises, it comes up onto the land on a fairly frequent basis. We call them floodplains, potholes, sloughs, bogs. The soil is not stable enough to support foundations or pilings. The land cannot be build on or hold a parking lot or grow a crop or even be relied upon to be safe for grazing animals. We consider these places wastelands. Of no use to us humans. But the problem lies in our perceptions being self-centered, biased toward what direct benefit they have to us. For these are the lands of reptiles and amphibians. Frogs and toads and salamanders and all the strange insects that live part of their lives in the water that are food to these strange animals. Life for many creatures flows along smoothly, with the young getting progressively larger until mature size is reached. But reptiles and amphibians and many insect go through stages of life that are very different from each other. Frogs and toads, for example, begin life as eggs laid in places like this. They hatch out and live the first part of their lives as tadpoles, polliwogs, that 'breathe' water with gills. They more resemble fish with tiny fins and huge tails and no legs. But as they mature, they grow front legs and back legs and absorb their tail into their bodies and as their lungs develop and their gills close up, the become more and more frog- or toad-like until they can live on the land.
These ephemeral spring pools and ponds are dry now, resembling green grassy meadows. A month ago, they were alive with calling amphibians who were eager to find a mate and cause this process to begin. These flat plains are still alive with life and home to the mature frogs and toads and salamanders plus countless insects and birds and animals. About a month before this, when the ice was still breaking up, eagles hunted here in the shallow water on the floodplain, catching fish who had spread out from the river bed into the spreading floodwaters. In terms of development, such places are a wasteland indeed. But in terms of life on planet earth, they are rich and beautiful ecosystems that are vital for the full functioning of our green planet.

It Is Gone Now

It was the first rose of the season. A white climbing rose that is in too much shade under the now-grown serviceberry tree by the back door. It needs to be moved to a sunnier location which will make my family happy since it snags jackets and heads on the way to the workshop in the garage. This pretty flower is gone now, because we had a hard drenching rain that tore off the delicate petals. But for a few short days, it was very very beautiful. Especially when the low angled afternoon light caught the white petals and turned them a soft orangy pink and gave the shadows a tinge of blue, and made the petals seem to glow from within. This rose was subtly sweetly fragrant for those willing get close enough. There are buds and there will be more roses one day soon! But this first one was sweet indeed!

Monday, June 8, 2009

More Fauna: Spittlebug

You have probably seen the white foam on plants this time of year and wondered what it was. Well, if you dare, you can gently poke around in that foamy glob with a stick and find a critter called a spittlebug. Related to cicadas and aphids, the spittlebug has mouthparts suited for sucking plant juices. The feeding can cause distortion of growth of the plant, as seen here on this goldenrod plant. The insect leads a life of incomplete metamorphosis which means that it sheds its skin a number of times, growing larger each time, but does not undergo pupation. A spittlebug may molt around 5 times before it reaches its mature size, which will have wings. These wings grow large and larger under the skin until the last mold when they are freed for use so that the adult can fly off to find a mate. There are 23 kinds of spittlebugs in North America and over 800 kinds known to exist in the world. They make the spittle as a protective hiding place to defend themselves from predators. This foam is made as the bug swivels its tiny hind end, emitting a mixture of 'water waste', i.e., pee, from the end of its abdomen along with a glandular secretion that makes the liquid foam, sort of like soap, and into that mixture, it blows air from openings along the side of its abdomen. Sort of like being able to do a hula dance to mix up sweat from your armpit with your pee and lather it up with air from blowholes along your waistline. Imagine! No more running from mountain lions and wolves, just hunker down in place and wiggle up a protective confusing foam to hide in! If you look closely at my crummy photos you can see little pads on this guy's little feet that help it cling to the plant surface, and you can see the 'nozzle' at the tip of its rear end and you can see its eye and you can see the wing buds under the skin along its side.
Cute, ain't it?

Primrose Farm

The Grand Opening was a week ago last Sunday. It has been a long time in the making. Primrose Farm is a working living history farm restored to teach about farming and farm living in the 1930's. It will be a good thing for the community. People need to know history.
They need to know about how agriculture shaped out land. They need to know where our food comes from.
They need to know about how people worked in earlier times. They need to know how people lived in earlier times. I worry that they will not understand this farm's place in history and therefore fail to understand what modern agriculture is like.
I worry that this farm will romanticize farming in an unrealistic way. I am happy that it might get kids outdoors. I am happy that it is open green space kept open and fairly green.
I am happy that our friend Kirk runs the place and that our friend Mary works there. Primrose Farm will be open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays and by appointment and for special events. The farm is located just south of Bolcum Road on Crane Road in St. Charles, IL.
What can you learn there? How can such a living history project help you live and make choices in the real world? What is the relevance of our history?