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Archive for August, 2012

Wandering

Last night I took Ruby for her walk after dinner, as the sun was going down.   As my feet wandered the paths we usually follow, my mind wandered its own paths.

What was uppermost in my mind at the beginning of our perambulation was the delightful repast I had just enjoyed.   Our patch of leeks is just now coming into its own, so Jim pulled a few and made a rather wonderful dish that involves braising the leeks in wine with herbs, adding chopped up prosciutto to that, and tossing it with pasta.   Since we have entered so deeply into the slow food movement, we not only grow a lot of what we eat (which is the epitome of slowness, really), but we no longer buy noodles and pasta.   Jim made some lovely fresh noodles for the pasta part of the dish.   It was positively delicious, and probably quite good for us too.

So my mind wandered over to the leek patch as I walked along.  I mused on the irony of leeks, so easy to grow really.   Leeks are a crop that is reputed to be a cool weather staple, capable of waiting for your attentions out in the garden during the cold of winter.   And yet, apparently, they are totally heat and drought hardy as well, for while our leeks do have a lot of burned leaf tips on the outside of the plants, the inner parts are as green and tender and succulent as anyone could desire from a leek.

Ah, I notice a spot of unnatural blue on the path ahead of me.   It turns out to be the label from a plastic water bottle and I note to myself in passing that no doubt I shall find the water bottle discarded up ahead sometime during my walk.   I pick it up, and a cigarette butt that rests nearby, and continue on my way.   I wonder about the people who so casually defile the home of the wild creatures I hear about me.  An armadillo rustles busily off to my right, just over the edge of the slope into the sinkhole.   When the leaves fall and there has been a frost, I will have to go down in there and pick up the trash that has blown into the depression during the summer.

A red tail hawk rasps out its high wailing call above me, and this brings to mind the visitor we had during our breakfast.   We were sitting at the table enjoying the applesauce pancakes I had made, when all the little birds in the yard disappeared into thin air as a large bird landed on the fence.   It was an immature red tailed hawk, still in its youthful plumage with barred tail and speckled breast.   It looked about, seeming almost confused.   But it wasn’t.  It was looking at the bird bath, and after a suitable period for checking the area for threats and planning its landing pattern, it swooped down to the basin full of water.

You know, my birdbath is not really a small bath, there is plenty of room for two or three grackles to bathe in a gang, several dozen bees can drink from the rim at once, half a dozen finches have plenty of room to share the rim.   Suddenly, the bird bath looked very small indeed.   The hawk contemplated the water surface for a while, then hopped down into the water.    The area was too constrained for the bath it clearly desired, and after it had been soaking its feet for a few moments, a cheeky cardinal landed in the elm tree above it and started scolding it from the safety of the stockade of branches.   The hawk gave up on the idea of ablutions and  flew off, back over the fence and into the field behind us.

As I continued walking, I wondered how big a basin a hawk like that would like for a good bath.   I thought perhaps a kiddie wading pool might be just the right size.  Would it want it raised above the ground the way the little birds like their baths?   Or would a pool built into the ground be okay?    I want a fountain associated with the pergola; a proper hawk sized bird bath could be incorporated into that plan.

I rounded the corner of the path towards the back of the conservation area, and sure enough, the empty water bottle that belongs to the label I found earlier was lying there.   I pick it up, and remove the lid.    The light plastic rolls neatly into a tiny bundle, I replace the lid and put it in my pocket along with the label, wondering why some people find a full water bottle so easy to carry but not one that is empty.

My mind churned on as I watched the sun sink slowly down to the horizon.  There were no clouds to interfere with the colors it was producing.   First the sky was a pure lemon color, then it faded to apricot.   Later on a peachy hue emerged, quickly brightening to tangerine and finally as the sun went down it turned the brilliant red of a blood orange.    Odd, I thought to myself, how all my colors seemed to be associated with fruit today.

I was watching the nearly full moon at the same time I was watching the sun set.    It is the second full moon of the month, so it will be a “blue moon”.   Far from looking blue, it almost seemed to be reflecting back the sunset colors, looking almost apricot to me.   I thought about the article I read about visual perception, rods and cones, and how at the peripheral vision you can really only perceive black and white but your brain fills in the colors it “knows” are supposed to be there.    I framed the moon away from all the other information with my hands, and suddenly I could see it again as it truly was, white/silver and serene in the sky, slowly brightening as the day light faded.

A movement high in the sky near the moon caught my eye.   A red tail hawk hovered in the thermal, fluttering its wings gently to hold position as it surveyed the field below, hoping for an unwary rabbit or a meadow vole to round out the day’s hunt.   I stopped and watched.   A bat flew past, early riser.   I hoped perhaps the great horned owl would join it, but she didn’t.  The night jars soared and dipped over the crown of the forest edge across the field from me, searching for their evening repast.  A flock of red winged blackbirds rose from the forest edge, their creaking voices silenced, exchanged for the thrum of their wings beating in unison as they headed purposefully for their night roost.

A helicopter suddenly roared to life over at the Armory.   Must be a training week for the National Guard, I thought to myself, as the black beast rose into the air.  The chopper sound threw me back into revery about all the times I have heard that sound.   What it must be like to live someplace like Iraq or Afghanistan and know that that sound presages gunfire or is a response to the bomb that exploded nearby.    “Apolcalypse Now”    The sounds of Viet Nam; for truly this helicopter that was disturbing the sylvan peace of my dog walk was an old surplus bird from that era.

That time in my life paraded through my mind.   Rick Jenkins, our star running back on our 8-man football team, come home to be buried in a black body bag, blown into little pieces by the land mine he stepped on.    John, the ex-Green Beret, who I met at a party I went to in Denver, who had the boa constrictor Horace and the bull snake Herman that I bought from him for $40 dollars (that included their cages), and brought home proudly to my mother.   He warned people when he met them that they should not come up behind him quietly and touch him; he was likely to take them to the floor.  At that party, I witnessed the effects of battle fatigue or PTSD when someone in the kitchen dropped a large pot, the clatter and bang was impressive.   I had been standing talking to John, I looked away towards the sound and when I turned back John was gone.   Confused, I looked around.    Someone called out,  “Oh, they just dropped some pots in the kitchen.  It’s okay, John.”  His head came up from behind the sofa where he had taken cover; sheepishly he emerged.   We all laughed at him, he laughed back.

I wonder where he is today?   Is he fine or is he dead of cancer caused by the Agent Orange he was liberally doused with during his tour?   Or is he one of the damaged homeless alcoholics littering the streets of our big cities, begging for sustenance?

And what about Tommie Smith, the Navajo indian who I wrote to faithfully during his tour?   How is he?   I wonder about him on a regular basis.   When he came home, we went out to a football game at the University of Colorado where he was exercising his veteran’s right to an education.   He rode his beautiful Harley up to our house to visit a couple of times.   Late at night, after I cleaned the floors and shake machines at the Red Barn where I worked, he would come by and we would sit on the curb outside the place after all the lights were out and talk and talk.   He finally came to me and told me he wasn’t going to come talk with me any more.  It wasn’t fair, I was too young and he knew too much, and besides he was afraid his family could never accept me the way my family accepted him.   I knew nothing about life on the reservation, which was where he was going when he finished school.   He would take his engineering degree and use it there.

I wonder where he is now?  Is he the engineer for one of their mining operations?   Or is he another of the dead too soon; or worse, a member of the walking dead substance addicted?   Or maybe a famous artist?    He had talent that way.   I sent him cookies, he sent me his soul committed to paper with ink.

And so my three and half miles pass, as Ruby becomes tired and hot and well walked.   We return to our home, I put the plastic bottle in my recycle bin, and do the dinner dishes that are waiting for me patiently.  Afterwards I look through my book of thoughts for the image Tommie sent me from Viet Nam, so I can share it with you, my dear friends.

And another day has passed into the past, possibly to be mused on in the future.

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It is with apologies to Charles Dickens that I title this post, but I just couldn’t resist.  And it is a tale of tomatoes in my garden.

This growing season has been rife with difficulties.   It started out well enough, although everyone was very confused by the extremely early spring that we enjoyed.   It seemed like everything was about a month ahead of time.   This was okay if you were planting seeds out, but if you were planning on procuring seedlings and setting them out, the seedlings simply weren’t available at the time the weather said that they should be.   All those growers and computers just “knew” that I should not have any tomatoes to set out until the middle of May.   By then, it was too late for them to get their roots firmly established before the horrible weeks of over 100º days that were coupled with NO RAIN set in.

Anyway, I had some seeds to plant, and so I did.   Specifically, I have some heirloom seeds of an oxheart type tomato that one of my clients gave me.   She also told me how she plants her tomatoes, and last year, with great trepidation, I followed her method and met with good success.   So I did it again.

You do not start your seedlings indoors.   When it is early spring, you plant your tomato seeds directly into the garden, and water them well.   Then you place a nice quart mason jar over them.   You do not move the jar.   When you feel like you need to water, you just water the bed without moving the jar.  Eventually, your seeds will sprout and grow inside the jar.

For some reason, it never gets too hot inside the jar, probably because it isn’t that big of a surface to collect heat.   Anyway, if your seedlings outgrow the quart jar, you replace it with a half gallon jar, and by the time they get too big for the half gallon jar, it  will be good enough weather for them to survive without protection.

I experimented and discovered that this method also works for peppers.

Considering how long I had to wait for the seedlings I ordered from Cook’s Garden, I won’t be doing that again.   I intend to seed directly into the garden hereafter.  Goodness knows I have plenty of jars.

Notice also the thick layer of mulch on the tomatoes.   That mulch was on all the garden beds.   What it is is clean straw, which is the stubble harvested after the winter wheat crop has been combined.  We buy it in bales form a local feed store.  I use the term “clean” advisedly, since it had plenty of wheat heads in it.  This is because not all wheat is the same height, and when it is combined not all of the wheat crop makes it off the field.  Seeing as how it wasn’t really clean, there were plenty of wheat sprouts to pull up all spring.   But it did NOT have weed seeds, which I believe is what they mean by “clean.”

As things turned out, my tomatoes were doing fairly well considering everything.   But they weren’t ripening.

Very frustrating to have such lovely tomatoes that stubbornly remained green.  Then the weather turned Saharan on us, and the tomatoes did not like it at all.   In order to try to preserve them, I put floating row cover over them and also installed shade cloth on the south side of some of the cages.

And we watered assiduously.   For the first time in my life, my water bill was higher than my electric bill.   It didn’t really surprise me, I was expecting it to be high.   But it was quite impressive.   We are so fortunate that our town has very deep wells that produced well all through the drought and heat, so we were not put on water restrictions like some of the communities to our south were.

You might surmise from the way the plants look that they are suffering from the heat and the drought and that is why they are brown and toasted looking.   You would be partially correct.  The heat and drought made the ants hungry, and the little darlings established aphid colonies everywhere, and also availed themselves of the stem integument as a dietary supplement.   This made the tomato vines very unhappy indeed, and also made them susceptible to various soil borne fungi, which is really why the vines are all brown.   It is more than likely that what is going on here is Fusarium wilt, which is quite common in this area.

Fusarium wilt is why I never put my spent tomato vines into my compost.  I also generally do not put bean plants into it either, as they are generally infected with viruses by the end of the season.   Squash vines also don’t go in there since there are always eggs from the squash bugs on the leaves and quite often borers in the stems.   All of these items get put on the bonfire.   Since I have been doing that, the disease problems in the garden have subsided.   There are still disease vectors, of course, and the bugs come from all around.   But problems have become minimal.

One pest that I have not been able to get rid of is the squirrels.   I realize that there are lots of people who think these animals are cute, with their fuzzy little faces and their flicking tails.   They play together so nicely in the spring when the babies emerge from the nest.    Just don’t ever forget they are rodents, I view them as rats with furry tails.   And they LOVE tomatoes.

Once they have started chewing on a tomato it stops ripening and becomes a haven for the millions of ants to eat off of.    And squirrels are not particular about whether the tomato is ripe:  they will happily eat the ripe half of a half-ripened tomato, which will then rot on the vine.

Squirrels also love beans, and corn, and squash.    I have seen them climb my corn stalks and cling to the plants, gleefully shucking the fresh corn and eating it right off the cob.

Cute Schmute.  I’ve heard that squirrel stew is quite tasty, but it will never appear on my dinner table.   For, as Jim says, “I don’t eat rat.”

However, all that aside, the tomatoes have done pretty well this year.   I have been roasting them regularly and have put away about 15 pints of new roasted sauce to join what was left over from last year.

This is a portrait of last night’s salad.

This was picked about half an hour before we ate it, and contained arugula, kale, endive, mizuna, chard, beet greens, mustard, cucumber, yellow zucchini, carrots, asparagus, beans, broccoli, and a couple of tomatoes the squirrels had missed.

So in spite of the weather challenges and the varmints, I would say we have had a pretty successful garden year.  We are thankful.

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A while ago I was walking a client out to her car and as I returned to the house I noticed a big fat caterpillar hanging about on my rue plant.

“I must get a picture of that caterpillar, it is so interesting,” I said to myself.  “I wonder what kind it is?”   So I went to Google to figure it out, and found out it was the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

Then my client came for her massage, so no image was acquired, and when she left I went to get a picture and the caterpillar was GONE.   Disappeared.   I accused the grackles in the area of eating it.

This is what it looked like.   I found this image using Google and borrowed it from Bugfolks.

A while later, one of my observant clients pointed to something hanging right by the front door and wondered what it was.

“Oh!”  I replied, quite pleased.    “That is the chrysalis of a giant swallowtail butterfly.”   Mentally I apologized to the grackles for the murder accusation I had leveled their way previously.   I also congratulated my client on spotting the thing, as it really was quite well camouflaged.

I had no trouble identifying it, since it looked exactly like the caterpillar only it was all folded up.   It even shared the “bird dropping” coloration the caterpillar was notable for.   I was very impressed by how much the caterpillar shrank itself in order to form the chrysalis.

Really, I have a lot to thank my clients for, because this morning when my client arrived her first words were,  “There’s a butterfly out here.   I think it might be hurt.”

I looked out the door, and there on the wall right under the chrysalis was a giant swallowtail butterfly in the process of pumping fluid into its wings, having just freshly emerged from the now empty chrysalis.   I quickly let my client know exactly what she was seeing, called my mother from the living room (she had stopped by to visit me) to come admire, and left her explaining to my client about how butterflies have to move fluid into their new wings, which is why she was pumping them back and forth in the manner which made my client think perhaps she was wounded while I went and grabbed my camera.

One minute later:   Notice how the left tail has already gotten bigger in this image, and how much the lower wings have expanded.

“Would you care to step up onto my finger?”    “Yes, I believe I would.”

Meanwhile, I had sent my client into the room to prepare for the massage and my mother had bid me adieu and gone off to finish her errands in town.

The butterfly liked being on my hand.   It walked all over it, flexing its brand new wings all the while, and proceeded to promenade up my arm almost to my shoulder.    I had to do a massage, my client (bless her heart) was patiently waiting in the massage room while I disported myself in the garden with the butterfly.  It didn’t want to leave my hand, but I finally convinced it to dismount onto my aster plant.

Here is another little magic.   This is her ventral side.   How such a black butterfly can have such a pale “other” side is just magical to me.

After the massage was over, I went out to see how she was doing.   She was still resting on the aster, and I thought maybe I’d get another shot.   But as soon as she saw me moving down the steps, she flew away.   Our transitory connection was over, but I shall treasure the feeling of her feet clinging to my fingers as she walked all over my hand.

Hope there is something magical going on in your life today, too.

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My days are numbered

The cats have developed ear mites, so I put the awful stuff in their ears the other day.

Vile torturer that I am, I then had Jim procure photographic evidence of the aftermath.

Our days are numbered.

 

“I hate you.  If I had opposable thumbs the ASPCA would be hearing about this.”

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“Times are bad.  Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.”  –Cicero

We needed a little break from “real life” around here, so we decided to run off to St. Louis for a few days, stay in a real ritzy hotel and eat fabulous food while taking in the sights.

One of my favorite places to go is the Missouri Botanical Garden, so when we had decided we were definitely going up there, I checked out their site to see what sort of event they might have going on.   What they had going on was something called the “Lantern Festival”, which sounded intriguing.   Once I checked into the event site and saw the “lantern” they had at the entrance to the gardens — an illuminated dragon made of silk stretched on a wire frame that is 42 meters long (yes, REALLY, forty-two METERS) — I knew we had to go even though the entrance fee for the evening exhibit was rather dear.

This is his head, the top of which is around 20 feet above the ground.   He was quite impressive.

Jim did some extensive research into restaurants, and we determined to enjoy some seafood (flown in fresh daily) at a bistro called Oceano out in Clayton (a suburb of St. Louis proper).   This turned out to be an outrageously correct choice of restaurant.   I have eaten seafood all over the world and the scallops I had at Oceano were by far the best ones I have ever had, perfectly prepared, delectable melt in your mouth accompanied by a delicate white truffle sauce the complemented them delightfully.    The roasted vegetable platter we had on the side with our entrees was equally wonderful.   I highly recommend this spot and intend to return to try something else.   That is, if I can wean myself away from those scallops.

Another restaurant we thoroughly enjoyed was Giovanni’s on the Hill, a place to which we were delivered by the hotel’s limousine in rather grand style.   I have to admit I sort of enjoy the Queen experience once in a while.

We also went to the St. Louis zoo, which was an interesting place if you liked to watch hordes of people with undisciplined screaming young children running rampant, with bored teen-aged boys and loud hormonally challenged teen-aged girls liberally interspersed amidst them.   It was a hot day, and most of the “exhibits” were off in some quiet, shady corner of their habitat sleeping.  This led Jim to opine that a zoo could put up habitats with lovely informative signs and never purchase the actual animals because people would assume they couldn’t see them because they were sleeping somewhere, which would be a quite effective cost-cutting measure in terms of veterinary care and food supplies.

As I dodged strollers the size of small cars being wheeled savagely about by super-charged super-stressed mothers, while their male counterparts were strolling about unencumbered by such trivia as exercising any discipline upon the toddlers who were not in the strollers, I wondered why so many people were at the zoo on a Friday morning.   Don’t any of these people have JOBS?   Oh, school was starting the next week, they probably took the day off to get the kids to the zoo before school started.    Pity the poor teachers who have to deal with those unruly kiddies.

We went off to shop at the Global Market because one of Jim’s co-workers had a hankering for real German bread, which is available there.   What a fun place.   A grocery store where instead of being labeled “chips”, “Baking supplies”, or “Canned vegetables”  the aisles are labeled “Spain”, “Thailand”, “Great Britain” and other country names.   It was while I was there that I noticed that honest to goodness real British ginger nuts were available.  Having been intrigued by frequent references to them by Daddy Papersurfer, I insisted we procure a package, acquisition of which was accomplished despite the terrible dilemma of having three or four brands to choose from.   They did not disappoint, and I only wish I had bought more than one package.

By far the highlight of our stay was the wonderful food, followed closely by the lantern exhibit at the Botanical Gardens.    I have to admit that when I read about a lantern exhibit, what popped into my head was those nice round paper constructs that one finds hanging in restaurants and the artier dens.    I think the Botanical Garden used the terminology loosely, not having another word to append to these grandiose illuminated constructs they had scattered throughout their grounds.

Most of these were formed by shaping wire frames and attaching stretched silk to them, with the lights inside the silk shape.    The things were limited only by the imagination of the artist.

In the plaza right outside the building where the restaurant, gift shop, offices, theatre and ticket offices are there is a large plaza that is graced by a fountain.   This was the site of the first installation.    The central pillar of this fountain is about thirty feet tall, a dragon wrapped around the pillar with the four corners of the fountain occupied by water dragons spouting water at the central display.

The rose garden was graced with a giant vase surrounded by pillars topped with flowers.   You can get the scale if you notice the people in the dark background to the right of the vase.

The water lily ponds outside the Victorian Conservatory had been transformed into an artist version.

 

 

There was a sailing vessel which really defied photography.   The silk core had been completely covered with recycled plastic water bottles.    It glowed in an unearthly way.

There was a rather cartoonish grove of bamboo inhabited by pandas.   Frankly, I really didn’t think this one matched the artistry of the other sets.

 

There was a walkway flanked by moons and stars.

 

Kuan Yin blessing the Buddha.    This was confusing because no one could find the Buddha, because he wasn’t in that lantern but across the lawn from her in another set.   I loved all the dragons on this one.

More dragons

 

The dragon heads on this one were animated, swiveling back and forth, fixing you with their glares.

There was also a wishing tree, and a whole grove of “cherry trees” which I didn’t particularly care for.

My favorite by far was the installation in the reflecting ponds in front of the Climatron, a 200′ diameter geodesic dome that contains a rain forest exhibit.   In order for you to understand the scale of this installation, you need to know that the reflecting pools where the dragons are installed are around 100′ long.   The central pool contains a giant lotus with the pearl of knowledge, that part of the fountain is about 20′ tall.   Look in the dark part of the image for all the people to give you scale.   Notice that the dragon breathes fire… the heads also rotated while the smoke was emerging.

These dragons are constructed totally out of porcelain serving dishes and utensils, which were tied on to the metal frames with elaborate weavings of fish line.

 

 

 

 

 

The Botanical Gardens were not kidding around when their motto for this display was “Art by day, magic by night.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A full post is in progress.   We were off to the big city for a little vacation from the obsessive watering we have had to do here in our drought/heat experience.

Here is a taste of what is coming….

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