Archive for November, 2006

After all our waiting, winter has finally arrived in the Ozarks.  It came crashing in, literally.   The crashing sounds are those of fender benders, people making unplanned off road excursions and running into things, and trees losing branches:  all due to the freezing rain, sleet, and snow.

First it rained all night, and the temperature dropped enough to cool all the trees, so ice accumulated on their branches.  Then at dawn it began sleet/freezing rain.  Later today it is supposed to begin snowing and we have been promised 7 to 10 inches of snow. 

So far I have lost a 60 year old scotch pine.  The ground was saturated with water, soft, and unfrozen.  When the ice built up on its branches, the weight pulled its roots right out of the ground.  It only took out one section of our privacy fence when it fell. 

I am very saddened by the loss of this tree.  It supported two bird feeders and the little birds used it for shelter in the winter, as a hiding place from the hawk.  Robins and grackles have nested in it.  The hawk used to secrete himself in its branches and pounce on the unwary from there.

Our house is surrounded by elm trees.  There are thirteen of them.  None of them are American Elms, which are susceptible to Dutch Elm disease.  There are Chinese, Siberian, Rock and September elms here.   All of them are being severely pruned by the weight of ice on their branches.  Next week there will be a lot of cleaning up to do, and our Solstice Bonfire will be amazing.

Watching people respond to winter weather here makes me muse on how we dealt with it when I was younger, living in other places. 

Here in the Ozarks, if there is a touch of ice on any road anywhere in the school district, or if there is as much as one inch accumulation of snow fall, school is called off.  They take a snow day, which is made up for at the end of school, or during spring break.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado.  I went to school there for nine years.  During that time, I can remember school being closed on account of the weather around five or six times.  Once it was closed when we had 20 inches of snow fall in one night, and then the wind blew it into impressive drifts.  But a little ice on the roads only required that the buses be equipped with chains, and school went on.  Ten inches of snow was no big deal.

I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for ten years.  Up there, the policy was if the temperature dropped below 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the schools were closed because of the danger of frostbite for children waiting for the bus.   Snow did not figure into the equation at all.  A very sensible policy, really, when you think about it.  In Fairbanks, if they called off school because of ice on the roads, there would have been no school at all from around the second week of October until about the second week of April.  

I guess it is all about what you are used to.

I don’t like losing trees or the random way Mother Nature chooses to do her pruning.  But I am not complaining too much about the advent of winter weather.  Plants really need cold weather to encourage dormancy.  They need to be dormant in order to produce fruit and flowers.  Like us, they need periodic deep sleep in order to function fully when awake and active.

My fruit trees, forsythia, and spring bulbs were getting very confused.  They were leafing out, and the forsythia was even blooming.   The grape vines were starting to bud out, too. 

I’d really like for my peonies to bloom next spring.   It would be better for my pears and apples to wait until true spring to make leaves and blossoms,because that would mean I have a better chance of having fruit next fall. 

This weather should set them all straight.  I may be a bit of an oddball, but I really hope it stays cold until January.  Not below zero cold, just “not encouraging plants to grow” cold. 

And so, winter is here, and I welcome it.    Whoops, there goes another branch. 

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Building materials

I had a hard job the other day when I decided to remove the completed mulch from one of my compost bins.  The elm trees discovered several years ago that compost piles are wonderful nutrient and water sources.  If I don’t turn them often enough, I will find them laced full of feeder roots  when I finally want to use the mulch.

Those roots make it extremely hard to extract the mulch from the bin, and then there is the question of what to do with all of those roots that have not composted.  For a while I tried to separate all the roots from the mulch and add them to a pile for composting.  I have given up on that.  I just mulch with the compost, roots and all.  In the spring time, the birds find those long stringy roots to be quite wonderful nest building materials.

I love bird nests, they are such miracles of construction.  A couple of years ago, my sister discovered the nest site of a pair of orchard orioles.  In the fall, when they were through with it and had migrated, she cut it out of the tree and brought it to me.


What a miracle of weaving this nest is.  Here is a closeup:


I have read all those articles about how to encourage nesting activity, and they always give suggestions of things to leave for the birds to use.  I have found that the things suggested are usually ignored in favor of something the bird has fixated on all by itself.

A while ago I wrote about blue jays and told how they stole my plant tags for nest materials.  They are not the only birds that have busied themselves about the place stealing items for construction  activities.  The wrens steal the moss from my hanging baskets.  Any bit of string lying around is fair game, and plastic bag shreds from the local ditches are also very popular.

The horses next door leave mane hair in the fence.  I find that beautifully woven into the center cups of many nests on the place.   

One year I watched a robin making prodigious leaps up by my pergola.  At the top of every jump, he would grab spanish moss from a hanging basket, then fly off with it gleefully.  The moss was there to keep the soil in the basket, and when the robin was done building his nest there were serious repairs to be made.   I noticed that when I was watering the basket and the dirt started falling out of it.

Hanging at the front of our wood shed there is a blue plastic tarp woven of strips of plastic about an eighth of an inch wide.  It is there to keep the wood dry when the rain comes from the west.  At least that is what I thought it was for.  It has started to unravel, and as far as the birds are concerned, those strands of blue plastic make admirable nesting materials. 

I observed a fixated robin a few years ago as he attempted to fly off with a piece of twine that was securely tied to a grommet on the same tarp.  Never mind that I had a stash of jute twine in appropriate lengths available on the bush nearby.  He wanted THAT piece, no other would do.  He would pick up the end, and try to fly off.  When he got the end of his rope (so to speak) he would be summarily jerked to the ground.  He would sort of pick himself up, shake a bit, and then grab that piece of string and try to fly off with it.  At first I was amused, then I felt sorry for him.  I went out with my kitchen shears and cut the twine free, and as soon as I went back inside he was there, grabbing that twine.  “I KNEW I could get it, if I just kept at it long enough,” I could almost hear him think as he he flew off successful, carrying that twine.  I wonder why it was so perfect?

I have a friend who lives out in the woods.  We were talking about birds and nesting, and he told me about the cheeky titmice that live around his place.  He likes to sit outside to brush his hair in the morning.  When he is done, he cleans the hair out of his brush and leaves it blowing in his garden for the birds to use as nest material.  One spring he was not producing hair fast enough for the titmice.  They landed on his head and yanked hair right out of it.  “Hurry up and go bald,” they seemed to be saying.  “There is nest to be built, you know!”

Building materials are everywhere if you are a bird.  It doesn’t take money to build an avian home, just imagination, concentration and effort.   We could learn from the birds.

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A while ago, before I knew how to upload pictures, I wrote about fall color in my garden.  I am a devotee of perennials in general, and bulbs in particular.

The great thing about planting bulbs is that if you are just a little patient, you will get more bulbs out of the deal.  Of course, that is the bad thing about bulbs, too.  Once they have been in place for a while, you really have to dig them up and separate them. 

Well, actually, this is true of a lot of perennials.  I believe that this may be how some of the small, family operated nurseries began.  Some poor person had a plethora of perennials and couldn’t bear to throw them on the compost pile.  So she potted them up and put a sign by the road:  “Perennials $2.00”  .

Well, I have sucked you into this post because you were interested in colchicums, right?  These are a fall blooming bulb that come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  I say variety regarding the color advisedly, because the variety there runs to pinks, lavenders and whites.

In the spring, they send up a group of strappy leaves that feed the bulb.  Those yellow and get pulled out around the end of May.  All summer, there is nothing where the colchicum bulb is.  You have to remember that it is there so that you don’t accidentally disturb it planting something else there.  They combine nicely with annuals like moss roses or marigolds. 

Then fall comes.  Around there the annual they have been sharing space with dies back in the heat of August.  The whole garden starts shutting down for the winter, except for the asters.  Suddenly a miracle occurs.   Out of the hard bare dirt, the tip of a flower bud pushes forth.

And then they bloom, at a time when nothing so delicate and lacy ought to bloom.




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Deer alarm

I am on the fence when it comes to psychic powers.  I realize that according to Uri Geller and a whole bunch of other scientists, there is no scientific proof that they exist. I was raised by scientists, a physicist and a bacteriologist to be exact, and I studied a lot of science and math at the University since I thought I wanted to be a doctor. 

Consequently, I have a great respect for science, technology, and the experimental method. But scientists don’t know everything.  They know they don’t, too.  Have you noticed how the closer the quantum physicists get to finding the smallest particle possible,  the more mystical and spiritual they become? 

All I know is, I won’t play games that involve dice with my little sister.  I have played backgammon with her too much to believe any longer that there is no such thing as telekinesis.  There may be one possible combination of dice that makes it impossible for me to move, she will call it out and that is what I will roll.  She will roll the numbers that advance her the fastest and kill you most often, over and over and over again.  She calls them out as the dice leave the cup.  It is uncanny.  Disturbing.  Frustrating. 

If I could harness that power and take her to Vegas we could be rich.  Well, if I understood the rules of the game of Craps, and how to bet on it, we would be rich.

Anyway, I have experienced extra sensory perception over and over again.  I don’t know if I could reproduce it in the laboratory.  When Jim and I first lived together in San Francisco, I would “get” what we were having for dinner on my short drive home.   I’d be driving along, and I would think “Gee, we should go out to The Great Wall tonight.  I really would enjoy some Szechuan Beef.”  Or, I would think, “It has been a long time since we went to Cecilia’s.  Maybe we should go there tonight.”   Or I would think nothing.

Invariably, on those occasions when I thought nothing in particular, I would walk into a house redolent with the smells of something delicious in preparation.   When I had been thinking about a particular restaurant or style of cooking, there would be no such smells, and my chef/partner would say “I think we should have Chinese (Mexican, Pizza, Italian, Thai, Sushi)  tonight.”   I always got the nationality right, too, during my musings.  This became so common it stopped feeling uncanny.

I can “read” my massage clients too.  I always know as soon as I put my hands on them whether they suffered abuse as a child.  Or if they are being abused now.  I sense pregnancy in women, often before they do.  So far I have guessed the sex of the child with 100% accuracy.  Admittedly, it isn’t a large sample.  But so far I have always been correct.

One of the most useful tasks this “sensing” ability performs for me is the “deer alarm” when I am driving.  I have become so accurate with this ability, my husband even asks me when we start out driving if there are any deer out there.  What I do is, I put my hands on the wheel and send out my third eye, or intuition if you’d like, to look ahead on my path.  I try to “hear” whether there is a deer out there.  The presence of deer near the road registers as an area of confused, nervous, indecisive energy. 

The other day when we were going to the monthly sauna gathering, I “knew” there were deer in the little valley that Highway A runs through before you turn on Carroll Cave Road.  Sure enough, there were three of them, and they chose to bound across the road directly in the path of our car.  I missed them, because I was ready for them before I came around the curve.   After we passed that spot, I “knew” there was one in the field right after we exited the highway onto Carroll Cave Road.   Sure enough, there he was.  Missed him too.

On one occasion when we were coming home from Jay and Jeri’s, I felt a deer when we started out, but he wasn’t very close.  I really picked up on him as we came past the Cedar Ridge Church, and sure enough he was perched on a little grassy spot above a small embankment that Highway P runs under as it descends to the low water crossing after the church.  He was far enough from the road he could have just stood there.  I could have assumed that was what he was going to do, but I knew I needed to slow way down.  I did, and the idiot deer jumped off the bank and directly in front of the car.  If he had waited a second, he could have jumped right on the hood.  I didn’t hit him, because I was almost at a dead stop already when he jumped.

Last night, I was coming home from Jeri’s after a day of running errands in Springfield.  I hadn’t felt a deer all day.  As soon as I started up her driveway, the feeling of deer was very strong.  I felt it just ahead.   I turned off Benton Branch Road onto Highway K and there, about a tenth of a mile down the straight stretch I saw a quadruped crossing the road in front of me.   It was dark, but I figured it was the deer I had sensed.  It was.  He stood, a bundle of fear and confusion, at the edge of the road, watching me drive down the hill towards him.  I slowed way down, he jumped, first in front of me, and then he slipped a little, scrabbled, and leaped back the way he had come, and bounded up the bank.  In my headlights, I saw he had a very nice rack, probably eight points. 

Is this all coincidence?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I sure do listen when I get the messages, whatever the source.

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Alarm clocks?

When we were young things, beholden to the Navy for our wherewithal, we were ruled by the alarm clock.  Then, for a while we were free of it.  We were out on the farm, and what woke us up was a flock of greycheeked parakeets that lived in the aviary wing.  They arose at dawn, and the racket they made discussing the fact that it was a new day, what the weather was, who had laid an egg and what time breakfast was going to show up made a quite effective awakening device.

During that period of our lives, we got up pretty much two minutes after dawn, and went and fed the birds and cleaned their room and cages.  Then the days work of fencing, moving cattle, cleaning fence rows, and throwing rocks off the fields began.

After a while, for reasons that I may go into later, we moved to town.  Since moving to town also involved buying a house and thereby acquiring a mortgage, Jim got another job that entailed alarm clock use.

No more.  The only time we use an alarm clock is if we have to get up at what Jim refers to as o-dark-thirty because we have plane tickets, plans for travel by other means, or some other very compelling reason.  Otherwise, we sleep until we wake up, and since we don’t always go to bed at the same time, we rarely wake up at the same time.

The cats disapprove of this.  They believe in ordered, regular lives.  Over the years they have learned that the strategy of waking us up at a regular hour of their choosing does not always result in the desired outcome of food in their bowls.  Sometimes they get thrown unceremoniously out the door.

This has made them become rather circumspect in their demands for breakfast.  Sometimes they just walk on us, slowly and gently.  If you sit on a person’s bladder, they will often get up and then you might get some food. 

If it has gotten VERY late in the morning, Smokey will jump on the bed, walk up alongside me, and sniff my breath.  “Are you still alive?” I can feel him asking.  If you aren’t, who is going to feed me?”  Mike rattles the tables that our bedside lamps are on.  “I’m not really waking you up, I’m just playing,” he seems to say, as he slithers out of the door of the room.

Once you are up, and getting dressed, he exhorts you to be quicker.  “Why do you need those socks and slippers?  Don’t you realize there is an emergency in the food bowl?”  That would be the fact that there are only four or five crumbs left in it.  I am deemed irremediably stupid if I start the coffee water heating before I address the problems of the felines.  If I’m not speedy enough, they will trip me as I walk around the kitchen.

And so the day begins as it properly should, ministering to the needs of the most important members of the family. 

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