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Mayday

Monday, April 30, 2007

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It seems fitting to post pictures of flowers that I meant to post while they were still blooming, but never got to...antique daffodils at Malabar Farm.

It’s a day. I'm turning over the big heavy rock of my life and peering at all the things that crawl and slither and hide from the light. My greenhouse is stuffed with overheated, overgrown flowers needing to go into the ground. Weeds are thickening and leaping to cover the plants I love. The lawn needs to be mowed again, five days after the last mow. The half-tilled garden is alive with bindweed and goosefoot. I've got to till it and get the beans planted. Pond filter's clogged; Bird spa's full of mourning dove ca-ca and gurgling helplessly. The kids need to be fed immediately, then get driven to T-ball and softball practice, a mere 10 miles away, where I will sit on an aluminum bleacher for two hours, smiling and giving Liam the thumb's up, trying not to think of all the things I should be doing instead. Baker rolled in something awful and will need another bath tonight. I don’t even have to lean down and sniff his left shoulder to know. He crawls under the dresser and stares at me with red-rimmed eyes; he stands on the bathroom scale with his head hidden behind a hanging towel. Just the words “Did you roll?” send him into a googly-eyed, ears-down picture of dejection. “Yes, Mether. I wanted a bath. And you are the only person who can bathe me.”Baker, apres bath, feeling much better.

Spring goes on as if there were some kind of deadline to meet. A few twisted, dwarfed racemes have opened on the frost-blasted lilac, enough to give me that little whiff of the divine, of what might have been. The bleeding heart is trying to bloom for the second time, having been rendered into limp yellow plant spaghetti the first time it sent its strong shoots skyward. Looks like it's well on its way to taking over its ten square feet of the perennial bed. Everything seems to be accelerating toward something, this rush to bloom and set fruit and prosper; the sun climbing high in the sky and the temperature rising. It all seems to be going too fast for me. Winter, straight into summer, the springtime stolen away by an icy thief.
Blue hepatica, long done now. This was the bluest hepatica I'd ever seen. Look at its wooly new leaves. Mohican State Forest, Ohio.

I look around the place. For the first time, I seriously consider hiring someone to help. Or an entire staff. Mow, plant, weed, run the tractor, cut or bulldoze the multiflora rose and wisteria and trumpetvine, poison ivy and Japanese honeysuckle that’s taking over our meadow and closing in from three sides on our house. Are there still handymen around? I could use about five of them. While I’m at it, I’d like to find a cleaning person who wouldn’t steal my jewelry or suck my will to live. Who could help me keep up with the cascade of dirty clothes and towels and bathmats and sports equipment and optics and toys and dog chewies that crunch and roll underfoot, the greasy sinks and glubby toilets and floors crying to be scrubbed. The balance on this place, inside and out, has definitely tipped toward the plant kingdom, and it looks like somebody’s weekend country home that they come to when they can, and mow maybe once a month. It takes a lot to overwhelm me, but I’m overwhelmed. The truth is, having a personal heaven is a hell of a lot of work. Most of the time, I just get down and deal with it. I like riding around on the mower, I like weeding and planting and tending things. I clean a lot, though I like it less and less. Being in constant motion is my resting state. But tonight, I feel very small, and this house and 80 unkempt acres feels very, very big.
Bloodroot, just a memory.

I decide to get up tomorrow, when I open my eyes at 5:30, and just get dressed and start dealing with it, one thing at a time. No lying in the dark, listening to the dawn chorus and thinking. If I can get the house picked up and the cleaning started, I’ll let myself plant the gladiolus bulbs and the two tall delphiniums, royal blue, that I bought. I’ll let myself make a couple of hanging baskets of miniature Swiss ivy geranium and bluest lobelia. I’ll pretend I’m giving orders to a hired staff, and try to ignore the fact that I’m the staff. For all of you out there who are feeling steamrolled by the fact that summer, with all its sweaty hubbub, is ever so suddenly here, you are not alone.

To a Prairie Warbler

Sunday, April 29, 2007

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Little scrap of life
What a difference you make
in this landscape of briar and thorn


your song
a bony finger sliding up the frets
of a silver dulcimer.

You are not afraid of me
or this great black barrel
slicing off image after image.

You have singing to do
and in between you'll look
for curled coin of caterpillar
in the folded leaf.

Find a mate. She'll weave a little cup of plaits
Stripped from last year's goldenrod
the color of cedar on the Cape.


If she sees me watching she'll drop the fluff
and pretend she wasn't fashioning a cradle
No, just tidying up the old stems of winter.


I am glad you're here, and glad it's April.
Prairie warbler, sprinkling song
How did I do without you?

Biting the Bullet for Swallows and Bluebirds

Thursday, April 26, 2007

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I don't have a great big long lens--only 300 mm, handheld. What I do have is ridiculously tame tree swallows. Think they know who got rid of the house sparrows in their box? You bet they do. The female won't even budge off her eggs when I open the box. I have to lift her up to count them.

Nothing good comes without passion and hard work, I think. Well, duh, I don't think that. Lots of good things happen unbidden. Sure they do. But if you want nice birds nesting in your boxes, and you have a plague of house sparrows around, you've got your work cut out for you.

We don't usually have house sparrows around this place. But last spring I wanted to paint a brood of baby house sparrows from life, and I figured it was worth letting them nest in a bluebird box, just this once, for the painting. It's a great painting. It was worth it. What I didn't bet on was that when that brood fledged, the pair would sneakily set up a second brood in our big bluebird roost box, which can't be opened, and raise that one, too. Before you knew it we had nine to fourteen of the freakin' things chirrupping around here every morning, stuffing themselves with suet dough, and stuffing the bluebird boxes with weed stems and feathers. Oh, man, what a bed I made for us.

So I went rummaging around in my bluebird supplies in the basement and garage and miraculously found a small white sealed envelope. I opened it up and found a Gilbertson in-box sparrow trap. What are the odds. I didn't even know I had it; I was looking for the Huber in-box trap I had years ago and have since misplaced. Nothing's ever truly lost when you own as much krap as we do; it just gets covered over. Steve must have sent it to me as a gift when I ordered the last case of 14 Gilbertson PVC bluebird boxes from him. Not only is he a genius, he's a really nice guy, too.This has to be one of the neatest and best little inventions ever, made by my friend Steve Gilbertson, he of Gilbertson PVC bluebird box fame; he of the Gilwood box (a fabulously well-designed wooden bluebird nest box). It's simple, but man, does it work well. You mount it with a couple of screws on the inside front door of the box, so when it's tripped, the little tongue of flexible but strong plastic flips up and covers the entrance hole. The treadle, which looks like a wire L in this shot, hangs down over the nesting material, and the bird lands on it when it enters the box. Here , the trap is set, ready to spring when I close the box and a bird lands on the treadle.
When you see the orange dot in the hole, you've got a customer inside.

A trap like this is non-specific; it will catch whatever bird enters the box. But neither does it hurt the bird. The only thing you must be sure of is that you check it frequently, at least every three hours. I check it every half-hour. I've caught a bluebird and a Carolina chickadee this week, and they were only confined a matter of minutes before I ran up to release them. I've also caught seven house sparrows in two weeks. They were not released.

I've made dozens upon dozens of trap runs to four different far-flung bird houses on our property, but it's been worth it. We're down to one male house sparrow on the place, and he's real lonely. I hope he'll bug off soon. Why do I do it? Because the house sparrow infestation is a problem of my own making, one that threatens to negate the 15 years of good work building bluebird and tree swallow and Carolina chickadee populations on our farm. If I let them reproduce in my boxes, before long all I'll be producing is house sparrows, an imported Eurasian species that kills native nesting birds. And I do it so, instead of a scruffy house sparrow, I can see this sitting on my bluebird boxes:And this sitting on the perch post beside a box where I've trapped two house sparrows:And the lovely tree swallow and his mate, having an animated conversation about the new house that just opened up. This may be the only kind of bigotry that's really justifiable.

Little Miracles

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

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I just changed keyboards because my old one was full of Cheezits, dog hair and Edy's Slow Churned French Silk ice cream. Multiple threats to my kids about eating over the keyboard produced only elaborate sneakery and slumping back in the computer chair while slurping ice cream from a mug, a posture which supposedly kept the food from falling into the keys. I looked down this morning and saw a big mocha drip running down into the space bar. Smoke came out of my ears. Went downstairs and dug out the great springy Macally keyboard I got for my old blue iMac. Battleship gray, it's ugly as sin with my sleek white Mac, but it works, the keys moving like satin. I have now shed my growing aversion to writing, brought about by the difficulty of working with a gunky keyboard, and the masses of mistakes caused by stuck keys. To tell you the truth I never much liked the sleek white keyboard that came with my G-5. The transparent cradle, through no fault of my own, filled up with the most embarrassing kiddie compost. Well, I do pet Baker over the keyboard. So the black dog hair is my fault.

As of this morning, there is a crude sign taped to my computer, where even a seven-year-old couldn't miss it.

EAT AT THE KEYBOARD: LOSE COMPUTER PRIVILEGES, FOR GOOD.
YOUR CHOICE.


It will be a miracle if even this heavy threat is heeded. I know that I'll find French Silk in this keyboard, too.

Speaking of miracles, this has been a day of them, ones I'm very thankful to witness. I've been waiting for the backyard bluebirds to hatch since incubation commenced on April 10. They're about a day late, but they were hatching at 2 p.m. Hallelujah! Three hatched, a fourth pipping, and we'll see about Egg # 5.

The lilac I have been mourning since the big freeze that commenced April 5 is showing signs of life.
Against impossible odds, the flower brackets that had been frozen crispy through night after night of 2o's somehow retained enough turgor pressure to straighten (mostly) out, point upward, and begin to develop. They're way behind, but their florets are opening, and I got the barest whiff of lilac scent out of this one today. They won't be as beautiful as they would be; they actually look strange against the blasted black leaves hanging on the plant, but they will open, and I am thankful not to be denied that signature scent of spring. The lilac: an heirloom from Bill's dad's family farm. The farm was destroyed by a highway cloverleaf, but the lilac remembers and goes on. Miracle. Maybe I'll get those tip cuttings this year after all. I MUST propagate this wonderful plant.

Hosta "June," opening up. Let's hear it for chartreuse plants.The lilies of the valley I dug from beside my grandmother Ruigh's house in Meservey, Iowa about five years ago are finally taking off. I'll have enough by next spring to send starts to my sisters and brother. Oh joy, oh rapture, to know that this very plant delighted Frieda, filled her sunporch with perfume, and now grows in Ohio.More miracles anon. April is just full of them. They sustain me through everything.

Ritual Bonsai Potting

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

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Bonsais in the wintering pit, already leafing out and awaiting release.

April 10, the day my dad died, is usually the day I repot my bonsai trees. He was fascinated with them, and I'm sure his interest rubbed off on me. I started my first trees in 1981, and built my collection through the 80's and 90's. Over the years, I've winnowed it down to the real winners, trees that I hope I'll have to pass on to Miss Phoebe or Master Liam. Bear in mind that these trees were started not from big ol' nursery stock that's trimmed back and crammed into successively smaller pots, but from tiny nursery starts in the case of the evergreens, and from two-leaved seedlings I collected under the parent trees--beautiful Japanese maples in cemeteries and parks. This is not how most people start bonsais, but I didn't know any better, and I generally don't do things like most people do them.

I love containers. Here is the array of containers I have to choose from. I can't pass up a nice bonsai pot, no matter where I find it. I've been scolded by a real bonsai enthusiast for putting such venerable trees in "cheap pots," but they're good enough for me. I took it as a compliment.

Though I have some tropical Ficus trees that I grow indoors that are passable bonsais, these plants pictured here are not houseplants. These are real trees that need a dormancy period, that turn color in the fall and drop their leaves and have bare twigs all winter long. About mid-November, I take them out of their pots and cover their roots with soil in a 2' deep pit under the deck, and cover it with an old glass shower door, and other than watering them every couple of weeks or so, I let them sleep all winter. I wrap their trunks in foil to keep voles from feasting on their bark. (It hurts their fillings). That was a lesson hard-learned, after voles practically girdled all my trees one winter. They survived with a lot of TLC, but they still show the scars.

The trees are so big now that they have to lie down on their sides to fit in the pit. So when they start putting on new growth in the spring, it grows sideways if I don't get them out of the pit in time. The cold kept me from potting them until just last week. I took pictures to show you how it's done. Here they are in the cart, ready to come up to the potting station, trunks still wrapped in foil. This was a quick and dirty potting. I usually hose all the soil off and trim the roots back about 20% every spring to keep them from growing too much (the idea is to keep them fairly small and manageable). This year, they had put on so much new soft growth under the glass that I didn't dare trim their roots for fear of harming them. So I just added a little fresh soil and potted them up. Onto the display bench with you! It was the labor of an hour rather than three or four.The small pots in the bottom row hold my new starter maples that I dug at Holden Arboretum last year. I'm so excited that they all made it through the winter. They're leafing out without missing a beat. That first winter is their most vulnerable. Clearly, there is a bigger, deeper bonsai pit somewhere in my near future.

The trees were delighted not to be trimmed back and to have some fresh soil to eat. I mix potting soil with builder's sand for better drainage. I have yet to go into the woods to get the moss that covers the bare soil and helps keep them from drying out. One of these days...At least they're potted, happy, growing, and so far the weather looks like it's stabilizing enough for them to stay outside until next November!

Here's how they looked April 23:They'll only get more beautiful, although I have to say I love the tiny-leaf stage of early spring. Best of all is autumn color--the maples just light up with yellow and scarlet. Mmmm. It takes the sting out of summer's end.

I spent most of today in Athens again, at a book signing (fun! Steady traffic! Cookies and sandwichettes! Dumped my punch, but not on the books! Always good!) and then being interviewed on WOUB-TV about Ora Anderson's lovely book, Out of the Woods, to which I contributed some drawings. It was just published by Ohio University Press and it's a keeper.
Took myself out to dinner and just got home, dog-tired again. I'll be up at dawn, though, because all the migrants that have been held back by the cold are coming in at once--11 arrivals yesterday and 3 more today. Warblers, vireos, tanagers, they're all flooding in. See Bill of the Birds for a lyrical list of what's in right now. Ahhhhh. Do yourself a favor. Grab binoculars and GET OUT THERE! The show doesn't last long but man, it's lovely, especially with no leaves to impede the view. Hmmph. This spring...

The Madness of Martins and Elk

Monday, April 23, 2007

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On my drive up to Bellville, Ohio on Friday, April 19, I stopped at a favorite haunt: Zanesville Pottery. This is where I get a lot of my bonsai pots and the Ohio-made birdbath pedestals that I use for orchids and planters. Didn't find much this time but I had fun looking, and I decided to cruise north on old U.S. 40, which parallels boring old I-77. Boy, am I glad I did. The first thing I saw was a flock of birds overhead, with a distinctive shape. Gol-darn. Those are martins! After the dire news I'd heard of an almost complete die-off of adult male purple martins (many of whom arrived on territory just before the April 11 cold snap), it was manna to see these birds overhead. I checked the rearview mirror, slowed to a crawl, and craned my neck to see if there was a colony nearby.

There was.
Simply the most magnificent purple martin colony I'd ever seen. Most of the nesting gourds home-grown; the houses, nay-- castles, all home-built. More than eighty martins swirled and chattered around the immaculately-kept abodes. The gourds were most popular (martins love swinging gourds for their roomy insides, and they tend to raise larger broods in gourds, too!)I pulled over and started taking pictures. I saw a woman fetching her newspaper at the bottom of the driveway and hailed her. I asked if it would be all right for me to photograph her colony. She invited me up in the driveway, and we struck up a nice conversation. The work was all her husband's, she said, and the colony has been extant for 10 years. There were a few house sparrows and starlings around, and she confided that her husband shoots them from the blind provided by a basement window. While this might upset some readers' sensibilities, I can confidently say that there are probably no successful purple martin colonies that are not protected by some form of stringent sparrow and starling control, whether trapping or shooting. The two cannot co-exist, thanks to the house sparrow's nasty habit of piercing martin eggs, throwing babies out, and pecking adults to death. Blaaah. They are vermin, and have to go.

Friday was the first nice day in about two weeks. The martins were chortling and basking in the unaccustomed spring sunshine. They looked so happy, and they sounded happy, too. I was so happy to have found this wonderful spot, an ordinary little white ranch house with owners who care about purple martins, enough to put this kind of work and dedication into them for a decade. Mrs. Martin (not her real name) told me that they had taken their ugly TV antenna down but the martins missed it so much they put it back up, in the middle of the colony. It was festooned in birds. I asked the woman, who might have been in her sixties, if they had anyone in mind to take over the colony when they could no longer care for it. She shook her head sadly. I wondered if someone might buy that house just for its colony. A long shot, I know. But what a gift to the universe, to put purple martins in the sky.She asked me if I'd like to see the reindeer. Yep, in addition to hundreds of martins, they keep reindeer. Very fat, well-fed reindeer. The cows had sweet faces. The bull looked positively malevolent. If I had about 75 pounds of antler on my head, I'd be cranky, too. She told me that when the antlers harden off, they have to dart the bull each year and saw them off, because he's so evil. He has hooked her husband before and nobody wants that to happen again. He reminded me of an Irish elk, the extinct cervid that lived in what is now Ireland, that is thought to have died out because its antlers got too massive and the males could no longer survive. Sexual selection gone wild. The implication being that the females mated selectively with the bucks with the biggest antlers, and there was intense selection pressure for big antlers, and things just got out of hand. The bucks got bogged down in the peat and died. Hmmm.

Whether or not you buy this evolutionary just-so story, I have definitely seen some people who are responding to selection pressure by the opposite sex in ways that are not adaptive. Like women, trying to run on stilettos, and falling down and breaking an ankle. Or wearing skirts so short they can't even bend over or sit down. Or acting dumb and helpless and trading solely on their looks. Or putting bags of silicone and saline on their chests. (How do you nurse a child around that?) Like men, trying to drive the hottest cars the fastest, thinking to impress women, and wrapping themselves around telephone poles. Jumping off bridges secured only by bungee cords. Shooting whitewater rapids nobody ought to mess with. Irish elks, all. Pfffffft. That's my lecture for the day. And I plod off to cook dinner for the bearers of my genetic material, wearing homely, sensible shoes and khakis, and thinking about Irish elk.

Hotdog Brothers Love Flowers, Too

Saturday, April 21, 2007

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Friday, April 20, another of my commentaries aired on All Things considered. This one was about Liam, and how much he loves flowers, and all beautiful things, especially those that smell good. I took these pictures in a garden outside the Smithsonian Museum on April 20, 2006, as it happens, while Liam and I were on an adventure together to Washington, D.C. So if he looks about a year young, that's why. Now, he'd be more likely to have a Hot Wheels in his hand than a train. Sigh. He's moving on.
I was surprised and very pleased that my editor managed to get the commentary aired, because it's about the long, cold spring, and the endless winter (which is clearly ending now) and how starved we get for something beautiful and sweet smelling. Even grubby little Hotdog Brothers pine for flowers. Airing it Friday, just as the weather seems to be turning finally toward the light, was literally the 59th minute of the eleventh hour. It's at #8 on the Most E-mailed List on NPR's web site as of Saturday evening. I think people need something nice in the midst of current events.
You can listen to the commentary here.

I'm hangin' in there at the Mohican Wildlife Weekend, too beat to download any of my photos, having a great time. There is hardly a leaf on any tree here, and the migrants are wisely staying down south where there are leaves (and presumably small soft caterpillars, aphids, and the like). But the landscapes around Bellville and the famous Malabar Farm (where Bogie and Bacall got married) are incredibly beautiful, and the crowd is big and very appreciative, and I'm having a lovely time in my motel room, directly adjacent to an in-house waterpark called Splash Harbor. I confess that I have not used my wristband to gain access to this kiddie paradise. My experience of Splash Harbor is limited to hearing water roar in an irregular but predictable pattern through pipes under my room's floor, on its way to the revolving pirate ship water feature that I can dimly see out my window. Some people think it's fun to have tepid kiddie soup dumped unexpectedly on their heads. Most of them are under four feet tall.
I thank my friend Weedpicker Cheryl Harner for inviting me here, for taking fabulous care of me, feeding me, introducing me to the coolest folks, squatting in the leaf litter examining hepaticas with me, and for taking this picture of me with my new friend Gary sitting on an air-conditioned rock in Hemlock Gorge near the Rock City.The weather is smashing. Life is good. Wish you were here!

Why Whack Bluets?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

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It's really difficult to write good copy for your web site. It's like one big, multi-page artist's statement. You try to write things that will still sound good in a year or two, things that represent who you are and why you do what you do. One of the things I came up with for my home page is this:

Since 1986, I've made a living from natural history illustration and writing. I'm writing and illustrating my own books now, providing commentary for National Public Radio, and bringing the natural world to many readers with a daily web log. I have finally convinced myself that hiking in the woods is my work. Naturally, I love my job.

I still like that statement. Hiking in the woods IS my job. Blogging, in a very real sense, is my job, too. And taking the joy of discovering nature out wherever I go is my job. This weekend, I'll head to the Mohican Wildlife Weekend in Belleville, Ohio, sorta west of Akron. I'll do a reading from Letters from Eden, two book signings at Malabar Farm, and a couple of nature walks. I'll get paid for it, but that's the least of it. I like doing these things. I feel very fortunate that people will pay me to speak and take walks in the woods, to point out birds and wildflowers and insects and all the minutiae that are so important to me, that make up the fabric of my life. It's not always easy. I have to leave my family and work and drive long distances and get up at ridiculous hours (though MWW is a lot kinder than most festivals in that regard). I come home smashed flat and dead tired, but it's a good tired.

Yesterday's walk with Baker netted so many images that I saved some for tonight. The first thing I saw as we swung out the big meadow was a clump of bluets. Quaker ladies. Honesty. Whatever you call them, they're the sweetest harbingers of spring.Poor soil indicators though they may be, I adore them and their shivery blue color. On the route I drive a couple of times a week there is a barren hillside in front of a ranch house. About the only thing that can grow on it is moss and bluets. They do their best to brighten the red clay. On a couple of passes by this steep incline, I have seen the homeowner out, weed-whacking the bluets in the height of their bloom.There used to be white trillium on that slope (it was woodland not that long ago), but he's long since taken care of those. It's all I can do not to stop the car, climb out, wait for him to shut his ridiculous tool off, and ask him what he could possibly be thinking. As if nothing--bare blasted clay-- were better than bluets and trillium. I wonder if I'm going to be the kind of little old lady that would stop her car, jump out and confront a person doing something like that. It could happen.
The sky was just delicious yesterday and this morning. I love clouds with flat blue bottoms, clouds that rank in the sky like grazing sheep. I checked for cattle in the pasture below, found none, then let Baker run ahead. This is a picture of a Boston terrier, self-actualizing.This is about as happy as Baker gets. I suppose seeing a bunneh and being allowed to chase it is a bit better. But nobody appreciates a good romp in spring sunshine more than Chet Baker. He did a bit of dog-grazing, eating the fresh grass and even a few multiflora rose leaves. Just a bit of roughage to wash down the pot roast and Royal Canin Special 27 Mini kibble.
He had to check the old dead shagbark hickory for squirrels. What a squirrel might be doing in a stone-cold dead tree in the middle of a pasture, only Baker knows. But he checks anyway. Such a doggeh.If you're anywhere near Belleville this weekend, come see me! Remember to blurt, "BLOG!"

More Orchids, Forgive Me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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Part of growing orchids is the bragging rights. I first became aware of orchids as a young kid, maybe 8 or 9. A couple of the women who lived in our neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia had greenhouses, and they grew orchids. I remember going over to their houses--haunting them, actually, and having them show me the orchids in bloom. One of the ladies, Mrs. Hunter, was a smoker. She couldn't tell which of her orchids were fragrant, and I delighted in trying to describe their exotic and mysterious scents to her. Mrs. Cook had tons of orchids. They all looked alike to me--leathery, ovate-leaved plants mounted on bark. And yet when they bloomed...rapture. I remember thinking you had to wait an awfully long time for them to bloom, if they only bloomed once or twice a year. What I didn't know is that orchid flowers last for weeks, even months! And that the anticipation of the next bloom is part of the whole delicious package. I get it now, so completely.
Laeliocattleya "Robert Strait" is just finishing up now. Shila gave it to me for my birthday last summer. It was a big, sprawling plant that needed a little TLC, but she assured me that the grower told her it was fabulous. Oh, boy, is it fabulous!!It budded while we were in Guatemala in February and burst open soon thereafter. Think about that--flowers, 4" across, that last two months, and emanate the most delicious spicy scent all day long for the entire time. Yes. It makes buying cut flowers look so...pointless. The cattleyas aren't even that long-lasting, by orchid standards.
Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, are ridiculously long-lasting. Three, four, six months in continuous bloom. Some of the smaller, more leathery-flowered ones can be in bloom for a whole year. This is one that I got as a tiny baby from Shila about five years ago. It's mature now, and giving everything it's got. It'll only get better the older it gets, with multiple spikes, each of them branched. Whatta plant. Liza Lee, these are the easy orchids you can get at home improvement stores.
One of my very favorite phalaenopsis plants is "Lava Glow," a small-flowered and very willing creature. This one has more than 30 flowers on it at once. Though I got mine from a grower at an orchid show, I saw this variety at a Lowe's once. Grab it if you see it!
The lip is molten magenta and fire orange. Rapture.

I am a firm believer in total beauty inundation. This congress of Paphiopedalums oversees my kitchen activity every evening. They make me smile, even laugh, to look at them, nodding wise heads over steaming sinks full of dishwater. Especially the little character with the Flying Nun hat on the far right. Make no mistake, they love the humidity associated with my cooking and washing. These exotic lady slipper orchids are terrestrial-growing, and they hail from places like Borneo. Quite aside from their beauty and novelty, I like the thought of having (captive-bred) Bornean ladyslippers on my rural Ohio kitchen windowsill. If it's possible, why not??

Finally, Walking Weather

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

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It being April 17, I spent most of today in service to the IRS gods, scurrying from financial planner to accountant, writing over-large checks. Ow, ow, ow. When I walked into my financial planner's office, just to find out into which IRA or simple plan I should dump money to avoid intense tax pain, it became apparent that he had picked that moment, nay, the next hour, to do a full frontal financial intervention. He whipped out his dry erase markers and memo board and went at it. Full display, tail spread, gobbling; I felt like a hen turkey mutely watching him strut his stuff. OK. OK. Just tell me how big a check to write, and to where. I love my planner and am grateful that he cares enough to guide me. I believe him when he says he can double my money, what paltry sum there is, in seven years. I just don't like thinking about any of this, and the language is foreign to me. Before tax, after tax, deferred tax, simple plan, college plan, Roth, traditional, big bucket small bucket deduction adjusted gross income please release me let me free. Maybe someday I will invite him out here and give him the lowdown on, say, warped bluebird psychology. And see if his eyes roll back in HIS head. P, if you read this (and I doubt you do), know that I'm grateful, hopelessly ignorant, and deeply appreciative of your skills, and I hope that someday I have enough money to actually play with, to justify your effort.
The only thing to do when I finally got home was to take a walk. Head all bunged up. It was finally and absolutely beautiful out, 60 degrees, just the right temperature for a Carhartt jacket with no lining. As beautiful as my orchids are, I'd like to see them survive 11 days of subfreezing nights and come out blooming. These flowers may not be hot pink or molten magenta, they may not be noticeably fragrant or the size of my palm, but they are what is at hand, and they are beautiful in a small, white way. My friend KF gently chided me today, reminding me that there HAD to be something blooming out in the woods, so this post is for him. The little bumbershoots of mayapple.

Shy blossoms of rock saxifrage.

Golden ragwort, a lousy name for a sweet plant.

I am in awe of these plants, that send shoots up in 35 degree weather, that persist and survive. We should all be so indefatigable. If we could just get on with living the way they do, and not let gloom and icy cold--the irrefutable evidence that the universe cares naught for us--get us down. They grow and bloom, despite it all.

Coming up the old orchard, I checked boxes. The backyard bluebirds are due to hatch in about six days. Yayyyy. I was elated to find the Carolina chickadees nesting in the same box they chose last year. I LOVE these birds. They're excellent nest architects and even better parents. They have chipped out the whole inner front of the box, making a fabulous wood chip foundation for a layered parfait of moss and animal hair. Check out this lining. Deer and rabbit, and plant down...In my next life I want to come back as a baby Carolina chickadee. I dug down a little to see if there were any eggs, but none yet. Chickadees cleverly hide their eggs under a layer of fur until they're ready to start incubating. They leave them cold until they have five or six, and then they pull back the blanket and start incubating. Soon come. Nothing sweeter than baby chickadees, take it from me.
For his part, Baker had a fabulous time. He loves to run up fallen logs.
I love to take pictures of him, running up said logs.
He loves to be photographed, running up logs. It's a symbiosis. It's so exhilarating to walk with someone this enthusiastic. I took him into town this morning to run errands with me, and he hauled me down Front Street like a Nantucket sleigh ride. How can you not smile when you're being forcibly pulled down a springtime sidewalk by a 23-pound Boston terrier? Come on, Mether. There are spring beauties and squirrels to be found. Maybe even turkehs.
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