Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Weather Forecast

Swirling pink petals -
March winds in late April bring
apple blossom snow.

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Bill of Fare - Part III

I knew I would be writing this story some day -- but not this soon. After almost three and one half months we’ve had a security breach at the "Squirrel-Be-Gone" -- our latest "squirrel proof" bird feeder.

I'd show you a photo of the "b and e", but it would look exactly like the manufacturer-supplied illustration of how the spring-activated, seed-lockdown mechanism prevents such thievery (see below).
I never studied the system that closely until I went out the other day to see how the tree-rats had defeated it. The device is made up of a square-sided plastic tube with several feeding holes, surrounded by a separate metal cage with leaf shaped decorations. The cage is attached to springs. The tube is not. When a squirrel latches on to the outer enclosure, it drops down and its ornamental leaves cover the apertures on the immovable plastic feeder.

It functions as designed. I've seen it in action for the past ninety-plus days. The squirrels' weight did indeed force the metal shell down so that its doors shut tight against the plastic-lined feeding holes on the interior tube.

And it still would be working if the squirrels had not gnawed away enough polyethylene to make the food portals larger than their covers, thereby allowing the sunflower seeds to tumble out and into the little rodents open mouths.

The furry felons also devoured a good chunk of the plastic at the top of the tube creating a lacuna several inches in diameter. That’s large enough for a hungry rodent head to be inserted, but only when the protective metalwork that normally covers this area, is lowered -- e.g. when a squirrel is on-board.

The effort to create this opening is akin to that of a convict digging his way, inch by inch, through the floor of his prison cell -- months of tedious labor with absolutely no immediate payback or guarantee of success.

Akin to but not identical because, based on evidence presented by the nibbled plastic wheels on my Weber barbecue grill, squirrels do seem to get a good deal of pleasure out of mundane meaningless masticating.

Two break-ins. Each heist requiring, if not forethought and planning, then at least the ability to quickly recognize a new opportunity and take advantage of it. (Brilliant tacticians or instinct-driven, blind luck opportunists?)

Either characterization leads me to believe that the term "squirrel proof" has a different meaning for squirrels than it does to us humans.

To them it is a rite of passage they must complete as "proof" of their squirrel-ness.

To us it’s just an oxymoron at which we pointlessly throw away our money.

(Click on the following links to read Part I and Part II of the adventures of our new feeders.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Viva le Pea Party!

"The last thing we need is a platform or manifesto. This party is about anger, blame and raging paranoia." ("Bunkerbuster" at

"Bunkerbuster" is right on. We don't need no manifesto. We don't need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teachers leave them kids alone.

Instead we should follow with fervor the standard for unreasonableness set on that cold winter morning when the founding members of the Mens Garden Club of Wethersfield filled the waters of the towne cove with thousands of small, green, spherical legumes - in the great Wethersfield Pea Party.

They were mad as hell and not going to take this anymore.

"This" was of course the selection of our official town emblem.

There were just two candidates - the "Wethersfield Red Onion" versus the "Mister Big" Large Pod Pea. Both vegetables had their own set of loyalists. And town members of all ages and genders aligned themselves fiercely with their favorite contender - berating and maligning the opposition crop and its supporters with even more fervor than they devoted to extolling the virtues of their own nominee.

The onion was the fave of the fawning Francophile followers of that effete French nobleman Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur count de Rochambeau, who several years later, would visit our fair city to plot military strategy with General George Washington.

The Mens Garden Club threw their backing to "Mr. Big". There were several reasons for this choice, such as the pea's shorter germination time and innate disease resistance. But the main one was expressed perfectly by the organization's campaign slogan, "Mister Big - Because That's Just The Way We Are!"

The opposition countered with their own series of catchphrases, the most famous of which of course was: "Mister Big! Ha! In Your Dreams!"

The Men's Garden Club had published its first "Horticultural Hunks" calendar that year. Unfortunately for the plantsmen some of the un-retouched original illustrations, which had been posed for in unusually cold winter weather, found their way into the public market. They had nothing that could stand up to the belittling counter claim of the Onion supporters.

As a result, the pungent tasting edible bulb was victorious. And for almost three hundred years the anger over that bitter defeat has simmered just under the surface of the otherwise placid demeanor of the gentlemen of the club.

In addition to the original "Pea Party Revolt" held in 1772, just one year before the idea was stolen by a bunch of tea-sipping Bostonians, there have been several other efforts over the year to bring the issue before the public. With each failure - and each attempt was an utter failure - the decibel level of the whining has increased incrementally.

For example, in 1900 the club endowed the first Nobel Peas Prize. But, like the aforementioned act of water-based vegetative rebellion, this idea was also hijacked - this time by a horde of Norwegian peace mongers - before the membership could agree on its initial honoree.

And in the 1960's the club issued its professionally produced recording of "All we are saying is give peas a chance. All we are saying is give peas a chance." But, as usual, nobody did.

You people just don't seem to get it! So listen up! Here is the real story.

The word "onion" comes from the Middle English "unyun", which in turn comes (of course) from the French "oignon", ultimately deriving from the Latin "unio", meaning one or unity.

Does that sound like socialism or what? Is it just coincidence that the enemy is a "RED" onion? I don't think so. Plus it is French.

Would not a well-endowed green legume make a much more memorable souvenir of our all-American village?

Picture this. Roadside stands set up on all of the entrances into town, manned by loyal and patriotic volunteers. Colonial pottery bowls filled with handpicked and hand-polished exemplars of "Mister Big", free for the taking.

And our new town motto: "It is a long drive from New York to Boston. Why not stop in Wethersfield and take a pea!"

In the words of Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry, "It is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of [Wethersfield]! The war is inevitable; and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come! Give me liberty. Or give me death!"

Wait a minute. Death? The end of life! Most importantly my life! All over some dumb little green legume. Maybe I am being a little overzealous.

Besides, all that planning, organizing, supervising and (worst of all) then actually doing something just really seems like an awful lot of work to me. And when it's all done you just know someone is going to complain about it.

Instead I'm going back to my own private bunker where I can hunker down with a cheap cigar and an ice-cold six-pack - and bitch with the impunity that is granted to irate ignorance.

"Viva le Pea Party!" (Oops, my bad.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

67/M, 8, The jacket blurbs are right.

When I first saw the small white piece of paper inside the pages of my library book I thought that it was a haiku.

(click photo to enlarge)

It wasn't, even though it had the correct number of syllables (if you leave out the "&" in the last line which actually may be a "-" and therefore not counted anyway).

According to its jacket blurbs "Lush Life" seems like the type of work that might interest someone who pens poetic poesy on paper slips. It attracted me, even though I thought that this opus was "just" a mystery story when I took it out of the library.

I had heard about it on a local public radio program, so I probably should have known that it had higher aspirations. But I didn't read the book cover publicity notices until after I had come upon the 2 1/2" by 4" hand-written document inside.

When I did, I discovered that it was actually a "high and deep...slice of life" (Michael Chabon) by "the greatest writer of dialogue, living or dead" (Dennis Lehare). The front jacket even had a quote from Michiko Kakutani, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the New York Times. Pulitzer laureates (and NPR book reviewers) don't waste their time on schlock.

But I wanted a mystery story. So I decided to investigate the writer of the note.

In addition to my due date there were two other month-day-year notations stamped in the book -- "June 13, 2009" (the acquisition date) and another due date of "AUG 27 2009". The author of the note was also the only other person to have taken out this book.

But the reader evaluation form on the front endpaper told me nothing about the other reader's age, gender, rating (1-10) or comments-- only the first two of which I actually cared about.

This was not surprising. At this library the books normally contain more due dates than evaluations I rarely put them there myself. In our town we library patrons prefer to play our reading preferences close to the vest.

The note itself did not offer much more information.

I checked the Internet (an inexact source) for handwriting analysis (an inexact science) and found some penmanship that looked similar." Most people would probably say this was 'feminine' because so many letters are rounded, but there is some irregularity that might make people guess" wrote the online graphology expert. In other words it could be male or female.

The subject matter was automotive -- and much more arcane than my minimal knowledge of motor vehicles. The author of the note could be an auto-expert or merely a transcriber of the words that he or she heard from one of them.

Either way the safety situation sounds pretty grim -- more akin to the lyric of a country-western song than the theme of a haiku. I hope that the note's author got home safely after returning the book. But who knows?

"One slice of life mystery, tucked inside another one." (Jim Meehan)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

The Scottish poet Robert Burns has written, "The best laid plans of mice and men, Go often askew." He says that as if it were a bad thing.

Take our Butterfly Garden for example.

When Mars and I bought our house thirty-three years ago that particular spot contained a portion of the low growing, non-flowering, non-identical, green leaved bushes that, formed a border between two other sections of our lawn area.

Then, soon after she came to live with us, this undergrowth became the favorite hot weather, resting spot of Nicole Marie, our Labrador Retriever/Irish Setter mix. At fifty-five pounds "Nic" was able to fit comfortably into the indented area she had created for herself in the cool soil beneath the low hanging branches. She would coil her body into a ball, sigh loudly, bury her nose into the earth, and relax -- while I went about my various gardening chores in that part of the yard. It was her way of helping.

At that time all of our floral gardening was done with annuals. One spring we bought too many of the one-year-wonders and had a few extra plants that were looking for a home. After studiously observing Nic's wear-pattern in the dirt we decided to surround the depression with some shade tolerant Impatiens, hoping to add a little color to the picture of the black dog lying on the brown background.

After that it officially became "Nicole's Garden".

The dog herself immediately accepted the pink, red and white bedding plants and worked carefully to position her body so as to inflict minimal damage when she settled in. Still, in spite of her carefulness, she frequently emerged from the nesting area with several small petals affixed to her short, inky fur -- which she promptly retuned to their earthly home with one enormous, cascading shake of her torso.

The spring after Nicole died Mars and I still planted her garden. But by mid-summer we knew that we needed to do something different with the area. We decided to put in a butterfly garden.

"Decided" actually makes it sound as if we discussed the pros and cons, analyzed what was needed, and determined the best possible way to convert the land its new purpose.

In reality, our son Bram sent us a butterfly house -- an overnight stopping place for migrant Lepidoptera -- but not, we discovered when we researched the subject, an attractant for the colorful insects. For that you need the right flowers.

So one of us said, "Why don't we get rid of some of these bushes?" And the other one of us -- the one who will agree to do pretty much anything that involves digging ferociously in the earth -- said, "Sure".

An hour later several woody plants and their deep-running roots were piled on the grass. I was sitting next to them -- drenched with sweat, marked with scratches, covered in dirt -- and happy.

Mars and I both had careers in Information Technology. So we realized how difficult it was for someone who wanted a custom made computer system to tell a designer, at a sufficient level of detail, what he or she actually wanted their system to do. We would have been like those neophyte "end users" going to see a horticultural technologist. And the resulting garden would have had more "bugs" than blossoms.

So we opted for an "off-the-shelf" garden. That is to say, we showed up at our local nursery, said the words "Butterfly Garden", and all of the necessary plants showed up in our shopping cart.

Chinese buddleias (butterfly bushes), coneflowers, balloon flowers and a wispy white prairie perennial that survived the hostile plains weather by swaying in the wind (something the nurseryman acted out for us with his sun-tanned arms) suddenly appeared in our little red wagon. We planted them. They grew.

A friend also gave me some "butterfly-attracting" Cardinal plants. We put them in too. They were instead "False Dragonheads", a mint-family land-grabber that, to this day, muscles its way into any available space. They flourished. And the bees and dragonflies seemed to like them. In addition we scored a few daisies that we also added to the mix. In the end, scores of colorful, four-winged insects, and a couple of hummingbirds, visited. The system worked. Life was good.

But some of the plants did not return the next year -- most notably the diaphanous balloon flower whose designated place was taken over by several of its more aggressive brethren. The Chinese Buddleia also died. Others might think that an omen. Mars and I simply planted another. And we replaced it again the following annum. Then we gave up on it.

Still we didn't stop adding other perennials to the garden -- including a ground-hugging Lady's Mantle, some real Cardinal plants, as well as a towering yellow Tansy transplant -- all unsolicited but welcome gifts needing a good home. Other flowers, not all of them nectar suppliers, have also come and gone over the years. The (at first glance) crowded garden always seems to have room for one more something.

Although neither the eponymous house nor any of the flowers from the original design remain Mars and I still refer to this plot as the Butterfly Garden -- and it does indeed attract them.

But now I am thinking that it rightfully should once again be called by its original canine-themed honorific. Nicole was after all the one with the first plan for the flower patch. And she was the one who willingly modified that blueprint in order to add a little color and texture to the scene.

The best plans, and the best planners, are adaptable.