Monday, October 24, 2011

Badge of Honor

For fencers (of the sword fighting type) the traditional badge of honor is the “dueling scar”. For gardeners (of the do-it-by hand type) our mark of merit is the “raking blister”.
I know a little bit about dueling scars because our son Bram is a fencer. He began taking lessons from a series of local college students in his early teens. Knowing nothing about the sport he and I went to a match in which his very first tutor, Dom, was competing. He was fencing sabre. (There are three types of fencing “swords” – the other two being foil and epee). In sabre fencing the target area (the part of your opponents body that you can touch in order to score a point) is everything from the waist up – including the head. During Dom’s first bout, his opponent lunged and stuck his weapon through Dom’s mesh facemask. It did not cause a dueling scar, but I got the concept.

Unlike dueling scars which (a) were actually sought after by upper-class Austrians and Germans involved in academic fencing at the start of the 20th century and (b) are permanent – raking blisters are both unwanted and temporary. No matter how much gardening work I do during the spring and summer, I never (in all of those activities) press enough tools against the base of my thumb to develop a callus.

As a result, even with thick leather gloves, after about forty-five minutes of drawing and dragging leaves across my front yard the wooden handle of my large plastic rake has generated a small but painful bubble on my right hand. I take a break and put on a bandage which will stay there until I complete the remaining thirty minutes of yard-cleaning later that day.

In the interim I will proudly and publicly display my gauze-covered wound and look for the knowing smiles of other similarly tourniquet clad brothers of the rake.

Meanwhile, in Santa Fe New Mexico, our son the fencer will blow the leaves off of his crushed stone front lawn – raking not being an option on that surface.

It’s too bad that he doesn’t have that choice. Everyone deserves their own badge of honor, and I would much rather see him with a bump on his hand than a scar on his cheek.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Mars and I were Philosophy majors in college – 2/3 of the ones in our graduating class in fact. So to our minds the “dream argument” is not that strange a thing to think about. This argument (also known as "Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly" (莊周夢蝶 Zhuāngzhōu mèng dié)) claims that we have no way of determining conclusively at any moment whether or not we are dreaming. Hence, it is possible at any given time that we are dreaming.

But even if I had not had this kind of formal training, what happened to me early this morning still would have made me wonder what was really going on.

At 4:00 a.m. I dreamt that I was verbally roused by Mars (“Hey Jim!”) from a dream in which our Financial Advisor Chris was encouraging me to lie down in a human body sized plastic “Relaxation Egg Bed” that was located in his office and intended to bring his clients to a state of calmness. I was there because a former work associate (Sandy) had asked me, in an earlier nighttime vision, who managed our investments.

When I looked over at her, Mars was deep in hibernation.

Unnerved by this abrupt awakening – even though I know knew it was all imaginary. I rolled onto my side thinking “I am not getting back to sleep” – until I opened my eyes and saw 6:16 a.m. on the clock. At which point I realized that the last two hours of perceived wakefulness was most likely just another REM fantasy preceded by a dream that at 4:00 a.m. I dreamt that I was roused by Mars.

Or not.

{4:00a.m. {“Hey {Egg {Sandy} Bed} Jim”} 6:16 a.m.}

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Batatas Gone Wild

By far the most successful plant in our gardens this year is the ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) that Mars potted and placed near the edge of our family room flowerbed. This is particularly apparent now, in early autumn, as the maroon elephant ear foliage pushes aside the previously dominant orange Chinese Lanterns.

Their roots may be bound
in soil and pink bisque pots --
vines still get around.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Monarch on the Aster Redux

I wrote the following haiku piece week.

"Yesterday I was startled by a vividly colored Monarch butterfly feeding at our equally intense Autumn Aster. But it wasn’t the sudden proximity of a large-winged insect that jolted me. It was instead the jarring juxtaposition of coloration.

"Little did I realize that I was witnessing what haute couture critics are calling, 'Fashion's coolest clash…

"'Thanks to Gucci and Diane von Furstenberg – Kim Kardashian, Cheryl Cole and Jessica Alba have all been rocking the look on the red carpet in recent weeks.'”

The Monarch on the Aster

Orange on purple –
is it real color blocking
if it’s natural?

At that time I was unaware that “color blocking” was much, much more than simply combining violently clashing hues. And that butterflies actually CAN see in color. Apparently everyone and everything involved really know what they are doing.

“Color blocking is a styling technique that hasn’t quite been picked up by the masses. It involves some knowledge of the color wheel and a bit of bravery. The main idea is combining different colors that support and compliment each other.”

Most of us are familiar with the Color Wheel from some introductory Art class that we took way back when. There are the primary colors – red, blue and yellow; secondary colors– green, orange and purple – which result from the combination of primary ones; and tertiary colors that are the products of yet further mixing.
Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors are directly opposite one another. Either of these categories of colors are good combinations.

The purple/orange combo exhibited above by Kim Kardashian, Cheryl Cole or Jessica Alba (or whoever that is), and by the monarch butterfly on the aster are both pretty darn close to the complementary color guideline.

So apparently Gucci and Diane von Furstenberg were not totally tripping on some manmade substance when they pushed their color clashing mannequins onto the red carpet. As are the FedEx corporation and the Memphis University Tigers. Although I might question MU’s choice of mascot. Maybe even the orange and black Danaus plexippus knew what it was doing.

Butterflies it seems can see the entire range of colors that humans can – plus they see ultraviolet colors – colors with wavelengths shorter than that of violet, well beyond the wavelengths that we humans can see – with a correspondingly more complex wheel. It is at least one of the methods they use to tell them where the nectar is.

This is similar to the superior sense of smell that dogs have relative to us humans. Canines have about 25 times more olfactory receptors than humans and, as a result, can detect odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans can. For example a dog can detect one drop of blood diluted by five quarts of water.

When conducting searches we people have learned to trust the snout of the bloodhound more than the sight of even the most skilled humanoid tracker. So I guess if the apparent clash of orange on purple is okay with the butterflies – then it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


It’s early October. Our son, Bram, in New Mexico tells us that the Aspen there are changing color. Meanwhile, here in Wethersfield Connecticut....

Our neighbor’s Maple

is turning. Nothing else is.
Autumn is Mike’s tree.