Monday, December 31, 2012

And isn't it.. don't you think

As we have for the past several years, Mars and I again spent Christmas visiting with Bram, Monica and Cheyenne (son, daughter-in-law, and rescued greyhound grand-dog), in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"Santa Fe (English pronunciation: /?sænt??fe?/; (Tewa: Ogha Po'oge, Navajo: Yootó)) is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico.  Santa Fe (literally “holy faith” in Spanish) had a population of 67,947 in the 2010 census.  The city’s full name when founded was La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís (“The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi”)." (Wikipedia)

You might think that a town with this etymology in its past would be intensely Catholic and vigorously pro-animal.  And you would be at least partially right.  The religious icons and characters of the largest Christian church are firmly imbedded in the works of art and crafts that fill the museums and emporiums that proliferate in the “city different”

Although not “churchy people”, one of our regular stops is The Monks' Corner Gift Shop. The store supports the work of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert; a Benedictine community of more than thirty members located in Abiquiu, New Mexico -- about one hour away. Among its merchandise are religious themed items such as: a pictorial calendar of Russian church icons and various straw or silver crosses; useful theological objects like rosary beads and liturgical stoles; and plain old secular jewelry.

A couple of years ago Mars mentioned that the goods in the Monk’s Corner aren't that different from other gift shops in Santa Fe, which also feature Virgin of Guadalupe and other saintly images. To which Bram responded, "But at the Monk’s Corner they aren't ironic."
These sacred objects, ensconced in secular surroundings and created with temporal goals in mind, now convey a meaning exactly opposite from their original literal meaning.  Yet, paradoxically, many purchasers and admirers seem to experience an odd, earthly spiritual aura not found in other nonreligious artwork. 
Still, The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, aka Saint Francis Cathedral, is a dominant part of downtown Santa Fe.


"The cathedral was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an older adobe church, La Parroquia (built in 1714–1717). An older church on the same site, built in 1626, was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The new cathedral was built around La Parroquia, which was dismantled once the new construction was complete. A small chapel on the north side of the cathedral was kept from the old church." (Wikipedia)
It is the mother church of the Diocese of Santa Fe and the building upon whose grounds I found the following sign.

I showed the photo to Bram who immediately recognized the location – and the incongruity
“That's at, of all places, St. Francis, isn't it?”
Santa Fe is probably the most canine-friendly town Mars and I (non-owning dog lovers) have ever been in.  Hounds are welcomed in hotels, retail establishments and restaurants throughout town.  Cheyenne herself has joined the four of us out for lunch numerous times.
Pet advocate websites such as the gopetfriendly blog and extol the town’s openness to including man’s best friend into every part of its daily lifestyle.

Apropos of that pup-friendliness, just a few blocks from The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and its exclusionary signage is this statue of the eponymous holy man himself deep in conversation with a native New Mexican Prairie Dog.

And although Genus Cynomys, family Sciuridae is technically more squirrel than Canis Canidae – the point remains.
According to Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M. of the monastic order based upon the principals of Saint Francis:
"[Every year in early autumn] at Franciscan churches, a friar with brown robe and white cord often welcomes each animal with a special prayer. The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this:
'Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.'”
My initial response to Bram (modified to fit into haiku form after he recognized its potential) had been:

Saint Francis was, I
believe, ambivalent on
household animals.
Clearly, according to those who are seriously attempting to live their lives in accordance with the beliefs and practices of the patron saint of animals, my initial (somewhat flippant) answer was incorrect.
Perhaps however the sign-making clergy at The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi are not in fact Franciscan Monks and therefore not adherents to the nature-loving lifestyle of the gentle Italian friar and preacher. 
Or perhaps, if they are O.F.M.s, in their new postmodern seminary they now take vows of Poverty, Celibacy – and Irony.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Crows Are Back n Town, And This Time They're Organized

It is early December and the crows are back in town.

They pass through our neighborhood here in Wethersfield, CT each year around this time on their way southward from northern New England in their search for a warmer place to spend the winter season. Since their arrival the temperature has been between forty and sixty degrees – evidently comfortable enough for them to chill here for a while. Eventually they will leave.

 In previous visits they would stalk our yard in groups of ten or more looting the acorns that our squirrels thought they had securely hidden in the front lawn. This year they are hanging around the sunflower seed feeders that we set out for the local bird population and (truth be told) for the tree rodents as well. The crows are too large to dine directly at the dangling eateries so they scavenge the ground beneath them for cast offs and partially eaten shards.

They also have taken an interest in our one certified, honest-to-God squirrel feeder. It is located on the trunk of one of our oak trees, screwed into the bark about five feet off the ground and takes the form of a downsized picnic table (complete with seats). A screw extends upwards from the tabletop onto which I twist one of the corncobs that I purchase, by the bagful, at my local nursery. The squirrels then scramble up (or down) the oak and sit Buddha-like on one of the side benches gnawing away at the yellow kernels.

Being somewhat wasteful eaters the tree-rats scatter a good portion of the uncooked vegetable onto the ground around them. The crows apparently have caught on to this additional source of free food and gather like worshipful supplicants under the maize altar awaiting alms.

Or at least they did for the first couple of weeks. Then the other day Mars and I noticed that one of the large black Corvus Corvidae had placed itself atop the pinewood eatery and was pecking methodically and (we assumed) greedily at the rapidly diminishing cob. But upon further observation we both concluded that what we were witnessing was not (totally) avarice but rather altruism, or at least joint action, as the pecking crow seemed to be deliberately tossing kernels to its fellow ebony avians below. In fact in the short time that we watched this lesson in cooperation we actually didn’t see it keep anything for itself. And, after a few minutes, another corvine cohort took its place and the former philanthrope became a willing beneficiary.

Unfortunately this excellent example of cooperation and/or charity has not caught on with our other feathered and furred mendicants – all of who seem to approach eating as if they are in a true state of nature rather than a gustatory Garden of Eden.

 It’s a sad, sad world when the best role models turn out to be a gang of hit-and-run, black-clad jackdaw intruders instead of the colorful, cuddly yard-pets for whom we provide room and board in exchange for entertainment and edification.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Think Phonetically

Signs of the Season, Signs of the Times

Deflated Santa –
Deserted house in probate –
No |e(ə)r| apparent.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Scanning the Headlines...

--> the Super Market Scandal Sheets

“Seeing Eye Squirrels”
“Kirsti’s twisted, sick, tell-all”
Life in the Trash Lane.

(full disclosue - the first line actually read "Seeing Eye Squirrels for Blind Dogs")

Friday, November 23, 2012

Twenty Signs

One of these is an actual apocryphal augury (and fits neatly into the first line of a haiku).  The other is really hard to do with cloven hooves – even four of them.

Pigs gathering sticks,
Installing generators –
Hard winter coming!

20 Signs of A Hard Winter. (according to the Farmer’s Almanac)
Thicker than normal corn husks
Woodpeckers sharing a tree
Early arrival of the Snowy owl
Early departure of geese and ducks
Early migration of the Monarch butterfly
Thick hair on the nape (back) of the cow’s neck
Heavy and numerous fogs during August
Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands
Mice eating ravenously into the home
Early arrival of crickets on the hearth
Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers

Pigs gathering sticks
Insects marching a bee line rather than meandering
Early seclusion of bees within the hive
Unusual abundance of acorns
Muskrats burrowing holes high on the river hank
“See how high the hornet’s nest, ‘twill tell how high the snow will rest”
Narrow orange band in the middle of the Woollybear caterpillar warns of heavy snow; fat

and fuzzy caterpillars presage bitter cold
The squirrel gathers nuts early to fortify against a hard winter
Frequent halos or rings around sun or moon forecast numerous snow falls.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Older I Get...

When I was a kid in the 1950s my first bicycle came from the guys that I hung out with at the bar.
It was a Columbia – one speed, balloon tires, with a turquoise colored tank containing a push button horn over the top bar.  And technically my bar buddies didn’t actually give it to me.  Instead, with my father’s encouragement, they voted for me at $1.00 per vote with their purchases –mostly cigarettes – at the drug store just down the street from the saloon.  The bike was first prize, and I actually didn’t want it.  I was hoping for the runner-up prize, which was a leather fringed cowboy jacket.  I was after all probably only eight or ten years old and my consumer judgment wasn’t all that developed.
The drinking establishment – The “Parkway” on Park Street in New Britain, Connecticut – was the first of many that my father took me to over the next several years.  We went mostly on Saturdays and Sundays – occasionally spending the afternoon there and then going home to collect my mother and bring her to the restaurant part of the tavern in back for dinner.  I am an only child.  And I liked the feeling of having this special “guy place” to which we could, on special occasions, bring my mother. But when it was just the two of us, Dad and I always sat up front in the barroom itself.
I of course was not allowed (by law) to actually sit “at the bar”.  Instead I was ensconced in one of the several booths that separated the actual watering hole from entrance.  I think these leather stalls were intended for female customers who also at that time were not permitted access to the alcohol altar – but I can’t remember ever seeing anyone other than me ever occupy them. My father sat on a stool with the other men drinking rye and gingers, playing cribbage, and winning arguments on the merits of the New York Yankees, the Democratic party (especially Harry Truman) and labor unions – while I downed several cokes and bags of Wise potato chips several feet away.  The grease and salt from my hands and lips would coat the glass like a dog’s nose on an automobile window.
The Parkway was owned and run by two Italian brothers, Sam and Tony – the former tall and slim, the latter the opposite in both ways.  With not much else to do – I don’t remember this bar as having a television – I mostly watched the two proprietors go about their daily business which seemed to consist almost entirely of wiping down the wooden surface of the bar and being available to pour another one.  This was fine with me – a quiet, if not anti-social at most an a-social child – I found the thoughts inside my head more interesting than the fears and challenges of interacting with the outside world.  Both of the Parkway brothers wore freshly starched and ironed white dress shirts with the top button open and both sleeves rolled up twice to reveal enough of a glimpse of their large wrists to be impressive.  This dress code and work ethic turned out to be universal among the various bartenders that served me cokes over the early part of my formative years.  I aspired to that look but my forearms never acquired the girth to pull it off.
 All of the men smoked cigarettes – my father’s choice was unfiltered Camels – and sometimes on weekends we would wander down the street to some form of mini-arena with balcony seating where we would watch semi-professional basketball games.  (The teams were sponsored by local business and the players were former high school or college jocks who received a small stipend for playing.)   Cigarette smoke would rise from the fan base in the upper tier and eventually settle down onto the court to mix with the smell of sweat.  At halftime we would return to the bar for a quick break.
Then one evening my father, who stopped at the Parkway daily on his way home from work at a Tool Manufacturing Factory in a neighboring town, announced that Sam and Tony had “forgotten where they came from” (or something similar) – and we never went back there again.
But almost immediately we became regulars at the “Blue Danube” – slightly out of town but on my father’s route from work.  A new place with the same crowd but different people.
Sunday mornings were my favorite time at our latest haunt.  After nine o’clock mass (to which my mother never went) Dad and I would head to the Blue Danube.  I think bars were not allowed to serve alcohol before noon but nonetheless rye-and-ginger somehow appeared.  My father was a very good cribbage player – to the extent that he was monetarily “backed” by other lesser players and split the winnings.  In this case the “bank” was the bar’s owner who had nicknamed himself ‘King”.  The Sunday morning games seemed more serious (i.e. higher stakes) than those at the Parkway.  But that wasn’t what was special about that time and place to me.  It was the shrimp cocktails, which replaced the bags of Wise potato chips as my principal form of entertainment.  Again from time to time we left to get my mother and bring her here to our place for Sunday dinner in the back room.
I think “King’ got into some kind of financial trouble because suddenly we were hanging out at another out-of-town but on-the-way-home-from-work taproom called “The Hedges”.  And now my father was picking me up after school and bringing me there on some weekdays as well as Saturday and Sunday.
There were no shrimp cocktails here so I was back to chips.  But there was a bowling machine and – even though legally I was not supposed to use it because of its physical location.  In fact the bar’s operators knew when the “Liquor Inspectors” (or whatever) were paying them a visit and during those times I was confined to my booth.  Most of the time however I would monopolize the device for hours at a time perfecting my carom shots and seven-ten splits, occasionally taking on, and beating just about anyone in the house.  They had a tournament for two-person teams and I partnered with the fiancé of one of the owner’s three sons who likewise spent a lot of time on the machine.  We swept the competition.  And my father, who encouraged me as well as feeding me quarters, couldn’t stop talking about it – even outside of the tavern.
The father-owner died and I think there was some inheritance fall-out because dad and I were now patronizing “The Chatterbox” in our immediate neighborhood.  The two owners each had nicknames.  “Doc”, a former high school basketball star and “Chink” an extremely non-Asian looking Italian the origin of whose sobriquet was never made clear.
It was the familiar storyline with different actors but sausage grinders instead of shrimp, and pinballs in lieu of bowling machines.  And they, again illegally as I recall, paid prize money.  I was no wizard but I usually came out ahead in the profit-loss ratio.  And my father stood by me as I played and kept feeding me coins.  Dad’s factory went on strike during our Chatterbox phase, so I probably put in more hours per week there than any other place.  They even let me sit and eat at the bar occasionally.  Fortunately I was hidden deep in a booth one day when Doc’s daughter, with whom I turned out to be in Junior High School, dropped in to see her dad.  She didn’t say hi so maybe she didn’t see me.  Or maybe she was as uncomfortable as I was in the situation.
My father’s and my last stomping ground was “Teresa’s” – a pizza and Italian cuisine restaurant and bar just up the street from the Chatterbox.  I don’t know why we moved, but suddenly one day we were just there.  Largely “same old, same old” but: (1) Teresa’s had an above-the-bar television on which I watched, among other things, the classic movie “High Noon” standing just barely outside the legal bar area in order to see over the heads of the disinterested stool sitters, and (2) a shuffle board table.
The elevated playing surface was probably twenty or more feet long with gutters on each side that allowed a player to slide their fingers along the side to help align their shots.  (Not everyone did that, but it was my preferred technique and one I picked up by observing one of the better players style.)  Controlling the speed and placement of a metal disk over a twenty-foot distance is an immense ego-boost at any age, but particularly as a wannabe man among men. 
Like the bowling machine I had a virtual monopoly on the board – playing solo much of the time and contending with my fellow barflies on occasion.  Unlike all our previous haunts, the crowd at Teresa’s included a good portion of twenty to thirty year old men and they provided most of the competition.  There were no tournaments – but I think that I won more than I lost.
Frequently my father would play doubles with me or against be in singles.  Maybe he realized our time together in bars was nearing an end.  In any event, it was good.
I entered high school and wanted to participate in more life outside the cave.  By my junior year I had stopped going.  My father remained a regular frequenter of Teresa’s – normally driving there every night after dinner while I worked on my homework.  In my senior year he died at work of a cerebral hemorrhage.   That night he and my mother were going to come see me play basketball for my high school team.  My now widowed mother and I continued to get pizzas at Teresa’s and through college – the first two years of which I commuted to from home – I would visit Teresa’s back room with my male friends or a date for soda and pizza.  But even when I became “legally of age” I never sat at the bar.  In fact I can only think of two times in my adult life when I sat at any bar – and both of them were years before I had a son of my own.
 This whole set of memories was set off by an interview I heard the other day on NPR’s “Terry Gross - Fresh Air” program with J.R. Moehringer – author of a memoir “The Tender Bar”.  Abandoned as a young boy by his disk jockey father and in need of a male influences – with his mother’s encouragement and choreographing – young Moehringer hung out incessantly at his uncle’s bar – "Long before it legally served me, the bar saved me" – providing him with role models and an entry way in to the mysterious business of being a man.
In spite of how it might appear Moehringer said that the hours he spent with his bar buddy/surrogate fathers was a happy time.  And, other than occasional moments of boredom, mine were also.  
His adult bar family seemed to have consciously adopted the male-mentor, father-figure role while the men at the series of bars at which I habituated were more of the slightly distant uncle type – seemingly glad to have me around, occasionally interacting, friendly enough – profane (but cursing then was levels below what has now become common language) – and frequently really, really funny. 
Still I’m not sure why my father did it.  He never talked about it and by the time in life that I wondered about it, he wasn’t around to ask.  I chose never to ask mother about it.  I’m guessing he had a similar motive to Moehringer’s mom – men teaching boys to be “a man”.  This was after all the world in which he chose to define much of himself to others and to me, but he never hyped this way of life being “the way” – perhaps it was intended as a show-not-tell life lesson.
Even after writing this, it’s a mystery to me.  But I don’t think that I suffered for it.  After all, how many of us ever get the chance – with the shuffleboard game on the line, in a noisy smoke-filled bar, and our father watching – to score the winning four-point “leaner”?
The older I get, the better I was.  


Saturday, November 10, 2012

(Partial) Real World Haiku

Sometimes Haiku poems write literally write themselves – or at least partially.  This morning I saw a hand-written sign at my health club.  I've thought about it for a while now – but I still don't totally comprehend what it means.

Please ask Cassandra
if you have any questions.
It's all Greek to me.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

thank youuuuuuuuuu!

(Photos by Mars)

Last month while watching a rerun episode of “The Closer” I learned that when a southern woman says, “thank youuuuuuuuuu!” (with the “u” sound rising and falling until it plummets cloyingly into a saccharine puddle at the speaker’s feet) she does not necessarily mean “thanks”  – and could in fact intend something incredibly snarky and (if I may) even unladylike.
For the past two weeks Mars and I have been vacationing in coastal North Carolina where we learned that other southern things might also not be exactly what you think they are.
We have been making this southward trek intermittently for the past thirty years or so – initially staying a potential retirement property near the inland waterway owned by a local friend and then, when his long-term plans changed, at a rental condo on Emerald Isle beach.  We have always gotten there by driving through the Delmarva Peninsula on a series of “blue highways” (such as routes 13 and 17) that pass through small rural towns.  When we first began our pilgrimages most of these roads were two lanes.  Now many of them are double that, or have bypasses, with a corresponding increase in speed limits – while still retaining the occasional speed traps.
The land alongside these thoroughfares is in use ninety percent of the time – mostly with housing; sometimes by small farms or businesses such as grain storage or "deer dressing"; and occasionally by “town centers” with mostly unlabeled shops that looked like they were abandoned a few days before they opened for business.  The speed through the centers of town is usually 35 mph and 45 – 55 mph in the residential. 
There apparently are no zoning regulations, so doublewide trailer homes sit next to square brick houses sit next to mini McMansions with landscaping among the three styles of abodes as might be expected.  Drainage ditches form the roadside boundary for most of these properties.
From time to time a person appears.  But this have never, ever happened in the part of Suffolk, Virginia that we have passed through on Route 13 for all these many years. All the outward signs of life are there – cars in the driveway or on the front lawn or on blocks; toys left in the yard; permanent tag sales; unattended lawn mowers – but no people.  At first it seemed a coincidence.  Then we began to joke that it must be a secret military installation intended either to fool an enemy terrorist or train us good guys.  Now we are convinced it is the “Area 51” of the Delmarva.
Now and then there are food stops – but not many and mostly not chains.

On Route 13 South
“Great Machipongo Crab Shack”
is haute cuisine.
It is a fourteen-hour drive and we spent the first night in Pocomoke City Md. – a small town with actual neighborhoods (once you get off Rte. 13) that lead to a small riverfront (The Pocomoke River) with a short nature walk through pines and oaks, and a restaurant with al fresco dining, local Maryland beer, and crab cakes made entirely with crab (not mostly filler like we northerners are used to).  The next morning it was back on the rural road again.
All of this changed in New Bern North Carolina where we chose to spend Friday night at a B&B before checking into our condo the next day.  New Bern (founded in 1710 by Swiss immigrants and named accordingly) was the state’s first capitol city (Tryon Palace Historical Site); the place where Pepsi Cola was invented (by Caleb Bradham in his pharmacy); was captured and occupied by Union forces until the end of the Civil War in 1865 (and thus left in tact unlike e.g. Atlanta); and now thanks the new retirement demographic is a small southern town with a northern accent (many belonging to “half-backs” who initially moved to Florida from the northeast and then 50% of the way back up the coast.)
After a king-size sleep (the first B), a gourmet omelet (the second) and a brief stroll through the down town area where a blessing of the animals coincidentally was happening we headed off to the beach.
One reason that we like the “off-season” at Emerald Isle is that it really is an “off season”.  Beaches are largely empty.  Golf courses are largely empty.  Stores and restaurants are largely empty.  Even the Columbus Day weekend with abnormally warm temperatures was largely empty.
We visited the Aquarium on the island and on its walking trail met a transplanted couple from New Jersey who told us that the brown, apparently lifeless plant clinging to an overhead pine was in fact a “Resurrection Fern” which would rise from the dead with lush green leaves when moist conditions returned.  They also showed us the “red patch bark lichen” (a phrase worthy of Zippy the Pinhead) that covered many of the tree trunks around us.
Each morning Mars and I walked the 1/4 mile to the newspaper machine to get our daily “News & Observer” – “It ain’t much but it’s the best that we got”, said the guy in front of us in line.  On our trek we were serenaded by the sounds of cardinals, robins, and other songbirds – none of which we ever saw.  Then we figured it out.

Sweet trill of nature
was nothing but Mockingbirds
messing with our heads.
We never did however ascertain the source of the sweet floral aromas that engulfed us every time we passed through the (to our northern eyes) non-fragrant landscape.  It definitely was not the prickly pear cactus – a New Mexican high desert favorite of ours that, for whatever reason, flourishes in the drippingly humid atmosphere of North Carolina.
I have to mention golf – for two reasons.  (1) Strangely we played better than normal (birdies, pars) on a course much more difficult (water, sand, distance) than the one we normally frequent – an ill-maintained public course in the middle of a heavily used urban public park (raucous picnics, dogs on the fairways, people fishing at the water hazards).  (2) Because of the proximity of the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Lejeune to our vacation golf course there is the frequent sound of gunfire in the background.  This did not bother us at all because of our training on our home course.
That’s about it.  Thanks for reading this.  No seriously, I’m a northern guy.  I really mean it - thank youuuuuuuuuu!

Monday, October 01, 2012

More Accidental Haiku

On CBS This Morning, this was correspondent John Miller's response to correspondent Nora O'Donnell's comment about the inequity depicted in a video of a scuffle between two businessmen competing for a taxi.  (The video has apparently been removed from the internet.)

In New York City
fair is the amount you pay
after a cab ride.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Now You See It

Thanks to our earlier encounter:

Pokeweed's everywhere
now that we know it exists.
That’s how our eyes work.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Let It Be

It started as a joke – influenced by a little laziness.  A volunteer “flower” (more likely a weed – a real one – not one of those cutesy “just plants growing in the wrong place” type of weed but an invasive, unwanted, ugly invader) appeared in the midst of my border-defining arborvitae.
 I could hear the voice of Paul McCartney singing in my head:
      “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
      There will be an answer, let it be.”
So I did. 
 It had the large, floppy, green leaves of perhaps a skunk cabbage (not desirable but okay) or perhaps (in my dreams) rhubarb.  I could already taste the bittersweet sauce to be harvested. 
 It was neither.
It grew taller and taller – each level like the one below with three or four long-stemmed, elephant eared leaves.  Walkers passing by our property stopped to talk and express if not admiration at least curiosity.  At around eight feet tall, golf ball-sized, purple hued thistles showed up at the ends of the branches.
And small animals in our hometown began to disappear.
Initially I didn’t make the connection.  Then I remembered the movie “Little Shop of Horrors” about Seymour a hapless florist shop worker who raises a plant (“Audrey II) that starts out sweet and innocent but quickly morphs into a genormous carnivore that feeds on human flesh and blood.
Marsha and I don’t have any pets in the normal sense of the word – but we do feel a certain responsibility for the birds, squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks that pass through our habitat.  I took a rough count and thought that the population looked a little depleted.
It seemed a little silly but then again, why take any chances?  It is almost autumn, and we have already gotten more enjoyment this year out of the thistle than from any of our planned plantings.  It’s all horticulturally downhill from here.
I armed myself with my Japanese pruning saw and waded into the surrounding cedar brush.  There was a brief struggle and I thought that I heard a plaintive moan as I severed the two-inch stalk from its firmly imbedded root.  My tee shirt was littered with prickly balls, including two that found their way onto the inside and poked into my flesh as I bent down to dismember my fallen foe.
As I stood over my opponent’s corpse I felt a wave of pride and relief.   Then I remembered the ending of the movie wherein Audrey II is similarly destroyed.  (Actually it was immolated, but our town doesn’t allow such things.)  The camera focuses on a distant part of Seymour’s lawn where a miniature Audrey III with a big S.E.G. is popping up through the soil.
 I probably should do something about that remaining root.   On the other hand some of the neighborhood cats can be really annoying.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

One man's weed is another man's treasure!

Okay.  So the second major success of my 2012 gardening season turns out to be another weed.  This is not a good sign for an avocational plantsman.  I don’t have a “day job” to not quit.
You may or may not remember my first horticultural triumph of the year – the man-eatingthistle that appeared amidst the arborvitae that fringe the south end of our property.  Truthfully the major attraction of that plant was its ever-increasing growth pattern – morphing in just a few months from a midget wrestler to Andre the Giant.  The blue, Velcro-like spheres at the end of its branches just made it that much weirder.
 But now there is an even more glamorous and deadlier looking volunteer in the former shade garden at the other end of the same southern border.  (That flowerbed was previously in heavy shade (25 hours/day) but now is unrelenting sun due to the removal of the four trees that prevented any form of radiation penetrating the area.)  Knowing how little I knew about what I was looking at I quickly photographed it and sent it out to my circle of fellow amateur hoers and growers for identification and advice.

The answers flew in faster than weeds sprouting in fertile soil.  “Pokeweed”,  “Pokeweed”, “Pokeweed”, and one “Bad stuff.  Gets huge and can take over an area.”
One of these early responders went on to say, “At Bram and Monica's [our son and daughter-in-law’s] wedding reception, the very creative flower arranger used pokeweed, with those beautiful purple berries, plus some other stuff, including something that reminded me a little of lunaria, altho it was different and someone mentioned that it was an invasive weed. Gorgeous arrangements.
“And there is one house in my neighborhood with a tall shrub of pokeweed that is beautiful -- I think the gardener in that family must have arborized the plant.
“One man's weed is another man's treasure!”
And another wrote, “I think the birds drop the seeds because it pops up everywhere.”
Now that I knew what my mystery plant was called I could look on the internet for more info.  It was all there – except for the part about the wedding flower arrangement – and much more.
In the southern United States, for example, Pokeweed is a commonly eaten “green”.
“This recipe [from] is a must for anyone using pokeweed. It makes the plant safe and delicious.
"8 cups young pokeweed leaves and stems of plants up to 8 inches tall, collected only in springtime, and without any pieces of the toxic taproot, coarsely-chopped

      1 large pot of rapidly boiling water
      1 medium pot of rapidly boiling water, 2 tbs. olive oil, 4 cloves garlic, chopped, 1/4 cup wine vinegar, 2 tsp. tamari soy sauce
      1. Boil the pokeweed in the medium pot of rapidly boiling water 1 minute over high heat.
      2. Drain in a colander.
      3. Return the pokeweed to pot with more boiling water from the large pot and boil another minute.
      4. Drain and change the water again, and boil another 15 minutes
      5. Drain again, pressing the pokeweed against the colander with a slotted spoon to press out as much water as possible.
      6. Meanwhile, if desired, gently sauté the garlic in olive oil 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned, and stir the oil, garlic, tamari, and vinegar into the cooked, drained pokeweed greens.
      Note: Omit the last step if you’re planning to use the pokeweed in another recipe with different seasonings.
      Serve hot.
      Makes 2-2/3 cups”
This recipe mentions “young” leaves.  Other references talk about using the leave ONLY when they are colored green.  Purple hued ones apparently can kill you.  As can the berries – wherever they fall on the color wheel.
Another web site debated the merits of letting the plant grow versus ripping any traces of it out of the ground as soon as it appeared.  The argument seemed evenly divided between the pros (mostly eaters of the weed) and cons (who truthfully did sound a little alarmist).  A few of those in favor of letting the plant propagate also mentioned its aesthetic charms.  None of those on the destruction side did.
 Mars and I are going to keep it and see what happens next year.  We certainly don’t want a Pokeweed forest – but we definitely would like the look of a few of the globose buried bushes in our landscape.
Sadly none of the wedding photos that we have perused captured the ornamental Pokeweed.  So, maybe we’ll drop off a cutting or two with our favorite local florist to see what she could do with them.  We also have another enterprise in town (“Edible Arrangements”) that combines the idea of fruit baskets with designs inspired by the floral business. We definitely will not bring them any.

After the publication of this piece I received an email from one of my circle of growers and hoers asking if I remembered a song called "Polk Salad Annie" recorded by Tony Joe White.  I did not.  But here is a video.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Don't Tread On My Parking Space

This morning, in our health club's garage, we parked across from a very, scary vehicle.

 Maroon kid-ferry
yellow, coiled snake decal –
Tea Party Volvo.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Last Worker Bee

One way of getting the rest of the world to pay attention to what you are saying is to put your words into the mouth a well-respected, preferably uber-intelligent speaker.  It turns out that Albert Einstein probably never actually said "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live."  But that doesn't mean that it’s not true.

Queens and drones all gone –
the last worker bee brings sweets
to Earth’s farewell feast.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Last Call

Prompted by late afternoon sightings in the perennial garden in front of our family room.

Last Call 

 Pink phlox barstools bend 
‘neath bees obese with nectar 
 topping off their tanks.