Wednesday, July 23, 2014

L’ombre et Lumiere

So, Mars and I have another skunk residing on our property – or at least frequenting it.  This is not an unusual occurrence – there has probably been at least one onsite sighting every year that we’ve been at this location. 
One time Nicole Marie – the Labrador Retriever who lived with us at that time – got sprayed as the four of us were enjoying a sundown saunter around the premises.  Another time I walked into my backyard early one weekend morning and found a black and white swarm of Kits competing for breakfast around a long-suffering looking mom. I called the Human Society who offered me some Have-a-Heart traps with which I could encage the little critters and then drive them myself to another location.   Or I could hope that the experience was more terrifying for them than it was for me and thus they would relocate to a different den.  I chose the latter option.
None of our other encounters have been of the “close kind”. 
I should explain that our place of residence is in a 1940s suburban neighborhood with basically no open land immediately in the area except for a public park about one quarter mile away and the beginnings of a bicycle trail diagonally across the street – i.e., not exactly the wilderness. 
We do however, oddly enough, have a functioning storm drain in the innermost corner of our acreage.  It came with the house when we bought it and we didn’t really discover its presence until a year or so into our residency when I happened to be pruning the bushes in that section which also came with the land.  We now are considered to be living in a flood plain as a result a 2007 reclassification of wetlands that FEMA performed throughout the country after Hurricane Katrina’s attack on New Orleans revealed a significant dearth of flood insurance in most areas.  This sewer however probably predates that storm by at least sixty years.
Anyway this time of year the bushes are quite thick and the drain offers a quick underground escape hatch so it is not surprising that a nocturnal creature who finds such a set up appealing would be hanging around here.
We first saw the black-and-white weasel rummaging around our bird feeders which are also located near a less dense but relatively sheltered perennial bed anchored by a hydrangea of significant size.  The shrubbery provides shelter for the bird and squirrel hunting cats of the neighborhood one of whom caught a totally unawares tree rodent in this spot a few months back – the first such cat-versus-squirrel carnage that we have actually witnessed in our thirty-six years of watching out the family room window.
Each time we’ve seen it we’ve been pulling into the driveway in the dark of night and our car’s headlights highlit the almost pure white undulations in the underbrush.  Sometimes it stopped and stared at us and then waddled away towards the aforementioned section of our property.  Other times its has immediately turned tail and ran in the opposite direction.
But my most recent confrontation occurred in the portion of our backyard leading to the skunk’s presumed lodging place – on one corner of which I store my birdseed in aluminum barrels.  I was making my nightly trip to fill the feeders when the skunk and I startled each other.  It was exploring the space between three white pine trees that I am nurturing for indeterminate reasons in small plastic buckets.  The skunk looked up at the exact same moment that I looked down. Startled, we both recoiled and froze in place.   

Unconsciously I must have remembered the “Four S’s” for survival should you meet a rattlesnake that Mars and I learned on an Elderhostel trip to Arizona: stop, scan the area for other predators, step back, and scram.  Apparently the skunk had been taught exactly the same survival strategies.
After a rest period, during which I brought Mars out to see (from a distance) who I had run into on my little backyard walk I continued my trip to the metal birdseed containers next to the skunk’s departure point where, with much noise and commotion, I retrieved the necessary comestibles for our other yard pets – some of which probably also ends up in the stomach of the uninvited skunk.
Since that evening I’ve moved up my feeder filling time by about thirty minutes in hopes of completing my tasks before our odorous guest begins it’s nightly food quest.  And I make as much metallic and other noise as I can without (hopefully) disturbing my next-door neighbors peace and quiet.
We have not met again but I imagine seeing our black-and-white yard pet every time I look at our flowerbeds and bushes.
Apropos of which, two nights ago Mars and I went to "foodie" event at a local contemporary arts organization.  Real ArtWays food-as-art inspired “Taste” series featured an episode from the French-made film collection “Inventing Cuisine” followed by tasting plates prepared by one of the area’s most popular local chefs. 
Our repast included the vegetable mosaic “gargouillou”, and the monk fish and black olive oil “l’ombre et lumiere” (“light and dark”) dishes made famous by food legend Michel Bras, and recreated here by On20 executive chef Jeffrey Lizotte and his staff.
The movie focused on the creative process of Chef Bras who attempts to recreate the look of his local landscape in the dishes he prepares.  L’ombre et lumiere was the result of his musings on the shadows of the clouds.
Since our current backyard scenery also has a light and dark component to it I am thinking maybe I should try a similar culinary feat on my own Weber charcoal grill.  And because my cooking philosophy is based more on Danish Existentialist Soren Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” than the tenets of any Epicurean thinker – I am absolutely certain that I can pull it off.
I’ll just arrange an assortment of local greens on a white dinner plate for the background.  Then I will open up a beer – and put another skunk on the barbie.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Visual Haiku

A friend sent me the following in an email with the subject line 
"Re: Have you tried this?"


My reply was - 

Visual haiku
is not something that one tries. 
It simply just is.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Japanese Beetles Are Eating Our Hollyhocks

Japanese Beetles are eating our hollyhocks.  This is good news for Haiku poets  – that sentence has the correct number of syllables for the first two lines of  (5 plus 7) – but not for our favorite New Mexican-born perennial.
In October 2008 Mars noticed dried hollyhocks towering over the entryway to Monica's and Bram's newly acquired house in the high desert town of Santa Fe. 
And (with permission) she picked some dried seeds from the dormant plant; placed them into a used plastic Ziploc snack bag; sequestered the polymer repository in her purse; and transported it (via Southwest Airlines) to our home in central Connecticut. Within days of their arrival she applied them to the fertile soil in our under development perennial garden – the former site of our rabbit-ridden vegetable garden.
2009 – two barely recognizable hollyhocks poked their stalks up just inches above the surface. Neither rain, nor sun, nor Miracle-Gro could coax them any further. That autumn Mars repeated her southwestern seed snatch and transported a second crop of potential ‘hocks to our east coast acreage.
2010 – Mother Nature poured on the rain. Those seeds that were not washed away sprouted into rust-infected, haggard hollyhocks. That autumn -– you guessed it – yet a third iteration of Mars’ seed acquisition.
 2011 – moderate rain in early spring then D-R-O-U-G-H-T!  The hollyhocks evidently loved this meteorological mistreatment. Two of them shot up to ten feet in altitude. Other shorter, but still formidable, ones surrounded them.
2012 and 2013 – the flowers appeared again in smaller numbers at lower heights in slightly different parts of the garden with no noticeable problems.
This year there is a pair of hollyhocks – one at each end of the flowerbed.  Two years could be an accident, but three years is definitely a trend.  So I figured that this persnickety perennial had at last successfully adapted to our quirky drought-or-deluge New England climate and would be pretty much on cruise control for the rest of its generations.
But now there are the beetles.  Hollyhocks are a secondary host to these detrimental copper and green colored invaders, which will eat the leaves until they are too skeletal to provide any nourishment – or aesthetic enjoyment.
This is not our first experience with these insects.  I don’t remember what brought them to our premises, but many years back our yard was bedecked with “Bag-A-Bug” traps using sexual pheromones to lure the excited plant predators to their lemming-like demise.  (There is apparently at least one thing more important than leaf chomping to a J. beetle.)  Emptying the sepulchral sacks was however not much fun.
The current volume of J. beetles definitely does not warrant such a wholesale offensive.  
A more elegant and ecological solution came from an Internet forum that discusses suchproblems. “Dad controlled them by catching preying mantids and introducing them to the patch. Those beetles left over he would hand pick and toss into our turtle tank. Pokey ate the beetles and spit their shiny wings back out, so after awhile the surface of the water looked iridescent.”
Several others on the website suggested handpicking them into a bucket of soapy water.  Mars said that her grandmother did the same thing with kerosene.  Coincidentally I’ve been doing something pretty similar.

Since I first spotted them a couple of days ago I’ve been using my index finger to flick them off the plant each time I am in the area.   It’s a 100% natural solution that also allows me to use the “kicking” skills I developed back in college playing Matchbook Football on the dining room table in my dormitory.
It has been about fifty years and my accuracy is still pretty good.  But I am losing a little in distance.  Maybe distended beetles weighed down with a leaf’s worth of roughage aren’t as aerodynamic as a full book of matches.  Or maybe it is just another instance of “the older I get, the better I was.”
Either way, (with some poetic license) I now have the last seven syllables.

Japanese Beetles
are eating our hollyhock.
Field goal!  Fie-eld goal!