Monday, June 29, 2015

Nature's Spirograph

Maybe you remember the Spirograph -- a set of interlocking gear wheels and pens that allowed youth to create highly engineered Space-Age designs, mostly circles -- or you recall cutting designs into potatoes and inking the cut edges with a roller inked on a sheet of glass, and then printing the result -- did that in Girl Scouts. And while I haven't done those since, I did pluck the cap from a bolete and placed the cap gills down where a sheet of white paper and a sheet of black paper met, and left it undisturbed overnight -- because spores of unidentified 'shrooms could be light or dark, and the spore print, and its color, and the shapes of the spores themselves, are crucial to a solid I.D., especially for summer mushrooms that have many variants: amanitas, russulas, and then boletes. All of you will know a bolete when you see one. They don't have bladelike gills beneath their caps but have spongelike undersides. The print came out beautifully, the best one yet. It is art. Meanwhile, the cap, on the right, dried out a little. A friend saw the photo and said, "Is that a toasted bagel?"

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Wash Your Hair Once a Week

I keep this old home-economics book, from a box of  secondhand books somebody gave us when I was a kid, because it seriously changed my life, telling me for the first time how to sit, dress, look, choose and coordinate colors and clothing styles (what?) and amazingly, said (this was 1957): "The normal scalp may be shampooed every one or two weeks. A weekly shampoo is necessary if the air is heavy with smoke and dust, or if the hair is light in color."

Shampoo every two weeks? I once went four days and my hair smelled like the camel/rhino enclosure at the zoo. What kind of world was it that this book contained? A world of either/ors, I guess:

In the culture of 50 years later, now our hair is clean but typically our posture much more resembles the dreamer/beatnik/free spirit's on the right. In fact we like her better; the controlled one is a "brownie" or "teacher's pet" or "sucking up" and certainly the boys would say she's a "high-maintenance" chick. The girl on the right -- she might let the boys get to second base, or even third.
Maybe when I was 9 and first read through this book I knew the answer to the question just above, but as an adult I understand, completely, the girl on the right.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fruits of the Earth

Summer solstice, the fullness of the year, and the very best gifts of the season are its wild foods. You see the first crop of chanterelles, both yellow and cinnabar, from the rain-soaked Divine woods, used to fill a morning omelet, and the first few blackberries from the meadows and woods' edges, used to make berry scones. There's also fresh basil in a pot. Christmas CANNOT compare, not for one minute.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Star in My Hand

Not often seen. . . the Earthstar (Geastrum saccatum) mushroom, with a spherical spore case about 1" in diameter that blows its top like a volcano and shoots brown powdery spores everywhere. The spore case sits on top of a lily pad of "leaves," once a covering, that split open and peeled back to form five or six rays. Edible? No. Earthstars dry well and as keepsakes are said to "make good conversation pieces" -- if you're really hard up for topics to talk about.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How to Tell If They're Junk Lilies

LaBarque Creek was once beautifully edged with wild lilies in June and July, and when construction came I dug up some of their corms -- which look like fingers of ginger -- determined to save all I could, unaware they were mere "ditch lilies" or "junk lilies," and planted them around the house and then ignored them. Thirteen summers later it's their yard, not mine.

Because they're so common and called junk lilies I'd assumed they were native, but there are no lilies native to the Americas, or Europe either; they're originally Asian and have spread through gardening. Junk lilies and their corms are so hardy they'll go without water and sun (there's no sun in this corner of my yard) and they multiply like mad -- spreading from underground, because they have no seeds. I'll dig up some corms for you, and you'll never have to plant expensive annuals again. Or water them. Deer won't eat these.

"Genuine" lilies are from a different botanical family, Liliae; those bloom at the very top of their stalks, while Hermocallis fulva (the junk lily) blooms from the sides of main stalk. Junk-lily blossoms last one day, presenting all of us with a unique moment in history and a spiritual lesson. A tiger lily (Lilium columbianum) with its poppy-seed spots is a lovely thing, but lacks the daylily's exuberance. Did I know any of this before I moved out here, near the creek? None of it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Beautiful Days, Lonely Nights

The landlord's handyman came by and did three or four repairs, one of them climbing the wooden ladder I still have and cleaning the gutters, and upon returning to earth he said, "That roof really needs replacing."

Inwardly I jumped for joy, because I've known for a year that the roof is in terrible shape, but was waiting until the landlord noticed, because my complaints involving repairs or replacements don't go very far. In exchange for cheap rent I must accept a crumbling house, appallingly "roachier" and "mousier" than I've seen in 14 years living here. And--blasphemy-- I began to think for the first time of moving from my dream house. Of course the question becomes, where would I go?

Better not to think about it and to live in the moment and enjoy wonderful lengthy days of June, and the rain-washed greenery and wild roses and birds I love, and the propane I got very cheaply on May 30, when demand bottoms out; see what I've learned, living in the country? February through May I fell into bed at 2 a.m. exhausted but exhilarated by a bigger bank account, allowing wonderful travel plans -- I haven't traveled for fun for three years. And yet, and yet. . .I've reduced my life to nothing but work. I hardly cook and throw no parties. (When I was overworking I ate raw green lettuce and Spaghetti-Os out of cans.) No one comes by. I hunt mushrooms, photograph and ID them, and dry the specimens. I've been trying to make more connections: hiking and camping meetups, business and professional meetings, gallery hops Friday nights in town, calling friends, dating sites. But nothing comes of these. Something's deeply wrong and needs adjustment. It's probably not my beloved house.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Good Morning

Because daytime heat mounts quickly now, I hike the woods and meadows in the early morning, thinking I'm alone and apart from society, like Thoreau, but the fact is that company is everywhere. I politely said "Good morning" to this young and beautiful Three-toed Box Turtle at the woods' edge. Young, I guessed, because of its moist shiny shell, clear markings, and the fact that it wasn't scared of me.