Monday, March 31, 2014

Moving Into His New House

When a tall person visited on March 9, I got his help taking down the old bluebird house, all weatherbeaten and cracked top to bottom, and mounting a brand-new one. Then, with an eye out for those house wrens who load up bluebird houses with sticks and thorns just to be ornery, I watched for a week, then two weeks, and was finally rewarded this morning as I sat in the spring sun drinking tea. Male bluebirds sit atop a bluebird house and flap their wings to attract their mates' attention. If she approves of the dwelling, she creates the nest and they go for it. Bluebirds are shy, so when this one saw me he fled the bluebird house and perched in a tree. I dream all year of this moment when the first bluebirds first nest in the bluebird house and I am the host and witness. This new bluebird box has a hinged side secured with a hook and eye--good design for box cleaning or nest viewing. It's raw pine. You can see it on the right, on the  old wooden post, which is 7 feet high. The downward-curved thing on the post is chicken wire to keep critters from crawling up the post to feast on bluebirds or their eggs. During previous birdhouse cleanings I've found lifeless blacksnakes and live bees in the box. I don't visit or handle the box very often, because that leaves a scent trail that might attract predators.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ripping Out Honeysuckles

There are three or four different kinds of invasive honeysuckles: Japanese, Amur, and others, and while not all honeysuckles are invasive tree killers, the tangled shrubbery you see along Missouri roadways and trainways, so thickly overgrown it can look almost like mist, about half the heights of the trees and and twining its way up, is the thing to root out. Yesterday I volunteered for Honeysuckle Removal Day at Bluebird Park. I'd never been there, but its name drew me, and I hate invasive honeysuckles too. Young people from colleges and prep schools were there en masse, and I worked with three young men who chopped, yanked and uprooted, while I pulled yards and yards of honeysuckle out of the grove of persimmon trees and put it at the curb for pickup. I honestly felt the trees thanking us. We cleared an area about the size of a living room, and after three hours we hadn't removed it all and there were some stalks (like the curved one on the left of the photo) too thick for anything but a chainsaw, but we had made a good start. Bluebird Park is a suburban park and I saw no bluebirds there, but I saw robins.

Tips from our leader: Remove honeysuckle shrubs by the roots if possible. When pulling their vines from the earth, pull out, not up. Cut the stalks as low on the trunks as you can, and the leader will come by and paint the stumps with Monsanto's Roundup, the only thing that kills 'em besides fire.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Lost Art of Tea-Towel Embroidery

Mom embroidered these tea towels in the 1950s while waiting for me to be born, and I know that's true because afterward she didn't embroider for seven years, having three more screaming babies in short order. She used these in her kitchen, because I recall misapprehending the image as "the dish running away with the spoon," but in fact it's a saucer eloping with a teacup. I hid this towel for years after it inspired rebellion among my own teacups and saucers. The salt cellar is backed with the forget-me-nots. Salt cellars, used for centuries, were outmoded in 1911 when Morton Salt made salt shake-able by adding magnesium carbonate. These designs came pre-stamped on the towels, and I still wonder whose surreal dream-images they were.

Bringing them out of storage perhaps ten years ago, at first I was careful with these towels, as a new mother is very very careful with Baby #1. They proved sturdy and colorfast. I now use them regularly and think of Mom. For a Scout badge in Embroidery, a Scout leader--not Mom--taught me running stitch, cross-stitch, French knots, and huck-a-back stitch. I haven't done embroidery since, but a keyboard is a kind of sewing machine.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Making a Mushroom Kit

Growing gourmet oyster mushrooms is easy: Get a plastic bag, the kind from the produce section of the supermarket. Place at least one pound of damp straw in this bag. This is ordinary straw shredded into 2-inch segments and flattened to expose the pith, and specially soaked in alkalinized water. This straw is the mushroom-growing medium. Then:

Brace Smith
"Seed" your straw with a handful of oyster-mushroom mycelium, which is nothing more than white fuzzy fungus deliberately grown in a bag of grain. This fuzz was first cultivated in petri dishes and test tubes from a single spore of a fine mushroom. Add a handful of gypsum to the plastic bag.

Twist the bag shut. What you have now is a kind of terrarium. The mushrooms-to-be, however, need to breathe, so over the twist goes a small collar cut from a tube of PVC [pictured], and it is rubber-banded there. Then fluff open the "collar" of the bag. Now the bag can breathe through the PVC tube. But to keep other spores and things out while mushrooms are developing, stuff the PVC tube with a thumb's length of that synthetic fill that goes into pillows. Now the bag can breathe but nothing can get in.

Place bag in the dark for I don't know how long, because I just made my first mushroom terrarium this morning, wondering: Will this really work? Mushroom production scientist and lecturer Brace Smith said that when the straw in the bag appears covered with white stuff, move the bag to a place getting mild sunlight. Soon proto-mushrooms or "pins" will appear. Slit the bag there, making room for the mushrooms to grow outside of the bag, and in three days, harvest and eat. Smith said to expect two or three crops, or about one pound, of oyster mushrooms.

If you are able to get mycelium (by mail order; it takes a scientist like Smith to grow it correctly), all the rest is very low-tech.

I will keep you posted as to what's happening with my mushroom kit. Nothing is more exciting than something growing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On the White Sand Beach

LaBarque Creek has beaches of pure white silica sand; I sunned myself on one yesterday, the first day of spring, and gave thanks, and watched crayfish in the creek water: Their presence indicates that the water is pure. Wanted to catch one and take its photo for you, but last time I grabbed one the creature pinched my palm (ow! like a needle!) and I dropped it into the water pronto. The creek water is low, leaving several sand bars and small islands, so I said, "There's something interesting on this beach; I'll find it," and leaped the creek back and forth hunting fossils until I came upon this prehistoric-looking creature, an armadillo, the first I've seen this year. They dwell near water, needing a lot of water to drink, and a predator likely caught it off guard and attacked, but found it wasn't able to get at any meat, so left it whole, and it was quite fresh. Always I remember my dictionary saying, in words of one syllable, "Their flesh is good food." Probably because they drink lots of water. I was sorry it had lost its life, but could approach it now without disturbing it (or risking a pinch) to be fascinated by his armor's artful design. They have become common here only in the last ten years.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Be Good to Yourself

When peeper frogs sing (March 12), crocuses bloom (March 13), and I plant turnips and arugula (March 17) is my favorite time of year, and giddy with cheerfulness I chose as my mission to do something nice for myself, but then came the questions: Get a Subway sandwich? Go to the gym? Manicure hands so winter-dry that the knuckles bleed? And driving up "the strip" I saw an Auto Zone. Inspired, I stopped and bought what I truly needed for a happy spring: New windshield wipers. Hearing the clerk explain all the new exciting windshield wiper technology was by itself worth the price--but I also got the wipers and installation, after which we tried 'em out. My old wipers streaked the windshield like grease on a glass pan. The new wipers opened a whole world of clarity--sweet! Miraculous! What better way to celebrate spring than to see it clearly? $34 is cheap for such a long-lasting thrill.

Then I bought my sandwich, telling the sandwich artist that the sandwich was beautifully made and leaving a good tip, and went to the gym, and had a manicure and left a good tip, and have never been so happy about being good to myself. So you be good to yourself. The old-time pagans feasted at this time of year. Feast and celebrate any way you can.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Calling My Bluff

This morning a client phoned in a panic, needing a photo of Missouri bluffs, immediately and for free, so off I went into the Divine property seeking photogenic bluffs, and here are some I found. I love my job.


4. 5.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Green

After this winter we are all starved to see anything green, so I went walking to find and feast my eyes upon every possible green thing. It's too soon for leaves, but chives grew on the forest floor, Christmas ferns hung from the bluffs, and lovely spring green moss [pictured] grew over the thin rocky soil, and patches of algae lay submerged in the creek, its water made glass-clear by melting snow. And in the creek I saw, shooting by, a small half-fish half-frog: a tadpole! So I decided to take a chance and waited until dark and then opened the door to the porch and listened, and heard, for the first time this year, the spring-peeper chorus. I just about collapsed with joy and relief. Spring isn't quite dressed yet, but its music is playing.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Find The Typo

Long, long line at the first Lenten fish fry of the year at the local Catholic church, a line extending almost the entire length of the school corridor. While waiting in line, because the fried fish, shell pasta with tomato sauce, green beans, and coleslaw are worth waiting for, there was time to admire the students' artworks tacked to the walls, and the sports trophies in their cases, and -- wait a second -- the all-school photo.