Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Really Good Morning

This misty morning, 7 a.m,  after thunderstorms last night, was so dreamlike I took the creaky old Nikon (2004) and not the phone, because the Nikon has great optics, to photograph the marvelous drifting clouds of mist. As I approached the bluebird box, a pair of dark anxious eyes appeared at its opening. Bluebirds like and want to settle in the wooden bluebird boxes humans make; they thrive where humans plow and mow, allowing the birds to locate crawling things they can pin down and eat. I remove and scrub out the bluebird box twice a year (have found bats, snakes, piles of thorny sticks, and a colony of bees); and properly made bluebird boxes can be opened by the side panel for inspection by landlords such as myself. I came closer yet, raising the camera, and out the bluebird flew.

Then I unhooked the side of the box and gently removed the nest, and in it found five baby bluebirds in a warm little heap, breathing and sleeping, and took a photo only the Nikon, not the phone, can take, and here it is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Creepy Side of Spring

Suddenly I see sidewinding across the floor, at the threshold of the mudroom, two snakes, and say aloud, "Oh, for heaven's sake. Snakes in the house." While one soon vanished, this Prairie Ring-Necked Snake wasn't camera shy. The Ring-Necked and the black Rat Snake are the two snakes most common in the house, maybe having wintered in the fireplace I'd opened up the day before.

Snakes come in and out of my fireplace as if it were a nightclub. They are harmless and I let them be, but always do a double-take when seeing snakes in the house.

Then on a walk I see, on a tree cut violently short yet still bringing forth leaves, dense colonies of weird fuzzy purple vertical shoulder-to-shoulder parasites. A wildflower, I thought at first, but then got a closer look and saw it was pathology, utterly unfamiliar. At home I googled "purple parasites," "lavender parasites," "purple caterpillars" and finally, through an image, identified these. They're not animals at all, but--as close as I could get to an I.D.--Maple Spindle Gall (Eriophyes cerasicumena), the tree's reaction to an infestation of mites. These were generated by the plant; they're like tumors. There were no other examples in the immediate area and there is no Spindle Gall photo on the Internet quite like this one.
Spindle gall

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I Never Do That

About 6 p.m. I ordered vanilla ice cream for supper and savored every lick. At 8:30 p.m. I went to the mall I hadn't been to for years, and at the Godiva chocolate shop I've never been to, spent $24 on chocolates, which I certainly never do. Most of it went for a gift, but I bought a little golden box of two chocolates and ate them. I never do that. On the way home I stopped to buy a bagel for the next day. I never have bread in the house; too many carbs. At home finished up the day's pasta salad. I never eat pasta--too many carbs--except on Fridays. And I never eat after 7:30 p.m. because "it all goes to fat." Figured I'd just eaten chocolates so the whole day was blown, and after the pasta I went to bed.

Eudialyte, a mineral mined in Greenland
Up early, perfect 70-degree weather, and since I'd finished all my work couldn't decide how to spend the day. Mushroom hunting on a weekend morning would be elbow to elbow--I'll wait for a weekday after a rain. Walked in the woods for an hour, enjoying the morning freshness and spiderwebs sugared with dew. Persistent resentful thoughts clawed me so I put on a pendant made of the mineral Eudialyte, magenta, black, and golden, as a cure. Haven't bothered with pendants and crystals for years. Then I knew what I truly wanted: At the creekside on a shaded white-sand beach, next to a clutch of Virginia bluebells, I took boots and socks off, lay down in the cool sand, listened to the creek and the birds and a big granddaddy frog, and breathed. I almost never do that. My neighbor calls it "earthing." I lay there in peace, watching sycamore branches exercise in the wind, and a hawk riding thermals. I got a notion there to cook up the year's first hummingbird nectar and hang the feeders. They usually arrive around April 24, and for me (and lots of other people) it's an event, a holiday.

I savored a cup of coffee, filled and hung the feeders where I could see them from indoors, and on the porch in the lounge chair bought and downloaded a meditation app, although I never buy apps, and let it play, and breathed in and out, although it's all bogus and woo-woo and I never meditate. Then I looked around and marveled at the story-book-perfect weather. For lunch I split the bagel and stacked it with salami, which I never eat, with double the mayonnaise. Then I thinned my spring-onion crop and weeded some garden space I've neglected for nearly 10 years. Enchanted by the hum of 360-degree calm, peace, and satisfact I knew it'd get even better. Finally I sat down to work, and a hummingbird, the season's first, was at the feeder. --I'd had my day of celebration in advance.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Please to the Table.

It's a work of yard art that Patrick built and delivered today, the table made of scrap wood abandoned in the garage--now back outdoors where it came from, and under the twin oaks, replacing the old redwood picnic table. I had no idea what the new one would look like and am delighted. Its legs, old 3x3s, are specially and uniquely textured with termite channels (see photo). Patrick and his son installed it on paving slabs that'll settle into the earth after a few rains. It's built so it will be great as a gardening table and for barbecuing, since all I have is a hibachi. Come see it! I'll give you lunch and lemonade. I'll make you espresso, too, if you want. A table is a holy thing.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Someone Fought Here

My sister, when she visited, noticed a male cardinal attacking his own reflection in a garage window and told me. I came out, saw him doing it (he lives with his family and loudly sings his territorial song in a nearby tree) and hollered at him, "Stop that! Do you want to leave your children without a father?!" Problem solved. Until today, a windy April day, when he left evidence that he's been at it again: a red feather left wedged in a garage windowpane so cracked, as it has been for years now, that I had taped it both inside and out to prevent its shattering while the roofers worked. It's not neatly taped, but it didn't break.

It hung together well enough for the cardinal to imagine, today, that he was again seeing a rival in its reflection, and he fought valiantly, leaving one of his feathers. I checked nearby and didn't find a little bright-red body, so I assume he was the victor. I've seen cardinals--killed instantly--ricochet as far as 12 feet from glass they've flown straight into.

The Sibley bird guide says windows are the #1 killer of birds, taking about 998 million lives a year. That's almost a billion, and twice the number of birds killed by feral cats.

Part of the difficulty was in taking this picture, because there are reflections everywhere, inside and out. I went outside a second time to try to compose a single picture that'd tell the whole story, but the feather had blown away.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Reason to Live, Reason to Love

I was so excited to have relatives visit; they rarely do. My parents are too old to travel, my aunts and uncles all passed, and I never knew my cousins, most of them much older. I have two sisters too classy to come here, one with Danish Modern furniture, the other an Easterner now. To be fair, Sister Danish Modern and her husband visited once, 14 years ago, and I taught her to shoot an airgun, there's a photo (on paper; this was before smartphones); but she must have been appalled by the bathroom, as anyone would have been up until its renovation in 2011. I visit them but they don't come here.

So my third sister, her husband, and my niece from Wisconsin visit once a year and I weep with happiness when they arrive and weep when they leave, believing they are the only people my age left who both know where I came from and care to stay in touch. And they like it here. It was Easter weekend. We dyed eggs and they brought me an Easter basket with a peanut-butter egg in it, and a plush rabbit. Weep again. Weep over Velveteen Rabbit and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, also starring a rabbit. We went to marvel over and fondle baby chicks at the farm store, and to see an 18th-century homestead, and hunted fossils, and explored the woods. They thought 50-degree weather was amazing.

Some Easter weekends fall too early for the redbuds to be out. Wild redbud trees in spring are a major reason to love Missouri (they don't grow in Wisconsin). I am so thrilled to share them with non-Missourians. They were nominated as the USA's national tree; they lost to the oak. They were nominated as Missouri's state tree. They lost to the Flowering Dogwood. Redbuds, I think, are glory incarnate. They bring me closer to God, the other who knows where I came from and cares to stay in touch.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Goldenseal or Mayapple?

She was teaching me although I had taught myself it was a Mayapple: "Goldenseal," she said, pointing to a plant that looked like a Mayapple. Since then I've always doubted myself. Goldenseal (Hydrastus canandensis) or Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)?

Decided today to settle it: This is the Divine Woods paved in jungly little ankle-high Mayapples, not Goldenseal. Both look like green umbrellas, are perennial and grow in colonies, but Goldenseal, a relative of the buttercup, has a bloom in the top center that becomes a reddish fruit resembling a raspberry; Mayapples have one white flower that becomes a single drooping ovoid yellow fruit beneath its flirty lingerie of leaves. Animals eat the Mayapple fruit; people get poisoned if they eat more than a little. The rest of the plant is otherwise intensely poisonous, especially the root.

Goldenseal is an endangered wild plant because folks rip it up from the earth to make a powder they say will let you ace your drug test. That is untrue. It too can be toxic. The Indians used it as a medicine but they knew what they were doing.

Both Mayapple and Goldenseal all pop up from one single underground stem. It might take years to establish Mayapple colonies as extensive as these. Colonies indicate that fertile earth lies beneath. Now I can relax, feeling sure of myself.

Monday, April 4, 2016


A spring day so intoxicating it sent me bushwhacking, off the path, in search of--I didn't know what, until I realized I wanted to hunt and collect secret ponds: either tiny dots on maps, or unmapped. This one's at Glassberg Conservation Area. Hard to get to; all around, cedar trees, which grew thickly, have been deliberately cut in order to conserve and restore the native oak and hickory forest.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Ten O'Clocker

It happened again tonight: About 10 p.m. a car pulls up at my house. I'm sitting where I can't see it; I can only feel its vibrations through the floor; then the car door slams. I'm not expecting anyone. Nobody just "drops by" here on a friendly visit, not at 10 p.m.

This happened before, in November, on a Saturday at the same hour. Someone knocked at the screen door, then did it again, harder, rattling it, when I did not answer. I called out "Who is it?" and got no reply. I called out again; still no answer. To my horror, I was rooms away from my phone and saw that I'd left the door unlocked. Insulation blocked all but two of my windows so I couldn't see out or see the car. So I hid. The car left. After a while I triple-locked the door and found my phone and kept it near.

Then the car came back and whoever it was knocked again. I had no enemy unless you count a student whose creative writing described the use of firearms and car bombs, the first student in my 29 years of teaching who, that same week, aware of the penalties, grossly insulted his classmates, and when rebuked, replied very unpleasantly. This time I phoned 911. The deputy arrived 15 minutes later, but the car was gone. I hadn't seen it, or the visitor, so couldn't describe them.

Tonight, when I heard a car pull up unannounced and then a slam and a knock, I secured a certain item and accessories I now keep handy, and with a body hardened by fight training and judo crawls, lay low with my phone where I couldn't be seen, with the item trained on the door. I didn't ask who it was. I simply waited.