Monday, May 27, 2019

Talk Monsanto to Me

Seated for lunch next to the wife of a famous breast surgeon, and one seat over is perhaps the richest woman in St. Louis, a very demure lady, and I'm listening as they discuss the cancer-ridden couple who on May 15 won a $2 billion judgement from Monsanto, St. Louis-based manufacturer of the carcinogenic herbicide Roundup, sprayed annually on the Divine property when I first got here, but hasn't been for years.

Surgeon's Wife: Did you hear about the $2 billion judgment against Monsanto?
Richest Woman: Did you say billion?
Surgeon's Wife: With a "b."
Richest Woman: My. That does sound excessive. I used to work for Monsanto in the [don't remember what was said, but her husband worked for Monsanto].
Surgeon's Wife: These lawsuits are out of control.
Richest Woman: I don't know how business will survive if this is the trend.
Surgeon's Wife: Remember all the lawsuits that said breast implants cause cancer? They didn't cause cancer. Breast implants never caused cancer. But patients sued and got millions. Millions. That hurt a lot of people. A lot of people.

It dawns on me that her "lot of people" means the surgeons and doctors, such as her husband, who had to make injurious payouts. This, to me -- one of 3.5 million American breast cancer survivors -- was a unique and enlightening perspective. I said nothing. As of tomorrow I am a 10-year survivor.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bee That As It May

The sage bush blooms generously and with so much spirit that multiple bees bounce like pinballs through its jungle of flowers, feasting -- and when creatures sip nectar, the flowers they sip from actually re-fill their nectar so the bees, butterflies and sipping birds return for seconds.

In May the sage bush -- still expanding, now chest-high -- when flowering is a center of industry, as they used to say about certain cities in the U.S. with robust manufacturing economies. In winter I trim back its dried-up, surprisingly woody branches. The rest of the year I do nothing but have fresh sage in overabundance. People in the South will fry sage leaves. I don't. I bundle cuttings in twine and hang them upside down to dry; the leaves also dry in one minute in the microwave. Dry leaves are then crumbled for packaging and use. Oh, I admit it: I sage-smudge the Divine Cabin on occasion. To sanctify it. To restore its flawless natural vibe. I also cut sage bunches for my woo-woo witch-and-Tarot signs-and-omens friends -- of whom I have an unusual number. A mystic is just someone who believes there are things we can't see.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hummingbirds Have Dirty Beaks, Etc.

Socializing on my porch are three people watching hummingbirds at the feeders. Two of us discover that one is married to a hummingbird expert, now retired, who volunteers to band hummingbirds for the Department of Natural Resources, and does it at state parks where the public is invited to watch.

"People can band hummingbirds?"
"Trained and licensed people with very steady hands."
"Why are they banded?"
"To track survival and how the same ones come back to the same spot year to year."
"Do the bands have radios in them?"
"No, they are just very small pieces of metal. They can't be more than 4 percent of the bird's body weight."
"How do you catch hummingbirds to band them or check them?"
"With a feeder that has a trapdoor you pull."
"That must [annoy them a lot]."
"You have to know how not to stress the birds."
"I fill the feeders with one part sugar to four parts water, boiled together, then cooled."
"You don't have to boil. Just dissolve the sugar in warm tap water."
"I thought boiling was doing the hummingbirds a favor."
"It's not necessary."
"I thought it helped control that black guck that grows in the feeders during warm weather."
"That guck comes from bacteria on the end of the birds' beaks."
"Isn't it like they're sipping through a straw?"
"No. They have an upper and lower beak. The beak is long because it holds a long tongue. It's their tongue that goes into feeders and flowers."
"How come I never see their mouths open?"
"Because having feeders you see them only when they're feeding."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It's A Beautiful Day

Yesterday: Head spinning, so near exhaustion I dread writing an email, I decide I cannot work this week and tell the boss I'm taking the week off.
Today: Greet HVAC repair guy who arrives at the door two hours early and fixes the issue in 20 minutes.
Dress and equip for mushroom hunt; after fruitless hunting, shower and dress.
Drive townward for a car emissions test.
While waiting, walk a block and get a hamburger. Using their WiFi, I find two pleasing work-related emails and send an email requesting a check, and am assured that it is being sent today.
Buy vivid green blocks of rodent poison, the large bag of them, not the small.
It's May 15, the frost-free day for Zone 6, so I select three baby plants, two basil, one rosemary, and tell them, "You are so lucky. You will be loved."
Buy new windshield wipers, amazed to hear that nowadays they are sold singly, the drivers' side wiper longer and costlier than the passenger side.
Return DVDs Steve Jobs, Fahrenheit 451, and Dallas Buyers Club to the library, four weeks late because it took me that long to watch them all.
Buy a jar of Noxzema and two bags of ground coffee.
Pharmacy pickup.
Drop recyclables into a UPS box.
Obtain cash at ATM.
Pick up dry-cleaned winter coat, costing most of the cash.
Get a drive-through car wash.
Buy a dozen lovely brown fresh local eggs at the feed store where I have been served by the same guy for 20 years.
Buy fruit and vegetables at House Springs. Golden Delicious are the best apples. I did not believe that when I first heard it, because Red Delicious are so cloying. A beautiful drive on a day all wildly blue and green.
At home, inspect the bluebird box in the meadow. All of the chickadees have fledged. Removed their nest and cleaned the box for the next occupants.
Process newly bought fruit and vegetables for the fridge and freezer.
Dinner: Cream of asparagus soup, slice of black-olive bread, fresh corn on the cob.
Assemble all required papers and finish online the two-year car license registration, ordering the special "Don't Tread on Me" snake design I have always liked.
Good Lord, it's 9 p.m.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The History of Shredding

Like you, I have a need to shred. I have a small shredder, was told when moving here that it was necessary when one's trash can sits one day per week out by the highway, but ten bags or about 60 pounds was too many papers to shred, and I'd always jam the teeth with more paper than it could hold so the motor overheated and quit, and the teeth should be sharpened, and stores asked me to pay for shredding per pound, and pay an upcharge should I want to witness it, so I kept the bags in the garage.

This rainy weekend's spring-cleaning highlight (pity me! I didn't leave the house otherwise) was a free "community shredding event" at the community center. Pop your car's trunk and they grab your plastic grocery bags, dump the papers into the mobile shredder (a huge trash truck) and return the bags. I had half-hoped, at 8:30 a.m., for doughnuts and coffee, a string quartet and communing. I wondered how shredding came to be and why my parents never went to shredding events.

The paper shredder was patented in 1909 but the patent holder never made one. During World War II a guy put secret papers through his pasta-cutting machine, and so was born the shredder that sits unused in my mudroom. Only the government and military shredded their papers until the 1980s when we all began feeling personally very important and courts ruled that people were allowed to paw through your trash.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Everybody Knows This, Except You

In life I've met with many things everyone else knew but me: how to pronounce "derriere" and "decollete"; that people are born naked (the shock!); that bottled mayonnaise and salad dressing differ while looking the same; how to light matches; that not all plants are perennial; that screws tighten when turned rightward; that salaries are negotiable and the first offer is a lowball; that canned tuna must be drained (we never ate canned tuna; the kids I babysat showed me how); how to tie shoelaces without making two loops and crossing them. From age 6 to 55 I walked around with shoelaces tied "backwards" and ignorance was bliss.

That applies to my first telescope lesson. The eyepieces ordered, of good quality and standard size, were a bit too big to fit in the tube you put your eye to. I tried everything. I even unscrewed one lens from its base and dropped it into the barrel, and oops, down the tube it went, requiring me to strong-arm the 22-pound telescope upside down to get it out.

I would not give up on my free telescope with useless new $20 eyepieces; I just wouldn't! After a long search I learned a fact apparently everyone knows, so basic it's not even listed in specifications: older cheaper telescopes use eyepieces .965 [inches] across, and today's standard measures 1.25."

.965s are so obsolete that adapters are scarce, but I found and ordered one. From now on, though, I know what to tell anyone who fosters or adopts a homeless telescope.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Homeless Telescope

We'd not seen each other in 10 years, but a Facebook friend, a city resident, knew I liked stars and one day messaged and asked if I wanted a telescope. I have always wanted a telescope. We met and placed the entire assembly in my car's trunk because neither of us knew how to separate the telescope from the tripod -- and if we did we might not know enough to reassemble it.

It's a 114mm Polaris by Meade reflector telescope, and somebody bought it and never used it and gave it to my Facebook friend who kept it in his garage hoping to use it but never did. It looked quite too noble to be homeless.

Before even daring to clean the dust from it I'm trying to learn whether it's salvageable. First, telescopes shouldn't be left outside, especially not in garages that can get very hot. Only my porch or my heart have any room. I figured if it's been garaged for a couple of years staying on the porch awhile wouldn't do much further harm. The buyers' reviews said it's a beginner's telescope but good quality for the price, about $150 new. The knob sticking out on the right is a counterweight.

Looking down into the eyescope I discovered it lacks an eyepiece. New telescopes come with a set of 3 eyepieces, but this model of Polaris had cheap ones I can replace with better-quality eyepieces for about $20. The eyepieces are everything. The telescope's focus is permanently set to "infinity." That I liked. There is at least one scientific-looking ring marked in increments, in white paint, 0-360.

I also learned you can buy new telescopes controllable with your phone. Using an app, enter the desired astral object and the telescope will find it automatically. But one cannot use those 'scopes manually. Without Wi-Fi there'd be no stargazing.

Ahead: more learning, and maybe some joy. If I can restore and master this one, I can master a finer one.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Protographium Marcellus

April's tentative, tender greenery, like screening, given tons of rain, is now vivid and definite May green, so encompassing that while walking some packages over to my neighbor I couldn't think outside of it and couldn't stop smiling -- and then along came an airborne smile. Wowee -- pale blue with black stripes. The year's first Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus).

They're butterflies of the American Southeast, active all summer, breeding about three times a season, and in Missouri most common in the southeastern quarter of the state.

A nature photographer I once took a class with said, "When a butterfly or insect flutters away, stay where you are because it'll be back." This is true. The first time, this swallowtail flew rings around me and didn't land, so I couldn't get a picture. Then it came back and unfolded itself on the gravel as if it were modeling. Perhaps word has got around the insect community that I take great glamour shots and then put them online, and to them it's like posing for Avedon.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

I Am Not a Mosquito

Wet, warm weather, and for the first time this year hearing airborne buzzing around me I was unable to process it because: I forgot there are mosquitoes! I slapped at the air, so that anyone watching would have thought I was doing the Macarena. Winter was so long, I forgot that country air is not only full of pollen but rife with flying, biting insects.

As I fled I saw this huge mosquito on the side of the house and thought, wow, climate change is causing mutations, because they seem only to get bigger and bigger! And took a photo, and, safe on my screened porch, I thought, I've never seen a mosquito with such pretty wings. And looked it up. It's not a mosquito. It's a crane fly, of the family Tipulidae. It is a sign of spring and bites nobody. It eats nectar, not blood. They live 10 to 15 days.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

God's Creatures

A conservative was here over Easter talking about Jesus Christ when a wolf spider woke from its winter's nap and went hunting in my carpet, and the guy's eyes widened and he asked when I was going to kill it. I said, "Wolf spiders are harmless. No reason to fear. They don't bite. I never kill wolf spiders; they eat cockroaches (occasionally, a roach comes up the drainpipe here) and other bugs. They're not interested in you." He kept an obsessive eye on it. I tried to put him at ease saying, "You haven't got anything it wants." He urged me to kill it. I said, "It's one of God's creatures," and that shut him up.

The month of May means other "Thingz" are coming alive in multiples as millipedes wiggle-waggle across the linoleum like they own the place. I deposit them outside, with mixed feelings, because they belong out there but might also become some songbird's meal. That's the chance you take. Outdoors, after yesterday's heavy rains, beneath the garage door and a packing of wet leaves were lots and lots of worms, a sort of urban worm center, all wiggling and alive. Worms are our friends, and alive is beautiful! To me they looked like art.