Monday, September 29, 2014

Ragweed Season is Upon Us


With the balmy conditions of late everyone has emerged from summer heat-hibernation and gardening, walking, and hiking are once again pleasurable. However this year there seems to be unprecedented pollen as though the trees and grasses are determined to make up for the former drought years by ensuring their reproductive place on the planet.

Most flowers have heavy pollen, thus the necessity for pollination by bees or birds. The pollen of most trees, shrubs, and grasses is lighter than the pollen of flowers so it may be carried by the wind. Since our winds may go from a gentle breeze to a driving force in seconds this light pollen may travel hundreds of miles.

Over half of all allergy symptoms may be traced to ragweed and this year it is in disproportionate cultivation, appearing everywhere and ranging up to ten feet tall. It is supposedly a member of the aster family, although it is hard to believe such an illustrious family produced such an unlikable child. In the opinion of many ragweed is the most infamous weed on Earth, producing some of the lightest pollen of all plants. A single plant may produce about a billion grains of pollen per season which may remain airborne for days and travel great distances. It has been noted up to 300 miles high and 400 to 500 miles out to sea.

Ragweeds were originally native only to our hemisphere however they were introduced to Europe during World War II, traveling discreetly on the clothing of our soldiers. Since then it has spread rapidly and now Europeans suffer as we do with seasonal allergies. Ragweed is truly a nuisance this time of year as it is the source of itchy eyes, scratchy throats, runny noses, sneezing, headaches, dizziness, and the ensuing confusion that arrives with these symptoms.

It should be noted the ‘Pollen Report’ on the daily news channels is not an exact science, rather it is pitifully antiquated. Particles of pollen are collected in a box on the roof of the Oklahoma Allergy Clinic and counted… that is how the daily information is obtained. It is impossible to imagine how much pollen is traveling about outside the confines of the City, however it is an easy guess that it is considerably more than what is produced in a concrete jungle!

Since it is impossible to avoid pollen, we can simply take an allergy pill, press on, and enjoy this lovely season… Kleenex in hand just in case. And remember to change your pillowcase daily.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I litter...

To commemorate the (rather late) protests on Global Warming, I am posting my 'spoof' entitled 'Why I Litter' written in a fit of pique in 2006.

Why I litter
Way back when, before Styrofoam cups, disposable diapers, and bottled water; back when mankind had a glimmer of hope to save the planet, we were encouraged to conserve, recycle, and respect Mother Nature.
*The term Conservative comes from the word conserve, so we considered ourselves conservatives.
Automobiles were built smaller and smaller because it was common knowledge in 1972 that the world would run out of fossil fuel in 2020, which seemed a long time away. The object of buying a car was to pay it off so eventually your use of it was free. Geodesic domes were built as homes. They were round so no corners could trap heat or air so their efficiency rivaled the igloo, after which they were fashioned. Solar panels became the rage, ceiling fans were reintroduced, and both were but minute parts of the Herculean efforts made to conserve… and thus leave the world a better place than we had found it.
I did my part. I never used wasteful paper products, recycled tattered t-shirts as dust rags, even used cloth diapers on my eight children because besides the landfill issues disposable contained formaldehyde… and it would not be allowed to touch their baby skin. When we added rooms to our home, we recycled windows and doors from abandoned houses and when we built our patio, we dug stone from an abandoned quarry. We raised gardens and chickens to help feed ourselves and to teach a proper work ethic to our children. We bought a Jersey and milked our cow, selling the excess to pay for her feed.
We had one land-line telephone, and one antiquated television which only worked sporadically... the knob had long ago vanished so we turned it on with needle nose pliers. I hung the clothes on the line as much to bring the valuable Vitamin D into the home as save electricity. We added blankets to sleep under when it was cold, and used only a sheet when it was hot. The kitchen and washing machine water ran to the orchard so watering it was automatic. We realized that we needed to carefully conserve to save mankind from the devastation of selfishly using everything. It seemed, well…sinful to use it all leaving nothing for those who come after us.
Further, we knew that plants and herbs hidden in the Rain Forest could provide secrets to cure future plagues and we were grateful they were safe in so vast a place they would endure for eons. China and Russia were still sleeping, barely touched by so-called progress, so they remained pristine. We liked that there were Bedouins, East Indians, Aboriginals,Tribes of the Amazon and others who still maintained the culture of their ancestors and we felt a measure of order was provided by this fact. The sight of Buddhist monks raking gravel into intricate patterns or Navajo painters dripping colored sand into magically powdered pictures was inspiring. We even enjoyed an antique term called 'down time'. Down time is when nothing is required of you on an afternoon but cloud watching, taking a nap, or skipping stones while fishing…after you've dug the worms yourself.
Somehow in my absence, in the twenty years from 1975 to 1995 when I was a recluse, the world ran amuck. Maybe it began when men no longer held the door open for women, which happened to me in 1983 when I was nine months pregnant. Or maybe when the computer replaced the hand written sales slip and suddenly two to four full sheets of paper were printed for a $3.00 purchase. Or when casinos slowly filled the scope of land once considered holy, enchanted or spiritual. I'm really not quite sure when it began but it overtook mankind and created a global monstrosity of consumption... the very essence of the planet has been literally sucked dry. The 'new' green technology with all their expensive gadgets that will help save us need not bother… it's really too late now.
I am finally irritated beyond belief that I tried as hard as I could, at great personal inconvenience and sacrifice, to be polite to my fellow human beings and everything else that resides with us here on the planet. It seems I am one of only a handful who has done so; in retrospect I feel like a chump for my efforts.
And so I say Fuck It…
I'll toss my trash as I drive, I'll plug in my cell phone, I'll subscribe to cable and have two TV's running at the same time when no one is in the house. I'll Microwave instead of cook, I'll crank the thermostat up or down at will, make three 12 mile (and useless) trips to town for trivia, take down my clothes line, buy imported food, spray pesticides, fertilize my yard with nitrogen regardless of the water supply… and I'll even buy water regardless of the landfill issues surrounding this latest absurd fad.
I will not be a Conservative anymore… it has become a double-think political oxymoron anyway

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Equinox

Fall is Arriving at Last


It is indeed lovely to see the whisper thin winter grasses and tiny seedlings emerging. The leaves are thinning, and soon they will begin to change. A welcome Fall is upon us and these days seem pleasant and restful after the hurried pace of summer. Monday the Fall Equinox quietly arrived. It is one of the four great solar festivals of the year and for a few moments in time, the Earth was balanced equally with both day and night. As the clock tick-tocked the change ensued, and from now until spring each day will bring less light and the darkness will deepen.

For our ancestors who depended upon daylight or candlelight to perform each everyday task, this seasonal change was notable. In days past, when any excuse for a celebration was in order, there were great festivities surrounding this Equinox. In Great Britain the time of the Autumn Equinox was the time of the Feast of Michaelmas, a day to honor the Archangel Michael, the most favored warrior of God. This was a day of feasting, hospitality, forgiveness, and a day for the settling rents and accounts.

In both Greek and Roman mythology the beautiful young daughter of a goddess must reside with the King of the Underworld for this half the year. Her Mother is bereft and the world becomes barren as she mourns her child… when her daughter returns in Spring the land once again comes to verdant life. At this time the ancient Greeks had a Festival dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who had gifted mankind with the art of winemaking. In his honor men of Athens carried vines heavy with grapes as an offering while a Priestess mixed sacred wine with water to be given to the masses from a single cup.

In China Fall Equinox is known as the Moon Festival and celebrates the abundance of the Summer's harvest with moon cake which is filled with lotus, sesame seeds, and dried fruit. In Japan a week of Buddhist services is observed during both the September and March equinoxes. Called Higan, which means ‘other shore’, the September equinox is the time spirits of the dead reach Nirvana and the living visit, clean and decorate their graves in remembrance of them. *Both Fall and Spring Equinox  have been Japanese National Holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912).

As Fall darkness begins to deepen, our days become cool, and our evenings become sweater-worthy, enjoy these fabulous Fall days… they will pass in but an instant.

*Photo: The change!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Magical Mums


 

The leaves on the trees are beginning to thin and bright sunlight is flooding the garden again. The tiny self-sown seedlings are emerging and the mornings have become pleasurable. Fall awakens the gardener's soul and we begin to emerge from the lull of late summer as almost overnight the garden becomes a mass of overgrown exuberant final flowers.

It is impossible to escape the lure of the cheerful Chrysanthemum now making her appearance and memories of this extraordinary flower are embedded in the mind of everyone who has ever viewed an autumn garden. They come in many varieties and are best recalled as a staple in your grandmother's perennial beds.

The natural Autumn colors of red, or bronze, golden, and all of the hues between have kept the Mum ever-popular since her introduction in the late 1800’s. They are unfussy, tend to spread freely, and are both hardy and drought tolerant with the added plus of a long life expectancy. Once they become established, they often become wild and leggy by mid-summer and if so they need to be cut back by the Fourth of July to ensure a spectacular show from early September through the month of October.

In Europe the Mum has long been associated with funerals, grave sites, and mourning although I can hardly understand this use for such a cheerful flower. In Asia however the Chrysanthemum is symbolically and decoratively respected and adored with a cult following. For thousands of years the Chinese have celebrated the Double Ninth Festival which occurs on the ninth day of the ninth month and honors longevity. This festival is the final celebration before the rigors of winter sends people to their homes until spring. On this day the Chinese people eat mum cakes, drink mum tea and attend flowering displays of every variety of Chrysanthemum available. This lovely flower is revered in Japan as well where long ago it reached mania status, meaning there was a national obsession with owning, growing, and displaying Mums for status and respect. A person of modest means could advance in society by merely possessing horticultural talents.

The size of the blooms ranges from precious buttons to the large spider or ‘rag-mums’, which are three inches across. As with all popular flowers, hybridization has produced some fantastic varieties, one of which will be perfect for your Fall garden or placed in a charming pot as part a Halloween display. Happy Autumn.

*Photo: Can you see the visitor hiding in my Mums?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lynx Spider Sequence

I followed my Lynx in the garden for almost a month... from her professional manner of obtaining dinners, to her efforts to build her egg sac, to the birth of her babies and her frantic efforts to build a silken web 'playpen' to corral them. As the little ones grew, she began to lose weight and color. I found her lying on the grass a mere shadow of her former self as the little spidlets began to scamper away in groups of ten to twenty. I'll miss the excitement of checking her daily antics... she was fascinating!


 




Spidlets Hatched over three days.
 







The Advent of Fall

    

The words of Lin Yutang, lovely and poignant, are perfect to reflect upon as summer ends:
 “I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its tone is mellower, its colors are richer, and it is tinged with a little sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, not the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life, and it content”.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Repost: The Field Cricket


 The lovely song of the field cricket is heralded this month and its melodic symphony can be heard each evening. Fall is the time for cricket mating and the male, who is the only voice of the cricket, is singing to potential sweethearts. Although the female can not sing, she can hear the song through her ears which are located on her front legs just below her knees.

A shy and reclusive little insect, the cricket rarely makes a public evening appearance until the urgency of mating begins. Following fertilization cricket eggs are deposited in the soil in the autumn soon after the rains begin. They will rest there until time to hatch in the spring; once they are born baby crickets hide during the day. They emerge to eat in the evenings and enjoy grasses, pieces of grain, wool and their favorite snack... book bindings. Apparently the darling cricket will sing, mate, then come inside to eat a good pair of wool pants and a book or two before its life cycle ends.

Photo: An Outdoor Asian Market Selling Cricket Cages

 In China singing crickets are kept as pets in special cages and it is believed they bring a household good fortune... prized specimens fetch amazing prices. In fact the cricket culture in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty from 500 BC to 618 AD. It was during this time the crickets first became respected for their powerful ability to “sing” and a cult formed to capture and cage them. Naturally the obsession escalated and in the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1278 AD the sport “cricket fighting” became popular.

The sport became so popular that China actually produced a Cricket Minister, Jia Shi-Dao who reigned from 1213 to 1275 before being deposed for irresponsibility. Then from 1427 to 1464, a Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuan-Zhong ruled in favor of cricket fighting, making his palace a major tribute to this important insect. Racketeering, gambling, and even suicides were reported over Chinese cricket mania. *This 'mania' was described as a national obsession.

Luckily, the Asian fabric of choice is silk which is unappetizing to crickets for had it been wool the cricket's popularity would have suffered greatly. Years ago I pulled my 'good' white wool, Katherine Hepburn style, very expensive pleated slacks from my closet only to discover one leg was totally destroyed with cricket holes. Now whenever I hear them in the house I track them and gently place them outside to play!  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Majestic Sunflowers


The majestic Sunflower is a universally popular annual with great historical significance. Domesticated species have been found in South America dating back to 2600 BC with one discovered in our Tennessee Valley dating to 2300 BC. The Incas had selectively bred a magnificent single stemmed Sunflower from the small native wild flowers. With its center head and golden rays of petals it became the symbol of the Sun god in both the Inca and Mayan cultures, holding a sacred status. Their magnificent golden images of Sunflowers, as well as seeds, were among the items pilfered by the Conquistadors and brought home to Spain. By 1580 the Sunflower was a common sight in every Spanish village and from there it spread to Italy, India, Egypt, China, and Russia.

Native Americans grew the Sunflower as a food crop and almost every part of this gem has some practical use. The seeds, which are rich in calcium, are an easily stored snack, and a dye extracted from the petals was used in ceremonial body painting along with the oil. A light and lovely fiber was made from the stalks and the bloom time indicated the dates of the hunting calendar.

By the time it reached Russia, the Sunflower was well recognized as a food source and produced the only oil not banned during Holy Orthodox Lent. In fact, Russia has such a long-held love affair with the Sunflower that it became their national flower. Russia also led the way in hybridization, developing the ‘Russian Mammoth’ that has been popular for over 130 years.

Since hybrid Sunflowers began to dominate, the small open pollinators were almost lost and by the 1950’s most of the varieties cultivated by Native tribes had nearly reached extinction. Mr. Charles Heiser, a dedicated retired botanist, made it his personal mission to save them and the seeds he collected rest in a repository which houses over 2,000 Sunflower varieties from around the world.



And of course we have Vincent van Gogh to thank for the most famous Sunflowers… his love affair with them immortalized their beauty in numerous paintings. Plant some today… the birds will thank you!