Friday, March 24, 2006

hopelessly distracted

I am under a spell, bewitched.

The sun was shining. The cool spring air was mild and soft. Patches of snow still lay on the ground where the drifts had been deep, where trees keep the snow in shade, the shrinking patches of snow grainy, slippery and heavy.

Where fallen logs lay on the ground along hedgerows and in the woods, they are blanketed with mossy green. Satiny frills of brown lichen, flash an orange lining, like the skirts of some unknown tribal dress. Other lichens like old, grey, tattered lace doilies spread themselves over a sunny rock. On the sunny side of tree trunks and on rocks baking in the sun, splotches of orange , chartreuse and veridian amongst the grey lichens are scattered about as if a mad painter had carelessly splattered his paints or marked things with fading slashes of colour: mine, mine, mine, mine. This tree, and this rock, and this, and this, and this, too.

On my hands and knees, engrossed in the miniature forest of moss, exotic fronds, tiny, capped urns atop hair-like stalks, lacy carpets with ferny swirling patterns, grey lichen cathedral ruins with pillars reaching for the sky, grey and verdigris saucers of a space-age city-scape, the giant, friendly body of my English bulldog, intrudes on my miniature world as she thrusts, snuffling, into my face.

"There you are! Come on! I love you (lick, lick). You’re falling behind. We were way up ahead on the path. We came back for you! Come on!" She lunged at me, a goofy hockey-player, affectionately body-checking me.

Struggling to regain my balance, my focus lifts momentarily from the complex, micro world of mosses and lichens to the larger universe: mild spring air, sunny blue skies, brown meadows, mats of crisp, dry leaves in the hedgerows, bare trees overhead, buds swelling on the tips of the branches, ruby, gold, jade, amber.

The insistent "pee-eep!" of the nuthatch and the quarrelsome "peek, peek, peek" of the hairy woodpecker turn my head upwards. Chickadees have come along too, curious, checking up on the activities of the intruders, all the while busy snacking on all the foodstuff in the crevices of the tree bark. The loud, ringing "kik-kikkik, kik-kik" of the pileated woodpecker announces his passage and I catch a glimpse of white the underwings of the large, black bird, then the flaming-red crest on his head as he swoops up into the naked tree-tops. Trying to approach closer for a better look at him, I only elicit an angry "kik, kikkik,kikkik" and he swoops off through the trees and away.

The dogs come back again, circling around me, sniffing the ground.

"Huh? What has distracted her this time? I don’t smell anything new here, do you?"

"Come on. Catch up with us. There’s this great scent up ahead and we want to know where it leads! Come on!"

Happily, I wander on, drinking in the day: the smell of dank, rich earth and water, the sound of soft wind sighing through the trees, melting runoff gurgling over the lip of the culvert into the ditch, the visual riches of bare trees silhouetted against the blue sky, many textured bark, the sensations of dry leaves, spongy soil, heavy snow, crunchy gravel or melted-chocolate, smeary mud under my boots.

This warm spring afternoon has captured my soul and stolen it away. Gone, it's gone!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

the odd & exotic

Pagistaan/Kati noticed how different some of our flora and fauna is from that of northern Europe and Scandinavia, even though we are in similar latitudes.

There are many plants that were introduced from Europe and other places into North America and are now endemic. Some varieties of plants may have been native, but subspecies were introduced. This happened any number of ways including gardeners and farmers bringing seeds intentionally for growing on their new homesteads, seeds hitching a ride in the gut of the domesticated anitmals immigrants brought to the New World, seeds hitching rides in clothing, feed, etc.

A recent example is purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, a very attractive perennial which loves marshy areas. Introduced as an ornamental plant, many of the varieties have become a pest in this part of the world, replacing nearly all native vegetation and destroying wetland areas. An huge effort has been made in recent years to educate gardeners to its tendency to spread and escape and to eradicate it in critical waterways.

However, I'm of two minds regarding what people call weeds. I believe Mother Nature has a purpose for every single plant and organism. And I believe, plants and animals have been migrating around the world without our help for ages; we are trying to take all the credit for something that does happen naturally to some extent. Nothing is static in nature. Something is always becoming and something is always disappearing. Nature will balance itself.

The imbalance seems to be the most common result wherever humans act. Sometimes we deliberately introduce things for our own purposes, whatever they may be. Sometimes we deliberately destroy things, for similar purposes. Most often, we pillage and plunder and destroy, without regard to what we end result will be, most often putting profit before all other considerations. For example, the wild turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo, recently reintroduced and apparently thriving, are causing some farmers around here to be concerned that they may be "damaging crops." I see the turkeys foraging among the stalks of last summer's corn and wonder if they aren't perhaps doing the farmers a favor, cleaning up weed seeds and waste corn that might molder and harbour diseases that could damage next years corn crop, for example.

Anyway, I think modern agriculture is doing more damage to the environment than we can easily wrap our minds around. Monoculture invites pests. The heavy equipment required to farm these days, the chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, and then the runoff into the groundwater, or even directly into streams and rivers, does more to damage fragile ecosystems than the odd imported exotic ever did. Most exotics have to be molly-coddled and protected to survive a harsh change in environment and promptly die if neglected.

And yet, like Don at Iowa Garden, I've spent hours on my hands and knees also, pulling up garlic mustard aka stinkweed, Thlapsi arvense. I console myself with the thought that doing penance on my hands and knees is better than blanket-treating the garden with roundup, etc. I can hardly bear to thin extra seedlings, never mind risk losing beautiful, desirable, well-established plants to roundup or the like. Besides, I think the most marvelous thoughts when I'm weeding. Time flies by. The only down-side to weeding for me is that it's so hard to straighten up and stand/walk afterwards!

Having trouble uploading some pictures of plants that are the early-showers around here. Ah well, I'll try again later.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

mosses and lichens

The World of Mosses, featuring the work of Robert Muma, is a nice place to start exploring mosses. In my photographs of mosses, I have no idea what it is I'm looking at, actually, and in a little bit of exploring has revealed a huge, complex world of thousands of species, usually identified with the aid of a magnifying glass!

Did anybody else ever play in the woods, say, on a mossy blanketed flat stone, and notice the small "fairy cups" on the slender stalks above the moss? Apparently, that is the sporophyte. You can find that out too on the same site above by clicking on Discovering the Mosses...

Ooohh! So many interesting things to explore. Andy's northern Ontario Wildflower Page also has many photos of mosses and lichens.

My fibre friends will be interested in this site which mentions several lichens used in dying fibre.

Among the best photos of lichens that I've found so far are these by Julie Medlin, on her "Lichens of Grand Traverse County, Michigan" page, here.

I'm still at a total loss as to how to identify anything. I can see I will have to do some homework!

green stuff & birds

Pine siskins at the bird feeder. They seem to travel in little groups, chattering amongst themselves.

The white breasted nuthatch moves very quickly up and down the branches, to and from the bird feeder, and didn't stay still long enough for me to get a decent photograph. Very quick to shy away if I moved, flitting about, at ease upside down or not, he kept up an indignant "whi, whi, whi, whi" to announce that I was intruding!

Bold and curious black-capped chickadee. Several gathered at the birdfeeder today.
Other bird visitors I saw today were flocks of red-winged blackbirds, a lone American tree sparrow, which I think was wintering here and will go northwards soon, and several Common grackles.

Mosses and grass on an old stump.
Ferns stayed green all winter under the snow.
Tips of some spring bulbs.

Monday, March 20, 2006

porcupine update

The porcupine climbed up inside the tree so that I barely had time to catch this shot of his tail before he disappeared. Since it has been a while since I've walked this way with the dogs, I noticed big changes -- the porcupines have been busy -- assuming there are still two of them. This upper opening on the south-east side of the tree is much larger, as is the lower opening on the north-west side of the tree. The pile of porcupine droppings has also increased;

plus there is a new pile on the south-east side, under the upper opening in the tree:

Another porcupine has been busy here, near the maple, oak and hawthorn I mentioned before. I think this is a stand of wild cherry, minus large patches of porcupine-chewed bark.

The culprit is probably the little fellow I once spotted, clinging to the smallest uppermost branches of the oak, swaying in the breeze. Molly is ignoring the porcupines today in favour of chasing the raccoons that are so wildly exciting to Misty. The porcupine has hollowed out a large fallen tree trunk just to the left of these cherries. See all the droppings at his door?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

sunset & vernal equinox

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


The wind has hassled the house all night. As I drifted up into that half wakeful state this morning, the bumps and whines and squeeks startled me again and again, jolting me fully awake. The wind, in a hurry toward the east, kept jostling the house as it rushed past. There is cloud overhead, the sun breaks through from time to time. A very light snow so that you might hardly notice, a snow of thin, sharp flakes, swirls around erratically. A bright ray of sunlight sweeps past the window, the light cooling into greys immediately, as the sun is obscured by clouds again. The clouds do not have any defined shape. They are high, vague, rolling past, pushed on by the urging wind. The temperature has dropped sharply.

Now unprotected by any snow, because most of the snow melted in the last few days, the tender tips of green pushing out of the ground are exposed and and vulnerable. Did the bulbs, enticed by the spell of warm weather, push their growth up too early? Will the inevitable last big storm of March catch them?

I think not. Many of the bulbs started their growth last fall, some of the tips of green showing then before our first snowfalls. Under the snow they have quietly waited for spring. The days are longer, the sun is warm, but the earth is slow to release itself from the grip of winter and relax into the heat of spring and summer. The bulbs do this every year.

Other things might not fare as well. Roses, for one, certainly cannot take the fickle changes from day to day of this season. Best to leave them covered as long as this crazy weather lasts. Uncover them slowly, later, when spring has really taken hold.
For the first time, now that most of the snow is gone, the shapes of the vegetable garden beds become visible. To me, they are rather pleasing in the regularity. I'm so impatient for it to get a bit warmer so that I can get out there. I want to dig in the soil, feel it and smell it, lose myself in it. I wouldn't be at all surprised to come across a lost coffee mug out there that I might have laid down sometime last summer or fall, just for a minute and forgot, while I pulled this weed or that, or tied up this leaning plant or that.

I was inside from my walk by 5:00 p.m., trying to forestall the "Misty-running-after-the-coons" problem, by getting indoors well before dusk. I talked on the phone for a while, did a little vacuuming, warmed up some stew for my supper, and voila. I opened the door to let the dogs out for a pee (with Misty on her leash) and pow! We've been hit with about 3-4" of snow!

Monday, March 13, 2006

this is reality

This is not at all what I feel like today, all that cheery sunshine, that happily gurgling water, that warm light of the end of a wintry afternoon.....

Oh-ho-ho no! What I feel like is a black, barbed-wire fence, kind of ball of dirty despair. I hate that feeling. Nothing, nothing I have done today has lifted it, not even the tiniest bit. All the usual things, the things I turn to when I need a bit of joy, they are blah empty dusty useless futile exercises in futility! Oh I hate it when I feel like this.

Why? I ask myself. The problems that have me in knots now were also there when I felt light and free and happy. That just goes to show you that problems are the real things. This cynical angry frustrated being just realized that minimizing problems when you are feeling "light and free and happy" is a gross error in judgment, perhaps fatal, brought on by too much happiness.
This miserable jail of problems on every side, monsters that dissolve out of the hard stone walls to terrify my imagination, horrors that well up under my feet, pain and shame and fear that has my body on the rack -- that's reality. I just didn't see it with my "light and free and happy" rose-coloured glasses, that's all. Now, this is more like it:


stickers & water in the basement

What do those stickers mean? It's bad enough they don't come off easily, taking a bit of the skin with them once you do pry them off, or leaving a residue of glue behind. Now, here might be a way to make them useful: how to decode those stickers. Jane Perrone found out how thanks to Marion Owen at Acorns . Marion writes from Kodiak Island, Alaska and her site is full of interesting stuff. Don't you love it, the click that takes you around the world?

Our day was foggy and rainy. As the snow melts, it's running into our basement. This old house needs a bit of work. There are several large cracks in the foundation which leak. The grade on the side where the driveway is, has been elevated by multiple additions of gravel which allows runoff melting snow/rain to run into the basement via the stairwell that leads directly from the outside into the basement. The exterior door to the basement was replaced this fall, door-frame and all, but I should think all that water in the stairwell won't be doing that door any good! Then, did I already mention the eavestroughs? Oh well, 'nuff said.

Yesterday, after all the mild weather we have had and the water running everywhere as I already mentioned, I had my concerns. Ann had thought we were going to be ok this year, because she had just been in the basement and things were looking pretty dry. But this morning, I just had to go and get another jar of dried lemon verbena for tea, didn't I? When I opened the door to the basement and flicked on the light, I was horrified to see small rivers of water all over the floor. Maybe it's a trick of the mind, but after that discovery, the house suddenly felt a whole lot less warm and cosy.

There is a down side to being a renter. But the rent is extremely cheap, and I can't afford to live anywhere else, and I do love the quiet and relatively peaceful setting, and I like the landlords...There is an upside to being a renter: fixing the house is not my problem, right? ;)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

early potatoes

There is something so wonderful about the first fresh new potatoes of the season. We forget how lovely they are if all we ever get are store-bought. Here is a site in Finnish that explains how to grow your own and perhaps be harvesting potatoes by the summer solstice! If it can be done in Finland, it can be done here in Ontario. I should try to do a translation of the instructions in English...a possible project!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

9 days 'till spring

Everything is soggy and melting. The sun was warm. For walking today, rubber boots were required. The boots are three sizes too large and if you look closely at the boot on the right, just above the ankle,you'll notice a small hole...

Dried leaves from last fall which were buried in snow must attract heat. They have created a cut-out shape of themselves in the melting ice.

A large old oak and, to a lesser extent, the maple next to it, have had the tenderest bark on the smaller braches stripped off by a hungry porcupine. A few small hawthorns nearby have also been chewed upon. It was not a big porcupine that I spotted the other afternoon, near the top of one of those trees. What will happen to the tree, damaged as it is like this? Will it leaf out, die back, get diseased?

The sound of running water is everywhere. As the snow thaws, it collects in the lower lying areas of the fields. All this runoff swells the streams and rivers. In places it floods, overflowing the banks. My mother never scolded us when, as kids, we invariably got wet at this time of the year. My dad probably was the one who showed us the power and dangers of water, especially spring flooding. He had the patience to answer questions and he was always pointing things out on our Saturday afternoon walks. Talking, explaining about running water, currents, mud and quicksand, he also allowed us to have an adventure. He encouraged us to test things, take risks, be daring, have fun. Sometimes we fell in. Our judgment improved as we saw how seldom Dad himself got in trouble, although he waded in the creeks with us. How different it is for kids today. They are so protected they can't learn to judge anything like this for themselves. Experience is sometimes the best teacher; feeling the current so strong you can barely stay on you feet you get a healthy respect for water. Crossing the running water here, I could see water under the ice as well as on top of it. Nervously I prayed that the ice would hold, or I'd be in mighty deep. The tops of my boots were well above the water, so I was not sure at first what had happened, why one foot was suddenly so icy and wet: that's when I discovered the hole in my boot.

In one of the fields, weeds took over the unplanted, plowed-up soil. There was quite a crop: prostrate pigweed Amaranthus graecizans, red-root pigweed Amaranthus retroflexus, Canada thistle Cirsium arvense, annual sow thistle Sonchus asper, and green smartweed Polygonum lapathifolium for starters! Here, if you look closely, you can see the thousands of small black seeds in the ice that have fallen from the Amaranths! A very common annual weed, you can see...there's going to be trou-ble!

In a tangle of wild grapevine throwing itself over a sapling, I spied this little, dead creature about 10 feet off the ground. By pulling the grapevines downward towards me, I was able to snap these pictures. What is it? A shrew? A deermouse? How did it get up in the grapevines? Maybe somebody knows better than I.

Molly is thinking about that huge stump (she thinks quite slowly, like Pooh). On our walks, this stump usually gets a thorough examination by the dogs. It is slowly disintegrating under the assault of raccoons, insects and rot. Who knows what creatures have been enjoying this stump? Perhaps the dogs know.

More melting snow water.

It was a quiet walk today, for a Saturday. Maybe because the ice on the lake is not safe, skidoos did not seem to be about. In the blessed absence of their raw droning there was birdsong. The other morning, the robin singing was not a dream; I saw two today. There were also red-wing blackbirds, crows (that must mean the sap is running for maple syrup) and Canada geese. An unseen pileated woodpecker sure was doing some loud damage to a tree in the woods!

The lake beyond the trees:

Another sunset photo for my brother T., who lives in Alaska. This view down the hill, beyond the bottom of our yard reveals the lake through the trees. The lake, and the cottages along the shore, will be hidden from sight when the trees leaf out.

what a difference a day makes

Yesterday was a gloomy, damp, drizzly day. I couldn't seem to get much done. Burying myself under my quilt, I read Isabel Allende's, Portrait in Sepia and watched an old black-and-white movie, Anna Karenina, with Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson, on video. The good old library to my rescue, eh?

In contrast, this is today. The snow and ice are melting fast, revealing all sorts of grossness (ie. dog-doo-doo) as they melt away. (Notice I adroitly I avoided showing you that stuff?) The good news is that the melting is also revealing some small tips of growing stuff: my bulbs planted at the east side of the house by the "back door" are coming up. Some of the perennials came through the winter quite well and already green, are just waiting to shake off the rest of the snow to grow in earnest.

Since I had trouble focusing on the wee tips of the bulbs coming up, you'll just have to trust me and enjoy this Hellebore instead.

Friday, March 10, 2006

agave photos

By the way, Tom Spencer has some wonderful agave photos via his site at Soul of the Garden. Just scroll down the page to the "special notice to regular visitors" and click on the word, agave.

Another interesting site is the Plants Database of the USDA.

naked men in vats of agave juice

At Orion magazine, there is an article and photographs by Douglas Menuez, a piece entitled Love Song of the Agave. You know, years ago, when I was young and read, say, a National Geographic article on some fascinating place in the world, with a culture and tradition that rich and complex, it did not enter my mind then, that there was any danger it would disappear.
Now, it's the first thing that comes into my mind.

Tequila "by law is place-specific, made from blue agave grown in Jalisco and some nearby states". It is a gift given from the gods to the Aztecs. The knowledge of making tequila survived through the long, complicated, brutal history of Mexico and for more than nine thousand years, the blue agave has been cultivated and its juice fermented. The method is more than the manufacture of something as if in a factory. It's a way of life, it's a ritual, a tradition, a central underpinning of the social fabric that makes family life, and survival in a harsh place, bearable.

As I read about this, I was sad, because I know that already, agave is so rare, it takes so long for the agave to mature to the stage that the juice can be harvested, that 'artificial' tequila is being manufactured, instead. There was also some pest or disease that was decimating the agave, was there not? Also, recently, I discovered that a firm from South Africa is making tequila, as agave does grow in South Africa's climate. They are introducing it into North American markets as we speak!

Unfortunately, I'm thinking: did the Aztec gods give the gift of tequila to the South African company too? Was the right way to make tequila passed down from father to son in the Nahuatl tongue, the original language of the indigeneous Mexican people? What happens to "the way", "the window", and the love embodying the traditional world-view involved in the making of tequila in Mexico? Will there still be naked men in the vats of agave juice a hundred years from now?

There are some things we should not do, just because we can and make a buck. Would that there were more enlightened investors who could see the necessity of keeping the magic of some of our old traditions in this world alive! While I would wish for an easier and more peaceful life for the makers of tequila in Mexico, would there not be some imaginative way we could ensure the tradition does not die?

another sunset picture

For my brother in Homer, Alaska: another sunset photo!

Thursday, March 09, 2006


It has been fairly mild over the last couple of days. Today, it was raining and foggy. Everything is dripping wet and in the house it feels colder than it is outside; but of course that is impossible. In the wee hours of the morning, I have been awakened by bird song. In fact, one morning, I was sure I heard a robin. Not being a morning person, however, that could have been a part of a dream.

One thing I'm sure of is that it is raccoon season again. The dogs are crazy to get into the barn. Going outside for the last business of the night before going to bed now means a wild chase around the yard, trying to catch the raccoons out of the trees. Misty goes into her hysterical yipping; the other two dash of in hot pursuit, panting and snuffling (guess which one does what -- if you are already acquainted with Tasha and Molly that is an easy question!).

The other day, on my afternoon walk with the dogs, Misty went crazy and all three converged on this cluster of saplings in the wet area below the pond, southeast of the house: three coons safely out of reach up in the trees, about 15 feet off the ground.

The other two were easy enough to draw away on home, but Misty is obsessed. She came home by herself much later. Now that the coons are about again, increasing their activites especially after dusk, I'm not sure it's a good idea to let Misty out for that last visit at night without restraining her. What a pain in the **s!

mystical water

Burleigh Falls, Ontario.

There is something mystical about water. Water often features in my dreams. In my nightmares there are tidal waves and undertows, waterfalls and floods. I don't seem to recall pleasant dreams about water. And yet, my dream home would be one that overlooks water, the ocean, a lake or a river!

yoga tree

I call this our yoga tree.
At Roundrock Journal I stumbled on an interesting idea: a Carnival of Anthropomorphistic plants. Here's my contribution:

Monday, March 06, 2006


Letters, I mean real handwritten letters on pretty papers from a loved one, a friend, a soulmate, don't seem to get written much anymore. It's an event that is missing in my life, at least. A personal letter amongst the rest of the mail is like finding a pretty stone, or a delicate shell, in the sand at the beach.

Perhaps email and weblogs are filling that niche. It does seem our psyches need to write it down. Journaling as a practice has been taken up by all sorts of people. Journaling serves all sorts of purposes, most of them private to the writer. Emails and weblogs, on the other hand, when shared as most are, become an interesting interpersonal transaction.

Emails and weblogs aren't usually overwrought works of art. The ones I enjoy most are thoughts and observations jotted down, almost as if on the fly, spontaneous, heartfelt, often witty and sharp, expressive of all sorts of emotions, attitudes and opinions. But perhaps what they all share is that we seem to have a built-in, almost primal, need to write down observations about our lives and then share them.

How delicious it is to peruse the "letters" of bloggers from all over the world who seem to feel it is important enough to pay attention, to observe the world around them and to write it down! Somehow, as one reads a thought or a detail as seen by another human being, it is as if we realize: Ah-ha! I recognize something about my world in what you said about your world, it's our world. Our world, our thoughts, the little everyday moments of our lives matter, even though most of our moments are not big ones. We matter, to each other.