Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nature's Way

My little pool beside the porch has been a continuing source of curiosity this summer.  It all began when I decided to put a plastic garden pond into service instead of letting it get brittle in the sun.  So, MM and I dug out a wee spot for it and I filled it with water.  It sat there for quite awhile before I noticed that it had a frog in it.  One frog.  Only.  I was thrilled!  At least the pool had one living soul.  Little did I know that was the beginning of a population explosion.  Before long I had three frogs.  Soon, there were six. Lounging space among the water weeds became scarce.   MM was sure I was exaggerating the numbers as I kept announcing the procession of increases.  Twenty.  Thirty-seven.  Forty-one.  Forty-one frogs had found this paradise. 
And then.....things changed.   
"Do garter snakes eat frogs," I asked MM.
"I dunno," he said.  And thereupon, nowadays, offered his standard answer:  "Look it up on the Net."  And there it technicolor.  OMG!  (not my photo above, but the best of the descriptive views on Google images.)  The garter snake had discovered the joys of an all-it-could-eat buffet, and it was cleaning up.
"How many frogs have you got today?"  MM asked a few days later. 
"Thirty," I replied. 
"I thought you had something like 40.."
"I did." 
Three days later the numbers were in the mid-twenties.  And they plummeted with each passing day.  I would check several times throughout the day, and more often than not, a snake was there, watching....waiting
Then I noticed that the size of the snake kept changing.  One day it was big.  Next day it was small.  Of course I'd never heard of a snake changing sizes.  Apparently the buffet concept had wide appeal.  I now had TWO snakes skulking around the rim of the pool.    
"Do garter snakes swim?"  I asked MM. 
"I dunno....look it up--"
"...on the 'Net."
Sure enough.  Snakes swim just fine.  That explained the snake's head that was lurking a little while later, (seemingly body-less) amongst the water weeds I saw the following day.  The snake was fast even in the water.  It lunged.  Fifteen frogs left and counting.... 
The numbers have levelled out some now.  Maybe a balance of some kind has been reached.  OTOH, the snakes haven't given up their quest.  They're still there lurking in the rocks and fringes of the pool.
It doesn't feel like I should interfere with Nature's drama, here.  So, I watch.  This morning, two snakes were visible at different times, both tried but failed to snag a frog. One snake is about half the size of the other.   No big bulge in the middle of either of the snakes, as was the case the first time I saw one nab a frog.  Instead they crawled out of the pool, having missed lunch, and one took up a spot to wait for the next meal coming its way.  The other worked its way back into the rockpile and disappeared (for the moment.) 
It's been a fascinating spectacle.  A little grisly, granted, but still it's a deadly unfolding drama as the laws of supply and demand seek to find balance.  I take full responsibility for having created this situation.  If it weren't for my artifical pond and its setting, we wouldn't be having a frog massacre.  On the other hand, maybe I am supply a needed food supply.  Either way we've either got too many frogs or too many snakes....and the beat goes on....

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Keeping Up Appearances

It's easy to obscess about the triviality of downed trees in the yard. 
Normally this time of year, after letting the wildflowers self-sow for next year in our inner compound, MM usually decides to spend the money for fuel and mow the "lawn."  If a only  for a moment, I confess we've both enjoyed the interludes of groomed pasture grass.  It reminds us we're  entirely removed from residential by-laws that dictate appearances. 
So, this year?  Well, it's impossible to mow a carpet of sticks with grass blades growing through them, thanks to the Big Wind.  Besides, it's too hot to devote hours to stick removal during this soggy, sweltering weather.  And we can do that later when October nips and we require warmth generated by something other than sweating under a ferocious sun.  Logical, yes.  But I have to keep reminding myself that it's OK.
 Remember Thoreau and Walden Pond?  He commented on many things, was often cynical and rude.  But when he wrote about the value of getting firewood and letting it warm you three times (once when you cut it, again when you gather and stack it and finally when it's brought into the house and burned..) I find myself ready to accept that gift.
 Being able to prioritize among the rules.  Waiting until the niggling frosty days of autumn suggest a need to get busy tidying the mess here.  It takes discipline, though,  as I watch our neighbors' yards resume their stateliness, while ours--usually at least pretty--withers and dries both overhead as well as on the ground.
We humans tend to fixate on (and never question) the often ridiculous mandates society imposes upon us.  We are bound by "rules" that suffocate.  I remember visiting one home when I was out selling Pampered Chef where the family had been fined by the residential committee of their sub-division for washing their car in their yard (no water restriction at the time).  It was "uncouth" to be conducting any kind of visible  honest labor in that gated community.  
Me?  I'd rather spend precious dollars on things that matter.  A manicured lawn is not one of them.  And strawberry ice cream cones in the sky are free. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Derecho

Good morning!  It's been a long and largely difficult summer this year.  Day after day of bruising heat; the garden has suffered.  And so have we.  Last evening, for the first time in over two months, we were treated to a spectacular sunset amidst a cool backdrop of light breezes from the north.  This instead of hiding out in the house to deflect the intense heat.

Compared with close-to-one-hundred-degree temperatures and punishing winds, last night was paradise.  For the first time I really felt like the oppressive and menacing weather was going to relent.  At least for awhile, anyway.  Mother Nature is unhappy with us.  Our carbon footprint is way too large.  Global warming is real.  Climate change is real.  The elements have combined in an evil fashion.  Our yard is filled with downed trees; one of our chimneys blew off completely and punched holes in the roof on its way to the ground.  Our neighbor's roof blew clean off.   We were nine days without power. 

Perhaps our biggest loss was that huge amount of pork sausage we put in the freezer.  But nevermind.  Despite the 100-mph "derecho"...we are doing just fine.  Really, we are...but we're wary.  All of us are.  Waiting for the next "big one."   It's a new term, this "derecho."  Rare, in fact.  Only happens when the forces line up in a particular order.  I can vouch for the fact that it's awesome.  They sent electrical crews from all over the country to our little neighborhood.  Five HUNDRED utility poles were demolished.  Snapped off about 25 feet above the ground.  Same way with the myriad downed trees....all broken off at about 20-25 feet above the ground. 

Nine days without electricity is challenging.  But we made out just fine. 

The one thing we learned here is that we are NOT prepared for disasters.  We've always had such a benign climate.  Sure, we experienced the odd hailstorm, or severe storm.  But here in the quiet old soft-shouldered Appalachian mountains, we've always felt safe.  So when disaster struck, we didn't have an infrastructure that was prepared to deal with massive damage and downed powerlines.  But, we came together and helped one another.  Our newly formed neighborhood association reached out to connect one another...and that was good. 

This occurrence has opened the door to a new era of caring and cooperation right here in our corner of the world.  So, overall....the big storm taught us lots of lessons we needed to learn.  More on this in another post. 

It's been so long since I posted anything to this blog that I almost forgot how!  How are you all, anyway?  Did you get caught in the derecho? (BTW, if you don't know what a derecho is, you can learn more about it by going here:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tree of Many Talents

When we moved to Appalachia in 1975, I was amazed at how many plants were the same familiar varieties as the ones I'd left behind in the Pacific Northwest.  But others were new to me.  And many of the trees bloomed profusely. (Very noticeable to someone coming from the Evergreen State and Douglas firs.   Among these new-to-me specimens were the catalpa (or catawba) trees.  Planted for their beautiful flowers and huge, heart-shaped leaves they give deep shade and protection to birds, butterflies and people.  Now they seem to grow wild throughout our region.  Sometimes, they are used in making guitars--tonewood, as it is known.  Their fragrance attacts insects...and people!  A member of the Trumpet Vine family, they grow rather rapidly, and ours are having a bonanza bloom this year. It's as though the tree has donned a wedding dress!
As the flowers recede, it becomes clear as to the origin of the nickname for the catalpa:  cigar tree
When I'd ask about these beautiful trees, the remarks were rather uncomplimentary and recurring:  folks would say they're a very "messy" tree with the long bean-like "fruit" --or cigars, as they are called--"messing up" the yard.  
But the green worms?  That was another story.  The Sphinx moth caterpillars love the catalpa and according to champion fishing-philes make the best fish bait!  So much so that some avid anglers even plant whole orchards of catalpas just to have access to a cache of these dynamite green fishing worms, which apparently bass find irresistible.
I guess we've cleaned off the caterpillars a bit too religiously each year and so now have none!  That's probably a good thing, though, as too good a foothold for the worms results in complete defoliation and over several years could kill the tree.
But this beauty (below) succumbed to weather elements and is no more. 
  Only a stump remains whereupon we've allowed another plant to take hold, replacing the catalpa:  it's a Trumpet Vine. 

Monday, May 28, 2012


 Have you ever thought about the fact that too much of what we Americans celebrate is connected with war...?
Let's take a look:
Martin Luther King day in January is of course, about the Civil War...the endless Civil War.  The war back in the 1800's we are told,  was about "economics..."  But it was also about CIVIL rights.  And we're still at it, today.  People are fascinated with the "Civil War" (witness the popularity of Ken Burns's series on it).  How can we continue to glorify the killing of 618,000 men on a battlefield, anywhere?   Much less "celebrate".   Today, we are using high tech pilot-less drones from afar to "take out" suspected/labeled "terrorists" but also innocent human beings, calling it "Politics...  Collateral damage...Casualties of war..."
Presidents' Day?  Perhaps this is unfair, but most of these men who were president,  presided over a war of some kind or other during their tenure...after all, war makes the economy run...small wars, big wars, police actions, skimishes...war.
I find it ironic that we celebrate Mother's Day in the first half of May only to have the last half of the month (Memorial Day) celebrating the taking away of the sons (mostly) of mothers...commemorating the "ultimate sacrifice."  We go through the almost mechanical motions of "paying tribute" to those who died supposedly fighting for our freedom..."
July 4th celebrates our inability to engage in meaningful conversation to arrive at a decision to be independent from a "mother" country...And I can't help but notice that the phrase "bombs bursting in air" gets the loudest applause and voice at NFL football games...
Veteran's Day in November speaks for itself...but doesn't include the following facts:
We spend $160 billion every year to keep 310,000 troops in 150 countries around the world...
Call me anti-American if you wish (I'm anti-colonialist and believe we can use the resources we spend overseas on military right here at home), but I keep asking...
Apparently, I am not the only one asking questions....
Go here for something you probably didn't hear about...because the MSM doesn't want you to hear about it...Amy Goodman's Memorial Day Special is a real the video which took place in Chicago at the NATO summit, May 20th.  It's embedded in the story, "Memorial Day Special:  U. S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return Medals To NATO at Chicago Summit."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Brit in Tennessee

My blog post for this Memorial Day weekend is to direct you to this lady's blog.  It is--IMHO--simply sure to WAIT for the music, as the commentary is made more dramatic (if that is possible) with the musical background.  Read the poems and the quotations she has chosen to accompany her photographs.  I've not sought her permission, but it is my hope she will be gladdened by my recommendation...

The post is poignant beyond words...causing me, at least, to once again question:  is there ANY value to war?   Any at all?  Shouldn't we humans by now be done with war?  Or are we still too primitive and barbaric?  And please don't point fingers at the "other guys" and say, "They started it."  Didn't Mother tell us "Charity begins at home...?"

And, BTW, thank you Jim of Wayfarin' Stranger blog,

for directing our attention to this anthem of beauty...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Water Dynamics

Last night, it rained.  And rained. And rained some more...  Not your little spotty shower and then it's over.  No, no.  This was a regular ditch-digger, truly a frog-strangler.  Matter of fact, in the midst of it, several tree frogs did decide to celebrate the rain--at least for awhile--and gave voice to their location...not having yet gotten to the "strangler" part, I'm assuming. 

I was out on the porch, hulling strawberries, MM was drawing plans for the picnic shelter we plan to erect in our new neighborhood park.  Whisps of vapor-laden air wafted past us with each passing dark cloud.  It was almost as if the whole world was having a bath. The music of the rain was magical.   Born in Seattle...I confess my love of a good old-fashioned drenching!  It's what brings the greenery...and the flowers.

But how much is too much? Hmmmmmmm.  The forceful dynamics of water can alter original plans!  This is called "a wash(out)".   We wound up with about 2 inches of rainfall in a comparatively short amount of time....and it looks like....

We could be in for more!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lights Out?

Let's admit it, dear readers....we all take the sun for granted.  And nothing even remotely resembling its disappearance is on the horizon, give or take a few billion years.  Nothing suggests it won't rise and set as usual.  On the other hand...what is not predictable is what the sun will DO over the next two years to our technology driven world.   Specifically, according to the latest National Geographic magazine which arrived in yesterday's mail, we're looking at the not-so-remote possibility that heightened numbers of solar flares and supersized solar storms could take down our entire society, dependent as we are on electronics in all facets of our world.  And that, folks, is not simply scare-mongering.  We are just at the beginning of a two-year cycle that will run through the end of 2014 in which heightened solar activity could drastically change our lives. In recent years, technology and science have allowed us to develop more sophisticated tools with which to study the sun.  Those various studies have revealed that we may be in for a catastrophic lifestyle adjustment.
Here's one "take" on the possibilities (from the NG article):  "The morally right thing to do once you've identified a threat of this magnitude is to be prepared...Not preparing for it has intolerable consequences."  Karel Schrijver
When the National Geographic gives the Sun center stage on its cover,  with an accompanying headline that reads, "Solar Super Storms:  How they could impact our high tech world.."  they're not pulling their punches.  It's the real deal.  Time to plan for interrupted food delivery systems, water/sewer, and all the things that makes life "go."
For an overall "take" on the situation go here:
I admit  Demitria's website looks a little suspect...but don't judge a book by its cover.  There's good information here.   Especially since the folks at National Geographic largely agree.  You see, over the past few years, we've been able to study the sun in more detail and that has given us new information.
 And, no....we're not talking here about the Mayan calendar predictions.  Forget that and all the crazy stuff associated with it.  We're talking about the fact that our power grid, our water and sewer systems, global business...could all come crashing down and we could be facing TEOTWAWKI.  All within 20 minutes of a solar storm.  And this risk continues for the next two's just beginning.
If you haven't had a chance to page through the National Geographic, do take time to do so.  Read the article.  Don't just "do" photos.  Then start thinking about how you can improve your chances for survival, if not comfortable survival.
Here's a direct quotation from the NG:
"A solar storm like the one that took place in May 1921 would today turn out the lights over half of North America.  One on the order of the 1859 event could take out the entire grid, sending hundreds of millions of people back to a pre-electric way of life for weeks or perhaps months on end.  In Kappenman's words (solar storm expert), we're "playing Russian routlette with the sun."
As for preparedness?  Well, the reason the power grid might not be easy to fix is that we haven't manufactured enough components of the power grid to be ABLE to get it up and running quickly.  Air travel would instantly come to a complete halt.  Where you are at the moment of warning, will have a lot to do with where you wind up.
It's recommended that you store both food and water--preferrably a year's worth or more; and think about how you would survive a technological "drought."  It just may be "lights out." and life will most certainly change.  At the very least, such an event would certainly create a set of interesting dynamics.  You know those satellites that circumnavigate our earth and predict our weather, and every other facet of life today?  They can't be kept aloft without electronics....
And you know why nobody's been talking about this?  They're afraid we, of the unwashed masses, will panic.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sacrificial Lamb

I'm going to pollute this blog for a moment.  Can't help it.  I am soooooo angry!  If you have a Chase credit card, cancel it. It's a men's club, pure and simple... 

Guess who was the first to be thrown under the bus at JP Morgan Chase in this $2-billion loss...A WOMAN!  Upper management--Jamie (cute name) Dimon says it's all HER fault.  It's not just a glass ceiling.  It's a glass ceiling designed to come crashing down on the head of any female who risks working on Wall Street or any other corporate high place.  If you don't know this, it's time you learned, sisterhood! 

And it was probably women who instigated all of the following, too:

Where Do Butterflies Go?

The trickster Buckeye!  The eyespots are (it is said) an attempt to steer a predator away from the body of the butterfly and lead the hungry attacker to choose the tip of a wing as opposed to the body of the butterfly.  But I've often wondered how the butterfly could fly with a big chomp out of one wing! 

These lovely creatures arrived early this year.  Or so it seems.  Often they don't materialize in West Virginia until early summer. 

They get nectar from well-known plants such as Queen Anne's lace, sunflowers, milkweeds, ironweed and clovers.  This time, the butterflies were gathered en masse on our multiplier onions going to seed. Probably "tanking up" before the rain.    These were both flitting from one allium to the next, landing only briefly to grab a sample.  I'm not sure what this other  lovely
creature is. I believe it's a Red Admiral.  They are very quick fliers and they don't spend much time resting.  If indeed it is an Admiral, they generally prefer fermenting fruit, dung, and carrion over flowers.  But sometimes desperate measures are needed so they gather nectar from thistles, milkweed, dogbane, red clover, ox-eye daisy, Queen Anne's lace and lilac.  And obviously....onion.

 Butterflies don't fly in the rain. Rain is potentially lethal for these delicate creatures.  Sitting here looking out the window, it's a frog-strangler in the making,  and it occurred to me to wonder what happens to butterflies when it rains....Just Google it!  There are many entries to interest the naturalist.  One in particular caught my eye:
  written by Professor Michael Raupp, Entomologist at the University of Maryland. 

So, butterflies are (we hope) taking refuge under the broad umbrella-like leaves we have this year--larger than normal!  Be safe little fragile creatures.  We'll look for you after the storm!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It isn't easy being green....

Green really isn't green.  It's more complicated than that.  You'll see.  Go here for 61 renditions of green.  Each then morphs into MANY more!  So follow out at least one.  Never thought green could be so..prevalent, so mystifying!  Guess Kermit was right all along:  "It isn't easy being green..."

In spite of the complications, though, this time of year, everything does seem to be a shade or pigment or hue of "green.'   We are wrapped in greenery.  This year--more than ever I remember--it's an Appalachian jungle out here JOTOLR.  The myriad shades of green boggle the mind.  With all the rain and fog we've been experiencing, the lushness of the foliage is astonishing.  Even the lichens seem to be flourishing.
Maybe it will inspire us all...a "green" environment; a "greener" world....but's more complicated than that...isn't it?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Speaking of lightning...

Back tomorrow!  Lightning melted my modem!  Frontier just came out and restored my connectivity.  So, I'll be back tomorrow!  Promise.  It was a doozy of a storm!!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

April Showers Bring....Strawberries?

Already.  I don't ever recall having strawberries the first week in you?  And these aren't the only ones.  Call it an "anomaly" or a "trick of Mother Nature" or climate change....whatever...this is not "normal."  Then, again, "normal" or "average" years are always a surprise in some way.  Things are never "normal" ...How dull it would be if predictions were always right on the money!
Betting on the Kentucky Derby, anyone?  It's not "normal" to have this long list of contenders with no favorites!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


This is the time of year I find myself becoming very narrow-minded.  I am all eyes.  I have eyes in the back of my head.  Under each footfall.  I've come to expect startlement even though I've anticipated the appearance of these lovely, though dreaded, creatures.  I've mentally cataloged all possible places where they may be hiding. 

The chicken coop is number one on the list.  When I enter the coop to collect the eggs these days, I am focused on those "very narrow fellows" that populate our wild yard and outbuildings.   

Shoot!  I don't even trust the hose these days even though has been lying dormant in the same spot all winter long.  But it's black, with a yellow stripe, and is coiled (even the word gives me shudders!) right next to the peonies where I am likely to tread.

Day before yesterday, I was dragging a pile of sticks to the edge of the woods and accidentally brushed the end of a snake's tail with the bundle, which I had not noticed was sticking out into the pathway.   What was particularly unnerving--aside from the distance between the head and the tail-- was the speed with which the head poked up above the Lamiastrum at my intrusion!  The head was nearly 4 feet from the tail.  And talk about FAST.  I mean  F.A.S.T!!!!!  Black snakes are slow critters.  They eventually move when prodded.  This was not your typical slo-mo black snake.  There's only one kind of snake I know of that has lightning-fast responses:  a Black Racer. Same general family of snakes but...different.  If you'd like to know the difference (other than fast) between the Black (Rat) Snake and the Black Racer, go here:

It is legendary that if one has "black" snakes on their property, they won't be bothered with the venemous copperheads.  That said, it doesn't entirely inspire confidence in me that we are supposedly free of poisonous snakes because of competition with other snakes.  However, it also must be acknowledged that in 30+ years of living here JOTOLR, MM and I have never encountered a poisonous snake anywhere on our farm.  So...who knows?  Nevertheless, I am not willing to trust such folkloric claims.

There must be something in our  respective DNA's that either accept snakes or is reflexively terrorized at the sight of them.  I fall into the latter category.  I have no control over that lurching, gut-wrench feeling I get when I encounter them. 

On the whole,  I am grateful for them and would rather have them than not.  But, my narrow-mindedness is a summer trait that I know will be a part of my life forever. I flinch and run at the sight of one.  Reflexively.  It takes all the power I can gather to remain rooted long enough to get a photograph of a snake!

And I respect these animals.  Both the Black Racer and the Black Rat Snake are valuable assets to the farmer, so when I bumped its tail and it reared its indignant head, I did apologize as I made FAST progress in the opposite direction from where it was heading.

Monday, April 30, 2012


I love a good mystery!  The photo above is just that.  I found the rock yesterday in the creek just below our house during our dog-adventure which we take every day.  While the image appears convex, it is the opposite:  concave.  The chunk of rock appears at one time to have been hot, maybe molten.   Measurements of the solidly embedded specimen--or perhaps I should say the mold made by the once solidly embedded specimen:  about three inches long, an inch and a half at the widest part (on the left); unusual shiny metallic veins that glint in the sun.  The rock is more basalt-like than regular sandstone or limestone.  It measures about six inches across.  Pretty heavy, too, having carried it up from the creek-bottom..

 Do I have a fossil?  A trilobyte of some kind?  A visitor from outer space?  Ideas please!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Housing Crises

Well, everyone.....that's it for the week!  It was a frog-strangler yesterday.  Rained all day which took the last of the redbud blossoms off.  

The Baltimore Orioles have arrived.  I watched yesterday as two raspy, sassy males swooped through the yard after the rain stopped, chasing one another.  Finally, they clashed in a blaze of angry orange and black fury, screaming epithets at one another.  What a sight!  There's plenty of room in yard, boys!  You need not fight! (not my photo, BTW)

Speaking of begins my annual fight with Phoebe.  I know.  Such a sweet, humble, harmless avian companion...right?  Well....her building skills seem to lack some precision.  Her technique incorporates the application of really, hard, durable MUD.  Plus moss.  Plus grass.  Plus sticks...all GLUED to the rafters of the porch.  It would not be so bad, except Phoebe forgets where she starts.  So we wind up with five to ten nest-starts before she completes one.  And I don't like her messy brood littering the porch with all manner of baby-Phoebe do-do.  So, I wait until she completes one nest totally, and then--cruelly--remove it.  The thing is--before you dress me down for it--there are PLENTY of other nest sights--which she handily locates after I evict her.  Evicting her before she completes one nest simply results in more starts.  So it's essential to wait until one of her attempts is fully realized before erasing it.  The argument has begun. 
Finally....somebody is going to have to try again.  The windstorm visited several early nests and cleaned them out altogether.
It's called a housing crisis!  A type of foreclosure.

Have a delightful weekend, everyone!  Thanks for your kind words and your friendship!  I treasure you!
See you next week!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Tadpoles.  In a mud puddle.  Isn't that something!  Who would have thought with a pond only 50 feet away, the tadpoles would claim this mud puddle as their home?  We're always hearing about the decline in frog populations with the shrinking numbers heralding more dire things to come. 
But out here JOTOLR, we seem to be doing fine in the up-and-coming frog department.  There were hundreds of these 1/2" long amphibs, spread over three mudholes, wiggling around just above the mud.  I did move a few of them to the bigger pond during this last dry-up, as it appeared then as though the mud puddle was getting shallower with each passing day.  Today makes up for that, however, as I picture them surfing about happily in the deluge! 
It IS raining that hard here--enough so to consider building an ark and loading two of everything aboard!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Hard to believe...but they ARE "puppies."  Now, just shy of six months, they are delightful personalities, with big hearts and big bodies.  It's hard to picture a more loving animal than these.
This is Zurina.   She is the feisty one of the pair.  Always willing to engage in a boxing match, always tickled to send Apala rolling if she can manage to push her legs out from under her...

And this is Apala...the mellow one of the two.  She's also the anchor, less independent than Zurina, always checking with us on walks, making sure she's not too far away from us.  Zurina, on the other hand, is the explorer, ever wide-ranging, willing to take on the world.

Zurina is a water dog.  Apala only wades.  Both love a good boxing match anytime.  They are sisters...Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd crosses. 
And there, off in the distance is Jessie, leading the way.  She has recovered from her near fatal encounter with the heels of an Angus steer.  Now, she leads the pack as she walks, runs, even jumps a little.  She even retrieves the Frisbee, albeit slowly....and the "puppies" nearly twice her size, love her and respect her.  They know she's the Dowager of this farm!  When she barks at them warding off their "affections," they wag their tails and promptly hunker down.  They follow her lead, looking for rabbits, mice and deer-smells.    
They are ideal guard dogs:  loyal, easy-going temperament, strong, large, and loving.  They are not old enough to be independent yet.  So, at night, they are confined to a huge open-air shelter.  We don't want them engaged in defending against a bear (seen in the neighborhood) or a cougar (also seen) or coyotes (a permanent fixture here).  Until they are able to cope with danger, they are under our protection.  They are just reaching teenager levels of dog years.  So, any responsibilities belong to us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Going to Seed With Invasive Species

This morning, as MM looked out the kitchen window, he spotted a Goldfinch--locally called, appropriately--the Yellowbird.  Its arrival from the neo-tropical realms coincides with the dandelion's generous complement of seeds which it favors, along with thistle.  As you can see, our yard is very accommodating with its annual production of fluffy seedheads.  The merest touch sends multitudes into the wind, and there are not enough Goldfinches to consume enough of them to make a dent in the number of dandelions we get every year. 

Now, Lowes and Sears would be appalled by our attitude out here JOTOLR,  about a carefully groomed yard.  We don't have one.  The purveyors of poisons would prefer we subscribe to a semi-annual application of Round-Up and decimate our dandelion overload.  But, nay!  Shall not do!  Instead, we leave the yard this time of year to its "naturalized" state, and between the downed trees from the last windstorm and the cascade of wildflowers, we are cultivating everything from Goldfinches to Pileated Woodpeckers.

The Dame's Rocket is similarly protected in our yard.  Another of those invasive plants that expert gardeners say I should consider obliterating...  The whole yard --at the close of the narcissus season, blooms with this lovely mauve understory.  What a statement it makes!  Backlit by the morning sun, waving gently in the breeze....I believe the term "invasive" to be a bit harsh.  They seem to be invasive because they are strong, vibrant, and grow where they please....hence they garner a bad reputation for their long-lasting personalities! Rather like outspoken people.
I used to listen to the admonishments to guard against "invasive" species....but over time, I've come to believe there are other more important causes. 
When we figured up the cost of mowing the yard (before gasoline went to $4/gal.) it was somewhere around $30 each time.  For value received we decided it was better to suffer the shame of not mowing and simply....go to seed. (which we all know is a metaphor for all kinds of slovenly behavior--not the least of which is becoming a senior citizen!)
Oh, and BTW:  the Clematis made it through wonderfully.  Very little wind and only down to 32 degrees! We're almost into May!

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I know we should prepare ourselves for late season snowstorms.  But recognizing that fact of life in Appalachia doesn't make it any easier to bear.  I usually don't shoot flowers "square-on."  Nor do I position my subjects directly in the center.  Nor do I normally leave them "dark." But today's photos are more of a recording than a photograph.  And it IS dark...with a thick covering of dense clouds, rain spits, and cold.  So, I left these beauties alone.  That's because I want to remember the incomparable blooms, and I know that by tomorrow morning, I will be looking at droopy, bedraggled remnants of the best bloom of clematis I've ever exeperienced.  They are huge this year.  But....bye,bye...   
We're getting one of those late snowstorms here in the Allegheny Mountains.  (And by the way, NOAA Weather called them the "a-LEG-a-nees" this morning.  Took me a moment or two to figure that one out!  You'd think by now NOAA would have gotten the electronic voice I call Boris, to pronounce this ancient name correctly!  Then again, they probably have enough to do, just tracking this irratic weather!) An inch (or so) of accumulation of "heavy, wet snow" is forecast.  Only down to 31 degrees though. So, with any luck it won't bite the fruit trees.  And just how "heavy" can an inch of snow be?
  OTOH, snow and clematis are not usually good companions.  If there is anything remaining after the predicted wind of 35+ mph (which will batter the 6-inch wide blossoms) I will post a comparison shot.  I am lucky to have had the joy of these generous blooms this spring, but I wish Mother Nature would settle down.  Then again, maybe the earliness of spring this year was what brought me this show to begin with!  Wish for alternatives very carefully.  Right?!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Spring and summer out here JOTOLR often brings us fog.  The mountain air condenses the moisture to make it visible.  I confess.  I love fog.  Perhaps it has something to do with growing up on Puget Sound in Washington State.  
It's always been a curiosity to me:  we speak of "muffled" sounds, yet it's really just the opposite:  sound is amplified by fog.  I believe it's "muffled" vision rather than muffled audio! 
Here in the Appalachians, the train whistle five miles away seems to carry farther than normal; a conversation lightly spoken between neighbors is clearly heard; birdsongs are more distinct. 
There are weather advisories on NOAA's website this morning for "dense" fog with less than a quarter mile visibility, warning people to "leave extra time for traveling."  I'm all for good warnings about impending (threatening) weather events, but it does seem nowadays as though we are in the age of fear-based forecasting-- more geared to entertainment than to reality.  Too many warnings doth result in closed ears....or am I being too cynical?  Who goes fast in fog just off the one lane road?  More to the point:  who among those who would are going to heed the warnings to slow down! 

Happy weekend everyone!  We're picking up trash out here JOTOLR, cleaning up the neighborhood!  It's part of our new role as the Neighborhood Association of Ballengee sends down strong roots!
Thanks for stopping by !

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Collateral Damage

I've spent the past week searching for sources of grant money for our neighborhood association. Some of you will remember that MM and I have spearheaded an effort to organize our neighborhood around the concepts of "doing good" in our community. With that mandate, we've taken on a number of projects all of which will require funds and effort.  That has led me to explore a whole array of possibilities.

I came across a familiar name: the Annenberg Foundation. I'm sure you've all heard of it.  It's often mentioned on NPR. AF funds all manner of significant worthy projects. Curious as to what these would be I followed the search still further until I came to!/videos/player/west-virginia-special (You'll have to cut and paste this one as it doesn't seem to what to link through Blogger.  Cutting and pasting works, though.)

The video is compelling. Having driven those very roads (shown in the film), myself, giving kitchen shows "down in the coalfields" I found it to be especially resonant.

The Annenberg Foundation is funding a large chunk of the Marsh Fork Elementary School. Certainly you remember Massey Energy and the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster... Yes. That's the one. Killed 29 miners.  April 4, 2012 marked the second anniversary of the explosion.  And called into question the possibility of another, potentially lethal implosion of the coal slurry reservoir behind the Marsh Fork Elementary school.  For years the Coal River community has been fighting the likes of Massey Energy to get the school moved before 700+ students are killed.  With the help of Annenberg Foundation, the community is on its way to a new school in a new location.

Go here for more information:

As I said above, throughout the eight years during which I peddled Pampered Chef, I always made a few trips to the coalfields.  There, I met wonderful people, incredibly bonded and supportive of one another--families who welcomed me into their neat-as-a-pin homes with love and caring. Modest neighborhoods populated with equally modest, kind people who love their families and their land. It is, as the film mentions, a "brotherhood" but also--though not mentioned-- a sisterhood, as well. The people all share the burden of the danger they face daily.  It's a load carried without question, silently, continuously.

I recommend taking a few moments to watch this documentary--especially if you value human life, quality of living...and more. For me, the poignant message came with mention of the term "collateral damage." People shouldn't have to make abusive choices between life and livlihood for the sake of the profiteers. This is not right.  It never has been.  But today, there are lots of other ways to get the energy we need, provide respectable, good-paying jobs, and maintain health and happiness. 

I encourage you to think about where your electricity comes from and start thinking about creating a more responsible approach.  We need a just society in terms of who carries the real burdens and who benefits at no cost to themselves.  What right have we to demand others suffer to produce what we take for granted and waste...?  We need to be exploring solar, windpower,'s time to revamp the way we're doing things in this country and demand an end to collateral damage living.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Paperless Age?

This is a long post, but well worth a look at the stats.  It's from the website, TechSoup.  Since their mission is to desseminate this information, I've taken the liberty of re-posting it on my blog.  For other interesting stuff, you may want to visit which is a non-profit that helps non-profits.  Your local library may benefit from knowing about Tech Soup if they don't already.  But....I digress.

Our trees in the foreground.  The neighbor's landscape on the hillside.

The once-pristine hillside across the road from us out here JOTOLR, was--three years ago--a beautiful hardwood forest, covered with all manner of native species of Appalachian hardwood trees.  Today, it is a dry, scarred and ugly ruin.  It is trampled daily by bovine hooves, nipping already scarce greenery to the nub; machinery goudges tracks randomly over the tortured ground which never has an opportunity to heal.  

The logging trails bleed out the moisture that once collected beneath living roots.  How I mourn the deaths of those once-proud trees and the no-longer-beautiful landscape.  For two years we arose daily to the sound of roaring chainsaws and the "whumps" of falling giants.  Today, it is silent.  There are no more trees to cut.  There is a scant covering of spindly grass every spring about now, but it quickly fades as summer's heat withers the remaining sprigs, and the color changes rapidly from green to brown,  It's a graveyard of unearthed boulders and stumps. 

And you know where the trees went? To make pulp for paper. All of it.

I find it amazing that long ago, we entered the "paperless" age.    Predictions of "saving trees" thanks to sophisticated technology were rife.  Have these predictions materialized?   Have a look at what TechSoup calls a set  of "shocking" statistics:

This roster of shocking statistics about wasting paper was originally part of TechSoup's GreenTech Initiative's Reduce Your Paper Use challenge.
These statistics, we hope. convey why it is so important to conserve paper in your organization's office.
Office Paper Use

•In this decade, it is projected that Americans will throw away over 4 and a half million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper. Almost all of this material could be recycled. #

•In 1991, there were more than 7 million copiers in operation in the U.S. These copiers produced nearly 400 billion copies per year (almost 750,000 copies a minute). #

Paper Based Faxing

•12,500 sheets of paper can be made from 1 tree **

•210 billion sheets of paper are consumed by faxing in U.S. companies every year. **

•10,000 sheets of paper per year are used by a single U.S. office worker **

•95 percent of this paper will eventually be thrown away unrecycled. **

•4 trees per year are cut down to feed the fax requirements of an average U.S. company. **

•17 million trees per year are cut down to supply fax paper for the U.S. as a whole **

Paper Waste

•Every year enough paper is thrown away in the U.S. to make a 12 foot wall from New York to California. #

•The amount of wood and paper we throw away is enough to heat 50 million homes for 20 years ^^

•If every household in the U.S. reused a paper grocery bag for one shopping trip, about 60,000 trees would be saved. #


•One ton of recycled paper saves 3,700 pounds of lumber and 24,000 gallons of water. #

•One ton of recycled paper uses: 64% less energy, 50% less water, 74% less air pollution, saves 17 trees and creates 5 times more jobs than one ton of paper products from virgin wood pulp. #

•Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 trees (35 feet tall), 2 barrels of oil (enough fuel to run the average car for 1,260 miles or from Dallas to Los Angeles), 4,100 kilowatts of energy (enough power for the average home for 6 months), 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space (one family size pick-up truck) and 60 pounds of air pollution. #


•It takes one 15-year old tree to produce half a box of paper. #

•One tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year. #

•Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. &&


•Recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves the equivalent of one 40-foot fir tree. #

•Everyday Americans buy 62 million newspapers and throw out 44 million. That’s the equivalent of dumping 500,000 trees into a landfill every week. #

•If everyone in the U.S. recycled just 1/10 of their newsprint, we would save the estimated equivalent of about 25 million trees a year. #

•It takes 75,000 trees to print a Sunday Edition of The New York Times. #

•If we recycled all of the newspapers for one Sunday, we would save 550,000 trees or about 26 millions trees per year. #

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Attack of the Sap Suckers!

Ugly little beastie, isn't it?  That's one individual.  Have a look below to measure the infestation more accurately:

The plan was to save our own broccoli seed since it appeared to have over-wintered nicely, what with the mildish weather.  Instead, it appears as though what "wintered-over" is a nice healthy crop of these plant lice--or the more familiar term, aphids.  That's all that gucky-looking grey coating on the stems.  And, they suck the life out of the plants that host them.  

Some species of ants "farm" aphids, drinking the honeydew they produce.  That's all good and well for the ants.  For the farmer?  Not so much...
According to Wikipedia, there are about 4,400 species in 10 family groups worldwide.  
So, out here JOTOLR, we are now on the warpath with diatomaceous earth.  White clouds of this substance are enveloping the applicator (MM) over our emerging garden, promising relief from the chewing mites.  Apparently this white substance gets in the bodies and fouls up the insect's digestive system, leading to starvation.   I guess that's good.  Diatomaceous earth comes from (diatoms) tiny ancient seabed creatures.  It consists of the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae.
Almost all of the earth is mined used open-pit mining techniques, where the earth is stripped away to reveal the deposits beneath it.  Hmmmmm.  More scarring of the earth...
 After being mined it has a multitude of uses:  as a filtration aid, mild abrasive, mechanical insecticide, absorbent for liquids, matting agent for coatings, reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber, anti-block in plastic films, porous support for chemical catalysts, cat litter, activator in blood clotting studies, and a stabilizing component of dynamite. As it is heat-resistant, it can also be used as a thermal insulator.
With all those uses, though, I wonder just how long we'll have that substance on the shelf...kind of like adding kelp to your garden....the kelp beds are vital support systems for a lot of sea creatures.  Does anyone think that kind of kelp harvesting can continue indefinitely without consequences?  Did anyone ask the sea otters or the sea horses what they thought of having their homes stolen?
I might just let the aphids run their natural course and skip the diatoms...