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...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Less is More

There is both science and art in the task of pruning fruit trees.  This year, it would appear that we finally did it right!  First, we had a very early spring in which the temperatures oscillated between low and high over several days during which we were outside continuously and managed to get all the trees done in relatively good weather.  At least that's what I remember.... 
OTOH, maybe this crazy weather (warmest March on record for the entire country) simply gave us more blooms this year. The apple trees are loaded! Pollinators of every stripe are busy buzzing about making apples--the late bloomers of the orchard.  The plums, pears, and peaches have long since shed their petals.
It' always a (fruitless) fear of mine that we've pruned too much and we won't have any fruit!  This year, MM pruned somewhat more vigorously than in prior years, using his new battery-powered pruning saw against the backdrop of my natterings that he was being too harsh.    But apparently the trees were grateful.  We have more blossoms than ever before,  and if all goes well, we'll have lots of apples, plums, pears, and peaches. 
Of course we also hold our breath hoping we won't experience a killing freeze, which can, in this region, happen all the way through the end of May.  Frost is in the forecast later this week, but that could change.  A light one won't be harmful, but temperatures below 28 degrees would not be good.
For now we can simply enjoy the weddings of bugs to blooms that continue each day into dusk until darkness ultimately demands they cease. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Falling Short

It happens every spring.  It's the old dog-in-the-butcher-shop syndrome for any wandering photographer who happens to stop by Just Off the One-Lane Road.   There's no way I can "capture" what the brain is telling me I see...

Everywhere I look, there's resplendent beauty.  As a photographer, I want it all!  The irridescent reds of the tulips, the deep rosy magenta of the Red Buds, the exotic blues of the humble carpet of violets beneath my feet, the shocking green backdrop of the pastures, the amazing brilliance of the Creeping Flox, the unblemished white of the Bleeding Heart.  Ahhhh!  The list goes on....and my heart pines for it all...

Not to mention the intoxicating fragrance of the Lilac that can never make it into my lens...

I am greedy.  And there is abundance to share.  Beauty is everywhere!

My photo-seeking heart yearns to be able to show it all to you!  But my brain knows better than to try...because the result of the shutter always disappointment this time of year.  The shot only magnifies technology's lack!

Only occasionally does the shot reach toward perfection.  But you know what?  I believe that's the whole idea:  perfection keeps us searching, never quite finding it.  So we meander, looking and discovering or, more to the point, savoring the joys of the effort!  Trying on the macro or the micro view, eventually fitting the visual adventure to our individual quests.

Which brings me to my favorite photographer:  National Geographic photographer, DeWitt Jones.  His photos are simply amazing.  For the pure joy of seeing photographs that are as close to perfection as can be enjoyed, go here:

In the lower left corner of his home page, you will see a button that says "Watch DeWitt now..." Click it and you'll be rewarded with as close to perfection as one can get...then sign up for one photo each week that will be more than "Wow!"  It will be inspiration.  As DeWitt directs:  Celebrate What's Right With the World!