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!