Saturday, July 23, 2011


Now that we are getting a little rain, the mushrooms are popping up everywhere. It seems like it is usually late august when this happens, but maybe it is more of a response to dry conditions followed by some rain. I am grateful for what we are getting even in the way of spotty showers. I enjoy seeing the mushrooms. There are all different shapes and colors. But I am still of the opinion that mushrooms should not be gathered from the wild for consumption. Oh, well, maybe you can recognize a morel , but beyond that? Just don't ask me to dinner if you are having wild gathered mushrooms.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Yellow 4 O'clocks

Last year my 4 O'clocks were pink. This year they are yellow. Go figure. But they are still fragrant and a real joy. Some of the flowers have a pink smear in them, some are solid yellow. Maybe this is a different plant, and the one from last year did not come back. They have huge perennial roots that do mostly overwinter here, but we did have some very cold weather last winter. There are  quite a few  smaller plants that have come up in the area, but only this one blooming. I must really like night blooming flowers,as I have grow 4 O'clocks, which you can almost set your watch by, the evening primrose, night blooming cereus, and moon vine. The moon vine has not started blooming yet, but I am looking forward to it.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Future of NASA

This post goes along with the one about discontinuing the shuttle. Click here to see a video about the importance of space and how much it costs.

To read about the (supposedly) insurmountable problems associated with space travel, click here. Could this be a failure of imagination?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts From an Aging Writer

 I received this in an email from a writing group and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share it.

Final Interlude

A Wish from the Winter Queen

Jane Yolen

As I walk into the winter of my days, I am often too warm.  My thoughts come easily, my nouns do not.  I remember old songs and forget the names of friends.  I have enough money to buy a castle in Scotland but not the knees to mount the stone stairs.

Aging is oppositional.  The soul reaches for higher things as the rest of the body succumbs to gravity.  This is not what they mean by gravitas, but I guess I am stuck with it.

What I do have, though, is time.  Not enough to write all the books I want to write, nor read all the books that accumulate on my shelves, on my tables, on my floors.  But time enough to sit in the garden and watch the magpies fight the gulls for the moldy bread I have just tossed them.  I suspect there's a meaning there, some metaphor about winter, but I cannot quite grasp it.

In Scotland, a nursing home is called an Eventide House.  That appellation is so much more appealing, for "evening tide" is how I am feeling these days.  The waves of the past wash over me, reminding me of rougher earlier seas, when I had three children in quick succession and book writing was something I did between diaper changes.  Or perhaps it is "the even time of life," and that, too, has its points.  The seesaw has stopped going up and down, the heart beats at a slower pace, the eyes have time to rest on beloved objects.  I am what I am, and at peace with it.

I think of so many women before me, dead in childbirth, worn out by housework, farm work, undernourished in both body and mind.  Had I lived in all those romantic times, I would not have been a Winter Queen, but perhaps a merchant's wife, keys clanking at my side, till the first miscarriage undid me with blood loss.  Or the child I carried to term turned upside down and killed me.  That I did not die of either of these, or the lack of thyroid, or the burst appendix or the tubular pregnancy of my later years, is a miracle of modern medicine.  That I can publish my writing, vote, keep my own money, run a book imprint, teach in college while married, and on and on, simply marks me as a late twentieth-century, early twenty-first-century woman.

If I had another life to live, I'd run for high office.  Or learn to paint.  Or take acting lessons.  Or learn astronomy, archeology, and anthropology.  But I chose writing early, as well as poetry and music.  Enough for this lifetime, enough to take me into the winter with plenty to do.

So here's a wish from the Winter Queen for all of you:  May you choose well those things to carry you into the even tide of your own lives.  Make a raft of those choices, a raft that will slip easily through the stormy seas, where the waves are wild and bright with foam.  And may you come at last, as I have, to safe harbor and a welcoming shore with many books to hand, those you have written and those you hope to have time still to read.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our Native Maypop (Passiflora incarnata)

These beautiful Maypops (Passiflora incarnata) are blooming right now, and as many farmer's as are cursing them, there are gardeners planting them. As beautiful and reliable as they are, they are hell to try to contain. Fact is, it can't be done in our climate in the ground. But you can still have and enjoy them by putting them in a large pot. They will overwinter,at least here in zone 8, very easily in a pot. It would not hurt to put the pot in a saucer to curtail it's  tendency to creep away. The butterflies will thank you. This is a host plant for several butterflies  and if they find it, they may eat it up so that you have little chance to enjoy the flowers.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pool At House At IIhaca

This is a pool in the yard of the house where we stayed when we went to Ithaca in May. I thought it was very lovely and peaceful. It had the water lily which you see and a number of goldfish, which you can't. The tube you see to the left comes from the gutter of the house and is used to fill the pool. It is readily movable either for aesthetic reasons or to keep the pool from overflowing. We had supper several evenings outside near this pool.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gloriosa Lily

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This beautifully striking lily is unusual in that its stem or stalk is more vine-like. It is unable to support its own weight and forms tendrils on the ends of the leaves. These wrap around any available support (I grow mine by an old rusty fence) and up they go. They can also scramble through shrubs that have smaller stems. Gloriosa hails from tropical areas in Africa, but some also are found in Asia. They do just fine in zone 8 though, dying back in winter. They grow from flat tubers. I have not been brave enough to try to dig any of mine up or try to propagate them. I did accidently dig one up last year and moved it  but have seen nothing of it this year.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Saving Tomato Seed

While discussing with some people on the internet, I found out that that (supposedly) tomato seed companies collect and dry their seed by a fermentation method. I argued that it could not be good for the seed to soak them in water for several days (think how this might effect most seed, say bean or okra), but in the end had to admit that it must work if commercial producers use the method. I am trying some this way this year but am secretly doing it the way I know that works (take the seed out of the tomato, wash as much of the jelly surrounding the seed off as you can, then allow to air dry several days).
Here is a link that explains the process and gives some pictures that help.

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

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Green tree frogs  feed primarily on crickets and other insects. The main requirement is that the insect be smaller than the width of the frog's head, presumably  so that it will fit in the frog's mouth. They live in trees and shrubs around permanent water. Suppose a swimming pool qualifies? Maybe it was just the nearby pond.
The breeding season is March to October, a time when I particularily enjoy their calls. You can enjoy some of their calls or just learn to identify the calls by listening here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Space Shuttle Retirement

In the past week I've received two emails about the retiring of the shuttle. Both had merit, and I submit them as I received them.

 It saddens me to see this come to an end. . I hate to see the space program phasing has been a part of my life since childhood. Men went to the moon in the summer of '69----I married that same summer. The shuttle program has been part of my life since I carried my first students to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center... and watched the big bird being brought into Huntsville for testing before its first launch. Telephone poles on either side of the road had to be removed for its entry. I also was privileged to watch a launch from Cape Canaveral many years ago. The power, the illumination as well as the reverberations were nothing short of unbelievable. What a display of American ingenuity. Thanks NASA , it was quite a show.

I spend a great deal of time contemplating the future and what humans might accomplish if ever we are able to outgrow our infancy and conquer the Earthbound problems of today. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that this will never happen, and we will likely annihilate ourselves right here, I remain an optimist.  Truthfully, I feel we have only scraped the surface of our potential. Despite this focus on what might be, I confess to a bit of nostalgia when I think of the end of the space shuttle era. To those who exist on things that might be, space exploration is an opiate, and the shuttle was the vehicle of choice for space exploration during most of my life, up to this point, the Challenger tragedy one of the indelible images of my childhood. Schools were closed that day due to snow in North Alabama, so I was at home on January 28, 1986, fixated on the televised coverage, and I wasn't alone. Many had been following this event for months because it was special. Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, had been selected to join the crew after a fiercely competitive campaign that pitted her against thousands of other educators for the chance to go into space. When disaster struck, there was disbelief. Many thought no shuttle would ever launch again, but the program rebounded and went on to successfully complete many more missions. The space shuttle was unparalleled at getting us into orbit and safely back home again, and it was inexorably linked to evenings spent gazing at the night sky, fantasizing about the other places that may exist up there. The shuttle has more than earned its place of honor in the history of human space travel, but sadly, the shuttle has reached the limits of its usefulness. The college of what might be says we need to keep pressing forward, and in reality, even if we became the best possible stewards of our home planet, we could not hope to live here forever. Our local star, which currently makes life on Earth possible, will someday, in the grip of its inevitable death throes, burn this world to a cinder. If we are to survive as a species, we must set sail for new horizons long before then. So, we now have to think beyond the orbit of our tiny blue home and its myriad problems and devote our resources to new concepts and experimental technologies that will open up the universe to us in ways that previously existed only in our imagination. Even though I will not likely experience the wonders that await, I see many in store for our descendants as they travel into the true wilderness. They will go to Mars and discover its secrets. They will know what lurks in the subterranean seas of Europa, hidden just beneath its frozen crust. They will sail on the methane lakes of Titan and travel to planets orbiting alien stars. Amazingly, these pioneers will overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges to transform each of these bizarre places into a home, and they will remember that the human race survived because of us and the choices we made so long ago, and hopefully, these future humans will spend many of their evenings gazing at the night sky, fantasizing about how life must have been on the lush, verdant fields of Earth.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mostly Yellow Box Turtle

I helped this box turtle out of the road back in June. It is certainly one of the most colorful that I have ever seen. I have been fond of box turtles since I was a child. They never seemed aggressive and simply shut their door when something surprising happened. I always try to take them out of the road and set them in the direction they were headed in when I found them. Their behavior, like that of armadillos, is not made for coping with automobiles. Armadillos jump straight up when surprised, and this usually results in them jumping into the vehicle. However, I feel little compassion for armadillos; they just seem nasty and messy to me. Their feeding method leaves my yard  and plants in a mess, and there is that bit of information about them carrying leprosy. Box turtles also could use some instruction on avoidance of cars. Theirs is a more ostrich head in the sand approach.
Box turtles are omnivores-they eat anything, as long as they can get it into their mouths.. When young, their                tastes run more to bugs, worms, and slugs. As they grow older, they seem to favor plant material-berries and other fruits and foliage.
Box turtles grow slowly, mature slowly, and reproduce slowly. They deposit 3 to 6 eggs in a shallow unguarded nest in spring, and the eggs hopefully hatch in late summer or fall. The babies hide and feed in thick undergrowth, staying hidden for 5-7 years, before venturing out into less secretive areas.
Two bits of information that I have recently encountered assert things about box turtles that I doubt.Supposedly box turtles have a range of only 200m or 600 feet. Somehow I doubt this. The other tidbit says that a wild captured turtle when released will try to head back to its natal territory. This also seems unlikely. What I do believe is that turtles have their home territory memorized and find it difficult to find food, water, and mates in unfamiliar territory. In other words, they have to relearn the territory in order to survive. So, as much as I would like to have a box turtle for a pet, I feel unable to meet its needs. If I were somehow able to keep it healthy, it might out-live me, and then what?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flower Bed in Early July

The flower bed changes so much as the days pass. One thing ends it's bloom, another begins. Some things melt in the heat, others thrive. In the foreground you can see the purple heart that is just coming into its own. Beside it, to the left is a  hibiscus that I grew from seed collected on a trip to the Gulf several years ago. It has grown into a nice plant through the years. It will soon start to bloom and has pale pink flowers about 2 inches in diameter. For the first couple years after I germinated it, I kept it in a pot and it was not happy. I finally gave up and committed it to the ground to live or die, and see what happened. The horseshoe table is a creation of Mr. Roy Hood. I use it as an odd trellis to hold up droopy plants. The bird bath to the upper right has almost been overtopped by the pink lilies that passed by mid-June.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cardinal Nest

I took this series of pictures over a few day period at the beginning of July. This is a cardinal nest. The eggs were actually all reddish brown spotted, although one looks blue in the picture.  The nest was located in a Camellia bush at about 4 feet off the ground. I startled the parents off the nest quite a few times as the nest was located right by the outdoor faucet. But they persisted in their nest tending. After the eggs hatched, the babies grew extremely fast. The morning the last picture was taken , I knew it would not be long till the babies fledged, but I had no idea it would only be a couple of hours.A little later I noticed Dora, my dog, taking an abnormal interest in something under the Camellia bush and the male cardinal fluttered away on the ground, trying to draw Dora's attention to himself. I stepped closer to the nest and peered in. It was empty, but a very ragged looking youngster with a bare head was perched on a branch near the nest. It looked at me like it was familiar with me, which of course it was. It had seen me numerous times. Then Dora came out with one of the babies in her mouth. It was too late for that one, but I shut her in the porch for the rest of the day so maybe the other two babies could escape. I never saw anything else of any of the family.
I enjoy the cardinals all winter at the bird feeder. They are so bright and cheerful, but very cautious, never staying at the feeder for long, and keeping a close lookout for danger. Although the male cardinal seemed attentive to the female while she incubated the eggs, he was much more selfish in the winter, often chasing females away. The females would not approach the feeder if there was a male on it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wheel Bug

This is a recently molted wheel bug. In fact, its cast off exoskeleton can be seen in the bottom portion of the top picture. It is that dark colored bug shape. This bug will darken as it matures, but it is beautiful at this point. I thought that the red bug had eaten the dark one as the dark skeleton had a hole in the main body. The folks at set me on the right path.
Wheel bugs are among the largest true bugs in North America (up to 1.5 inches) and the only member of it's species. Eggs are laid in the fall and hatch the next spring. They undergo 5 molts before reaching maturity. They prey on  insects that are generally considered pests, like caterpillars and Japanese beetles. It inject its beak into the prey and injects digestive juices into the body of the prey. Then it sucks the insides out. Their bite is reported to be quite painful, taking a long time to heal, so it is best not to try to pick them up. I was really lucky to see this guy in his newly molted state. They are typically quite secretive.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kiwi Flowers (Actinidia deliciosa)

These are the flowers of Actinidia deliciosa, the grocery store Kiwi. A friend in Opelika grows them and I have been trying for years to get mine to produce. I started this odyssey about 20 years ago. I planted a pair (they are male and female plants) two different times, but was unable to keep them alive, probably because they were too far from the faucet to give them the water they needed to get their roots down for the first couple years. Eventually I got a third pair, planted them closer to the house and got them into fair sized plants. The trunk becomes massive in age. After about 4/5 years the male bloomed. This is the male flower in this picture. The stamens and pollen sacs are clearly visible in the photo. The female took one more year to bloom, and when it did, it was easy to see that it was NOT female, but another male.
I cut down and dug out that plant and rooted what I hope is a female this time. This is it's 3rd year and I do hope it will bloom next year. At this rate I question whether I will ever see any fruit on my kiwi vine.
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cinnamon Fern

This is a group of Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) growing on the north side of my Mother's house. They are growing just under the drip of the house, so they got as much water as was naturally available. I have tried them at my house without success. Maybe I just had them in the wrong place. I would like to try again as they are such lovely things. These are about 3 feet tall, but they can get much larger. I remember when Mother and I collected the original fern from a wet spot in what we called the Huckleberry Woods. The wet spot caught drainage from the corn field which provided a rich source of nitrogen. The ferns were 4/5 feet tall and each frond was 8-10 inches wide. I had never seen such glory in a fern. Mother, who was as big a collector of plants as I am, could not leave without one. Eventually I found a small one I could move for her.
Sometime I must go back there and see what is at that site now. This must have been more than 10 years ago.
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