Trash

September 20, 2021

When I went to start our convertible last week, the battery had gone dead.  This was not a total surprise as we do not drive it very often.  Even though I realized I need to start it and drive around to keep it charged I allowed other things to take priority.  What worried me was the starter was frozen as well.  When I called a repair shop about the starter, I was informed the key fobs on the vehicle will not turn if the battery is completely dead.  If the switch had gone out, I would need to tow the car to a dealership 70 miles away to get it replaced and calibrated.  That meant I needed to get a tow truck to either jump my battery or give me a tow.  I did find it interesting that even though I had not been driving the vehicle, there was still trash from a takeout meal in the passenger seat.  I threw it in the trash container.

When I looked for trash online, I found a reference to Mr. Trash Wheel.  This device is officially called the Inner Harbor Water Wheel and is designed as a trash interceptor to remove trash from the Jones Falls River as it empties into the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland.  Mr. Trash is powered by water wheels and solar cells, and places trash from the harbor onto an onboard conveyor belt which routes it into dumpsters on the vessel.   Mr. Trash Wheel was invented by John Kellett in 2008, who launched a pilot vessel which was replaced by this larger vessel launched in May 2014.  After the first significant storm on April 20, 2015, Mr. Trash Wheel removed 19 tons of trash from Baltimore’s waterfront on that one day.  Over a million pounds of trash has been pulled out of the water by Mr. Trash Wheel since it was installed.  A second water wheel has since been constructed for use at the Harris Creek outfall near Baltimore.  This second trash wheel is nicknamed Professor Trash Wheel.

When the tow truck arrived, the driver did not know how to get under the hood.  I popped the latch, showed him where the battery was (under the air intake), and watched as he attached the cables to my car.  This was obviously not a mechanic.  When I got in the key fob turned and the car turned right over.  When the driver checked however, the battery was bad, so I drove to the store and purchased a new one.  On Sunday we did take the car out for a drive.  We toured the lake and I showed Melissa the new improvements.  As we drove into the parking lot, I noticed the trash can next to the sitting bench.  Someone had obviously eaten a takeout meal on the bench six feet from the can and thrown their trash on the ground at their feet.  It is no wonder the Native American cried in the 1970’s promotion asking us to keep our country clean.  I picked it up and put it in the trash.

Thoughts:  Keep America Beautiful found in a 2020 study that there are an estimated 26 billion pieces of litter along the banks of the nearly 11 million miles of US waterways. The National Resource Defense Council states that, “Around 80% of marine litter actually originates on land – either swept in from the coastline or carried to rivers from the streets during heavy rain via storm drains and sewer overflows.” The large plastic drink cup thrown out the window could now be in the Mississippi River and on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is hard to get trash to the landfill when it does not even make it six feet to the trash can.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Fast

September 18, 2021

I have been practicing an intermittent fast almost two years.  This was originally Melissa’s idea for us to do together, but she dropped off when she became sick last year.  While we began our fast as a form of diet, it is more correctly described as an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.  The fast doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. Common intermittent fast methods involve daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours twice per week, but other intervals of fast are also used.  We chose the 16-hour fast and decided our fast would be from 8 pm to noon the following day.  The initial problem I had with the fast was that it cut out my favorite meal of the day, breakfast.

When I looked online, I found breakfast is the first meal of the day eaten in the morning after waking from the night’s sleep.  The word in English refers to breaking the fast period of the previous night.  While there are “typical”, or “traditional”, breakfast menus in different countries, their composition varies widely from place to place, and this has also varied over time.  While breakfast is commonly referred to as “the most important meal of the day”, some contest the positive implication breakfast’s “most important” status.  Some epidemiological research indicates that having breakfast high in rapidly available carbohydrates increases the risk of metabolic syndrome.  While professional opinion is largely in favor of eating breakfast, skipping breakfast might be better than eating unhealthy foods.  The influence of breakfast on managing body weight is unclear.

Even though I have practiced the intermittent fast for nearly two years, I am not always strict in my adherence.  In part, this is due to my love of breakfast.  I often eat breakfast when I go out to eat, especially when I travel and choose one of the roadside dives to grab a meal.  My thought has been that breakfast is the hardest meal to screw up.  Melissa and I also have a tradition of making Saturday morning breakfast since we first got married.  This involves bacon (or sausage), eggs (me over easy and Melissa scrambled), potatoes (preferably home fried), and toast.  Occasionally I will break down and fix a meal to break the fast on a Saturday morning.  That is what I did today.

Thoughts:  The fast has been a practice throughout human evolution.  Ancient hunter-gatherers did not have supermarkets or even available year-round food, and sometimes they could not find anything to eat.  This allowed humans to evolve to be able to function without food for extended periods of time.  Scientists tell us that fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3 or 4 (or more?) meals per day.  The fast is also done for religious or spiritual reasons by practitioners of the worlds four major religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism.  While dieters or religious practitioners may practice the fast, many with food insecurities fast because of a lack of food.  Around 811 million people in the world still go hungry.  After a steady decline for a decade, world hunger again affects 9.9% of people globally.  This resurging crisis is driven by conflict, climate change, and the pandemic.  Humans have the ability to make a positive change in all three areas.  If we want to.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Boar

September 17, 2021

One of the teasers as you browse the big outdoors store is the maze of specialty foods and candies you need to traverse to get out the door.  While I generally do not pay them much attention, we had eaten an early lunch and were killing time before going for dinner.  I found this like going to the grocery story on an empty stomach.  All the junk food you usually resist somehow ends up in your basket.  We started looking at the different types of jerkies, but I resisted.   Then came the old-fashioned candies, including a variety of licorice sticks, but I resisted.  Then Melissa came to the checkout with a chunk of peanut butter fudge and a Payday bar in the basket, and that made me waiver.  The last hurdle was the checkout itself.  They had Cherry Mash bars I had not seen in years and Sugar Daddy bars on a stick that we both used to love, and that is where we folded.  I added one of each and Melissa got a Snickers bar for measure.  By that time, I was lost and went back to retrieve a package of Wild Boar jerky.

When I looked online, I found the wild boar (Sus scrofa), or wild pig, is a Suidae native to much of Eurasia and North Africa and has been introduced to the Americas and Oceania.  The species is now one of the widest-ranging mammals in the world.  It has been assessed as least concern on the IUCN Red List due to its wide range, high numbers, and adaptability to a diversity of habitats and has become an invasive species in part of its introduced range.  Wild boars probably originated in Southeast Asia during the Early Pleistocene and then spread throughout the Old World.  The species lives in matriarchal societies consisting of interrelated females and their young (male and female), while full grown males are solitary outside the breeding season.  The wild boar has a long history of association with humans and is the ancestor of most domestic pig breeds.  Boars have also re-hybridized in recent decades with feral pigs.  These hybrids have become a serious wild animal pest in the Americas and Australia.

The wild boar and boar-pig hybrids of America cause problems as they out-compete native species for food, destroy the nests of ground-nesting species, kill fawns and young domestic livestock, destroy agricultural crops, and eat tree seeds and seedlings (is that all?).  Boars also destroy native vegetation and wetlands through wallowing, damaging water quality.  They are known to come into violent conflict with humans and pets and carry both pig and human diseases which may be transmitted.  While both captive and feral (“razorbacks”) domestic pigs have been in North America since the earliest European colonization, pure wild boars were not introduced into the New World until the 19th century.  The suids were released into the wild by wealthy landowners as big game animals and were contained in fenced enclosures.  Escapes occurred and the escapees intermixed with established feral pig populations.  This seems to be a consistent pattern.

Thoughts:  The boar jerky I purchased was produced by a ranch in New Mexico.  They are a sport hunting ranch that raises Elk, Bison, Deer, and Cattle.  Each meat is also turned into their specialized (read expensive) jerky.  The boar jerky package assured me this was made from the meat of feral hogs (not wild boar).  The meat of the feral hogs was like other wild meats, and the jerky was greasy.  I have seen several documentary series on TV that feature the capture and elimination of feral hogs in Texas and Louisiana.  Feral hogs (razorbacks) are even considered a pest in Arkansas and the AR Game and Fish Commission do not consider the hogs wildlife.  This is another species released by humans that we cannot control.  Perhaps we should learn a lesson.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Granddaddy

September 16, 2021

When we were up at the reservoir fishing last week, I stopped by the “facilities” and was surprised by the number of granddaddy longlegs there were in the open building.  I grew up in an older house that had a variety of bugs all over the outside.  I recall times where literally thousands of boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) would cluster to sun themselves on the south facing wall of the building.  I have since learned they may have also been seeking an entry point to overwinter behind the clapboard siding.  What I considered the back porch was a wraparound sitting porch originally intended as the front porch of the house.  This was secluded and rarely used and accumulated the paper wasp (Polistes gallicus) nests I spoke of previously.  The other species I recall were the granddaddy longlegs.  My younger brother and I used to try and get them to crawl onto our hands and arms to feel them tickle.

When I looked online, I found that my beloved little spiders are not spiders at all.  The Opiliones (formerly Phalangida) are an order of arachnids colloquially known as harvestmen or granddaddy longlegs. To date there are over 6,650 granddaddy species worldwide, although the total number of extant species may exceed 10,000.  Representatives of each of the five extant suborders can be found on all continents except Antarctica.  While granddaddy longlegs do not have fangs and do not make venom, they do have chelicerae (tiny claws used to hold and tear food), that allow them to eat small pieces of solid food while spiders subsist on a liquid diet.  They are easily distinguished from long-legged spiders by their fused body regions and single pair of eyes in the middle of the cephalothorax.  Spiders have a distinct abdomen that is separated from the cephalothorax by a constriction, and they have three to four pairs of eyes around the margins of the cephalothorax.  Mine were not spiders.

According to entomologists at the University of California, Riverside, the term granddaddy longlegs is commonly used to refer to two distinct types of creatures: opilionids arachnids with pill-shape bodies and eight long legs that are not spiders, and pholcids, which have eight long legs and small bodies, that resemble opilionids but are true spiders.  Unlike spiders, granddaddy longlegs cannot spin silk.  They are beneficial in your home and garden.  They are omnivores with a varied diet.  The granddaddy will eat everything from spiders, insects, worms, snails, bird droppings, and fungus. The granddaddy is like a natural pest control for your yard and garden.  They are mostly nocturnal and like to hang out in dark moist locations (like the bathroom at the lake and our back porch).

Thoughts:  A widespread myth holds that the granddaddy longlegs are the most venomous spiders in the world.  The myth tells us we are only safe from their bite because their fangs are too small and weak to break through human skin.  Because the Pholcid’s (long-legged spiders) rarely bite, scientists have never bothered to conduct research to determine their venom’s toxicity to humans.  In 2004, the show “Mythbusters” set out to coax a granddaddy longlegs spider into biting the arm of the show’s co-host, Adam Savage.  The spider was able to penetrate Savage’s skin, and he reported nothing more than a very mild burning sensation from the venom that lasted just a few seconds.  The myth was busted.  While most myths are based on some facts or actual events, others like the granddaddy are retold without any factual basis.  This is true with most of the myths around the covid vaccine.  It does not contain tracking chips or make males sterile.  What it does do is save lives.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Critter

September 15, 2021

Melissa sent me a link to an article by John Green for The Hutchinson News.  It seems Kansas State Fair officials judging 4-H entomology entries last week discovered one display included a Spotted Lanternfly.  A specimen of the invasive species was found pinned on a 4-H student entomology display at the state fair.  The student had properly identified it as a spotted lanternfly but was unaware the bug was an invasive species that has prompted quarantines in at least 45 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to stop its spread.  “We had one entomology issue,” Fair Board member Gregg Hadley, Director for Extension at K-State Research and Extension, advised the rest of the board Friday morning. “It was a dead one, but it was in a critter box.”  That triggered a federal investigation.

When I looked online, I found the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a planthopper indigenous to parts of China, India, and Vietnam.  It has spread invasively to Japan, South Korea, and the United States.  Although it has two pairs of wings, it jumps more than it flies.  The critter cannot harm humans or pets, but they cause massive damage to plants and are known to feed on over 70 different types of trees and plants.  The insect deposits sticky honeydew excretions that then grow mold which prevents plants from photosynthesizing and causing the plants to die.  The critter feeds on some 70 different plant species and has spread widely since showing up in Pennsylvania in September 2014.  By 2020 was an invasive species throughout the Delaware River Valley (Eastern US).  It is believed it arrived on cargo from China.  In its native habitat, it is kept in check by natural predators or pathogens.  Neither exist in the US.

I was intrigued by the word critter associated with the entomology display (critter box) and did some research to find out where the term came from.  The Free Dictionary defines crit·ter (krĭt′ər) n. Informal, as, 1. A living creature, 2. A domestic animal, especially a cow, horse, or mule, 3. A person.  A word history was also provided for critter.  It seems many regional dialects considered the word bull (adult male bovine) to be highly taboo.  When speaking in mixed company, people would substitute another word, calling the bull a booman, brute, gentleman cow, or surly.  In the Northeast, critter was a common word used to avoid saying bull, both by itself and in combinations like beef critter and cross critter.  The most common meaning of critter is “a living creature,” whether wild or domestic.  It also can mean “a child” when used as a term of sympathetic endearment, or it can mean “an unfortunate person.”  Critter originates as a dialectal variant of creature, but owing to the pronunciation spelling critter, the term has taken on something of a life of its own as a separate word.

Thoughts:  Residents in quarantine areas for the spotted lanternfly are asked to follow a checklist before moving vehicles or other outdoor items out of the quarantine areas to ensure they aren’t transporting the bug or its eggs.  As an entomology judge Hadley was familiar with the critter and the requirement for reporting it to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  The USDA will investigate to trace how the insect moved 1,100 miles to Kansas.  “They think it came in on a camper,” Hadley said.  Since the insect was dead, the student was allowed to enter the exhibit.  This critter was able to travel from China to Pennsylvania on a cargo ship and from Pennsylvania to Kansas on a camper.  The advantage of globalization is it allows rapid movement of goods over vast distances.  The disadvantage is it allows rapid movement of invasive species and pathogens over vast distances.  This has been true since the beginning of human interaction and resulted in the demise of Indigenous peoples around the globe during colonialization.  Humans need to constantly monitor the baggage we bring with us.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Spillway

September 14, 2021

After stopping for a doctor visit last week, we had browsed through the big outdoors warehouse located a few blocks south of the office.  While we were mostly killing time waiting to go out to dinner with friends, it is always fun to watch the fish and dream about fishing gear.  Melissa surprised me by deciding she would like to look at the flies.  While I already have most of what I use, she thought it would be fun to buy some odd patterns and colors to see if they would work.  I suspect all the flies in the store must work somewhere.  While the warehouse says they are “hand-tied,” I also know they are mass produced by people.  I doubt the store would buy flies that did not represent some sort of insect, or that people would tie a fly the store would not buy.  I was thinking that perhaps one of these new flies might work on the spillway I like to fish.

When I looked online, I found the definition for a spillway as “a structure used to provide the controlled release of flows from a dam or levee into a downstream area, typically being the river that was dammed.”  While dams may have bottom outlets with valves or gates which operate to release flood flow, most also have an overflow spillway located at the top of the reservoir pool.  The two main types of spillways are controlled and uncontrolled.  A controlled spillway has mechanical gates to regulate the rate of flow and the design allows nearly the full height of the dam to be used for water storage year-round.  An uncontrolled spillway does not have gates, and when the water rises above the lip or crest of the spillway it is released from the reservoir.  The storage volume of the reservoir can only be used for temporary storage and the rate of discharge is controlled by the depth of water above the spillway.  Most of the earth or rockfill dams constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers are an intermediate type, with normal level regulation of the reservoir controlled by mechanical gates and an auxiliary emergency spillway acting as a safety valve.  Technically, the spillway I fish is a gate, but fisher people (and me) generally call both by the generic name spillway.

Melissa felt like getting out over the weekend and suggested we go up to Blue Mountain.  It was supposed to be cooler, and she thought we could find some shade and do some fishing.  This was the go-to reservoir I thought about fishing while Melissa was buying flies.  There are always fish in the spillway.  When we pulled in the volume of water coming from the tube was low from the lack of rain, with just a small stream coming from the mouth rather than the usual river.  Undeterred, I cast my trout magnet into the pool and quickly caught four fish.  Interestingly, each was a different species, a bluegill, crappie, channel cat, and a drum.  While I caught four fish, I saw several Gar that were over three feet (1 meter) long.  The water was so low I also snagged on the rocks that breakup the usual flow of water and reduce erosion of the spillway bed.  Just as quickly as I caught fish, I lost two magnets.

Thoughts:  The pools that form beneath a release tube or spillway are great places to fish.  While the release tubes usually have roads associated with them, the spillways often do not, making it more difficult to get to the pools.  The water that rushes down the ramp tends to gouge a large hole either beneath the gates or at the end of the reinforced spillway, and they generally hold large fish.  The Southwest has been in drought for much of the past two decades, only punctuated by rare wet years.  This is causing rivers, reservoirs, and spillways to dry up.  Even when there is no running water there are fish that seem able to survive.  Humans are generally not that lucky.  We need a constant refreshing of our water to survive.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

DIY

September 13, 2021

Melissa bought a new chair online and it arrived at the house last week.  Like so many large items that come through the mail, it arrived with “some assembly required.”  This was going to be another Do-It-Yourself (DIY) project.  When I opened the box the pieces all slid out and formed a pile in the middle of the living room floor.  I was not intimidated because after all, this was a chair.  How hard could it be, right?  The first thing I noticed was there was no instruction book to walk me through assembly.  Again, not a problem.  The pile did have a single page picture guide that vaguely associated the various screws with the multitude of holes they were designed to fill.  There was no writing but that was just as well.  Translated instructions tend to confuse me.   Half an hour and several restarts later Melissa had a chair.

When I looked online, I found the term DIY is defined as “the method of building, modifying, or repairing things by oneself without the direct aid of professionals or certified experts.”  The term “do-it-yourself” has been associated with consumers since at least 1912, primarily referring to home improvement and home maintenance projects.  The phrase came into common usage by the 1950’s with the emerging trend of people taking on home improvement and various small craft and construction projects.  These projects were both a creative-recreational activity and a cost-savings.  Since the 50’s, DIY has grown to a broader meaning that covers a wide range of skill sets and has been described as a “self-made culture” of designing, creating, and repairing things without special training.  As I worked on my chair it became evident that I lacked “special training.”

DIY has grown beyond home repair to become a social concept of people sharing ideas, designs, techniques, methods, and finished projects with one another either online or in person.  DIY can be seen as a cultural reaction to modern technology and the increasing academic and economic specialization.  Specialization forces the experts to focus on a tiny area of any given field of research.  The DIY movement then becomes a holistic engagement of your field of study.  A DIY ethic is the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks without a paid expert.  The ethic promotes the idea that anyone can perform a variety of tasks, if they decide to Do-It-Yourself.  I have found that true only to a point.

Thoughts:  When I worked for the state, we were in a cost freeze and purchases were tightly monitored.  My stapler was continually jamming, and I finally decided to take time to fix it.  As I worked on this DIY project, the state architect joined in to help me figure out the problem.  After working with the stapler for an hour, I realized between the two of us we had wasted about $50 worth of time on an $8 stapler.  I put it on the floor, stepped on it, and said, “Oh look, it’s broken.”  I requisitioned a new stapler from supply.  I have found DIY projects to be both fulfilling and frustrating.  When I get the project to work, it builds my self-esteem.  When I struggle it can have the opposite effect.  While DIY can be a fun way to solve problems and creatively explore options, there are times when we need to differ to the experts.  None of the home remedies devised to “cure” the covid virus have been found to be effective, and many can be harmful.  Perhaps this is a time to defer to the experts.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Infamy

September 11, 2021

At 12:30 pm on December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood before Congress and gave what is now known as his “Day of Infamy” speech.  This was given a day after Japan’s attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese declaration of war on the US and the British Empire.  Sixty years later another infamy happened when hijackers took control of four jet liners, smashing into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in western Pennsylvania, all within just over one hour.  President George W. Bush was informed of the attack while reading a book to 2nd graders to promote his education program.  Bush remained calm and waited until after the reading was over to explain the nation was under attack.  That night, Bush gave a speech to explain what happened, and what was going to happen.  The primary goal was to express comfort that we would recover and resolve that the acts would not go unpunished.  The attack on September 11, 2001, was the most devastating surprise attack on America since Pearl Harbor.

Those who lived during the attack on Pearl Harbor can tell you what they were doing when they first heard the news about the infamy.   Those who lived through the attack on the Twin Towers can tell you what they were doing when they first heard of this infamy.  At 8:46:40 EDT, Flight 11 crashed into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center and at 9:03:02 EDT, Flight 175 crashed into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC).  The South Tower collapsed 56 minutes after impact and the North Tower collapsed 1 hour and 42 minutes after the impact.  I lived on the west coast, and it was not until 7:08 PDT (10:08 EDT) that I woke to a call asking me to turn on the TV.  The scenes around all four crashes continued to reply for days, until it was finally considered too violent to replay. 

Twenty years later to the day we are being asked to remember the events of what is known as 9/11.  The immediate response to the infamy was four-fold.  The aftermath sent the US into two wars in Iraq and the longest war ever for the US forces in Afghanistan, known as the “forever wars.”  The Bush Administration created the Department of Homeland Security by merging 22 government agencies and the US Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service were consolidated into the new US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), resulting in deportations doubling since 9/11.  Airport security underwent a series of overhauls and is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  The US intelligence state boomed, resulting in a marked increase in government oversight, primarily through a network of phone and web surveillance.  In short, government control got tighter without much improved safety in our daily life.

Thoughts:  My NY Times feed reported how the events of infamy have inspired great accomplishments.  The Civil War led to the emancipation of Blacks and a sprawling program of domestic investment in railroads and colleges.  World War II spark the creation of the middle class and cemented the “American Century.”  The Cold War caused investment in the space program, computer technology, and science education.  After the attacks on 9/11 we chose to pursue a “freedom agenda.”  By toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq we sought to inspire people to rise for democracy and defeat autocracy around the world.  Twenty years later we found this did not work any better than in Korea or Viet Nam.  We must never forget 9/11 and the immediate and long-term sacrifices of the fallen.  We also need to remember and learn from our responses.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Onion

September 10, 2021

I have been wavering on whether to tear into the overgrown mess that began as my onion sets last June.  Melissa had reminded me at that time that I had vowed (several times) to never grow onions again.  My gardener friend had grown red onions last year and they were beautiful.  I had tried yellow onions.  Few sprouted and the ones that did, did not grow.  Still, I succumbed to the alure of fresh onion completing the trifecta of onions, peppers, and tomatoes from my own garden that comprise salsa.  I thought perhaps if I grew red onion this year the results would be different.  I had let my cilantro go to head without harvesting, but if I could only get an onion this year . . .

When I looked online, I found the red onion is a cultivar of the onion (Allium cepa) species, and have purplish-red skin and white flesh tinged with red.  The yellow, white, and red onion are all varieties of the same species.  Red onion is commonly used in cooking, but the skin of the red onion has also been used as a dye.  These onions tend to be medium to large sized and have a sharp flavor and eye-watering qualities.  They are often consumed raw (added to salads for color and bite), grilled, or lightly sautéed with other foods.  Red onions are available throughout the year.  Red onion is high in flavonoids and fiber compared to white and yellow onion.  Cut red onion can be soaked in cool water for a period, and the water can be drained off.  This results in less “bite” and pungency.  My thought was, why would you do that, when that is why you selected the red onion in the first place?

After planting 50 onion sets this year only 20 of the bulbs sprouted.  Still, I thought, 20 onions were better than none.  I had weeded the bed during the season and confirmed they were still doing well.  With the heat and the rain, the bed had again become overgrown and frankly, I ignored the onion sets.  When I weeded my onion patch today, I found what I expected to find.  Only two of the onion sets had survived, and they were the same size as when I had planted them.  I knew they were mature as their green tops had withered and died.  My hope of fresh onion had been dashed one more time.  This time I am not saying, “Never Again!”, but probably not next year.

Thoughts:  Much of what we do in life is based on hope and expectation.  That has been true every time I decide to once more plant an onion.  When our hope is fulfilled, we are overjoyed.  When it is not, we are forced to refocus and try again.  Last May we were told “if” people would continue to wear their mask, social distance, and get vaccinated, we would be able to gather in backyards by the 4th of July celebration.  Instead, governments across America dropped mask mandates and vaccination rates fell dramatically.  The Delta variant exacerbated our lack of action, and hope and expectation has become another wave of mostly unvaccinated infections and hospitalizations.  Hope and expectation rarely succeed on their own.  We also need to do the work to make them happen.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Gourds

September 09, 2021

One of the sure ways I find to gage the season is by the displays found in the markets.  The easiest transition can be found on the candy aisle.  While there are always the old staples (candy bars, gums, and notions), even these take on a festive flare and wrappers to mark the different holidays (M&M’s feature red and green Christmas packs).  The candy corn and pumpkins are hard to find until the fall, and peeps seem to only thrive around Easter.  What is more subtle are the display changes in the produce department.  When I entered the store last week, I noticed the watermelons that had dominated the entrance all summer had been replaced by gourds.  These gourds are inedible, but they do make nice holiday displays.  Even though we are still in the mid 90’sF, this is a sure sign that fall is on the way. 

When I looked online, I found that Gourds are among the oldest cultivated plants.  Botanically speaking, there’s really no difference between gourds, squash, and pumpkins.  They all belong to the family Cucurbitaceae and are all frost tender.  Gourds are the common name for hard-shelled, non-edible cucurbit fruits suitable for decorative ornaments or utensils.  They were the early water bottles of the Egyptians, and have been used for utensils, storage containers, and dippers for centuries.  While some of the squashes and pumpkins are ornamental, they are soft-shelled and will not last longer than a single season.  The tough gourds have outlasted the civilization and appear in the archaeological record.

Gourds come in a variety of shapes and colors, but there are three general types of gourds.  The ornamental gourds (Cucurbita pepo) are the colorful gourds used for decorations. They are soft-shelled gourds that are closely related to squash.  These are native to America and are usually not good for more than one season.  The bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are hard shell gourds whose name means “drinking vessel.”  Hard-shelled gourds will last for several years and have been grown for over five thousand years for use as containers and utensils, although the immature gourds are edible.  The Sponge gourds (Luffa aegyptiaca or Luffa cylindrical) is the well-known bath sponge.  While many believe Luffas are sea sponges, they are gourds related to cucumbers.  After they mature and dry the shell is scraped off and the scratchy inner fiber becomes your bathtub scrubber.

Thoughts:  After defining the three types of gourds, the site went on to describe a fourth.  The Snake gourds (Trichosanthes cucumerina var. anguina) are a member of the pumpkin family (Cucurbitaceae) but has seeds like the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus).  Their name is derived from the long and wriggly shape which resembles a snake.  They can be eaten when young, but they are not very flavorful.  Once fully mature, snake gourds are tough enough to be turned into didgeridoos (an Australian wind instrument like a straight trumpet).  I find is fascinating that these varieties of gourds have been grown for over 5000 years and are more aesthetic than edible.  Humans obviously tried to eat them, in various stages of growth, but then continued to use the fruits for other purposes.  As the saying goes, “Humans do not live by bread alone.”  Apparently, we also need the arts and etiquette.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.