I decided it was time to get mulch on another of my front flower beds. I had purchased the mulch and began the process last week, but them became distracted (read tired) and never got back to finishing the job. The western half of the front bed had flourished with roses when Melissa’s mom took care of them. She had been unable to do much the last years of her life and no one had cared for them until we arrived three years ago. They were overgrown and in bad shape and last fall Mellissa asked me to tear them out so she could replace them (with succulents?). Now the bed had only one cluster of peonies (Paeonia obovata) and an unknown cluster of ground cover. It took me well over an hour to weed the bed (which was why it was not done yet) and distribute the four bags of mulch on the area. This should keep down future weeds until Melissa decides what to plant.
After carefully weeding around the ground cover and laying down the mulch I began to wonder about what it was. When I asked Melissa, she could not remember their name but did confirmed my fear that this was an invasive species and she considered it a weed. My identification app did not find them, but I did finally locate the species online. Sherardia is a monotypic genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae. The genus contains only one species, the Sherardia arvensis or (blue) field madder.
Field madder is naturally distributed throughout Europe and North Africa, and into western and Central Asia. It has been introduced into other temperate regions, including North America, and probably came as an agricultural introduction. I cleared the weed and laid more mulch.
I have found that I am able to identify plant species when I want to. Part of my training as an archeologist was in basic plant identification to determine the ecosystem where human occupation was found. Not being in that context, my mind is often elsewhere, and I do not pay attention. I was helping my brother one day as he mowed one of his rental lawns and I was weed eating. I was weeding along the drive and my brother came rushing over madly waving his arms. The weed bed I was taking out was the small shoots of flowers the resident had just planted. My brother explained that he had done the same thing a month ago and the man had come out in tears. Now I had weeded the second set of flowers. I figured this time he would be even madder.
Thoughts: Field madder was recorded in the Oxford Physic Garden in 1658, although it is not a species deliberately planted. It is likely it was included because it was part of the local flora. In the seventeenth century field madder was a frequent agricultural weed. Its roots could be used as an inferior source of the red dye, madder, which is how it got its common name. Changes in agricultural practices since the 1950’s are associated with the decline of the species, except obviously in my flower beds. I have found it interesting to note the Oxford Dictionary definition of “weed” is “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.” The second definition referred to “a contemptibly feeble person.” Neither definition addresses the worth of the plant/person in another context, just that it was not wanted in its present one. The news makes it clear there are those who consider whole groups of people to fill the second definition as a weed. We need to stop classifying and start identifying the worth inherent in individuals. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.
I was sent a feed by Andrew Dawson of Runner’s World about a young man who was running for his High School Cross Country team. While that is not unusual, the fact that he was the only person on his team was. This winter, the Yerington High School (Nevada) cross country team had five meets. The sole runner on the team, Kutoven (pronounced COO-tuh-ven) Stevens, won all five meets, including the 2021 NIAA Northern 2A/1A Region Championships on April 3rd. He covered the 5K distance in 18:04, beating the second-place runner by 37 seconds. The 17-year-old junior had teammates for his first two cross country seasons, but this year the others either found new interests or moved away. Out of the roughly 400 students in the school, he was the only one who wanted to run.
Cross country running is a sport where teams and individuals run on open-air courses over natural terrain such as dirt or grass. The course is typically 2.5 to 7.5 miles (4–12 kilometers) long. The course takes runners through the natural countryside, including woodlands, open areas, hills, flat ground, and sometimes a gravel road. It is both an individual and a team sport. Runners are judged on individual times and the teams by a points-scoring method. Cross country events are held for both men and women of all ages and usually takes place during autumn and winter. Inclement weather is seen as just another obstacle for running. I have two nephews who enjoyed the sport in High School.
The lowest possible team score in a Cross-Country meet is 15 (1st through 5th). The 6th and 7th place runners on the team act as pushers to raise the places of people behind them that are the top 5 for another team. Since Yerington did not field a whole team, the school never won a meet even though Stevens took individual honors in them all. Stevens pleaded his case to the school to be able to run as a one-person team, and Yerington supported him, asking the school board for special accommodations. They agreed to let him run if his parents drove him to meets. Various members of the school staff volunteered to sign him in at meets. In addition to running, Stevens maintained a 4.0 GPA, was the junior class president, and worked nine-hour shifts four times a week at a local supermarket. He always made time for his daily workouts.
Thoughts: Stevens lives on a reservation in Yerington as a member of the Yerington Paiute. Stevens said while running he often reflected on where he was and who he was running for and focused on the Yerington Paiute. He understands his community has been oppressed and has seen Indigenous people wiped out over the last hundreds of years. This is one of the motivations for why he runs. Excelling at anything requires natural ability, but the real key is motivation. As Thomas Edison said, “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” That is true for running, and it is true for overcoming the systemic injustice in our country. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.
As I was leaving the park yesterday an ice cream truck drove in and slowly went past the playground. I was surprised because this was not one of the usual trucks I see in my neighborhood. This looked more like a food truck, although it did have pictures of kids playing and ice cream treats painted on the sides. My neighborhood trucks are smaller and usually sell the treats out of the side door. Another difference is they are accompanied by music, which this truck did not have. The music meant you heard the truck coming from a distance and are given the anticipation of trying to figure out which street the truck is on. Then you can be ready when the truck slowly moves down your street. Anticipation is half the fun.
The origins of ice cream can be traced back to at least the 4th century BCE. Early references include the Roman emperor Nero (37-68 CE), who ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined it with fruit toppings. King Tang (618-97 CE) of Shang, China had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions and making Ice cream treats was likely brought from China back to Europe. Over time, recipes for ices, sherbets, and milk ices evolved and were served in the fashionable Italian and French royal courts. After the dessert was imported to the US, it was served by notables such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Dolly Madison (not the cupcake) served it in 1812 while she was First Lady of the US. Sundaes are the occasional treat Melissa and I grab late night from the Sonic.
When I went online one of the sites that jumped out was the high calorie nature of many of these treats. While there are low-cal options and sorbets, some go in the opposite direction. The Oreo Layered Sundae at Baskin Robbins is crammed with fat-packed bits and pieces. On top of Oreo cookies, there is hot fudge, marshmallows, and whipped cream. The sundae tops out at 1,330 calories, or over half the amount most people need in a day, and that does not mention the 146 grams of sugar it contains. On the other end of the spectrum, a small scoop (1/2 cup) of Cookies ‘n Cream ice cream has 160 calories. My immediate thought was who only eats a half cup of ice cream? As I read through the site the author asked the same question.
Thoughts: I was near a turnaround in the park and when the truck got to me it circled and headed back toward the playground. This time the children were ready, and the truck was soon surrounded by children and adults. Even though it was the dinner hour, everyone thought it was a good idea to get a treat. When I attended college in Berkeley there was an ice cream shop about a half mile from the campus. Whenever the Alums came into town, we would all walk down to Fenton’s for ice cream. I recall the Jumbo Special they served was another huge sundae. I contained 15 scoops of different kinds of ice cream. It was a treat shared by the group. When we decide it is time for a treat, we also make a choice. We can choose to eat the 1,330 calories or the 160 calories. We choose to eat 15 scoops or the ½ cup. We choose to wear a mask and social distance, or we deny the virus even exists. It is your choice. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.
Melissa began feeling better last weekend, so she decided it was time to transfer some of her succulents from the back porch to outside. We had already taken the plastic off most of the windows converting our greenhouse back into a screened porch. The real problem was the small plants that were inside the house. Now that they are coming out of dormancy, they need the fresh air and partial sun to propagate and thrive. At the same time, they are still too small to risk being outside on their own in the front of the house. That meant the larger established plants needed to be moved to the front porch to make room for the small plants on the screened porch. Moving the larger plants has opened a lot of room for the small plants which need more attention. Raising plants seems to always give you something to do.
When I was in college, I had a side job working as a delivery person for a furniture and appliance store. This worked well because they allowed me to have flexible hours around my classes. We delivered free to customers as far as 75 miles away, which meant most of my time was spent driving outside. We would deliver the furniture and place it where it was wanted, and the appliances always needed to be set up. That meant attaching the cords, leveling the units, and often figuring out how to get the large appliance through the small doors and narrow stairways of older homes. Even in bad weather, it was better to be outside than stuck in the store.
While I did help move some of Melissa’s larger pots, most of the work of transferring the succulents outside was done by Melissa. One of the problems with watching someone else work is that it makes you feel like you should do something as well. While I had purchased vegetable plants and potting soil to add to my containers, they had not gotten further than the kitchen counter. After finishing the Royals game (they lost) I got up and I began the process of rebuilding the containers with extra soil and fertilizer. I was reluctant to put the plants outside because of the cold weather forecast, but finally did move some of them. I knew it was better for them to be outside than drying up on my counter. Unlike succulents, vegetables take water.
Thoughts: The part I did not like about my delivery job was when there were no deliveries to make. That meant I would sit inside the store and do nothing. That not only bothered me, but also my bosses. They would decide since they were not selling and I was not busy, this was the perfect time to move furniture. I understood how getting the bestselling pieces in the right place for viewing was important, but I also knew this was mostly busy work. I was always happy when a customer came and needed a delivery. It meant I was going outside. Being outside also seems to be a good thing when trying to keep the virus spread under control. It reduces the concentration of the germs and allows them to blow away in the wind. Spring break again showed this year that there are limits. Florida was forced to shut down many of its beaches and curfew bars. Even outside it is hard to social distance when you are on the beach with 10,000 of your closest buddies. It is not a surprise that the current rising cases are coming from a refusal to not party or wear a mask. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.
Several weeks ago, I mentioned the competition between the Mockingbird and Cardinal over the Snowball Bush in our front yard. The Cardinal seems to have given up but now there is new competition. I have noticed a medium sized brown bird flitting in the bush or along the ground nearby as I come into the driveway. It took a while to finally get a photo of the Mockingbird and the same is true with this elusive bird. I would drive in and he would take off, or I would reach for my camera and he was gone. Today I saw him near the bush and happened to have my phone in my pocket. I snapped him from inside the house as he rummaged for insects on the ground.
The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is a bird in the family Mimidae, which includes the New World catbirds and mockingbirds. The Brown Thrasher is abundant throughout the eastern and central United States and southern and central Canada, and it is the only thrasher to live primarily east of the Rockies and central Texas. The bird is relatively larger than other thrashers. It has brown upper parts with a white under part with dark streaks and is often confused with the smaller wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), among other species. When I took the picture, I told Melissa I had finally gotten my elusive thrush. Instead, I got my thrasher.
When I found the bird online the site said that like Mockingbirds, Thrashers are prolific songbirds. While the mockingbirds sing around 20 different songs (mocked from other species), the Brown Thrasher is noted for having over 1000 song types. This is the largest song repertoire of any birds. The bird is an omnivore, with a diet ranging from insects to fruits and nuts. The usual nesting areas are shrubs or small trees. Another characteristic the thrasher shares with the mockingbird is they are both highly territorial. While they are generally inconspicuous and elusive, they will attack, especially when defending their nests. These attacks have been seen on animals as large as humans. I am not sure whether it is better to be divebombed by a mockingbird or a thrasher.
Thoughts: The Audubon site indicates thrashers are common to Arkansas and are permanent residents in the south but are mostly migratory in the north. They are generally an eastern bird, except for a few strays from fall to spring when the weather is cooler. The Audubon site adds another feature at the bottom of each bird description page on how climate change might affect the bird’s range. An average increase of 3C will result in a loss of 87% of the thrashers current range, while it will gain an additional 36% of range in Canada. Basically, the elusive bird will become nonexistent in most of America as it moves north. Scientists tell us most of the greenhouse gasses come from two sources, automobile engines (CO2 or carbon dioxide) and corporate farming (CH4 or methane). Methane is also being released as the frozen tundra of the Arctic thaws. We know how to fix the problem; we just need to act. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.
When I was reading my paper this morning a male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) flew onto one of my feeders. While I had taken an earlier photo of a female Goldfinch, this was the first male I have seen at my feeders. The males have a bright yellow body while the females are a duller yellow brown, and both have white stripes on black wings. I quickly found my camera and stealthily came back to the bay window. The bird flew off as I approached but landed in a nearby tree. I refocused my lens and clicked the photo. Nothing. I tried again and remembered the last time I had this problem was when I had removed the photo card. I went back to the office to get the card from my computer but by the time I returned the Finch was gone. No finch photo for me today.
I had taken my flash card out of the camera and put it in my computer because I was trying to identify a pair of birds I found last week. They were large duck like birds but had a goose like knob on top of the bill. The male had a black body with splashes of white and the female was the color of a female mallard. They both had white heads and necks, with distinctive reddish-orange eye patches. I had never seen anything like them. I have been going through my bird identification sources since I photographed them but had been unable to identify what they were. I began to think they were some sort of hybrid.
With the disappointment of not being able to photograph the male Goldfinch I decided to try and identify this illusive bird once more. I searched through my books, checked my online identifiers, and finally found something that was similar (but not like) the birds I had seen. Muscovy Ducks (Cairina moschata) are large, heavy-bodied ducks with long necks that can make them look like small geese. They have a long bill that slopes smoothly up to the forehead. Males are larger than females, and individuals of the domesticated subspecies (Cairina moschata domestica) are often larger than the wild subspecies (Cairina moschata sylvestris). When I heard some varieties were domesticated, I checked for images of domesticated Muscovy. That is where I found images of my ducks.
Thoughts: Muscovy ducks make good pets because of their peaceful temperament and because they are relatively silent. The domesticated Muscovy duck is the only domestic duck species not bred from mallard stock, and several Indigenous tribes had domesticated the Muscovy by the time of Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas. They are often raised for their meat, and the taste is often compared to that of expensive ham (appropriately, I saw them around Easter). Muscovy’s seem to be one of the few things that do not taste like chicken. While the wild Muscovy are found in Southern Florida and the Rio Grande River Valley in Texas, the domesticated variety stretch throughout the Americas. Domestication of wild species is one of the ways humans have found to expand their populations. That is true for both domesticated animal and plant species. Humans have found that domestication often alters appearance but can also alter the viability of the species. Most grains grown today are Hybrids, which mean they are sterile and cannot reproduce without human intervention. While they outproduce wild varieties, they are genetically more vulnerable. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.
When I was making dinner last night, Melissa called and asked me to come look at our front screen door. I had noticed earlier in the afternoon that the screen seemed to have black specks all over it. We have a cold front coming in and it brought along 10 to 15 mile per hour winds. Since it was windy (for Arkansas) and having just mowed the grass, I though that must be what was all over the screen. When I checked on Melissa’s request, I found the specks were about 50 small flies that had spread across the entire screen. I have never seen anything like this before and could not imagine what caused them to gather. I thought of getting the fly swatter but figured they would just come inside if I opened the door. I left them alone.
When I looked online, I found these were probably either “grass” or “cluster” flies (Pollenia rudis). The typical cluster fly is about 7 mm long and can be recognized by distinct lines or stripes behind the head, short golden-colored hairs on the thorax, and irregular light and dark gray areas on the abdomen (I did not get that close to look). Cluster flies are typically slow-moving and are completely harmless to human health. They are instead strictly parasitic on earthworms. The females lay their eggs near earthworm burrows, and the larvae then feed on the worms. Cluster flies seek refuge in cold weather and find their way into attic spaces and similar areas indoors. They often emerge on warm days, and cluster at windows (hence the name).
While the article spoke of the flies coming into the house through the attic or small cracks in the house, ours were instead clustered on the outside of the house, although I do not know where they wintered. Since the flies “cluster,” they can become a nuisance when they gather in the attic during the winter or when the warm weather brings them outside in March or April. While there are a variety of chemicals to control them, the best way is by mechanical exclusion. Since they are hibernating when they are in the house, and sluggish even when they are not, the site suggested you might use a mini vacuum to catch them. Seriously, this is something you just cannot make up.
Thoughts: I found it interesting that every site I found online about cluster flies concerned how to get rid of them. While a few did contain information about the flies themselves, every one of them recommended ways to eliminate the flies. This was more interesting as the sites all confirmed they were not a threat to humans. They just slowly go about their business of propagating and laying eggs in my yard. If I were a worm, I might be worried, but since I am human, there is no reason to be concerned. Other types of flies are not only a pest but also carry disease and some even bite, but not cluster flies. We have lumped these flies in with all the others because they look similar and gather in large groups. We tend to do this with people as well. Rather than getting to know them as individuals we group them together and discount them all. We need to recognize the value of individuals rather than discredit perceived traits of groups. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.
We were expecting rain today, so my plan was to get out this morning to do some yard work. I had spread the weed and feed yesterday evening and wanted to get in some weeding, along with my first “official” mow. I say official because the two previous mows were at the highest setting and then only done to mulch the weeds I had pulled from the beds. I decided to rake the leaves that had collected along my fence from last fall into the yard and mow them as well. After I had mowed the weeds, leaves, and grass I stepped back to admire my handiwork. My lawn does not need to be immaculate, just better than my neighbor’s (ha ha).
I also planned to start the process of preparing the containers. Last year I had toyed with a container garden and have decided to try my luck again. I say toyed because while some of the plants did well, most were a flop. I pulled out the weeds that had begun to grow in the pots, turned the soil, and added more soil to the containers. Three of the buckets were so old and brittle that they shattered when I tried to pick them up. That meant I had extra soil to fill the other pots. My plan this year is to put more soil in the pots and to keep them fertilized. I also moved them away from the bird feeders I had installed last summer. The seed the birds have been throwing out of the feeders was getting into the containers. I would prefer to not grow a crop of millet.
My plan had been to tear out the strawberries I planted twice along the back patio. The first time all three plants died. When I replanted three more plants, I did get several flowers, but only two or three berries, and those never ripened. I put straw around the plants last year but basically abandoned them after they failed to produce. Over the winter my plants not only survived but began to thrive. They spread out over much of the planter bed and are now covered with flowers and the beginnings of small berries. I had intended to plant the whole bed with the potatoes that did do well. I guess I will give the strawberries another chance.
Thoughts: It turned out my plan worked well. When I finished with the yard and planters, I went to the dentist to get my new cap. It started raining while I was being worked on. That means the weed and feed will get rinsed into the soil and start to work. It also clears any debris and gives the lawn a fresh look. I always like it when my plan works. The current administration had a modest plan for vaccine distribution of 1 million shots a day. The 1 million shots a day were reached by the end of January, and last Saturday vaccinations hit a seven-day average of over 3 million a day. It seems to work better when you have a plan for both distribution and vaccinations. Now we need to make sure the shots are getting to the essential workers who keep us going. Follow the science. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.
I have mentioned before what a hard time I have had trying to grow a Christmas cactus. I have purchased a plant four of five times around the holiday. They always had good blooms in the store which would last for several weeks and then the blooms would fall off and the plant would die. I finally gave up, admitting I did not have the insight or time to care for them. When Melissa bought several varieties of the species they behaved similarly, producing wonderful blooms over the holidays. Like mine, the blooms fell off and the plant began to die. The difference was Melissa knew how to revive them by taking the stems off the original plant, allowing them to create epiphytic roots (air roots), and then planting them in another pot. Now they have all reset and are growing well.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) do not live in the hot, arid environments common to many cacti. Instead, they are native to the tropical rainforests of southern Brazil, where they grow on tree branches and thrive in the high humidity, dappled sunlight, and warm temperatures. That means these plants need to be treated differently than other cacti. They need to be watered regularly, but still avoid keeping the roots too wet. There are three main types of “holiday” cacti: the Easter cactus (S. gaertneri), Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi). Each typically blooms closest to the time of the holiday it is named after. Most “Christmas cacti” sold today are Thanksgiving cacti, which tend to bloom from November through February. They bloom early and keep their blooms throughout the holidays. Most do not know the difference, and they pass unnoticed as Christmas cacti.
The aerial roots that the holiday cactus grow naturally help attach the plant to the branches in their native habitat. This is not a parasite species, because it does not depend on the tree for food and water. The aerial roots let the plant reach sunlight and absorb necessary moisture and nutrients from leaves, humus, and other plant debris that surround the plant. Melissa told me she has two of the three varieties of holiday cactus, the Thanksgiving, and the Christmas. She also has both the red and white varieties of the Christmas cactus. That means next year we should have holiday cactus flowering in the house throughout most of the winter. Perhaps had I had the insight or time, mine would still be alive.
Thoughts: One of Melissa’s transplanted cactus has decided it is time to bloom this week. However, there is only one bloom rather than the entire plant. I was told this is called a “one-off” bloom. When I looked the term up in Merriam-Webster I found it refers to anything “limited to a single time, occasion, or instance.” This is a British expression that is creeping into American usage recently. It originally comes from manufacturing and foundry work where items were cast using a pattern. A one-off meant the mold was only used once, as with a prototype. It seems ne branch of the cactus decided this was the right time to bloom. It is also the right time for the people of America to decide it is not a good thing to lead the countries of the world in the number of covid-19 deaths. The current administration has made a commitment to make the change. Now the people need to do the same. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.
Last weekend Melissa and I decided it was time to take a break from the busy activity of the week and go for a drive. I had been preparing for all the events associated with Holy Week, Easter, and Egg Hunts. Melissa does not get time off as she works for a bank. Now that she is feeling better, she has begun to put time back into succulent care. That and cleaning up the front beds means we had been focused. We needed a break and hopped into the convertible to go for a drive. The first stop had to be Sonic for a much deserved(?) sundae. While we do not do much desert, an occasional sundae does hit the spot. Then we took off down Highway 10 with nowhere in particular in mind. We were hoping for a surprise.
As we drove along, I saw a sign pointing to “Paris.” Since I have always wanted to go to Paris and even took a try at learning French, I steered the car in that direction. The weather was nice and a good day to drive with the top down. As we neared Paris, we got a surprise as we came to the reservoir and the tailwater that passed under a bridge going into town. We stopped and noted what a good location this might be for a future fly-fishing venture. The stream was open, appeared walkable, and had several good holes in the two hundred yards leading back to the reservoir. I always take my poles when I am in the Jeep but had not transferred them to the Benz or I would have tried a fly or two. I reminded myself this day was about the surprise, not fishing.
As we turned back toward home we passed through Paris and about three miles out of town found the Cowie Wine Cellars. I had just seen a segment about the “Capel of the Bells” on TV, and this was it. The winery offers tours and tastings (just closed), as well as a tiny chapel. Having lived near Napa Valley in California, it was a surprise to find a winery in Arkansas. The associated museum is touted as the only wine museum in the United States dedicated to preserving the wine history of a complete state (Arkansas) and its 150 wineries (another surprise). The most impressive part for me was the 26 large bells hung in four towers next to the chapel. When I visited their web site, I found they have over 60 bells in total, and many are available for sell. The great thing about going for a drive is the surprise you find on the way.
Thoughts: One of our family traditions growing up was the “Happy Surprise.” Although these had been planned by my dad, it was always sprung on us kids. Although the destinations varied, it always began as we piled into the car for a drive. We would often go to Clarence’s, or my grandfather’s farm. It took me awhile to learn that Clarence was his first name, not grandpa. Other times we would just drive the four blocks to the Dairy Queen. This kept the element of surprise in the drive. While a Happy Surprise is a good thing, getting a surprise by not paying attention is not. Our country continues to ignore the plight of the lowest 20% economically. In my state this is the nearly 20% living in poverty, and we are only ranked fourth. Mississippi tops the list with a 24% poverty rate. Nationally, over 10% of people live in poverty in what we claim to be the wealthiest country in the world. It is time for change. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.