Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hazards of Birdwatching

One would think birdwatching must be one of the safest of hobbies, but this afternoon I was standing underneath a tree, a red bellied woodpecker started beating on the trunk right above me, and I tipped my head back to look up just in time to catch a piece of bark in my eye. What are the odds on that?

Autumn Leaves

Posted by Picasa The trees and shrubs in the garden are putting on their autumn finery.

Posted by Picasa Amur maple.

Posted by Picasa Autumn Moon Japanese maple

Posted by Picasa Virginia creeper.

Posted by Picasa Sumac.

Posted by Picasa Red maple.

Birthday Boy

Posted by Picasa My sister surprised me on my birthday a couple of weeks ago, with this bronze statue. I have it on one of the paths, just around a curve, and a couple of times I've almost jumped, coming around the corner, and thinking a couple of kids are in the garden.

Farewell 'Til Spring

The low, grey clouds and cold wind of yesterday, gave way today to blindingly bright sunlight, a clear, deep blue sky, and a brisk breeze from the north. In the early morning, though fewer than yesterday, there were still flocks of robins, white throated sparrows, and waxwings in the garden, feeding on berries. They were joined by a few dozen grackles high in the treetops, with their coal black bodies and purplish-black heads shining as if made of polished metal. While yesterday the waxwings were focused entirely on eating, today they were flying back and forth in the sunshine, calling to each other with a high pitched "Zeeee". As the sun rose higher and warmed, I went back out in the garden with my camera, hoping to get a better picture of one of the cedar waxwings. As I was walking the back pathway, next to the deeper ravine, a flock of waxwings suddenly flew up, and headed down the valley across the pond, where they turned south, and with the stiff breeze at their backs, were gone over the horizon in a moment. Immediately, other flocks of perhaps twenty waxwings each, started coming out of the woods, and following the same path, then mixed flocks, with waxwings, grackels, robins, and other birds followed in rapid, succession, all wheeling south over the pond, and then disappearing over the ridge. In a matter of three minutes, the woods were empty of birds, except for one robin, still sitting on a limb, apparently snoozing in the warm sun.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Waxwings and Warblers

Posted by Picasa Each fall, there comes a day, always cold, and windblown, with grey banks of clouds broken with shafts of sunlight, when the cedar waxwings descend on our wooded garden by the hundreds. The week started with noisy robins, too numerous to count, hanging from every dogwood tree, then came dozens and dozens of beautiful white throated sparrows, and today the waxwings blew in, adding to the frenzy of birds, stripping the bushes and trees of their berries. As I walked through the woods, huge flocks of birds would flit through the understory brush in front of me, like herding fish in the ocean. Bush honeysuckles are certainly an invasive shrub, but can there be anything finer to see in the cold dregs of autumn, than a sleek, masked waxwing, devouring blood red honeysuckle berries amongst the deep green foliage... my picture, taken without benefit of a telephoto lens, is a poor hint of the beauty of the cedar waxwing. As if these birds were not enough to look at, there are golden crowned kinglets and numerous warblers hopping through the brush, which brings me to a question (and perhaps a complaint)... it is said there are forty varieties of eastern warblers; how does anybody know... none of them sits still for more than two seconds, which is about five seconds less time than it takes me to raise and focus my binoculars. I have only the vaguest idea how many and what type of warblers we are playing host to, but they are all welcome.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

MeMe In The Morning

I've been tagged by this blogger "MeMe" thing; it's not, as I first feared, that avian virus everyone is worried about, but rather a set of topics that you're supposed to post about, telling a little more about yourself... sort of a cross between slumber party chatter and that time you were stuck in a motel bar in the middle of Wyoming during a blizzard, had way too much to drink, and ended up telling your life story to an equally drunk truckdriver, who you thought was very interested in it all, until you realized he was just passed out with his eyes open. Anyway, I was never good at following directions (which explains a lot that has happened in my life), so I'm just going to post what I feel like, rather than follow the right format.
Two interesting things that happened to me that skirted a fatal outcome:
I lived in California at one time, and one of my favorite camping spots in the early spring, was Death Valley, specifically Painted Butte Canyon. I had a Toyota LandCruiser, one of the early jeep-like vehicles available to the public; it was built like a tank, rather like a Hummer, but had a gas tank holding about 10 gallons, and was always running out of gas (including in the middle of the Oakland Bay Bridge). Anyway, you kind of need an SUV to get to Striped Butte; you take a winding dirt road, going by, interestingly, the borax mine of Twenty Mule Team fame, then into this canyon, which back then at least, was totally deserted, and you can camp right by a spring, visited during the day by numerous hummingbirds, and at night by herds of noisy wild donkeys. I just slept under the stars by myself, and spent the day exploring and climbing the adjacent ridge of low mountains that border Death Valley on the west, the Panamints. I saw nobody up close the whole time I was there, but several times saw a pickup come around the south end of the ridgeline and drive around about 3 miles down the valley, doing something or other.One day when I was climbing the ridge, I saw a ranch in the next valley, called the Panamint Valley, but thought nothing of it, until years later, I was reading "Helter-Skelter", the book about Charles Manson, and realized that the ranch I'd seen was the Spahn ranch, and at the time I was camping there (I think it was about 1969), Charlie, Squeaky, and the gang were all there. Apparently several people from around there disappeared at that time, thought to have been killed by them, and buried in the desert... I've wondered if Charley drove a pickup?
My second episode also happened in California. My brother and I drove down to the Ventanas, just east of Big Sur, to backpack. One afternoon, we stopped for lunch by a creek (as I recall, it may have been called Oak Creek). The creek drops right off a sheer cliff of perhaps forty feet, and we were sitting right on the edge of the dropoff, with our backs to it, looking upstream, eating our snacks, when a group of Boy Scouts, and their leaders, came running up the nearby trail... they were all kind of hooting and hollering, and running around, and one of the leaders, a fellow of perhaps twenty, started to run across the rock ledge right behind us, at the edge of the cliff. This ledge actually slanted down and he didn't apparently notice it was wet and mossy. His feet went right out from under him, and he rapidly started sliding off the ledge, and would have fallen to his death. It just happened, though, that he fell right behind me, and I instinctively turned, and just was able to grab him by his arm. I can still remember feeling his pulse pounding in his arm, as I gripped it tightly, and I looked him right in his eyes, and saw the fear. My brother ran over, and we were able to pull him up. He thanked us and sheepishly walked slowly up the ridge to where the other scouts, who were oblivious to what had hapened, were still running around. I heard this fellow telling one of the other leaders, that we had just saved his life, but the leader told him to quit kidding around.
Two foods I could totally live on; well but maybe not long: pepperoni pizza and sausage pizza.
The best pop song of all time that I know the words to (three way tie): Margaritaville, Unchained Melody, and Red, Red Wine.
Where was I when Kennedy was killed: in chemistry class. I was once sitting with my (then) 8 year old nephew, watching t.v., and some commentator was talking about how everyone knew where they were when President Kennedy was killed. My nephew looked at me sideways for a few seconds, then asked me if I was alive when the assasination took place. I told him yes, and that I was in chemistry class (I wasn't going to tell him it was my college chemistry class)! Then I said, that in fact I remembered the Korean Armistice, which quite amazed him, and that while I didn't remember it, I was born while the Second World War was still going on. At this, his eyes got wide, and he said "No Way!" Sigh... kids know how to really make you feel old.
Something I regret having considered, but never did: buying Microsoft stock at $4 a share.
What I'm looking forward to now: The first snowdrop of spring.

Chrysanthemum Moment

Posted by PicasaI know that I have enough of everything in the garden; enough statues, enough pathways, enough roses and rhododendrons, plenty of daffodils and hostas... I've seen the look in garden vistor's eyes over the years go from pleasure, to puzzlement, to sympathy, as my horticultural passion has added ever more plants and things to an already over-planted, over-crowded garden. Yet, on days like today, with low clouds, and a cold wind from the north, I know I need more mums!

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If I could convince reader's of this blog, at least those who live in the northern part of the country, of one thing, it would be to plant some monkshoods (actually what I would really like is to convince them to stop over and do some weeding in the garden, but that's probably a lost cause). In our late fall garden, the monkshoods are true aristocrats; tall, of rich blue color, and interesting in their individual flowers. If your garden is a bit shady, it's worth seeking out shorter, less floppy forms, with stouter stems. Posted by Picasa

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Blogging For Dollars

I've recently been asked why I don't sign up my blog for AdSense, and watch the checks for ad revenue roll in every month... well, actually it was one person who asked, and he was trying to sell me a book on how to get rich doing it. Now, on good days, when I've actually got something pertinent to say, I might get a hundred people on here. On other days, when I've got nothing to say, and I don't care who knows it, and when even the kittens are in a pissant mood, so I can't come up with any desperation "cute kitty" pictures... on those days you could swing a dead skunk around in this blog and not hit anyone. I figure I might clear about 13 cents a day advertising. Mind you, since I'm retired now, that's nothing to sneeze at; ostensibly we're partly living on my retirement savings, but Guido, my investment director, has stopped even pretending he's going to return my calls. I guess he's run out of reasons my oil drilling investment went kaput, considering oil prices have tripled. I know part of the reason I'm a little doubtful that I'd generate much ad revenue, is that this blog seems a little like a bus station... some people come here for a reason, but others seem like they might just be cutting through here to get to the post office, or to get out of the rain. Then there are those poor souls who end up here by googling for something perfectly logical, like how to keep mice out of the attic, and somehow end up here. I always picture them looking sort of like people coming out of a theater in the middle of the afternoon, squinting, and kind of disoriented. Of course then there are those googling for something like "smelly pirate's feet". They deserve to end up here. I hadn't realized what a hot topic this whole blog advertising thing was, until I recently went looking for a reason that Google had again screwed up my blog, and I ran across all of these people trying to get rich from their blog. There are all kinds of stories about people making $15,000 a day, but I wonder. It kind of reminds me of the people who used to think they were going to get rich growing fishing worms. This was quite popular at one time... at least twice a year our little local paper would have a story about some young fellow who was going to make millions this way. It always seemed the guy was somebody who never quite had the nerve or the tools to hop out of his parent's nest, if you know what I mean. Anyway, there would always be a grainy picture of the lad, down in his folk's basement, looking at a box of worms. I don't recall ever seeing anybody suddenly driving around in a Cadillac from all of this; they just sank without a trace. So, I guess I'm not going to get rich from my blog... maybe I'll go see what the kittens are up to.


Well, the Blog Spammers have discovered my blog, and last night I spent 20 minutes deleting "comment" ads for everything from giant asparagus to house cleaning, so I've had to add word verification to the comment log in. The spammers must be getting really hard up, if they find my little blog worth tagging! Apparently "comment spam" is the new hot item in the spam world... it's not going to make a lot of friends for the advertisers.

Rocks In Head = Rocks In Garden

Posted by Picasa There comes a day in every gardener's life, where he or she is wandering about the garden, gazing at nothing in particular, and suddenly thinks, "Boy, what this garden needs is some nice, big rocks!" My advice is, that when this happens, go in the house, get out the bottle of tequila, pull down all the blinds, and start pouring. If you're lucky, when you wake up the next morning, your headache won't last more than two days, and you'll have forgotten about the rocks. Unfortunately, nobody wiser was about when this thought hit me, and the next morning, a large truck deposited two groaning pallets of rocks (or should I say boulders) on our front lawn. The smaller rocks, weighing perhaps a hundred pounds, were no problem for me and my dolly, but when I tried moving some of the bigger rocks, the dolly just bent, and I knew I was in trouble. Liz went to the rental place, and came home with a really big dolly, which enabled me to get the two hundred pounders into the garden, but with the biggest boulders, since I only weigh 150 pounds, I couldn't get enough leverage to get them off the ground. With Liz helping, we were able to get them going, but she didn't talk much to me for about two days afterward, and I can guarantee you the rocks are staying where they're at!

Rock in the rhododendron bed. Posted by Picasa

I'm just showing a selection of the many rocks in the garden. Posted by Picasa

This rock is in an azalea bed, at the top of a little hill. Posted by Picasa

Punkin' is helping me show how big the rock actually is, but I think it must have been cold. Posted by Picasa

Our old cat, Chipper was buried under this rock. Posted by Picasa

I'm not sure what type of rock, geologically, these are, but they are darn heavy. Posted by Picasa

This rock is at the bottom of a hill, and is definitely going to stay where it's at! Posted by Picasa

P.J. also wants to help show the actual size. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Humungous Fungus

This is the time of year when giant puffballs pop up on the forest floor, as if by magic, looking like a soccer ball that has been kicked into the garden. In my Euell Gibbons/long hair days, I would have picked this, sliced it up like bologna, and sauteed it. However, I have since then lost some of that hair and developed more of a taste for frozen Snickers bars, so now I just admire these clowns of the mushroom world. For younger people (which for me is all too rapidly becoming most of the world's population), Euell Gibbons wrote a series of books about foraging for food in nature, like "Stalking the Wild Asparagus", which were wildly popular in my hippie days. Unfortunately, Euell died at an embarassingly young age, which kind of put a damper on his followers. Posted by Picasa

My Dirty Secret

Some visitors wonder how I can grow rhododendrons and a variety of unusual woodland perennials here in Iowa, the land of corn and ragweed, especially considering that the soil in our hilly woodland is a particularly pernicious form of clay, which in dry weather (which seems to be a yearly occurence anymore), sets up like concrete. Iowa has the reputation of being a Garden of Eden, with thick layers of black, loamy soil. Unfortunately, most of that topsoil from hilly areas, now resides in the Gulf of Mexico, having washed downhill and downstream long ago. What I've done over the years, through four different gardens (which each seemed to outdo the last in the paucity of good soil) is to actually dig out most of my flower beds to a depth of about two feet, and refill the hole with good, loose soil. Above is pictured a future azalea bed, so it will be refilled with a mixture of peat, topsoil, sand, and composted pine bark... in this case about three tons worth, all done with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Why I didn't invest in a Bobcat, at the beginning of all this is one of the great mysteries of my life. I console myself with the thought that, since I consume about 4000 calories a day (I am eating a bag of Cheese Nips as I type this), I would by now weigh about 1500 pounds instead of 150 pounds, if I had not had the exercise involved in constantly digging holes in the ground and filling them in again. I figured out once that I have moved about 2 million pounds of dirt over the years. If ever there is an earthquake in the midwest, I may be responsible. Posted by Picasa

Hibernal Journal.

There aren't a lot of plants brave (or foolhardy) enough to bloom, or put out foliage in late fall in Iowa. Cyclamen cilicium is a nice exception, in the flower department; then there those hardy souls that like to put out their leaves in the fall, that persist through the winter (hibernal leaves); I showed recently, a couple of orchids that do this. Here are some of the varieties of hepatica that have nice, shiny leaves that hide in the forest litter, under the ice and snow, and are a delight to the winter gardener. Posted by Picasa

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