Saturday, September 26, 2015

A passing thought for a rainy Saturday morning

From Seth Godin's Blog:

More of a realist

When did being called a 'realist' start to mean that one is a pessimist?

Sometimes, people with small goals call themselves realists, and dismiss those around them as merely dreamers. I think this is backwards.

"I guess I'm more of a realist than you," actually means, "I guess I've discovered that a positive attitude, a generous posture and a bit of persistence makes things better than most people expect."

Hope isn't a strategy, but it is an awfully good tactic.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There's always a season somewhere

Worldwide convertible auto sales are way down, a casualty of Chinese air pollution.

But Rolls-Royce is betting there's a market for a $335,000 ragtop (the Halloween theme is fortuitous):

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A pitch-perfect messenger for troubled times

I don't know much about the man John Pavlovitz except that he is a minister somewhere in the United States; he has a blog; and I find everything he writes on it makes the day I read it better.

Today he remembers his father, who died two years ago. In the course of those recollections, he makes a larger, and useful point:
I share all this, because I want you to know that someone understands that you too have famous people who you’ve lost; legendary, monumental, household names whose passing changedyour personal history irrevocably. For you their death has been more earth-shattering and path-altering than any celebrated singer or politician or humanitarian or athlete. They were the peerless superstars of your story and I know how hard it is to be without them, how much it hurts to grieve them, how much you wish the world knew of their greatness and goodness.  
But I also share this to hopefully remind you of your worth too; to remind you that you are that important to those who you live life alongside. Regardless of whether you have acclaim or notoriety or celebrity or whether or not you even realize it, your life is invaluable  and irreplaceable. You may rightly feel quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things but even if you are, you needn’t worry—you don’t really exist there in the most meaningful ways. You truly exist in the small and intimate and quiet sacred spaces where your life rubs up against people who know you well and who you know well, and for them you are as important a figure as has ever walked the planet. You already are a household name.  
Never doubt for a moment how much you matter and never underestimate the massive, beautifully original space you occupy in the lives of those who love you. 
My father doesn’t matter to you but that’s OK, he doesn’t need to. He never did need that while he was alive. He was already famous. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

As Max Beerbohm said, "I was a modest, good-natured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable."

35 years ago August 2, I was one of the bright young things in The Sheldonian Theater, in another iteration of these photos: a new-minted MA in the Honours School of Philosophy, Politics & Economics.

It was the end of a glorious summer my parents granted me after I sat my exams in June. I had two months in Oxford with absolutely nothing to do but enjoy myself. The weather was English picture perfect; the days long.

I made the rounds of museums I'd put off visiting; spent lazy afternoons punting on the Cherwell with friends and evenings with them at The Turf Tavern or the Oxford Union bar; shipped home what my parents thought an obscene number of books; and ran up a respectable overdraft with my bank.

Then I chanced into a brief, altogether agreeable end of summer affair, whose end we celebrated- my time was up, I had to fly home- with a very Brideshead Revisited picnic on the grounds of Blenheim Palace. Wordsworth was spot-on:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Civic pride, the Oregon way

Portland, Oregon has a grand new pedestrian/light rail bridge. Its unveiling came last night, to John Adams' raucous Grand Pianola Music:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Overthinking summer's end

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went. And I’ll probably still be evading the same truth I’m evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose. And my dissatisfactions with it are really with my own character, with my hesitation and timidity.

Immigration became an issue after pols learned the Great Kudzu Wall didn't work

From a revisionist history of the South's most famous invasive species:
Introduced from Asia in the late 19th century as a garden novelty, but not widely planted until the 1930s, kudzu is now America’s most infamous weed. In a few decades, a conspicuously Japanese name has come to sound like something straight from the mouth of the South, a natural complement to inscrutable words like Yazoo, gumbo and bayou. 
Like most Southern children, I accepted, almost as a matter of faith, that kudzu grew a mile a minute and that its spread was unstoppable. I had no reason to doubt declarations that kudzu covered millions of acres, or that its rampant growth could consume a large American city each year. I believed, as many still do, that kudzu had eaten much of the South and would soon sink its teeth into the rest of the nation...

Friday, August 28, 2015

It's how 60-somethings rationalize having missed out all those years...

From a live chat at Product Hunt with economic Tyler Cowen:

Ben Casnocha
How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20's? Would you have still pursued an academic path or would you have become a full-time columnist/commentator/speaker earlier on? I seem to recall you saying at one point that you're glad the internet didn't exist early on in your life as it gave you the time to read the classics and develop a substantive base of knowledge.
tylercowen— Professor, George Mason University
@bencasnocha I am glad I was forced to live in "book culture" and "meat space' for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It's like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move it. If I were starting today, probably I would not be an academic. The seductions of the on-line world would be too great, I am pretty sure.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Today's PSA. Waldo cares.

Keep those feet busy while the sun shines!

If you've lived in the Pacific Northwest, this is the time of year when you start fretting that summer can't last much longer. "f I go hiking this weekend," it will surely rain, and once it starts..."

Happily, summer usually has a later sell-by date in the Carolinas.

So there's time to get in some hikes. Here's an article that recommends some good trails, rural and urban.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

If you're trying to get Windows 10 to work, you will understand this doubly

Economist Tyler Cowen explains the drive to colonize another planet:


…Let’s imagine the Earth is a hard drive, and each species on Earth, including our own, is a Microsoft Excel document on the hard drive filled with trillions of rows of data. Using our shortened timescale, where 50 million years = one month, here’s what we know:

  • Right now, it’s August of 2015
  • The hard drive (i.e. the Earth) came into existence 7.5 years ago, in early 2008
  • A year ago, in August of 2014, the hard drive was loaded up with Excel documents (i.e. the origin of animals). Since then, new Excel docs have been continually created and others have developed an error message and stopped opening (i.e gone extinct).
  • Since August 2014, the hard drive has crashed five times—i.e. extinction events—in November 2014, in December 2014, in March 2015, April 2015, and July 2015. Each time the hard drive crashed, it rebooted a few hours later, but after rebooting, about 70% of the Excel docs were no longer there. Except the March 2015 crash, which erased 95% of the documents.
  • Now it’s mid-August 2015, and the homo sapiens Excel doc was created about two hours ago.

Now—if you owned a hard drive with an extraordinarily important Excel doc on it, and you knew that the hard drive pretty reliably tended to crash every month or two, with the last crash happening five weeks ago—what’s the very obvious thing you’d do?

You’d copy the document onto a second hard drive.

That’s why Elon Musk wants to put a million people on Mars.

- See more at:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Or, as Stephen Colbert would say, "mirthiless."

Mark Twain in 1883. Even in the age of long exposure times, some people still cut up.

Were the Victorians really as stuffy as their chairs? 
That severity is everywhere in Victorian photographs. Charles Darwin, by all accounts a warm character and a loving, playful parent, looks frozen in glumness in photographs. In Julia Margaret Cameron’s great 1867 portrait of the astronomer John Frederick William Herschel, his deep melancholy introspection and wild hair kissed by the light give him the air of a tragic King Lear. Why did our ancestors, from unknown sitters for family portraits to the great and famous, become so mirthless in front of the lens?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: No beating the heat.

In her book, A Southern Garden, Elizabeth Lawrence declares
Most Southerners need an introduction to their gardens in summer. I think they would be pleased with them if they could break with the tradition of abandoning the borders to weeds when the flare of spring has passed. To me summer is a season for taking delight in a garden, for there is no time when it is more inviting than in the early freshness that precedes the heat of the day, or the cool twilight and fragrant darkness that follow it. We can have bloom in summer if we want it, but we must plan for it and work for it. Some of the loveliest shrubs bloom then, and some of the rare bulbs, and some of the gayest annuals and perennials. But we must discover the summer flowers that flourish through heat, drought and humidity.
Right she is, but considering we only have five days in July when the temperature was under 90- and then, only just- I found myself content to stay indoors as much as possible, and stay as cool as overhead and box fans make possible.

Over the last week, though, I have ventured out a little. Partly I had to: cabin fever strikes even in summer. Partly, we had some nice days when it was hot but not so perishing humid. This week we had three days so moist all you wanted to do was take naps. None of Nick dropping by to see Daisy and Jordan in that gauzy sitting room, with cold drinks whose ice never melted. I have had to get out the ice trays to help the ice maker keep supply in sight of demand.

Mostly I have been transferring outside things I started- and have written about earlier- inside. My experiments with celery heads have been mixed. Both sprouted new growth while sitting in water indoors, per predictions. Outside, one did well for a week before perishing in a heat wave day.

Cilantro never got past the starting gate. Place in cups of water to root, they just turned to mush. I aim to try again with a late crop. I like cilantro, chopped, in an omelet, or in some ramen noodles for a light lunch with a bit of color and bite to it.

Scallions start to get mushy after I harvest their second growth in water, so I moved them to pots, six per, and they have settled in nicely. Basil sprigs from the grocery are sulky when started in a glass of water but they get over themselves and sprout lots of roots in a couple of weeks. Planted, they are a bit feeble in such hot weather; I have had to water them twice a day and place them in the shade. That done, they take well to being potted. I look forward to some pesto by summer's end.

The peter peppers are thriving in their posts. The bigger the pot you plant them in, I learn, the bigger the plants get. All, from the biggest posts down, are setting peppers. None have begun to show off their dominant, if Rabelaisian, feature.

I had two pots of peace lilies outside from June; when Housemate brought one pot home, it was severely root bound and in want to pruning. So I split it up and put them both outside in the sun.

Both did very poorly. They'd sprout a leaf or two, which would then blacken and die. When it comes to gardening,I can be like a man who won't ask for directions on the road: I am sure I remember, however partially or incorrectly, what to do with a plant, even when I am dead wrong.

Finally, the spavined and reproachful pair shamed me into looking up their growth and care. The dislike over watering, and they really dislike direct sunlight, much less the Saharan bake off we've been experiencing.

I brought them both inside. Within a couple of days, both had new, green, leaves coming out. I share some ice cubes with them every other day.

My potato experiment- clear some grass off a sunny spot, stick 'em in the ground, and wait- has produced mixed results. The above-ground greenery is sparse, indicating the unimproved red clay is proving inhospitable. Three of the five starts have given up the ghost in the heat. I plan to expand that bed, come fall, and work in the proceeds of my first compost pile, started last September. It was dong very well until a fortnight ago, when the afternoon thundershowers stopped. Now it is dry as a bone and I am not inclined to run the kind of city water volume needed to keep it decaying at speed. I used half my 100 gallons of stored rainwater in July, just on the potted plants and the potatoes.

Of the 18 nandinas I transplanted into the always shady side of the yard in June, six failed from heat and lack of moisture. One of my neighbors has a patch of them, scores, all crammed together so I can afford to  take the root hog, or die approach. Them as don't thrive, gets replaced.

Several big patches of liriope I liberated clearing out undergrowth from the empty lot next door last summer and fall; they will thrive in the most difficult of situations. I found the original door to the storage shed on the ground next to it, overgrown by ivy; under the door I found a judge glass dining table top, and under it, two big spreads of liriope, barely hanging on. It took them several months to consider their options, but- like the other patches freed from choking weeds and smothering vines, they have filled out nicely and are in bloom. Once we get a little more I plan to divide a lot of them and replant them in the eternally shaded south end of the yard, where erosion is an issue when we get heavy rain. I have the liriope spicata- Miss Lawrence calls it the creeping lilyturf, preferring the non-spreading liriope muscari, which resembles the grape hyacinth. I have some of those I need to dig up and replant along the front sidewalk. They came up in one densely populated clump, with a few strays, this year, and only one bloomed.

All that I will get to after I root out the blighted boxwood- the baby bear of the three along the front entry. For the time being I have let a mimosa- a giant segment of root, half above ground, like a sand worm in Dune- put out tall limbs, to give some color and balance to that end of the walkway. The whole stretch between front sidewalk and the house needs rethinking. Stuff was just put places. Between two of the three boxwoods- which had grown together and nearly killed it- is a pink dogwood. Liberated, it did well this spring but the lack of light, and surrounding box, make its future problematic. I would love to just pull everything out and start over, but you haven't lived until you try to remove the root ball of a boxwood.

The other day, I finally solved a plant mystery. Two of my neighbors have a flowering bush that grows with such profligacy that I figured it must be a weed. But it has the most striking flowers: a circular crown of tiny white blooms with yellow throats, surrounded by a ring of pink ones.

I put in some serious Internet time trying to identify the thing, with no luck. I lack the technical vocabulary to set up a proper search query for most plants. So I pestered my neighbors, and Mildred's son, down for his weekly visit, identified it as a lantana. A little work, with that lead, identified my locals as the cultivar "Christine," and, not surprisingly, plant sites where I have looked warn of its tropical invasiveness.

In the Piedmont, however, the state extension service advises that the "Miss Huff" cultivar can overwinter. My neighbor Mr. Doug's is proof of that: it withered away to a strikingly ugly pile that looked like the last bits of blackened street snow in a gutter before rising into a conical bush five feet wide and three or so high. Clearly the Christine cultivar is Miss Huff's equal in our winters. But that sharp winter dieback clearly limits the plant's tendency to profligacy in summer.

Weed or not, lantana appeals because it is bright in bloom and will keep at it until the first frost. Its flowers are havens for butterflies, of which we see many these days: solid white ones, others, all yellow. A large one, with black wings running to a lacy, iridescent blue, dropped in for a rest stop on the sill a few days ago. One of these times I will sort out what sort it was. The state parks butterfly guide says we have 177 species in North Carolina. That will take a while to sort out.

I can hear birds outside my desk window, but almost never see any, anywhere, in the yard. One mockingbird, curiously quiet, drops in and out of the back yard, but the Robins, Friends & Relations Clan is nowhere to be seen, nor are the Cardinal couple. A strikingly red oriole dropped in outside my window two days ago, and then was gone. I hardly even see the Carolina wrens who live near my woodpile.

The common skinks and salamanders are out, skittish as ever; the eastern chipmunk couple ventures out of the edge of the woods daily, looking rather fraught as well. In July we had had rabbits: both the eastern cottontail and some marsh rabbits, the latter a good bit west of where you'd expect to find them in the Carolinas. Now I do not see them in the evening. Is it time for a new litter, or have the larger predators had their fill? I do not know.

Excuse me for now. I have to go make another pot of iced tea.

-and that was that.

It's hard to imagine, but 47 years ago, it was a big deal whether or not black people should appear in comic strips that, except on Sundays, were "black and white."

A housewife proposed the idea to a number of cartoonists after the death of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The responses were sympathetic, but wary; what would readers think? If enough didn't like it, the strips might lose their syndication deals.

Even Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, was uncertain. The housewife, Harriet Glickman, got some black friends of hers to write Schulz with ideas. He bit, and after the first appearance by Franklin, a black kid, he got requests from Southern papers not to have the boy reappear. Like everything else, it was just too much for their readers.

Schulz rose to the occasion, and when his syndicator asked if he wanted to do this thing for real, Schulz replied that if they didn't want to go along, he would quiet them.

The syndicate went along.

And the world didn't end. Harriet Glickman, now 88, thinks of Franklin as one of her children.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Yes, it's too damn hot

From a article, where you can click the charts up bigger.

Still a mystery

From The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1587, English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. This was the third foray by the English to the New World; Sir Walter Raleigh, with the backing of Queen Elizabeth I, had commissioned an exploratory expedition to scout out the land for the crown. The second expedition formed a military settlement, which was eventually abandoned when the men ran out of supplies. But this third group was the first to include women and children, and was intended to be a permanent settlement. Governor John White’s plan was to build up a self-sustaining economy, and to find a way to co-exist peacefully with the Native Americans. Things were going well enough for White to sail back to England four months later. Although it was supposed to be a brief trip, he was unable to find a ship to return to the colony. England was at war with Spain, and every seaworthy ship was claimed by the Crown to fight the Spanish Armada. White didn’t return to Roanoke Island for nearly three years; when he did, he found the settlement deserted, and all the buildings taken down. The only clues to the colonists’ fate were the letters CRO carved into a tree, and the word CROATOAN carved into a fence post. It is still not known for sure what caused the settlers to leave Roanoke, but there were no signs of sickness or violence.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: Amazing events, in inner- and outer- space.

Today was a blessedly cool, overcast day. We had some drizzle in the morning, after some more last night. All the thunderstorms the TV weathercritters were hyperventilating over last night went somewhere else. Billions of miles away, a plucky satellite, guided by a team of remarkable women, reached the planet Pluto, and revealed amazing images of what, for all my life, has been a little white dot.

Now we see it in its cool, serene solitude. Not for Pluto the roiling storms and raging infernos of his planetary siblings. Pluto just hangs out.

I have read that the satellite carries with it some of the ashes of Pluto's human discoverer, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. He discovered the planet in 1930, when he was 24 years old. In 1992 a NASA guy called Tombaugh to ask if the agency could go visit his planet; Tombaugh gave the trip his blessing, though cautioning that it would be very long and very cold. He died in 1997, at 90; the satellite was sent aloft in 2006 and now, finally, is reaching its goal. As it continues on its way, Tombaugh's will be the first human remains to leave the solar system.

Overall- here on Earth, way closer to the sun, the heat continues to take its toll. I lost another potato plant, and another nandina transplant. Indoors, things go rather better: I got a second generation harvest from my first glass of scallion roots. They are growing back a third time, but more slowly, and I am wondering whether to let them be, or plant them and see what happens outside, on the bright side of Mercury.

I have two more sets growing nicely, and my first head of celery. You just cut the bottom of the stalk off, set it in water, and after a week or so it starts sprouting a new one. When it is established, you plant it. I started the second one today.

Emboldened, I started two rooting two cups of basil and one of cilantro. I have a yen for home-made pesto that never ebbs, and and keen to get some more starts going.

All of this I learned when I got to wondering if, instead of paying nursery premiums for seeds or starts- and eliminating travel and traffic woes- I could start rooting some of what I buy at the grocery. I found an article, now posted on Waldo's brother blog, Cooking With Waldo, called Food Hacks!, and that is fueling my indoor experiments while all withers and perishes outside on the seared, cloudy surface of Venus.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: abandon hope, all ye who garden here

As the hundred-degree days slogged on through June, I stayed inside. My potato plants nearly died; four of the 18 nandinas I transplanted did. One of the boxwoods came down with box blight and I have to go cut it down and sequester the remains: though little understood a healthy box go brown in a matter of weeks?- it is well-known that the spores, allowed to remain in the soil, will hang out up to six years, hoping for a replant, before giving up.

Elizabeth Lawrence, writing A Southern Garden in the 1940s, remarked, "Most Southerners need an introduction to their gardens in summer. I think they would be pleased if they could once break with the tradition of abandoning the borders to weeds when the flare of spring has passed."

That is where I am. Out the windows- through the slats of the blinds, which remain drawn most of the time- I can see grass coming up through the straw in my herb bed.  I have not turned any of the compost beds. I need to consolidate two of them, and move one of the winter fire twiggeries to a more out of the way location.

My front yard is full of dandelion seedheads, white and fluffy and ready to spread thousands more close by. I pulled 3200 dandelion heads in May and June, and gave up after the little bastids started putting out new tall and spindly, War of the Worlds type blossoms, waving, mocking a foot in the air. I am now reading about salads in James Beard. Heeding Noel Coward's counsel, I leave the noonday sun to mad dogs and Englishmen. By the cool of the evening, my back stiff from hunching over the computer all day, all I want is dinner and an hour or so of television.

Considering summer, Miss Lawrence also counsels, "Drought is a problem that must be faced sooner or later, for weeks when there is too much rain are sure to be followed by weeks when there is none.There are two ways to face the rainless weeks. One way is to water and the other is merely not to.

The last fortnight we have settled into the summer routine of short afternoon thunderstorms, and, while they give little relief of a humid day, the rain containers stay full. That keeps the water bill down, if the number of mosquitoes up a bit. Most of the peter peppers on the deck are setting flowers. A peace lily that has sulked and attempted suicide since I divided it in two seems to, finally be resigned to grow back out. My potato plants hang on, grimly. Each has put up one or two leafy shoots that flourished, then wilted and died. I check them daily, as I do the gold dust plant (aucuba japonica, also known as Japanese Laurel and Spotted Laurel) I have been trying to get started in a pot in my neighbor's yard. She resolutely refuses to water it; I admire its pluckiness. Of five clippings I put in the pot a few months ago, it is the only one left.

Mostly, when I have taken time from trying to  keep the wolves away from the door- Henry Bemis Books made it through June, just- I have turned my mind to indoor projects. I am thinking to try and root some more gold dust plants for some indoor color, as I read they adapt readily that way.

I've also tried some ideas from a post I put up on a sister blog- Cooking With Waldo, in April. Titled "Food Hacks!", it details ways one can use parts of vegetables one ordinarily tosses after bringing them home from the grocery, to grow more of the same.

So in my kitchen window, three shot glasses now contain the bottom inch of scallions from the Food Lion. You just put them in water, let them have light, and they go up like rockets. Unhelpfully, the article doesn't say whether I can just clip and regrow, hydroponically, or whether they will be happier moved into a pot, or even outdoors (the heat again).

Next up, celery: you cut off the bottom, let it rest in warm water for a while, then transplant it. Voila! Now all I need is another jar of mayo!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Too darn hot

The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smoo...
The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smooth Jazz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Weather Channel asked around in the Carolinas, and people say 90F is too hot. 

It seems like it has been 90 to 100 for a year, but only about two, three weeks. Today, at 3, it was still 100 when I ventured out for the mail. We get midafternoon cloudiness almost every day, but it rarely amounts to anything rainwise.

Today seemed muggier than usual; and my box fan feels like it is slacking off. The TV weathercritters are getting restive: every day, nothing happens, and nothing happening doesn't help their preference for predicting rain on your parade and other weatherpocalypses.

Time to take off some more clothes. There are advantages to working alone, at home.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: A Thunderstorm So Good, It Gave An Encore

NASA artist's rendering of a microburst. Many ...
NASA artist's rendering of a microburst. Many are invisible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two thunderstorms today, two hours apart, and almost identical to each other, and to yesterday's: Lowering skies, rising wind, a microburst of very high wind, then about 15-20 minutes of rain. Sun back out, humidity back up.

The evening did cool off a bit more than lately, though, for which I was- and am- grateful.

My peppers, blown off the deck by yesterday's wild, have come back nicely, if a bit tiltedly. I ran out to get them once storm 1 hit today. Of course, I had just watered everything outside.

Out of the blue, I sold a book today. That will, net after shipping, bring me within grasp of The One Pressing Bill at month's end. Who knew? Friends keep telling me, don't worry so much, things will work out. But countering that is centuries of dour Scots Presbyterianism, and decades of courts deciding, in my previous life, to take a perfectly good case of mine and upend it. If something hasn't gone wrong yet, I tend to believe, there is still time.

But I am grateful for some forward progress, I am grateful my roof hasn't blown off, and that I didn't lost my electricity, as friends in other parts of town did. I am grateful for my 85 year-old neighbor, who watches out for me like a hawk from her living room windows. If something did go amiss, she'd be on the phone to 911 in no time flat.

The riotous exoticism of my yard's bird population has dropped away to nothing. The robins rule the front and back yards; Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal venture out of the wood occasionally. But all the migrating and breeding season visitors have pretty much moved on. One pair of mockingbirds remains; they heckled me the other day when I was liberating the gardenias near the great cedar where they nest. "Go on with ya," I muttered. "You've got places to be. Go."

Yesterday and today, however, one surprise: a pair of barn swallows, their dark backs and white undersides easy to spot. My neighbor across the street has several bird houses of the sort they like on power poles and his vapor light, but I never see any activity around them. So I hope they enjoy their stay. But I do miss the bluebirds, who developed a particular liking for worms just outside my desk window. Such amazing flashes of color, now gone; I hope to see them again next year.

After dinner I went out and stacked five big limbs- 10 to 15 feet- the wind brought down from the oaks in the side yard. These willow oaks are standing kindling: the older, interior limbs die, but hang on, decaying slowly, until one day, crash, boom, snap. I thought about breaking out the chainsaw, but then thought, no, wait until tomorrow. It'll be hot and humid then, too, and- I think I heard on the radio- the longest day of the year.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: Dreams of Streams

Well, we had a fifteen-minute thunderstorm this afternoon; it came on at 4.50 and ended at 5.05. The sun came right back out, and the wonderful cool breeze evaporated just like all that rainfall is now- into steam. Time to turn the fans back on.

Mid-storm, we got a surprising microburst of wind. With windows open for the draft, we got a sudden maelstrom of water blowing into the house and one window had its screen stripped out of the frame. A big pot of peppers on the deck leapt off and did a header on to the driveway; I'm hopeful most will make it, as it was the lot doing best so far.

We had another little storm like this last night after after midnight, though without the special effects. They are nice but not very long-lasting, and much of the water just runs off. This afternoon's burst reminded me I need to get moving faster on my dry stream bed. 

My yard tilts downward, north to south. Along the south side, running into the undeveloped, wooded lot next door, is a swale. It meanders a bit into the woods, and is an attractive, if undeveloped, feature. I realized it is, in fact, a dry stream bed about a month ago, when we had a real frog-strangling rainfall and suddenly I found most of the backyard under several inches of water- all headed that way. 

I decided to make something of what is there in potential, and, maybe, in the process, reduce erosion of the limited topsoil that has built up since the contractor scraped the land bare in 1985.

When you live a mile from a quarry that has been producing aggregate for over a hundred years, you don't lack for rocks, and when you have red clay soil getting backed daily at 100 degrees, you get lots of them heaved up to the surface. I walk around every few days, gathering a boxful, and lengthen the course of my dry bed a bit. It'll be about 30 feet when done: I'm maybe ten feet into it. I want to move some mondo grass along the sides, and some nandinas; both thrive in these conditions. Maybe it will amount to something. If nothing else we will have fewer rocks in the yard.

I transplanted eighteen nandinas week before last: a neighbor has a clump that is out of hand. Those went in at intervals in the front yard, along the wooded lot, where the ground drops off more sharply and heavy rains sheet over the driveway and down into the leaves. Grass won't grow there; it's too shady. But some test nandinas have done well, and mondo grass does well, and I hope to transform the red dirt from a rivulet-carded waste to something reasonably green, especially for winter, when all the leaves are gone and dullness prevails in view.

The general idea.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Gardener's Diary

View of Vathy (capital of Samos)
View of Vathy (capital of Samos) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There's lots of online references for what to do if you have the gardener's blues in winter.

After all there's little to do in winter, especially once the leaves are raked up. Go down to the cellar, maybe, and recount the root vegetables laid up.

Summer? That's a different animal.

Several things contribute to mine.

One- the big one- is that, in fact, I have too much time to garden.

Business is really slow. Nobody's buying over at Henry Bemis Books.

So I look for ways to keep occupied, and my mind off the serried ranks of troubles I can see coming from not making much of a living. So I head outside.

For a while, at least. Lately, it's been 80F when I got to bed and much the same when I get up; by 1:00 pm it's reliably 100 in the shade.

Not that much one can do in that sort of weather, and I'm not of the age for showing off. So I do 90 minutes to two hours, then come back in, cool off, and get back to work trying to figure out new ways to flog books.

When I am out there, though, I enjoy the work. Monday I liberated two of my neighbor's gardenias, long under siege by adjoining azaleas and volunteer trash trees growing up from their centers from seeds left behind by birds. The more crowded everything gets, of course, the more frantic and outreaching the plants get for sunlight. Long, branches with little outbreaks of leave three or four feet from the trunk are the result.

The gardenias are each about six feet tall, and easily three times that in diameter.  All I could do was pick a spot and start cutting inward, pulling out a layer of interwoven junk until I finally got to where I could start sawing out the trunks of the interlopers.

All that I got done Monday- about 15 trees, a few inches in diameter, up to ten feet tall. I piled them up and went home to sit in the semicool of my den.

Yesterday, my saw's batteries charged, I cut all the limbs off the trees taken out Monday, and cut up as much as the batteries would allow to fit the size the city mandates for pickup on Friday afternoons. That left a pile of tent poles, and I left them to retreat to my cool place.

Today, I finished the job, sawing the trunks up into three to five lengths. Everything got hauled out to the street. One of the gardenias looks pretty hollowed out- a perimeter of growth around an empty core- but this is no time for trying to shape or prune. That'll be next spring's work. The other did better: the trees in it shot straight up to spread over it. It's right presentable.

One nice thing about working in gardenias is that while you may be sweating like a Spartan galley slave crew trying to get past the Athenian anchorage at Samos in a Peloponnesian heartbeat, but all you smell is the fragrance of the blooms.

Today, after the trunks got cut up, I tackled a little circular planting area once offering pride of place to a bird bath. That got carried off last winter, when my neighbor, who had kind of let things go outdoors after her parents died some years ago, brought in a tree faller whose specialty is leveling everything vertical in sight. He got a lot of overgrowth cleared out, and left stumps everywhere that, in this climate, have been vigorously re-asserting themselves through new growth.

I'm trying to keep the junk stuff down so the bulbs and perennials can re-establish themselves. Maybe before long I can run another bird bath to ground. Now it has a big clay pot with some cutting I got from another neighbor, a bush with cucumber green leaves and yellow, streaky spots. It grows pretty well and my neighbor told me all I needed to do was stick them in a pot and water them. I did, with four cuttings. Three died over the spring; I suspect some root hormone would have improved their prospects, but until some book sales improve mine, that's a luxury item.

The one survivor is settling in and putting out new growth so, all in all, the planting circle- at the back of the driveway, a sort of point to the exclamation mark- looks pretty decent.

My one completely new undertaking this week came via a Facebook post a friend put up:

I saw that and thought, I can do that. And 45 minutes later, I had. It frees up space, and looks better than my old twiggery, if not as anally-retentively stacked as this one.

Enough bragging for this day. I need to email some more book catalogues. 

More, I hope, tomorrow.

Taking the "scary" out of alleys, for good.

Main sign of the Blue Moon Tavern, University ...
Main sign of the Blue Moon Tavern, University District, Seattle, Washington, 1993. This sign is now inside dates from the 1990s; the replacement is smaller and the woman is differently posed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some years ago, Seattle named the alley next to the University District's Blue Moon Tavern the Roethke Mews.

The moniker was for the poet Theodore Roethke, who- while teaching at UW- treated The Blue Moon as his home away from home, making the dive bar a hipster pilgrimage site ever since.

The idea of making better use of now largely-disused urban alley space must have been percolating since. Seattle has now unveiled a plan to start converting some of the city's alleys- wide enough for horse-drawn deliveries back in the day- into usable urban space. Here, for example, is a before and after of Pioneer Square's Nord Alley:

This is an idea that could find much traction in small towns with older downtown buildings. In West Seattle, businesses along California Avenue- the main commercial drag- put parking behind them, and built in rear entries and walkways through to the street, and it works well. In big cities, especially those- like Seattle- with water boundaries that preclude growing outward- making better use of the space they have, well, makes sense.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A little stargazing. Today, By day. You don't have to go outside.

Ever read about an interesting astronomical event but couldn't see it from where you are?

Science marches on...

Today at 21:30 Universal Time (5.:30 pm EDT), you can see the asteroid Icarus making a rare, near-Earth flyby online, thanks to The Virtual Telescope Project, a European venture. Just click here and enjoy the show.

What is Icarus? Sky and Telescope explains here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Many pieces, in the form of a life

Erik Satie was, above all, a character, as a wonderful London Review of Books appraisal reveals. Nick Richardson's conclusion?
Perhaps the best way to see Satie is not as a classical musician who failed to become a great composer, but as an art-rock star avant la lettre. His career contained all the phases of 1970s art-rock history, though not in the same order: a proggy occult phase, a glam phase, a Bryan Ferryish lounge pop phase, a Brian Enoish ambient phase, a David Bowieish decadent nightclub phase; Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour! was his punk phase. Debussy and Ravel (not to mention Poulenc, Fauré, Milhaud and others) may have written grander pieces. But while they were busy with concertos and sonatas, Satie was working on surreal pop operas, shadow plays and lo-fi Gesamtkunstwerken, experimenting with film, flirting with Dada and hanging out with the couture crowd. He may not have been a great composer, but he was a great Satie.