Category Archives: Wildlife

Localista At Large: California Dreamin’

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

Dear Reader:

The Teen and I joined Hubby on the West Coast this week, and are immersing ourselves in the laid-back California lifestyle as much as possible, staying in the seaside community of La Jolla which is home to the University of California San Diego, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and the Salk Institute. La Jolla also offers a quaint art & shopping village, sea lion watching, impressive sandy cliffs leading down to sheltered beaches, great restaurants (avocado is in just about everything–I’m in dining heaven!), and perfect, and I mean that literally, weather. Every day has been in the low 70’s, with morning fog clearing to blue sky and bright sunshine.

Mormon Temple

Mormon Temple

The Mormon Temple simply glows and looks more like a castle than a church. Wikepedia tells me that the exterior is made of marble chips in stucco which is why it shines so ethereally against the sky. The Teen and I saw it from the parking lot of a shopping center where we had gone to stock up on some groceries for the week.

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

The next day, we hopped on the hotel shuttle to La Jolla Cove where we stood watching the sea lions basking on the rocks. There was ample opportunity for people-watching, too. Snorkeling, diving, and swimming are all favorite pastimes here. We walked the pathway along the ocean and Scripps park, watching the waves and enjoying the breeze. Heading up Jenner Street, we left the ocean and headed into the village for some shopping and lunch.

Arugula Salad

Arugula Salad

I hate to admit this, but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant–it was on Girard Avenue, not far from Cody’s, and above a Thai place. My credit card says “Stella,” but I can’t find it on Google.com. Anyway, we had an amazing arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado (naturally), and shaved parmigiano. Yum! Later, we stopped into a juice bar for some healthy and hydrating smoothies.

The Teen found a pair of great crocheted shorts at a clothing store. The clerk was a woman who grew up in New York City and moved out here awhile ago. Her family moved out with her, and she says she’d never want to move back east. The Teen also mentioned that everyone seems really happy here. Is it because of the climate or, as I suspect, because we are in La Jolla–a very well-to-do community in San Diego?

You know, when you don’t have to worry about where your mortgage payment is coming from and you don’t have to chose between medications or electricity for the month, you might experience a bit less stress. A for-sale sign on a condo in La Jolla Village listed the price as $800,000! Okay, having money might not make you HAPPIER, per se, but it certainly takes the edge off, doesn’t it?

Our first evening in La Jolla, Hubby drove us over to Torrey Pines where we climbed down the stairs built into steep sand cliffs, ended up on the sheltered beach, and did a little jogging, a little sprinting, a little walking…and I practiced tree pose while looking out at the Pacific. I saw my first nudist–unfortunately. Not a fan of public nudity. Also saw people practicing paragliding up on the cliffs at the Torrey Pines Gliderport while a guy played guitar, providing a soundtrack for the graceful, floating gliders.

palm trees galore

palm trees galore

Walking everywhere provides plenty of time for looking at the different types of palm trees, cacti, and flowers that are so different here in this dry climate.

Statue outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

San Diego has alot to offer if you are into art and history. This big guy has a mechanical arm raising and lowering a hammer outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla. I hope to talk the Teen into checking out the museum…maybe later today!

Outside Kate Spade

Outside Kate Spade

For you fashionistas out there, here is a shot of the Teen in front of Kate Spade. I’m sure we’ll be shopping some more–I’m hoping to find some consignment shops while I’m out here that I can share with you. That pretty much covers days 1 & 2 of our California Dreamin’ adventure. We spent Day 3 at the San Diego Zoo. Post coming soon!

Pelicans at the cove---they have their own gliders attached!

Pelicans at the cove—they have their own gliders attached!

Image

I Was Thinking

Photo by Debbie Broderick

I Was Thinking

I was thinking
about how still the air was
and the trees
and how there are
those hot, still days when you are a kid
and time is just a suggestion
and every summer day is forty hours long
and summer is forever.
Then somehow knowing better
and forgetting
and starting to mark time with the best of them.

Go out to the garden. Watch
a dragonfly stir the air
with black net wings like stockings
stretched over filament wire. Smell
bee-balm to see what draws
the bees. Draw
the bees.
Laugh.

Skunk Funk

Dear Reader:

I let the dog out.

That was my huge mistake. I came back from a library viewing of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, and Delilah barked and barked at the door.

“Don’t let her out mom; I saw a fox run down the road,” the Teen said. Did I listen? No. I let the dog out, and off she charged, yapping her snout off. After about ten minutes, I stepped outside to call her in, and it hit me…eau de skunk! Not only that, the dog’s barks sounded muffled. Where was she? Not UNDER the mudroom…

Yup, under the mudroom in a little crawl space. With a skunk. For over an hour.

The stench permeated the mudroom and began seeping into the kitchen. I finally got the dog inside, in the bathtub, and worked in a lather of peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap and then relegated the little stinker to the cellar for the night. Fans, open windows, vinegar in dishes to absorb the odor, Scentsy wax warmers, and incense were my weapons of choice.

The next day, I made a run to the market for Febreeze, commercial room spray, and scented dryer sheets, escalating the war on pee-ew to chemical warfare. Hey, I tried the sustainable/organic remedies first, but desperate times, you know?

If the Teen were homeschooled, I might have been content with those dishes of vinegar placed strategically around the rooms. Absorbing the odor? Masking the odor? Both? It did work quite well, but this was full-on war. If this had simply been a case of dog getting sprayed and running through the house, it would have sufficed, but the mudroom is attached to the house. I have no way of getting under there to wash the skunk oil away. So there it sits, emitting stench like a giant jar of critter potpourri.

I didn’t want the Teen to go to school and be known for the next three years as Skunk Girl. When in dire straits, we resort to all the artillery we can get our hands on, right? And the best weapon was surprising. The bottle of Chanel No. 5 Hubby bought me for Christmas last year.

I spritzed it on before I went to the store, and when I inquired whether he smelled any hint of skunk, the checkout boy looked satisfyingly surprised and said, “Actually, you smell really good.”

Compliment aside, this experience traumatized me. I have some anger-at-skunk issues to work out. Fashion therapy below…

Redneck Advertising Campaign

Journaling on a Misty Morning

The Lake on a Misty Morning

Journal Entry July 30, 2012

I have dressed early–6 a.m., in sweatpants and hoodie–to stave off the morning chill. Yesterday was rainy, all day drizzle interspersed with sudden heavy downpours. When I wake this morning and see skies clearing, I know I have to get down to the lake to watch the white tendrils of mist rise from the glossy, rippled surface of the water. I bring a blue chair and a mug of coffee, a camera, and my journal.

The tiny community beach–one of over a dozen–is a short walk from my doorstep. For the first eight years we lived here, the beach was nothing more than a weedy opening in the scrub brush lining the lake. A pine needle- and leaf-covered path slopes down to the water’s edge from the gravel road.

We leave our canoe here, red and tipped upside down, most of the summer and fall. A neighbor borrows it, using his own paddles. He and his family–brothers? sisters? parents? There’s a whole tribe of them–moved into the house behind us two years ago, and they began to clear the opening on their own. Last summer, the community grounds-crew finished the job, cutting more brush, hauling in sand, positioning large boulders across the path to discourage illegal boat launches.

Cove


The water here is shallow, only just past my ankles many canoe-lengths out and suddenly deep toward the middle where the current runs. The lake was once a stream, dammed-up for electrical generation about a hundred years ago. It is all coves and curves and fingers reaching in to the land–swampy in places, steep sand cliffs in places. When cross-country skiing in the winter, you have to be careful for weak spotswhere the warm run-off thins the ice from below. I’ve seen guys on snowmobiles rev up and skim over circles of open water.

It is quiet on this Monday morning, the weekend whine of jet skis and power boats as distant as the line of Massachusetts plates heading south out of Kittery on I-95. As I trudge down the path, a heron splashes down, stands. I stop. We watch each other warily. I try not to breath, but he is distrustful and flaps away.

I take a few photographs of the pearlescent mist still hovering over the predawn lake. The water is all shadows here, lake rimmed with tall, close-set pines. Just now the sunlight slices a thin crescent along the eastern-facing shore.

These moments I feel fortunate to have found this place despite my misgivings about its viability in a low-carbon world.

Before the out-of-state developers and the homeowner’s association and the lots plotted on a grid of winding roads ending in numerous culs-de-sac; before the griping and bickering between towns and association; before the housing boom in the 1990’s and milfoil and aging water pipes and the eventual housing bust in the 2000’s, there were only a few scattered camps along this lake. Before those, there were farmhouses and hay fields and pasture for dairy cattle–fieldstone walls running through pine forest a testament to the area’s agricultural past.

Blue Boat

In the early 1970’s, in spite of controversy in the two towns out of which our community was carved, the developers developed. The out of state weekenders came first to the lakefront lots. They built summer camps and weekend homes. Later, in the 90’s when real estate prices soared, building contractors scooped up lots of lots. They built and sold spec houses for cheap to the young, middle-class families priced out of the Portland suburbs.

The towns gaped as the school population bloomed. Education costs skyrocketed. This wasn’t the “taxes without the costs” deal they’d been promised. Weekenders’ kids get educated out of state, but these new families bought “off-lake” and stayed year-round and their children entered kindergarten right along with the kids in the villages.

“It was supposed to be a gated community,” one angry school-teacher said to me six or seven years ago. “And there’s never once been a gate!”

Wince. One has to wonder if they wanted the gate to keep us “in” rather than to keep themselves “out.”

So here we are, living in the exurbs, an hour and many gas-powered miles from the jobs in Portland and Biddeford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Association rules drafted in the 1970’s prevent many of us from cutting trees to create garden space, prevent us from raising a few chickens for fresh eggs. Mortgage defaults are up. Some roofs of abandoned homes have already caved in. There are no corners stores in our not-zoned-for-business community. We drive to get anywhere (or sometimes we bike, hard.)

This is not sustainable. It will not work in a low-carbon world where energy costs suck up ever-larger percentages of our disposable income. Am I crazy to worry?

There are mornings like this one when I walk, coffee in hand, down a pine-needle path to spend an hour or two writing beside the lake, and I think maybe I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I should simply I enjoy the scenery, the mist, the heron and let the future take care of itself.

Trees/Mist

And, if the world moves on, perhaps we can change fast enough to keep pace. Trees can be cut, livestock can be brought in, and we can muddle through, creating a kind of exurban agricultural village on our acre and half-acre lots.

Or else, like that heron, we’ll stop a moment, assess the danger, and flap away, leaving the lake as it was before…quiet, serene, barely inhabited but for those scattered camps, and the only thing that will remain of us will be the caved-in husks of our spec houses mouldering beneath these towering pines.

Days 22 & 23: Scenes from the (National) Mall

Rose in Late Afternoon

Dear Reader:

I never promised you a rose garden, but here you go anyway!

Hubby, the Teen, and I went over to the National Mall area late Friday afternoon when Hubby finished work. The weather was perfect–sunny, warm, breezy, and dry–and everyone was out enjoying the gardens and sculptures and memorials. We passed the renovations going on at the Arts & Industries building and came across part of the Folger Rose Garden.

White Roses

Some of the security guards from the museum were chatting and laughing near the garden. Tourists like us drifted along the sidewalk. People pushed baby strollers. Joggers, enjoying the dry air, trotted along the pathways beneath the trees along the Mall.

More Roses

I had to snap a picture of the Smithsonian Castle against that bright, blue sky. The strong stone and linear lines were such a contrast to the soft flowers of the rose garden.

The Castle

The one thorn on this rosy scene? A group of nasty, male tourists taunting a couple teenage girls. Here’s a hint: if you can’t be polite while traveling . . . stay home!

We hurried on toward the Washington Monument, ever present in the city, thrusting up into the sky like a giant arrow.

Arrow Toward the Sky

When I first walked around the National Mall, it simply seemed a tourist attraction with all the groups milling around, taking pictures of the monuments and buildings. The next time I went through it, I had the impression of a space more like a fair ground with all the tents set up for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that took place around the Fourth of July weekend.

Softball Teams on the National Mall

Now, I think the National Mall is really, at heart, a big city park. Yes, there are lots of statues and monuments and whatnot, but it is also where softball teams get together and play (see photo above), groups of lithe athletes play Ultimate Frisbee , joggers run their regular favorite routes, families hang out on picnic blankets, couples share a bench and an ice-cream cone.

World War II Memorial

The Teen, Hubby, and I were still playing tourist, so we went looking for some more monuments and memorials in the early evening sunlight.

Women At Work In the Factory

We took our time at the World War II Memorial, a fantastic circular space with columns, pools, fountains, and some really gorgeous bas-relief friezes along the walkway leading down toward the main pool.

The WWII Memorial is dedicated to the men and women who fought and died in the war and those who supported the effort from home. The friezes show scenes indicative of these various areas of service.

War Photography

I spent a bit of time looking at these bronze bas-reliefs, but there was so much more to see.

Each star on this wall represents one-hundred soldiers who died in the war. It is beautiful and sobering.

Wall of Stars & Reflecting Pool

We continued on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall brought on one of my mushy-moments. All those lives, all those families impacted by a war that is still so controversial.

Low Key/ High Impact

The Korean War Memorial stunned me with its larger-than-life statues of soldiers trudging through a space planted with junipers and lined with paving stones. I thought this was a fabulous design. The statues were so lifelike!

Korean War Memorial

Detail of Statue at Korean War Memorial

After so much walking, we were ready to head home. But not before we stopped to watch the ducks and geese at the pond.

Geese

And to watch the duck-like progression of a tour group on Segways.

Segway Fun

I’m thinking I could use one of these little two-wheeled vehicles as all the walking is beginning to take its toll on my feet. As much as I love walking around the city–it really is the best way to see a new place–I may have to take a couple days off to lie around by the pool and let my strained tendons heal.

So, I have just one question: How DO these city girls run around town in five-inch heels?

Of Pests and Powdery Mildew

Apple leaves all Eaten

Dear Reader:

When I talked about summer vacation, you probably didn’t think I meant a vacation from writing all summer. Well, neither did I! However, that is exactly what happened. When we weren’t at the beach, my daughter and I were hitting the clubhouse pool. When we weren’t at the pool, we were shopping for school clothes, or watching the latest “Twilight” movie, or hanging out with friends, or preparing for camping, or recuperating from camping, or indulging in a marathon session of Buffy the Vampire slayer episodes via instant Netflix plays. The whole family went boating. Our truck “climbed Mt. Washington.” There was a family reunion, 4th of July up north with my parents, and a leisurely canoe trip down the Saco River with friends, followed by an impromptu lobster feed. We had sleepovers. We had company. We had BBQ’s up the wazoo.

Did I mention Buffy?

I’m going to save my diatribe about Twilight’s Bella the Girl Who Can’t Do Anything for Herself Possibly not even Tie her Own Shoes versus Buffy the Vampire Slayer who totally kicks butt for later. While we had to suffer through some rather overt teenage sexual antics on Buffy, the Skinny Blond Chic With the Wooden Stake Fetish, I’d still take that over Bella, the Girl Who Jumps Off Cliffs In Order to Hallucinate About Her Equally Miserable and Whiny Vampire Boyfriend Who Dumped her For Her Own Good and Sent Her Into A Spiral of Self-destructive Behavior Because She Couldn’t Possibly Live Without Her Man. (What are we, back in the days of the trashy 1970’s bodice-ripper novels, people? Eye-roll.)

Gardening this summer, I could so relate to Buffy. She had pests. I had pests. She slaughtered. I slaughtered. So, maybe Buffy’s pests were a little different from mine. She had vampires and the occasional freaky demon from Hades to deal with. Nothing a little stake through the heart can’t fix. I, however, had that evil spawn Powdery Mildew with which to contend. Buffy had evil hordes descending on her? I had (paranoid glance and a whisper) Popillia Japonica aka Japanese Beetles. You see what the little demons did to my crab apple leaves in the photo above? Every day I’d go out and they’d be well, you know, making like the teenagers at the Bronze if you know what I mean. Replicating.

(For those of you who do not get these Buffy references, here is a link to get you started on Wikipedia.)

They dwell among us!

According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Japanese beetle is a scarab beetle. They are shiny red and green, and actually quite pretty if you didn’t know what you were looking at, which is a member of a plant-chomping, invasive horde. Basically they eat, mate, and lay eggs in the turf which hatch into white grubs. They go deeper into the ground during the cold months, emerge in the spring to eat more turf, and then pupate into beetles to start all over again.

I thought about buying one of those yellow Japanese Beetle catchers, but I’d read somewhere that doing so might only manage to attract more pests. Instead I got a glass jar, poured in some bleach and water, and tried to knock as many bugs off the leaves and into the jar of doom as I could. This would help for a few days, and then they’d be back and I’d have to do it all over again. Eventually, the poor leaves were so brown and lacy I just didn’t bother anymore. Next summer, I’ll get on top of it early and mercilessly. I’ll be the star of my own show, Shelley The Beetle Burner. Ack, who am I kidding. In my own head, I’m ALWAYS the star of my own show (and so are you in yours, be honest.)

Ewwww--Mildewwww

Not only did I have insectae to deal with this summer, I was also invaded by Erysiphe cichoracearum, powdery mildew. The Extension was helpful for information once again with a dry little summary entitled, “Powdery Mildew of Cucurbits.” Cucurbits are, if you can’t guess by the spelling, the family from which cucumbers sprout. Cucumbers, melons, squashes, pumpkins. Powdery mildew also affects ornamentals like the flower leaves in the picture.

I oh-so-innocently planted eight or so of my precious garden-box squares with cucurbits this summer. I had zucchini and yellow squash and buttercup squash and cukes, both pickling and eating. Everything was going fine and dandy through July. The sun was shining (but hot and humid), and the leaves of my plants were getting full and green. Bees crawled in and out of the large, yellow and orange blossoms, pollinating. Tiny yellow summer squash began to form . . .

Right about the end of July I began to notice some suspicious grayish spots on the larger leaves. Soon the mold spread. I tried cutting off the affected parts, but it was no use. The few fruits that managed to form grew only about four inches long before beginning to soften and dry up on the end. I picked a few of these small squashes and threw them into stir-fries before pulling up most of the squash plants and recycling them into the compost bin. A couple of summer squash plants at the front of the flower bed continue to produce one small fruit at a time, so I’ve allowed them to live out their life cycle in peace.

Round Cucumber in Planter

Though the eating cucumbers haven’t produced anything edible yet, the pickling cukes gave me enough for eating and salads, if not for actual pickling.

I’ve decided once again that the problem here is the canopy of trees surrounding my yard. Even though we had plenty of sun, the trees prevent air from circulating. When the humidity is high, as it was this summer, the fungus eats up the moisture and multiplies all over my poor plants. As a science experiment, this is all very interesting. From a food production standpoint, it stinks.

My garden wasn’t a complete flop, however, despite my pests and powders. The greens–lettuces, kale, arugula, mache–all were amazing. Little, bright red chili peppers thrived in the summer heat. I will need to put up some of that blueberry-chili pepper jam I made last year and then experiment with the more typical apple-based pepper jelly. I could also see about stringing them up to dry for winter-time use. We ate succulent green beans from the garden for a week or two, picking a handful or so a day. The tomatoes, bless them, offered up 68 fruits–about 63 more than last year! We ate them in salads, mostly.

A wonderful farm stand opened in the town next door, and I’m beginning to see that I’d do best to grow what thrives here–greens and beans and a few chili peppers–and buy the rest from someone with wide open spaces and ten to twelve hours of sun per day. I will become a salad and cooking-greens specialist. There are wonderful varieties out there, and I intend to try all of them in the summers ahead. Oh, and one more experiment this year.

Since we are getting on toward autumn, now would be the time to think about finally planting some garlic. I’ve heard it grows well, even in partial sun, and I enjoy the flavor in many different dishes.

Plus, you know, it discourages the vampires . . . Buffy would approve.

How did your garden do this summer? What are you eating now, in this the most bounteous of seasons? Drop me a line . . . Outside the Box.

Where the Wild Things Are

Wild Thing?

Dear Reader:

Seven years ago, my house did not exist and the lot on which it now sits was covered in forest–mostly a bunch of tall, scraggly pines with an understory of small hardwood trees and saplings, ferns, and ground-cover plants. A developer cleared a small portion of the lot and built the house. Weeks later, we moved in and began the process of creating order from the wilderness, albeit on a really small scale.

Wild Bee

We have a one-acre lot. Over the course of seven years, I’ve created several perennial garden beds. Last year we installed four raised garden boxes for growing vegetables. We’ve cleared out a few dead or dying pine trees. I’ve lopped off encroaching alders and blackberry brambles. We’ve piled up fallen branches and created huge brush piles. Last summer we chipped two brush piles and now have a nice supply of mulch for the garden beds.

The front lawn covers the septic field. A strip of lawn in back of the house is maybe twenty feet wide. Outside the lawn is forest. In between lawn and forest, we have something interesting ecologically and aesthetically. We have edge. And edge is where the wild things are.

An ecological edge is where two environments intersect, creating an area that is more diverse than either of those environments. (Hemenway, Toby. GAIA’S GARDEN: A GUIDE TO HOMESCALE PERMACULTURE, pg. 7) In my case, the edge is the area between forest and lawn. Lawn is basically an artificially created prairie, and when rigorously maintained is also a monoculture. My lawn is not quite a monoculture–it is now mostly clover and dandelions and other opportunistic weeds that thrive in soils that are not rich enough to support wide swaths of perfect, lush, green grass. In other words, Mother Nature is trying to heal the wound that is my lawn.

Hemenway writes,“When humans make a clearing, nature leaps in, working furiously to rebuild an intact humus and fungal layer, harvest energy, and reconstruct all the cycles and connections that have been severed. A thicket of fast-growing pioneer plants, packing a lot of biomass into a small space, is a very effective way to do this.”

Basically, a forest environment is self-regulating and self-stabilizing. Nutrients are taken, used, and released by one species to be taken, used, and released by another species. Sunlight is filtered through the upper story trees which capture the energy. Smaller understory plants grow in the humus created by falling leaves and branches of the upper story. Beetles, fungi, etc. break down the fallen leaves to create the humus. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the process, but the point is, things in a forest environment are fairly stable even as changes take place incrementally. Eventually, the pine trees give way to hardwoods, for instance. But when we come in with chainsaws and bulldozers, things change too fast. Suddenly, sunlight reaches newly bared ground, and the edge explodes in a biological frenzy. Weeds, shrubs, vines and other quick-growing plants take advantage of the sudden bounty of sunlight. Nature goes wild!

I noticed this effect most dramatically in two places on my lot. Some of the old pine trees in back of the house were dying off. It seems pretty obvious to me that this land was once cleared pasture. Farmers don’t build rock walls through forest, after all. These pines must have been the first seedlings to spring up, crowding each other and crowding out the brambles and weeds. Now they are towering columns bristling with broken-off lower branches and creating a thick canopy of upper branches that manage to get some sunlight way up there. Their life-cycle nearing completion, they begin dying and falling, allowing the hardwood saplings to gather the resulting sunlight and to grow. Left alone, eventually this would be a hardwood forest of maples and oaks and beeches.

In the meantime, we don’t want old pine trees to fall on our heads, so we cull the dead and dying which creates, you guessed it, edge. The ground is now covered in blackberry brambles and other colonizers. Left alone, the edge out there would soon be impassible. This spring, I cut down blackberry stems as wide as my thumb and as tall as the top of my head. Already new suckers have shot up from the undisturbed roots.

This is life on the edge, baby. If I don’t figure out how to take advantage of this vibrant area, planting it with fruit trees and shrubs and berry bushes and ground covers, Mother Nature will continue to plant for me. A few blackberries might be a good thing. Yards of blackberry thicket? Not so much.

Yellow Flower Carpet

Last summer I inadvertently created another edge–this one behind my garden boxes. Cutting down the one big pine out front, clearing a spot for the boxes, putting a nice layer of mulch all around the veggie area, I left a nice strip of previously-shaded ground between the garden and the oak and maple saplings that guard the the older pine stands. To my delight, a miniature wildflower field grew up there this spring (a welcome change from those ubiquitous blackberries). Over there is a carpet of yellow flowers and over here a bunch of pretty, light-green grass.

Clover and Chives

I threw some chives into a bare spot last summer, and this summer waving purple heads of clover nod with the waving purple heads of those chives. Monarch butterflies flit and feed on both clover and chives, creating a pretty backdrop to my garden boxes. Wild blueberries have spread and flowered in the corner near the compost bin. Deeper in the shadows of the pines, delicate pink ladyslippers hang on sturdy, green stalks.

ladyslippers

Buttercups are blooming on my lawn. The manual push-mower didn’t chop them as efficiently as the old gas-powered mower, and I kinda like seeing them nodding out there in the breeze.

Wild strawberries have taken over the rock wall that was shaded by that old pine in previous years. Were the seeds lying dormant there all these years? I’m waiting for the rosa rugosas to bloom among the tumbled rocks of the old fieldstone wall.

This red flower (a wild columbine, maybe?) popped up near the strawberries. Ground-covers surprised me with tiny pink or white blossoms. I’m ashamed that I don’t even know what these wildflowers are called. Perhaps a guidebook is in order. And a sketchpad.

I confess: I’m loving the edge. The trick will be preserving the best of the edge while using it to create a sustainable, functional, aesthetically-pleasing landscape around my home. In the meantime, the arugula in the garden box has provided me with an overabundance of salad greens and is now flowering and going to seed. Next year, I’ll plant the first row one week and the second row a week or so later so I can have a continuous supply instead of one big crop. The peas and kale are up and growing. I’ve planted tomatoes and brussels sprouts and peppers. A rogue red leaf lettuce and a rogue kale plant popped up in a garden box, and I’m just letting them do their thing.

Even the the “square” garden boxes have a wild side, I guess.

How’s Your Ki Today?

Squirreling Away

Dear Reader:

The squirrels have formed a regular food court underneath my bird feeder and the flower bed near the beech trees. Twenty times a day, my poor little dog, Delilah, jumps to the window and barks to be let out, races out the door when I open it, and charges over the snow. Unfortunately for her, but infinitely fortunate for the squirrels, Delilah never manages to capture one of the furry, grey mauraders of bird sustenance. The squirrels know the quickest route up the beeches. They know she can’t chase them across the road. They high-tail it, wait for her to retreat to the house, and then they resume foraging, taking time off to chase each other across the crusty snow and past the compost bin in fits of squirrely joy–or maybe in a less benign territorialness.

While I find squirrel culture mildly fascinating, I am much more amazed by the variety of sub-cultures present in our society. There are the usual circles with which we are all familiar, i.e. political groups, motorcycle enthusiasts, wine lovers, church-goers, and those guys that jump into icy water in the middle of January in nothing but their Speedos. There are goths and DAR members, needle-pointers and Beanie-Baby collectors, people whose aim in life is to tattoo every square inch of their body and people who go to ashrams to learn meditation practices. Whole non-profit organizations have been formed for comic-book lovers, STAR TREK fans, and romance novel writers. It’s a wild and wonderful world out there. No matter who you are, you can probably find likeminded individuals who have organized themselves to some extent. If I were to become a journalist, I might make exploring all these sub-cultures my life’s work. Who needs to travel to India or Venezuela or some island off the coast of Africa in order to study another culture? The United States is a smorgasboard of social rituals, symbolic adornments, lexicons, taboos, and ceremonies.

Just recently, thanks to one of my current writing projects, I’ve been introduced to one such sub-culture found here in America and around the world–the Reiki community. Reiki (pronounced Ray-Key) began in Japan in the early years of the twentieth century when a man named Mikao Usui fasted and meditated for three weeks and either received or developed (depending on your view of these kinds of things) a system of energy work that he used to heal people–spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Click here to peruse the FAQ section of the International Center for Reiki Training website.

Reiki is a concept that includes the belief in a creative force (what some call God), a higher intelligence that acts as a guide for the universe and for the individual and a belief that everything is made up of energy, material things being simply a denser form of energy than say, air . . . or the soul. Reiki teaches that individuals can be more in tune to this energy, can use it to manifest peace and health for themselves and for others. Meditation is a big part of this process. Those who have studied and practiced are also believed to be able to help others by placing their hands on a client during an “attunement” which clears any blockages in the clients’ energy centers. For practical purposes, these energy centers are often referred to as “chakras” and are symbolized by the colors of the spectrum, but this is just a way for practitioners to visualize the concept, not necessarily the reality of the energy itself.

A quick journey around the internet reveals hundreds of testimonials from people who claim to have been helped/healed by Reiki. Spas regularly offer Reiki attunements along with their hot-stone massages, seaweed facials, and French manicures. Hospitals encourage trained Reiki volunteers to work with their patients–including the terminal ones.

“No way,” you might say, shaking your head. “It’s just the placebo affect. I don’t believe in any metaphysical energy mumbo-jumbo.”

I say, “Maybe . . . but so what?” If patients are getting some benefit from it, no matter what the underlying reality is, then great. If someone is feeling depressed and stressed out and goes to the spa for a Reiki treatment and comes out feeling calm and happy, does it really matter why? Maybe her energy centers were cleared or maybe she needed some quiet time away from the hassles of work and kids and the daily commute. Either way, she gets to go home, make a nice dinner, and not scream at her husband for leaving the tiolet seat up again. Everyone’s happier!

Can these results be accomplished without Reiki? Of course. Whether or not the energy concept is reality or a mirage, I believe the pschological affects of concentrating on various aspects of your life can be liberating. Too often we travel through life without analyzing where we are going, why we want to go there, and where we want to end up. We mindlessly cram food and alcohol into our mouths without taking the time to enjoy the flavors or ask ourselves if what we are eating is good for our bodies. We feel angry and upset and lash out, but we haven’t practiced analyzing why we are reacting in that way, dealing with the analysis, and then letting go of the emotions that bog us down. We strive after more . . . more money, more prestige, bigger houses, fancier cars, status jewelry and clothing . . . not realizing that greed is maybe just another form of insecurity, that stopping and appreciating what you already have can fill that space that thinks it needs more and more and more.

The Reiki energy centers, as I understand them so far, correspond with psychological concepts that a counselor or pschiatrist might discusss. Taking the time to focus on first, the basic survival instincts, and then moving on to the higher levels of our psyche–communication, intuition, spirituality–can be of great benefit to the individual, to the community, to the country, to the world. When we begin to realize we have enough, we will stop mindlessly trying to get more. We’ll be healthier. We’ll be happier.

Maybe Reiki is just one of many schemas that provides a design for understanding what is real and common to all of us. The Rei of Reiki may be just another way of talking about God. The Ki of Reiki may be just another way of talking about the id of psychology or the strange attractor theory of modern physics. The point is, if you keep an open mind, life lessons can come to you from many different directions . . . Outside the Box.

A Porcupine, A Turtle, and A Dragonfly

June 3 2009 019Dear Reader:

A porcupine, a turtle, and a dragonfly went into a bar . . .

Oops, wrong characters, wrong story. Let me try that again: A porcupine, a turtle, and a dragonfly crossed paths with me yesterday, and I was reminded once again why I enjoy living here in my rural subdivision despite the dirt roads and scrub-brush and towering half-dead pine trees and the somewhat marshy, shallow lake. This place is a regular wildlife refuge! In my six years here I’ve seen deer, moose, skunks, racoons, snapping turtles, painted turtles, pileated woodpeckers, blue herons, loons, and a fox. Some people claim to have spotted black bears. Red-winged blackbirds abound in the cattail marsh up the lake aways. Bass and pickerel haunt the water. Three winters in a row we had an owl hooting in the pine just in back of our house. I’ve seen dragonflies in every shape, size, and color among the yellow waterlillies and purple pickerelweed lining the shore.

But yesterday was notable for the sheer variety of creature sightings. Watching the porcupine try his hardest to get out of the road, into the brush, and under an overhanging rock, I wondered if maybe a quilly mating season was underway. Waddling across the road must be an effort for these stout, short creatures who carry an arsenal of daggers everywhere they travel, and I imagine it must take some strong incentive–food or sex–to tempt them from one weedy ditch to the other.

The painted turtle, thank goodness, was on the side of the road and not in the middle where I might have run her over. As I passed, she stopped, craned her neck, and took a good look right back at me before going on her merry way. Where was she going, so far from the water? I’ve seen tribes of them sunning their shells on the dead, bleached tree stumps up at the far end of the lake but never in the road. Was she looking for a good spot to lay her eggs? Hunting frogs in the swampy depression at the foot of the wooded hill? Do turtles even eat frogs?

After a long day of community activities and square-foot garden planting, I sat down in the late afternoon to drink a cup of coffee on my front steps, and there on the cement walkway was the first dragonfly of summer! He was an unremarkable color with a single pair of wings, but he was a reminder of the hot, sunny days just ahead. Dragonflies are beneficial insects, along with ladybugs and bumblebees and many more.

Sipping my coffee and contemplating my winged companion (could it be that the myth of faeries was inspired by these delicate, winged creatures?), I began to think about the web of life and how we are all part of a vast ecosystem that connects such varied creatures as porcupines, turtles, dragonflies, and people. There are the creatures we don’t even see–the underground insects, the beetles beneath the bark of a tree, dust mites, bacteria. Everything works together, sometimes coming unbalanced but then righting itself again sooner or later.

The kind of landscaping and gardening we do can either fit into this ecosystem or work against it. A fairly new approach to designing human habitats is permaculture. Permaculture design is based on the idea that everything works together and has multiple purposes. Everything is connected, so the idea is to take advantage of those connections to create beauty, function, and usefulness. For example, when you raise a few chickens in your backyard garden, you can feed your kitchen scraps and weeds to the cluckers (waste management), harvest the eggs (food), and use the resulting manure as compost for future gardens (soil building). The chickens will also hunt for insects that might otherwise harm your plants (pest control).

Another example of permaculture design is the concept of garden guilds. A guild is a plant community where each plant benefits from the other. Native American peoples developed a plant guild that is known as the Three Sisters. Corn, pole beans, and squash are planted together. The corn acts as a trellis for the beans, the beans (a legume) help add nitrogen to the soil for greater fertility, and the squash acts as a natural mulch to keep down the weeds that might steal nutrients from all the plants.

Another guild is an apple-tree guild. I learned about this one in an awesome book called GAIA’S GARDEN: A GUIDE TO HOME-SCALE PERMACULTURE. I took this book out of the library and decided to buy it about five sentences into the introduction. It has not just theory but also practical suggestions and guidelines for using permaculture principles in your home landscape.

The apple guild is definitely one I am going to try. I was already planning on installing a couple of apple trees into my landscape, but now I will also plant a ring of daffodils at the distance where the trees branches will end at full-growth. The bulbs will inhibit the growth of grass beneath the tree, so there will be less competition for nutrients and less need to fertilize. Deer and gophers do not like to eat daffodils, so planting them at the edge will keep those creatures from damaging the tree. Within the circle of bulbs can be flowers and herbs that attract beneficial insect pollinators like bees, or that can be used for food or medicine by humans. The author of the book, Toby Hemenway, mentions things like yarrow, comfrey, dandelion, clover, and fava beans. Some of these also work as mulch plants and nutrient-adders. Everything works together, making less work and headache for the gardener while also creating a beautiful environment that mimics what Mother Nature does. You don’t see entire fields of corn growing up spontaneously, but you do see tiny understory plants growing beneath trees in the wild.

A flicker of blue outside my window just caught my attention. A jay is making a call at my garden boxes. Guess I’ll go see if any of the new tomatoes and peppers need a drink. Maybe I’ll scooch down for a look at the teeny-tiny ants that have colonized my lawn and think about the interconnectedness of nature. Or maybe I’ll just make myself a cup of coffee and read some more of Hemenway’s book.

Have you ever practiced companion planting in your gardens? What animals or insects have you observed recently? Share you experiences, join the circle, celebrate connectedness right here . . . Outside the Box.