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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The unexpected

It has been a very long time between posts. Work is taking me longer to complete than it used to, and there certainly is no less of it, since our department is down two entire faculty members. To be fair, enrollment is also down, and so is the number of class sections, but my four classes started out full--two of them, even oversubscribed--and are still reasonably so. Job security is a very good thing, but ninety students in writing-intensive classes--plus two student organizations, three committees, and a new task reorganizing the college's international offerings--take up a lot of one's time. At least the classes are full of interesting people with compelling stories to tell.

Winter Storm Jonas was not unexpected, having been all over the news for days, but I was not expecting the amount of shoveling required around our majorly downsized abode. Having lived for six years in a place with no sidewalks, I had forgotten how much walkway surrounds a corner lot.

This is just a tiny segment between the main sidewalk and Street #1. We had sixty feet in each direction plus a driveway still to do. But hey, it's cardio, right?

When the snow finally melted and I could get out for an actual walk by the river (which featured quite the skim of ice even then), I was surprised by a possum waddling through a yard at 3:00 in the afternoon. Our resident marsupials generally come out at night, but it turns out that they, like humans, take advantage of warmer temperatures for foraging. Our nights have been cold.

But today brought this sighting at the edge of the driveway.

 In the years that I have been documenting such things, this is the earliest crocus I remember: a welcome sight, but perhaps a sign of trouble to come?

Thursday, December 31, 2015


2015, perhaps more than most, has been a year of highs and lows: the joy of moving back to a favorite neighborhood in a favorite town; the shocking destruction of my former pollinator garden; the beginning of a new garden (and the process of restoring an old one); a granddaughter's high school graduation; family health challenges; a reunion with dear friends on a dream trip to Bulgaria and Ireland; the deaths of other friends; and always, it seems, a shortage of time. 

Bulgaria always makes me aware of time. This part of southeastern Europe was home to the earliest European civilization, a prosperous society that seems to have enjoyed perhaps 1500 years of peace before the invasion of the people who eventually became the Greeks and Thracians. In July, I was lucky enough to visit Durankulak Lake, a major wildlife area with an island that was inhabited by humans for roughly 6000 years, from 5000 BCE or thereabouts to the end of the First Bulgarian Empire, around 1000 CE. We walked streets that were laid out some 6500 years ago

and imagined the lives lived in the houses that once stood on these foundations.

I couldn't help wondering if some long-ago urbanite had planted just such a tree to shade this dwelling from the baking Bulgarian sun.

Not that Bulgaria existed yet. The Bulgurs would not show up for another few thousand years. Archaeologists are not even sure what language these people spoke, their script being still undeciphered.

Nothing like a little deep time to calm any jitters about one's own topsy-turvy existence.

Sunrises also help.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mortal Combat

Home from a whirlwind trip to Florida, dreading the cold, only to find temperatures in the sixties. A break in the rain allowed some time in the ongoing reclamation project known as the sunken garden, a once-beautiful space overtaken by English ivy, porcelain vine, and yellow flag iris. I only had a couple of free hours but am pleased to report the filling of multiple 33-gallon lawn and leaf bags.

But--the enemy is not defeated. Today's labor cleared only a tiny triangular patch, perhaps ten feet across the longest side of the triangle. One massive ivy had roots going down more than a foot, the removal of which necessitated removing a rose bush, one that had failed to thrive during its twenty years in that spot. In some places, the ivy roots were so congested that getting a shovel or pitchfork into the ground was nearly impossible, so I spent quite a bit of time scrabbling in cold dirt and yanking, following some shallow roots for several yards as they finally abandoned the soil.

Another thug taken out of commission was an oriental sweet autumn clematis, the kind that goes everywhere, choking out everything in its path but English ivy. The roots of the plant look like a particularly terrifying space alien, multitudes of thick, floppy tentacles emanating from a central glob. My love for its frothy flowers and intoxicating scent did not save it (though I suspect that the soil harbors enough of at least one tentacle for the plant to regenerate).

The rose of sharon privacy hedge is nearly as enthusiastic as its companions. At least a dozen seedlings joined the ivy roots, grabby vine, and sickly shrub in the to-be-sent-to-the-compost-farm bags. A few hundred more are waiting.

The War of the Alien Invaders is likely to be a long one.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Not a good day to be a fish (or a jellyfish)

Last night brought high winds and waves to Indialantic, where we are spending a few days visiting relatives. This gorgeous morning

found quite a few black vultures circling the beach, which was littered with dead fish. A lot of dead fish.

It came as no surprise that a beach full of dead fish attracted a beach full of birds--gulls, terns, and various skittering avians. (Of course, my bird books were all in Ohio.)

I particularly liked this handsome fellow,

although the gulls, as usual, provided much of the amusement. With perhaps thousands of dead fish available for breakfast, several birds of course all wanted the same one. Then this one, perhaps confused by the buffet, had difficulty reaching a decision.

That looks like a good dead fish. 

 I'll try it.  

Wait! That one looks better.

Well, maybe not.

What none of the birds were sampling was the Portuguese man-o-war that had washed up on the beach. This gorgeously-colored jellyfish (okay, it's not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, a combination of four "things" that function as a single animal, but we called them jellyfish back in the day) is extremely venomous.

This particular invertebrate was still alive when discovered, but yours truly was not brave enough to try to get it back into the water. A few moments later, it (they?) rolled over, gave a few feeble tentacle waves, and (most likely) died.

The beach is a rough ecosystem.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deep breath

Despite my belief that we had sold Chipmunk Ridge to people who would be good neighbors to our former good neighbors, we were wrong.  The primary buyer (the retired head of a charitable organization and friendly with a dear colleague) and her husband (recently retired from the same company that three of our neighbors worked for and described as a Master Gardener) came with what seemed like good references. The buyer stated that they had been looking for a smaller house in town and that her husband loved to garden. Perfect.

No. They were looking for a smaller house in town to gut, add on to, and flip. All of the pollinator gardens were removed. Every. Single. One. A single crabapple remains. Everything else is turfgrass. No physocarpus hedge where baby doves can hide, no daisy meadow, no butterfly garden along the driveway. Not a single flower for a hummingbird to visit. The good news is that Master Gardeners were brought in to remove and rehome a good many plants, but even though I had been assured that anything not wanted would pass to the college pollinator habitat, we were never called. Because I am not a nice person, I have sincerely wished these buyers an eternity in one of the more unpleasant levels of Dante's Inferno and the complete loss of their not inconsiderable investment in the property. Financial ruin would be fair, wouldn't it?

Several mornings found me waking to a pounding heart and the fear that I will never be able to undo the damage caused by my wanting to leave West Virginia. Thousands of creatures displaced, the small pollinators most likely dead in landfills or fated to starve when they emerge in the spring to no food. No place for a mama monarch to lay her eggs. No chipmunks.

But at the lowest point of my despair, it was time to gather seeds for an Earth Day project. Our tiny lawn strip garden produced a bounty,

less of a variety than the old place held, but enough for student volunteers to create at least a hundred pollinator garden seed packets to distribute at a campus event in the spring. Several kinds of asters, echinacea, rudbeckia, agastache, butterfly weed, "Fireworks" goldenrod, and liatris will find their way to new homes and in the process create new homes for small creatures, who seem to find their way to anyplace we humans manage to leave for them.

And I made a discovery: liatris seedheads are gorgeous in their own subtle way.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The hangers-on

Not in any negative sense. Today, during the last third of November with possible snow on its way, I kept discovering flowers that have not quite figured out that their time is supposed to be past. It was no surprise to see a few asters near the library, or mums under a sugar maple,

but I wish I had had the camera with me to capture the blowsy pink roses blooming away next to a downtown church. Arriving home, I was delighted to find a few more plants that did not know when to quit. One is a potted hydrangea

 while a few hardy survivors have kept going in the lawn strip, among them a defiant salvia

and a few bedraggled rudbeckia blossoms.

 Some of the leaves are also hanging on, not only the usual suspects like oak, but several neighborhood Japanese maples that insist on continuing to be spectacular beautiful, like this "Bloodgood."

Okay, it's not a native plant, but how could anyone not love those leaves--just a few days before Thanksgiving?

But the best news was not that fall is enjoying a long, slow fade but that spring is indeed coming. The lawn strip is full of the ridiculously adorable seedheads of sweet violet, promising a purple carpet spangled with the pale pink of spring beauties in just a few months.

Cue happy sigh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Quite mad

That's what the world has been these days. Of course there are the horrors in Paris and Beirut, exotic places that I have never visited but the suffering of which reminds us that the world is indeed a small place. There is the predictable horror of unthinking violent reaction (Close the borders! Deport all the Muslims! Send in the troops!), followed (usually, unless one is Donald Trump) by more considered reactions and a return to our better selves. But the madness is present on a smaller scale as well.

  • At a meeting to present the Forest Service's process for determining whether or not to lease an area for drilling, FS security personnel were wearing bullet-proof vests. Did they really think that landowners interested in selling their mineral rights, or old ladies concerned about water quality and wildlife habitat, were likely to smuggle Kalashnikovs into a college meeting room? The two groups did not generally speak to one another at the gathering, but there was no undercurrent of about-to-ensue violence.

  • The projected need for four million gallons of water to fracture a single gas well and the permanent disruption of "only" 121 acres per well is considered acceptable by the manager of our local National Forest.

  • The college at which I teach is concerned about loss of enrollment, but the only two classes available for students in a particular area of emphasis have already been canceled for the spring semester, with four weeks of registration left. Any students in that program will have their graduations delayed a semester, which does not seem the best way to retain them.

  • The CNN website lists the announcement of People's "Sexiest Man Alive 2015" as a top news story.
Time for a butterfly picture.