About Me

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Reaching the Age at Which, if I were Lakota, I’d be an Elder

Or so I remember reading in an interview with Russell Means in the AARP magazine fifteen or so years ago—or was it an essay by Alice Walker? (Memory jokes begin.) At any rate, I am now eligible for the senior discount at Kroger, and a few weeks ago, a clerk at Foodland gave the discount without even asking me. My spouse was amused.

This is a strange age to be. I can still do most things I want to, in terms of physical capability (including climbing a mountain to reach the Womb Cave of Nenkovo), but recovery time has definitely slowed, and the upper-body strength isn’t what it was in my twenties when my job required lifting 50-pound boxes of books from the floor to a waist-high counter. These days, I drag my course materials to campus in a wheeled backpack (though I still have no problem moving 25-pound bags of cat litter to and from the car—but haven’t had the nerve to buy 50-pound bags of birdseed for fear of embarrassing myself in the parking lot at True Value).

Serious limitations are also much more obvious. Time flies, and life seems shorter all the time. Optimists refer to this stage of life as “the last third,” and most of us in the US will probably live into our eighties, but there are no guarantees. This year brought the death of a treasured colleague who was only sixty, and a former student in her twenties is even now battling late-stage cancer. Yesterday brought a conversation with a nurse at my mother’s assisted-living facility about setting up a hospice consultation: not a surprise for someone in her ninetieth year who has battled depression and heart disease for several decades and dementia since 2006, but still a sobering reality. End-of-life planning falls to those of us in the middle if we have living parents who didn’t plan and whose bodies are shutting down slowly rather than in a single disastrous event. Note to self: update will and final directives while still able to do so.

Musings to be continued. Today may be the birthday that marks my official entrance into elderhood, but at the moment, there are plants to be watered, student e-mails to be answered, and a cool and beautiful morning to be greeted somewhere other than at the computer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nature Nuts

Yet again, I have managed to leave my poor blog unattended for an unconscionable time. Intentions were good, but we all know the road that such things pave. In my defense, though, let me say that I have had a wonderfully busy two weeks.

First, we got my beloved spouse moved from the neighborhood of the botanical gardens (sigh) to a nicer apartment closer to the university where he teaches. Luckily for me, the new neighborhood, while short on large parks, contains some interesting 1930's architecture and great gardens, so there are likely to be many pleasant walks in my future.

Then, it became painfully obvious that school was about to start and my handouts needed serious updating. Done--classes don't start until tomorrow. I even survived the week of in-service meetings.

But the best kind of busy-ness has been beginning the training for the state Master Naturalist program. Over the course of the next year, I will be spending one Saturday a month learning about West Virginia's plants, animals, soils, and ecosystems. Our chapter has already done ferns, rocks, and herps and has given itself an official name: the Nature Nuts. Given that the some of the high points of Saturday's activities were learning to identify copperheads (and yes, one came to visit the group in the company of a DNR naturalist) and petting a corn snake, we must be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Things change

From the time we first saw our house in August 2009, I detested the hedge of Japanese yew lining the driveway on both sides. Why would someone, especially a plant lover, detest two rows of seemingly innocent greenery?

For one thing, Japanese yew is not native and has very little wildlife value. (It did provide cover for a fledgling starling that found its way out of the nest a day or two before it quite figured out the flying thing, so I forgave the hedge that month.) For another, Japanese yew is toxic: tiny amounts of the foliage or bark can kill a dog-not that the neighbors' dogs are prone to nibbling the shrubbery. Most importantly, YEWS WANT TO BE TREES! In the wild, they range anywhere from thirty to sixty feet in height, making them totally unsuitable for a driveway edging. Some of us like to see where we're going when backing out onto the street. Yes, hedges are meant to be trimmed, but any plant whose primary function is to be mowed or trimmed is not a plant that I personally care to live with.

 So--the yews are gone!
(Represses the urge to sing "Ding-dong, the witch is dead.)

Of course, one cannot leave one's front yard in this condition in a civilized setting, so I had been dithering over what to do with the newly-cleared spaces. The part of me that feels guilty about everything fretted over giving the birds evergreen cover to replace the yews, but I'm really not patient enough to wait for dwarf conifers to grow to fill the necessary spaces and not rich enough to buy them already-grown and have someone else plant them. I consulted with my online buddies at the Wildlife Gardeners forum and quizzed the people across the street (who at one point were requesting a row of asparagus) and arrived at a compromise: one dwarf holly to anchor the planting under the mature American holly on one side of the drive and mixed shrubs, some native, near the back of each driveway bed. Then--butterfly gardens!

We have rudbeckia, aster, and liatris volunteering in great numbers, so those species will be well-represented in the mix. Being cheap, I hit plant sales along the route back from visiting grandchildren and scored caryopteris, echinacea, butterfly weed, coreopsis, orange thyme, and lavender. The sedum edging the hell strip got raided for ground cover along the street. Here is the bed at 8:00 AM: 
And the neighbor-side bed at 12:30:
The presence of bumblebees, skippers, and an Eastern tailed blue butterfly before the plants were even in the ground assured me that this was indeed a good morning's work.