Nature Talks.

Leave It.

Jumping into a great big pile of leaves on a crisp fall day is one those childhood pleasures I’m pretty sure no one really enjoys. I hope I’m not ruining any fond memories from anyone’s youth, and I doubt I am. The only time jumping into and scattering a big pile of leaves was enjoyable was when we did it in that one guy’s yard. You know the sort of guy I mean—every neighborhood has one. He’d sit out on his porch scowling at the world, his mouth twisted up as though he’d been sucking a lemon, and if my friends and I were just walking by he’d yell at us to stay out of his yard. Sometimes, though, in the fall, we’d pass by and see piles of leaves in his yard and if he wasn’t around we’d jump into them and kick the leaves and throw them at each other. Then he’d come running out of his front door yelling and throwing lemons at us and we’d scatter like, well, so many leaves.

The leaf pile seems like a good idea in principle but in practice it’s just not that much fun. It’s like a ball pit. Yes, I have strong feelings about ball pits because I remember my first and only experience with one. I was nine or ten—almost too old to go in a ball pit, but I’d never seen one before and didn’t want to miss the chance to try it. I thought it would be like swimming in little plastic balls. It wasn’t but it was kind of an interesting tactile experience flailing around in there until I moved into a cluster of balls that were all oddly wet and I was trying to figure out what in a ball pit could be wet when I saw, at the edge, a kid who was half my age, or maybe even a third my age, in there with me, only he was standing up while I’d been stretched out, and he looked oddly relieved. I got out of there as fast as I could.

A pile of leaves may not be the target of the same kind of unintentional marination, although it could be if there are kids in your neighborhood, or if you have pets, or other animals that run loose through the area. Piles of leaves also attract various crawling things and while I like all sorts of bugs that doesn’t mean I want them finding a way into my pants. For that matter I don’t want tiny bits of broken, dried leaves getting into my clothes, and jumping into a pile of leaves naked is, at best, an imperfect solution—one that comes with all sorts of problems of its own. And piles of leaves tend to collapse easily. If they don’t that usually means there’s something in them other than leaves which is a whole other issue.

Still there’s a part of me that longs for a childhood experience that never was—one that’s been idealized in the imagination. I look at a pile of leaves, leaves I’ve raked together in my own yard, so I at least know where they’ve been, and it’s as though I can see my childhood self, decades removed now, on the other side of that pile of leaves, telling me, Just do it, just jump, and then I see that my childhood self has this oddly relieved look on his face and I yell at him to get out of my yard.

You’ve Been Mooned.

Source: Wikipedia

Harvest moon-The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, occurring any time within two weeks of the event. It’s also known as the “barley moon” or “full corn moon” and is believed to have signaled the time for harvesting most fall crops. For 2022 the Harvest moon was on September 10th.

 

Hunter’s moon-The first full moon after the harvest moon and marks the beginning of the traditional hunting season in preparation for winter. For 2022 the hunter’s moon will be on October 9th.

 

Beaver moon-The first full moon of November, also known as a “frost moon” or “turkey moon”, the name derives from Native American and early European settlers using this time to trap beavers for their fur in preparation for winter.

 

The Long Night’s Moon-Also known as the “cold moon” this is the full moon closest to the winter solstice. For 2022 it will be on December 7th.

 

Wolf moon-The first, or only, full moon of January. It’s also known as the Hard moon, Severe moon, and Canada goose moon.

 

Blue moon-The second full moon in a month, or the third of four full moons in a season. The origin for this is unknown, although the moon can appear bluish at times, such as after a volcanic eruption or when viewed by Corey Hart.

 

Green moon-A rare occurrence when cirrus clouds cross the moon so it appears to have a cheesy smile.

 

Pink moon-The first full moon in April. The name derives from the fact that April is usually the time when the phlox flower, native to eastern North America, blooms.

 

Sturgeon moon-The first full moon in August. The name comes from Native Americans in the Great Lakes regions finding the fish easier to catch at this time of year.

 

New moon-A completely dark moon. The Romans originally used new moons to mark the beginning of each month. It was also a time when rent was traditionally due and also easily avoided since it was really dark out.

 

Gibbous moon-A three-quarter moon. The term is included in this list because “full” and “crescent” moons are pretty much self-explanatory and even “new” makes sense if you think about it but no one really knows what “gibbous” means since it never gets used for anything except the moon anymore.

 

Super moon-A full or new moon appearing when the moon is at or close to perigee—its closest approach to the Earth, which makes it the ideal time to blow up the moon.

Source: Make a gif

Climate Change.

One day the rain just stops. A day goes by, a few days, then a week, then more weeks. You notice that the grass is getting brittle and dry and the ground is rock hard. Then the grass turns the color of sand and even the air seems brittle with the dryness of it. The weather reports become numbingly uniform: sunny every day. Reports of record-breaking temperatures become repetitive. Something in the back of your mind says that this is wrong, but the heat saps any energy you might have for thinking about it.

On your way home from work each night you start counting the number of neighbors who are watering their yards, the ones who stand out because their grass is a patch of emerald in a sea of buff and sepia. You get wicked ideas about sneaking into their yards and cutting their hoses with a pair of garden shears in the middle of the night. Maybe they’ll pay a fine for using so much water.

Maybe you should think about xeriscaping, but this isn’t the desert. The rain will come back eventually, won’t it?

Desiccated tree branches fall in the yard. No need to move them just yet. The lawnmower sits in the garage, its small reservoir of fuel sending out a slow stream of fumes.

One morning you notice a spider hanging in her web next to your house. She’s brown and white speckled with big yellow dots on her abdomen. You saw her early in the spring, just like you watched her mother, her grandmother, and a whole line of her great-grandmothers going back several years.

The lack of rain affects everything up and down the food chain, and you haven’t seen as many rabbits, snakes, or even squirrels as usual. This spider, like you, is not native to North America; her ancestors probably came with yours, around three centuries ago. She’s nocturnal so it’s strange that she’s still out on a sunny morning when the temperature is already higher than it would be at noon in a normal year.

You fill a birdbath in the backyard. You fill another in the front yard. You watch cardinals, bluejays, even a sleek-headed crow dip their beaks in it. You watch squirrels come to drink then flip the birdbath over. It’s only a few minutes before you go to put it back and refill it but the ground is already dry.

You have a side bed of morning glories and other small plants. After the sun goes down you turn the nozzle on the hose to “mist” and you realize you can’t remember the last time you heard a tree frog. They always sing in the dark after it rains.

Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even tsunamis are all horrible, often tragic events that come in suddenly, sometimes with no warning, or not enough warning, but then they disappear, often as quickly as they came. Flood and tsunamis recede, wildfires burn out all their fuel or, hopefully, are stopped, and tornadoes just spin themselves out.

A drought is a tragedy in slow motion.

One day it will rain again and when it does it will be terrible, the water overflowing the earth unprepared to hold it.

Ticks Ticks Boom.

So far this year I’ve found three ticks on me, and it’s not even summer yet even though it’s already starting to feel like summer. And while one of those ticks was on my back, because they like to go for hard-to-reach places, I found the other two in my hair, probably because it was convenient. Ticks like to hang out on low-lying branches, and just getting there must be a pretty impressive feat for a creature that’s less than a quarter of an inch long, and they seem to do it pretty quickly too. Imagine climbing to the top of Mount Everest in a matter of hours. Now imagine climbing to the top of Mount Everest from the bottom of the Mariana Trench and then having to walk west to east across Iowa in just a few hours. This is nothing like what the tick has to do because they don’t need special breathing equipment or even a backpack because all they need is tightly packed into their compact bodies which explains why they make such a satisfying popping sound when you crush them. And once they’re in position they can sense a potential host by its carbon dioxide emissions, ammonia, other chemicals, and even sweat and body heat with a special body part called Haller’s organ, and I wish whoever Haller was would take it back.

Ticks can carry diseases and their bites can cause infections and if that weren’t enough reason to hate them a tick almost ruined my first camping trip when I was eleven. I had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I picked what seemed like a convenient tree and apparently the tick thought it was convenient too because when I woke up the next morning there it was fastened between my legs, so of course I did what seemed most logical at the time and ignored it for the next two days hoping it would drop off and not take anything other than some of my blood with it. It probably would have eventually but by Sunday afternoon I was getting impatient and more than a little worried so I took the bull by the horns, or rather the tick by the carapace, which is actually more impressive even if it doesn’t sound as cool, and yanked it out. And everything was fine until the area where it had been swelled up and turned a horrifying shade of cerise. My mother called the doctor who advised rest and applying a towel soaked in salt water to the area, which was probably a placebo, but I got to skip school that Monday so some good came out of it.

I also have a certain respect for ticks. Although they’re not nearly as impressive as their arachnid cousins, the spiders, they are pretty remarkable in their ability to survive and locate prey. It’s also unfortunate that they sometimes latch onto humans because we’re more likely to find and destroy a tick before it can complete its meal and move on to another host. Imagine you wanted a steak and accidentally got an entire cow. Now imagine that cow was the size of the Sears Tower and that it stepped on you. This is nothing like what a tick experiences and the popping sound you’d make wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

Perennially Annual.

Facts About Dandelions:

  1. The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is native to Europe and was introduced to North America some time in the late 18th century.
  2. Although technically an invasive species dandelions in North America don’t pose a threat to native plants and animals and are an important source of nectar to bees and other insects.
  3. Dandelions are edible in their entirety and given the ease with which they can be grown could be an important food source.
  4. A form of latex has been produced from cultivated dandelions that’s of the same quality of that produced by South American rubber trees but without the same environmental concerns.
  5. Dandelion seeds have been an inspiration to engineers who have produced small windborne sensors that can travel long distances.
  6. Dandelions are a sign of a diverse, healthy lawn.
  7. If you blow all the seeds off a dandelion head and make a wish it will come true if your wish if for more dandelions.
  8. Dandelion seeds are an important food source for many birds.
  9. My neighbor Kevin hates it when people blow dandelion seeds on or near his lawn and, really, do you need another reason?
  10. Dandelion wine, made famous by Ray Bradbury’s novel, is easy to make and will make you really popular at parties.
  11. Dandelions have never lured small children into the sewer and devoured them. You’re thinking of azaleas.
  12. Dandelion roots, when dried and powdered, can be used as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.
  13. Dandelions are actually more closely related to housecats.
  14. The taproot of dandelions brings up nutrients for other shallow-rooting plants, making it an ideal companion plant.
  15. Dandelions were arrested on suspicion of selling knockoff foundation garments in 1923 but were ultimately cleared of all charges.
  16. In Belgium dandelions are known as dandepangolins.
  17. Dandelions are an uncredited scriptwriter for the 1936 film adaptation of the musical Show Boat, directed by James Whale.
  18. No one’s sure what dandelions do at night or why the shoes you left by the back door had moved three feet to the left in the morning.
  19. Dandelions swept the 1987 World Croquet Championships in Paramaribo.
  20. Dandelions are excellent swimmers. How do you think they got from Europe to North America?
  21. Dandelions pay back loans in a timely manner and with interest.
  22. Dandelions know what you did. Don’t worry–they’re not going to tell.
  23. Dandelions will always let you sit in the window seat on the airplane so you can see the Grand Canyon.
  24. If dandelions invite you out you should go. Seriously, you may not remember it but that crumpled up receipts you find in your jeans the next morning for two bottles of quality scotch, four hundred Twinkies, and a hot air balloon ride make you think it was a great night.
  25. Dandelions did not take down Benny “The Nose” Lewis in the infamous St. Dymphna’s Day Massacre. Again you’re thinking of azaleas.
  26. They’re lions and they’re dandy, hey, what’s not to like?
  27. Dandelions are high in vitamins. Probably. I don’t know which ones but you could look it up.

Source: Imgur

Signs Of Spring.

Spring is a time of awakening.

The first and most obvious sign is the days getting longer. Sunset is later each day, sunrise is earlier each morning. The sun seems brighter too, moving in a higher arc across the sky. The birds that have been quiet for months start greeting the day, and singing throughout.

The days are warmer, temperatures rising steadily.

With the warmer weather the grass has started to grow rapidly, forming high clumps in some spots and a lush, level green carpet in others, dotted with the purples of violets, larkspur, and henbit, and the bright yellow of dandelions.

Looks like the poison ivy is back too.

The dandelions form cottony heads then send their seeds sailing out into the world.

Leaves start to bud out from trees, oaks forming tassels that dangle and blow in the breeze.

Cars, driveways, and streets are covered with a yellow-green powder as the budding trees spread their pollen.

You could get allergies just from looking at it.

Spring storms are especially intense. Powerful thunderheads sweep across the country propelled forward by high winds.

A light sprinkle turns into a heavy downpour. The sky darkens and then, suddenly, a crack of lighting illuminates everything brilliant white.

It’s hail all right.

Creeks and other waterways overflow, yards are sodden.

The next day the sun comes out as though none of it happened, but there are puddles where robins, bluejays, and cardinals splash and play.

Why is there a bumblebee in the basement? It probably won’t sting if I duck around it and it seems fixated on the bulb in the ceiling, but, still, why?

I should do something about that spare tire. The one in the backyard that collects rainwater, but also the one that hangs over my belt.

Then a new morning dawns and with it a new sensation. Just below the ribs. Itching.

Oh, great, of course, this early in the season and I’ve already got mosquito bites.

All this awakening makes me want to go back to bed.

Marching On.

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but sometimes…

March comes in like a lamb and then starts tearing up the place like a lion and who knows when it’s getting out of here?

March comes in mad as a hare and goes out like a sleeping dormouse.

March comes in like a mushroom and goes out like a marshmallow.

March comes in like your boss with a really bad hangover and goes out like someone from Human Resources.

March comes running in to tell everyone the circus is coming and slinks out when it admits the circus won’t be here until June.

March comes in like the New York Marathon with everybody excited to get started and ends like the New York Marathon with only about a quarter of the people who started and they’re all exhausted and just glad it’s over.

March comes in like it forgot its keys and goes out like it really wants to know when the locksmith is going to get here.

March comes in like a crocodile and goes out like one of those frilled lizards that run around on their hind legs.

March comes in like the Superbowl and goes out like your kid’s soccer game.

March comes in like lava—something the movies you saw on TV when you were a kid made you think was going to be a much bigger concern when you were an adult—and goes out like quicksand—something else the movies you saw on TV when you were a kid made you think was going to be a much bigger concern when you were an adult.

March yells at you to get off its lawn, but why? You’re walking on the other side of the street.

March comes in and sets the curtains on fire but also does the dishes.

March comes in and everyone pretends to be really busy until it leaves.

March comes in like a Jackson Pollock painting and goes out like a clown painted on velvet.

March comes in like that guy in that movie that you recognize from that other thing but you just can’t remember his name and goes out like someone doing an ad for reverse mortgages.

March comes in like Chinese takeout and goes out like a pizza delivery.

March makes like a tree and leaves you with excruciating allergies.

March comes to your dinner party with a cheap bottle of wine and leaves with an expensive one.

March knew it came in here for a good reason but can’t remember what it was.

March comes in like a raccoon in your garbage can and goes out like a possum under your porch.

March comes in like a string of expletives and goes out exegetically.

March punches you in the back of the neck then buys you a drink because it thought you were someone else.

March comes in like a Bruce Springsteen concert and goes out like an 8-track of Tom Jones’s greatest hits that someone just threw at you.

March comes in like a colonoscopy and goes out like getting your taxes done.

March comes in like Tyrannosaurus rex—really cool, but terrifying, and goes out like Pachycephalosaurus—really cool because it’s a dinosaur but, I don’t know, should we be scared of this one?

March is just a month.

We Gotta Get Into This Place.

It’s been a while since I’ve been out on my own to do something fun. There were the holidays, of course, but those involved other people, and sometimes I just need to get away and be by myself, and for months I’ve either been at home or running errands, and those don’t count because even if I’m running errands by myself it’s, well, like work. So anyway I decided to go to Radnor Lake. Even in normal times Radnor is my go-to getaway—it’s nearby, it’s got beautiful scenery, and it’s nice to just get out and walk. And there’s always something slightly different about it each time. I’m sure I’ve been to Radnor in the winter before but I can’t remember ever being there when most of the leaves had fallen and the trees were so stark and bare. There are places where you can be less than a hundred feet from the lake and, most of the year, can’t see it, but as I walked around the lake I never lost sight of it it.  Somehow I’d also never realized before how much leaves muffle sound. I was on one side of the lake and could hear people laughing and dogs barking on the other side, and every footstep seemed exceptionally loud, probably because I was walking on so many leaves.

We’d also had some serious rain lately—in fact it was the rain that made me decide I need to get out. Last Thursday I sat at my desk working away when we had a sudden and highly localized hurricane that turned the entire backyard into, well, a small lake, and flooded our basement. When I went to Radnor I could see the aftereffects. Otter Creek, which feeds the lake, is normally a trickle. It was a rushing cataract and the sound was intensified.

I also saw new signs about the bald eagles which are now nesting around Radnor Lake. There have been bald eagles spotted there before, but this is the first time ever recorded that they’ve taken up residence.

So I made it there and made the walk around the lake, but the hard part was getting there in the first place, because everyone had the same idea I did. The parking lot for Radnor is long and narrow and it doesn’t take many people to fill it, and, well, I did feel bad for taking up an entire car by myself, but see the aforementioned need to get away. Luckily I only had to circle the parking lot for half an hour before I found a spot.

And it was crowded, but one of the nice things about a wooded park is even with a lot of people there we all tend to spread out.

Then, as I was walking back to my car, a woman who had apparently also been circling the parking lot for a while, pulled up next to me.

“Please tell me you’re leaving,” she said.

I smiled and told her I was, and I was happy to let her have my spot. I could tell she needed to get away too.

And of course the eagles brought to mind this old bit that I reminisced with a friend about when I got home.

Summer Time.

So I found an Argiope aurantia in the yard and if you don’t know what that is you’re probably thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it and if you do know what it is you’re almost certainly thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it because you know it’s a great big spider. She wasn’t that big, though—it’s still early in the season, but it did remind me of the time when I was ten and found a fully grown one under the deck of my parents’ house. They’re quite beautiful with shiny black, white, yellow, and green bodies, and they build big circular webs with zigzag patterns. No one’s sure why they weave such obvious patterns into their webs—maybe it’s to warn birds away, or it’s for camouflage, or for some other reason.  They sit in the middle of their webs patiently waiting.

I’d visit the one under the deck three or four times a day sometimes and bring it prey which I know sounds pretty sadistic of me. At least I felt a little bit of guilt but it was also fascinating to watch. I’d catch a katydid, holding it by its leafy wings, and throw it into the web. The spider would rush over, bite the katydid once, injecting a toxic cocktail, and then start wrapping it. Some spiders wrap their prey in a single thread but an Argiope aurantia activates all its spinnerets at once producing a skein of silk that turns its catch into a mummy in seconds. Then it leaves its prey to sit and cook for a while because spiders invented ceviche long before humans did.

Sometimes when I came back later I’d find her sucking the juices from her wrapped meal. Then she’d pluck it loose from the web and let it drop to the ground. By nighttime the web would be gone. They eat part of their webs before going to sleep, recycling the protein, and producing a fresh, neat web the next day.

I spent the summer watching her grow bigger and bigger, but I tried not to get too attached. Even then I knew enough about biology to know that most spiders grow fast and put everything into producing children they won’t live to see. It’s sad but also beautiful.

I knew she was a she because the males are smaller and less distinctive. The males build a web near a female’s when it’s time to mate. I never did see her partner but one must have come around. By late August I could tell she was slowing down. She sometimes ignored the grasshoppers I threw into her web, conserving her energy while her internal organs slowly turned into eggs. The morning I found her in the upper part of her web next to what looked like a small mottled brown balloon I knew it was time. Summer at that age lasted forever and was also over in a blink.

Her children, if they survived the winter, had a tough time ahead of them, which is one of the sad facts of a spider’s life. They lay a thousand eggs or more as insurance because the world is a harsh place. Most won’t make it to adulthood.

The one I found in the garden earlier this week has been gone for a couple of days now. Her web is still there but it’s tattered. It’s unlikely she’s moved somewhere else. She picked a well-protected place. It just wasn’t protected enough, and there’s a long summer ahead of me.

As You Sow So Shall You Reap.

Source: Twitter user Lesego Semenya (@LesDaChef)

In the beginning there was wild mustard and it was good. It was pretty tasty and the seeds were good for spicing up food, especially sausage which had just been invented. It was nutritious and everyone was fine with this plant as it was.

Then it was cultivated and the cultivation led to collard greens. And this was okay too. Collard greens were also nutritious and while some didn’t like them most people were just fine with them.

Then more cultivation led to cabbage. Some people didn’t like cabbage but most did. Cabbage was useful. You could boil it or wrap other foods up in the leaves. Cabbage rolls and coffee got a lot of people going in the morning. Or the afternoon. Or whenever. It was good for making cole slaw. It was also good for serving with corned beef, which was called that even though it had no corn in it. Corn hadn’t been invented yet.

Then came brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts were basically tiny cabbages that grew on a stem. No one could explain why this was necessary, but the prevailing belief was that it was because Belgium was annoyed with the Netherlands for also being called Holland and for having people known as the Dutch, which is too many names for such a small country. Brussels sprouts were divisive. People either really hated them or were moderately okay with them. They were pretty good roasted and were deemed acceptable when drenched with cheddar cheese, which had just been invented.

Somewhere in here kohlrabi came along. No one was sure what to do with kohlrabi or how to eat it or if it should be cooked or served raw. Finally everyone just decided that the best thing was to give it a weird name and move on.

Then came broccoli. People were okay with broccoli. It was like eating tiny trees, and everyone got a kick out of that. It didn’t have a lot of flavor in spite of being a descendant of wild mustard but people could at least claim they were having something healthy at office parties by eating broccoli smothered in ranch dressing, which had just been invented.

Shortly after broccoli cauliflower came along. No one was sure why and half the people wanted to call it a flower and half the people wanted to call it an amniotic membrane. No one was sure what to do with cauliflower but since it was related to broccoli it was put on the vegetable trays with ranch dressing. Cauliflower could also be boiled and mashed into a paste so that people would think they were getting a nice big serving of potatoes until they ate it and it just tasted like wet cardboard.

And then there was kale. No one was sure where kale came from but everyone agreed that it should go back. In spite of efforts to make it palatable by turning it into chips or mixing it with bacon, which some falsely tried to claim had been invented for just that purpose, no one liked kale. Cheese ran in terror from it.

Kale would have been the black sheep of the brassica family but not even sheep would eat it. Regardless of when it had been invented it was the dead end of a once proud lineage, a cultivar that only existed because some cabbage grower somewhere hadn’t stopped when they were a head.

 

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