Nature Talks.

Nothing To Sneeze At.

In the past allergy season didn’t bother me. I feel guilty for saying that and perhaps I should clarify that I felt bad for my friends who coughed and had runny eyes and noses, even though it gave me the opportunity to call them up sometimes and ask if their nose was running so I could say “Well, you better go catch it!” and then I’d hang up as if they didn’t know it was me. And now I’m paying for that, although if there’s allergy karma it’s doing the equivalent of giving me the finger as it drives by. I wake up with a stuffed up nose and I have a few bouts of coughing through the day, all of which I’m pretty sure is because I’m allergic to something in the air right now.

Allergies are a weird thing anyway. I’m not treating them lightly because when I look at labels on various foods and see warnings about nuts, peanuts, or eggs it’s a somber reminder that for me they’re innocuous ingredients but for some people they can literally be deadly. One of my wife’s friends has trouble with food that’s been cooked near shrimp. A shot of epinephrine can prevent anaphylactic shock but imagine having to keep one handy all the time in case of accidental exposure to something most people take for granted. And all because some people have immune systems that overreact to something in the environment that should be harmless.

I’m not putting down the immune system. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s just that sometimes I think we should be able to communicate with our body, tell it to calm down when it’s fired up about something it should just let go. I have regular checkups with my doctor. Why can’t my major bodily systems arrange to have regular checkups with me?

“All right, digestive system, take a seat. First of all I want to thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve been doing. I also want to apologize. I know I should have been sending you a lot more fiber. I’m going to work on sending you a lot more bananas and cabbage, though not at the same time, and a lot less pizza and coffee. Thanks, and keep up the good work. Take some of that pink stuff on your way out, and could you send in the circulatory system next?”

It would be so easy, and I bet some of the underappreciated organs, like the pancreas, would appreciate the individual note of congratulations. Around allergy season, though, might not be the best time to meet with the immune system.

“Immy, you know you’re very special to me. You’ve always been close to my heart. And everything else, really, which is what makes you so vital. I appreciate everything you do, really. That stomach flu that moved in downstairs? I’m so glad you stepped up to take care of it. But we need to talk.”

At this point I would bring up pictures of pollen, pet dander, and, I don’t know, dust mites, maybe, and say, “These are not your enemies. Look, they’re just passing through. The respiratory system has them covered. Literally. With mucus. You don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Capisce? Have some chicken soup on the way out.”

I know it can never be that easy. If it were a whole spectrum of immune system conditions, not to mention other systemic issues, could be wiped out, or at least dealt with a lot more easily. And I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to catch my nose.

Get Lucky.

Source: Wikipedia. I’ve found a lot of four-leaf clovers but never thought to take a picture.

I never had any luck with four-leaf clovers. At least not that I know of, although I have found four-leaf clovers. One early spring, as fifth grade was winding down and I think our teachers were tired of trying to keep us occupied, when it was finally sunny, when the mornings were cold but the afternoons were warm enough that we could go out without our winter coats as long as we did a lot of running around, we were released to the playground. I’d heard somewhere that when wild onions pop up that means the last frost has passed. That’s not really true, I’ve noticed, but it’s still a sign that spring is springing. The clumps of wild onions on the playground also meant the grass hadn’t gotten high enough for the lawnmowers to start running yet so it was easy to find whole clusters of clover spreading across the ground. Maybe that’s why a group of us stopped running around and settled down to hunt for four-leaf clovers. And we each found some. They’re supposed to be rare, which is one of the reasons they’re considered lucky, but they weren’t that hard to find. A couple of my friends each found a five-leaf clover, which I guess is supposed to be twenty-percent luckier although I’m not entirely sure of the math when it comes to clovers, and someone else found a six-leaf clover, and then someone found a seven-leaf clover and an eight-leaf clover.

There was nothing else special about the day, though, and nothing exceptional followed. I think I did all right on a math test the next day in spite of getting tripped up on what one hundred divided by five was. I kept some of the four-leaf clovers I found and pressed them in books, but the only result was that a few months, or, in some cases, a few years later, I’d pick up those same books again and find a dried four-leaf clover I’d forgotten about somewhere in the pages.

Four-leaf clovers are a symbol of Ireland, although they seem to get confused with shamrocks, which get further confused by the fact that no one seems to agree on what exactly a shamrock is, except that it’s more of a sham than a rock. One kid told me the clovers I’d picked weren’t really clover but pigweed, but when I looked it up “pigweed” referred to an entirely different plant that doesn’t look anything like a clover. That’s common names for you.

I’ve also found that four-leaf clovers, and clover in general, have some folklore attached that goes well beyond just luck. In northern Italy there’s a belief that if a traveler falls asleep on his back by a certain stream a white dove will drop a four-leaf clover on his chest and if the traveler wakes before the clover fades he’ll gain the power of invisibility. It’s much more likely that a dove flying over is going to drop something else on you and you’ll be lucky if you’ve got a spare shirt. There’s also a belief that if you eat a four-leaf clover and slip another one in someone else’s food so they eat it you’ll fall in love with each other, which seems like a terrible way to win someone over. And there’s a belief that a single clover—it doesn’t even have to have four leaves—in a walking stick will make the traveler lucky. Maybe the weirdest one is a belief that a four-leaf clover can prevent, or cure, a condition called “the purples”, spotting caused by bleeding under the skin. A few years later I’d wish four-leaf clovers could cure the pimples, but that’s another story.

Clover was just one of the grasses that popped up on the playground. I already mentioned wild onions, but there were also dandelions and henbit and that weird weed that sends up tall stalks topped with a seed head. My friends and I would twist the stalk around on itself then pull it so the seed head would pop off, hopefully in the direction of a teacher who wasn’t looking.

They were all just common weeds but they were a sign that winter was finally over, spring was happening, and summer was just ahead. They were all lucky in their own way.

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.