Saturday, August 29, 2009

Shakespeare Said it Best?

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
Could it be, possibly, the sun? (Nah...)
Arise, fair sun, and fill my golden room...

Yes, people, it's true. The rain has stopped, the sun is even shining today! Three cheers!
In the world of plants... there will not be too many more first blooms to report in 2009, but here is one of those that remains. Mistflower, which gives my yard one of its last jolts of purple, has gotten its color and started to open, though it is not fully bloomed yet.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Misty Water-Covered Spiderwebs

The misty rain this morning covered every spiderweb in the prairies and lawns. It is pretty amazing, really, to see just how many spiderwebs there are out there! Every few steps, another picturesquely dewed web adorns the vegetation. Their patterns, so perfect, remind me of how wondrous nature is... that a spider, who is tiny, can architect this geometric creation with no blueprints and no way to see the final product from afar... that they adapt to whatever shape the plants around them happen to be... that they build them in the exact shape they need to be to catch their prey.

I discovered all the webs this morning with a class of kindergartners, who were quite fascinated by them, and rightly so. This wasn't what we were out there for... but what a teachable moment!

Still raining.

Hasn't stopped since yesterday's post.
That's about all I have to say right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rain, Rain (Go Away).

Still raining. I am changing all my lesson plans -- we are going to build an ark. Just in case. I think we are at another 2 inches or so, in the past 2 days.
(In the interest of fairness, it did stop raining from 10 am until after school yesterday, and started up again in the evening.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Water World

Today's nature journal entry:

"Indian grass with soggy, wet seedheads. The water drops, pregnant with their own weight, seem ready to fall off. They reflect a miniature version of the world."

Another Rainy Night

Well, we awoke to another wet morning after a rainy night. A month ago, we would have gone out and danced and celebrated this rain. But it's the third rainy night in a week and at this point, we really don't need it. In fact, it's not good for the garden. The tomatoes, especially with late blight in the area, don't need the coolth and rain. The pop corn in the garden is supposed to be drying out right now. The melons, indigenous to the desert, really shouldn't get so much water at this point in their life cycle -- in fact, the extra rain will leech the sweetness right out of them. And the lack of warmth is not to their sensibilities, either. I hope some even get ripe before it's too cold! (Last year I only got melons for about 2 weeks... but for 2 weeks I had the most delicious muskmelons every single day. They are heirloom ones that I got at Monticello...) Peppers are not doing as well as in the past with the cool weather, either.

And also? The rain is continuing into the daylight hours. And rain? Is not so good for those of us who teach outside classes. Means a lot of last-minute re-arranging and running around.

Not to be too whiny and complainy. The weather happens and we deal with it. Soldier on.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gone to Seed

American hazels have bright chartreuse-y green hazelnut casings right now (which will dry and turn brown as the hazels get ready to eat. They are fuzzy and smell fresh.

Below is a little caterpillar. These things inhabit Queen Anne's lace as it goes to seed. As the flowers die off and the umbrels form protective cup-shapes, there is a black-spotted green caterpillar in almost every one. Right now, a lot of QAL still has blooming white flowers, but a few have started to form seeds. As time goes on, the wormies will pupate and, when the QAL has dry, ripe seeds, there will be little black beetles in the cups of the flowerheads.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rollins Romp

Argiope spiders, the large yellow-striped orb weavers, populate the prairie in late summer and early autumn. Their webs wait to ensnare their insect food (this one has a bundle waiting for later consumption... mmm, dinner) and create sticky hazards for would-be off-trail prairie hikers. This is the first argiope I have seen this year.
View from under the oak in Rollins Savannah.
In this one spot, there were at least 50 meadowhawk dragonflies, all hanging out in the late afternoon sun. There were so many that as I took pictures of one, others would actually land on my hand or arm. I have no idea why -- some sort of mating thing, I'd guess. They were at least 100 yards from the nearest body of water. This photo shows three of them -- a blurry one in front center, an in-focus one to the left, and a more distant one behind and to the right.
Katydid (or some sort of orthoptera) on false sunflower. Those are some crazy antenna.
Arrowhead in bloom. The photo below shows the leaf.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coneflower Study

In the beginning of the school year, I have the pleasure of starting classes with their year of nature journaling. This means I get to go out and journal up to three times a day... never is my nature journal so full as late August. I do love doing it -- it's a lucky way to get paid to spend a day -- although sometimes, by the third time in a day, it gets hard to be inspired to actually write or draw. I should have this complaint in three weeks, when I will be too busy to find the time even on my own!

Here is what I wrote under this coneflower sketch:
Despite the plant's name, it is the red and orange that are the really striking colors in a purple coneflower. The disc flowers are bright orange with red tips, and the sun shines through them. When it catches them just right they look as though they were glowing with fire... as though the plant had a halo.

And next to this coneflower:
In the strong wind [yesterday's weather was crazy. Very
windy, which made the clouds move fast. One minute, it was bright and sunny, the next ominously cloudy and grey. And back and forth again. Now let's start over]
In the strong wind, the hanging petals of the yellow coneflowers flop around, twisting and turning. They look precariously attached; I expect them to blow away like fallen leaves on a windy day, but none do. The stems strain to remain upright, leaning on each other.

Other observations of the day:
  • Many grasshoppers all over the place, like the grass itself was jumping.
  • Goldfinches are active and vocal and all over the place... and starting to turn a drabber shade of yellow.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Prairie Updates

Milkweed pods are full sized, or almost so... lime green, fuzzy, mushy.
Indian grass has flowered.
I believe these are the very last flowers of the prairie mimosa, which I think mostly flowered earlier but I missed it. They will get neat-looking seed pods in the fall.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

By Any Other Name

Tree of Heaven, the tree which famously grows through the fictional cracks of Brooklyn pavement, is weighed down by large clusters of twisty seeds. Lime green and turning red, they ready themselves to fall to the ground and grow a whole new crop. Ironically named, this tree is known for its stinky spring flowers and its tenaciousness. Like many invasive plants (they are native to China), this one thrives on disturbed soils, and grows quite rapidly. It spreads not only by those seeds, but by root suckers. It is, I've heard, hard to get rid of, though I've never tried.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bugging Me

The box elder bugs? Are everywhere. And? They're mating. And the little baby non-flying ones are all over in the leaves, too. At least in my box-elder-filled yard.

Actually, it was rather a good insect day. Saw several odonates, including an Eastern Forktail, which I did not photo, monarchs, swallowtails, sulphurs and whites; grasshoppers are everywhere leaping out of the way as you walk through the plants. A leafhopper landed on me, and some sort of leaf-camouflaging insect. Bugs galore out there.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Seeing Sea Oats

Northern sea oats, growing nowhere near the sea. The flat seeds flap around in the wind, making them lovely both now -- as the seeds are nearing their full size -- and through the winter as they turn brown.
Other observations...
Hazels are getting nutty!
Vervains are in full bloom.
ps -- we seem to have beaten blossom end rot due to the application of calcium-rich things to the soil. Yea! We will have to be careful with potted tomatoes in the future to make sure that the soil is properly amended.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Not Only Bluestem

Big bluestem, at this time of year, inspires me to do something I almost never do -- add color to my sketches. One skinny stalk of grass can contain every color of the rainbow. The purple seedheads have tiny yellow flowers dangling from them; and orange pollen. The stems get bluish and reddish and yellowish, all blendy and rainbowey. The leaves (and part of the stem) retain the green color that you would normally associate with grass.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Dock Is In.

Prairie dock, compass plant's more popular (probably) sibling, blooms above the prairie. With its huge -- often well over a foot in length and width -- leaves, this plant distinguishes itself from the typical prairie dwellers. Living in bright sun, wind, and in dry soils, many plants in the prairie have small, narrow leaves. This makes sense, right? Big leaves are necessary to get a lot of sun, but this isn't a problem in the prairie -- sun is plentiful. And big leaves require hydration -- but water isn't as available. The silphium species break that rule, but are well-adapted to do so. The leaves tend to orient themselves in a north-south way to avoid getting the direct sunlight. (This is how compass plant gets its common name, but dock does the same thing). And prairie dock has a natural coolant. On a hot summer day, if you touch the leaves -- after you get over how thick and scratchy they are -- you'll notice that their coolth. I have heard that pioneers would pick a leaf on hot days and put it under their hats as a sort of personal air conditioning! And of course, they have long roots, with a thick sturdy taproot that penetrates the depths of the soil.
These pictures were taken at school. In my yard, I have 3 or 4 prairie dock plants, which come back every year for the past few years, and some have the full sized leaves that one would expect on a prairie dock... but I have never gotten a flowerstalk (which is too bad because they're smooth and reddish and pretty even before they yellow flowers open). I must have an area that's too good to kill them, but not good enough for them to be truly happy. Oh, well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Blooms

Big Bluestem flowers.
Switchgrass flowers.
Goldenrod flowers. (Don't ask me what kind...)
Meadowhawk on Joe Pyeweed flowers.
Onion flowers. (The real bloomin' onion.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Crickets chirp in the still, humid night air, welcoming the darkness that comes earlier as the days march on. The air is heavy with heat and the weight of the world.

In phenological recordings, people generally note firsts, peaks, and lasts... as in, the purple coneflower first bloomed on June XX; peak bloom was July XX, and the last bloom was August XX. Loyal readers may have noticed that I am diligent about recording firsts. They are exciting and new! Who wouldn't record a first? Peaks I sometimes mention, because they do tend to be pretty. But lasts? I am not so good at making mention of the lasts. Besides lacking the excitement of a first, they are often harder to record with certainty. How do you know that monarch is the last? What if I see another tomorrow? In fact, I falsely reported the last strawberry this June, and ended up getting quite a large handful a few days later. So lasts... not my thing.

But coming home from England, I have noticed some lasts. Queen of the Prairie no longer rules the "wet prairie" located at the end of my drain spout. Spiderwort is completely finished flowering (and probably was before we left). Bergamot is looking pretty sad. While some things are just getting started -- Joe Pye bloomed while we were gone; my sweet brown-eyed susans, much later bloomers than their black-eyed friends, are finally in full bloom; big bluestem and Indian grass are flowering; and better late than never, my compass plant finally got itself a flower -- but anyhow... while these things are starting, summer for some things is winding down.

Perhaps I am taking note of this especially because summer is also winding down for me. Hard to believe, what with the fact that I am practically melting (A/C malfunction, that's another story); the fact that I just today made my first, small batch of tomato sauce; and the fact that the summer solstice is like a month and a half away... but summer for us officially ends as we go back to work this week. Pfffft. It's been a fun, but short, ride. How depressing.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Welcome Home.

Well, we're back. And, the worst has happened. We have tomato blossom end rot. This is bad. It has, so far, attacked only the heirloom tomatoes I got from my aunt, which are separate from the other tomatoes and potatoes. (And which were, btw, the healthiest looking of all our tomatoes before the fruits turned up with black, moldy ends.) We have sprayed them with copper, but chances are... these plants are goners. Won't get one single fruit out of them. I just hope it doesn't spread to the others.

Regarding our trip, I could go on for a while. We took a million or so photos, which I have yet to sort through; we saw some lovely natural areas and gardens and parks. I may or may not get around to describing or posting photos from any individual locations. But for now, some overall (tongue in cheek) impressions.

I love the American landscape. The ruggedness of it, the expansiveness. The harshness. I am enamoured with, and remorseful for, the history of this young nation; I can't imagine (and don't want to) a world without cowboy and Indian lore, Lewis and Clark adventures, the wild wild west, the rolling prairie that seems to stretch on like an ocean. But visiting England, I can't help but think... that religious persecution must have been really bad, because it would have to be to make you leave an ancestral home such as that. Mosquitoes? Not so much. In private residences and hotels alike, windows didn't have screens. They just open them. Ticks? Don't think so. Strawberry season? Still going on. Although. Tomato season? Not yet, likely due to the not at all how weather. A striking difference from the three-digit (F) temperatures we're supposed to have here tomorrow. Irrigation? Hardly ever necessary, I'd guess, because it seemed like it sprinkled pleasantly a lot. (And occasionally, not so pleasantly). Snow? Pretty rare, I'm told. Which is actually a negative point, in my book. I like snow. But I know that the moderate climate (this despite the high latitude, mind you) would be a positive point to many out there.

And I totally get where our whole completely unnatural fetish with green-grass lawns came from. It's not so totally unnatural and hard to maintain over there. We did note an interesting garden phenomena, though... When you visit the grand estates with spectacular gardens, many of them have plant stores there, so that you look at the gardens, feel inspired, and spend a lot of money buying plants, thinking you can do the same thing on your home on a smaller scale. Forgetting, of course, that the grand estates hire full time gardeners. And that's not plural because there are multiple estates, but because each one, I'm certain, has multiple gardeners. Anyhow, I have gotten away from the main point, which is that the most popular plant to purchase? Is the purple coneflower. Which is native to the North American prairies. So there you have it, folks.

Another cool thing about said estates is that at most of them, there is a restaurant. And these restaurants feature food grown on that estate or in the county. I'm not going to try and say that English folks are all into local foods; besides being a gross generalization, I only spent 8 days there and really didn't get that much data. But it seems to be a wee bit more important there than here. And Charles (as in Prince) is really big on local foods and sustainable agriculture, so that was exciting to learn about. At any rate. You know that when you travel to Italy or Morocco, to Mexico or Thailand, you are going to notice how much the USA lacks a food culture. Beyond the fast/convenience. But I certainly didn't expect to to be that evident from a trip to England.

OK. I have now been awake for about 21 hours, and travelling for much of that. So I'm tired (but I WILL stay awake til normal bed time) and probably not being that coherent and will sign off now.