Sunday, March 28, 2010


Has anyone out there tried using vinegar as a week-killer? I refuse to go the round-up route (even if it weren't like pouring poison on my soil, I will not support monsanto) but hand-weeding grass from cracks between bricks pulls up the bricks, and in other areas is just tedious (see previous post). I've heard vinegar, applied on sunny days and throughout the summer, will work without hurting the soil or anything else except the plant on which it is painted. Does anyone else know if it works? Will it work on grass? I expect most people are trying to kill dandelions and keep the grass...

thanks -- N.
You'll pardon my absence at this phenologically exciting time of year. I was exercising a protest of the cold weather. I don't think the protest worked, but it made me feel good. Today seems finally a bit warmer... although it's still one of those days -- the sun is bright and the grass is greening and the days are lengthening and it seems like it should be warm outside and as soon as you open the door, you realize you've been hoodwinked. It is quite chilly out there.

Unfortunately, it seems, as is always the case, that the undesirables are the ones taking greatest advantage of the sunshine and scant warmth in the air. Dandelions and creeping Charlie are showing up in the yard, while the places where my spring ephemerals should be remain barren and brown. (I mean, unless there's a dandelion there.) I remember last year thinking plants wouldn't grow back and then they did... so I'm trying not to be too worried about them. But I guess that's just part of spring break.

And don't even get me started on the grass. The yard is starting to green up in many places, and already I am struggling with the grass problems I always have... where I want it (like the front yard) it's patchy, ratty and weak. Where I don't want it, like the vegetable garden, it's growing like gangbusters. (You'd grow there, too, if you could... it's the best soil, mostly sunny, the only place that gets watered... but the grass also grows unbidden in paver cracks, which wouldn't seem to be the best spot, and perennial beds...) I wish I didn't have grass at all, but it would simply be too expensive to replace it all with gardens in one year. Of course, I complain, but I have to say... most of my back yard has thick, green and mostly weed-free grass. It's just a few areas where it won't grow, and a few more where it won't stop, that seem to take over my brain and stop me from seeing the fine parts.

Anyhow, enough whining about turf grass. Here's some progress reports on some good guys:
Celandine poppies are popping up everywhere. I'm hoping, now that mine are very well established, for a beautiful display of many yellow flowers.
Shooting star starting to shoot.
Last year we put in 5 native black currants, thinking that edible landscaping plants was a genius idea (although last year being their first year, we didn't really get to eat any). Now I realize that there is another very real benefit... early leaf-out! In my yard, these are the first trees of shrubs to actually show their whole leaves, tiny though they may be. YEA!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mercury Falling!

Sitting here typing, I feel like the roof is about to cave in. This is not some metaphor for the state of my life or anything... I literally feel as though the building may collapse around me. The walls are creaking and other strange noises make it sound as though I am in some sort of immediate danger. I'm not, of course, that's just how this building reacts to strong winds -- and today's are pretty dramatic. 30 mph gusts, according to internet sources, although it seems stronger than that.

These winds are being accompanied with drastic and uncomfortable temperature changes. Before school it seemed OK out (and was 44 degrees). By the end of my first class it seemed a lot colder. Now it's 32 degrees. And it's not even night yet! All in all, not a very pleasant spring day...

ONE MORE DAY until spring break! I need it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


So... at what point do I get to call this a leaf instead of a bud? Because I feel like we're close.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In My Head

I sketched the delicate flowers of the witch hazel the other day, before it snowed and when it was relatively warm. I have long admired the flame-colored streamer petals -- four long, skinny rectangular petals that extend from each flower and gradually turn from deep red to bright orange to yellow. Inside each flower, barely discernible reproductive parts hide. But what I never remember noticing before was the fragrance. I sat downwind as I drew, and the bushes emanated a heavy, almost sweet smell. It was what a novelist would call a heady perfume. I don't even know what this means, really, but as I breathe it in and my lungs just seem full of this scent like it almost makes me dizzy, and it pops unbidden into my mind... a heady scent.

What is most amazing about it, though, is its newness. Just the fact that you can see something all the time, observe it closely, take pictures of it and notes... and still not know all there is to know. You can still learn new things, make new discoveries, and without going at all far afield. It's funny, students all the time point out that they've already studied something, already drawn it or seen it or learned it... as though you did something once and then you were finished. You have gotten all their is to get about this thing, because you studied it once. What an absurd notion! There is always so much to learn...

ps -- Today was sunny and not all that warm, but above freezing, and yesterday's snow is all but gone. I took a photo of some crocuses today, too, which I may publish tomorrow...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Welcome, Sun! (And Snow!)

On our journey through space, we hit a momentous occasion today. We have come to the point in our tilted orbit where the sun passes over the equator (at 12:32 CDT) and now shines more directly on the northern hemisphere.

We are thankful to the sun for our life force, the energy that fuels our bodies (and everything else), we are thankful for the plants that sustain us by creating sugars with the aid of its rays, we are thankful for lingering evenings in the yard and the feeling of warmth on our cheeks.

Today we welcome the sun... but someone forgot to inform the sun! We woke up to a white world.
This morning, Chris started his spring digging through the snow and earth to make a grave for Draco, the snake who died in the night of unknown causes. Sadness reigns for the moment.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More From Today.

OK... first thing's first. Today is ICE OFF day! This morning there was still a largish mass floating, but strong winds broke it up. There are some ice-cube sized chunks that have floated over to the edge, and were making a clinking sound as they were pushed together in the wavelets. It sounded like nature was throwing a cocktail party to celebrate spring! (You know, before it snows again.)
The sexually precocious American Hazels have begun to display their bright pink female flowers. (Many shrubs have none yet, but several have branches adorned with these almost impossibly small but beautifully colored flowers.) Alders are also girl-flowering (in addition to the male flowers noted earlier) now, but I didn't get a picture of them.

I have discovered, by the way, that if I carry a white index card with me, I can slip it behind small subjects and it makes it a lot easier to get the auto-focus to focus on the proper thing. I recognize that the sacrifice here is the artfulness of the photos, but sometimes, the goal is scientific documentation. Especially when I have 20+ kids waiting for me and not understanding why I am stopping to take a picture of something random like a bud when they are studying something totally different like birds, for example. So the boring backgrounds aren't necessarily my first choice, but they serve their function.

Many buds are swelling up and showing peeks of green between their scales. Not that many species, but enough that it's starting to be exciting out there...
shown above, Linden, serviceberry, and weeping willow (with catkins showing).
And more from the baby plant front, here are prairie smoke flower buds (left) and baby bergamots, in the shadow of Naomi (right).

A New Reality (Show)

Baby rattlesnake masters emerged, barely visible, last week. This is how they look today, mini-succulents. So... funny story about these. Our 3-4th grade students each have one plant that they watch and make phenology observations throughout the year. A small group has this plant, and discovered the babies this morning. They were like proud parents, "We're having babies!" I suggested that they count the tiny planties, and at first glance, they counted 8 plants. So one boy said, "Hey, we're like John and Kate Plus Eight! We could have a show on TLC about our plants," (Which statement I thought was hilarious). Looking closer, they discovered some smaller ones, and they actually have 14 babies -- which prompted them to observe that if they could only discover 6 more babies, they could break the record (referring to 19 Kids and Counting). Honestly, that whole exchange busted me up. And I don't know what they will or won't get out of their plant phenology studies in the long run, but the fact that they view these little guys as their progeny, and feel a sort of kinship, makes me feel gratified regardless.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Warming Up

Silver maple flowers are opening up, but they start at the top of the tree and work down, so I couldn't find one low enough to get a picture close-up.
This I thought was interesting. Ice is about 50% off right now, but this slab seems to have drifted away from the edge (rather than melting) because the corners are so perfect -- exactly the shape of the stone edge. Kind of cool.

I don't know what the official records showed, but I had a thermometer out today and it showed the temperature at 70 degrees in the shade... so St. Paddy's day was our first 70 degree day! (Snow predicted over the weekend, so...)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


From the rippulous marsh
came the comfortable sound
of Chorus-Frogs chorusing
while splashing around.

This morning, while discussing signs of spring, a student told me he had seen a frog. I was, to say the least, skeptical that he had. I guess I should eat my words, because it's well within the realm of possibility -- I heard the frogs this afternoon! (But I'm still skeptical.)


It's a sunny, beautiful day that is almost lovely enough to chase away my blah's...
Speckled alder catkins dangle in the wind, invisibly transferring their pollen. To the left, fingers that just brushed against the flowers demonstrate just how much pollen is in each flower cluster. I am amazed by plant forms always, but especially when regarding their reproductive parts. Humans hide these aspects of their biology and don't talk about them, but plants put it all out there, immodest. I think always of the title of Michael Pollan's book (which isn't about plant reproduction so much as plant domestication) The Botany of Desire. It (that title/phrase) runs through my mind every time I examine a flower, large or small...
Aspen trees, just a few days later than last year, have catkined. Their grey fuzz seems nearly to glow in the bright sun.

Also noted: female American Hazel flowers are not out yet, but the pink ends are just visible poking out of some buds.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Adjustment Period

I am having trouble adjusting to daylight savings time. In general, I like the summer schedule -- even during the school year, it allows for gardening after work, then a late dinner while it's still light out... but what I hate is waking up in the middle of the night. It was just getting close to the point where the sky was getting some color into it when my clock went off (around 5:30 am), but now we're back to waking in total darkness, sunrise 90 minutes later. So a rough morning.

We did notice that we are just 7 minutes shy of a 12-hour interval between sunrise and sunset. Our 12-hour day actually occurs... well, I guess it doesn't occur, but it's 11:58 on the 17th and 12:01 on the 18th... a few days before the equinox this weekend (see the comment in last year's spring equinox post for a discussion on this!)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On and On I Go

So yesterday afternoon, working on a tip, I headed out to the backyard -- not much of a journey, I know, but it was the first time in a while I'd gotten away from the immediate porch part of the yard -- to see if the wild onion was, indeed, sticking its grass-like leaves about 2 inches out of the earth. It was:
(I know, that's a terrible picture. If it weren't raining right now, I might go out and get a better one. But it is raining, and it looks like grass anyhow, so this will have to do ya, as they say.)

The onion wasn't the only thing I found... things are getting exciting. Let's just say that nature is not a procrastinator. The snow cover has been gone less than a week, and already things are popping up, starting to get their work done. It makes sense, I guess. These plants, they have 6, 8 months at the outside, to go through a whole life cycle... they have to grow and photosynthesize, to flower and fruit and seed. They have to do it all with rabbits and bugs nipping at their flesh, and in spite of my puttering around them. That's a tall order, and I can't really blame them for wanting to get a jump on the spring. One example:
Here are the tiny shoots at the center of a Jacob's ladder. This is not the only example of baby planties I could show you, but I shall refrain. I recognize that looking at pictures of other people's baby plants is like looking at pictures of other people's baby humans. The first few photos are cute and it's great to see how much they've grown and changed... but after that, you're just being polite. (On the other hand, this being an anonymous internet thing, if you're bored, you'll click over to something else, right?)

Anyhow, in some ways, nature has put me to shame. As I walked about looking at what has decided to start its yearly work, I started to become overwhelmed. I love my gardens and like the rest of my yard, despite it being currently filled with holes like this
that some generous creature has dug for me everywhere... but they [the garden and yard, I mean] sure are a lot of work! And I looked around at the mess winter left behind that requires my attention, if it's ever dry enough to attend to it, and... well. It seems like the beginning of a long hike up a mountain. I know the scenery will be worth it in the end, but the first part, before you get above the tree line and you can't see the top, it can hurt your out-of-shape legs and be a bit discouraging. (Note about metaphor: as a person who favors plants as much as vistas, I actually don't mind the first part of the hike, but that sort of kills the concept.) But really, the ambitious flora in my life has made me feel like a lazy slug.

On the other hand... I am just so happy at the discoveries to be made, every day, multiple times a day, even. These were the best things I found,
little fungus* cups about 1 inch tall and almost 1/2 inch in diameter growing from the detritus. A whole grove of them sprung up in an area of about 1 square foot. I enjoy a good animal track mystery as much as the next person (probably more, let's be honest), but winter is just not as exhilarating as spring. I'm sorry.

*I think they're a fungus. There's certainly no evidence that they are photosynthetic like a lichen or a moss. I could look them up, but for the aforementioned lazy thing.

PS. I did, indeed, miss the snowdrops, now in full bloom. So I guess that was the first flower, but yesterday's can be the first wild flowers.

PPS. Today is seed planting day for some (not all) of our vegetables and herbs... it's all starting!!!!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

First Flowers

I know that a pussy willow isn't brightly colored, it has no showy petals... but a catkin is a flower and they're poking out and I'm saying it counts.
If you want brightly-colored petals, here's a lovely orange witch hazel flower. In the fall, I pictures yellow ones and claimed them as the last flowers of 2009. But this plant seems to have orange flowers that come after the snows rather than before. I'm not sure what's up. Both plants were planted as part of native plantings, not growing wildly, so... I'm guessing they're just different varieties, but I really don't know. Anyhow, that's two flowers today.

I was really hoping for the pink American Hazel flowers that I reported on March 19 last year, but I'm too early. (I also noticed that snowdrops were early in March last year, and I haven't even ventured to that part of the yard yet. An afternoon adventure!)In ice-world, there is still ice on the lakes, but it's clearing by the inlets where water moves. Today the flag was switched from green (safe for walking, which I'm not sure it was yesterday) to red (danger, Will Robinson, danger), so the it'll be soon!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11

At times on quiet waters one does not speak aloud but only in whispers, for then all noise is sacrilege.
    -- Sigurd F. Olson
March 11 and we look to the water, flowing over ice, around ice, under ice, seeking freedom, movement unstoppable. Water, falling from the sky onto already-saturated earth, then following gravity's path. So simple, so powerful. It has the power to carve earth, to cause conflicts; it has power over our souls, our imaginations. Water is what makes this planet our home, the one speck in all the universe where we can live. March 11 and we look to the water and we remember and we feel connected.

This is the third March 11 since that March 11. We mark the date in silence, each thinking our own thoughts and smiling out at a world that, as my brother put it 4 years ago, doesn't really understand anyhow. Can't really understand.

It seems that March 11 rolls around each year with that itch -- right in the midst of those first nice days when spring seems to have sprung (although there is inevitably a snowstorm around the corner), when the air is warm and wet, the red wing blackbirds and the herons have just returned, hopeful bird songs surround us... and those of us with summer hobbies, gardening, paddling and the like, want to jump right into it, although it is too early, really, maybe. But a good day to go outside, breathe in the fresh air, look up at the sky and down at the water and be connected.

Foggy Farm Fields

Yesterday afternoon's warmth and the evening coolth collided with a spectacular fog as sun set. We were driving through farmland on the way home from our last basketball game -- the girls got 3rd place in the conference, YEA! -- and had to pull over for some photos.

I don't think the point and shoot camera quite captures the beauty, but it did a pretty good job...
These geese flew off just before I could photograph them, thus the hasty tilted shot...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

One Warm Day...

... and things are popping up all over the place.
Daffodils in the yard, which may have even been there under the snow, became visible today.

Here is a baby columbine. The tiny buds on my Am. Hazel have started opening as well, but they are too tiny for me to photograph. Also, pick up a few of winter's decomposing leaves, and I found all sorts of squirmy life. Worms, centipedes, little roly polies, and some tiny white bugs are all active and plentiful under there...

Also heard, seen, or reported by a third party:
  • killdeers, today.
  • sandhill cranes, a few days ago, reported by fivecrows' father.
  • a bat, reported by fivecrows,
  • herons, seen by me today but earlier in the week by fivecrows,
  • our porch raccoon is back to looking longingly (or with loathing, I'm not sure) into our window.
  • cedar waxwings, also seen by fivecrows.
  • it is very muddy!
Ice is still on the lakes, but there's a lot of melted water on top of it...

A Little Ray of Sun

Well... for the last 2 days I have been home, ill, not moving a lot and generally not having a fun time of it. A few minutes ago, the sun came out for the first time since I began my bedridden-ness, and I opened the door to the outside world and was surprised to find that it felt warmer outside than it does inside my house! Our house isn't kept very warm, but still, this is pretty crazy. The weather said the high today was mid-50's but it feels warmer...

I wonder what I've missed besides rain and melting snow?

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's a Small World

Yesterday was a still, grey day at the beach, slate water blending almost invisibly into cloud-covered sky. These formations are what remains of winter's icy covering. Fragile though they may seem, they are solid sheets of ice, and, though they were dripping steadily in the 40 degree weather, no amount of kicking or jumping on would break these sand-infused ice overhangs. They looked like mini natural wonders of the world, places where centimeter-tall ancient cliff-dwellers could have made homes. There were caves where tiny spelunkers could study ice stalactites or mine for precious pebbles. It's funny to think that yesterday they probably looked totally different, and tomorrow they will look different still. And before too long they will be piles of sand and then waves will smooth them over and if we hadn't seen them, we'd never know they were there. It makes you feel lucky, sometimes, to be in the right place at the right time to see things that so many others completely miss. In all the years and all the days, of all the places, there could only have been this one moment when I could see this thing... But it also makes me wonder how many millions of cool things I was one day too late or too early to experience, or what was just around the bend that I didn't see. I suppose that's a depressing take on it, and I should go back to being lucky that I was in the right place at the right time, no?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Slushy Snow Walk

In addition to red wing blackbirds descending in droves, here are some of yesterday's discoveries:
Fallen sticks imprinted into the snow, only appearing from the over-head vantage point.
Deer track.
Colorful fungi bands, green moss... you can almost imagine it's not winter.
Someone's a messy eater.
Two someones, actually...
(I even saw a pair of mallards, but they are not pictured here.)
A spot of green grass. Yeah, I know it's last year's green grass. But it's still green.
Geese directly overhead.

Saturday, March 6, 2010