Bulbs and Burls: Late Winter Interest

One or Two Things to See This Time of Year

 

 

The daffodils are pushing up; daffodils, being the easiest bulbs to grow when you have a lot of deer, I plant more of these than any other, although I’m trying to build a good effect with grape hyacinths. The birds are making their spring plans. The redtailed hawk couple have been circling to locate a nesting site for the year. The other day one was being chased by a flock of crows, and when she or he sped off, the other arrived. That suggests the hawks take advantage of the crows’ behavior. I don’t know how you’d prove it, but I suspect the hawk watches, flying over, to see what shelters the squirrels run to, and keeps its eye on the brush heap, knowing prey will emerge from that spot after awhile. A pair of cardinals have been at the feeders, the male very bright…the local cardinal population has seemed a little down the last couple of years. Today, I saw a mockingbird fly up into the oak, calling in imitation of a hawk and some other bird I didn’t recognize. So he also is staking a territory to make use of in the next few weeks.

 

 

The hellebore languished for some years after I planted it. But then, I think in 2017, we had a huge cicada generation born, and the emergence from deep in the ground must have freed up the roots from struggling against those of the giant oaks. That summer the hellbore took off, and it’s been a big, healthy plant ever since, spreading out and making new hellebores. This lenten rose always blooms early and prolifically.

 

Below are some ornamental burls in a young phase. At center, you can see how small these two are, by comparing them to the acorn caps. They make interesting little ornaments for the flower bed they push themselves up into.

 

 

 

 

The Gardener Looks Forward

Photo of yellow-bellied sapsucker sapwells on tree

 

This is the effect of a yellow-bellied sapsucker on my callery pear tree. These sap-wells won’t start to flow until the springtime. The male I’ve seen, who owns this tree and comes out to patrol it, may be living a little out of his traditional range (there must be a female around, too). He’s been making rows of holes on this tree for years, but seems to have moved to a new stage. Sapsuckers can actually kill trees—for myself, I’d rather have happy birds. They aren’t likely to attack species of tree that don’t produce volumes of sap, those being mostly maples, birches, and fruit trees.

 

Photo of frog statue in snowy garden

 

The frog is always getting knocked off his perch. I have visiting deer who come every night looking for corn around the feeder. A couple of males have racks, and I’m guessing they bump the frog trying to maneuver their heads into the space around the tubs and pots.

 

Photo of Tufted Titmice on snowy branches

 

These guys were easy to capture in the lilac. Tufted titmice are some of the tamest birds, and don’t mind letting a person with camera get close. They, the chickadees, the downy woodpeckers, and the Carolina wrens, all prefer to go on eating, whether I’m there or not, than fly off to hide in the brush pile.

 

Photo of seed packets

 

Here are all the seeds I’ll be starting around the last week of March, and in early April. It takes a few weeks for sprouting to begin with, and nothing other than hardened-off perennials can go out until the end of May, when frost is really finished. Growing your own gives you some gardening fun until the outdoors is ready, and also saves a lot of money these days, when a single perennial can cost fifteen to twenty dollars. 

 

 

My Sister’s House

Tracy and Sam

 

My Sister’s House

 

My parents helped my sister and her husband buy this house in Cincinnati, in 2007 or 2008. The only way I’ve ever seen the house is in pictures my mother has in an album. (It was sold after Tracy died in 2009…a short time to enjoy that dream of home ownership.) I had a sense, by description, of her place being sort of stuffed with furniture and jumble.

My own house at the time tended to be jumbly, partly because I kept a lot of cats, partly because the house was small and old, and came to me needing a lot of repairs (or renovations) that I didn’t have done. As people in that boat know, when you don’t have places to keep things; when you don’t have closets and shelves and cabinets, or sufficient of these, and when you have a lot you don’t want to get rid of, but aren’t using at the moment…

Things tend to stack up on surfaces. Such as magazines you don’t have time to read. I went through a phase of liking People, Us, In Touch, all the reviews of celebrity gowns at the award shows—around the era of J Lo and Ben Affleck. CDs, DVDs…you’ll remember how much space those could take up, the VCR tapes that preceded the DVDs…

And then I had a lot of shoplights, and burned-out fluorescent bulbs for them, which are hard to get rid of, part of my annual seed-starting. I put a lot into my garden in Chauncey. After years of expansion I was running out of time to keep the yard trimmed and all the beds weeded.

Things accumulate, like new writing projects. That’s one of the difficulties of being at a certain level of income. A rich person with a McMansion probably has, by weight and number, a greater tonnage of possessions than any Appalachian hoarder. But fitting it all in a small space makes appearances more inviting of condemnation than spreading it into dozens of rooms and storage buildings, etc. Income, when your housing, for what it is, doesn’t cost much, and your car is paid for, and you can’t take vacations, because those are outside the budget, and you can’t borrow money to fix things up, because then all your disposable income would go to payments…

And if you work an unhappy job, you need treats. You can buy new clothes, you can buy music and subscribe to magazines. You can take up hobbies and buy the gear for them. So my house was very cluttered. Others in my family had the same habits, and I assumed this of my sister.

But we never saw each other. Our adult lives were spent in a constant enemy state.

I learned from the pictures that Tracy kept houseplants, something our mother started us on in the 70s, when houseplants were big. She (you can see) had a nice backyard with a shed, also a little deck.

So why did we dislike each other?

I did not have friends growing up, which at my present age I don’t mind saying frankly. There are so many people who don’t have friends. They’re under pressure to feel embarrassment, afraid being other than the cultural ideal will lead to bullying. There’s a lot to say on this subject, more than can fit a single post, but think how sad it is so many people enter abusive or miserable relationships, because they would do that to themselves rather than be attacked for living alone. Being bullied is a lifelong experience, middle aged people are bullied in the workplace; even once-powerful people, when they lose control over their lives (as in the nursing home), are bullied.

The dynamic between power and powerlessness is a major driver of bullying. So those who begin life pushed to the margin find themselves stuck there, uncool, disliked for being uncool, shunned for fear of showing friendliness to this ostracized person.

I can’t say what motivated my sister’s early behavior. When we were children, we always played together. When we first came to Athens, my brother and I were pre-school age; my sister about five, and soon enrolled in kindergarten. I remember playing outdoors in the driveway, next door on the sidewalk of Mrs. Chadwick, who babysat for us. One of the great things of my life at that age was the milkman who, delivering to Mrs. Chadwick, gave me a lime-flavored popsicle. Just because…and I think at the age of four I was already somehow indoctrinated into a midwestern peculiarity, which some readers may recognize: the idea that having things—anything at all, I assume, taking into account the jealousies I’ve known—is not fair to people who don’t have them, so any little happiness has to be a source of guilt.

My parents would at times take us to visit friends of theirs who had children, and on those occasions, my sister, who was my friend at home, would go off with the other kids and shut me out. I was left standing around with no place to be in a strange house, where there was nothing I could choose to do, no room I was allowed to occupy, a kind of awfulness I’ve never forgotten.

When we moved to Shannon Avenue, my sister’s best friend was the daughter of a family who lived down the street, a family with four daughters and a son. I was always, for that only period of my life where I had a circle, included. We had campouts in the back yard; this over the side of a hedge from a funeral parlor parking lot, that to kids was place to ride bikes (a time I was daring enough to make curves so sharp they were almost horizontal, and to ride with no hands). We rode bikes in the electric company parking lot across the street. The electric company made an excellent place for kids to visit; it always smelled like fresh-baked cookies, because they had a showroom where electric stoves were demonstrated. And you got Reddy Kilowatt comic books.

Tracy and I talked to each other until our early twenties. She became a non-friend to her little sister as well as, so far as I know, the girl she was once best friends with, at the time she started middle school. In middle school I got pushed out of the group of younger sisters I’d been somewhat friends with, and from that point on, was a labeled person with no possibility of being sought out.

About the fourth grade, homework began, and that was the end of my easy A’s. I could read above my age group; I used to especially love science. I had a little collection, with a bird skeleton (I stuck this to a piece of cardboard, and marked it Exhibit A, a thing I got from watching Perry Mason), a tumbleweed, a hornet’s nest, and a box of rocks and minerals…gneiss, schist, petrified wood, quartz, a little chunk of bright yellow sulphur…

But I couldn’t take homework. I found it unfair, an encroachment on my free time. I didn’t know how to organize the doing of a task…why my room, and later my house, was so messy.

So I fell behind, and from being a smarty, became a C student. My pride then was that I could get C’s doing absolutely nothing. I quit studying for tests, rarely handed in homework.

I graduated from high school on this system.

Athens is an academic town. My sister was the honor student. I was so far outside that milieu, I still don’t really know what it entails. That might have been part of the exacerbation, some sense of embarrassment that I was “dumb”.

I got my college degree after I’d taught myself the discipline I needed to write papers. But to be fair, I still think college in the 80s would have been miserable work. Kudos to the pre-computer students who struggled with carbons and footnotes.

So, a time came when my sister and I never spoke at all; it came when we were adults away from home, and first I, then Tracy, moved back to Athens. I worked at Gold Circle, as I mentioned in another post, and eventually felt very gloomy about it. It seemed hateful to have spent my twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second years at a job where I was made fun of for productivity—for working while the office furniture was shifted around, on one occasion. Everyone else standing around. And the reason I worked was for having no socialization. I couldn’t stand around and talk, I had no one to talk to.

I moved back in with my parents. Tracy had what I’d thought was a great job, working (clerical) at the veterinary teaching hospital at Ohio State University. I don’t know what troubles she had. She came back, and we sort of jostled, because I was already lodged in my parent’s house, and felt proprietary about my space. I didn’t trust her. (Some history of stealing from each other.) It ought to be said that her lifelong issue was alcohol. My idea of Tracy as an adult was formed from my parents’ accounts of her, since we weren’t friends.

I can’t say what fairer view I could have taken, because I never had her own side of things. We didn’t speak, we played that game of taking shots at each other by saying pointed things to Mom and Dad. To me her way of behaving was artificial. I said to myself for years that there was no way to communicate with someone who wasn’t real.

Now I would say I could have allowed one-sidedness. I’ve learned not to care about the improvement of other people, since looking out for your own improvement is enough…you won’t run out of opportunities for it in your lifetime. Meanwhile, if no progress is made, you can count yourself as having tried.

Probably all this is a puzzle to outsiders. It seems extreme that sisters with no event, no fight, no ideological clash, no big principles debated…not even little things discussed, could end up so at odds as to be strangers. I’ve always had self-esteem (I think Tracy had very little). When people pushed me aside, I wanted nothing to do with them. I don’t think my family managed things very forgivingly, in general. We were sort of pitted against each other as kids, so if someone won, the other had to lose. We had an odd dynamic of Things, like favorite colors, hobbies, TV actors, being “owned”…

An example would be birthstones. Tracy’s was turquoise, mine opal. The dynamic required I not be allowed to like turquoise jewelry, because it wasn’t “my” stone. But I do like it…I think everyone does. And I give permission to the world to buy all the opals you want.

(They can be a little disappointing.)

Tracy wrote poetry…I’ve never seen one. I write poetry…I started in 2014, so she never saw one of mine. She aspired to be a writer of novels, I don’t know whether any of her fiction is kept by anyone who knew her. I’ve never, either, seen any of her stories. I write stories and novels. She aspired at one time to be a filmmaker…though I interpret this. She followed a crowd in high school who made films. I make little videos…truthfully only images to attach my music to, though if someone invents the 36-hour day…

But, because I don’t do musical notation, so that’s my means of preserving my work.

All this should mean we’d have had a lot in common, and leaves the question hanging, of whether the competitiveness, the rivalry instilled in our childhood, the skewed implication that liking what someone else liked was somehow aggressing on their territory, made our enemy state unavoidable.

 

 

 

Squirrelliness Again

Squirrel and Mourning Doves Zoom

I saw my trees had what looked like several large birds roosting in the branches…but when I used my camera, they turned out to be just an unexciting bunch of squirrels and mourning doves. Earlier this week a neighborhood cat who comes to eat leftovers at my back door—and who’d just eaten both leftovers from my indoor cats’ food, and a handful of treats, started gathering himself while perched on my patio storage box. I thought he couldn’t do it, but the squirrel he was eyeing got behind a large flower pot. The cat made one huge leap, and landed in position to outmaneuver his prey. I saw him walking off with the squirrel in his mouth, and read the signs by the marks of his feet where he’d landed in the mud. So, some unhappiness in the squirrel community this week.

 

Squirrel Zoom

Mid-Winter

Broken Up Hawk Nest

Here are the remains of the hawk’s nest from last spring. It sat on its branch intact through the late fall, and then I saw a bird up inside, picking it apart. I don’t know what the purpose would be, unless because hawks feed meat to their young, the nest has edible bits that other birds seek after they’ve eaten a lot of their other food.

 

 

What Is It

This is something unknown. It may be a canker, it may be the remains of some animal killed by the hawks. I made the photo as close-up as I could, and I can’t tell.

 

Tree Surfing Squirrel

Here’s a picture from earlier in the year. A while back, 2012, there was a huge storm in Ohio called a derecho, and when I was driving home from work that day, I was stuck in traffic at an intersection, a few blocks from my street. A whirlwind came up right by the roadside. (I was thinking, “Let’s not have a tornado now, I’m almost home.”) Out my backdoor, while the sky was not quite dark as night, but dark, I saw squirrels on the side of the oak “tree-surfing”. At that time, I didn’t get a picture of this behavior, but last summer, during a heavy thunderstorm, I did.

 

Picture 014

This picture is even older, showing the house (on the right, with chimney) I lived in in Chauncey, Ohio. The little dog was my smart border collie mix, and her name was O’Keefe.

 

 

 

Harness Cat and Owl Pellets

Ed in His Harness

Ed cat gets his daily walk, which amounts mostly to him sitting on the back stoop and sniffing the air, listening to the birds and squirrels. The daily routine is to take him out and afterwards fill the feeder, so when Ed appears, a lot of activity starts up among the birds, giving him a good show. 

 

Owl Pellets

This is the ground feeder. Birds, chipmunks and squirrels too, like feeders that are placed to give them shelter, and many, cardinals and sparrows among them, have a strong preference for feeding on the ground. What the owls catch at night, I don’t know. Only some mice and flying squirrels are nocturnal among small rodent prey that I know of, but some days I find numbers of owl pellets like these. 

 

Shannon Ave 1968 Athens Oh flood

In 1968 the Hocking River flooded in the city of Athens, Ohio. This is my mother paddling at the back of the canoe, me, my brother Tim, and my sister Tracy with the other paddle. We are not far outside our front door, a bit of one of two blue spruce trees that marked our house can be seen at the left.

 

The House I Grew Up In on Shannon Ave Athens Oh

This is the house I grew up in on South Shannon Avenue. In later years, when decks got to be fashionable, my Dad put one on the back, so there was a little more character. The house was pretty much just a box all round. By the way, this is an ordinary photo taken in the 70s, that as you can see has faded this badly. So, remember, if you have a box of old pictures, you should digitalize them as soon as possible.

 

 

 

More Family Pics

School Play (2)

This is a high school play that my father (Ted Foster) acted in in the 1950s. He is in the dark suit, standing at the right. I don’t know what play…one with a body (or a zombie) behind the sofa.

 

Gymnast

This is my father (second from left, from row) with the gymnastic team. I don’t know if this is high school or college. 1950s.

 

Second Grade

This is me, in a school picture that might be second grade. 1960s.

 

Accidents

And finally, here’s a clipping from the Columbus, Ohio Citizen-Journal of 1983, that I’ve kept around for a long time, just because it’s still funny.

 

 

 

What Is a Habitat?

Some observations on householder-sized efforts against the climate crisis.

 

Photo of yard with various plants sprouting

Above, a natural patch of lawn, lightly raked, at the base of one of my ninety-or-so-year-old oak trees. Everything not lawn grass that grows here is by definition a habitat plant, as they were all delivered by birds and other animals. Under the deer droppings near the center can be seen a small juniper bush; the bright red leaves are callery pear and barberry. My yard also gets mulberry, privet, American Holly, English Ivy, Amur Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, millet grass, and quite a bit more. Some of these are listed as invasive plants, but obviously wherever they came from they were playing a role to support wildlife.

This is a current question in the natural sciences, whether the decline of species, birds notably, will allow us to fuss like we once did, over the strict “nativeness” of a plant, when clearly the plant is an important food source for birds.

 

  Landscape disturbance and transformation, extinction, globalization, and climate change are proceeding at unprecedented rates and scales and have yet to climax. We argue that the Anthropocene will call for a conceptual overhaul of what it means for a species to “belong” to a given environment.

Frontiers in Earth Science “Rethinking ‘Native’ in the Anthropocene”, Avery P. Hill, Elizabeth A. Hadly

 

The article quoted above makes the point that wildlife and plantlife stresses are so accelerated these days, the questions of preservation may be basic. To identify a plant as non-native, and remove it from a wild site, in the assumption this makes room for “good” plants to take over, is to assume that food sources remain abundant and time itself remains abundant. It may be a more practical standard to say, if birds can survive eating the fruits of barberry and autumn olive, let them have barberry and autumn olive.

Fires have become severe, in the U.S. this year, in Australia, Russia, Greece, Brazil, France, Spain, and other nations; and while plants can recultivate burned lands quickly, animals can’t. We may have no choice but to appreciate nature’s strong competitors, even if humans consider these species the lowly and commonplace.

 

Troubled Azalea

This is the azalea bush in front of my house. It suffered a leaf-killing attack of thrips last summer, and as you can see, all its “evergreen” is brown and tissue-papery. At the base of each leaf cluster, new green ones are starting. The azalea will probably survive, but if it doesn’t, I’ll either let the weeping arborvitae take over the spot, or buy a new shrub that isn’t bothered by thrips. What I won’t do is put anything in the environment, even allegedly safe sprays, to kill the infestation. We can’t worry about perfect appearance in our gardens; we have so many plants to choose from, we can find the pretty thing that will thrive without chemical treatments at all.

(Marigolds, incidentally, will draw thrips…and look terrible themselves…but possibly save other of your garden specimens, if you’d like a wholly organic answer.)