Monday, December 31, 2007

Year in Pics (A Year Being Since August)

I've taken some pictures I like since moving in to the new home and beginning the garden. I don't have many of my own plant pics because my plants are babies, so some are of other gardens / places, but the insects are all mine. So, continuing the tradition of other blogs doing year-in-review posts, I give you five months.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tis The Season

Our trip to MN started out with a 24 hour flight delay, which meant we arrived only a few hours before the Christmas Eve celebration (something like 2 dozen different desserts, mostly cookies handmade by mom, several side dishes including that wonderful Byerly's fruit dip, and many main courses like buttery beef tenderloin, ham, chicken, richly decadent seafood crepes....).

With my wife's lingering illness, her exhaustion from writing 3, 25pp papers and grading something like 40 portfolios, plus the stupid mini blizzard in MN that grounded us in NE, we were a bit unlively, though. Our 2 day visit was a short one, but I'm thankful to have seen my family and grandmother (and thankful for the ipod nano and gps navigator, viva la Christmas). Now we have a week to clean house / rest up before we veg to the max in Mexico.

We did get a nice 2" snowfall that began Christmas morning as we opened gifts, which then lasted into the afternoon. This was the first time I truly realized how the northern landscape is so robust with evergreens--the 6-10" of snow helped highlight them, but they were all so gorgeous, lush, green (in NE it's brown cedars galore), and lent the entire trip with a feeling of being in a truly north country Christmas, which I suppose I was in since my folks now live in the boonies. So, pics of my parent's landscape ensue, with some questions for you other gardeners, and only one shot of a live human being and her new friend.

I enjoyed the late afternoon sun after the Christmas snow, which cast a shadow perpendicular to the fence. It looked better in person.

And below is a nice ensemble of three plants in my mom's garden, followed by a green shrub I'd love to know the name of.

Sasha and my wife.

And below, when we got back to NE, all was covered in round 2 of frog. It was gorgeous to see as our plane sliced through low cloud cover and fog while landing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Carol Bly, Minnesota's Lioness of Letters, Dies

A somewhat somber post, my last for about a week. I had the pleasure, and I have to say honor, to meet and talk with Carol a few years back. I was a volunteer for the annual Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, a great chance for a nobody like me to schmooze with well respected national authors and editors as they conduct workshops for a week.

I volunteered to drive her to a soiree in Omaha, there and back one evening. All I knew was she was once married to Robert Bly, and that she had known many poets I consider influences--Donald Hall, James Wright, Bly. I knew little about her, which is sad, but I know much more now. She was terribly sharp, terribly opinionated, terribly funny. When I picked her up at the hotel and saw her walking a bit slow and hunched in her mid 70s, I thought for sure it would be the longest night of my life. Oh, but what a delight she was for that 60 minute drive to Omaha! Inquisitive and interested in me, which was gracious of her, but boy, what a whipper snapper she was! Intimidating with her literary knowledge and passion for social issues, but kind and sensitive to how she elevated you to her "level." I'm sure she was an incredible teacher.

I'm always intimidated by authority figures, even people who are as friendly as can be. It was a joy to have spent just those two short hours with Carol in my car. I didn't even scratch the surface of who she was and how she lived, who she knew, what she knew, what she'd done. I remember her reading--which all the visiting writers gave--where she read a short story without hardly ever looking at the page. Apparently, every time she "reads," the story is a little bit different, comes out in a slightly new way. That was amazing; it brought back the fire and oral power of storytelling we lack anymore, it involved us, made us a part of life, of her.

Though I'm a nobody (Carol would disagree no matter who you are), I know others will feel a much larger loss, and I think for good reason; I can only guess, but it's a pretty darned good educated guess.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Plants I Got My Eye On (But Just the One)

For reasons of winter interest, to increase wildlife, to increase diversity, or for pure physical pleasure—and in anticipation of Christmas and the new year and garden catalogs—here’s my list (just tossed up un-pretty, probably msilpled):

Winterberry of some kind
Oak Leaf Hydrangea (they like it dry and shady?)
My Winturthur Viburnum needs a mate
Harlequin honeysuckle
Sutherland gold elder
White gold spiraea
Weigela shining fantasy
False cypress wissel’s saguaro
Pagoda dogwood golden shadows (yeah right)
Japanese cedar
Dawn redwood gold rush
Fringed gentian
A salvia of some sort
emerald and gold euonymus
More mellow yellow spiraea (I think)
Festuca ‘Eligah’s Blues’
Sea holly
Globe thistle
Rattlesanke master
Corkscrew rush (I know)
Landini lily
Witch hazel diane
Wild white indigo
Camassia leichtlinii ‘blue danube’
Anything that puts nitrogen into my soil (more prairie plants)
An evergreen that likes it shady and windy in the winter (north side of house) and can do clay on a light slope

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Winged Migration

I'm a bird. I will keep writing about geese as long as they fly low over my house calling me to the window to go with them, to peck at the corn fields or swim in our polluted Salt Creek or brave the snow storm just to get somewhere, soon. I do not understand why there are so many geese here this time of year, and all flying east to west or west to east, but they provide me real live action on the order I've only experienced in...

...the film Winged Migration. Amazing, AMAZING close ups of birds all over the world, well, migrating. Stunning. STUNNING (does repetition help you get the picture?). I'm sure they use plenty of zoom lenses, but it's said nothing at all was doctored, which is incredible when you are essentially flying in formation with these birds, hearing their wings, traveling thousands of miles to get somewhere as soon as possible. It's a real hunger we can only aspire to, even though theirs is a physical necessity; it's something humans identify with as we stubbornly stay put, but yearn to be moved and move toward some deeper spiritual and emotional balance in order to correct our physical inbalance.

Surprisingly, and thankfully, there isn't much of an overt message here--i.e. stop destroying the earth, think of yourself as smaller, as connected. It just happens through the art, through simplicity. You see one bird get stuck in sludge in some industrial area near water, another get caught in that pop can plastic ring stuff, but that's about it. The ultra close shots make you FEEL a part of something larger and essential (and surprising that in some way, it seems the film is saying, the birds let or invited such closeness, but I could be projecting here), which is my big gripe with environmental movements and literature and eco conscious whatever: we don't FEEL it, we get beat in the head, force fed stats and stories that act to distance us, obviously not the intent. I'm still pissed at Al Gore's powerpoint and the hollywood political bandwagon that ensued. I could digress, but I won't.

Go see this impacting piece of real environmental art if you haven't.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


"Solo, the one-eared black bear, is denned up for the winter with two cubs under a lake cabin near Ely, Minn., blissfully unaware she's hibernating on death row.

A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plan to kill Solo and relocate her cubs, because she's become too familiar with humans in Eagles Nest Township, is dividing residents, many of whom have put out food for Solo and like having her and other bears around.

While an estimated 25 bears live in the township, many residents readily recognize Solo because of her easily recognizable one ear. The other was ripped off when an adult bear attacked her as a cub, killing one of her siblings, said Township Board Chairman Dan Humay."

Well, ok, I see why it's bad to have such animals get too cozy with humans. But I think it's important to keep in mind we're not only in their world as we suburbanize and cabin-ize, but that we share this world. Certain native cultures might say we're on equal or even lesser footing. I'm too romantic--obviously tigers and pumas do not make good pets, but we're not talking pets here. I'm conflicted.

So to calm myself down I went outside before the snow started melting too much and made this (you can see some friends came over to help):

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow Globe Fogging Up? Sucks For You

Looking at my site stats lots of people keep linking here because, apparently, their inflatable outdoor snow globes are fogging up. Must be because of my posts on freezing fog and the 10 things I don't like that my neighbors do. Did I just give that away?

Dear Snow Globe Folks,
I'm terribly sorry to hear that your sin ugly wastes of money are fogging up. Now, passersby won't be able to witness truly enchanting scenes of the vanishing arctic and polar bears wrapping presents (wouldn't a carnivorous hunter with bloody seal bits stuck in its teeth be more natural?). And who will now see the sign pointing the way to the north pole? Tis very unfortunate. Let me offer a solution that works quite well: fully deflate the objet de crap, put it back in the box, return it to that demon place Wal Mart, and say you've come to your senses, you've seen the light, and it wasn't in this annoying buzzing / blowing contraption that drowned out the peace of a silent and tender snowfall on a wondrous winter's eve.

The Deep Middle (lover of a true and pure holiday season)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sparkle Sparkle

A year ago I'd just finished shopping for an engagement ring (for one 3 day weekend I devoted nearly 30 hours to doing so). Eventually, I discovered that the best place to buy a high quality certified diamond as advertised--no yanking your chain like at jewelry stores--was at Blue Nile. Or, I could've waited a year, saved tons of money, cracked off one of the below branches and said "here, love ya, you wanna keep this looking its shiniest keep the thermostat set at 20." Boy did I hate all those brand names for diamonds, too: hearts on fire? Ouch. That sounds so cliche I almost said to heck with it all.

Anyway, I digress. Expand the pics below. I can't tell you how much the landscape sparkled and danced in subtle movements of wind and myself, a full rainbow of fire. See how if you hold it up to the light the reflections bounce back? That's because it is colorless, a true D, and the cut and polish are ideal and allow light to refract back at perfect angles, thus symbolizing that your love's heart is also cut perfectly as if she had quadruple bypass surgery from Dr. Famous Pants....

Here, with the first glimmer of sun in days, the ice has slid right off the dried leaves of zebra grass.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ecology of the Garden

The folks at Garden Rant have a nice post today (and one a week or so ago), a q&a of Douglas Tallamy, who wrote the book Bringing Nature Home, which I need to go buy. We knew gardens were important, and we had an inkling that they were the last vestiges of native ecosystems, but who knew that suburban gardens might be one of the only things holding the American ecosystem loosely together?

--3-5% of habitat in U.S. is undisturbed, and scattered too widely to do much good for migratory creatures or to susutain large populations of plant / animal species.
--95% of native plant species could be extinct by end of century.
--Oak trees are hosts to 534 moth and butterfly species.
--Goldenrods, a plant I've been holding out on but won't any longer, supports 115 moth / butterfly species.
--Tallamy mentions a 10x10' urban garden that included three species of milkweed; this produced 250 monarchs in its first year. Well, milkweed it is! I'd planned on bringing some in this year, and since monarchs are dwindling fast due to loss of winter habitat in Mexico and elsewhere, I might as well try something. And:

"In my own yard I have one square foot of pussy toes, the host plant for the American lady butterfly. That foot of my yard produced at least three American ladies this summer. Of, course, the more habitat and food that is created, the better, so if people with tiny gardens can convert their neighbors with tiny gardens, the gardens are no longer as tiny and their effectiveness in supporting life will increase."

This idea of each home having a small garden is something I thought about all summer while digging. We value a "natural" landscape, we "escape" to them and call these places replenishing emotionally and psychologically, and yet our very homes--where we spend 99% of the year--are plastered in lawns with some juniper and barberries and a hosta or two. They are anti natural. If we all had a 10x10' garden and some shrubs and a shade tree or two, we'd live emotionally better AND be doing some ecological good. And less lawnmower exhaust would be nice. DOESN'T THIS SEEM SO DARNED OBVIOUS??? Of course it does--that's why you're reading this.

Tallamy also apparently discusses how peer pressure is building to have smaller lawns, just as we smoke less and drive smaller cars (I've yet to see the car thing gain steam--hey, why not have steam cars again?). Still, I'm not saying my peacock feathers are spread out right now, but I am saying it pleases me to be thinking about both myself--the sensorial pleasure of a garden, the view, the birds and rabbits and butterflies that come--and to be thinking about the planet that sustains me in every aspect.

For the last week or two many geese have been scraping by over the roof. Large staggered formations, then groups of two where one flies south, one north, harping back and forth, then the one finally succumbs and catches up to the other. I love the sound of their wings, their constant chatter, the anticipation of their approach as I hear them before I see them, the anti thunderstorm. I can't imagine losing such creatures because I know my life would be diminished--and not on the surface level of the day to day, but something less tangible and more essential to being human; I will have imperceptibly lost my own existence.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Solar Array--Hurray?

When I first read this headline I thought it was neat and I was proud of the motherland--then I saw it only powers 80 homes and a miniscule amount of hybrid cars. So what? Must we take not just baby steps, but mitochondria steps? Where's the leap? This is simply another case of an electric company attempting to placate environmental critics. Guess how many wind turbines Lincoln has? How many eyes do you have?

Minneapolis Gets Grant to Create Solar Energy

A $2 million grant will be given to the city of Minneapolis to build the largest urban solar array in the Midwest, the city announced today. The Xcel Energy grant will fund a 600-kilowatt array to be built on top of the city's Currie maintenance facility.

The array is made up of 3,000 panels and will generate enough electricity to power nearly 80 homes. The city said the electricity could allow it to expand its fleet of plug-in hybrid vehicles. Minneapolis currently has 28 hybrids, which could be converted to plug-ins. "We now have the opportunity to build what we expect to be the largest urban solar array in the city, state or Upper Midwest," Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a news release.

The grant needs approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in the spring. Minneapolis currently has three solar arrays operating at city facilities.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Frog or Icog?

It's cold here, about 14. And by the pics below you can see the "accumulation" of very light precip we've had the last two days. Is it frozen fog? Ice fog? Freezer burn?

"Suppose it is foggy outside and the temperature is 30 F. Fog tends to not produce measurable precipitation by itself but it can still wet and moisten objects. In the case of freezing fog, the fog cloud droplets are supercooled. When a droplet contacts an object below freezing it will turn to ice. When only freezing fog occurs, there will be just about as much freezing of the fog droplets onto surfaces as there will be sublimation from the surface, thus there is not much accumulation of ice. Often freezing fog will be accompanied with freezing drizzle. In that case, a film of ice will coat surfaces.

Ice fog is a fog composed of tiny ice crystals. In the ice fog situation the temperature is becoming too cold for only supercooled water to occur. Ice fog will only be witnessed in cold Arctic / Polar air. Generally the temperature will be 14 F or colder in order for ice fog to occur."

As for the pics, I like to scan the view in wide angle, then zoom halfway scanning the landscape. If I find some texture I like, I'll zoom in a bit more and tighten until I get the appropriate contrast or detail. That's how this amateur works. And yes, these are color images. Expand #2.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Submissions Since August

I'm trying a new tactic this year since I've had over a year dry spell--blanket coverage, ignore the rules. Not incuding a few contests (book and individual works):

56 total submissions to literary journals (poetry and nonfiction)
19 rejected, a few nice notes
37 still left floating about

I won't be sending out hardly any work next spring or summer as I concentrate on finishing a first draft of my memoir. Wouldn't it be hard to believe if I batted .000 with these numbers?

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Few Things My Neighbors Do Wrong

I know I'm not an authority, but I'm not in a good mood having spent 3 hours at the mall this afternoon looking for sandals while listening to 17 renditions of Jingle Bells. "Gee guy, it's not the best time of year to be looking for sandals." Thank you cap'n obvious.

I'd have pics of my landscaping critiques but it's winter, and I don't want people seeing me taking pics and being openly snooty. Not yet anyway.

1) Rocks as mulch. COME ON. When you enter our development several houses--as if a trend caught fire--have white rocks all around their foundation plantings. That's not all. The poor 10' street trees have a 2' diameter circle of death spread right up to their trunks.

2) I hate barberry. Anyone who uses it automatically gets me muttering under my breath. Especially when it is used as the ONLY foundation plant in a STRAIGHT line across the house. Ten hut!

3) Sod as landscaping. For santa's sake, at least go buy one crappy 4' sapling at Home depot and spend 30 minutes plunking it into the yard.

4) People who buy 4' saplings at Home Depot and plunk them in the yard all by their lonesome, then use white rock mulch.

5) Flagpoles. My lord. Gives a home that nice industrial campus feel. Or, that nice moon landing feel.

6) Orange mums en masse. Orange mums not en masse. Anything orange, including the mustang in the garage. If I want to see orange I'll vomit or dissect my gall bladder.

7) Rusting trucks out front on the street. I'm all for garden sculpture, but....

8) Speaking of which: gazing balls, statues of "fair" maidens holding water jugs with REAL flowers in them, plastic mailboxes, those mini metal flag holders where the flag is the size of a dish towel but has printed flowers on it (OR you COULD actually PLANT some flowers--you ain't foolin' no one no how).

9) River birch planted 3' from the corner of the house. You might as well have invited it inside for dinner.

10) Tis the holiday season, so those damned inflatable snow globe things the size of a mini cooper. There's one down the street that has a sign inside which reads "North Pole." I thought about making my own sign to plant in their yard at 3am that reads "Where Polar Bears Go To Die." Perhaps that's not the best sign, but instead of producing more oil-based crap and polluting the environment in the process, we could do something more constructive. Maybe.

I reserve the right to expand this list if I don't get enough sleep tonight. Cheers.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Our first "big" snow of 3.5 inches--that's the official total taken by my finger on the driveway as I cleared it off. My finger is also adept at planting seeds, pointing out what my suburban neighbors do WRONG in their landscapes, and grooming myself in the privacy of darkness.

Below you will find a newly discovered species of lawn art called humpbackii flamingois 'mohawk.' Then I enjoy what snow does--how it highlights the lines and shapes that one tends to overlook in the thrush of summer plants. I do enjoy winter, especially because I get to string up Christmas lights and illuminate the rabbit who has apparently been eating my two dianthus. Do they eat dianthus? Anyway, it's camped out under the deck and I suppose we'll be friends.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I lived here once. It was nice to have four seasons. To have access to water and vistas such open space provided. But in MN everyone must live on a lake, and around this particular lake houses became stacked up the hillsides by the time I and my family moved away. We want our views, we want to be a part of something connected, but we don't care to care for it. So we write memoirs and poems celeberating the memory--something that can be distilled and purified and philosophically rectified and reasoned through, or at least struggled with in a somewhat productive fashion.

The rock in the canoe was indeed my friend. He rowed when I got tired. We shared many fond times. Or, he was simply ballast, as most friends are. For all I know he was she, and this was my first girlfriend.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ice Ice Baby

1/4" of ice on everything. Watch yer step. Up in Minnesota the folks are getting 10" of snow, lucky dogs. Me? I get to pray that the 30mph wind gusts and rain this afternoon do not rip apart my fragile new trees and shrubs. I bet you've never ever seen ice on plants before.... I like to blow up the pictures and see the subtle texture. Like on the arbor you can see how the rain flowed and froze.

And on the maple tips the cracked joints with spring buds enclosed (hope cemented?).

And on the cypress the encased leaves.

The fall onion has blooms still holding on.

Little bluestem grass seems lovely, the orange with a dignified silver hue.

As did the crab tree trunk.

I also thought the neighbor's cedar field looked interesting.