Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monarch Bachelor(ette) Party

My last monarch caterpillar became a chrysalis two days ago. It hadn't eaten for several days so I was assuming it would die. Instead, it formed a smaller chrysalis. I wonder if it felt conflicted about this time of year, being by far the last one to turn, and a full two weeks after peak migration (though migration seems late or scattered this year).

Anyway, we celebrated what turned out to be its last night with suction feet by doing all the things I know a monarch caterpillar would want to do.

First, it limbered up by doing pilates on a stick:

Then it helped me write letters to congress about the need to preserve wild nature:

In an attempt to lighten the mood, we decided to make some prank phonecalls to editors, previous students, and Mel Gibson:

We made a delicious pizza of spinach, fetta, italian seasonings, and grape tomato:

Then the light burned out, so that had to get fixed--and it sorta killed the mojo:

Maybe not an ideal guy's / girl's / hermaphrodite's night out, but what's joie de vivre when you are often nothing more than an incubation chamber for tachnid flies? It's a monarch life out there, folks. "Spread" your "wings" and "nectar" on "asters" before you run out of quote marks and possible double entendres.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

America Needs You

Seems to me we don't, and will likely not soon have, a government that calls us out on what we've forgotten. Namely, that we are Americans, and that as Americans we inherently value, treasure, desire, and thrive on diversity, freedom of speech, and freedom of just about everything. We must still fight for them, unfortunately, or fortunately, even within our own government. Lose these above aspects, and we cease being America. Are we there yet? Getting closer by the day. So, I'm calling you out, and myself--be American before it's too late. (I still hate flagpoles in the garden landscape. That's your first test. Your second test is to vote for anyone who is not an incumbent in any election, even going so far as to choose a 3rd or 4th party candidate. Will we ever take back our country or just continue to be lazy slaves to our own indifference, ignorance, and short sightedness? Amen.) I'm gonna go plant some asclepias now and smell the Salvia azurea 'Nekan' before it stops blooming.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Monartail, Swallarch -- What the Hell Is It?

The Scott's Lawn Care logo is going around like a bad cold, and part of the image is a morphed / fused / hybrid of a monarch and swallowtail.

At least it's a female. Or is that not a good thing? Some are pointing out this may be an actual butterfly mutated as a result of overexposure to a certain company's lawn chemicals.

I can't wait until I go out to dinner and have a steakalad. What if we raised tomacco like on The Simpsons? The world is a wondrous place when you add radiation and chemicals to it. What other wonderful hybrids can you think of? (Keep in mind we already do this with plants--and even food animals--so is the next step inevitable?) Attached with graphics gets bonus points.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cynicism, Pragmatism, Asterism, Writingism

"People just have no clue about their genuine nature. I have countless friends who describe themselves as 'cynical,' and they're all wrong. True cynics would never classify themselves as such, because it would mean that they know their view of the world is unjustly negative; despite their best efforts at being grumpy, a self-described cynic is secretly optimistic about normal human nature. Individuals who are truly cynical will always insist they're pragmatic. The same goes for anyone who claims to be 'creative.' If you define your personality as creative, it only means you understand what is perceived to be creative by the world at large, so you're really just following a rote creative template. That's the opposite of creativity. Everybody is wrong about everything, just about all the time."

-- Chuck Klosterman

I am not creative. I am, however, cyncial, or pragmatic. I don't know. Depends on the day. Where does misanthrope fit in between the two? I am genuinely disgusted with humanity, but I also have great hope about our basic natures and potential.

As I watch the garden turn colors, even without the help of cold weather, and as a few asters slip open suddenly like the first blasts of popcorn in the pan, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and discovery, disillusion and joy. And I feel constipated writerly as the world presses in on me like a foot on my chest, and the only way out from the speed of all this impending decay is to create at a similar rate of speed. Some people call this being prolific and stand in awe, but it may simply be frustration, loneliness, or rage (against the machine?) which leads to burnout and pragmatic cynicism. Everything is passing by faster and faster. The tilt-a-whirl is revving up. I think I may soon have no choice but to vomit all over the page if I wish to keep some drop of sanity in my soul.

In other words, though I have many ideas on editing, I am close to saying goodbye for now to my memoir Morning Glory and, if / when time ever allows (or I darn well make it allow), I will soon throw myself into the Great Plains memoir. Too many rejections. Too much not happening. Wrong climate, I don't know. MG isn't clicking with anyone. It's either too memoiry or not enough. This isn't feeling sorry for myself. It's a damn good chuck of words. Denial and anger take many forms, and the best writers turn it into more writing. But the vast majority get caught up in something, anything, that they can do marginally well just to feel good about their existence for a time--manage a Burger King, edit copy, kill squirrels, go to grad school and write unintelligible academic essays via inflated / borrowed ideas from some big name theorist and pass the synthesis off as their own brilliant new scholarship. Or they raise monarch butterflies.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nothing But Time

I've been watching TV for 3 days and am bored with it, but so dizzy I can't grade papers. So I'm hear, sharing my head cold with you. Isn't it amazing how, when you're sick, you feel like you were the first time you remember being sick in this way?

I remember a Christmas when I was so snotty I watched TV in my room as others ate and opened presents. I recall a spring around Easter when I was maybe 6 or 7 living in Oklahoma. I remember a park. Sunlight like dark chocolate around marshmallow. The warm air full of pollen. Green grass. Dandelions on my tongue.

I feel like whatever I am imagining that, if I stretch my hand out, the scene or the object will appear in front of me and I'll be magically transported back to that place and time. Such is the pain and miracle of sickness.

I forced myself to the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum annual fall plant sale yesterday morning in the chill (today it is 55 and misting, tomorrow it will be 90 and sunny with a 40mph south wind). I bought some asclepias speciosa and purpurascens, some liatris scariosa 'alba' (the purple version is STILL blooming praise be).

Do you stand out in the garden this time of year and think, man, I could put x plant right there and it'll look fantastic next year? Then, do you go buy x plant, stand out in the garden, and try to figure out where the heck it can go? Everything is still thick enough to guide you in placement, to see what can be wedged in where (unlike that infernal spring blankness), but still, the container hangs between the pinch of your thumb on the inside lip of the black plastic, and your pointer finger on the outside. And it hurts. You fingers hurt, you eyes hurt, the impatience is joy and interminable sorrow. Help me.

I've been replaying 80s songs in my head, because I was living in Oklahoma when I first remember being sick like this. The Police. The Cars. Men at Work. Belinda Carlisle. Golden Earring. Lyrics flood my mind in a jumbled haze like the bees, butterflies, soldier beetles, wasps, and flies flood the garden on a calm and sunny autumn day only weeks before the first frosts. There is panic and desire in the garden this time of year. Frustration and antsy fear.

I am wasting my life trying to heal myself, this earth, and I am doing exactly what I need to do, to be--sitting still, restarting, rebooting, making a list, pulling myself back like an arrow or a slingshot until the moment when I can let loose and make those edits to the memoir, read those books, send out those submissions, plant those asclepias and liatris, embrace the memory I am making and will return to decades from now. When the bullet hits the bone....

Yeah there's a storm on the loose
Sirens in my head
Wrapped up in silence all circuits are dead
Cannot decode my whole life spins into a frenzy

Help, I'm stepping into the twilight zone
Place is a madhouse feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved under moon and star
Where am I to go now that I've gone too far?

(If you can sing those lyrics with the tune in your head, we are kindred souls--now FedEx me some Dayquil, or watch the video here)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Burn the Flag Poles, Not the Flag

My post on flag poles over at Garden Rant sure infuriated some folks. Here's the link.

Let me make it brutally clear that I was not attacking the American flag--I didn't even say I was. I was not attacking the memory of anyone's father, or anyone's service in the military. I don't know any of those who commented saying I was doing that, so how could I attack them? I honor the military men and women, the firefighters, the national guard, no matter what conflict our nation sends them to.

Today is the anniversary of 9/11, but it is not the anniversary of a religion or a culture attacking another. The overly-covered media orgy of that small-town pastor in Florida set to burn another religion's holiest book is a sensationlistic dumbing down of our greatest fears and the ignorance of too many people. Islam did not attack this country, radicals who have a twisted sense of Islam did. That's how the crusades started, that's how much of our country was founded and where much of western history comes from--rich white "Christian" guys (straight or gay) trying to preserve personal gain at the expense of other races, women, and cultures. They twisted religion, too.

Someone pointed out that American flags are mostly made overseas. Irony? Justice?
It's important to remember what the American flag stands for, if we are to make this an argument about the flag vs. about the landscaping (I was making the latter for pete's sake). America is a special place to live in, unique in the history of the world, and thank whatever god you believe in (we can still do so) that our best moments come from periods of polarization and freedom of speech.
At the same time, this country was founded on mass genocide--human and ecological, which continues to this second. This is not unique to our species across the planet, but the ability to reverse these effects politically, spiritually, fairly, and without bloodshed is firmly within this unique country's grasp. We occupy an incredible moment in history with great responsibility put upon our blip of a nation, and are wasting it glorifying ourselves through Wal Mart or turning our backs on even our own families and environments, let alone those across the world. (And how quickly we've forgotten the Gulf oil spill, where a layer of oil has been discovered on the sea floor, not dispersed by chemicals whose effects we also don't know. This spill is the environment's 9/11, and in turn will eventually be another one for us.)
I apologize for having an opinion in my Garden Rant post, and trying to do so somewhat sarcastically or light-heartedly. Humor doesn't travel well in writing most of the time. I apologize for exercising my American rights that several of those who commented on the post are wishing I didn't have. C'est la vie, but at least it's a life we have and can give to others when our federal government doesn't think about its own preservation (unlikely to happen), but the preservation of the human spirit and a nation's collective will or hope for a better life.
Let's see some plantings in neighborhoods that go beyond a few basic orange daylilies and river rock piled against the base of a flag pole. Let's see restoration of native species we plowed up and now call weeds. Let's restore the native ecosystems as best we can in the islands of our yards--it's the very, very least we can do. If that means a flag pole in a praire yard then by god let's do it! I'll raise whatever flag you have myself!
But we should have more than just lawn going up to our walls, as is the case in most homes in my neighborhood, or foreign species of blah plants like boxwood or barberry that have no ecological benefit at all. If we can't help each other, let's at least help the planet--yet the two are directly connected, the health of the planet is the mental and spiritual health of our own species. Just ask Michael Pollan, Rachel Carson, Richard Louv, Doug Tallamy, Terry Tempest Williams, or Wendell Berry. When I see bees pollinating flags, or flickers nesting on flag poles, I will take it all back.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monarchs in the Act, Mantis Dinner, A Sage Hummer

The Deep Middle has eclipsed 100 monarch chrysalides this summer, and eggs are sporadic outside (peak migration in SE Nebraska is 9/8-9/20). Inside, several dozen larvae await their chance to turn the color of baby boogers, while 31 freshly hatched cats are alive and well--the last of the broods. This week also marks the first time a monarch died in the chrysalis after turning black, and the first time a monarch couldn't get her head off of a torn piece of chrysalis for hours. This female ended up not fully inflating two of her wings (and so is doomed), but I released her anyway, and within hours this tattered fellow had her in his clutches:

She's hanging on by an abdomen 

Tis better to be in the grasp of love than the grasp of a mantis, though:

Headless silver-spotted skipper

For a week I have timed the on again off again appearance of a hummingbird. Precisely 1 hour before sunset he comes, beaming in and out like some Star Trek tease, and I finally got some photos. Thus, as eco theorists might say, I now own the hummingbird and have made it an object, a possession, and so devalue it. At least I don't mount them above my fireplace (wouldn't that be a little bit cool, though?).

Hummer on 'Nekan' sage

Sage 'Nekan' on hummer

Mr. Hummer had interesting flower choices: pink althea on a standard, purple morning glory, white boltonia, and blue sage. Quite the hodgepodge. Maybe the red sunflower was at least a lighthouse of sorts calling out to him?

Finally blooming after bouts with black stem weevils

The caryopteris is also blooming. I'm sure it isn't blooming anywhere else, and so this image will astound and delight you. I like to click on and expand it, to see the bee and the stamens tickling the air:

Is my negative space working for you?

The grasses are looking good. And since this once was a tallgrass prairie, I have some... that go on to flop all over the place with lack of neighborhood support (you should see my big "30 leg octopus" bluestem). But the heads are fascinating, as on this indian grass:

Better negative space in this photo?

And finally the arbor, adorned in 50% less clematis virginiana than last year (why?), but harboring blue lobelia and pink turtlehead at its base:

Trees in back are nice borrowed scenery

The school year is on to week 3, so I start grading in force. Submissions of the garden memoir to agents and presses masochistically continue, quasi positive rejections keep coming from them and journals that have seen shorter bits, and I'm taking baby steps jumpstarting research for my Great Plains historical memoir opus. Oh, and the full-length poetry collection is a finalist for a book contest, in the judge's hands as we speak. Amidst this all is my 9 month thinking-ahead panic of June's garden tour, and some plants I really should get in the ground this fall--probably my favorite time of year to dig (it's yours too, right?).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Missing Some Sunflowers? Here's Why (SOB)

Last year I mysteriously lost dozens upon dozens of Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' blooms. I'd walk out there expecting the glory of yellow and see tons of dried up, flaccid, poop-brown blooms. And same thing this year. It's the black sunflower stem weevil, or black sunflower head clipping weevil. The weevil cuts sunflower heads off the stem a few inches below the bloom, and just as it's about to flower. The cut is so clean you'd swear some punk teenager walked by with a scissors or his green beret dad's machete.

On larger stems the cut is even crisper than this

Mr. Weevil (apion occidentale) isn't considered enough of a sunfower crop threat here in the Plains to treat by commercial growers, but for those of us with one perennial sunflower--and a few seed-planted yellow and chocolate annuals--it's like aramageddon.

About the size of a pea

I've finally caught 3 weevils, all in the morning, sitting snuggly in the limp and freshly cut bloom--until I smoosh them good with mulch. Adults overwinter in stems and leaf litter, emerge in late spring, and eventually migrate to lovely gardens like mine. These adults lay eggs, and then a fresh batch of adults come out in August, just in time for the helianthus blooms.

Why do they cut the stems? To lay eggs in the bloom which falls on the ground. And to make me cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle (that, folks, was Shakespeare and G.I. Joe working in elegant tandem).