Monday, June 28, 2010

Video--Monarch Caterpillar Into Chrysalis

Here's monarch number 2 turning into a chrysalis. A bit grainy, but fascinating every time. Hopefully, black swallowtails are next.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Memoir -- With Insects, Flowers, and Eggs

In the soil is life. In the soil there is who we will be and who we have been. In the soil there is joy and happiness, quite literally. Researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered a beneficial bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, that may increase levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is linked to easing depression, and in lab tests with mice the researchers discovered that neurons in their brains were activated by the soil bacteria and produced serotonin. If touching the dirt can be so beneficial, why scold our kids when they do so? Why wear gloves in the garden?

Monarch on milkweed -- Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet'

Beautiful dragonfly when clicked on and enlarged

Through our hands we repair the disconnect of ourselves and a larger creation. When you look at the stars it is only natural to begin tracing figures, to connect the dots with your finger—to make an image that coheres logically and inscribes our interpretation and our imagination in a place. Gardening is a lot like this. But to imagine that the world we live in has an elegant coherence on multiple levels, that one can trace the past and future, seems like a hubristic idea. But it isn’t. Everything has its logical place, extended from the smallest perception to the largest.

Look what's getting nectar

I heard a voracious buzzing, turned, and saw this coreopsis bloom going crazy--turns out a yellow spider (see it?) just caught a fly

Nature is not massively chaotic, is not disorganized, though we might like to think it is some wilderness that tests our very existence. Since 1975, when BenoĆ®t Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal,” mathematicians and scientists, and now ecologists, have begun to understand how the world is a uniform place. A fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole.” What is a fractal? Snowflakes. Paisley shirts. Coastlines. Mountains. Clouds. Trees. Ferns. Broccoli. Coneflowers.

Pale Purple Coneflower--Echinacea pallida

E. purpurea 'White Swan'

Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherry Brandy'

Scientists and mathematicians can use the principles of a fractal to project the future development of an organism. By taking the smallest organized component of a forest and studying its architecture—for example, a tree—we can predict the growth of the larger forest and figure its carbon sequestration and oxygen output. Heartbeats can be mapped as fractals, and therein lays the potential to identify impending heart attacks, while predicting blood vessel formations that sometimes lead to cancer cells may help to stop that disease from even occurring. Larger animals and plants use energy more efficiently than smaller ones, and that’s because in their genetic code the formation of cells, nerves, and veins is a fractal sequence.

Brown thrasher eggs


Long-headed coneflower -- Ratibida columnifera

In understanding the architecture of the planet, we understand the architecture of ourselves: psychologically, physically, historically, and emotionally. We are walking fractals, linked and hardwired just as the forests and perennials, elephants and birds, mountains and snowflakes.

'Netty's Pride' asiatic lily (and my entry into Gardening Gone Wild's photo contest). Click on the pic above to see how the petals almost look like a painting's canvas, raised texture and all. Who needs real paint?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

As The Memoir Turns

On February 1, 2009, I completed my second dissertation, a 240 page memoir. I graduated in May 2009 with a PhD. I thought the book was pretty good. I was happy with it anyway.

I sat on it for a year, tweaking commas and line lengths. A waste of time. In March of 2010 I sent query letters to agents and a few editors. The editors gave me form rejections, and half of the 25 agents or so asked to see more. A few asked to see the whole book, maybe 5. One talked to me on the phone and pointed me where I really believe I needed to go but was just obstinate, or too stupid, to do so.

The last month I've confronted my academic upbringing and said no, no more. All throughout grad school I avoided literary theory and high-horse-ivory-tower-soap-box preaching. But this month I noticed it was all over in my book, a manuscript that tries to hybridize landscape theory and philosophy with narrative and lyric memoir. And then some cultural history. And some poetry. I was showing my work too much and thumping my chest in the process. Bad writer.

If you're still reading, here's the issue--I was doing what I tell my students not to do--compartmentalize research and memoir. What was I thinking? No wonder the book never flowed well, never really upped the ante with metaphor, really hybridized.

So I've been integrating the researchy sections with the memoiry sections, splitting up long academicy essays while making them readable and digestable, i.e. cutting like mad. And you know what happened? I got excited again. Really excited. What had been a book of metaphor became one of rich metaphor. What became a book of distilled story lines became a double or triple helix of deeper story.

And most importantly spreading out the research, the essay essay stuff, has helped open a new avenue or dimension in the final movement of the book--the book goes a bit further now. So, any students past or future stumbling their way here, as I told you, as I must continually rediscover for myself, research opens up new avenues of exploration and narrative while making the form of creative nonfiction do more metaphorical work. Not a bad thing. Still, my book is what the business calls "quiet," but it's what I call elegantly understated, and, well, literary. No sensationalism, just honest to god struggling and reflection--I'd like to think it reads how we feel, not how we feel while watching a tightly choreographed two hour movie.

Why didn't I see this earlier? Because the first book is always the hardest? Does it get easier? If my years of poetry writing tell me, yes and no. Your instincts get sharper from editing practice so you trust youself more, but the editing is still rightfully hard.

I've gone on, but I wanted to document this process in some way on my hybrid blog. Victory is mine. For a moment.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Garden Almost 3 Years Old

Back to the garden. Ain't it pretty? No more oil ranting for a while. We had 3.5" of rain overnight a few days ago, and not only are the plants going crazy, so are the biting birds which get stuck in my pant legs and puncture me dozens of times. And don't you hate it when you come inside, and an hour later you feel your hair moving, and you reach up and find a caterpillar? Happens to me all the time. Terrifying.

At the entrance with some spiraea, big bluestem, dogwood, ninebark, and smokebush.

Looking back toward entrance with queen of the prairie in the foreground, and along the fence a cut back weeping bald cypress that died 75% after breaking bud, but I think I saved it (cut back to live wood, and now it has new limbs coming out. Whatever, you know?).

View from under the arbor. That little hose post extender dealy on the right is awesome. I don't have to weave hose out from the house and behind shrubs thus breaking said shrubs (still have to get back there and turn on the water though).

Amsonia hubrichtii and black lace elderberry up front.

Lots of stuff just a week or two from bloom. Already the garden is flushing with white, yellow, orange, purple, red, blue... and green. I almost find all the flowers a bit gaudy, but the insects seem to like them. The foliage and plant shapes are more calming and interesting to me.

I should not have planted so much iris. It spreads fast. I'd rather have other things. Copper iris does seem to spread slower (and siberian, sorta), so maybe more of those, and less louisiana. Anyone want some iris divisions later this summer?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Burn Off the Oil? Are we INSANE?

Well, the thought that no matter what, all that gulf oil was going to pollute the environment anyway by ending up in the atmosphere seems even more true today. BP has been given the go ahead by the U.S. government to burn off the oil it's capturing so it can create more room in its storage tankers to capture even more oil.

Clearly, the biggest goal here is to have less oil in the gulf, not to stop polluting the planet in general. Why not send more tankers to the gulf? Or have the BP prez drink some of it (or better, every Washington politician and oil lobbyist)? Three cheers for the continued near-sightedness and complete failure of our government! Hip hip....

And if my recent rantings annoy you, just look away--it's the action du jour.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Screw the Lawnmowers!

I admit I may be just a bit of a misanthrope (mild understatement), but when I go out to the garden on a nice cool evening after dinner--on a day when I sure as hell needed a nice cool evening in the sanctifying garden--I don't like feeling nautious. Literally as soon as I go outside the neighbors start up their mower, and being downwind, I get all the stink, all the cancer, all the vomit, and all the noise.

My insanity grows with every wall vibration in my office as I try to write / focus all afternoon. It grows as nearby mowers thunder in the distance during dinner. And it absolutely explodes when I try to get some measure of peace and emotional venting done outside where I feel the most able to do so. Screw you, lawnmower, and the jerkface who invented you:

Screw you James Sumner of England (they're all from England), who used kerosene as a fuel to invent the first steam-powered mower.

Screw you Thomas Greene, for inventing the first chain-driven reel mower.

And screw you Edwin Budding for, in 1823, starting the whole damn thing. Give me grazing animals (or a prairie), or give me a missile launcher!

(And screw the infernal angry-mutated-wasp-sounding weedeater that follows the mowing, and the buzzing vortex of carbon-spewing suicide that is the leaf blower which finishes the trifecta of agony hours later.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blogger Made Me Do It

Please excuse the current template state of affairs. Blogger did not warn me that while experimenting with new designs, one has to copy and save one's html code in order to revert back to the original blog template. Therefore, The Deep Middle will be in template flux for a while having lost its blogger virginity.

In the meantime, please go buy some milkweed for monarch butterflies.


Happiness Without Sorrow Is Not True Happiness (Just Like Spring W/O Winter Ain't A Real Spring)

"To discover what we know and feel is not as easy as it sounds, because a great deal of effort in contemporary society is devoted to keeping us from being honest…. It is not in the self-perceived interests of the state, the multinational corporations, or the media that serve them both, that we should stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are…. None of us, in our hearts, is free of sorrow for the suffering of other beings. None of us is indifferent to the dangers that threaten our planet’s people, or free of fear for the generations to come. Yet when we are enjoined to ‘keep smiling,’ ‘be sociable,’ and ‘keep a stiff upper lip,’ it is not easy to give credence to this anguish…. The refusal to acknowledge or experience these responses produces a profound and dangerous splitting. It divorces our mental calculations from our intuitive, emotional, and biological imbeddedness in the matrix of life. That split allows us passively to acquiesce in the preparations for our own demise."

-- Joanna Macy

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Want to Love All of Us--So Make Me

After my "I Hate All of Us" post I want to know what your garden, your neck of the woods, will be doing differently after seeing images of the spill in the Gulf. If you want to be inspired, here's the original post. And if you want to see what all our plastic does to birds, see the pics of birds at this post.

So, lay it on me and all of us, you who have stumbled to this blog like an oil-caked brown pelican--from now on known as a super brown glossy sheen pelican with cancer.

-- What have you thought about doing differently in you garden to encourage wildlife since the spill?
-- What actions are you taking inside or outside the house related to the garden, and beyond the garden to the much larger one we all share?
-- Anyone going in debt to install solar panels? Wind turbines?
-- Any local town or city things going on in response to the oil?
-- Any talk of, oh, gee, maybe looking at natural gas at least, if not wind or solar, or at least not shipping our oil to other countries and than importing oil from still other countries?

And as for birds stuffed to death with plastic debris in the ocean, maybe we should stop shipping our trash to Asia, where, surely, it blows off of those ships on its long journey to countries whose environmental laws allow dumping computer parts along the creek's edge where the local village gets paid pennies to sort out the recyclable components (China, talking to you). The U.S. needs to set an environmental example now (and this does not include Obama mentioning "ass kicking" when referring to the oil spill, not enough), and create economic pressure as a result on other nations that are becoming industrialized--other nations that will pollute a heckuva lot more than we ever have.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dining On Plastic--Albatross Chicks on Midway Atoll

Below are just a few images depicting the Pacific Ocean garbage patch, roughly twice the size of Texas, where plastic and other debris is floating stagnately, sandwiched between currents.

From the photographer, Chris Jordan:

"The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean and collect what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking."

Bottle caps. Bottle caps. Bottle caps.

How many recognizable objects can you pick out? More photos at Ecotone.

And that's just what we see on one small spit of land, much like how little we will see in the Gulf, and how little we see in our own backyards.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Hate All of Us

Imagine the below images as a human baby or young child instead of wildlife. Would we do anything then? We don't deserve what we have, and we don't deserve this planet.

Let's clean the animals and send them back out to their deaths. What's the point? This is world war three, we just don't know it yet. I apologize (somewhat), but I'm just not feeling very kindly toward myself or any of us today.

What's the point in planting flowers? Writing this down here? Having this blog? What's the point of my incredible anguish and hurt and pain and sheer murderous rage toward our energy policies? I was going to post pics of iris blooms and dragonflies, but like 19th century aristocracy, the perfume won't cover up the stench.

You, too, can get that healthy bronzed look at the beach.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Robert Bly Rocks Me

Been editing the memoir, and still love coming across this quote which begins part 2 of the book:

"There is an old occult saying: whoever wants to see the invisible has to penetrate more deeply into the visible. All through Taoist thought, there is the idea that our disasters come from letting nothing live for itself, from the longing we have to pull everything, even friends, in to ourselves and let nothing alone. If we examine a pine carefully, we see how independent it is of us. When we first sense that a pine tree really doesn’t need us, that it has a physical life and a moral life and a spiritual life that is complete without us, we feel alienated and depressed. The second time we feel it, we feel joyful."

— Robert Bly, The Morning Glory