Sunday, July 27, 2008

What's Bloomin' ?

What's prettier than a rose? Especially this one, an Abraham Lincoln? It's about as red as the brightest fire engine and it takes your breath away as you first spot the bud opening. This poor rose is resilient, too. We first planted it in our front flower bed and found we didn't want our roses spread around. So we moved all of them to a bed behind the garage. The AL rose may have been insulted for a few weeks, but it's come back as strong as ever.

Here's a better view of the entire bloom. I can't help myself with the close-up's, they're so detailed and pretty. But sometimes it is good to stand back and take in the whole picture. Our house and garage, too, are brick so a perfect backdrop is provided for this rose.

Then, too, without any particular name - other than I think it to be an heirloom variety - is this yellow rose. It doesn't have the depth of the AL rose nor the number of petals, but it is pretty in it's simplicity. Sometimes pedigree doesn't matter.

And this one (below) isn't a rose at all but shares in the blooming right now and in the same bed as the roses. It's a yarrow, known for the tea that you can brew from the leaves. I remember in the 1960's watching my mother sip the medicinal brew. She's in her 80's now, so maybe it does have a beneficial effect?

I might have missed these flowers altogether but for the mosquitoes. I had planned to walk to the woods through the edge of the meadow but found it overgrown and alive with biting, bloodsucking mosquitoes. I soon had enough of that and came back to the safety of the yard. Mosquito time and raspberry time coincide in this part of the country so I suppose we have a little good with the bad. These flowers strike me as only good.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Enjoying the local parks

Our nearby Farmersville - Jackson Twp. Joint Park is where we go most afternoons for a short walk. The land for the park was a gift from Winter Zero Swartsel who died in 1953. He owned what is commonly called "The Bottle Farm" where he placed empty bottles atop posts. These would swing in the wind and make an eerie spectacle.

The 24 acre plot is now enclosed in a 0.7 mile walking track (below) which is asphalt-paved and stained red. Inside the park - unusual, I think, for so small a community - are two swimming pools, a sand volleyball court, two baseball diamonds (three if you count an unimproved field) and the pond shown above. It's the perfect place for spending an afternoon in some outdoor recreational activity.

I love pines, of course, and there are plenty at the park, particularly old and stately white pines. Right now, the sticky cones are growing larger and hanging in profusion. If a cone happens to hang above the track, you'll find sprinkles of sap on the asphalt. Is there a softer pine than the white?

Along the western edge of the pond, the white pines stand thick (you can see them in the distance in the first photo) and the ground is carpeted with the soft needles. That's where we find mushrooms after many rains. But this is the time of the developing cone and they hang starkly against the blue sky on this hot summer afternoon.

Just north of us is New Lebanon's Stanley Jones Park and the Fred O. Jenkins Pond. Tame ducks - both the common white farm duck and the little-wilder mallards - walk up to you whenever you approach and hope for a handout. It makes photography easy, they are so sure you'll give them something.

Between the two parks - one three miles west, the other five miles north - we have ample outdoor facilities nearby.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July Sunflowers

If it is July at Pinehaven, and if it is close to my birthday, there are several events that should be taking places at the same time: there should be fireflies (there are very few this year); there should be tomatoes (only a few green ones); and there should be sunflowers in full bloom.
The sunflowers, at least, have come through.

Though this close-up of the head seems to be huge, these are actually a small, lemon yellow variety. We planted none this year. These are all volunteers from last year's crop, thanks to the messiness of the birds (try cracking, removing and eating a sunflower seed without using your hands and you'll pardon their mess). We love watching the large Russian sunflowers develop their huge flower heads but invariably they fall when the first storm passes through after the heads become heavy. They topple over, lifting roots from the muddy soil, and just lie there waiting to be carried to the compost pile. These, in contract, are light and dainty and have all the attributes of their larger brethren but for the risk. These will never topple.

This east-facing flower (above) has cranked its head around overnight in anticipation of the rising run. A shadow of its own leaf traces a dark path across the petals. In the evening, this flower will be facing roughly west, slowly demonstrating its heliotropic ability. Who says plants can't move on their own?

We'll let these stand in the garden throughout the season as feed for the birds. The seeds are too inexpensive, too easy to buy at the health food store, to be troubled with shelling them ourselves. I see the birds check them out long before they are mature. Then, one day, I'll notice missing kernels and see that the birds have watched the crop with more anticipation than I.

Some of the seed will again be dropped and next year's sunflowers will be planted - automatically. This line of flowers at the north edge of our garden is a pleasant sight to behold on a warm, sunny summer day like today.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happy Birthday (to me)

This is #59 so I have to ask myself, "Is this the end of middle age?" or does it extend through the 60's? I'm not sure but the gray hair sure proves I'm no longer a kid!
Anyway, we had lunch at the West Carrollton (Ohio) Pizza Hut in honor of the big day. A veggie pizza for the three of us (mushrooms and green olives on a medium pan pizza) and some soda. Here's a tip of the glass to you blog readers.

My father, Bill, is now 84 (just had his birthday last month), is facing cataract surgery this Thursday. Naturally he's a little apprehensive, even though the surgery is commonplace and fairly routine. When my grandmother (his mother) had the surgery in the 1970's, they didn't have implantable lenses so she went through the rest of her life with thick "Coke bottle" lenses. Then, too, she got an infection soon after surgery and never saw well again. These are the things that are in the back of Dad's mind right now.

My mother, Mary, is now 82 and as good as can be. She can keep up with the best of us. I walk each morning to Hemple Road, sort of a getting-woke-up routine, and she follows along each day. It's just 0.6 miles round trip but she follows up with another in the afternoon. I hope I'm still doing that in my 80's. Bet not!

Brother Bob probably won't want his age noted - so I won't - but let's just say he isn't that far behind me. If he doesn't have the gray hair and the wrinkles I have, it's because he's had a much easier life. He doesn't have to work as hard as I do, either.

Bob's, wife, Nancy, likes Pizza Hut about as much as I do. She visited the place just two days before, testing their "chocolate dippers". She gave them two thumbs up.

And finally, here's the last of the Birthday Bunch, Michael. He's "eleven and a half" and ate more pizza than the rest of us combined (how is that? smallest stomach, etc.?). In fact, we waited while the server brought more pepperoni pizza to the buffet. Eat hardy, Michael: someday you won't be able to .... just like Uncle Bill.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pinehaven? ... or Maplehaven?

Back in 1987, the first spring after we moved here, I hoped to create a more Michigan-like atmosphere on the property so I bought pines in bulk quantities; most were from Musser Forests in Pennsylvania and their special variety of the Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris). They've grown very well over the past 21 years and now tower above everything on the property. Considering the number I planted and the odd weather conditions of the past few years, some have begun to die. I mentioned this to my brother and he stopped by today with his chain saw to take down a particularly offending tree bordering Clayton Road. I could see the brown needles from a mile away.

As you can see (above), the tree he removed wasn't very big in girth. I planed these "six foot on center" for a windbreak and a privacy fence of sorts. I suppose they're a little close. In any case, a few have bit the dust and the thinning will do the rest good anyway.

What would take me hours with a hand saw took him perhaps 20 minutes with his chain saw. Look at the height of the corn (across Clayton Road) in the background. "Knee high by the 4th of July?" How about head high?

The left-over pile of debris - small limbs, needles, logs - will have to be carried away and stored or disposed of. As we finished the cutting, a thunderstorm was bearing down from the west so we made haste to get the Saturday morning project finished quickly.

A last log is cut to a manageable size and will, after it's dried for a while, serve to warm the house some winter. With the price of fuel - yes, electricity climbs, too - we'll be happy for any additional fuel. So the pine will have yet one final purpose. Wasn't it Thoreau who said wood warms us twice, once in the cutting, once in the burning?

Unfortunately, Pinehaven is shifting more towards maples every year. They grow better here, of course. The maples - sugar maples - line the north end of the meadow in two rows. I hoped to make maple syrup one day. But almost a quarter century has passed since I planted them and the trees still seem way too small for tapping. I will be tapped out before the trees. Like the house itself, someone else will likely inherit that task.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July Flowers

When we first moved to Pinehaven on New Year's Day in 1987, we had no idea what the next summer would bring. But one thing it brought was tiger lilies ... and plenty of them. The front flower bed was composed only of tiger lilies - not another flower bloomed. By the telephone poles there were more tiger lilies. Across the road, surrounding the telephone junction box, there were yet more. Drive anywhere in this area in July and you'll see tiger lilies lining the roadways. They pick the most inhospitable spots to inhabit and they flourish there.

In fact, a tiger lily seems intent on growing where nothing else will. When we found our flower beds inundated with them, I went about digging them all up. I piled the tubers on a compost pile in the meadow and let them air dry. That was the end of that!
Well, no. The flowers you see above are the progeny of those I threw out so many years ago. They sunk roots through the compost pile and by the next spring, again they reared their orange heads. I've decided they are pretty there - prettier there than the other weeds - and so I've left them alone. I can look out the kitchen window, through the row of pines, and see the spikes of bobbing orange. Or, driving up the road, they present a pretty sparkle through the high grasses. Tiger lilies know the meaning of tenacious.

Now, the plant above came out of a seed packet. It's portulaca (moss rose) and we often grow these tiny plants for their variety of color. A single packet of seed generates a veritable rainbow. These were planted in an old tin washtub which sits upon an old pine stump. They give the backyard a splash of color.

Speaking of tenacious, who can call Queen Anne's Lace anything but? These carrot relatives are everywhere and a single bloom head contains thousands of individual flowers. Together they are natural white lace. I love even the scent. Whoever said "a weed is simply a flower where it's not wanted" was on the mark. What flower bed wouldn't be improved by Queen Anne's Lace? They grow anywhere, without a bit of attention and without a care in the world. When a light breeze blows, they are delicacy in motion. All roadsides are improved by this plant.

Chicory, too, has made its way in the world of the unwanted. Right now, as July warms and summer is entrenched, chicory blooms with that special powdery blue that is unique to this plant. Where else do we find this exact color? The sky should be envious! To think this plant yields a filler for coffee (or even a drink in its own right). I know my birthday (July 13) is near when chicory reaches its peak. I associate it with my birthday as surely as I do lightning bugs.

And inside Pinehaven, Mom's African Violet is putting on a spectacular show. This particular plant produces an ivory flower edged in blue. It sits inside the north window just as my Aunt Belle's did when I was a young child. I remember her violet well. It was large - even huge - and sat upon an old smoking stand that was my uncle's (my middle name is George; I am named after him and indirectly after George McClellan, the Civil War general). I'd open the door to the stand and breathe in the lingering smell of tobacco. Though my uncle was dead two years before I was born, the scent of his tobacco remained. It's a wonder I never smoked, I loved it so.

Now, as mid-July approaches, our flower beds may require special care and extra water, but the weeds are on their own and truly in their element.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Another robin ...

Maybe it's not the cardinal but the robin that should be Ohio's bird. There are so many of them. And here at Pinehaven, I can attest to the addition of one more to our state's total. This little fellow might have not have made it through the afternoon but for his parent's loud calls as I passed nearby with my mower. Each time I'd pass, the parents would swoop down until I could not help but pay attention. I stopped, looked around, and saw the tiny bird in the grass, mouth wide open, watching me with the puttering engine and mama pass close overhead.

While this small bird didn't yet have the idea of flight, he would occasionally bound across the grass to get away from me. And that was a good thing, though not good enough. I walked into the garage, got a broom and thought to hasten him along to safer ground. But he'd have none of that. When I came nearby with the broom, he'd crouch down closer to the ground and refuse to move at all. I found that my camera was the best prod of all. Looking up and seeing the lens pressed close, he'd let out a shriek and dart away. Though this makes photography difficult, it presented exactly the result I was looking for.
We finished the mowing with the baby robin safely near the house, on a section of lawn already mowed. And the frightened parents, realizing the baby was relatively safe, backed away at last.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

There May Be Bugs ...

OK, you know the commercial but this isn't it. Back on June 16, we had this cluster of eggs laid on our kitchen window. Normally we'd have cleaned it off but we were intrigued what these might become. There were a cluster of about 50 eggs in a width of 1.1 centimeters (about 0.4"). Instead of reaching for the Windex and a handfull of paper towels, we laid a large magnifying glass below the window so we could watch the progress. Actually, there seemed to be none. The eggs seemed to be just stuck in time.

But on June 27, the mass suddenly changed dark (all over the course of one night) and soon it was alive with dark movement. To be honest, it was a little gross. Over the course of a day, the imperceptible dark mass began differentiating into individual insects. A search of the net appears to give these a name: stink bugs!

Now the stink bugs have all gone. First they moved away from the eggs casings and then a few would return at night, hugging close to the cast off shells. Eventually we saw even these climbing higher on the glass until - poof! - they were gone.

Today (July 2) we had a butterfly (moth?) land on a nearby window. I was able to take a picture of it's underbelly and its delicate wings, backlit by the late-day sun. It's not a beautiful butterfly - no brilliant colors or fantails - but it's exquisite in its simplicity, plain and ordinary but as unique as a snowflake.

So you have your choice today: stinkbugs or a butterfly. Either is a nice choice and fits in its special cog in this natural world.