Friday, April 29, 2011


 Our "Christmas" amaryllis is blooming again - this time two flowers - and it is a show not to be missed. We watched it there on the enclosed porch, facing south, as the bud spike developed over the past few weeks. What would it contain? There are but two flowers to show for all its work but they are each huge and magnificent works of natural art.

 This flower knows red like no other. Where does the coloration come from? It is in the texture of the petals themselves, in the atomic structure itself, and red is but an optical illusion. It is what we see because it is what is reflected. So in the truest sense, our amaryllis knows nothing of red.

 The two flowers are scarlet trumpets. They stand startlingly among the green of the orchid, the green of the Jesus in a Manger. It's a wonder they don't stop traffic on S. Clayton Road.

 Neither will last long and flowering will not repeat this year. I'll place the plant on the back porch this summer, give it a little nitrogen fertilizer before I chop it off and take it to the basement to dry out for the fall.

 Sometime next winter I'll carry it up to the porch again, coax it to bloom for me. I give it no more than water. It answers in red.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The fungus among us ...

 The morels are beautiful just now. They're late as can be but it seems it was worth the wait. I stepped into the woods and began finding them right away. The one pictured above is a little darker than most.

 You might think I've posted this picture on its side. But no, the mushroom is growing at an odd angle. Look at that beautiful convoluted spongy cap! I love these light-colored ones the best. The color reminds me of a pale ale.

 This one is very tall and stands proudly above last fall's leaves. The warm temperatures (it's only dropped to 60° the past two nights) and the over-abundant rain has produced a pretty crop of mushrooms. I've certainly found more in the past, but none larger, none more nicely formed.

 This one will be going into the skillet in the morning. I'll give it a good bath of cold, running water ... dry it off and then dice it and drop it into a scrambled egg. That's how I like them best. If I had enough, I'd eat my full of them alone. But when the numbers are low, an egg offers a good filler.
 I lifted this one to my nose and it has that wonderful Earthy scent that only mushrooms possess. It's damp. musty, even musky. It is the Earth's most primal bloom.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Earth Blooms

 It is the season where the planet seeks to live again and every pore seems alive with activity. As I rounded the Farmersville pond today, frogs, basking in the mid-day sun, launched themselves in wide arcs and landed in the water with a loud plop. Most do not think of frogs as having a scream and yet, just as they jump, the startled amphibians let loose a sharp scream, reminiscent of a horror movie.
 But it is the plant and fungus world that most commands my attention. Even in our yard, the grass has been greening for weeks and now the dandelions bloom in profusion and dare me to dig them all. Daily I make the rounds and every morning there is a crop anew.
Every now and then, I'll find a vivid purple staring back at me. If it's henbit, I pull it; if it's a wild violet, I pass.

 Whose garden would not welcome a face such as this? It reminds me of a pansy, only infinitely smaller. The tiny leaves are attached to a bulb-like structure at the base - perhaps a rhizome? - and the violet spreads, I would guess, in this way and through seed. I'd welcome a whole yard of these, a veritable frothy royal sea. The delicate  little throats are fuzzy, a natural velvet; their petals are varied, striations of sky blue fading to near-white; and the rounded leaves, a contrasting and healthy green, speak of their love of the spring sun.
 Then walking in a nearby woodlots, the plants abruptly change. Here they get little sun and fight the leafy trees for slivers of sunlight. Still, on a sunny day in the spring, the tiny Spring Beauty seems happy as can be here on the forest floor.

Like the violet, they have striated petals but here of pinks and whites. Yesterday, while the wind blew and rain showers swept through the area, I saw not a single Spring Beauty in bloom. Today, sunny and pleasant, they have again opened their petals to the bright light sweeping the woods from above.
 And yet the Earth blooms, too, not in colorful petals but in grays, yellows and browns. And this time of year, for about ten days, these are the colors I most cherish.

 Fungus rises from the leaf mold now and shows its head in sponge-shaped forms. The morel smells of the soil. It carries the fragrance of sex itself, almost semen-scented and intoxicating in its own way. It is rare and its time is short and its value rises according to the economics of supply and demand.
 The morel on the top-left I found yesterday but did not pick it because I could not find even one more. I thought it best to let it stand and complete its cycle, seed the Earth for next year's crop. But today I found it had doubled in size and three more had risen nearby. What will the coming days produce? If no more than these, I will be satisfied. My "never-fail" spot has again rewarded me.
 Every tree bursts forth. Every bud strives to open. The Earth rises up in varied form.
 The Earth blooms.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day's End

The setting sun, and music at the close,

  As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,
    Writ in remembrance more than things long past.
      William Shakespeare
        The Tragedy of King Richard the Second

         (Gaunt at II, i) 

 It is 8:30 p.m. [04/10/11] and through our back door I can see the sun dipping through the two ash trees, sandwiched together like Siamese twins, the one completing the other so that at the distance of our house, they appear a single, well-proportioned tree. There is a sweet glow of orange there, too pleasant to dismiss, and so I am skipping up the stairs, two at a time, to grab my camera before the sun dips lower.

 Now beneath these very trees, I am rewarded with their darkening branches as roof. It is pleasant standing here, as though protected by the trees, alone but enveloped as the night descends. The corn stubble already has deepened in tone and a few blackbirds sing their stark, raspy call as they find a roost. A Great Blue Heron glides over, dark legs dangling behind, sailing swiftly, silently to some accustomed spot for sleep.

 A few steps north and back towards the house, the sun fires just above the clouds, scudding in from Indiana, advancing a cold front that will end this record-breaking day. The old record, 82° in 1905, was surpassed with an 84° at the airport; I, though not official, had 86°. So it is a warm summer's day put to bed.

 A final flicker and the sun dips behind the advancing clouds. A few separate puffy cumulus give the sun an arched brow as night arrives.
 I know the music by heart; I've tasted the sweets; I will remember this night forever.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Getting There

 While I live with one foot in the 1850's, I also live with a great appreciation for modern technology. And as I drove home from an interview today, I marveled at the convenience of GPS. There are items I could live without, but my little Garmin GPS is not one of them.

 Here is a view as I returned to our driveway. When I left, I had no idea where I was going but typed the city and address into the GPS and didn't have to worry about it further. Half an hour later I was pulling into a rural lane, a place I had never been to before.
 Earlier in the week, when I took Mom to a doctor's office - also one we had never visited before - I let the GPS navigate.
 I'm an "early adopter" of technology and I remember the first Garmin unit I bought. It was in the early days when GPS units showed latitude and longitude and little else. You could enter a waypoint if you knew where it was. Thus you had to do some research in advance of your trip. Still, I enjoyed the little GPS and was surprised that it was possible at all.
 When I bought my second Garmin, it had a crude display. It was the early days of mapping and the rough black and white lines were better than I could have imagined. Still, there was no internal database. You had to know where you were going - and where it was - before you left home.
 Not today. I bought this Garmin Nuvi 260 several years ago and I imagine it's already quite outdated. But I enjoy it's colorful maps, built-in database and female voice which guides me, turn-by-turn to my destination. It is the one piece of technology that is worth more to me than it costs.
 I remember as a young kid going to a James Bond movie and seeing a moving map display in 007's car. I remember also turning to my friend and saying, "Yeah, that's going to happen."
 Yet what I have today far exceeds what James Bond had. Never discount the creativity of the human mind. There are wonders ahead beyond our imagining.

A Veggie Pizza

 I enjoy sharing here what I enjoy. And I enjoy good food.
 The other day, my cousin, Doug, knocked on the back door and delivered a vegetarian pizza that his wife, Annette, had made for us. With Mom and Dad ill and housebound, and with myself as sole cook, it is good to see great food arrive. As I told Doug, it is all the more appreciated for not having to cook it myself.
 I was taken by its color:

 This pizza has fresh broccoli, carrots, red peppers and cucumbers atop a bed of creamy dressing. It is built upon crescent rolls. While I do not have this particular recipe, another friend (Judy) gave me the recipe that has been handed down through the years by her family members. It is probably very similar and I will hold it for when I want to make this pretty creation. And so here's that recipe:

Vegetable Pizza

1 cup Hellmans Mayonnaise (1 - 8 oz. jar)
2 pkgs. softened cream cheese
1 pkg. dry Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix
2 tubes of crescent rolls
Chopped fresh vegetables of your choice (wet vegetables should be blotted with paper towel to remove extra moisture):
Red Pepper*
Onion (green or regular sweet)*
Fresh mushrooms

1. Open & unroll crescent rolls onto a cookie sheet to form a rectangle, keeping edges close together. Gently “squish” the seams to form a solid rectangle “crust” without open seams or holes. Bake at 350 until light golden brown, about 11 - 13 minutes - watch closely & don‘t over bake. Remove from oven & set aside to cool. (or put in refrigerator for quick cool while you do the next steps)

2. Mix together in a bowl & set aside:
Mayo, softened cream cheese & dry ranch dressing

3. Chop fresh vegetables and set aside

4. When crescent roll crust is cool spread cream cheese mixture over crust. Sprinkle fresh vegetables over crust and gently push into cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese or cheese of your choice. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut in small pizza squares & enjoy!

Ohio's Own Unfurls

 I've never taken the time to research how the Buckeye (Horse Chestnut) was chosen as Ohio's state tree. I remember as a kid, walking along the creeks of Miamisburg, and being thrilled when I found one of these trees in the fall just as their fruit dropped to the ground. The spiny capsule, a warm tan color, could be split apart at one us its seams with no more than a well-placed fingernail. And if it was ripe, several shiny buckeyes would be nestled inside like babies in a womb.
 The capsule that held the fruit was spongy, something akin to the skin of a thick orange. If the fruit had not ripened, it might be a mottled brown or even a pale white if it was earlier still. We'd collect these buckeyes, even mail them to out-of-town relatives.

 But now, in April, the trees are just beginning to unfold their leaves in a sort of bold, even tropical, explosion. The expansive leaves, tightly packed in a small space, unwind among themselves, feeling for the sun. A few weeks ago, they were no more than a swollen spot on the end of each twig. And now - suddenly! - this.
 I was told as a child that carrying a buckeye in my pocket would prevent arthritis. An old wives tale, perhaps, but I am free of the illness today while my father is crippled. Those of us who threaded the creeks in Miamisburg, would gather buckeyes by the bucket, open the tender capsule and marvel at the mahogany-hued nut inside. It was a singular natural creation, of utmost importance, right here in our own backyards; it was one we gathered for no reason than their exquisite beauty.
 Now the tree is rare. I don't remember when I saw the last one in the wild. And few are planted. The trees provide little shade, drop the fruit (which creates a clean-up chore for suburban lawns), the nuts are poisonous (or so I've heard) and the trees loose all their leaves in late summer at the earliest hint of a dry spell.
 And yet I have fond memories of the tree and have planted several here at Pinehaven. Isn't it reward enough to watch this marvelous unfolding each spring?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spring's Beauty

 There's mushrooms about. Dan Poffenberger found some snakeheads already and he took a picture to boot. So last evening I dashed to the woods to check out my favorite spot. It looks as barren as mid winter.
 Almost. Today I returned while the sun was shining and see that greenery is actually everywhere, just low and small and timid. It got down to 31° last night and so the mushrooms still have reason to be afraid. It's time, though - or nearly so - and I'll be checking back daily at this point. With a season measured by mere days, one can't afford not to pay attention.

 While staring at my feet, looking for the familiar gray folds of a mushroom, I saw that spring beauties were in full bloom. Their tiny flowers are but half an inch across. I pulled my camera from my shoulder and got down on my knee so that I could get a closer look.
 The spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is part of the Purslane Family. The tiny flowers are a delicate pink-white with deeper pink viens. If I were to dig the plant up (I wouldn't even consider it), I'd find a tiny potato-like tuber underground. They are edible.
 While examining this delicate flower, I set my camera to macro mode and focused. At that instant a tiny bee alighted on the flower and began collecting nectar, paying me no attention. It would take hundreds of these flowers, I suppose, for him to gather so much as a drop of nectar. His is a more industrious society than mine.
I didn't see so much of a hint of a mushroom. After Monday's heavy rain and today's warmth, I'd have expected something. But no. There is a schedule being followed here which is beyond my knowing. I have the merest of ideas, a range of dates and know nothing more about it.
 I like mysteries and the morel is part of a deeper story than I can fathom. It is weaved in this forest floor, hidden beneath ancient trees, whispered quietly when it is spoken at all. Like a man becoming deaf, I hear the muffled sounds but I do not understand the words by which it lives.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Holding On

 My brother, Bob, and I spent much of yesterday installing some safety hand-holds at various spots in the house. Neither Mom nor Dad can get around very well any longer and they're constantly looking for some support. We thought now was the time.
 We installed the bars in three places: beside the toilet, along the bathtub and at the back door (the door we use most often). Here's Bob mounting a bronze hand-hold beside the toilet.

 These things are supposed to hold upwards of 300 pounds. The heaviest of us is only about half of that. I figure the time wasn't wasted: I will need them myself someday.
 Last Friday (04/01) was another terrible day. I took Mom to her family doctor to check out the continued pain in her hip. The hernia operation of 03/23 did nothing to alleviate the pain so we knew further exploration was needed. With swollen legs and feet, that doctor sent Mom to the hospital for a CT scan.
 When the CT scan showed a "fractured pelvis" and some "fluid-filled object the size of a lemon", she was sent to the ER. That doctor was less concerned. "She's had this for nearly three months," he said. "It's not life-threatening but it does need further study."
 So tomorrow we'll call an orthopedic surgeon and see where the trail leads.
 Last night, at least, I was able to go to my own bed, the first time in ten days. Bob and I set up another twin bed, this time in the dining room (we now have Dad in the living room, Mom in the dining room). The house is no longer decorated as we would like. Visitors would be appalled ... and so we have had none.
 Pinehaven has become by necessity a sort of nursing home. How constant is the place though the poor inhabitants are declining. We are surely outlived by our things.