Tuesday, July 25, 2017

State of the Garden Report, mid July

If you didn't catch it on your own, I'm a liar--that's not my garden. My garden was left to suffer in the 100-degree heat while I went moonlighting in my brother-in-law's garden in north-western Arkansas. He has the biggest yellow squash plants I've ever seen, an acorn squash in the compost pile that looks like Audrey II, and some very healthy blackeyes.

But as you see from the picture, his tomatoes are only starting to come in, while mine are nearly gone. Only two of my plants are still setting fruit--the rest are ready for the compost pile.  I've already harvested blackeyes--his are just stubs.

What I find very interesting is that he's only 250 miles north of me. But at his higher elevation (Ozark Mountains) makes his climate zone a whole lot different. When I walk around I see mostly the same plants--blackeyed Susan, Queen Anne's lace, that annoying Composite I cannot identify, and wild blackberries--but something is clearly very different. Soil, most likely. The trees show it--his are red maples, hickory, black oak, elm. Mine are box elder, pecan, burr oak, and hackberry. And the eternal osage orange--I've not seen any of that up in the hills. It would be interesting to do a tree census and compare.

As a human, I don't feel out of place up there.  But, clearly, I am out of zone.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The most famous man you may never have heard of

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World


They should call this "A Natural History of Alexander von Humboldt." It's much more than the lifetime of a single man, a long-lived man but still only finite in his bodily form. Intellectually, his roots went deep, his floodplain spread wide--he used to joke that there were so many rivers named after him that he was a thousand miles long. (Note: that's a paraphrase from memory--I lost the exact quote.) His canopy shaded and nurtured all who came after him, and his seeds scattered throughout the world.  And so this biography treats with equal attention Humboldt's works and those of contemporaries who were heavily influenced by his works. Although--to be honest--who wasn't?  Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, Simon  Bolivar,  Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, John Muir  -- all were marchers in Humboldt's grand parade.

Although I enjoyed the book completely while I was listening to it, only later, when I did a quick Internet search to verify spellings of names, did I realize how much more the book might have covered. On matters scientific and botanical, it speaks at such a high level that you don't learn anything. You come away thinking, What a man!  But why couldn't it be: What a discovery!  What a thought!  What a odd connection of unrelated facts led to this great mind making such a brilliant leap!  And wow.

But that's not the book--it's strictly biographical as to what he did, where he went, who he met and what he wrote. And maybe, just maybe the author fulfilled her purpose...if her purpose was to make me go read Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, Geography of Plants, Views of Nature,  and of course Cosmos. Or at least the first volume of Cosmos.  To read it all might take the rest of my lifetime.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Travels with shoes. And a shovel.

Come, tell me how you live
by Agatha Christie Mallowan

From the title and brief description, I thought it was going to be more archaeology and less travelogue. That might have been nice, but this was just great! Ticklish funny--and sometimes hilarious about the shoes--it's the story of Christie's travels with her husband on a serious of digs in Syria. When she mentions their finds, it's limited to listings like,

"two beads, a rim of pottery, and a bit of obsidian."

So I don't know if they were after artifacts alone or the advancement of historical knowledge. But that's not important--it's a splendid travel tale.Here's a funny--I'll try not to ruin it--during her baggage inspection by the Turkish customs officials,
Why, they ask me, have I so many pairs of shoes? It is too many. But, I reply, I have no cigarettes, because I do not smoke, so why not a few more shoes?
The explanation is accepted and they move on to the bug powder, which looks even more suspicious.  The real funny comes later, as she then proceeds to buy more shoes and decides not to return through Turkey. It's like one of those mildly humorous scenes that get funnier the more they're repeated.

Here is part of her description of packing for the trip with her husband, Max.

[Archeologists] ....decide on the maximum number of suitcases that a long-suffering Wagon Lit Company will permit them to take. They then fill these suitcases to the brim with books. They then, reluctantly, take out a few books, and fill in the space thus obtained with shirts, pajamas, socks, etc.

Looking into Max's room, I am under the impression that the whole cubic space is filled with books! Through a chink in the books I catch sight of Max's worried face.

"Do you think," he asks,  "that I shall have room for all these?"

The answer is so obviously in the negative that it seems sheer cruelty to say it.

At 4:30 P.M. he arrives in my room and asks hopefully: "Any room in your suitcases?"

State of the Garden report, middle July

A rather hurried report, sorry. Getting ready for a 3-day jaunt to visit the mother-in-law.

Now or then?  On the now front, I have this leaf thing with the purple stem:

Malabar Spinach. I planted six or eight, I got one. But when I found it at the Farmer's Market, I recognized it immediately.  I bought a big bundle, laboriously stripped the leaves and tender stems off the tough stalks, and boiled them up.

But--and I really hate to admit this--I didn't like it. It's not like spinach or even Swiss chard--it's like okra. And that means, slimy.  Or maybe the word is 'soapy'. In any event, the "mouth feel" is horrid.
Maybe a really long cooking or a stir fry would deal with the slime factor.

I also have this absolutely gorgeous salad green that came in a pack of mixed mesclun. I have no idea what it is but I'd love to have it in my flower garden.

And this lovely creature. Plenty of this lovely creature.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A thick and quick tour

Visiting Our Past: America's Historylands
by National Geographic Society

So lavishly illustrated you can use it as a coffee table book, but a lot of good history reading too.  I checked it out of the library in order to build up my list of places to go sometime, which is supposed to give me hope and ambition and make the future seem possible even if not always pretty. It wasn't perfect for the purpose but it was pretty good. For me, they didn't go "off the beaten path" nearly enough.

It's limited in scope to the places where Europeans came, conquered, settled and battled.  The colonies, both northeast and southwest, are well covered; as is the Lewis and Clark expedition, the western migration, and the civil war.  The trail of tears warrants a single sentence, which is a shame because I'd wanted to locate some of the migration routes and walk them, if possible. But the Oregon trail is covered in great detail.  A lot of places that aren't historically significant--to Americans of European ancestry--are passed by. But I'll get those elsewhere.

And the pictures--fabulous!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Start of the Garden Report, almost middle of July

Now that the temperatures are regularly in the 90s, I'm not seeing new tomatoes setting fruit. That confirms what I read. I'm still getting 10, 15 or sometimes 20 ripe tomatoes a day, but those were started over a month ago. I have dispatched them summarily.

Which is fine, and now it's time to think about preparing for the winter garden. But oh, it is hard. If I were one of those morning people who could get out working by sun-up, I could be weeding, composting, and prepping beds with a fury. Yesterday I didn't get out until eleven, and it was miserable.  And don't try telling me it's all a matter of willpower and self discipline. I've tried getting up early and failed so many times that I've come to a truce with my willpower--I won't ask it to get me out of bed early, so long as it's okay when I ask it to tie on my running shoes and head out the door.

Beg pardon for the picture here--I found the most marvelously beautiful dragonfly just trying out his wings for the first time. I wanted his picture but refused to stress him out by making him pose. So this is all we get.

Okra loves this weather, and so do purple hull peas.  And here comes cantaloupe...not. The beauty below, my first fruit, was resting on wet cardboard and it molded underneath. I had to pick it early, and it was sugary sweet but tasteless.  I will watch the others like a hawk!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Farming in the funnies

The Bucolic Plague: 
How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir

Be prepared for things to get a little grim.  I don't mean animals dying, other than flies.  I only mean the stress that two wonderful people can suffer over when the economy crashes and they can't afford to live their dream. Can the dream survive?

The cover tells the story--two urban gentleman fall in love with Beekman Mansion and try their hands at part-time farming.  Farming sort of works for a while, then one is laid off from his job at a media company and the other is having to lay off people himself while he works round the clock to try to bring new clients into his advertising agency. The market for their farm's top product, soap, dries up faster than the Rio Grande.

The writing in this part is absolutely heartbreaking. And the rest of the writing is just plain good--funny and honest and about as riveting as a story of goats and heirloom tomatoes and fresh-laid eggs can be.  Which, to me, is very much.  Here is a sample--no--yes--no. I can't find one.  I tried flipping through to find a particularly amusing passage and I started reading and couldn't stop.

We're woken up by what sounds like someone performing Wagner's wedding march on Model T car horns. ...rather than the old standard COCK-A-DOODLE-DO, the song stuck in this rooster's head was the classic bridal theme. A few seconds later, he was joined by another rooster greeting the day with "It Had to Be You." They were quickly backed up with choruses of "Papa Don't Preach" and "The Little Drummer Boy." Our farm sounded like a bad cover band.

So, first half funny. Second half honest. Whole thing?  Great.