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Cat Andy sleeping in plant pot.

Andy in pot

I posted here about Andy and chive. Now Andy is at it again in a bigger way. The chive pot is gone, the chive most likely dead, but that’s okay. I have plenty of chive plants in my garden. My question is why is Andy doing this? What pleasure does he gain? Why in the plant pot? Is it the soil? The plant? What? Now he is invading and victimizing the jade plant (Crassula ovata). The poor plant is now leaning to one side which will eventually leave the plant unbalanced and I’ll have to re-pot it.

He goes outdoors, so I don’t think this is a missing the earth moment or cause. Does the dirt smell enticing? He doesn’t dig it up. (Thank heaven! I fertilize my plants enough without his help!) He doesn’t look comfortable, more scrunched up than when he sleeps on the  window ledge. So what’s up?

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Front of Valentine box

Front of Valentine box.

I’ve painted or decorated many small boxes from jewelry boxes, to like this one, purely decorative containers. My nephew gave me this box filled with calligraphy inks, and it has set for a number of years. Then I remembered some old Valentine’s Day cards (100 years–from 1917 to 1924)  from some of Bill’s ancestral family. They are starting to wear out, so I decoupaged the box with them hoping the urethane coatings will help preserve them. They are mostly from Vincent to his sister Margaret. It took forever for the clasp to be found, bought and delivered. Most I found were in the UK. The one on the front here came from Canada. It arrived three days ago.

top of Valentine box

Top of Valentine box

side of Valentine box

Side of Valentine box

side of Valentine box

Side of Valentine box

back of Valentine box

Back of Valentine box

These were the relatively flat Valentine’s Day cards. Some from this era are incredible fold-out designs both beautiful in beauty and imagination.

This was a gift and is on its way to the recipient in today’s mail, but was not conceived as a Valentine’s Day gift. That it is finished now and will be delivered so close to that day is circumstance.

photo pileated woodpeckerWe had a special visitor today– a Pileated Woodpecker. These are just great birds to view. I have to say I see bald eagles more often than I see this particular woodpecker.  This maybe my fourth or fifth viewing, and the others were not this up close and most were when we lived in Missouri nearly twenty years ago where the holes being pecked out of wood were from my house.

He (this is a male; the female has a grey forehead that turns to red further back) landed on the bird feeder on my back porch and pecked at the suet on this side of the feeder once but was more interested in the the suet block on the far side of the feeder. I took twenty photos, but the bird moved so fast I mostly got blurred images or only tail feathers as he bent over the far side of the feeder to eat suet.  That bill looks dangerous, doesn’t it? Good for chopping wood.

The bird sites say these woodpeckers are about the size of crows, but the crows in this area are not this large or impressive. They live year round in much of the eastern United States, but also inhabit areas in lower Canada. Obviously they can face our cold winters. If your want to know more, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site gives more about information about Pileated Woodpeckers.

I hope he comes to visit again. Six more packages of suet sit in a cabinet and we will buy more if he keeps visiting.

2nd photo pileated woodpecker

Gardening is always an adventure and an investigation into the plant world and nature. This year’s vegetable garden has been very different and not very successful. In a word, the cause is DEER, and my garden is not the only one attacked this year. I’ve spoken with several other gardeners whose crops have been decimated by deer. It could be the increase in corn fields around us, which provide also provide food.

Last week we repaired some fencing and put up more fence posts. Yet, this year the grapes have been very successful and weighed down sections of the fence. No matter what Bill and I did, the deer jumped the fence at some point in the perimeter and dined at leisure in the garden beds. The results are the tomatoes have well-cropped tops, and are developing tomatoes on the bottom branches.

Pumpkin blossomYesterday, the deer again jumped the fence and this time ate all the ripening grapes. ALL the grapes of an abundant crop off three vines. So much for making homemade wine. Deer also like Jerusalem artichokes,  horseradish, Swiss chard, beans, and sunflowers. All gone. However, the yellow crookneck squash are huge and abundant as are the pumpkins. On the back deck Bill finally put the lettuce containers on the small table and the raccoons he insists on feeding haven’t been able to get into them.

My flower gardens have done well except for the fact I haven’t kept them as well weeded as they needed to be. Four years after planting the seeds, the white Liatris Florestan White, or Blazing Star, finally bloomed, including one hidden one that I thought had died. I love raising plants from seed and I thought this one a lost cause, and here the plants finally deliver flowers! Deer did eat many of the daylily blooms, but I had daylilies blooming from the end of June to the end of August.  With my vegetable seeds from both Burpee’s and Park’s, I received free packets of ‘pollinators.’ They are blooming in the vegetable garden now and are beautiful.

I also read about using banana peels on plants for fertilizer and implemented the trial. It worked on the tomatoes (although this effort was largely a lost cause) and on the few roses I have. Just wrap the banana peel around the base of the stem. Recycling and fertilizing in one step–how convenient!

While the vegetable garden has been disappointing, it has been an interesting season of gardening. Since I’ve been very busy indoors working on creating an  online course for my classes, painting the walls, woodwork, floors (I truly have a painted house), and writing, most of my gardening has been a few sessions of weeding and much looking. Now I look forward to a fruitful fall hunting season for some hunter, and next spring, new fencing, and another table for the back deck, it should be a good gardening season.

Trees in Dusk SkyMany science fiction stories deal with aliens, either aggressive sentient beings set to grab all Earth’s resources for their own, or beings we encounter in our own space exploration with whom we establish friendly communications and accord. Personally, from our experiences on Earth, I think we tend to fall into the first category, but hope we might eventually reach the second. We do try.

As self-appointed most intelligent species, our learning curve has been dismally flat in inter-species communications. Of the thousands of species living with us on this planet, we have only managed to instill communications on a few, a process called training. However, though we may understand our pets’ behaviors, we have never established true communications with them. How do we expect to communicate with completely alien species if we cannot do so with Earth species, say, like trees?

For the most part, we love trees. They grow into majestically beautify forms that inspire our imaginations. We treasure their shade, they increase the value of our property. We appreciate their lumber for its structural strength, the beauty of its grain in products we make from it, and for the fuel it provides to warm us.

We don’t believe trees intelligent because we’ve never discovered brain or nerve tissue in their physiology. However, even that is changing. Consider the paper Aspects of Plant Intelligence and another paper on the consideration of that topic. Then consider some commonly known facts. Trees clean the environment. They remove carbon dioxide from the air, and poisons from the soil. They control erosion and clean water. They can protect their own domain (soil), often changing it to their own specifications. They react to changes in their environment to preserve their existence. They make their own food. And they leave a long lasting, un-technical record of their existence (tree rings). So just how intelligent are we?

Plus trees outlive us by many years. The short-lived trees often reach between 100 and 150 years. Not so much greater an age than us, but definitely longer. The longest-lived trees often outlast us by hundreds or even thousands of years. If you check out the link just given, note Prometheus, the Bristlecone Pine. Prometheus lived for 5,000 years, faithfully recording the Earth’s history annually. What did we do? We cut it down.

Now granted, after Prometheus was cut down, other Bristlecone Pines were saved for the sake of the seniority they hold. Yet you can, hopefully, understand why I doubt our ability to deal with anything alien. Before we deal with outer space, we need to sharpen our learning curve here at home.

INTELLIGENCE IN TREES 5
References
Goldenburg, E. “n.d.” Last modified 2011, October 08, 5:12:44 PM) Eldan Goldenburg’s lab notebook, notes about my work and other peoples’.
Blog@Case. “n.d” Retrievd May 2 , 2009 from http://blog.case.edu/exg39/2006/06/01/plant_intelligence
Hightshoe, G. (1988). Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America, A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers (pp. 88). Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY: New York.
Prometheus (tree), (last modified 2012, October 09, at 23:18) Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prometheus_%28tree%29
Trewavas, A. (2003). Aspects of Plant Intelligence. Annals of Botany 92. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4243628/?report=classic

We had a road trip to make Friday, a stop in Traverse City to pick up the grandkids and then off to Charlevoix and Cheboygan. Just a few miles outside of the very rural Luther Area (I like to call it living on the backside of nowhere — which makes it really quiet and wonderful), flashing police lights stopped us. A Wexford County Sheriff’s car stopped all forward progress. A little way down the road, a group of young buffalo blocked the road. We had to backtrack and take other back roads to get to TC, but it made for the interesting start of a very long day on the road.

Buffalo!

Buffalo!

In Cheboygan we got lost and stopped in a car dealership to turn around, but first tried to figure out where we went wrong. The newest agent at the Ford Fernelius Dealership came out and asked if she could help us. She asked us into the building to get directions, let the kids have some cookies and popcorn. We all took a rest stop and were soon on our way again. Truly, a good ‘service’ dealership. Thanks.

Parry the parrot

Parry liked to look at the world from upside down, or maybe it was the awful jerry-rigged cage.

I called the parrot we caught Parry. I know, not very original. Parry loved people! He must have had a dedicated and loving previous owner. He liked talking to women and would crawl around his cage to stay right in front of them. No one called about having lost a parrot however.

In talking about the parrot we found Nancy whose parrot had recently died. It was a different type from Parry who was a Pilgrim Parrot or Monk Parakeet. Her parrot had been with her for decades and I think she still mourned it. She still had it’s cage and reluctantly came to see Parry when we offered him to her. I think he charmed her because she did take him home. I’m sure Nancy will provide a much better home than I could although I’d already begun to love the little guy. She knows what to do with a parrot, how to take care of Parry, and didn’t own eight cats. I think it was meant to be.

I’ve not been doing much gardening because of a bout of bronchitis and a bum hip. So I decided to just pull a few obvious weeds. Yes, I’ve unintentionally pulled out plants I wanted to keep, so I have to know a weed is a weed (thus the obvious) in the spring before I pull it. Anyway, I plan to plant vegetables this week, bought Dairy-Doo and ready to go, but I didn’t get any new perennials. I need to divide and transplant what I have.

Then, true to this most unusual place we live where we receive visits from bear, deer, turkey, racoon, possums, pigs, and cows, something unexpected happened. We never expected a parrot, and to capture it? Not possible.

Bill was emptying the car’s trunk when a bird swooped into the wild cherry tree planted in the drive’s circle garden. I had just returned from the garden, so from where I stood on the sidewalk, I saw sun flick on its feathers just before it reached the tree. Long pointy green tail feathers? No native green birds that size live in Michigan. “Oh my God! It’s a parrot!” I yelled. Bill looked into the tree. Sure enough a parrot. It suddenly swooped down and flew over Bill, made a circle and came back to the tree. George had walked up next to Bill. He picked up the cat and put it in the house, the parrot flying over him again as he walked.

“How do we capture it?” I asked. “It can’t survive a Michigan winter, and if we don’t get it now, its in a lot of danger.”

The parrot had returned to the tree. It swooped again, another cat nearby; Bill picked up the cat to take into the house and the parrot followed, flying about a foot or so over his head. This time it flew under the porch roof and landed on my baker’s stand. I was standing just outside the porch in front of the bird. Bill went looking for a net to capture it.

I talked to the parrot and he (my presumption on the sex of the bird) just sat and looked at me. It took Bill several minutes but he finally came and carefully walked on to the porch behind the bird. Another minute passed with me talking to the bird. Bill started talking to it. I told him not to if he planned to use that net unseen.

I put a hand up near the parrot to regain its attention. It didn’t move or act afraid. I thought it wouldn’t be safe for me to pick it up as a frightened parrot would bite my fingers. Then without more thought, I reached out and put my hand around the bird. His beak opened and I was sure I was going to bleed soon, but the bird never bit down, just mouthed me. Now I have a handful of bird. “We need a cage.”

It took Bill five minutes to jerry-rig a cage with a large wire basket and some chicken wire. In the meantime, I’m stroking the parrot’s head very gently with one finger. He speaks parrotese back to me and soon closes his eyes, perfectly content. Someone has lost their bird, a bird they spent a lot of time with. We have posters up around various busy stores and restaurants, waiting for someone to call. I’d put up a photo, but we’re waiting for the owner to describe the bird. More later.

DandelionRay Bradbury, famed science fiction writer, wrote a semi-autobiographical story Dandelion Wine in 1957. While I bought the book I was a teenager, and I never finished it; it wasn’t scifi. However the title has always stayed with me. So this year, after many years of gardening, even writing a newspaper article on dandelions (You can read Dandelions, Weeds with History on my garden blog), the abundance of dandelions about seemed like an omen, so I’m game, or crazy, or something. I convinced Bill to pick dandelions with me. I’m going to make what has been called the ambrosia of wine.

The first step was to find a recipe. The Internet abounds with them, take your pick. The next step was to pick the flowers. I needed two quarts of dandelion flowers to mix with one gallon of water. Tuesday was a great day to pick flowers, sunny, steady breeze, not too cold or hot; or at least, not until we started picking. Two hours picking proved how little those flowers actually are. It seemed to take much longer.

Warning one: if you go picking, don’t pick in fields that have been sprayed in any way, or pick flowers too close to the road where exhaust could collect on them.

Warning two: Insects love the flowers, too. You will find ants, honeybees, ticks, spiders, and assorted unknown fauna inside those lemon yellow petals; be wary.

While picking, which involves much bending over, I found it easiest to pull the flower heads off between my index and second finger so I could easily gather a handful. This picking business is good exercise, but not as good as the long walk I gave up. However, picking is a simple procedure, do it anyway you want.

First mistake: letting the flowers sit in plastic bags for any length of time, even as long as re-reading the recipe and heating up the gallon of water necessary. Anyone who has picked fresh dandelions knows the flowers close up really quick. The part you want is the yellow petals with as little green as possible and no stems. Pluck those flowers as soon as possible. Otherwise like me, you will be sitting another hour or so, trying to get the stems and base of the flower off. You need at least two quarts of petals (I saw some sepals (green petals under the yellow ones), even a lot of sepals in the brews made by others in online photos—don’t be too picky.)

Warning three: Fingers working on dandelions turn an interesting shade of yuk brown. Most of it washes away unless your nails get stained.

Okay; hopefully the worst is over. I dutifully began to boil the water when Bill walked in and asked if he could make dinner around me. I said, “Just bring this water to a boil, move it off the heat, turn off the burner and stir these dandelions in.” Job done, I left the kitchen (whoopee!).

Next the blossoms must be allowed to steep for twenty-four to forty-eight hours, stirring, oh, twice a day. This is the easiest part of the process. Once done steeping the blossoms, pour the liquid off through a strainer lined with a coffee filter or cheese cloth. Heat the clarified liquid to boil, add three pounds of sugar, six tablespoons of lemon juice, and six tablespoons of orange juice.(Or two lemons and two oranges; or the peel of two lemons and two oranges – see how adaptable this is?) Five or so whole clove can also be added. Once the mixture cools, add a tablespoon of yeast. Pour into a large glass, or stainless container, or ceramic crock. Cover and let this set for a week, stirring and skimming the contents daily until bubbles no longer form. Let the mixture settle for another day and then siphon (or strain) liquid and pour into bottles filling to 3/4″ below the cork. Cork and let mature for at least six months. So maybe for Thanksgiving dinner, I can present my homemade wine.

More Mistakes: Don’t know yet, anything is possible in a new endeavor, I’ll let you know.

Isn’t it lucky someone gave Bill a bunch of wine bottles a couple weeks ago? I think I’ll get two or three bottles cleaned and sterilized.

I have to tell you, this better work or I’ll be doing a lot of whining, or is this Bradbury’s joke on me? Anyone have a good alternative recipes using dandelions? More later…

* * *
Update: Friday night mixed all ingredients. This morning went down and stirred the mixture. It doesn’t bubble… it fizzes with thousands of tiny bubbles and has the most amazingly citrusy-green fragrance.

Reprint of my post in Seven Night Writers.

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