Enter, February: and Then…

Last day of January. A month from now, early March and expectation of a blooming thing. And mud. I will not miss the mud. But I will miss the buds–especially later in March the pinking up of the maple buds, at first just visible in just the right light, early or late, when the reds of morning or evening sun hit the ridges. How that bit of color lifts my spirits after the monochrome of winter!

By then, the sun rises sooner and sets noticeably later, and on the longest day of 2020, we will own RHC. Will we by then live there and someone else live at GCK–in this very room where I sit listening to the ticking of the wood stove, through whose glass doors I see the light flickering off the cat, draped out like an accent of farmhouse decor in its warmth.

We are relinquishing the sense (the illusion) of permanence, of predictability of what happens in a week or a month, living with the risk every day that strangers will come, will purchase our roots out from under us, our foundation, our bedrock routines and habits and familiar navigation in time and space in this place.

And odder, that we want this to happen, that it must happen, given the course we have set for ourselves, dictated by the ticking of the clock, the passing of the seasons through our minds and bodies, leaving less and less to work with as the sand falls through the hourglass. And yet, there is sand left.

I am uncertain. Will it make leaving that last day harder or easier to hold up each view, each memory from the well-traveled places we have sat or stood or walked, of each room in the house, the windows from them that have been like dioramas to the seasons–not just anywhere but the seasons through that window of this house in this lifetime. My life time. Our life time. Should I stand and look again, and remember or walk past, on task and on time for what the move requires of me that moment? How stoic or nostalgic should one be just now?

All this self-absorbed perseveration in my morning pages about the move makes it seem like my life is lopsided and out of balance; like I am obsessing about this imminent transition of necessity ahead of us. And yes, the details, the moving parts require much thinking and deciding and planning.

But my days of late have assumed a better balance, everything inside being in its place now and the only thing to do, at least today, is wait for a showing, and go from there. The house is in order, and the yard, and the details of the sale. And so my own peculiar interests have come back in view, and I make occasional progress digging deeper in one or another subjects that I want or need to know more about. Life is rich. In predictable and irregular spurts.

And I have a new minor and regular duty: to write an occasional column for the Floyd Press. Again. I had a bimonthly column there for 7 years, ending in 2011. The new editor has been in touch, and is lining up a list of writers who have stated a wish to contribute within their interest and knowledge areas, and that will begin soon. I suppose my general topic area is sustainability — which can be very broad indeed. And so I have folder started for FPress Brainstorming. And as it was before, it will not be difficult to create a list of things I want to dig deeper into and now have an excuse to do so.

But with my more private writing, I am trying not to think about an audience for this or any other text just now, and have lowered the threshold and will just put it in a public place–like I have done since 2002–and be glad to share the journey with a very few. I have met so many wonderful people over the years, by simply being honest and transparent and interested in knowing myself better, and others, through words and pixels.

An Even Slower Road Home

So VDOT got a late start on this project, supposed to have begun last Monday. (And work will NOT be finished until at least July 22 or 23.)

The foreman realized how bad things really were, and instead of the single pipe with a 4 inch concrete cap, he decided this replacement needed two pipes and an 8 inch cap.

You can see they’ve dammed the creek upstream and are sending the water via a large-diameter flexible hose–like a firehose–back into the creek bed downstream of the construction.

So we’re hoping for no frog-chokers until this work is set in stone. To which, by the way, I might have a hard time not adding a short, pithy quote while the concrete is still wet after the pouring is over and the work day has ended.

So what should it be?

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Isaac Newton

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the one less traveled by. And ended up on Goose Creek.” Fred First

What Native Plants?

Japanese Spirea ~ a beautiful invasive

We rounded the bend on Griffith Creek last week to find a hundred yards of creekside lined thickly with a flat-topped pink-flowered shrub I recognized as Spirea, a member of the rose family.

But the members of the genus I was familiar with are knee-high wildflowers, not shrubs. And seeing the extent of this population, I suspected it was spreading without threat of disease or predators, because it was “not from these parts.”

I sometimes wish I did not notice the invasives that are taking over Floyd County; that are changing the visual space; that are outcompeting or otherwise damaging what used to be endemic North American natives. There are so many forms of “kudzu” these days, and it makes me heart-sick.

At one point, I spent a lot of energy hand-picking the garlic mustard, coltsfoot and Japanese stilt grass; clipping back the multiflora rose, autumn olive and oriental bittersweet from anywhere I came across it within our boundaries.

Now I have acquiesced. I surrender. The bittersweet reaches the tops of young trees under the powerline clearing, having dropped so many seeds already that clipping back the mature vines will have no impact on future infestation. I suppose I have no options but to harden my shell.

I wish I didn’t care. I wish that this out-of-balance state felt okay; that knowing my grandchildren would experience the consequences of biological homogenization–the opposite of biological diversity–in their world and beyond.

It is the price we will pay as a species for the speed and ease with which we travel and ship and transplant from all around the living world. Their native plants and animals are now our pests, nuisances and invaders. And the average person thinks “so what?”

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” Aldo Leopold

(extra)Ordinary Nearby Nature

Ichneumonid wasp on our woodpile a few years back

Horntail wasp just out the back door last week

I’d never seen a horntail wasp until I saw this one last week, but knew at a glance what it was. Note the horn on the tail, just above its rather short, stout ovipositor. It is NOT a stinger.

And so now, I have familiarity with both the predator and the prey. How they interact is truly amazing, and a story I had known about for decades.

This short video below shows excellent details of the Ichneumonid’s remarkable way of getting its egg onto the horntail larva deep inside the trunk of a tree. Worth your time. Trust me.

This is just crazy! And yet, it’s just life for this barely-noticed common wasp.

Pollinia: How Milkweeds Do It

It seemed simple enough. On the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way back from an oil change yesterday, and in no particular hurry. I pulled off to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my camera (which you can also use as a phone! Really!) and walked back a hundred yards to a nicely-lit display of surrealistically-orange Butterfly milkweed. I grabbed a couple of shots and brought them home.

But as so often happens, looking and thinking back to this ordinary moment with this common roadside wildflower, I considered the story contained in this and every living creature’s “natural history.”

How does this plant make a living in ways it shares with other milkweeds? And in what ways is this plant or group of plants different in structure or “behavior”, and what role does it play in the larger ecology of this place?

Well, these considerations are complicated, and to me, incredibly interesting and intriguing, posing at least as many questions as answers.

If you care to see deeper into the living world, dig into its stories, one insect, salamander or fern at a time. What you’ll learn will make you a more engaged and committed resident of your neighborhood, community and planet.

We are in desperate need of nature and science literacy that exceeds the eroding average in America in our precarious times.

Trust me: watch this video, and then find the nearest milkweed (probably the pink, sweet-smelling common milkweed) and dissect a single flower and find the pollinia.

What are pollinia, you ask? Honk if you watched this short video.