from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
June 29, 2003
DAYLILIES AND FRIED CHICKEN
I have a vivid recollection from around 1952 of being a kid on a hot summer day in rural western Kentucky, in the back of our old, black, running-boarded Chevrolet rumbling down a one-lane, weed-choked gravel road, hot air pouring through the windows, my parents up front, us going to visit my Aunt Hazel who lived at the end of the road. Already I imagined I could smell her fried chicken, greasy fried potatoes, green beans dripping with pig grease, crusty biscuits, and all the peeled, thick-sliced, white-salted red tomatoes we wanted. Right before arriving at her house the roadside weeds stepped back a little to give way to a spectacular colony of Common Orange Daylilies, HEMEROCALLIS FULVA.
I remember thinking that those flowers were nearly as pretty as a Redcedar decked out for Christmas. Half a century later I can't see the orange-yellow hue in any context without associating it with daylilies and Aunt Hazel's fried chicken and fried potatoes. You can see flowers and plants of the Common Orange Daylily at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/history/herbarium/hemerocallis_fulva.htm
Daylilies are flowering now along the ditch in front of Cooper Hill. There's a colony at the bend in the highway, then several individuals scattered here and there farther along the road. I imagine that one day a house stood at the bend and those daylilies were treasured ornaments, but now the county graders come along digging into the original colony and spreading tubers up and down the right-of-way. I suppose the daylily is happy to have its tubers dispersed, but this seems harsh treatment for such a dignified species, an exotic one with origins in the Orient.
The daylilies along our road are double-flowered, and I find that a little disappointing. I prefer the classic blossom in which the flower parts are all distinct, as they evolved in nature. In these double flowers the extra corolla lobes are derived from stamens (the male parts). Looking close at he blossom you can find instances of half-formed petals with anthers fused into their faces.
These are monstrosities that wouldn't be tolerated in wild nature. Double-flowered varieties exist strictly because of man's taste for gaudy color, without regard for the beauties associated with simplicity of form, functionality of parts, and naturalness of aspect. But mindless splashiness is the taste of the times.
I know I'm in the minority on this. I've seen the fuss made on the US National Arboretum's "Award Winning Daylilies" Web page featuring 19 award-winning, double-flowered daylily cultivars with names like Pojo, Prester John and Peach Souffle. That site is at www.usna.usda.gov/PhotoGallery/DaylilyGallery/DaylilyMunson.html
When I see the extravagant blossoms featured at that site I feel like a fat kid surrounded by too much sweet stuff. I think how glad I'd be to just sit awhile among the old-time Common Orange Daylilies along Aunt Hazel's weedy gravel road.
MATING GREEN ANOLES
This week I was standing in the barn when suddenly something plopped onto the concrete at my feet. It was two mating Green Anoles -- those green "lizards" sometimes called chameleons -- mating. The male on top still clutched the female, though they looked a little stunned. They had fallen at least eight feet (2.4 m). Judging from the splat made when they hit the concrete, it must have hurt. It took a minute or so before they decided to uncouple and wander off.
I've seen several pairs of mating Green Anoles this week. On Thursday a pair on the wooden fence around my new garden put on a real show. The male assumed a bright green color but the female took on a deep dark brown as they stuck together for a long time, in most cases for 30-60 minutes. The male sometimes nipped at the female's neck as he shifted position, and he kept his long tail curled beneath her, sticking out below her at a right angle to the axis of her body.
In earlier Newsletters I've made the point that the males of most bird species don't have penises. Since we know that birds evolved from reptilian ancestors, when we see Green Anoles mating so fervently we can be forgiven for wondering whether a penis is involved.
It turns out that male reptiles do indeed possess copulatory organs capable of inserting sperm into a female's reproductive tract. I suppose it's a matter of perspective as to whether the thing they have can be dignified with the name of penis. What this means is that male reptiles had them, but then most male bird species lost them. In fact, among the birds, only the more primitive species still have penises.
Maybe Mother Nature is trying to say something here. While most male birds don't have penises, they do usually display very elaborate courtship behaviors. But reptiles, who generally just grab or get grabbed and stick together during mating, do have penises. Therefore, maybe the flow of evolution is toward doing away with penises altogether -- to replace hardcore mechanical gee-whizery with complex and highly formalized or stylized behavior.
CONFUSING KUDZU WITH POISON IVY
Last week I saw three different people misidentify Kudzu as Poison Ivy. While anyone who sees acres of rambling, landscape-smothering Kudzu knows instantly and doubtlessly that what's being seen is Kudzu, it's easy for someone just looking at Kudzu leaves to confuse them with the leaves of Poison Ivy. The similar-sized leaves of both plants are compound, composed of three leaflets, with each leaflet on its own little stem, or petiolule. You might want to compare the Kudzu leaf at www.rce.rutgers.edu/images/weeds/full/kudzu-leaf-full.jpg with the Poison Ivy leaf presented at www.gpnc.org/images/jpegs/plants/poison_ivy_leaf.jpg
To distinguish them, the main thing to remember is that the running stems and leaf petioles of Kudzu are hairy, but those of Poison Ivy are hairless. Kudzu hairs are relatively long (1/16th-inch), stiff and brown so they're hard to miss. Kudzu is in the Bean Family and pretty closely related to Green Bean vines, so just visualize a Green Bean vine on steroids.
If that's not enough, then remember that Kudzu vines are only semi-woody, looking like really tough Green Bean vines, but Poison Ivy Vines are fully woody. Also, note that at the base of the Kudzu leaf's petiole there are conspicuous (1/2-inch long) green "stipules." Stipules are slenderly triangular items that protect the immature leaf during the early stages of its expansion from the bud, and later either fall off or else remain like little "ears" at leaf and leaflet bases.
TROGIID BOOKLICE IN THE BARN
The barn in which I have my cinderblock-walled office has a concrete floor, and the walls and roof are of corrugated tin. It's about the size of 1.5 average houses and now that I've cleaned it it's quite neat. With good ventilation and a great view toward the west, it serves well as the "main office" of Cooper Hill Institute.
Still, it has lice. Not the blood-sucking kind, but rather a minute insect that feeds on lichens, algae, plant spores and dead plant and insect material. The "louse" part of its name is unfortunate, for it has nothing to do with people-lice and is completely unrelated to them. It's just a tiny, pale insect, so someone put the "louse" in its name. It's the insect family Trogiidae.
You'd never even know that our barn has Trogiid Booklice unless you were down on the floor or ground next to the wall, which I frequently am cleaning or gardening. Even then you might not notice them. To spot them you almost have to wave your hand across the wall where it meets the floor or ground while looking at the wall. What you see then is rather as if some of the sandgrains comprising the cinderblocks suddenly should disengage from the wall, for less than a second scramble a few inches, then freeze and practically disappear. When dozens do this all at once, it's as waves of motion ripple across the cinderblocks. It's an amazing thing to see, something you don't expect in real life.
These critters are so small, about 0.02 inch (0.5 mm) that a regular magnifying glass can't make much of them. I had use my handlens. What I saw was something cream colored and shaped like a wingless termite, or fat ant, but much smaller than the smallest ant. In fact, while I was watching, a small ant wandered across my field of observation and the booklice fled like rabbits in a field being traversed by a wolf. This reminded me that in this life many realities overlap, and it's possible for us to wander from one to the other without even moving.
You can see a drawing of a Trogiid Booklouse by clicking here.
COOPER BRANCH NEXT TO THE BARN
About 50 feet (15 m) from where I'm typing this in the barn-office there runs a pretty little sandy-bottomed stream called Cooper Branch. This isn't the beautiful Sandy Creek I've mentioned, running about half a mile west of us, but rather a small branch leading into Sandy Creek. You can see a picture of the branch at www.earthfoot.org/temp/c_branch.jpg
That picture was taken from atop a wooden bridge about 12 feet (3.5 m) above the streambed. Since we're still awaiting the water-well-drilling man, when I need water for the garden I stand on the bridge and drop a bucket on a rope into a pool I've dug into the sand. The only glitch in the system is that usually I get a mosquitofish or two with the water. The sand always is marked with animal tracks, mainly of deer, armadillos, raccoons and wild pigs.
FOUR TOMATO PLANTS
The little garden I have here can't be compared to what I left at Laurel Hill. I can't even recall how many rows of tomatoes and beans I had there, or how many hills of squash and potatoes. Here my garden will never produce enough to make a dent in my needs. I'm grateful to neighbors who periodically appear outside the barn door with paper bags of goodies from their own gardens.
In a strange way, however, my little postage-stamp garden with its measly four tomato plants, one eggplant, three pepper plants, two squash plants and a few other things provides more of a certain kind of gardening pleasure than the gardens I abandoned. That's because having so little, I'm able to pay much more attention to what I do have. In my former gardens a whole tomato plant might have disappeared without my even noticing it, but here each plant occupies it own precious space, and has its own personality. I know each plant's history, its idiosyncrasies and special needs. If a new flower appears, it's a noteworthy event. When a fruit finally matures, a certain Zen- like moment on my part is required to choose the absolutely appropriate harvesting moment. The tasting of that fruit becomes a meditation leaving an afterglow.
Having paid attention to tomato blossoms for over half a century, I am pretty familiar with tomato-flower anatomy. Yet during these recent days when the flower buds on my late-planted slips opened into blossoms and I could see that all the blossoms' parts were exactly as they should be, it was especially poignant. I confirmed that the five pollen-producing anthers as always curiously fused together along their margins into a cone surrounding the female pistil, that the anthers were tipped with strangely sharp and narrow appendages, and I saw how they split, or dehisced, from top to bottom, and not the other way around. Even as my personal world endured a little earthquake, yet once again in this year of 2003 it is clear that tomato flowers remain true to their own design, and remain beautiful in their immutability. It is a promising insight.
Large gardens feed the body; little ones feed the soul.
You can see how a tomato flower's anthers grow together around the style at my Tomato-flower Page at www.backyardnature.net/fl_tomat.htm
Tuesday at dusk a one-inch rain sneaked up on me and the clothes drying on my line got wet. Early Wednesday morning while passing by the sodden clothes still hanging there I saw that the sun shining on them caused curls of steam to rise into the morning air. I paused awhile, reflecting on how nicely this natural drying of my clothing fit into our goals of establishing permaculture on this property. Here's my train of thought:
Permaculture, besides being an ecologically sound method for growing food and providing an enriched living environment for people, is also an attitude. At the heart of the attitude is reverence for life on Earth, and that implies living a lifestyle impacting the ecosystems around us as little as possible, while continuing to live a pleasant and useful life.
I connected this thought with my clothes hanging on the line because earlier that morning on Public Radio I'd heard how in Appalachia coal-stripminers have redoubled their practice of knocking off the tops of entire mountains and shoving the debris into streams. This behavior is now encouraged, where earlier it was discouraged, because the Bush Administration has redefined certain terms in the Clean Water Act. You can read about mountaintop removal stripmining at www.earthjustice.org/news/display.html?ID=609
The coal being stripmined in Appalachia is used to produce electricity. That electricity is provided to enable the use of such appliances as clothes dryers. In other words, when I turn on a clothes dryer, I am telling the power companies to send me more electricity, and they in turn tell coal companies to strip more coal, and the strippers respond by bulldozing mountaintops into streams. Already over 700 miles of Appalachian streams have been eliminated -- simply obliterated into nonexistence -- completely in accordance with the Clean Water Act as defined by the Bush Administration.
Here is the pretty part: My soggy clothes hanging steaming in the morning sun is a vote, a vote to produce less electricity, to stripmine less, to stop knocking the tops of Appalachian mountains into valley streams.
As I see it, one value of Cooper Hill Institute is that it provides a place where people (so far just me) can practice a sustainable, thought-out, moral lifestyle without having to apologize to anyone for doing so. If we want to do without air conditioners, let weeds grow until we can replace them with organic gardens, or spend an afternoon shelling beans instead of doing regular paid, taxable work, we can do it here because that's in our charter, that's our mission, that's who we are and we are proud of it!
And if we can by example inspire at least one person to one day hang his or her clothing out to dry in fresh air and sunlight instead of using an electric dryer, and this is done because the person consciously decides to not collude in the George-Bush-sanctioned bulldozing of mountaintops into beautiful Appalachian valleys, then that will be a majestic contribution our Cooper Hill Institute will have made toward the continuance of Life on Earth.