Jul 30, 2010

On Urban Sprawl and Agricultural Settings

As a kid growing up in Detroit, the only time I managed to see cows was during the Michigan State Fair. A person would have to drive quite a distance to true farmland in the urban sprawl that makes up the metropolitan Detroit area, and I am sure the number of functional farms within an hour of Detroit has decreased in the past few decades.

By contrast, I only have to travel a few minutes away from Toledo to find scenes like the dairy farm depicted on your left. This farm is located somewhere between the villages of Ida and Temperance in extreme southeastern Michigan; I am not sure of the exact location, as I was just snapping photographs while my wife drove the vehicle.

There are a dozen or so cows visible in this image, and I suspect that dairy farming is just a small portion of the agricultural activities happening on this property. It appears that the farmer owns several hundred acres of land, and I could see corn and soybeans growing near the highway. The cows roamed around on a patch of land perhaps an acre in size, and while this hardly makes them free range animals, at least they get to stretch their legs and enjoy a little fresh air now and then.

I like to poke around in the dirt and try my hand at what I call urban agriculture, but I am sure that this farmer knows a million more details about plants and farm animals than I ever could learn in my remaining decades. Visiting an agricultural region satisfies my yearning to get closer to the land (no, I am not the sort of person who drives a tricked out Expedition with a thule rack), though the idea of having a few chickens running around my yard does appeal to me.

I am not sure my dogs would likewise enjoy the introduction of domesticated poultry into the yard, though.

Jul 29, 2010

On Raphael B. Johnson and the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners

Left: Raphael B. Johnson

A reader of this blog yesterday brought to my attention the proposed appointment of convicted murderer Raphael B. Johnson to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. My initial reaction was one of shock, as the idea of an ex-con weighing in on police matters seemed ludicrous. At first glance, this seemed like a story from The Onion or The Daily Show.

Johnson spent twelve years in prison after his conviction of second-degree murder in the death of Johnny Havard in 1992. Yet at some point during his incarceration Johnson decided to make something useful with his life, earning a B.A. in legal administration and a Masters of Arts in liberal studies from the University of Detroit Mercy. Johnson is a well known motivational speaker, and he also achieved a measure of fame on the Maury Povich program with his challenges to teenaged misfits about turning around their lives.

Yet there is the question of the conviction, and while I am not among those who scoff at Mayor Dave Bing's unconventional appointment, I think that Raphael Johnson's criminal record should disqualify him from the position. I am concerned that Johnson's appointment to the board of commissioners might seem an insult to the officers who put their lives on the line every day to uphold the law, and even more importantly, the city of Detroit already faces significant problems in its international image. Why compound these PR challenges by inviting ridicule from the political pundits and late night comedians?

I commend Raphael B. Johnson for becoming an exemplary citizen after his earlier criminal past, but the Detroit Police Department would face unnecessary distractions if Johnson's appointment is approved. Mayor Bing should find a more appropriate position for Johnson if he wishes to utilize his unique skill set, perhaps in a role where Johnson works with at-risk teens or paroled felons.

Jul 28, 2010

On WikiLeaks, Afghanistan, and Server Limitations

I have been reading with some interest the news that an as-yet unnamed military sources leaked approximately 90,000 pages of classified documents related to the Afghanistan conflict to the website WikiLeaks. One of the reasons for my interest is that I am simultaneously teaching a class on the Vietnam War, and I was curious if this documentary leak would parallel the notorious Pentagon Papers that began being leaked in 1971.

The documents are collectively known as the Afghan War Diary, and these purportedly consist of internal U.S. military logs from the Afghanistan war. Unfortunately, public interest in the Afghan War Diary has been massive, and when I have attempted to access the site, I receive server overload error message like those in the screenshot on the left.

My suspicion is that the institutional intelligence of the U.S. government with regard to public relations has improved somewhat since the Vietnam War, and that there will be few instances of overt deception on the part of American military and political leaders uncovered in the Afghan War Diary, at least not of the magnitude of the flat-out lying by the Johnson and Nixon administrations depicted in the Pentagon Papers.

Unfortunately, the excessive demand on the WikiLeaks servers means that I will have to wait to examine the documents. I suppose, however, that I will learn little that I did not previously know about the Afghanistan conflict from the Afghan War Diary, and my semi-educated guess is that this cache of documents will have little bearing on U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

I also think the American populace is simply too indifferent toward the conflicts in Central and Western Asia for any documentary bombshells that might be uncovered in the Afghan War Diary to create a stir. Unfortunately, any antiwar sentiments in the United States today pale in comparison with the antiwar movement during the Vietnam conflict, and too many folks are more interested in the demagogic distractions of the present-day neo-McCarthyism to pay attention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jul 27, 2010

Baby Cardinal

While working in my gardens this afternoon, I noticed a cardinal darting in and out of a stand of sunflowers. I initially brought out the camera to catch an image of the red cardinal against the yellow sunflowers, but instead my eye became fixated upon the source of the cardinal's attentions: a baby cardinal was perched on one of the sunflower stalks. Either that, or the cardinal found the spot amenable to WiFi, and he was surfing the Internet for information on a wholesale water filter.


I am not sure if the bird is yet able to fly, but I decided to bring my dogs inside to keep them from investigating the young chick's peeps. The dogs have a fondness for rousting birds, and my younger Puggle - whose name is Chauncey - likes to stalk birds and squirrels. I hope that my young avian friend will find safe passage to either adulthood or at least out of my yard.

Jul 26, 2010

On Parking Passes and Pleas for Leniency

Being without my university parking pass today (it was in another of our vehicles), I decided to make an advance plea to any parking enforcement employees who might stumble upon my permit-less vehicle. Pictured on your left is my humble-but-honest attempt at swaying the judgment of the BGSU parking enforcement folks.

While perhaps not as powerful as garlic in warding off vampires, my note did serve its purpose. At the very least, I returned to my vehicle to find no tickets or warnings.

Honesty, as they say, is indeed the best policy, and my lack of subterfuge and pretense may have worked in my favor. I do not intend to tempt the parking fates again, though this method might work for you in the future.

Jul 25, 2010

On Jimson Weed and Dirt Purchases

We purchased four cubic yards of dirt from a local supplier this spring to fill in some holes and level out some low areas in my yard and gardens. Along with the dirt came the requisite hidden seeds, and this spring and summer witnessed the appearance of a number of new-to-me weeds in my yard.

One of those weeds looked rather interesting, and I allowed a few specimens to grow after they produced some eye-catching white blossoms. I elected to let the plants live to see what sort of fruit they would produce, and over the course of the past few weeks I noticed the appearance of prickly seed pods on the plants.

This morning I decided to identify the mystery plants, and I was a bit disturbed to see that I had been allowing the poisonous Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) to set up shop in my garden. This plant is notorious in the U.S. for the occasional thrill-seeking teenagers who ingest it in pursuit of hallucinogenic kicks and wind up in the hospital. The drug information clearinghouse Erowid - not known for anti-drug polemics by any stretch - has this to say about Jimson weed intoxication:
Symptoms include mydriasis; cycloplegia; flushed, warm, dry skin; dry mouth; ileus; urinary retention; tachycardia; hyper or hypotension; delirium with hallucinations; jerky, myoclonic movements; choreoathetosis; hyperthermia; coma; respiratory arrest; rare seizures; and central stimulation followed by depression. Hallucinations are reported in as many as 83% of cases; typically they are simple visual images in natural colors, but infrequently also tactile hallucinations of crawling insects.
Even more to the point (and pretty funny in a dark way) was this quote from a one-time Jimson weed user:
I do not condone the recreational use of Datura at all. It’s horrible. So kids, there is no need to eat Datura. Stay the fuck away from it. And if you do decide to try it, even after reading this report, and or countless other train wreck experiences. Then you are as fucking dumb as I am.
Another one-off experimenter with Datura painted an even more grim picture:
I was out of it for 2 days, and comming down from it was very scary. It was a very evil feeling.I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil. I can't really explain it but it is not something that I can ever forget. If I could find a time machine, I would go back and undo the terrible mistake that I made when I collected evil from someones garden.
Admittedly there was a point in my life many years ago when I might have been reckless enough to ingest such a substance, especially if knowledgeable friends recommended it, but these days I do not even drink full mugs of coffee out of a desire to avoid caffeine jitters. Thus, it was with a sense of urgency that I returned to the yard to uproot these plants and rid my property of a potentially deadly menace.

Yet the Datura plants had the last laugh: even though I wore gloves when yanking out these dangerous weeds, water from last night's rains poured off the plants and went directly into my eyes. Now I get to fret for a few hours about whether there will be some residual eye irritation or even a small dose of imagining crawling insects.

So, if you plan to uproot Jimson weed, make sure your eyes are covered, or you might spend an afternoon wondering if you are about to start tripping.

Bees Getting Busy

I was wandering around the backyard on this rainy Sunday morning when I decided to take some pictures of a bumblebee visiting my sunflowers. Some of the image turned out better than this one, especially in terms of clarity, but when I was downloading the files I noticed that this image featured both a honeybee and a bumblebee.

I also liked the way the bumblebee looked more like a leaping anteater than a member of the bee genus Bombus. I snapped the picture just as the insect's wings went into a downstroke and the hind legs had just finished lofting the bumblebee into the air.

There are more productive ways to spend a Sunday morning than by taking pictures of bees, but when you are a geek like me, nature sometimes takes precedence.

Jul 24, 2010

Rays of the Sun

I took the accompanying photograph in between rounds of a series of thunderstorms that rumbled through the southern portion of Michigan's Wayne County last night. I liked the contrast between the blue skies, the black clouds, and the rays of light shining from the obscured sun.

The upper right-hand corner of the picture has the best rays, though my digital camera did not quite capture the full effect of the diffused sunlight.

A better image would have been achieved with this window of light and blue sky surrounded by the all-encompassing black clouds, but my efforts to catch such a panoramic image did not simultaneously produce the ray effect.

Jul 23, 2010

On Storm Fears and Media Silence

We spent the afternoon and early evening in the Detroit area visiting my grandfather, and there were some powerful storms that ripped through southern Wayne and northern Monroe counties. We became a bit worried when driving home about 7:30 PM, as the storms suddenly tracked to the southeast.

That is, following us toward Toledo.

The first picture was taken about 8:15 pm near exit 11 on Interstate 75 on the southern edge of Monroe, MI (my wife was driving and I was busy sticking the camera out the window for some cloud images). The skies suddenly darkened, and it was clear that a storm was impending. Even more ominous was the fact that our little dog Shadow - who freaks out at thunderstorms and senses their presence 10-15 minutes before humans can - crawled under the bench seat of our minivan.

Sure enough, by the time we hit Alexis and Detroit on the northern edge of Toledo, all hell was breaking loose. Rain came down in thick sheets, the sky lit up with bursts of lightning, and the roads were almost undriveable. Of course, Toledo's pathetic local radio stations had zero weather information, though I frantically scanned all stations in vain.

Even worse, the tornado sirens went off just a few minutes after we ran into the house. Strangely, none of the local stations had any coverage of the storm, and I was getting both frustrated and a bit panicky. Finally Robert Shiels of WTOL broke in just after 9:00 PM to say that local officials possessed the power to sound the sirens, but that there was nothing on his radar to indicate that a rotational cell was anywhere nearby.

It appears that sheriff's deputies in Providence, OH may have seen some rotation, but this appears to have been an error. While the storms were strong, it turns out that the greater threat to area residents was from flash flooding, as the storms dumped several inches of rain on the parched ground.

Jul 22, 2010

On Domestic Disarray and eBay Weasels

Pictured on your left is a section of my kitchen, an area torn apart so that contractors can run electrical conduit plus water, drain, and gas lines to the second floor of our house. The purpose of this heavy construction is to create a second floor laundry, a dream my wife has held for many years and for which we are now in the financial position to afford.

Still, I despise such disruptions while they are occurring, and the equipment noise and foot traffic around the house today has been considerable. In addition, my dogs are always high-strung and jittery with so much activity. I knew that this would be a poor day to engage in the contemplative work of syllabus writing and paper grading, yet I nonetheless insisted on engaging in these very activities.

Recipe for disaster, that.

After a few less-than-fully-productive hours, I decided my efforts would be better spent pulling weeds and occupying myself in other garden-related activities. The mail carrier brought me some English ivy plants I ordered from an eBay vendor, but unfortunately the jackass seller sent me cuttings instead of the "well-rooted plants" advertised.

I planted the ivy anyways, figuring that it would be a waste of time to chase down $10 from this seller. Had I looked more closely at the seller's ratings, I would have noticed a spate of recent negative comments from dissatisfied buyers, but I figured that English ivy was pretty hardy and that even a lousy seller could not screw up such a small sale.

I was wrong, but I was also distracted for a few hours, and in the meantime the construction marched along. Perhaps the lousy eBay deal provided me an outlet for my energy on a day when little other work was going to be successful.

Jul 21, 2010

On Color-Coordinated Gardens

In something akin to a happy accident, one of my shade gardens happened to become awash with pink hues this week. The sources of pinkness in this image are Phlox paniculata (summer phlox) and Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower).

The sudden changing of the colors sparked a thought in my head, which was that it might be possible to design a garden that changed colors every few weeks. If I planted perennials of similar colors that bloomed about the same time, I could theoretically synchronize a color show in certain areas of my yard.

To do so would require me to keep a log of the blooming dates of the various plants in my yard (although I could also use the many images and blog posts I have generated over the years to speed up the process). Then there would be the relocation of existing plants, purchase of new perennials, and fine-tuning of the blooming schedules to keep like-hued plants near each other at the correct times via the use of my laptops and a Linksys router.

On second thought, I will just enjoy the happy accident for the moment.

Jul 20, 2010

Film Review: Inception

The buzz surrounding Christopher Nolan's visually stunning and deceptively cerebral film Inception began many weeks ago, and I gradually found waning my resistance to shelling out first-run ticket cash. Over the past few days enough friends on Facebook raved about the film that my wife and I decided to venture out to take in this movie.

Inception was easily the best film I viewed this year, though admittedly this has not exactly been a banner year for Hollywood. I found Inception to be intellectually challenging, and I had to work to keep up with Nolan's efforts to distort and bend reality.

There were a few moments where my ability to suspend disbelief wavered, especially the way that the character Ariadne (played by Ellen Page) seemed to know much more than a rookie dream extractor/architect should know. Of course, I know nothing about dream extraction, so I suppose I cannot fairly critique someone more skilled than I in matters oneirological.

Part heist film, part science fiction, and part five-dimensional chess game, Inception is well worth the first-run cash, and you will leave with more questions than answers. For some folks, such a film is frustrating, but for those filmgoers who like to be challenged, Inception works on more levels than most films you will see this decade.

Jul 18, 2010

On Daisies and Summertime

Nothing says "summer" to me like the appearance of daisies in my yard, and even the efforts of my dogs to trample and uproot the daisies we have planted never seem to kill them off. We had only one group of daisies reappear this year, so we picked up a few more planters of these bright flowers and planted them today.

I remember as a child picking wild daisies in a variety of locations and presenting them to my mom and grandmother in an effort to either curry favor or mitigate some egregious sin I committed. OK, I might have picked the flowers because I was just being a sweet child that day, but chances are I was up to some sort of shenanigans.

The very colors of the common daisy - its brilliant white and radiant yellow hues - mirror the brightest summer days, and I think a person would have to be comatose not to experience at least a smidgen of good humor from gazing at daisies. Moreover, these flowers stick around for quite a few weeks, making them a bargain in terms of dollars per day of blooming season, and they multiply over time to create walls of color for the patient gardener.

If only my dogs shared my zeal for the daisies.

Jul 17, 2010

Intellicast.com: Error Message 403.6

I have long been a visitor to the weather website Intellicast.com, but lately the site has been a source of aggravation to me. Over the past few months the site is riddled with popup ads, and now I am experiencing difficulty even accessing Intellicast.

In the middle of the week I started getting 403.6 error messages that read as follows:

HTTP 403.6 - Forbidden: IP address rejected

Each client has a unique IP address. If the server defines a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the site and the IP address you are using is on this list, you will receive the error message.

This is a feature that grants or denies specific users access to a Web site, directory, or file.
Evidently the problem is on the server end, and initially I only experienced the error message at my BGSU office. However, in the last few days the problems seems to emerge on other computers with different IP addresses, and I am growing tired of wasting my time trying to reload the pages to use the site.

Thus, I am searching for a quality weather site to replace Intellicast, much like I would recommend the auto insurance site cheapestautoinsurance.net. Feel free to make recommendations in the Comments section about the weather sites you use and why you rely on these sites.

Jul 15, 2010

Department of Tele-Annoyance: Robo-Calls from 419-318-1970

Over the past few days my landline has been ringing incessantly with telephone calls from a Sylvania, OH number. The number in question is 419-318-1970, and the calls contain a recorded message asking for participation in a political survey related to the November election.

The calls have been coming in at all sorts of hours, ranging from as early as 9:11 AM and as late as 8:56 PM. By my estimation the obnoxious idiots who programmed this robo-call operation have sent at least seven calls to my house over the last three days, and the number may be higher if some of the calls did not get recorded on the caller ID device (I sometimes pick up faster than the machine can recognize an incoming call).

The tele-bastards also seem to have a sixth sense for when I am trying to concentrate on writing or grading. Quite a few of these calls have disrupted me in the middle of something that requires the full usage of my already dubious intellectual powers, resulting in a flurry of expletives from me as I see that the asshats are calling again.

To the tele-imbeciles who annoy me: I am a firm believer in karma, and I have little doubt that your incessant pestering of private phone lines is going to bring about a heavy downpour of negative karma upon your heads.

In the meantime: go away. Now.

Jul 14, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: WITENAGEMOT

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

witenagemot (WIH-ten-EYE-yah-moat) n. a political body in Anglo-Saxon England that operated from approximately the late 6th century through the 11th century.

The term witenagemot is derived from the Old English phrase ƿitena ȝemōt ("meeting of wise men"). The witenagemot was an assembly of social and political elites served in an advisory role to the king. Members of the witenagemot were known as "witans," and the assembled group lacked the power to create legislation.

The king called the witenagemot as he saw fit, and the assembly possessed at most limited authority, ultimately answering to the monarchy. Weaker kings sometimes relied more heavily on the advice of the witenagemot, while more powerful kings called the assembly infrequently or even disregarded the advice of the witans. I suspect that the witans had little interest in life insurance without medical questions, either, but this is altogether another topic.

I possessed a fuzzy notion of the origin of the term prior to this afternoon, when I came across a reference to the witenagemot in the 1913 text The Constitutional History of England in its Origin and Development. Now, to form my own witenagemot, as I seek solutions to the male canines in my home who have recently engaged in nefarious behavior involving leg-lifting and a certain kitchen chair.

Jul 13, 2010

On the Tragic Death of Bradley A. Hammer

I read with a mixture of sadness and anger that Allen Township resident Bradley A. Hammer died in a shooting accident Monday. The incident occurred while Hammer was "teaching his son how to shoot when the .22-caliber rifle discharged," according to the Toledo Blade.

This is of course an unbelievable tragedy for the Hammer family, but I have to ask the question: what the hell was Bradley Hammer thinking when he came upon the dubious idea of placing a loaded rifle in the hands of his 7-year-old son?

Now, I am a firm supporter of the Second Amendment, and I understand that in rural Ohio folks place a high degree of cultural importance to the skills associated with gun ownership. However, I find ludicrous the idea that a 7-year-old child should have a need to begin using lethal firearms.

Talking to your child about gun safety? Sure. Demonstrating how a weapon operates and building a healthy respect for firearms? I'm all for it. But handing over a loaded weapon to a small child? Utterly irresponsible, and in this case, deadly.

Now the family is without a husband and father, and now Hammer's 7-year-old son gets to carry around a lifetime of guilt knowing that he killed his own father. I do not know the model of .22-caliber rifle that was used, but I have to think that the rifle was about as long as the child is tall. In addition, no one can convince me that a 7-year-old is anywhere near mature enough to be wielding a deadly weapon, even with parental supervision, though I suppose there are plenty of people who would disagree. Yet a better question is whether Bradley Hammer was qualified to teach his child to properly handle a weapon, and based upon the fatal outcome, my suspicion is that the answer to this question is an emphatic "no."

Jul 11, 2010

Red Admiral

Pictured on your left is an example of the butterfly known to the scientific world as Vanessa indica. In the United States this butterfly is known as the Asian Admiral, while in other parts of the world folks sometimes call this insect the Indian Red Admiral. I noticed the butterfly while watering some plants, and it cheerfully cooperated while I went inside to fetch my camera from atop a piece of my home office furniture.

I am a million miles away from being a lepidopterologist, and I found the website Butterflies and Moths of North America to be very user-friendly and informative in my quest to identify this butterfly. Once I narrowed down the search to butterflies in the general popular category of "Red Admiral," I could then determine which of these butterflies my friend really was.

Update: Upon further research I think that this variety of Red Admiral is actually Vanessa atalanta. The telling piece of evidence for my opinion is the presence of the four small triangular markings at the base of the butterfly's hindwings.

Jul 10, 2010

Porcello Sharp in Loss by Mud Hens

Pictured on your left is Rick Porcello, and he is wearing a Hawaiian-themed baseball uniform in conjunction with a Toledo Mud Hens promotion. Porcello pitched seven shutout innings tonight, but unfortunately closer Jay Sborz coughed up a three-run homer to Jonathan VanEvery of the Indianapolis Indians in the ninth, and the Hens lost by a score of 3-1. This is kind of like winding up with a case of eczema after having a great time at prom, but I digress.

My wife and I attended tonight's game along with my parents and my brother and sister-in-law from the Detroit area. The capacity crowd of 10,300 was silenced by VanEvery's blast, which traveled about 420 feet in left-center.

Porcello looked like a true phenom in 2009, when he went 14-8 for the Tigers and finished third in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year. He started 2010 off in rough fashion, posting a 4–7 record and a whopping 6.14 ERA. Since joining the Mud Hens Porcello has a record of 1-2 and an ERA of 3.21 in four starts, so perhaps the trip to Toledo has helped him work out the mechanical problems that seemed to plague him in Detroit. Porcello's outing is also impressive given the fact that the Indians are one of the better hitting teams in the International League.

Porcello allowed only six hits and gave up three walks in seven innings, while racking up seven strikeouts in his strong outing.

Jul 8, 2010

On Human Hopes and Inevitable Storms

Pictured on your left is the intersection of Talmadge and Sylvania in West Toledo, and the image was taken about 6:00 pm this evening. My wife and I were on our way to Jazz in the Garden, a summertime favorite of ours each year.

I had been watching the weather radar most of the afternoon to see if it looked like we could still make the event, and the news just kept getting more grim. Yet my wife in her infinite optimism continued packing the picnic meal, and she insisted that the storm would "blow over" even with the ominous clouds building as we headed out.

I just asked if she was packing umbrellas, because I had little doubt that we would be getting soaked.

Yet it was hard to stay irritated at her, even though I knew we were sure to be facing a washout. Even the sight of lightning and the rumble of thunder did not deter her faith that the storm would pass, and though I was correct that we would receive a heavy downpour that would cancel our plans (the concert went on as scheduled in a conference building, but we went back home to eat) I still observed the power of faith and positive thinking in action.

But did I mention I was right? That makes about eight times this year, a new record for me.

Jul 7, 2010

The Year's First Sunflower

In keeping with the early start to the 2010 growing season around these parts, I was not surprised to see that some of my sunflowers have started blooming. Typically I think of sunflowers as a late July or early August phenomenon, but some of my red sunflowers decided that an early July bloom would be fine by their horticultural clocks.

In this image the sunflower head looks large, but in reality this is a smallish flower with a diameter of about 10 inches. Still, the burnt-orange and reddish hues make for contrast with some of the brighter lilies and roses nearby, and I am sure the neighborhood finches will be feasting on this flower when they spot it, provided that the birds are not too busy with unexpected delays, such as researching the best testosterone cream.

It should not be a surprise that a plant with the word "sun" in its name thrives in full sun, and this sunflower is no exception. It receives sun from about 9:00 AM to dusk, and it has locked onto the morning sun when it finished its heliotropic dance.

Jul 6, 2010

Red Poppies

In a previous post I ruminated on the planting of some red poppy seeds I harvested from a patch of red poppies that I noticed growing at my 93-year-old grandfather's house last year. Several weeks have passed, yet the brilliant red poppies continue to provide a colorful display in my yard, and they appear to have at least another week left of color.

There is an interesting contradiction in the red poppy, a flower associated with wartime death whose long lasting and vibrant colors simultaneously remind us of life. I spent a few minutes in the searing 96-degree heat today gazing at my small patch of poppies, in sublime awe at their beauty and stamina. On a day when many of my flowers seemed parched and wilting, the poppies continued to blaze away in their scarlet glory, almost oblivious to the heat.

I plan to harvest even more of the seeds of these beautiful flowers this summer, and I envision a sea of red in my yard next June and July.

Jul 4, 2010

Double Petal Ditch Lily

Regular readers of this blog know my fascination with the common plant known by the scientific name of Hemerocallis fulva. Around these parts these lilies are known as either "tiger lilies" or "ditch lilies," depending I suppose on the mindset of the gardener.

Pictured on your left is a variety of the common tiger lily that appeared a few years ago in my yard. The blossoms have twice as many petals as a regular tiger lily, and there is a frilly edge to the petals that is more eye-catching than those found on standard tiger lilies. The flowers also boast a bright red streaking in the petals, giving these lilies even more aesthetic appeal.

These double petal lilies begin to bloom a few weeks after the rest of my tiger lilies appear, which in this year was on June 9. I am not sure if this type of lily is a separate species or just a variant on the strain, but I put most of my thought into simply appreciating their beauty.

Jul 3, 2010

Giant Lilies Redux

The giant lilies I blogged about last week are now in full bloom, so I decided to take a few more pictures and brag about them again. I think I spent about $10 on two pots of these strangely prolific plants, and we will be rewarded with brilliant magenta hues that will last about three weeks.

As I mentioned in the last post, one of the most surprising characteristics of these giant lilies is the thickness of their stalks. These resemble the sorts of trunk-like stalks that support sunflowers, and I estimate that the average diameter of the stalks - which look like the horticultural equivalent of a human being taking HGH supplements - is about an inch-and-a-half.

If these giant lilies continue to spread, we will have to split them and start new groups elsewhere in the yard. As it stands they are already crowding out some of the other perennials I have planted in this particular garden, and while I appreciate their beauty, I like a little variety in the garden's colors.

Jul 2, 2010

Buried Marble

While excavating some turf from my lawn today in order to create a future garden, I dug up an old marble. I paused to reflect upon the years in which the marble remained underground, and I wondered how long the spherical toy was buried in my yard. I estimate that the marble was 10-12 inches below ground when I discovered it.

The marble is glass, and its turquoise coloring is punctuated by waves of a deeper bluish hue. There is pitting on the surface that suggests the glass has been exposed at least a few decades of corrosive substances in the soil, though much of the marble's luster still remains despite the soil's efforts to cause a change in marble mass akin to that produced by human weight loss supplements.

I cannot recall any of my children playing with marbles, though of course I have no idea of knowing if they came across any in their travels. The marble is unique enough to lead me to believe it was not mass produced for a board game, though it is possible that the wavy colorforms may have been produced by the outdoor environment (I am not a marblologist).

So if you lost an aquamarine marble 30 years ago in West Toledo, call me: it is still worthy of play.

Jul 1, 2010

New Hammock

One of my favorite pastimes (and one I unfortunately do not make enough effort to do) is to kick back and relax in the hammock. This afternoon my trusty old hammock finally bit the proverbial dust, and we ventured out to procure a new hammock.

My wife, every the savvy shopper, located a two-person hammock at one of the local department stores, and we also invested in a new support system to replace the weathered synthetic marine mooring lines we hoisted up some years ago. The new setup ran about $100, and I had to promise to put the hammock away after summer.

Joining me on the new hammock is Shadow, a terrier mix that we were fostering with Planned Pethood. After about four months and only one application (not a good match), we ended up adopting Shadow ourselves. He is a smart, loyal, and friendly little guy who integrated himself so completely into our house that we couldn't imagine him living anywhere else.

The mosquitoes finally drove us from our hanging reverie, but we will be spending at least an hour or two on the hammock this holiday weekend, while I will be spending zero time contemplating the best eye cream for dark circles.