Dirty Hands Can Save from Hell

The following is a piece that some, I’m sure will find too “Jesusy.” Too bad, it’s my blog. Nevertheless, perhaps if you are not a follower of Jesus of Nazareth you will at least read this  and understand where I (among others) am coming from.

http://iamnothamlet.blogspot.com/2017/02/dirty-hands-can-save-you-from-hell.html

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Eating in Your Backyard

Eating in Your Backyard

[Note: This post was started in late July/early August, but as usual, life got in the way.  Consider this a tip of the hat to the end of summer.]

High summer is here.  Most likely there are fewer flashes from fireflies and the visual dearth is replaced by a nearly-incessant daytime buzz-sawing of calling cicadas.  Not to mention the katydids making their crunchy nocturnal songs.

 

Regardless of the insect A/V presentations, I trust you have been outside to observe and enjoy.

 

You’ve probably even experienced a repast or two in your yard.

This is fancier than my backyard meals. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

This is fancier than my backyard meals. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

 

Has any of the food come from your garden?  Even if you don’t raise fruits and vegetables, you’re likely to find fruits and edible plants that you didn’t sow blossoming in your yard or neighborhood.

 

This month’s topic should be obvious at this point: wild (and semi-wild) edibles!

 

Let me start with the easy ones—easy because you are more than likely familiar with them presently.

 

Berries:

Tasty, but not wild.

Tasty, but not wild.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Raspberries – both red and black-capped varieties can be found in backyards, on farms, and in the woods.

(Courtesy wikimedia.org)

 

 

 

(Courtesy wikimedia.org)

  • Blueberries – the wild strain are smaller (and tastier to me). I’ve not found them in yards, but along trails in more northerly latitudes.

    Courtesy Mr. Wooton--CC

    Courtesy Mr. Wooton–CC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Blackberries – thornier than raspberries (and too seedy for my tastes) but many people enjoy jam, pies, and alcohol made from these giants.

(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

  • Serviceberries – these grow on trees and some municipalities plant them

    5393665

    (Courtesy Bugwoodcloud.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forbs, i.e. herbaceous (a plant that has leaves and stems that die and return to the soil at the end of the growing season) flowering plants:

 

  • Dandelions – I know you have these, in not in your yard, then a neighbor’s or somewhere down the street. There isn’t even a reason to post a photo as they are unmistakable in the U.S. (and Canada).  I’ve seen the greens for sale, labeled as organic at $6 a pound!  They are bitter, but do well in soups and in a mixed salad.  But why would anyone buy them?

Chicory_(Cichorium_intybus)

  • Chicory – the flower and bud are edible, but bitter. The root can (and has) be used to flavor coffee.  It’s probably growing near the road outside your home.

 

  • Lamb’s quarter – found in your yard and around construction sites (or any disturbed soil). The leaves are less bitter than dandelions, but shouldn’t be eaten by themselves.  Toss into something.

    (Courtesy Forestryimages.com)

    (Courtesy Forestryimages.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Broadleaf plantain courtesty wikimedia.org)

(Broadleaf plantain courtesy wikimedia.org)

 

 

 

  • Plantain – not related to the relative of the banana. Again, edible leaves, easy to find, works well in a mix of other foods.

 

 

 

My first morels

My first morels

  • Mushroom – everyone knows mushrooms are edible. Just not which ones.  Please don’t ever eat any, unless you are sure they can be consumed.  Bad mushrooms go from bad tasting all the way to death.  Double check before putting them in your omelet.

 

  • Cattails – not normally found in neighborhoods unless you have some wetland present. The root is—not bitter—very akin to the taste of a cucumber.

After the flavor is gone.

(After the flavor is gone.)

 

This simply scratches the green surface of the many, many edible wild plants growing among us.

 

Try this book if you have any interest.  That’s certainly not the only one if you “hunger” for more.

 

Save a bit of money, increase your knowledge of the plants/food sources around you, and impress (or cause disgust) when you snack on some random plant.

 

The Damsel or the Dragon (with no apologies to Frank Stockton)

The Damsel or the Dragon (with no apologies to Frank Stockton)

It’s almost summer here in the northern hemisphere, though Madison Avenue says otherwise.  Many insects give the lie to that as well.  For other than the absent buzzsawing of cicadas, one might think that it was high summer in SE Michigan.

Perhaps you live in an area graced by dragonflies or what you thought were dragonflies.  Myself, I’ve only determined the difference between what I thought were small or young dragonflies and actual dragonflies for about a decade.  We’re looking at two different genuses altogether.

I’m talking about damselflies.

This is not a dragonfly  (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

This is not a dragonfly (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

The two belong to the same order–Odonta meaning “toothed-jaws” though I can’t find much evidence that either species bite people.

For those interested, both are also classified in suborders: zygoptera (damselflies) meaning “yoke-winged” and anisoptera (dragonflies) meaning “unequally-winged.”  I don’t know if the taxonomist(s) consulted St. Paul when naming them.

So, dragonflies and damselflies are similar, and can be confused for one another, but closer inspection reveals differences just like the annoying conflation that this meme clarifies.

Beekeepers hate it when someone claims to have been stung by a bee when it wasn't a bee at all.

Beekeepers hate when someone claims to have been stung by a bee when it wasn’t a bee at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both species have eyes conveniently located on their heads (Gasp!  Just like us!), but dragonfly eyes touch or nearly touch at the top of the head where damselfly eyes are clearly separated on each side of their head.

Dragon eyes (courtesy creative commons)

Dragon eyes (courtesy creative commons)

damsel eyes (courtesy creative commons)

damsel eyes (courtesy creative commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

As might be known, the dragonfly is the bodybuilder of the two suborders with a stockier thorax larger than the abdomen.  Conversely, the damselfly is long and slender with its thorax and abdomen roughly the same size.

Both fly with transparent wings (though I’ve seen damselflies with smoke-black wings) but the shapes differ.  Dragonfly wings are long and narrow and are dissimilar in pairing with the hind wings broader at the base; damselfly wing pairs are similarly shaped, but rounder than their cousins.

Speaking of wings, and an easy identifier (because, let’s face it, are you going to catch a dragonfly and declare, “Why yes, Charlotte, the wings are dissimilar in shape!”?) is wing position at rest.

After cruising some time, a dragonfly will hold its wings out horizontally at rest, resembling a plane.  Naturally, the damselfly is a contrarian and it folds its wings up vertically, perhaps like something out of the Star Wars universe.

God's Biplane (courtesy of me)

God’s Biplane (courtesy of me)

Dragonflies tend to be larger than the other fly; the largest one recorded at 20 cm (about 8 inches for the metrically challenged), but they average 3-10 cm (1-4 inches).  By now you’re expecting smaller records and averages for the zygoptera and you’d be correct.  Ten centimeters was the length of the largest damselfly, though the ones you will most likely encounter average 3-8cm (1-3 inches).

The dragonfly appears to have the damselfly “beat” in most categories.  However, an adult anisoptera only lives two to three weeks, whereas the daintier damselfly can last up to six months.

If you’re not bored by this point let me drop just a couple of more comparisons for you and send you on your way.

Dragonfly                                                           Damselfly

  • flyer                                                             percher
  • round eggs                                                  cylindrical eggs

The dragonfly can fly forward at about 100 body lengths per second (that seems wrong, doesn’t it?), backward at 3 body lengths per second, and can hover for close to a minute.

Both insects breed and live around freshwater and will eat whatever insects are available.  Both are preyed upon by birds, frogs, fish, and larger flies.

Still after more than 40 years on this planet, I find it thrilling to spot a dragonfly cruising around with more precision than even our best drones.  The almost clumsy and yet gentle flight of the damselfly evokes wonder.  The panoply of colors that abound in these too orders is likewise exhilarating.  Don’t let the seeming commonplaceness of these insects dull your sense of awe.

"Common" blue damselfly (courtesy creative commons)

“Common” blue damselfly (courtesy creative commons)

So the next time you see some iridescent flying thing that’s either too large for a bee or too slow for a fly, try to get a fix on it and tell whether its the dragon or the damsel.

And no, they can’t sew your lips shut.

“…Dragonflies draw flame…”  –Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

Six signs you might be travelling with a naturalist

Naturalists are a special breed of people.  While many of us easily miss the signs of life happening in the ecosystems we’re in and around, these people catch it all.

"Bug Camp" on Fletcher Creek

“Bug Camp” on Fletcher Creek

If you find yourself in a vehicle with one, see if these observations don’t ring true:

1) You find among the trash and dirt on the floor of the vehicle snake skin, sea shells, and river and beach rocks.

2) She keeps trying to identify tree species at 55-70 miles per hour.

3) His attention drifts from the road to the raptor soaring near the highway

4) She calls out the scientific name of the road kill you just passed.

5) He starts grumbling about the invasive plant species he can see when he parks the car.

6) Along with the ketchup packets and napkins, you find field guides, bird calls, and binoculars in the glove compartment.

What have you found when riding with a naturalist?

Fibonacci sculputures

Have you heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It’s a mathematical property that appears in so many natural places like seeds and flowers.

Image courtesy of creative commons

Image courtesy of creative commons

Don’t ask me to explain it–I’ll only confuse myself.

Instead check out this article on sculptures constructed from 3D printers that illustrate the principle.

http://artstyle.sfglobe.com/2015/01/14/3d-printed-sculptures-look-alive-when-spun-under-a-strobe-light/?src=share_fb_new_32233

I Resolve…

Most dictionaries (I haven’t checked them all) state that “resolve,” among other things, indicates  making a firm decision about something.  It comes from a Latin word for paying a debt.  So, to make a resolution, to resolve to do something is, by definition, something serious.  Not, as seems to be the annual custom, to make a claim for a change and then drop it by the third week of January.

Make 2015 (Where are our rocketpacks, by the way?) the year you learn the names of three trees in your neighborhood.  Perhaps even go the extra step by differentiating more than “that maple over there” to “See that black/red/sugar/Norway maple?”

Good ol' Calvin and Hobbes

Good ol’ Calvin and Hobbes

Aim for two or three herbaceous plants.  How about identifying those three birds you always see, but don’t know what they are called?  Insects and arachnids–what are they exactly?

Whatever goals you might set, make them achievable–saying you’re going to know all the plants in your yard by December might be too lofty–or maybe not.

Visit some new areas in your community; observe what problems may exist.  Is it in your power to effect a positive change?  Our duties go far beyond entering a voting booth.  Let this be the year.

Resolve to love your community, the ecosystem you inhabit and are already embedded in.

Lakeport State Park, MI

Let me end with an excerpt from farmer and writer Joel Salatin’s essay “Healing” found in The CAFO Reader, a book I recommend if your interests lie in ag issues.

For the first time in human history, people can move into a community, hook a water pipe into one coming in, the sewage pipe into one going out, buy food at the Wal-Mart from unknown sources, flick on a light switch for energy from who knows where, and build a house out of materials covered in bar codes from Home Depot.  We don’t have to know the local ecology, economy, society, climate, agriculture, or anything.  Just hook up.  Such a noninvolved existence inherently breeds contempt for the community that sustains our existence: physical, spiritual, mental.  Respecting our humanness requires that we respect–by appreciating our codependence on–that community of air, water, plants, animals, soil, and microbes.

What do you resolve to learn to love in 2015?  Leave a comment.

 

Parks: The Human Wilderness

Parks and ponds are good by day;

I do not delight

In black acres of the night,

Nor my unseasoned step disturbs

The sleeps of trees or dreams of herbs.

                                                                                     –R. W. Emerson

 

Some goodly time has passed since the last challenge.  I wonder if this month’s subject isn’t a bit out of time, as we in the north are going to turn inward more than outward.  Nonetheless, I’ll charge on.

 

For this challenge, I’d like to turn your attention beyond your backyard—unless you’re lucky enough to have one of these adjoin your property.  I’m talking about your friendly neighborhood park.

 

Sure, it’s probably got a playground with the de rigeur equipment, perhaps a ball field (soccer or base), a disc golf course, or some kind of dog run.  It might be tree less or nearly so.  Full of trash?  Just a corner lot in the middle of the city?

Typical park landscape

Lola Valley Park, Wayne County, Michigan

 

That doesn’t matter.  You’re sure to find something of interest with some diligent exploration.

 

Parks, as far as I can tell, originated among the rich in Europe, specifically in England (though I bet some Chinese and Japanese emperors had some) as a place to ride horses and hunt game.  They were surrounded with thick hedges to keep the game in…and the commoners out.

 

Game animal or park visitor? Lola Valley Park, Wayne County, Michigan

Game animal or park visitor?
Lola Valley Park, Wayne County, Michigan

 

In the U.S., the claim for the first public park was the famed Boston Common, established in 1634 for the purposes of military training and a public place for grazing animals (You might want to check out Garret Hardin’s noted essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” as a loosely related aside).

 

Over time, the idea of parks became associated with leisure.  They were established as littles oases, specifically for urban dwellers, a break from the duties and distractions of mundanity.

 

Today, we’ve got tiny pocket parks owned and operated by cities and towns (urban, suburban, and rural) to county, state, and national parks.

 

What kind of park exists in your neighborhood?

 

Natural areas v. areas of human use

Natural areas v. areas of human use

You’ve probably explored the playground, but what is there beyond that?  What species of trees grow in and around the park?  Do flowers and native grasses grow naturally in some areas?  What birds and mammals frequent the area?

 

Here’s a perfect opportunity to get to know the flora and fauna of your neighborhood.

If your park is not much beyond a turf grassland, the species are probably limited.  If you’re interested you might be able to change that.  Talk to the your parks and recreation department about creating strips of native vegetation.

 

Does a stream or river flow through or next to your park?  What kind of vegetation grows there?  Most parks use the paradigm of mowing right up to the streambank.  That practice, however, lends itself to erosion, and, of course, limits biodiversity.  Talk to the managers about the best practices for streambank stabilization.

 

How can you protect your park?

How can you protect your park?

Take advantage of the large green space in your neighborhood.  Help your children to identify trees, birds, and insects that pass through or reside.  Learn to love your park and understand ways that can help increase it’s natural areas.

 

You don’t have to let nature take over the whole park, but balance can be created for human use as well as for the non-humans.

 

Explore, learn to care for your park, and work to restore some of the natural areas, if possible.  You’ll increase the beauty and the value of your neighborhood while doing the right thing.

Look for the extraordinary ordinary in your neighborhood park.

Look for the extraordinary ordinary in your neighborhood park.