Saturday, March 27, 2010

Midwestern Spring: The Long View

I stopped to take several photos of this fellow as I walked from Laceyland to Hazelthorne.  Judging from the chattering and tail-twitching, I think he (?) found me to be a bit of an intrusion.  This impression was strengthened when I turned my back to leave and was hit on the shoulder by the walnut shell you see in his mouth.  Little bastard. 
Facebook friends will have already seen this image, but I just love the colors.  Purply-red-orange-brown, that's one of my favorite categories.  Autumnal and Winter landscapes tend to have it a lot.  Those are black raspberry canes; once Springs shows up in earnest, they will disappear behind walls of bushes almost as formidible as they.  Human beings won't be the ones eating those berries.  My family knows of several other, more accessible patches though. 
My first three years in New York, I lived in ten different locations.  Fourth in the series was a four month sublet with classmates in West New York, NJ.  Yes, that's the name of the town.  And yes, it does have a view of New York City.  I was initially disappointed to learn the only way to get there was by bus, either NJ transit or gypsy, both leaving from the Port Authority.  I soon learned the buses were dependable and constant, and eventually I began to enjoy the trip, especially out bound.  One of the principle pleasures of the home journey was the experience of coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel and heading up the ramp to Kennedy Boulevard, where one got a view of Manhattan.  That was a fairly tumultuous time in my life, and there was something so soothing about being able to see the city as a whole OVER THERE, and realize I could leave the tension, questions, and undifferentiated frenzy of Manhattan life behind for the day.  The literal change in perspective provided a nice metaphorical one.  Things just weren't that big a deal.  Even now, whenever I leave the city through Lincoln Tunnel, I can feel a nice drop in blood pressure upon exiting.

This trip back to Indiana, I finally realized this wasn't my first time using this technique.  While attending Earlham, when things were feeling especially fraught, I would, far too rarely, take a walk back campus.  More than once I would get to the view seen above, where the college was all easily contained in my sights, and think "wow.  It's just NOT that big a deal."  Whatever 'it' might have been at the time--and if you think I'm overly ruminative now, imagine what I was like between the ages of 18 and 22--this visual trick was always therapeutic.  It was a lesson I had to relearn at regular intervals.  As far as I can remember, I never walked back there to have this experience, I'd take the walk for some other reason (looking for violets, wanting some exercise, feeling a bit caged) and the view would hit me as if for the first time. 

I don't get out to West New York much, and though I have started to collect parks in the city where I get some long vistas, I'm remembering now how good it is to get visual perspective on the city as a whole.  I'm going to Dumbo later today, to see a show (Bette Bourne, of Bloolips fame is telling his life story!) but I'll be sure to make some time to look at the city, and shrink it back down to its proper size. 

This tree has been rendered somewhat more accessible in the last few years by  the construction of the new locker room at the football field.  We've all admired it for a while, but this afternoon was the first time we took our inexact measurement of its circumference.  When I took Mom's right hand, I was even able to see Dad's left one.  We think this tree has a real chance of taking the crown for biggest tree on campus.  The present title holder is behind one of the campus houses (Marmon, for those who know what that means).  A friend in the biology department told us later this is a burr oak.  Below is a view of the top. 

I don't know what kind of tree this is, but it cracks me up.  Actually, this is what I look like first thing in the morning, if I go to bed with wet hair.  Maybe that's the appeal
You'll have to enlarge this image to see the Canada geese pair.  Almost as soon as this pond was constructed, back in the Spring of 1988, a pair of mating Canada geese began showing up and raising a brood.  At some point my folks noticed that they showed up, like clockwork, on Saint Patrick's Day.  This year on March 16th, we saw a pair of geese on the small pond, a short distance away from this one.  We wondered if there was some change in routine; was this a new pair, were they changing their location, their schedule, what was the deal?  We wondered if this indicated a greater sense of security, since not only is the small pond more accessible, it lacks the runway stretch of open water most waterfowl need to get their running start before take-off.   Did you know they needed that?  I hadn't either, until a biology professor explained it to me.  Cool, huh? 
Well, for whatever reason, the next day, right on schedule, the geese were in residence at the little island in the big pond.  I assume they walked the short distance.  I would love to know why they chose to show up a day early, but not take residence until the time was right.  Canada geese were a much more rare sight here in 1988, but now there are flocks in residence year 'round.  I assume this pair (presumably one of them is a descendant of that first pair) spends the winter somewhere else, but who knows? 
Backyard at Hazelthorne, two views of the budding Magnolia.
No final thoughts to share, no conclusions to be drawn presently from this meander.  It was a nice week, that's all. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Midwestern Spring: Close-ups

A few weeks ago I realized a scheduled lull in work (read: spring break at Pratt) was coming up.  A good freelancer would see that as a time to shake the trees a bit, make a little rain, seek out new revenue streams, or utilize a host of other nature-related images for 'do more work'.  Instead I decided to treat it like a vacation, and take a quick trip to visit my family.

I couldn't be more pleased.

In my defense, the week happened to include my dad's birthday, so with Mary and Tony's help I arranged to fly back to Indiana, to surprise him and Mom. I could pretend it was a purely altruistic act, but that always made me think of that old story of the kid who gave his mom a baseball glove for her birthday, or, similarly, the Simpson's episode where Homer gives Marge a bowling ball--with the name 'Homer' on it--for hers. Much as this was a treat for me though, I think Dad was pleased too.

Mary had invited them over to join her and Tony for dessert Saturday night.  Mom came in first, saw me, froze, then said "how did this happen?"  A few minutes later Dad came in, saw me, and said "how did this happen?"  (I suspect years of teaching and social activism means Dad is used to the unexpected, which is the reason he shortened the freezing part.)  I got the impression they both initially wondered if I had developed the ability to materialize at will anywhere on the planet.  Nice thought, and it's rather sweet that both my folks appeared ready to ascribe supernatural abilities to me so quickly, but they didn't seem too disappointed at the more mundane explanation. 

  We celebrated Dad's birthday a day early, on Sunday.  Mom and Dad each said they'd had a sleepless night or two in the past week, and had figured out that it was due to anticipating yet another celebration without James.  Birthdays have always been a family affair, so in this year of firsts, his absence was noteworthy.  We toasted him as well as Dad.  The occasion was understandably a bit muted, but still very nice. 

I haven't been in Indiana in March for many years, so it had been a while since I experienced the first glimmers of Spring there. Whether due to the slight change in latitude or less cement (not an exhaustive list), Spring was just a bit further along in Richmond than NYC. Or maybe the signs were just easier to see. Mary and Tony were rejoicing in the crocuses sprouting up in their garden, and appreciating the bigger showing of snowdrops, even if it didn't match their hopes, given how many bulbs they had planted. They had the bigger field at Laceyland to reassure them, though; the garden at Hazelthorne will have its own blanket of white flowers soon. Tony claimed Mary didn't let him buy or plant as many bulbs as he had wanted, a claim she vigorously denied, so to keep the peace I offered to act as witness to the future plan 'to let Tony go nuts with snowdrops.' Marriage is a delicate negotiation.

Seasonal changes are always a good excuse to look at things closely.  My eye kept switching back and forth from close study to drinking in the panorama. Today's post is mostly the close study.  For those of you not on Facebook (be strong, she's a harsh bitch-goddess of an addiction!), I'll post some of the landscape photos soon.  One of the many benefits of being able to return to one's hometown, hell, the actual home one grew up in, is the ways experiences can feel archetypal.  I wasn't just witnessing the start of Spring, I was witnessing it in the place where I'd enjoyed it for most of my first twenty-two years.  There have been plenty of changes to the place, of course, but many of those changes are for the better, which is always nice to see.  Things are both brand-new and memory-laden.

James would have appreciated this combination of rainbows and
pretty rocks. 
This, in case you aren't sure, is a crayfish hole.  Or crawdad, if you prefer.  Crawfish, even.  Not, however, craydad.  Unless someone wants to start a campaign.  If so, good luck with that.  For reasons I won't get into here, Dad has, for years, thought we should change the name of New York back to New Amsterdam.  When I moved here, he assumed it would be so I could head up the home office.  I've been dodging that agenda for fifteen years now, and it's pretty much a full time job, so I won't be joining any other whack-job campaigns.  

Um, so, anyway, that there's a crawdad hole.    
Mary and Tony are thrilled this pussywillow bush is thriving this year.  In past years the branches have been broken by squirrels before any real growth could occur.  I did see one squirrel climbing in it one day.  I prepared to go out and scare it away, but before I did, I watched it crawl to the end of a branch, and delicately nibble only the blossum at the very tip.  My theory is that one is the most tender, and the fuzzy nubbins on the rest of the bush are now safe by reason of unpalatability.  Not sure why it was allowed to reach this stage this year; maybe the fussy gourmet squirrels had a surfeit of other goodies to draw on.  Lord knows they're still looking sleek and tubby, though that doesn't impede their acrobatic games of tag. 

Dad and Mom have insisted for years that they don't need any more things, so Mary has taken to giving them nice trees, flowers and plants--plus labor--for their garden.  This year she gave Dad a couple of Peruvian daffodils and ten bulbs of freesia.  On Saint Patrick's Day I helped her plant them.  Two warm sunny days following torrential rain on the weekend meant the soil was close to perfect.  It also meant we discovered some shoots and blooms we might have overlooked otherwise.  Houseplants, much as I love them, rarely provide those kinds of surprises. 

I also observed my Saint Day by building a tiny dolmen for James' memorial garden.  Dolmens dot the landscape in Ireland and the UK, and their simple design, massive scale, and obvious age have always appealed to all the Laceys, but especially James.  History, big rocks, they have it all.  Mary and Tony had saved some of their border rocks for this purpose, and it was nice to be doing it on Saint Paddy's Day.  This mini version makes me think of the Stonehenge number in This Is Spinal Tap, but I'm okay with that. Pretty sure I would have had to get a permit and some serious equipment if I'd tried to make a full-sized one.  And besides, James loved that movie.   

My return to NYC (NOT New Amsterdam) was softened by being greeted at the airport by my Prince Charming, then heading back to his place where I fell asleep to the sound of peepers.  The following night Charming had his first experience of a warm night in my neighborhood.  We had each actually managed to get to sleep, despite the revelry on the street, only to wake standing a few hours later when a fire fighter blasted his truck horn and siren repeatedly, then issued commands on the bullhorn for the partiers to clear the way for the truck, or risk arrest.  It took several tries before people decided to move their moronic partying asses out of the path of a fire truck desperately trying to get to an accident scene. 

City life comes with slightly different seasonal markers.  Fortunately there are crocuses here too.   

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Window Box Update

I'm starting to sense Spring a bit when I'm outdoors.  The snow from the last big storm is almost gone, and more importantly, so is the nasty brown slush it becomes so quickly in urban settings.  No doubt my feelings are shaped by my recent trip to Seattle, where the weather was warm, the sun was out, and blossoms were starting to show all over the city.  But my living room window boxes have been approximating spring for several weeks now.  Above you can see a close-up of some sweetpea blossoms.  So far I've never had more than three at once, usually only one or two, but maybe this is a careful policy on the plant's part, sort of a limited edition approach, so my delight in each individual bloom stays nice and high.  It's a clever policy, if so.  My morning routine now includes a few moments of close study of both window boxes, to see if anything has changed or needs my help.   

The morning glories have also lured me into a daily visit, with almost the opposite approach.  While I'm still not getting the blanket of blossoms I keep hoping for, these babies are definitely blooming in greater profusion than the sweetpeas.  Nowadays though, my daily visit is mostly to see if any of the gazillion seedpods are ready to burst.  I was dozing on the couch recently and was wakened when a tiny shower of seeds hit the windowsill.  Most of the time I catch the seeds before they burst out on their own.  There's an odd satisfaction in squeezing a dry seedpod at just the right moment.  For weeks now I've been soaking the new seeds and throwing them in the pot when they're ready.  I think I have at least three different generations of sprouts growing.  With any luck I'll have morning glories blooming indefinitely. 

I have a vague recollection of planting two different kinds of morning glories, one purple variety and one red.  So far only the purple, called Grandpa Ott, has shown any blossoms.  Maybe the reds are taking longer, maybe Old Grandpa is a more vigorous type, and took over.  If I'm only stuck with one kind though, he's not a bad way to go.  When the blooms first open, they're often blue, but as the day progresses, they'll change to a deep violet, with red throats and stars.  The vigor and speed of these guys might be a bit scary, if I were inclined to think that way.  I think I've seen vines grow as much as an inch in a single day, and the number of seedpods is a bit overwhelming. 

Funnily enough, the sweetpeas have only been purple so far as well, this despite the claim on the seedpacket that I'd be getting a profusion of "orange, lavender, scarlet and pink blooms."  Let me just tell the universe at large that while I am quite fond of purple, it is by NO means the only color I like. 

Something else my daily visits have shown me is just how much sunlight these east windows actually get.  I think the white walls on the opposite side of the courtyard also mean the setting sun has more of an effect on the plants than I would have predicted.  With the sun moving farther north as Spring approaches, the hours of daylight are lengthening in the living room, so I have hopes for moving all my herbs out there for the summer.  It's nice having plants in my bedroom, sure, but it might be even nicer to have more of them in a room where I do more than sleep.  So far the basil plant I've moved seems pretty content. 

Below you can see a couple of morning glory vines creeping out of the window, on their way, it would appear, to meet up with the golden pothos.  It too seems fairly enthusiastic about meeting up with the morning glories.  I can't for the life of me imagine how that would benefit either of them, but what the hell.  I would have expected the pothos to be content with the light in this area, but haven't a clue why the morning glories would choose to move away from the direct sunlight.  It's a mystery unfolding in seasonal time; maybe I'll understand the agenda better in a few weeks.  Further bulletins as events warrant.