Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Settling In - Paths Through The Beyond

Since it gets extremely tiresome to always be saying "the back half of the front 5 acres" or "the back 5 acres", I've decided to find names for the various locations around our property - sort of Anne of Green Gables' inspired labels.

So for starters, I'm trying on the name "The Beyond" for the area behind the swale that bisects our front 5 acres. This will allow me to call the back 5 acres, "The Back of Beyond." Yeah, I know, rather silly, but it makes me smile a bit, so I don't care.

This is a photo of the gateway from our backyard "Courtyard" to the wilder areas behind, including The Beyond.

This photo is of The Beyond itself. Last weekend, Prairiewolf mowed paths for me through it, which is wonderful, because it allows me to meander through without always having to douse myself in anti-chigger chemicals. (Chiggers absolutely love me, and my body seems to overreact to the relationship.) In exploring the new network, we discovered a big male box turtle, a couple small "prairie potholes", a clump of fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), an abandoned circle of barbed wire under an osage orange (Maclura pomifera) and fresh leaves on the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).

I also enjoyed a marvelous sunset. When the house gets frustrating in its continuous need for repairs and updates, the land calms me down and makes me remember why we moved out here in the first place.

Twenty-four Hours (More or Less) Until Chaos

After almost 4 months of sleeping on foam mats, eating at a folding table, and having lawn chairs for living room furniture, OUR FURNITURE COMES TOMORROW!!!!

Okay, despite that moment of excitement, I'm amusing myself because I actually have mixed emotions about this. In some ways, I've rather enjoyed living so sparsely - there's a lot less housework to do and less clutter to conquer (although Prairiewolf and I have managed an amazing amount of clutter, nonetheless, primarily due to our normal influx of mail, junk and otherwise). It feels like there's been a lot of psychic as well as physical space.

On the other hand, these aching bones (and muscles and ligaments) are looking forward to a real mattress, and it will be ever-so-nice to drink coffee in the morning without worrying about a dog bumping the table and spilling it. I am also very tired of finding that we need something we already own but can't access, and therefore having to go out and buy a duplicate. I've done that as little as possible, but in some cases I've had to for the sake of my own sanity. (For example, child gates to keep puppy-dearest on the kitchen floor and off the new carpet.)

It will be nice to have music again, and my library. My gardening equipment. Our "artwork," such as it is. Enough dishes and chairs to have friends over.

And as I start listing the possessions I'm looking forward to regaining, I'm getting nervous about the condition they'll arrive in. (We had the packers from hell when we left Mobile. One gal was really good; the other two were horrible.)

Oh, well. The joys of moving. I'm looking forward to truly settling in, though, and getting on with life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


How to make me nervous in one easy lesson....

Be living in a house built on a site cleared by a major tornado 16 years ago and read in this morning's paper, "...the storm system [predicted for today] is similar to the conditions that spawned the massive tornado that struck Haysville, Wichita and Andover on April 26, 1991...." So, although logic tells me in no uncertain terms that a tornado is no more likely to strike this spot than any other in the area, I wait and wonder....

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spring Interrupted

Three weeks ago we were in the midst of a beautiful, lush, early spring. Lilacs and crabapples were in full bloom, redbuds were past prime with their blooms, and even the later-leafing prairie trees like honeylocust and green ash were throwing caution to the wind with fresh, young leaves. The wheat, likewise throwing off damage from cold in January and February, was vivid green and lush, 6" deep and full of promise.

Then I went to San Antonio to visit our daughter for a few days. While I was gone, Old Man Winter decided that it was time to crash this party and descended with rather a vengeance. Two nights in a row it got down to 25 degrees, followed a day or two later by an inch or so of snow. (We were actually lucky it was only 25 degrees, since the forecast was for 17. And areas north of us reportedly received as much as 8" of snow.)

I came home to a sickly yellow-green world, with little color remaining. It's been 2 1/2 weeks and the plants are only now beginning to recover.

The wheat still looks awful, ranging from yellow-green to pure yellow, where water has been standing. (This sure has spotlighted sites of old prairie potholes, though, showing vividly where farmers have plowed through traditional ephemeral wetlands.)

The lilacs actually came through with minimal damage. The damage that did occur was confined to those branches that were exposed to the worst of the northern winds. In the sheltered areas, they looked amazingly good.

The honeylocust is finally releafing, albeit sparsely and without the healthy color of before.

And, unfortunately, the only green ash leafing out is the one that hadn't started leafing out at all yet. The others are still simply full of crispy, brown, dead "new" leaves. I know they'll make it, they'll just be very late this year.

I started to ask why the death or disruption of young life seems particularly harsh...but realized that death and disruption at any time is difficult to accept, even if it is part of life's natural cycle. Maybe our language is just too poor to capture the nuances of our dismay over the loss of life at different stages - perhaps we should coin separate words for the loss of potential for more life that occurs when something young is killed or maimed as opposed to the loss of the current reality that occurs when something fully mature is injured or dies.

Trees, fruit, flowers...people. Of course, I'm extrapolating to human life here too. And at the moment I'm mourning for all the potential that has been lost: fruits and flowers that will not appear as expected throughout this spring, summer and fall; adult people who will grow up warped and twisted because of harm that occurred when they were young...or who will never be able to grow up at all.

We can just hope that at least some of the current young who have been harmed will survive despite that harm, and that they will be able to develop strong, healthy lives. They may not be the most gorgeous of specimens, but they will certainly have a special beauty all their own.

One Mystery Solved

The internet can be a great resource. (Take note of that admission, please, Qkslvrwolf and Prairiewolf!) I've posted before about my psycho woodpecker holes in one of our cottonwood trees out front ( We knew that another of the cottonwoods was dead (and have since cut it down). As they are leafing out, we've learned that the remaining 2 are half dead - literally. Through all of these discoveries, I haven't been sure what the causative agent was.

Because of some rather large holes in the trunks and branches, as well as the woodpecker holes, I've been relatively sure that the problem was a wood-boring insect of some sort, presumably a beetle, but the descriptions of cottonwood borer damage just didn't fit. The damage was too high up in the tree. When we cut the dead cottonwood down, we discovered large, deep galleries throughout the heartwood of the tree, not just confined to the layer immediately below the bark, which didn't fit with the descriptions of cottonwood borer damage either.

Last week I found the definitive clue: wood shavings collected in a fork of the tree, directly below one of the holes into the tree. When I looked closer, I saw similar shavings ("boring dust", I've since learned it is called) in most of the other holes.

That identified my mystery insect as a poplar borer, another large, long-horned (Cerambycid) beetle in the same family as the cottonwood borer.

As I dug around a little more, I learned that these beetles typically have a 3-4 year life cycle, most of it as larvae within the tree. They actually maintain those holes to the outside as they grow, so that they can push the boring dust outside, unlike many other wood-boring beetles who only make holes as they exit or prepare to exit as adults. During the spring of their last year, the larvae pupate and then emerge as adults, who feed on foliage and twig bark.

I've looked for adults, but haven't seen any - which is apparently not unusual, as poplar borers reportedly don't come to lights at night and fly away readily when approached. However, I think it may still be too early in the spring for any to have emerged.

One interesting comment on one site was that poplar borers begin to cause the death of cottonwood trees when the trees reach 15 years of age. Coincidentally, that is the approximate age of these trees, based on the age of the house.

I'm pretty sure that these are cottonless hort varieties of cottonwood, because all of the cottonless cottonwood trees that I have seen die at about this size and level of maturity. Which leads me to ask, "Are the cottonless cottonwood hort variety clones particularly sensitive to poplar borers? Or are there other causes of mortality because they are just not resistant in general?" At any rate, give me a seedling grown cottonwood anyday, despite the 50% (or whatever) chance of it being female and producing cotton.

In all of my stumbling around to figure out what was going on, my only gritch is that all of the information I could find came from Canada and parts north, so I'm not sure what the length of the life cycle is here in Kansas. Indeed, there may be other variabilities because of the longer growing seasons too. Even Insects of Kansas didn't have the poplar borer listed, which was particularly disappointing, as they are listed as occurring everywhere that eastern cottonwood, Populus deltoides, occurs.

At least I know what's happening now. My curiosity, for now, is assuaged.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Global Warming & Junk Science

Recently, a blog from a fellow Kansan had a piece on Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (
I wrote a comment, remarking that he had dissed folks who seemed to believe what Gore said without actually offering any useful critique of the movie itself or the content therein. Then I asked for his thoughts on global warming - if he had any serious faults with the information provided.

He wrote back, directing me to a site,

My response is below. I think it's important to start challenging the junk science being passed out by corporate interests in the name of "safe science".

"To quote your post, "...when money's involved, sniff for sincerity."

The site that you sent me to is not a credible source of information.

When I did a Google search for Steven Milloy, who runs, I found several interesting links, including the following two:

The concensus seems to be that he's a paid advocate (to quote SourceWatch) for Phillip Morris, ExxonMobil and other similar corporations. He's also been closely affiliated with the Cato Institute.

These affiliations hardly make him an unbiased source of information on global warming or much of any other topic that might endanger corporate profits.

I would suggest that you check out a couple actual scientific sources. For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the parent organization for Science magazine. Its Board of Directors issued this statement regarding global warming/climate change in February 2007:
"The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society...."

Their general information on global warming is at

Another good site is the Union of Concerned Scientists. They have a section about global warming at

The Union of Concerned Scientists has also released a very interesting report entitled "Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science." This is posted at

One other site you might be interested in visiting is Woods Hole Research Center. They have an online guide to global warming at

Last, but certainly not least, it's instructive to look at the segments of society that are beginning to act on global warming. The insurance industry was one of the first. Now a group of retired admirals and generals has come out with a report that states that global warming is a serious threat to our national security. The CNN article is here...

Hope these help."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Notes Gleaned from The American Gardener, the Am. Horticultural Society's Magazine

From pages 46-48 of the March/April 2007 issue of The American Gardener, the official magazine for the American Horticultural Society....

The Arbor Day Foundation has taken climate data for the U.S. from 1990 to 2004 and reworked the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Go to their site,, to view the newly released map and to check out what your current zone is. Note that this page starts with the 1990 map, based on 1974 to 1986 data. If you hit the "Play" button, it will morph into their new 2006 map. Then, if you hit "Differences", you can see the areas that have changed designations. Here in Clearwater, our zone has gone from 6 to 7, based on this data. (Can you say "global warming"?)

Along these same lines, research reports some of the changes in plant life that we can expect with increased CO2 levels:

1) Plants with short life cycles will adapt more readily than plants with long life cycles. Thus, annual weeds are actually expected to benefit from climate change.

2) Poison ivy grows 3 times larger and more vigorously when exposed to the expected 2050 levels of CO2 than it does at current levels. The oil, urushiol, that produces the allergic reaction and rash in humans is also much more potent at these CO2 levels.

3) Higher levels of CO2 may have already doubled the amount of ragweed pollen produced within the last 50 years or so. At the expected rate of CO2 increase, it is expected to double again by 2100. (Ragweed pollen is, of course, highly allergenic, affecting some 85% of the U.S.'s allergy sufferers.)

Last, but certainly not least, apparently research from several universities is linking Parkinson's Disease to pesticide exposure. The Harvard School of Public Health reported that chronic, low level exposure to pesticides increased the incidence of Parkinson's by 70%. Another study (from Mayo Clinic) reports that estrogen seems to provide some protection from this process, so pesticide exposure is more likely to produce Parkinson's in men than in women. Several other studies cited link Parkinson's to dieldrin, maneb, and organochlorine pesticides in general.

Gaia's comment: Just because we hide our head in the sand and yell, "More research!" doesn't mean that environmental changes detrimental to human life are not occurring. It's long past time that we take responsibility for our actions and start proactively addressing the situation.

What Do We Really Value?

Sunday's Parade magazine had their annual report on what people earn. While this is far from a definitive, scientific study (to the best of my knowledge), I always find it fascinating to look through.

Making the basic assumption that we pay more for what we value more, I actually took pencil to paper and listed out the occupations that our society finds most and least valuable....

Most valuable by far were TV and screen celebrities, well known sports figures, even a NASCAR driver. Also up there were CEOs, including those of Halliburton, Hewlett-Packard, and Sara Lee. Only one real innovator, so to speak, jumped out at me, the co-founder of YouTube, who was listed at being worth $341,000,000. (Is YouTube really worth $341 million x however many co-founders there are?)

Interestingly, we value Katie Couric and a Nascar driver, Jimmie Johnson, almost equally. Both are worth in the vicinity of $15 million.

Then I looked at jobs that I felt were actually the backbone of keeping our society running efficiently: teachers, nurses, Air Force personnel, ministers, letter carriers, engineers, child care workers, police officers, architects, judges, school lunchroom workers, computer techs, etc. etc. etc. As reported in Parade this year, these folks averaged $56,019 in annual compensation.

So, looking at what we feel it's worth to pay them, a big-time NASCAR driver is worth 300 times more than the average U.S. worker who keeps our country functioning. (For driving really, really fast going around a track many, many times? Oh, yeah, THAT's real important.)

Last of all, I looked at the workers that we pay the least. The ones that we feel aren't very important. Some of these I had no trouble with (bartender at $25,000, for example), but some really bothered me. As usual, child care workers are low: only one was listed this time, at $24,000. A taxidermist earned $40,000; a paralegal earned $42,000; an accordionist earned $45,000; and an adult who drives around a track going really, really fast earned $15.8 million. I don't want to hear how much we value our children in this country.

And, of course, a person (male or female) who opts to take care of his/her own family full-time gets paid nothing. Zip. Zilch. No social security benefits. No nothing. You can take care of somebody else's family and get paid, but not your own. You can receive economic security playing the accordion, stuffing dead animals, or going around a track really, really fast, but you don't deserve it if you take care of your own family.

So we value taking care of our own families as worthless.

And we wonder why there are school shootings, an epidemic of depression, as many marriages ending in divorce as staying together, and the host of other fantastic perks that accompanies our magnificent society.

Maybe it's time we took our heads out of the sports pages and turned off the TV and really started looking at what makes our lives worthwhile and happy. I wonder what we'd discover then.

Slightly Odd Weather Trivia

Every night I record the daily high and low temperature wherever I've been. I don't know why, except that my journal has a spot to do it, so I do. I also record the basic weather info (sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy). Nothing fancy. Truthfully, nothing too terribly accurate. My "stats" are a guess, as often as not.

Last night I decided to check out the wireless weather station gizmo that we bought when we first moved in. Both Prairiewolf and I seemed to recall that it recorded high and low temperatures, and I was hoping to increase my daily weather reporting accuracy, at least here at home.

I found out that our weather station does indeed record minimum and maximum temperatures. Unfortunately for the accuracy of my journal entries, it doesn't reset automatically every 24 hours, but has to be manually reset. Be that as it may, I learned some rather fun weather data by checking out this feature....

We bought the weather station on January 10th, not too long after we moved in here. It has been continuously operating since then. (It's battery operated, so power outages have not affected it.) The minimum temperature it recorded was 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit on February 16 at 3 a.m. That's not terribly surprising. The maximum temperature it has recorded, through this morning, was 81.1 degrees Fahrenheit on February 4th at 5:19 p.m. That one surprised me. Despite all the warm weather we had during March, February 4th actually recorded the highest temperature so far.

Ain't the prairie great? From 81 degrees to 7 degrees in 12 days. One of many reasons this is a challenging place for people AND plants to survive....

Monday, April 16, 2007

Update on the Bur Oak Bark Incident

A couple months ago I blogged about an unusual phenomenon occuring in the backyard: a pair of downy woodpeckers were systematically pecking away the bark on a young bur oak tree in the yard. I've been watching the tree this spring to see if it will leaf out like usual.

As I was walking about with the puppy this evening, I noticed a large number of small (approx. 1/8"), black flies or wasps on the still unopened leaf buds of the bur oak. I couldn't tell if they were laying eggs, eating sap, or doing something else entirely. It makes me wonder if I was witnessing the reason for the downy woodpeckers pecking so diligently at the bark of this tree over the winter. If so, they didn't begin to get the population under control.

I'm curious now to see if there are signs of problems when the tree finally does leaf out. Bur oaks are late "bloomers", so to speak, so I'm not surprised that the tree still looks dormant. (And I've been checking the bark; it still shows green underneath on the twigs.) I ought to collect a few of the insects and look them over under a loop to see if I can key them out to learn a little more (at least whether they are flies or wasps!). However, with all our furniture, miscellaneous bits and books still in storage, I have no supplies to follow through with this plan in the near future. So I guess I'll just let nature take its course, literally, and see what happens.

If anyone recognizes what I'm seeing, I would still welcome the knowledge.