Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Charlotte's Web

"I saw a spider sign her web today."

That's the line that's been singing in my head ever since yesterday morning, when I was allowed to witness a black and gold garden spider rebuild the center of her web.

I first noticed that she'd come to share our home last week, when I saw her in the remains of her web, hanging outside our kitchen sliding door. As I went in and out, she scuttled away to hide in the grill cover that was lying nearby.

When I came down to the kitchen the next morning, her graceful web was spread all the way across the moving side of the sliding door, with the center at nose height. I debated moving her, then decided to let her stay. It's been a little inconvenient, since we can't use that door for now, but being able to watch her daily activivies has been enjoyable. Another up-close-and-personal learning experience for me.

Besides, just seeing her there makes me smile.

As usual, I've done some web research to augment what little knowledge I had about garden spiders. Most of that I'll share in a later post. For now I just wanted to share these photos. The one above is of her weaving the signature into her web. (I was a little surprised - the silk of her signature is spun as multiple strands at once, so making the zigziag actually took her very little time.)
The photo to the left was taken immediately after she finished her daily masterpiece, having "assumed the position" in which she spends her time waiting for her next meal to present itself.

Oh, and by the way.... In my web research, I learned that another common name for this species is writing spider. There could hardly be a more appropriate name. Perhaps I should name our housemate, Charlotte.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dueling Texters - A Tragicomedic Modern Event

Our nearby little community of Clearwater, Kansas, had its annual Fall Festival a couple weeks ago. The weather was lousy, but turnout seemed better than I expected. As usual, I've at least glanced at articles about the event in the local paper, not really expecting to find out anything useful, but curious to keep learning about our newly adopted hometown.

A photo of 4 teenagers standing under a picnic pavilion roof, intently focused on something in their hands while rain poured down in the background, caught my eye in last week's hometown paper. Reading the article, I don't know whether to laugh or cry....

It seems that attendance at the Fall Festival has been traditionally good for the elementary age and younger set, as well as for the adult crowd, but attendance by the middle school and high school age group has been declining for many years now. In a move of sheer brilliance, the game organizer changed the venue to include lots of different video games and...(wait for it!)...text messaging competitions. The local phone company donated 5 cell phones - one for the judge and 4 for the contestants, preset with judge's phone number. The first of each round of 4 contestants' to text the message, "Let Bygones Be Bygones.", to the judge's phone won. After those "qualifying rounds", there were texting duels in a bracket tournament.

I am in awe of this inspiration for increasing young adult attendance at the Fall Festival. I am also LMAO (to quote my son) at the picture of intense teenaged concentration captured by the paper photographer. At the same time, I'm deeply saddened - is this what our young folks are most entranced by? At the peak of their physical prowess, as they are developing neural pathways that have to stand them in good stead for the rest of their adult lives, it is video games and cell phone texting that draw them into competition and some semblance of communication and participation in community life.

The next few decades could be very interesting. I just wish I were observing from the outside, not roped in as an automatically involved participant in this large scale human development experiment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sunny Days

Well, we've gone and done it again. Our household has increased by one - this time a sweetheart of a little English setter puppy whom we've named Sunny.
There's not a lot to say, except that Prairiewolf and I are like kids in a candy shop when it comes to cats and dogs. We never seem to be able to get enough!

Becker's being a great "big brother" and taking little Sunny under his wing...that is, unless she tries to eat his food or take one of his precious sticks! Then she gets told in no uncertain terms that she's the new kid on the block and not approved for those privileges as of yet.

The cats are less than pleased with the new addition. Ranger isn't scared, but he expresses his displeasure by standing at the door to Sunny's crate and growling at her. Of course, he also curls up to sleep in Prairiewolf's lap while Sunny sleeps 6" away on his chest!

It will take us a while, but life will settle back down to its (new) normal rhythm soon.

And I'm taking a sacred vow to myself to stay away from animal shelters, litters of puppies and other areas of temptation...for at least another 6 weeks or so!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Putting Experience in Perspective

I don't normally write about political stuff in my blog, but I have to put up some interesting comparisons tonight.

Sarah Palin, McCain's pick for vice presidential candidate, was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, for several years and has been the governor of the state of Alaska for less than 2 years. This is the sum total of her major political experience.

Compared to Kansas, according to the Rand-McNally atlas that I have (which lists 2000 census numbers)....

City Populations:

Wasilla, Alaska: 5,469

Mulvane, Kansas: 5,155
Abilene, Kansas: 6,543
Pratt, Kansas: 6,570
Augusta, Kansas: 8,423
Haysville, Kansas: 8,502
Wellington, Kansas: 8,647

So Abilene, Pratt, Augusta, Haysville, and Wellington are all bigger than Wasilla, Alaska. That gives me some perspective on her mayoral experience.

The population of Alaska is listed in this atlas as 626,932 people. The comparable figure for Kansas is 2,688,418. So Kansas has roughly 4 times as many people as Alaska. And she's been the governor of Alaska for less than 2 years.

Oh, by the way, Alaska may be the biggest state in terms of land mass, but it is Number 48 in the 2000 census in terms of population.

Based on the response being reported in the national news media, obviously this "vast" experience on Sarah Palin's part has many Republicans thrilled beyond measure, but the thought that this level of experience would be guiding us in the White House should John McCain become incapacitated scares me immensely.

And this choice of a running mate is supposed to give me confidence in John McCain's ability to lead this country competently?

What's That Gold Stuff Tickling My Nose?

It's allergy season. There's pollen everywhere.

The goldenrod is blooming....

But WAIT!!!!

Is it really goldenrod that is causing the problem? It gets blamed all the time. Even my father refuses to have goldenrod in the garden because it "causes his hayfever."
The flower color is gold, but aren't flower colors designed to attract insects for pollination? Why would goldenrod put out the energy to grow golden flowers if it was scattering its pollen to the wind for pollination?

The truth is that goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be carried by the wind. Goldenrod DOES rely on insects for pollination. Instead of producing huge quantities of pollen to scatter widely, goldenrod spends its energy producing flowers that attract those insects.

On the other hand, there are basic green plants growing all around, usually in disturbed areas, that are busy producing green flowers right now. Those unobtrusive green flowers (that I'd be willing to bet you've never noticed) are putting out massive quantities of pollen, because insects don't notice them either.

What are these drab green plants? We know them by the name "ragweed," if we know them at all. They don't care if we know them, and they don't care if anyone notices them. The wind takes care of their pollination needs, and our noses and sinuses are often our only awareness that they exist.

Here's a closeup of giant ragweed flowers beginning to bloom. I've really become rather intrigued by their exotic "Japanese-pagoda-goes-green" looks.

Part of the reason I'm noticing them so much these days is that we have a bumper crop of giant ragweed in the Beyond. It towers a foot or more above my head as I walk the paths, and I've taken many interesting pictures of insects hiding in its foliage.

Luckily I'm not allergic to ragweed pollen. In fact, as I watch the flowers form, ripen and eventually morph into ragweed seed, I'm smiling. Ragweed seed is very high in protein and an excellent wildlife food. Our gourmet breakfast bar for wildlife will be open and wellstocked when winter's cold comes calling in a few months.