Friday, July 14, 2006

Goodbye to a pine tree

The tree guys finally got here yesterday and cut down the dead pine tree.

While I'm sad that it died and had to be cut down, I'm VERY glad that they got here and took it out before any tropical storms or hurricanes decided to take it out while rearranging our roofline.

The picture to the right here shows the first major cut being made. They had a rope tied to the top section to make sure that it fell in the direction they intended.

The second picture, to the left, shows the top down and the leftover "stub", which they rapidly felled to lie right beside the top.

After cutting the trunk up into 8-10 foot sections, they systematically loaded everything up into the bucket of a Bobcat and carried it out of the yard to a waiting dumptruck. Even the pine straw was eventually scooped up into the bucket.

In less than 1 1/2 hours, they were done. The tree was gone, the stump was ground up, and a new normal was being established in the yard.

The thing that amazes me the most is how open and vulnerable that area seems now. Since the tree has been dead for almost 2 months, and since we saw nothing but the bare trunk at our eye level, I didn't expect to feel as much of an impact in the yard as I do. It will be good for the butterfly garden to get a little more sun, but we've lost any sense of destination and/or enclosure for the "Outback" seating area.

A little side note: the tree was younger than I expected. Counting the rings, I estimated that the tree was between 42 and 47 years old, depending on how long it had stayed in the "grass" stage. Overall, about my age or a little younger. Somehow that gives me pause.

Life goes on. Typical of any gardener, I suppose, I'm already planning what I'm going to put in the empty space. Suggestions anyone?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Meditating on Weeds...and IPM and Lawn Care

As I did my walkabout this afternoon, I kept thinking of the concept of weeds.

My favorite definition of a weed is "a plant out of place." Therefore, an oak seedling can be a weed in a lawn; grass is often weed in a garden bed. The plant species is not really the problem, it's the placement of the plant that is at issue.

A weed is just a plant out of place. That's all. A weed is not the precursor to the downfall of civilization as we know it. It is not Public Enemy #1. If weeds make you feel slightly (or very) panicky, you've been watching (and believing) too many herbicide commercials on TV. Remember (and repeat after me): "The goal of herbicide commercials is to sell herbicide...and fear is a good sales technique. Weeds are not evil creatures of the devil waiting to ruin my home and yard. Weeds are simply plants out of place."

That being said, weeds can take nutrients away from the plants we desire to grow. As such, we often want to remove them from our lawns and gardens. In a garden setting, weeding by hand, mulching the beds, and maintaining appropriate mowing/watering schedules for the lawn are usually all that is necessary for reasonable weed control. Generally "command and control" is a better weeding motto than "total eradication." You're not going to achieve the latter anyway, and you're going to waste a lot of money and poison a lot of earth trying to do so.

All this leads me to a difficult confession, though. Our yard can no longer really be considered organic. As we get ready to move, we are more truthfully operating under "Integrated Pest Management (IPM)" strategies. Specifically, Prairiewolf has been spot-spraying broadleaf weeds in the lawn with an herbicide as he mows.

I am not happy about this.

The lawn is looking the best it has ever looked. You could make the case that the herbicide weed control is the reason for the lawn's health, but I think it's more because of several other concurrent factors:
1) We finally realized the importance of regular watering to the health of the lawn grasses here in the Deep South, and therefore we have been watering religiously whenever the grass begins to get that gray-green color that denotes water stress. Centipede and St. Augustine, our two turf grasses here, don't really go healthily dormant when drought occurs like fescue and many other turfgrasses do.
2) Prairiewolf has been mowing extremely regularly. To my knowledge, he has only missed one weekend all summer. This is much better for the grass than skipping weekends and letting it get too tall. Keeping a consistent height encourages runner formation and keeps the grass from getting too stressed by having too much leaf surface cut off at once.
3) We have been gradually changing out the backyard grass from centipede, which can't handle shade, to St. Augustine, which can. The St. Augustine is doing much better under all our trees.
4) Whenever we get any brown spots or unhealthy looking areas in the grass, Prairiewolf brews up some compost tea and treats the area(s). This has proven to be a wonderful remedy, keeping the lawn much healthier overall.
5) Besides mowing the grass regularly, Prairiewolf has also been cutting the grass quite high. This keeps the soil cooler, prevents a lot of weed seed germination by keeping the soil surface shaded, decreases water evaporation from the soil, and generally reduces stress on the grass.
6) Last but not at all least, we haven't caused or been the victim of any real goofs lately - goofs like killing the "dormant" centipede by applying Round-up to the embedded winter weeds in January or having a contractor kill a large swath of lawn in the middle of the front yard by laying down clear plastic to "protect" the grass as he painted the front door. Come to think of it, it's been a couple years since those things happened. (Knock on wood!)

So there are a lot of reasons why the lawn is looking good this year. It's a lot more than just the broadleaf herbicide. In fact, I contend that it doesn't have anything to do with the herbicide...but I'm sure that Prairiewolf will contest that statement!

Any way you look at it, weeds are a powerful issue in gardening circles.

Can animals be "weeds"? Why not?

How about people? ...It's an interesting concept to meditate about during my next walkabout in the back yard.

Back in the Saddle Again!

The painters finished the living room this afternoon (YEAH!!!!) and I have actually been able to do a walkabout in the garden, with blueberry ale and grocery bag in hand, repairing armadillo damage, clipping back overexuberant growth, and pulling weeds.

As a testament to how carefully I put the garden "to bed" last month, it took me less than one hour and only one plastic sack (albeit a full one) to complete my rounds in the backyard. Of course, with the armadillo(s) rooting around nightly, the weeds don't have much of a chance to grow in several of the beds. Neither do the garden plants for that matter.

Be that as it may, it felt great to be back in the garden in a relaxed, gardening mode. I hadn't realised how much I missed it.

Wishing for Rain

I'm back from San Antonio, where I actually got to experience that wet stuff falling from the sky. I hear it's called rain. Funny, we haven't had much experience with that here in Mobile lately. For a city that I've seen described as the wettest metropolitan area in the continental U.S., that's rather unusual.

I saw a report on the Weather Channel this morning - Mobile is behind over 20" of rain for the year. Given that our specific location has missed at least 5" of rain that the airport received during the last few months, that makes our yard/garden behind by about 25". And that's just for this year. We were dry for the last 4 months of 2005 too.

My water bill was outrageous last month (about 6X normal, to be somewhat more precise). In the area of the yard that I haven't watered, even the pokeweed (!) is wilting.

There's a chance that we'll get rain on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. (For the uninitiated, that's my tried & true, highly scientific method of encouraging events to happen....) Meanwhile, I'm dragging hoses around the yard and figuratively watching the water meter spin around and around.

And I'm thinking of all the places that are flooding this year...which reminds me of "An Inconvenient Truth". If you haven't seen it yet, I have to reiterate: Go see it. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Different Way to Live Life - An Older Way?

I just finished reading Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry. It's a first person narrative (fictional) of an old woman telling the story of her life from before WWII to sometime around 2002, and it left me with a sense that here was a key to a deep kind of happiness and sense of belonging that few of us seem to find these days.

What struck me most about this book was its depiction of a different way to live, a way that is perhaps older and more natural for humans than the frantic activity and amassing of stuff that passes for life these days.

Through his fictional Hannah, Berry talks of the "membership" of her life - of belonging to a place and to a community of people. He talks of the bond that develops between the land and a person or a family living on that land for most of their life (and getting their livelihood from that land) - how each mirrors the other.

p. 106: "You can see that it is hard to mark the difference betwen our life and our place, our place and ourselves.
As the years passed and our life changed, the place changed. It emerged, you might say, from what it had been into what we needed and wanted it to be, never perfect of course, but always a little better. It came under the influence of what we foresaw in it, and of our ways of using it and going about in it."

That quote spoke to me. I've sometimes wondered what the places we've lived in - or more precisely, what the land that we've lived on - would be like if someone else had lived there instead of us.

But back to the book.... In talking about the "world of membership," Berry contrasts it to the "world of employment" or the "world of organization." In the latter, he says you are disconnected and free, but you are also disposable and unmemorable, interchangeable with many others. "But the membership...keeps the memories even of horses and mules and milk cows and dogs." (p. 134)

There are nuggets of advice about living life scattered throughout the book too. How Hannah was almost most in love and aware of her husband when she was angry with him...and of how often she observed men picking fights with their wives simply because they were feeling neglected. How "the chance you had is the life you've got" and you shouldn't complain about the chance you got because it cheapens the good things and good people that you've shared your life with. How always searching for some mythical "better place" often leads to an unravelling of family and continuity and thus to a worse, more disconnected place.

This was a book to read slowly and to savor the language and the thoughts. It's not a gripping story; it's more like a window into someone's soul as she thinks back over her life. At times it even felt like a window into the soul of an old-fashioned community that is slowly dying as the people who should be keeping it alive move away to find a mythical "better place." It was listening to an elder think back over her life and evaluate its richness and its rough spots, and finally the love that bound it together and made it worth living.

Idealizing a mythical place and way of being is seductive and dangerous, and I can see where this fictional account could itself fall very easily into that category. Yet it can also be instructive to try to imagine a different way of being in the world that speaks to some of our deepest longings and needs as human beings, longings and needs that aren't being met by our current societal patterns. For me, this book does just that.

"Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater." It's an old maxim, but it speaks a deep truth. Maybe, just maybe, this book is saying that we've done exactly that. Now we would be wise to figure out how to rescue the baby and start taking careful care of it again.

Another Place

I am in San Antonio this week, helping our daughter move into and establish her new home.

It's a new world here. The vegetation is so different from either Kansas or Mobile. I barely recognize any of the trees or shrubs. In a way it's invigorating and exciting, and in a way it's disconcerting.

I'm beginning to learn a new rhythm of place. Wasps seem to be a lot more abundant here, starting nest after nest under the eaves and on the porches. There are big wasps and little ones, but most seem to be paper wasps of some variety or another. A large nest of small wasps under the eaves of the house next door entertains me with its comings and goings as I eat or read at the kitchen table.

A small scorpion scampered across the kitchen floor last night, tail held menacingly high over its back as I came up to look, admire, but ultimately to squash.

Earwigs, ants, spiders.... They have all been in the new house over the last few days. I'm guessing that they are the dispossessed, and I feel bad that their habitat is gone. For better or for worse, as humans we move into a new habitat and force out its old inhabitants. We are not very good neighbors.

It will be a challenge to learn the workings of this new place as I help Jess settle in to this new place, especially since so much of my learning will have to be done from so far away. I relish the challenge, though, as it will make me feel ultimately more a part of life in general, and thus ultimately much richer.

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth is incredible. Go see it. Please.

Prairiewolf and I went to see it last Friday, after we accidentally discovered that it was unexpectedly showing in Mobile. I didn't have very high expectations, given that it was supposedly based on a slide show, it was about a topic I'm fairly familiar with, and it was showcasing Al Gore. (Although I think Al Gore got the shaft in the 2000 election, being unfairly tarred with Clinton's faults and not seriously examined as a man in his own right, I also found him stiff and less than riveting, despite being obviously intelligent and thoughtful.) Nonetheless, the reviews of An Inconvenient Truth had been good and we wanted to support the idea of a serious, thought-provoking movie amidst the deafening blather that normally passes for entertainment in this country.

The movie is a thoughtful documentary that will literally change the way you see the world.

If you tend to agree that our world needs thoughtful care, go see it because you will learn new things, see fascinating photos, learn incredible statistics, and generally come away with a new energy about actively working to better our planet.

If you tend to disagree that we need to take better care of our world, then please see it anyway to let me know where you find flaws in the reasoning and factual information presented. I would dearly love to hear both sides of this issue.