Monday, October 29, 2007

An Irruption Year?!

Judging from the recent additions to my bird-feeding population, this may very well be an irruption year.

Last week, a red breasted nuthatch started showing up regularly. It's still busily coming to and from its favorite feeder all day long.

Today I've seen 3 purple finches (2 female and a male) and a pine siskin too.

We were gone for 3 days over the weekend, so I have no idea exactly which day the purple finches and pine siskin showed up, but today was the first day I saw them.

Today was also the first day I've seen a goldfinch this fall.

A few Harris sparrows, juncos, and white crowned sparrows have been here for 2-3 weeks. Last week I saw a song sparrow and a couple white throated sparrows too, but they stopped in for a day, then seemed to move along.

It's shaping up to be an interesting year for bird feeding!

The Secret Behind One of Life's Enduring Mysteries

I have received wisdom. I have learned the answer to one of life's enduring mysteries. (Note: I have not TESTED this answer, but my source was pretty authoritative.) And so I'm going to pass this wisdom on, out into the blogosphere....

I now know why weeping figs, Ficus benjamina, drop their leaves.

Yes, I know this is astounding, but bear with me. If your fig has done this, it is not because you looked cross-eyed at it. It is not because you are a bad plant owner and it hates you. It is not because you spoke intemperately around it.

In fact, the only thing that probably happened was that you changed the amount of light it was receiving. Maybe you brought it indoors for the winter, or moved it across the room because it looked better there. Maybe you simply put up new curtains or took down the old ones. Or it may just be normal seasonal variations.

It turns out that weeping fig is especially quick to adapt to new light conditions. This is one of the traits that actually makes it a good houseplant. It adapts to the change in light by dropping about half of its leaves and putting out new ones that just happen to be completely suited to the new light situation it finds itself in.

As I learned, plant leaves can be adapted to either high light or low light situations. It has to do with how the intracellular structures with chlorophyll, where photosynthesis occurs, are arranged. Generally it can take a plant up to 6 months to change its leaves from high light to low light, or vice versa. Figs just do it fast, by dropping and regrowing them.

The key here is apparently to realize that the plant is somewhat stressed while it is changing out its leaves and to let it rest. Don't fertilize it. Be careful to wait until it is dry to water it, then saturate the soil completely and let it drain out. Don't let yourself respond like normal people do and say, "It's dropping its leaves. It must be dying! I have to save it by giving it extra food and water." You'll kill it with love, for sure, that way.

I'm so excited by this new insight that I'm ready to go out and buy a new Ficus or two. I left 2 beautiful big ones behind in Mobile, so I'm currently "without fig". It seems like a perfect gardening challenge for the oncoming winter months.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Observations of Fall

I saw the first white crowned sparrow at my feeders two days ago, and it's appearing all the time now. Winter is coming.

It's been interesting to see who's visiting the feeders during these days of natural plenty. (I put up a few feeders - mainly mixed seed and a suet cake - on September 20, along with water in the birdbath.)

A large family of cardinals, the young males looking patchy and as gawky as adolescents of all species tend to do, was among the first visitors, and they've been regulars ever since.

Blue jays. A couple house sparrows. A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers.

Today I saw a male hairy woodpecker.

And I've briefly seen a house wren flitting around the deck, although I can't say that it was drawn in to the feeders.

Few visitors yet, but I know that traffic will pick up as the season gets harsher.

Overhead, I thrill to the sight of crisp white gulls swooping silently south against crystal blue skies. (Do the gulls only fly on clear days? Or do they just disappear into the clouds and become invisible? They are so quiet that it's impossible for me to hear their passage; I just have to be lucky enough to look up at the right time, attracted perhaps by a bit of sparkle or movement in the sky.)

I hear killdeer cry as they wend their way southward, one here, one there....

The barred owls are becoming vocal in the late afternoon and evening again.

The sunflowers have shed their bright fall plumage and are industriously plumping up their rich, life producing seed heads. Dotted gayfeather blooms have faded from bright purple to dusty lavendar, melding back into the textured prairie tapestry. Heath aster is blooming, but its tiny white blossoms almost seem like a foreshadowing of snow and winter's quiet.

Unobstrusively speaking of winter too, the trees are beginning to shed their leaves. It's not a pretty leaf-drop this year. The drought is forcing it a little early, and the leaves tend to be brown and shrivelled. As I look across the landscape, the remaining stubbornly green trees are the only major remnants of summer left, despite our still-warm temperatures.

However, the big bluestem is turning rusty, the Indian grass is golden yellow, the seedheads of the switchgrass are airily puffed out, and all of their slender stems sway gracefully in the wind, outlined against the rich blue autumn sky. The remnants of prairie are especially beautiful right now, despite the dry weather.

It's fall, that bitterly sweet time of year.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Pain of Knowledge

"There are things you can't get away from after you know them. It is very complicated to know anything.... Can you ever not know again?" (p. 151)

"[What is innocence?] ...just not knowing about something?... Is it innocent, as in a state of goodness or whatever, if you simply don't know about all those people in the Holocaust? Or is it just naive, stupid? What use is that kind of innocence anyway?...
Can you ever be made innocent again?" (p. 152)

Those two quotes are from The Accidental, a book by Ali Smith. They've been nagging at me ever since I read them.

They remind me of a quote I read many years ago about environmental knowledge. (I thought it was by Aldo Leopold, but I've reread Sand County Almanac lately and I was unable to find it there.) That remembered quote, roughly paraphrased, spoke about how a person who understood how the world worked ecologically would be living "in a world of wounds" invisible to others as they watched how most people treated the natural world.

I've often thought of that quote. Just this week, I've felt flayed as I came upon a cruelly shorn thicket of sunflowers that had enlivened our nearby creekside, reduced to 3" tall stubble, then shuddered as the neighbor later boasted to me about mowing it down because now "it looks so much better." That thicket was providing shelter and food for birds and other animals, as well as holding soil in place along the creekbank. Now it's a barren eyesore. Also this week, I've cringed as I've watched the local farmers plowing their bone dry, black-earthed fields in 30 mph winds. I've driven through the resulting dark clouds of topsoil, barely able to see through to the road ahead. The rich topsoil that feeds us, that took eons to form, is being carried skyward and eventually will be washed out to the Gulf of Mexico where it will join the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi. In this day and age of agricultural knowledge, surely these farmers know better than to treat their land this way. Surely they realize their farm's fertility is blowing away with that soil.

Are these people "innocent" because they refuse to learn about the environment or to accept the longterm consequences of what they are doing?

I don't think so. But while I don't think they can be absolved of their guilt, I can also understand their desire to try to remain ignorant.

So many times, knowledge hurts. Because of that knowledge, you become aware of a wound that you weren't aware of before. You feel like you should act, but what should you do? You are just one person and these are big problems. Now, suddenly, because of this new knowledge, you are different than the people around you, which causes more pain.

No wonder so many people choose willful ignorance over knowledge. They are trying to avoid pain, and that's a very human thing to do.

However, as I've learned the hard way so many times, trying to avoid a problem through running away from it only makes the problem worse. And eventually the pain will be that much worse too, because avoiding the problem only means that you lose the opportunity to solve it or that the problem becomes much worse before you're forced to acknowledge and solve it anyway.

Knowledge and pain. I always believed that "knowledge will set you free," that knowledge was a good thing, that it was desireable, that it was something that would make your life better.

I still believe that knowledge is good and that it will set you free. Now, though, I also realize that sometimes you have to work through a lot of pain to earn the freedom that knowledge promised.