Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Favorite Books of 2007

The folks at Watermark Books published lists of their favorite books in 2007, which made me think that perhaps I ought to do the same. Since January 2008 is almost over, I guess I ought to do it now before it becomes too obsolete to be of interest.

I started keeping lists of the books I was reading about 4 or 5 years ago (in 2003). In 2007, I finished reading 47 books during the course of the year. Almost 1 per week, but far from the one-a-day that I think Prairiewolf suspects me of reading!

As I scan the list, I don't see very many books that I've read before. Only 4, and just 2 of those were mindless "comfort" books. Not bad, for a year's worth of reading.

Other categories, not including my rereads:

8 light, current fiction - mass market type
2 gardening books (cover to cover), about prairie gardening
3 other "reacquaint myself with Kansas" books
17 current fiction
4 memoir types, not including gardening/ranching/wildlife watching memoirs
4 memoir types with a gardening/ranching/wildlife watching focus
1 home remodeling book
1 book on world religions
1 book on ecology
2 self help/self education type books.

Here is a list of some of my favorites, in the order that I read them:

Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich: The idea that certain special objects somehow absorb vibrations from human spirit (esp. in a positive way), and that those objects can then influence other humans around them, intrigues me. And that's one of several interesting themes in this novel.
The World's Religions by Huston Smith: With clashes between various religious groups influencing global politics and even local mindsets, I found it educational to read this informative and positive guide to the various major world religions.
Prairie Erth by William Least Heat-Moon: One of the books I read to reacquaint myself with Kansas, this fascinating, in-depth examination of Chase County, Kansas, helps peel back the layers of culture, history, geology, biology, and so forth that have interacted to influence modern life in a central county of Kansas.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: Although the premise of the book (a young man joins the circus as a veterinarian during the Depression) didn't initially excite me, this tale was just plain engrossing. A good read.
Marley & Me by John Grogan: If you have a soft spot for dogs, especially if you've ever owned a less-than-perfect one that you loved dearly despite yourself, this is a "laugh out loud, shed a few tears" stunner of a good dog tale.
That Distant Land by Wendell Berry: A quiet look at connections between the people who populated a Kentucky community over the centuries, this series of stories manages to capture the sense of community that seems to be missing from so much of our modern life.
Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien: Another book that combines the culture, history, geology and biology of a land, but in this case personalizing it through the telling of the author's struggles to live on his ranch in South Dakota.
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy: A spot-on rationale for why it's important to use native plants in our landscapes, followed by an exceptionally interesting exploration of many of the different insects that can be found around our homes and yards.

Of course, I also have to admit to the guilty pleasure of loving to read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and J.D. Robb's .... in Death series, much as those are somewhat in the "junkfood for the mind" genre.

Last but not least, there were only 3 that I felt were a complete waste of my time. And I don't think that's too shabby for a year's worth of reading.

Wait a Minute and It'll Change

Yep, I'm referring to Kansas weather. I got back from a week's trip to Mobile, Alabama, last Wednesday evening. The next morning the temperature was 8 degrees (F) on our breezeway. Yesterday it got up to 65. This morning it is 23, with an hour's worth of snow and winds up to 30 mph (gusts to 35).

Weather like this, with big swings in temperature and unrelenting wind, is one of the factors that makes living on the prairie so challenging for plants, animals and people alike. I'm sure thankful for a warm, modern house. Huddling around a fireplace with freezing cold air leaking in every crack, as the pioneers would have been doing, just doesn't sound appealing to me.

As I look out over the landscape this morning, it's a study in tan and gray brown and white and dusty olive drab. I think that's what struck me most about being back in Mobile - everything was so incredibly green. And the folks down there were lamenting about the hard freeze they'd had the prior week. Apparently if I'd gone a week earlier, there would still have been salvia and many other flowers in bloom. Oh, well, even the deep rich green of the live oaks, azaleas, yaupon and camellias was refreshing to my more northern eyes.

Oh, one last observation.... On Sunday, when the temperatures got into the low 60's, I saw both a wood roach and a honey bee out and about. Living, active insects. Somehow that seems amazing for January 27th.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mid-Winter Mulching

Who says gardening has to stop during the winter? Prairiewolf and I took advantage of a relatively warm weekend (highs in the upper 50's to low 60's) to push away the winter blues by working outside.

First we took our Christmas tree in to the recycling point yesterday and picked up some of the free mulch available there. What an excellent program that is! They evidently take a portable chipper around to each of the drop-off points and chip the discarded trees into mulch right in place. The trees don't have to be transported anywhere, saving time and money, and the mulch is perfect to put in shrub beds or under trees. My only problem is a desire to be piggy and take several truckloads of mulch home. Heaven only knows we could sure use it around here!

Today we finally got back to shredding the leaves we picked up earlier this fall. Our month's worth of snow and ice put us way behind the power curve on that project, but today we got another 10 bags or so shredded, and we moved the rest of the bags to the compost area so that they're not "decorating" the front of the garage anymore. In doing this, we discovered another challenge that the last month's weather has created: some of the bags have collected moisture inside them, and the leaves in those bags are almost impossible to shred using our current chipper/shredder. It clogs up. I'm not sure what our solution to this dilemma is going to be yet.

The last part of today's outside work was spreading out some of the (unshredded) leaves whose bags had disintegrated. When I tried to use leaves as mulch last winter, they quickly blew away in the wind, so this time I covered them with a light layer of shredded cedar to try to anchor them in place. Hopefully my little experiment will be successful, because this will make using all our "shredded brown gold" much easier.

I feel good about the weekend's accomplishments: the forsythia by the garage are tucked in with a thick blanket of fresh green mulch, the area nearby smells marvelously of recycled Christmas trees, the front of the garage is once more free of big black plastic bags, our pile of shredded leaves has almost doubled in size, and one big area of bare ground is resting under a trial layer of leaves and cedar mulch.

I think it's time to settle in with a seed catalog or two or three....

Black-Footed Ferrets in Kansas Again

Back in September, I ranted with frustration over attempts to control prairie dog populations in Logan County, Kansas, through a county-government-initiated chemical poisoning campaign (http://gaiagarden.blogspot.com/2007/09/did-i-miss-timewarp-to-1904.html).

On Christmas Eve, I read a follow-up to that story which made me feel much better. The landowners involved, who were already working with the federal government on a plan to re-introduce endangered black-footed ferrets to their land, were able to get a restraining order to stop the county government from doing any further poisoning.

Then on December 18th, 24 black-footed ferrets were actually released on the property involved. Hopefully it will be the start of a healthy rebalancing of the prairie ecosystem in that area, since black-footed ferrets are a primary predator of prairie dogs.

There are still lots of hurdles to get over. For example, they picked mid-December for the release date to allow the black-footed ferrets a chance to establish breeding territories before the spring mating season occurs. However, the winter months on the prairie are a strenuous time of year for any animal, and mortality may be quite high. (In fact, our last big snowstorm came roaring through just 4 days after the ferrets were released.)

Even if most of the released ferrets survive, it will be years before their numbers build up to the point where they truly keep the prairie dog populations in balance. On the other hand, there are other predators like coyotes and rattlesnakes who will be happy to help the ferrets control the prairie dogs, so all the work of rebalancing the prairie won't be left entirely to them.

I'm choosing to be optimistic about the success of the ferrets' reintroduction, because I have to believe that we can learn to work more effectively with natural processes, rather than always working against them. This is an exciting step in that direction.

Now it's up to the ferrets themselves. I must admit I'm feeling some anxious anticipation, wondering how they're doing. Unfortunately, this is one of those times when all the watchful worry in the world won't affect the outcome, whether for good or for bad. It's too bad my worrying can't help, though, because it's something I'm really good at doing!