Thursday, July 26, 2012

Butterflies and Fairies

Have you ever wondered how the myth of fairies got started?  I can't say that I had...until a few days ago when I was editing some photos from early July and came across a series I had taken of a painted lady (Vanessa cardui) nectaring on Baldwin's ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii).  

As I watched the butterfly slowly pirouette and twirl from photo to photo, slipping its proboscis in and out of the different blooms, I started thinking how cool it would be to daintily walk across the surface of a flower without bending a petal, to sip from the deep throat of a blossom.

The wings of the butterfly opened and closed in successive shots...and suddenly I began wondering if butterflies weren't the original inspiration for fairies, with their bright colors, their wings, their big eyes, their small size.

Of course I'll never know - but I can sure have my suspicions!

Black Dahlia

As animal lovers, we support the Kansas Humane Society.  Because we donate, I get e-mails.  When I'm bored, I actually look at the e-mails I get - even from the Humane Society.

Looking at e-mails from the Humane Society, especially when it involves glancing through the pictures of the dogs and cats available for adoption, is dangerous.  Just ask Greg.

Can you guess, yet, where I'm leading?  Yup.  Exactly.  So I got a Kansas Humane Society e-mail last week and I opened said e-mail.  I looked at the photos of available dogs.  And I saw 2 German shepherds, which is rare.  (One acquaintance swears the local humane society puts most German shepherds and similar breeds down before offering them for adoption.  My guess is that their pre-adoption screening process does not favor untrained, large, working dogs.)  Not having totally lost my senses yet, I forwarded the profiles on to Greg, since he is the rational, hard-nosed one of this particular pair.

But even hard-nosed, rational people have weak spots.  On Saturday we happened to be driving on K-96, coming up to the Hillside exit where the Humane Society has its headquarters.  I'd already put the available German shepherds out of my mind, but Greg suggested that we stop in and sponsor one or both of them.  Of course I agreed.  He warned me, though, that we were NOT to come home with one of them.  Of course I agreed.

We walked through to see if the dogs were still there.  The older one, a male, had been adopted out, but the younger one, a black female was still there.  She was heartworm positive and seemed very depressed, just curled up in a corner and not responding to the people who walked by.  This, in dog personalities, can be a real danger sign, so I decided that we needed to meet her before sponsoring her.  Apparently several people had visited with her, but the heartworm issue caused them to shy away from adopting her.

The dog's history included abuse and neglect, a fear of men, plus 5 homes already.  She was noted to jump 6' fences and dig if left outside alone.  The Humane Society guesstimated her age as 2 years old.  When we met her, she was reserved and shy, a little skittish, but not at all aggressive.  Despite the note about her fearing men, she seemed fine with Greg.  She lay down on the floor near me and alertly watched people going by in the hall outside the window.  Occasionally she'd get up and come over for a pet.  The only "aggression" we saw was when she was still in her private room - if another dog walked by, she would come to the window and bark with her tail up - but with no hackles and the tail lightly waving.  She'd been at the shelter for over 2 weeks.

Well, I'll spare you the rest of the details, but the upshot of the story is exactly what you expected it to be:  we now have a new-to-us, young female German shepherd.  She came with the name Dahlia, which apparently was her name from her prior owner.  Black Dahlia.  A prior owner with a sense of history or literature or something.

The plan is to socialize Dahlia with Becker and Blue, to begin (or continue) basic obedience training, to get her heartworms cleared up, and then to take her down to our daughter who has been interested in getting a dog for years but only now has the time and stability to offer one a good home.  (Yes, we made the decision to adopt Dahlia only AFTER consulting with Jessica!) 

We've had Dahlia for 4 days now.  She's opening up and getting more comfortable.  She's a "shy" dog, but I've not seen signs of "sharpness," which is a dangerous character flaw, especially in a big dog.  (It was to assess for sharpness that I wanted to meet her originally.)  She's housebroken and crate trained and she does well with cats.  Anger makes her cower, but there's no sign of submissive peeing.  She'd never gone up or down stairs; it only took her one time, each way, to learn the process.  Now she goes up and down with no reservation at all.  She learned to drink from the toilet in less than a day.  (Yeah, disgusting as that is, it's my shepherds' favorite water bowl, despite the big, fresh bowl of water sitting between their food bowls.)   I let Dahlia off the leash in the house after 24 hours and she's proven her houseworthiness so far.  The crate-training was a pleasant surprise - we thought we'd have to do that ourselves.

I walk the dogs every morning and even risked letting Dahlia off the leash for a while yesterday.  The dog with her in the photo is Blue, the younger of my two Shepherds.  She loved it, stretching our for full bursts of speed, then circling around and checking right back in.  She and Blue even started playing a bit.  Her only problem was learning to keep her mouth shut as she ran through the tall grass - she kept getting seedheads in her throat and having to stop and gag to get them out.  I only put Dahlia back on the leash when I saw Blue start to look longingly at the neighbor's pond - that's a habit I'd just as soon she not learn from her adopted brothers!

Food is the biggest issue so far.  It took her over a day to even take a bite.  We tried dry kibble (to which our dogs have free access), canned dog food, tuna fish (from sandwiches we were eating), 3 different types of dog treats that Blue and Becker both love....  Nothing.  No interest.  She did eat a pat of butter (with a pill hidden inside) and a dollop of sour cream (with a pill hidden inside), but we could hardly feed her nothing but butter and sour cream.  The next day, the vet got her to eat a bit of recovery Science Diet, so we took a couple cans of that home.  Now she's eating some canned food, even with a bit of kibble mixed in, but she still eats warily and minimally.  Any noise or movement causes her to abandon her food.  On the plus side, I caught her eating a few bites of plain kibble last night.  Hopefully as her life normalizes, her eating will too.

So we're progressing.  As I type, all 3 dogs are stretched out on the floor near me, dozing.  Next on the agenda is our morning walk, so I'd better sign off and get to it before the day heats up unbearably.  Despite their relaxed demeanor, I'm sure the dogs are ready to go!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My First Blooming Compass Plant!

I think it was two years ago now that I first noticed a compass plant or two or twenty in the Back Five.  Their leaves are so distinctive that it's one of the few native perennials that's easy to identify, even without seeing it bloom.

About 18 months after we moved in, I attended a Lunchtime Lecture at Botanica where Brad Guhr of Dyck Arboretum was speaking.  He had brought along several compass plant bloom spikes, with some open blooms, spent blooms and young seed on them.  After the talk, he offered the bloom spikes to anyone who wanted them - I grabbed one? two? ten? (I can't remember now) and brought them home, scattering the seed in the Back Five.  The young seed wasn't fully mature yet, so I wasn't sure if there was even a chance that any compass plants could establish.

But they have!  The photo to the right is the first bloom spike for a compass plant that I have seen on our property!  I took this shot on the 4th of July - a great American find on a great American holiday.  I am 5'6" tall;  this flower spike is my height or a little taller, just to give you a little sense of scale. 

My seed-scattering history aside, I think this particular plant - and maybe one other one - may actually have predated my restoration efforts;  these two plants are so large that they may be remnants from the original prairie here.  On the other hand, most of the compass plants that I see now throughout my little acreage have two or three leaves this year and are far from blooming.  Since compass plants are supposedly like trees, with a leaf for every year of life, at least when they are young, this plant would appear to be much older than our measly 5+ years of "occupation," while the littler ones would seem appropriate for seedlings from the seed Brad so generously shared.

The scientific name of compass plant is Silphium laciniatum, and this tallgrass prairie native is found throughout much of the middle of the country.  Its common name is derived from its foliage:  the large, thick, sandpaper-textured leaves with their deep lobes tend to align pointing north to south, minimizing the exposure of the leaves' sufaces to the hot, noonday sun, but capturing plenty of light throughout the mornings and afternoons.  Pioneers apparently used this plant to help themselves navigate.

Although the basal leaves grow up to about 2' in width, the real size of the compass plant comes from its flower stalk, which can tower up to 12 feet above the prairie soil.  The flowers look very similar to sunflowers, but if you look closely there is a major difference:  unlike sunflowers, only the ray (or petal) flowers are fertile in these blossoms.  Therefore seeds are only produced around the rim of the dried flower head.

Typical of a prairie native, the roots of compass plant grow very deep - up to 16' - helping it to survive dry times with panache.  There would probably be more compass plants around except that cattle find it very tasty and will eat it to the ground so frequently that the plants soon lose all their energy stores and die.  In the last few years, though, I've been seeing a fair number of compass plants along the roadsides in certain areas - on the turnpike south of Topeka, for example, and in Butler County along some of the country roads - where the main grazers are grasshoppers and bush hogs.

If you choose to plant compass plants in your garden, be careful about siting them correctly from the very beginning, as their deep tap roots make them hard to transplant once established.  Know that they will grow quite tall and be sure to plan accordingly.  For prairie gardens, they can be a particularly nice addition since their large leaves add a unique texture with a coarse feel, a rather unusual combination in the normally "medium" textured prairie palette.

Birds relish compass plant seeds and many use the dried stalks to perch on while they're overlooking the grasslands.  There are even 2 species of insects, the silphium beetle and the prairie cicada, that are specialist feeders on compass plants and others in their genus.  I have never seen either of these insect species, so I can't show you photos, but one of these days I hope to remedy that lack.

Compass plants flower from the top of the flower stalk down.  Almost 3 weeks after I saw the original blooms, the flower spike looked like this on Monday.  Busily munching away were these beasties....

...known as two-striped grasshoppers (Melanoplus bivittatus).   Two-striped grasshoppers are common creatures of town and country.  They can become quite destructive, eating a wide variety of plant material, including some crops such as alfalfa.  Here they are performing their more classic function, acting as the primary herbivore (grazer) on the prairie - in this case, eating the flowers of the compass plants.

This morning I couldn't resist taking another photo of the compass plant.  The drought and heat is even taking its toll on this stalwart prairie plant, but it's gamely continuing to bloom, even as some of its basal leaves turn brown and die.   You can see that its bloom period is probably not quite half over, since the open bloom is about 1/3 of the way down the bloom stalk. 

We have a 30% chance of rain tonight and tomorrow - the best chance we've had in weeks.  We're all keeping our fingers crossed and doing literal and figurative rain dances.  Wish us well!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Having It All

"Having It All."  What does the phrase mean to you?  Seriously.  Stop a minute and examine what your personal "all" would be.

At this point in my life, my personal "all" would, of course, include many disparate things.   I want to love and be loved by my family and I want to have a few close friends whose company is mutually enjoyable and whom I get to see, in person, regularly.  I would like to live near enough to my children to see them over a weekend without more than 4 hours of driving, total time, for any of us.  I would be slender without too much thought or effort, and I would be "normally" healthy.  We would have enough money to live on comfortably without worry, but we wouldn't be trying to buy luxury cars or go on extended cruises, either.  We would own our own home without a mortgage, living near a functional, vibrant, and forward-looking community of which we were a part.  We would live in a location with rich soil, moderately plentiful rainfall, clean water, and a safe and functional environment around us.  I would have a wide variety of books to read and several good friends with whom I was able to regularly discuss the ideas those books sparked and to challenge me to expand my thinking....

Obviously I could go on and on.  As I think about my personal "all," I'm struck by the fact that I already have a reasonable number of those facets in my life.  (Maybe it's not so self indulgent to think about this sometimes - it could provide a blue print for changes we may want to make in our lives.  Hmmm.  Further food for thought.)

What my personal "all" wouldn't include (at least now, at the ripe old age of 56) is fame, although I do hope that people generally think well of me, or large fortune, although I do want to live without financial worries.  I don't want a large house (any more).  I don't want to be fashionable (Yup.  Got that one covered without issue!)  I don't want a horse any more.   I don't expect everyone to like or admire me (although the child in me would still like that!).  Again, I could go on and on, but I'll spare you more of my personal navel-gazing.

So, what would your personal "all" look like?

Apparently there has been a recent essay in Atlantic Monthly discussing whether or not it's really possible for women today to actually "have it all."  This piece has the opinion makers of the moment buzzing loudly.  I haven't read the piece nor have I seen any of the buzz it has caused except....  This morning, in the Wichita Eagle, I read an opinion piece by Daniel Akst, of Newsday, responding to the uproar by saying that society should be first asking about whether the blue collar male can have anything any more, not whether women can or should "have it all."

Wow.  He asks an important question, but I'm gob-smacked that he thinks it needs to be asked in conjunction with, or instead of, or before, "Can women actually have it all?" 

So, to put my two cents worth into the discussion, first of all it makes me livid that Mr. Akst links, in a not-so-subtle, cause-and-effect sort of way, the problems blue collar men have been facing for many decades now with the increased success of "the best educated women" attempting to reach "the pinnacle of their profession and also raise perfect children."  The quoted phrases are from his article, "'Can Women Have It All?' Is Wrong Question" on the editorial page this morning.  (And, yes, he puts in a few little asides trying to include blue collar women in his discussion, but it's obvious he's much more concerned about the men.)

Frankly, blue collar workers and best-educated workers, of either sex in either cases, are generally two totally separate segments of the labor force.  The problems that the blue collar workers are facing have to do with the outsourcing of jobs to overseas countries where labor can be had for pennies on the dollar and the subsequent decline of manufacturing in this country.  Since blue collar labor is now a global resource, American blue collar workers have to compete against foreign blue collar workers - and the companies/corporations are enjoying the race to the bottom in the labor costs.  Solutions?  Probably some sort of protectionist action on the part of the government to favor companies that keep jobs stateside.  Also adoption of national health care so that U.S. companies don't have worker health care expenses in this country, which they don't have it in other countries.  

On a personal basis, what's a blue collar worker to do?  Well, for starters, in our economy and culture, one option would be to get the best education you can and aim for the white collar work force.   Or to choose to work in a segment that is harder to outsource overseas:  plumbing, for example, or car repair. 

What's not going to help?  Blaming women for working outside the home these days, feeling that they're getting "uppity."   Yes, white males used to get automatic privilege in our society:  they would be selected for jobs over more qualified females or minorities, for example.  Even if they weren't very successful at work, though, males could expect to come home each evening to a household where they were The Boss, where what they decided was The Law, where they were waited on, picked up after, fed and coddled.  But nowadays both men and women have to work full time jobs to make ends meet.  The wife is just as tired from working away from home as her husband is.  Why should she have to do all the housework, or cook all the food, or do all the child care?  Why shouldn't she have an equal say in household decisions?  So there's no cultural respite for blue collar males anywhere now.  No place where they can almost automatically be "king."  No place where they can "rightfully" feel superior just because they were born male.  To have the economic hardships that a switch to a global labor market has created coming at the exact same time as the change in unquestioned household status for blue collar males is unfortunate timing, to say the least, and makes it very easy for many to pin all their troubles on women working away from home, however necessary those jobs have become to support the family.

The second question is also difficult, "Are women actually able to 'have it all'?"  In the case of Akst's article, "all" is defined as "a great career and a great family."   A couple different thoughts come to mind when I think about this question.  First, what is truly "all"?  What really does make a person feel happy and fulfilled?  Can one person "have it all" without sacrificing the chances of those around them to have a reasonable amount of whatever we're talking about?

The more I think about this question, though, the more I hate the question.  How many people seem to "have it all" from the outside, only for outsiders to learn later that they were rich in money and/or public respect, but that their kids and wife didn't know or love or respect them at all?   (And for all of the ones the public learns about, how many others live like that, but we don't learn about them?)  Or how many "had it all," but they ruined countless other people in their greedy quest to succeed?  Or "had it all," but they died from stress at a young age from the strain of trying to keep all those balls in the air?    Or had 5 huge houses, but never spent any significant time in any of them because they were always at work, and the beautiful houses always stood empty?  Or had nannies raise their children, so they never really played a significant, personal part in their children's lives?   Or found that their friends disappeared when they got sick or lost their money?

I'm going to make a very unpopular statement at this point:  I don't think it's possible for any one person to "have it all" in our society, with "all" equaling the pinnacle of a profession AND perfect children...unless that person has a partner, at the very least, to help them carry the load.  In which case, the individual person hasn't achieved all of this by himself or herself, the partnership of the two has achieved it together and both deserve praise for the results.  I'd be willing to further bet that for the most successful people, the ones who REALLY seem to have it all, they not only have a strong partner, but they also have an extended family that has played a very significant role in their achievements as well, through providing educational opportunities, loans or outright gifts of money, property, moral support, contacts in the professional world, and so forth.

Are men more likely than women to have the appearance of or opportunity to "have it all"?  Yes, because our overall culture still encourages a large percentage of women to play second fiddle to men and therefore it's easier for a man to find a strong woman to support him than it is for a woman to find a strong man to support her.  (And I want to point out that I'm using the term "support" in an emotional and psychological way, not necessarily in a monetary way.)

Having shared my frustration with the juxtaposition of the two disparate problems that Akst put together in his piece, I'm left trying to figure out what I want, in the end, to say in response to Akst's editorial essay this morning.  I think my message is this:  We, as U.S. citizens who care about our country and our fellow countrymen, need to guard against falling into the trap of pitting segments of the working class against each other when they aren't actually in competition against each other at all.  The ancient method of "divide and conquer" is alive and well and being practiced daily within our society.  It's time for all of us to start looking for the real reasons behind why we, as a country, aren't doing as well as we think we should be doing.  Then - and this is the hardest part of all - it's time for all of us to band together and work for appropriate change.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Buffalograss Lawn, A Year Later

Last summer, at the end of June, there was a sale on buffalograss plugs at High Country Gardens.  Since our lawn was non-existent in the backyard and looking pretty awful in the front yard, I took the leap and ordered grass plugs.  Lots of grass plugs.

Right before they came, the weather turned gruesome, but when the plugs came we had no choice but to get them in the ground as soon as we could;  otherwise we'd lose the money I had invested in this native grass lawn.  With much groaning and sweating, we worked days (actually mornings) on end to get them all plugged in.  It took almost two months, two months that were ironically some of the hottest and driest on record around here, but we got it done.  I shared the initial results last year, first showing the back yard and then the front yard, as we got them finished.

One of the hardest parts about a buffalograss lawn is that it takes a while to fill in and, while you're waiting, the weeds tend to get a bit overwhelming.  This spring the weeds were driving me crazy, so I decided to treat the lawn like a flower bed and simply handweeded it.  I discussed the process, trying to justify the time to myself and others.  When I got the back yard buffalograss area done in May, I photographed it, noting that it was looking pretty good but still needed to fill in.

So here are the photos taken about 2 weeks ago, at the beginning of July, about a year after we plugged the back yard and about 10 months after we plugged the front yard.  We watered last summer, as the grass was establishing, but we have not watered the grass at all yet this year.

The back yard looks pretty good.  It's a little shaggy in this photo because it hadn't been mowed even once yet this summer when the picture was taken, so the runners were getting a touch long.  I did do a second, light weeding of the lawn back here in late May/early June to get rid of the summer weeds that were sprouting - there weren't too many, but there have been none at all since then.   The grass has filled in beautifully with no further effort.

The texture is wonderful -  very soft and inviting.  The color is not a bright green - but, hey, it's green without any watering!  (It's still green 2 weeks later, but I'm thinking it's about time to deep water it once.  Even buffalograss needs a bit of water occasionally to stay healthy.)  The only down side that I see is that "dog spots" are pretty noticeable - and when you have 2 large German shepherds, you do get lots of "dog spots."  The spots fill in again without any care on my part, but they leave the lawn looking patchy.

The odd shape of the lawn to the right, leaving bare ground around the birdbath and beyond, is due to heavy shade under a full, large green ash tree.  We tried plugging in High Country Garden's drought tolerant fescue here, but despite receiving the same care that the buffalograss plugs did, only about 4 of those plugs survived.  I'm probably going to make this area into a bed of some sort around the trunk of the tree (perhaps just mulch, but outlined appropriately);  meanwhile we're just letting the buffalograss move over as much as it wants, to see how much shade it will tolerate.

As I expected, the front lawn looks pretty patchy, even without dog spots.  Fescue and buffalo grass don't make good partners and we never consciously killed off the fescue.  I also never did do the second (summer weed) weeding on the front lawn.  Again, the density of the buffalograss is not bad, but it would have been nice to get it completely cleared out of weeds to see if it wouldn't stay pretty weed free after that.  I guess we'll get to compare the front and back yards to see how much difference it actually made to do that last weeding.

The green-brown clumps in the foreground and under the honeylocust are the leftover fescue.  We haven't watered this area at all this year either, so the fescue is looking stressed from lack of Greg has been mowing it very low to favor the buffalograss, which further stresses it.  Next summer it will be (past) time to kill off the fescue and start plugging in buffalo to complete the front lawn, but I'm pleased with our start.  It will never be the lush green of fescue, but I'm tickled with how well the buffalograss is handling both heat and drought, as well as how rarely it needs to be mowed.

In summary, would I do it again?  In a heart beat!  I'd try to pick a less awful time of year to plant the buffalograss plugs, but I am super pleased at how nice it looks and how easy it is to maintain.  In my column, this is definitely a score for buffalograss!  I might even come to enjoy the open space of a lawn around the house!

But She Never Talks About....

I just finished reading Before I Say Goodbye, by Ruth Picardie.  The book was published in 1998 and is subtitled, "Recollections and Observations from One Woman's Final Year."  It's the story, told in personal e-mails, letters and a few columns that Ruth Picardie wrote about her experiences, of  a 32 year old woman, married, living with her husband and 1 year old twins in London, who is diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Ruth Picardie was a freelance writer and a former editor, a spunky, rather sassy woman who was able to capture in her writing the wide range of emotions that she experienced as, at age 32, she tackled an ultimately losing battle against breast cancer:  chemotherapy, radiation treatments, alternative medicine treatments, hair falling out, nausea, and the myriad of other indignities that she bravely and sometimes funnily endured in her final year.  She continued trying to make life as normal as possible for her children.  She wrote about how pissed she was that she wasn't losing weight - sort of a "if I have to have cancer, can't I at least be skinny without trying?" sort of thing, and about having a crush on one of her oncologists.  She wrote about suddenly finding shopping therapy particularly helpful, especially for expensive cosmetics.

But one thing she never wrote about was being worried about medical bills or about what her illness was doing to the financial security of her husband and her children.  She NEVER mentions not trying a medical treatment because it's too expensive.  She undergoes 2 rounds of chemotherapy and at least one 6 week course of daily radiation treatments.  She takes multiple medications and undergoes numerous tests and scans.  She stays in the hospital several times and, at the end of her life, is in and out of hospice for the last 2 months.  And she never mentions paying a dime for any of it.

Make no mistake, sometimes Ruth was mad as hell at the National Health Service.  Of course she was going to have been angry - she was a 32 year dying of breast cancer and nothing they did seemed to make much difference.  Of course she would have turned at least some of that anger on the people doing her primary treatment.

Ruth talks about how much all the alternative therapies she tried cost:  2500 pounds (approx. $5000) for an initial consultation with a recommended "complementary medicine guru" and then much more money over the course of several months until reports of the rapid spread of her cancer convinced her that she was just wasting their money.  Then there was a Chinese medicine regimen..for 50 pounds (about $100) each week.  Over the course of three months, she went to at least two different "healers" for several sessions each.  In her last full column, she says that she doesn't think any of this helped her one iota - and certainly not as much as the (self-discovered and prescribed) retail shopping therapy did.

In that same column where she discussed how much she had spent on the (ultimately useless) alternative therapy, she wrote, "To be fair to the beards [alternative medicine folks], mainstream treatment from arid white-coats has utterly failed, too, but at least it's a) free, and b) you don't have to listen to Vangelis in hospital."

When the cancer spread to her liver and lungs and the oncologists figured there was little they could do to halt the progress of the cancer, Ruth was visited (without asking for it) by a government social worker and given a disabled car sticker, a housecleaner who came twice a week for 2 hours each time (paid for by the government), and about $100/week disability living allowance.  Not much, maybe, but surely better than getting nothing but bills and insurance statements when you're dying.  Know any country where THAT might happen?

At the end of the book, Ruth's husband, Matt, writes the final wrap-up for the book.  He wrote about a year after Ruth died and he was scrupulously honest, as she was, about his experiences.  He admits to not always being the support to her that he wanted to be, about the stresses it put on their marriage, about what it was like as she started pulling away from him and even from the kids, in preparation for dying.  But he never mentions money or bills or stressing about whether they'd be unable to pay for their apartment or her medical care or the retail therapy she was treating herself to.  About whether they'd have to choose between drugs to fight her cancer or food to feed the family. 

Ruth Picardie died on September 22, 1997.  I don't know what health care changes have been made in England since then, but I'd still bet a dying woman doesn't have to worry as much about paying for the process of her death in London as she would in Wichita, Kansas, or in any other place in the United States.

Illness and eventual death are extremely frightening but inevitable parts of living for all of us.  It's hard enough to go through being seriously sick without feeling that your illness and/or death is going to totally leave your family bankrupt and potentially homeless.  When are we, as a nation, going to wake up and realize that ALL of us are human, ALL of us will get ill and die eventually, and ALL of us deserve to deal with that in the best way we can WITHOUT worrying about paying for it???  When are we going to wake up and realize that the only system that makes sense is a single payer system where 30% of the costs don't get eaten up in administration?  When are we going to wake up and realize that making lots of money off health "care" means that true health care must be denied for many of us?  When are we going to wake up and realize that only by having everyone, old and young, sick and well, in the same pool can we spread the costs around fairly and reasonably and provide needed care for all of us?

And, most of all, when are we going to realize that having "health care insurance" doesn't insure us against anything, least of all against illness and death?  We are all going to get ill and die, so let's be honest with ourselves...and provide at least a basic level of health care for all of us, so we can meet that frightening time of life with all our focus on our fight for life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I've been seeing a lot of these large blister beetles with outsized, orange marked abdomens crawling around this summer, but usually I just see them on the ground, trundling along very purposefully.  I see lots of "regular" black blister beetles on my plants like potatoes and tomatoes, eating the leaves, and I see still other species of blister beetles on blooming flowers like goldenrod, nectaring or eating pollen.  On the morning of June 30th, however, I found this one, lone individual eating out the inside of an already dead cicada and it seemed unusual enough to photograph it.  I know that most, if not all, blister beetles are carnivorous as larvae, but I'd never seen one eat anything but plant material as an adult.

In finally getting back to downloading photos and blogging again, after a hiatus of several weeks due to a (planned) surgical rearrangement of my innards, I found my series of photos highlighting this interesting sight.  This is the best of the lot, although far from perfect.

Checking the book, Insects in Kansas, this exact species was actually pictured, identified simply as Meloe sp.  After researching online (including an extended check at, I've concluded that the species was misidentified in that book; this beetle is actually Epicauta conferta.  (To be fair, at one site I found that Epicauta conferta used to be known as Meloe conferta, but has since been renamed.  See the paragraph below for why this matters.)  I couldn't find a common name or much information about its habits.  The genus it belongs to is the largest genus of blister beetles in North America, containing 173 species in this part of the world, and its members are generally considered to feed exclusively on grasshoppers eggs and/or larvae in their own larval stages.

Epicauta conferta specifically, aka "this guy," is only found in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.  Our own southern plains blister beetle!

I got a little freaked out at first, though, when Insects in Kansas listed it as a Meloe species.  My brief research on Meloe blister beetles mentioned prominently that the genus Meloe genus feeds solely on native bee larvae in their own larval stages.  It was the only genus mentioned as eating bees rather than grasshoppers.  Was this going to be another test of my ability to let nature take its course?

Thankfully, no.  Without further evidence to the contrary, I'm assuming that Epicauta conferta is yet another grasshopper egg eater - and I'm happily watching each one I see, as it self importantly walks through the grass, hopefully searching for another grasshopper egg-laying site.