Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

One after another, the more sensational shows were failing me–Shadow and Bone, fascinating though it was, suddenly featured a magical device FUSED TO THE HEROINE’S COLLAR BONES, which protruded through her skin in a particularly grisly way. UGH. I couldn’t keep watching. And then, The Nevers over on HBO sank into black horror, and even though the costumes and sets are simply lovely, I can’t watch horror. And the ever dependable Mentalist, with its astonishingly beautiful consultant Patrick Jane–

–started dipping into idiotic plot territory (Head of Important Research Facility: “We’re curing evil!”)
So I turned to natural history, as one does. I had read about My Octopus Teacher, and was intrigued.
Friends, I clicked the button!

Craig Foster is a South African naturalist and film maker, who decided that free diving into the chilly kelp forest by his home near Cape Town every day for a year would mend his troubled heart.
And it did.
That he can hold his breath for SIX MINUTES (the norm is something like 30 seconds) made this extraordinary routine possible. And what inspired him to do something so crazy? Well, he met a little octopus, a creature that is basically “a snail without a shell” as he put it. But when he first spots her, the barmy creature is lying about in the mazy kelp–wearing a jaunty assortment of shells and rocks which completely covers her.

He is charmed, and decides to visit her every day–QUITE an undertaking. To even find her in that stretch of ocean is a feat. But he persists, and eventually she comes to trust him. Her life is stressful and dangerous–at some point, Craig looks about and notices that just about every crack in the rocks hides a pajama shark: creatures who enthusiastically feed on octopus (among other delicacies). And in fact, there is a terrible moment when one of the vile predators almost gets her–and tears off one of her arms. Craig is anguished, but knows that he must not help her, much as he wants to. She hides out in her den, pale and almost dead–but she revives, and grows a new arm! And later on we see that covering herself with shells is actually not a sprightly act of vanity but deadly serious protection–she clings desperately to her impromptu suit of armor during a ghastly attack by another pajama shark, who pounds her against the rock in an effort to get at her. But he fails!
Life is short for an octopus–one year is all she gets. After mating, she lays her eggs and dies. And her body is carried away by yet another pajama shark.
Craig manages not to weep as he tells the interviewer about his year with the brave little octopus.
Perhaps octopuses are not lovely to our human eyes, but they are so clever and so valiant. A fine story!

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Loveliest of Trees

Yesterday I saw it –that miraculous mist of pale green where before there were just bare black branches. Every year I see it and every year my heart rises at the sight. Brave new life! In the morning I hear a brilliant chorus of bird song, and there are blossoms everywhere. Spring, the sweet spring! To celebrate, I have illustrated Housman’s lovely poem about cherry trees, see this. My father made us memorize this poem, and every spring it comes to my mind.

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A New Thing

Even after 72 years in this floating world one can still experience something new–I am pleased to report that I am now one of those stalwart citizens who drop stuff off at the dump! Or, as we more delicately like to call it here in Montgomery County, the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station.
Why was I taking the job away from the bold Garbageurs who so faithfully patrol the neighborhood every Friday, you ask? Because I had a box of stuff we are forbidden to throw in the trash.
See, on weekend mornings I don my work clothes, spray myself with diethyltoluamide, and work in the garden for a couple hours. After that, exhausted and dripping with sweat, I retire to the shower. This morning I finally tackled the shed with broom and dustpan. MY it was dirty. AND, I am shamed to say, there was a MOUSE–a mouse, in a three-cat household! I batted at it with my broom but it brazenly trotted to and fro without seeming to be much impressed. I went out and found Sophie and brought her in–she sniffed about but apparently the mouse had remembered an appointment elsewhere. So anyway, I was spurred on to move stuff out and clean a little more forcefully than I had hitherto. On the sagging shelves were dusty bottles of various garden poisons, untouched since my darling husband was alive and had strength enough to work in the garden.

Quite a lot of bottles. I have glanced at them over the years, but felt no impulse to confront them. However, the mouse impelled me to move them all out along with all the other stuff lying about. I put them in a box, and asked Google to tell me about the dump and its hours. Heavens, it was open! Once cleaned and dressed, I loaded up the car with the box of poisons. and also other items that might as well be dumped as wait for next Friday and sped off to Gaithersburg.
The dump is a mighty structure, with a constant stream of cars and trucks entering and leaving. There are uniformed masked men directing the citizens as to protocol. I learned that my patio umbrella had to go in the Scrap Metal department, my poisons in Hazardous Waste. I also learned that my fears as to not having a mask (which I had forgotten) and having to show proof of Montgomery County residency were completely unfounded.
And so I unloaded my items and set off for home, while the radio serenaded me with Gounod’s Faust, a grand reward for being so virtuous. It was Saturday after all!

The Lyric Opera of Chicago presented, with Christian Van Horn singing Mephistopheles, nattily attired in a devilish plaid. A fine show.

And so home to lunch.

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I was sitting idly eating my breakfast and reading the paper when I sensed movement in the yard–and looked up to see a FOX! A FOX! Unhurried, just trotting through my garden and then up the little hill to jump over the fence into my neighbor’s yard.
Lovely creature. This morning is blessed.

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Plants have their own concerns and do what they have to do, ignoring the griefs of the silly humans who share the earth with them. And we can only look at them in awe and wonder. Of course, they feed us, keep our air clean, keep us alive—but also, they fill the world with color and entertainment. Not to mention pollen, but let’s pass over the misery that causes to many humans. There are drugs, no?

The cherry tree in my front yard is FABULOUS. A gorgeous cloud of pink blossoms, that lifts my heart whenever I look at it. It is an ornamental tree and will give me no cherries, but it would if it could. It is a LOVELY tree, so much bigger now than the tiny slip of a sapling that I planted 20 years ago.

The bleeding heart, quince, and viburnum are in bloom and looking grand. The bleeding heart was here when I moved in, and is a sturdy dependable creature. The other two I planted, and are surviving despite my faulty care. The viburnum has such a fragrance!

The dogwood and azaleas are very close to blooming. Splendid tree, splendid bushes!

Thank you to all these blithe plants, making my garden so fine. It reminds me of this Browning poem, one that my dad often quoted to us, from Pippa Passes:

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

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What, WHAT? Things are blooming, tiny green leaves pushing through, birds rapturously singing- -and here we are, glumly huddling in our houses, not even noticing.
This is shameful, comrades!

So, in the midst of plague, here is Houseman’s verse, lines which my father often quoted.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

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My nephew was visiting, and yesterday we drove to Great Falls, to see the mighty waters–always a stunning and humbling sight. It briefly occurred to me that the endless rains might have had some effect on the river, but I dismissed the thought–the drive is so lovely, through the green wilderness, and down the little winding road to the park entrance. There was a LONG LINE of cars waiting to pay the fee and enter, and it was only once we were next in line that I saw the sign: Great Falls viewing overlook is closed due to flooding. Also the Billy Goat Trail. Sigh. Well, I paid the $10 anyway, and we walked through some rather grim construction to a big cement platform that offered a view of the river–raging water, brown and turbulent, rushing through flailing trees–here is a quick vid view. Not the falls–but what a vision.
When people mention the Potomac River, it is with a fleer and a jeer–the name is contaminated with the fog of politics that emanates from the city it bisects. But looking on those surging masses of raw power I felt nothing but awe.

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This morning I bravely went out to garden. My plan: to labor for a couple hours and then escape inside as the temperature and humidity achieved the summer norm, i.e., unbearable.
Step one in this endeavour is of course to drench all exposed flesh with Deet, a singularly smelly chemical which repels most insects. They just can’t stand that stench. Neither can I, but I persevere. And shower afterwards.
Then, onto clipping, raking…toting dat barge, lifting dat bale, etc. I proudly brandished my new Black and Decker electric clippers, and the shrubs fell back, abashed. I was the mighty battle horse, saying among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting. Though there were no captains about except Bertie and he was mostly asleep on the patio. Still, I set to with a will, and soon the garden was SHOWERED with debris and I was dripping with sweat. Luckily it was not until I was at the very last shrub that I clipped through the extension cord. BANG! Stepping into the garage to toss out the now useless cord I noted that all the basement lights were out. SIGH. I found a flashlight–of such superior dimness, a sort of Darkness Visible device–and entered the Stygian gloom of the basement to confront the circuit box. One day I will–I SWEAR IT– organize and remake the many ancient bits of paper that mark which breaker controls which bit of the house–one chart to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Ah. The basement lights and garage were not represented on any of the lists. And then I remembered–there is ANOTHER CIRCUIT BOX! Why it has been placed over by the basement stairs is a mystery, but there it is, and when I flicked the switch, the miracle of light happened.
Then I went back out, filled the bags with biomass, swept up, put away the tools and came inside for a shower and a little lunch.
Weekends, so tiring.

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Spring bloom

Today I am enjoying the peaceful quiet of an office empty of bosses. Pleasant, rather.
Yesterday and the day before were quite the opposite, days of frantic endeavour, rising at 5:30 in the morning and rushing to work, where I helped manage a large and bustling meeting–with many participants, many virtual presentations, many guests, and an agenda that stretched until 6 pm on both days.
Not, as you might say, delirious fun.
But done, and nothing disastrous happened–beyond the criminal lemon meringue pie supplied by our caterer. We ate it, being hungry, but there was no joy in it.

However, there was one wonderful thing: having to rise so early, I was outside getting the paper just as the sky eastward turned a golden orange behind my gorgeous cherry tree, now in full bloom. The air was soft and sweet, and the pink cloud of blossoms so beautiful–a good way to start a difficult day.

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So, snow

A LOT of snow came falling from the sky today, but really, it is already melting, and one feels one could have left it where it lay–but after all, my ballet class has been cancelled and one needs some exercise. So I dutifully shoveled the walk and the driveway.
Yesterday le tout Washington kept an attentive eye of mild alarm on the heavens, waiting for this Winter Storm to blanket the city. Which it politely did not do until this morning, and now the sound of running water is to be heard everywhere, together with bird song. The birds know that it is spring and there are VERY important things to be done.
But the humans can’t help playing in the snow.

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