per·i·pa·tet·ic
ˌperēpəˈtedik/
adjective
  1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
    Aristotelian.
noun
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Figurative Friday--Surprise! It's the End-of-the-Weak Day

I like surprises, giving more than getting, but there was one waiting for me at the beginnning of the week. Monday found us still at home for a long weekend--thanks to SAM's understanding boss--and I was up with the sunrise, walking through the wet grass and taking in the sights and sounds of an early morning. I guess the dew slowed me in my flip-flops enough so I could spot these Green Darners, Anax junius, dangling from a palm frond. They were oblivious to me while in the midst of an extended embrace so I took the opportunity to snap away...
I approached them from different angles, curious about which one was male and female and what they were called, besides dragonflies, of course. That bug collection assignment in the fifth grade wasn't a total waste of time. Yes, Mrs. Whatever-Your-Name-Was--thank you very much--these are dimorphic insects, meaning that the two sexes look different from each other. That's helpful. The male in this case is the one in the upright position with the blue abdomen. He has the end of it inserted behind the female's head. This dragonflies-for-dummies article describes the insects' life cycle and has some excellent photos but doesn't include a lot of details like why the dragonflies resort to such an odd method of making babies! You should check out this National Geographic article if you're not satisfied with the basics. Dragonflies have such complicated mating rituals that scientists are still scratching their heads over what it all means. This isn't exactly an embrace. The male has the female's head pinned with special claspers on his tail so he can get down to business and also so she can't bite his head off. Of course, evolution provides the explanation for this strange, "ersatz heart" position. Doesn't it always? The dragonflies and damselflies apparently have this courting and mating thing down pat. The article says their time on earth--more than 300 million years--gives them an edge over other creatures, considering their diversity and distribution, and that they have had plenty of "time to figure all the angles on sex." Good for them! I'm glad I'm not an insect.    
Since I'm human, I get to enjoy things--like brilliant colors and stained-glass patterns on sunlit wings.
We surprised Daughter the day before the dragonfly sighting with a homemade cake--white chocolate with cherry topping--some flowers, balloons, and a card with two poems inside. Here is one of them, full of clues about what else she can expect:      
Look under the rug



Peek under the bed






Where is the darn thing


The birthday girl said






I don’t want a present


But it must be here somewhere






Is it something round?


Or will it be square?






If it’s stashed somewhere small


A piece may be pok’n


But if it’s too tall, it may be brok’n






The parents look sly


And say, Daughter… Truly Spok’n










Happy Birthday,


Dad

Can you guess what her surprise was?


She picked it out, and we brought it home the next day, a few hours after the sun rose and the Green Darners flew away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Growing Chamberbitter--Mithridates' Curse or Blessing in Disguise?

Chamberbitter, variously known as Phyllanthus urinaria, leafflower, shatterstone, gripeweed, and Bhumyamalaki (Sanskrit) makes itself right at home in my northwest Florida garden. If I didn't know better, I would say it's a noxious weed. It has its way with every flower bed, the veggie garden, and any other cultivated spot in my yard. The seeds it bears on the undersides of its leaves spread easily by design. Every time I pull up one plant by the roots, several dozen more potential plants fall to the ground to take its place. Since it possesses such an obviously aggressive method of reproduction, I just had to know: where did this plant come from and what is it good for? An agent with the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service thinks it might be something other than a noxious weed. Shawn Jadrnicek calls it "A Valuable Weed [that] Lurks in the Garden." If you click on this link that I've provided, scroll down to read his article. According to him, this weed is anything but noxious. In fact, if ancient Ayurveda practice has any credibility--and who can argue with thousands of years' practice--chamberbitter might well be the answer to my current (perennial) weed dilemma: seek and destroy or harvest and use? Hey, if the vanga sena treatment works--consuming seeds with rice water--I might soon be poo-pooing those gynecological symptoms that menstruating and perimenopausal women consider so burdensome. And that purported benefit would be only the beginning. Look what else chamberbitter has the capability of conquering:
  • anorexia
  • hyperacidity
  • gastric burning
  • peptic ulcers
  • urinary disorders
  • diabetes mellitus
  • skin disorders
  • liver disturbances
  • anemia 
...Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good,
'Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day...
 
--from "Terence, This is Stupid Stuff," by A. E. Housman, 1896-- 
 
If there's any hope for my garden, it might be as a nursery for this pernicious--as most horticulturalists as well as naturalists consider it--weed that came aboard with some other, more delightfully ornamental, horticulturally recommended, exotic introduction to my landscape. The veggies I would like to see growing here don't find the soil or other conditions appealing, but the chamberbitter does for some reason. Could it be that Mithridates has finally found a way to confound the Western modus operandi in the garden of all places?

There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink,
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
--I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

--A. E. Housman, as above--

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ugly is as Ugly Does--Yellow-Necked Caterpillars Turn Beauty on Its Head

Ugly is as ugly does. Now where have I heard that expression before? Not many days after I encouraged those citrus-loving orange dogs to visit and feed freely in my garden, these strange creatures--yellow-necked caterpillars--reared their yellow-collared heads on our blueberry bushes. Oh, dear! What have I done to deserve this kind of attention? I wouldn't say these youngsters are as ugly as the orange dogs. They look rather dapper actually, as if they're dressed to impress. Those are pin-striped suits covered with a hair shirt worn outwards: "Trust me! I can do penance and look good at the same time." Okay, so maybe that interpretation is a little far out. I lay the credit for awakening my curiosity as to why we attach such abstract ideas as beauty or ugliness to things not human at blogger/writer/artist Sarah Laurence's feet. She directed me to a recent article in the New York Times that takes a stab in the dark at explaining our tendency to anthropomorphize. I do agree that I have some "aesthetic prejudices" toward some things in nature, but I don't agree with the article's overall premise that evolution brought me to this point. What would be the point of evolving so far as to see complex human characteristics in something as simple as a lowly caterpillar, if it is indeed "lowly"? There has to be more to it. Literature, perhaps? Reading too much into things? Or maybe just reading too much. If it's a sin, then I am unrepentant. Take Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, for example. Or maybe you shouldn't. It asks a lot soul-searching questions, and they come from the most unlikely of characters like the hookah-smoking Caterpillar: "'Who are you?'" And "So you think you're changed, do you?" he asks Alice. If you would ask me, I'd say, why yes. I'm not the same person I was in 1960, yesterday, or even 5 minutes ago, in a manner of speaking. And this cute caterpillar won't be as adorable when it grows up. It will look completely different, a plain Jane moth--handmaiden moth. Remember the ugly orange dog? If it survives to become what it's meant to be, it will be nothing short of beautiful, a giant swallowtail butterfly. And there goes that idea of aesthetic prejudice up in smoke. Another blogger, Britta, who is new to me but not to blogging, has recently experienced some prejudice regarding age and beauty, and she has found a creative way to vent her frustration. Hey, if you still got 'em, flaunt 'em. I like her style.

What I don't like is this caterpillar's style. It brings friends to join in the feast. Lots of them. I'll be honest with you. When I spotted these furry critters, of course I had to run and get my camera, tell SAM so he could see for himself, and then quickly find out what they are. Thank goodness for great websites! I wanted to know what kind of damage they could inflict and if it would be fatal to the blueberry bushes. These are still young shrubs and don't have a lot of foliage to spare just yet. I could not get over how many of those pin-striped caterpillars there were! SAM must have picked off at least three dozen of them. Yes, I couldn't stand to see the bushes I've tended so carefully be destroyed. We put the critters on the brush pile in the farthest corner of the backyard. Out of sight, out of mind. Let them fend for themselves, away from the heart of the garden(er). Okay, so I'm a little over-protective when it comes to something I've spent a lot of time on. These bushes have a long way to go before they're finally ready to bear a good crop of berries. Especially now. 

As you can see, they have been robbed--or have they?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Skywatch Friday--Full of Beans in Florida: Jack (Query) and the (Sword) Beans Talk

Looking at this sword bean, Canavalia gladiata, my former mystery plant, soaring up into Florida's summer sky, I make good use of that Wayback Machine on top of my neck and think of one of my favorite fairy tales from childhood, Jack and the Beanstalk. Since it features a plant that surpasses ordinary expectations, a youngster who--with a little help from some magical beans--overcomes his low station in life as well as total submission to a domineering parent, and a conflict with a larger-than-life ogre, I had to ask: what's not to like about this fable? Though there are many versions available in print and now online, the one I remember reading as a child must have been the one written by Joseph Jacobs because while reading it now, I recall how stirred my curiosity was then. Why, for instance, would a young boy be allowed to take his family's most precious asset, a milk cow, to market by himself? Where's the community support for a poor widow who would be desperate enough to sell her main source of sustenance and income? What kind of mother would scold and punish her son for negotiating a bad deal when she should have at least accompanied him to the marketplace? How did the strange man who traded Jack the magic beans for the cow know Jack's name? And, who could believe that a boy who stole repeatedly from another person--ogre or not--and then caused his death would be exonerated and then acclaimed enough to marry a princess? I still don't know the answers to the other questions, but I have decided that Jack's mysterious benefactor knew Jack's name because of the French connection. It is, after all, the Anglicized form of the term "Jacque" given to peasants from at least as far back as the mid 14th century. Apparently, it had something to do with the short coat that peasants wore to signify their station in life--the 14th century version of a blue collar. Did the French Revolution have its origins with malcontents epitomized by a short Corsican fellow who was often portrayed by 18th and 19th century artists with his hand stuffed in his jacket, or was there a precedent to that popular unrest? A much earlier revolt or clash between the classes in France took place in 1358 and is known as the Jacquerie. Accounts of knights being roasted by the peasants--Jacques--and served up forcibly to the knights' families were spread by chroniclers--journalists?--of the day. It's kind of strange that those chroniclers, also members of the ruling class, neglected to report a possible rationale for the revolt and its alleged butchery. You know, things like burdensome taxation of the peasant class, corruption and gross abuse of power amongst the elites, and a lack of government protection for ordinary citizens left to fend for themselves against invading marauders--unemployed soldiers and other bandits--from England, Gascon, Germany, and Spain. Now that I think about it, Jack's ogre's insatiable appetite makes perfect sense. He is a giant in the greatest sense of the word--a conglomerate representative of corporate greed, government corruption and control, and media malfeasance all rolled into one colossal eating machine, nourished by and living high above the means and heads of everyone else.

Getting back to the story, would the ordinary, late-19th-century-until-present-day consumer of light-as-a-feather fairy tales be able to stomach this rags-to-riches-by-murder tale penned by a scholar educated at St. John's College, Cambridge University? You can bet on it. Mr. Jacobs gambled and won on the premise that people all over the world were beginning to understand that, class standing notwithstanding, we're all cut from the same cloth. It's one of those timeless truths that, if given some consideration, topples all kinds of giant misconceptions about each other. I think that given the right opportunity and circumstances, there's bound to be a bit of both the trickster Jack and the giant in all of us. Of course, I could be full of beans. 

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment;
That this huge stage presenteth naught but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the selfsame sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet #15)

To "ingraft you new" or jog your memory on the glory of this former mystery plant's birth, I'll set Walk2Write's other Wayback Machine--the blog--to a day at the end of April. Its parent bean didn't have to survive a beating but did require a dose of vinegar to coax it into breaking through a tough seed coat so that it could begin its prodigious growth spurt. Though not full of beans yet, it has the potential for a long, productive life growing behind our pole barn. The soil there had been enriched for years by the cows that the original property owner raised. Not surprisingly, it's one of the few spots in my yard that has some decent soil.  

Since I'm not around to check on its daily progress, it's a mystery to me what happens to the rest of the beans that begin to form from these delicate pink flowers. So far, only the one bean that's pictured above has reached maturity. What could be preventing the youngster from reaching its full potential as an adult plant, full of beans? I'll enumerate and eliminate the possibilities:


  1. Adequate moisture. Even though I'm not able to water the plant when the rains don't appear regularly, it grows within the drip line of the pole barn roof, and there is enough evening dew from Florida's ever-present summertime humidity to keep it hydrated.

  2. Sufficient sunlight. The sword bean plant grows on the east side of the barn and receives at least six hours of direct sunlight, enough to satisfy just about any kind of veggie.

  3. Soil pH. I've checked the pH in this part of the yard and found it to be within the recommended limits for growing veggies, which are between 5.8 and 6.5.

  4. Pollination. If you have been following this Wayback Machine for a while, you will remember that Mr. and Mrs. Zucchini Blossom had some problems getting their act together with the bees, but beans are supposed to be self-pollinating and usually don't require much intervention besides a little help from the wind. Wouldn't it be nice if overcoming every other obstacle in life were that simple?   
Please visit Skywatch Friday for more sky perspectives from around the world.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

That's My World Tuesday--Orange Dog Days of Summer in Florida

video
Now that the dog days of summer in the northern hemisphere are almost over, I thought it only fitting that the orange dog caterpillar, Papilio cresphontes, should get some face time on the blog. It might not be pretty now, looking like something a bird had for breakfast, but that ugly visage will change soon enough. A giant swallowtail butterfly will emerge from a chrysalis that the caterpillar forms for itself. It seems like magic every time it happens, and I don't mind a bit that the orange dog is feasting on my pink grapefruit tree. It must be the mother in me that keeps saying "Eat, eat, and have some more!"

For more That's My World Tuesday stories this week, please visit the official site and check out what other bloggers have posted.