A cross-stitcher’s shame

I used to do a lot of cross-stitching. Really, I should say I’ve started a lot of cross-stitch projects, but I’ve only finished 4 or 5 of the many I’ve started over the years. I like to do samplers – pictured above is one of two samplers that I’ve finished; this one needs to be laundered, pressed, and framed. It’s the first in a set of three, the second, just barely begun, is beside it. I also did a baby blanket for my niece that was later passed on to my other niece, I think. It’s probably stashed in the bottom of a closet somewhere since she’s not a baby anymore. It’s hard to appreciate the work involved until you’ve done it yourself.

Cross-stitch is really easy, but requires good eyesight and persistence. The persistence part has always been a problem, lately my eyesight is the excuse. There used to be a great little shop downtown that sold beautiful pieces of linen for stiching and thousands and thousands of charts. The shop closed up and moved far away, so I haven’t bought anything new for a while, thank goodness. There are more than enough half-finished projects in a bottom drawer of the end table to keep me busy for the rest of my years. Each piece takes so many hundreds of hours that I just get tired of looking at it and must put it away for months on end. Usually, when the urge to stitch bites me again, I find myself picking up a different project than the one I last worked on. Some of them I never pick up again, having decided that I don’t like the colors or the design anymore.

I can blame my current urge to stitch on silverlight and madcapmum who often post pics of the beautiful things they make with a needle and their hands. I wish I were determined enough to actually finish something – maybe if I devoted just one hour a week to it I could see some progress. For today, I think I’ll spend a little time with that sampler above – those pea pods need some color.

“The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Riders of the wind

Swamp milkweed pods and seeds

“The far travelers of the plant world, the original sailors of the air in the plant kingdom, prepare their hostages to the wind. The gossamer parachutes, each with its germ of life, approach their time of departure. The winds of Autumn will bring down the leaves, but they will also carry a fragile freight of next year’s green and urgent life. Who can count the fluff-borne seeds that will fill the late September air?” –Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

Where’s a wildflower expert when I need one?

Group nature walks have spoiled me, I think. While I don’t need to pay too much attention on bird walks, it’s comforting to have a naturalist closeby to ID a bird I don’t know. I don’t often bird with a group anymore, but when I do I use the naturalist to help me learn a birdsong or a tree or the name of a wildflower. At last night’s bird walk I learned Partridge Pea and Bouncing Bet.

I have a few wildflower books, but haven’t learned how to *key* a plant properly. It’s laziness, I admit, but I tend to rely on my better knowledge of cultivated plants, rather than a wildflower guide, to help me ID a plant. Last night the Bouncing Bet reminded me of Phlox, so had I not been able to simply ask the naturalist for an ID, I’d have come home and searched through my Newcomb’s Guide for a flower that reminded me of Phlox. The Partridge Pea looked very similar to Crown Vetch, so that one I might’ve figured out easily enough on my own.

This evening I took Buddy for a walk to the farm pond and stream that are down the street. The environmental commision here in town has recently made this wetland area their *project* for improvements; they’ve removed a lot of the vegetation from the borders of this pond. This concerns me because I think it will only make the area even more attractive to Canada Geese (they frequent the adjoining athletic fields) – I often find herons and sandpipers here and a pair or two of mallards, but hardly ever any geese. They’ve also made and mulched a narrow trail through the wet woods which makes walking there more pleasant.

I found the plant pictured above right growing all along the stream bank. The flowers look very familiar to me, but I’m not certain what it is and my wildflower guides have only further confused me. I’m nearly certain it’s a Eupatorium – maybe Eupatorium coelestinum, most commonly known as Mistflower, but the flowers (which haven’t opened completely yet) don’t look right for this ID. Also, it seems to be growing as a vine, or maybe that is some other plant vining up through it. To further confuse the issue, this flower could be a *cultivated* one, rather than wild, because a plant nursery shares the property. I would really appreciate if any readers can help me guess what this pretty plant might be.

One group of plants that I almost always recognize is Viburnums; they are a favorite. These beautiful berries belong to a Cranberrybush Viburnum that grows along the woods edge beside the nursery. Whenever I walk by, I have a look to check on the progress of flower or fruit and remind myself that I really would like a few of these at home. I just need to find a place for them.

Sunset birding with the girls

The girls I work with are good sports, for the most part. On a lark I invited them to a bird walk sponsored by Monmouth County Audubon out at Sandy Hook tonight. We’d been looking forward to it for a month or so. We arrived almost an hour late, but just in time for the *death march* out the Fisherman’s Trail to the very tip of the Hook. It’s not a terribly long walk, but the trail through the dunes is all soft sand, lined on both sides with poison ivy, beach plums (almost ripe!) and bayberry. The wind direction was good so that at least there weren’t any bugs biting to make the hike any more miserable.

We didn’t see a great number of birds, but enjoyed instead a beautiful sunset over the water. We did have nice looks at osprey, some southbound plovers, and many far away peeps. I was most impressed with the swarms of swallows going to roost as we made our way back through the dunes to the parking lot. This wasn’t the greatest trip for getting beginners interested in birds; I knew that would be the case, but I think Sandy Hook on a summer evening is one of the prettiest places to be and any birds are just a bonus. We ended our excursion with dinner at the Chinese place around the corner from my house and I think there might have been a stop for ice cream after they dropped me home.

The photo at right above shows the Three Birding Stooges – Debbie, Linda, and Debbie’s daughter (who must be one of the cutest kids ever! – she passed up going to the fireworks tonight to come along on our walk).

8/16/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Yesterday was Missy’s 5th Gotcha Day – I woke her from a sound sleep early this evening to take a photo of her. She’s not awake enough yet in this pic to be mad at me, but before long she was giving me the evil eye, or as I call it, her *Attila-the-Bun* face. She is a very tolerant rabbit, but isn’t afraid to nip me when she thinks I need it.

Two days (and a trip to the vet) after bringing her home from a pet store I brought home Freckles to be her friend and living companion. For most of the first six months with them I questioned my sanity on a daily basis. I was miserable with these two messy, timid (yet very headstrong) rabbits who wanted nothing to do with me. Little by little I learned how to *manage* normal bunny mischief. I gained their trust and fell in love. Five years and six more rabbits later I couldn’t imagine a day without them in my life and in my home.

In her five years here, Missy has lived with (and lost) three rabbit friends. She has health problems and needs heart meds twice a day and is forever on and off antibiotics for a respiratory infection that never really goes away. She sleeps and *loafs* a lot these days and breathes heavy at the least bit of excitement. But, she loves to play and does the most fabulous wobbly binkies of any rabbit here. And she loves her salads and her hay. I love you Missy Bun – Happy Gotcha Day!


“Platero es pequeño, peludo, suave; tan blando por fuera, que se diría todo de algodón, que no lleva huesos. Sólo los espejos de azabache de sus ojos son duros cual dos escarabajos de cristal negro.

Lo dejo suelto, y se va al prado, y acaricia tibiamente con su hocico, rozándolas apenas, las florecillas rosas, celestes y gualdas… Lo llamo dulcemente: «Platero?», y viene a mí con un trotecillo alegre que parece que se ríe, en no sé qué cascabeleo ideal…

Come cuanto le doy. Le gustan las naranjas, mandarinas, las uvas moscateles, todas de ámbar, los higos morados, con su cristalina gotita de miel…

Es tierno y mimoso igual que un niño, que una niña…; pero fuerte y seco por dentro, como de piedra. Cuando paso sobre él, los domingos, por las últimas callejas del pueblo, los hombres del campo, vestidos de limpio y despaciosos, se quedan mirándolo:

–Tien’ asero…
Tiene acero. Acero y plata de luna, al mismo tiempo.” – Juan Ramón Jiménez

Most of this I typed from memory, some 15 years after having to recite it as part of a college course. One of my final classes as a Spanish major was a course in Spanish phonetics and phonology. Very difficult and scary course. I was one of only a handful of *Anglo* Spanish majors at my college; I always thought this to be a good thing because school was the only place for me to practice Spanish and I was able to practice with and learn from native speakers of the language, rather than other *gringos* like myself.

In addition to learning the phonetic alphabet (which is like a whole other language) a large part of the coursework was recitation of poetry and prose. We used many of the literary works that I had been forced to analize bit by bit in my literature courses. Only now I had to tear them apart bit by bit, re-writing each phonetically and reciting them over and over to get the pronunciation of every sound just right. Each of us had to stand in front of the class and recite. At any slight mispronunciation my professor made us start over at the beginning. Over and over we did this, day after day. Some of it was awful, tricky stuff (akin to Shakespeare), but others, like this piece, were great fun and almost a joy to recite. I dreaded taking my turn in front of the class each day and chuckled quietly to myself at the mistakes made by the native speakers. It might sound mean-spirited, but it gave me a lot of confidence to realize that their pronunciation wasn’t perfect either! This course did wonders for my accent and I’d always wished that I’d been introduced to the techniques sooner. When I was teaching high-school Spanish, I sometimes made my students do recitation, which they *enjoyed* about as much as I did. I’m sure they hated me for it, but it was good for them… and maybe they learned to love the story of Platero the donkey the way that I once loved it.

“Platero is so little, so hairy, smooth, and so soft to the touch that you might say he is made of puffy cotton, all light and boneless. Only do the mirrors of his dark eyes seem to be hard, jet-black, like two beetles, like two scarabs made of brilliant glass.

I turn him loose and he goes off straight to the meadow, fondling, caressing the blossoms, his muzzle barely brushing the tender flowers, sky-blue as the air, golden as the sun, pink and red as the sunrise and sunset… Then softly I call to him, “Platero?” and he comes to me with a happy trot, running with such a merry jingle that it seems to me like a vague tinkling, a laughter he makes…

What I give him he eats. He loves the taste of amber-colored muscatel grapes, mandarin oranges, and the deep purple figs as they burst with their crystalline honey, a sweetness of warm, golden drops…

He is tender and finicky like a young boy, a small girl, a child… but inside he is strong, he is dry like rock, like the land he walks. When I ride him on Sundays through the outskirts of the small village, down the streets, the narrow lanes, field men, the strong men, all dressed in their Sunday clothes, stand and look; slowly they watch and speak of him:

“Steel, he’s got steel…”

Yes, he’s got steel. Steel and the silvery sheen of the moonlight, and all at the same time.” – translation by Myra Cohn Livingston and Joseph F. Dominguez

Violets for remembering

I don’t do well with house-
plants. I keep trying, though. I bring home a pretty little plant, like this African Violet, to replace the last one I killed and hope to learn from my mistakes.

I’ve always wanted to be able to grow African Violets. I was successful once with a plant given by my sister-in-law at Easter. I was very careful not to kill it and had it re-bloom for me. Then last summer I thought it might like a vacation on the patio and baked it with late afternoon sun. Silly me!

My mother grew African Violets. I remember the windowsill in our dining room lined with them in pretty pastel shades of purple and pink. I came across an old pic the other night of the first Thanksgiving after she passed away. My father, newly responsible for laying out the feast, stands at the head of the table with my mother’s violets neglected and dying on the windowsill in the background.

I must have been thinking of that photo when I brought this happy little violet home from the market this weekend. With the right combination of light, moisture, and luck I’ll line the windowsills here with violets to rival my memory.

Who do you garden for?

Yesterday I took a drive to Cape May County to visit two gardens: Leaming’s Run Gardens in Swainton and the Model Backyard Habitat at the Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research and Education in Goshen. I’ve visited both gardens in the past, but always early in the Spring before things are growing well. I went yesterday hoping to see each in its prime.

Leaming’s Run bills itself as the largest annual garden in the East and a *mecca* for hummingbirds in August. I had high hopes, since my visits in previous years were so early in the season that the gardens didn’t look like much, having been only recently planted.

The gardens were pretty enough, but my overall impression was that the plantings were repetitive and sterile. Granted I was less interested in the plants than I was in what was attracted to them, but I think they might include a larger variety of annuals in their 20+ individual gardens. I left having seen one hummingbird and a few swallowtail butterflies; disappointed that I had driven more than 2 hours to see many of the same flowers I have at home and fewer hummingbirds or butterflies.

I was glad to have a *back-up plan* for the day. Less than five miles away is CMBO’s model backyard habitat – full of pretty flowers and teaming with life. Maybe not as colorful or as neat, but certainly more interesting to the likes of me! The gardens are maintained by volunteers and are inventoried regularly for birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. Plantings are done with wildlife value as the focus. There is a wildflower meadow, dragonfly pond, Purple Martin colony, and the native trees, shrubs, and flowers are planted to benefit hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. All of the pics in yesterday’s post were taken in these gardens.

The most popular plantings yesterday were a few very large patches of mountain mint which were teeming with beneficial wasps and butterflies. There must have been at least a dozen hummingbirds in residence, each staking a claim to a particular feeder or flowering plant. A gentleman was there counting butterflies and told me he had seen at least 32 different species in just a few hours. The garden even caters to the taste of certain butterflies for rotten fruit. The picture at left shows a Hackberry Emperor (front) and a Question Mark *nectaring* on smelly rotting fruit. I’ve never seen either of these butterflies before and found it interesting to see how well camouflaged they are in this pic with soupy apples and peaches as a backdrop.

The visit to these two gardens, each with a particular focus, really brought home to me the value of planting with wildlife in mind. The first, while planted to draw a particular species (I never saw so much cardinal flower and that horrible red salvia in one place!) was so much less pleasing because it held no variety. The second, which represented a variety of habitats in its plantings was much more attractive and interesting – to me and the *wildlife* it provided for.

Note: The pic of the habitat garden (above right) is from CMBO’s website. Click on it for a link to one of many excellent articles on planning a wildlife garden.