Sunday, February 28, 2010

cessations, part 1

Happy to have returned to this blog from a hiatus of almost two weeks, I ponder the meaning of hiatus and feel compelled to compare it with other kinds of stopping.

When one of my grad school buddies (could've been student or faculty) described Spencer's Faerie Queene as "elaborately truncated" I almost laughed in his or her face. Hey! The man stopped writing. To me, truncate suggests a chopping off of something that's already there. Did someone think Spencer finished his epic (with a quill pen, presumably) and then edited it by lopping parts off the end? Or pitching pages of parchment into the Thames, to run softly out to sea while he ended his song?

BTW a truncated dactyl is either an iamb or a trochee, depending on which end you chop off, whereas a truncated molossus is a spondee any way you slice it. Oh-oh-oh them metrical feet! Someday when I'm in a reminiscent frame of mind I'll try to tell the Spondee Story.

Getting back to hiatus (as opposed to getting back from a hiatus), I think it's the getting back that identifies the stopping as having been a hiatus. The word hiatus is popular in show business, often as a euphemism for unemployment.

During my recent hiatus from this blog, I was hoping that the cessation would indeed turn out to be a recess and not a termination. It was daunting to admit that I was not really emulating William Carlos Williams' regimen of daily writing to the extent that I'd hoped. At last, however, I convinced myself that WCW might not have blogged every day. His quick scratchings were intended not for release to the public but for later mulling and refinement.

Where WCW laid aside many sow's ears for later stitching, I attempt a silk purse in one or two tries and leave the sow's ears stored in Google Blogger's commodious cyberstorage bin -- a virtual desk drawer or shirt pocket.

That's all, folks! More talk of cessations will be forthcoming after a hiatus for some gardening.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

perennial of the year

Yesterday morning in the Boise Airport, I salvaged the 'Life' section of the Idaho Statesman and carried it onto the plane. What fun it was to learn that Baptisia australis has been chosen as 'Perennial of the Year' by the Perennial Plant Association. Unfortunately the link to Margaret Lauterbach's column about this event has been shorn of the photos of her and of the plant. Margaret looks very much like the late Annette Hall, who was President of LWV Los Angeles when I joined in 1994.

The phrase 'Perennial of the Year' seems just a bit absurd. An annual award for a perennial plant? But musing on the Margaret / Annette resemblance got me to thinking about how new and old are so often intertwined. Googling Annette Hall brought forth two 1995 letters to the L.A. Times -- off-year elections and constitutional reform for California were the perennial topics -- along with a report of her presentation on 1992 ballot measures at a Pierce College forum.

Of course Baptisia australis (BA) is not NEW, but it has made NEWS, and is new / news to me! BA is a member of the vast pea family and thus a distant cousin of the perennial sweet pea I've already planted.(from seed) and written about in January. BA is a shrub, not a vine, and its many good qualities make it obligatory for me to search it out at the local nurseries.

Classified as a heritage perennial, BA will be a fabaceous* souvenir of my February trip to Idaho.

- - - - -

*As a college freshman, I learned the word fabaceous. My friend Cathy, who collected and treasured vocabulary with me, actually named her pea-green bicycle 'Fabacia. ' My fat blue bicycle was 'Mildred' but that's another story.

Monday, February 15, 2010

legless lizard sighting!

Made this Facebook note on November 12, 2009: "Found a legless lizard in the garden a couple of days ago. It was only about 3" long. We've spotted many of them during our 30+ years here, so I finally did some googling and learned that they eat snails, spiders, and insect eggs. Last summer I found a shed skin that was about 8" long. Generally I'm not fond of reptiles but these are cute and helpful. Hurray for mulching and a mild climate!"

Three months and three days later, another legless lizard (Anniella pulchra) -- maybe 4" long -- appeared in the POOR SOIL area where I'd been removing the dread SAF (Sprenger Asparagus Fern) only a couple of weeks ago. This area was devoid of earthworms when the SAF was being pulled out, but after two weeks of wet-cardboard and dead-leaf treatment it's already starting to turn around.

My project du jour was to add compost under the cardboard I'd spread hastily before our last rainy weekend, then to top it off with more dead leaves. When I peeped under the edge of a soggy Idaho potato box and saw the legless lizard, he seemed to be munching on a slug. After showing this tiny tableau to Steve (a great fan of legless lizards), I threw on a generous dollop of compost and let him (the LL!) get back to his feast.

Tomorrow Steve will sweep up more leaves, and they'll surely include many little treats for our reptilian friend and his burgeoning family. 

P.S. The legless lizards I'm talking about are the CALIFORNIA variety, which are SMALL. They have vestigial legs that wiggle when they walk. Or, maybe, the walking wiggles the legs?Here are two videos where you can barely see the tiny legs (probably less than 1/16" long):

Friday, February 5, 2010

the basic five-paragraph theme

Once while teaching freshman comp, I criticized a student's essay as being weak in content. She wailed: "But this is a basic five-paragraph theme!" I'd never heard of a five-paragraph theme, but stood my ground. She said nothing, but said it in a very well-structured fashion and probably is now the CEO of a major corporation.

If you've never heard of a five-paragraph theme, I urge you to Google the term for yourself. There's lots of material out there -- both pro and con.

The reason I bring it up is that the other day I noticed my blog posts tended to be five paragraphs long.This was unintentional and pretty scary. In fact, almost half fit the five-paragraph mold.

This one will not.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

parking strip, part 1

Unpaved parking strips, about three feet wide, run between sidewalks and streets throughout our small city. I have often wondered why, and have also wondered why they're called parking strips, since they cannot be used for parking. People who park in the street use the parking strip to dismount from their vehicles and step to the sidewalk.

Our street trees, the admirable Chinese evergreen elms, were planted in our parking strip by the city, and are pruned regularly by companies that contract with the city. Many streets have elms, but some have evergreen magnolias, jacarandas, firs, or other trees. Selection was made by vote of each street's residents back in the early 1950s when housing tracts were being built to accommodate a boom in the postwar aircraft industry.

While the city has cared for our street trees, it has required homeowners to care for the rest of the parking strip space. Most have done this by maintaining green grass to extend the flat expanse of their front lawns. The roots of a 60-year-old Chinese evergreen elm surrounded by a frequently and shallowly watered lawn can cause considerable unevenness in the adjacent sidewalk. Again, the city steps in and repaves the sidewalk after cutting back tree roots.

Since we have never had a green grass lawn, our parking strip has been a 'work in progress' since we removed the thick layer of Algerian ivy that was here in 1975, but our sidewalk has remained admirably level since we have never watered the parking strip on a regular basis. Several years ago, we were cited for having bricked over more than 20% of our parking strip. At that time, we probably had 50% brick and 50% succulents which required very little water -- mostly jeweled aloes with their dramatic orange blossoms.

Lucky and I laboriously removed the bricks and aloes, put in staggered paving stones, and planted jade trees and small magenta-flowered ice plant in between. Alas, everyone who parks on the street has felt very free to walk on the ice plant, so it has only flourished in the sheltered areas next to the jade plants and at the base of the elm tree.

Besides the struggling ice plant, we now have a fairly attractive ground cover of drought-resistant volunteer plants: the tolerated dichondra, alyssum, and violets, plus the weedy dandelions, oxalis, and petty spurge growing through a mulch of decaying elm leaves. While pulling my quota of the latter almost every day, I'd like to encourage California poppies and Mexican evening primrose to join the mix. Like the other tolerated plants, they have perennial taproots and can bear a considerable amount of foot traffic.

Meanwhile the city fathers have realized that thirsty green lawns do not make ecological sense, and neighbors are gradually allowing their green grass lawns to 'brown out.' I hope 2010 will not be the summer of anyone's discontent, but at this point it does not look promising.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

asparagus fern, part 3

In asparagus fern, part 1, I wrote: "I assume that both [ Sprenger and Meyer asparagus ferns ] are named after Dutch colonists whose countrymen brought apartheid as well as European botany to the southern hemisphere." Well, I turn out to have been dead wrong about Sprenger. Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846-1917) was a German botanist specializing in Mediterranean plants. His career path led him to Kaiser Wilhelm II's estate on Corfu where he became supervisor of gardens and, evidently, was a civilian casualty of  The Great War.

My war on the Sprenger asparagus fern (SAF) has led me to weed out some of my own long-held misconceptions. Many years ago I started fulminating about botanical imperialism, and I still think there's something to be said about it. Indeed I will say it! Meanwhile, however, I am eating some words. I learned at the killerplant website that Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) said:  "Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them."

It was the Swede Carl Linneaus (1707-1778) who gave SAF its first European name, .Asparagus aethiopicus, which did acknowledge the plant's African origins back in the day when a whole continent was known as Ethiopia.  I have been interested in Linneaus ("The Father of Taxonomy") since high school, and used his name in a poem about Greek and Latin plant names back in the 80's: "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Linneaus eleison."

And so all my preoccupations seem to be coming together with these postoccupations I am writing about. 

What of the Meyer asparagus fern? Was it Frederick Meyer, Albrecht Meyer, Frank Meyer, or some other Meyer (or Myer) who named it? My slow-growing plant has been given a reprieve, and I will move on to other subjects.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

asparagus fern, part 2

Still trying to rid our front yard of Sprenger asparagus fern (the dreaded SAF), I am becoming fanatic about invasive species. I have learned that SAF is being carefully watched by the Florida Invasive Species Partnership and the California Invasive Plants Council, which warns: "Land managers will watch for [ SAF ] appearing in natural areas."

It seems that those of us who live in Mediterranean climate zones (mainly central and southern California, Chile, western Australia, South Africa, and, of course, the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea) are prone to infestation by plants that seek refuge on our clement shores. Thus fennel has infiltrated the area around Santa Barbara and pampas grass forms an inflammable mass wherever it can gain a foothold.

SAF appeared here several years ago, probably planted by a bird who'd eaten its attractive red berries. I knew I'd seen it as a filler in flower arrangements and as a beloved potted plant in the midwest, so assumed it was a gift from the beneficent Mother Nature. Lovingly transplanted to an area of poor soil where nothing much would grow, SAF was reliably green and very soft-looking, though prickly enough to draw blood whenever I took time to cut it back.

My SAF bed used to be part of a driveway, so had lost its topsoil sometime during the early 1950s. When we moved here in 1975, this part of the yard was kneedeep in Algerian ivy, which I laboriously exterminated. Focusing on the bulbs, succulents, and specimen plants (camillia, azalea, lavender, etc) I had planted in other parts of the yard, I left the SAF as a sort of backdrop until this year.

Now that I have embarked on an overall garden improvement spurred on by our acquisition of rainbarrels and Ramona's talk of permaculture, I shall feed the depleted soil before replacing SAF with less invasive plants.

The invasive species issue is of much greater concern than what I will be calling botanical imperialism, the naming of African, Asian, and New World native plants after the European botanists who "discovered" them. But you can be sure I'll return to the Sprengers, Meyers, and Frieses who caught Linnaeus' attention in the late 18th century.

Monday, February 1, 2010

oxtail stew

Oxtail stew is a great treat on a chilly evening -- even if the temperature's in the high 40's. Those of us who have gone soft in SoCal deserve the occasional winter indulgence. Preparation is fussy but well worth the effort.

First, you have to FIND oxtails in your market and be willing to pay close to $5 per pound. Then, marinate the meat in a mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and vodka or gin (sherry or wine will DO in a pinch). Brown, deglaze the pan with beef broth (preferably home made), and simmer overnight in the crockpot with onions, carrots, & herbs (bay leaves & oregano).

Next morning, strain the mixture, and refrigerate the broth so's to defat it thoroughly. Note that the broth will have jelled by dinnertime, so that scraping off the fat will be a cinch . Then cut up your fresh potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery along with fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, parsley), and cook quickly in the broth (microwaving is fine for this step) whilst removing meat from bones.

When the veggies are almost done, throw in the boneless meat and heat to boiling. Check veggies for doneness and serve immediately OR simmer until ready to eat. Cornbread or sourdough would be a welcome accompaniment Garlic toast would be fabulous, but simple saltines are good enough.

This recipe has the virtue of combining slow-cooked meat with quick-cooked veggies in a rich, transcendent broth. Any leftovers will be welcomed as soup with the addition of a can of diced tomatoes and some rice or pasta.

My recipe, without so much commentary, is available on recipezaar.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License