Our Writings

IN MY BACKYARD (CREEPING CHARLIE)

I was out in the backyard observing some of the plants I have planted in the last two years. I noticed an evasive plant with a lot of scalloped leaves and pretty blue flowers. The plant seemed to attract bees and smells of strong mint.  When I pick it up, it comes up easily, as it is not a deeply rooted plant. It seems to always grow in clumps around the yard. Usually, this plant is found in the shady parts of the gardens around the base of other plants. It does pull up easily and with the regular pulling of weed plants around the flowerbed, it can be pulled up, but never goes away.  It comes back year after year. 

I looked up the plant in several plant guides and found it to have many names, and seems to be referred to as Ground Ivy most of the time. I kind of liked the one name, Creeping Charlie as this plant can quickly spread to take over any flower bed. Mowing does not stop it from continued growth. 

I like the plant as it is a wonderful green color with interesting leaves.  When it blooms with blue flowers, it is actually very attractive. I just pull some of it up when it starts becoming evasive. 

On the Scientific side of my research, I found this Ground Ivy ( Glechoma hederacea) has quite a history.  Historically, Ground Ivy was used as an herb, eaten in salads, and used to make medicines and tea. It was also used to flavor beer. The plant is very high in iron. Young leaves and sprouts are eaten like spinach. Tasting a leaf produces a very strong minty flavor. 

Although technically a weed, to me, Creeping Charlie is simply another interesting plant in the backyard.

IN MY BACKYARD (VIOLETS)

I will always wait for the blue violets to grow in my yard.  I do not have regular pruned grass; I just let it grow and mow it. In early spring, the wild violets congregate in my yard in various locations. Sometimes, they appear in one place in the front or backyard and sometimes in surprising places in the yard where I would not expect them. I like them; they would be unwelcome in a yard treated with chemicals. I just consider them to be gifts from nature.  

Science gives them the name, (Viola odorata). They grow in groups of heart-shaped leaves with beautiful blue flowers that just are so delicate. They continue to seed, low to the ground. What seems to be dead flowers really are the flowers reproducing seeds.  I noticed after mowing, they continue to grow.  The seed is spread so easily that they can get transported all over the yard. 

If you do not have a treated lawn with chemicals, an added feature of violets is that they are good for food presentations, and both leaves (heart-shaped), flowers, and stems are edible. I like to include the flowers on desserts or in salads to add that wild touch. This is also a plant you could pot grow, especially if you treat the yard with chemicals or have pets in the yard. 

I hope that your yard gives you a treat with these beautiful wildflowers.

IN MY BACKYARD (GARLIC MUSTARD)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a plant that has two seasons, one as a small plant with heart-shaped leaves, followed by a second year with tiny white flowers and then seeds.  This plant is biennial, meaning it lives for two years. The leaf, when chewed in the spring, tastes like garlic.

I found out quickly from what I read just about everywhere, that the garlic mustard plant is very evasive and not a native plant; it takes over because of its ability to change soil conditions making it difficult for other native plants to grow.  Eventually, the Garlic Mustard plant crowds out native plants. Most insects and wildlife do not eat the plant.  It is so evasive, that the only way to kill it is to pull it up, bag or burn it.  Composting allows the seeds to survive and grow new plants so that just perpetuates the cycle. 

Sadly, the plant is edible and many recipes are out there that use the plant as a healthy salad herb. It also can be cooked and eaten as a side dish. It has a garlic flavor but should be cooked if you eat a lot of it.  The plant in large amounts raw can be dangerous as the plant contains cyanide. 

As history goes the plants were brought from Europe. The colonists used garlic mustard as an edible plant grown in gardens. It began to escape the gardens and run wild. It has not stopped and today is heavily concentrated in the midwestern forest and plains. 

I tried it and it is garlicky, but one should look up the recipes and then pull up the plants you are not using and bag or burn them. They die off in June, but they will come back if not pulled out by the roots.

Feeling Vulnerable

John found this lovely Butterweed plant in our side garden.  Tall, bright, and yellow, this small wildflower stood-out among peonies and daylilies struggling to bloom in an abnormally cold and gray spring.  I noticed the plant when a first single flower appeared at the top of the long stem, surrounded by several waiting blossoms.  I could almost feel the power in the plant’s sturdy stem.  On a damp and windy day, I snapped many images, trying to capture this wildflower as it danced in the wind. 

Spring has been difficult, with much more time spent at home in dismal and sometimes depressing weather.  We know we are among the vulnerable, seniors that are at a higher risk over our younger counterparts.  Our age can be a reminder of our vulnerability, the fact that time is sometimes unkind and limiting.  

Each day, I have visited this wildflower and am greeted by more flowers perched on top of a still wavering stem.  Somehow, this little plant makes me feel less alone, a companion plant for John and I.  This one is determined to survive.  So are we.

In my Backyard (Butterweed)

It still amazes me the number of plants that are in someone’s backyard. I had this one particular wildflower grow from a small plant to a foot tall in a few days.  I let it grow to see what it would look like through its stages of growth.  I was rewarded by my patience with a pretty cluster of flowers atop a very strong stem with kite-like leaves. It was very green and healthy-looking.  You might say the plant was, “Wild Strong!”  I encourage plants like this in my backyard.  I set up a mystery of search and learn using my skills of observation and research.  I find the plant in a book or on the internet and learn about its life cycle and how it fits in with other cycles. 

When my wife and I looked it up we found it to be classified as a Butterweed. You find this weed more to the South but seems to be evasive. Vacant farmlands are covered with fields of these yellow-colored flowers until the cycle of the plant is finished.  More than likely the plants get plowed under with the planting season. They always come back.

On the science side of terminology, the plant is named (Packera glabella), a name given by the followers of Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, who developed a classification system to name animals and plants.  So, the weed we know as Butterweed has a scientific name, and is more important than being just a weed. This weed is important to the South for providing food for crayfish; the flower feeds many pollinators that are attracted by its bright yellow flower. 

It is a happy reminder that when you want that perfect lawn, you are missing out on the beautiful weeds like Dandelion and Violet and many others that give beauty and natural life to our backyards. They can be tamed and sometimes used as an added floral to attract beautiful birds and helpful insects.

Timeless Symphony

I was inspired to produce this composite image while standing on the shore at a local park last spring.  Leafed trees reflecting upon the water reminded me visually of the sound waves produced on audio systems years ago.  Music has ancient roots, an important part of our history and awareness.  On that day, the rustle of those leaves in the gentle wind mingled with the sound of young birds eager for the warmth of spring continued to fill my ears, a musical symphony that was truly timeless.

I am reminded that music, both figuratively and literally, continues regardless of surrounding circumstances.  This year, sheltering-in-place has prevented my participation in many of the activities I took for granted last year.  Yet somehow, it is comforting to know that birds will still sing and tree leaves will still rustle in the wind.

Unexpected Sunshine

Winter makes me sad.  Perhaps it is the gray or the cold, but my smile seems to disappear with the last dying sighs of fall.  For me, winter means weeks spent indoors peering through dirty windows, longing for budding flowers and nesting birds.  In winter, the vivid colors of spring, summer, and fall fade to sterile pastures laced with pale blues, grays and muted white.

Yet, after days of bitter cold and treacherous weather, we had a bit of a weekend reprieve in our great state of Ohio.  A mid-winter thaw brought the temperatures up to the mid-fifties, a safer bet for hiking with aging knees and hips.  Hubby and I braved the remaining remnants of snow for a day-trip to Dawes Arboretum, cameras in hand.  I hadn’t expected much, but at least had hoped for enough white blanket for a few picturesque shots.  For the most part, my shakey optimism was met by slush and muddy shoe prints.

Hiking proved to be difficult as we tread slowly on uneven and slippery pavement, rock and grass.  By sunset, we had reached the lake, completely snow covered, barren and seemingly lifeless.  A common winter scene for a picture, I thought  – except for the sun that seemed to rest so perfectly on the side of the tree with light so bright as to appear to have taken a bite from the tree’s sturdy trunk before gradually descending into the night.  John saw it while I lamented the ordinary and I captured this bit of sunshine with the press of one button.  

The beauty of sunshine glistening on blankets of snow, fragments of ice or a small lakeside tree is winter’s gift and the fact that I had not expected it made the gift all the more special.  Unlike other seasons when sun and warmth are more common, the stark contrast of winter highlights gifts that are too easy to take for granted.  That should keep me smiling for a long time to come.

Shadows

Reminded of the Shadows

It would be a reflection of what is to be.  Lately, close friends are passing at an unusual rate.  First we are born with a lot of people looking at us, just shadows.  We do not or not able to look at the people looking. We basically are born with the instinct to suckle and nothing more. All the senses must be developed to potential over time with a lot of help from the shadows.  Shadows, yes shadows, many people who affect our learning (mentally) and development (physically) are shadows.  Just like shadows they appear and disappear.  They can appear as long shadows and you deal with those people long term. For example, Mom and Dad shadow you for a longer time than say your first grade teacher.   This first grade teacher only a short time compared to your parents.  Shadows can influence you positively or negatively.  Then there are the shadows that guide you when parent shadows are not around.  With me it was a scoutmaster, a counselor, a teacher and close friends. Many of those shadows have set with the sun.  They pass from the Earth and no longer cast a shadow over me.  They become only reflections in my mind. 

The close friend that I grew up within the Boy Scouts was a shadow. I think I always looked up to him for strength through adolescence, as he was a boy leader and was easy to talk with about my growing up stuff.  He gave me heads up because he already had been there.  I used to see him once a week as an adult, and we would reflect upon our youth, the fun times.  It was a shadow that lingered with stories of youth.  That is now gone, that part of my youth, I only have memories of our talks to reflect upon. It is a reflection of what is to be.  He no longer casts that positive shadow, it is now gone with the sun. 

Meditation

Look at the picture of a Back Alley concert of a musician.  Notice the shadows looking at him.  He is truly playing for the shadows. He himself is a shadow, he gives music, hopefully, the short shadows give something to him before they set with the sun. Do you reward those who help you in some way?  Is your shadow the only company you have?

A Pelican Feast

During our recent trip to New Orleans, we took a day trip to Grand Isle on the Southern tip of Louisiana to observe the birdlife in this region.  A flock of pelicans were feeding close to the pier and the gal pictured above caught my attention.  I watched her dive for food and emerge with “something” that looked difficult to swallow.  After a bit of a thrashing to drain excess water from her pouch, she flew to the pier and landed close to where I was standing.  I watched her extend her neck and swallow repeatedly.  The “meal” slowly slid down her throat coming to rest at the base of her neck.  I wondered if she would indeed be able to digest the large catch.  When I left the area the meal in her throat had not moved further and protruded like a large tumor on the side of her neck. 

Pelicans are fascinating creatures and one of my favorite birds to observe.  From high in the air, I have watched them pinpoint a catch and dive into the water like a precision arrow shot from a bow.  Rarely do they miss an opportunity to capture their prey.  Despite a heavy body, pelicans can soar at 10,000 feet and remain buoyant in water, thanks to the air sacs in their bones.  Despite popular belief, pelicans do not store fish in their pouch.  Instead, they use the pouch to “house” the catch just long enough to drain the water, tip the head and swallow.  This gal worked hard for her food and didn’t seem in any distress when I left the pier.  Pelicans are designed to eat whole fish and that fact alone amazes me.  Still, I marvel how such a feat is possible, that a large fish can move through what appears to be a much smaller pipe.  Nature has designed this bird with just the right capabilities to survive and it is wonderful to observe.

CONTEMPLATING NEW ORLEANS

My husband and I decided to visit New Orleans as our 2018 winter vacation destination.  I knew from the start that this vacation would be different.  Most of our vacations have consisted of fine sand beaches, picturesque trails, and amazing wildlife.  As a historic and cultural mecca, New Orleans would most certainly be none of the above.

We arrived in New Orleans mid-day on a Saturday, greeted by miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I had expected “quaint,” but instead we sat on an elevated bridge overlooking the Superdome and a dirty, sprawling city.  I wondered if I really knew what I had signed up for.  My initial impression of New Orleans was not what I had expected.

Over the course of several days, we visited the typical New Orleans landmarks – the French Quarter, the Garden District, famous eateries such as the Commander’s Palace and the Lafayette cemetery.  We listened to fine jazz in the clubs lining Frenchman Street and wandered thoughtfully through mazes of art galleries on Royal.  This was the New Orleans I had read about, heard about and wanted to experience.

Yet, New Orleans was still not what I expected.  New Orleans was much darker and much edgier.  Laced among the tourists and everyday Joes, people pass with vacant stares.  Some drop in front of you and curl up next to a storefront to sleep.  Street musicians line corners collecting money in well-placed buckets and hats.  Conversations of poverty and sickness fill streetcars.  Glassy eyes glance your way without a hint of emotion. Drug deals line nighttime streets and tent cities reside beneath downtown underpasses.  Dinner at a finer restaurant is interrupted by a vagrant pounding on the outside window.  He is hungry and has nothing to eat.  In one art gallery, pictures from Hurricane Katrina tell a grim tale of a city laid waste by mass destruction.  

Weeks later, I still do not know how to feel about New Orleans, a city of seeming contradictions.  Of life and death. Of celebration and despair.  Yet, among her contradictions, is a picture of life that is raw, real and tangible in a way I have not experienced anywhere else.  New Orleans is a story in the making – of recovery and relapse in the best and worse ways life has to offer.  

I don’t know how to feel about New Orleans and, perhaps, that is the point.