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Friday, June 29, 2012

Phenology: Of cow parsnips and lightning bugs

My friend Arleen and I like to notice the comings and goings of wild plants and animals. For years I kept a journal of first appearances of welcome spring friends like trout lilies, Virginia waterleaf, and redwing blackbirds.
Some nice Web images of trout lilies. We have the white variety in our woods.
That journal is gathering dust, but I still watch.

It seems that every year is different, judging by which plants thrive in the wild world. One year the climate will favor mullein, say, or bergamot, and we’ll have a bumper crop of those plants. (When bergamot thrives, it’s extra fun because I can say “Look at all the bergamot! And look over there, there’s some oswego tea! Oh, hey – look at all the bee balm! Check out that monarda! That’s a nice crop of horsemint over there.” …And it’s all the same stuff.)
A nice picture of monarda (bergamot, oswego tea, bee balm, horsemint) from the Web.
This year, most plants are coming and going early compared to other years. For instance, I’ve been noshing on wild black and red raspberries during my morning walks, but their season is almost done and it’s only June 29. Typically, we Wisconsinites think of July as berry season. (As I eat the berries, I remember my dad who used to delight in saying “Blackberries are red when they’re green.” Then he’d laugh till he wheezed.)

This year is a wow year for cow parsnip. It’s always a tall plant, but today I beheld a ten-foot behemoth beside the old railroad right-of-way where I walk. I stood in silence and stared.
This photo from the Web gives you an idea of how BIG cow parsnip can get.
Different years can also be hard on certain species. In this year’s dry June, I’ve only seen a couple of lightning bugs. I always knew when it was my son Brian’s birthday, June 28, when I could go outside of an evening and walk through hundreds of the tiny flying lanterns. This year I could have missed Brian’s birthday if I were depending on fireflies to announce it. (Mosquitoes are also rare in this dry heat. Those pore thangs, boo hoo.)

I used to think the noting of wildlife progression was called “phenomenology.” Only recently have I discovered that my watching of nature is known as “phenology.” (Dang, I hate being wrong about a word!) Phenomenology is something else that’s a lot more philosophical. But I still prefer that word with its extra syllable – it’s as fun to say as bananarama or lollapalooza.

One thing is for sure: there’s a lollapalooza of nature out there to behold.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


"Smiling Eyes" by Inima Mea
My dad had the most twinkly eyes of anyone I've ever known. It was something I grew used to.

When I was about 20 or so, I first heard the song "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." That was it! Pop smiled with his eyes. And his mother's maiden name was McGrath, so he had a drop or two of Irish blood. He had thick wavy auburn hair (some folks called him "Red"), and his eyes were big and brown. He seldom smiled with his mouth - we kids used to giggle whenever we saw Pop's teeth.

One time he spoke to me about the eye-smiling phenomenon. He complained about people who snap pictures of others and command, "Say cheese!" He harrumphed and said simply, "I smile with my eyes."

If you smile with your eyes, you know it. You channel some power into your eyes. People who know how to do this have a special way with a camera - and with other people. They can light up at will. Their light comes right out of their soul and emanates from their eyes as if from two beacons.

In the past, when I smiled close-mouthed, my daughter would scold me and tell me to smile BIG. Since I had surgery in May on cancer on my upper lip, I can't smile big like I used to. The surgery removed some of the lip-top wrinkles (hooray!), but really tightened my whole mouth. I have only now, a month later, begun to be able to use tooth floss. I never realized how much flossing stretches one's lips.

Anyway, when I smile now, I think of Pop. Eye-smiling may have to do for me, at least for a while. I guess that's not so bad.

Oven Summer

All this past non-winter, we knew we were in for it. Seventy degrees in March felt great, but was a bad omen.

And now we have it: the oven summer.

Some things arrived about the right time this spring: redwing blackbirds, robins, Baltimore orioles, sandhill cranes, barn swallows. But others came freakishly early, like monster-sized cow parsnip, June bugs and lightning bugs in May, and day lilies blooming in June. I even heard a cricket in mid-June; cricket calls are a normal end-of-summer sound for my Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

Wierdest phenomenon so far: an abundance of red box elder bugs. They swarm around my front and rear doors. They are creepy. I hope they don't get in. The red bugs remind me of alien pod people - I feel like a victim in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

The priest in the church in Markesan, Wisconsin, called for a day of prayer and fasting for RAIN today. A very Biblical concept, and understandable: Markesan is a farming community built around a cannery. It's no big deal that folks in the city and suburbs haven't mowed their crunchy brown grass in three weeks, but for the farmers, rain means survival.

I wonder if all of this means that autumn will come early. I'm not sure what to hope for. I keep trying to be optimistic....

Why Mad Men makes me mad

It seems that everyone loves “Mad Men.” I have only seen two episodes of the show, but I can tell you that I don’t love it.

Here’s one of the reasons: the creator of this series is very proud of his period accuracy, but doesn't try hard enough. I was a teenager during the 60s, so I enjoy seeing many of the vintage-looking props, costumes and sets. However, I spotted two glaring anachronisms in just one of the two shows I viewed: