Monday, January 15, 2007

Mondays, Manure, and Getting Rid of Unwanted Guests

I have always liked Mondays, even when life was too hard to contemplate getting up in the morning. Perhaps this is an incurable optimism, some limbic system quirk that kicks in no matter what, to tell me “hey, new beginnings. A chance to start over.”

At heart, I’m one of those people looking for the horse because I found the manure pile. Not that I want the bother of caring for a horse, mind you, but wow!... all that manure, man. What a goldmine for my garden. On the other hand, a few years ago, a friend let me come and take all the aged manure from her piles of llama and horse effluvia. It was like found money…until the following year, when I realized that I had also carried home a great colony of Japanese beetle grubs. To thoroughly mix my metaphors, what a Trojan horse that pile of doo doo turned out to be.

Japanese beetle grubsAnd drat, the skunk population seems to be down because there are no dug up spots in the yard - an indication they’ve been feasting from the underground. Fortunately, we have moles…yes, fortunately: they love Japanese beetle grubs. And unlike voles, they don’t eat bulbs. I don’t mind putting up with their mole runs; our yard is big enough to share with such helpers.

Supposedly Bon Ami cleansing powder, sprinkled into the tulip bulb hole, will prevent the voles from wanting to chomp. I tried it this year; we’ll see. So far, though, they’ve eliminated liatris, poppies, lilies, and tulips. ThankyouGod, they don’t like hostas or anything in the daffodil and iris families.

I haven’t given up yet. I’m still working on ways to foil them. But I buy cheap bulbs while I work on my master plan. I am considering getting large Sam’s Club-sized hot pepper sauce and cayenne and thoroughly mixing that in with the bulb soil. I wonder if that would deter them?

Meanwhile, it’s Monday and my paperwhite Narcissus has just started blooming in a north window. And the shamrock I brought back from the dead is taking over the pot and putting out lots of airy-fairy blossoms.

Wax plantNow if I could just figure out a way to get that wax plant to bloom. Five years and some of the vines are six feet long. Lovely leaves, but NO blooms. Maybe I should talk to it more, show it pictures of other, nice obedient wax plants that put forth floriferously. Or maybe threats…I looked online but all I saw were stories about other people's wonderfully prolific wax plants. I took the cutting from a large, ever blooming plant that was at least fifty years old. But this one, its offspring doesn't seem to respond to anything, not even flowering plant food. Grows like crazy, though.

Meanwhile, there are definitely worse days than Monday.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Are There Any Adults Who LIKED High School?

The Good Old DaysOver at Gates of Vienna we seem to have stumbled upon a vein of school material - the stuff that makes the Baron rant because it’s obvious the corrupted practices of pc education are leaving our kids in the lurch – not to mention President Bush’s mindless support of the “No Boondoggle Left Behind” program. This odiferous piece of legislative garbage doesn’t provide any money for vocational schools, by the way, so some kids are indeed left behind. Vo-Tech will just have to make do. Build their own desks, maybe.

Continuing in school mode, later today I’m going to do a post over there on Victor David Hanson’s views of the corrupted university. Not that I’d planned to, but it’s a pet peeve and since he wrote an essay last week on how truly awful “universities” are, I’m going to give it seat and voice at Gates. I found it last night on his PJM site.

For four years we have been paying exorbitant tuition fees/loans to a state school for the future Baron. It’s almost over, and I can’t wait till he can be free of that place. He’s going to work for a year and then go to graduate school for oenology. In other words, he hopes to be a vintner. There are far fewer ways they can pc that one up. I’m so relieved he’s not even considering a doctorate in chemistry. There are two hundred vineyards in Virginia alone, but Chem PhD’s do not find employers lining up after they finish that rigorous, long, and expensive haul up the mountain. Several friends with doctorates in Chemistry have urged him not to go there. He listened.

Meanwhile, the Baron and I are helping a teenager who has run up against the wall at high school. He’s miserable and feels scapegoated. We’re going to run interference for him but his experience reminded me of my high school years…definitely misery time, and a relief when they were done.

I’ve been asking people for years if they liked high school. So far, everyone has said no. Everyone but the Baron, that is - and for him it was because his high school years were spent in the north of England and the curriculum was so rigorous that he got to skip his freshman year when he came back to the US. Besides, England (back then) was condescendingly fond of Yanks, and the cultural infrastructure there was still in place. His geeky self was quite acceptable and he had lots of friends. The school didn’t have cliques, really. As far as I can tell, people grouped off according to their interests, but that was about it. And the kids had a place to go and dance and hang out…sounds idyllic.

He would’ve been dead meat back here in the US, just like so many of us were…

As far as American schools go, there doesn’t seem to be anyone exempt. Private or public, high school is misery time.

If any soul should read this, and had a different experience, please let me know. If you liked high school, why so, and why do you think it was different for you? For example, I’ll bet people who married their high school sweetheart (and stayed married) do not shudder when asked about those years. And maybe the top scorer on the basketball team has fond memories of glory...actually I can vouch for the latter: I read recently that he donated the money to have a new field house built at our old school, and named in his honor. So, definitely, Roger would say 'aye.'

What was high school like for you?

Friday, January 12, 2007

January Is a Bully Named Moe

January snarls his arrival.
having kicked Christmas behind him,
he insinuates himself into the gaps
between the old windows; he rattles them
for good measure and sifts the cold into
every crevice of the room.

His glowering armies move in ponderous
formations across the horizon. They have lurked
here for days, threatening to descend, to erase
even the memory of every blue sky
June ever birthed. But I will not let go.

January is a bully.

I have learned not to fight back.
Under the quilted covers are hidden
flower catalogues bursting with bloom:
hydrangea macrophylla, two kinds of scilla,
an erect and proper Echinacea, baptized “Fragrant Angel.”

January is a bully named Moe.

Lathyrus Odoratuswith luck I will outlast him, my lunch money
secret and safe in my shoe.
Eventually – when he’s finally gone –
I can battle February with one hand tied behind
my back – clutching a fistful of Lathyrus seeds.

February is short and ugly and stupid with snow.
I can handle him.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Brooklyn ParrotsDid you know that parts of America have populations of wild parrots and parakeets? I didn’t either (even though I have an amateur ornithologist in the house who has been studying birds since he was very small. The future Baron is chock-a-block full of interesting trivia about his feathered friends, their nesting habits, when they mate, how many eggs they produce, and when the fledglings mature. After all, what else is there to do when you live in the country sans TV -- or siblings to torture?).

And then I stumbled upon this website.

It says that of all the birds who have escaped captivity in the US, parrots and parakeets are the most numerous. There are many species of them, and many stories as to how they got here. This is one possibility for those which inhabit Brooklyn…yes, Brooklyn:

More than 60,000 wild parrots of this type (Myopsitta Monachus) were shipped from South America to the U.S.A. during the 1960s and early 1970s. Why so many? Well, the Argentineans had just spent 10 years trying to wipe these parrots out. In fact, a government-sponsored program managed to kill more than 400,000 of them in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But in the mid 1960’s, someone had a bright idea: instead of killing them, why not ship them to the U.S.A. and make a few extra dollars? And thus did the great influx begin.

The website is concerned with the fates of various colonies nationwide, but devotes most attention to the parrot tribes in Brooklyn. Somehow, parrots and Brooklyn seem suited to one another. Yet how did they manage to set up shop so far from their natural habitat?

There is much mystery surrounding the appearance of these remarkable birds in Brooklyn, but it can safely be said that they did not fly up here from Argentina on their own.

1967: The Great Escape

The theory has the greatest credence is that a shipment of birds destined for sale at New York area pet shops was accidentally released at Kennedy Airport in the late 1960’s (1967 or 1968). This incident was referred to as early as 1971 in an article by ornithologist John Bull.

Much confusion remains about what actually happened at the airport. At least one source in Brooklyn has informed me that many shipments coming into the airport were opened by unauthorized people during the 1960’s: Martin Scorsese’s classic film, Goodfellas, based on the memoir of Nicholas Pileggi, depicts the common practice of “crews” opening crates in order to pilfer their contents. My informant speculates that a large crate bearing an indecipherable Argentinean waybill may have been opened in this fashion. But instead of finding bottles of fine Argentinean wine, the crate opener was surprised when an unruly crowd of fully-flighted Quaker Parrots burst into the air, circled the airport, screaming, and disappeared over the horizon.

[The part about crews pilfering crates rings true for me. One of my immigrant uncles, in his first job in the US, worked at the local airport. He was always coming home with odd lots of things like, say, a dozen pots of vinca major in assorted colors.]

Evidently, the birds quickly acclimated and began turning up in the environs of New York, beginning with Brooklyn College. Central Park was another possibility for the parrots, except that the city workers chased them off, believing they would drive out other kinds of birds. Right. Great thinking there: “let’s drive out the parrots. They might cause a disruption in the pigeon population.”

The website has lots of information about the birds’ treatment by nice and not-so-nice utility companies’ policies, proving what we all know: some organizations are real bird brains.

If you’re in the area in early February, you can be part of the Parrot Safari:

Attention all Urban Parrot fans: the next Wild Brooklyn Parrot Safari will happen on Saturday, February 3rd, 2007, at 12 Noon. All interested wild parrot fans should meet at Brooklyn College’s Hillel Gate, which is at the intersection of Hillel Place and Campus Road.

Due to popular demand, our monthly tour will run an optional “second section.” After getting our share of the raucous antics of the Brooklyn College Parrots, at approximately 2:00 PM, our group will walk to the Q Train stop at Avenue I, and journey to Green-Wood Cemetery, where we will observe the late-afternoon antics of the parrots residing there.

The website has wonderful pictures, some YouTube videos, and fascinating information on the parrots’ nests - as one person put it, they’re more like condos.

What a serendipitous thing to find in New York, especially in the winter: wonderfully colorful, exotic parrots! Going on that safari is cheaper than a get-away trip to Florida, too.

If you can’t make the trip, consider buying their parrot calendar, here. As the author says at Café Press:

The Brooklyn parrots have all of the great qualities we associate with the American character: they’re industrious, loyal to each other, they’re amazing little engineers, they coexist well with other native birds, and they just won’t give up, even when the deck is stacked against them.

Now those are immigrants after my own heart.