Sunday, July 29, 2007

Summer rain

After weeks of dry weather and air filled with smoke from huge forest fires off to the West, the past ten days have brought us the summer "monsoon" season - late, but much better than never. We've had some whopping thunderstorms - today's brought pea-sized hail, which I would not have chosen if anyone had asked for my opinion! But the storms have also gifted us with nearly two inches of rain, and my garden's loving the moisture plus the nitrogen fixed by the lightning, as are the wildflowers in our restored native grassland front yard.

The hummingbirds zip around the yard in the morning and the evening - they rest in the shade through the hot parts of the day - drinking from the scarlet gilia, the orange-red flames of Indian paintbrush, and the dangling bell-like blossoms of the scarlet bugler penstemon. We never got around to putting up a hummingbird feeder when we finally got this house finished enough to move in last summer (after spending six years building it, but that's another story!). Now I'm glad. The flowers in the yard are so abundant that the hummers don't waste energy fighting over the feeder. We get to watch their natural behavior, noting which wildflowers they prefer at different times of day. And they get to play their part in the community of our yard, pollinating the flowers that entice them with nectar. Today I watched two broad-tails, one rufous, one calliope, and an immature I couldn't identify, all feeding in different parts of the yard at once.

Since we garden without pesticides, the wildflowers and the herbs attract a steady parade of butterflies too, including this female black swallowtail (that's from Butterflies and Moths of North America, a fabulous butterfly and moth identification web site hosted by Montana State University) laying eggs on our dill. I don't mind leaving extra dill to feed the caterpillars that metamorphose into these gorgeous black-winged adults. Watching them float through the garden on sunny afternoons is more than worth the loss of a few dill plants!

Eight Random Facts Meme addendum two

3. My first car was a horse and a pack train. Several commenters asked for the details, so here's the scoop: I worked for the U.S. Forest Service during and after college, and was too poor to buy a vehicle. The National Forest in Wyoming where I worked is known as the "horse forest" for its large areas of landscape so steep and rugged that the easiest way to get around is by horse and pack train. So I learned to pack panniers (it's critical that each pannier in a pair weigh about the same) and tie various hitches (I might still be able to tie a diamond hitch if I put my mind to it!).

I worked in the backcountry for ten days at a time doing my biology field research. Sometimes my camps were only a half-day ride in, sometimes several days. So I spent a lot of time and many miles on horseback with a mule or two tagging behind. I never rolled a pack string, but I did see that happen once. I had to shoot a horse that time (with someone else's gun): the lead horse in the string shied and lost its footing on a really steep slope and the other six horses, all roped together, literally rolled nearly 500 feet down the slope together. One horse both front legs. I was coming down the trail about a quarter mile behind, saw the accident, tied up my duo, and clambered down to help. I can still hear the horses screaming, a sound I'd rather forget.

I only lost my horse once, when a co-worker and I had ridden in to a remote area to map grizzly bear habitat. We made camp in a lovely meadow along a stream, hobbled our horses (our standard practice to keep them from overgrazing one part of the meadow) and climbed up a steep ridge looking for grizz sign. We saw a lot of it, and when we got back to camp late in the evening, we had had a visitor: a bear had pawed around, tried to reach our packs, (hung ten feet up from a tree branch), and our horses were gone. We set off back down the trail following their prints. We found the buggers at one that morning at the trailhead, hanging around the corral - still hobbled. We hiked most of the way in the dark (no moon), fording one river and having a great-horned owl fly down the trail so close over our heads that we could feel the air from its wings. (It wasn't after us, just hunting in the darkness down the open corridor of the trail.) We slept at the corral that night and rode back to camp the next day. I was younger then. . . .

Making up for a two-week silence

The last two weeks completely got away from me, between working on two feature articles for two very different magazines at once, house guests, and keeping up with the garden. So I'll go for several short posts on different subjects instead of one long one.

First, I've got to brag: I knitted a rug! Really. It's not hard, thanks to Donna Druchunas' well-written The Knitted Rug. I've knitted Icelandic-style sweaters before, but I wouldn't say I'm an experienced knitter, so I picked a rug Donna rates as "intermediate" skill level: the Crayon Color-Block Sampler. It's like a patchwork sampler of comprised of five different rectangular blocks, knitted on large (size 17!) needles. I used Knit Picks "crayon" yarn, a cotton chenille. Since the pattern calls for bulky yarn and crayon is really more like sport-weight, I knitted with four strands of yarn instead of one. I wasn't sure it would work, but the finished rug is cloud-soft and very cushiony underfoot, which is good since it's a present for Luz Mariela, the eight-month-old newly adopted daughter of our friends Peg Logan and Rolfe Larson. The yarn's not only a great texture and softness for a baby, it's also machine washable (cold, delicate) and dryable (same). So, Mari, there's your baby rug - crawl away!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Addenda to Eight Random Facts meme

The first tomato is turning ripe! It's the size of my fist, and it's a Chianti rose, a cross between a heritage Italian tomato and a Brandywine that ripens pink and sweet and low-acid. (Seeds from Rene's Garden - thank you, Rene Shepherd.) My tomato vines are loaded with fruit and I can hardly wait to pick that first sun-warmed fruit and bite in - oh, yes.

The hot weather has finally come to south-central Colorado, and my garden is taking off. Now if we would just get some rain. . . .

And I'm finally tagging my eighth blogger: Velda Brotherton, you're it!

Monday, July 9, 2007


I've been thinking lately about the concept of stewardship, specifically stewardship of this benighted and beautiful blue planet.
What does it mean to be a steward of a place, a community, of this planet?

According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word steward comes from the Old English words for ward or manager and house. A steward is thus someone who manages or tends a house, and stewardship has its roots in caring for home. If we think of Earth as the home of our species - and it is in fact as far as we can tell the only home our species has ever known - then how we manage or tend that home is a critical factor in the survival of our children and their children, of the genes that carry our species into a future we won't know. That makes stewardship pretty important.

But what is it? How can we be good stewards of our planet? Stories about being green are all over the popular media these days and web sites from Live Earth to Audubon and even Oprah have sections with tips on how you can be "part of the solution." Changing your household lightbulbs to compact fluorescents will indeed save energy and that means less CO2 added to the atmosphere, a very good thing. Driving less is good too, both for you and the planet. But it seems to me that stewardship is more than just buying new lightbulbs or walking more. As the original meaning implies, it's a commitment of sorts, a commitment to managing our own lives' and our species' impact on Earth.

I think stewardship is based on sharing. It means acknowledging that there are a lot of us humans and our impact on our home is huge. And it means having a new vision for our lives that springs from making space for the other lives around us, whether we ever see those lives or not. It seems to me that stewardship means joining the community of the land, the web of living beings who together green and maintain the ecological and spiritual health of our home, this planet.

I think stewardship is how you live your life, not just one action now and then. It's about making space for the other species native to the places where you live, about learning who else belongs to the community of your land and making those lives welcome. The first part of that is living your life in a way that's less consumptive of resources of all kinds, so that your choices allow other species to meet their needs.

The second part of that is actual restoration of habitat. It's not hard: If you live in a city apartment, get to know the native species in your area and welcome them to share your neighborhood. Put out a pot of native wildflowers, a hummingbird feeder, a box for native bees to nest in. Or volunteer to help restore wildlife habitat in a local park, schoolyard, or vacant lot. If you have an actual yard, make yourself a wild corner and plant it with native species: a tree, a few shrubs, some vines, wildflowers, and grasses, and let them twine how they will. Cultivate untidiness (but learn which plants are native and which are true weeds, harmful invasive plants that take over, disrupting the relationships that form the native community).

When my husband and I adopted our 2/3 of an acre of decaying industrial land on the wrong side of the former railroad tracks in our small town, we vowed to restore the native mountain bunchgrass prairie. Ten years and lots of weed-pulling, spraying, and burning later, our new house looks out on a front yard awash in scarlet, blue, yellow, and purple wildflowers and buzzing with the wings of hummingbirds, butterflies, and native bees. (The same bees that pollinate the heritage tomato plants in our kitchen garden, ensuring huge yields.) We'll always have weeds to pull, and we'll also always have the joy of knowing we took the place in the first photo and turned it into the second photo.

If you own or manage a larger piece of land, measure its health not just in how many cows it produces, how many bushels of corn, or how green it looks. Think of its health in terms of the larger community of the land: How many native species live there? Who are they and what are their needs? Challenge yourself to welcome these neighbors to your land and see how they fit, and what part they play in the web of relationships that nurtures you, too.

Stewardship is about nurturing the community of the land, not just one species. It's about belonging to this blue planet with every fiber of our being, every choice we make in our lives. Welcome to life on Earth!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Eight Random Facts

Sherrie York at Brush and Baren tagged me with a meme - I feel like I've been chosen for her virtual playground team. I'm no longer on the meme sidelines!

(If you're wondering what a meme is, the word originated with British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who used it first in his book The Selfish Gene to stand for units of cultural transmission, just as genes are the units of biological inheritance. A meme could be a song, advertisement, style of dress, myth, story, slang, a cuisine - any unit that transmits culture. Dawkins summed up memes this way: In much the same way that the molecular codes of genes pass on physical traits, the bits of information called memes pass on human culture, propagating themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain. Or in this case, from blog to blog.)

Here are the rules for Eight Random Facts:
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are my random facts:
  1. I live in a house that has a view of four biomes: western Great Plains, southern Rocky Mountains, Chihuahuan Desert and Great Basin.
  2. In my garden are six kinds of heritage tomatoes (none are ripe yet).
  3. My first car was a horse and a pack train.
  4. My first dog was a Labrador retriever who loved to fish and hated hunting.
  5. My last dog was a Great Dane who was bigger than I am. When she galloped, I could almost fly by holding onto her leash.
  6. One of my degrees is in fine arts photography but I don't own a camera; my other degree is in field ecology and I don't own a field either.
  7. I do own a formerly decaying industrial property on which my husband and I are carefully restoring the native bunchgrass habitat (the wildflowers in our front yard are gorgeous right now).
  8. If there is a plant I love more than big sagebrush, I haven't met it yet.
Okay you fabulous wordswomen: Donna, Dani, Susan, Bobbi, Janet, Deb, Jane, it's your turn. . . .