May 2006

There was a lot of stuff I was supposed to do today. Instead, I did this:

It’s one of those “Hello, where did you come from?” things. My brain feels like elderly corduroy.

Will I be allowed to paint cute hadrosaurs for an art show now? Will my brain beat me up, leave me tied to a chair, and run off to Vegas with my spleen? Tune in next week to find out!

Rodent Council

I look out the back today and see what looks like a council of rodents–baby bunny, squirrel, and cotton rat, all sitting within a foot of each other, not bothering each other, just sitting. (Ironically, the cotton rat, half the size of either of the others, is the only adult of the bunch–the bunny is maybe a third the size of his parent, and the squirrel has the rangy, scrawny, large-headed look of this year’s juveniles.) (I know, I know, lagomorphs. Recent taxonomy studies place them as having split from rodents, however, so I’m allowed. Besides, who’d put “Member, Council of Lagomorphs” on their business cards?)

The young are out in force today. I went outside to read for a few minutes, and drink coffee. I didn’t get much reading done, although I did get a few bugs in my coffee. The wildlife scattered as soon as I came out, but returned almost immediately, except for the bunny, who’s a nervous little thing.

In the course of maybe twenty minutes, I watched the cotton rat wander around stuffing his face with seed, soon to be joined by a pint-sized miniature version. A hairy woodpecker came down and drove his wicked beak into the suet, then flew off. Four white-breasted nuthatches showed up, divided into pairs, and shoved suet down throats in a kind of upside-down rota. A young thrasher hopped around the base of the suet tree and began begging for food from anyone in the vicinity, which happened to be the cotton rat. The rat eyed the gaping beak of the thrasher looking faintly embarassed, the way any of us do when randomly approached by somebody else’s kids asking for something, and I must assume smiled and nodded and backed away slowly. Towhees kicked and scuffled under the cherry laurel, looking for food or pirate treasure or whatever. The squirrel undulated by, gripping an enormous bulb in his teeth. “My dahlias…!” Oh, well, easy come, easy go.

The thrashers were replaced by two red-bellied woodpeckers, a female and one with the moth-eaten noggin of the young. Young red-bellied woodpeckers are unbelievably obnoxious in their begging, with an ear-splitting yawp that goes right to your inner ear and boogies down. You begin to pray for the sweet release of death. You get the impression the other animals are, too.

So he sat next to the suet and yawped. Generally at this point, the adult stuffs food down that beak, probably in hopes of choking the yawp off at its source.

This time, however, his mother had Had Enough. A few yawps, and that was it. She charged him, tail spread, the way they do when they’re chasing off interlopers. The yawp of entitlement was replaced by the yawp of panic. He lumbered down the tree, then flew off. If the universe was really structured like it is in my head, a round of applause would have come from all corners of the garden, the cotton rat would have stood on his hind legs and clapped wildly, the blue jays would have erupted into Bronx cheers. Sadly, it isn’t, so they didn’t, but I was happy anyway.

They’re running a show about poetry on the radio, which drives me to share one of my favorite poems with anybody who has the misfortune to be within earshot. (Blogshot?)

Inside water a water wheel turns.
A star circulates with the moon.

We live in the night ocean wondering
What are these lights?

This is by Rumi, the 13th century founder of the Dervishes. He wrote some great poetry, very brief, approachable stuff that holds up well to the modern ear.

He also once cooked up a lengthy parable using a woman killed while having sex with a trained donkey as a metaphor for why spiritual enlightenment can be dangerous stuff. This parable doesn’t appear in most of the collections of his poetry for some unfathomable reason. You gotta admit, though, that’d sure liven up a sermon…

I am 29 today!

I sort of feel as if, staring down the barrel of 30 as I am, I should arrange to have a crisis, and roam the streets moaning “But what have I achieved!? What have I done with my life?!” and then perhaps join the Peace Corps, but in fact, I feel pretty good about where I am and what I’m doing. I have a husband, a house, a garden, an art career I’m ekeing out a living on, and friends who take my lunacy in stride. Who can ask for more?

In celebration, I’m probably gonna go out and go clothes shopping, a decadence I can only justify a coupla times a year, and then James has promised to make Death Chicken for dinner tonight, which has this sauce I cannot easily describe, except that if it were drizzled over a brick, people would fight to the death for the last structural bite.

And as always, a thank you to y’all for enduring another year of my ramblings and brandishing of weeds and sharpening of axes and flinging of art!

Secondhand Tales of Defective Wildlife

I was defending the cat from an evil jumping spider when James began calling me from the back step.

“Hon! Hon! You should–you gotta see–oh man–”

“What? What? THERE’S A SPIDER!”

Deciding to leave the spider to its own devices, the cat and I came out to join him on the back step. “What was it?”

“I just saw a squirrel try to mount a rabbit.”

…well, I had begun to suspect that the Vortex really was localized to the old place, but now I’m wondering.

An exhausting morning in the garden here, but a productive one. Got some astilbe and joe pye weed in the ground in the neglected damp shade bed. Then…weeding.

Our neighbors across the way are dreadfully nice people and have a lovely yard, and they came over and helped us identify a lot of weeds. Pin oak and black oak and white oak–our yard is an oak medley!–all of which had to come out. But once we ripped out the choking oak thicket around the mailbox, we uncovered an indeterminate tall (but cultivated!) plant, more pineapple sage, a thicket of Shasta daisies, and even some mums. There’s a full sun hole there now that may need to be filled–I’m thinkin’ maybe yarrow, since I only have one little one.

They didn’t know what Mystery Plant #1 was, either, but suggested we leave it for now in since a few of them look like they’re starting to flower, which will make identification a lot easier.

There’s also a gayfeather that I didn’t plant, but recognized because it’s identical to the ones I DID plant, and even more daylilies popping up all over the place–they’ve been hiding in the lirope. (I hate that crap, and it’s all over. Since nobody tended it for a year, it looks terrible.) In the back yard, cannas are unrolling down at the bottom, and our thicket of mystery plants is–good lord–a gigantic stand of Rose of Sharon! It forms a giant hedge at the bottom of the yard. While listed as mildly invasive, I am loathe to pull it out–hummingbirds love it, it’s gorgeous when it blooms, and it’s literally forming a wall at the bottom of the yard, and giving us a lot of privacy–and according to the Piedmont Natural History site, if it’s pruned in autumn before the seed pods mature, that’ll control its invasive tendencies.

I am not willing to make this acccomodation for the silktree, since I spent a chunk of this morning ripping the little bastards up from the front yard. We investigated the base of the big silktree more closely, and discovered that the last owners DID try to control it–there’s a monstrous stump buried in the lirope, and the thicket we appeared to have is actually made entirely of suckers off the stump. We’re not getting that stump out without a Clydesdale, so we’re just going to have to cut it back yearly, I suppose, until it gives up and dies.

Our neighbors gave us some starts of a cool shrub they have–a “flying dragon” dwarf orange. It’s got wickedly hooked thorns all over, and is contorted like a walking stick. I love it. (Non-invasive. Apparently too surly to spread.) I’ll pop one in a pot, and the other may go under the big trees up front, where it can get a lot of sun and be as surly as it wants.

Also, I saw a baby bunny this morning. It was maybe a quarter the size of the big cottontail that hangs out in the yard. It saw me and scooted its little cottony butt under the potting shed, where it appears they have a burrow. Awwww!

Pollinators Ahoy!

I stepped outside to look at the garden, as I do every few hours–whether waiting for something new to surprise me, or half suspecting that it will vanish when my back is turned, I’m not sure!–and I startled a hummingbird hanging in the air over the lilies.

He looked at me, a bit belligerently–this was his garden, his yard, his flowers, he’d found them, how dare I come hangin’ around? Wanna mess with me, primate, wanna, wanna? I’ll peck yer eyes out! Hummingbirds are belligerence wrapped up in a oil-slick rainbow. You have to love them.

When I did not reply appropriately by taking to the air and fighting for control of the garden, he decided I was just too unspeakably boring for words and zipped off to dip his beak in the pink cherry sage. (I love this stuff. I hadn’t seen it before–it’s a native of Texas, so I’m sort of cheating on the whole native thing, but at least it’s the correct continent. It’s gorgeous, hummingbirds love it, and it takes full sun and drought like a trooper.)

After the hummingbird had decided to go lay claim to another yard, I peered over my plants. Exciting discoveries lately have been up at the top of the yard, by the mailbox–it’s choked with oak seedlings and badly overgrown, but lurking under it all is pineapple sage, a great favorite of mine. And there’s a daylily exploding with buds that’s apparently too far up the driveway for the deer to browse that I’m eagerly awaiting.

I’ve also determined that the thing I thought was a black locust is actually a silktree. Well, crud. It’s an invasive non-native. Should really kill it. The pictures of the flowers are lovely. Hummingbirds like it. But…it’s an invasive non-native and should die. Argh! Who knew gardening came with so many moral dilemas!? I thought “Natives and well-behaved immigrants,” would be an easy philosophy to hold to. (Hmm, the forest service has a real hate on this tree. Maybe it better come out.)

On the other hand, I saw them selling bishopweed at the garden shop and wanted to find somebody on staff and give ’em a tongue lashing. Bishopweed! Dear god! What are you people thiiiiinking?!

But happily, as I stood looking at the rest of the garden, I see the pollinators come out at work. A fat bumblebee climbs over the brazilian verbena (non-native, I know, I know, I’m guilty, but the butterflies are supposed to love it! I’ll deadhead religiously, I promise.) and a sleeker, more dangerous looking bee crawls into each individual cup of the beardstongue (Native! Native!)

Despite the gardening guilt, barely assuaged by buying some Joe Pye Weed and native snakeroot when I went to pick up the manure, it’s nice to see the pollinators out in my garden.

Today, I went looking for the post office, to pick up a letter, which turned out to be a payment for something from Warsaw, Poland, which was kind of ironic, because I had just mailed a set of prints to an unrelated person in Warsaw an hour before, which, granted that is the sum total of my commerce with Warsaw in the last year, sort of amusingly fell on the same day.

However, I hadn’t been to the local post office before, since we just moved. I got there eventually, but finding it was an experience.

I did the thing where you get on a road and start trying to figure out numbers, and get panicked, and then suddenly the road switches and you’re on EAST Whatever Road, and the numbers are going in the opposite direction and then you cross a road you absolutely know you shouldn’t be crossing, and so you turn around in a parking lot and go the other way, and find yourself back to Whatever Road, and so you must have overshot it, so you turn around again, but you can only find a residential street to turn on, and then it’s lined with cars like the Death Gauntlet, so you wind up going halfway to New Jersey before you find a spot you can get the car turned around in. (Did I mention that for some reason there was a hundred pounds of cow manure in the trunk? There was.)

But lo! What is this? I turned around yet again, in the parking lot of the vitamin store, and managed to crawl into the parking lot of something that looked promising. A big brick official-looking building, big seal out front with an eagle on it–yeah! That must be it!

And that, boys and girls, is how Ursula visited the Mexican Consulate.

(I eventually located the post office in back of a grocery store, claimed my letter, and slunk out again. Who even knew we had a Mexican Consulate in Raleigh?)

So I’m working on a Digger cover, which will be very similiar to the happy troll and squash piece, but in a cover-friendly format, and I’m drawing this troll.

And the troll doesn’t look right, and doesn’t look right, with that nagging not-quite-right-ness at the back of the brain, and the face is just not right, and I slave over it and slave over it and draw and erase, and finally I move the nose up a centimeter and change the shape of the head a bit, and make the eyes longer and suddenly it’s fine. It’s a troll. It clicks into place.

I find this amusing, because the trolls that look like this are things I whipped up in frantic preparation for a convention two years ago. They could have looked like anything. And yet, between then and now, this personal creation became cemented in my brain. Somewhere, stamped hard, below the conscious level, my brain KNOWS what a troll’s proportions are, and knows them well enough that when they’re off, it does the same something-isn’t-right-here itch that it does for human figures. (And occasionally real humans. Ever met somebody whose ears are set really really high on their head? There was a bit actor in some made-for-TV-movie years ago that had really high ears, and I was going crazy trying to figure out why the guy registered as so strange, when he was otherwise fine looking, and finally realized that his ears were set a good inch above the norm. I swear, you never realize how low or long ears are until you draw them…)

The fluidity of what humans will accept as normal in other humans is vast–James, for example, has a lazy eye, which I have not actually noticed for the last decade (although I think it may also have lessened with age.) But I find it funny that the opposite holds true, and a minor creature I made up myself now has a sort of proportional canon in my brain and I deviate from it at my peril.

Revisiting an old coloring style briefly, to bring you a happy troll in flowers, and a disgruntled squash.

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