March 2009

Matters of Perspective

So I went in to pick up the laundry I’d dropped off–the dryer is still on the fritz–and the woman who runs the laundrymat pulled out the bag of clothes, looked at me, and said "Honey, let me put this in a cart for you."

It was a sixteen pound bag of laundry. I knew this because the weight was inherent in the price.

"Uh…I’m sure it’ll be fine…" I said.

She got a cart anyway. "Now, do you have someone to help you carry this when you get home?"


Now, I am by many measures a wussy.  Pickle jars laugh in my presence. I switched from Golden, a much superior brand, to Liquitex paint, just because I was tired of having to use pliers on the Golden tubes. If the fate of the universe ever hinges on my ability to do a single pull-up, we’re all going to die.

Still, I have never once had a problem lifting a fifteen pound bag of laundry. A katana, which weighs a fraction of that, becomes unbearably heavy in a matter of seconds during certain forms, but you generally don’t do katas with laundry. I have never ritually flicked the blood of my imaginary enemies off my laundry. Even in my admittedly demented little world, the issue does not arise.

"Um," I said. "I think I can manage it…"

"Oh, well," she sighed, pushing the cart in front of her.  "When I was a petite little thing like you, I was Wonder Woman, too."

I have not been called petite in…well, many moons. Even when I dropped a stupid quantity of weight and was in the mid 140s, I was still 5’7" and a D-cup, and these days, hovering at the high end of the 160s, I am…well…average. 

On the other hand, this was coming from a big black woman, and I don’t mean "big" as a euphemism for "fat." She was a good six feet tall and built to scale, and although she was probably upwards of two hundred pounds, the impression was less of obesity and more of an Amazon experiencing some slight middle-age spread.

"I haven’t been called petite in years," I said meekly, feeling rather like a small oxpecker bird contemplating a full-size Cape buffalo, who happened to be carrying my laundry.  I was simply and suddenly a smaller order of animal.

"Oh, honey." (There is a delivery of "honey" endemic to the South that cannot be easily replicated in other climes.) "But you are!"

"Um…thank you?"

I suppose it all depends on where you’re looking from.

Kevin and I, over the course of a drive home, came to the conclusion that the next great game should be—nay, must be–

Clown vs. Pimp.

God help me, I can see the art already.

Man, Otter wrought better than she knew on the reef tank thing.

I get up every morning and go turn on the lights in the tank. 

And I don’t look for the fish.

I like the fish, don’t get me wrong. I hope the fish is ecstatic in his new home (and granted that he was in a smaller box at the fish store, with a single rock, and now he has a whole rockwork to bop around in, I think he probably thinks he died and went to Goby heaven) I am pleased to see the fish. He is a cute little fish, and if he darts past, I smile.

But what I look for, the minute I turn on the tank, is how the woobly coral is doing (it’s a torch coral, but if it made a sound, the sound would be "wooble") Is it extending? How long are the tentacles? How are the zoo coral polyps doing? Mushroom still mushroomy? Nobody’s bleaching or overrun with nudibranches or anything like that?

God help me, I’m in it for the invertebrates.

Bare bones productivity today. I blame the laundromat. The dryer is malfunctioning, so I took a load to the local laundry.

Man, I always forget how long that takes. Plus somebody always wants to tell me their life story. I am not an unfriendly person–I hope–but when I’m grumpy from slinging underwear, I’m not really at my best, and if the fact that I am communicating in single words–"Ah." "Cool." "Really." "Huh."–while reading a book is not making a dent on the conversation…

I am trying to be compassionate. Ganesh would want me to be compassionate. I’m sure they were just bored and/or lonely, and possibly random strangers at the laundry are the most social contact they’re getting.

Still. I’m tired. It’s energy-sucking-grey out. I have done my obligatory Ninjabreath for the day, and that was the extent of my motivation.

On the bright side, Goby Bob is perky and bopping around the tank, the torch coral has opened up a little farther (the tentacles are now about an inch long, and it’s a really impressive presence in the tank.) I’m gonna try and get photos this weekend, so you can all see what I’ve been blathering about, even if they’re just crappy shots from Kevin’s iPhone…

My first vertebrate!

A very, VERY small red-head goby, which is supposed to be a very good fish for nano-reef tanks. They’re extremely peaceful to everything except other gobies, they don’t get very big, and they eat readily.

I can testify to this last, as when he was finally released into the tank after acclimation, his first act was to spot a wandering ‘pod* and pounce on it.

Brooke also gifted me with three mondo coral frags, including some large and VERY pink zoo coral, which look sort of like this. Zoo corals will likely form the primary coral in my tank–they’re peaceful, hardy, and colorful. They don’t cause trouble, and they rarely have it, making them an idea inhabitant.

There is also a torch coral, which is something of a gamble–some people have no problems, some people find it attacking everything in the tank. (Torches are part of a family that has "sweeper tentacles" so if it’s feeling pissy, it’ll throw them out and start stinging anything in reach. I’ve got it high up and in the back, so it can’t really reach any other coral, but we’ll see how it goes.) It’s a wooble coral so it moves in the water and is very neat. It is also attached to a HUGE rock, and given the choice between trying to dremel it loose underwater and just finding a place for the rock, I went with the latter as less likely to result in the deaths of both me and the coral. So the torch is now wedged in with a truly enormous glob of tank-safe cement, and looks…well, that bit looks like ass, frankly, but it’s in the back, and god willing, some nice coralline algae will cover it soon enough.

I know, I’m an artist and all, but the fact is, I am really TERRIBLE with my hands. I’m a reasonably good painter, I can throw a pot, none of the males of my intimate acquaintence have complained, but you want me to do something neatly with cement and invertebrates? The fact that I wasn’t found dead with tank cement wedged into my mouth and a coral frag in my eye and the beagle peeing affectionately on my shoe  is a minor miracle.

*Copepods, amphipods…whatever. Teeny tiny little shrimp-like things that scurry around on the rocks. I have several zillion of them, which is supposed to be the sign that the tank is so far happy. Apparently some pods grow quite large in size. Otter has one that she may have to saddlebreak soon.

That damn tick t’other day apparently wanted to look at a lot of locations before he settled down, because there are seven–count ’em, SEVEN–apocalyptically itchy bites across my stomach.

They are hideous and grotesque and look like I have localized stomach leprosy. Also, they itch horribly. Whatever one says about leprosy, at least it doesn’t itch. This is like having seven tiny yeast infections scattered about my torso.

I have goo that helps for brief periods, and then if I can time the non-itch with getting distracted by work, I can manage for several hours, but then, like the tramp of itchy doom, it returns.

No bull’s-eye, and he wasn’t attached for more than ten minutes, so I probably don’t have Lymes, but sheesh, this is obnoxious.

With all the posting about my tiny little reef garden, I have neglected posting about my big outdoor garden!

Today, as my reward for surviving the weekend AND getting Ninjabreath art done, I went to a local garden shop called Niche Gardens. They specialize in native plants, and my god, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Fortunately, half my gardening expenditures come off my rent, as property enhancement. So I picked up a bunch of native shrubs for the yard–summer sweetbush and another spicebush for the mucky part-shade area next to the house, a dwarf pepperbush to go in my new bed, a male deciduous holly to pollinate the two females I planted last fall, wild indigo (a personal favorite) and pink swamp milkweed for the monarchs. I tossed a small jacob’s ladder into the drainage ditch–it’s a notorious self-seeder, so if it likes the area, it can have it, and more I cannot do. I also got Kevin a paw-paw sapling to replace his dead weeping cherry–I mean, it’s a foot tall, so it doesn’t really replace it yet, but I’m putting it in the ground in the same place. Pawpaws are a cool southern native with big weird fruit–not as conventionally pretty as weeping cherry, but much more nifty.

And I am doing something potentially insane, but I’m feelin’ crazy.

There is a large section of the property that, as I have mentioned before, is overrun with bindweed. I rip out vast quantities about once a week. This afternoon I discovered a daylily bed under the stuff. It makes no particular dent in the bindweed, and I have yet to locate a place that sells bindweed mites.

But now I’m fighting fire with fire.

I have planted mint.

Native mountain mint, to be sure, a mint beloved of the local pollinators, but a mint nonetheless, and as generations of gardeners will tell you, mint is like the nuclear option among plants. You don’t dare put it in a bed, because it will own that bed forever. You can’t even put it in a pot NEAR a bed, because it will send roots through the drainage hole and pop up ten feet away, laughing maniacal minty laughter.

By planting mint among the bindweed, I may be resigning myself to a lifetime of yanking out mint seedlings from my bed, despite the gravel driveway in between us, but I don’t care. It can fight with the bindweed. If that whole area becomes an uninhabitable tangle of bindweed and mint, at least the mint will make it biologically useful to pollinators, and it’ll smell nice.

I don’t dare consider what’ll happen if the bindweed devours it. A plant that can eat mint may be bigger than any of us.

So I had a good time gardening and got about half the plants in the ground, and then I had an itch and went to scratch and it was a tick and I ran screaming into the house to Kevin to pry it off, which he did, and then I ripped my pants off–I always do this, having a tick requires me to immediately become nude in case there are Other Ticks, and god help me, there WAS another tick, so I screamed a bit more and Kevin pried that one off too and then I ran around nude and shrieking for a minute or two until I felt better and the beagle got excited and started howling and Kevin muttered something about my phobias and stomped into the bathroom to pee into a sieve in an effort to pass that damn kidney stone and I decided I was done gardening for the day.

Which is kind of how it usually goes down, except I even wore lots of bug goop this time, so those little bastards weren’t fighting fair at all.

…and there’s a spaghetti worm in the tank, too!

Again, mostly good (can irritate coral if the little tentacles come too close) but the one I’ve spotted is tucked way down in the back.) I went in at night with a flashlight, just out of curiosity, and saw the stomatella snail out grazing, and Crab Bob chowing down on algae like it was going out of style.

Emerald crabs are amazing. The snails made little roads in the algae forest, the crab came in and clearcut the stuff to the ground.

…and just after saying this, I go and look at the tank again, and there’s a big bristleworm, two or three times the size of any of the little ones, and bright pink-red with dark red racing stripes, climbing along the surface of the rock. I believe this is a fireworm. Touching it will cause me excruciating pain, and once again gives me the sudden chill down my back, the one that says You were handling all this rock without gloves on and all that stuff was IN THERE LURKING and we’re never ever going to put our hands in the tank without gloves again, are we?

Most fireworms are beneficial, and it doesn’t look like the one bad kind, so it can stay, but again…always wear gloves.

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