Category Archives: nature

Fairy ring!

Toadstools on the lawn. (Click to embiggen)
The toadstools growing in a roughly circular formation in our lawn.
Late Sunday afternoon I ran to the store to stock up on certain things. The local union is about to start a strike against a bunch of the stores (specifically several of the big chain stores) and I really don’t want to cross picket lines. The closest grocery store to us is a union store but it is not subject of the strike because it is part of a smaller, local chain that isn’t screwing over the workers in the way the big chains are. But said store, even though I like shopping there, has a smaller selection than the other stores.

When I got home, Michael came out to help me unload, and he pointed out something I had missed: a fairy ring! Toadstools coming up in a large ring on the lawn, right next to the car. So I had to take a picture…

Continue reading Fairy ring!

The wettest September ever

Otter running on frozen pond.
Walking on water’s easy, if it’s cold enough!
We broke a bunch of weather records, again. Saturday was the wettest September day ever recorded in Western Washington. Not the wettest day, but the wettest ever in a September. And before Saturday, we had already gotten enough rain that 2013 was going to be at least the third wettest September in Seattle on record. Then we had the record-breaking Saturday, and Sunday was almost as wet, and it rained more on Monday…

Continue reading The wettest September ever

Fresh tomatoes

This year’s crop of tomatoes hasn’t been terribly spectacular.

I’ve only been trying to grow my own tomatoes for a few years. When I was a kid, we often tried to have a garden. The frequency with which we moved because of my dad’s work in the oil field (ten elementary schools, four states) often sabotaged such efforts. My grandparents and at least one great-grandmother always, always had a garden, so when I would visit in the summer and early fall we got to eat lots of fresh vegetables.

My first year I tried one cherry tomato plant in a planter. It allowed me to start it in the spring when the weather is liable to turn cold unexpectedly, so I could keep the planter next to one of the brick walls of the house for the early season (the bricks radiating heat throughout much of the night, you see).

It did reasonably well. There were a number of weeks where I could pick a handful or more of tomatoes every single night.

So last year I upped it to three plants, and since I quite enjoyed the bite-sized tomatoes, I got two different breeds of cherry tomato and one grape. That didn’t go so well. One cherry tomato produced fairly well, but the other two were quite disappointing.

So this year I got one cherry tomato, and two different small tomatoes. One is an heirloom yellow. Again, the cherry tomato plant hit a pattern where it has reliably had a handful or more of ripe tomatoes ready for me every night. The middle-sized tomato plant has given me about four (yes, total) tomatoes that made it to ripe (dozens of green ones that would fall off long before they got ripe, though).

And the heirloom? Well, just as each tomato starts to turn, a black fungus start growing on the tomato. I managed to pull three or four off of it before they got the fungus, and let them ripen for another bunch of days on my window sill inside.

The heirloom is clearly dying, now. Though we’re supposed to have a whole week of warmer than normal temps, I think it’s done.

Of course, the one faithful cherry has been quite good. And for the last couple of weeks, every morning on my way out to work, I’ve paused to pick one tomato and eat it. Fresh off the vine! Aaaaaaaah!

That’s pretty awesome.

So, I’ll almost certainly be buying some tomato plants again, next year. Nothing beats that taste of a fresh, really fresh, tomato right off the plant in the morning.

Green(ish) thumb

When Ray and I first started dating he had a small collection of houseplants, each with a story. Ray had been working in the home health care industry for several years at that point, and a lot of his work had been taking care of people who were dying. The families of several of his patients had sometimes asked him to take a plant that the patient had been tending. Ray said that often friends of people who were that severely sick would bring in plants to give the person a bit of the outdoors, or something. So after the patient died there might be a dozen plants in the person’s room

I had once or twice previously tried to keep a houseplant or two, but they never lasted long. When Ray and I first moved in together, taking care of the plants was his chore.

We acquired a few more. I wound up with some office plants from him (it had to do with my employer moving to a new building and several of us experiencing weird hay fever type symptoms in our offices; once I had a couple of big plants, mine went away). I had to learn to keep the plants alive. So I bought a couple of books. Soon, I was keeping multiple kinds of plant food around, managing the rotation of which nutrients and how concentrated based on the time of year.

When Ray got sick, I went from merely helping him with the home plants (while being fully responsible for my office plants) to being in charge of all of them. By the time he died, when a bunch of people sent flowers and sometimes plants, I was no longer convinced that any houseplant I was taking care of was doomed.

So it was a bit of trauma for me when one of the plants I had inherited from Ray—one of the plants he’d already owned when we met—began dying. At first I told myself that maybe it was just naturally dying of old age. But then I learned that Christmas Cactuses have lived for 70 years or more in greenhouses, getting to be the size of small trees. So, I learned more about them. I re-potted it, I checked the moisture level and pH of its soil every couple of days, and basically obsessed over it for weeks.

It still died.

This weekend I finally admitted that four of the houseplants that have been dying for months are unsalvagable and replaced them. Some of my friends think I should have given up on a couple of them a while back. I frequently adhere to the rule best articulated by the character of Keith the AIDS patient in the movie Latter Days: “We never throw anything out that isn’t completely dead. Right?”

Frightful weather

I thought I was going to drown.

While Seattle is known for rain, most of the time what he actually experience is overcast days, with occasional scattered misting. We very, very seldom have downpours. Even the heavier showers tend to be intermittent and scattered.

But about once every winter I get caught in a true downpour that soaks through my waterproofed leather coat, and all the layers underneath.

Last night it happened early in my walk home. When I stepped outside the office building, it was barely drizzling. Three blocks later I pulled the hood of my coat over my head, as the hat was no longer enough. Then, four blocks further, it was as if angels in the sky above had aimed a bunch of firehoses right at me.

The first mile or so of my walk home is along our waterfront. Not right on it, a block away, so that about half the time there is a building between me and the open air. The deluge hit when I was on a two or three block section where there is nothing but lawn and train tracks sheilding me.

The wind was coming off the water.

Even in the height of summer, the Puget Sound only gets a bit less frigid than ice water. This time of year, the water is maybe a degree above freezing. So any breeze coming off of it is like an arctic blast.

Rain starts out high up in the sky as ice crystals. They warm up as the fall, turning into droplets of ice water. In really warm weather they may get all the way up to cool and refreshing, but this time of year, I suspect that they are only about a billionth of a degree above freezing when they reach a hapless pedestrian on the ground.

So I was being hammered by nearly frozen water. Each droplet sucking heat from me, while the cross-breeze was doing its best to finish the job and turn me into a popsicle.

And there wasn’t really any place for me to go to get out of the rain. What buildings were nearby were mostly office complexes. So I moved as fast as I could.

I decided, once I had reached the halfway mark, when my walking route meets up with a bus line, to take shelter in the bus shelter(!) and wait for a bus.

The thinng that worries me about this, is that this is the second deluge I’ve experienced this year. And December is tradionally a month where we dry out a bit after the heavy rains of November, before the heavy rains of January.

I’m getting a bad feeling about this winter’s weather.

Pineapple Express

Statistically, the last two weeks of November are the wettest time of year in Seattle. Unlike much of the rest of the year, where it’s just overcast and damp most of the time, with random drizzles or showers here and there, the end of November is all about downpours.

The Pineapple Express is a nickname for a meteorologic phenomenon responsible for many of those heavy rains. Once the upper atmosphere’s streams switch to the winter pattern, it is easy for an atmospheric river to form running from the tropical central pacific right up at northwestern Washington. The result in the city is ponds springing up on sidewalks and streets. Drivers not realizing that they can’t safely follow other cars as closely as they were just a month ago. Cars kicking up roostertails ten feet tall and drenching pedestrians.

Still, I love the rain. Admittedly, I prefer to listen to it pouring down while I’m inside somewhere dry, preferably with a hot beverage. But I also like walking in it, hearing the raindrops drum on the hood of my coat, walking around the deepest puddles (and occassionally letting my inner five-year-old out and stomping to make as big a splash as I can).

I love the way the air smells and feels while the rain is coming down hard–different than the after-rain smell, not better, just different.

I love thinking about where these raindrops have been. Evaporated from the warm ocean surface, carried thousands of miles aloft on the jet stream, and now returning to earth. Where they will soak into the ground, some to be taken up by the grass and and evergreens, others to form creeks that flow into rivers and one day return to the ocean. They may then descend to the deepest trenches of the ocean, eventually encountering a steam vent or a submerged lava flow, which gives them the energy to start ascending toward the surface, again.

So, don’t complain about the rain. Go out there, say hello, and wish it well on this next cycle of it’s incredible journey.

Gazing into the kookie

It had never occurred to me that either Mad Magazine or Cracked were still in business. I don’t know why it wasn’t obvious that in a world with I Can Haz Cheezburger and Rob Enderle as a technology pundit, of course Mad and Cracked’s brand of juvenilia and mockery would have sufficient audience to generate some ad revenue.

Recently a political cartoon from Mad Magazine was making the rounds, “Who Said It? Mitt Romney or Mr. Burns?” And now Cracked has published David Wong’s “5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.” I think a more accurate title might have been “3 Ways Men Are Trained to Think of Women as Objects and 2 Ways That Manifests as Resentment” (or maybe “3 Ways Men Are Trained to Think of Women as Objects, 1 Way Men are Trained to Hate Themselves, and 1 Way All That Resentment Manifests”) but that isn’t quite as catchy, and wouldn’t drive as many clicks to their website.

The thing is, even with the words “boner” and “boobies” scattered throughout, the article is a decent exploration of how men are socialized to be jerks. And in the end, while it certainly doesn’t offer any solutions to the problem, at least Wong apologizes on behalf of his (our) gender for a specific set of recent rather public manifestation of the demeaning of women.

The same forces also teach women that they deserve to be thought of that way, or at least that the only way to succeed in life is to play into those expectations of the men around them.

And while Wong’s approach was focused on heterosexual men, us gay guys don’t escape those forces unscathed. We get told we’re supposed to want the girl, et cetera, and if we don’t that’s one of the ways we get threatened with “losing your man card” as he says. Some gay guys simply transfer all those demeaning notions to the men they themselves are attracted to. More seem to transfer it to guys that they perceive as being less masculine then them, or more masculine. They don’t always put it that way. I mean, yes, many will say “no fems” and refer to themselves as “straight-acting,” but they’re more likely to say “no flakes” or something similar. The ones at the other end sometimes say derogatory things about people who describe themselves as “straight acting,” but most will use other code words, like “game players” or “aggressive.”

Which just plays back into the whole messed up vicious circle.

I wish I had a brilliant point or a solution other than “don’t perpetuate this stuff,” which is just a longer way of saying “don’t be a jerk.” But I don’t.

So, don’t be a jerk (And I’m sorry so many of us are).

I love the rain

I love grey, wet days like today. Why, yes, I am aware that makes me a freak in many eyes.

I don’t care.

The rain is not coming down in buckets. We get that sometimes. Rain coming down so hard that the “rainchill” (cold raindrops hitting you and each absorbing a bit of your body tempature, dozens or scores of large icy cold drops every second) making you shiver and worse. I grew up where 25 degrees below zero Farenheit was neither unheard of nor uncommon, so I know from cold, and I don’t like the rain when it comes down like that.

This morning it was just a nice, gentle shower. Cool, chilly, even, but not cold. And not coming down so hard that I would have been annoyed if I hadn’t had a hood on my coat to pull over my head, but just exactly hard enough that I was glad for the hood.

It was a light enough rain that the sparrows were flitting from tree to tree rather than seek shelter. Crows and gulls shrug off all but the heaviest rain, but sparrows are a bit more delicate. They were out today.

The clouds were not dark, just a soft, cool grey. There was barely any wind.

I love the soft sound the rain makes. I love the steady hissing hum of the tires going by on busy streets. I love the smell of the air. It’s different that the wonderful smell after a rainstorm, but ther are hints of that coming scent in it. I love the sound the occasional larger drops make when they tap my hood or hat. I the way everything turns greener and greener as winter receeds and the spring rains transform our world.

I love the rain.


Snow and ice, sun and rain

While most of the rest of the country was jumping from winter to summer weather, completey bypassing spring, Seattle had a several days of sleet, snow, and ice.

Last week I needed my scarf, stocking cap, and gloves most mornings, but not in the evenings. Friday, particularly, was bad for the walk home. I didn’t need my coat at all, but it was more awkward trying to carry it while walking with the backpack. Saturday and Sunday I was in shorts most of the time. Though by Sunday night I was back to sweat pants and fuzzy socks even for just inside the house.

Seattle weather is weird. 365.25 days a year you need to have sunglasses handy. Eleven months out of the year you need to be prepared for some form of rain. Often it comes as a light drizzle, but deluges are not uncommon.

Used to be that thunder and lightning happened about once a decade. Lately, it’s becoming more common, especially as thundersnow.

I’ve had the habit for years of carrying my scarf and gloves in the bottom of my backpack throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Not because I ever need them in the summer, but because in the fall the transition from warm, almost summer weather to my-fingers-are-frozen takes about a millisecond, and will always happen on a random day.

I took the winter lining out of my leather coat this morning. I didn’t switch to the jacket, yet, because we’re still in the time of the year where heavy deluge-type rain is not unlikely, and the spring jacket isn’t heavy enough for that.

Despite the fact that too much sunny weather makes me cranky (and I am a complete heat wimp) I am looking forward to summer.

Which should arrive around July 12.