Monday, July 16, 2018

Rain, work, walk

I had intended to drop by my office for just a few minutes, long enough to water my plants and pick up a book or two, but the moment I stepped out the building to head back home, rain started pouring down. Of course I brought an umbrella with me! It's in my car. In fact I think there are two or three umbrellas in my car, which is where I need to be, but I don't care to run out there through the pouring rain with books and a computer in my arms, so I think I'll just sit here for a while and ramble on about what I've been doing.

Not enough is the answer. I haven't been doing enough writing, mowing, walking, cleaning, or anything else of substance for weeks on end. I've finished two and a half syllabi (out of four), and I've organized my dad's upcoming 85th birthday party, and I've mostly finished another annoying little project, but the big things are still looming: revising my journal article and laying some groundwork for my spring 2019 sabbatical. Can't do anything about all that while I'm sitting here waiting for the rain to stop, though, so I may as well think about happier things.

Like the pollinator habitat! This morning I went out to Luke Chute Conservation Area and walked around the pollinator habitat, where the trails wind through tall flowering plants stretching way overhead. I heard a bunch of common yellowthroats and a hawk, saw two hummingbird moths but couldn't get the camera to my face fast enough to take photos, and walked face-first through enough spider webs to make my hair feel shellacked with spider silk. But mostly I enjoyed watching the pollinator habitat do its valuable work: attracting pollinators of all types. I can't identify all the different types of bees I saw but there were bunches of 'em.

Now I hear wet squeaky shoes trekking through the hallways as a bunch of incoming students head for a meeting, and it looks like rain has stopped for now. Time to make a dash for it before it starts up again. I could gripe about having to wait, but at least it gave us a chance to have this little chat. Let's do it again soon. 


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Make room for blackberries

A colleague told me about a time when she needed to chop down a thick stand of weeds at the edge of a ditch, so she took her machete and swung through the weeds, mentally giving each weed the name of person who had annoyed her: telemarketers, demanding students, annoying neighbors, and so on. This allowed her to kill two birds with one stone (or whack two weeds with one machete): she cleared the weeds while harmlessly working out her frustrations.

What names would I project on the weeds I pulled in the blackberry patch this week? Take that, telecommunications problems! Curses on you, neverending road construction project that makes me sit in traffic waiting for a flagman to let me through on two separate parts of my morning commute! I spit in your face, spring floods!

I hadn't intended to do any weeding in the blackberry patch this summer; in fact, I'd written the blackberries off as a lost cause for several good reasons: they never got properly pruned over the winter; grapevines have been colonizing the back end of the patch; and the flood that took away our driveway and garden shed dumped a pile of silt and debris on the blackberry patch. What happens to blackberry bushes that sit under five or six feet of water? I didn't particularly want to find out. Add to that a busier than normal spring and the need to move a bunch of stuff to Jackson and I pretty much pushed the blackberry patch right out of my mind.

But then the other day I was mowing and noticed the wild berries turning red on the edges of the woods--their tart, juicy goodness made me wonder whether our poor neglected blackberry patch would be producing any fruit this summer.

But I can't pick berries if I can't see 'em, so I decided to wade in and start pulling weeds, thick stands of jewelweed and joe pye weed stretching over my head. I can pull out jewelweed easily with one hand, but the bigger weeds require both hands and every ounce of strength, and then if they let loose suddenly I end up reeling backward. I saw spiders and beetles and heard buzzing bees, swatted grapevines out of the way and knocked down flood debris, and I saw plenty of dry, lifeless blackberry canes.

But I also found berries. I pulled a lot of weeds, cleared the healthiest portion of the patch, and picked two big fat blackberries, leaving many more to ripen. It may take a year or two to bring the patch back to full production, but this year we ought to have enough to make all that weeding worthwhile.

Take that, pesky weeds! Thanks for the great workout, but now it's time for you to make room for blackberries.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

At home in nature or nature at home?

Sunlight filtering through leaves throws shadows on a moss-covered rock, making it look upholstered, like a comfy pouf I could put in my living room, but that would be a mistake: the fabric-like pattern depends upon a specific set of circumstances that would be impossible to recreate indoors. And so I appreciate the rock but leave it sitting where it belongs.

Lately I've been reminded of Gene Stratton Porter, the author of The Girl of the Limberlost and other best-selling novels in the early years of the twentieth century, who, in her fiction and many magazine essays, promoted an aesthetic diminishing the distance between people and nature. She loved to create outdoor "rooms" dissolving the walls that separate us from nature, and she loved to bring nature indoors by filling her homes with moth collections and woodwork intricately carved with leaves and owls and other woodland creatures. Every time I've walked through her houses, I've wondered how many trees she had to sacrifice to demonstrate her love for trees. And once her former gardener told about a time when Gene wanted to create a beautiful display of trilliums around a rotting log, so she set the gardener to work transplanting the delicate flowers, causing him to remark upon the massive number of man-hours required to make a spot in the woods look "natural."

My personal aesthetic is more aesthetic; all I require is that every room in the house have some spot of beauty on display: an interesting fabric, a photo of grandkids or birds, a pretty shell, a bit of needlework. That sun-dappled stone I saw in the woods makes me want to find a fabric that recreates the effect, but I'll leave the stone itself where it belongs, in a dynamic, fluid environment. Who knows what it will look like next time I visit? 
Shadows on a rock.

Lovely Lake Katharine

See the face?

Bigleaf mangolia trees stretch far overhead

I love the way the light dapples the water

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Death by a thousand bites (or just one bite in a really bad place)

Summertime and the living is easy, as long as you follow one simple rule: whether you're working, shopping, picknicking, or mowing the lawn, try not to think about the mosquito bite in your armpit.

I know it's hot! I know the air's so thick with humidity that you could part it like a curtain, and every tiny movement causes sweat to pour out directly over that mosquito bite and make it feel as if your entire armpit is on fire, but whatever you do, don't think about it. In particular, don't think about scratching it. In public. Like, at the grocery store.

Say you're pushing your shopping cart around the store, enjoying the refreshing air conditioning before you have to plunge back into the outdoor sauna holding the entire midwest in its crushing grip right now, when suddenly that mosquito bite starts to itch and sting like an entire Fourth of July fireworks display under your arm. What should you do?  

Don't scratch. Don't even think about scratching, not just because scratching one's armpit in public Simply Isn't Done but because you'll eventually have to hand your money over to the cashier with a hand that smells like sweaty armpit, and if you happen to be walking up the seasonal items aisle and notice a set of grilling tools on sale, do not even think about grabbing that pointy meat fork and using it to scratch your armpit until it's raw and bloody, because then they'd make you buy the bloody meat fork and how will you ever show your face in that store again?

If you must think about the mosquito bite under your armpit, you might wonder how a mosquito managed to sting you in that relatively inaccessible spot. I mean, what were you doing, wandering through the woods waving your arms in the air? You couldn't have been signaling for a touchdown during baseball season, so maybe that pesky mosquito targeted your armpit at the precise moment when you were reaching up to refill the hummingbird feeder. Lucky little mosquito. Hope it enjoyed that blood meal because someone ought to get some pleasure out of this experience and that someone certainly isn't you.

Especially don't think about the mosquito bite in your armpit while you're lying in bed trying to get to sleep at night despite the feeling that millions of creepy-crawlies are continuously feeding on your armpit. You're alone in the dark; no one would ever know if you just reached over and started scratching until you found some relief, but let's face it: there will be no relief, not even if you scratch it bloody, and then every ounce of sweat you excrete will make it sting even more and it may even get badly infected, and who wants to deal with an infected armpit? You think a mosquito bite is bad! Imagine asking your beloved doctor to look at the massive oozing pulsing glob of pus colonizing your armpit. So don't scratch. No good can come of it. Sit on your hands if you have to.

Don't even think about it. Think of anything else besides the mosquito bite in your armpit, even though there's a mosquito bite in your armpit and it's never, ever going to stop itching until you break down and grab a sharp metal implement like a paring knife or a meat fork or your car keys or even a bouquet of long-stemmed roses at a booth at the Farmers' Market. Do not--repeat NOT--grab the bouquet by the blossoms and start tearing at your skin with the thorny stems until the blood pours down your arms and they find you laughing and bleeding on the sidewalk in the middle of town and call for reinforcements. "Put down your weapon," they'll say, but you'll be so engrossed in the sweet relief of scratching that you'll threaten anyone who comes near you with the thorny stems, and the next thing you know you'll be shot dead on the sidewalk and someone will have to peel those stems out of your cold, dead hands.

But look on the bright side: at least you won't have to think about the mosquito bite in your armpit.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Field notes from afar (but not too far)

We knew we were the first hikers on the Salt Creek Trail at Lake Katharine the other day because we kept walking face-first through spider webs stretching across the trail--now there's a good reason to take turns leading the way. Blistering heat and humidity make it hard to spend time outside these days, but at 7 a.m. the woods were still cool, shady, and fragrant with blossoms and rot. We saw some interesting fungi and creepy patches of white finger slime mold, but at Lake Katharine the main attractions are trees: towering sweet gum, groves of birch and beech, and bigleaf magnolias with leaves as long as my forearm. Next time I'm taking the camera.

This morning I took the camera out for an early trek up the hill behind our house, where the wild raspberries are redding up and wild grapevines are colonizing a dead tree. Hopeful bounded alongside, happy to have some company after my weekend away. We heard an indigo bunting and some tufted titmice, but otherwise the upper meadow was utterly still, with not so much as a butterfly stirring.

Down in the lower meadow we marvelled over the debris from our May flood still clinging to tree limbs three feet above my head. (Well, I marvelled. I don't know whether Hopeful marvels over anything or how to determine her level of wonder.) If the debris is three feet above my head, and I'm standing in a field ten feet above the level of the creek, then the water must have been...really high. Wish I'd seen it.

A patch of bee balm looked flattened but the chicory is blooming all along the driveway. I know chicory is as common as dirt in disturbed soil, but I love to see their cheery blue flowers brightening up the roadside in midsummer. 

In the high grass along the edge of the meadow I found a little group of Asiatic dayflowers blooming and I wondered why I'd never seen them in that spot before. Several obvious answers suggest themselves: 1. The flood washed them in. 2. I've never walked past that exact spot during the brief time when they're blooming. 3. Our wet spring made the meadow too mushy to mow, and the resident meadow-mower has been splitting his time between home and Jackson and therefore hasn't done as much mowing, which allowed the dayflowers to bloom in the tall grass that would normally have been cut down by now. 

Speaking of Jackson, I enjoyed my first full weekend at the parsonage but it will take some time to get accustomed to being surrounded by neighbors. I can stand at the kitchen sink and look into a half-dozen backyards, and I assume that they can look into mine--and see what? A garden shed, a charcoal grill, a horde of robins feeding in the grass. I've seen few other birds, and I hesitate to hang birdfeeders for fear that they'll provide a buffet for the local feral cat population. At least we'll be close to Lake Katharine and some other notable beauty spots. I expect to make friends with those bigleaf magnolias, and if the price of admission is a few spider webs in the face, that's a price I'm willing to pay.

My bottlebrush buckeye is blooming!

I love the tiny pink anthers at the end of the stamens.

Dead tree supporting wild grapevines.

Tufted titmouse.

Wonder? Marvel? Or something else entirely?

Asiatic dayflower.

Debris in tree.


Wild berries--tiny but delicious


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Moving issues

I've been trying to re-use existing nail-holes to hang pictures on the walls at the new parsonage, but the pictures keep ending up at eye level for NBA basketball players--except the one in the bathroom, which ends up at eye level for a four-year-old.

But if that's the biggest headache this move has caused, I'm not complaining. I have moved houses while eight months pregnant; I have followed a moving truck across the state while driving a Honda Civic carrying two small children, a cat, and a rabbit; and I have moved into houses that had holes in floors, collapsing septic tanks, and a basement full of mold. By comparison, this move is a piece of cake.

That's partly because we don't have to move everything we own, or even most things. One advantage of splitting our stuff between two houses is that both houses feel a little roomier, but a big disadvantage is that we don't have two of everything. We've had to buy a few things, and by "a few" I mean--well, I've lost count. We bought only two pieces of furniture brand new--a bed and a sofa--but everything else is secondhand, including two darling little end tables I picked up at a thrift store for $25 the set. (They remind me of my grandma's house.)

But in addition to the big-ticket items, I keep having to go out and stock up on annoying little doohickeys: dish drainer and dish towels and throw rugs and picture hangers, cleaning products, picture frames, soap dispensers, lamps and welcome mats and placemats and laundry hampers. Do we have an extension cord? Soap dish? Lightbulb?

But things are coming together nicely. We still need to haul a few pieces of furniture over from the other house and I'm still hunting for some things to hang on the walls, but the place is starting to feel more like home. Well, except for the pictures, which might make a basketball player feel at home but just make me feel short. But how do I move the nails if I can't find a hammer?  

And now, here's a challenge: 

This is the current state of the living room. I'm going to an art show next week and hope to pick up some things to hang on the walls and we'll be moving some houseplants over here next week, but I need some help with the fireplace. The fireplace opening is covered with plastic to prevent cool air from rushing out in the summer and in in the winter. It's a shame, because it's otherwise a lovely fireplace, but now I need to find a way to camouflage the white plastic. Hanging fabric? Large planters? Decorative screen? I welcome suggestions.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Julia Baird on brandishing titles like a torch

I remember the first time it happened: I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist's office, flipping through a magazine and trying to ignore the usual daytime television drivel, not exactly dreading my dental work but not much looking forward to it either, when the friendly hygienist opened the door and called for "Dr. Hogue."

Did you hear that? Not "Miss Hogue" or "Ms. Hogue" or "Bev" but "Dr. Hogue." I'm not a fool: living in Appalachia, I know there's no better way to alienate my neighbors than to brandish my academic credentials in public, but on the other hand, it feels good to occasionally receive a little professional respect, even in the dentist's waiting room. 

In today's New York Times, Julia Baird examines what happens when that respect breaks down (read it here).  In "Women, Own Your 'Dr.' Titles," Baird explains, "It had never occurred to me to add 'Ph.D.' to my name on Twitter until I was slammed for mentioning that I had one." Daring to assert her credentials subjected her to online attacks from those who "viewed the degree not as a sign of expertise but as a provocation, a pretension."

Academics were divided in their response to the uproar, "with a horde of women revealing that they, too, had been taunted for using their titles, while many men who had not received such criticism were baffled." She offers examples of the unequal treatment of men's and women's titles in media and academe, but I just sat there nodding, recalling the former administrator who consistently used "Dr." only for male academics, referring to women at every rank as "Professor." Nothing wrong with "Professor," but why the gendered distinction? And then there are the relatives who will introduce my husband as Rev. Hogue and me as just plain old Bev.

I'm happy to be plain old Bev in most settings, so I don't get bent out of shape when the "Dr." gets dropped, but Baird is correct in connecting this lack of professional respect with the long history of disregard for women's voices. This whole conversation harks back to Rebecca Solnit's essay "Men Explain Things to Me," in which she describes an encounter with a man who doubted her expertise on the topic of a book that she had written. "Every woman knows what I'm talking about," writes Solnit:
It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment in the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.
Julia Baird's encounter with online trolls who doubt her expertise is just the next step in this progression. "For centuries," she writes, "the voices of women have been muted, discounted and minimized. Our right to speak has been questioned, our power undermined, our authority mocked....We are repeatedly told to apologize, to shrink, to shut up."

"So don't," she commands, and let's give Dr. Baird the respect of allowing her to have the last word:
You don't need a title to speak. But if you have one, use it. Find your voice, and raise it. Stake your authority, and state it. Don't recoil. Don't back down.
Sometimes authority should be worn lightly. But sometimes it should be brandished like a torch.