Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Misty Magic

I believe ProfessorRoush has mentioned it before, but the monotone beige of the autumn Flint Hills comes completely alive when rain or mist dampens the tall grasses.  Without moisture, the grasses are an uninspiring shaggy carpet of light browns and tans, some perhaps rarely displaying a dusky red undertone.  If the heavens bestow a mild drizzle, however, or perhaps engulf the land beneath a damp cold mist, the prairie becomes a sea of fall colors, reds, golds and yellows woven into a tapestry of summer's bountiful growth.

I came back from a day trip to Nebraska last evening, fighting mist and fog over the last thirty miles of backroads, to find my little corner of prairie transformed into a quiet paradise of colored foliage studded with clear aqueous gemstones.  The mist imposed a sense of isolation and dampened all sounds from the adjacent roads and city as well as raising a veil to screen out the view of other houses on my horizon, leaving my garden as an oasis within Eden.  Some might label the silent misty cloak as an ominous warning of apocalypse, but I felt only peace and calm draped across the land.

The evening mist also provided me a victory of sorts.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush finally conceded that the unmown prairie grass on the rear-facing slope behind the house might have some redeeming qualities beyond her fears of a snake-infested meadow.  I made sure to get a firm verbal commitment of support for my laissez faire approach to the landscape, but I prudently decided not to push my luck with a request for her surrender in writing. Mrs. ProfessorRoush was, in fact, madly snapping close-up photos of the grasses, presumably with the goal of adding them to her already voluminous Facebook page.  In unusual fashion, she was even squatting at eye level with the foliage, capturing a much broader and more artistic view of my meager gardening efforts than she normally strives for.  Oh my, vindication and validation are such sweet wines to the gardener's palette!

My own quick Iphone capture in the growing dusk resulted in the photo displayed above.  There was barely enough light left to trigger the digital pixels, but I found that I liked the blurring effect that the dim light added to the mist.  This is the Kansas prairie, untouched and unsullied by man, carrying all these harvest hues now exposed into winter.  I slept soundly on the prismatic prairie last night, wrapped in a silent blanket of inner peace, separated and protected by a misty curtain against the waves of civilization.    

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Old Daisy, Old Friend

I'm far off my gardening track here, but I've been spending time with an old friend and thought I should introduce him to the rest of you.  I haven't seen him in years, decades actually, until recently, but he was a companion as tried and true blue as I ever had, and I noticed a few weeks back that the years haven't been kind to him.  Like many of us in our late 40's and 50's, he's become worn and dented in spots, squeaking here and there, missing some original parts, and he seems a little short of breath.  I write, of course, about my childhood BB gun, a Daisy Model 99 Target Model.  It's been banished to the basement for far too many years and I decided it might appreciate a little sprucing up and tender loving care in return for providing some of the best days of my childhood.

Daisy Model 99 target airgun, scarred, rusted, and missing the peep sight and the stock medallion.

Stock closeup, missing medallion
It seems horrible now, in these ecologically-minded times, to speak of it, but this old Daisy and I are responsible for deaths of hundreds of birds in the late 1960's.  "Murderer!"  "Genocidal Maniac!"  I hear now the accusations of my adult conscience, even while my child-like subconscious tries to console me. "They were only sparrows."  "None of them were on the Endangered List."  In my defense, the slaughter was carried out with my mother's urging and support, an excuse that seems a little lame after Anthony Perkin's portrayal of Norman Bates has become such a classic and well-known movie character.  You see, our farmhouse was surrounded by mature Silver Maples, thick shelter where hundreds of sparrows roosted every night, and Mom hated them and she hated the bird poop on the walkways and patios, the never-ending stream of goop coming from the trees.   Mom's solution was to provide her eight year old son with a BB gun, an infinite supply of  BB's, and a clear order not to shoot at the windows of the house or barns.  Today she'd probably be locked up for contributing to the delinquency of a child just for providing the gun.

The medallion is back!  And how nice the natural stock looks!
So shoot we did, the innocent rifle, and I, the killer ape-child, for hours on end.   Like many young boys of that era, I was, for a time, John Wayne and Davy Crockett and Teddy Roosevelt, all rolled up into the body of a skinny child of single-digit age.  Today's children know the mayhem of video games and exploding zombies.  I knew only the thrill of the hunt and the fleeting guilt inspired by the dead sparrow at my feet.  My poorly-developed accuracy was not really much of a threat to any given individual bird, but the Law of Averages eventually provided a substantial body count for my mother to praise.  I wasn't malicious either and I never shot at friends or pets or cars.   Contrary to the fears of MAIG mayors and hand-wringing psychologists, neither my BB gun nor my love of Bugs Bunny cartoons made me into a serial killer or homicidal maniac.  To my knowledge, the only lasting effect from the carnage is that I feel guilty every time I hear the classic hymn "His Eye Is On The Sparrow."

Much better!
 Anyway, over the past few weeks I've cleaned up the rust, sanded and stained the stock, put on a new peep sight, and replaced the inner seals on my old pal, and it now shoots as good as new.  I've got a little work left to do on the bluing.  You would think that it would be hard to find parts for a 30 year old airgun, but true to the Internet's function of connecting people with similar interests, I've found there are a number of individuals who specialize in these old rifles.  One phone call to Baker Airguns in Ohio and, after personal attention from the owner, I had the proper parts and a manual and the tools to do a bit of minor gunsmithing.  It's shiny now, and functional, and whole again, and if I can't fix up my own body as well as I did this airgun, at least I can pretend to be young at heart with it.  I promise that I will only shoot paper targets with it from here on out. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Ding and Dong

Everyone, I'd like you to meet Ding (on the right) and Dong (on the left).  They've come up for a treat, a bit of apple or carrot will do if you're packing some, but if your pockets are empty they'll demand that you run up to the house for some tasty donkey morsels.

I seem to have "inherited" this pair of donkeys by way of a neighbor.  They came from a friend of my  neighbor and enjoyed an extended vacation on our joint pastures this summer.  Their owner happened to mention that he was tired of them and would be happy to give them away if we wanted them.  They're friendly and kind of fun to have around, so we're trying them out for the winter.  If nothing else, they have been a source of entertainment in the middle of the night when they decide to bray and wake up the neighborhood.

Now, it's true that I'm a veterinarian by trade, and in my early pre-surgical specialty years I treated all manner of domestic animals, but horses have never been my thing.  That stems from being bucked off an insufferable Shetland during my first ride at age 7.  I've never rode a horse since and don't trust any of them.  Donkeys, however, are quite sociable animals; you can't have just one donkey because a single donkey will die of loneliness.  Two will thrive together and this pair are as gentle as lambs; well, except when they nip at my fingers while grabbing a piece of apple.  They're both around 20 years old, late middle-aged as it were. Ding is a female and Dong is a male.  You can remember which is which if you remember that my bawdy neighbor calls the male Long Dong for a reason that I can't elaborate for you on a PG-13 blog.

Their previous owner just left them alone to fend for themselves on the prairie the past few years, not even worrying about how they'd get water, but I'm going to make a place for them in the new barn and put a tank in with a warmer.  Besides the quiet companionship and the excuse to slip away from Mrs. ProfessorRoush, I'm looking on this pair as a factory of sorts.  Donkeys, you see, have the lovable habit of pooping in the same place each time, creating a handy pile for the occasional rose fanatic to gather easily.  Already, down in my pasture, is a gold mine growing day by day.  Yes, I think the donkeys and I are going to get along just fine.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Forgotten Surprises

If there are, perhaps, any blessings at all to old age and fading memory, one must consider that life is often lightened by the sudden reminders of lost memories.  I had such a moment yesterday, during my "First Frost Chores" day, when the Crocus sp. pictured here decided to jump up and down to capture my attention.  What a delightful surprise to find such an elfin white beauty peeping up from among the columbines, just as one is mourning the loss of so many of summer's flowers.  On a Gulliver to Lilliput level, that bright orange pollen sprinkled on the translucent white background leaves me spellbound.

I hadn't the slightest idea where I obtained these, when I planted them, or how long they'd been there beyond a vague recollection of thinking they would be a nice addition to my autumn garden.  They are not native in Kansas, however, so I'm choosing to blame my memory rather than proclaim a botanical miracle.    In fact, when I first saw them, Crocus autumnale leapt into my mind as the most likely identification, probably because of the connection of autumn and autumnale within my rudimentary garden-gained Latin.  I knew of another autumn blooming crocus, Crocus sativus, but I was betting on ProfessorRoush's scientific peculiarities, and I felt that I would have been more likely to plant C. autumnale, the source of the poly-ploid-inducing botanical agent colchicine, rather than C. sativus, the source of cooking saffron.  In other words, my curious mind would likely chose a mutative toxin over a cooking spice for my garden.   I was thinking, of course, of how fun it would be to make a few of my own tetraploid daylilies.

This episode proves, however, why you should keep good garden records and why the mysteries of senior memory loss are so frustrating.  While I have no trouble recalling the scientific names and blooming characteristics of a pair of obscure autumn-blooming crocuses, I was wrong on both counts and my written notes inform me that I planted Crocus speciosus at these exact spots in 2004.  C. speciosus is a light lilac crocus native to Turkey that does, in fact, match the appearance of these delicately veined blooms better than the fictitious crocuses of my memory.  This light specimen is probably the white cultivar 'Albus'.   The Latin, speciosus, means "showy" or "beautiful", and yes, I suppose it is. 

Somewhere in the back of my mind, and contrary to my written notes, I still have an inkling that there are a few pink C. autumnale planted at the west corner of my house.  They may have been shaded out by larger surrounding plants, but I'm going to look for them soon, if only to prove to myself that my memory isn't totally slipping into oblivion.  On the other hand, if these are the surprises that my fifth decade brings, then I'm really looking forward to my nineties when the minute-to-minute astonishments of discovering again the existence of airplanes, computers, and television will really keep things exciting.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fall's First Frost

Gardeners, I give you....Frost.  These are the sights that greeted the risen sun in my garden this morning; frost on the persicaria, frost on the buffalograss and frost to the horizon.  Yesterday's weather was supposed to be drizzly and cold, with a predicted high of 45F, but the particular weatherperson who made that prediction was a little bit wrong.  A little bit wrong like the engineer who said the Titanic was unsinkable. We actually had snow flurries most of yesterday morning, melting as fast as the flakes hit the ground, but snow nonetheless.  And yesterday afternoon, the high reached only 37F, eight degrees off the prediction and cooling already as I came home from work.  Couple that with a clear, cloudless night and this morning's thermometer showed 30F when I rose.

What does it mean, this first frost of Fall?  The hoarfrost was not a surprise and actually right on time, inevitable and almost obedient to the average frost date, October 15th, for this part of Kansas.  I've been waiting patiently for this day.  To ProfessorRoush, it meant that I could finally chop off the errant foxtail grasses who were trying to push that last seed out before winter and that I could safely start to prepare the lawn mower for spring; drain the oil, change the filters, and clean the deck.  It meant that I could proceed with planting those daffodil bulbs that have been biding time in the garage for the past few weeks.  It meant that I could mow off the peonies, and move some infant volunteer redbuds from an unwanted spot to their secret garden rendezvous.  It provided the impetus to gather the ornamental gourds and the birdhouse gourds from the vegetable garden and move them to a drying place.  All these things and more I accomplished today, on a beautiful, bright, crisp Saturday afternoon.

The first frost also brings death and sorrow.  The end of the roses draws nigh, buds caught napping by winter's cold breath.  Some, rescued by the shears, will yet open indoors, but many will blacken and wilt, unborn.  The leaves on maples and oaks previously dawdled, slowly changing from dark green to light, but now they will rush into color, pulling the precious sugar back to their roots.  I can almost hear them change now, murmuring in my subconscious, unseen brushes of reds and yellows and browns  working their magic minute to minute.  Blue-toned buffalograss turns tan and hibernates, waiting beneath the earth for summer's warm rays.  Now only straw protects earth from the footprints of the beasts, and the beasts eat the dead grass, the carbon of life's recent fires.  The garden withdraws beneath the earth and the gardener retreats inside.  We plan, and then we await last frost, the last gasp of winter.  In the river of time, we know that last frost will come again just as surely as did the first frost this morning.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Silver Shadows Anniversary

'Silver Shadows'
The appropriate topic I've picked for tonight, in an effort to interrupt my extended absence from blogging and my concentration on the more serious aspects of life, is a brief introduction for a brave young rose that is steadfastly blooming in defiance of the cooler temperatures moving in on my Flint Hills environment.

That brave rose is a Griffith Buck rose introduced in 1984, a beauty aptly named 'Silver Shadows'.   She is another of my new own-root children this year and so far this summer I've been pleased by her performance.  'Silver Shadows' is officially a mauve or mauve blend Hybrid Tea of classic double form and carrying 3" blossoms with a nice moderate fragrance of citrus overtones.  Now, in early autumn, I can see the mauve tones more clearly, but at the height of summer, this rose was a definite bridal silver, never bleaching to white no matter how hot the sun shone down on it. 

My 'Silver Shadows' only made it to about 18 inches tall this summer, but at maturity, I've read that she should reach four feet tall and she has an ARS garden rating of 7.2.  She managed to thrill me with about 4 bloom flushes during her first summer, with the latest flush the most full of the season so far (15 blooms on her small frame today!) and she is pretty healthy, with a little blackspot amounting to about 25% of the leaves at the end of the season.  As a mauve, she never gets as blue as the Buck rose 'Blue Skies', but she's much healthier than 'Blue Skies' in my garden and her bridal silver tones are unique in the rose world.

In the opening to this blog entry, when I mentioned that 'Silver Shadows' was an appropriate topic for tonight, I was alluding to the fact that tomorrow is my 31st wedding anniversary; the 31st anniversary of the day that Mrs. ProfessorRoush took a bold step down the aisle toward a rosy future with this eccentric blogging gardener.  As near as my failing memory allows, I think the roses at our wedding were white and pink, but Sweetie, I promise here and now that I'll still grow 'Silver Shadows' for our 50th.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shutdown Absurdity

Friends, in his own opinion, ProfessorRoush has done an exceptional job at Garden Musings, avoiding any mention of politics here over the now 3+ years I've blogged.  Only those who know my tendency to rant over seemingly minute issues can fathom what a struggle that has been, but I'm going to make an exception today.  The dam has broken.  The die is cast.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  The....oh, you know what I mean.

Last night, I was at a Riley County Extension Board meeting and the local Horticultural agent reported that he and the Ag agent had recently seen a new "weed", Tragia sp. and had visited the plant experts at K-State to identify it.  Now, Tragia, also known as NoseBurn,  is not new, since two species have been reported in Kansas, but it's fairly rare and I hadn't seen it before either.  In fact, it's not described at, my go-to Kansas native plant site.

So I pulled out my trusty I-phone and went to, where, to my surprise, I received the following message:

My Fellow Gardeners, that is way beyond absolutely ridiculous. It tells me clearly that the bureaucrats are playing games.  I'm in a fortunate place in my life, not old enough for Social Security or Medicare, not directly dependent on the Federal government for income, and not planning any trips presently to a National Park.  So I've been personally unaffected by the "Shutdown" and as long as the military and senior citizens get paid, I have enough of a Libertarian streak that I'm happy for the respite from government.   I was a little aggravated yesterday over the news of shutdown of the WWII memorial; I mean, the place is for walking around, do we have to barricade it off?  But to shut down a running informational website?  I understand that the information may not be immediately updated, but I'm sure that I can manage without the absolute latest information on a botanical specimen.  I suppose someone might offer the feeble explanation that no one is around to make sure Server #2115 doesn't overheat and subsequently burn down Washington, but the USDA Plants database isn't the only thing on those servers and I suspect those computer technicians are on the "critical" list of personnel anyway.

Recognize that I'm not pointing a specific finger here.  Blame the Democratic Senators, blame the Tea Party if you want, but they are all representing the people who elected them and we got what we asked for;  stalemate, which is almost as good as not having a government.  Shutting the USDA Plants database down, however, is nothing but a political ploy.  A pox on both their Houses.


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