Wednesday, July 08, 2009
The insects come for our intrepid blogger and his husband.
Now that we’ve been in the house a little over a full year, some things in nature are restoring themselves to the way it was before the upheaval of construction, and others are cropping up for the first time, taking advantage of the altered conditions.
We're getting big colonies of this fungus, popularly called Indian Pipes. They're very pretty, translucent and kind of ghostly--altogether quite lovely.
We have two varieties of the herb thyme. This one has gone wild in the heavy rains and is now flowering. The flavor in a salad or stew is unbelievably good.
These tall and far from unattractive flower spikes are coming up well over five feet tall all over the property where we haven’t established special plantings. They were never a feature of the woods before we cleared a large amount of the land for the construction, but now they dominate and we don’t mind at all. They prevent far less attractive weeds from growing and they’re wonderfully sculptural. Their name is woolly [something beginning with m] which I’ve heard several times but the m word somehow doesn’t stick with me. Perhaps some of you will know (Dr. T?)
Some very nice birds are frequenting our new garden (OK, we’re shamelessly bribing them by hanging suet on the trees and they love it). We have a pair of nuthatches who are wonderful fun to watch as they can walk up the tree upright, then turn around and walk back down upside down. This one, courtesy of The Nature Group, is holding on sideways.
We also now have a number of woodpeckers in two varieties: downy and hairy, the two varieties looking remarkably similar except the hairy woodpecker is quite a bit bigger bird. I’ve heard the barred owls deep in the night and this morning the dawn chorus was started by a wood lark with its haunting, clear sweet cry, like running a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass and getting the crystal to ring. The flycatchers who raised a brood in a nest under our bridge have now fledged them out and the nest is vacant. In the afternoon, one or the other of our red tail hawks can be seen soaring above the house, and there are a lot of others whose songs we haven’t identified yet.
But it's nature and it's not all benign. We were putting plants in a week or so ago during a lull in the rain and heard a chilling sound not very far into the woods on the east of the property. It was a raspy, high-pitched cry and I immediately thought of a fisher cat. Combat soon broke out as a second animal voice started screaming in fear and, eventually, pain. At one point there was a break in the fight--the victim having apparently broken away, I saw one or two dark forms racing downhill through the underbrush--followed by sounds of capture and kill. Then an eerie silence.
We started getting big ants in the house again, so I called the exterminator. The night before he came, we were both exhausted from a lot of physical work--we'd had a rare sunny and beautiful day--so we decided to soak in the hot tub. When we pulled the cover, we saw where the ants were massing. Hundreds of them had moved into the tub, their larvae filling two wells in the plastic rim where controls are located. Many of them were swimming on top of the water, others swarmed everywhere. Fritz ran into the house for ant spray and we cleaned things up as best we could.
While all this was going on we were hit by clouds of mosquitoes, a bumper crop pumped out by any little pool of standing water left anywhere by the incessant rain. We leapt into the tub and got submerged as quickly as possible but they swarmed around our heads. We did 20 minutes and then got out, covered up and got back into the house ASAP.
Here are the last of the Denver Museum of Art photos. There isn't much of a theme to my Museum pictures--I just shot anything that caught my attention and there was a fair amount of it.
This Chinese wooden horse dates from early in the Han Dynasty--about 200BC. A little over three feet high, the carving of its head and face was extraordinarily expressive.
A horse of a different color--one of Deborah Butterfield's many horses fashioned out of found objects and materials. In mid-August we should see three of her most famous at Portland, Oregon's airport when we arrive to meet my first grandchild who is due very late this month or early next.
In the American West galleries, this striking portrait of a Native-American woman dominated everything around it.
Afternoon tea meets Rube Goldberg. A mechanized art deco tea pot in sterling silver.
In the Spanish-American gallery, a contemporary madonna and child looks back at cultural stereotypes and has a lot of fun doing so.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Plant with Soft, Fuzzy Leaves Treats Coughs and Sinus Congestion
© Violet Snow
Nov 26, 2007
Mullein basal rosette, Violet Snow
Mullein is an easy plant to identify, with its towering flower stalks and thick leaves like flannel that stay green even in winter.
* Growth Habits
It’s one of the first plants to appear on bulldozed soil or otherwise disturbed ground, able to survive on minimal nutrition in hot, dry, rocky conditions. Mullein (Latin name: Verbascum thapsus) is a biennial, a plant with a two-year life cycle. It begins as a ground-hugging basal rosette of thick, fuzzy, oval, toothless leaves, soft to the touch. These leaves do not die back in winter but remain green even under the snow.
Midway through the second year of its life, the plant sends up a flower stalk, usually less than an inch in diameter, but strong enough to grow, in some cases, over ten feet high. The stalk bears sturdy, bright yellow, five-petalled flowers, closely packed along the upper part of the stem. In autumn they are followed by seeds held in woody, brown, five-part pods. The plant then dies, leaving behind the tall, thin stalks to distribute seeds that will start the next generation.
* Medicinal Uses
Leaves taken from the basal rosettes can be dried for tea or steeped in brandy or vodka to make tincture, useful for treating dry coughs or coughs that deeply wrack the entire body. The tea and tincture have also been used to treat asthma. Some people have found that inhaling the smoke from burning dried mullein leaves can halt an asthmatic attack, causing a relaxation of the respiratory muscles whose spasms prevent breathing during an attack.
The flowers, infused with garlic in olive oil, are employed as ear drops to relieve pain and heal middle ear infections.
Mullein leaf steam inhalation is helpful in cases of sinus congestion. Although dried leaves can be used, fresh ones are more effective, so the winter persistence of the plant is of great service. Pick a smallish leaf near the center of the rosette, tear it up, and simmer it in a covered pot for a few minutes. Bring to a full boil, remove it from the heat, and inhale the steam with a towel over the head. This treatment breaks up congestion, while soothing and toning the mucous membranes.
On another botanical note, despite their pale, fleshy structure, Indian pipes are not a fungus. They are a true vascular plant. Depending on which taxonomy is currently in vogue, they are placed in the same family as blueberries. They produce no chlorophyll. They extract nutrients from decaying vegetation, which makes them saprophytes.