Thursday, January 16, 2020

'Snow Joke!'

Cremanthodium cf. principis.
If someone told me that I'd rise to over 16,500' repeatedly in these last few years of my life, I'd say fiddlesticks. These pictures were taken July 9 on Mi La (Mi pass)--our last hike on the truly wonderful trip I took last summer to Southwest China and Tibet. The flowers were spectacular that day--but alas, it had snowed the night before, so our views were shrouded, as it were. Had the day been sunny with no snow, I suspect we would still be up there! This stunning alpine daisy was one of the prizes.
Brasssicaceae sp.
Masses of one of the innumerable alpine cresses of the Himalaya...

Corydalis cf. hendersonii
I guess there are at least fifty if not a hundred yellow corydalis in China and Tibet. I think we're close on this name. I want to grow all of them!
Corydalis sp.
This one was apparently described from this spot: I've not been able to trace the species name, but it must be allied to C. calicola--a similar purple species from Yunnan. Oh to have had a sunny, snowless day!

Lamiophlomis rotata
Of course, we'd seen this cute mint repeatedly in both 2018 and last year--the snow did add a fine touch to the rosette!
Meconopsis horridula
We saw many cousins of this further east--but fun to finally see the true species! Which we've grown successfully in Denver, I should add...
A lotta bull
Yak actually--the white silk bandanas are used rather lavishly (and distressingly) for all manner of ceremonial purposes.

Proof that I didn't lie about the altitude!

All those little dots in the snow you see there are alpine flowers in bloom! It would have been stunning on a sunny day (he repeats pitifully). We were lucky to be there at all!
Pedicularis siphonantha
The gorgeous single flowered pedicularis that grows over a wide swath of the Himalaya and neighboring ranges is one of my favorites!

Pedicularis sp.
Another of the innumerable pedicularids...

And finally a buttercup.

All this well above 16,000': Incredibly, none of 20 of us seemed to have any symptoms of altitude sickness. The trip I'll be leading to Sichuan this coming year won't be nearly this high (and isn't apt to have snow) but it's fun to look back at my last high foray into the Himalaya and hope you will join me for the next: Click on this link: Sichuan in 2020 and scroll down to the description of the trip. Better yet, sign up: I've taken many trips too many places--but the Chinese Himalaya have been summit experiences in every sense of the word! I know you'll love it!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Not just plants...we love animals too!

Ladybugs on Asclepias asperula

I have been accused of having a bit of an obsession with the Plant Kingdom, and since I notice that I may be closing in on a thousand blog postings before too terribly long, I thought it would be only fair to show that I've taken at least a few pictures of creatures in other kingdoms (I'll leave fungi for another blog perhaps)...

Bumblebees on Allium togashii

I haven't gone through my whole image library: I know I have quite a few pics of bees and dozens of butterfly pictures (which will have to constitute another blog post)..

I regret 1) that I didn't take a closeup of these beetles. I believe they're on an umbel (Celeriac perhaps?)

Cochineal on Opuntia spp
A few patches of cochineal are tolerated at Denver Botanic Gardens for the children's education program...

Honeybee on Delosperma 'Granita Orange'
My last insect picture is really a preamble to a sort of apology: I was given a copy of Tallamy's book almost a decade ago. I skimmed through and discounted what has certainly become one of the most popular (and deservedly so) volumes on gardening ever written. I eventually met (and heard) Doug four or five years ago. My initial objections to his philosophy was his discounting exotic flowers I felt categorically. I believe he's mellowed. And I've certainly come to my senses.

Of course Tallamy emphasizes natives, and he should: the theme of the book--namely that current gardening practices (lawn worship, planting only cultivars, excessive use of pesticides) are devastating to insect populations.That we should plant plants that encourage insects and that we should realize that a garden full of insects is a GOOD thing, signifying that it's a healthy garden and one full of "ecological services" a great phrase! Of course, one of the GREATEST lessons his book drives home is that birds need those insects in enormous numbers. If we want birds, we better plant lots of plants that attract them, and especially the insects they need to survive!

Goldfinch with Eremurus robustus in the background
I've been very lucky in recent years to become friends with many birders. A sort of irony, since my ex-wife blamed our marriage for snuffing her birding tendencies! Well--I may not qualify as a birder, but I love birds, and goldfinches are among my favorites. I recently purchased the Birds of Bhutan from Daedalus at a bargain price. I am astonished at the variety of birds there that I'd never heard of--the book is a perfect bathroom accessory by the way (to read I mean). I'd be curious to know if there were a way to measure, but I;m sure Tallamy's book may one day be seen as having impacted the environment sort of the way "Silent Spring" altered use of pesticides--raising awareness around gardening that benefits insects, birds and the planet. Thank you,  Doug!

The goldfinches are worth it...

This immature redtailed hawk swooped within feet of me and snatched one our beloved garter snakes that was basking near me as I weeded my garden a few months ago...

And then the damn bird perched on top of a pine not far from me and began munching down on our pet snake...I even managed a Youtube video of the dastardly act...

Snake on the snow
I have quite a few pictures of our beautiful golden banded garter snakes--but don't want to spook some friends of mine (Matt Mattus you know who you are) with garter snake phobias...

And if you didn't see the video, here's a still of the same thing...I love raptors, but wish they'd stick to our abundant rabbits!

Goshawk at Cherokee Ranch
Apropos of raptors, I have quite a series of pictures of them I've taken over the years at Cherokee Ranch: they often have Raptor rescue staff bringing in their wards to show off when I lead field trips there (a nice bonus when they do that). If you've never been on my Cherokee Ranch hikes you ought to (countless hundreds of people have been on these hikes over the last decade!)

And we see turkeys almost every field trip: I hate to think of how many danged pictures of turkeys I keep taking there...

Golden eagle
I didn't take this picture, my friend Lynn Wilcockson did on one of our field trips...he's one of those birding friends I mentooned...

Himalayan pika on Serkyem La in Tibet
This next series was incredibly fortunate: about ten of us accidentally semi-circled a pika den on a pass in Tibet. The pika emerged from its hole and everywhere it looked there were people. It was stunned and spent long enough wondering what to do that we were able to get some ridiculously closeup shots!

Ironic I've never gotten this close to our abundant Rocky Mountain pikas! Oh yes, I remember now I did--on Beartooth Pass or the Bighorns. I must find that picture and add it one day for comparison purposes!

Eventually it saw an escape route and skedaddled!

And finally last April my beloved first cousin Eleni drove me to Aegina--an island not too far from Athens that I'd wanted to visit for years and years: on our way back we enjoyed the sunset from the ferry at the end of a magical day. I can assure you this seagull was not named Jonathan Livingston, but I was delighted to have captured this shot. Animals are very good. And life is precious. Please vote.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Naked lyres of the wind: wintry cottonwoods along the OTHER Highline.

Few things are more ubiquitous and ignored in Denver than cottonwoods and junipers. Like your average "Joe" I ignored them much of my life, but gradually, I have come to realize that few things are more noble and magnificent than these two often maligned or beings that are simply unobserved.

This is a rather different post than most I have done:  Jan and I went on a walk a short distance from our house last Sunday: a very balmy day and the sun shone brilliantly. We walked on the Highline--not Piet Oudolf's much sung railroad garden in Manhattan, but the canal that nurtured Denver's existence and has been immortalized in Robert Michael Pyle's masterpiece The Thunder Tree.

The cottonwoods are beautiful any time of year, of course--as Antonio Machado so eloquently sings about them in his incomparable poem I've copied and translated at the end of this blog  But I especially love them in winter when they're "lyres of wind" .

The Highline canal snakes an enormous distance through Denver (71 miles according to Denver Water's webpage about the canal..I imagine there must be dozens cottonwoods growing along every mile of this canal: conservatively I'd guess at least a thousand? Since political conservatism has pretty much lost all vestige of meaning and integrity in the last three years, I underscore that by CONSERVATISM I don't mean the utterly debauched subspecies of predatory warlordism that characterizes one of the two main American political parties (I leave it to you to guess which one I mean). Who ever dreamed that the "left wing" party would become the bastion of genuine conservationism and conservatism and the other party shills of a third rate Communist regime...but I digress...(or perhaps I don't?)

These sun bleached images photographed on January 5, on a somewhat blustery afternoon on my phone can't really convey the enormous majesty of these trees, that seem to me to be frozen in a sort of majestic ballet.

On and on they go, one lovelier than the next--no two really alike...we all notice and love the elegant vase shaped American elm...but are not our Plains cottonwoods have as elegant of vase forms in my opinion: they just haven't been acknowledged!  (By the way, I refuse to lump these into Populus deltoides--a fine tree too, perhaps, but nowhere nearly as elegant as our Plains behemoths). For me, these are forever Populus sargentii, named for America's preeminent tree scholar with the Patrician Bostonian surname.

Just as every human being is distinct (even and perhaps especially twins!) I am intrigued and how different each old Cottonwood appears--some for scrunched up like the one above...

Others more spread out: some looking dark and others shining white...the more you look the more distinctive they become. I find it intriguing that a Poet of the Generation of '98 in Spain has so beautifully captured the magic of these cottonwoods (the poem at the bottom of this blog which I've translated literally) but Antonio Machado has described in his Castilian landscape poems the American Western landscape better than any American in English.

Let's not dwell on the truncated Cottonwoods: all of these, by the way, are dead trees standing. Not dead yet, but all expected to die slow deaths since Denver Water will no longer run water in the canal. We will soon have very sunny canal banks (and have to spend a lot of public money removing dead trees)...

Perhaps it's not an accident that Machado's poetry resonates for me on so many levels: like his fellow philosophers, novelists and poets who produced a second Renaissance of Spanish Literature in the  decades after Spain lost her last vestige of empire to American imperialism in 1898, we are also living in the twilight dusk of the American Imperium. The desperate failure of America's hawk-like world domination where so often the CIA and Big Business combined to undermine democracies around the world for our short term economic interests. Spain's Dream of Empire reached its nadir with Francisco Franco's fascist victory where the worst elements of the Catholic church joined with the "señoritos" (the rural reactionary plutocracy) and defeated the vastly more popular Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. The parallels with contemporary American politics are striking (albeit instead of the Catholic church we're talking the marriage of Fundamental Christians and rural America). Francisco Franco (admittedly a fascist and repressive and ruthless as he was) somehow compares favorably to America's current oligarchy in many ways. Perhaps because he was not so flamboyantly gross and sleazy on the surface as our own señorito naranjo. Franco's stultifying regime lasted nearly four decades before giving away to the much more democratic and socialist Spain of today. Let's hope it doesn't take so long here! Boy did I digress THAT time! (Or maybe I didn't?)

The bark of cottonwoods is thick and striking..

Jan along a fairly typical Highline cottonwood. They get much bigger than this! (The tree, not Jan).

(Selection from "Campos de Soria" by Antonio Machado ["The fields of Soria"])

He vuelto a ver los álamos dorados,                            I have returned to see the golden cottonwoods
álamos del camino en la ribera                                    Cottonwoods of the road along the bank
del Duero, entre San Polo y San Saturio,                    Of the Duero, between San Polo and San Saturio
tras las murallas viejas                                                 Across from the ancient walls
de Soria —barbacana                                                   Of Soria--the graybeard
hacia Aragón, en castellana tierra—                            Towards Aragon, in the Castilian land.
Estos chopos del río, que acompañan                          These poplars of the river which accompany
con el sonido de sus hojas secas                                   With the sound of their dry leaves
el son del agua, cuando el viento sopla,                       The ring of water when the wind is stirring
tienen en sus cortezas                                                   They have upon their trunks
grabadas iniciales que son nombres                             Engraved initials which are names
de enamorados, cifras que son fechas.                          Of lovers and numbers which are dates.
¡Álamos del amor que ayer tuvisteis                            Cottonwoods of love! that yesterday
de ruiseñores vuestras ramas llenas;                             Had your branches filled with nightingales
álamos que seréis mañana liras                                     Cottonwoods! That tomorrow will be lyres
del viento perfumado en primavera;                             Of the wind perfumed with Spring!
álamos del amor cerca del agua                                    Cottonwoods of love near the water
que corre y pasa y sueña,                                              Which runs and flows and dreams.
álamos de las márgenes del Duero,                               Cottonwoods along the margins of the Duero
conmigo vais, mi corazón os lleva!                              You shall go with me, my heart will take 
                                                                                       you with me!
Antonio Machado

Sunday, January 5, 2020

A problem with books...

PLEASE NOTE:  As you scroll down, all the books I discuss are linked to Amazon where you can read more about them and see short reviews. Should you choose to purchase them, may I suggest you use Amazon smile? Click on that and you'll read more about it--a painless way to contribute to a non-profit substantially. May I recommend doing so on behalf of the North American Rock Garden Society? That's what I've done--and it does add up!

 Most readers are like serial killers, they do each book at a time: I hesitate to characterize my reading habits in the same metaphorical vein. Let's just say that I am more of a browser, or shall we say eclectic reader. I have books in every room I'm nibbling through. Some don't keep my attention and are eventually exiled to the bookcase (one of several dozen I should add). Others--the compelling ones--migrate to next to my armchair or the bed stand where they are consumed more systematically. What Linnaeus Saw was just a book. Not scholarly, written in the rather glib, journalistic style I find somewhat annoying ordinarily, Carl Von Linne cuts such a fantastic figure and looms so largely in the world of Taxonomy that I could hardly put it down. I think I finished it on my flight to California  on December 26.

Just in case, I packed along a few other books which I launched into next. I'm pretty sure I picked this up at a thrift store (which I learned to visit from time to time when bronze was  less fashionable and I could find antique Middle Eastern platters (I have accumulated many dozen of these a decade ago--but people have gotten wiser and keep them nowadays). E.O. Wilson is the premier scientist in America (in my opinion) and I have a shelf full of his works already: but a NOVEL? Of course I scarfed it up, and began reading it...and dang it! It's very readable...and by my bed stand. I'm about half way through....

But in addition to buying books at thrifts (and, oh yes, bookstores...) I am a fan of Daedalus Books, a discount mail order company that consistently offers books I can't resist. I arrived home from California to a veritable cornucopia of titles that were new to me and utterly irresistible. I already have a few William Morris title, but this Exhibition publication is so lavishly illustrated, annotated, indexed, with article after article revealing the enormous complexity, subtlety and power of this great artist I started reading and couldn't stop...for a while anyway...

Also packed in that box was a copy of this updated edition of Temple Grandin's fantastic depiction of the nature of her autism, I find her work to be incredibly inspiring--and have been gradually collecting her books. This one is a page turner if there ever was one. now have several books by my arm chair, all whimpering and demanding my eye-time: meanwhile, it's toasty warm outside: I should be cleaning up the garden. And Jan wants to see a movie! Horrors.

And now the true confession time arrives: this HAD been by my bed for several weeks. I'd made excellent progress and was well into the amazing life of this most complex and alluring of historic figures (man or woman). I'm a big fan of Stacy's other books--and I'm an even bigger fan of Cleopatra: I reached the part where the pale, slender, wan Octavian is gathering his forces that will ultimately destroy Marc Antony--and in the end Cleo. I distracted myself by downloading E.M Forster's Alexandria from Guetenburg (click on the title and you can do the same) which made me want to revisit Lawrence Durrell's Quartet and read Cavafy again... But thankfully, Linnaeus intervened and Stacy's tome was quietly shelved before the bloody end....damn Augustus!

But then yesterday, while doing errands all over town, I just HAPPENED to drop in on a new Arc (our local thrift store) and Lo! and Behold! what should I find but Stacy's most recent book...a distressingly fat one and every page I open draws my eyes like iron filings to a magnet.

You can have your Hulu, your Netflicks, your Cable T.V. and all the Satellite and Rabbit-ears in the world. I have a Kindle (which I find annoying)--none of these have the least appeal to me.

Hand me a tome written with lucidity and a decent font, and I'm a goner. Long live the book!

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