The Herbert West Series blog header, blue, purple, and pink with Mercurius symbol

November Novel #2

In November 2000, I started writing the first novel of what would become the Herbert West Series. This November, I have set myself a goal to finish writing a collection of stories I intend to publish in 2020. Call it my own version of NaNoWriMo. So, I’ve scheduled posts for the next four weeks featuring each of the four books of the series. Oh, and November 7th was Herbert West’s 133rd birthday!

Next comes Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey

Once, he was Herbert West, superlative surgeon and revivifier of the dead. Now he’s lost his reputation, his country and his name. Rebuilding his life as a country doctor on Bellefleur Island, he struggles with doubts, emotional entanglements and terrible memories of the Great War. Above all, he must forge a new relationship with his old adversary – death – and negotiate with a new one – love.

When I finished writing The Friendship of Mortals, I couldn’t let go of the story. As one of the reviews I quoted says, it ends with something like a cliffhanger. I also decided to move the action to my part of the world — the west coast of Canada, specifically the Gulf Islands. I invented a fictional island and people to live on it, and sent Herbert West (under an assumed name) on a long journey to that destination. As other reviews (see below) point out, this novel is about relationships and personal choices, rather than the supernatural.

The novel has two narrators, Andre Boudreau and Margaret Bellgarde. Here is an excerpt from each of them.


I don’t have memories of my childhood. My first memories are of blackness. I came out of blackness. I was a very small thing, a little spark in the blackness. That was all, for a long time.

Then I began to see. Only for short moments, like when there’s lightning at night. Except it was slow lightning. I’d open my eyes and see things, but I didn’t know what they were. Now I think they were the roof of a tent, the inside of a train, the ceiling of some building. A face. Another face. Faces coming and going. Sometimes I heard groans, screams, someone praying in words I couldn’t understand. Maybe it was me. I couldn’t feel anything, though. There was no pain. I wasn’t even cold. Then the darkness again, for I don’t know how long. It wasn’t really me who saw and heard these things, just a little part of me acting like a scout for the rest, which was back in the blackness, waiting for the scout to report so it could decide what to do next.

There was one picture clearer than the rest – I saw the angel of death standing before me. He was beautiful and terrible – all white and silver, with eyes like ice. He looked at me for a long time and said, “No. Not this one. He’s already dead.” So I thought, “There’s no need to hold on anymore,” and let myself slide back into the blackness. As I went I said goodbye to everything – my childhood, family, comrades, my newly hatched young man’s ambitions and lusts. I wasn’t going to go back to New Brunswick after the war to show them how things worked in the big world. Goodbye, everyone. Goodbye Maman, Papa, Nicholas, Michel, Roger, Paulette, Marguerite, sweet little Louise. Goodbye, Grassadoo, goodbye Andre. Short but sweet, it was. Now it’s all gone.

I don’t know how long it lasted. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But it was nothing. There was no “I” any more. It’s like trying to think of what there was, before there was anything. Before God made the world there was nothing, they say. But there was –  No, nothing. My mind can’t think this thing. So I say only: there was nothing.

Then, my first new memory. It was only a feeling. Hot, like fire. Fire was running all through me. I was a man made of fire and heat, my shape burning a hole in the nothing. A red mist swirled through my head and I could feel my heart pumping. No, being pumped, by something outside me. It was like a machine had taken over and was running me, running too hard and hot and jerky. It felt dangerous. It felt wrong. It was worse than dying. I was terribly afraid. Maybe I was in Hell and this would go on forever.

Then I opened my eyes. No, that wasn’t it. My eyes were opened, like somebody pulled a string. Light stabbed into my head, and the pain it made joined the heat in my body. I saw the angel again and thought, “I must be in Heaven. But why does everything hurt, and why am I so afraid?”

He was different now, not like the death angel I saw before. He was white and golden now. There was a brightness behind his head, and his strange bright eyes seemed to look right into my soul. I was still afraid, but I could feel his hands touching me, cooling the heat in my body. Then I was in a river, moving faster and faster. Was I going to drown? I didn’t care any more. It was too much trouble to care. I closed my eyes and gave up. If the angel wanted to, he would save me. If not, it didn’t matter.


The first time I saw him I thought he was my husband. Which was absurd, of course, because by then Richard had been dead for nearly ten years – Richard Bellgarde, the man I married, who brought me to Bellefleur. But the evening before I had seen a perfect little silver crescent moon floating over the house – just like the one over the old London houses the night we met. So an unthinking part of me must have expected to see Richard as well.

That day in April of 1926, when the Captain came back from Victoria, I was on the dock, along with Joe the handyman. A couple of men from the farm were there too, and the usual collection of boys who should have been in school, but had escaped early to hang around the dock in case something interesting happened.

As the launch came closer, I could distinguish the four men aboard – Todd at the wheel as usual, and the Captain close by him. He rarely steered a boat, but was generally ‘on the bridge,’ a hold-over from his seafaring days. A little apart from them were a short, dark-haired fellow and – it’s Richard! I thought, even though I knew that was impossible. But for a moment there was such a resemblance – the way he held his head, his bright hair ruffled by the breeze. Almost I could see the smile in his eyes, the one he saved for me alone.

These notions vanished in the time it took to dock the launch and make her fast. I could see then that any resemblance between Francis Dexter and my dead husband was a fleeting and illusory one. Dexter was rather short, not very much taller than I. As he and the Captain approached me, I thought that he was quite young, not much over thirty. His face had a sculptured fineness that created an impression of youth and delicacy.

But there was nothing delicate about the way he gripped my hand, after a brief awkward moment when it seemed he was about to offer his left but changed quickly to his right. His eyes looked straight into mine for a few seconds that banished forever any idea of a resemblance to Richard. For they were grey eyes, not blue, a strange light colour I found disconcerting, even as I was charmed by the contrast of long dark lashes and finely drawn brows. If he reminded me of anyone, it was my son Alex, who has a way of looking at me sometimes that seems to go beyond the eyes and finds a way straight into my unspoken thoughts. This man had the same sort of gaze.

Feeling uncomfortable, I distracted myself by paying attention to his general appearance while we exchanged the conventional amenities. He wore a tweed suit, old and weathered, but obviously of excellent cut and quality. The buttons, however, were of bone, rather coarse, suggesting that the originals had been replaced for some reason. His boots and hat appeared to have been of the first quality when new, but had been subjected to long, perhaps hard wear.

His voice was rather soft, or perhaps it was only his American accent that made it seem so, to ears more familiar with the King’s English spoken by people anxious to maintain it at all costs in this land so distant from the mother country. At close quarters I could see that he wasn’t as young as I had first thought – nearer forty than thirty, judging by the lines around his mouth and eyes, and the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore.

He struck me as someone who had come down in the world, yet he wasn’t another remittance man, or one more of the marginal types so often attracted to our part of the world. He didn’t have the look. There was something about him that reminded me of the missionaries we sometimes entertained on Bellefleur – a deliberate renunciation of comforts for a greater purpose. But that wasn’t quite it either. I wondered who he was, exactly, and why the Captain had invited him to stay with us. Walking toward the house with them, I made a mental list of things that would have to be done to accommodate this guest, and wondered how long he would stay.

“Are you on holiday, Dr. Dexter?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he said. “A journey, rather. One without a destination as yet.”


What readers have said:

double quotation mark open
  • “Islands of the Gulf-Part I slipped down like fine sherry … Beware, though, reader, there’s more than a bit of Patricia Highsmith in Ms. Driscoll, and her heroes–like the Talented Mr. Ripley– have a dark side.”
  • “The characters are compelling and the plot is a page-turner!”
  • “Hardcore HPL fans might be disappointed … However, this is a terrific novel in its own right–one of the better works of literary fiction I’ve read. I repeatedly thought of Steinbeck as I read it, specifically “East of Eden”. Like that book, it’s long–sometimes meandering–but it always commands the reader’s interest with its sweeping narrative and gorgeous prose.”
  • “… this one really kept me up at night as the character of Herbert West continued to evolve and /change/. I particularly liked seeing Herbert West aka Francis Dexter through the eyes of Margaret, the narrator of the second half of the book.”

Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey is available from:

Amazon US UK CA AU DE

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

This is the second of four parts. Here is the link to Part 1

Header image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. Book cover image by Damonza.

Mystery mushroom; turned out to be Battarrea phalloides, July 28, 2019

Mushroom Mystery Solved!

Remember that strange mushroom I posted about back in early October?

After searching the internet, I concluded it was an Amanita that had been parasitized by another fungus. Rationale: it had a volva, like many Amanitas, but the spores were rusty brown, not white. And Amanita muscarii has appeared in my garden nearby. Searching the internet, I read that Amanita can be parasitized by a species of Hypomyces. That had to be it, I thought.

About the same time, I saw a poster announcing a mushroom show for the general public by the Southern Vancouver Island Mycological Society on November 3rd, with experts available to help with mushroom identification. It wouldn’t hurt to get another opinion, so I went, with phone photo of the mystery mushroom in hand.

It’s been a great mushroom season here, due to lots of rain in September and October, so many different specimens were on display, including a truly impressive King Boletus, more than a foot tall, with a cap nearly a foot in diameter. I didn’t know they could get that big.

Giant specimen of Boletus edulis at SVIMS Mushroom Show Nov. 3, 2019
The star of the mushroom show: a giant specimen of Boletus edulis, aka cep or porcino.

I had interesting chats with various fungophiles. After looking at one of the photos in my blog post, one of these folks concluded that it was a specimen of Battarrea phalloides, also called the scaley-stalked puffballsandy stiltball, or desert stalked puffball. The description and photos here match my specimen exactly.

Battarrea phalloides mushroom, July 2019
My specimen of Battarrea phalloides in July.
Mystery mushroom, Battarrea phalloides, October 10, 2019
And in October, dug up for inspection.

According to Wikipedia, it grows in “dry, sandy locations throughout the world.” That certainly describes my place, especially in July. It’s also found among sand dunes on the west coast of North America. Someone at the mushroom show mentioned that one had turned up on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

It’s not a zombie mushroom after all, just a weirdo.

So while the internet may be useful for identifying mushrooms, it’s always best to ask an expert, especially if one is foraging for edible specimens. In case you’re wondering, Battarrea phalloides, while not poisonous, does not appear to be edible.

The Herbert West Series blog header, blue, purple, and pink with Mercurius symbol

November Novel #1

In November 2000, I started writing the first novel of what would become the Herbert West Series. This November, I have set myself a goal to finish writing a collection of stories I intend to publish in 2020. Call it my own version of NaNoWriMo. So, I’ve scheduled posts for the next four weeks featuring each of the four books of the series. Oh, and November 7th was Herbert West’s 133rd birthday!

First up, The Friendship of Mortals.

Herbert West can revivify the dead – after a fashion. Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn agrees to help him, compromising his principles and his romance with Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine. West’s experiments become increasingly risky, but when he prepares to cross the ultimate border, only Charles can save his life – if his conscience lets him.

The novel was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West, Reanimator.” Don’t ask me why. Something about the premise (scientific reanimation of the dead), the setting (HPL’s fictional Miskatonic University), and the nameless narrator kept niggling at me. I wanted to create something using those elements, with a few of my own added. I gave the narrator a name (Charles Milburn) and a profession (cataloguer at the Miskatonic University Library). In November 2000, those sparks turned into a blaze.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 3


Alma lived in a curious little apartment at the top of a house on French Hill Street. Although only a short distance from Arkham’s best neighbourhoods, the area was showing signs of decline. Many of the houses had been turned into apartment buildings. Paint had faded and peeled, and efforts to conceal small blights such as ash cans and laundry lines were flagging. It was as though the waterfront slum to the north had thrown out a tentacle and induced a subtle decay.

Alma’s place was furnished in a style which could be described only as eclectic, but the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. No less so was Alma herself, wearing a kind of smock over her skirt and blouse, her hair tied back with a ribbon.

She motioned me to a cushion-laden sofa and went to make tea while I admired the way she had accommodated the comforts of life in the small space at her disposal. Her home resembled a ship’s cabin, afloat on the sea of leaves visible through the windows.

Once she had furnished me with a cup of tea fragrant with honey, Alma lost no time in pressing me for more details about my dinner with Herbert West.

“What did he want from you, anyway?”

“What makes you so sure he wanted something? Besides someone to share a meal with, I mean. He’d just finished exams, he said, and wanted to celebrate.”

“Hmm. From what I know of Mr. West he is not usually given to such spontaneous conviviality.”

“He didn’t seem to want anything much, really, just to talk about… well, his studies and that sort of thing.”

Alma looked unconvinced. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s softening you up for something.”

“What do you have against Herbert West, anyway?” I asked. “It was quite plain to me from the moment we met him at the concert that you don’t care for him.”

“You’re quite right there. I don’t like him. I think he’s unscrupulous and devious. And a real manipulator. Look at the effect he’s had on you, for example.”

“What effect?”

“Well, I think you’re quite impressed. I do admit he is very attractive. But make no mistake, he’s entirely self-centred. And cold as ice.”

I was beginning to think that Alma’s aversion to West was rooted in nothing more than some sort of romantic connection gone wrong. She quickly dispelled this notion, however.

“Oh, don’t think I dislike him because he rejected my charms, or something silly like that. He’s not my type, for one thing. I’ve had very little to do with him, but I’ve heard quite a lot, from Papa and others at the Med. School.”

“So what is it you’ve heard?” I asked.

She looked serious. “That’s why I asked you here, actually, Charles. To tell you what I know about Herbert West so you have something to counterbalance your romantic notions. Because I still think he sought you out with some purpose in mind.”

“Sought me out? But he just happened to be at that concert – ”

“Never mind all that. Just listen.”

I listened.

Herbert West had gained admission to the Miskatonic University Medical School some three years previously, Alma said, having first obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. In short order he began to make a nuisance of himself by proposing wild theories about the reversibility of death, and worse, carrying out bizarre and unauthorized experiments on animals in the Medical School’s laboratories. It was this latter habit that had caused the college authorities to step in and threaten to restrict his laboratory privileges.

“Why?” I interjected. “Was he breaking the law – stealing people’s pet dogs and cats, for example?”

“Well, no,” Alma answered, “but there was something undisciplined and unstructured about his carryings on. They weren’t part of a program of rational study, which is what first and second year medical students are supposed to be engaged in. They aren’t expected to do original research at that stage, for God’s sake.”

I reflected that for whosever sake West did his experiments, it wasn’t God’s. Aloud I said,

“It sounds to me as though they were out of their depth with him. Did it ever occur to anyone that he might be the medical equivalent of a prodigy? Like that young fellow we heard playing the violin the other night.”

“Oh Charles,” Alma said, shaking her head, “it’s quite obvious that West did a good job of impressing you. I’m probably wasting my breath. But he didn’t stop at cats and dogs, however legitimately acquired.

“He got a dead human body from somewhere. Probably one of his father’s mortuaries. This would have been the fall before last – October or thereabouts. He’d been told to stop his animal experiments by a certain date, or else. So I guess he got desperate and decided to try a human being.” She shook her head again. “Such a waste of his talents. Papa says he’s really very competent at his normal studies.”

I refrained from pointing out that this could be another indication that the good professor-doctors of the Medical School simply didn’t know what to do with the cuckoo in their nest.

“Anyway,” Alma continued, “he got this corpse into the lab somehow, late at night, of course. He’d bribed the night watchman not to report him. First and second year students aren’t allowed into the labs at night, you see.”

West had also smuggled into the lab some sort of apparatus which he had connected to the corpse. He was engaged in pumping a fluid into it when he was discovered.

“It was bizarre and horrible to see, apparently,” said Alma. “It looked as though he’d had an accident with the equipment. A tube had burst, or something. When Papa and Dr. Hobson got there the place looked like a slaughterhouse – blood everywhere – the ‘patient’s’ blood, of course, and all over West too. There he was, blood all over that pretty face of his, but cool as can be, and laughing! That’s what really bothered them.”

I nearly laughed myself, realizing that this description of the scene neither surprised nor shocked me. In fact, it was exactly what I would have expected of the Herbert West I had begun to know. I wondered what had prompted his laughter. The experiment had failed, of course, so it must have been ironic amusement at the outrage of those whom he believed to be willfully ignorant.

“How did your father happen to know that West was in the laboratory that night?” I asked.

She looked uneasy. “I think someone tipped him off. Another student, maybe.” She didn’t go so far as to suggest that West had been watched, but I remembered what he had said about betrayal.

“Anyway, the next day Papa called West on the carpet and told him he had one chance to redeem himself. And he was forbidden to use any laboratory at the Medical School except under close supervision, for his course work only, for the remainder of the year.” She paused. “That seems pretty lenient to me, considering that he was already under threat of suspension. I wouldn’t be surprised if West senior weighed in with the senior college administration to smooth things over for his boy.”

“Yes, what about Hiram West?” I asked. “His son seemed rather ambivalent about him.”

“Really? A point in his favour, there. Hiram’s a typical businessman, in most ways. Into every kind of enterprise, and filthy rich. But none too scrupulous, if what I’ve heard is true. The thing is, he’s the sort of person that could be persuaded to be a major benefactor of Miskatonic. So it’s not really in the interests of the college to discipline his son too harshly. And in your case it’s another reason to be careful.”

“I hardly think I’ll ever pose any threat to Hiram West,” I said. “Really, Alma, you’re taking all this much too seriously. I admit I find West a rather interesting type, but our paths aren’t likely to cross very often, after all.”

“I hope not, for your sake. I have a bad feeling about that young man.”

“And this young man?” I asked, feeling suddenly playful. “What sort of feeling do you have about him?”

She regarded me with her head tilted to one side, a little smile on her lips. “Oh, I think he’s a very nice young man. I quite enjoy his company. Seriously, Charles, I do. I’m glad you came to Miskatonic.”

We went on then to talk about other things, including Alma’s ideas about the ‘new woman.’ She felt very strongly that young women should be encouraged to leave their parents’ homes and support themselves for a while before they married.

“Otherwise the poor things are perfectly helpless, aside from housekeeping and looking after children. And so dull, too.”

“You are surely an example of the other kind of woman, then, Alma. There’s nothing dull about you.”

“I hope not,” she said, looking pleased.

We parted in this mood of friendly bantering. But walking homeward, I knew that my mind was operating on two levels. On one, I was developing a closeness with Alma that I found pleasing and gratifying. On the other, I was ready to throw myself heart and soul into whatever adventures I could find in the proximity of Herbert West. It was as though I stood in a house looking out through two different windows. From one I saw a warm and sunlit meadow, humming with bees, from the other a black sky blazing with unknown stars.


What readers have said:

  • “Herbert West alarmed, enchanted, and terrified me all at once.”
  • “An extremely clever and skillfully written reimagining of Lovecraft’s episodic Herbert West stories.”
  • “Driscoll weaves a believable and intriguing tale, with sympathetic characters despite their skewed moral compass.”
  • “Wordy but good. I thought I’d never get through it, but it was worth it…even though it sets you up with a cliffhanger at the end!”
  • “It starts off slow and builds and builds and builds until it’s a wild affirmation of life and love.”

The Friendship of Mortals is available from:

Amazon: US UK CA AU DE

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

Header image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. Book cover image by Damonza.

The Network: Myths of the Mirror November Writing Challenge

Written in response to a challenge at Diana’s blog.


A big old one is down. We knew it was ailing. It had given up part of its substance to the Eaters and Dissolvers, and for long its messages had become faint. It went down hard. The whole net shuddered. The Burrowers trembled and Stompers scattered. Now the entire flow shifts and jiggles. Water has backed up through the nets and mineral transport has halted. Our hyphae tingle, for we know what is to come.

We’ve been through this before. The fall of a big one tears a rift in the fabric, laying the matrix open to That Which Is Above. The whole network redeploys, full of flurries and judders. Messages vibrate through us. Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus—hold those supplies! Protective compounds, a flux of nutrients—more, more, more! Make chitin, build new tubes, shut down useless sections. Pump and transmit. That old one existed for many lives of our kind, many cycles and thrummings of the World. Its mass—everything it built in its long life—will have to be divided, managed, mobilized for All. Transformation commences!

The crawlers and wigglers, burrowers and borers, they’re at work already. The matrix vibrates with their chewing, grinding, and jabbing. Water comes down from Above. Some of our kind are brewing solvents to squirt down the holes and cracks, loosening the bonds, freeing the elements—to us. We absorb liquids and shunt them from tube to tube, to the ends of our net, to where it mingles with other nets. Our tubes will take the stuff of the Big One and turn it into the stuff of Life.

Life. For the Big One made seeds. We know where they fell, descending soft into the matrix, swelling, breaking open, extending roots and stems. We surround them, cradle them, feed the tender rootlets, make substances to tell them of others of their kind. We transmit wisdom, help them grow and stretch, so they will fill the rift and seek That Which Is Above. We are always here. We endure. We sustain. We dwell in the matrix, and the matrix dwells in us.

Forest
Eating Earth blog header

Misanthropic Musings

In my recent post about some small irritants of life, I stayed away from human behaviour, because that’s more than a small irritant. It warrants a post of its own, which has been brewing for some time. Here it is. Rant warning issued!

We are literally eating the Earth, even though we understand only a fraction of how it works and see its mysteries only as challenges to our cleverness. If you don’t believe that, read this: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/understanding-extinction-humanity-has-destroyed-half-the-life-on-earth-1.5324721

I have come to think our species should be called Homo destructor rather than Homo sapiens. Wisdom takes a long, wide view. Wisdom values thought before action. That does not describe us.

We destroy wilderness to satisfy our endless needs. We glorify explorers, adventurers, disrupters, and exploiters. We’ve left footprints and junk on the Moon, and are keen to set foot on Mars, having already sent machines there. We’re looking feverishly for Earth-like planets — more worlds to conquer mess up. We tell ourselves this is as it should be, because we are by nature clever, curious, and inventive. Why shouldn’t we strive to know and control?

But why can’t we learn to value observing and contemplating more than utilizing and exploiting?

We pride ourselves on our inventiveness, always finding a way to adapt our environments to ourselves rather than accepting that evolution adapts us. Because the pace of evolution is too slow for us. We spent too many millennia in the stone age, and aren’t planning to go back there.

We want everything to be bigger, faster, cheaper. Short-sighted, greedy, and destructive — that’s us, as a species. We congratulate ourselves on our achievements in discovery, invention, and artistic creation. But consider this: almost none of that benefits any other life form. The Earth doesn’t care about books, the stock market, religions, or even the music of Beethoven.

And yet, we see ourselves as the pinnacle species. After 4.6 billion years, a life form on Earth turned and saw itself in the mirror of its intelligence and imagination. It split the atom and decoded life and gave itself license to manage the planet.

We pride ourselves on Knowing, on our self awareness, our god-like capability to stand outside ourselves and observe. If we used that capability with a broader purpose, it might benefit both the Earth and ourselves.

I’ve tried to convince myself that we are just another force of nature, like the asteroid that created the Chicxulub Crater, ending the age of the dinosaurs. We should be what we are, with no more regret for our effect on the Earth than that giant chunk of rock.

Science tells us the only life forms on Earth for its first couple of billion years were microbes. Compared to that, the present human-caused extinctions seem trivial. The planet will survive our depredations (even if we don’t) and life in some form will return. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve tried to convince myself of that, but I can’t. We are living creatures, made of the stuff of Earth and utterly dependent upon its life-supporting qualities. So why do we continue to do things that threaten those supports?

We humans need to develop and express a reverence for the Earth.

OK, enough ranting. I could go on, but I think I’ve made a few points, or at least fired off some wildly random shots. For a more positive and hopeful view, read this post from Anima Monday: https://animamonday.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/you-are-not-powerless/ (BTW, I heartily recommend the Anima Monday blog for its unique perspectives on humanity’s relations with the natural world.)

So, fellow Pressers of the Word — are you hopeful or despairing about the immediate prospects of life on Planet Earth?

Mouth image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay. “Eating Earth” image created by Audrey Driscoll with Canva.

Dahlia (variety name unknown) amid autumn messiness

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Autumn Sights

I love fall, so I probably take more pictures of the garden as it goes through autumn than any other season. The first eight photos are from former years; the four at the bottom of the display were taken a few days ago, including the ones of the Amanita mushroom* and the dahlia.

*This is not the mushroom I wrote about in a recent post. It may be a relative, however!

gargoyle grumpy

Ten Little Things That Bug Me

A while ago, I wrote a post complaining about parking lot design. It was going to be the first of a series of grumbles. Since then I’ve realized that writing a string of posts whining about “first world problems” isn’t the best use of my blogging time. So I’ve bundled all the small things that bug me into one post.

This one.

These are low-level annoyances that regularly make me say “Why…?” They’re things — poorly-designed physical objects, not human behaviour. Many aspects of human behaviour (individual and collective) bug me, and many more sadden and enrage. Maybe I’ll get into some of them in future posts. For now, I’m sweating the small stuff.

Such as…

  • Noisy yard machines. Sometimes my corner of suburbia sounds like a war zone with competing roars from lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers.
  • Scented dryer sheets and laundry soaps. Nose-twisting synthetic “perfumes” with names like “April Fresh” and “Mountain Breeze” wafting from dryer vents in the neighbourhood. And I’m not even allergic!
  • Pants (trousers) without pockets. Women’s pants, specifically. Oh, right — women don’t need pockets because they always carry purses for their keys and kleenex. Even while vacuuming, gardening, and cooking.
  • Containers sealed for my protection that need a knife to remove the seal.
  • Fitted sheets that don’t quite fit and need brute force to muscle them onto a mattress.
  • Right turns on red. Whether I’m driving or walking, they make me nervous.
  • Glue that fails even when instructions for use are adhered to.
  • Lack of hand grips on big furniture and appliances. Just try moving a washing machine or sofa. Weight isn’t the real issue, but nowhere to get an effective grip. Surely designers could build in something graspable by the human paw.
  • Overly bright LED street lights. I look out the window to see the full moon and get blinded by the light on the pole.
  • Gifs and other online visuals (often in ads) that jump, flash, wiggle, and jiggle. Again. And again, and again, and again… Screeeeeeee… (That’s me running away.)

That’s it! I’m done griping. What about you, WP bloggers? What irks you? Here’s your chance to complain. Or not. (And I still have no idea why parking lots are designed to annoy. If anyone knows, please add a comment!)

Image from Pixabay

Mystery mushroom; turned out to be Battarrea phalloides, July 28, 2019

Mystery Mushroom

In July, a big mushroom popped up close to my garden shed. That was weird, because July isn’t a month in which mushrooms are expected. While not as dry as usual, this July wasn’t exactly rainy, and this fungus was in an especially dry spot. I never water this area and it’s under the shed’s eaves so isn’t exposed to rain. There are odd bits of lumber stashed under the shed, and who knows what might be buried underground. (I know for sure there’s a dead crow a couple feet over and down. I buried it there after finding it one morning. But that was at least ten years ago.)

Looking the mushroom over without disturbing it, I thought it was some kind of Boletus. I saw no gills on the underside of the cap. When I tapped it, rusty brown spores flew out. I checked my mushroom ID books but failed to pin it down to a specific Boletus. I took a picture of it on July 28th (the one at the top of the post) and left it alone.

Usually, mushrooms last a few days and vanish. Not this one. It has remained, looking much the same for more than two months. Finally, a few days ago, I pulled it up. Weirdly, the stipe was attached to a great big cup (called a volva by mycologists) that had been lurking below ground level.

Mystery mushroom, possibly Amanita infected with Hypomyces hyalinus? October 10, 2019
This is how the poor thing looked when I pulled it up on October 10th. Note the cup at the bottom.

Well. This really made me wonder. I wasn’t aware of any Boletus that starts out with a universal veil, a kind of egg-like covering from which some mushrooms grow. The bottom half remains in the ground as a volva and the top part sometimes forms white spots on the mushroom’s cap.

White spots on the cap. Everyone’s seen red mushrooms with white spots, if only in storybooks. Last fall, I had one in the garden, under the birch tree nearly 50 feet away from the shed.

Amanita muscaria mushroom at foot of birch tree
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), fall of 2018.

But that’s an Amanita, not a Boletus. Amanitas have gills, not pores. My mystery mushroom certainly didn’t have gills, and if it had pores, they were invisible. The underside of the cap was pure white and smooth.

Forget the books, try Google. I started thinking maybe this mushroom was actually an Amanita that had been parasitized by another fungus. I was aware of the so-called Lobster Mushroom, which is a Russula infected by an organism called Hypomyces lactifluorum. So I started with that and eventually found Hypomyces hyalinus, otherwise known as Amanita mold. Bingo!

Amanita mold “obliterates” the gills of its host and is described as “pallid when old, or tinged with pink, yellow, or brown.” That certainly describes the mystery mushroom. The strange thing is how it’s managed to retain a recognizable shape for more than two months. Perhaps the invading Hypomyces organism replaces the original structures, turning the Amanita into a kind of fungal zombie?

Nature never ceases to amaze.

Resurrection of Monster Maker Fun 2019: Creatures Donated by John Howell & Audrey Driscoll #October #Monsters

Read and see with your mind’s eye these fantastic creatures created by Charles and inspired by made-up words contributed by bloggers. In this case, author John W. Howell and me.

Legends of Windemere

Stein’s Lab in Soul Eater

Here we are again at the lab.  Going prehistoric for some of these.  Enjoy!

The first three monsters have been donated by John W. Howell:

Prehenseltaurus

Thought to be extinct, this ancient bison was recently rediscovered in a small valley that is surrounded by a volcanic ore bubble.  They have been living here with minimal predators, so they have thrived without destroying the restricted area.  Not as large as a bison, but still bigger than a human, the Prehenseltaurus lives among thick forests.  They are capable of getting into the trees thanks to their long horns, which they sharpen on the many chunks of quartz found in the region.  Their horns are usually hard and immovable like one would expect, but they are actually made of muscle instead of bone.  By relaxing, these parts can be turned into prehensile appendages that allow them to…

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Familiar scene of rustic bench near the pond in autumn (fall) with hardy cyclamen and hostas

New and Different: Garden Changes

I think it’s time to get away from book reviewing and rule quibbling. Whatever else might be happening, there’s always the garden.

It’s fall in the garden. Rain and imminent plant dormancy eliminates the need to water (except for a few pots). The gardener is energized. Plans are made and a few are carried out.

Hosta "Stained Glass"
Hosta “Stained Glass”

Nurseries put plants on deep discount at this time of year, rather than carry them through the winter. So I bought a rather nice hosta (called “Stained Glass”) for half price. Its leaves are a translucent yellow with blue-green margins. It complements the other hostas (dark green with white margins and medium green with yellow margins; you can see them in the featured image above). I also got a late summer/early fall blooming gentian (Gentiana septemfida). If it settles in and blooms well, I’ll have glowing blue trumpet-shaped flowers at both ends of the season, since I already have spring-blooming Gentiana acaulis.

Gentians, Gentiana acaulis
Flowers like these, only in fall.

A few days ago, I weeded the pond. Yes, ponds need weeding at times. I’ve had an oxygenating water plant (Elodea canadensis) in the pond for years, but for some reason there was way too much of it at summer’s end. There’s also duckweed (Lemna minor), a small, lime green surface floater, which can be sort of pretty, but not if it’s wall-to-wall. So I hoicked out masses of both and added them to the compost pile.

I have two compost piles. By mid-October I have to make room for the leaves that are about to descend. Usually I stack the old pile of not quite finished stuff on top of the current one containing fresh material. By the following spring it’s all pretty much rotted down enough to be distributed among the planted areas. But this year’s old compost (mostly last fall’s leaves) looked so finished that I decided to spread it around immediately, at least in spots where that could be done without damaging plants still in good shape.

Compost area half empty with removed blue fescues
Compost area awaiting the annual deluge of leaves. Those blue fescues on the left are awaiting composting. I removed them from the main path, where there were too many of them.

The Boulevard Project progressed well this summer. The chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace looked great together and several clumps of California poppies bloomed and produced seeds, and therefore more plants. A couple of them are an unusual creamy pink colour; the rest are the usual bright orange. I happened to obtain seeds of two native plants — consumption plant (Lomatium nudicaule) and seaside rein orchid (Habenaria greenei) — and scattered them around before a week of rainy weather. If they take hold, I think I’ll dig out some of the chicory and QAL. My original idea was to emulate a country roadside, but I think it’s better to encourage plants that belong here, rather than hearty imports.

Chicory flower
Chicory flower

The other day, I pulled out the last of the soaker hoses, rolled it up, and stashed it in the shed. (Wrestling hoses can be an exceedingly trying process; don’t do it if you’re feeling crabby or are in a rush.) Were the soakers effective as watering devices? For perennials, I would say yes. But not so much for shrubs.

The Chinese Witch Hazel (to the right of the bench in the featured image at the top of the post) showed drought stress from early summer. Its leaf edges began to turn orange-brown as early as June and it once again has no plans to bloom. It really isn’t a suitable choice for this climate, unless planted in a naturally damp area or given deluxe irrigation. I haven’t been able to bring myself to remove (i.e. kill) and replace it, though.

A much better choice of shrub is Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor), which I recently planted in one of the mixed beds. It’s a native plant of the region, a graceful, early summer blooming shrub that’s definitely at home here. It should outperform the witch hazel without any extra help once established (but unlike the witch hazel, it doesn’t bloom in January with an enchanting perfume — but then, neither does my witch hazel).

Speaking of failures, I’m declaring 2020 the Last Chance Year for Meconopsis (blue poppies) in this garden. The two plants I purchased in March bloomed well in May, but dwindled and died in August. I thought crown rot in winter was the main hazard, but it turns out that powdery mildew is another. It strikes in hot, dry weather, despite diligent watering. Although these prima donnas didn’t even last the summer, they did produce seeds before they turned up their toes.

Meconopsis sheldonii "Lingholm" (grandis) Himalayan blue poppy
Gone but not forgotten. Not yet.

That gives me a chance for one last shot. In January, I will deposit those seeds on damp, sterile, seed-starting mix and keep them at indoor temperature for a week or so. Then I’ll cover the pot and set it in a safe spot outside for exposure to frost and cold temperatures. Seeds should begin sprouting by March. I’ve had fairly good luck with this process in the past, even to the point of a dozen or so plants in bloom (a glorious sight!). After that, the trick is getting them through the following winter. Or even, it seems now, the following summer. One last try.

Sunflower and chickadee
Chestnut-backed chickadee going for sunflower seeds.

This year I finally got around to growing sunflowers. I had seven or eight plants. They were okay, I guess, but not nearly as impressive as some I’ve seen. In rich soil and full sun, with adequate water, a sunflower grows branches that develop buds, resulting in something like a tree. In soil that’s poor, sandy, and often dry, they stick to one skinny (although tall) stem with a single flower. (Guess which kind I had.) They did produce enough seeds to attract chickadees, who diligently pecked them out and ate them.

Hardy cyclamen blooms with ferns and fallen leaves
Hardy cyclamen flowers, a spring-like sight in fall.

Some plants are totally reliable without any extra effort at all, like these hardy cyclamen. They’ve increased well over the years and now form nice carpets of pink flowers that mingle with other plants and the falling leaves. Their own beautifully patterned leaves are starting to emerge and will last into next spring.