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!

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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, possibly Amanita infected with Hypomyces hyalinus? 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.

blog, stars, eastern north america, northern south america, blue, purple, green

A Little Discussion Spices Up a Blog Post

After nearly 10 years of writing blog posts, reading blog posts, and commenting on blog posts, I have a pretty good idea of what I like in a blog post: an interesting (to me) topic, well-written, and relatively short. Good comments by other bloggers are a definite bonus. They can elevate a post from statement to conversation.

What are good comments? Ones that add something to what the blogger said, even by arguing disagreeing a bit. Remember what we’re always being told about our fiction writing — conflict adds interest. No one likes vitriolic troll-spew, but when every single comment is blandly positive (Great post! Thanks for this! Got to bookmark!), or there are no comments at all, the reading experience falls flat.

For example, a while ago, I read a reblogged post advising writers to use “sensitivity readers.” I knew from elsewhere that this topic is controversial; some writers see it as bordering on self-censorship. Several bloggers “liked” the post, but no one had anything to say about it. I’ve seen this happen often enough to wonder. Did all these readers just think, “Oh, okay,” and move on to the next thing? (And did I put in my 2 cents’ worth? No, actually. Being in the Far West of the world, I’m often among the last bloggers to read a post, and there’s not much point in formulating a comment only the original poster will see.)

Some posts lend themselves better than others to discussion-type comments. If someone is announcing a new book or sharing a milestone of some sort, no discussion is needed. On the other hand, posts offering advice to writers, or strongly worded screeds taking a particular position on an issue, are vastly improved by comments.

I’m not advocating flat condemnations or being argumentative for the sake of it, but sometimes I wish people wouldn’t appear to swallow all advice with a bland affirmation. If you have reservations or questions about advice given or opinions expressed in a post, articulate them! If you’re a published writer with any measure of success, you have a ground from which to comment and question.

Perhaps bloggers are reluctant to differ with or question opinions in a post because they fear being labelled as negative. In the culture of “positivity,” an apparently negative attitude is perceived as a major flaw. I agree that whiny, bitter screeds full of self-pity, or personal attacks are never acceptable, but a bit of civilized discussion can add dimension and interest to a post.

We’ve all heard this piece of advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” I suggest modifying it to: “If you don’t agree with something, turn your disagreement into an opportunity to discuss.”

So, fellow bloggers, what do you think? How do you feel about a bit of civilized quibbling? Feel free to disagree!

It’s the Reading Experience, Silly!

I can’t seem to shake off the subject of book reviews and ratings, maybe because I deal with it every time I finish reading a book. After my latest thoughts on what I called a “murky business,” I had a light bulb moment.

It’s not the book I’m rating, it’s my experience of reading the book.

That’s why a reader can give the same number of stars to Homer’s Iliad and a cozy mystery. That’s why one reader gives a literary award-winner five stars, while another honestly believes it deserves only one.

Every reader brings different preferences, moods, and expectations to their interactions with books. These of necessity influence their reading experiences — and their ratings.

The comments that go with the rating should explain it, perhaps citing typos and errors, pretentiousness, flat characters, or failure to engage. Or maybe a gripping plot, poetic prose, or characters so real they almost step off the page.

Those of you to whom all this is blindingly obvious may stop laughing now (but do leave a comment).

Images from Pixabay

Launch day for Eternity Began Tomorrow!

Here’s Kevin Brennan’s latest book — topical and timely!

WHAT THE HELL

Eternity Began Tomorrow is now live on Amazon.com and available as a Kindle book for $2.99.

I’ve already told you that this book is quite a departure for me. It’s a political thriller. Or at least that’s the closest category I could find for it, considering that it touches on all kinds of themes and has the sniff of literary fiction about it too.

Once again, I try my hand here at a first-person female protagonist, the indefatigable Mollie “Blazes” Bolan. Usually when I use a female pov, whether first person or third person, it’s because the character really speaks to me somehow, in a voice that can’t be mistaken for a man’s. Almost always they’re idiosyncratic or sui generis enough that people can’t say “he can’t write female characters worth poo!” I write individual characters, so my Blazes Bolan, my Sally Pavlou (Fascination), and my Sarah Phelan…

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Rocks: pink striped, two-tone, multicoloured, green, black with white specks

September 16th is Collect Rocks Day!

Collect Rocks Day is a day to enjoy and add to your rock collection “

I can relate to this pseudo-holiday, because I’ve been collecting rocks all my life. My house is full of them. I’m the only person I know with an actual pile of rocks on the dresser in their bedroom. There are rocks on my kitchen windowsills and rocks in special spots in the living room. There are even “book rocks” on the table where we eat our meals.

I suspect the point of this day is to encourage kids to start proper rock collections of identified specimens. I tried that when I was a kid. I put my rocks into chocolate boxes, which were neatly divided into squares just right for labelled specimens.

Cover of Rocks and Minerals guide (H.S. Zim, c1957)
I pored over this little book a lot while trying to identify my rocks.
Page from Rocks and Minerals guide on hardness testing
A page from the Rocks and Minerals guide. Note the cute mnemonic; maybe girls didn’t collect rocks. Too busy flirting and doing queer things, no doubt. (I can’t remember what I thought of this notion as a kid.)

The trouble was, the rocks I picked up were really hard to identify. They didn’t look like any of the pictures in Herbert S. Zim’s guide to rocks and minerals. Despite my efforts at determining hardness, doing tests with vinegar, and peering at my specimens with a magnifying glass, most of them remained unidentified. The closest I got was declaring them to be sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic. I had a feeling many of my rocks were metamorphic. Their constituent minerals had been tortured into unidentifiable (at least by me) substances by heat and pressure. But they were pretty.

I gave up on scientific rock collecting, but I never gave up picking up rocks. Almost every visit to a beach or creek resulted in a pocket full of pebbles and sometimes a cobble or two carried in my hands. Nowadays I do a rock review before leaving the site and discard all but the best specimens, usually keeping only one or two.

So what makes a rock keep-worthy? For me, it comes down to colour, contrasts, smoothness, and peculiarities of shape. Or general weirdness. The eight rocks in the featured image at the top of the post display all of them to some extent. There’s a smooth, uniformly green rock and a smaller one that’s light green with dark green stripes. There are a couple that feature different rock types welded together. One is composed of thin layers of light and dark pinkish material. The little white one is a piece of what looks like marble, polished to exquisite smoothness by who knows how many years of wave action.

One piece of advice: rocks always look great wet. Beach pebbles are often wet when picked up. Let them dry before you decide if they’re worth keeping.

Colour and smoothness

White quartz, bright red rock (jasper?) and bright green rock (nephrite?) with darker green stripe
A pure white rock (quartz, I’m pretty sure), a dark red rock (maybe jasper?) and a bright green rock with darker green stripe (maybe nephrite?)

Contrast and weirdness

Black rock with white inclusions
Black rock with white inclusions that look like alien hieroglyphs.

Many colours

Multicoloured metamorphic rock
Multicoloured rock that looks like the map of an unknown world.

More weirdness

Weird sedimentary rocks, two with possible concretions
Sedimentary rocks. The bigger one (from north central BC) looks like a tiny hoodoo. The eyeball-like features in the smaller ones (from Saskatchewan) may be concretions.

Sheer beauty

Pebbles from Ballenas Island, BC
A handful of pebbles from Ballenas Island, BC. The biggest one is about an inch (2.5 cm) long, the smallest less than 1/4 inch (1 cm)

These Ballenas pebbles found their way into one of my novels. In Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, Francis Dexter collects a few pebbles from a place rather like Ballenas Island. Later, he looks at them while brooding about how his life has turned out.

I have before me a handful of pebbles under the light as I write this. Some are the colour of bruised flesh, others dark green or black, or mixtures of colours impossible to describe, veined like the finest capillaries. Each was torn from its matrix, millennia ago, and polished to a degree I find astonishing. When I first studied them, here in the lamplight, I thought: here is perfection without design, proof that the world works upon things and incidentally brings them to goodness without an artificer’s hand. … The black pebbles with the white stars are the most beautiful. They are made of the hardest substance and are the brightest, but must be subjected to the longest ordeal to achieve their perfection. How much of themselves must they lose to the lathe of the world?