Elephant Garlic Harvest

I’ve decided to re-post Facebook posts here, partly for archival reasons and also so that those who avoid Facebook can read them. Here’s the first one:

Last week the garden crew at Echoing Hope Ranch dug up two patches of Elephant Garlic with the help of some of the resident clients, all of them guys in their early twenties. It was a pleasant experience for all of us. My boss and I loosened the deeply-rooted bulbs with shovels and the clients pulled the garlic and loaded it into a cart.
The garlic bulbs are drying in one of the greenhouses, loosely stacked in slat-sided wooden boxes. This morning I noticed that some of the bulbs had snake-like scapes, the flower-stalks, erecting themselves and blindly rising towards the light. The flowers-clusters had expanded and burst their papery shrouds, leaving oddly comical hat-like remnants. Before I succumbed to practicality and snipped off and discarded the scapes I shot a few photos:

Site Changes

After a couple of years of using the free WordPress.com hosting service I’ve decided to transfer the blog to a commercial hosting service called Bluehost.  There will be no advertising, and I’ll have more latitude in the design of the blog.  The old Riverside Rambles will remain for a while and I’ll post to both simultaneously.

After a few false starts, migration of posts and images to this new blog seems to have worked well.

A photo from a walk up Mt. Ballard, the highest mountain in the Mules, with a friend yesterday:


I think I’ll be able to use larger images in this new blog; above is an experiment.


The Fiji Mermaid

When I got here a week ago Bev had just agreed to do an art installation for a show in downtown Bisbee. Such installations are an ephemeral type of art and it doesn’t make sense to spend much money for materials.

She had decided to make a painted fortune-teller’s booth and dress up as the fortune-teller herself. As atmospheric props she has been making the kind of biological freakish oddities which might be found in a carnival freak show. The figures will be suspended from the ceiling near the booths.

I am not a practioner of the visual and plastic arts, thus I was fascinated to see the weird little figures take shape. Bev had seen the papier maché variant technique on a teacher’s web-site and had been wanting to try it. It’s a simple technique involving a wire armature, wadded-up newspapers, paper towels, and white glue.

Mummified mermaids, often called “The Fiji Mermaid” in the carnival sideshows, have been exhibited far and wide. They are horrifying but fascinating little mummies and doubtless have inspired many a bad dream. Here’s Bev’s take on the garish tradition. The eyes are the bottom discs cut from a cardboard egg carton. I might help with the acrylic painting of the creature’s details:

Another common feature of the sideshows is the display of the remains of a deformed or mutated animal. Two heads, an unusual number of limbs, or inappropriate skin surfaces are commonly seen. I suggested to Bev that a two-headed snake might be appropriate, and why not give it two tails as well? Here’s what she came up with:


At The Tire Shop

Gravel roads are hard on tires, and yesterday morning before setting out on my 100-mile route I drove to a tire shop which is located on a bench just above the Mississippi floodplain. I needed to buy a new tire and have it mounted.

The shop is snuggled up against a seventy-foot limestone bluff, a sheer cliff with a smattering of neglected vegetation down at the base. I knew I’d have to wait a while, so I grabbed my camera and began to prowl around the area between the utilitarian steel buildings and the cliff. Of course, the shop has a waiting area with a coffee pot, snack machines, and magazines, but on such a beautiful fall morning it would be a shame to peruse a tattered and outdated copy of Time or Better Homes and Gardens rather than explore a bit!

It occurred to me that many years ago I had bought a tire at this place and, on a similar botanical foray, had found a colony of catnip thriving unnoticed. I like the appearance of catnip, with its downy gray-green leaves and its modest flower-spikes. I remembered digging a clump with the aid of a pocket knife and eventually using that start to establish a colony of the plant in our old Knox County place; I trust it is still growing there.

I slowly walked along the base of the cliff, inspecting the trees and other plants. Of course the ubiquitous Chinese ailanthus trees were growing there, a species always at home in neglected areas on this continent, a denizen of alleys and vacant lots. Native mulberry trees were holding their own, and the weedier asters and goldenrods contributed their modest flowers to the vegetative tapestry.

Aw, the catnip still survived in a few clumps after all of these years. While I had been living my life and buying tires elsewhere the colony of alien musky-smelling mint had quietly thrived and spread:

Do neighborhood alley cats congregate here in the wee hours of the morning to rub up against these plants?

It looked like the clump had been mowed or weed-whipped down to the ground at least once this year, as there were no remnants of flower-spikes visible. It is just possible the plant may bloom anew before the killing frosts arrive.

Then I noticed a scrubby crab-apple tree with a luxuriant vine using the branches as a trellis. They were hop vines, but the scaly fruiting strobiles had purple bracts! Most hops I see have fruiting clusters which change from green to tan as they ripen. This purple coloration was new to me. Quincy was once a beer-brewing town; could this vine be a descendant of some cultivated hop variety once grown in the area? The photo I got could be in better focus, but it was breezy and this was the best I could do:

The strobiles were getting ripe, and if they were squeezed or stroked a gummy aromatic resin would come off on my fingers. This reminded me of the female inflorescences of the marijuana plant, a close relative, which also exude a gummy resin, but a resin with quite different characteristics!

After taking the above photo my camera informed me with embarrassed dismay that the “Battery Is Exhausted!”. I took this to be a sign to go check on the progress with my tire. The guys inside were finishing up when I strolled in, attaching the lug-bolts with staccatto bursts of an air-wrench, and before long I was cruising down the road, bright but slanting rays of autumnal sunshine elevating my spirits.


A Rape Analogy

I found this dialog over at Google+; it was posted by a woman named Maggie Lee:

I think that this imaginary dialog is spot-on, judging from the rape accounts I’ve heard from women over the years.


Vineyard Amidst Cornfields

Every day on my drives through the pastoral landscape of Adams County, Illinois, I pass a peculiar sight. A fenced vineyard, about an acre of grapevines, is growing at a crossroads, right across from an electrical transformer station and surrounded otherwise by corn and soybean fields. A high fence surrounds the vineyard and the vines are swathed in white plastic mesh, presumably some sort of shade-cloth.

This area isn’t ideal for grape-growing, although the wild species thrive. I know of a couple of local grape-growers who sell their harvest to small commercial wineries, but it’s a labor of love for these viticulturalists — it can’t be too profitable. There’s a reason that corn, cattle, and swine predominate in this area.

So who planted this vineyard? Is it a commercial operation? My curiosity was aroused mightily. Yesterday I stopped for a closer look.

The vineyard:

The grapes seem to be dark-purple in color, verging on black. I fear I will be led into temptation before long — with any luck I will be forgiven my trespasses. I want to taste those grapes! The coloration of the fruit makes me suspect that they might be Concord-family table grapes, a very hardy group of varieties which grow well here. Wine grapes are finicky and don’t like the high summer humidity, which encourages fungus diseases.

A closer look at one of the vines, which seemed to be well-laden with fruit:

The geometry of the plastic mesh gives an odd appearance to the vines. I don’t think I’ve ever seen shade-cloth used on grapevines, but what do I know!

The next time I stop there I’ll look for a gate, or if necessary scale the fence. Maybe I’ll run into a local who can tell me about the vineyard. Maybe I’ll get kicked out!


Google Plus Miscellanea

I remember when I first encountered Facebook a few years ago. Though I had friends who just loved it, and I joined up and created a profile, the social-networking site has always rubbed me the wrong way. These days it is something of a necessary evil. I keep track of relatives and friends at the site, and I have Google+ set up to link to my blog posts on my “Wall”. I rarely comment or originate content on Facebook.

One problem with Facebook is that it is all too easy to accumulate too many “friends” there. I imagine everyone has had the experience of being fooled by Facebook. Facebook’s software robots assume that anyone who is a “friend” of one of your friends ought to be your “friend too. A bad assumption indeed. I had to ruthlessly prune my “friends” list in order to avoid being inundated by posts from people I don’t know.

Then there are the fire-hose Facebook posters. These are people who spend hours letting their friends know the most trivial and mundane details of their lives. Too Much Information! Stuff like, “I just ate some chocolate! Mmm mm!” or “I finally got to Level 9 on [some on-line computer game]!”

Then along came Google+, which remedies some of the annoying failings of Facebook. Google+ allows the user to create “Circles”, groups of other users the posts of which can be viewed separately. Have a friend who posts many times a day? Create a circle for such posters called, say, “Verbose”. I have one circle for members of my family, another for people I don’t know but whose posts I like to read, and another for people I like to check on just occasionally.

Another advantage of Google+ is that there is no size limit on the posts.

I’ve enjoyed my experiences with Google+, but there has been some controversy lately due to Google’s hit-and-miss application of an ill-conceived policy. They don’t like people to use aliases or pseudonyms. I’m sure there are good commercial reasons for this but Google really needs to reconsider. Personally I have no use for an alias, but people who work for government agencies or paranoid corporations would like the freedom to post anonymously, with good reason. Women also have some reason for concern, as they tend to be subject to stalking and harassment by nameless idiots. Here’s one ZDNet columnist’s take on the issue:

Violet Blue’s ZDNet piece

An aside: I just loved this metaphoric tripartite figure of speech in the above article:

Getting verified on Twitter wasn’t easy, but it was kittens, pop-tarts and rainbows compared to this.

The inclusion of a lower-cased product brand-name as the middle metaphor gives a certain “zing” to the sentence, I thought.

Here are several interesting things I’ve found recently in my Google+ feed:

This was posted by one of the folks I follow and I recommend that you take a look; it’s a very well-done video story:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4drucg1A6Xk?rel=0&w=560&h=345]

My comment on the piece at Google+:

Wonderful film w/o dialog! This is true visual story-telling. It’s interesting that it takes about two dozen people collaborating to produce such a film, as compared to the one writer it takes to generate a prose tale which can conjure up similar mental images in the reader’s mind.

Here’s a “flash mob” rendition of Ravel’s Bolero, a video of the Copenhagen Philharmonic gradually coming together at a train station:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrEk06XXaAw?rel=0&w=560&h=345]

An object lesson in how cell phones have changed our culture.

I’m an amateur photographer, and I’m well aware of my limitations. I’m thoroughly humbled by the images produced by French photographer Philippe Sainte-Laudy. He has the master’s touch. I became aware of him on Google+ and immediately put him in my “Follow” circle. You can see Philippe’s images at his homepage, and
he has made available a PDF e-book there:

Philippe Sainte-Laudy’s Page

The page is in French; just scroll down until you see a box with “Telechargement fischier.zip | 48 mb.” written in it. Push that and a download of an “E-book” will be initiated, a PDF file containing examples of Philippe’s wonderful photography. I know — when you see the word “Telechargement” it will make you wonder if there might be a charge for the e-book. Don’t worry, it’s free, and well worth having. Here are three examples of photos from that book:

I welcome any comments readers might have on the two competing social networking platforms.


A Visit From Germanic Relatives

It’s been five years since I’ve seen my son Tyler. My first grandchild Franziska was a mere babe at the time. Why so long? They live in Germany, where Tyler works as a computer programmer. They stopped by for a visit today and we went out for lunch. So nice to see them!

I have a regrettable tendency to forget to take family photos, but this this time I managed to take a couple (though Tyler had to remind me):


Neenah Foundry

Walking around Quincy and other towns I’ve often wondered about the ubiquitous man-hole covers which were (according to the raised-letters on their surfaces) manufactured by the Neenah Foundry in Neenah, Wisconsin. Where did that name come from, and just where is Neenah?

According to to Wikipedia, Neenah was named for the Winnebago word for “water” or “running water”. An appropriate name, as Neenah is on the Fox River and it’s adjacent to two lakes:

The town is in East-Central Wisconsin.

I wanted to see the foundry from the air, so off I go to Google Maps again. The black foundry looks like it was added on to in a disorganized fashion over the past century; either that or it was lifted high into the air and then just dropped:

Neenah Foundry had some competition; occasionally I’ll see a man-hole cover manufactured by South Bend Foundry in South Bend, Indiana. In contrast to Neenah man-hole covers’ stylish trapezoidal grid background, South Bend used a prosaic square grid:

I wonder how these heavy cast-iron discs were transported? Probably on barges whenever possible. I would love to have been a witness to a load of them chugging by, looking like stacks of checkers!