Friday, May 31, 2019

Too Many People?

You probably saw the picture above (not mine but lifted from the news as are all the others in this post.) A back-to-belly traffic jam of climbers waiting to summit Everest. If you read any othe the articles, you know that several climbers died, because the crowding made the ascent/descent take longer and oxygen was running low. People reported stepping over dead bodies on their way to the summit for a momentary selfie at the top of the world.

Where's the romance in this? Where's the glory? A helicopter takes a rope to the peak where it's fixed in place so the climbers can haul themselves up the last bit. A rope, for heaven's sake. Add to that the support of the Sherpas -- there was one account a few years ago of a woman who was bodily pushed and dragged to the top by her hired crew.

Not to mention -- well, I am going to mention  -- the debris all these climbers leave behind -- including corpses.

Nope,  summiting Everest ain't what it used to be.  

It's the same almost everywhere -- popular destinations are crowded destinations. The scene above is Arches National Park --  which a few days ago first had two hour delays in allowing vehicles to enter and then closed entirely. (It's open now.)  I'm sure the Arches are beautiful . . . but . . .

I think about Stonehenge. We visited it on our great motorcycle trip -- almost fifty years ago. We got there just as it opened and for about a half an hour, were almost the only visitors.  Back then you could walk amid the stones -- even touch them. It was truly magical -- being there with the morning mist rising off the surrounding meadows . . . then two tour buses arrived.

When we visited Stonehenge again, maybe twenty years ago, tourists were confined to a path that circled the stones -- no walking amidst them any more. It wasn't especially crowded and it was still a nice experience. 

The picture below suggests how things have changed.

Venice is another magical place that we visited or that motorcycle trip. Busy, yes, but one could find spots of solitude. It was our favorite city.

When we visited it again, thirty-so years ago, it was markedly worse. I remember shuffling through the Basilica San Marco, in a throng so tight packed I could only take pictures of the fancy inlaid paving at my feet.

Our best vacation in recent years was spent walking in the Cotswolds, where, except for sheep, it was just us, most of the time. 

Maybe it's just me -- but I'm not tempted to go anywhere that I know is crowded. The last time I went to the Biltmore House, I skipped the house where there were long, slow-moving lines, and enjoyed wandering through the greenhouses which, for whatever reason, didn't attract that many visitors.

Old age? Or the result of living high up a mountain where we don't see our neighbors unless we want to. 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Venus' Looking Glass

Another of those little 'weeds' -- this one was simply too pretty to pull up. And I love the name. It's also called Clasping Bellflower.

Native Americans used it as a cure for dyspepsia . . . or as a emetic. I'll just enjoy looking at it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

It's the Little Things

I think that this tiny beauty is a Silvery Blue -- 

I've seen them around for years and never managed to photograph one. The topside of their wings is quite blue -- unfortunately, they flitter around very quickly and when they do alight, their wings are folded, showing the pretty silvery-blue underside.

Also, they stay close to the ground -- and it's not easy for me to get down to that level quickly. By the time I do, the fickle thing has moved on.

 Plus, they're tiny. For reference, that's a hosta leaf this one is sitting on. Still, I'm glad to have an idea what they are. You can biggify the first picture to see his classy striped antennae. Or you can go HERE to see some better pictures and more information.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Chain Reading and a Discovery

I'm a sucker for Stephen Birmingham's books about the rich and famous of the past. I loved Our Crowd and The  Grandees and recently devoured his account of the famous apartment hotel The Dakota. 

Imagine an apartment with every amenity imaginable -- food sent up from the kitchen, maid service, laundry -- everything.

It's a fascinating look at another way of life -- and as I read it I was reminded of a book from my childhood. . .

Aunt Jane's Nieces was one of my grandmother's girlhood books and she read it to me when I was laid up with measles and not allowed to read. I loved it and read and reread it many times. 

I don't think I ever thought about the fact that the story was set just around 1900. To me, it was just a lively story about three young (the oldest is sixteen) girls, cousins who'd never met, called to spend a summer with their wealthy invalid aunt. All three are hard up and the aunt is dying. 

I know now how predictable and sentimental the whole story is but I adored it, especially when a mystery benefactor set up one of the cousins and her father in a fancy apartment hotel -- not unlike the Dakota.

So I had to reread it. I still enjoyed it and decided to look for the others in the series. Edith Van Dyne was evidently prolific and there are a number of adventures with the three girls -- all available free as e-books.

But, imagine my surprise, when investigating Edith Van Dyne, to discover that she was a he. And what's more, she was L. Frank Baum -- creator of the Oz books -- more favorites from my childhood.

It's as if I suddenly discovered that Arthur Conan Doyle and Frances Hodson Burnette were the same person. (Please tell me they weren't.)

So I ventured into the series. I've read the next two and found them rather hard going -- so silly, so obvious -- but still interesting as a look at popular culture and, alas, prejudices of the time. The fourth book, that shows the girls getting involved in politics -- helping a male friend get elected to a county office -- is better. Written before women had the vote, there is a kind of proto-feminism going on here. Of course, when I reflect, the Oz books were heavy with strong women -- Dorothy, Glenda, Ozma, the Wicked Witch. . .

But I imagine my grandmother and her two sisters reading them and identifying with the nieces. I suspect Mabel, the eldest of the sisters,  would have been cast as Louise, the haughty aspirant to high society, while Pearl, who used to chase my grandmother with wrung-off chicken heads, would have been the spunky Patsy. Which leaves my grandmother to inhabit the role of Beth, the quietest and most thoughtful of the three.

I'll never know, of course. I also don't know if they read farther in the series. Apparently the books were, at one time, more popular than the Oz books -- kind of the Nancy Drew's of the time.

"Edith Van Dyne" also wrote The Flying Girl series: "Capital up-to-the-minute stories for girls and young people in which the author is at her very best. Thrilling and full of adventure, but of that wholesome type parents are glad to put into the hands of their daughters."

I can't wait!

Monday, May 27, 2019

A Moment in the Sun

This little poppy is an unexpected volunteer in my flowerbed. Something kept me from pulling up the unfamiliar green plant and I was rewarded one morning with this single fragile bloom

My wildflower book tells me it's an introduced annual, rare except around Wilmington, all the way across the state. I remember having seen one growing wild on the roadside only once. So this felt like a tiny miracle. 

And a short-lived one too -- by mid-afternoon it was fading and shedding its petals.

And I realized how appropriate the poppy is as a symbol for Memorial Day -- a day created to honor those who died in military service for the USA. 

As I looked at the bare stem that had been so beautiful only half a day earlier, I was reminded of a  poignant quote from one of my  recent students who is writing about a Marine officer's experiences in Viet Nam: "An eighteen year old Marine wants more than anything to  become a nineteen year old Marine."

All those young lives lost. Sent to wars started by old men. And, at least since World War II, wars without a compelling rationale. Wars to control other countries and the politics and assets thereof. Wars based on fear . . . or lies. . . or profit.

Meanwhile, President Bonespurs, whose own personal Vietnam was spent in NYC avoiding STDs, (full quote and video HERE) is sending another 1500 troops to the Middle East . . . 

When will it ever end?

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Around the Place

Weeding, weeding, weeding. . . It's a pleasure to be out in the morning before things heat up.

Sitting on the bench under the willow would be nice but there's something elemental about sitting in the dirt and getting up close and personal with nature.

Well, not too close. The Arum Dracunculus smells of carrion . . . 

And the leaves of the Spider Plant (Tradescantia) can cause a rash.  

Better perhaps to observe from  a distance.

This is the second time I've found this Box Turtle burying herself in the mulch. Both times, after she's moved on, I've looked to see if she might have laid some eggs but nothing showed up. It's possible the resident blacksnake has a taste for eggs -- John removed him/her from the chicken house a few days ago.

The Japanese iris are blooming now.

It's always a treat to see these elegant flowers.

They're just outside the little greenhouse, in easy reach of the hose as they love moisture.

As I was snapping their pictures, I heard a thump inside the greenhouse and went to investigate, As I suspected, it was the blacksnake and it was totally discombobulated by my sudden appearance. It exited through the holes for the hoses between the solar panel and the hot water heater.

I'll be back, it said.