Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Rose Rustlers

Surfing Amazon at the end of last year (okay, looking for ways to spend Christmas money on Amazon), I was surprised and excited to find this recent (2017) publication by Greg Grant and William Welch.  I clicked it straight into my shopping cart and ordered it, anticipating an interesting history of rose rustling from the perspectives of the rustlers themselves.  Something preferably as enjoyable as one of my favorite reads, the 1989 page-turner In Search of Lost Roses, by Thomas Christopher.  Has it really been nearly 30 years since the latter was written?

What I got, in The Rose Rustlers, was indeed an interesting historical outlook on the criminal rose enterprises of Texans that lead ultimately to the foundation of the Antique Rose Emporium, but after the first couple of chapters, it was not quite the engaging read I was looking for.  I suppose I'm just being too picky, and I'm biased by my preference for gardening essays that are more about the philosophy and lifestyle of gardening than the practice of gardening.  The quality of the photographs and detail of the book were fabulous, but it was a struggle to get all the way through.  The book did start out well, with chapters on Noted Rose Rustlers, Bill Welch himself, The Texas Rose Rustler organization, and the Antique Rose Emporium, but then it bogged down, for me, into a number of chapters on the favorite roses of the authors and their rose gardens themselves.  These would have been okay if the roses were unknown to me, but many are old friends and I didn't learn much in the remainder of the book that was helpful.  Particularly not much in light of my need to stay with Rugosas here on my home ground while I fight the losing battle against Rose Rosette Disease.

Spend money, if you want, on this book for the great photography, numerous examples of roses in the landscape, or the history behind the movement of rose rustling.  But if you want a nice fireside read, one more difficult to put down and be distracted away from, then pick up a copy of In Search of Lost Roses instead.  Sorry, but as I'm happy to disclose, my favorite gardening books are still mostly essays;  Thomas Christopher as mentioned, Michael Pollan (Second Nature), Henry Mitchell (any of his works), Sydney Eddison (A Passion for Daylilies), Mirabel Osler (A Breath from Elsewhere), Allen Lacy, or Beverley Nichols.  These are the classics that keep me thinking of spring gardens while in winter's grasp.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fake Blogs in Winter

There is, in my mind, no sustaining solace in the drab brown of a Flint Hills' winter.  Oh, I could ramble about for a few paragraphs extolling the virtues of the subtle hues of amber and gold and taupe in my winter landscape, but then that would be "Fake Blogging."  Just as "Fake News" has joined the lexicon of our political debates, "Fake Blogs" should be called for what they are; ill-conceived attempts to paint pictures that don't really exist.  Fake blogs wax eloquent the delicate beauties of bark when there are no flowers or foliage to distinguish one ice-laden tree from another.  Fake blogs discuss the delicate dancing of grasses as a blizzard bears down and smothers the garden.  Fake blogs pretend that browsing glossy garden catalogs is a suitable substitute for the feel of warm earth in your hands. 

I wait in January, interminably it seems, for the smallest, briefest indication that Spring is coming.  A flash of blue from a bluebird, a hint of green in the rushes, and my heart beats faster and my spirits lift.  Difficult to find, those moments, as Yoda would say.  When the snow melts, there is a brief period on the prairie when the grasses have enough remaining moisture to display their mahogany and umber undertones.  Then dry in a twinkling, the rolling hills of brown stretch to the horizon, dead grasses blending individual hues to a bland carpet of boring.  Life is color, death is drab.

Last week, when the weather teased me with warm sunshine and clear air, I strolled during lunch to the K-State Gardens, seeking signs of Spring.  I wanted only a brief glimpse of a timid peony breaking through the ground, or the slightest sight of  a subterranean squill squeezing through the frozen crust.  My desires, like a foundering ship against the shore, dashed by the dry remnants of dead perennials, the only bright spot, Bittersweet, both in name and in spirit, as pictured above.  Russet sumac berries failed to break the brown monotony and puce coralberries merely blended into the bleakness.  I left, back to work in walled confines, to wait further, sullen and sad.

Thank God, in such moments, for Bittersweet and Fake Blogs. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Particular Animals

ProfessorRoush took advantage of a mid-January warm spell yesterday to put out and mount the new bluebird houses that I made after my "check-and-clean-the-nests" weekend in November.  I haven't blogged about it, but I needed to replace several older bluebird houses after my inspection and I went a little crazier than normal and had made eight new bluebird houses (per the Roush NABS-approved plans) in a single 3-hour span on the weekend of  Thanksgiving.  And yesterday, knowing that Eastern Bluebirds normally start looking for suitable nest lodgings in February in this area, I thought I'd better be getting the new birdhouses up for the early arrivals while the weather was nice.

I found, however, that the bluebirds are already back (if in fact they ever left) and they were thumbing their noses at the new houses, in effect saying to me, "we don't need no new stinking houses!"  On my back hill, I ran into this pair (which I have denoted by arrows if you click on the photo or look closely), clustering around one of my older, more run-down houses, and I was most delighted to see them.  As I took this single photo from a distance, they decided I was close enough and they flew away, ahead of me, to the next house on the fence line, so I'm quite sure they've been checking out the neighborhood and already have a good idea of property values and proximity to water and food sources.  This Mrs. Bluebird seems to be pretty happy with the home that her male picked out.  Maybe "new" isn't as appealing to bluebirds as weather-beaten and old?  Maybe they don't like the smell of new cedar?  There's no accounting for taste, especially when it comes to the nest-warmer of the couple.

I continued to place out new houses and reposition some older houses on my walk.  I have probably overbuilt the neighborhood, since bluebird pairs don't like to nest within sight of others, but I want every azure visitor to my 20 acres to have a home, even if some end up being homes for wrens.  At least the carefully-sized entrances seem to keep the ubiquitous sparrows out. 

While traipsing around the bottoms, I also needed to check on the donkeys, who hadn't been seen in several very cold days, and I found them to be fine.  I was amused that this hay bale, deposited in the bottom for their eating convenience and for better nutrition than the dry prairie grass, seems to be hollowed out, the better preserved grass on the inside eaten first.  Who would have thought that donkeys, as well as bluebirds, could be so particular about their homes and food?  Certainly not their gardening landlord.


Sunday, December 17, 2017


ProfessorRoush still, occasionally, reads the monthly Reader's Digest.  Not as a regular subscriber, but in a spurious-purchase-at-the-checkout kind of way when I get captured by a headline about an uplifting story.  Sometimes, it jumps into my hand when I just want to get tickled by "Laughter is the Best Medicine," or "Humor in Uniform."  When it is in my hands, however, I always consume it word for word, except, of course, for the multitude of advertisements which I pass over like passing over sinners at the Apocalypse. The standard vocabulary/grammar column is one of my favorites, a momentary diversion in pursuit of a perfect grammar score, or sometimes just to catch a new word wafting around my native language.   

So it was with "petrichor," defined in the 09/2017 Reader's Digest as "the way it smells when rain falls on parched earth."  If there were ever a cromulent word created to express joy and seemingly made just for Kansans, it is "petrichor."  The Oxford Dictionary goes RD one better, defining it as "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather."  The word blends "petra," referring to "stone," with "ichor," or "blood flowing in the veins of the gods."  Petrichor, most simply, is the scent of rain, although I prefer to think of it as the perfectly delicious scent of Mother Earth and the water that sustains her.

Petrichor is one of those words, in fact, whose exact origin is recorded.  It was coined in 1964 by Bear and Thomas in the journal Nature.  Their dry description of petrichor is not nearly so refreshing, attributing the odor to plant oils absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks and released into air during rain with another compound, geosmin, a metabolic by-product of actinobacteria.  In other words, to climate scientists, petrichor is merely the aerosolized combination of plant droppings and bacteria poop.  And we wonder what happened to romance in the garden?

This morning I woke early, in darkness to the pattering of rain on the window by my bed.  Comforting, yet perplexing, no rain forecast nor any seen in quantity since September, I listened and drifted back off, safe in the warm cocoon of covers with the portly lump of Bella pressed against my side.  As I woke later, an early dawn glance out the window confirmed, in fact, that moisture had fallen from Heaven down, enough to dampen the patio and evoke colors from the prairie grasses.

 Close your eyes.  Search your memories for the scent of petrichor.  Does it smell different in the summer, warm rain on warm ground, musk and earth mixed in languid pleasure, than it does in the winter, cool and minty, clean and brisk?  I think so.  The petrichor of high summer evokes joy and dancing, and celebration of new life.  It's a bouquet that tempts me to throw off clothes and feel the warm droplets on bare skin as I stroll through the yard and the neighbors frantically call 911.  Petrichor in summer is the purest caress of nature to relieve all the parched and dusty cracks of living.  In the winter, as this morning, it's still a welcome fragrance, but hardly as comforting.  Metallic and chilling, without the overtones of life and sex, a brief passing promise unfilled.  It has no power to draw me outside, it creates no inner urge to let the cold dampen the inner fire.  It is merely there, stripped of promise, barren of life.  I'll stay inside today, and allow my olfactory memory pretend that it is summer outside, the warm and cloying odor of rich earth all around me. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...