Christmas cookies account for a full 30% of my annual weight gain. Oatmeal, chocolate chip and Grandma cookies (or white cookies as one of my brothers calls them) are sinfully good with a mug of coffee.
The only ones that don’t tempt me are the sugar cookies. With their sweetness and the colored sugar crystals adorning them I think of them as a snack for young children who haven’t yet developed a more discerning palate (to each his own).
Camera Girl is revered by all who can get their greedy hands on any of these treasures and the short time that they last is one of the high points of the culinary calendar.
Camera Girl is a great naturalist. She likes being called Hawkeye because of her sharp and discerning vision. She uses this keen sense mostly to see what it says on the speedometer in order to tell me I’m driving too fast. But she also is adept at spotting interesting flora and fauna in the great wide world of our back yard. She spots monarch butterfly caterpillars and hungry foxes and great blue herons and all kinds of birds around her feeders. She discovers muskrats and minks and turkeys and turkey vultures, hawks and deer and coyotes and all kinds of flowers wild and garden. Last year at about this time she spotted some unusual white plants sprouting underneath a conifer on the edge of a heavily wooded area of the property. I thanked her for her find and proceeded to acquire a nice collection of mosquito bites crawling around on my belly trying to get a shot. Here is the plant.
I thought it a very interesting plant and assumed it was white only because it was in a darkly shaded area. I thought no more about it until this year. In the last few weeks we have had some extremely hot and also some extremely rainy weather. So even though it is August my “lawn” is a verdant carpet of crab grass. And at the same time a great variety of different species of mushrooms have appeared in the yard, especially close to some wooded areas of the property. Camera Girl knows I like to use mushrooms as subjects for close-up and macro photography and so she provides me with info on the best new mushroom sightings. This year was no exception so I have managed to photograph a goodly number of interesting fungi. But what was different was her discovery of additional specimens of the sprouting white plants. I was able to use the superb magnified focus of my new Sony A7 III to very good advantage on these plants.
And because the places I found the plants was not as dark as last year’s location I decided that their coloration was not a fluke of location. They really were white. Using all the resources of the interwebs I was able to identify these unusual plants. It is known systematically as Monotropa uniflora but commonly it is called Indian pipe, ghost plant and corpse plant. It has no chlorophyll to allow it to produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water. Instead it steals its food from underground fungi of the family Russulaceae.
This condition of lacking chlorophyll and living parasitically off fungi makes the Indian pipe what is known in botany as an obligate myco-heterotroph. And it gets even more complicated than that. The fungus that Indian pipe is mooching off is simultaneously in a symbiotic existence with underground tree roots of beech and other woodland trees. The tree roots allow the fungus access to sugar and the fungus breaks down decaying material in the soil so that the trees can absorb the nutrients it could not obtain on its own. In fact, the tree roots and the fungi form an interface called a mycorrhizal network in which the cells of the roots and the fungus interpenetrate each other to allow nutrient materials to flow in both directions to the mutual benefit of both. So it was no coincidence that Camera Girl discovered the Indian pipe while scouting out new mushrooms. The torrential rain and torrid heat of the last few weeks is what triggered the sprouting mushrooms and the Indian pipe bloom. And now I see the even closer relation between these two life forms. The mushroom is the victim of the Indian pipe thief.
So, this is the kind of weird stuff that I am interested in. This doesn’t really belong solely in photography or current events and definitely not in science fiction or reviews. That is why photog’s Corner was made, for this kind of weird stuff. Caveat lector, let the reader beware.
I think it is a sign of the coming apocalypse that suburban residents think they need to have farm animals on their property. And women are entirely impractical about pets.
Now, coming from an individual who in the past has kept four of the six giant snake species in a Brooklyn apartment this might sound slightly self-serving and hypocritical. In fact, it probably is. But everybody always says a boy needs his hobbies. No one ever says a girl needs her hobbies. QED.
But I maintain that I am a reformed former animal horder. For this reason, I feel that I have the right to pronounce judgement against this misguided practice.
Going through the various animal keeping proclivities of our marriage, it is obvious that eventually we would branch out from indoor menageries and end up in the barnyard. And after the fiasco of the Great Quail Fail of 2017 (as it came to be known) it was inevitable that Camera Girl would want revenge. But my actual problem with the new animal introduction is practical. The winters in New England can be brutally cold and snow filled. It occurs to me that during some prodigious snow fall when the goat enclosure is engulfed by some absurd 50” snow fall that I will be called upon at some god-awful hour to go out and clear a space for the goats to allow them to get at their food and water. And based on my memory of Lovecraft’s description of Shub-Niggurath, (“The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”), I believe there is a better than even chance that the critters will take advantage of my proximity and vulnerability to stage some kind of satanic attack upon my person.
Alright, I don’t really think it will be satanic. But goats are jerks and they will probably butt me with their stupid horns and that will probably really hurt. So, there’s that. Plus, I’ll have to clean out their pen because let’s face it, men always get stuck with the crappy jobs. So that’s why I hate the goats. But Camera Girl does feed me and stuff so I guess it’s still a good deal. I guess.
But have you ever looked at goats. They’ve got those weird eyes that are really weird and maybe they are satanic. And they’re gonna eat everything they can get their teeth into so they’ll turn their pen into the Plain of Gorgorath where nothing can survive. Plus, I’ll bet the pen will be under constant assault by the local coyote pack and they’ll be howling every night and I’ll probably have to defend the stupid goats as if I actually wanted them to survive. It’ll be like that scene in Whisperer in the Darkness where the old guy is defending his compound from the giant fungus lobsters with his rifle and german shepherds. Except that german shepherds are actually useful and goats aren’t. And I don’t have a rifle. And coyotes aren’t lobsters. But it was in New England.
I feel that the only hope is if biological science makes rapid advances in genetic engineering. If genetically modified goats that only grow to the size of crickets could be commercially available then my problem would be solved. I could set up a pen for them in the kitchen junk drawer and they would be a very small problem to take care of. So that’s what I’m banking on at this point. The goats are supposed to arrive a week from Saturday so there’s still time. I know it’s a long shot but my luck’s got to change some day. Maybe this will be it. So, come on you genetic researchers, stop being so selfish and put aside all this cancer jazz for a minute, and solve a really urgent need, the world’s cricket-sized goat shortage. What color ribbon is still available for the cause?
In New England, the end of summer is akin to how it must have felt to the pyramid-building slaves when their break period was about to end. A wonderful but horribly short respite was giving way to endless unimaginable agony. And this cycle would repeat itself until merciful death interceded. It’s just like that.
Summer is breathtakingly beautiful because of the contrast to what follows. It was less than 40◦F here this morning. On the second day of September. Still summer! And it goes rapidly downhill from here. Sure, we’ll have some warm days. Over eighty sometimes. But it’s just a cruel tease meant to highlight just how bad things will soon be. In the last decade or so New England has unleashed a new and terrifying alternative to winter storms. This is where a freezing rain or snow descends on us in October while the trees are still full of leaves. The trees in this condition hold onto much more snow and ice than normally and therefore huge branches and limbs can break off the trees. And that’s how millions of people end up without power for days or even weeks. So, what you have is houses without heat, some without a stove, some without water, which means without toilets. It’s such a joy. So, installing an emergency generator really isn’t an extreme decision. It’s sort of mandatory if you want to eat and drink and stay warm and go to the bathroom and, you know, live.
So, why am I writing about this? Well mostly to let you people living in other parts of the country know how lucky you are. Sure, they have hurricanes down south and earthquakes in the west and tornadoes in between but those only very infrequently effect you. Here we know as sure as night follows day that we will be wet, miserable and cold for eight months of the year, every year until we die or we have the good sense to get the hell out of this purgatorial region.
And why don’t I leave? Ah, I am bound with the strongest and most adamantine of chains, the grandmother/grandchildren bond. If a woman is possessed of an industrial strength maternal instinct (as, sadly, Camera Girl is) then no power in the ‘Verse short of a strategic thermonuclear strike will pry her away from these rugrats.
So here I am. The rollercoaster is at the top of the lift hill and the slow ratchet up is done. We’re staring down but the bottom has not yet dropped out of our stomachs. Here we go.
End of depressing preamble.
So, I’ve got this cool three-day weekend. Some relatives are coming up. I’m going out to take some seasonal photos and I’m bound to hang out with the grandsons too. Plus, the mystery of the disappearing quail needs to be answered. I’ve put out a game camera and hope to catch some photos of them gamboling around in the woods and thickets. And finally, I’m finishing up the available Cowboy Bebop discs from Netflix. I decided to try out another anime title (Ghost in the Shell 2.0) and it just arrived. All in all, it sounds like I’ll be having a very good time.
A very happy and relaxing Labor Day Holiday to all you good folks out there reading OCF. I’ll have more serious stuff right along soon but today just enjoy a good rest and do something fun.
About 10 minutes down the road from me is a field that is surrounded by corn fields, dairy farms and suburban neighborhoods. This sizable tract of land is covered by a patchwork of hayfields, grain patches, high grass and brush, small stands of trees, puddles and even a streamlet. The owner stocks this area with game birds. It provides hunters with access to pheasant, quail and partridge. Where I live there is an abundance of turkey and duck that move respectively through wood and pond at will. With respect to other bird life, the air is full of hawks and even bald eagle. At night, a particularly annoying Barred Owl often serenades me and Camera Girl at about 1:45 a.m. from a perch seemingly right outside my bedroom window. Only state firearm ordinances and my inherent laziness has saved this avian jerk from reaping the large caliber comeuppance he so richly deserves. During the day the bird song is much more melodious. Finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, jays, catbirds, cardinals and orioles abound. And for viewing interest there are the fascinating hummingbirds. Basically we’re flush with feathered friends.
So why would I be looking to add to their numbers? The answer is ticks. Connecticut is the Lyme disease capitol of the Universe. Apparently scenic Lyme Connecticut was so inviting that even the lowly spirochete responsible for this malady heard how great it is there and decided to immigrate. Having been blessed once with the honor of sharing my bloodstream with these delightful one celled creatures I have made it a high priority to pass on a second such honor. To this end I have devoted a certain amount of thought to lowering the local tick population. One thing the long-time inhabitants of the area told me was that chickens eat ticks. That pecking action they’re so famous for allows them to systematically ingest enormous numbers of small creatures including ticks. This seemed to me a great idea. Chickens! I mean, I like chicken. Fried, baked, souped, casseroled. I even like them before they are hatched. Why not bring them in and let them solve my problem. I did some research.
They need a house. Well, okay, why not. I’ll buy them a house.
They need to be fed and watered. Hmmm, that’s a lot of doing stuff.
They get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. On Saturday? What the hell is wrong with them. They sounded a lot like that jerk the Barred Owl.
Their house has to be cleaned a lot. Okay, that’s enough.
The cure was worse than the disease.
I returned to my research and looked into what else eats ticks. Other birds eat ticks. Yeah, well we’re flush with birds already and they’re not getting the job done. It turns out that some birds are better at it than others. And even if chickens were too much trouble there are birds sort of like chickens that also eat a lot of ticks. I went through the options and the one with the least maintenance was quail. They’re smaller than pheasants and guinea fowl and peacocks and with just a little help from me they might successfully acclimate to my property and be fruitful and multiply. This all sounded really good. Next step get quail. I went out next day intending to stop by the local quail store and pick up a couple of dozen before heading to the town apothecary and pick up my monthly assortment of leeches. One solid month of following up leads and I found a friendly regional quail guy. Negotiations were negotiated and basically, I acceded to all terms. Which unfortunately meant that the quails would arrive on a day that I was at work (Friday). No need for panic. Camera Girl would carry out the transaction and the quails would become part of Orion’s Cold Fire Enterprises with all the rights and responsibilities that entails (eat ticks). When the appointed hour arrived, I sat at work waiting with bated breath to get the victory message. “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
The actual call went slightly differently. When Camera Girl called up I could tell there had been a hitch. Quail come packed in a plastic box that basically keeps them in a standing room only enclosure. Apparently packing them cheek to jowl keeps them from getting too stirred up. But it also means they are anxious to spread out. When Camera Girl opened the box door the quail flew out in much the way shaken soda escapes from a bottle, rapidly and straight up. After the mass of panicked birds departed into the stratosphere and she had stopped blinking in amazement Camera Girl noticed that one bird had remained. This was the silver lining that was presented to me at the end of the story. Being a glass half empty kind of guy, I speculated that it probably broke a wing during the melee. But, being a fair and even-tempered individual, I thanked her for her help in the event told her I’d be following this lone bird’s future career with great interest. At that point I wrote off the whole thing as a good learning experience, namely that I’d learned that all birds are jerks.
On Saturday morning during our weekly inspection tour of the south forty, Camera Girl was excited to point out that there were now at least two quail skulking around the perimeter of the property. I should explain that part of the preparations for “Operation Shoot a Bunch of Money into the Sky” was the purchase of what is called a quail field base which consists of a device that provides food and water to quails in your field along with a battery powered electronic quail call that summons the quail to the base. Even though we only knew of one quail remaining in the immediate neighborhood of the base I activated the quail call. Every thirty minutes during daylight hours, this call produces a really goofy sounding bird noise which is supposed to lead the quails home to the base.
Well I guess it works. At least one and possibly several quails are now roaming around my fields and the surrounding woods. As the kids would say I’m mightily chuffed. So, Saturday as I was taking close up shots of caterpillars and plants I was able to get close enough to one quail ambling around in the brush to take his photo that I’ve attached above. The jury is of course still out but it’s entirely possible that maybe not all birds are jerks.