Mullein Hill

Often, I go over just to walk around it and marvel. It was a sand pile. We live in a wide river valley where the soil is more sand than anything else. My brother had the sand put there during a construction project just to get it out of the way, and for a long time it was just sand. Nothing much grew on it.

Then this started happening. A plant that I’ve seen and admired on my walks seemed to love this sand hill. It’s so different from other plants that I had to look it up. It’s mullein.

The young rosettes are a soft grey-green, and the leaves are fuzzy, kind of like velvet or fleece. They are biennial, which is to say that it takes two years for them to flower and produce seeds. But when they do produce seeds, they spread prolifically. The seeds can be viable in soil for up to ten years. Some people call them weeds because of that but other people plant them in their gardens.

The flower stalk, which you can see in my later pictures, is really pretty. In addition to that, the plant has been used for ages to soothe coughs, sore throats, and deep lung congestion. Early settlers would make tea from the leaves, and found it helpful for treating TB. Mullein originated in Europe and came here early in our country’s history but by the 1800’s, it had spread everywhere from one coast to the other.

I like this plant. It has taken over the sand pile, which is why I’ve named it Mullein hill. There are a lot of other wild plants and flowers filling in the spaces on the hill which make it even more interesting. It looks a bit magical and I wanted to share it with you all. Mullein Hill.

Mullein Hill one year ago with a few flower spikes
Mullein Hill now
The flower/seed stalks should be removed if you don’t want this plant to spread and get out of control.
Someday I want to write a story about Mullein Hill because it stirs my imagination. How about you?

Hope for Things Thought Dead

What is the story here? I can see it plainly, but I never know how plain it is to others – we are all products of our past thoughts and experiences and it can make such a difference in our outlooks.

Last fall I put these amaryllis bulbs in the garage for their winter dormancy period. Their long leaves flopped over, turned yellow and dried up. They got no water, very little light, and no attention. One of them started pushing up a new leaf during the winter but there was no chance of it surviving and I worried about the untimely appearance. They were all dead looking, didn’t seem very stable or rooted in their pots, and were soft like they might be rotting. Nothing hopeful about them.

And then they came to life, like so many things do in the spring. Tips of the new leaves were barely visible in the dead layers of brown wrappings. I didn’t know if the early started would start again a second time, but it did. It was much later than the others and seems a bit tattered but it’s alive.

For me, it’s all about the hope that is built into creation that dead things come to life. It’s one of those plainly seen reminders of the intentions of our Creator. Seeing how life is embedded into the DNA of plants and trees and animals of all kinds, I can’t imagine that it isn’t also built into us. I do believe there is a creator God and that he’s telling me on a regular yearly schedule, that he is all about restoring, making new, and starting over, no matter how unlikely it might look to me. I love the sound of that and the spirit behind it.

Funny thing, once I started believing that God was sending me personal messages through things I could see and touch, things he created for my environment, he became real and personal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science. Science is a process by which we study our world. But science is not a creator. Science is still looking for a creator.

I’m enjoying this season. I’m watching for green grass to come up through the dead, matted fields. I’m watching for the geese to come to the marsh to make nests. I’m looking at the lilac twigs to see how far along the buds are. I’m watching the sunrise shift rapidly from south to north on the horizon. There is nothing dead that doesn’t have some hope attached to it and it all feels very personal, now that I’ve decided it is.

Smith Meadow

How I come to be here is another story for another time, Smith Meadow being enough of a story in itself. A clearing in the middle of a parcel of forested land has become dear to many in my family. Part of the farm my father came to the year he and my mom were married, it has had a part in my brother’s lives as they have cared for it in various ways. Lately the forest around it has been harvested leaving wide paths through the pines and hardwoods that are still plentiful. Dark, cool, and full of mosquitoes, the path winds through the forest all the way around the meadow.

Really if it were not for the forest, the meadow would not have the magic that it does. It is a surprise of openness, with a feeling of privacy. It is a secret that cannot be seen from outside. There is a grass covered road through a field of hay by which to approach the meadow. Those who don’t know it’s there, would not notice it at all. From cars on the nearby paved road all that can be seen is a tall wall of trees on the far side of an expanse of timothy grass and clover.

In the aftermath of a disturbing discussion, I stepped out into the meadow looking for some peace, looking for the path into the woods. Trees have always helped me feel sheltered, covered, and aware of their bigness and the smallness of my problems. It was fall when I last walked on the path so the trees were mostly bare and leaves covered the ground. This evening, everything was green from the floor to the ceiling overhead, an endless variety of patterns and shapes in green, green and green…

The path itself is predominantly covered with white clover and grass, almost like it has been seeded. It creates a perfect dining area for deer and I expect to see one every time I go around a bend, but no. Only once did I hear a sound and see the momentary flash of white in the woods. But the grasses were disturbed and flattened in many places all along the mile or so of my walk. The deer had been there.

I returned, along with my mosquito friends, to my abode for the night. This lonely little trailer house, on the edge of Smith Meadow, no electricity, no water – just peace (and mosquitoes).

More Wonderful Things

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Flowers, guys. Flowers are wonderful. There is something so special about northern flowers too, a different special than the Florida flowers I’m used to.

Here we go. Korean lilacs, late bloomers.

Iris – such fancy ladies – and they smell so good!Daisies in mom’s garden – so pretty!I love Wave Petunias.

And if flowers are too common for you to get excited about, I’d ask you to look at this ice cube I found in the fridge. It’s uncommonly wonderful. It has a stem. How does that happen?

Before You Know It

Time goes so fast! The fun thing I’ve been looking forward to for months, the hike in the Grand Canyon, is only six days away. I know from experience that it will only be a short time and I will be looking back on it and wondering how it could be over already.

While believing (strongly) in living “in the moment”, I also love to plan ahead, and I enjoy remembering good things from the past. So to alleviate my disappointment on having one adventure end, I like to have one always cooking for the future. I’ve picked my next enjoyable, spring activity! I’m already excited about the summer garden.

I love gardening. Almost everything about it is fun for me. Even if nothing were to grow (this has never happened) I just enjoy being out in the dirt, spending time in the sun, watching bugs and birds, loving on my plants. I know plants are not people and they don’t have feelings (not actually sure of that, but…). However, they do respond to good, thoughtful care which makes them seem kind of like people.

And so, I like to think about what plants will be in my garden, what kind of soil will be prepared for them, how I will keep other plants (weeds) from competing with them, and all that kind of stuff. I like to buy seeds and starter plants. I like to watch the garden grow from its early stage to being full of greenery and fruitful. I like to keep the edges neat.  Experimenting is allowed and there is always something new to try.

My brother Dennis says hi.

This year there will be a new garden location. My brother has chosen a plot in his yard, close to a water source and has it all worked up. There were a lot of grass clumps in the topsoil so he is tilling it up every couple of days to dry them out and hopefully kill the roots. I can already imagine being out there laying out the rows, mulching, getting dirty.

I’ll enjoy the hike thoroughly and concentrate on it while I’m there, but thankfully, I am a good multi-tasker and will probably have a thought or two about the garden while I’m trying to fall asleep, on the hard ground, in my tent… just sayin’.   

Thirteen Thousand Steps

One day this week I took a longer than usual walk, for training purposes. Since the first day walking at the Grand Canyon will be at least four hours of descent, I’ve been trying to think of places that would be interesting for the longer training walks. The trails around Hospital Lake fit the description.  Hospital Lake, named for the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital which can be seen from nearly every vantage point around the lake, not only has ski and hiking trails but actually has a very cool bike trail designed and maintained by the Chequamagon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA).

ATV trail on old railroad bed

From home, I took the railroad bed ATV trail. Right away I had to take pictures of the fungi and moss. There aren’t a lot of green things growing yet so these plants get top billing. And they are so interesting they deserve it.

Love these colors and textures!
Different!
Mullein
And a bit of color.

A short distance on Hospital Road, and then I ducked into the pine woods where I knew I would intersect with a trail. It’s a small enough area that is fairly familiar to me so I wasn’t concerned about getting lost. My motto is “I’m never lost if I don’t care where I’m going.” So true. And if the goal is to get in as many steps as possible…

All the trails aren’t this wide and smooth. This is one of the ski trails.

In opting for whichever trail looked most interesting, I ended up on some I had not seen before. I discovered that some new trails were being made in the woods by workers with heavy equipment – they weren’t there at the time but there was lots of evidence. Part of this forest is old growth pine – trees which always have me in awe of their size and bearing. Guardians of the forest, who have seen a lot of action.

The guardian and his weapons.
Swans on Hospital Lake

Reaching the lake, I got a glimpse of swans on the far edge, too far for a good picture. I counted five and watched them for a while.  On the way out I did try a couple trails that took me in circles, and again I ended up in places I hadn’t seen before. The area is bigger than I thought. Thirteen thousand steps, for me, is 5.84 miles and I was beginning to feel the strain so I headed home. My sis-in-law met me on the way back and we walked home together.

Hospital Lake – beautiful area for walking, biking or in winter, skiing. Try it if you are ever in Hayward.

Xeriscape of the Canyon

Xeriscape: a landscaping method that employs drought resistant plants and special techniques to conserve water.  I love plants! Can’t forget to do a little research on plants…

I’m thinking that someone did a pretty good xeriscape job in the Grand Canyon. Looking at the chart below with rainfall averages for the South Rim, North Rim and the Inner Gorge, I see only one month, August, with significant precipitation. The highest number for any month is 2.85 inches. The Grand Canyon is mostly desert.

I am so glad we are not going to the Inner Gorge in July or August (the numbers with the little stars by them – see note about 120 degree temps!!!)

In spite of that, and because of the climate changes with elevation, it is amazingly rich in plant life and almost all are drought resistant. Here’s a list:

  • 1, 737 known species of vascular plants
  • 167 species of fungi
  • 64 species of moss
  • 195 species of lichen

There are 12 plants that are only found in the Grand Canyon (endemic), and only 10% of the plants in the Canyon are exotic (from somewhere else and probably invasive). Those are pretty special statistics.

There is such a variety of eco systems in the canyon. As you can imagine, along the river where there are seeps and springs and tributaries joining the Colorado, there will be willows, acacia, rare plants and hanging gardens. At higher elevations there is desert scrub, then pinyon pine and juniper, then at about 6,500 feet above sea level the Ponderosa pine forests start. On the north rim there are some mountain meadows and subalpine grasslands.

I’m glad I don’t have to forage for food while I’m visiting the canyon, but how good is it to know that there are things there that can be eaten? I found a website telling me that the top three plants that could save me from starvation are the banana yucca, the currant bush, and the cereus cactus. Maybe you should know about them too – you never know where you’re going to find yourself. Click the link. https://grandcanyonhelicoptertour.net/top-3-edible-plants-of-the-grand-canyon/

I would have a tough time creating a xeriscape that would have the natural features and beauty of the Grand Canyon (unless I had a couple billion years to work on it) but I am expecting to enjoy and photograph it – a favorite pastime. Hoping to add some stunning pics to this post after the hike.

Ordinary Times and Travels: Alki Drive, post 7

Come along. Charlie (the dog) and I are going for a walk.

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A summer shot along the sea wall from Alki Beach.

West Seattle is a peninsula of sorts with a variety of geographical features. In previous visits I’ve posted about the Alki lighthouse, the stairways leading up the steep bluffs, the old growth forest in the interior, and some of the sights along the default exercise walk, Alki Drive. Today, Charlie and I went on that walk just to see what it looked like in winter.  It has been so cold, wet and windy that we were glad to have time outside on a calmer, warmer day.

On Alki Drive one can traverse the western side of West Seattle from the lighthouse and Alki Beach all the way up to the northern point where there is a good view of downtown Seattle across the water. It’s hard to describe in words so you really have to look at a map. Puget Sound has many islands, inlets, peninsulas and bays and is a long body of water. There are some beaches but often the shoreline is rocky and steep. My daughter’s house is only a few blocks from one of the few beach areas so that is where my walk usually starts.

There is the water, a sandy beach which gives way gradually to a cement sea wall, then a wide grass and shrub strip, then the sidewalk for walkers, another strip of shrubbery, the wide paved area for bikers, skaters and long board riders, then the street, the sidewalk again, a row (sometimes two) of dwellings and finally a steep, unbuildable cliff covered with trees and vines. Every once in a while there is enough of an outcropping that someone feels safe attaching houses to it, but the roads to them are narrow, switch-backed and have very inventive parking areas.

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The bluff is not very high here. Another row of houses hanging on up top.

Although it is cold here, it doesn’t freeze hard enough to kill many of the plants and shrubs. There is green grass, many of the trees still have leaves and the houses and condos along Alki Drive looked much like they do in the spring and summer. I passed the monkey tail tree, araucaria araucana, one of the oddest conifers I have ever seen.

This is the thought game I play while I walk past all the small summer houses, the old ones. Many of them are run down, poorly maintained, and some are uninhabited (condemned most likely), in spite of the high priced land they are sitting on. I look at them and plan what I would do first if I lived there. Give me a sledge hammer, some paint, a shovel. They beg me to pull the weeds, pick up trash and simply make them look like someone loves them. I know if they are not fixed up they will soon find themselves replaced with high rise condos.  Some are fixed up and are very cute – showing that it can be done.

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Draw a circle around the one that is not like the others.

The goal today is to walk to the so-called “flower house”. Nestled between two high rises, a small house and adjoining building have become locally famous for being festooned with flowers throughout the summer, extremely festooned. The flower house is right on the sidewalk and the owner has seating for tourists to have their pictures taken surrounded by flowers. I’ve posted photos of my daughter and I in those very seats last year. This winter the décor is more sparse but still lovely.

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On the way back, the house that wins my vote for Christmas prettiness is this one. I choose it mostly because of the blue lights which are my favorites.

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I walk a little further and see another one of my colorful favorites, the Blue Moon Burger joint. They have some crazy good sweet potato fries there.

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One of many eateries lined up along Alki Drive in the beach area.

And then we head inland a couple blocks and are back to Esther’s house, “Ocean’s Arms”, immediately below the path leading into Schmitz Park.  To end, I am showing you a picture of the Star of Bethlehem tree, which you saw in the dark a few nights ago.  This is how it looks in the day, along the walk going up into Schmitz Park. Both pictures are from my bedroom window. We think they must leave the star up there all year, although Esther has not thought to look.

 

Thanks for coming along on my walk down Alki Drive.

#atozchallenge: What exactly is a fig?

 

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A “figgy” picture of two different kinds of dried figs that are commonly available.

If you’re like me and didn’t grow up in a warm climate, your only exposure to figs was a cookie called Fig Newtons.  Since growing up (getting bigger anyway…) spending time in California and Florida, I now know that a fig is a fruit about the size of a plum that grows on a small tree or bush and is part of the mulberry family.  It can be eaten fresh but since it has to ripen on the tree and doesn’t keep for very long, it’s most often encountered as a dried fruit, a lot like a prune. There are a lot of different varieties with differences in flavor but because they are so perishable you won’t often find them unless you grow them.

The taste of a fig is very mild and that is probably why we see them dried more often than not. Drying concentrates the flavor and makes it more distinctive.  The dark ones I have pictured are the variety called Mission figs and the lighter colored ones are California figs.  Organic is a good choice, as with any product where you are eating the skins and all.

Nothing too remarkable in their appearance – most dried things are not lovely – but the fruit before being dried is very interesting.  Figs can be grown in most any temperate climate. I have been trying to grow figs in Florida, which is not exactly temperate, but even here they survive.. To pollinate and have true seeds they need the help of a little wasp that we don’t have in North America but the plant will produce fruit even without that pollination.  Summary: they are easy to grow but do better in loamy soil with adequate water and some pruning. If you don’t get fruit, be patient, it could take a few years. One tip I read for plants that don’t fruit is to add lime to the soil. I need to do this and to prune in the dormant season.

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Ooops, missed the dormant season – my fig is already budding out.

Eat figs fresh in salads, or as table fruit. Use them dried on your cereal, in soups, stews, to enrich poultry or lamb, and in baked goods. Here’s a favorite recipe that use the dried figs you would normally find in most grocery store. Give it a go!  Fig-Bran Muffins  Or,  you could always go and buy some Fig Newtons… just sayin’.

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They even have them in the healthy food stores!