Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Tree That Ate Dogs...

At the end of October (near Halloween), I took a day off from work because I knew it was going to be an absolutely gorgeous day...and it was. The temperature was in the 80s, the sun was out, the sky was blue, and despite the lack of rain in months, the trees were at their peak for fall color.

I took a full day off from work because I wanted to get the rest of my potted plants in the ground before the first frost and that day seemed like it would be the perfect day to get a lot done. The thing is, no matter how fast I try to dig those plants in, I only manage to get in two at any given time. Two! Probably because my process involves some staring time, time spent imagining the best place possible for each shrub. However, once I start digging, those plans change because I either find an enormous tree root or solid rock beneath just one inch of soil and so....I move to another area where once again I spend some time staring and imagining. Bo and Tilly eventually get bored with me staring into space and tend to walk off with my digging equipment when any one tool is not in my hands. Then it's off to the car to see if I brought a spare spade or whatever because I almost never find those spades or gloves or small rakes or a new set of Felco pruners (!!!!) again. I just know that getting plants planted takes time but I had an entire day and I knew my obstacles.

But not the one that happened that day. I had planted a ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo') the day before and while I was checking on it, the dogs checked out a hole at the bottom of a nearby sycamore.

It wasn't that big of a hole but Tilly was compelled to stick her nose in it as far as it could go, and then she started to furiously dig so she could get in even further.

We all watched her rotate herself around like she was a drill bit and just like that, she was gone!

Once Tilly was inside, the other dogs felt they needed to get in there too.

Bella was next in line and although she is bigger than Tilly, she was pulled into the hole even faster than Tilly. In just a few seconds...

...Bella was gone too.

Mary was ready to get herself inside the tree too but I pushed her aside to see just where the heck those other two dogs went. I didn't want to see another dog disappear in the tree when the other two had still not come out! But I could not see them when I looked in the hole, I could not see them when I looked down thinking there might be a tunnel under the tree, I even took a look behind the tree to see if they had come out the other side. Nope. No dogs. Those dogs were somewhere in Narnia and I thought I better distract the other two by getting them away from that tree while Tilly and Bella figured out that maybe they should turn around and come back out.

I set off for the woods to dig in a spicebush with Bo and Mary right behind me.

Bo can be one of my favorite garden helpers because it doesn't take him long to go from this...

...to this.

I got that one shrub in pretty fast and managed to find all my digging tools when I was done too. I felt pretty good about that and felt hopeful that Tilly and Bella had probably made it out of the tree. Mary and Bo followed me out of the woods and down the hill but when we got to the sycamore, Tilly was at the base of the tree with just her head sticking out from the hole. I heard Bella's whimpering...from somewhere inside the tree at my height! Tilly was 10% out and stuck and Bella was 100% stuck folded up in some odd position behind but intertwined with Tilly. Tilly was the first one in but now the first one almost out. I don't know how they found a way to switch directions in there because obviously that hollow area was narrow. Digging a bigger hole to get Tilly out didn't work, holding a biscuit in front of Tilly didn't work, pulling on her legs didn't work. Mary and Bo even tried to help by barking and crying and inside the tree, the same thing was going on but not as robustly. It was awful.

I walked across the street to talk to their owner because I was clueless as to what to do. By the time I got there and told him the story about his dogs being stuck inside a tree, he pointed to the road and started to laugh and said, "You mean that dog over there?" And there was Tilly racing across the street to get to us.

But Bella was not behind her.

I said I'd be back if I couldn't convince Bella to come out and then told the dogs "C'mon!" and walked back across the street with the three Pied Piperettes while their owner watched me and his dogs, probably thinking..."cityfolk."

The dogs and I found the most mournful looking dog peering out from that hole in the tree. We all tried to coach her out but Bella just cried and cried. This was getting all of us upset so we walked across the street again, me and my borrowed three dogs, to let their owner know that Bella was seriously stuck. And when I returned, Bella had finally gotten herself out and was trotting up the driveway, a little gimpy but at least she was out.

Whew! Big relief for me and all involved but how many plants did I get in that entire day? One. Just one. This hollow tree business could be a new thing to add to my list of obstacles in getting things done so I put a large rock in the hollow at the base of the tree, leaving enough room for whatever was up there to get out and not enough room for any of those dogs to get back in...because they tried!!!!! After all of that, Bella and Tilly still had an urgent need to get back in there!

A couple days later I drove back to Kansas and stuck my camera inside the tree, hoping nothing with teeth would be near my hand, and took a photo with my flash. The photo showed nothing but hollowness. I have no idea what delicious smelling stinky fidgety thing is up there and I do not have the focused curiousity that those dogs have to get my answer.

I'm just happy I didn't have to title this post with the Halloween style title....."The Tree That Ate Dogs." That title at the beginning of this post is just a partial title. The full title should be "The Tree That Ate Dogs...and then Spat Them Out." A happy ending in one short title for one long post and one long day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pretty. Pretty. Pretty.

Last May when the mayapples bloomed...

...they produced mayapple apples in June. Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) grow in large clonal colonies and only produce apples if the flowers are cross-pollinated from a different colony. Where those thimbleweeds were planted that were chomped and stomped by a visiting turtle and where I accidentally uncovered those snake or turtle eggs, and where I met that baby stick insect, that is where apparently two mayapple colonies intermingled to produce a lot of mayapple apples. I didn't think that much happened up there in the woods but that one small area has had a lot of stuff going on this past spring and summer.

This pretty little thing is a sycamore seed ball which still has half its seeds attached. I found it lying on a large rock in the creek around the same time as the mayapples were in bloom.

In June the elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) bloomed.

And later produced berries...

...which were quickly gobbled up by somebody.

This pretty delicate flower is Starry Campion (Silene stellata). I found it growing at the creek's edge...

...and in two different spots on a trail in the woods. I didn't see the flowers on the plants in the woods but because the leaf arrangement is so unusual, it was easy to identify them.

Milkweed flowers? I just like them and so to me, they're pretty. This one was photographed next to the railroad tracks where milkweed grows with lots and lots of elderberries. The bonus in photographing anything near railroad tracks is that when the trains go by, you can wave at the train and the engineer waves back. Sometimes I catch those guys waving before I can fully turn around to wave first. I just love trains... and by association, milkweed too. :-)

Back at my creek in July, hidden behind the ragweed was a small patch of phlox. Although Phlox paniculata is native to the U.S., I think these flowers are probably the cultivated variety "David." I'm trying hard to be a native plant purist but it's just not realistic...especially when cultivars are so darn pretty.

The phlox are growing in an area where a garden used to be. They are now sharing space with non-native "wildflowers" I'm not too crazy about...such as hedge parsley which made its appearance this year. I hate that plant. Just hate it. Hedge parsley looks like a half-ass version of Queen Anne's Lace, which, even though it's not a native, I do like very much. I'm having a hard time reconciling growing only native plants to this area and then having to confess that I really like some of the non-natives. Hedge parsley will not be one of them though....ever. It's such an awful plant, I did not even photograph it.

In late July, I found this plant in flower growing in the creek. Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides) is a rough looking thing but the flowers were kind of interesting.

I read that they turn red in the fall...

...and in September they started to get reddish.

And later in the month, even more so.

And by the end of October, their color was spectacular.

This plant may or may not be a native to North America...I haven't quite figured that out yet. However, I like just about all plants in the Polygonum family and so regardless of its origin, I think Pale Smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium) is one of the prettiest flowers I discovered this summer. The flowers were tucked in so tight, they looked like beadwork.

Even giant ragweed's flowers are kind of pretty...although I was happy to see a lot less of it this year.

And this little example of pretty is pretty as in "pretty" suspicious. I found him maybe 100 feet from where my thimbleweed was chopped and dropped but he was on the trail and as I know from experience, those trails are used by every animal, bird and insect in the forest to get to something. And if you have a good habitat for box turtles, you can expect to find about ten turtles per acre. Ten turtles times twenty acres on one trail equals...

Oh, I really don't want to think about that. Two hundred Terrapene iwilltakedownallyourplantsis?

I find that pretty unnerving.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Red, white...and wahoo!

...as in Eastern Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), a scrubby little native shrub I noticed in September because of the crazy dangling fruits that looked like 1960s earrings. The name is derived from Dakota for arrow wood ("wa" for arrow and "hu" for wood) because of the straight stems. I didn't see this with any of the wahoos on my land. They were shooting out at all angles, their favorite being 45 degrees. No idea why they didn't feel like being upright...or even straight. Deer stomping? Dog stomping? Tree stomping?

Anyway, I found three small groves of them (so far), all of which were at the edge of something. One was on a slope at the edge of the woods, one was on a trail in the middle of the woods...

...and the last group was under my favorite sycamore beside the creek.

In September, the "fruits" looked like this...

Strange little things, aren't they?

Their colors changed from white to pink to a brilliant fuchsia over the next 4-6 weeks and when I looked at them yesterday, the pods had opened to reveal these crazy red berries.

Those wahoos are fun to look at with all that dangly jewelry...and it's fun to say their name out loud too.

Nobody knows what the heck you're talking about when you start talking about wahoos...and I'll be even more obnoxious next year if I get around to planting pawpaws and possumhaws. Nothing can beat saying the name of the plant with a hundred pink earrings though.... Wahoooooooo!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday and starlings

I was waiting at a stoplight recently and had the chance to watch a ball of starlings fly through the sky, bouncing in all directions but never touching the ground. A crow was in the air too and that ball of birds decided to bounce toward that crow, and just when they were about to encircle it, they quickly flew off in a completely different direction but then....they turned around to head off that crow....almost. Starlings are such little stinkers. They're too smart and they're too fast for anyone to figure out what they're doing or where they're going to be next. Another time when I was driving, a ball of starlings (or "murmuration" if you want to be poetic) was above my car flying in the same direction, using the same route. They whooshed over me and then scattered in the distance. It all happened so fast but for a few seconds there I felt like I was part of the flock. It was thrilling. Nothing as thrilling as this little video though. Nothing. They're such astonishing little creatures.