Sunday, September 22, 2019

Community Garden-I

This is the year that my husband decided to try out his hand at gardening, with the community garden plots in our township. He cadged a section of a plot from a friend who had been reserving the plots for a few years (these are so much in demand that there's a waiting list for vacancies!).
 I did mention the perils of overspending, notably the case of the $64 tomato (read the book, it's both hilarious and illuminating to the beginning gardener), and Hubby promptly said he was going to go with a low budget, low labor approach (not sure how that was going to work out, without at least some physical labor).
So we traipsed down to the plot, one among about 60 other large lots (20x10ft) on a sunny hill. More ambitious and experienced gardeners had neatly fenced off their lots, brought in tons of soil amendments, watering contraptions (there were no water supplies, or taps in the vicinity, everyone had to bring their own). Others had already started planting early crops, with neat mounds of amended soil.
The lot we were going to garden on stood, yellow clay and coarsely tilled (a basic spring tilling was provided by the township.), not the easy for seeds potting mix soil that I was used to seeing near home to be used in gardening flats.  I wondered at what would grow in what appeared to be inhospitable clumps of clay. My husband had more faith than me. He patiently laid down a few yards of weedblock fabric, weighted down with rocks, cut open a few holes and planted some tomato seedlings that we had started indoors in preparation for the big plot.
The sun beat down on the tender seedlings all day long. When he went back the next evening to check on the tomatoes, they were sad withered sticks. Disappointed, but undeterred, he planted bush beans  and zucchini seeds directly in the clayey soil, watering them with a couple of milk jugs filled with water.
For the next few weeks, rain was plentiful, due to the late spring thunderstorms, he didn't have to go and water them daily.
I started my little home garden again, planting a couple of Walmart tomato seedlings ($2.50 apiece), and a couple of started-from-seed tomato seedlings, kale and basil, as well as a few beans and cucumber seeds. No fence this time though. It was all going to be at the mercy of the deer, rabbits and groundhogs in the vicinity.
A few weeks went by, and the bean plants were growing apace, with the plentiful sunlight and rain. Our friend's section was burgeoning with tomato plants, butternut squash, corn stalks. The section we planted now had sizeable bean plants, and the zucchinis were coming along just fine.
 All we had to do was check on the plants periodically, and wait...and wait...

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Where's the Bear?

We live in mostly tamed suburbia. Nothing much out of the ordinary by the way of wildlife, except for some plant decor munching deer, flocks of turkeys, rabbits, raccoons, possums, groundhogs and even the occasional coyote or fox.

Yesterday, we had a visit from a new suburbanite. A black bear, who, Animal Control of South Hills assures us, is just 'passing through' . Although, for a seemingly innocuous cuddly visitor, the Facebook and TV warnings state ominously "Do not approach or engage with the bear if you see it, call the police at ---------"

There have been bear sightings since a week or so. First in Penn Hills, then in South Fayette. Yesterday, it was Bridgeville, and then Upper St.Clair. Today, it's Bethel Park. The lack of GPS collar is no match for the citizen sightings tracking this individual.

Presumably it is just the same bear wandering all over Pittsburgh - bears are known to travel upto 15 miles a day, in search of food, and the filled bird feeders offer plenty of goodies for a young bear who 'has been kicked out by its mother', per the wording in some of the news articles about it.

"Time to fend for yourself, little guy. Go away now." says Mama Bear. So the not-so-little bear takes to the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, feeding by day, and travelling mostly by night.

Hopefully it finds its way to a more forested region (West Virginia, anyone?) , and a hospitable population of  black bears. Good luck, young Bear!

(And no, it wasn't fear of running into the Bear that kept me from my early morning walk today...)
(Photo credit Cecil Township PD)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Baby Robin

It's that time of the year when the locust trees are blooming, the maples and oaks have leafed out, the peonies are starting to put out their fragrant and extravagant flowers. And it's time for little robins to fledge from their nests.
I took a late morning walk around the office building where I work, bounded by an unused railway line and riverbanks on one side, the other side being concrete jungle of parking lots and asphalt road. Coming up on the walk right in front of the office, I spied a tiny ball of brown flecked fluff. Baby robin!
The coloring was too indistinct for me to make out whether it was a she or a he, so I shall assume it was a she.
She looked at me, I looked at her. Rather than freezing, she cheeped at me, so I bent down and tried asking her " Where are your parents, little one?" She cheeped again. "Well, run along, they'll be right back soon."
I walked a few steps, she trotted by in ungainly hops. She stopped, I stopped. This continued for the next few feet. I was in perfect position to take a picture, or two, or even a short video. She cheeped for the camera, and stretched her yet-unflighted wings. I thought I heard some other robin voice in the background. Maybe it was Mom or Dad, shouting instructions "Danger, danger, stranger danger! Get away!"
I walked away from Baby Robin, unwillingly to let go of the moment of enchantment, but work called.
The next morning, pulling into the parking lot, I caught side of another baby robin, plonk in the middle of a parking space, making me maneuver around it, rather than driving straight into the parking space I had intended to occupy. I stopped for a closer look, this was another baby, not the one from the previous day, a slightly larger fledgling, who cheeped at me as I bent down to see it ."Hop away from the parking space, baby", and as if it understood me, it hopped under a parked car. Hopefully it got out of there the moment I, the big scary stranger, moved away.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Bad Luck, Good Luck

Definition of luck (From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a force that brings good fortune or adversity Luck was a big factor in the outcome.

b : the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual The loser muttered something about bad luck.

A couple of months ago, I went on a long-planned trip to the Hawaiian islands with my husband. We had a wonderful time, taking the opportunity to hike and see its many beauties. One place that we visited was on the southern side of the Big Island of Hawaii, a place which was marked 'Black Sand Beach' in one of the ubiquitous tourist maps.
We drove towards the location on a picturesque winding residential street, bearing the grand name of  "Highway", according to the map. Except that this was more like a one-and-a-half lane road. We had to carefully maneuver our huge Jeep (rented for its four-wheel drive capacity) around construction equipment near a house, and the 'scenic highway' seemed not so scenic, after all.
"The beach is this way," as we drove further down the road, and it suddenly burst upon us. An unforgiving mass of solidified ropelike black lava, and a few hundred feet away, the ocean waves pounding insistently on the rocks. We had just happened upon what used to be the famed black sand beach of Kaimu, which was now vanished under lava outflow from a volcanic eruption in the 90's.
Driving further on, we reached a circle and tiny parking lot, surrounded by thatched stalls with miscellaneous crafts on sale, a pub and a country store. I wasn't in any mood for shopping. "Where is the beach?"
"I don't see any signs to where it might be, let's just head back." After all the scenic points we had viewed, we figured there was always another pretty sight to be seen a few miles further on the road.
So, we turned back and had a sudden brain-wave. Didn't the ropey Pahoehoe lava rock of the erstwhile beach look fabulous! We parked the jeep on the roadside, close to a fruit juice stand, and took a few photos against the backdrop.
I had earlier not attempted to pick any lava rock, but the few little pieces where I stood were irresistible, gleaming with a blue-green glassy charm where the rocks had sheared into smaller pieces. I bent down and picked up three rocks, wrapping them in tissue and carefully placing them in my capacious handbag. I was sure that I wasn't breaking any rules here, there were no signs prohibiting removal of rocks, unlike the Volcanoes National Park, where clear signs listed the prohibition against taking rocks as souvenirs.
Once back at home, I admired the little rocks, placing them carefully in my curio cabinet along with other miscellaneous souvenirs. I showed them off with pride to another friend who visited, who exclaimed "Amazing, we didn't dare pick any rocks from the Volcanoes National Park, when we visited." After she left, I looked it up, and came across sad bad luck stories of people who had dared to bring back lava rocks from the park. " I lost my job...I lost my girlfriend...I was audited by the IRS...etc., etc. ", all because of having brought back lava rocks from a trip to Hawaii, enraging the goddess Pele who considers all the rocks to be her children, in a way.
Was I courting really bad luck when I brought those little rocks home? I thought about it, and decided that I didn't want to find out the hard way. I procured a bubble wrap envelope, deposited the rocks carefully in a little box with a note to "Dear Reader", and requested that they return the rock to the beach where I took them from, with the approximate location, and mailed it with no return address to a small store near the beach in the town of Pahoa. And, heaved a giant sigh of relief that Pele's children were returned to her. At least, I presume that the people at the store that I sent them to were kind enough to return them to the beach. At worst, if they tossed the rocks out the window, the rocks would still be landing in the vicinity of where they needed to be.

So, is it bad luck if the harbinger of bad luck was sent away? I don't know.

Wiki Photo credit: Hlane13
The new manager at my office brought in a King cake, an Easter tradition, he said. He offered me a piece, handing me a plastic knife. I cut carefully into it, and promptly felt a hard object in the way. "Congratulations, you found the King baby! That means good luck for the year, and you get to bring next year's King cake- Well not really, it doesn't have to apply to you" he proclaimed with a grin, probably a concession for my not being a Catholic.
"I'll definitely bring a King cake next year!" I declared gamely.
The King cake is a Mardi Gras tradition, and the person who finds the baby or bean (fava beans are also used) is guaranteed good luck and prosperity for the year, and of course, is tasked with bringing the next year's King cake.
I have my King baby in a place of honor, as one can't be too careful with the harbinger of good luck, and am readying my plans for baking a King cake next year.

Update on the King Cake