Sunday, July 27, 2008

Virtual Belize

The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences is off again with their Educators of Excellence and the Tropical Ecology Institute. Last week, the group began its exploration of Belize. You can read a journal of their daily activities and see photos online. The teachers and crew will return home July 30.

Here are a few questions they've received via Internet during their trip:

July 24, 2008
What kind of traditional foods have you eaten?
Madeline, 7th grade, Wake County

The traditional foods we have enjoyed reflect the distinct cultural groups here in Belize: Creole (rice, beans, chicken), Mestizo (corn, roasted peppers, hot chiles) and Garufino (fish, yucca-based foods like bread). We have eaten two very unique fruits that we cannot find in North Carolina: the waya or genip, a small green fruit with white flesh; and the pitahaya or dragonfruit [pictured*], a baseball-sized, purple-pink fruit that looks like a small artichoke.

Is it hard to sleep with all the jungle noise? Brenna, 5th grade, and Dax, Kindergarten, Wake County

The jungle is a noisy place. We can hear cicadas (which change pitch according to time of day and species), owls, crickets, frogs and toads. The jungle is an active place at night...scorpions, Fer-de-lances** and leaf cutter ants (known as wee wee). Most of us are so tired from the day that we have no problems falling asleep, but few of us have had nocturnal encounters in our cabanas — boreal rice rat, cockroaches, a very large spider (4" diameter) and a 5" scorpion scampering across one of the teacher's beds! Tonight we found a 5" long-horned beetle that was so strong that it moved a plate and held a pen!

* Pitaya aka pitahaya, is the fruit of an epiphytic cactus, Hylocereus undatus.

** The Fer-de-lance is the most dangerous snake in Belize. Gulp! The teachers encountered a 3-foot-long specimen along a path Monday evening and took its photo.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How do I love this tractor?

Let me count the ways:

1. I love that it looks like a hot rod.
2. I love the blue logo. Just like the one on my Dad's old tractor.
3. I love that it looks like a hot rod. Oops. Already said that.

My parents took this photo at a vintage tractor sale. Hate I missed it. I would love to have bought this baby as a centerpiece for our urban garden.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Species canna

These guys are my favorite cannas. They multiply like rabbits.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pokeberries in waterlogged deer scat

I was looking back through some photos I took last fall and came across this shot of fresh deer scat filled with pokeberries. What I didn't notice until now is that a pokeberry seedling had already sprouted right in the mud-soaked poo (zoom in if you dare). I love that!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Raindrops on lady's mantle

I was awake into the wee hours, finishing a riveting mystery novel. The rain began about 4 a.m. What a surprise. The forecast was for scattered showers during the day. I had assumed it would be afternoon. It was one of those soporific, gentle-but-insistent rains. No thunder. No lightning. The kind of lullaby you need after you've turned the last page of a heart-pounding whodunnit.

I ventured out a little bit ago to check the rain gauge. 1 1/4 inches! Also snapped this photo of the raindrops remaining on the leaves of this lady's mantle. When you touch the wet leaves of this plant, the drops roll around like little balls of mercury.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Purple Hull Peas are in!

The purple hull peas have arrived. I bought a few the weekend before last at the North Carolina State Farmer's Market (a large 7-day-a-week market that draws vendors from across the state). I got the peas pictured here this morning at a downtown open-air farmer's market, an urban experiment. I think this is the second year of it, and it's only open on Wednesdays for 3 1/2 hours. It's just over 1 mile away. The hours have never been convenient for me before, but today I had time to check it out.

There weren't as many vendors as I'd hoped. I bought the peas, along with some yellow-hued fingerling potatoes, from a local grower who both supplies and owns a tapas restaurant in town. The restaurant returns its scraps to the farm for composting. I bought a handful of beautiful shitake mushrooms from another local grower. They were delicious in a shallot and mushroom breakfast omelette. We had the potatoes on the side. I wasn't too crazy about the flavor—a bit strong and bitter. My husband thought they tasted fine. Just goes to show how palates vary. I did some googling to investigate what variety they might be, and my best guess is Russian Banana.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lichens on angel

I popped over to Oakwood Cemetery Monday afternoon to see how the digging of Jesse Helms' grave was coming along (it's a half mile from our house). I took this photo of a charming, lichen-encrusted statuary.

Built in 1869, this 102-acre Raleigh cemetery is open to the public, and there are paths for strolling and biking. It has grand old trees and beautiful stone architecture. I'm more of a cremation/compost advocate myself, but if it weren't for this historic graveyard, there'd be no green space of much consequence in the heart of our city. Oakwood Cemetery is a downtown oasis, and I'm happy it's in "my back yard"—even if I don't care for some of its occupants.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Big Sur is burning

I read in the news yesterday about the wildfire burning near Big Sur and the evacuation of the nearby residents. We visited Big Sur on our honeymoon to northern California in 1991. We had left Muir Woods (which is just north of San Francisco) in the afternoon and driven south on Highway 1. It was nearly dark when we arrived at Big Sur, and the area was remote. We managed to find not only a place to stay, but one that would serve us dinner at 10 o'clock.

The next morning, before making a drive down to Pfeiffer Beach, we stopped at the lodge gift shop to buy a souvenir. Browsing the posters, we struck up a conversation with a charming woman named Sola, who came out to California with the Beats. Her hippie friends eventually went home, but she stayed for good. I asked her which poster she liked best, and she pointed to this one. She said the photo best captured the view she sees each morning as she drives to work. So we bought it. I always think of her when I look at it. And right now, I wonder if she has fled her home.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Back to the market

These globe-shaped beauties were among five or six kinds of watermelons on the block today at the State Farmer's Market. I bought a small seedless 'Sugar Baby' that is cooling in the fridge. Last summer and fall, we brought home nothing but bland or mealy watermelons and finally threw up our hands. I decided to get a small one today because, as I told my mom, it's much easier to chuck a small bad melon on the compost pile than a large one.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Walker-Caterpillar's billboard lies: Clean coal, everybody!

Smoke and Mirrors, Next Exit!

This image was not brought to you by Photoshop. And there's no need to consult We saw the actual billboard ourselves driving through Beckley, West Virginia, and my husband said "What?!" We blinked. Then blinked again. I desperately wanted to turn around and take a photo—you know, the way a person would want to stop and photograph a three-headed cow, because no one would believe it otherwise. But heavy traffic and time constraints demanded we keep moving.

When we got home, I searched online for a photo and finally found one, graciously loaned by Nick at Coal River Mountain Watch. I also did some research to figure out what the bloody hell this was all about. I mean really, there is no more such thing as carbon-neutral coal than there is water-neutral h2o (thanks to Denny for that little gem). Turns out, Walker-Cat's fun little slogan (We took some license, we know. But it's so damn catchy!) is an allusion to an untested, untried, unpracticed (need any more uns?) technology called Carbon Capture and Storage. As best I can gather, CCS would reclaim carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants, compress it, and sock it underground, where it is hoped it will remain for all eternity. But don't take my word for it. Just google "carbon capture and storage" (or "carbon sequestration") and you'll find plenty of discussions, descriptions, arguments and exaltation. Everybody's talking about it.

And you know what else will come with the clean coal reform? No more mountains will be scalped. Clean coal will be renewable, plucked from trees like apples. And no more mine workers will be exploited (this clean coal won't even sully their hands. It will be clear, like morning dew, and smell of violets). And lastly, it'll be cheap, cheap, cheap. Existing coal plants can retrofit their facilities for as little as 60 to 80 percent of the cost of a new one, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. And new plants that incorporate the technology will pay only 40 percent more for their capital outlay, the EPRI estimates. And it will only cost them 80 percent more to produce electricity. It's already so do-able, in fact, that George W. and the U.S. Department of Energy withdrew a promised $1.8 billion to help test the technology. It just wasn't necessary. This is gonna be a breeze!

Clean coal. It's like Chlorox, 'cept cleaner.