Nature Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Curious Lola

Curious Lola

How to Make Room for More Food.

There seems to be one Thanksgiving tradition that every family I’ve ever known shares in common. The Thanksgiving walk-about. For some, it could be a way to clear a house made over-hot by all the cooking and lounging bodies. It could be because nobody could stand another game of UNO. For me, its purpose is to guarantee that the ingested mounds of deviled eggs, squash thinga-ma-jig yummies, and spinach dip have not compromised my stomach’s turkey-relish-candied yam holding capacity. Often, several walk-abouts are necessary, including one in between Thanksgiving dinner and Thanksgiving dessert.

It helps when your walk-about is around a picturesque mountain river.

Here’s a photographic account… Also, it’s also kind of a study of steel blue, rust, and desaturated orange colors in nature.

Cowlitz River?

two of my favorite beards.

Why so sad rock? It's Thanksgiving.

Things growing.

steely blue and desaturated orange- the perfect colors of fall.

fuzzy guy.

lichen... so pretty.

another lichen?

more lichen.

rusty leaf


This Year is Perkin’ Up Already!

Last year was rough, but over the last month or so of yearly transition when I start thinking about the coming year, I’ve noticed some change a-coming. It’s not the kind of excitement that would get me jumping into the Puget Sound on New Year’s Day. It’s the kind that makes me sit at a window with a cup of coffee and smile, appreciating all the other people in the world. This is good considering the last few years of mental cocoon-spinning and mounting sarcasm.

Today, my sweetie pie made me a good cup of coffee… finally.

I went to Costco on the worst day, at the worst time, and wasn’t frustrated. Not only that, but my cashier made me stop and think…. “Wow. She is a wonderful worker, so effective. She is enjoying what she is doing by not being overly polite or annoyingly enthusiastic about nothing. She is not superficially interested in my life, but somehow connected my life to her own and had something to say that was interesting to us both. She is obviously far more intelligent than what this job requires. If I could, I would hire her, myself. This moment, right now, at Costco, on a Sunday, is a pleasure.”

Today tromped out to my frozen veggie garden, mentally laid out this year’s veggies, and put a thicker layer of mulch down. I hope my little soil microbe buddies enjoy the new blanket.

I like this time. Quiet, slow, deliberate change.

I don’t necessarily have a resolution this year. I’ve got a couple behaviors I’d like to shift. First, I’d like to make sure I tell people, when something they do or say, even strangers, strikes a chord with me. I’d like to do this exactly when it happens for no other reason but that those kinds of comments are my favorite to receive. For example, the other day at a coffee shop, I overheard a dad strategically converse with an upset daughter. He stopped what he was doing and patiently listened to why she was upset. At the end, he had a transformed child. I would have liked to have told him that I admired the way he spoke with his kid. I need to be telling this to family members whose kindness I often take for granted.

I will also be taking better care of myself. Over the last few years I’ve been cutting out dairy and eggs because they make me feel terrible. The last month or two, I’ve cut out all animal stuff, and educated myself a little more on proper nutrition. Sugar, I’ve also largely eliminated (that’ll be the toughy). Why not never be in the position to say to myself, “I wish I would have taken better care of myself.” I will be strengthening that bit of my life and am pretty excited about it. Goodbye delicious animals. Hello tasty plants.

To honor this time of reflection and transition, here are some pictures of last year’s early spring. A little early yet, but so fitting.

Happy New Year.

Pods and Neato Botanicals

There’s a jerk of a weed in my garden that spreads by smacking my face with catapulted seeds as soon as an arm hair so much as moves the wind next to it. I, a giant in comparison to this weasley, green beast have been brought to the ground, incapacitated by a recklessly strewn seed in the eye.

While I hate it, I have to marvel at its guerilla, offensive survival tactics. I can marvel much more painlessly, at these little natural wonders which, like the “I hate you” weed, have found unique ways to promote their species in a much more pleasant, defensive way.

Pods! Secure, nourishing, safe homes in which  seeds can rest before coming out into an uncertain and dangerous world. Their function is roughly the same but their shapes and textures are so variable….and beautiful.

When putting together plans for your fall wedding or your autumn celebration, seek out these pods and others left over by the summer.

The bold, graphic shape of lotus pods lend itself to edgier arrangement. Love-in-a-mist pods had a lovely blue flower on them. The tendrils give the pod an other worldly feel but can also be very delicate in a naturalistic arrangement. I always make a point of gathering scabiosa pods from my parent’s farm, Cedarbrook Lavender Farm , in the fall. I get more compliments about this pod than anything I use.

A cone is kind of like a pod. I remember a girl in my neighborhood made cone roses like these when I was a wee one. I thought she was magic. These Badam pods look like a cross between an oyster and a heart. These would work great as unique boutonnieres. This dainty tamarack cone makes a wonderful rose shape. Yucca pods would look great with gold paint on the inside.

I’ve never seen these ram’s head pods before. They are amazing and I can’t wait to use them. What a great alternative to fiddlehead ferns which can be expensive and squishy-stemmed. Fruit is kind of pod-like. How about dried or fresh pomegranates? And snowberries are in season now. I love this white berry in bouquets because there is no scare that it will end up looking like a pb&j sandwich on the bride’s dress.

Native Plant Rant

Stop native plant abuse!

Yesterday, I got a new landscape design project and while I welcome all projects in this ho-hum economic climate, this one invited a groan. Well, first a weird little laugh, then two hands smearing each cheek downward, and then a groan.

The project is a gas station, one of the most exposed, rough, and polluted places to ask a plant to live in. It’s like leaving your kid in the desert, giving her a kiss on the cheek, telling her it’ll be okay, and then driving away. Except a plant doesn’t have feet. So it’s a little different…

It’s not that the project is difficult, it’s just that it reminded me of one of my greatest peeves brought on by the good intentions of the sustainability/ green movement. The native plant craze…. The idea that since we are in Seattle, any plant that touches its sweet soil should have a history in Seattle that predates yo momma’s momma’s momma’s momma’s grand-momma. Or since the last glaciation.

The problem is, the requirement for this gas station is to be all native plantings…

My beef: Native plants are native because they like the native natural growing conditions of the forest, stream bank, rocky outcrop, prairies, whatever. Places with years of squishy plant debris build-up and soil that is only compacted occasionally by a wandering elk. Soil that because of its NON-compacted state, can actually suck in the water that is dropped on it.

This gas station, however, will have fill dirt harvested from who knows where and an onslaught of pollutants from spilled oil to Big Lou’s chaw to the occasional beer. There will be boots, sneakers, eco-friendly hemp shoes, and heels, tromping through my dear plants home, squishing the soil and damaging the roots. There will be the blistering sun, reflected heat from pavement and cars, run off water piped underground, the inevitable failing irrigation system, AND I’m pretty sure plants react badly to club music.

Fortunately, there are plants that would be better suited for these terrible conditions. Unfortunately, they are not likely to be native.

The result? native plants die all together or end up looking like abused, burned fraggle muppets. The question I’m left with is, commit native plant abuse? Or, sneak in some hybrids and cultivars with names that are close to native species in hope of duping the unsuspecting reviewers?

Here’s a list of natives that, in my experience, just really aren’t a good idea for exposed urban environments.

Foot traffic + harsh sun+ compacted soils= unhappy swordfern

Red-twigged dogwood actually doesn’t do bad in urban environments and is has beautiful twigs but often gets too large. So what ends up happening is people hack to try to make a hedge out of it.

Oregon grape is what I was thinking of when I said fraggle muppet. This plant does terribly with pollution and its odd shape lends itself to brutal and strange pruning practices.

Salal looks beautiful and lush in part shade. It can handle sun and dry conditions just like your hair can handle going platinum. It works… kinda… for awhile.

Vine Maples are another of those plants that do best in part sun. Exposure dries them out and pollution makes the leaves look sickly. If babied for a few years, I’ve seen it look nice in rough locations.

Plants I have seen look all right are Kinnickinnick, Strawberry, Tufted Hairgrass (when given enough water), and I’ve been wanting to try Wooly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum). I haven’t seen it done but think it could work as a perennial for tough environments that call for natives.

lichen love…

I went camping this Halloween at Wallace Falls with my sweetie. I came across so much lichen that was so beautiful in the damp forest. Some of it scaley looking, some of it soft and hair like, and some of it growing into antler-like branches. All blue and glowing in the dark forest. The lichen inspired me not only to learn more, but to use lichen and logs in a centerpiece job the following week for a gallery dinner.

Here are some of the lichen found on the forest floor.

Hairy lichen

Common name: Witch's Hair-

Branchy lichen and friends

3 lichens

Interesting stuff about lichen…Lichen turns out to be a composite organism of green algae and fungus, the fungus providing structure and protection, and the alga providing the ability to photosynthesize. I always thought lichen was a parasitic organism but it turns out I was wrong. Lichen do not have roots and do not harm their host (mostly the bark of trees where I live). They get their water and nutrients from the air, and the moisture on the bark. They are essential to Northwest forests in that they can take nitrogen out of the air and make it into a usable form by other plants. So when the lichen falls to the forest floor and decays, the forests nitrogen poor soils are enriched. Also, because of their sensitivity to air pollutants, many NW lichens are used as indicators for clean air… or unclean air. These lichen discovered on my trip have been used in the past as dye by native communities. One is currently used in the perfume industry.

See the next post for how lichen was incorporated into the gallery dinner centerpieces.

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