Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trip to Arkansas

I drove up to Little Rock this weekend to shop with my daughter for a bridesmaid dress for her brother's wedding this fall. We also shopped some for me a MOG (Mother of the Groom) dress. Truly an exhausting two days. This morning we shopped in North Little Rock and Conway. Our first stop was a bridal shop that Elisabeth had visited before when shopping with a bridal friend. They did not have anything to suit her, but I decided to look around. A meek little sales girl was going to help me. When we told her we were looking for a MOG dress, she asked her boss about it. Her boss, a lady around my age, pointed to the rear of the store and barked, "Go get Mother and watch." Apparently she was new, and rushed to do as told. Soon Mother swept in and started pulling dresses right and left. I was able to get some emphatic "NO's" in occasionally, before we trouped back to the dressing room. It was way too many people, and they were all at least a foot shorter than me, it seemed like. I felt like a St. Bernard surrounded by enthusiastic terriers. My mood deteriorated rapidly. Nothing fit. "Mother" kept going on about taking up here, adding there, available in certain colors, etc. I finally explained to her that I had quite a bit of seamstress experience and training, and I was not about to make a decision on a dress that fit as poorly as what she was showing me. She backed down in a hurry, though pleasant, and we escaped.

We moved on to downtown Conway, scene of the recent Kris Allen parade. Banners on the lamp posts touted Conway as the home of Kris Allen, and every single store window was painted with signs welcoming the American Idol. Shopping in downtown Conway was mostly for Elisabeth. We didn't end up buying anything but lunch. Most interesting was what we had to do to get seated in the restaurant. Conway is in a "dry" county. Liquor can only be sold in private clubs. The restaurants get around this by charging a dollar for membership. Only one person in a family pays the onetime fee, and it is good for life for all family members. It doesn't matter if you are going to drink or not. You have to be a member to be seated in any restaurant that serves alcohol. After we were seated, our waitress came along. She asked where we were from, and when I said I was from Louisiana, she said her family was from there. It turned out her family was from Gibsland, my father's home town. I remembered her great grandfather and her great-great aunts. My great grandparents sold their property to her family when they left Gibsland, though we still own some adjacent land. She spent all her childhood summers in their old family home there. Really small world.

On the way back to Little Rock from Conway, I decided to call my hair dresser. I had left a message on her machine requesting an appointment the week before, and had not heard from her. I tried her mobile phone, and found her, in Houston. She had fallen and broken her hip in Galveston, and had just gotten out of the hospital after eleven days. She had surgery, including some pins in her leg and hip. She will be in Houston with relatives quite awhile recovering. I am afraid my hair is going to get pretty wooly before she returns. It already is resembling Crabman from My Name is Earl some mornings.

We shopped a little more in Little Rock, and then I headed back to Collinston. It was good to drive up the driveway and see that the grass seems to be slowing down some, meaning it still looked like it had been mowed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's blooming on the hill right now?

Echinacea pallida, Pale coneflower
Just inside the gate with the late afternoon sun shining through them.

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed. Very popular with all the butterflies for nectar. An elderly lady, long since gone that Terry and I met when we first joined our church asked us to come over and see a wildflower in her yard that she called "chiggerbush." It was this plant, and it is a good name for it. The blooms are always covered with tiny insects.

Erythrina herbacea, Mamou, or Coral Bean. Lovely native legume with red flowers that is popular with hummingbirds.

Callirhoe papaver
, Winecup or Poppy Mallow is in the hibiscus family. There are some blooming near the pale coneflowers inside the gate, and there will be lots more in front of the Visitors Center if the deer will leave them alone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wildflowers on Interstate 20

Yesterday I drove to Shreveport and back for a doctor’s appointment. As always, I noted the wildflowers blooming along the side of the road (Interstate-20) in the areas that had not been mowed. Parts of that road I have driven since I got my driver’s license way back in 1972. It wasn’t all built at the same time. The section from Minden to Ruston must have been one of the first sections finished in Louisiana. My brother started Louisiana Tech University in 1964. It was Louisiana Polytechnic Institute back then (LPI). He referred to it as Louisiana Politicking Institute. I don’t ever remember riding to take him to Ruston via US 80, so it must have been finished about that time. My mother was always on the lookout for wildflowers, and the new road with the big medians and wide shoulders provided lots of opportunities for new discoveries. One of the first “new” plants she spotted was chicory. It came up in the median in Bienville Parish, somewhere between Gibsland and Arcadia. Over the years it spread in both directions until the population was nearly a mile in length. It is a native of Southeastern Europe and Western Asia, and it is dried ground root that flavors Cajun coffee. It is commercially grown in Turkey. I noticed yesterday, as in recent years, that there is no longer any trace of it on I-20. I believe it was lost when the highway was rebuilt several years ago.

When the exit at Minden at La. Hwy 7 (now US 371) was completed, Mother and her garden club buddies noticed something new blooming on the south side of Interstate. That side was built in a cloverleaf configuration and the slopes were covered with cornflowers or bachelor’s button. It is also an introduced species, native to the same region as chicory. It is listed as a noxious weed in some states, but has never been a common one in Louisiana. These particular cornflowers were small and fit in with the grasses beautifully. The cornflowers played a huge part in how pretty the Interstate is in Webster Parish. One year the highway department mowed them down before they set seed. The garden club ladies were furious. It never happened again. I found out years later why. One of my sisters moved back to Minden after I graduated from high school. She bought a house on the same street as a fellow that worked for the state highway department in the parish. She was complimenting him on how pretty the wildflowers were on I-20 on day, and he begrudgingly told her why they were there. It seemed one year they had mowed those blue flowers down out on the exit while they were still blooming, and one of those garden club ladies (not Mother, she didn’t have that kind of clout) had called Baton Rouge and chewed on somebody high up in the department. Word had come from Baton Rouge that no mowing was to be done, period, until those blue flowers had gone to seed. That order benefitted all the spring flowers along the road side, so now there are great sweeps of golden corepsis, pink phlox, and assorted other common meadow species that start abruptly at the Webster Parish line in April and May. Taking advantage of that, one of my mother's other garden club friends began pulling over and dropping off seed of some other wildflowers over the years. I know she is responsible for the queen anne’s lace I saw blooming west of Minden yesterday. It is yet another introduced species from Eurasia. It is the wild relative of our domestic carrot.

As for the cornflowers, they suffered mightily a few years ago when the cloverleaf portion of the exit was completely rebuilt. Lots of dirt moving and heavy equipment pretty much wiped out the population on the slopes. I did see some blooming in the median when I passed the exit. I also noticed that the contract mowers were already mowing in Webster Parish, and that it was a little early to do so for the good of the wildflowers. Perhaps that’s why there are not as many flowers blooming this year as in years past. The lady that chewed on the highway department 40 years ago passed away not long ago.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hop Hornbeam

I finally got everything mowed. Of course, the first places mowed need it again, but overall there is an aura of neatness. One of the advantages of mowing is that I get to inspect everything from the back of the tractor. I noticed that this year is going to be a good one for fruit on the Eastern Hop Hornbeam. It is one of my favorite small trees. A member of the birch family, it is second only to the dogwood in hardness of wood. That extremely hard wood is why it is also called ironwood. Only dogwood among native trees has harder wood. Historically, hornbeam was an important wood for all parts of wooden wagons. It was of great value for moving parts because it resists abrasion. One of the earliest uses for the wood was in the making of tools. Not only was it a wood of choice for handles, but the uncommon strength made it the useful for the tines of wooden rakes and wedges used when harvesting timber. An old name for the tree, no longer in use, is lever wood. The hardness of the wood made it the limb of choice when leverage was needed.

When we first moved to Kalorama there was an old hornbeam tree leaning over out of the woods along the driveway. Over the years, it reached the point that it was horizontal with the ground. Eventually the old tree died, leaving a slick trunk after the bark fell away. It dried and cured suspended there in the air. Curiously the woodpeckers never bothered it. I suspect the fact that it was horizontal didn’t appeal to them. A year ago a water oak tree fell over on it in a storm. Terry and I noticed what fine shape the cured log was in when we were removing the debris. We took some pieces to our friend, Al Duncan, a master wood craftsman. He crafted two beautiful thumb stick style walking sticks and presented them to us. In doing so, he created a demand for them when others saw him working on them.

The fruit of hop hornbeam resembles that of the vine that produce hops which is used as flavoring for beer. An interesting side note about the hops vine used in beer production is that it is in the hemp family of which marijuana is a member.
The hornbeam seed is encased in the individual pouches. The clusters of fruit persist until fall, turning brown as they ripen. They provide a nice contrast to the deep green leaves in late summer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Winning & Water

We won. I received official notification that Collinston had won the afore-mentioned Cleanest City Contest Friday afternoon. I put the word out among the town folk and interested parties and all were pleased. A day later, there was one shiny blue beer can laying on the side of Main Street, glaringly obvious as the only piece of litter in town.

I enjoyed having one of my sisters around last week. We have visited and just nattered around. Friday afternoon, we made a quick trip to the city. As we were walking out the door, she spotted two deer grazing out on the grounds. The deer did not seem disposed to move, so I went back in and got the camera. Even after pictures, they just watched us get in the car and drive off. I was glad to see them grazing. The ground is too wet to mow, so anything willing to cut grass is okay by me.

Both kids and I should say all three, because we now have a future daughter-in-law, spent the weekend. They cooked me an organic dinner Saturday night for Mother’s Day. And yes, they brought the groceries with them. My children treat me very well. They are so very generous with their most valuable possession, their time, with me and their father.

I discovered over the weekend that the Bigleaf Magnolia seeds I mentioned in the “Seeds” entry are sprouting. It is amazing how tiny those first leaves are compared to how big they are on the mature tree. It’s got to start somewhere. It is especially encouraging to have them sprouting. The amount of rain we have had, and are going to have more of very soon has the grass growing by leaps and bounds. I don’t mow everywhere on Kalorama all year long, but there are areas that are normally kept trim. That is a key element to keeping areas rough. You need to have some adjacent areas neat and trim to keep the whole thing from looking like a mess. Right now the areas that are normally trim are as tall as or taller than the rough areas. I am sure it will stop raining one day, as in really stop, and I will be complaining about having to drag hoses to keep some parts green. Between now and then, it aggravates me to no end that I cannot get out there and work, except to fill the potholes and grade the ditches out of the driveway.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cleanest City Contest

May 6, 2009

As I write this, we are nine and one half hours away from Cleanest City judging. This will be the 24th time since 1982 that the Village of Collinston has competed on the state level in the Louisiana Garden Club Federation Cleanest City Contest. If we out-score Pollock, La., it will be our 15th state title. Part of the contest requirements is that the towns keep a scrapbook of documenting efforts each year at keeping clean, and it is judged. All of our scrapbooks are kept in the local branch of the parish library. Thumbing through them, you can see we are on our third generation of trimmer and mower operators.

We had 5 inches of rain this morning, on top of the 4 or so inches that fell Sunday morning. Our ditches are running over and lots of yards are under water. I drove our UTV into town this afternoon, and picked up litter on both sides of the road from one end of town to the other. I reckon that was 5 miles out and 5 miles back. I wore my rubber knee boots and somewhere along the way, got fire ants in the top of one of them. I collected one 33 gallon bag of trash. Most of the items had washed out from under the culverts. Sometimes I pick up twice that much in the quarter mile stretch on either side of the driveway, and that’s from only one side of the road. Collinston is clean. The emphasis of the contest is on being trim, neat, and litter-free. The town is as trim as possible considering the amount of rain that has fallen. All but a couple of residents had cleaned up their yards on my last pass through town, riding my broom, so to speak. I had only knocked on one door to ask if the volunteer crew could mow his yard. He agreed. Others I prodded indirectly. We will see what daylight brings. I’ll have to clean out my car in the morning so I can drive the judges around the route. I will let you know how well we do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Sunday afternoon I went back to the Bigleaf Magnolia tree and took a whole lot of pictures of the open flower that I had photographed in bud the day before. They are so beautiful, and it is rare to have a bloom close enough to the ground to get a picture of it. Many years ago, a friend of ours that owns a bucket truck brought it up here to get some photos of blooms from above.

Last fall, I collected as many of the seeds as I could reach, standing on the seat and fenders of the tractor. I must have collected 50 seeds. The treatment method is to place them in a covered container of water until they get a raunchy, rotten odor. The tissue on the outside is soft and mushy by then. With a stout pair of latex gloves, hold your nose and rinse the outer flesh off the seeds. Put the clean seeds in a damp paper towel in the crisper of the refrigerator. Label the bag very clearly as seeds, not to throw them away, and put a note to yourself as to when three months is up so you will remember to plant them. Trust that your spouse or kinfolk won’t “do you a favor” and clean out your crisper during the holiday seasons. When that happens I call it instant total crop failure.

I have a big pot planted with the seeds from last fall outside the back door, so I can see when the first seedling pops up. So far I have no sprouts, and I am beginning to worry that they are not coming up. I have another pot with some seeds from dwarf or one-flowered hawthorn that I treated the same way and they are coming up. I am kind of worried about what to do with them, and whether I will be able to transplant them without killing them. The plant is not common in the state. In fact, it has only been recorded from Caddo, Bienville, Winn, and Vernon Parishes. My plant, which is planted off the back porch of the Visitors Center here at Kalorama, is from Caddo Parish, where they were growing in pure sand. I made sure my plant had lots of sand, and it stays dry under the eaves. It is going to be hard to duplicate that scenario if I have a whole bunch of seedlings.

I spent the day with at a friend's house that lives up near the Arkansas state line. She had this fellow, a Little Blue Heron in breeding plumage, foraging around in the puddles in the front yard.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What's blooming on the hill right now?

Indian Pink (at right). The fellow that was supposed to trim the slopes of the railroad track at the gate today was a no-show. Seems he had to take his wife into the city to work but promised to come right back home and get to work. If he went to work, it was on someone else's dollar. I began mowing down the dying foliage from the bulbs that cover the hillside with flowers in February. You have to let the leaves stay on there long enough to make the flowers for next spring down in the bulb. The safest bet is to let the bulb leaves at least start turning yellow before mowing them. It is hard to wait because it gets very woolly before that happens.

Kalorama was open today, and I had some visitors. In walking around, I discovered some things were in nice stages of flower, so I went out with the camera before the sun went down. Enjoy the pictures. Click on the Kalorama May 2009 link to see more.
From Kalorama May 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ignorance, Accuracy, and Age

I have a new pellet gun as of yesterday. Why did I get myself a new pellet gun you might ask? Why, to hone my eye coordination skills, of course, and rid the world of small nuisances. I am in trifocals now, and it’s a whole new ball game. I started my quest four days ago. We have an old pellet/BB gun that requires 12 or more pumps to get it to fire once. I asked around and discovered that there were CO2 powered pistols, and single pump pellet guns. I would have liked a CO2 powered pellet rifle, but did not find them in stock locally. I am abysmally ignorant on the subject of firearms; so ignorant that I was not able to research pellet and BB guns on the internet. I called a good buddy that had been advising me through my search. He suggested I visit a small gun shop in the city. So I did.

I walked up to the counter of the gun shop, and a young woman holding a cherubic toddler asked if she could help me. I told her I thought I might be seeking a hypothetical pellet gun and explained what I wanted. The toddler immediately began screaming her head off. The answer the woman gave me let me know right away that she knew her way around less aggressive firearms. She handed me over to a young gentleman, telling him what to show me. I ended up with their cheapest pellet rifle. Paying more for a pellet rifle meant it would shoot further, like 1,000 yards. I didn’t want that. Most of my nuisances are much closer than that. They sighted it for no charge. And did not make me feel stupid. Today, I couldn’t hit the bull’s eye. I called a couple of buddies from the neighborhood who are more experienced with firearms than I am and had them play with it awhile. They both complained about it being hard to get the sight on the target without me prompting, so I took it back down to the city this afternoon and threw more money at it. Now it has a scope that was mounted and adjusted to fit me, for free. I thanked those folks profusely for treating me so well, and not making me feel like I had ridden in on the short bus.

I played with it some more this evening. I still haven’t hit a bull’s eye, but I am now sure it is because my eye coordination is as poor as my firearm knowledge. I am going to keep trying.

Otherwise, I did finish cleaning out the gutters yesterday, and someone called this evening to say he was bringing a feller to shave the slopes on the railroad track at the gate in the morning. Hooray!