Field of Science

End of May

May thirty-oneth - the end of May, the beginning of summer, and very appropriately today was a hot, dry summer day. All of the gardens, all of the new plants, need water.  The last two "rain events" have defied the weather reports, beat the odds (rain 80-90% likely) and not a drop fell even though heavy clouds surrounded the area and thunder was quite close. TPP hates to start watering so early in the season, but what you gonna do?  When you plant, you water, or you buy again, and plant again. Yesterday evening  Mrs. Phactor sprinted out of the back door and out to her perennial garden to chase a woodchuck out and save her bell flowers. Apparently Campanula is like candy, and although the bunnies have been awful, her bellflowers were not converted into bun-bun salad and a decent flowering was anticipated. A newly arrived resident, a woodchuck, would change all of that.  It took three tries, and most of an apple as bait, but the woodchuck relocation was successful within 12 hrs of its initiation; the bellflower will flower. Mrs. Phactor spent the day relocating hosta and removing weeds. Right now a Calycanthus-Sinocalycanthus hybrid, an American snowbell, wild columbine, pentstemons, yellow indigos, and Mrs. Phactor's iris areekeeping the gardens colorful. And indeed, the view was enjoyed most fully with a couple of margaritas. Isn't that what gardens are for?

Hot dog nostalgia

Upstate New York is where TPP grew up, basically in sight of Lake Ontario, and very few people outside of the "natives" know that Rochester is renown for its hot dogs and its lake side stands.  On a recent visit to the Phactors' alma mater, Oswego State, our first stop was the lakeside stand just west of the campus, Big Rudy's. One of the star attractions at these stands is a fat, white hot [dog], a pork, veal, beef variety in natural casing made by Zweigle's, a sort of local take on a Vienna sausage-bratwurst hybrid (from an amateur's perspective). Now that's fine by itself, but, and this is paramount, it must be grilled (never boiled) and topped by a finely ground beef hot sauce, mustard, and onions. The hot dog should, if properly cooked, pop open and burst from its casing a bit.  Grilled peppers are a nice option, but not required. The best known hot dog stand in the Rochester area is Schaller's (a drive-in - think Happy Days) and how nice to see they are getting their due. Somebody did some diligent research! 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Oyama magnolia

Wow!  Just wow! A new magnolia in flower is just so exciting!

  Our Magnolia sieboldii, the Oyama magnolia, is several years old, a somewhat skinny shrub about six and a half to seven feet tall. It's winter hardiness has always been a worry, so TPP did not know what to expect after the severe cold this past winter. Surprisingly, there was no winter damage and it has produced a handful of flower buds; it's first flowering. As the buds enlarge, they shed the bud's outer layer leaving a flower bud that looks a bit like a pointed boiled egg.  When open the flowers are 3-4 inches in diameter and composed of 9 white tepals in three whorls of three. The many stamens are pink-red in color, and the outer most are larger and more petal-like.  The flowers are borne on the ends of branches and pendant, so you must walk under the plant and sort of look up to see how pretty the flowers are. Enjoy!

Cats need more food in the winter?

Here's a report on research that found that cats eat more in the winter, so it recommends we feed them more.  Who wrote this?  A cat? TPP's basic skepticism suspects that our kitty-girls, the ones that think they own our house, have been lying to cat researchers. This is not ridiculous since they lie to us all the time. Have you been fed? The answer is never yes.  Do you want some more kibble? The answer is always yes.  Of course for indoor cats, the temperature is never below the 60s (F) in the winter, and often quite a bit warmer in the summer with people who avoid AC whenever possible. Warmer temps prompt more cat inactivity, but let's face it the basic housecat sleeps away most of the day anyways. So these researchers better watch the sources of their data very closely to avoid false conclusions.  Oh, duh! There must be some sort of cat think-tank out there, like the Heartland institute, that has taken cat money to conduct this study with predetermined outcomes! Follow the money; it will lead to cats!  

Watch out! This material may cause you to think!

For some time now, since the news of this first appeared, TPP has been going to write about students requesting "trigger warnings" on books, articles, and indeed, course syllabi. Fortunately this hasn't happened at our university as yet.  There are so many things wrong with this TPP hardly knows where to begin. In biology it's often religiously conservative students who wish to avoid evolution.  Hey, memorize the bones of a vertebrate skeleton.  OK!  Homology, not OK!  But how the bloody hell is TPP supposed to know what topics, -isms, or subjects will offend the delicate sensibilities of students?  And where is it written anyways that when you decide to study at the university level you need to be warned about something that might make you uncomfortable, uneasy, uncertain?  Now before you try to climb TPP's tree about this, be aware that while teaching economic botany, he was accused of being a sexist, a racist, and a religious proselytizer, all in the same semester.  Our undergraduate dean says its still some sort of record obviously set by an equal opportunity offensive instructor, and his response, "Keep up the good work."  Would it have mattered if the syllabus contained trigger warnings?  "Be aware that gatherer-hunter societies have a sexual division of labor presented as an observation about who knew plant resources and not some sort of advocacy for women's roles in a perfect society."  "Geographic origins of plants and plant products are based upon actual facts and not presented to denigrate any particular cultures or peoples, so no, African-Americans (G. W. Carver, in particular) did not invent peanut butter (Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Canadian, patented the product in 1884 before Carver was even in college.)."  "Biblical botanical scholarship about every mention, in Hebrew, of a plant tells you about what plants were used and important in the Middle East, and this should not be construed as criticism or confirmation of the Bible's veracity (it actually goes both ways - it wasn't an apple; John the Baptist did eat locusts in the wilderness, but he wasn't eating grasshopper like insects, but carob pods.)." At any rate, such complaints come from unimaginative, uninformed, and perhaps, uneducable students, and probably the best response is to suggest that perhaps university study is beyond their intellectual or emotional maturity at the present time.  Kathleen Parker is not one of my favorite opinionators, but in this case she clearly nails it, particularly for the blame any administrator deserves for falling for this.  Requiring trigger warnings ..."is the busy work of smallish minds --yet another numbing example of political correctness run amok and the infantilizing of education in the service of overreaching sensitivity."  Gee, wish TPP could write like that.  Wow, just noticed that our local rag's title for this column was "Warning: Literature happening."  The real title was: "Fair warning, provoking a thought is literature’s job." Now possibly, they just wanted a much shorter, albeit less punchy title, or they thought the full title might hurt someone's feelings! Ha! 

Garden rebuilding - one plant at a time

Nothing like a long weekend to give you enough time to get the garden in shape for the rest of the summer, mostly.  A number of things need almost complete rebuilding. Some new plants, of three different varieties, will start rebuilding a red raspberry bed devastated by bunnies and a hard winter. The asparagus bed will take longer to rebuild because it's hard to get bigger, older plants, so it takes a couple of years to get them large enough to bear a decent crop. Feed them, feed them, and feed them. The privet hedge was cut back and is starting to regrow already. Several almost dead trees are showing signs of life making for some tough decisions; mostly just pragmatic pruning. A Henry Lauder walking stick (a contorted European filbert) is barely showing life, a few live shoots, here and there, on a shrub about 6-7 feet in diameter. Waiting is best as the best decision will probably become obvious whether it just needs some pruning or whether it's too far gone. One new purchase, a Japanese snowbell is just barely showing signs of breaking out of dormancy and growing, and this makes for a bad situation vis-à-vis the nursery's guarantee which they will not wish to honor since the tree is alive, but how much of a tree is a tree?  It remains to be seen. Personally TPP feels he bought a whole one. Fortunately most of the other new plants are doing much better although they all require watering as lack of rain is making things a bit on the dry side. 

Deforestation and clear cutting

TPP is basically opposed to deforestation and clear cutting.  It's basically a rape nature with a bulldozer mentality. However at times drastic action is needed, and in this case it was lawn that needed mowing, and it involved clear cutting and deforestation. The massive sugar maple had a good crop last year and this year the number of maple seedlings sprouting virtually everywhere is astounding. So simply mowing the lawn amounted to clear cutting of a very young forest. Wish the forest trying to take over our gardens could be removed as easily. To continue the theme, TPP had to patrol the western front of our estate to destroy an illegal immigrant: garlic mustard, which is kindly grown by a neighbor especially for export purposes. Fortunately garlic mustard does pull fairly easily. A visit to these distant regions did reveal that a fringe tree somewhat surrounded by ever embiggering conifers was in glorious full bloom, a delight to both eye and nose.

Urban gardening ignorance & defeatism

Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn is a NYC person, and this usually means two things: they are opinionated and they don't know crap about gardening.  Now Liz is entitled to her opinions, but to label urban gardening a bunch of lies, well, that's not something TPP will up put with. Liz has a bad combination: ignorance and defeatism. First is to realize what you can and cannot grow for yourself. You are not going to supply yourself with tomatoes or enough salad greens to matter, not unless you've got an abandoned lot to convert into a garden of some size.  One of my former students does this in Seattle, and some of these community gardens are quite wonderful and very productive. Liz lives in Manhattan, so perhaps she is without such educational resources, and basically she's left with pot gardening on a patio or terrace, or around a street tree.  One of the best things to do with such a limited space is to grow fresh herbs, a big pot of mint for your mojitos and juleps, and a mixture of basic cooking herbs: rosemary, parsley (another decent size pot), basil and Thai basil and purple basil, and some chives. Now you could grow a cherry tomato, but Liz has never seen a full-grown one before and probably thinks they're little plants with little fruit. TPP has had to prune cherry tomato vines in a 7 foot cage with hedge trimmers, but it produced 2 quarts of tomatoes a day at its summer peak.  You need a damned big pot to grow a vine like that, and if you have your soil (Liz, please, dirt is something under your finger nails and in certain types of books and movies.) delivered by FedEx, well, there is a basic problem isn't there?  As someone in the comments pointed out, re-purposed soda bottles (or wine bottles - Liz is an urban sophisticate after all.) can provide almost continuous watering for pots. Some nice pots of flowers or just put your hanging basket plants outside for the summer can make your terrace a much nicer place. So basically Ms. Dunn simply has no idea what she's talking about based on limited experience with something she doesn't understand. Is this how she pays her bills? Amazing. 

Friday Fabulous Flower -' Lemon Sunset' Evening Primrose

Yesterday was pretty busy, so missed this post
by a day.  A new evening primrose has been added to our gardens making a total of three species, Oenothera macrocarpa (previously missouriensis), O. fremontii, and now O. longiflora.  All of them have fairly large flowers in comparison to the size of the plant. The flowers don't last long and their flowering pattern is often different - the new species opens in the evening and then wilting late the next morning.  All three species seem to like the hot, well-drained margin or tiers of a south facing garden. The two previous species sort of sprawl, but the new species has a dandelion like rosette with a couple of tall inflorescences rising a foot or so above. The corolla is about 3 inches in diameter and you just can't miss it.  The others are quite hardy, but time will tell about this new species. 

Scientific field work - equipment attrition

Field work is hard on both the researchers and the equipment. TPP's back is not getting any younger. One of the adventures each spring is to discover all of the "equipment" you and your students lost the previous year. Now please understand that the reason this becomes apparent each spring when your field site is a prairie is that hidden things appear after the prairie has been burned.  Now herein lies the real problem: lost items are now easy to find, but following a prairie burn, they may not be in primo condition any more. Last year was a tough year. Several wooden meter sticks were lost, a couple of pairs of sunglasses, countless pencils, ballpoint pens, although one still worked quite well (Yeah Bic), and permanent markers just went missing, as well as a couple of compasses that lost their way. Well, here's the compasses, a bit on the toasty
side, but still quite functional as paper weights or as specimens for demonstrating to students the consequences of carelessness while doing field work. Ah, well, plastic components have their limitations.

Happy birdday, F1!

About 6 hours ago TPP awoke to celebrate the exact anniversary of the F1's birth (about 3:15 AM), either that or TPP had to use the bathroom.  My celebration was joined by the you-should-never-be-in-the- bathroom-alone cat. The actual birth event took place 30-something years ago, no more than a block from where TPP sits (the hospital is across the street) and as a result, this birthday places the F1 and her friends dangerously close to Middle Earth, no, coming of age, no, middle, middle, ah, yes, age!  TPP brings this up to remind this generation that they aren't kids any more and must be thinking about how they will care for their aged parents during the coming years. Later today brats and beer will be used for another celebration, this one without the cat. Now, to complete the celebration, TPP must mow some lawn; a salad is needed to go with the brats.  Nothing but the best for our youngster.

Gardening joys - ants & magnolias

As a tropical biologist, TPP has a lot of experience with ants, and while fascinating creatures, a lot of these experiences have not been good.  Generally temperate zone ants are much less aggressive and if a bit aggressive, then not nearly as common.  So it was with mild surprise that TPP found his left hand and arm swarming with nasty little biting ants shortly after he grabbed a wheelbarrow to move some soil before planting a new magnolia (you never can have too many magnolias).  In the tropics, having ants swarming over you is not all that uncommon especially if you work in forests that have ants that build leafy nests. While working with my great friend and colleague Tony, this happened routinely because he was always charging along through the forest, and he's smack into an ant nest and keep going, and then TPP, who was always bringing up the rear, received the ants' wrath.  Tony found this highly amusing. But being swarmed by ants seldom happens in the northern temperate zone especially at our latitude. This particular ant is the worst around, small, but nasty, and while lots of ants bite worse, they are annoying, and this time the ants had built a new nest inside the left tubular handle bar that extends down under the barrow to an open end.  The small hole in the end of the plastic hand grip was being used as an exit to ward off annoying pest (meaning TPP) who wanted to move their nest's location.  Wheel barrows also don't function well one-handed so an impasse ensued until the right sized twig was found with which to plug up their upper exit.
But on to the magnolia.  As you know TPP has a thing for magnolias, and what with a whole new front bed to landscape following removal of old spruces, the opportunity to add another specimen presented itself, so a Magnolia x. soulangiana 'black tulip' was added to the collection.  The flowers are large, dark pink-purple, and the tree has an upright-growing, rather columnar form so rather good for a smaller space. Don't you just love this! 

Starry starry night

Go here for a bit of a mind-boggling view of the stars as you look toward the center of the Milky Way.  That's quite a few stars! Quite a view for residents of a planet way out here in the boondocks of the outer spiral arms. 

Friday fabulous fungi

This is terrific stuff. Fungi don't often get the attention they deserve, and this photo essay is just great.  Some of these images are just fantastic, wait, TPP means fabulous. The very first image looks like a species of Marasmius, little wheels.

Friday Fabulous Flower - bear with me

Oh, yes, you've all seen TPP's tree peonies before, but do bear with me.  These marvelous flowers are only around for a brief time and they are so fabulous that TPP just cannot help himself, and while the same plants, each year they are a bit different.  A couple of days ago the first three to flower, all pink ones, looked great, but now 3 days of rain have ruined the display.  This image was grabbed just before the rain began, and this year the tree peonies were ahead of the fern-leafed peonies.  At any rate enjoy; TPP does. 

Climate Change Reconsidered - again

TPP is honored to have selected to receive a copy of a Summary for Policymakers, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts (2014), a publication from NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel of Climate Change), not to be confused by the UN’s IPCC and their recent report on climate change.  The publication is a gift to TPP from Joseph L. Bast, President of the Heartland Institute (cost $8.95).  According to Joseph’s accompanying letter, “These findings disagree sharply with the alarmist findings of IPCC. As a trustee charged with safeguarding the finances of your institution and ensuring the integrity of its educational offerings [TPP’s alter ego served on his university’s foundation board for a decade], you should be well-informed on this controversial issue.  If your faculty is telling students “the science is settled” on climate change, and if your institution is spending millions of dollars on “sustainability” projects in the name of battling global warming, you should be crying foul.”

Wow!  Well, TPP will take a few minutes to examine this report and discuss it with colleagues and friends, and faithful blog readers too. 

This is a classic of denialism (others aren't so slick), and no one does it better than the Heartland Institute.  Without a bit of skepticism, without the experience to be able to spot the differences between science and phony science, without knowing enough science, you could be easily fooled. 

First, the Heartland Institute exists to obfuscate, confuse, and counter science, and they are good at it, the best corporate money can buy.  They figured out their basic tactic denying that smoking caused any health problems. Now Heartland is funded by ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, all of whom are concerned that efforts to limit greenhouse gases might cut into their bottom line. 

Second, how can you know this publication is denial BS?  A good part of this document’s message is that carbon dioxide is good for the environment and makes plants grow better.  If you look at the references, and bear in mind this is just a summary and probably not the full set of reference (they say thousands), you see something curious.  The four sources about CO2 and plants were published in 1902-1904, 1918, 1978, and 1983, and because they are included in the summary they must be really important ones.  Absolutely no studies are referenced that were done since scientists started to wonder and worry about climate change and carbon dioxide. That tells you a lot right there. One of the best, and only, long term studies of carbon dioxide and tropical tree growth was published in 2003 in the USA’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Clark, D.A., S.C. Piper, C.D. Keeling, and D.B. Clark. 2003. Tropical rain forest tree growth and atmospheric carbon dynamics linked to interannual temperature variation during 1984-2000. PNAS 100(10):5852-5857.), and if this study isn’t cited (or any of the 28 papers published by the principle authors (the Clarks) since 2003 then the publication is not an honest survey of  the biological impacts of carbon dioxide. 

Third, Heartland is very good at telling half a story. Increased carbon dioxide does increase photosynthesis and plants grow faster. But the other half of the story is that as the temperature goes up, so does photorespiration, and plants lose more fixed carbon, and at the same time, the rate of photosynthesis slows down such that the might be a tipping point.  Another recent report shows that enhanced carbon dioxide reduces the nutritional value of vegetation, so in light of that, the NIPCC’s conclusion that “The evidence is overwhelming that it [increased carbon dioxide concentration] has and will continue to help plants thrive, leading to …more food for a growing human population”, seems a bit over optimistic, and TPP remains under whelmed by the evidence presented.

So, that’s the short version, but without question this publication will fool lots of people and make for lots of press by those (and the politicians they've bought) whose fiscal interests are threatened by possible actions to slow global warming. 

Plant "eats" heavy metal

First, TPP hates any science "news" article that says plants "eat" anything. What a stupid thing to say. Plants don't "eat" carbon dioxide either although they do absorb it. That being said, here's an otherwise interesting article about heavy metal accumulation in a plant. Heavy metal accumulation in plants is nothing new; they all basically do it because for some reason plants can't get rid of a heavy metal (plants don't "crap" either) once they absorb it. Now heavy metals are toxic, and plants can absorb them in non-toxic amounts, transport them across membranes and cytoplasm, and then accumulate them inside vacuoles, a handy compartment where it can accumulate in toxic amounts.  This is part of a phenomenon called biological magnification, and this is why heavy metal pollution and the recycling of sewage sludge can be a problem.  At any rate some plants are hyper-accumulators and they can take up and accumulate a whole bundle bunch of heavy metal to the point where the plant is quite toxic although unaffected itself.  In the western USA some plants accumulate selenium from certain types of soils, and cattle grazing on these heavy metal accumulators develop an intoxication called "blind staggers". The plant in this story accumulates nickel to such a level that it makes up about 2% of the biomass of the plant (the amount of stuff left after removing water).  Wow, talk about a wooden nickel!  To put that in scientific terms, it's a lot. The idea has been around for some time that such plants might allow you to bio-mine certain elements that are too diffuse to be obtained through physical methods, or perhaps to remove dangerous heavy metals from a polluted area so they can be put where exactly?  TPP has always been unclear on this last point. This is why heavy metal pollution is a bad thing. 

Date by which 100 plants flower fluctuates wildly

Yesterday was lovely, and the Phactors ate dinner on the patio with friends.  The center piece was a Caesar salad with fresh romaine lettuce and a dynamite home made salad dressing (a Sheila Lukins cookbook recipe). Two dark pink tree peonies were in flower as well as the one flower the squirrels did not eat was open on the big-leafed magnolia.  One of the metrics TPP keeps is the date by which the first 100 plants in our gardens flowers (out of pretty close to 300 flowering plants). This year the 100th plant was magnolia vine (Schisandra chinensis, a basal angiosperm!).  The database is now in its fifth year and the total lack of a pattern or trend or consistency is quite evident.  In 2012, the 100th plant flowered on March 25th. Sorry, this isn't intended to mock readers waiting for the ice to melt out of the Bay of Fundy. Last year the 100th plant to flower wasn't reached until May 5th, and this year it was on May 7th!  So in just 5 years of data the earliest and latest date on which the 1st 100 plants flowered differs by 43 days!  Welcome to a continental climate folks - highly variable, highly changeable. Now we be needing some rain, and please without any twisters.

Garden death list

This was the worst winter in 30 years and a lot of plants took a beating.  Here's the obits so far.  Two species of beauty berry (2 bushes of each), one well established, one new last year.  Status: to be replaced unless some sprouts appear from the base. A rough-barked Japanese maple - ouch!  This was no big-box store cheapie and it was doing very well.  Status: no breaking buds and no sprouts as yet. This one will be hard to replace without visiting crazy Japanese maple guy again.  Vitex (chaste tree) frozen back or frozen in toto?  This has frozen back before and then sprouted from the base almost growing like an herbaceous perennial, so we'll wait some more. New little plum yew died; it had not yet gotten well established and probably wasn't quite hardy either.  Status: already replaced by bigger and better shrub in its 1st appearance in local trade.  Heliantheum (Cistaceae) - no sign of life after surviving previous several winters.  Sad.  Status: will seek hardier replacement. They said zone 5, but not sure this means what its supposed to mean.  Leptodermis - Again, zone 5?  Who are they kidding?  Status: An underwhelming plant; replacement uncertain. An ornamental hemlock; it was ailing from the heat and drought, and the winter and rabbits did the rest.  Status: if replaced, it will be in a different location. TPP's hemlock batting average is terrible - zero for several plants. Established trees do OK here, but tough to establish in our hotish and dryish summers.  Bought and planted B&B Japanese snowbell in place of the hemlock, but it has failed to break bud - seems it didn't survive over-wintering at the nursery. Someone owes TPP a new tree, but another of the same? Status: rethinking the whole idea about what to put in the center of this bed.  It's been a tough spot for some reason. Corylopsis (winter hazel) - hasn't broken bud yet, but holding out hope still. Status: uncertain. If replaced it will be in another location. Several others were damaged, frozen back, but expect them to recover, eventually.  All the rosemary and lavender froze, but the sage is tough. Lost a really good dwarf Nova Spy apple tree.  Status: will replace.   New Pterostyrax  (epaulette tree) was a worry, but it was undamaged as were the pearl bushes (Exochorda) and one even flowered! OK, they're hardy.  Itea took a beating but is now showing signs of life - a close call. Tree peonies all survived with minimal damage - yea!  

1866 Mississippi River map

Here's an 1866 map of the Mississippi River and you can scroll along its whole length. This is pretty cool, and TPP would like to see the real map. For 15 or so years the Phactors owned a cabin on a bluff high above the river just north of Oquawka, 1595 miles above the river's mouth deep in delta. Way up here the river is no more than a kilometer and a half wide with an average depth of about 44 feet. In spite of all the damage it has sustained, the river is still quite alive with aquatic life and we loved visiting it regularly. It was a very different, and much older, culture along the river as this was the avenue that opened the Midwestern area. This is one of the most rural, and economically depressed, regions of northern Lincolnland.  Finally the cabin became more work than pleasure, so we sold it and converted it into a very nice patio area.

A whole big bunch of really cool custom cycles bi- and otherwise

TPP has a fascination with bicycles, well, cycles of all sorts, and here's a link to a photo essay of some really cool custom cycles of all sorts.  You have to admire some of the ingenuity, some of the silliness, some of the cleverness involved.  Here's just one to get your curiosity aroused, a pedal-powered tank.  Watch out neighbors!  You know this could save the military a lot of money and improve the fitness of our troops.  Thanks to Treehugger for the link.

Really cool compact camper

OK, here's TPP's warning: you'll want one of these campers, so don't go look unless you have a tight grip on your credit cards.  Hmm, actually now that TPP sees the price tag, maybe it's not going to be too hard to avoid impulse buying. Note how everything has it's place: the wine bottles and wine glasses.  No matter what it's bloody clever to make something so compact that's so functional. At any rate, if one of you readers decides to purchase one, do send TPP a product review for him to publish. Years ago TPP built a "clever, compact, everything-you-ever-need" outfitters' kitchen box that was bigger and heavier than that entire camper, or so it seemed. Yes, it was so clever it didn't even fit in our vehicle unless we left the very young F1 out. The solution was to get a VW van and then use the box for years and years, and then give it to a boy scout troop leader. 

A day late and a maragarita short

It's been a long, busy weekend for the Phactors.  Cinco de Mayo just disappeared while we were being wined and dined, semi-feted as alumni, as TPP gave a lecture on behalf of a retiring mentor, curiously, a dual last official lecture for both of us. So here the Phactors be, sitting in the Syracuse airport drinking margaritas, a day late, waiting for transport back to the mid-west. Spring here is at least 8 days behind our very late mid-west spring. You notice other differences as well. Steamed clams. Yes, this area is close enough to salt water that people eat steamed clams, nice, plump, sweet ones, and washed down with a Genesee cream ale, sort of a nostalgic beverage from our college years.  Seafood is a lot more common and diverse. So is the Italian food. A favorite Italian deli was totally unchanged from our college days over 45 years ago, as was a candy store, and a submarine sandwich shop, and the two best Italian restaurants in town (we ate in both). The student body is more diverse than the mid-west too; this is New York State. Sunday night there was a spectacular sunset over Lake Ontario to the west and a massive rainbow to the east. As always our college and college town, Oswego, New York, was a combination of some things never change and new things, both good and bad. Oswego is a bit more of some things never change than lots of places it seems. A favorite lakeside food stand must be in a time warp. It was wonderful. New science facilities had TPP completely disoriented, but the college has a new greenhouse that needs his help; a care package will be forth coming. And the lecture was well received, so mission accomplished.  

Weirdly strange and strangely weird

TPP is suffering from some disconcerting feelings. Usually things just sort of happen and TPP tries to just take them in stride, but nonetheless today feels strangely weird.  Yesterday, Friday, was the last class day of the semester, another fine semester and academic year shot to hell, and rather than just a regular class (Friday 1 pm) TPP took his students to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden, always pleasant and educational thing to do. The seniors also enjoyed having a non-traditional last day to their college career, so a nice symmetrical situation. The weirdness arises because this was TPP's, actually his academic counterpart's, last class ever because he is retiring later this year. Of course the summer will be pretty much the same as always, but it feels quite strange to suddenly realize that this is the terminus of teaching even though the botanical career is not over by any means, and without question TPP, the blogger, is just getting started. So there it is. Somehow the semester and a very long teaching career (over 40 years), at least in terms of actually being in the classroom with students, has ended, and this proves to be sort of surprising in its abruptness in spite of the fact that this was not a sudden or last minute decision. TPP has plans to do something quite different this coming August, something to help his adjustment to not starting another academic year, but until then this will remain something for readers to wonder about. But somehow this actually happened; this is the end (1970), which is actually when it began.   

May Day! Gorilla gardening day!

OK, OK, TPP knows it's guerilla not gorilla; thank Captain Ron and Martin Short for somehow implanting that transposition in my head. Elected morons are also trying to declare May 1 Unconstitutional Day of Prayer in the USA, and our nation and the world would be a much better place if only they would embrace May first as Guerilla Gardening Day.  To celebrate you only need go plant something nice on some unused little plot of public land.  Years ago TPP up dug some bulbs while planting something else, and the bulbs, done for the season, were planted along side of a jogging/biking/walking trail, and still they bloom there every spring (they be crocus).  So get with the program and make the world a greener place. This year the Phactors are relocating several dozen old standard hostas that thrived in the shade of several old spruce that were just recently basal pruned, so shade they give no more. Some friends have volunteered to plant some along side a different section of the same trial, and no gorilla could do that.