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Archive for the ‘Mother Nature’ Category

The feeling is like a bad taste or an unpleasant odor in a confined space. A crowded elevator. A rancid memory, refusing to rise in order to purify itself, instead choosing to fester just below the blister of consciousness. Transparent, like a stealth weapon ninety-nine percent ghost. A vaporous déjà vu that will not leave me alone. This feeling I have is like all of that, this dread that will not go away. This thing called — Irene.

Hurricane Irene — whose name means “peaceful” (I bet some higher-up got a chuckle out of that) — plows a belligerent path northward toward a steamy rendezvous with inevitable landfall. A juggernaut on a mission: a collision with North Carolina and everywhere else.

No. Collision is not a good word to describe this terrible meeting of wind and land mass. The real word should be more subtle. Something akin to convergence or assimilation, or — confluence. Yes. A confluence with North Carolina. I like that. But I still have a very bad feeling about this Hurricane-Irene-whose-name-means-peaceful.

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Three weeks later I received the second shipment of twenty thousand ladybugs. Surely this time experience would guarantee I made no mistakes.

At 6 AM sharp I carried the refrigerated ladybug container into the garden, where I carefully clipped off the box’s protector tab and proceeded to gently place handfuls of the cool ladybugs in various choice garden locations: some on the ruby Swiss chard, some on the zucchini squash, some on the turnip greens. More here. More there. Chilled ladybugs everywhere.

The ladybugs sat, clustered together for several minutes testing their wings in the warm sunlight. They were already wandering around looking for a meal! How cute they were, hunting in the dappled sunshine. Then —  one by one —  twenty thousand speckled ladybugs took to the air and disappeared in a reddish swarm over my back yard fence, gone from my garden forever.

A week later a shipment of one hundred preying mantis EGG CASES arrived at my front door.

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Tim says, Ladybug recap:

  1. turns out the ladybugs were THIRSTY from their postal travels. Had I read the instructions more carefully, I would have discovered I was supposed to have watered the garden BEFORE releasing the ladybugs.
  2. It took months to vacuum up the dead and dried ladybugs who had managed to gain access to two floors of the house, as well as the attic and basement areas.
  3. When they arrived, each one of the preying mantis egg cases had to be fastened (tied) to a scattering of bushes and shrubs.
  4. About a month later I had a slew of juvenile preying mantises crawling everywhere. Within a short while there was a conspicuous absence of bugs in my garden. Which worked out well because — once the bugs were gone — the growing preying mantises began devouring each other.
  5. The price of ladybugs has gone up!
  6. Ladybugs are not necessarily welcomed.
  7. Preying mantis egg cases are still available, too.

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Tim says: Over the past fourteen years of Simply Tim history, “Ladybug, Ladybug” has been one of the most requested stories I’ve written. It just so happens to be one of my favorites, too.

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Ladybug, Ladybug

I had an invasion of ladybugs, once, years ago, in the early 1970s. Well — not really an invasion, I guess, because I willingly invited them into my home. At that time I was a dedicated organic gardener who couldn’t pass up the Organic Gardner Magazine advertisement for twenty thousand live ladybugs delivered right to my front door. Ladybugs, it turns out, had voracious appetites and a reputation for mercilessly devouring gazillions of garden-pest insects, entirely eliminating the need for using pesticides.

I was sold!

The ladybugs arrived in a cardboard box perhaps two feet square. The sides of the shipping carton contained breathing vents covered by mesh similar to window screening material. Placing my ear against one of them, I could clearly hear scratchy bug noises emanating from the dark interior. Instructions dictated immediately placing the ladybugs in a refrigerator and chilling them for a day or two. This was supposed to calm them down in preparation for deployment in the garden, where they would proceed to scour the growing vegetables and dutifully consume any and all insects foolish enough to await the unstoppable flurry of creeping, carnivorous polka dots.

I scheduled “the invasion”, as I called it, for two days later at precisely 6 AM.

At the appointed hour I carefully removed the ladybug container from the refrigerator and snipped off the protector tab from the box’s lid. As I passed through the kitchen — heading for the back door overlooking my garden — I slipped on the discarded cardboard tab, scattering a bewildered mass of frigid ladybugs into my living room, where the container tumbled across the floor. Like a scene from a Stephen King novel, the writhing red and black-speckled hoard expanded like a demon fog, momentarily shaking off the effects of the cold.

Then, the orange cloud of TWENTY THOUSAND helicopters buzzed off to all areas of my home in a dazzling display of flashing color intermixed with splashes of morning sunlight streaming through the Venetian blinds.

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There is an art to stacking firewood, a skill that I lack.  Every time I try, the pile eventually tumbles over. Just like the cartoon character Charlie Brown and his football, success for me in stacking firewood is always yanked away before ever getting a chance to punt. Which is why, several months ago, I carefully added each piece of firewood to my stack as if I were an ancient pharaoh’s engineer setting stones just so atop the Great Pyramid. How perfectly vertical the stack rose — how each and every log tightly jig-sawed neatly into place! The task took me nearly all day to accomplish, but the resulting cord-pile of firewood was rock solid.

Until yesterday.

While sitting in my office I gazed out the window into the front yard, where my eyes came to rest on the neatly layered stack of firewood. At that very moment, the wood pile trembled, sagged slightly, then tumbled silently to the ground. A murder of crows scattered nervously into the treetops.

What are the odds of my having witnessed that event at that exact moment in time?

After a while, the crows returned to their scattering antics and a gust of wind began covering up the pile of firewood with a blanket of leaves

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It began to snow on and off on Saturday morning. I knew I was out of cream for Sunday’s morning coffee, so heading to the grocery store sometime during the day was a given. The snow stopped about noon. Plenty of time to buy the cream.

Procrastination got the better of me.

I am in the process of renovating my kitchen, but before I can proceed with removing the kitchen sink and counters in order to finish the floor and put in the new sink and cabinets, I need to move my too-heavy refrigerator. Before I can do that, to make it lighter, I have to transfer the contents to the basement’s chest freezer and spare fridge. First, I have to edit the contents of the basement appliances to make room for the upstairs food stash — there’s stuff in both the upstairs and downstairs refrigerators whose spent freezer lives are beyond calculation. But before I could accomplish anything, I needed to throw the old stuff out. Trash and garbage pickup where I live happens on Monday morning. That’s where I had to deposit my 40 or so pounds of still-frozen expired food — another given. I’d accomplish the task on the way to the store to get my Sunday morning cream. Not a problem.

As always, procrastination has a way of becoming a two-edged sword: it feels great until you need to get a grip on it.

By the time I had my freezer juggling shenanigans in line, it had begun to snow again. Sunset was slipping away, the temperature was dropping, and I was most certainly still out of cream. Clutching the steering wheel and peering through the dazzling flurry of headlight-frozen flakes, I passed by my garbage cans. The carefully prepared bag of frozen trash-food was still sitting on my front porch where I had forgotten it, a quarter mile away. A deer scampered across the road, but getting cream for my Sunday coffee took precedence over stopping to admire the fleeting streak of brown. By the time I hit the main highway, the snowfall was furious and unrelenting. Huge, wet, fat flakes that stuck to the frozen ground and clung to the pavement.

Except for a handful of guilt-ridden procrastinators just like me, the grocery store was nearly empty. We all sped around the aisles like bumper car drivers at an amusement park, although none of us were amused. Outside the storefront windows that were covered with hand-lettered store specials, the blizzard was in full tilt. Streaks of sleet shot down in steeper angles than the lighter flakes of snow, while more newcomer procrastinators scurried across the parking lot.

Hunkered behind the steering wheel with 3 cartons of cream sitting safely on the passenger seat, I promised I’d never procrastinate again. Ever. When I pulled past the empty trash cans into my driveway, the snow stopped as quickly as if someone had snipped off the source with a gigantic pair of scissors. Sure glad I waited for the blizzard before driving to the store! After I put the cream in the newly emptied upstairs refrigerator, I decided to grab the bag of frozen trash off my front porch and drive it back to the trash cans right then and there, but when I opened the front door the blizzard had resumed. Not wanting lions and tigers or bears to feast overnight on my outdoor bag of frozen, unwanted goodies, I wisely carried it back down to the basement and stuffed it into an overfilled freezer. No problem: after all, there was still plenty of time left before Monday morning’s trash collection.

Some promises are never meant to be taken seriously.

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Fall is fragile this year. Too little rain, too late, all summer long. The hardwoods have long-since slipped into survival mode: fewer, leaner leaves, not about to waste their strength shaping fall colors for our pleasure. Even my cove’s undisputed masters of display — two maples 75 yards across from the dock — are failing to excite.

It will be a weakling Fall this year, one whisked shamelessly away with the first gusts of wind, not in a rush, but a whimper.

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There must have been a thousand of them, maybe even two thousand. Ducks of every type and color. And when I stepped out onto the deck with my morning cup of coffee, every one of them took off amidst a flapping and quacking that rattled the patio doors. Hot coffee dribbled down the front of my bathrobe. I took a step backward, awestruck. Thousands and thousands of wing-beats flicked against the surface of Lake Gaston like a million skipping stones.

It was a National Geographic moment.

Abruptly, en masse, wingtips caught air, digging in, taking off, a cacophonous swarm of airborne hard bodies that rose up, turned one hundred eighty degrees, disappearing over a distant tree line. Somewhere miles away, I sensed another me, sipping coffee in a bathrobe, mouth agape as a darkling flock, two-thousand strong, circled once, blotting out the sun before splashing down, flapping and quacking in chaotic disarray, the same movie played in reverse.

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