2022: Gardening

2020 was a rotten year, when I lost what little remaining faith I had in government, journalism, medicine, the Church hierarchy, academia and scientists. 2021 was a transitional year, when I at last escaped the big city. In 2022 I could finally relax and devote my attention to matters beyond immediate emergencies and the end of civilization. Let’s take a look back at 2022, starting with the garden.

I focused on annuals this year, not entirely by choice. I did order some perennials from a couple of online sources, but that did not end well. I asked nursery #1 to ship my plants at the end of March. They didn’t. I sent them emails in April and May and received no replies. Finally, in June, when the weather here was too hot for planting, I heard from them. There had been some sort of catastrophe in their office, but it was finally all sorted out, and should they send my plants now? I told them to cancel the order, and I will shop elsewhere in the future.

I ordered several daylilies from nursery #2. The large, healthy roots arrived on time, and I expected great things from them. I was disappointed. Hemerocallis generally are foolproof. They’ll grow almost anywhere under almost any conditions and bloom profusely. Mine did not thrive, however. One died; the others hung on, but were weaker at the end of summer than when I planted them.

The problem, I think, was that the ground was poisoned. My predecessors here had used the bed where I planted the daylilies as a place to display kitschy little statues. When I moved in, the ground there was covered by lava rock over sheets of black plastic. Apparently they applied a strong, long-lasting herbicide to the ground before laying the plastic, and enough of it lingered deep in the soil to damage plants with large roots. Come spring, if the daylilies are still alive, I’ll transplant them elsewhere, and plant shallow-rooted annuals there for a few years.

On a whim, I picked up a handful of bagged perennials at Walmart. Cheap though they were, they were still overpriced. The plants, or fragments of roots, were small and weak. Nevertheless, enough survived to make the purchases worthwhile. In a few years I should have a nice collection of hostas.

Most of the reliable annuals — poppies, Phacelia, dahlberg daisy, cosmos, etc. — performed well. The exception was Gilia tricolor; normally every seed sprouts, but this year not one germinated. I presume it was a bad batch of seeds. The experiments were partially successful. Mentzelia lindleyi produced brilliant yellow flowers for a month, but the plants were scraggly and unattractive. Nolana paradoxa had fine blue flowers, but they weren’t as profuse as I had hoped. The morning glories took forever to set flower buds, and when they finally did, it was too late.

Some of the bulbs I planted in the fall of 2021 did well, and some didn’t. The lilies put on a good show, as did Allium christophii. About half the Walmart daffodils bloomed, and only two of the 35 species tulips. Fall and early winter last year were freakishly warm, and perhaps with normal cold weather at the proper time they would have done better. (But there is no such thing as normal Kansas weather.)

This year I will focus on perennials. I’ve already ordered too many seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery. Indoors, there may be more orchids when there is room under the lights again. 1

A quiet anniversary

A year ago this week I escaped from Wichita.

Overall, it was a good move. The neighborhood here is quiet. I can read without interruption, listen to music without competing noise, and sleep without being awakened by cruising subwoofers at 2 a.m. And I have an entire house to myself, with a real yard, an extraordinary luxury after years in a duplex. I don’t have to worry about my neighbors playing loud video games or bad music when I need to sleep.

Although where I now live is one of the larger cities in Kansas, it’s still much smaller than Wichita, and saner. In Wichita nearly everyone wore masks everywhere. It was common to see individuals driving alone with the car windows up wearing masks. When I weeded my tiny garden in front of the duplex, masked passers-by made ostentatiously large detours around me, sometimes walking into the street to avoid my malign aura. It was hard not to laugh. There’s been little of that silliness here. I’ve never seen any of my neighbors with masks. Some people still wear the stupid things at stores, generally either the very old or the compliant young and their unfortunate children, but they’re a minority.1

There are drawbacks, of course. I live literally on the wrong side of the tracks, and trains run frequently. I need to leave extra early for appointments lest I get stuck at a crossing. There are fewer stores of any kind, and those that are here generally don’t have selections as extensive as their big-city counterparts. I can find acceptable basic wines and bourbons at the best local liquor store, for instance, but not sherry or port, or Blanton’s. In general, if it’s not at Home Depot, Walmart or the local Kroger affiliate, I have to order it online. And I’m still in Kansas, where there is no such thing as normal weather.

Nevertheless, the inconveniences are more than compensated for by the quiet. I feel more at home here than I ever did in Wichita.

X marks the spot

California poppies have distinctive forked cotyledons, and seedlings look like little green X’s on the ground.

Winter is leaving at last — I hope — and I can finally start rehabilitating the badly neglected quarter-acre on which I now live. Posting will continue to be light as I prune, rake, dig, cuss, plant and dig some more.

There are two garden centers in town. Both are inconveniently distant, and neither has much of what I need. Fortunately, there are a Walmart and a Home Depot within easy reach. I’ve had better luck with them, but it’s still often frustrating. Walmart, for instance, has a surprising good selection of neatly packaged perennials for seemingly excellent prices. I found Eryngium and two kinds of Tricyrtis, neither of which I’ve ever seen in any Wichita store. However, they’re Walmart quality. If the package says it contains three roots, expect two. If it says two, one will be small and the other just a fragment or missing entirely. It’s not entirely a bad deal; these plants typically cost three times as much from online sources, and if they survive, they’ll put on a good show — eventually. But unless you have more patience than money, look elsewhere for your plants.

Hurry up and wait

Moving to a less urban area does have drawbacks. E.g., active railroad crossings. This train blocked my route for a half-hour earlier today. I would guess that it was traveling between five and ten miles per hour, say seven-and-a-half mph, so I watched roughly three and a half miles of train.

Elsewhere

I’ve finally escaped from Wichita. I now live in a city an order of magnitude smaller in a neighboring county, where I don’t hear boom cars and shouting strangers all evening. It will no longer be convenient for me to visit the botanical garden in Wichita, but quiet nights are compensation.

Waiting for me in the front yard when I moved in was the puffball above. I’d guess it’s either Calvatia fragilis or Calvatia cyathiformis. It was at its prime yesterday while my camera was packed away, and was starting to deflate this morning when I finally got a picture.

Also waiting for me were a couple of peony plants in their prime.

Two-thirds of spring

These are the three signs of spring in Kansas: ants in the house; lawnmowers; and, tornado warnings. I spotted the first ant a few days ago. Today, Sunday morning, at 8:40, two guys attacked the yard next door with edger, blower and lawn mower. All we need now is a real tornado, and spring will be fully here.

How thoughtful…

… of the earth to make sure I got up in time this morning despite the clocks all being wrong.

Update:

This makes four quakes in one day, a record for me. (The red dot is the one I felt a few minutes ago, not the one listed in red.)

Update II: It’s not stopping. There were two more this Monday morning. This isn’t exactly an Icelandic level of seismic activity, but it’s not like Kansas, either.

Spring has sprung …

… or has it? The tornado sirens were howling a few minutes ago, and the phone just blared a “severe weather” warning. Here’s the radar:

Another view:

See the storm? Neither do I. It’s not officially spring until the first real tornado warning, so it’s still technically winter here.

A bit chilly

These are the conditions right now here and in central Alaska. The Wichita temperature is even more impressive in centigrade: -26°. This is the coldest moment here since February 6, 1982, when the temperature hit -20°F.

Update: It got down to -16°F for a little while. Now it’s a relatively pleasant -6°.

Just wondering, and a note

Any test of Joe Biden’s cognitive functions would be a waste of time. At this point, I wonder: could he pass a Turing test?

In related news, I see that the democrats have picked the most nakedly demagogic of the candidates to finish out Biden’s hypothetical term. Some months back she blindsided the senile creep for not supporting busing enthusiastically enough. At the time I wrote a brief note on an aspect of sending children to distant schools that is usually overlooked, but for some reason I never published it. I might as well put it up here now.

Why is there only one “s” in “busing”?

During the middle of second grade, my parents transferred me to the nearest Catholic grade school, 30 miles south of our home in northern Utah. My home was the second stop on the morning bus route, and the second-last in the evening. Every school morning I needed to get up while it was still dark out — always a bitter struggle — swallow something (I got thoroughly sick of Carnation Instant Breakfast) and run out to the bus before it drove off. The bus spent the next half-hour picking up other sleepy students around town, and another half-hour on the highway to school. I was barely awake, my parent were cross, the other students were cranky, and the bus driver resented us all. It was a marvelous way to start the day.

After school, the process was reversed. The main difference was that we were all tired and hungry rather than sleepy, but it was nevertheless as much a pleasure to ride the bus then as it was in the morning.

So, every school day through fifth grade, I spent two hours each day confined in a decrepit old school bus with bad shocks1, enjoying the company of 30 or so other surly children, because my parents thought I would benefit from being in a Catholic school. Were they right? No. Even assuming that the education in the Catholic school was indeed superior2, it was not worth the waste of two hours every day.3

Note that I spent those hours on the bus because my parents wanted me in a Catholic school. There was no question of good or bad neighborhoods or schools. Even so, it was a mistake. Busing itself is intrinsically bad.4

Nothing’s happening at the zoo…

… ’cause it’s closed.

We had a couple days of fine May weather this week, and I took advantage of them. Wednesday I rode my bike out northwest to the zoo. The zoo itself was closed, of course, but that didn’t matter; I was more interested to see what signs of spring were evident in the area. There was less color than I had hoped. If you like shades of brown, the unmown field east of the zoo offers a nice study in textures, but if you want wildflowers, it’s still too soon. There were a few crab apples and a lilac in the park to the west, plus a Prunus, possibly a sandhill plum (P. angustifolia), in bloom, but otherwise there was nothing much beyond dandelions and henbit.

I stayed mostly on bike paths and park roads. I was once overtaken by a cyclist wearing headphones. Most other people on bicycles and every single jogger I encountered had small white plastic objects stuck in their ears, occasionally with wires attached. This perplexes me. I don’t run, but I do ride a bicycle everywhere, and I rely on my hearing to alert me to dangers approaching from behind. I need to hear what’s happening around me. Consequently, I have never used headphones or ear buds outdoors and never will. Why so many people want to shut themselves off from a major part of the world makes no sense to me.

I don’t get the obsession with having music in one’s ears every waking hour. When I listen to music, I listen to music. It’s not a background activity.1 When I’m not actively listening, I want silence.

Weblog of the plague years

Robbo:

… Ol’ Robbo can really get behind this “social distancing” thing. Hey, I was a misanthropic shut-in before it was cool to be a misanthropic shut-in!

“Social distancing” is one of the methods by which I’ve preserved my sanity through the years. With a well-stocked freezer, I won’t need to go anywhere for weeks, perhaps months. Coping with this week’s apocalyptic threat requires no changes in my behavior. At worst, I’ll miss a few meetings. That is not a problem.

J Greely:

Um, if all you’re buying is water, toilet paper, and rice, you’re preparing for a very peculiar apocalypse. What, you’re gonna sit on the porch in the dark boiling bottled water over a toilet-paper stove to cook your rice as the zombies roam the neighborhood looking for brains? Relax, you’ve just proven that you’re safe from them.

Before anime

My Crunchyroll subscription lapsed a month ago. I’m pretty much done with anime, though I’ll probably always retain some interest. Possibly someone might like to read about my experiences and thoughts, so I’ll write a few summary posts, starting with some pre-history.

I quit watching television when I realized that I could accurately predict the events of an action/adventure/spy show from the first five minutes. This was ‘way back in prehistoric times, when there were only three channels.1 The rest of the family remained addicts, and there was usually a television on in the house at all waking hours and halfway through the night.2 I typically spent my evenings alone in my room, reading, while my parents sat in front of the television.

Movies were a novelty in the small city where I spent the largest portion of my childhood. There was one theater, with just one screen, and one drive-in. You had little choice in what to watch. Consequently, I saw few movies when I was young, and those were mostly thrillers at the drive-in, when my parents tossed me in the back of the car expecting me to sleep while they watched. I had insomnia even then, but I usually found the films more annoying than interesting. (I had nightmares about crop-dusting airplanes after they saw North by Northwest.) Later on in other places we lived, there were multiple theaters available, often with several screens. Unfortunately, movie-going was a family activity, and by then I had had enough of family. With a few exceptions (the Marx Brothers, Ealing Studios comedies, Ray Harryhausen), I never learned to like movies much.

There were a couple of items that presaged my interest in Japanese animation.

First were Saturday morning cartoons. Back in ancient times when I still watched television, my friends and I woke up at dawn on Saturdays and turned the television on, even though at that hour stations just broadcast test patterns, so that we would not miss anything once the programs started. Eventually our parents would wake up and throw us out of the house, but not before we had watched several hours of animation.

Cartoons fell into three classes. The least interesting were the innumerable Hanna-Barbera productions and similar. Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Top Cat, etc., they were all just mere entertainment: formulaic, cheap-looking and bland. They were better than a test pattern, but not by much.

Vastly better were the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These were superior in every respect to HB productions: voice acting, character design, art, animation, music, and particularly the writing. Bugs Bunny was far more vivid and alive than Yogi Bear could ever be. Bugs made me a Raymond Scott fan, too, though I didn’t know that at the time.

The best were the Jay Ward productions. Rocky and Bullwinkle looked even cheaper than Yogi Bear, but it didn’t matter. When the scripts were good, they were brilliant, and they were good more often than not.3 George of the Jungle was consistently good; Hoppity Hooper was downright trippy, as I recall (it’s hard to find; the episodes I’ve unearthed are decidedly eccentric, but I need to see more.) Although the shows were presented as kids’ entertainment, they were written for adults rather than dumbed down for dull children. Bullwinkle is one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century, along with Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly.

The other harbinger was Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke. This was the first animated Japanese movie to get a proper release in America, under the title Magic Boy. It turned up one Saturday afternoon at the kids’ matinee, and it blew away all the Disney movies I had ever seen. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I later saw Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made, and I eventually forgot Magic Boy.

Some years back, I tracked down a fansub of the movie. By every objective criterion it’s inferior to Disney products. But it had wildness and strangeness absent from its carefully-polished occidental counterparts, and it excited my imagination as no Disney movie ever had.

Books and music took the place of movies and television for me.

Half a lifetime later, I read a news article about a new children’s show being imported from Japan. It had something to do with girls who identified with the planets of the solar system and wore sailor suits. It sounded silly, but I was curious.

Several years after that, I read a review of an animated movie called Perfect Blue. It seemed worth seeing. Too bad it would never come to Wichita. Princess Mononoke looked interesting, too, but it also was unlikely ever to be shown here.

Not quite 20 years ago, a bodhran-playing friend turned out to have a DVD of Princess Mononoke. I asked to borrow it.

Update: I was annoyed to find that recent reissues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on DVD substituted different music for most of the openings and endings. Fortunately, you can find the correct music here. Pianists looking to enlarge their repertoire might consider assembling the incidental music to Dudley Do-Right into “silent movie” suite.

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Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next installment.