No More Frosts?

Flower with frost

Just three days ago, Friday the 17th, frost decorated the flowers in the morning. Was it our last frost? Will there be no more frosts? The forecast is for it to be below freezing Monday morning. I hope not.

The thing about the last frost, you never know when you see a frosty morning if it is the last frost of the season. Not until things have warmed up so much that there is no chance of it freezing again until fall can you look back and say with certainty, that was the last frost of the season.

Daffodil opening

Two days before the spring equinox, the daffodils started to open. They are very late this year. And two days ago I heard bumblebees while planting potatoes. This year, the bees should be out when the fruit trees bloom. Last year, late, cool weather kept the bees snuggled in their burrows while the fruit trees bloomed. I had to hand pollinate a number of fruit trees.

Bumblebee on cherry blossoms.

You can see the blur of the bumblebee’s wings as it gets nectar and gathers pollen from one of the cherry trees. This is the oddest of cherry trees. It blooms year round. At times there are just a handful of flowers on it, but through the cold of winter, it always has a few blossoms.

Dog in window watching bald eagle fly by.

This morning when I drove the car into town to have a dent fixed, I noticed two bald eagles hanging out nearby. They were still around when I came back several hours later. One even perched in a tree close to the house, and Ena watched it fly away when I tried to take a picture of it.

So are the eagles seeing our chickens and noticing the many ducks on the pond and thinking, “If we could do something about those dogs and people, this would make a great place to raise a family.”?

Butt warming button

I did have a good laugh driving home in the rental car I have while they fix the dent in our car. I noticed this button and wondered what it did. It looked like a person sitting down with waves of heat at their rear end. “Ah ha! A seat warmer,” I thought. Either that or it is a special function to deodorize farts so when you sense you are about to let one rip, you press it.

But when I pressed it, no seat warming happened. No pine scent filled the air. Instead the car asked me out loud what command I wanted to give it. So it’s supposed to be a person’s face with the person talking. Not a person’s butt getting warmed or deodorized.

So it goes.

Today is the spring equinox. It happened at 2:24 pm Pacific Time. In Iran, the spring equinox is the first day of the year. I like their calendar. The first six months, the months of spring and summer, all have 31 days. The next 5 months all have 30 days. And the last month of the year has 29 days and 30 days in a leap year. It’s very easy to remember.

When Will They Bloom?

Cherry blossoms buds

The cherry blossom buds are still wrapped up tight. You can feel them shivering, waiting for the warmth of spring to arrive. They are late this year. But how late? And when will they bloom? I’m guessing it will be the end of March or the beginning of April.

I went back through my photos of the cherry blossoms of this very tree. The earliest they bloomed was on March 4. The latest, on April 10. Around March 21~27 seems to be the most reliable time they bloom.

Cherry blossom blooms over the years

I couldn’t find photos for every year, but this one stood out from April 20, 2008.

Cherry blossoms blanketed in snow on April 20, 2008

Heavy snow blankets the cherry blossoms on April 20! That year was a very snowy year. Our well froze. We melted snow for two weeks on the wood stove. It snowed every day from the end of December until March or so. We were snowbound for over a week.

Crocus on March 14, 2023

The crocus are very late this year. The first flower buds are just started to poke out. The narcissus have not bloomed yet either, and usually by this time they are in full bloom. Proof it’s been a cool start to spring.

Spring has Spung

Rhubarb shoots prove spring has sprung

Rhubarb shoots are proof enough for me that spring has sprung. I’ve been planting onion and leek shoots the last few days and discovered that the rhubarb has awaken and is sending up its colorful shoots. Rhubarb red, rhubarb green, spring’s vibrants colors.

Swans on a spring field

What do the swans think of the warming days? Are their minds already planning their trips north? Are they discussing where to go? We did the Kenai Peninsula last summer. Let’s do the Copper River Delta this summer? Is that what they are thinking?

I stopped today on my way to the Post Office to watch the flocks on the pasture. Soon, one day I will go looking for them and they will be gone, flying north on their way to their summer homes.

They were nearly hunted to extinction. By 1932 scientists knew of only 69 trumpeter swans left in the wild. Fortunately, they were protected and now there are tens of thousands. It’s hard to imagine the Skagit Valley in winter without the swans. And we almost lost them.

Bear buds
Forsythia blossoms

Each day there is more color brightening the day, and buds swelling, getting read to unfurl their new leaves.

Chickens on weeds

The chickens dig scratching through the buttercup I pull out of the garden. They find numerous bugs and earthworms to devour. I’d let them in the garden but they’d dig up everything up. They’ll have plenty of buttercup and other goodies to scratch through while I prepare the garden over the next few months.

Snow Geese are Never Alone

Snowgeese on pasture look like snow

On my way into town today I encountered a flock of snow geese along Chuckanut Drive. Snow geese flocks cover pastures in such numbers that they look like patches of snow on the ground.

Didn’t I say just yesterday that every day is unique? Seeing thousands of snow geese feeding just in front of you is the very definition of unique. How often do you go make an errand and have to stop to take in all the snow geese swarming on pasture?

And when they take flight, snow geese look like clouds. Do birds who live in such huge flocks have any concept of loneliness? For their whole lives they are never more than a wingtip away from other snow geese. If a snow goose goes to see a therapist what do they talk about?

If you have a chance to watch snow geese, it is the constant chatter that stands out. They are forever talking, all at once. What are they saying? When they are here are they talking about their summer homes in the arctic? And when they are in the arctic are they talking about their time south?

Snow geese landing on a pasture

I suppose that some day we will be able to point our phones at the snow geese and have all their chatter translated and marvel at what they are talking about.

Clouds Prove Every Day is Special

Clouds prove every day is different

Every day is as different as every cloud. I had to stop on the way home from running errands. The clouds today were too special to drive by. Each time I see such beautiful, wondrous clouds, I enjoy them because I’ll never see a cloud just like these again.

Clouds are like snowflakes. Each one is unique, and each one changes by the second. Every moment you gaze at a cloud it changes, shifts, moves, and drifts away.

Clouds are like snowflakes.

Today’s clouds were particularly unique and wonderful. Good bye, clouds. I’ll never see you again. But thanks for drifting by and making today so special.

Escape from Purgatory

Swans on pasture. The blue skies free us from purgatory.

The constant dreary clouds and rain seemed like purgatory. Winter wasn’t gone but neither was spring here. We were stuck in between the two. But the skies parted, the sun proved it still existed, and freed us from purgatory.

Day Lilly shoots

The Day Lillies are stirring, pushing out of the ground and saying winter is over. The forecast is for snow late this afternoon and evening. But it shouldn’t drag us back into purgatory. By morning the forecast is for rain, so I won’t need to shovel snow tomorrow.

Bare cottonwoods against a blue sky

The largest trees on the property are these three cottonwoods. Some of their limbs would make decent size trees if they fell off and stuck into the ground. What is it like to be so tall that you can see over all the other trees?

Do trees feel they are in purgatory, caught in limbo while they wait for the weather to warm them up enough to unfold their leaves and come to life again?

Someone described these cottonwoods as widow makers. Their massive limbs can drop without warning and impale a hapless soul walking underneath them. And from watching the way tree limbs fall to the ground like spears, I have a suspicion that trees have sinister feelings about creatures who can move. And when winter storms thrash their limbs about, trees take aim at creatures below them, and see how many they can take out when their heavy limbs hurl to the ground.

So when you are in the woods, tread carefully, and watch the trees above. Are they taking aim at you?

Houseflies to the Rescue

Snow on palm leaf

A dusting of snow pleasantly surprised me this morning. On closer inspection, it was more a dusting of tiny hail pellets than snow.

Snow on rhododendrons
Brilliant sunny Valentine's Day morning.

But the sun shines so bright today, the dusting of snow won’t last long. It would be a perfect day for celebrating Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival on February 15. Over time, Lupercalia became Valentine’s Day.

Visiting ancient Rome on Lupercalia would have been exciting. It was a festival of sacrificing animals and performing rituals to ensure health and fertility. I asked ChatGPT what these rituals were. It told me:

The exact details of the festival varied over time. But it typically involved several rituals, including:

  • Animal sacrifice: During Lupercalia Romans sacrificed one or more animals. Usually goats and dogs. They believed these animals represented fertility and purification.
  • Feasting: After the animal sacrifice, Romans held a feast to honor the gods and promote social bonding among the community.
  • Ritual cleansing: Participants in Lupercalia engaged in ritual cleansing. This typically involved the use of water or milk to purify the body and promote fertility.
  • Bloodletting: Some accounts suggest that Lupercalia also involved bloodletting. Men cut their foreheads and offered drops of blood to the gods.
  • Fertility rituals: The most famous fertility ritual associated with Lupercalia involved the running of the Luperci. A group of young men dressed in goat skins ran through the streets of Rome. As they ran, the Luperci struck women with strips of goat hide. They believed this promoted fertility and eased childbirth.

Imagine the crowds of tourists flocking to Rome today if Romans still celebrated Lupercalia.

Morning embers in the wood stove.

On a cold morning, hot embers in the wood stove make it easy to get a fire going.

And Houseflies?

With all that animal sacrifice and bloodletting, houseflies in Rome surely feasted too. But until a few days ago, I had no idea houseflies can miraculously turn pig manure into compost in just seven days.

I saw an article on Japanese news about a researcher in southern Japan, Kushima Mitsutaka. For twenty years he has been working on using houseflies to quickly turn pig manure into compost.

The big obstacle to overcome is that houseflies are very sensitive creatures. Who knew? They can’t stand overcrowding. But to turn tons of pig manure into compost, you need millions of housefly larvae.

So Mr. Kushima kept breeding houseflies over and over, picking less sensitive houseflies with each generation. 1,500 generations later he has houseflies that don’t mind overcrowding. And he is now building a facility to quickly convert pig manure by the ton into compost.

The process involves spreading housefly eggs over a layer of pig manure. The eggs hatch. The larvae munch through the pig manure. Within a week they turn it into soft compost which smells like earth. And the next part is amazing. Fly larvae like to climb to the highest point possible to pupate and turn into houseflies. So the trays used to hold the pig manure are titled. The larvae crawl to the sides of the trays and fall off into containers. The containers fill with millions of larvae. The pig manure turned into compost is free of fly larvae and bagged. The larvae are processed to become fish and chick feed.

What is coincidental, is that the idea of using houseflies to turn pig manure into compost originated back in the early days of the Soviet space program. They worked with houseflies to use their larvae to process human waste in space. Mr. Kushima imported these flies to start his breeding program.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gave Mr. Kushima’s business a boost. Because of the invasion, fertilizer prices are sky high. So turning pig manure quickly into compost can provide lots of fertilizer.

A New Dawn, a New Era?

Early spring blue sky with dabbled clouds

A new dawn, a new season, good bye to winter, hello to spring. Or so it seems. With each day winter fades away. Though it is still mid February, and we’ve seen March days in the past with snow piling on top of tulips blossoms.

Deer droppings in the woods

February is a good month to gather fire wood. The trees don’t have their sap yet so they are quite dry already. And being out in the woods I see evidence of deer. Deer droppings here and there. Which makes me wonder if dogs are puzzled that they never see human droppings.

When dogs gather in a dog park do they have heated discussions about do humans poop? Do they ask each other, have you ever seen a human poop? With dogs and other creatures, they can walk along, see a dung pile and know which other dog or creature came by when and left that. Maybe human society would be different if we could walk along, see a pile, and say, “Hmm, Mary was by less than an hour ago. I wonder why she didn’t stop and say hello. Wow! She sure had a feast last night!”

Viburnum flowers

The viburnum is in full bloom. These are great winter and early spring bloomers. I also saw forsythia sending out leaf buds. And on these spring dawns, song birds are starting to sing.

Viburnum flowers
Chickens out pecking through the grass and leaves by the pond.

The chickens enjoy these early spring days. Most of the hawks are still off enjoying their tropical winter vacations. So the chickens can scratch through the leaves and grass without fear. Though the bobcat is around. I saw it along the road on the way home from the post office the other day.

And in this new spring, it seems we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era. I’d been reading articles about ChatGPT and how teachers are up in arms that students use it to write term papers. But then I read an article by a man who used it to write a WordPress plugin for his wife’s website.

WordPress is the software that this website runs on. About 40% of all websites run on WordPress. It is free software, written and maintained by thousands of volunteers around the world. Anyone can install it on their server and run it. It is designed so you can add plugins to add features you want. Thousands of people and companies around the world create these plugins.

And writing plugins that add features to WordPress is something that I dabble in from time to time. So I was curious. I logged into ChatGPT, gave it a paragraph description of the plugin I wanted, and the hundreds of lines of code for the plugin started appearing on the screen. Within a few minutes, it had spit out what would have taken me several hours of work to do. But what is intriguing about ChatGPT is that it is great at explaining things. Much of the code for WordPress is written in a programming language called PHP. And this is what is freaky or pleasing about ChatGPT. I asked it, “What is the origin of PHP?” And this is how it replied:

PHP stands for Hypertext Preprocessor, and it was created in 1995 by Rasmus Lerdorf, a Danish-Canadian programmer. Lerdorf initially created PHP as a set of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts to track visits to his personal website. Over time, he added more functionality to the language, and it grew into a full-fledged server-side scripting language that could be used to create dynamic web pages.

In 1997, two developers, Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, rewrote the language's core, creating a new version of PHP that became known as PHP 3. This version of the language was more efficient and easier to use, and it paved the way for the widespread adoption of PHP as a popular web development language.

Today, PHP is used by millions of websites and is one of the most widely-used server-side scripting languages in the world.

That was an easy to read and understand answer. But what I quickly learned is that ChatGPT is a great programming teacher. Any line of code I don’t understand, I can ask what that line of code does, and it gives a good explanation. And it keeps in mind the conversation you had with it and references back to things you recently talked about. For example, this question, “What does => do in PHP?” elicited this response:

In PHP, the => symbol is used to define key-value pairs in arrays. It separates the key on the left side from its corresponding value on the right side. For example, in the code snippet you provided:
$statuses = [
	Email::STATUS_DELIVERED => __( 'Delivered', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
	Email::STATUS_SENT      => __( 'Sent', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
	Email::STATUS_WAITING   => __( 'Pending', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
	Email::STATUS_UNSENT    => __( 'Failed', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' ),
The => symbol is used to define four key-value pairs in the $statuses array. The keys are the constant values from the Email class (e.g. Email::STATUS_DELIVERED) and the values are the translated string representations of the email statuses (e.g. __( 'Delivered', 'wp-mail-smtp-pro' )).

It’s like having a seasoned programmer at your shoulder explaining things as you go along. And if you want more detail, you can ask, “Go on,” and it will add to the explanation.

This does seem very different. It is more Hal like than Google, Duck Duck Duck Go, and other search engines. It’s like having a conversation with a pleasant person who never thinks any question you ask is too stupid, and who has all the patience in the world. Instead of handing back endless lists of websites to look at, I get back easy to understand paragraphs.

And it is the first search engine that ever apologized to me.

At one point it told me that the size of Washington State is 71,342 square miles. I saw other numbers from different websites. So I told ChatGPT, “You say that Washington State area is 71,342 square miles. However the US Census Bureau says it is 71,298 square miles. Which is correct?” And this is how it replied:

My apologies, you are correct. According to the United States Census Bureau, the area of Washington State is 71,298 square miles (184,827 square kilometers). Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Would Google ever apologize?

Mystery Tea

Blue sky on January 28, 2023

The sky could not be more blue than it is today. Spring is in the air. More than five weeks since the winter solstice, the sun is as strong as it is in mid November.

We had freezing temperatures this morning for the first time in quite a while.

Light frost
Needle ice

A light frost touched the grass and leaves. Needle ice pushed icy waves out of the ground. If I had the patience, I’d spend a night out and film needle ice forming.

Garlic shoots

The garlic is popping out of the ground. These shoots poked through the leaves covering the garlic bed. Just how thick a matter could they pierce? This is a great time of year. You can see winter fading and spring arriving. It’s a time of great expectations.

But I never expected to learn what I saw on Japanese TV a few days ago. Even the announcers were surprised to learn about a new, mysterious tea. Takeshi Maruoka, a doctoral student at Kyoto University, studies Chemical Ecology. During his studies he became fascinated with insects. And discovered that the droppings of caterpillars which ate cherry blossom leaves smelled like cherries.

So he made a tea from those caterpillar droppings and was amazed at how delicious it was. Since then, he’s made tea from the droppings of many kinds of caterpillars eating many kinds of plants.

Mr. Maruoka formed a company called Chu-Hi-Cha, which translates to Bug-Mystery-Tea 虫秘茶. He plans on commercializing this mysterious tea and bringing it to market this summer.

According to the clip I saw, tea from the caterpillars which eat chestnut leaves and from caterpillars eating cherry blossom leaves are his favorite.

Someone recorded that clip and here it is. It is in Japanese but you can get an idea of what these caterpillar droppings look like and how to make tea from them.

So is this safe? Caterpillars are doing pretty much the same process that makers of black and Chinese tea use. The caterpillars chew the leaves, ferment the leaves in their bodies, and pop it out as little pellets. They are miniature tea making factories.

Mr. Maruoka had these pellets analyzed for safety, and they have no harmful bacteria. There is no danger of getting food poisoning by drinking tea from the caterpillar droppings.

With tens of thousands of plants eaten by tens of thousands of varieties of caterpillars, the variety of teas that can be made by caterpillars is endless.

But this isn’t new. People have been making tea from caterpillar droppings since the late 1700s in China. In Chéngbù in Hunan, a tea farmer stored tea leaves in a hut. But rain leaked into the hut and moths ate all the leaves, leaving behind just their droppings.

While cleaning up the hut, some to the droppings fell into water and the farmer noticed that the water turned reddish like tea and he saw bits of tea leaves in the water. So he took some of the droppings, added hot water to them, and learned that you could make delicious tea from them.

And if you are curious, search for bug poop tea. It’s a thing.

Heol Maes Yr Haf

Heol Maes Yr Haf in Pencoed, Wales.

I see an address that starts with Heol Maes Yr Haf, and I can’t just let it go. What does it look like at Heol Maes Yr Haf? What kind of people live there? More interesting folk than us Bozos who live in Bow?

Fortunately, the internet makes it easy to go down such rabbit holes. So this is what it looks like on Heol Maes Yr Haf. A pleasant sort of place. And it translates to Summer Field Road.

  • Heol = road,
  • Maes = field
  • Yr = the/of
  • Haf = sun

And it is in Pencoed, Wales, which translates to Head Tree. Summer Field Road in Head Tree. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

So now I know and I can go on to doing other things, like celebrating the end of winter! Well, it feels like winter is over.

Daffodil shoots Jan 14

Daffodil shoots are up. As much as I take this as a sign that spring is here and our winter is over, last year the daffodils came out of the ground January 9 while there was still snow. And in late February, on the 21st, heavy snow fell, and a cold spell as brutal as any in Winterfell nearly wiped civilization off the face of Bow.

Witch hazel bloom Jan 14

Here is hoping we don’t suffer a similar fate this year. It is so sunny and warm today with the spicy scent of Witch Hazel to enjoy, that it is easy to believe winter has said good bye.