Where Joker’s Hats Come From

Is there any doubt that whoever designed the first joker’s hat grew peonies? Someone, centuries ago, saw a peony seed pod and said, “I want to wear that on my head!”

This time of year, beauty is on full display, blooming iris, heads of wheat forming, their grains forming alternating rows of green beads. “You go left, I’ll go right, you go left, I’ll go right,” and on and on to the very last grain. And green tomato droplets which get fatter every day.

Love at First Sight

On a cool, Sunday morning, it’s refreshing to see the pink rhododendron in bloom. The dogs are off in the woods trying to find something to chase. I’ve come to the conclusion that dogs, at least our dogs, do not have a sense of time. While sitting at the bottom of a tree, watching a squirrel or chipmunk up in the branches, the dogs will spend hours, transfixed. One minute, an hour, two hours, it’s all the same to them.

I recently purchased some white rice to serve to guests. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten white rice, and I’d forgotten how small the grains of white rice are compared to brown rice. The number of brands of white rice for sale in Japan is endless. The one I purchased is called Hitomebore, which means “Love at First Sight”. Competition to create the best tasting rice is fierce, with new varieties appearing every year.

The brand names are smile-worthy: Blue Sky Thunder, Charming Princess, Light of the Sun, First Frost, Dream Fulfillment, Water Mirror, Drops of the Milky Way, and on and on. In 2016, the Japan Grain Inspection Association (JGIA) judged 44 rice varieties as A+, 79 varieties as A, and 18 varieties as A-, that is 141 varieties of rice. Somewhere, there must be a rice expert, who by sampling a single grain of rice on their tongue, can tell you the variety, the place the grain of rice was grown, what the weather was during that growing season, and even how many egrets walked through the rice field where that rice was grown.

The JGIA has a Ranking Map with all the areas of Japan where you can see which rice varieties from that area received a grade A- or higher. Click on an area, and you’ll see where the rice was grown, the variety type, and the grade.

Curious about the Drops of the Milky Way rice, I looked at their website, and it goes into great detail about the history of the variety of rice, how it was developed, and which rice varieties were cross bred to produce it, Okubane 400 x Hokuriku 208, if you want to know. In 2008, a select few specimens were selected out of 2,000 crosses, and in 2010, these were further refined down to 13 specimens which tasted especially good, could withstand cool weather, had few broken husks, and were resistant to diseases. From 2012 through 2014, the new variety of rice was grown in six different places in Iwate prefecture, and in 2015, the prefecture started promoting this new rice.

The name, Drops of the Milky Way, was chosen because the shiny grains of rice shine like the individual stars in the Milky Way.

For your information, the rice variety, Love at First Sight ひとめぼれ, appeared in the early 1990s. Work on the rice variety was started in 1981, the name registered in 1991, and the rice variety was registered under Japan’s Seed and Sapling Law in 1992.

Summer in May

Summer arrived yesterday, a day of warmth and sunshine that a month ago seemed a hopeless, fanciful dream, something never to be. But here it was. From the first light, a sky without a cloud. Lilacs in bloom. The sweet smell of wisteria in the breeze. The soil warm enough to plant corn and beans. Some mornings, the nudge we feel waking us up is heaven.

One of the corn varieties I planted today was described as “well bred and soulful”. Someone who is assigned the task of writing seed descriptions is a hopeless romantic.

The overwintering kale has gone to bloom. I was about to cut it down to make way for another vegetable bed when the buzzing of a hundred bees stopped me. I’ll work around the kale until the flowers have dropped and some of the plants have gone to seed. In this garden, the bees rule.

Worth a Thousand Web Pages

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“A picture is worth a thousand words,” I heard that a lot growing up. Pictures in books were few. Now we are surrounded in a world of pictures, and we need a new saying: “Being there is worth a thousand web pages.”

It’s a morning in late May. The birds are singing. There is a gentle breeze. A video and some photos capture some of the magic of this wonderful morning, but even a thousand web pages won’t begin to convey the wonder of being there, of being outside, among the grasses, watching them sway in the gentle breeze as the birds sing their love songs.

Be Here Is Better

The chickens have taken to the garden bench this year. It’s the place to be, especially on warm afternoons. I wonder if they’d let me sit with them and listen in on their gossip.

Every day something new is blooming. You look at flowers and there are an infinite number of shapes and colors and fragrances. All of nature is like that. Different, different, different. Try something new. On days like this, it’s hard to look at a computer screen. It’s so much better to be here and see this.

No Overtime for Ruby

We humans invent the oddest things. Overtime. It’s a big issue in Japan as next year’s college graduates look for their dream job and companies are frantically recruiting them. It’s no secret that many Japanese workers whittle away the evenings and nights doing overtime, but college graduates are on to companies which treat their workers that way. On the news last night were clips of college students going out at night, binoculars in hand, to spy into the office windows of companies they were interested in interviewing with. If they see the office lights on and catch workers toiling away late into the night, they scratch those companies off their list of places they want to work. And with the severe shortage of workers in Japan, companies are responding, slashing overtime and figuring out how to run their companies while demanding as little or no overtime at all. Otherwise the new college graduates will go work for someone else. Some companies turn off all the lights in their offices by eight p.m. Other companies resort to reducing the bonuses of all the staff in a division if even one person works too much overtime, and increasing the bonuses of divisions with no overtime. If the trend continues, Japan may become known as the country of no overtime and holidays. There are now 16 national holidays a year in Japan. Recent additions are Green Day 緑の日 – May 4 (from 1989), Ocean Day 海の日 – 3rd Monday of July (from 1996), and Mountain Day 山の日 – August 11 (from 2016).

Overtime, it’s not even a concept for a chicken like Ruby. There really isn’t this idea of a time for this or a time for that or schedules or having to please the boss. It’s sit on a nest if I have the urge to lay an egg. Go out and eat if I’m hungry. Gossip with the other hens. Flirt with the nice rooster. And I guess, just do what she wants, all the time.

Overtime isn’t a concept for Takuma 拓真 and Ena 枝那 either. There’s play time, more play time, more play time, eating time, and napping time. That’s basically it. I could get to a life like that.

For the chickens this morning it’s a tofu breakfast. Such good food and no overtime required.

Promise of Things to Come

The thimble berries are in bloom. Their delicate white petals promise of red berries to come. Among the eggs, small pullet eggs have started to appear. There is something charming about a hen’s first few eggs, like a child’s first drawing. What goes through a hen’s mind the first time she lays an egg?

The dogs are after this chipmunk. He sit high above them, scolding them for even thinking of nabbing him. He keeps them occupied for hours at a time.

And this is, well I haven’t named her yet. She is a new Ameraucana hen without a shy bone, and always curious. She comes running to investigate whatever I’m doing. Marie Curie reincarnated perhaps?

The Yin Yang of It All

There are two main seasons in the Skagit Valley, November to early April when the swans are here, and April through October when the swans are not here. Those are the big seasons. Life yins and yangs with the appearance, disappearance of the swans. When the swans are here, is it a yin or a yang? Yin-陰 is shadow or dark, and yang-陽 is light or sunshine. So I suppose when the swans are here, it must be yin considering how dark that time of year is.

In Japanese, the characters are still 陰陽, but in China they have been simplified to 阴阳, and the simplification is rather ingenious, as the right portion of the character for yin is the moon-月, and for yang it is the sun-日.

Another important season are the months when peonies bloom. They opened a few days ago. Peony time is definitely a yang time of year.

The Sun Is All It Takes

A blue sky and brilliant sun is all that was needed to bring on the bees. I won’t have to worry about the apples not getting pollinated. The warm sun also made the arugula shoot up fast. Arugula is another vegetable which seeds easily. Let some of it bloom and go to seed, and each spring it keeps coming back once the sun returns.

The sun also brought out this earthworm. While planting a row of radish, it slid out of the ground, slipped over the surface, and disappeared about a foot away, making me wonder what would make an earthworm crawl out of the ground on a sunny day. Was it fleeing a mole or marauding beetle? Was it curious about the sun? Did it need to warm up?

The warm sun makes the lilac perfume the yard. It also makes the tulips melt. The sun is all it takes.

Magenta awakes

While weeding and planting in the garden this weekend, I was assured to see magenta spreen sprouts. It has an impressive name, Chenopodium giganteum, and giganteum these tiny sprouts are, though they have the tiniest of seeds, smaller than cabbage seeds, finer than poppy seeds, and yet, somehow, these tiny, tiny, tiny seeds, sleep through the winter, survive without being eaten, (maybe being tiny, tiny, tiny helps, “Not worth a nibble,” the passing bugs say) wake up, and put on a dazzling display of pink, purple, magenta and green.

Over the summer they will grow much taller than I am, and in the fall send their tiny, tiny, tiny seeds raining down onto the warm earth, where they will snuggle in for another long, winter’s sleep, and wake up the following May.

I like magenta spreen because it is a plant I don’t have to plant. A no-fuss plant, it grows and grows, sending out new shoots no matter how many times you harvest its lovely leaves.