Nature Will Turn It Into a Work of Art

Tomatillo after being on the ground all winter

Leave something on the ground and nature will turn it into a work of art. While cleaning out the hoop house to plant tomatoes, I discovered delicate lace spheres. This is what happens if a tomatillo falls to the ground and lays on the ground all winter in a place out of the rain. The fruit dries up. Microbes eat them. The husk dries, microbes eat the soft bits, and all that remains is the delicate, lacy frame.

Desiccated tomatillos in the palm of my hand

Aren’t they just lovely? I brought a few into the house to use as decoration. How many hours would it take me to weave such delicate mini orbs? How would I go about recreating them? I left most behind without thinking to save them.

But if I plant more tomatillos and at the end of fall let hundreds of little tomatillos fall to the ground, next spring I can gather many of them, string them together, and use them to decorate a Christmas Tree.

Desiccated tomatillos on a plate

Quite the works of art, don’t you think?

Dog in bed of mint

While I cleaned out the hoop house, Taku enjoyed lying in a thick bed of mint. Nearby the Japanese iris are in full bloom. The Japanese name for this variety of iris is Ayame, pronounced Ah – ya – meh.

Ayame blossom

Happy Ending to Roomba Saga

I need to report that my saga with the bumbling, misbehaving iRobot Roomba i4 is over. Someone read my rant about the Roomba and recommended that I get a Roborock robot vacuum. “The Roborock is smart,” they said. So I ordered one, the midlevel Roborock Q7 Max.

It arrived Wednesday and I put it through its paces. Wow! Yes, this robot vacuum is smart. Equipped with lidar, the Roborock quickly mapped out our floor plan and created a 3d map of all the rooms. It knows how to get around without getting lost. It knows how to vacuum and mop in straight lines. Can go to any room of the house with ease, sliding gracefully between the door jambs to enter any room. You can program the vacuum strength and the amount of water to use for any room. And if you move it for any reason, it spins around, quickly figures out where it is, and proceeds on its merry way. The app for it shows where it is when it is out vacuuming and mopping. So you can see where it has cleaned and where it needs to clean.

Roborock app screens

You can look at the maps in 2d or 3d.

A big improvement over the Roomba i4 is that as it fills its dustbin, it compacts the dust so the dustbin can carry much more dust and debris than the Roomba i4 which I had to empty frequently as it cleaned. Never once has the Roborock stopped while vacuuming to make me empty the dustbin.

Roomba i4 Goes Merrily Home

More out of kindness than anything, I returned the Roomba i4. There was no need to keep it around and let it suffer the indignity of getting lost so often. No need to watch it whirl down a hallway and try to enter a room a foot too soon and bang into the wall. I felt sorry for it. It tried so hard. Often with confidence it approached a doorway, only to veer into the wall a foot too soon. And devastation clouded its face when it hit the wall instead of gliding through the doorway.

I suggest that you hire a robot therapist if you get a Roomba. It can talk to it after a cleaning job, ask it, “How did it go? … How did that make you feel when you missed the door? … It’s not you, it’s the coders who programmed you … You know, there’s always tomorrow,” and other things to soothe its hurt feelings.

Maybe if I was sadistic, I’d have kept it around and sent it out every so often just to torment it. But that’s not me. It looked relieved when I cleaned it all up, put it back in its box, and sent it on home. Perhaps it was just a delusion, but I thought it said with joy, “I’m going home? Yeah!”

I’m sure it’s very happy it made it back to iRobot in one piece. Other owners may have sent it back in pieces or riddled with bullet holes.

Maybe the next owner of the Roomba i4 will have a simple, one room, square apartment with no furniture that it can clean without much effort. I can only hope it finds a simple home where it can experience success.

Comcast Troubles

And speaking of success and failures, I had to remove readers with email addresses. Someone with a email marked one of my new post emails as spam and now Comcast is blocking everyone with a email from receiving any of my new post emails. If you have a email and want to keep receiving these posts, subscribe again without using a email.

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.

Let It Peel

We are almost at the longest day of the year, yet summer seems a long way off. Chilly mornings, gray skies, cool breezes. Will it ever get warm this year? Last year’s unbearable heat is a distant memory.

The cherry trees are laden with heavy bunches of fruit. A sunny week or two will make them divine. Then it will be a race to pick them before the birds do.

Speaking of birds, a small group of starlings delight us these days. Throughout the day, five to ten of them pick through the grass and bushes hunting for slugs. They drag the slugs onto the pavement, peck at them for a bit, and fly off with them.

They must be taking them off to their nests to feed their young. It’s the first time I’ve seen starlings eat so many slugs. They can eat them all.

Salmon berry are nearly ripe. Tart with a touch of sweet. They are one of the berries you never see in a store.

The horseradish blooms are a delight. From the sweet, honey-like fragrance, you’d never imagine the plants have roots filled with fire. It’s a mind-bending experience nibbling on the sweet smelling flowers. They taste like mild horseradish. Imagine spreading honey on bread and tasting horseradish instead of honey. Your nose says, “Sweet honey!” But your tongue screams, “Burning horseradish!

I found a garden snake skin. It’s so light and delicate. What would humans do if we shed our skin every year in one whole piece? We’d have skin-shedding salons where staff would help us wriggle out of our skins without making a single tear. Wouldn’t it be freaky to take a full skin we just wriggled out of and stuff it to make a life-size replica of ourselves?

“This was me back in 1980,” you’d say, proudly showing off a skin you shed in high school and mounted as a science project. And parents would embarrass teenagers when they bring their date over to see the family by bringing out a stuffed baby skin. “Robert was such a cute baby. Do you want to hold him?” Could you say no?

Some people would keep their skin each year and have a special room with their skins stuffed to show off what they looked like year by year.

People would paint shed skins and make art from them.

“Cool,” you’d say when you visit someone and they point out that each lampshade is their skin from a different year.

Skin Preservationist would be a licensed profession. DIY enthusiasts would have YouTube videos showing the best way to preserve your last skin shedding for posterity. There would be skin shedding competitions to see who can shed their skin most creatively. Celebrities would auction off their last skin. And in some cultures you know that just shed skin would be part of the cuisine.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel in bloom
Witch hazel in bloom

The witch hazel is blooming. One of the first flowers of the season to spread its petals. Its spicy fragrance takes me to distant spice bazaars. So what pollinates these delicate flowers at the end of winter? The bees and wasps are still fast asleep. Whatever it is, it is an insect that braves the cold. Though with such an enticing fragrance, if I was a bug, I’d stir out of my winter hibernation to fly into the petals. It is a fragrance worth dying for.

Spring - Frost bitten sweet daphne

The sweet daphne didn’t fare as well as the witch-hazel. Much of the plant is frost bitten. However it is far from dead. Underneath the sad, leaves, shoots are sprouting. An early bloomer, come mid to late February, its heady scent will fill the air.

Spring - sweet daphne buds
Bamboo knocked over by heavy snow

The heavy snow this winter was too much for the bamboo too. Many lay flat on the ground. Some stems snapped. I won’t need to cut any bamboo for poles this year. I’ll get plenty of bamboo poles just cleaning up all the fallen ones.

Spring hens by the pond

The chickens are ready for spring. The more bugs the better. Pickings are slim this time of year. But once it warms up, the ground will be swarming with scurrying things to nab.

After the Rains

After the rain the chickens are out by the pond

After the rains, the chickens are out scratching through the dry ferns by the pond. More than a month after the winter solstice, the sun is much stronger. Though not strong enough to burn away the fog bank that floats above us day after day.

After the rains - chicken in camouflage

After the rains, it’s easy to miss the chickens when they are out in the woods. They blend in well. It’s the soft, rustling sound they make as they scratch through the dried leaves that tells you where they are.

But they are wary. So a predator has to be very, very quiet to get one. Luckily for me, it’s been a while since I’ve lost one. What am I saying? Luckily for me? No, luckily for the chickens. We humans have a tendency to make everything about us.

After the rains, fallen trees and branches litter the forest flor

After the rains, the winds, the heavy snows, fallen trees and branches litter the forest floor. The chickens came through the winter unscathed. The trees not. Many toppled over. Others lost limbs and branches. They block paths. Cover bridges. The effects of this winter will linger long into spring and summer. But that’s nature. Chaos. Bedlam. Death and renewal.

From a distance, wild areas look so calm and peaceful. Sit at a viewpoint and look out over the valley, mountains, sea, and islands. It’s all so harmonious and beautiful. But look closely and nature is a mess. With no one to clean it all up!

The closer you look, the more ghastly nature becomes. Under a microscope, each drop of water is a constant war zone. Bacteria gobbling up each other. Nematodes cannibalizing each other. Micro organisms armed to the teeth racing to eat before they are eaten. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Still, after the rains, even though it’s foggy, it’s nice to dry out.

Will they fly?

Cloud over Lummi island

“Will they fly?” I was thinking that this morning when I looked out and saw the bright sunshine.

This morning started out very spring like. Is it still winter? Is it over? Will he have nothing but spring weather from here on out?

Lummi Island sure had a thick cloud cap this morning when I went on my delivery route. At many angles, the islands off the coast just look like mountains not far away.

Will they fly - ducks feeding

A few days ago when I went out in the morning and counted the ducks, there were 9 ducks, not the expected 8. Swimming among the domesticated ducks was a Mallard.

He’s been with the flock of ducks ever since, swimming with them, and coming up onto the bank to feed too. We‘ve even caught him cavorting with the hens.

Will they fly - Mallard duck

Which makes me wonder, if the hens hatch ducklings and he is their father, will the ducklings fly away when they grow up? He is smaller than the other ducks and since he flew in, I’m sure he can fly away easily. But what about the cross between him and the domestic ducks? What will they be like?

Arctic Vacation

The last week of 2021 seems like an Arctic vacation. Snow started falling Christmas Eve. The cold that followed drove morning lows down to 7ºF, -14ºC. We haven’t seen such cold weather or so much snow in years.

The pump in the pond kept it from freezing over. Which gave the ducks a safe place to swim about. If the pond freezes over, a hungry coyote or raccoon could get to them easily.

Under a blue sky the cherry tree looks like it is in full bloom.

The dogs love the snow. It’s been so cold that the snow is powdery soft. Shoveling it off the driveway is a breeze. I can’t go running in this snow so spending an hour or two shoveling snow is a relaxing alternative.

I dreaded the forecast of the deep snow and subfreezing days. Daffodils had started to shoot. I was sure the deep freeze would destroy them. But buried under a foot of snow, I think they may survive. The week has seemed like a vacation to the far north without the hassles of snaking through security lines at airports or worrying about canceled flights. The coming warmer days and rain will soon make this week a fond memory.

Poor Planning

A big surprise yesterday was finding daffodil shoots. It’s only December and they are already sprouting. One even shows a flower bud. All I can say is this was poor planning on the part of the daffodils. The forecast is for icy cold Canadian air to come pouring down the Fraser River Canyon and encase us in snow and ice for a week.

The forecast on the weather app I use on my phone changes by the hour. Earlier this morning it was light rain after midnight tonight followed by snow at 4 am, then rain again at 6, and snow at 10 am. Now it is snow at midnight, mostly clouding at 4 am, light snow at 6 am, snow at 8 am, and mostly cloudy at 8 pm. Whatever happens, it sounds like a good day to stay home.

The daffodils give me a glimmer of hope that they know something the weather forecasters don’t. But if the snow starts piling up, my plan is to cover the daffodil shoots in a thick blanket of snow so they survive the cold spell.

The chickens aren’t making any special precautions for the upcoming arctic blast. They blissfully leave it up to me to make sure their water doesn’t freeze and give them something they can eat when the ground freezes as hard as glass.

There needs to be a word that describes bare trees lit up by winter suns when the skies are dark and gloomy. The phenomenon doesn’t last long. When it does it’s like the trees are awake, yelling and screaming. Sun enflamed winter woods? Sun gilded bare trees? Sun sticks?

Solstice 2021

snow flapping her wings

The solstice this year happened at a convenient time for me, 7:59 a.m., pretty much at sunrise. It’s odd that such a momentous event happens so quietly. You can sit as still as you want, but you can’t feel the earth so much as shiver when it passes that line in its orbit when everything changes.

For me, it’s the beginning of a new year. The days will get longer now. Spring is coming. Snow is happy. I’d love to get inside a duck’s head. Are they really as happy as they seem? I’m sure there is some profound wisdom they could share. The secret to happiness perhaps?

willow at sunset in winter

The low sun at winter illuminates the bare trees with gold this time of year. Though the Bald Eagle at the top of the fir tree next to the cottonwoods has me concerned. Bald Eagles often perch there, eying the ducks, watching the chickens.

cottonwoods in winter at sunset
Mount Baker on December 20, 2021

Yesterday Mount Baker was iridescent. Each time I go to Anacortes to deliver tofu to the Anacortes Food Co-op, I check to see how Mount Baker is. Often it’s hidden by the clouds. But when the sun is out and the sky is cobalt blue, it is there, radiating peace.

soybeans soaking

I’ve been making tofu for twenty years or more. And yet these last few weeks seem like I’ve just learned how to make it. Maybe I’ll feel that way ten years from now. “Oh, back in 2021, I had no idea what I was doing.” You would think that after decades of making something so simple, that there would be nothing more to learn, but there always is. One is forever just learning how to do things you’ve been doing your whole life.

new block of tofu

It’s the time of year to enjoy these frosty mornings. They won’t last forever. One day I’ll wake up and there’ll be no more frost, just the warmth of spring, and I’ll have to wait half a year or more to see blades of grass brushed with frost.

There is a forecast of snow for Christmas Day, two to five inches. Though yesterday’s forecast of more snow on Monday of seven to ten inches is gone. Just another inch or two on Sunday and cold, below freezing, sunny days for Monday and Tuesday.


First Snow

The first snow of the season fell Thursday morning. For an hour big, wet flakes drifted down. They were comforting to watch as I made tofu that morning.

By early afternoon, the snow around our place was gone save for a few bits here and there. But just a few miles north the countryside stayed white all day.

If you need to check if you are still alive or not, walk barefoot in the snow. You’ll know you are very much alive if you do that.

The swans have settled into a winter of steady grazing. The nice thing about being a swan is that you can go just about anywhere you want without people becoming upset. “Private property – keep out” signs mean nothing to a swan.