Friday, August 25, 2006

Caught in the Act

Yes, this toad has got to have a Global Positioning System on board.

There he was, just floating as happy as can be in the swimming pool again. I'm not even surprised by this silliness anymore. And I got the impression the toad wasn't surprised by me approaching with the net, either. I just slipped it under him and lifted, and draped the dishtowel across him so he couldn't hop off while I went through the house.

I set him on the rocks beside the fish pond and got this nice, clear portrait of him.

The toad hopped into the water, and as the fish came up and poked at him, tried to scramble out. He managed to get into the new spreading plant, and settled down. Will the toad stay in the pond? Probably not.

Will the toad return to the swimming pool in record time? Most likely.

The Mysterious Snowberry

There was a shrub on the north side of my parents' house that grew white berries in the summertime.

Not only did I not know what it was called, I never saw such a plant again -- until last Monday, at a florist shop in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Symphoricarpos albus is the name of the plant: Snowberry. That's a simple enough name for a berry that's as white as snow. (The ones in this picture were probably grown in the sun, and so have a rosy blush.)

I was fascinated by the shrub as a child, admiring its waxy white berries, so unique in my world. Such a lasting impression snowberry made in my mind that I gave it a mention in Dreamer, my first book, when Sully talks about filling up the empty spaces in her life after her best friends move away.

Once I had a name for the creature, I looked it up on line and in my Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening (which, incidentally, also got a mention in Dreamer). None of the sources have much to say about Snowberry, except that it is deciduous and bears white fruit ... at least not much that agrees. One source says that the berries are edible but bad-tasting; another says that the fruits are toxic. Taylor's skirts the issue and says neither "yea" nor "nay." Taylor's does say that the plant doesn't grow taller than three feet, but other sources suggest it can grow as tall as nine feet. All of them casually mention that the shrub proliferates by suckering -- which means that if you plant it in a reasonably kind location, it's going to take over everything. Maybe that rude habit is why one doesn't see them often.

The shop where I saw the branches of snowberry is called Oak Hill Farm.

They purvey a lot of beautiful and interesting bouquet components there; in this arrangement, frankly, the only plants I recognize are the pinkish-purple pompoms of gomphrena (although that's the longest-stemmed gomphrena I've ever seen) and the bare stems of a corkscrew willow.

Not that they don't have "regular" flowers -- this display of zinnias caught my eye immediately, making me wish I'd followed through with my Spring resolve to plant zinnias in my garden.

And from the sublime of the flowery beauty, I now descend to the ridiculous: taking a break to let Howie outside, I walked past the pool and saw -- oh yezz, again -- THE TOAD.

Time to get the net and the toad-cloth and try once more to convince the beast that toads live in a fish pond, not in a suburban swimming pool.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Coleus Portrait

Most of the time, the humble coleus is used as a "background" plant for setting off spectacular flower groupings.

In a mixed pot of impatiens and alyssum, coleus adds texture and contrast. I've seen them tucked in with geraniums, asters, dahlias, celosia ...

I have a half-barrel planter that gets just a bit of morning sun, and each year I pack it with a dozen coleus -- nothing else. I like to savor the unique patterns of color. Not one leaf is exactly the same as another.

These particular plants were about to be tossed at the nursery where I got them. They'd grown leggy and unlovely from overwatering. But I knew that they'd straighten right up in the proper environment. And they did.

There's a tiny little blossom forming on the top of the tri-color coleus -- that means it's time to pinch off the tops of the plants so that they branch out and put all their effort into their beautiful leaves.

My coleus barrel will give me color in the garden until the season turns frosty; by then I'll have taken cuttings, put them in water to root, and started some plants for indoors.

Nice plant, and looking good in our perfect, perfect summer weather.

Monday, August 14, 2006

New Fish and Old Toad

They're rather hard to see in there, but in that bag are Bernie's two new calico lady goldfish.

One has a redder head than the other; they haven't been named yet. We thought once they were put in the pond that they would disappear into the deepest part of the pool for a while ... but they didn't. They joined up with the rest of the fish right away.

This morning I checked on them, and they came up and swarmed right along with the rest of the moochers, though they didn't eat anything. That's okay. As long as they survived the night, we're good.

Speaking of survivors, I was weeding and trimming tomatoes when something scuttled away from my hand. It was a toad, can you imagine that? Indeed it was the small toad I transported the other day. Good choice of habitats, Toad. Eat up all those slimy slugs!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Return of the Toad

Guess who sneaked into my swimming pool again last evening?
Lassie, the incredible homing toad!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cat Pics

This is "Cat."

We were in second grade when we met, and stayed good friends through high school. Just before adolescence -- that is to say, just before we lost our minds -- we viewed with some contempt the older girls' frantic rush to pile makeup on their young faces. We teased each other, drawing cartoons depicting each other in excesses of hopeless cosmetics.

I think the cartoons started when we were in sixth grade; I'm not sure anymore. We were already "Cat" and "Sand," though no one else seemed to be able to get that through their skulls.

Cat's portrait (kind of like a press release picture) shows a degree of sophistication in the artwork compared to the earliest "Cat Pics," but my signature still looks a little timid.

I drew cartoons of her and she drew cartoons of me. We drew them in class, at home, at recess; we drew them on drawing paper, math homework, the back of graded assignments. We thought those cartoons were hysterically funny.

Along with the catastrophic (get it? "Cat-astrophic?") makeup, a recurring theme was eyesight. Both of us wore glasses and were blind as bats without them. In this early masterpiece, Cat forgets her glasses and wanders out into the world.

There's a lot of line in this cartoon, and the shadow amazes me; My cartooning style now is very spare.

Word balloons were still developing; a lot of extraneous detail can be seen. A dog at a fire hydrant shows its teeth at Cat -- this signifies an unspoken insult that she was so ugly that even a dog didn't want to be around her.

Unwitting homeliness was part of Cat the character, too, though that is less of a factor in this cartoon.

"Z - O - O," spells Cat, and thinks it says "Hospital." In the early Cat cartoons, Cat was pretty dumb, too.

(The real Cat was not dumb at all; had she been interested in higher education she would have made a great mad scientist.)

The angle of Cat's neck was a veritable pinnacle of visual humor.

So Cat goes to see the ape and near-sightedly thinks the ape is her Aunt Clara. The message is that not only is Cat dumb and overly made-up and can't see for crap, but also that her relatives are probably ugly, too.

Note the numbering of each frame to help the reader follow along correctly.

Also the tin-shaded lighting -- we saw that every day.

The ape roars at Cat, but Cat sees nothing unusual about it. Is Cat that dumb, or is her Aunt Clara that unpleasant? The cartoonist allows the reader (the real Cat) to ponder the insults, any or all.

The final sight gag is that Cat's feet are pointed in the wrong direction.

I saved all the Cat Pics, treating them with far more care than I did the other drawings I made. When I was old enough to get an allowance, I bought a lockbox for the cartoons. Only one was lost: a classic about a beauty salon hairdryer that blasted Cat into orbit.

They're still precious to me, and I plan on scanning them all and getting them into a book through Crude and obnoxious, the cartoons -- especially the early ones -- remind me of a little girl who wasn't afraid to draw outrageously and constantly. I could use her coaching now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A World Around Us All

It's a good thing now and then to take time out of one's crazed duties of shouting outrage and foisting herbal remedies on people.

Slowing down and letting the world revolve on its own, I had the opportunity to see this little butterfly resting by the side of the water garden. None of the legs we can see has a watch on it, and I can assure you the bug was not tapping any of his feet wondering when the mailman was finally going to get to his street.

Sometimes I encounter people who barely know that they're alive. Or maybe it's that they don't know that the rest of the world is alive. Which ever condition it is, they hurry along unmoved by rainbows, birds, or the sound cottonwoods make in the wind. They can't take the time necessary to stop and use their senses of touch and smell to discover the first warm breeze that heralds the end of Winter. Silence unnerves them, and they have no sense of themselves in the real world.

Life can be so beautiful.

I don't see too many sunsets like this in the summer -- no clouds, generally. But the weird weather patterns brought a few for a visit, and the glory was certainly worth running outside the house to see, to savor before the light was gone and the sky faded.