Posted by: ktzefr | October 1, 2018

The Most Dangerous Animal To Ever Live

Ruby-throated humming bird; Photo:KFawcett

The humming birds and Monarch butterflies are getting ready to migrate, to head south to warmer climes, to the sun and blue skies and a feast of flowers.  And we’re stuck with the mosquitos until it gets too cold for them to survive. 

Yesterday my husband was sitting on the back deck when he spotted a tiny, almost invisible mosquito on his arm.  He gave it a good slap and left a smudge of blood bigger than the mosquito itself in its place.  There is an old African proverb that says this:  “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.”

The mosquito is the most dangerous animal that has ever lived. Half of the human beings who have ever died have been killed by female mosquitoes.   They carry scores of potentially fatal diseases (malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitis, filariasis, elephantiasis, etc), killing one person every twelve seconds!  The females bite people to use the blood to mature their eggs; the males only bite plants.

According to The Book of General Ignorance, there are more than 2,500 known species of mosquito; 400 of them are members of the Anopheles family, and, of these, 40 species are able to transmit malaria.  We don’t have malaria in this country, but more than 100 countries around the world do, including many in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and parts of the Americas. Another species of mosquito has been transmitting chikungunya virus, dengue fever, and zika virus in several the Caribbean islands.

Mosquitos are nasty critters, but are they good for anything?  Or, are they just taking up space like the human appendix?  (Actually, some researchers, as of late, think the appendix may be a repository for good bacteria to be called up when needed.)

Anyway, most people believe mosquitos would not be missed.  Some are concerned, however, that bigger insects, as well as frogs, toads, lizards, salamandars, birds, and bats — might miss these nasty appetizers.  But I think the bigger critters would quickly find something else to eat.

I’ve eaten chocolate covered ants and crispy, roasted grasshoppers.  There’s gotta be some way to cook a swarm of mosquitos!

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Posted by: ktzefr | September 23, 2018

Mushrooms, Turtles, and Monarchs

A turtle stopped in the middle of the street in front of us last week and we picked it up and brought it home.  It (he/she?)seemed quite content to burrow beneath the ivy in our backyard.  I think it will be happy here.  Common box turtle numbers are declining because of habitat loss, road kill, and capture for the pet trade.  If you see one moseying across the road, stop and help him find a greener, safer home.

Eastern Box Turtle; Photo:KFawcett

The globe balanced
on the back of a turtle
Earth Day
~Chenou Liu
We’ve had way too much rain the past few days with cloudy skies between the downpours.  Besides feeling like I’m walking on a huge, wet sponge in the yard, a garden of mushrooms/toadstools has popped up overnight.  

Coming down the mountain

Through the drizzle

 To the scent of the first mushrooms. 

             ~Chigetsu                  

They’re still here!  But not for long.  The monarchs are migrating and I’m enjoying watching them stop by for the last burst of flowers on the butterfly bush.  

Monarchs enjoying the butterfly bush flowers; Photo:KFawcett

Life

Is like a butterfly

Whatever it is.

~Soin

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May you have a week of sunny days!  If not, “somedays you have to make your own sunshine.”

Posted by: ktzefr | August 28, 2018

Frogs Say More Than “Ribbit”

Frog; Photo:KFawcett

Across the globe human beings speak different languages.  Why should we expect anything less of frogs?

If you said “ribbit” to a frog in Argentina, he wouldn’t understand.  Argentinian frogs say “berp.”  In Thailand a frog might answer “ob ob” just to be polite, but neither frog would know what the other was saying.  Algerian, Chinese, and Bengali frogs could, perhaps, mistakenly think they understand each other because their sounds are similar — it’s “gar gar” in Algeria, “guo guo” in Chinese, and “gangor-gangor” in Bengali.  The sounds of some frogs are very rhythmic and could be the background beat of a dance tune:  Hindi (“me:ko:me:k me:ko:me:k”); Japanese “kerokero”; Korean “gae-gool-gae-gool.” All frogs seem to enjoy dancing on rainy nights.

Frog; Photo:KFawcett

I haven’t heard the frogs in our yard since the last good rain.  It’s way too hot for a frog, or anyone else, to be singing in the garden.  But when they do, they make quite a racket.  Frog sound operates sort of like radio stations — each species has its own frequency.  In this way frogs of the same species can tune out all the others in the search for an appropriate mate.

Female frogs are mostly silent.  Perhaps one day the ladies will declare the right to have their voices heard!

Until then…the largest male frog, the Goliath from Central Africa, is also mute, while the loudest is one of the smallest — the tiny coqui of Puerto Rico.  I remember nights in Puerto Rico when the coqui song could drown out every other noise.  These tiny frogs gather in huge groups in the forest and try to outdo each other.  Their chorus has been recorded at ninety-five decibels, which is close to the human pain threshold.  And yet they don’t burst their own tiny eardrums.  For a long time scientists didn’t know why, but then discovered that they use their lungs to hear by absorbing the vibrations and equalizing the pressure.

Betty’s Frog; Photo:BMcGrath

Some frogs can make noises like other animals, from cows to crickets.  The barking tree frog sounds like a dog.  The carpenter frog sounds like two people hammering nails out of sync.  Fowler’s toad can imitate a sheep and the paradoxical frog grunts like a pig.  

So, why is the word “ribbit” always used to describe the voice of frogs?  And why is “ribbit” the sound frogs have made in movies for years no matter whether the frog  was in a pond in Colorado or on the river in the Amazon? 

Ahhh…because there is a frog that does say “ribbit” — the Pacific tree frog.  

Why is its voice so famous?  It’s the one that lives in Hollywood.

Note:  This wonderful info about frogs came from The Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong (John Lloyd and John Mitchinson) because I thought I knew a lot about frogs…and didn’t.

Posted by: ktzefr | August 24, 2018

Squirrel Wisdom…

 

On morning walks this week I’ve been gathering hickory nuts.  I fill my pockets for the resident squirrels as I fill my thoughts with memories of Sunday afternoons in Kentucky…

Autumn afternoons, the sun a soft yellow is keeping its distance.  My mother in her blue plaid dress is bent over gathering hickory nuts and dropping them in her apron for blackberry jam cake at Thanksgiving.  She hums gospel tunes while she works – Rock of Ages, I’ll Fly Away, In the Sweet By and By.  

I collect nuts in a plastic pail and daydream about the blonde-haired boy who teases me at school, about making friends with the popular girls, about having leather sandals next summer like my friend Sandra.

The years fly away through many pairs of summer sandals.  I no longer recall the face of the blonde-haired boy.  I haven’t seen Sandra since college and haven’t heard my mom sing for a long time.  No one eats hickory nuts in my neighborhood in the city, no one except the squirrels, awake at daybreak scurrying up and down the trees, leaping from the hickory to the maple to the beech, grasping onto branches that bend and sway but do not break. 

Isn’t that what life is all about? Year to year, we scurry and leap and look for branches to grasp, branches that will bend and sway, but will not break.

May your days be filled with sturdy branches…

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Posted by: ktzefr | August 20, 2018

Tea with St.-Exupéry

Two surprises this month…my friend Ramani returned from a trip home to Sri Lanka bearing a 400-gram bag of Watawala Pure Ceylon tea leaves for me, and I discovered a book that I would never have imagined caring a whit about — St.-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars.

What goes better with a good cup of tea than a good book?

Wind, Sand and Stars (Harvest Book)St. Exupery’s rendering of the pioneer days of commercial aviation, of routine mail flights from France to North Africa, is a classic, of course, but I was never enticed to read it and didn’t expect to discover such beautifully poetic prose and neat little bundles of wisdom.  My notebook is full of quotes, but these are some of my favorites:

Life before social media…

— “Thus is the earth at once a desert and a paradise, rich in secret hidden gardens…. Life may scatter us and keep us apart; it may prevent us from thinking very often of one another; but we know that our comrades are somewhere “out there”…silent, forgotten, but deeply faithful.”

On expectations…

— “It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.”

Discoveries…

— “Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life.  It is not something discovered: it is something moulded.”

— “What saves a man is to take a step.  Then another step.  It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”

— “A garden wall at home may enclose more secrets than the Great Wall of China.”

—  “…a tree does possess a perfection that a locomotive cannot know.”

For book lovers…

— “I inhaled in passing that incense of an old library which is worth all the perfumes of the world.”

Humanity…

— “Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life.  It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.”

On the Spanish Civil War…which seems eerily apropos today.

— “A civil war is not a war, it is a disease.”

— “Here, in Spain, a man is simply stood up against a wall and he gives up his entrails to the stones of the courtyard.  You have been captured.  You are shot.  Reason:  your ideas were not our ideas.”

— “All of us, in words that contradict each other, express at bottom the same exalted impulse…”

— “What sets us against one another is not our aims — they all come to the same thing — but our methods, which are the fruit of our varied reasoning.”

— “If our purpose is to understand mankind and its yearning, to grasp the essential reality of mankind, we must never set one man’s truth against another’s.  All beliefs are demonstrably true.  All men are demonstrably in the right.  Anything can be demonstrated by logic.”

— “Nothing is easier than to divide men into rightists and leftists, hunchbacks and straightbacks, fascists and democrats, but truth, we know, is that which clarifies, not that which confuses.  Truth is the language that expresses universality.”

— “Why should we hate one another?  We all live in the same cause, are borne through life on the same planet, form the crew of the same ship.”

— “The man who can see the miraculous in a poem, who can take pure joy from music, who can break his bread with comrades, opens his window to the same refreshing wind off the sea.  He too learns a language of men.”

If you’re in need of a zero-calorie afternoon, a few wise words to ponder, and a break from the present, grab a classic you never got around to reading and a pot of tea (sans sugar or honey) and find a quiet place.  

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Posted by: ktzefr | August 15, 2018

The Power of Garlic

Last year I was sitting in the courtyard cafe of Nectar, one of my favorite stops in San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato, Mexico).  The hummingbird shop sells candles and linens and soaps and all sorts of other treasures bearing the image of the tiny colibri.  The menu in the cafe is a very creative assortment of vegetarian dishes — dips, sandwiches, soups, and herbal teas.  Shrimp is offered, too, for those who cannot deal with plant life alone.

Anyway, I digress when it comes to food, but there is a related point to be made, a point about plant life coming to the rescue.

I was enjoying the meal with family, sitting in the shade of an umbrella, watching the real hummingbirds some to the myriad of colorful feeders in the courtyard — glass globes stuck in flowering plants, hanging on the stone walls, and dangling from iron stands like the baubles of a chandelier.  The birds swooped in and out and around us. 

Suddenly, I saw a red wasp making a bee line for me.  Too late to react.  It landed on my face!  I impulsively reached up to swat it off and was stung beneath my left eye.  In those first seconds I was too shocked to feel anything.  I’ve been stung many times over the years, having grown up in the country, mainly from being the aggressor and stepping on honeybees with my bare feet.  But I have never been “attacked” purposely, or so it seemed, by an insect.

I was startled.  And then it hurt.  A lot.  Someone called for the waiter and asked if they had any ointment or cream or meds to put on the sting.

The waiter hurried back to the kitchen and returned a few seconds later with a clove of garlic.  One clove of garlic!  Was I supposed to eat it?  How could that help?  I had a lot of questions, but the “lot of” pain took priority.

No, I was not supposed to eat it.  He sliced the clove in half and squeezed the juices to the surface.  Then he placed it below my eye directly on the sting and held it. 

What a waste of effort, I thought.  But I didn’t want to offend him or the others looking on from the kitchen.  I was getting a good deal of attention and figured garlic couldn’t make things any worse.  Seconds later, my eye still hurt.  And then it didn’t.

The pain eased.  It stopped.  I left the restaurant with a chunk of garlic to take home.  By the time we walked back to the house I didn’t need it.

The next day the spot below my eye was red, the extra folds of skin (i.e. wrinkles) held a small pouch of liquid that looked a little like a blister.  Not pretty, but no pain.  A few days later the “blister” dried up entirely.  My eye didn’t even swell.

Now, several months later, I was repeating this tale to friends and decided to do a little research.  Turns out that garlic is considered a natural remedy and a great pain reliever for bee and wasp stings.  I can vouch for its effectiveness.

I’ve always loved the taste and smell of garlic and use it generously in spaghetti sauce and on shrimp with butter and lime and in soups and marinades and stir fries.  Now, I have one more reason to love it.

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Posted by: ktzefr | August 10, 2018

A Night in Russia with American Rock

I spent last night in Russia.  What a blast — hopping from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg to Ufa.  Eleven cities in one night!  And what did I learn from my evening visit via Radio Garden? People across Russia are listening to American rock.

First stop: Krasnoyarsk, a city located on the Yenisei River. It’s the third-largest city in Siberia after Novosibirsk.  I was there, too, for a short while.  I found Krasnoyarsk’s Romantika radio playing Merk and Kremont’s “Hands Up” and when I hopped over to Novosibirsk’s Russkoe radio, they were spinning “Phantoms and Friends” by Old Man Canyon.  

Then it was on to Dalmatovo, east of the Ural Mountains, near the Iset and Techa Rivers.  This town of fewer than 14,000 people was founded by a monk and was once a major center of cucumber cultivation.  Last night (this morning in Russia) the early risers were listening to Zara Larsson’s “I Would Like.”  

Back to Siberia.  To Irkutsk, a city of more than half a million people, was supposedly founded in the 17th century as a winter quarters for traders and tax collectors.  Folks who frequent Trip Advisor boast of the city’s universities, beautiful historic churches, and interesting museums.  Radio Rossii was playing a song I actually recognized (I’m not too familiar with today’s tunes, prefering to listen to coffee house re-do’s of 60s and 70s music).  “Save Tonight” — I recognized the song but had no idea the artist was someone named Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Trip Advisor calls Yekaterinburg, the “thinking tourist’s” city with its libraries, theatres, and museums.  The Culture Trip puts Yekaterinburg, the unofficial capital of the Urals, among the world’s “12 Ideal Cities” for its architecture and historical and cultural monuments.  One of the more unusual monuments is to Michael Jackson.  I didn’t hear any Jackson favorites on the radio, but I did listen to Jerrod Niemann’s “A Little More Love” before heading to Ufa.

Lonely Planet’s guide provides everything a visitor needs to know to visit Ufa and recommends a bus trip to the nearby Shihany Mountains, which are said to be some of the oldest mountains in the world.  The land is composed of tiny coral rocks, noting that they were once deep under the sea.  Last night, Ufa’s Radio Cafe was playing R.E.M’s “Shiny Happy People.”

In St. Petersburg I listened to “Things” by Maggie Lindemann, and a station in Moscow was playing “Addicted” by Saving Abel.  Halfway between St. Petersburg and Moscow the city of Tver lies at the junction of the Volga and Tvertsa Rivers.  In Tver there is an 18th century Imperial Palace housing Russian artwork and a university botanical garden that protects rare plants.  They also like Kygo and Selena Gomez (“It Ain’t Me”).  

Buzuluk does not appear to be a hopping place to visit as Trip Advisor shows only 5 “Things to Do,” with the most interesting being the Tikhvin Holy Monastery where it is noted that one could spend 2 or 3 hours.  All of the reviews are in Russian, however, so it may be a difficult place to visit if you don’t speak the language.  Still…the folks were getting Offaiah’s “Private Show” on the radio last night.

My most surprising stop was in Veliky Novgorod, known as the “birthplace of Russia,” which is also home to the beautiful Cathedral of St. Sophia, the oldest church in the country.  The city’s Center of Musical Antiquities is dedicated to the ancient musical culture of the city and the restoration of musical instruments of the 10th to 15th centuries.  Still, I was startled to hear an “ancient” American tune — Ella Fitzgerald singing “Undecided” from 1939!

If you’ve never tried Radio Garden, give the globe a spin.

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | August 2, 2018

What the birds know…

A cup of tea, a good book, and the falling rain.  One thought leads to another…

Rain.  It was early summer a few years ago, just before hurricane season officially began in the Caribbean.  I was walking on a path in the US Virgin Islands National Park when I ran into a local man tending the plumeria and hibiscus bushes.  We must have talked about the cloudless skies after the night rains, the profusion of blooms everywhere, the mango trees full of ripe fruit.  I especially love the flame trees that once decorated the hillsides of St. John in June.  (I don’t know if they survived last year’s hurricanes or not.)  Maybe I mentioned the mocking bird that sang every night into the wee hours outside our window. 

In any case, we talked about storms.  They’ve been hit a few times over the four decades that I’ve been going to the islands.  After Hurricane Hugo in 1989 the old military air hangar where we had landed on previous trips to the islands was devastated and St. Thomas built a new airport.  It was seriously damaged again last year.

It’s hard to predict the exact route a big storm will take, but the locals have ways that seem to work as well as those the weather folks employ. 

“The birds,” he said.  “Don’t worry about the storm if the birds are still singing.  But, if there is silence, if the birds fly away, it’s best to leave or prepare.” 

Research has shown that birds can hear infrasound and are sensitive to barometric pressure, so they know when a storm is on its way — especially when the storm is as large and as powerful as a hurricane.   Infrasound is a low-frequency sound that is below the normal limit of human hearing, and at higher intensities animals may not hear but rather feel infrasound through vibrations in different parts of the body. 

Some birds fly away, others take cover.  During Hurricane Harvey a hawk (now named Harvey) took shelter via the open window of a taxi cab before the storm hit.

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Tea.  I opened my last bag of the superb Ceylon tea my friend Ramani brought back from Sri Lanka last year.  She went home again in July and I’m hoping some new leaves eventually make their way to my cupboard.

The 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka that killed more than 20,000 people along the coast of the Indian Ocean left wildlife officials puzzled.  They could not find any dead animals, not even a bird or a bunny rabbit.  The Yala National Park, one of the biggest wildlife reserves, was flooded, but the hundreds of wild elephants and leopards had fled to higher ground and survived.  Animals live in a milieu of electromagnetic waves and mechanical vibrations that define lives and separate creatures, according to a wonderful book I read some years back — Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals’ Inner Lives by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal. 

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The book.  I have become absolutely fascinated by a book that I never imagined caring one whit about.  I loved Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, but I had never read his classic Wind, Sand and Stars until now.  It’s one of the most popular books ever written about flying.  Still…stories of flights above the Sahara and the Andes in the 1920s and 30s to deliver the mail?  How interesting could it be?  On the back cover: “A beautiful book, a brave book, and a book that should be read against the confusion of this world.” ~ New York Times

So…on one occasion, when the pilot discovers dragonflies in the desert many miles from an oasis, he is puzzled.  Had they fled danger?  Could they have just been blown there?  It was the first indication of a sand storm coming.

“What filled me with a barbaric joy was that I had understood a murmured monosyllable of this secret language, had sniffed the air and known what was coming, like one of those primitive men to whom the future is revealed in such faint rustlings; it was that I had been able to read the anger of the desert in the beating wings of a dragonfly.” 

If we could only figure out what the birds and other animals know and how and when they know it…

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Posted by: ktzefr | July 16, 2018

Crispy, Crunchy, Nippy, Fresh…

Bunnies in the crispy, cool grass eating white clover flowers; Photo:KFawcett

I am tired of the word “crisp.”

It’s been overused by writers, reporters, and restaurants.  Not as overused, perhaps, as “unfold,” but that’s another story.

I like my bacon crisp, prefer crispy fried chicken, and enjoy the crispness of an autumn morning.  But I don’t normally like crisp air in July (today, however, I wouldn’t mind a crisp breeze).  I also don’t like crisp words or being burnt to a crisp at the beach.

Crisp sheets are nice but towels need to be fluffy.  I love apple crisp as long as it truly is right-out-of-the-oven crispy and not 30-minutes-later soggy.

If you’re an avid reader, you will run across crisp to describe both good and bad things.  But whoever heard of “crisply cool china”?  I read that somewhere recently and wish I’d made a note.  A “fresh, crisp taste” is used often.  Someone wears a crisply starched shirt.  What’s the difference between this and a regular starched shirt?

There are crisp sheets of paper, crisp answers, and a zillion different things to describe as being clean AND crisp, from fancy table linens to the lingering minty taste after brushing teeth.

No one would want a potato chip or pretzel or tortilla chip that wasn’t crisp.  We like crispy snacks to be…crunchy.

But crunchy cannot be substituted in all cases.  Who wants crunchy sheets or china?  I wouldn’t like the feel of a crunchy sheet and crunchy china would just be broken china — crunched beneath a big foot or a tricycle wheel or in luggage enroute from Zanzibar, no matter that it was wrapped solidly with t-shirts and underwear.    

Crisp can be good as often as it’s bad.  I’m just tired of it.

The next time the word starts to roll off your tongue or fingertips, consider these substitutes: brittle, crusty, crumbly, snappish, brusque, terse, curt, blunt, frosty, bracing, brisk, nippy, fresh.

What’s your favorite word to hate these days?

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Posted by: ktzefr | July 6, 2018

It’s all about chorizo!

     My local market is now selling fresh chorizo.  I haven’t tried it yet.  I’m afraid it won’t live up to its kin south of the border.  I always buy the imported chorizo from Spain.  But I love the fresh, spicy, sweet, and/or hot variety in Mexico.  

Chorizo, Mercado Ignacio Ramirez, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

     First meal in Mexico when traveling?  Sopes with chorizo in Guanajuato City.  If you’ve never had sopes, they are luscious corn cakes (thick tortillas shaped into a “dish” to hold all the toppings).  For three years running I’ve had these terrific traditional antojitos at the cafe La Bohemia on the main plaza, Jardin Union, in Guanajuato City.  They are served as antojitos/appetizers with one chicken, one beef, and one chorizo, but it’s enough for a meal.  The other ingredients often hard to find here are the wonderful fresh Mexican cheese and crema fresca.  A thinner version of creme fraiche, maybe, is about as close as you can get.  In the last couple of years, however, my local market has been selling a type of Mexican cheese and cream, though not always available, and close but not quite the same.

Sopes, La Bohemia, Guanajuato City, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Sausage…

     At home in Kentucky we used to butcher hogs every Thanksgiving and my dad enjoyed making the sausage.  The scent of sage filled the kitchen for days.  My mom would can sausage patties in gallon jars, freeze it in plastic bags, and fry it late into the night to eat as we worked. The scent of sage sausage is the scent of my childhood.

     For the poet Ray Gonzalez that scent is chorizo…

I praise the chorizo and smear it across my face and hands,

the dayglow brown of it painting me with the desire

to find out what happened to la familia,

why the chorizo sizzled in the pan and covered the house

with a smell of childhood we will never have again,

the chorizo burrito hot in our hands, as we ran out to play.

~from “Praise the Tortilla, Praise Menudo, Praise Chorizo”

     How is chorizo different from plain old sausage?  It’s the chiles.  Chile paste made with vinegar and dried Mexican chiles add the zing and the intense red color to the sausages.  The meat and seasonings are mixed and then left in the refrigerator a few days to develop that distinctive fermented, fabulous taste.

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If you can’t try the sopes at La Bohemia in Guanajuato

La Bohemia, Guanajuato City, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Check out Mely Martinez’s Mexico in My Kitchen to make at home!

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