Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Days, As in Lilies



Strawberry Candy

Strawberry Candy

Friday, June 17, 2011


And then finally, it rained!
According to my notes, we did get a little rain on the evening of June 9th, but the last major downpour was May 27th.

Seems like it's been a century.

Last night, the sky just opened up and dumped wet. It was a spectacular performance with waves of light flashes and thundering crescendo followed by periods of quiet pitter patter. I was up for most of it, comforting my poor dog. We sat in the window seat together. She panted herself into a dither, while I tried to wrestle her into some sort of calm. It was of no use.

Sweet irony, as Samuel L. Jackson's read of a new book, Go the F**k to Sleep, has gone viral on the web, that the mother of grown daughters (who, by the way, were out clubbing last night) should have to sit up nights now with her middle-age dog. Admittedly, I have greater patience in my own middle-age years for sleepless creatures. So, there while I sat in the window seat, wishing my dog would go the fuck to sleep, I was reveling in the sweet joy of water returning to our gardens.

I say gardens because now that I hang out in the Fenton Street Community Garden as the happy owner of plot number 24, I now feel anxiety by many orders of degree as worry courses through the blood stream of dozens of gardeners. The lack of rain, I am sure, has contributed to the level of discord as a conversation about what to do over the County's plan to use Round Up at the fence perimeters has escalated into a battle royale on the garden listserv. We are organic inside the fence, but we are Round Up outside. Is it bad? Is it benign? Is Monsanto a devil in green giant garb? The Putterer is on the fence (literally, my plot is right next to it). And I use the evil compound, with great care and caution, in my own garden from time to time to take out poison ivy.

So since we had our last meaningful rain, the Putterer's world has turned many revolutions. Here's a list of my greatest hits.

  • The goSmithsonian Visitors Guide went to press. Yay! I thought I could slow my work day down a bit and collect my thoughts and file my papers, but boy was I wrong. I took the day off today, so I could take seven or eight deep breaths. It just never stops. I love opportunity, but I'm choking on it.  
  • Claire came home from Columbus, a graduate of Ohio State. And then she left again with the car to go get some of her stuff and then she came back again. And then she got her hair cut real short. And the house has just been full of her friends (there's somebody sleeping down in the basement right now). And not only full of friends, but full of Claire. I often say that when she is home, she literally just explodes out of her suitcase. There is the detritus and essence of Claire everywhere you look. I both love it and hate it. But Claire is home and that's all that counts.
  • I had my first colonoscopy. What every 50-year-old must get for their birthday. I won't fully disclose, but the test confirmed my hyperbolic tendency. I am definitely full of shit.
  • Patsy turned 18. And as such declared that she was going to occasionally enjoy a glass of wine at dinner time. I had little say in the matter. When Patsy makes a decision, she does it while pouring the glass.
  • Patsy graduated from high school. And so the biggest high school in the county with some 600-plus graduates and their families squeezed themselves cheek-by-jowl into the rows of seats at DAR Constitution Hall (the very same that denied Marian Anderson the right to sing to its audience in 1939). The crowd represented probably every nationality in the world and this amazing group of kids--who had together received some $9 million in college scholarships and distinguished themselves with dozens of prizes in math, science and community service--while they march across the stage to pick up their diplomas rendered me into a blubbering, nose blowing, snot-swallowing Putterer. When it was all over, we spilled out onto D Street and shut traffic down while we took pictures en masse of our wonderful kids.
And that's pretty much all that has happened since the last time it rained. The Putterer

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"They Love the Rhododendrums"

This morning in my garden, a pair of catbirds had a vicious dispute. I was a witness. Wearing nothing but my bathrobe and slippers, I had gone down to sit in my purple chair with a cup of coffee. The drama unfolding before me involved a cacophony of catbird calls and low aerial combat swoops over the fence and through the rungs of my purple ladder.

I told you all that to tell you this.

My life is wholly related. I am the personification of the world's most complex Venn diagram. Everything I do seems to have some connection to something or someone. As backyard gardener, I am a citizen scientist, trying mightily to understand a miniature ecosystem and my place in it. As Smithsonian writer and editor, I tell stories about the real scientists out there striving to understand our world and our place in it.

This morning, Venn diagram style, those worlds collided. I was out walking my dog and I ran into Smithsonian researcher Leah Culp. She was searching around in my neighbor's bushes. Wearing a Smithsonian Institution baseball cap, her long pony tail poked through the back and a pen was perched behind her ear.

Around her neck, her binoculars hung and she reminded me of guurl version of one of my favorite science adventurers, Roy Chapman Andrews. A pheasant feather in his cap and Mannlicher rifle at his side, Andrews was a dinosaur hunter who traveled to Outer Mongolia in the 1920s and discovered one of the first evidences of dinosaur eggs in their nest. Culp's body was a literal pegboard, sporting field equipment of every kind, a clip board, a tape measure, extra pencils and notepad. And her goal? The catbird. I'd met up with her earlier this week and she had told me about the team of bird watchers that are working all over the DC area for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center observing the catbird as an indicator species for other songbirds. At work, I have a call out to Leah's boss Pete Marra to do an Around the Mall blog post on the work these researchers are doing.

I told Leah about the catbird drama in my garden earlier this morning and she readily diagnosed the situation as one of "shifting territories." Of course, I thought, it was clear the birds had had some disagreement. She followed me over to my garden to have a look and found in my rhododendrum the makings of a nest. "They love the rhododendrums," she told me. I certainly should have known that, the catbirds are constantly singing to me when I am working in my garden.

I gave Leah permission to come back to my garden and make observations. So you see everything is related. My home garden is now a field research project for a Smithsonian scientist. The Putterer

Thursday, June 2, 2011


It's in the trash!
I am organic, dammit!

But today, I had a weak moment. And not only did I get busted, but there was a camera crew on hand to record it all.

Last night, I was over at the community garden, and after two days of  95-plus degree heat, my tomato plants were looking burned up and anemic. Little or no growth had occurred and I started to panic. So this morning, I went out to the compost pile and filled up six buckets of the good stuff to run over to the garden and give my tomato plants a little extra nutrition. As I was loading up the car, I remembered that I had an old bottle of Miracle Gro in the garage.

I bought the stuff probably about seven years ago. I was looking forward to a prolific garden that year and I just assumed I could achieve that with a gynormous bottle of Miracle Gro. But then that evening, I got to reading all about the Miracle Gro company, which is actually owned by the lawn fertilizer company Scotts. It was just a big waste of money, I learned. Using it in my garden would only contribute to the massive runoff of fertilizers from lawns to streams. Once there, the fertilizers promote algae growth in our waterways, which smothers the fishes and other animals, and well, it's just a disaster all around. So we shouldn't be using Miracle Gro.

I shoved the big bottle into the back of the garage and gave up my fertilizer habit. I was already a compost maker and in fact, I hardly missed the stuff.

Hot Plot
That is until this morning. With my beleaguered tomatoes in mind, I grabbed the bottle out of the garage and thought I might just slip a tiny bit into the soil around my plants.

But much to my chagrin, I was busted. At the garden, the guy with the camera was accompanying the County Garden Coordinator Ursula Sabia Sukinik. They were filming for the county cable channel a story about community gardeners. Ursula, gracious lady and fellow gardener that she is, assured me that I wouldn't need the Miracle Gro and that my compost would do the trick. My tomatoes would shortly be just fine after this heat wave passed. I sputtered out a weak defense, but I was just humiliated.

Ok. I am born again organic. This time for good. While the camera guy interviewed me, we hid the offending Miracle Gro out of site.  Claire and Patsy were there, too. So mother and daughters on TV!

And then when I got home today, I threw the Miracle Gro out.

Ursula, if you are reading this, it's in the trash.

Of course, now I'm feeling guilty about that, too. I mean, how do you throw the stuff out? It's a big old plastic jug; I could and should recycle, but the bottle has to be empty. What should I do with the green little pebble fertilizer inside? The Putterer