Uncle Ed Bassham

My uncle Ed, a native of Moko, Arkansas, was my most fascinating relative. He knew everything about the woods. A carpenter in the rural Ozarks, he hunted deer and turkey, fished, found arrowheads, and could predict the weather and find beehives in trees. He was the husband of my favorite aunt, my mom's sister Tommy. Visiting Aunt Tommy and Uncle Ed was our twice-a-year family vacation the whole time I was growing up, and I continued through college by taking Amtrak from Chicago before I got my car. Now Tom and I fly to St. Louis once a year and rent a car for the 200-mile drive.

One of my favorite early memories of Uncle Ed is of the time we were there when he brought home some honeycomb from a bee tree. I got to help, down by the creek, wringing the honey out of the comb into a big jar. There was nothing like honey straight from the hive, with its unpredictable flavoring and coloring from the mix of wild nectar in the woods and fields. When we arrived for our summer visits, one of the first things I wanted to know as a kid was whether there was any "bee honey" in the kitchen.

Another thing I loved about my uncle was his old-fashioned way of talking. Like many Ozark families, his came from Tennessee around 1900 and brought the Appalachian speech with them. Reading Shakespeare in college, I found that what I had heard was true: the southern mountain people were so isolated that their speech sounded like the English of centuries ago-the voices of the earliest pioneers. (So Uncle Ed was a pioneer and a Shakespearean orator and didn't even realize it!) "You're a stout rascal," he said when he saw me hauling a big suitcase.

Uncle Ed served in Europe during the Second World War and played baseball around the continent afterward, then returned home to the Ozarks and married my aunt. She raised my two cousins and kept a nice house while Uncle Ed the woodsman hunted and fished (when he wasn't building houses). He never seemed completely adapted to the domestic life. Rather than accompany our family on our Ozarks sightseeing jaunts, he checked his trot lines on http://www.livejasmin.cc, or, well, it was a mystery what he did when he wasn't working. One of my lifelong pursuits was to think of what to ask him to find out more, more, more about the woods. He knew the woods so well that he probably didn't know which stories to tell any more than I knew what to ask.

Aunt Tommy cared for him throughout his long illness with lung disease and Alzheimer's. She succeeded in keeping him out of the nursing home. Now she can rest. Uncle Ed succumbed on the Fourth of July at home outside West Plains, Missouri, while I was hiking in the mountains of Washington and loving every creek and wildflower.

The honey-bee is essentially a wild creature.. Its proper home is the woods, and thither every new swarm counts on going.

Chicago trip

We spent just over a week in Chicago and had perfect, sunny weather, with seventeen-year cicadas thrown in as a bonus. We saw my parents and Tom's family, saw a few of my friends in Evanston and Pilsen, and went bike riding from Rogers Park down to Millennium Park. Most of my photos were of the cicadas and the bike ride.

We also went to the Field Museum to see a new exhibit on the life of Charles Darwin and the history of the theory of evolution. I got this photo of "Sue" as we were being kicked out at five PM when the place had closed.

So, the cicadas-we learned at the Field Museum that they lay their eggs under bark. The eggs hatch and the nymphs crawl down after about six days and burrow 12 to 18 inches into the soil. After 17 years they tunnel back up, crawl up off the ground usually, and then molt into their final incarnation.

They leave behind thousands of holes just bigger around than my little finger.

At night, we went out with flashlights and saw them molting on tree bark. They're a pasty white and they molt so slowly it's almost imperceptible until they're almost completely out. Their upper body emerges backwards so that they are leaning back away from the tree with their feet up in the air. Eventually when they're almost out from http://www.jasminlive.mobi, they do a sit-up, grab the tree with their feet, and pull the abdomen out of the shell. They rest while their wings fill out with fluid from the body, and then they start crawling up and up.

They sing in the daytime like a huge choir of chipmunk sopranos.

Garden my love

The bamboo is becoming a little grove. I love bamboo. I like how it's so tall and prolific, yet you can remove new canes that pop up where you don't want them-it's easy before they get big-and have a nice see-through grove. I dug a trench on the far side so I can easily stop it from spreading into the next yard.

The peonies Nancy gave me are blooming for the first time in the second season after they were transplanted.

Every year this coral helianthemum (at the bottom) is one of my favorite plants. It's so bright.

These gold irises were my favorite irises this year. This live sex chat picture is from about two weeks ago. The very final one is blooming today.

I tied this cheapo Flower Carpet rose, which I've had now for about five years, up into the buckthorn tree last year. So now it's blooming in the tree while also trying to spread out like the groundcover it's meant to be.

And here's the Fleur de Lawn turf in its fourth week. It is thin, but it has thickened just a little. so maybe it will continue to do so.

Watching the Blue Angels from the Virginia V

A 100-year-old steamship is docked on Lake Union, and last Sunday we took a cruise on it to watch the Blue Angels airshow.

The Virginia V is docked next to some other wooden boats that are about the same age, including the fireboat Duwamish, still in use as a fireboat and often seen in Elliott Bay shooting all of its water cannons during festivals like SeaFair.

Lake Union is great for sightseeing because it's so busy and has lots of picturesque floating houses.

We went northward up the length of Lake Union, through the equally scenic Portage Bay. Part of my gym commute takes me through this North Lake Union neighborhood and I liked this view of it from the water.

We passed from Portage Bay east through the narrow Montlake Cut and passed the UW canoe dock, our favorite foot-soaking spot where we recently went swimming. It's hard to get a snapshot of this from land but I think these two pictures from the boat captured it well.

My pictures of the planes didn't turn out so good, but the Virginia V was a beautiful vantage point. I liked it for the experience of being on board even more than for its view of the planes. Here's a group of random Blues fans on the deck.

Here's a map of the route we took through beautiful Seattle waterways. Click on it for a bigger and more legible version.

On the Friday of SeaFair I was at work and heard that the Blue Angels pilots were staying at the WAC, a hotel across the street, and their Corvettes were parked in our building. I deserted my workstation along with a coworker and a few secretaries. We stood on the sidewalk at the garage exit staring at the police motorcycles waiting to escort the Blues to Boeing Field, waiting for the cars to come out. All I had was my cell phone for a camera. I took the picture of the motorcade and my coworker used the World's Oldest Digital Camera to get the picture of one of the cars.

Guitar and grade-school drama

Last Friday night we watched a Peter Frampton concert from 1999 on DVD. Of all the old musicians, he's the one whose physical appearance surprised me the most when I saw him on TV after three decades. The "sudden" (to me) lack of long tangled curls makes a huge difference-at first I thought, that can't be him-but his face looks youthful and not all that different. Other old pop stars try to maintain their trademark hairstyles (David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Barry Gibb). They look more like what I'm used to, but they don't look natural. (Not that David Bowie ever did look natural.) Peter Frampton's natural look is a lot more appealing to me than dyed and styled hair. Plus I like the fact that he lives in Cincinnati.

During the DVD performance of "Baby I Love Your Way," a strange feeling came over me. It was a nostalgic memory of dancing with boys at the sock-hops at school in the seventh and eighth grades. This feeling surprised me because I actually dreaded and hated the sock-hops. I remember this vividly, and my feelings are recorded vehemently in my journals from those two years, in all caps with A LOT of underlining and exclamation points!!!!

So there I was the other night swaying on the sofa to this romantic rock ballad about watching the sunset with the one you love, this song that was played all over the radio, at friends' houses, and at sockhops in 1977, and a memory pops into my mind of dancing with a boy and feeling surprised that slow-dancing was nice, the boy was nice, and we had polite small talk (about not knowing how to dance) while dancing. This pleasantness was a surprise I never talked about with my friends. I kept it to myself, superstitiously, in case it changed. I would have been less surprised if a boy had asked me to dance and then made fun of me.

I hated boys then. It seemed all they did was make fun of girls, and then try to make girls like them so that they could get away with being mean to us. I'd already seen, in the sixth grade, girls going steady (whatever that meant) with boys who I still saw doing things to humiliate these same girls. I thought that what I had to look forward to as a teenager and as a woman was a curse of being able to see that boys were mean, yet liking them anyway. "You'll like them, they'll be mean to you, and you'll continue to like them" or something to that effect. It made me want to kill! Luckily I was twelve and not dangerous. I wanted to kill all the boys, the gym teacher who ran the sockhops, and the teachers who insisted that we go to them, which everyone did. It seemed you couldn't get out of them.

The sock-hops were not just a way of mingling boys and girls, but also a chance for girls to police the fashion of the unfashionable. I was unfashionable and as much of a loudmouth as any of the fashion police-girls when it came to my opinions, so I complained bitterly before each dance and swore that one of these days I was going to show up to a sock-hop in jeans. That seemed as impossible as showing up to the office in flannel pajamas would be today. The fashion police-girls told me I was weird, immature, crazy, obnoxious, and should shut up. The boys pointed out that I wore the same outfit to every sock-hop.

The girl-enforced tradition was that girls wore skirts with nylons to the sock-hops. For many, this was the first time wearing nylons. The thought still makes my skin crawl, of taking a wiry tomboy like myself and encasing her tree-climbing legs (future heavy-lifting legs I might add) in binding, sweat-inducing, phony-looking, embarrassing pantyhose for no reason except that that's what the other girls did. (In the words of the eighth grade: B-A-R-F!)

I think actually what I hated and dreaded was the social pressure-not the dancing. Most of the boys were as unready for sock-hops as I was. Those were the ones I danced with. I don't think I ever was asked to dance by any of the mean ones. Finally, at the final sock-hop of the eighth grade, I did show up in jeans. I think the only people that noticed were the fashion police, and maybe only because I'd complained so much all along.

Whew! So that's what that one Frampton song made me think about. It was nice to figure out that at least I got to enjoy the dancing even if the rest of the set-up seemed so corrupt. The next morning, last Saturday, I watched that song again until I figured out how to play it. Turns out it's easy to sing and just enough of a challenge to play to make it feel like an accomplishment. I played it last night for my guitar teacher and I was thrilled when he said he'd never seen anyone cover that song. He's throwing a barbecue (excure me, a Guitarbecue that is) for his students, and I'll play this song there. I don't plan on wearing nylons, though.

Plant shopping!

Yesterday, a cold, dry, gray Sunday, I half felt like sitting around and sniffling all day, but instead went to Magnolia Garden Center and got a few more plants for the yard. Tom came along and indulged me by oohing and aahing over the plants with me and making up his own plant names. He claims to be looking for the Abyssinian swine fern. I would have been happy with the Abyssinian sword lily, which actually exists, but they didn't have one.

I still haven't been able to find anywhere to buy the beautyberry shrub (Callicarpa), which is what I was looking for, as part of my plan for pretty winter shrubs on the back slope. A few places have said they'll have it within a couple of weeks. That plant gets very popular in fall and winter when it shows its purple fruit, and so the plant stores sell out of it fast.

Since the store didn't have what I came for, I willingly abandoned the "shop only according to plan" plan, and examined everything the nursery had-which wasn't much, at this time of year, so I didn't get overwhelmed.

I bought a small azalea with graceful, open branches, and put it in the large white pot on the patio. It's supposedly going to be pale pink when it blooms. If this one does well, it will be my first success with an azalea, which is why I put it in a pot instead of in the ground. Either they haven't liked our soil or my watering technique has been all wrong. With this one on the patio, I won't forget to feed and water it, and its potted soil should be much better drained than the ground is.

I also got two kinds of Euphorbia, a 15-inch orange variety and a 36-inch tall yellow one, and put them each in a pot. Right now they are just stumpy little stalks and I don't even know exactly what they're going to look like, but the descriptions on the labels sounded unusual. There are so many varieties of this plant that I can't find a photo of the two I happened to buy.

A red and a yellow primrose went into two small pots that had been full of very tired, frostbitten winter pansies. I felt sort of bad dumping the pansies out after they valiantly persisted in blooming all winter, but they looked terrible, like somebody middle-aged who got too many body-piercings and tattoos in their youth.

Having refurbished most of the patio pots, I also planted an Astilbe (extravagant pink plume-like flowers) on the south side of the house among the bulbs. I saw some Astilbe at the arboretum on the north side of a building and doing fabulously, but I've had problems growing anything but hostas and ferns on the north side of our house. So the Astilbe may get too much sun on the south side instead. It should be shaded in the hottest part of the day, though, when the sun has moved to the northwest in summer. I only bought one in order to see how it goes.

I also planted two little teeny ground-cover plants in a shady spot among ferns, next to the back steps, a New Zealand brass button and a sweet woodruff. With those, also, I wanted to start with one each and see how they do. They are both very cute and not hard to find, so I'll definitely get a couple more if they thrive. It seems there are so many places in our yard that are either brutal full-sun or are almost completely shaded. We have no areas of light or dappled shade. The best I can do for "part shade" is to put things around the patio close to the house, where they will get morning sun only.

Next weekend I'll plant the shrubs ('Midwinter Fire' dogwood and 'Rose Glow' barberry) and Japanese maple I've bought over the past two weeks. These are going on the back slope in full sun, along with the Callicarpa, when I find it. I've seen conflicting instructions on whether or not you can grow the Acer palmatum (maple) in full sun. I have email out to a couple of local experts to try to get a clear answer. If I can grow it up on that slope, I'll have to make a flat spot and a little berm around the tree in order to be able to water it effectively. If the horticulture ladies tell me under no circumstances should I stick that little tree out in the sun, then I'll put it beside the patio in a big pot or in the raised bed I'm going to build.

Other next steps: Get a couple of fuchsias for in front of the house behind the evergreens; dig out a planting area along the east foundation of the house by the rain barrel, where it's now kind of a mess; and put some cheap pavers and gravel under the garbage cans to prevent us from stepping in the mud when we move them.

Yikes, I have a lot to do, and only the weekends to do it in! But it's only February. If I stay on top of it this month and next, I might not have too much hard work to do over the summer. Or more likely I'll just get more ideas.