Our Phoebe is gone

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We had to put Phoebe down last night. She was born with serious heart defects, but despite that, was able to live four good years before finally succumbing to kidney failure. The reason she lived so long is because she had a remarkable will to survive. Even at the end, that fire still burned in her eyes, and it killed a part of us to have to put it out.

Making the decision to euthanize a pet is one of the most difficult of decisions to make. We’ve never had to do it before, because our previous pets having been lost in other ways. My heart goes out to all of you who are now remembering putting down your own pets, or who are contemplating that future possibility. Ending suffering is the right thing to do, but oh, it is a hard, hard thing.

I also wanted to thank all of you have given us and Phoebe so much support and love over the years, as you’ve followed her unlikely and miraculous progress through life.

We’re knocked off our feet today. Erik is hurting especially badly, because he and Phoebe were very close, so please forgive us if we go into radio silence for a bit.  I should add, too, that Erik is going into surgery for his kidney stones this Friday. It’s been quite the week!

If you listen to our podcast, you can expect it to go up on Thursday or Friday, instead of Wednesday.

Thank you all again, all of you, for your support.

I’m going to going to eulogize Phoebe a bit after the break, more for my own sake than anything else, since I don’t keep a diary. Expect it will be long and maudlin. Bring tissues.

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Haint Blue

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In the wake of our recent discussion of scrub jays and paper wasps, Donna, one of our regular readers, tipped me off to the Southern tradition of painting porch ceilings haint blue to discourage nesting insects — and restless spirits (“haint” derives from “haunt”) — from making themselves at home in our living spaces.

Haint blue is not a single shade of blue, but refers rather to a blue used for this purpose. The actual color could run from soft powder blue to true sky blue to bright teal.

While the cool, airy white porch with a blue ceiling speaks to elegant Victoriana, I’ll note that the practice probably does originate in the traditions of the Gullah or Geechee people, brought to this country as slaves. They’d mix up lime paint in various shades of blue and paint not only their ceilings, but around doors and windows–around every opening into their home, to protect themselves from evil spirits.

I spent a little time ( a very little time, admittedly!) looking for some solid historical writing on this haint blue business, but found nothing but hearsay. The same basic info seems to be distributed all over the Internets,  which means the resource pool is pretty small, or pretty shallow. Nonetheless, I think the idea of a blue porch ceiling very appealing, if for no other reason than it extends the open sky into our living spaces.

All this business is novel to me, a Westerner born and bred, but perhaps some of our readers from the South will have comments or experience with haint blue?

In the meanwhile, our front porch is overdue for painting, and I think I’ll try a blue ceiling this time. I’ll let you know what the wasps (and spirits) make of it.

For more information, the good folks over at Apartment Therapy have a post which covers the basics of what the Internet knows about haint blue:

Pretty and Practical: The History of “Haint Blue” Porch Ceilings

And Donna’s original comment pointed to this show, called You Bet Your Garden.

Thanks, Donna!

Of paper wasps and scrub jays

paper wasps

Another wasp colony, this one on our shed, probably related to the destroyed colony.  It’s a little blurry because I had no desire to get up in their business to take a better photo.

Stinging insects tend to send people into panic, especially if they’re yellow and black striped. After years of keeping bees, we’ve come to learn that many people can’t distinguish a honey bee from a yellow jacket from a wasp–and we won’t even start on the native bees. Yet it pays to be able to do so, because each is quite different, and we can interact peaceably with all of them if we know their ways.

Paper wasps, also called umbrella wasps, are those guys who build smallish, open celled nests in protected places, often the eaves of your house. Wasp stings are quite painful, but few people know that these wasps rarely  attack unless provoked. More, they are very beneficial in the garden, because they prey on insects which damage plants. So when they build nests under our eaves, we leave them alone, and never have any problems.

But keep in mind that they do have excellent facial recognition abilities, so if you ever hassle them (say with a hose set to the jet setting) they may not forget you so quickly.

With wasps, it pays to be diplomatic.

Unless you are a scrub jay.

Aphelocoma_californica

Western scrub jay, courtesy Wikimedia

I saw this amazing drama earlier this week. I wish I could have captured it on film. We had a small wasp nest in the corner of our patio roof. From my place on the living room sofa, I could see this corner through the front door. One fine morning a bold western scrub jay came to rest on our porch railing, then swooped upward and plucked a wasp off the nest and gobbled it up.

I was very impressed. I had no idea they ate wasps.

She ate a second wasp, delicately picking it apart on the railing, looking very self-satisfied. I thought the show was over, but it turns out she was just enjoying appetizers, because next she launched up and took the entire nest in her beak–random wasps still attached– and flapped off with it into the clear blue sky. Perhaps to enjoy the creamy center in privacy–or perhaps to feed her babies?

One wasp returned to sit forlornly in the place where the nest used to be.

I don’t often use the term bad ass, but that was bad ass.

And the moral? If you don’t want paper wasps in your eaves, do your best to attract birds to your yard. Especially brassy thieves like jays.

Here is a little bit more on paper wasps from the ever-useful Xerces society.

The Wonder of Worms

saint worm

[Another entry in the Back to the Garden series, which you can access by clicking the tag of the same name to the left.]

As I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks, the key characteristic of the loving landscape is healthy, living soils which foster plant and animal health without artificial inputs. Compost, mulch and worms form the holy trinity of organic soil health.

Compost and mulch we’ve covered. Today I want to talk about worms, both worms in the wild and worms in your house.

Odd facts: Did you know there are about 4,300 species of earthworms world-wide? Did you know that the Australian Giant Gippsland earthworm can grow to be 3 meters (9.8 feet) in length? Shai-Hulud! I’ve also seen references to a 22 foot (6.7 meter) long worm discovered in South Africa, but can find nothing substantial to back it up, and have decided that it’s an Internet myth. What I do know, though, is that I’m glad I don’t live under water with the sea worms.

But I digress. The real wonders of this world are invisible, or so humble as not to be noticed. Like saints of the soil, garden variety worms pass through the world quietly, leaving miracles in their wake.

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