Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving bouquet

We've had a weird fall here, weatherwise. It was cold and wet in October, and it's been unusually warm and sunny in November. No complaint there! Apparently this confused my yarrow into blooming again, albeit sparsely, so when I took the dog for a walk as the turkey was roasting this afternoon, I noticed the blossoms and thought, hey, I could collect a little bouquet from my garden for the table, and on Thanksgiving Day no less. So I picked some yarrow, along with some sprigs from the spirea bush that were still hanging onto their leaves, a couple of small hydrangea heads, and part of a fir branch I picked up in the alley on my way back from the walk. Altogether, a nice little autumnal bouquet. It's not often I can do that in late November in Minnesota!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bee Brains

I'm something of a bee geek. I collect interesting facts about bees with the intention that I'll put together a bee zine someday -- a compendium of bee trivia, serialized. If I ever get around to it! In the meantime, perhaps I'll share bits and pieces of my "collection" on this compendium.

So here's something I came across today on Science News: a new study that concludes that African-European hybrid honeybees (aka "killer bees") aren't as smart as European honeybees. The study gauged bee IQ by offering them a whiff of Jasmine scent followed by a little sugar water. When the researchers proffered a second whiff of Jasmine, more of the European bees were quick to stick out their tongues in anticipation of the sweet stuff than did the Afro-Euro bees.

This is apparently a standard measure of bee smarts, and since the killer bees have been taking over territory formerly forgaged by European bees, the researchers expected to find out that they were the smarter ones. Now they're somewhat at a loss for what to make of these unexpected results.

It seems to me that the scientists need to read some of Howard Gardener's writings on multiple intellgiences! Maybe those killer bees are smarter, and they're just not impressed with that whole scent-followed-by-sugar-water trick. They could be smarter in a different way than the scent/sugar test measures.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bye-bye Jack, and Jack, and Jack

In truth, I put the jack-o-lanterns in the compost about 2 weeks ago, but finally got around to taking a picture of them yesterday. They look so forlorn, don't they?

I needed a photo to go with an article about hugelkultur. And I just got a kick out of their sad little shrinking faces. The middle one, pictured again on the article page, is Nora's, which she carved Anime-style; but now she says it looks like an old lady.

Interesting coincidence that I should have gardening on my mind today -- I just got my first seed catalog in the mail! That's got to be the earliest I've ever gotten one. It's from Pinetree Seeds, one of my favorites for offering lots of variety, little or no hype, and modest prices. I'm already circling things I want to grow, and no doubt my wish list will outgrow my available space in no time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Philosopher Mailman and Poetry Journal

My regular mailman is George, a nice fellow probably in his 30s who, I'm told by my friend who's also a mailman, is stridently liberal and is consigned to sort his mail every morning next to the local post office's only conservative, a mousy fellow who listens to talk radio on his headphones as he delivers the mail. So George's day often gets off to a lively start; but my house is near the end of his route and he seems to be in a good mood by the time he comes to my block.

This is an interesting contrast from Dave, my former mailman, who was the local branch's other right-leaning carrier (according to my friend, who used to stand next to Dave to sort mail). After the 2008 election, we didn't see Dave for a few days. My husband speculated that he was sitting in a dark room, staring at a picture of Sarah Palin. Dave went AWOL for a few weeks this winter, and then called in his resignation. For several weeks after that we had no regular carrier and our mail arrived at a different time most days, often after 5 p.m., as the post office parcelled out Dave's former route in pieces to carriers who already had a full route of their own to deliver.

I like a certain degree of predictability with my mail, whether I'm expecting a freelance check, some mail art, or the Poetry Journal I seldom get around to reading; and I like to know the name of the person who brings my mail, if for no other reason than because that person knows something about me and my reading habits. So one day last spring I grumbled to my husband that I wished the post office would give me a mailman. He gave me that look and said, "No, dear. You can't have a mailman."

Well, now I do, in a manner of speaking, and he's a nice, dependable fellow. On George's regular day off, our mail is usually brought by Tim, one of the few other mailmen I know by name. Tim sometimes takes a break after he finishes his route early and has an espresso at the local coffee shop, which I also frequent. Tim has a master's degree in philosophy, leans well left of center politically, and is a bit of an intellectual eccentric. He's friendly enough, but I'm often not sure what sort of topic of conversation I should broach with him, so I usually end up talking about the weather, unfortunately.

One day I was at the post office around 4:30 p.m. or so as Tim was just leaving for the day, he said hello as he came out the door, and added, "I delivered your Poetry Journal today."

That evening after supper I decided to ignore the Sudoku and read Poetry Journal instead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can you count to three? Or, the grumpy voter

We voted today in the first Minneapolis election to use instant runoff, or what the City prefers to call ranked choice, voting. They say the term "ranked choice" more accurately describes it. Maybe so, but I suspect it doesn't matter what they call it, just as it doesn't matter how well they design the ballots or how plainly they explain it. Some people hate change almost as much as they hate reading directions, even when those directions are brief, clear, and illustrated.

At least that's what Martin and I observed when we went to the polls today. A woman was at the table unhappily returning her ballot for a new one because she had voted for her three Park Board candidates in one column, even though the ballot clearly indicates that you vote for one candidate in each of the three columns. There are three at-large seats for the Park Board, you see, and so all three were her first choice. The election judge patiently repeated the directions, and the woman said, with a tone of exasperation, "So this ballot is ruined, then?" Not to worry, the official assured her, you can have a new ballot. And they took her mismarked ballot and gave her a new one.

"Who came up with this stupid idea, anyway?" she demanded. The voters, explained the official. "I mean who designed this ballot, it's just stupid," she persisted. Listening to this, I just couldn't imagine any way that the ballot could have been designed that would have been simpler. I wanted to answer, "Someone who can count to three." But I didn't.

Later, as Martin and I were feeding our ballots to the voting machine and collecting our jaunty red "I Voted" stickers, this same grumpy woman also turned in her ballot and then declined a sticker. "I'm not proud to have voted," she grumbled, muttering something again about how stupid it all was.

Don't you just love democracy?