Monday, June 14, 2010

Snow in June -- It happens every year

Every year around this time the trees we commonly refer to as Cottonwoods (but are, in fact, their close cousin Balm of Gilead, according to my "Trees of Michigan" book) send warnings of a cotton storm a'brewing by wafting tiny cotton flakes into the air.

For days we see the cotton building up on the upper branches, knowing that one day when the sun warms the branches enough and the Gods are in their places the "snow" will begin to fly.

This year it started three days ago but then the rains came, stalling the cotton storm for at least a little while.  I would say that's a good thing, but it really just prolongs the inevitable.  Those cotton bombs are growing bigger and bigger up there and either tomorrow or the next day our side yard is once again going to look like this:

This is a close-up of the cotton ball once it has "exploded":

Early in the spring the "cotton" seeds form and start to fall.  They're covered with an incredibly sticky resin and manage to stick to everything, especially the bottoms of our shoes.  They end up inside the house, where we have to literally scrape them up off the floor.  What a nuisance!

But I've been doing a little research, and it turns out those sticky little buggers are good for something.  They can be made into a salve.  A balm.  A Balm of Gilead.  The people who are onto this balm claim it has magical, out-of-this-world qualities.  It is a pain reliever, an antibiotic, an anti-itch, anti-inflammatory miracle worker, and, if some others are to be believed, a sure-fire cure for cancer called "black salve".

I found this recipe  and this one online, and I can't wait to try making it when it gets cold again and I can gather up those little sticky slivers.  Olive oil and beeswax are the main ingredients, and it looks simple enough for even me.

The tree is also called "balsam poplar".  They talk about the pleasant aroma, but I can't say I've actually noticed.  I'll have to pay attention.

(Oh, by the way, I started this blog yesterday, and today was the day.  Our yard looks just like the picture above.  I almost took another picture, but you wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.  One snowy yard in June looks like any other.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

When the local pests are still cute

So here's the thing:  We don't want Geese and Ducks using our beach as a latrine, which they seem to want to do, so we have to come up with ways to discourage them.  Bottle rockets may seem extreme to you, but consider this:  Our neighbor wants us to shoot the buggers.  And if we don't do it, she will.  So I have reluctantly agreed to the Bottle Rocket method in order to protect them from Pistol Packin' Grandma, but this time of year I reserve the right to declare a moratorium.  (PPG knows about this, too.)

This time of year there are babies out there, and there are enough scary things without us adding to their fears. 

This year we've only seen two geese pairs with two babies each.  That's unusual and I have to wonder what environmental changes might be taking place now.  We're used to seeing eight to ten goslings following behind--at least at first.  Over time, either through predation or disease, the numbers dwindle, and I watch sadly as the families grow smaller and smaller.

I'm no expert on geese, but I've been watching these nurseries over the years and I've seen several families swimming together as groups. I have to assume it's for mutual protection.   Sometimes the goslings paddle from one family to another and I know it's only a matter of time until one of the parents chases them back to where they belong.  There's a bit of a ruckus for a while, with both sets of parents getting their feathers ruffled before they calm down and get back to whatever they were doing.   But they are a community--no doubt about it.

Last year I saw this family of Goldeneyes.  I had never seen their babies before and this was a thrill:

I'm still waiting to see a mama loon carrying her babies on her back.  They don't ordinarily come close to shore, so I may never get the chance.  But there's always hope.  I keep my camera close, just in case.