Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bald-Faced Hornet Wing

A Microscropic Study of  Dolichovespula maculata, 2016

Last fall I found a dead Bald-faced Hornet on the porch and I put it in a small jar for later examination.  Today is that vague later.  I was doing some microscope work anyway, trying to tease some mushroom mycelium free from the dirt it was growing in to try and get a better look at the network of it, without much luck (it kept tearing apart and all I got were shots of fuzzy dirt), so I looked to the hornet wing instead.  These photos are all of the right forewing.  For more information on parts of an insect wing, click here.  What's interesting is the number of hairs, because to the naked eye the wing appears nearly translucent, no visible hairs.  And then also, there is the structure of the wing, that while the venation appears to be a patchwork, this is the regular form.   

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Say A Little Prayer Before Cannibalizing Your Siblings

Praying Mantis Cocoon, 2016

We've had some very mild weather, and while doing some much needed yard work, my wife came across this cocoon attached to a branch she'd just pruned.  Instead of tossing it into the giant paper yard waste bag, she gave it to me.  True love!  Anyway, I wasn't sure exactly what sort of insect had constructed this cocoon, but a quick google search righted my ignorance.  And as always happens when you come across something new, I learned about the life cycle of praying mantis:  egg, nymph, adult.  Pretty basic, and only remarkable in that while a nymph they are classified as hemimetabolic, as they under go an incomplete metamorphosis.  A nymph praying mantis looks exactly like the adult counterpart, only very small.  Typically an insect in the nymph stage looks nothing like the adult it will become.  So, in time, 100-200 mini-mantids will hatch from this cocoon and begin fleeing the jar lest they get eaten by their siblings.  I've taken the jar outside because ideally they'll hatch when the ambient temperature is conducive to supporting insect life.  I've also made it easy for them to escape the jar, although I hope that I get to witness their emergence as I would like to direct some of them to certain areas of my garden - to keep down pest insects, especially those blasted cabbage butterflies and their young!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mushroom ID

Pholiota aurivella, Golden Scaly Cap Mushroom, Inedible

I was having a very difficult time identifying this mushroom and took to shroomery.org for help.  Literally within minutes someone pointed me in the right direction.  In the mushroom identification books I have they don't focus on that scaly top, which you kind of have to do because it's truly a dead give away.  One thing I've learned about the most helpful identification books is that an illustration often serves better than a photograph because an illustration can pay special attention to a a certain feature unique to a species.

Friday, March 18, 2016

In Its Time, The Sea Will Come To You

Two years ago we vacationed on the shore in Delaware, staying in a dune-hugger cottage on a narrow spit of sand between the bay and an expansive estuary.  It was quiet, few other cottages, and fewer still other vacationers.  The wildlife was the draw for us, the abundance of birds was astounding.
This summer we're returning to Delaware, this time staying in Broadkill Beach, which is much more popular than Prime Hook, where we stayed last time.  It's impossible to be at the beach, at least for me, and not think of sea-level rise and what this means for communities on this shifting front line.  Depending on how quickly the glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland continue to melt, nearly all of the seaside towns on the Delaware Bay will be under water.  This will effect man much more than nature, as I believe that the wildlife will simply adapt, and the terrain is in a constant state of flux regardless.  It lends a sort of bitter sweetness to the experience, being in a place that can't remain.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


After a meeting at a gallery, my son and I stopped for lunch at Arby's.  Somebody had some fun with my name.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Illma Gore, Artist

Make America Great Again, Illma Gore artist

Where do we draw the line?  Is there a line? (there is no line)  Body shaming someone as loathesome as Donald Trump might make some people feel empathy for a person who himself lacks any shred of empathy.  That aside, mocking and hideous representations of nudes is hardly anything new in the art world.  It's only that we so seldom see a male portrayed so unflatteringly.  It's common, oh so very common, for women to be rendered as utter monsters.  Case in point:  De Kooning's 'Woman' -
Charming, I'm sure, but also the stuff of nightmares.  I'm so little interested in what these sorts of paintings are trying get at employing spurious 'form', and the only real interest I do have is in the level of misogyny that the artist engaged in.
Art has always been used to express both the obvious and the hidden recesses of the human psyche.  It's been used to lash out, and whether that's a righteous attack or blasphemy, depends solely on your perspective.  While I find the Micro Penis Trump amusing because I find him to be so terrible a Presidential candidate, I also recognize my own hypocrisy because I don't think that body shaming is ever valid.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead Ferns, Zelienople, 2015

As soon as the frigid winter temps end in spring, fiddlehead ferns emerge, coiled and fuzzy, easy to spot, ripe for the picking.  Their flavor is not for everyone as they can be bitter, but if prepared properly, they add a taste profile you won't find anywhere else.  I think that work particularly well in stir fry. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager, 1995

Years ago, when my sons were very young, but old enough to accompany me, I did volunteer field research tracking scarlet tanagers for The Cornell School of Ornithology.  They equipped me with an audio cassette of various scarlet tanager calls (male, female, mating, territorial), and also sound-a-like calls from other birds so that I could differentiate between them, and various forms to fill out and a USGS map of my area.  We were located in the Beaver Falls Quadrangle at that time, in an old growth-ish wooded area that a creek wound through, with some farmland nearby.  From what I'd read, this should be prime scarlet tanager territory, and it was.  One morning the boys and I set out on the path through the woods that followed the creek.  After a few hundred yards I stopped and played the female mating call on a hand held cassette player.  Almost immediately there was a return call from high in the trees.  The scarlet tanager is small, but the male is so brilliant in color that he's easy to pick out.  I was lucky enough to also get a picture of him for the file of info I was collecting.  I kept playing the female call to see if I could get him to come closer to our position, when suddenly there was a female scarlet tanager giving the territorial call.  Huzzah!  I didn't get a picture of her, and in fact I could only pick her out fleetingly amongst the branches and leaves as she blends very well into the background.
Of all the volunteer field research I've done, the summer the boys and I tracked scarlet tanagers was  by far our most rewarding and successful.

My oldest son became very adept at spotting specific birds.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Memorial Ruins

Memorial Ruins, Trinity Church, Pittsburgh, Downtown

This memorial predates the construction of current Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (1870-1872) by about 50 years.  It's so weathered, with pieces missing, that I'm not even sure of its original purpose.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Snap Shot 1960

The Farm, 1960*

My great-grandfather with his favorite hunting beagle, Queenie, an unknown woman kneeling, and my great-grandmother.  I've been thinking a lot about great-grandmother lately because last week, after I made vegetable stock with kitchen scrap greens, I used that stock to make potato soup.  Grandma used to make me potato soup all the time.  We lived across a hay field from the farm, and my younger sister and I spent a lot of time with our great-grandparents.  Grandma always had M&Ms in her apron pockets, and she'd cook whatever you were hungry for, at any time.  For me it was always either buttered macaroni or potato soup.  She called me 'dough belly', and it wasn't because I was fat.
*This picture was taken two years before I was born.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Balloons In Crisis

Mylar Balloons Stuck in Maple Trees, Pittsburgh, 2016

The destructive impact of released balloons is long standing, yet the practice continues.  Across the street from my house, in the neighbor's backyard, snagged high in the upper branches of a mature Norway Maple tree, flutter three mylar balloons, either released on purpose or escapees.  Either way, after several severe wind storms over the last month that failed to free them, it seems that they will remain in my line of sight for quite some time.  Visual pollution.  A clutter to my wonder when I watch the daily journey of the murder of crows fly from the south, over the tree topped hills, mean north.  So many crows, sometimes over a hundred.  Now when I watch them, I see those three mylar balloons, and I'm annoyed that they're there, and that they'll remain there for who knows how long.  Sure, there are certain elements of irony and ennui with trapped balloons, even a mirroring of the meaning of all existence.  If the balloons were there for only one day, then I would have an appreciation for what they represent, but six weeks on...If that tree were mine, I'd cut it down.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Soup Stock from Kitchen Scraps

Thursday evenings we have my mother-in-law over for dinner.  If the weather's too treacherous for her to drive, I make a casserole and we take dinner to her.  We've been doing this for five and a half years, since her husband died.  She's a sweet woman, but something of an introvert, and we just wanted to make sure that she got out more than her weekly trip to church. 
For tomorrow night's supper I'm making a Tuscan soup and it calls for 4 cups of chicken broth.  I was looking around the fridge and saw some bok choy (2 large bunches) and half a bag of baby spinach that are a bit past their prime, so I chopped those up, added three large carrots, a large onion, crushed garlic, four chicken bullion cups, black pepper, and enough water (about 6 cups) to cover the whole thing in a stock pot.   It's simmering as I type this and smells divine.  Fresh stock for soup is so much better than store bought, and not much work.  I particularly love the addition of bok choy because it adds a very mild cabbage-y flavor and plays perfectly off of the onion and carrot.  It's so rich and hearty.  This will be a perfect base for the Tuscan soup tomorrow.