Tag Archives: echium

We drink hogwash, and play.

This morning I drove on many narrow and winding roads that I’d never been on before,
on my way to the coast to meet Pippin’s family at the oyster farm.

 

On the way there, I lost cell service, and lost my way, but until I realized how late I was going to be, I was oohing and aahing at the scenery and hoping to take pictures on the way home. After that, I just drove as fast as I could and made myself carsick.

But I got there, and pulled up behind the familiar black van; Pippin and the children were standing next to Highway 1 looking for me, and Ivy ran up and declared, “It’s stinky!” With that we began our tour of the Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island is an island in Tomales Bay, where these oysters are raised, several million every year.

 

< < Oyster shells are put to good use
in the parking areas.

Isn’t that an interesting crack-like body of water? It can’t be a fjord, because this is California. The San Andreas Fault, which is “a transform fault–where plates pass one another like cars on a two way street,” runs in a line down the middle of the bay. This classic photo (at left) of a displaced fence shows what happened as a result of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and why rock formations on the east and west sides of the bay are so very different. Earthquake country! Here is another map of the area if you want to get your bearings. It is the county just north of San Francisco.

Oysters really like to grow here, because of the particular mix of fresh and salt water, the currents, temperature, and the rich variety of plankton. The farmers keep constant and close tabs on everything, including bacteria, temperature, and those plankton. The plankton are counted every week! Here’s a chart they use when they are looking through their microscopes at the seawater samples:

(Sorry, I was also looking at it upside-down.) We saw samples of different types of oysters such as French, Pacific, Atlantic… As you might guess, the Pacific oysters are what they grow the most of here. Oysters naturally grow and fuse together and if left to themselves will eventually form a solid oyster wall in the water. Farmers have to be stirring them up all the time or breaking them apart to keep them growing in the most usable form, and a typical smallish Pacific oyster takes one and a half years from seed to harvest.

baby oysters found on the ground
“wild” oyster

These farmers typically harvest 60% of what they plant. There are frequent quarantines for a few days every time it rains, or if a strange bacterium is found in the bay. Regulations come from the government at both federal and state levels, and they can conflict and cause delays that have nothing to do with safety. You can be pretty sure that the oysters you buy or eat here are fresh and safe, but oysters are like Petri dishes if you drive a couple of hours on a warm day, carrying them home in the trunk of your car. With all of the possible complications in oyster farming, I’m surprised that they aren’t more expensive to buy.

The oysters here are raised in bags on a line under the water, and the bags are frequently flipped to jostle them and keep them from growing on to each other. These are a couple of bagsful just harvested.

We did get to eat a few oysters, too, and several other delectable things from the picnic café right next to the barn where they are sorting. With all the variableness of growing conditions and regulators’ decisions, oyster farming is not consistently profitable, so many farmers have branched out and are operating restaurants as well, from which they can earn a somewhat more steady income. Here in Marin they have a lot of clientele from Marin County and the East (San Francisco) Bay.

The little café has barbecue grills where you can cook Hog Island’s oysters in your own way if you want, while looking out at Tomales Bay and the birds. We didn’t use those, but we did eat raw oysters with lemon and Hogwash — this establishment’s version of Mignonette sauce; barbecued oysters, burrata cheese, and trout with roe. Our guide’s son preferred to put the Hogwash on his bread or to drink it straight up. Truly, it’s good to have bread with a meal like this, for sopping up the juices of everything.

Pippin and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the wildlife and the child-life,
and the multicolored buildings of this historic town of Marshall.

After all that fun I said good-bye to everyone and drove home by myself. Sprinkles of rain accompanied me all along my leisurely drive, but not so much that I couldn’t take take pictures. Right across the road from the oyster company were bushes that looked sort of like broom to me… but not quite.

When I got home I found out it is gorse, of all things, like in the English stories. This cousin of broom is not native, it’s terribly invasive and undesirable, and a fire hazard to boot. Broom has leaves, and gorse has prickles! If you want to know more, this article about Gorse the Invader is very informative.

I feasted my eyes on Tomales Bay, cattle, mustard and more mustard, and clumps of calla lilies like you only see on the coast. Often next to a driveway to a dairy farm, a few bulbs were planted long ago and still thrive and expand on benign neglect under the foggy skies, growing into an irregular and wide swath that contrasts in the loveliest way with the green grass. These patches never will appear where I am able to pull over and snap their picture. Pacific Coast iris dot the fields on such narrow stretches of road that it would be dangerous for me to walk back from a turnout in an effort to frame them with my camera.

My favorite Pride of Madeira (echium) is in bloom, too!

As you can see, I did eventually get home, filled with knowledge and images — and oysters!

A palace in the cosmos.

These narrowleaf milkweed flowers were the inspiration for the first draft of this blog post, which I thought to title “Wonders of the Universe.” Their intricacy and delicacy wowed me!

I had been thinking for some time about the gentle bombardment of the senses I experience in my garden, including how on warm days the space hums with the sound of busy insects. Just to sit out there is to listen to Life, and is a privilege. It’s also a sweet gift that God gave me, that I could have a tiny part in creating this environment, doing a little bit of planting and watering and seeing God give disproportionately generous increase.

I knew I wanted a Pollinator Garden, because I like the idea of helping the bees. But it was theoretical, and I didn’t begin to imagine what the physical reality would feel like when these fellow creatures buzzed their flight patterns in a rich tapestry of sight and sound throughout the garden. It fills my senses which in turn communicate with my soul.

“God is the Creator of the world. The world as cosmos, i.e. a created order with its own integrity, is a positive reality. It is the good work of the good God (Gen. 1), made by God for the blessed existence of humanity. The Cappadocian Fathers teach that God first creates the world and beautifies it like a palace, and then leads humanity into it. The genesis of the cosmos, being in becoming, is a mystery (mysterion) for the human mind, a genesis produced by the Word of God. As such, the world is a revelation of God (Rom. 1:19-20). Thus, when its intelligent inhabitants see it as cosmos, they come to learn about the Divine wisdom and the Divine energies. The cosmos is a coherent whole, a created synthesis, because all its elements are united and interrelated in time and space.” (From this site)

Now I often think of the book, My Family and Other Animals, which Gerald Durrell wrote about the Greek island of Corfu where he lived for a time as a boy. The one concrete image I’ve retained from my reading many years ago is of Durrell on a baking dirt road stooping to examine and collect whatever fascinating insects and other animals he could find. This quote I found I think is representative:

“…the incessant shimmering cries of the cicadas. If the curious, blurring heat haze produced a sound, it would be exactly the strange, chiming cries of these insects.”

I do not have cicadas at present. I have quieter bees and flies, and nearly silent butterflies, and cries and songs from the bird kingdom as well, adorning my garden. A day or two after I took the picture at the top, I saw a Monarch butterfly near the narrowleaf milkweed. I watched out the window for a few minutes and then… yes! She had landed on the plant. So out I went with my camera, and crouched nearby.

She fluttered away, and circled the garden to come back and light again, but only for a few seconds, mostly hidden by leaves, and then off she flew, nearly grazing my head as she made the same circuit, repeating this behavior many times! My knees got a little tired, so I lay on the ground waiting with my camera at the ready. But that didn’t give me enough flexibility, and I moved to the plum tree nearby and leaned my back against it.

Was she laying eggs each time she landed on those narrow leaves? I gave up trying to get close enough, or to catch her at rest, and began to take shots as she was flying. And this is the best one I have to show, proof to myself that she was there. 🙂

A couple of weeks later, back from the mountains, I found the minutest caterpillar on one of those narrowleaf milkweeds. Quickly I went indoors to attach my new clip-on macro lens to my phone, such as son-in-law Tom showed me how to use months ago but which I hadn’t taken out of its box. I hope my one-and-lonesome caterpillar does not get eaten by a bird, and survives to grow large enough to use my camera alone on, because this is the best I could do:

It seems this little lens is best for completely still shots, not flowers or creatures on long stems waving in the breeze. Here is a sharper image I captured using it:

Can you guess what it is?
Clue: It is a closeup of a flower I showed you in a recent post…
You’re right! It’s the center of a hydrangea bloom!

It’s another decoration of this palace into which we have been led by God….

But bees have preferences, and I’ve never seen them interested in hydrangeas.
What they love is the echium! Remember when it looked like this?

Its flowers just kept opening on the ends of what I don’t think would be called a stem… so that those parts got longer and longer, with always new flowers that the bees never tired of.

Until the Autumn Joy opened. Now the echium is deserted.

It has been two days since I wrote all of the above, and I’m sorry to say that my infant caterpillar has disappeared. If I’m around next August maybe I will bring some Monarch eggs into the house to safeguard the latter stages of this project of assisting the butterfly population. This year I will have to be content with having seen progress beyond the planting of the milkweed, my only direct contribution. I saw the milkweed thrive in its second season, I saw the Monarch laying eggs, I saw a caterpillar… and then, I fed a bird!

Recipe with bees and thyme.

One recipe for a Satisfying Day just fell together starting as soon as I woke up yesterday.
It included:

*Waking up early enough to take a walk before church.

*Picking pineapple guava petals from a hedge down the block
and sharing them with a neighbor who was also out walking.
My cousin Anne told me that you can eat them,
and they truly are as sweet as candy.

*Not putting off drudgery such as stretches and floor exercises.

*Managing to stand through most of church (this was easier after having walked, etc.)
and receiving Holy Communion, on the Sunday of All Saints of America.

*Wowing over the catalpa tree at church. Each flower is like an orchid…

*Shopping for garden twine at the nursery across the road from church
and finding seeds as well 🙂


*Talking to my dear cousin Renée  on the phone
while sitting in the garden with the sun on my back.

*Taking pictures of bees on the thyme while talking.

*Sorting through pictures of bees I took before and finding some good ones.

bee on echium
bee on privet

*Eating vegetables.

*Taking more pictures of bees on the echium.

*Sorting through more pictures.

“Friendliest Weed” in my garden is blooming prettily.

*Taking an evening walk beside the creek and studying the mystery grass again.

*Identifying a plant in the creek: It’s buckeye! I know buckeye, but only as a tree; I wasn’t used to seeing leggier growth in the creek. This picture shows some of the lighter green leaves of buckeye in the creek, a mature tree above, and even some mystery grass in the middle. I don’t think it’s Timothy grass, which one of my commenters suggested, but it looks more like Timothy than anything else so far:


*Going to bed too soon to finish this post last night,
but early enough to contribute to a new recipe for yet another Good Day!

 

Taking toxins with my joys.

Gardening has been  challenge of late, what with miserable weather, a sprained finger, and now the toxic latex sap of my euphorbia, or spurge.

I had a wonderfully satisfying day yesterday – went swimming, planted my vegetables, and then trimmed back the lovely euphorbia that had been flowing all over the wall in my front garden. I had done this job at least twice before, but the volume of plant material that I was removing this time was so much more than in previous years — in line with the saying about new landscaping: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it LEAPS! The picture below is from about a month ago, before my spurge had completed the leap, when it was just starting to spill prettily over the wall.

As I cut the spent flower stems last night I noticed the flowing sap, and it reminded me of Elmer’s glue, white and sticky, as it dripped on my shoes and hands. I had a splint bandaged to my sprained right forefinger to keep me from using it, and the bandage got wet with euphorbia juice. When I dumped clippings from my trug into the yard waste bin little flowers and leaves stayed behind, stuck with the glue.

After I finished the job and spent a long time getting the stuff off my hands, I took a little walk just to loosen up the kinks from stooping over my garden tasks. I climbed into bed so pleased at my productive day.

This morning early I became aware of a rash on my left hand, then on my forearms, then my right hand…my face…eventually my neck. My tongue burned. A thought began to rise to the surface of my messy pond of a mind: Hey, did I hear that this plant is poisonous? Ahem, yes, Gretchen, you did!!

Dave of Dave’s Garden doesn’t think these plants are much to worry about, compared to poison oak, for example. But The Guardian says that one berry if ingested can kill a child. Wikipedia tells us that the genus Euphorbia has about 2,000 members. You probably knew that poinsettia is a member? And maybe you heard the urban legend from 1919 ! that a child died after eating a poinsettia leaf. But the Christmas plant is only mildly toxic, after all, and a child would have to eat about 500 leaves to suffer for it.

Why I didn’t suffer until this third time is probably because of several factors: I wasn’t wearing gloves — though I was wearing long sleeves, so I don’t understand about my forearms being so affected. I’m pretty sure I cut the old stems off in a greener, wetter stage than before, so maybe the sap was more and more potent. Then there was the sheer quantity of plant matter being carried here and there, dumped, swept up…

I took a Benadryl, I applied hydrocortisone and aloe vera. I haven’t felt up to going anywhere, distracted and stressed as all this reaction has made me. But I wasn’t incapacitated, either, so I decided to tackle the snowball bush. I had thought for months that I would hire someone to prune it as soon as the flowers faded, but recently I decided to Do It Myself, because you know, if you want a job done right…? I’ve had two different “gardeners” botch jobs in the last couple of years, while I, on the other hand, have pruned the snowball bush many times over the last three decades. Though admittedly never at the age I am now.

Below you can see the bush,  beyond everything else, the left side short, the right side thinned but not short yet. And you can see the purple Pride of Madeira or echium having filled out, a few of my prunings in a pile, and the Jerusalem Sage blooming yellow..

I worked at it a couple of hours, never needing a ladder, and I am about 80% done — with the pruning. Getting all of the discards into the yard waste bin will take a few weeks, I’m pretty sure.

It made me so happy to be doing my own gardening. I was smack dab next to the currant with its big leaves that smell so good. The snowball bush (viburnum) hadn’t been pruned for a few years, so it had gotten out of hand. My plan is to get it down to a manageable size and prune it every year, and then it will be a breeze!

Tonight I’ll go to bed joyful again.