I’ve been toying with this fantasy for a while, off and on. What if I planted a vegetable garden based solely on color? After all, color figures largely in my flower garden.
With apologies to Kermit, it IS easy being green. Celery, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, all green. String beans, peas, kale, chard, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, all green. What do most kids and many adults refuse to eat? Anything green!
Every year, when I plan my edible garden, I try to incorporate something different; something that I haven’t grown before. The old standards do well and I like them, but let’s face it. There’s a lot more to the fruits of this planet than what we eat all the time.
After just a little thought, I realized it wouldn’t be difficult to create a one-color vegetable garden. I’m talking about the actual fruits of the plant. Fruits as in vegetables. Get it? For the most part, the leaves would still be green.
So I begin with purple. I made a list of every purple or nearly purple vegetable that I knew of. In some instances, a few might be called “red,” or some “red” vegetables are in fact more purple looking, so I have included them in my list. In the process, I discovered a few more, though I might have difficulty finding them in the store.
But seeds, that’s another story. All sorts of exotic seed sources exist. Seek and ye shall find.
That’s not to say that everything purple will grow in every region. Remember, it’s a fantasy garden.
Here’s a list of purple foods that exist in reality, and are possible to grow, somewhere, in no particular order:
That’s a pretty full plate of veggies! And with a few surprises. I never knew there was purple asparagus, and I’ve seen many heirloom tomatoes, but I don’t recall coming across purple ones.
The inside of a cooked purple sweet potato
Where does purple cauliflower get its color? The answer is anthocyanin, which contains flavonoid compounds. Purple cauliflower also contains glucoraphanin, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables. Both substances are said to fight cancer and are significantly lowered in value by cooking the cauliflower. I might have to rethink how I eat this vegetable!
I’ve eaten many foods on the list, including the potatoes, cabbage, kohlrabi, beets, beans, onions, carrots, kale and eggplant. I have to say that they all taste the same as other colors, but imagine the visual impact at a meal!
The next time you are in the grocery store, cruise the vegetable offerings with new eyes. I bet you will be amazed at how many foods you have never noticed. But they’re always there!
Sometimes it takes a few decades for something to come full circle.
Back in the 1970s, I lived and worked in Connecticut. New England is a wonderful place to go antiquing and browse flea markets. It was at just such a market that I happened to spot an old photograph, leaning against something on the ground, not very visible, not looking very valuable. It was quite dark and had a black frame, so the overall look was very dark indeed.
The image was of an old woman stooping over and placing some plant material in a big basket. The setting appeared to be some woods. The back held an inscription:
For years I wondered about the image. Was it truly a woman considered by the community to be a witch? after all, Deerfield was a hotbed during the heydays of witchcraft madness. Or was it just a model posing at one? Who were the Ray sisters? And who were Frances and Mary Allen?
Recently on a whim I decided to do some internet poking around to see what I could find. Instantly I turned up information about the Allen sisters, Frances and Mary, to whom my photo was attributed. How exciting! It’s so easy to play detective when you have the internet at your fingertips.
I read all about Frances and Mary, and their life and work in Old Deerfield, Massachusetts. I found an article from the New York Times that talked about them and their work, and a collection of Allen sisters photos in the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield.
These two talented, entrepreneurial women became quite successful in this medium at the turn of the twentieth century. They had been teachers, but began to suffer from hearing loss, and found interest, skill and financial security in photography. They received many awards for their photographs at various salons and exhibits, and their work was published in many periodicals. They made a good living from their art.
“In 1896, Frances and Mary Allen participated in the first American photography salon, the Washington Salon and Art Photographic Exhibition, sponsored by the Camera Club of the Capital Bicycle Club. Nine of their photographs appeared in this juried exhibition held at The Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.; two received awards. The artistic photographs section, Class A, included 177 photographs; five were by the Allens. . . The second section, Class B, was devoted to photographs with excellent technical merits, and included 168 photographs. Frances and Mary were represented by four.”
In addition, Flynt writes, “the Smithsonian Institution “purchased fifty of the 345 photographs in the 1896 Washington Salon for their newly formed Division of Photographic History. Two Allen sisters’ photographs, Spring and Sybil, were acquired for $11.00 and $6.00 respectively.”
They caught the eye of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a noted photographer of the day, who was also the White House photographer for the Cleveland and McKinley administrations. She became a supporter and mentor for the two sisters.
I was riveted to the words and images on the Clio website, and searched for my image there. I did not find it, but found some similar images and knew I had the real thing.
I decided to contact the Memorial Hall Museum curator, Suzanne Flynt, to see whether the museum might like to have my piece in their collection. I had enjoyed the photo for decades and decided I could part with it. I emailed photos of the image to her, and she confirmed that the museum does not have this exact image. Good news! “The woman in the photograph is Miss Caroline Ray, who provided flowers to the Deerfield Church every Sunday,” noted Suzanne. Wow, another mystery solved!
The outcome: Suzanne would be pleased to have it, and I am pleased to donate it! Giving it to the museum seems like the right thing to do, to have it as part of the Allen sisters collection. I think Frances and Mary would be pleased.
Fall is here, though some days still have a surface feel of summer. Leaves are beginning to fall. Beautiful shades of maroon, gold, orange and yellow line some roads. Spiders and spider webs are everywhere, or maybe they’re just more visible now.
Fruits, meaning seeds, of various trees can be seen on the ground here and there.
I found some fruits of the Chinese chestnut at Me Kwa Mooks Park, near Puget Sound in West Seattle. I recognized them instantly because there was a similar tree where I worked in Maryland.
Years ago when I found the seed pod, I thought it looked like a chestnut – all spiky. I couldn’t believe the huge tree was an American chestnut because the trees don’t live that long. American Chestnuts do still grow here, but because of the chestnut blight, a fungus that made its way to this country in 1904, the species doesn’t survive past a few years. They were a mainstay of the Appalachian forest ecosystem.
I researched the Maryland seed pod back then and finally discovered it was from a Chinese chestnut. Someone had planted the ornamental tree at the old homestead that predated our office building. It’s a good substitute for our American species, but it would be nice to have our old trees back. In fact, people are working hard to bring the American chestnut back. The American Chestnut Foundation is dedicated to restoring the species to our eastern forests. Researchers are breeding blight-resistant trees. It so happens that the Chinese chestnut is resistant to the blight, which originated in Asia, and the species makes an excellent donor of resistant genetic material.
However, the Chinese tree does not have all the desirable characteristics of the American tree, such as a tall, straight growth habit. American chestnut is strong wood. It was popularly used for fences.
Cross-breeding is tremendously complex and takes years and years. The Foundation’s goal is to breed for resistance, while preserving the desired native traits of the American species. Inbreeding is even a problem for trees. Researchers are using genetic material from American chestnuts throughout their native range, from Maine to the Carolinas. It will take years of testing before they may finally be able to start replanting American chestnuts across the region. There is hope!
Gems in the soil
I was laying borders for a new flower garden in my front yard. I wanted to use long pieces of wood as the borders, but I ran into a lot of cedar tree roots on one side. I was not going to have to change my garden plan, and gave much thought to a solution. I finally decided to use bricks, which I could fit in between the roots, if I was lucky.
As I was digging the trench for the bricks, I spotted a mass of gelatinous beads, like crystal-colored caviar, in the dirt where a brick had covered it. I pulled it out for closer examination, and realized it must be eggs.
I wondered, whose eggs are these? They couldn’t be from salamanders or fish. They couldn’t be frog eggs. Hmmm, I had also seen two fat slugs when I lifted a brick. Could the eggs be slug eggs? It seemed like a good hypothesis. I couldn’t wait to look up slugs online. Bingo! Sure enough, there was a photograph of exactly the same kind of eggs. I had indeed found slug eggs. They take from 10 days to about a month to hatch. I do not care for slugs, but I must say, the eggs were rather lovely. (I pulled them out of the dirt to photograph them and then put them back, though I’m not entirely sure why. We have enough slugs. It just seemed the ethical thing to do.)
I should note that I’m talking about our common dark-colored, non-native slugs, not our native banana slugs, which live in the woods and are not garden pests.
As I write this, a light bulb just went on in my head. Back in the spring, when I was preparing my vegetable garden, I had found some tiny orange balls on the soil. They reminded me of caviar. Something told me they could be eggs. There were singular ones scattered here and there. I couldn’t imagine what creature could have laid them there. I squished them and they popped. Now, after discovering the slug eggs, I am thinking the tiny orange ones were snail eggs! I have seen snails around, so I will assume they were snail eggs.
You never imagine the tiny things that live around us, until you start discovering them. I once found tiny toads in the grass, no bigger than my fingernail, in a park in Virginia. The tiniest things in the grass, far from any water, so I assume they were toads. How I spotted them, I don’t know. More reason to walk softly on the earth.
Back in my back yard, I noticed a blob of white beneath one of my mock oranges. At first, I thought it was a dropped tissue. But when I knelt down I found it was a mushroom! And then I saw that there were bunches of them ringing my shrub.
In all my years at the house, I have never seen these mushrooms. They are low white orbs, in small clusters here and there.
I touched one; it was very soft. I found a couple small ones connected together lying on top of the soil, so I picked them up and inspected them.
They felt like marshmallows! Soft, fluffy and light as air. After some research, I identified them as gem-studded puffballs! They sprout from July-October. They are supposed to be edible, but I dare not try them. The mushrooms are the ‘fruits’ of the web of fungus on and beneath the soil. The mycelium can extend a long way through the soil, so no telling where the puffballs might appear.
Puffballs have the habit of releasing their spores in a puff of dust from a hole in the top. Now that they’re in the soil, I will keep an eye out to see whether they reappear next year.
On a beautiful sunny morning in May, I rolled into Montana. On the way to my friend’s house, I just had to make a brief side trip to Yellowstone National Park. I had been there once before, about 30 years ago. It was hot and sunny, not the best time to be out in the open for me. Yellowstone is a huge park, so I could visit only a few sites this day. I made my way down to some geysers, hot springs and mudpots.
The colors around some of the hot springs are spectacular, from microorganisms that live in and around them. Rich hues of orange or yellow ring the edges of the water.
Look but don’t touch! This is some hot water. The mudpots are amusing blobs of saturated sediment like boiling pots of chocolate. Steam below the ground forces the mud into the air at random periods of time.
Bison are easy to see in the park. They just stand around, grazing. But make no mistake, they are far from tame and slow. I wasn’t too interested in getting close.
But the clock was ticking and I needed to get going to my friend’s house in Livingston. It had been many years since we saw each other.
A few days later, after a wonderful reunion with my childhood friend and her family, I had to move on from the cute and historic little town of Livingston. Washington, my new home, was calling! I had only a couple days to meet up with my movers and settle into my apartment.
My route took me northwest, through Idaho for the first time. I had to pull over to record this strange highway sign. Just where was I? If I took this exit, would I end up in nowhere?
Farther down the road, it began to look more like ski country.
Pretty soon, I was driving along Lake Coeur d’Alene, a gigantic recreation area. There’s not much water in these parts and I was certain that the lake is a summer pilgrimage for many.
My overnight would be in Spokane. I stayed in a convenient, nondescript motel. The next morning I returned to I-90 west, passing through lots of agricultural areas and dry country. At a rest area, there were interpretive signs about the natural landscape. I was happy to see that my new state valued its natural resources and I was eager to learn about them.
When I came upon my first views of the Columbia River, I had to stop and take it in. There were some wildflowers blooming that I would later try to identify. It was hot and dry and felt like a desert.
Crossing the big blue river, I came upon signs for the tiny town of Vantage and its oddities. I had to stop and see for myself. The signs promised petrified gingko trees and petroglyphs. Sure enough, there were some pieces of petrified trunks, and a short hike produced some Indian paintings on rocks.Down below, a small road disappeared into the river, the only evidence of a town that was covered forever when the river was dammed.
Continuing west, I wanted to stop in the tiny town of Roslyn, which is designated a National Historic Landmark. Having read about it, I had to see the painted mural on the side of the building that became famous in the opening scene of Northern Exposure. I could just picture the moose ambling by.
Fewer than 1,000 people live here. The town has some other interesting buildings and murals, some related to its history of coal mining. The mines drew workers from around the world, and the town was bustling as the mines pulled out tons and tons of coal. But by the 1920s, they began to shut down.
I was just two hours from Seattle.
When I arrived at my new apartment, I was amazed to find that I had a small view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains!
That was eight years ago, and I’m still very happy, though have moved on to my house!
I just finished reading Watership Down (I know, a few decades late.) I will likely never think of rabbits in the same way again! When this year began, little did I know what a Year of the Rabbit it was shaping up to be for me. For the Chinese, it might be the Year of the Goat or Sheep, but for me, decidedly the year of the rabbit.
Sometime early in the year, I put an old calendar photo of a jack rabbit on my frig. It’s a beguiling creature, with its spectacular ears and piercing eye. I’ve always wanted to see a jack rabbit in the wild. I felt the photo was a good omen for the year. Aren’t rabbits considered good luck? At least their feet have been held as lucky pieces (alas, not for the rabbits).
Rabbits have been bestowed with magical powers in various cultures, art and literature. We westerners may see the Man in the Moon, but in Asian, Mexican and Native American cultures, they see the Rabbit in the Moon. It’s pretty obvious, too, that they are right! The rabbit is there plain as day, although what I see is a running rabbit, while Asians see a rabbit hunched over a mortar. For Chinese, the rabbit is the companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, and is preparing her elixir of life. For Japanese and Koreans, the rabbit is pounding ingredients for rice cake.
It’s been a subtle chain of occurrences, but I now realize that for a few years, rabbits have been coming into my life. I acquired a lovely ceramic planter with such a sweet rabbit face that I had to have it. Then, I bought a silver-colored planter type bowl, ringed with rabbits. After I moved to Seattle, I attended the Northwest Folklife Festival, where I met a potter among whose wares were some small dishes decorated with charming rabbits. I couldn’t resist and bought one for myself and another for a friend.
Scouring a thrift store on a road trip, I found a flat black metal figure of a rabbit. It would be perfect for my garden, I thought! Obviously I was feeling some affinity for with rabbits. Then, I received a gift of another rabbit-themed piece of pottery, a very small dish perhaps to hold sushi. It was a nice companion to the rabbit spoon rest from the festival. Another gift from a friend was a hand-painted rabbit-shaped box from India. What inspired her to give me a rabbit?
It was about then that I did realize I was starting something of a rabbit collection. When I went to Scotland, I picked up a small watercolor of a rabbit on the Isle of May.
Recently, at a neighbor’s yard sale, there were scads of garden rabbit figurines! Most were too cutesy, but one caught my eye. It was a rustic white-painted metal rabbit, sitting tall and looking more natural. This one would do. He told me his name was Benjamin, and he now watches over my garden.
Somehow the word got out and I noticed rabbits in my yard a couple times. One morning I opened my front blinds to find a cottontail happily munching grass. I quickly scanned my veggie garden to see whether anything was missing, but everything seemed fine. The bunny was eating grass and weeds. Had it not discovered my spinach, beet greens or the mass of leaf lettuce? Or were those not appetizing?
I had seen these small brown cottontails hopping about for a few months. I’m sure they were born in the big park next door. They come and go under the park fences. Lately they had become bolder and were wandering farther from the park. I had seen them outside my front fence a few times, and now, here was one, in my yard. Maybe when I made a home for Benjamin Bunny in my garden, I unwittingly placed a welcome sign out for other bunnies. Much like the custom of hobos leaving symbols for others [a cat meant “kind lady lives here,”] my inorganic rabbits signaled to their flesh-and-blood kin that this is a safe house.
I watched the one cottontail in my yard for as long as it was in view. It darted around nervously, briefly interacting with a squirrel. Did they talk to each other, like in Watership Down? Did the rabbit ask the squirrel, “Are there men here?” or “Is the food good?” The rabbit hopped out of the yard, and returned a short time later. I saw its buddy outside the fence. They both shot off toward the park.
Since reading Watership Down, I wonder about the social structure of rabbit warrens. How many local rabbits are there? How big are their burrows? In the book, the intelligent rabbits were able to communicate with other critters, and had exceptional senses of smell. Their sense of smell serves to alert them of potential dangers. They stamping of feet as an alarm is also noteworthy. They obviously have their own communication system, similar to birds’ raucous alarm calls.
I don’t expect that our rabbits actually “talk” to other creatures, but surely they are tuned into all the sounds around them, and do respond to bird alarm calls as well. Even I respond! Recently there was such a ruckus among the Stellers Jays, and I saw several crows fixed on something too. So I went out to investigate, and sure enough, there was something — a cat in the yard. Any rabbits would have made a beeline for their holes long before.
I haven’t noticed any of our rabbits in a while, but then again, I haven’t been looking very often. I trust they are fine and hopping about, munching away on the free buffet, and occasionally talking to the squirrels, mice and birds.
About this time of year, I start to notice the activity around my neighbor’s large cherry tree. Some of its branches arch over my backyard, though not low enough to pick any of the fruits now. I have tasted a few in the past and they aren’t bad.
This is a tree of many gifts. In the spring it graces us with its soft pink blossoms that have the effect of making the tree glow. After a couple weeks the petals loosen their grip and float on the air like pink snow.
Months later, after the tree has become a uniform shade of green, its true destiny begins to emerge. Tiny green fruits appear with the promise of a summer bounty. Weeks later, they slowly transform from green to a yellowish pink and pale reddish. During this time, I watch the ripening progress, knowing what is to come.
Then one day, some berries are fully red. Several years ago, I stood on my deck and watched a raccoon, at eye level, happily munch away on the cherries. This year I’ve seen no raccoon, but now that the fruit is ripe, the birds are wasting no time.
Robins fly into the tree and grab cherries, swallowing them whole. I’ve seen Cedar Waxwings do the same with Oregon grapes. How astonishing that a tiny mouth can open far enough to take in the berry, and then, even more astonishing, swallow it whole! It’s akin to a person swallowing a football! The cherries, however, are not as huge as the Oregon grapes.
Chickadees, Black-Capped and Chestnut-Backed, peck away at the fruits. I’ve also seen House Finches and House Sparrows partaking of the free repast. But the Steller Blue Jays, with their huge bills, don’t appear to eat the cherries. I would think they, of all the birds, would be devouring more than anyone else. We have hoards of the great, raucous birds.
I would also think woodpeckers would like the fruit. I once observed a Pileated Woodpecker in Maryland that was perched amusingly on a small spicebush shrub, eating its dark ripe berries. But I have seen no woodpeckers in the cherry tree.
When all the cherries have been eaten, I wonder what the next adventure will be for the birds.
Rocky Mountains, cattle, sagebrush. Now I was really getting into the west. I arrived in Denver in blazing sunshine and summer temperatures. I visited with my cousin and spent a couple days playing tourist. The Denver Art Museum had a newly modernized vibe. I got to see a couple Georgia O’Keeffes I had not seen before. The first floor bathrooms have a whimsical feature: Singing Sinks, a musical work of art! When you run a water faucet, it plays Row, Row, Row Your Boat! And if you get more than one faucet running, you’ll get a chorus! I loved it. Another fun thing that will have you chuckling is the gurgling water fountain. The architecture is a feast for the eyes, but the real star is the actual art in the museum.
Near the art museum
Denver has a lot going for it, with the Platte River running through it and the Rockies for a backdrop. What a great place to live and work. But, a little too hot and dry for me!
It was time to say goodbye and head up to Wyoming.
Cowboys, Oil Wells and Elk
Driving into Wyoming, I felt like I was entering real cowboy territory. There is a lot of land between towns. I drove past old storefronts and imagined tumbleweeds scurrying across the road. The names of the towns like Cheyenne and Laramie seemed to carry so much history with them. Between those towns I came upon a strange monument to Abraham Lincoln. I could think of no reason for it to be there. It’s a giant bronze ahead atop a 30-foot high granite base. Turns out, it originally stood at Sherman Summit, the highest point on the old Lincoln Highway. The head was moved to its current location when I-80 was completed. At more than 8,000 feet above sea level, this spot was chilly and snowflakes were swirling. The snow coated a nearby fence in a very picturesque way.
As I continued north to Jackson, I left the snow behind. A sign for Pinedale reminded me of the massive development of the oil and natural gas industry there. Drilling and fracking have been going on for decades. Impacts on wildlife such as sage grouse, pronghorn, mule deer and pygmy rabbits have been substantial.
Off to the west, I saw darkening skies, and what looked like a large rainstorm brewing. The scene was a classic western wide-angle sky. I pulled over to snap a few photos.
When I arrived in Jackson, the excitement rose as I neared my friends’ home. What a spectacular backdrop they have: Grand Teton National Park. The snowy peaks were majestic against the blue sky. We had a nice dinner out and I saw a bit of downtown Jackson, famous Jackson!
The next morning I awoke to a fresh snowfall! Just another spring day in Jackson! The snow wasn’t very deep; just enough to be pretty. I got to see more of downtown, with its famous square, set off by massive arches of elk antlers. I also got a brief tour of the national park. We tried to find a moose, but had no luck. I had never gotten a good look at one, and still haven’t.
After a good visit, it was time to head north to Montana. I headed up a pass, where a beautiful layer of snow set off conifers against a vivid blue sky. I passed a few people who were gearing up to take advantage of some late-season cross country skiing. Soon I was out of the snow and warming up again.
There are a lot of anomalies in the animal world, not unlike the human world. Animals are born albino – lacking the usual pigments, or melanistic – having darker than normal pigmentation. Some are born with extra toes or curly coats.
Eastern gray squirrels can exhibit several variations. In certain regions, many are all black. I even saw some around the U.S. Capitol that were white and light brown in color. I have learned that it’s not uncommon for them to have short tails. I have noticed one frequent visitor to my yard. I dubbed it Stubby Tail. I am not sure whether it’s female or male, but I am thinking it’s female. I recently saw it being followed closely by another squirrel, and it just seemed like a female-male thing. So, let’s say Stubby Tail is a girl.
Normally, I can’t tell one squirrel from another, unless it has a specific field mark. Stubby Tail makes it easy. And normally I have no particular affection for the rodents, as they paw through my flower beds and try to break into my bird feeders. But I have come to like Stubby Tail.
At first, I thought she had survived some sort of attack and lost part of her tail. But the more I examine it, the more I think she was born that way. The tail is about one-third the typical length, very bushy and kind of stands up, with a bouquet of fur sticking out in all directions at the end. If it had been a normal long tail, and had gotten snipped off, I think it would be straighter and just look like a tail that had lost its end half.
When I did a web search on squirrels with short tails, I turned up some interesting tidbits. Other people have observed the same phenomenon, and I found some photos that looked exactly like Stubby Tail! I was not alone and neither was Stubby Tail. My Stubby Tail gets around fine and acts pretty normal for a squirrel, as far as I can tell. Her lack of tail length does not hamper her jumping or climbing or running. No doubt her body has adapted to a different way of balancing.
There are some functions that Stubby Tail will miss: squirrel tails can provide shade against the sun and warmth against the cold. But I suspect she already knows how to cope.