Of Rollers and Royals

December 31, 2010

E.g., Mary Ann, and Ginger are the respective daughters of three sisters — Rose, Theodora, and Helen — and are thus first cousins to one another. Mary Ann was born and raised here in rural New Brunswick, grew up on a farm, and married a farmer. Ginger was raised on a different sort of farm: a plantation in Kenya. She speaks “kitchen Swahili”, as she calls it, has retained her parents’ British accent, and married a successful public relations expert. E.g. was raised in a Saint John suburb, has travelled the world, and married nobody. Like their mothers, all three women are bright, talented, modest, considerate, and friendly. I like them all.

So for this Christmas, besides painting four greeting cards for Rose, I painted two each for Mary Ann and Ginger. Mary Ann received the cards showing the Grosbeak and the Tanager that you’ve already seen. Rose’s cards included a Cardinal and an Atlantic Puffin, neither of which you’ll ever see because I forgot to photograph them (wah!).

The route to Ginger’s present was more zigzagged. I’ve been reading Sir Thomas Malory’s stories of King Arthur, and one morning I decided to paint the dragon of which Arthur dreams, that presages his reinstatement as Holy Roman Emperor. Here’s the beast now, straight out of Turtle’s feverish brain, displaying both birdliness and an eerie resemblance to Marlon Brando in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:

Now, if there’s one surefire topic on this side of the family, it’s the Royals. With Prince William’s wedding date set, I thought Ginger might appreciate this card hearkening back to England’s “first” king.

The second card was a challenge. In the library, I found a book on Kenyan wildlife. It’s forty years old, and the colour photographs have deteriorated. Still, how hard could it be to draw and paint a Lilac-breasted Roller or a Superb Starling?

Very.

After two attempts at the Roller, I gave up in despair. The shading didn’t make sense, the colours didn’t work together. I just couldn’t “get” this one. And I was running out of time.

As in, Dinner at Ginger and Blake’s was that evening.

Back to Malory. My edition is chockfull of illustrations, everything from medieval manuscripts to Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I chose one of Arthur and Guenever, and…and…I cheated. Instead of drawing the figures and architectural details freehand, I traced them and then used transfer paper to copy them onto the greeting card. I didn’t even have time to do a preliminary painting in my notebook.

My picture does vary in several ways from the one in the book. The illustration in the book is black-and-white, so I chose the colours. The wallpaper flowers had five petals; I drew four petals. The original expression on Guenever’s dog is one of a monkey with indigestion, and the rear and tail are visible; I tucked a happier pup into her cloak. Arthur’s dog was originally a fold in his robe that I misinterpreted in tracing. I liked the idea so much, though, that I kept it. From thence came the inspiration for the silly caption. Oh, and yes, the original artist had Arthur holding two gloves.

It sez, “Arthur and Guenever dispute which hound hath devoured the king’s other gauntlet.”

Alas, my gift backfired. Handing me the envelopes, Ginger vowed she would never mail the cards. She would, instead, frame them. I wonder if they’ll go in the room where that big frame is hung, the one with squares of linen painted with Kenyan birds, including the Lilac-breasted Roller and the Superb Starling?

***

Happy New Year, everyone! See you next year!


Light in the Darkness

December 23, 2010

Here in the North, the longest night has just passed.

Here in the North, the gardens are empty, the leaves fallen.

Here in the North, the blackness of night and the whiteness
of snow are the chief colours.

We welcome the fir tree, ever green.

We encircle it with lights, to call forth the growing light.

We trim it with talismans, memories of past places,
memorials to the dead.

It is sacred.

May your holidays be blessed. We’ll see you next week.


(Wordless Wednesday) “I hear the feature exhibit is a cafeteria plate of fries and gravy.”

December 22, 2010

Hint:  If you don’t get it, check the rollover tag for a clue.


Nature Soft in Tooth and Claw

December 18, 2010

A suspiciously tidy kitchen cupboard

My recent post about Josephine the compost rat  having generated a goodly number of comments from you, dear readers, I’ve decided to write a double postscript to it.

Postscript I.

First, Colleen Dick mentioned “pantry moths”, a good, descriptive, polite-company name for them. While I don’t know their proper name, I think Seabrooke would classify them as “micromoths” (she would know, being half the team preparing the upcoming Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America).

Pantry moths are itty-bitty, skinny brown things. It takes two of them to make a family, and one family to make an invasion. The white, pink-tinged caterpillars enjoy cornmeal or other grains, dried beans, or even dried fruits. They can chew through plastic bags. They spin their winsome little cocoons in any modest cranny. Both larvae and adult are slow, stupid, soft, and squishable. Ugh.

So the other day, E.g. and I cleaned the food cupboards, discarding wormy grains, reducing cocoon hideouts, and gathering like objects — teas, pastas, dried fruit, legumes — into sealable containers.

And guess which lucky rat is benefiting from the composted chickpeas, bulgur, and dates?

More tidiness! What do you make of it, Inspector?

Postscript II.

Second, Alyson asked whether corgis don’t have the ratter instinct. I don’t know about Pembroke Welsh Corgis (the “Queen’s Dog”), but yes, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi was originally bred as an all-purpose farmhand, whose duties included rat-catching.

It was Fergus and Cai, in fact, who originally alerted me to Josephine’s presence this Fall. Fergus, especially, kept hanging around the compost bin, circling three sides of it, or snuffling the narrow space between bin and lean-to.

One day, as I was shoveling out some finished compost through a bottom hatch, I heard a squeak, a rustle of dry leaves, and a soft clatter where Josephine had fled through a gap in the lean-to wall. Now I knew for sure: a) she’s moved in, and b) she’s safe from the Cardis.

A few weeks after the bustle-and-squeak incident, I noticed the furchildren hesitating near the raised veggie patch beds. As I walked towards them, Fergus picked up something in his mouth to show me. “No no, drop it!” I called, and he laid it down again: a dead rat.

I picked the thing up in a gloved palm to dispose of it, and was surprised to find it still gasping for breath. I have since read in Rattie’s blog that rats don’t tend to live long, so maybe the poor thing was dying when Cai and Fergus found it. At any rate, I carried it just beyond our back fence, and sprinkled a few dry leaves over it for a privacy screen.

What fascinates me, Al, is that for all Fergus’s interest in the compost bin, and Cai’s delight in shaking the shoot out of rubber throw-toys, neither had the instinct  — the heart? — to dispatch that poor old rat.

Look at that topline! Cai trees an oatmeal stout mash tun.


(Wordless Wednesday) Airmail

December 15, 2010


Care and Feeding of Your Compost Rat

December 13, 2010

Frankly, I was a little worried last Winter.

From our dining room window, I could watch a rat going about its business some 15 feet away. It had made a home for itself below the mixed-seed bird feeder, its burrow entrance jutting through the snow.

Fortunately, Barefootheart (who’s having a birthday today!!) allayed my fears. She predicted that the rat would move along come Spring, and wouldn’t try to enter our house. And, when Spring came, Barefootheart’s prediction was confirmed.

Barefootheart also referred to the rat as a “she”.

So this October, when Somebody moved into our fancy plastic compost bin, I decided to name her “Josephine”. The dogs know she’s there, but she’s safe from them. She’s also a whole lot further from our house than last year’s Winter Rat, who gave no trouble. Why not let her be, then?

Frost beside a hole -- I'm guessing this is Josephine's bedroom.

And guess what? Robbie Burns’s philosophy, “I’ll get a blessin’ with the lave”, is proving true, too.

In Composting 201, we all learned that the transformation of banana peels into garden soil is facilitated by:

– air circulation;

– a little extra soil;

– stirring;

– chopping of vegetable matter;

– warmth;

– moisture;

– nitrogen.

Josephine provides all this. She has formed tunnels, excavated underneath the bin, and mounded up the pile in the back left corner, to make a comfortable home. She eats the kitchen scraps that appeal to her, and buries the rest. Her wee body, the length of your hand and the girth of your fist, adds a little warmth to the otherwise stone-cold wintertime bin, and her breath adds moisture. And the nitrogen? Well…some of us refer to it more commonly as “piddle”.

When Spring comes, Josephine will move to the blackberry patch on the City land, and I will have the loveliest barrowloads of garden food.

These happy thoughts have led to increased consideration of the kitchen compost bucket’s contents. Will this cabbage core give her gas? Will she enjoy this nice squash rind? Should I “accidentally” add this bit of pork chop fat?

One day recently, I did contribute a nonfood item. I was trimming ends on some all-cotton dishcloths, and…

Clementine rinds, chamomile flowers, and cotton bedding bits.

Josephine has squirreled away every last thread.


(Wordless Wednesday) How He Knows If You’ve Been Bad or Good

December 8, 2010

Hint: check rollover tags.