Friday, August 31, 2007

Centaurea, Knapweed

Knapweed flower and buds

The feathered bracts on the involucres finally helped me identify these pretty flowers as knapweed, genus Centaurea. I haven't been able to do any better than that yet. Some Centaurea species are invasive exotics while others are North American natives. These may be some escaped horticultural variety. Whatever they are, they are doing very well in a clearing near our house, and I think they are lovely.

knapweed, showing diagnostic bracts Knapweed blossom

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pita Bread

A few weeks ago, I was grocery shopping near the Interstate, where they get those city groceries, and I bought a package of pita bread. It wasn't very good pita bread, but it got me thinking about how I hadn't had any in years. After an Internet search, I started testing pita bread recipes. It's quicker and easier to make than I expected, and I love to see the flat bread dough rounds puff up into off-kilter balls in the oven. For me, it's both food and entertainment.

I favored a bread machine recipe because I'm lazy and because room temperature in this house is seldom conducive to yeast incubation. I modified the recipe and directions for better results, and what follows is a recipe that works well for me.

1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 TBS oil
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Place all ingredients in bread pan, select Dough setting and start. When dough has risen long enough, machine will beep. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll and stretch dough into 12" rope. Preheat oven to 500°F, making sure you have an oven rack in the lowest position.

With a sharp knife, divide dough into 6 pieces. With a rolling pin, or by hand, form each piece of dough into a circle 6 to 7 inches in diameter. Set aside on a lightly floured counter top. Cover with a towel. Let dough circles rest a few minutes. Handle with care while rolling and transferring. Holes and tears prevent them from puffing up in the oven.

Place 2 or 3 pitas on a wire rack. (I'm using the porcelain-covered racks from our smoker. Cake racks will do, but racks out of discarded appliances like toaster ovens are more substantial, and work better.) Place your small rack directly on the oven rack. Bake pitas 4 to 5 minutes until puffed and tops begin to brown. Avoid over-baking, or the pitas will turn hard and brittle. Remove from oven and immediately cover pitas with a damp kitchen towel until cool.

These are recipes I tried, and from which I "developed" the recipe above.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cucumber Claws

Cucumber blossom

Cucumbers picked from the garden have bumpy skins, with a small blunt spine in the center of every wart. (If your knowledge of cucumbers is solely from the grocery store, you won't have encountered these, as they are brushed off when the cucumbers are oiled for cosmetic purposes.) While the cucumbers are still just unfertilized ovaries, they already have those little spines, and as the fertilized fruits start to develop, the spines are fully formed and stickery, like kitten claws.

Tiny cucmber, with dried blossom still attatched

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hand Me Down My Walking Stick

I always enjoy seeing walking sticks--that is, sticks that walk, not sticks to assist people walking. These insects are as difficult to write about as they are to photograph. It's not that they won't hold still--they are very obliging, as their frozen poses make them resemble twigs even more. It's just that they are so long, and so inanimate--how can you capture their strangeness in a photograph?

I'd hoped to clarify what I was talking about with a scientific name, but the walking sticks are members of the orthopteroid orders, and Internet taxonomic schemas are inconsistent in naming the stick insects. I'm going to follow Willi Hennig (1981), my grad school hero, in calling them phasmids.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Harlequin Bug

Harlequin bug, adult

I'm sure these are the first harlequin bugs we've had in our garden since we've lived here. Murgantia histrionica is big and showy, and this year it's abundant on the broccoli. No heteropterist would have overlooked a pentatomid this striking. I was surprised and pleased to find that the eggs of this species are as beautifully marked as the adults. Too bad about the broccoli.

Harlequin bug eggs

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Disquieting Tomatoes

Hillbilly tomato, ridge and valley

This year I experimented with some heirloom garden seeds. Although our garden looked pretty early in the season, the alternating heat, cold, heat and drought of the last few weeks have taken their toll.

The beans and broccoli did not do well for us, but I have plenty of tomatoes for canning sauces and ketchup. They're not ideal, easy-to-slice, easy-to-peel tomatoes, though. The Hillbilly tomatoes are rough and gnarled, and many of the Amish Paste tomatoes sport noses and perhaps other appendages. These extraneous tomato ovaries range from diverting to disturbing.

Amish paste tomato with extraneous appendage

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gathering Pollen

Bee gathering pollen

The field thistles see plenty of traffic these days. Although honeybee visitors are scarce, there are plenty of native bees gathering pollen.

Native bee on thistle

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Monosodium Glutamate

Recently, I wondered "Where do they get monosodium glutamate?" If you buy a jar of "Accent," or bulk MSG from a Chinese grocery store, where does it come from? Chemistry is a topic well-covered by the World Wide Web, and I found the answer soon enough. I guessed correctly from the name that monosodium glutamate is a salt of glutamic acid (an amino acid), and I learned that commerical glutamate is a product of bacterial fermentation (like yogurt), starting with molasses, sugar beets, tapioca and/or grains, and a culture of Corynebacterium glutamicum.

I was surprised that there was so much emotional baggage associated with MSG. I didn't really want to know what other people thought about MSG; I wanted to know how it was made. I had to wade through ubiquitous editorializing to find that information.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Accordion Universe

I don't understand why some musical instruments strike people as funny. If you dropped an accordion and a banjo off the Empire State Building, which would hit the ground first? Who cares? What's the difference between an accordion and a chainsaw? You can tune a chainsaw. That's the spirit of this article: Accordionists in D.C.: They Aim To Squeeze by Joshua Zumbrun, Washington Post Staff Writer (Saturday, August 18, 2007).

Despite the mockery, it's good to see the accordion get a little attention and respect.

Imagine a universe exactly like ours in every way but for a lone exception: There is only one type of music. Accordion music.

This week, such parallel universes have collided.

The rift in the cosmic fabric could be found at the Holiday Inn Commonwealth Ballroom in Old Town Alexandria, site of the 60th annual Coupe Mondiale, the World Cup of accordion competitions for younger players.

In Accordion Universe, all music is powered by the swaying bellows pulling air in, pushing it out. There's the familiar oompa-oompa-oompa of polka everywhere, yes, but the instruments also can play whimsical pop and mournful ballads. All types of music, in fact, with the soft drone of the keyboard being pushed to and fro.

The scene at the hotel on Tuesday night for the competition's opening performance is much like any international gathering. A melange of languages wafts through the lobby; bags droop below the eyes of jet-lagged travelers. But our universe ends and this universe begins as someone pushes a birdcage bellman's cart through the doors; it's laden not with suitcases but a pile of accordion cases. At the end of the hallway, accordionists are practicing a difficult riff. And in the rooms, strains of accordion jazz and accordion pop and accordion polka mix with spoken French and Chinese and Danish.

"The soundtrack of life is full of accordions," says Faithe Deffner, the U.S. delegate to, and vice president of, the Confederation of International Accordionists, which stages the Coupe Mondiale every year. "People don't see accordions very much, but they're always in commercials, television, movies."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Burdock Disgrace

Burdock blossoms

I've been enjoying Ada E. Georgia's 1914 handbook, Manual of Weeds, subtitled With Descriptions of All of the Most Pernicious and Troublesome Plants In the United States and Canada, Their Habits of Growth and Distribution, With Methods of Control. It's part of a series edited by Liberty Hyde Bailey, Cornell University's Uberbotanist, entitled The Rural Manuals. Bailey's Manual of Cultivated Plants, a reference I use frequently, was evidently conceived as part of this series.

Ms. Georgia and Dr. Bailey both bristle with that old Yankee urge to set the world straight on how Things Should Be Done, and I was particularly taken with Georgia's account of Burdock (Arctium sp.), the plant I photographed by our woodpile last week.

The presence of one of these huge weeds in flower and fruit should be considered a disgrace to the owner of the soil so occupied, for it must have remained in undisturbed possession of the ground for the necessary second year of growth before reproduction.

The root is enormous; often three inches thick, driving straight downward for a foot or more and then branching in all directions, taking strong hold on the soil and grossly robbing it....

Burdock roots and seeds are used in medicine and the destruction of the weeds may sometimes be made profitable; roots should be collected in autumn of the first year of growth, cleaned, sliced lengthwise, and carefully dried; the price is three to eight cents a pound; ripe seeds bring five to ten cents a pound.

I shudder to think what she would say about Pocahontas County, for every local fleece I've tried to work up and spin has been riddled with burdock seed heads. No sane spinner would ever buy a second fleece in such a condition. The sheep farmers hereabout sell their wool in a wool pool, which means that there's no incentive to keep their fields burdock-free if the other farmers don't. All the wool brings the same price, and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture reports that our wool is exported to Europe, where it is used to make felt for industrial machinery. One local handspinner I met raised and sheared her own sheep, and spent much time every year digging the burdock out of her fields. A life-long sheep farmer, spinner, and weaver, she told me she threw away fleeces with burdock contamination.

Burdock plant, a favorite meal of some animals

Monday, August 20, 2007

Buzzing Bombyliid

Bee fly, at rest in the sun

These large, showy flies are common here, buzzing conspicuously around the yard. They are called bee flies, family Bombyliidae, because they sound like bees. Some species look like bees too, but this one doesn't (at least, not to me). Their larvae are parasitic on the larvae of other insects. Caterpillars, grubs, hymenopteran larvae in their nests, and grasshopper eggs are common hosts. I've read that after the bombyliid flies lay eggs on a wasp's nest, each fly hatchling crawls into a brood cell and waits until the wasp larva has completely consumed the paralyzed prey its own mother has provided. The maggot then consumes the fully-fattened wasp larva.

The adults feed harmlessly on nectar and pollen.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Underwing Moth In Mourning For Taxonomic Stability

Underwing moth, cryptic forewings

Underwing or Catocola moths are common on Droop Mountain, and there are quite a few species with colorfully-striped hindwings of yellow, orange, or pink. Thursday night's rain brought a nice crop of Friday morning moths, and of course I nudged this large individual, anticipating a surprising flash of color. I got a real surprise this time, for the moth took flight, with flashes of intense flat black. Lucky for me it didn't fly far or high, and I was able to get a picture of the hindwings.

There are Catocolas with specific epithets like lachrymosa and dejecta, and I've seen these funeral hindwings in field guides and collections, but this was my first black Underwing on the wing.

Underwing moth, displaying black hindwings

Historically, the Underwings are members of the Noctuidae, but that family was a taxonomic dumping ground, and lepidopterists have been working clean-up for some time. The Noctuoidea of Eastern Canada includes Catocola in the Noctuiidae. has placed Catocola in the Eribidae. Curiously, both resources cite the same taxonomic authority: "Kitching, I.J., and J.E. Rawlins. 1999. (The Noctuoidea, pp. 355-401 in Kristensen N.P. (editor). Lepidoptera: Moths and butterflies. Volume 1: Evolution, systematics and biogeography. Handbook of Zoology/Handbuch der Zoologie. Walter de Gruyter. Berlin/New York)."

Underwing moth, head and thorax

Saturday, August 18, 2007

White Snakeroot--Pretty, Toxic

White snakeroot inflorescence

It seems our little field is a cornucopia of toxic plants, both native and introduced. I've long recognized this as "some sort of Eupatorium," but I decided it was time for more precision. Because I don't have the "Compositae" volume of The Flora of West Virginia, I turned to my field guide collection, and soon determined this was White Snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum, a native plant. When I visited the USDA Plant Database to confirm my identification, I learned that Eupatorium rugosum is a junior synonym of Ageratina altissima (L.). I haven't identified when the revision occurred, but a huge, widely-distributed genus like Eupatorium sensu latu was bound to need some taxonomic attention.

White Snakeroot is the cause of "the milk sick" that killed Nancy Hanks, described here by Lincoln's law partner, William Hernodon:

In the fall of 1818, the scantily settled region in the vicinity of Pigeon Creek [Indiana] ... suffered a visitation of that dread disease common in the West in early days, and known in the vernacular of the frontier as "the milk sick."

It hovered like a spectre over the Pigeon Creek settlement for over ten years, and its fatal visitation and inroads among the Lincolns, Hankses, and Sparrows finally drove that contingent into Illinois.

To this day the medical profession has never agreed upon any definite cause for the malady, nor have they in all their scientific wrangling determined exactly what the disease itself is....A fatal termination may take place in sixty hours, or life may be prolonged for a period of fourteen days.... Sometimes it runs into the chronic form, or it may assume that form from the commencement, and after months or years the patient may finally die or recover only a partial degree of health."

When the western frontier still lay in the Eastern Deciduous Forest, cattle often wandered into the woods to browse on White Snakeweed. It not only poisoned the cows, but was concentrated and passed along in the cows' milk. The settlers were correct in naming milk as the cause, although the "medical establishment" was slow to catch on. White snakeroot... by George Ellison for The Smokey Mountain News describes the "milk sick" history:

Milk Sick Cove ... Milk Sick Holler ... Milk Sick Ridge ... Milk Sick Knob ... and similar place names are common throughout the southern mountains. They are so-called because of an association with a once mysterious and deadly disease known variously as "milk sick" or "milk sickness" or"puke fever" or "the slows" or "the trembles."

....The search for the killer plant is filled with wrong turns, chauvinism, regionalism, and general pigheadedness. In the 19th century scientific research was concentrated in the northeastern United States where milk sickness did not occur; accordingly, the problem was viewed from a theoretical perspective rather than from a practical and preventative one....

In 1838, an Ohio farmer, suspecting that white snakeroot might be the cause, fed leaves from the plant to some of his animals. Sure enough, they developed milk sickness and died. The farmer published his exciting find in the local newspaper. But farmers don't make medical discoveries, do they? No, at that time, only certified professionals were allowed to make discoveries. A famous eastern physician, Dr. Daniel Drake, denounced the farmer's experiments. He was sure that the cause was poison ivy. Dr. Drake, alas, helped set back milk sick research and treatment for nearly a century, causing, indirectly, thousands upon thousands of deaths, predominantly infants.

At about the same time, Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby came into the Illinois wilderness with her family. Upset by the poor health of her neighbors, she decided to become a physician and returned to Philadelphia to take training in nursing, midwifery, and dental extraction, the only courses women offered to women at that time.

After her return to Illinois, an epidemic tore through the little settlement where she resided and practiced as Doctor Anna. She noted in her diary that the humans and animals contracting the disease had been drinking milk. In an attempt to locate the "guilty" plant, she followed grazing cattle, observing the plants they fed upon. But she was baffled in her field research until she happened upon an elderly Indian medicine woman known as Aunt Shawnee. When Doctor Anna described what she was looking for to Aunt Shawnee, the older woman took her into the woods and pointed to white snakeroot.

Like the Ohio farmer, Doctor Anna tested the plant on a calf, which soon developed "the trembles," while other animals not fed the plant were fine. She started a white snakeroot eradication program that virtually eliminated milk sickness from southeastern Illinois within three years. Wanting other doctors to know about white snakeroot, she grew a patch in her garden and wrote letters inviting physicians to come and examine it for themselves....The eastern medical establishment, alas, ignored the findings of the two women....

Finally, in the 1920s, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture led by Dr. James Couch isolated from white snakeroot a highly complex alcohol they named tremetol. More recent research has refined the original USDA scientific analysis, but the culprit plant had, finally, been officially "discovered." Information was spread in the late 1920s throughout the medical and agricultural communities. Fencing laws and supervised milk production largely solved the milk sick problem....

White snakeroot, habitat shot

Some further information about White Snakeroot:

  • Photographs and descriptions of the flowering and non-flowering plants of Missouri, USA

    Flowering - July - October. Habitat - Rich, rocky woods, base of wooded bluffs, rock outcrops, thickets. Origin - Native to U.S.

    Other info. - This species can be found throughout Missouri and is quite common. The plant is variable in its pubescence and a couple different forms are mentioned in Steyermark. I won't go into those here.

    This species is very toxic if eaten in quantity as it contains barium sulphate. Cows which graze on the plant produce poisonous milk and this was the cause of death for a number of pioneers in this country.

    American Indians used a tea made from the roots to help diarrhea, painful urination, fevers, and kidney stones. The plant was also burned and the smoke used to revive unconscious patients.

  • USDA Plant Database has it as Ageratina altissima (L.) and lists Eupatorium rugosum as a junior synonym, as does
  • Connecticut Botanical Society.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ladies Tresses--An Orchid Surprise

Ladies' Tresses--Tiny orchid flowers

I spotted this little orchid early this week in a weedy field we've recently started to mow. There were two flower spikes, about 14 inches tall, with no leaves associated. The flowers must be ephemeral, because, when I visited them a day later, they were gone, and another spike had sprung up a few feet away. These are "Ladies' Tresses," the genus Spiranthes. I've learned that there are 32 described species, and that they are a challenge to key. My North American field guides differentiate among them in part on leaf shape, although admitting that often leaves and flowers are not present at the same time. There's one challenge right there.

Spiranthes is certainly good enough for me. It's a pretty name for a lovely plant, and it refers to the spiral arrangement of flowers on the inflorescence.

Ladies' Tresses inflorescence--orchids in a weedy field

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Galinsoga, Quickweed

Galinsoga plant

This little garden weed has been bothering me since I moved to Droop Mountain. Springing up in new-tilled soil almost instantly, it has eluded my attempts to identify it. People around here call it "Devil's Delight," and that is certainly fitting, but I wasn't able to identify it with any of my field guides, and I don't have the "Compositae" volume of The Flora of West Virginia.

This week I finally found it in Manual of Weeds by Ada E. Georgia (1914). It's called "Galinsoga," which is its generic name as well. Galinsoga is native to South America, where it is used as a spice. It's named after an eighteenth century Spanish physician. Although it has a world-wide distribution, it doesn't seem to have an English name that's really stuck to it. It's sometimes called "Gallant Soldier," evidently a misinterpretation of the scientific name, and Newcomb's Wildflower Guide also calls it "Quickweed." It definitely is quick to sprout, and quick to flower.

Galinsoga inflorescence

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Unknown Lygus vanduzeei

Lygus vanduzeei, a pretty plant bug, on a White Snake Root inflorescence

I think this mirid is Lygus vanduzeei Knight, 1917. I've keyed out quite a few individuals of this species in my day, although I can't do it now, as a microscope is necessary. You'll have to take this as a provisional identification. The mirid is posing on a White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima (L.)) inflorescence.

Although handsomely-marked, this bug has not been the subject of life history studies. Unlike its much-studied congener, Lygus lineolaris, (the Tarnished Plant Bug), Lygus vanduzeei has never received a common name, and, while widespread, it is not abundant or agriculturally significant enough to warrant much study from entomologists. Like most insects, it goes about its business of eating and making more insects without any human attention.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Field Thistle

Thistle Buds

The thistle buds have finally popped open. People around here call them "bull thistles," but my field guide awards that name to a different species. I think this is the "Field Thistle," characterized by its deeply cut leaves and the felted white hairs on their undersides.

Field thistle blossom

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cryptic Coreid, Bitter Blackberries

Ripening blackberries

The blackberries are scarce this year, and the ones I've found are small and bitter. That doesn't seem to matter to this coreid nymph, who is cryptic indeed among the blighted blackberry leaves.

Coreid nymph on blackberry leaves

Longtime Pocahontas County residents recall a time when people picked blackberries by the gallon. Jim Comstock rhapsodized on blackberry season in West Virginia, and how it provided abundant fruit for any person energetic enough to go berry picking. Those days seem behind us in Pocahontas County, perhaps because the forest has returned to land logged and burned in the early twentieth century. The trees have simply shaded out the blackberries, huckleberries, and wild strawberries. Deer browsing may also play a role, but I've noticed blackberry canes and huckleberry bushes are still abundant--they're just sterile.

Blackberry blossoms

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ownership of The Good Earth Manuscript

Pearl S. Buck portrait

This article about Pearl Buck's The Good Earth manuscript appeared in last week's Pocahontas Times, and has gone behind their firewall. I thought it significant enough to warrant a longer circulation time, so here is an excerpt.

For the record, I think it would be a terrible mistake for any more Buck manuscripts to be housed in Hillsboro. The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace used to display the manuscript of Absalom Sydenstricker's translation of the Bible into Chinese, until it was destroyed through carelessness a couple of years ago. Sydenstricker was Buck's father, and his translation from Hebrew and Greek into Chinese was the first Chinese Bible, and is still in use. The old Stulting house contains an assemblage of late nineteenth century furniture and bric-a-brac unrelated to Buck or her family, and the ladies that maintain the landmark find this stuff much more significant than some unintelligible old manuscript. It costs $6 to tour this faux-plantation house, and for many people, it is only a chance to brag that someone once had enough money to build an ostentatious house in Hillsboro.

Good Earth unearthed: Rightful home of manuscript May be in Hillsboro by Drew Tanner, August 2, 2007 Pocahontas Times

While Pennsylvania-based Pearl S. Buck International and the author's heirs have been in the national spotlight in their dispute over the ownership of a long-lost manuscript, the rightful owners may be right here in Pocahontas County.

In June, the FBI recovered Buck's original, type-written manuscript of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Good Earth, in a suitcase of Buck's personal documents and letters after the daughter of one of the author's former secretaries tried to put the items up for auction. Officials at the Samuel T. Freeman & Company auction house notified investigators of the find.

In a bill of sale recorded at the Pocahontas County Courthouse, Buck signed over all of her manuscripts to the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation for one dollar in 1970, "including... the Good Earth manuscript[,] the exact location of which is unknown."

Members of the Foundation have been hesitant to make much of their claim to the manuscript, saying they are more interested in promoting Buck's legacy than causing a stir with PSBI or the author's family.

However, they insist, the manuscript belongs with the others the foundation owns, which are stored in an archive at West Virginia Wesleyan College, in Buckhannon. They are currently working with an attorney to figure out how to proceed.

Foundation board member Ruth Taylor said she would like to see a permanent home for the manuscripts constructed at the author's birthplace, in Hillsboro, as the author and the foundation originally intended.

Retired Lewisburg attorney Robert Jacobson said he was at Pearl Buck's home in Vermont when she made the decision to turn over possession of the manuscripts the evening of October 15, 1970.

....Buck wanted to be able to tell representatives from PSBI that she had already conveyed her manuscripts to the Birthplace Foundation. In order to do that, Jacobson said he told the author she needed to record that decision in writing.

The value of the manuscripts, estimated at the time to be worth between $650,000 and $1 million, helped the foundation secure the grants necessary to restore the author's birthplace. Buck was active in promoting the restoration of the house, and penned the memoir My Mother's House to further aid the foundation in its efforts.

The Birthplace Foundation has since restored the house to the way it appeared in 1892, the author's birth year. The house is open for tours from May through October, and the foundation has two employees who sell tickets, guide tours and keep the house clean. The house is full of many of Buck's personal effects, family heirlooms and period furnishings.

....In Hillsboro, the birthplace gets much of its support from the West Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs, said foundation president Rose Anderson. Additional income is received from private donations, people who pay to tour the house and sales at the gift shop. Taylor said the birthplace receives just a few thousand visitors each year, but that she would like to see that change.

....With an archive of the manuscripts on site, Taylor said she envisions the birthplace as a center of study on Buck's writings and her role as a leader of civil rights and women's rights, and as a pioneer in international adoption and racial understanding.

....The manuscript and the suitcase of documents in which it was found are being held by the FBI until the rightful owner is determined.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Thistle Suspense

Thistle bud

These thistles are keeping me in suspense since I started watching them several days ago. The handsome, silky bracts subtending the inflorescences have unfurled, but the capitate inflorescenses are still curled up inside these swelling buds.

Another thistle bud

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Potato Blossom, Potato Salad

Potato plant blossom

Potatoes are not prized for their flowers. I thought this bud was rather handsome, but it (and all the others) aborted without even opening. To accompany this delicate pink blossom, I have clipped the recipe for "Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad from HINTS FROM HELOISE, Tuesday, August 7, 2007; Page C08. I think a half recipe would be plenty, at least until you're sure you like it.


2 pounds small redskin potatoes (unpeeled), washed and boiled
1 bunch of green onions, sliced, saving the tops for garnishing
1 can water chestnuts (drained), diced
8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
16 ounces sour cream
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon dill weed
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika (optional)

Slice just-cooled (but not cold) potatoes and put into a large bowl. Add green onions and water chestnuts to potatoes. Mix blue cheese, sour cream, vinegar, celery seed and dill weed together and pour over potato mix. Stir gently. (Warm potatoes absorb the flavors better.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle paprika and remaining green-onion tops over potato mix. Chill for two hours or overnight, which is best for flavors to blend.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Narrow Leaf Plantain

Narrow Leaf Plantain, closeup of inflorescence

I like Plantago lanceolata, Narrowleaf Plantain. This is my excuse for leaving it unmolested in the lawn, but if you take a close look at the inflorescences, you see their charm. These tiny white anthers are attached to the stamens in such a way that they quiver and dance with the slightest breeze. They're never quite still.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Feud Anniversary

"On This Day in West Virginia History:" On August 7, 1882, Ellison Hatfield was mortally wounded at an election day gathering in Kentucky. His death and the subsequent murder of his assailants were among the most noted events of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.

Ellison Hatfield in Civil War uniform. His brutal murder in 1882 ignited the famous Hatfield-McCoy Feud. The inscription at bottom of photo reads: "Ellison Hatfield Died Aug 1882 Father Age 33 years Gone but not forgotten."

There are several different theories about what event started the Hatfield-McCoy feud, but Elias Hatfield's death was the first in the most deadly period of the feud. An article by Shirley Donnelly Hatfield-McCoy Feud 75 Years Old Today (Beckley Post-Herald) August 7, 1957 has some information about the election-day killing I hadn't seen before. It's also an excellent "sorting out" of the complex web of duplicate names and kinships among and between the Kentucky and West Virginia families. I have edited out a little of the cute hillbilly talk the reporter affected.

Ellison Hatfield's Murder; A Scene from A Mountain Feud

...Aug. 7, 1882, fell on a Monday and they were having an election in Kentucky. If you are up on the history of Kentucky you are well acquainted with the fact that an election in Kentucky is an occasion on which anything can happen - and usually does. They were voting that day on the usual state and county offices and on whether to increase the school tax....On Blackberry Creek, a tributary of the Tug, the polls were open at sunrise. This particular polling place was on Hatfield Branch, a small run that empties into Blackberry just above Mateways, W.Va. Jerry Hatfield's home was there.

Across Turkey Foot Ridge on Blackberry Fork of Pond Creek stood the cabin of Randolph McCoy, who had a bunch of bad boys. Hatfields lived on both the West Virginia and Kentucky sides of the Tug and they had some bad boys, too.

Since the days of the Civil War - it had then only been a bit over 17 years since Appomattox - there had been bad blood and ill feeling between these two large families. William Anderson ("Devil Anse") Hatfield was the father of 13 children and Randolph (Rand'l) McCoy had done equally well in production. Those 13 children in each of these old mountain families spelled out bad luck in capital letters, - that is, bad for each of those two families.

The McCoy family hated the Hatfields because Johnson ("Johnse") Hatfield, handsome son of Devil Anse, had enjoyed a clandestine affair with Rose Anne McCoy, comely mountain lassie, the daughter of Randolph McCoy. Then too, the death of Harmon McCoy distilled still more hatred between the two big families. These two families had been on opposing sides in the Civil War, it should be stated. Also Floyd Hatfield, cousin of Devil Anse, and Randolph McCoy, had married sisters.

In 1873 these two brothers-in-law had a law suit over a sow and some pigs. Rand'l McCoy claimed the hogs but Floyd Hatfield said they were his'n. But the hogs went to Hatfield. Witnesses were accused of lying in Squire Anderson (Preacher Anse) Hatfield's court which was held in his house. Fuel was added to the flame of hatred between the two families, the McCoys and the Hatfields, as a result of the trial....

On that Monday 75 years ago today, Preacher Anderson Hatfield was one of the election officials and he was the best one of all the Hatfields, it was thought. He had a brother they called "Bad" Lias because he was a heavy drinker and was mean besides. Devil Anse had a brother named Elias but he wasn't as bad as "Bad 'Lias."

Both "Bad" 'Lias and Devil Anse's brother Elias were at the Kentucky election to watch political trends and otherwise pass the time of day. Preacher Anse Hatfield was only 47 years old at that time but most of the Hatfields minded him because he was a "Hardshell" Baptist minister. Among the Hatfields present that day, but not voting, was Ellison Hatfield, a Lieutenant in Pickett's Division and one who was in Pickett's immortal charge at Gettysburg on July 3,, 19 years before this election day.

Father of 11 children, Ellison Hatfield was a handsome and powerful man. He was wearing a big broad straw hat which they called a "Sundown" hat and everyone was kidding him about. Ellison turned taunts, aside by saying "I brought you some roughness for your cattle," alluding, of course, to his immense straw hat.

Drinking was rife that day and those with old grudges were carrying chips on their shoulders. Everyone was looking for trouble, it seemed....Suddenly an open quarrel flared up...Tolbert McCoy, 31, son of Randolph McCoy, had bounced "Bad 'Lias" Hatfield to pay him the $1.75 which Tolbert claimed was due him on a fiddle he had recently sold "Bad 'Lias."

....Tolbert's two brothers, Phamer, 19, and Randolph McCoy Jr., 15, joined in the quarrel and backed up their brother Tolbert. At this juncture, up came Ellison Hatfield, drunk, and in a foul mood. Tolbert McCoy stalked Ellison Hatfield and reported to the Gettysburg hero that, "I'm hell on earth."

Ellison said, "You're a d-n (vulgar word) hog."

A fight ensued and Ellison Hatfield was stabbed and shot. Guns leaped from pockets and other shots were fired in anger. Those three McCoy boys were subsequently arrested and were being taken to Pikeville jail when Devil Anse and his friends took them away from the law officers.

After being taken to the home of Anderson Ferrel in Warm Hollow, just back of the depot at Matewan, Ellison Hatfield expired the afternoon of Aug. 9,1882. Those 26 stab wounds and gashes, plus his gunshot wound, were too much for him.

That night the three McCoys were taken across the Tug at Matewan and shot to death in a paw paw thicket.

Now, Ellison Hatfield (brother to "Devil Anse") died in 1882, and Matewan was founded in 1895, with the coming of the railroad, so there's at least one factual problem with this account.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sphinx Moths In the House

This year, I've been surprised to find several of these small Sphinx moths in the house. (This tells you some unfortunate news about the structural integrity of our house.) There are several tree-feeding species which sport this handsome eye spot pattern on the hindwings.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

New Software For My Aging Hardware

I grabbed the net-installation disk image for Debian Etch in early April this year, and I tested it on my "expendable" computer, but it wasn't until last week that I tried to upgrade my "work" machines.

I retained my Debian Sarge system because I knew from bitter experience that the upgrade from kernel 2.4.x to 2.6.x was not going go smoothly with a simple

apt-get dist-upgrade
If I wanted the latest and greatest security and rendering upgrades in Web browsers and a current version of OpenOffice, I was going to have to back up my data and install Etch from scratch.

I discovered that the 2.6 kernel can't be installed on my Pentium II machine. No way, no how. The installer just crashes, no matter what I do. That machine is staying with Sarge, and I just won't browse the Web with it very often. It's really important to me to keep it running, though. I bought it new in July, 1998, and this is it's tenth year. I want to keep it running for at least a decade.

On the machine I use for my photographs, and, from now on, for my Web browsing, I had a great installation experience. The hardware was all detected accurately, the installation was trouble-free and fast (in part due to the default installation of Gnome without KDE), and everything worked out of the box. It was much faster and easier than installing Windows XP. (I just had to do that a few months ago.)

I'm a little worried, though. Some of the nifty new software I'm testing, like Gnome F-Spot, is very slow to render images. I could live with that, but Iceweasel (The Debian-Licence-friendly version of Firefox) also seems sluggish. I'm a little worried that Gnome 2.14.3 is the memory hog, and that my collection of elderly hardware is not going to keep working with a Linux desktop indefinitely. Of course, I could switch to a lean, mean window manager like IceWM, which I am using on The Laptop That Time Forgot. That means goodbye to "Works Right Out of the Box, like a Toaster-Oven," though.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Linux Digital Photo Management

I've been managing my digital photo collection with command-line tools. I mount the camera

mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /media/nikon
, I copy files with
, I name my own directories and subdirectories, and everything has worked well enough. I can see that as my collection grows I'll need a better system, with better annotation, but I really dislike the way gui-interface software spews duplicate files Heaven only knows where. (I'm talking about you, iPhoto.) Yesterday, I started reading and test-driving Linux "photo management software." Here's what I've been reading and experimenting with so far.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Madwomen In My Attic

Last week's discovery of the Gothic skew in my personal library has haunted me. I've been drawn to the Web like a mesmerized fly...wait, stop it. Here are some links I found offering various definitions of "Gothic Literature" (some broad enough to include everything I've ever read), and some interesting criticism and analysis.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

More Handsome Bracts

Thistle inflorescence, still wrapped in its hairy

More bracts, subtending other inflorescences. Modified leaves, the bracts are more delicate than the thistle leaves, the spines subdued to bristles, bristles to silky down. The insect-damage spot turns out to be a leafhopper (Cicadellidae).

Leafhopper on a thistle

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Umbels and Bracts

Queen Anne's Lace axillary umbel showing bracts

Queen Anne's Lace bears its tiny flowers in large, showy umbels, but you can better appreciate the bracts on the axillary shoots with their punier inflorescenses. I fell in love with plant anatomy in my first year of college, perhaps because of the magical yet precise language. Whatever you call them, I think the modified leaves that enwrap the flowerheads are quite handsome.

As usual, the links:

  • Connecticut Botanical Society's Queen Anne's Lace page has this ethnobotanical note:
    Queen Anne's lace was introduced from Europe as a medicinal plant. The vegetable carrot was bred from this plant.
  • USDA Plants Database entry for Daucus carota L., Queen Anne's lace
  • Queen Anne's Lace description from Cannon Valley Nurseries, Minnesota's premiere bulk wildflower seed distributor and search engine:
    Also known as Queen Anne's Lace. The seeds are a beneficial antiseptic diuretic useful in the treatment of cystitis and prostatitis. Also, the seeds are used for the prevention and washing out of gravel and urinary stones. As a diuretic, it helps with dropsy and the elimination of uric acid from the body (thus, used for gout). The seeds, which are high in volatile oil, are soothing to the digestive system, useful for colic and flatulence. Some herbalists employ the seeds as an implantation preventer. The root is very high in Vitamin A and minerals. The juice is reputed to have anti-cancer activity. The root helps to expel worms and is an effective antacid for heartburn and gastritis. A poultice of the root is excellent for first aid, especially for itchy skin. CAUTION: Queen Anne's Lace has several poisonous look alikes. Do NOT use this herb (seeds) with pregnancy.
Queen Anne's lace umbel unfolding