zondag 28 juli 2013

Strange duck in the park [edited]

I went to the park to feed my old bread to the ducks and coots in the park. It was then that we saw the stranger above. I think it is a large duck but it might be a small goose. (?). I have never seen it before and I was looking for it two days later but no it wasn't there anymore. Gone forever. I am not surprise because it was clearly no competition in the bread run to the ferocious competition of the coots. Let alone to the savage wild ducks, the crows and the gulls. It walked very high on its legs and it lacked the agility to move its neck with any kind of speed. Goodbye friendly passenger, we enjoyed your brief presence.

Have studied duck websites but no name.  

Note: Two people rightly suggested this bird as the Egyptian goose. A bird that was introduced as a pet but escaped. For a good entry on the bird, in Dutch read this.

woensdag 17 juli 2013

How to live on Planet Earth: Nanao Sakaki

Most people will know about Nanao Sakaki (1923-2008) through Gary Snyder who lived with Sakaki's tribe on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 67/67. From 1969 onwards Sakaki lived in the United States for ten years and published four poetry books. He fought in the second world war and I wonder if behind the seemingly chaotic contours of his life lies an untreated case of post-traumatic stress, ala Robert Graves whose White Goddess is sometimes understood as a kind of sublimated shell shock. The man, in any case, deserves a biography but the publication of his collected poems "How to live on the Planet Earth" (2013, Blackberry books) is even more important. It's a beautiful book with really nice typesetting. I was barely acquainted with his work and am very happy to get the chance to savour it now in it's entirety. 

I haven't digested all of it but the things that immediately strikes me is that there is little 'progress' in his writing throughout his life. Maybe at first he uses slightly more 'poetic' language before becoming ever more sharper, clearer and cleaner. His hallmarks are a disgust with consumer culture and environmental degradation, a proclaiming of the pleasures of a simple life. 
A Big Day

Getting water at the spring

Carrying firewood

Chattering with a neighbor

The sun goes down.

A big day.
Sakaki has a few 'tricks': he lists things, he chants, he calculates, he lives with the weather and the stars. A happy day is when a rare animal shows him/herself. There seems to be little creative development and the work is consistent in tone and content from the first to the last poem. As he gets older he writes more obituaries and their underlying sentiment is one Buddhist acceptation of inevitable suffering. Sakaki wrote down his poetry as it came to him, without doubt and without editing, like a bird singing. Or so it seems. The poems are tribal, he studied the language and literature of the old societies, at times his poems recall forms known from Rothenberg's anthologies of EthnoPoetics. He had a sardonic humour all his own.
Go Walk Mathematics

Suppose you walk 3 kms a day for 40 years.
3 kms x 365 days = 1,095 kms.
forget the 95 kms.
1,000 kms x 40 years = 40,000 kms
40,000 kms = the length of the terrestrial equator
Walking 3 kms a day for 40 years
You complete the circuit of the earth.

Suppose you walk 30 kms a day for 36 years.
30 kms x 365 days = 10,950 kms.
10,950 kms x 36 years = 394,200 kms
This figure goes beyond the average distance
Between the earth & the moon 384,400 kms.
Walking 30 kms a day for 36 years
You reach the moon.
Nanao Sakaki was a man who lived his life according to his own plans. He was not a sophisticate, maybe the universities will hate him. He was primal, a true original and his poetry reflects that. His style looks simple and easy to copy but I don't think you can fake it. It could be that Buddhist tradition has models for such a man, but if I had to compare him to anyone it would have to be William Blake. Cultish, but only long after his death.

Born of a humble & poor family,
Received minimum education,
Learnt how to live by himself at fourteen,
Survived storms, one after another.
Bullets, starvation & concrete wastelands.

A day's fare - a cup of brown rice, vegetables,
Small fish, a little water, & a lot of wind.
Delighted by children and women,
Sharing beads of sweat with farmers,
Fishermen, carpenters & blacksmiths,
Paying no attention to soap, shampoo,
Toilet paper & newspapers.

Now & again
Loves to suck the nectar of honeysuckle,
To flutter with dragonflies & butterflies,
To chatter with winter wrens,
To sing song with coyotes,
To swim with humpback whales,
And to hug a rock in which dinosaurs sleep.

Feels at home in Alaskan glaciers,
Mexican desert, virgin forest of Tanzania,
Valley of Danube, grasslands of Mongolia,
Vulcanoes in Hokkaido & Okinawan coral reeds.

And - one sunny summer morning
He will disappear on foot.
Leaving no shadow behind.

maandag 15 juli 2013

De-domesticated plants

 "Looking for Ways to Beat the Weeds" is a recent article in the NYT by Carl Zimmer that looks at the way agricultural plants can evolve weediness. 

Scientists have documented three different ways that plants evolve into weeds. Many species, such as barnyardgrass, evolved from wild ancestors. Biologists have found that certain traits make it easier for wild species to become weeds. They already grow fast, for example, and make lots of seeds. 

Parasitic plants are especially well-suited to the weedy life. They wrap around other plants and send their roots into their hosts’ tissues. Rather than making their own food, parasitic plants steal nutrients from their hosts. The parasitic weeds that invade farm fields have not evolved major differences from the ones that attack wild plants.

In other cases, weeds evolved from the union of wild plants and crops. In the 1970s, for example, wild beets in Europe released pollen that fertilized sugar beets growing on farms miles away.

Crops can even turn into weeds. “We domesticated a plant from the wild, and somehow it de-domesticated itself — which I think is pretty exciting,” Dr. Caicedo said.

Among these crops gone wild is a weed known as red rice. A key step in the domestication of rice was breeding plants that held onto their seeds when farmers harvested them. Red rice evolved fragile seeds that broke off and fell to the ground.

The name red rice comes from the russet tinge that the plant evolves as it becomes a weed. Dr. Caicedo and her colleagues suspect the color is produced from a pigment that helps the seeds go dormant — a trait that’s good for a weed but bad for a crop.

“If you’re a farmer, you want your seed to start growing when you plant it,” Dr. Caicedo explained. When weeds produce seeds, on the other hand, some sprout quickly while others go into suspended animation. Those dormant weeds create a seed bank that can sprout later, when conditions may be better for them. “It’s a fantastic trait for a weed to have. You’re hedging your bets,” Dr. Caicedo said.

These de-domesticated weeds don’t simply go back in time to regain the same DNA as their wild ancestors, scientists are finding. 

Once plants become weeds, they keep evolving. New mutations allow some of them to have more offspring than others. Foxtail, for example, evolved to crawl along the ground, where it wouldn’t be destroyed by combine blades. 

vrijdag 5 juli 2013

A foraging poem by Gary Snyder + commentary

Here is a poem by Gary Snyder from his book Turtle Island (1975).
In June two oak fell,
rot in the roots

Chainsaw in September
in three days one tree
bucked and quartered in the shed

sour fresh inner oak-wood smell
the main trunk splits
"like opening a book" (J. Tecklin)

And slightly humping oak leaves
deer muzzle and kick it,
one sort, Alice Eastwood
pink and poison; 
Two yellow, edulus
"edible and choice."
only I got just so slightly sick --
Taste all, and hand the knowledge down.


* The entire poem is an allusion to Ezra Pound's "The flavors of the peach and the apricot are not lost from generation to generation. Neither are they transmitted by book learning."

* Quoting Snyder from the same volume: "Know the flowers.

* Know the flowers, by what name? And which system?

* Can there exist a botany without books & book learning?   

* Foragers only trust other foragers who have tried things for themselves. Who know the where and the what and the how of plants.

* All foragers all moralists.

* All botany is ethnobotany / all botany is culture. 

* Find your own flavours and hand them down to the next generation.

* "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." - William Blake

Giant Hogweed eradication program

City authorities are calling on us to report sightings of the Giant Hogweed. I do get it, they spread aggressively and are able to dominate whole area's. They may however not be that toxic as often said. I have also on hearsay that they are edible (flowers,stalks) after boiling. There is a hashtag but not much reporting has been done. Har Har.  

woensdag 3 juli 2013

Weeds in my Street 2013

Like in 2012 (plus overview) I will try to record all species of wild plants that I find growing in my street (excluding grasses and mosses). I will also attempt to be slightly more methodological this year by only including plants when they are in flower and I will sort them by month. Also: I now have a new camera and it find that it is better in doing close-ups but worse in landscape pics so expect more of the former.


The common snowdrop growing on a street compost heap. 


The weather has been unusual so far. It hasn't been insanely cold but It has been freezing well into April and there was little plant growth to report until the weather changed last week and a number of plants rose to the occasion. As you can see, apart from the dandelion, they are all white, small and fragile in appearance. Less then two weeks later however these plants are already vanishing from view, remaining like the last eruptions of a flu-virus. Other plants, ones that need a little more time and sun are now starting to show itself. 

Sheperd's purse.

Hairy bittercress hidden behind the leaves of some other plant, but you can see the small, round cress leaves .

Spring draba.

The spiky ones are thale cress.

Dandelion, the opportunist that out-opportunes all other opportunists.
Common groundsel, a nice, introverted plant, a shy dandelion.

Spotted deadnettle, found in the same place as last year when I thought It was a Purple DN. Thnx Claude.
A young stinging nettle. A plant that belongs to civilization. Richard Mabey writes about dead nettles still living on changed soil conditions from 1600 years ago. Will try to find one in full bloom later.
A thistle, probably a common one. I am breaking here my intention to only include plants when they are in flower, but I am guessing that it won't reach maturity. Last year I did not see any thistles in my street but I did see them in the neighbourhood. A welcome addition though it strikes me that where most people will take the nettle for granted they will react with less graciousness to the prickliness of the thistle. (And I was right: two weeks later these were removed.)

The first garden escape of the year is the Grape Hyacinth. I know this plant from my grandmother's garden and I never noticed it going native before. I don't think this one travelled very far as you can see from the inserted picture. Only a black merc between the two prevented me from giving you a landscape frame. According to Dutch wikipedia this plant is indeed found wild throughout the country.


We have seen this bit of street above for the dead nettle but there is also the narcissus/daffodil almost hidden away. Now this is a tricky inclusion because these are planted in parks and road bends all over town and you can never be totally sure but they are known to spread on their own and I think that is an example.  

A male fern in a shadowy, moist alley below street level just at they like it in 'natural' conditions. 

Wall-rue, a fern, mortar eating and eternal.

It took me a while to notice that the prickly poppy goes from yellow to orange and so I identify this one as a specimen of this ever more common plant.
Clover, what can I say, I like them drawn into my Guinness. I think of them more as grass than as plants.

The greater celandine is found at many places around my street, there are even more than last year, but this is the first one to flower. Elsewhere, where sun conditions are better they flower weeks earlier and grow to remarkable size.

The yellow corydalis originates in the Alps and has just come into flower as you can see.  
With it's dark leaves this species is suitable gloomy species to plant on your dog's garden grave, but what's it name? Most likely: wood violet.

The ever pretty Wood sorrel.

Red Valerian.
The only serious plant spotter I know, Claude,  identified this as a Spiked rampion. It's on the red list of endangered species. Too bad then it has been weeded.
A cleaver. Was expecting this plant last year but didn't see it.

Serbian bellflower, nasty plant.

Wikipedia gives many vernacular names for it, Sonchus arvensis.
Common knotgrass, nice plant will try to take a pic when in flower.

Canadian Horseweed.
The bane of my life: Hollyhock. They grow between the pavement and the wall.

The Greater plantain.

A fascinating understatement of a plant: square-stemmed willowherb

Wall lettuce.

Wild Chamomile,  I think.
Hedge Mustard.
Smooth Hawkbeard.
Ground elder. Great for pesto people keep telling me.
One of the vernacular names for this is Death come Quickly. Why?

Oh I am so excited: the fat-hen is a staple of the forager's diet and I was hoping to find it last year but no. It was around in other streets but not mine. Now at the utmost corner, I have found one. I am going to login in Selborne and maybe we can follow its spread over the years.

Galinsoga, friend from America, it is polite here but will stay deep in autumn and grow and grow.

Red Shank, or Peach Herb in proper Dutch.
The only occurrence of this plant. A reader suggested common chicory last year. I tend to agree.

Sow thistle. Above is another plant from the same family.
The nettle-leaved bellflower. Last year there was only one and it now they have spread from that source in both directions maybe for 10 meters.
Completely forgot I had taken this picture, but it is in my street and I didn't know what it was, happily a reader suggested Colewort.. 


Ohlala! A blackberry (or bramble if you are from the UK). It has cold feet but knowing the species it won't last long. 

Sun spurge or according to wikipedia 'madwoman's milk': poisonous.
Autumn witch herb: deadly nightshade
Common in herb garden and grassy field: tansy.
A discovery that had me shaking in my shoes. It's already past flowering, anyone knows a name?

First found in the Netherlands in Tilburg in 1939, now it is everywhere: Senecio_inaequidens.

I think Dark mullein but I need convincing.