Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A-Pollarding We Go

It is possible that K and I pay more attention to trees than
the average bear.

           K studied horticulture in college, before microbiology sang its siren song to him. As a result, he is a gardener of some skill as well as an ace tree pruner. So he pays attention to trees. And after having been married to him for a quarter of a century come April, so do I. We spend a lot of time going places and noticing the trees. And talking about the pruning of trees.* And so, because this picture, taken a couple of years ago in Copenhagen, not only illustrates an interesting pruning practice, but also gives me the opportunity to use a really cool word, today's post will be a short disquisition on

          Pollarding is a way to both limit a tree's height and provide an ongoing supply of new wood for either firewood or animal fodder. It is started when the tree is young by pruning selectively to establish the shape or framework of the tree. In the photo above, the framework is Y-shaped. Then, on a regular basis, all new growth is cut back to the framework, and the next season's growth sprouts in "witches' brooms" from the framework.  It's quite pretty, both when the tree is bare, with all the twiggy delicate little witches' brooms contrasted against the stout framework, and when the tree is in leaf and looking like your normal tree, perhaps possibly a little tidier.

          You see pollarded trees all over Europe, often in plantations like the one above, or lining walkways in parks and whatnot. It has been used since the Middle Ages, and it gives a lovely, structured framework to gardens and parks. Not all trees can be pollarded. Conifers, for instance, excepting a few, like the yew, cannot be pollarded. Many deciduous trees, though, make nice pollards: oaks, beeches, maples, black locusts, hornbeams, lindens, plane, horse chestnuts, mulberries, redbuds, trees of heaven, and willows.

          Why am I so pollard-crazy? (Aside from the fact that it is a satisfying word to say, and looks beautiful typeset, with the descenders on the first and last letters balancing the ascenders in the middle of the word, and all the lovely round or semi-round letterforms coming at rhythmic intervals?) **

          I am pollard-crazy because I come from a place where it takes much work, many years, and a lot of irrigation to get a tree to mature size. Every tree you see in the arid west is the result of a substantial investment of time and effort on the part of someone, so when I see evidence of a similar investment of time and effort reflected in a tree—in its shaping, its pruning, its placement, its age—I feel a thrill of kinship with the person or persons who have invested their time and effort in that tree. I feel I have found a peer, however anonymous—someone else who believes that Trees Matter.

*Yeah, well, each to his own. At least we're not inflicting our inexplicable interest in forestry on anyone but each other. And now you, I suppose.

**Warning: typography geek crossing.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Balance

          This was part of the apparatus that raised the pedestrian drawbridge and Chateau de Vincennes. I'm not showing you its picture because I'm a medieval pulley system nerd, but rather because I'm a design nerd. I snapped the photo on a cold, overcast visit to the chateau because I loved the repetition of the three large circles, and the rhythm of the diminishing sizes of the smaller circles. The gentle s-curves of the balance's arms echo the "s" shape that the links of chain make, and this pleases my designer's eye.

          I composed the photo to accentuate the visual and actual balance of the apparatus, for it reminds me of a set of hand-held scales. What is being weighed? Perhaps, given where I took it, the history of the French crown.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Numpty, Numpty, Numpty

          Oh, have I got a lovely word for you. It was voted Scotland's favorite word in 2007. It's dead useful, as Hagrid would say, because the world is absolutely full of people you can use this word to describe. It's pejorative, but it sounds affectionate, a combination I prefer because I don't like confrontation even a little bit. K thinks that it sounds like a word for "a whole lot," but that's not really what it means, although he's already talking about the numpty-nine times he's told Casey not to bark just today. 

It has a certain charm, doesn't it?

          I'm going to give you one of the definitions from the Urban Dictionary because not only does it tell you how to spell the plural, it also gives an illustrative sentence that makes me laugh (warning to The Easily Offended: the illustrative sentence contains a Not Very Nice But Oh So Evocative Word. You should probably cover your eyes.) So here's the definition, and all the rest: "Dialect, chiefly Scots. A bumbling fool or one who is intellectually challenged. (plural : numpties) EX: 'They numpties couldnae organise a pissup in a brewery.' In reference to members of Scottish parliament."

          Apparently we share with our Scottish cousins the ignominy of being governed by a bunch of numpties.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Because Everything is Easier When You Have Arms

          This building in Leiden caught my attention when I was there several years ago. I had no idea buildings needed arms, although if you want to read the newspaper, as this building apparently does, arms are excellent useful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Will the Cruelest Month Please Stand Up? And Then Go Away?

          T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month. He makes a pretty good case: "breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire."

          For sheer gully-dirt mean, however, you want to go with January. The pretty snows of December are January's dirty slush. The wind is full of knives. The January sun shines bright but refuses to warm anything it touches. Hats and mittens go missing in January and when you attempt to buy replacements, you find yourself confronted with  beach wear as far as the eye can see, the seasonally useful clothing having been packed away until July, when you will need some beach wear and go shopping to find only winter hats and mittens by the acre. (This last is not entirely January's fault, but I'm blaming it anyway.)

         So I'm giving you a little something to brighten up your January. Hope it helps with the mitten situation.

This is a detail of a stained-glass panel from the Cluny Museum in Paris.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Absolutely No Zombies Were Involved in the Making of this Photo

©Nancy E. Banks
          Out with the dogs the other morning, I caught this pretty pattern of ice spears and reflected tree branches on a frozen lake.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Zombies

©Nancy E. Banks
          I was raised in an apocalyptic religion (unofficial motto for 180-plus years and counting: "Apocalypse soon*"), so my first reaction to things like warnings of impending zombie apocalypse is not, alas, to giggle hysterically and reflect that that some people obviously have waaaaay too much time on their hands, but instead to go into a defensive crouch, review my Emergency Escape Plan**, and fret that I have neither an apocalypse-proof basement nor a several years' supply of wheat kernels***.

          And so, I read the advice given by the Kansas Anti Zombie Militia about zombie apocalypse survival not as the rather lame attempt at humor that it obviously is, but rather as…lord help me…actual survival tips.

          "K," I said to my long-suffering husband, "we need protective clothing that both resists being bitten by zombies (for that is how they spread their nefarious virus) and that covers our skin, so that we don't risk contact with contaminated zombie blood."

          K rolled his eyes.

          "Do we have enough blunt objects around the house to kill zombies with?" I asked him after reading further. "The Kansas Anti Zombie Militia recommends metal bats or collapsible batons. Or could we just use shovels? We've got several of those."

          K rolled his eyes, louder this time.

          "They advise against trying to take on more than one or two zombies at a time," I informed him. "Also they say that you should work together and travel in groups, rather than alone. And you can use firearms."

          "Nancy," K said, taking me by the shoulders and jiggling me slightly. "You're not in church. The zombie apocalypse isn't real. Please get a grip; you're starting to worry the dogs."

          "Do you think the zombie virus can jump the species barrier?" I said, starting to get worried myself. "Because, zombie dogs. That would be unfortunate."

          "Nancy." I blinked. K was using his dog-training voice. "There are no zombies. There is no apocalypse. You don't have to build a wheelbarrow or store ungodly amounts of wheat."

          "I don't?"

          "No apocalypse?"

          "No zombies, either."

          "And no wheat?"

          "None at all."

          You have no idea what an enormous relief it was to hear the bit about the wheat.

*Where "soon" is understood to mean, simultaneously, "next Friday at 1:47 p.m." and "you know…soon—possibly as geological time is measured."

**Which hasn't been updated since I turned my back on the religion of my youth, and so involves building an oversized wheelbarrow to contain my meager few possessions and pushing it to…Missouri. Okay—got at least part of that covered, since I now live in Missouri. Must I still build the wheelbarrow?

***I was never clear on why wheat kernels were so important to apocalypse survival. You'd think bottled water, MREs, and a really good first-aid kit with basic medical manual would be much more important, but who am I to question the wisdom of the wheat-obsessed religion of my youth.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Fistful of Zombies

          So, word is from Kansas that I'm gonna need a bigger Zombie Apocalypse Handbag. Much bigger. Also, apparently, a well-equipped and -staffed biomedical research lab. The Kansas Anti Zombie Militia (this is an actual group, and they truly believe in the Coming Zombie Apocalypse*) said, through its spokesman**, and I quote: "Can a natural person change into this monster that many fear? The possibilities are yes, it can happen. We have seen incidents that are very close to it, and we are thinking it is more possible than people think."

Because if the zombie apocalypse really is coming
(and it's not. Truly.), I am going for the absolute most
to-die-for Zombie Apocalypse Handbag of the
Spring 2013 fashion season.
(You can find this photo at this website.)

          Just for the record, I've also seen "incidents that are very close to" zombification, but since all of them involved insufficiently caffeinated persons who were subsequently restored to humanousity by the administration of Starbucks, I just wrote it off as a lack of coffee. Silly me.

          The Kansas Anti Zombie Militia (direct quote: "We are not crazy.") believes that zombification, with its concurrent zombie apocalypse, will arrive as the result of a virus pandemic. It could happen. I recently read a lovely science fiction short story*** that posits starlings as a kind of hive mind or superintelligence, and also carriers of a virus (the starling apocalypse) that either kills humans, or causes them to mutate in such a way that they become part of the hive mind. That could happen, too.

          But it probably won't. That's why they call it fiction****.

          However, just to be sure, you might want to go ahead and build that backyard biomedical lab. Because you—yes, you!—could be the one who finds the cure for the zombie virus after seven-eighths of the world has been killed and nobody left knows how electricity works so fire is pretty much the cutting edge of technology, never mind that you have no science or medicine background and really your only skills are playing video games which no longer exist and whining.

          But probably not. Hope you at least have a truly fabulous handbag.

*No, I'm not going to link to their website because lordy do these people not need any additional encouragement.

**Whom I am not going to name because see above. Also because I bet his family is dying of embarrassment.

***"A Murmuration of Starlings" by Joe Pitkin. It will be published in The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2013. Make a note and pick it up when it hits your bookstore; it's a great story.

****Quick review, just in case (because I have a Really Bad Feeling about the current general consensus on the meaning of "fiction"): fiction = NOT REAL.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Beautiful Life

Requiescat in pace, dear neighbor.
©Jeannie B. Thomas

          A light went out in Kansas City last Thursday, and Monday K and I paid our last respects to our dear neighbor and cherished friend. We were just two among what looked like half the population of Kansas City, for our friend was both widely admired and widely loved—not an easy thing for a lawyer to achieve.

          He was an exceptionally easy person to love—ethical, compassionate, fair, funny. He was very intelligent, and yet he never felt the need to display his intellect at anyone else's expense.

          He had other skills in addition to his legal ones. If you read this blog regularly, you are probably aware of my feelings about pie, and of my opinion about my own pie skills. When I say that my neighbor made a better apple pie than I do, you will understand that this is high praise indeed.

          It is hardly a kind comparison, but as I wept at my neighbor's funeral service not only because I will miss him terribly but because he left us all far too soon, I couldn't help thinking of a man I mentioned in an earlier post—a man whose hatreds were so strong that they brought him a kind of fame, and were listed in his obituary as though they were accomplishments.

          What did my neighbor accomplish in his life? Well, none of his accomplishments had to do with hatred. He mentored young lawyers and modeled ethics, honesty, fair dealing and compassion for them. He gave back to his community both in his professional life and in his private life. He lived his faith through his charitable works. He was funny. He was loving. He gave everyone who knew him the example of a life well-lived: a life filled with love and service.

          I will miss him so.