Sunday, September 6, 2020

Learning from weeds...


A small Prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) plant, just sprouted in the prairie.  Subsequently dug up and flung in the burn pile.

I am soon (after a few rains), ready to plant about half of my property with lots of delicious native plants.  In this bizarre time, I have been able to keep up with the weeds.  Things are pretty clean out there!  Ready for my basement full of ...a lot... of seed.  

But I have been interested to see a handful of sprouts like this Prickly lettuce.  I have always wondered in the past, when I was hanging on for dear life to keep up with the weeds, when I would get to the end of July, more or less victorious... and then by the end of August--what's all this evil going to seed out there?!!

I think I have figured it out.  I am surrounded by property owners who are... um, less diligent than I on trying to manage/get rid of noxious weeds.  What I have realized is that second-year plants start producing seeds by the end of June in my neighbors' stands of noxious weeds.  I can see them floating in throughout July.  We had a bit of rain in early August--enough to take newly-spread seed and get it to sprout.  It isn't a lot, and I had to walk through quite a bit of the property to find this little plant, but I have found a bunch of plants over the last few weeks that would have hurt me, if I hadn't caught them.  I feel weirdly lucky to have had this isolated Spring and Summer to prepare the ground for a huge planting with so much cancelled.  I am not sure now how I could possibly have done this otherwise...

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Learning from the prairie...

Fall, 2013 versus August, 2020...

I'm getting ready to do a lot of planting, as soon as we get some rain and the weather turns toward autumn.  I will be replanting the areas I worked on in 2013-14, when I had the Palouse Conservation District grant.  I realized about four years ago that, while I had made a substantial effort to accomplish the planting of the southeastern half of my property in the allotted two-year window, I had not gotten enough results to keep the weeds out.  Much of what I had purged was gone, but the area was overrun with annual grasses and persistent weeds like prickly lettuce, salsify, and storksbill coming back.

The fact is that you cannot transform a weedy patch into prairie in a couple of years. In addition, I had tested my theory about planting seeds by raking them into to the top 1/4 inch--the standard method among native plant folks, I guess.  I had to wait to find out (see earlier posts about "rake vs. divot"), but in fact, a lot of seed that I got from that grant was essentially wasted.  I got not a single sticky geranium, no gaillardia, no helianthella.  The grass seed did OK being raked in that way, but most of the flowers and small plants seem to need soil to be turned over about eight inches deep and softened up.  These divots I have put in over the last five years have been very successful.  There are now a lot of patches of silky lupine, delphinium, collinsia, midget phlox, etc.

For the last several years I have mowed and mowed the annual grasses, and then in the last year, it seems I have finally eradicated it.  This odd pandemic period has meant that I could keep up with the spraying, too.  Especially with the prickly lettuce, it has been a lesson in persistence.  That biennial starts coming up in April, then another wave in June, and they continue to surface.  I went with glyphosate in May, a round of 2,4-D in June, and in late July there was another pass with glyphosate.  I have to hit. every. plant.  But of course it can be tricky, because I have to dodge a lot of very nice plants.  I just pulled three prickly lettuce today, but they are now rare.

I have been madly collecting seed, and I purchased twenty pounds of fancy local native grass seed from BFI in Moses Lake, WA.  I have also purchased some seed from Thorn Creek Native Seeds in Moscow, ID, and I still have some collecting to do--cinquefoil, collomia, and scarlet gilia have not yet produced ripe seed.  I am hopeful that I won't be killing an assault of noxious weeds in October, that I will have raked a lot of this back and been able to create many divots of fabulous natives.  I think that having the seeds in the ground in October would be far better than the almost-December I get to most years.  

Always hopeful.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Prairie, July 2020

Early evening in the prairie, 7/13/20. 

Lupines in the foreground, Scarlet gilia, Gaillardia, Clarkia... This area was restored in 2014-15.  It takes awhile to catch on.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


Today I found out that my composition for choir, "Canntaireachd," will be published by Pavane Music Publishing, a real publishing company in the LA area specializing in choral music.  I don't have a release date, and during this pandemic adventure they are in a kind of suspended animation, waiting for a time when people will again sing in choirs. Though I am officially an old guy, and have worked as a composer for four decades, I have never had a piece published.  Flying Fish supposedly "published" my music on their records, but you couldn't buy a score anywhere.  People who commissioned my work liked it, but they had no idea how to reach publishers.  This will be actual music that people can buy, and their choir can sing it, assuming we get past this odd time of pandemic and choirs again gather to sing.

I had written this piece for the male vocal ensemble Chanticleer in 1990.  They didn't commission it, but a guy I went to college with was in the group, and they came through UCSD as I was finishing up my Masters degree.  I met them for lunch there in San Diego, and I pitched an idea of a piece for them based on sung dance music from Scotland.  This is what you do if you're a composer.  They encouraged me and the director said they would absolutely look at what I sent them, and I sent them my finished piece in the fall of 1990.  I tried to write something that would be a showpiece, and I sent it off sure that they would love it.

It's hard to explain this, but I am definitely an "outsider" in the world of composers.  I never fit in with the academic scene, and I would never be hip enough, or live in NYC, to reach that artsy world.  I have had no luck whatsoever in reaching anyone who would publish my music.  I thought maybe one of my liturgies would be published, but... no one would even ever look at them.  Without a mentor promoting my music to a publisher in the academic world, nothing would ever happen there.  I never have had any success with my music unless I can get it directly to audiences or to artists.  So, I was hopeful that "Canntaireachd" would open a door for me with Chanticleer.

But I heard nothing for 13 years.  I wondered if I had made some horrible error, but when the WSU Madrigal Singers performed it, it completely rocked.  It was a mystery.  Then, out of the blue in 2003, it turned out that Chanticleer was performing it all over the world.  Audiences loved it, but they wouldn't commission anything ("we haven't seen enough of your work..."), didn't put it on a record.  I got nothing.  Not a penny.  There is some weird story there, but I have no idea...  So, the music just sat there in my files. 

Then, I happened to get interviewed a month ago for a piece in an online music magazine about what musicians are doing during the quarantine, and my project, as a traditional fiddle player (who can read, but still...) to memorize the Bach solo violin "Chaconne" intrigued the editor (I'm getting that done!  I have the first 2/3 and chunks of the last third...).  The writer decided to look at my still-at-the-moment not-entirely-slick website, and because she is in a choir, decided to listen to the posted live performance of "Canntaireachd."  She loved it and wondered where she could get a copy of the score for her choir.  I laughed and said that I was a completely unpublished composer.  It made my day how stunned she was at that, and she put me in touch with Pavane Music Publishing, and today they agreed to publish this piece.  Just like that.  

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Rescue plants

Sugar bowls (Clematis hirsutissima), blooming in the prairie this afternoon.

Three years ago, late in the morning, I got a phone call from my friend Diane, who was walking out on the gravel roads near her home, and though the fields all around were full of wheat and there were no other native plants there, alongside the road was a mature Sugar bowls plant in bloom.  A road crew had just applied gravel to the road and graders were spreading it out, ripping up all vegetation on the sides of the road.  She asked if I wanted to come out and try to save it.  OF COURSE!  Though normally, it is extremely bad form to dig up a mature native plant like this, this plant was getting dug up, one way or the other.  Either left to compost in the drainage ditch, or maybe... it could be dug up and survive in my prairie.  It came out in two chunks, a big one and a smaller one, and both lived, but there had been no blooms.  Until this week.  This is a beautiful plant with an enchanting bloom, which is an unusual clematis in that it doesn't produce vines.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Finishing my guitar

It took me 20 years!  When I really finished this guitar in 2001, I made a conscious decision to see where wear actually occurred before I installed a pick guard.  I had a nice piece of Indian rosewood to use--I can't abide those clear plastic things--but I wanted to make it as small as I could, so it didn't act as a mute.  I was pleased to see that I had never hit the top with a pick scrape, but just my right hand fingers brushing against the top did start abrading it a little.  Here is the guitar, photographed a few years ago.  You can see the abrasion in the pick guard area, especially if you click on the photo.   
I started by making the rosewood pick guard, then I masked off the area and spent a long time carefully scraping until I got down to wood and got a perfectly flat surface.  I was surprised at how much work it was getting the finish to match (I'm using Tru-Oil, a hand-rubbed oil finish). 
I strung it up this afternoon, and it sounds like its old self! 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Summer in the prairie

Silky lupine and Clarkia bloom a few weeks ago...

Oh, there is evil out there.  Medusahead grass, for one, and Prickly lettuce, which I will soon spray, but there is beauty, too!  Both Sugar bowl clematis (Clematis hirsutissima) I moved last year are alive and kicking (though not blooming this year), and I have been tickled to see that a bunch of Oregon checkermallow I planted... four years ago?... have survived and bloomed for the first time.

But this next thing is the treasure.  I didn't plant it.  Did birds plant this?  I have no idea.  But, under the Ponderosa pine in the far southeast corner of the property, as I was mowing (sort of a last-ditch effort on the Medusahead, which won't work, but might slow it down for a week or two until I spray it)... I came upon two blooming Fool's onions (Triteleia hyacinthina).

I love the free gifts from the goddess...