Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rockin' Robin

Birds flutter nearby for my viewing pleasure most of the day - I plan it that way. My desk sits right in front of a window that is at ground level and below our mini-deck. A bird feeder hangs out from the deck rail above and draws feathered visitors to entertain our indoor cats. When I fill the feeder I make sure that a fair amount of seed falls to the ground below, thereby assuring me of an equal amount of entertainment from the area doves, cardinals, and squirrels. Nope, no exotic types here...and the hummingbirds are still a good month away.

But we have robins again. Boy, do we have robins! And now I think we will have more robins.

A little while ago I noticed unusual fluttering under the deck. Long strings of what looked liked dried grass dangled from the cross beam, waving in the wet breeze of a rainy morning. Another flutter and the architect arrived with more of the same. I'm going to call it "she" because I can't tell the difference (yet.) She added the new materials to the small collection already there. Three or four times she pulled up the dangling ends and poked them toward the center of her creation. Then she did a little dance, wings about half unfurled, and side-stepping across the nest-to-be. More pulling and poking, then more dancing. Apparently satisfied she flew off, only to return a few minutes later and repeat her ritual. (No, that's not her in the photo - my shots are all too dim.)

I'm sure an ornithologist could tell me what's going on in proper scientific terms. But I just like to think of her as our Rockin' Robin.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Far Out!

Dying Star - Cat's Eye Nebula

Today I re-stumbled upon a Web site I saw several years ago and then lost track of. Thanks to the SPAN Connection newsletter (SPAN is the Small Publishers Association of North America), I spent far too many minutes trolling through page after page of literally out of this world photos.

Dying Star - Ant Nebula

Infrared Image of Saturn

Sombrero Galaxy

When it was first sent up, the Hubble Space Telescope got a lot of bad press and bad jokes about lowest bidders on government projects. It had its glitches, but since the engineers worked through the problems and tuned up the Hubble, it's been sending back amazing images of worlds beyond anything we can see with our puny eyes.

Veil Nebula

Orion Nebula (This one looks like some gorgeous
stained glass I used to put into lamps and windows!)

Yes, I know the images are enhanced and that the colors are probably a guess, but who can argue with the majesty, grace, and beauty of worlds dancing for our pleasure light years away? Since I don't expect to see warp drive in my lifetime, these peeks into the lives of nebulae will have to do.

Home of an Intergalactic Wizard, don't you think?

Star A-borning

Any day you need a break from flashing images or too much text, surf to Then relax and prepare to be awed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A National Treasure Hidden in Plain Sight

On Friday morning I dragged myself out of bed and trundled down I-95 toward Washington for an 8:00 a.m. networking and information session. This Women in Business group (part of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber) usually doesn't see me because their meetings are always at an hour that does not compute. Being your basic "owl", a.k.a. a night person, my brain does not do well before about 9:30 in the morning. So it is a given that the subject or event has to show a lot of promise for me to not only be there but to have appropriate clothing and a public face on.

This one was absolutely worth the effort. Just off Route 1 in Beltsville sits a 14-story brown block of a building that screams "government architecture." Well off the main road that is otherwise crowded with stores, this chunky edifice seems both distant and foreboding.

Didn't your mother tell you not to judge by appearances? Here's your object lesson. Inside this unattractive container lives and breathes a remarkable collection to delight any lover of nature and history. This is the National Agricultural Library - bet you didn't even know there was one. Neither did I. Not only is this the world's largest research library focused on agriculture, but it is open and welcoming to the public. You can't wander the stacks - the helpful librarians will bring you whatever you want - but you can borrow through interlibrary loan, and you can also access many resources via the Internet no matter where in the world you happen to be. In fact, they have several computers right there to help you with research.

The size of the collections is staggering, and the breadth is amazing. Special collections include rare books, seed catalogs dating back to 1771, original correspondence from Thomas Jefferson, amazing original watercolors of fruits and nuts, and more. The library subscribes to thousands of periodicals - where else could you find a copy of the "Common 'Tater" or "Spudman" for potato farmers? Were you aware that there is actually a standard color system for identifying flowers, complete with color chips that remind you of a paint store? The Royal Horticultural Society publishes the color set, and the NAL includes that in their collection as well. Need a program for teaching nutrition to kids complete with videos? They can help. Curious about llamas and alpacas? They have what you need to raise and care for these gorgeous creatures.

Our group was fortunate to be there the day after a special reception, and saw some truly valuable items in the Special Collections area. A book published in 1539 in Italy, in Latin. An original folio of Carl Linnaeus. A diary of one of the early plant collectors sent out by the Department of Agriculture to travel the world and bring back specimens. And on and on. There is so much, and everyone we met there was not only welcoming and helpful, but they obviously enjoyed their work immensely.

Now here's the sad part - the Current Occupant of the White House (to use Garrison Keillor's term) has proposed a budget that would cut funding for the NAL by 25% in fiscal 2009. If that goes through it would have a non-recoverable impact on the NAL and its collections: They would not be able to buy any new printed books; all subscriptions to printed materials would be cancelled; NAL would not be able to fill the 29,000 requests they receive yearly for delivery of materials that are available only in print; access to most NAL print materials would be available only on site (so if you are a researcher living in California you are out of luck); and access to the special collections - valuable for work against invasive species and in the discovery of new pharmaceuticals - would end.

My husband is a great writer of letters to editors and his elected representatives. Not me - until we got together I was basically apolitical. But this is too much, even for me. Destroying a resource that has taken almost 150 years to build - (Abraham Lincoln signed the act creating the Department of Agriculture and the NAL in 1862) - that is false economy. We're talking a difference of about $6 million. Sounds like a lot of money, until you realize that the total U.S. budget for 2009 is $3.1 trillion (I cannot wrap my brain around a number that big). $20.2 billion went to the Department of Agriculture in 2008, and $6 million is only 3/100 of 1 percent of the Agriculture budget. Pocket change! If my calculations are correct, and Wikipedia has the right numbers, the Department of Defense burns through almost $55 million dollars every hour of every day of the year, and that does NOT include the billions going to Iraq.

Here's a modest proposal: What say we take six and a half minute's worth of DOD's budget and give it to the NAL where it will be used to build rather than destroy?

Rant ended. Please enjoy the treasures of the NAL. I certainly did, and will again. And I'll probably go back for images from time to time - all these photos were downloaded from the NAL's Image Gallery , with the exception of the Amarylis drawing - that's a beautiful holdiay card available from NAL. The sentiment inside is "Peace and Joy". What more could we ask?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Crocuses (Croci?) and Daffodils

Crocuses are running riot out front on a spring-fever day. Temperatures in the upper 60's, sunshine, and windows open to air out the winter-stuffy house. Yes!

Laptop with Photoshop on it is in for repair so there's no way to get the photos I took from the camera to my blog. Phooey! Remembering the sight brightens my mind. For you, some not-from-my-garden shots that capture the feeling.
No matter what Punsxatawney Phil said, my springtime is here. Robins are holding convocations in the backyard and squirrels are chasing each other up and down trees. Maybe it's wishful looking, but I swear the trees out back are starting to blush. For sure I heard a woodpecker this morning. We're going to make it.

Back in your hole Mr. P. Phil - my season is here!