If you are a reader of this blog, and if you haven’t done so already, you must drop everything and get your hands on a copy of Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s CROW PLANET: ESSENTIAL WISDOM FROM THE URBAN WILDERNESS.

Nowhere else have I heard someone articulate so clearly and eloquently a vision of urban naturalism.  I am going to be reviewing this for The Englewood Review of Books this week, so you won’t get a full review here and now, BUT I will cross-post my review this weekend.

For now, however, here’s just a taste:

In the modern urban setting, the naturalist’s way suggests an antidote to the overinfluence of specialization upon our everyday lives.  Today we leave our health to doctors, our food to agribusiness, and our knowledge of the biological realm to information received from scientists.  Such specialization, writes author Michael Pollan, “obscures lines of connection — and responsibility.”  The foundational knowledge unearthed by modern naturalists is simultaneously freeing, consoling and revolutionary (47-48).

My friend and frequent collaborator Brent Aldrich sent me this photo and story this evening.  Thanks, Brent!

The reason that squash seed packages recommend planting different varieties of squash 1/2 mile apart is because they “will cross-pollinate.” Of course, most of us [in urban places] don’t have the rolling acres of land where this is possible, so I never consider that as even a possibility. This year, a pumpkin plant has grown out of the compost pile (which tends to happen most every year), but with the summer squash I planted in the yard, they have created this mutant vegetable. Still don’t know what to call it: a Yellow Summer Pump-Squash? A Squash-kin?… The form of a pumpkin, but the texture of a crookneck squash; I can’t wait to see what it’s like inside.

Once again, I’m finding that I don’t post here as much as I’d like.  Lots of relevant stuff going on, but I never seem to find the time to sit down and write about it.

Seems like we are now making the typical Central Indiana leap from Winter to Summer.  We had snow flurries on Wednesday, and now yesterday and today temperatures are in the 80’s.   The apparent lack of spring is one of the few things that I don’t particularly like about the weather here.

The steady rains that we’ve had for the past few weeks, coupled with the warmer turn in the weather, have been really good for our plants.  Tomatoes, peppers and sunflowers are starting to peek out of the ground in their starter pots, lettuce and spinach has been coming up nicely in the garden.  On Friday night we had our regular dinner with our friends and neighbors and we brought a huge salad of lettuce and spinach — this was stuff that survived the winter under plastic and then really took off once we pulled the plastic off in March.  Man, that salad was tasty!  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

Last week, we discovered that the huge catalpa tree in the yard of the house just north of us (which is currently vacant and owned by the community development corp. that I work for) is completely hollow inside.

So hollow that one adult and several children can fit inside it!  So our kids and a lot of their neighborhood friends have been enjoying climbing in and out of the tree.   To get into the tree you have to climb up to the large, northward facing branch.  Here are our kids sitting in the hole that goes down into the tree:

From this hole, you lower yourself down into the hollow cavity.  An adult or older kid has to help the smaller children get in and out.   There is a little hole on the south side of the tree, and it is just big enough to put your face up to or stick a hand out of, either of which makes for a surreal sight!

The inside of the tree has the size and feel of a cave shaft — except, of course, being surrounding by rotting wood instead of stone.  Unfortunately, I am too big to get in and out of the tree, but our friend Brent Aldrich is able to get in (though its a tight fit around his shoulders), and we handed him a camera and he was able to take the following pictures.  The girl in the second picture is our friend and neighbor Harmony who is really good at getting into the tree and helping other kids to get in and out.

This tree has been an exciting find for our kids and for many others, and we will enjoy it while we can.  Being so hollow, this tree does pose a threat to the house whose yard it is in, and also to a number of power and phone lines (including ours), so it will have to come down eventually.

I have posted a bunch more photos of kids exploring this tree to my facebook page, but using this link anybody should be able to view them.

Life got all topsy-turvy with Noah’s cancer diagnosis, and I’m still not used to my new schedule, but at least with the warmer weather, I’m starting to feel more motivated to be outside.

This week, we’ve started to get the backyard gardens ready for the growing season.  (Maybe I’ll post in the near future on the connections between urban naturalism and urban agriculture.)   I made a new rain barrel for our backyard; our old one had frozen over the winter and cracked open (chalk up a lesson learned!).  We had a good rain that filled the rain barrel.  I pruned our two apple trees for the first time, after getting advice from a couple of books on this subject.  Time will tell how good my pruning job was.  Jeni cleaned out out the dead plants in the square foot garden.  I pulled off the plastic covering our side garden bed, and lo and behold, was astonished to find a large spinach plant and several lettuce plants that had survived the harsh winter.  Tonight, I gave the apple trees and spinach/lettuce plants a good watering (emptying the rain barrel) and then got the barrel seated on a better footing.

There was a workday last Saturday in the community garden and a ton of stuff was done there to kick off the growing season!  It’s so exciting to be coming out of winter and to dream of all the tasty produce that will — hopefully — be grown.

I’m also starting to think about how we can attract more birds.  Here’s a useful article that I’ve been mulling over (h/t: TLDB ).

Tomorrow, I hope to post the story and pix of our new and exciting adventures with the tree in yard of the house next door to us…  Stay tuned…

Re-encountered this poem this week and thought that it was fitting for this time of year…

A Prayer in Spring
Robert Frost

OH, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Sorry for the lack of posts recently.  We just found out that our youngest son Noah (3 years old) has cancer.  We’ve had a bunch of testing done and are awaiting a specific diagnosis.

It has been warmer and sunnier here in Indianapolis this week, and this weather reminded me of this poem:

John Clare.

The hazel-blooms, in threads of crimson hue,
Peep through the swelling buds, foretelling Spring,
Ere yet a white-thorn leaf appears in view,
Or March finds throstles pleased enough to sing.
To the old touchwood tree woodpeckers cling
A moment, and their harsh-toned notes renew ;
In happier mood, the stockdove claps his wing;
The squirrel sputters up the powdered oak,
With tail cocked o’er his head, and ears erect,
Startled to hear the woodman’s understroke;
And with the courage which his fears collect,
He hisses fierce half malice, and half glee —
Leaping from branch to branch about the tree,
In winter’s foliage, moss and lichens, drest.