Five things I had to look up/check that I came across in Roz Chast’s marvelous, hyper-specific Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?:
TIL, thanks to Arthur V. Evans’ recent Beetles of Eastern North America, that a Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) has five white tufts along each side of the abdomen. You can just make them out in this image I snapped a couple of summers ago at Black Hill of a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus) munching on one of the beetles.
Alan Ford led a workshop on grass ID at Wakefield Park for the Potowmack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society. Tips and reminders of some training that I took from Cris Fleming a couple of years ago. Grasses are sneaky hard to get into good focus with my happy snap camera, so most of my images remain on my hard drive.
- Look for a bend in the awn to identify Indian Grass to species, Sorghastrum nutans.
- When you see arundinacea or its derivatives in a species name, it’s a hint that the organism is large, with a reference to the large Bamboo Orchid, Arundina sp.
- Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus var. virginicus) is an early colonizer. When you see it give way to Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) (purple sheaths alternating with green internodes), you’re dealing with a well-established meadow.
- Leersia virginica is a lookalike for the invasive Japanese Stilt-grass (Microstegium vimineum). The stilt-grass pulls up out of the ground easily, but Leersia does not.
- Look and feel for stiff horizontal hairs on the sheath of Deer-tongue Grass (Dicanthelium clandestinum). Some of the panic grasses have recently been moved into the genera Coleataenia and Dicanthelium (twice-flowering [each year]).
Five last vocabulary builders from Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie. Most of these appear over and over again in the book:
- la fente
- slit, as between the slats of a jalousie
- la pente
- to flatten
- étendu (p.p. of étendre)
- outstretched, extensive
- l’accoudoir (m.)
Five words and phrases from Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie that I know I never learned in high school:
- le margouillat
- any of various species of lizard; on the narrator’s banana plantation, probably the gecko Hemidactylus frenatus
- l’igname (f.)
- yam, of genus Dioscorea
- la crémone
- window-latch, perhaps named for the city of the same name
- zone blanche
- “blank area”, in Richard Howard’s translation; blanc having the senses of “unwritten”, “innocent”
A… n’est plus à la fenêtre. Ni celle-ci ni aucune des deux autres ne révèle sa présence dans la pièce. Et il n’y a plus de raison pour la supposer dans l’une quelconque des trois zones blanches, plutôt que dans une autre.
A… is no longer at the window. Neither this window nor either of the two others reveals her presence in the room. And there is no longer any reason to suppose her in any one of the three blank areas rather than in any other.
- dans le sens inverse des aiguilles d’une montre
Five words from Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie that I had to look up and probably have unlearned since high school:
- en revanche
- on the other hand
- to remain
- any, with connotations of ordinary, banality; n’importe lequel
- to spread open
- la paroi
- interior partition, wall
Five North American birds that I find exceptionally beautiful to look at. I’ve been fortunate to see all of these, at one time or another.
- Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus). The bright red in the axils is something special.
- American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). The adult male is a delicate sonata of rufous, black, and slate blue.
- Sanderling (Calidris alba). It’s the grayscale basic plumage that I find especially fine.
- Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). The male is a little flashy: a guilty pleasure.
- Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus). I like the subtle iridescence of all the grackles. The Great-tailed has the mostest in the tail department.
Coolest last names of the NHL (polysyllable conference):
- Abdelkader, Justin (Detroit)
- Calaiacovo, Carlo (St. Louis)
- Khabibulin, Nikolai (Edmonton)
- Latendresse, Guillaume (Minnesota)
- Ponikarovsky, Alexei (Carolina)
Five nature fun facts from today’s winter weeds workshop with Stephanie Mason:
- The generic name for the tickseed sunflowers, Bidens (two-toothed), describes the two-barbed achenes that are typical fruit of the various species.
- Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is also known as Bead Fern. Look at the spore cases along the fronds in winter to see why.
- The slender seed pod of Dogbane (Apocynum sp.) looks like a mustard’s silique, but it’s actually a follicle that splits open on one side.
- Broom Sedge (Andropogon virginicus) is not a sedge, but a grass, and it rather resembles Little Bluestem.
- A little while ago, I had tumbled to the nomenclatural connection between Cardueline finches and Carduus thistles. But what I didn’t know, as Stephanie explained, is that goldfinches delay breeding into the summer, when thistles are about to set seed. Rather than feeding nestlings insects, as is the norm with songbirds, the parents regurgitate “thistle milk” for their young.
Five (and five more) obsolete common names for birds, taken from the index to Richard H. Pough, Audubon Bird Guide: Small Land Birds of Eastern & Central North America from Southern Texas to Central Greenland, 1946 and 1949, and their modern synonyms.
- Lichtenstein’s Oriole
- Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis). M. Heinrich Lichtenstein (1780-1857) was honored by Johann Wagler by naming the oriole for him.
- Bandit Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas). The old name has a lot more mojo.
- Batchelder’s Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). Another eponym that perhaps was a casualty of lumping species together, in this case Gairdner’s Woodpecker, Nelson’s, and Willow.
- Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). I’d say, “like it sounds,” but the bird doesn’t sound like that at all.
- Forest Chippy
- Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivora). Described in the field guides as having voice like a Chipping Sparrow.
- Grease Bird
- Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis). Along with several other equally uncomplimentary names.
- Huckleberry Bird
- Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla). Apparently a preferred nesting substrate.
- Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus). This name-sayer name actually works. It’s also known as Whip-Tom-Kelly. Poor Tom.
- Pork and Beans
- Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). Yet again, supposedly onomatopoetic. I don’t hear it.
- Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa). Another case where the old name is short, descriptive, and to the point, while the new one reads like a committee report. Sort of like the difference between the original Metro station names and the hyphenated jawbreakers we have today.
Stuff that’s just fun to say:
- luscious fuchsia
- Giulio Cesare
- A ribbon marker sewn into a book binding; a store full of office supplies; a cable channel dedicated to ice hockey.
- Elections happen every two years (plus the off-year Virginia governor’s race), even if I don’t always like the outcome.
- (And this is not always the case:) My onsite consulting job: interesting projects; smart, articulate people to work with; sane project managers; a stimulating location downtown; a (usually) predictable, comfortable commute.
- Art, unlike life, lets you rehearse.
- Indoor plumbing.
- “that Star Trek moment”
- “it seemed to get in your way”
- “would urge you to reconsider”
- your own voice, explaining
Fortunately, Leta and her team didn’t hear anything like these after their lovely presentation of Clean, by Audrey Cefaly, at ESTA in Newark, Del., but rather a few constructive suggestions (“maybe a puddle of water at the opening”) and lots of compliments like “detailed,” “believable,” and “specific.”
Five genres on my iPod not likely to be found elsewhere, as assigned by me:
- Irish Soul (The Commitments)
- New Swing (Joe Jackson, Swing Out Sister, Meaghan Smith)
- Electrofolk (Beth Orton, Snakefarm, Nels Cline)
- Brass Fusion (Chicago, The Ides of March)
- Alien Pixie (Björk, Laurie Anderson, Radiohead)
Nearby cities that I have never visited (expressways and airports don’t count):