Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dog Day Update

The Dog Days are well underway and the news so far is pretty good.

A hand-me-down from ancient times, the Dog Days extend from July 3 through Aug. 11. The Greeks and Romans knew that Sirius, the Dog Star, rose simultaneously with the sun during this period. They believed that since it was such a strong star, Sirius added to the sun’s heat, making the Dog Days the hottest time of the year.

English countrymen said that if it rained on the first Dog Day, the rain would continue for 40 days. Those who’ve inspected their lawns lately know well that, after a wet spring, the sun has been doing a lot of shining these dog days – except maybe for last Monday.

But that’s good, say the English, who also believed:

Dog days bright and clear

indicate a happy year.

But when accompanied by rain,

for better times our hope’s in vain.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Alien threats

Illegal immigrants are much in the news lately, but immigrants of a different sort are sneaking across our borders and causing havoc.

The Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle from Asia discovered here in 2002, has killed countless ash trees – more than 20 million in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana alone. It has cost towns, property owners, nurseries, and forest products industries – even baseball bat makers – tens of millions of dollars. It’s just one of a passel of insect and plant pests that have entered our country hidden in packaging or produce. Some problem plants, such as Purple Loosestrife, Japanese Knotweed and Yellow Flag Iris, were imported deliberately because of their beauty, only to become bulls in an environmental china shop.

Without natural controls, some alien plants spread wildly, pushing out native plants and in the process destroying ecologies that support many native birds, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

What can we do? Know and destroy invasive plants. And insist that legislators support not only better surveillance of our ports of entry, but also research into combating imported pests that have already arrived.

Our leaders must understand that not all alien threats to our nation come from terrorists.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Does your furniture click?

Behold the beetle, perhaps the most successful of all life forms. One in every five species on Earth – including plants – is a kind of beetle. More than 24,000 different beetles live in North America alone.

Many are well-known. In July, for instance, we find lady bugs, fireflies, and – despite their name – June bugs. Most share a common trait: Their first pair of wings has hardened into plates that provide protection. When the beetle needs to fly, these plates, called elytra, are raised to unveil the flight wings.

Most beetles are harmless. Some are pests, however, and a few annoy in odd ways.

Take the Death-watch Beetle, which bores its way into wood, including furniture. To communicate, males and females rap their heads against the tunnel walls, producing a clicking sound. To folks generations ago, clicking furniture meant a death in the family was imminent.

Then there is the Drugstore Beetle. “Virtually nothing organic is off-limits to this insect, including leather, flour, dried beans, and cayenne pepper,” write Eric Eaton and Kenn Kaufman in the Kaufman Field Guild to Insects of North America. “It will even bore through plastic vials to get to a meal.”

Or how about the Cigarette Beetle, which loves dried vegetable matter, but is especially fond of tobacco. It favors chewing, though. “So far, it has not been observed smoking,” report Eaton and Kaufman.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

July’s power

July is the month when the sun is strongest. In our neighborhood, high temperatures average 84, five degrees warmer than in June and three higher than in August.

Because the sun shows so much power in July, Mark Anthony had the month Quintilis changed to honor his late friend, Julius Caesar, a man of great power. The change also eliminated the nasty problem of the seventh month being named five, its old position in the Roman year.

The ancient Saxons were more down to earth about naming their months. July was Hay Monath, when they mowed and harvested hay, or sometimes Maed Monath, supposedly because the meads – the meadows – were in bloom then. However, mead is also an ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.

And since it’s said that mead imbues the drinker with wisdom, courage and strength, perhaps Maed Monath is the time to sit back, sip some mead, and quietly seek these admirable qualities.