There is always something in the air in the forest.
There was something especially in the air in the forest this evening. Something slipped through my pores and stuck to my skin like sticky seed burrs. The slip-slide-splat of mud; the schmuck of boots on damp leaves; the gentle pushback of moss on the woodland ground; the lively wiggles of a snail on a chanterelle; the petrichor smell of raindrops plopping on foreheads looking up through the canopy.
Maybe it’s that I’ve been exhausted all day, from lack of sleep and stress. Maybe it’s that for the past 24 hours I’ve barely consumed a vegetable; I’ve subsisted on sauteed pierogis and a bag of tortilla chips, my stomach rebelling against the lack of non-beige foods. But something in the woods today hit a reset on me. I still feel bloated and tired and maybe a little sad, but there’s an air of hope that wasn’t there before my two-hour foraging and identification foray.
I’ve only just met chanterelle mushrooms by name for the first time today. Upon picking one I was greeted by an old friend – a little snail.
I love their near-translucent shells, their little slurping movements, the way they can retract a full antenna like it was never there. A form of life so different from our own! And a wonderful reminder of un-expectation all around us.
I have no photos of this other new friend, but it struck some sort of chord with me: ghost pipe, or Monotropa uniflora. In the pale blue light of an evening forest you can imagine the eeriness of a near-clear white, bell-shaped parasite emerging among the detritus. It feels like the fleshy cartilage of your ear, and it pokes out from the wet woodland network like a spirit. This is the kind of thing that wakes me from thoughts that I may be imaging a world all my own – I could never have come up with something like this.
It is the sensations of the forest that are the “something.” The giggling shock of reaching down for a mushroom and landing on a slimy slug; ethereal ghost pipe floating up from the see of greens and browns in your eyes; the uplifting tang of petrichor as it starts to storm. Every forest bath is an experience like little else in a modern day.
I’m posting this today because it’s been a rough week. I’m still going through post-vacation lack of motivation as well as some lovely PMS/PMDD symptoms. Plus a COVID scare, a bunch of open projects that I lack the motivation or energy to finish, and a huge veterinarian bill.
Plants I would love to welcome into my home:
❀ pink jelly bean
❀ cast iron, especially ‘Hoshi-zora’
❀ fig tree
Pink Jelly Bean (Sedum rubrotinctum)
I just learned about these little cuties, and I love a good fun-colored plant. I’ve grown the green version before – my dad cares for that plant now. I think these are relatively safe for cats, but I’ll do plenty more research before I pull the trigger and buy one of these succulents.
I’ve been looking into larger, easier-maintenance plants as I want to travel a lot and my roommate isn’t fantastic with plants (but she is great with my cats!). Cast iron plants appear to be the perfect specimen for a home with pets and myriad lighting situations. I especially adore the Hoshi-zora variety with it’s little star-like dotting.
Finally, the good ol’ fig tree. This is an Italian household favorite and something I’d love to grow – but outside, as it’s toxic to cats. And since I don’t have much of an outdoor space right now and inflation is higher than El Capitan, this is a pipe dream for now. (If you can’t tell, I’m in a mood today.)
Also, my wonderful boyfriend bought me this Lego bonsai and I am so pumped! Talk about low-maintenance house “plants”!
This beautiful but invasive vine is illegal to plant in many US states nowadays because of just how well it’s done invasively! In order to contain the damage, the law says not to try and cultivate it – it won’t be contained!
But, What Is an Invasive Species?
First, let’s talk niches. A niche, in biological terms, is an ecological opening in an environment that an organism fits into because of it’s morphology, behaviors, etcetera. If an organism moves to a new ecosystem and finds a niche it fits well – for example, a spotted lanternfly being carried to the eastern United States and finding plenty of un-contested food sources – it will proliferate in the ecosystem.
Next let’s consider: What makes an invasive species “invasive?” This can be a little difficult to answer.
Imagine three different spiders existing on a small island out in the middle of the sea somewhere.
Spider Number One sits on a leaf blown by wind into the open sea. Luckily for Spider Number One, the mainland isn’t too far off and she makes it there alive, finding the environment to be hospitable there.
Spider Number Two sneaks into some local folks’ canoe chasing after a juicy fly. Little does she know the canoe is taking off for the nearby mainland, and that’s where she ends up to spend the rest of her spidery days.
Spider Number Three decides she deserves a cruise vacation and crawls onto a ship docked on the island beach. Little does she know that ship will bring her to the mainland with no hope for return, but the ecosystem on the mainland works out for her and she moves right on in.
Which – if any of these – are invasive to the mainland?
It’s important to remember that “invasive species” is defined by humankind – meaning it’s colored by human priorities and perspectives. Organisms shift to new habitats all the time over the eons – that’s part of evolution. But when humans bring a species to a new location and it takes root there and disturbs the well-known balance in that ecosystem, we call that invasive.
It’s interesting to consider that humans have probably been re-distributing species since long before we had formal scientific biology or cruise ships. We’re animals, a part of nature just as much as the next organism.
We should also recognize that certain species, those we humans move to new ecosystems but that do not seem to disturb the ecosystem as we perceive it (and/or are useful to us) are dubbed naturalized species or simply non-native species. A good example of a naturalized species is White Man’s Footstep, or plantain.
What’s going on with the Spotted Lanternfly?
So why all the fuss over the spotted lanternfly the last few years? They’re significantly pesty to plants we know and love! “Spotted lanternfly has proven to be a serious pest of grapes (both cultivated and wild). Besides agricultural crops like hops, apples, peaches, and other tree fruits, they move into wooded and residential areas to feed on black walnut, maples, tulip poplar, and black cherry. Because of the copious amount of honeydew they produce, SLF has become a significant nuisance in residential areas, promoting the growth of sooty mildew and attracting other insects.” (Cornell College of Agricultural and Life Sciences).
Efforts have been made to curtail further spread and kill off already-existing invasive populations in the eastern US.
There is certainly merit to controlling spread of invasive species like the lanternfly, if only for our own good. Again, after all, we too are part of nature.
Spotted lanternfly has proven to be a serious pest of grapes…hops, apples, peaches, and other tree fruits…black walnut, maples, tulip poplar, and black cherry…a significant nuisance in residential areas, promoting the growth of sooty mildew and attracting other insects.
However, we should continue to question our views of how we as humans act in nature. We tend to separate ourselves as being above nature, adjacent to nature, having outgrown nature. We forget ourselves. And of course we cause problems that we have a responsibility to fix; I only hope we can be more conscious of our reasoning and of the shortcomings of our knowledge.
So what’s an invasive species?A species that has found a niche outside of the environment it was found in prior and disrupts that new environment. Basically. It’s a basic biology concept, but we’re naive in thinking life is basic at all!
Would you believe I’ve found another skull on the beach?
And this isn’t a remote beach in the off season. This is a beachgoers’ beach in the northeastern US, mid-season, not after any kind of storm.
At first I joke that finding all these skulls means I’m cursed; however as a biologist, I sort of feel blessed.
These creatures followed the path we all follow and I was lucky enough to witness the aftermath of their identities. Bones are beautiful.
You may remember the drum fish skull from my previous skull post. This skull seems similar to that one; however it still appeared to have some flesh on it and I was headed back from an evening run, so I didn’t pick it up. Sometimes it just feels right to let something to back to the sea.
I’m hoping to do a more in-depth post on this particular skull in the future. At the time, my only slightly-founded belief is another drum fish; I didn’t do any in-depth searching because I’m on vacation.
However I did bring home some beach treasures! Of particular interest to me are the bat-shaped thingamadoos you’ll see at the righthand end of my ruler here:
These things appear to be water chestnuts, likely of the species Trapa natans. (Please feel free to correct me!)
These fruits seem to fit the proper description. The most interesting part of them to me is the striping along the flattest plane, pictured at right in the fruit at the front.
These things look like alien pods.
If you were curious: these are light and mostly hollow, with something rattling about inside (the seed of the aquatic T. natans).
If I didn’t have wine-and-vacation-brain, I’d put some more thought into that. For now I’m just appreciating the strangeness of the morphology of life.
Speaking of morphology less directly related to the ocean – my latest artistic endeavor is making a pressed-flower collage of flora from my dad’s garden. I’m currently just pressing the flowers and leaves:
Sometimes looking at the beauty around us and considering our own depth of experience, I wonder if evolution is too simplified. The theory of it, I mean. Is our only push to pass on our genes? Is our only push to survive, to survive past our own consciousness in the consciousness of our closest genetic relatives? What evolutionary drive pushes us to pick up treasures by the sea? I wonder. I hope you wonder, too.
Thanks to our local herbalist Annie Fox and the herbalism walks our local parks host, I now know about the wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius).
Running by a steep cliff overtaken by plants of all shapes and sizes, I’m reached out to by the thorny arms of the wineberry. Reddish-brown and so thorn-covered as to look like a medieval weapon, most of the year the wineberry looks like nature’s “Keep Out” sign. But I know it will give precious mini-raspberries come the hottest days of summer, and so when I pass by post-jog I make sure to smile back at the plant. It waves back in the wind.
And then, yesterday, finally – I saw berries!
⚠️ Please DO NOT eat any part of a plant if you are not 100% sure what that plant is. Contact a local herbalist/ecologist/etc. if you are unsure. ⚠️
As a lovely post-run snack, I snagged a wineberry. Delicious! I’d say they have the flavor of a muted raspberry. They’re also smaller than your average raspberry, and less juicy. But tasty and lovely just the same.
R. phoenicolasius is not native to the northeastern United States, but you’ll find it quite often here – “from New England and eastern Canada south to North Carolina and west to Michigan and Tennessee,” according to invasive.org.
Let’s make an important distinction here. In common parlance, an invasive species is one that humans have brought to a new habitat. Generally, if a species outcompetes other species to a point near extinction, or does something else disastrous to the original ecology, it remains entitled an “invasive” species. However, some invasive species, like common plantain, play nice with native plants and come to be called naturalized species. At least some folks consider the wineberry in this second category.
Interestingly, it’s said that the wineberry plant is a voracious grower endangering other nearby plants – which I’m sure is true. However the way it grows in my local park, it just seems so in-tune with the rest of the landscape! It reaches out among the leaves and trunks of other plants as if to say “hello” and offer up tasty treats.
Interested to learn more about the wineberry? Check out the fact sheet below. Or, if you can, get out and meet some wineberry plants yourself!
I’ve started back up with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy lately, in addition to my ERP therapy directly for OCD. And it’s made me think about where and how I spend my energy, what feels good to me, and what energizes me. Thinking about how I start my days, I’ve come up with an energy hierarchy for myself:
The idea here is that the bottom tier takes the least energy and is the basis for doing the activities at the upper tiers. So, for example, I won’t have the energy to exercise or relax into cartoon watching if I don’t get out of bed and feed the cats first. (I’d like to mention that depending on the day, coffee fits under basic survival 🤪) Then if I spend a ton of time just sitting around and not exercising, I won’t feel much like working on a painting. And if I don’t spend time doing something creative and spending quality time with myself, I won’t feel like spending time with others.
I imagine everyone’s energetic hierarchies would look different; some people are energized by socializing, for example, whereas I like to socialize but it tires me out.
I’m happy to be able to know my current self in this way. I think it’ll not only help me prioritize my time & energy, but also help me pick myself up when I’m feeling low.
A couple of buoying experiences over the last two days:
I got to make a gorgeous geode tie-dye bandana & a tie-dyed vintage Social Distortion shirt
I ran a ~10 minute mile, finally
I had a doctor fight for me against my insurance company that didn’t want to pay for my meds anymore
I reached out to some new friends even though I was nervous
I met a really interesting and beautiful girl
I’m so grateful for these emotional buoys, as life’s been challenging the last month or so. But what I want to allow these experiences to do for me – and for you, readers! – is support me as I work through my own personal Species Loneliness.
What is Species Loneliness?
I first learned this term from the ever-wonderful Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer in her infamous book Braiding Sweetgrass. Basically, we as humans do not know our non-human neighbors. I saw Dr. Wall Kimmerer speak at my local library, and she mentioned that it’s been shown children nowadays can recognize dozens of corporate logos by name – but barely any plants or trees.
Now, I’m not a “should/shouldn’t” type of person. Worlds change. I’m not going to monologue on “children shouldn’t know corporate logos but they should know trees,” even though I do feel that way. What I believe specifically is that knowledge of our ecological neighbors, getting to know them and even befriend them, is a more wholesome existence than knowing where the nearest McDonald’s is or the history of the “golden arches.” I know that I at least feel better now that I recognize some of the plants out on my hiking trails.
What can we do about it?
Well, that’s easy, isn’t it? What do you do when you move somewhere and you don’t know anyone? You go meet some folks!
We can go out and meet members of other species, too. (Safely, of course. No one’s suggesting trying to shake a grizzly’s hand.)
So, what’s this project you’ve alluded to?
It’s really not anything major. Basically I want to introduce readers to as many plants from the northeastern United States (because that’s where I am) as I can! It’s like introducing two friends to one another. I think it’ll be nice.
Let’s make friends. Keep checking back for posts about our nonhuman neighbors! (They’ll be categorized as ‘Local Life Profiles’).
It’s the first day of summer and despite a beautiful sun-filled sky, warm breezy weather, and cloudless blue, I’m not feeling up to snuff. I’m feeling lethargic, down, and although lonely I have no desire to go converse with folks.
Days like this are…depressing. It’s like, I wake up looking out at a sunny morning world and feeling like it might all be alright today. And then by mid-afternoon I feel like a zombie. Not tired, persay, but energy-less.
I did this two weeks ago for different reasons, but this evening I’m going to try and smoke-out the stale energy from my room using a flower want I got from my friend’s herbalist shop. I love using her stuff because I know the love and care she puts not only into making her products but also gathering the ingredients for her products. You can feel the love and kind energy in an ethical harvest.
Routine & rituals are things I revere greatly but that I’ve had trouble focusing on lately. A simple energy cleanse is at least a simple ritual that helps me. I want to mention that I’ve found there are a few important things about spiritual rituals:
💐They make YOU feel something (i.e. they aren’t necessarily prescribed by a religion, governing body, etc.)
💐The practice aligns with your values (i.e. if you value sustainable living, you only use sustainabile items in your practice)
I’ve also found that sometimes I just have to be open to not feeling anything. I’ll usually wait around to practice a ritual until my mind feels steady and focused – which makes it really easy to fall out of the habit. And only when I’m regularly practicing rituals does my mind feel more steady and focused. It’s a vicious cycle. So I’m trying to get into that opposite action mindset and just do the thing that I put together to bring me joy or cleansing or feeling – even if doesn’t do so that day.
aLike, for example, I normally love a good walk in the woods. Usually it helps clear my mind and bring a smile to my face. But some days I don’t feel like it’s going to do anything and I have no momentum, so I just don’t go. And it’s fine to just sit around some days, but I do start to miss my woods walks! So, like today when I’m feeling down, I’m going to go in the woods even if it’s just for 10 minutes with my headphones in blasting a podcast to get my butt out the door! Rituals don’t have to be perfect. Like a small-venue concert where the guitarist forgets a chord, sometimes the imperfections make you smile the broadest.
And so I wish you all, readers, a day with joyful imperfections.
(1) Fill a container large enough that the entire air plant can be submerged with room-temperature water.
(2) Remove airplants from there regular pot and place them in bath. Make sure the tips remain as submerged as possible.
(3) Leave in water for 20 minutes.
(4) Remove from bath and place somewhere to dry, making sure roots are sat upward so that they can absolutely dry out.
Watering air plants is pretty simple, albeit different from how you might water most plants. There are two important things to remember, so I’ve been told and experienced: The tips dry out the easiest, and the roots will rot if they remain wet.
When placing my airplants in their bath, I try and position them so that the tips are as completely submerged as possible. This can be hard with plants that have the tips oriented in myriad directions. Keep in mind that regularly misting your air plants can be a helpful way to keep the tips from drying out.
Once their bath is over, it’s time for the air plants to dry out. The air in my apartment tends to be pretty dry but I still make sure they stay out of their regular pot and upside-down for a few hours.
The point of their being upside-down is that the roots are open to the air and can dry out well. Remember – it’s not as big a deal if those tips stay wet, but we don’t want root rot!
And that’s really it! I mist maybe once a week between waterings, especially if the weather’s been especially dry.
A bonus tip for y’all darling readers who made it this far:
Have a plant that’s struggling? Maybe it’s surviving, but not thriving? Needs new growth? Try white willow!
White willow releases a growth hormone (and is easy to propagate in just water, which is how I got my sapling). So when my original basil plant was super anemic and only very slowly/barely growing new stems and leaves, I gently pruned off two twigs from my sapling and placed them in the soil of my basil plant. And it looks so much less anemic! The new growth is green and proud, especially so on the side where the twigs are inserted:
I hope these tips help you cultivate your gardens!
I’m in a transitional phase; a season of pruning. I find myself craving severing poor ties; not craving forced conncetion over joyful solitude any longer. I still want to share of myself with others but I feel much more discerning about whom and how much, in a way I sometimes worry may come off as cruel when my only real goal is to protect my energy.
I was raised a people-pleaser. I grew up doubting my decisions; I was raised taking the “higher road” of self-sacrifice for others, to baby others because I was “smarter,” “more mature,” etcetera. I was raised to bite my tongue when angry and dissect every interaction, every thought before it became spoken word. I was a priveleged kid, I have privelege now, my family is good and kind – but I would not say I’ve ever been fostered for who I am. Supported to a point, but it’s that classic Catholic-school conundrum – if you went to Catholic school most of your life, you probably understand what I’m getting at.
I got in trouble for humming in school. Even though I was the top student, never got in trouble, and that meant I was supposed to get to play Mary in the school pageant in 8th grade, the part was given to one of the worst-behaved students to “help her out” – because her mom yelled the loudest. I wasn’t allowed to play a Who in our Christmas pageant because I wasn’t “small and cute and Who-looking enough.” (This is all just elementary school, mind you.) I was told I couldn’t be an actress because “I’d never look like them.” If I’m being honest – and it’s hard for me to be, because I feel that someone-else-has-it-worse sense of guilt every time – I was bullied quite a few times. And I wasn’t really listened to, either. I feel like I’ve always been fighting something and I didn’t know what; now I’m realizing maybe I’ve been fighting myself I grew up feeling bad about myself.
But enough complaining – that’s not what this post is about. I’m working on transitioning out of that old me, starting a new timeline of wild self-love and enjoyability. I’m “re-parenting” myself. The Artist’s Way taught me to treat my inner child, to love and support it now because now I’m both that inner child and the adult who can give that inner child support!
So I’m doing the things I love to do, even if they seem scary or pointless. For the joy of the day, the moment. This ties into “opposite action,” to be discussed if you read on. I’m
🌿Making art and music
🌿Hanging out with my cats
🌿Spending time outside
🌿Spending time with a few close friends
🌿Cooking tasty, healthy meals
🌿Eating farmer’s market cherry pies
🌿Singing along with Spotify
🌿Hitting the bars
🌿Going thrifting for new clothes
and more. Because these are things I enjoy, and when greater Society feels pointless, these things are there for me.
Like I said, [capitalist] Society feels pointless. A friend once told me he was happier when he was homeless, and I don’t doubt it. I can imagine a feeling of surviving for yourself and for your circle; every complaint now, when I’m above survival threshhold, feels measly. And of course that’s because survival now looks different than it does to my monkey brain. Survival may be different now but we have too much – or at least too much of the wrong things. That’s why landfills are overflowing and I had to drop $15 for the only recycled toilet paper option. That’s near an hur’s pay literally down the toilet.
I’m certainly not advocating that anyone should go without home or comfort, I just hope we as a Society change our values and actions a bit. I’m tired of hearing “sustainability journey” and the other green-team buzzwords. This isn’t a holiday. This isn’t just for fun. This isn’t a round-the-world fun cruise “journey.” We’re literally trying to change the way we function so that we and our children and our children’s children will be able to have home and comfort.
Sometimes, between OCD and depressive symptoms, I struggle with momentum. There are many things I want to do but I sometimes feel like a lead sinker in the middle of the ocean; stuck and heavy.
I recently learned about opposite action and as I understand it, it’s basically pushing through mucky feelings and doing the opposite of what your anxiety/depression is telling you will feel the best. For example:
🧠I’m feeling down on a Sunday afternoon and I want to just sit in front of the TV and binge Supernatural. Instead, with opposite action in mind, I put on something light and happy (like Bob’s Burgers), stand up, and stretch out while I watch.
🧠I don’t feel like going outside. I just want to sit around the apartment. So thinking opposite action, I throw on some headphones and go for a walk around the block.
🧠I don’t want to take a break from staring at my computer screen doing work. So – because opposite action – I get up and wander around for a few minutes just to shift my mindset.
🧠I’m anxious about getting together with anyone, but I also know that sitting alone in my apartment for days won’t feel good – even though it seems easier. So – thinking opposite action – I set up a time to see a close friend for an hour or so.
🧠I worry that my bass-playing won’t be good enough and I’ll get grumpy, which makes me not want to pick up the instrument and play at all. But opposite action: I pick it up and play anyway.
What’s important here, I believe, is to notice the layers of want. Take that last example for instance. I both want to play the bass and want to not be grumpy/feel bad about my bass playing. And this is where my values-driven opposite action comes in. I value creativity, I value the enjoyment of playing music. So I push through the anxiety – I’m nervous that I’m going to feel bad if I don’t play well – and I play anyway.
In fact, a values-driven opposite action practice is going to inform the rest of this post – 🧠I really do not feel like taking care of my plants today because I’m nervous about getting dirt all over the floor or realizing that a plant is dead. But the health of my houseplants matters to me, so I’m going to do it anyway.
Cactus & Succulent Care
It’s the summer now, and warming temperatures mean an updated watering schedule for my cacti and succulents. Of course they still don’t get watered very often; I’m a proponent of rare and heavy watering for these types of plants.
Increased temperature and more intense sunny days also means I can remove my grow light setup for my adult desert plants.
As you can see in the image above at right, the vacuum will need to be broken out after all this.
My echeveria got a coffee treatment today to lower the soil pH. Luckily, I had some leftover bean juice I couldn’t finish and that just got funneled right into the soil. Plus I pruned away the dried-out flower stalks just so my cat wouldn’t chew on them and inadvertantly make a mess.
I’ve also still got my little infant jade plant going. I suspect she may need a larger home to grow into soon, but for now she got some very-diluted fertilizer and water.
Care for all the other plants
First things first, my own care. I stopped to eat a chamomile flower – I love the grassy-yet-sweet taste of these little darlings.
We start with the easy things to do. My kitchen window basils get misted, my recently-pruned celery gets checked on, and my epiphytes go in for their bath. My crispy wave fern goes in for its shower.
While the gorgini sit in their 20-minute warm water bath, I get to the rest of the plant care. The parlor palms also get checked on, and they seem plenty watered and happy. Next the ponytail palm gets checked on – same situation there. Take a look at the closed terrarium – all good, seeing some growth there. White willow sapling gets a good drenching from the watering can. All spider plants get a watering. Peperomia gets a look-see and since the soil’s dry down two inches, a good watering is had.
Gorgons come out of the bath, and look – these two are hugging are they dry!
Next comes two bigger undertakings: (1) Pruning and cleanup, and (2) Re-seeding. These primarily take place for my bedroom and bathroom plants.
Check out the before-and-after of cleanup in my bedroom window:
You might notice that a wheatgrass is missing in both photos. All of my wheatgrasses needed replanted. With grasses, regular pruning/cutting can help keep them healthy and green, but I fell off with my pruning because wheatgrass just grows so fast! So I saved what I could and re-seeded.
Now, one of my bathroom plants died and so I had to prune the rotted-out remnants away. Someday, in my dreams, I’ll have somewhere to compost this type of thing. But otherwise I make sure all the bathroom plants are dust-free, doing well, and watered.