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March 2nd, 2003

on fish and plant

"We are beginning to know our house plants--more important still, they are beginning to know us".--Xena Field

"For those who are contemplating the keeping of tropical aquarium fishes, the platies are excellent choices for a number of reasons.
Not only are they quite hardy, but they readily breed, a big plus for the novice"--Donald Mix

In my mind, a twenty gallon aquarium filled with wild guppies at play is gently lit with fluorescent bulbs in our home. It's well planted with both natural and artificial plants, and the fish cavort in the tank, enrapt in pure joy. The tank is flawlessly clean, though it has a mild, green hue, as if algae, while gone, is not quite forgotten. I imagine myself sitting in an easy chair I don't now own, quietly meditating about things that reflective people think about, between gentle feedings of high protein TetraMin Color Flake food and perhaps the occassional treat of brine shrimp (which I never call Sea Monkeys in this context), dried tubifex worms and a plethora of alternative flake foods.

In fact, my last tank was donated to the neighbor girl in California, to whom I also donated my guppies when we moved. It was only ten gallons in size, though it did house hundreds of happy wild ("feeder") guppies, who dined on a wide variety of foods, and multiplied at will. I had no easy chair, and the tank perpetually looked like an advertisement for a new program on the Discovery Channel called "Discovery: Thick, Green Algae".

In my mind, my indoor garden would be like the small cactus greenhouse at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden--ten feet long, six feet high, and filled with cacti from Andean and Sonoran climes. I'd step inside my greenhouse to a world of painstaking care, and the cacti would frequently bloom. Indeed, when we lived in California, my cacti bloomed all the time, making me feel so gifted in my giftlessness. In my current reality, though my small collection of one dollar pots of cacti and succulent plants does well, but not extravagantly so, while my sansiviera (snake plant) thrives, and my pony palm seems quite jaunty.

My theory is that love is but one element of a successful relationship, and thus feasibility must also enter into the equation. Thus, while I love plants, I am wise enough to raise only the hardiest succulents and dark-loving tropicals. Once in a long while, I will set up a terrarium, proud of myself for knowing where to find good charcoal and the origin of the original term, Wardian Case. Although I love tropical fish, I know to confine myself to the easiest livebearers, which can thrive under even the enthusiastic yet imperfect conditions I manage to create.

I went to an orchid sale a few weeks ago. Orchids, once seen as a demanding plant grown only in detective novels by men like Nero Wolfe, now are known as an "everyplant", accessible to anyone willing to invest ample time in their care. But I must confess that I prefer a rebutia cactus to an exotic orchid every time. I've nothing against the orchid--I just prefer to see myself as a force for light and life, not as a plant killer.

Although on some level I'm sure I should feel diminished that my skills in such matters are limited to raising easy things well, I posit that it's all too easy to forget what a miracle it can be to have a plant or fish at all. I think that in life, not everything need be an extreme or hair-raising experience. Sometimes it's okay to have a tank of easy, shimmering guppies, even though it requires no special skill to keep them alive. I think it's okay to have a thriving snake plant, even if almost the only way to kill a snake plant is to pay very much attention to it.

I used to buy cactus seeds from the Theodore Payne Foundation, this wonderful native plant resource in an old home amid the Verdugo Hills in Sun Valley, California, and then sell the seeds to buyers from across the country on ebay. As with many ebay sales I do, money was a secondary consideration. I'd offer a dozen of this or that curious succulent plant seeds. At auction close, I'd have the seller mail me a stamped envelope (along with the dollar or two of auction funds), and then return two dozen or so of the seeds in a sandwich bag placed inside the envelope. Cactus seeds are not as easy to grown as cacti themselves, but the buyers always seemed thrilled to get unique cacti in the mail this way. I wonder if those seeds sprouted? Do they sit on plant ledges facing sunny windows even now?

We've had a lot of news stories lately about the problem is succulent plant expropriation in the west Texas desert. Apparently, the laudable Arizona xerigraphic plant movement, focused on putting Tuscon and Phoenix back on the straight and narrow path of growing desert plants in desert climes, have spawned a host of homeowners who now pay top dollar for ocotillo and cacti of a certain size. The result is that cacti and other succulents are being uprooted from their former estate in the Chihuahuan desert in Texas and artificially transplanted to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. There's some sad lesson there--homeowners and landscapers could not simply wait to grow slow-growing plants to create native plant displays--they had to import them from wild locales elsewhere. Even in our greenest moments, the consumerism and instant gratification is inescapable. Meanwhile, a new brand of desperado--the cactus rustler--roams west Texas. Where is Roy Rogers when you need him? He'd have a song like "Little Needle Friends of the Cowboy", with lines like "it may seem like a burr in the saddle/but podner it's the cactus plant I love".

In the tropical fish hobby, meanwhile, aquarium hobbyists imported the snakehead fish, a voracious carnivore from Asia and Africa, into the aquarium hobby. The snakehead, which, in a burst of true advertising, has a head that looks a bit like a snake, now has gotten loose into the waterways of seven states, wreaking havoc on native fish stocks. Prior to the snakehead problem, literally hundreds of species of freshwater fish were available for the aquarium trade, and posed no threat to local wildlife. But collectors seem unwilling to be content with what works well in aquariums, but instead must always go for the exotic or dangerous import.

But for me, I wonder what happened to my tank full of guppies?
Did the girl to whom I gave them keep the tank going, or did she tire of it and move to more exotic fish? I don't believe it is worth the trouble to track down the answer to that question. Maybe it is time to start figuring out the most inexpensive place to get a new tank, and if any pet stores in this area have "feeder guppies".

putting out the fire with styrofoam

Today has spun along slowly, as I fantasized about becoming an optometrist, which was my poll answer for what I would study to be if I started all over again. Someday when we can get everything done by distance learning, perhaps we'll all find our escapes in constant re-education. I think it would be fun to be an optometrist, because it would be so much more nurturing than what I am now. I think I'd have to go to Houston for it, though, which is a bit far to commute :).

After we ate a charming lunch at Mimi's coffee shop, I moved on to artistic things. I assembled my new styrofoam cutter. It's a very "complex" device. It has two D batteries in a paper tube. These connect to a conduct material on the end of the tube. When the connection switch is thrown "on", then an electrical connection is formed to heat piece of wire, strung from a little metal "v". Voila! Instant styro burn! When I put the heated wire against styrofoam, it melts like butter. I feel like a real tyro of pyro wizardry, with my styro wand slicing aimlessly.

So far, I've carved three pawns, a rook, 2 knights, and a bishop out of styrofoam, although all but the pawns look like kinda carved blobs. I lettered them to ensure that less imaginative minds than mine can see their true nature. I am still working out the problem of coloration. How will I create the black pieces? Does one paint styrofoam? I have this mental image that one dips styrofoam in sprinkles, or rubs it in a dust-like substance, but this may be my imagination run wild. It has not escaped my notice that a styrofoam chess set will be much less expensive to ship to Belgium than a soap chess set.

I'm pleased to see so many poll responses in general, and in particular those setting forth things to do with ninety six billion dollars other than armed conflict. I think education is the one constant. I tend to be skeptical of both parties on social issues. I'd love to see a time in which every child does get a chance, though, and not just unfunded lip service.

I've now posted twelve entries in gurdondark, and am on a pace which suggests to me that I will reach the defined 100 posts in about six months. Now it's about time for me to set up the literary journal that I've thought of for a few months now. The best part of my creative efforts, of course, is finding the idea about the title. Gurdonarts? Gurdonarte? Gurdon's Ark? Hmmm.....I feel a long free verse poem/novel coming on, but it may transmogrify into a vast comic essay instead. There really isn't much difference, when I write them, other than indentation. I'll have to think of a theme. In recent years, I've thought of the Brooks-Baxter War, a particularly silly (if fatal) brush fire revolution in Arkansas during Reconstruction, the meaning of life, and an entire chess tournament as potential themes. I'm not sure that theme matters, though, so much as just getting the words down on the page. My writing is not really plot-driven, but driven by a sense of individual whimsy made into words.

Reading all the potential career choices also makes me wish to start an LJ on "cool careers and how to quickly train to do them".
I think that career counseling in this country is still in a primitive state. So many new careers now exist which are "hot", but for which too few people train, particularly in the "allied health" fields. I'd love to put up post after post of potential cool careers, and how to get there from here, from the easiest to achieve to the most arcane. So many daydreams, so little time.

Ms. Baker Eddy's biography has some rather disturbing passages, when she determined that she and hers were the victims of "malicious animal magnetism". This, apparently, involves the use of mental powers by rival mind-giants to directly affect life and sanity. I must admit that this form of "malicious animal magnetism" does not work for me as a life's credo, although I can readily agree that I have through personal observation noted that certain attractive young men have seemed to work a power over certain thoughtful young women to whom I was attracted, in what I can only describe as a form of "animal magnetism".

My sore throat is nearly gone, and I'm feeling almost chipper. I plan to work on many of my "things I've been meaning to get done" list. I'm pleased that the sitemeter.com counter works so well. It hits the spot--it doesn't invade anyone's privacy, but it does give me a good idea about readership. The "details" render ISP/server level, but not individual identifier level, info as to who visits. It's always curious to me when I see a Russian one or one from a place I know of no LJ friends. I suspect these are just journal entries that hit google, causing someone to stop by. Now I must add the digic am and the web hosting service to my tool sets--it's almost time that I started posting photos on my LJ. I don't have much to show, as I don't have much to say, but it would be fun to show it.

In the next day or two, I will post the Bizarro April 1 LJ announcement post, describing an LJ event in which all who participate will post a "bizarro" post opposite of their true selves, following up on an idea marstokyo had some weeks ago. I also will launch my Mail Poetry call, soliciting worthless words from friend and stranger alike! I notice that in February I got a lot of work done, but also a lot of hobby done.
Let's see if March can really roll.

swimming along

We went to the new Rockfish Grill, which opened just up the freeway from us. Although my wife and I have a mild prejudice against chains other than barbecue chains, Rockfish Grill serves broiled fresh fish, both tasty and healthy. I am into healthy now, and I can already feel the difference. But I still wax nostalgic for fried catfish and gingerbread men. The Rockfish Grill had a free jukebox, but we had finished our meal before "And She Was", "China Girl", "China Grove" or any of my other selections came on. The jukebox didn't have "Love will Tear Us Apart", "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" or any of the works of Gentle Giant or Camel. Even the B-52s supply was low, and when a jukebox lacks B-52 madness, one might as well be in a funeral parlor. Also, hint to management: the correct REM songs are "Radio Free Europe" and "Little America", not the one you chose, and the way to impress is not with Little Eva's "Loco-Motion" but with Grand Funk Railroad's. For that matter, give us "I'm Your Captain", and skip the potatoes altogether. I wouldn't complain if "Tell Me When it's Over" or "Watusi Rodeo" or "Ships in the Night" or even "Love is for Lovers" showed up on a jukebox, but I live in the real world.

I finished the styrofoam complete chess set for the mail art call! I took pix of the result with my throwaway camera, and will try to post them as son as I get them developed and sign up for a web hosting service. My wife said "how do you know which piece is which?", which just shows how avant gardish they are. I put 16 white styrofoam pieces, 16 black (really "salt 'n' pepper") pieces and two of my soap carvings, as well as copies of "Chess Poems for the Tournament Player", in the box addressed to Belgium, ready to go. I'm proud of myself, however modest the work product. I like to finish things. I love chess.

I also got something out the door to voodoukween, and made a strong start on my long overdue nervousness exchange due to texastornado_91. I should have it in the mail soon. I'm eager to finally get heymaggie's project done later this week, as it seems to have been hard for me to get done so far. I was disappointed that my other "tornado" friend, clickitgirl, deleted her journal. Although we don't share many common viewpoints, she's always pleasant and interesting. I hope she returns.

I finally got enough sleep this weekend, saw two videos, and almost am back up to speed from my illness. But I feel the need to find a new novel to read, and reviews tell me that the new Sparks album is a real departure, something nearly as wonderful as "Kimono My House". So I have media acquisitions to make, and dreams as yet undreamt.