Briony Penn’s A Year on the Wild side is a total delight. She wrote the essays over a period of 25 years, and every story is enriched by one of her gorgeous colour illustrations.
We now have 24 more copies, which we are selling for $25 (no tax) as a fundraiser for the Yellow Point Ecological Society. Pick-up from my home at 13561 Barney Road, in Yellow Point, just north of Ladysmith. Payment by cash, check or e-transfer. Call me to reserve a copy, Guy Dauncey, 250-924-1445 or email me: guydauncey at earthfuture dot com
She carries you through the year with two essays/stories for every week, from a washed-up Giant Octopus in January to the Rattle of Ravens in December. In between, in prose that is musical, magical and ecologically to-notch, she seduces you into the secrets of Nature’s glorious interconnected detail. As a writer, she makes me envious of her skills.
“How would you feel as you slide through the jaws of a snake? This question has cropped up in my life at various times.”
Each essay makes for great reading aloud to children or grandchildren – but not at bed-time, since your children will be sure to respond with many questions, leading to much discussion.
“I have always been very fond of toilet plungers. They remind me of hot summer evenings under a full moon at low tide on the steaming mud sands of the Salish Sea.”
And be warned! This book will seduce you and your family into getting out into the forest, into the tidal pools, and out on the water.
“Of late, my dreams have taken me into eelgrass meadows – those sanctuaries of emerald-green grass that grow below the sea in quiet bays and estuaries.”
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. Genesis,1:20 KJV
One bug that can really get under the skin of even the most zealous gardening environmentalist is the dreaded aphid. Before you can say Chrysantheumum cinerariifolium, these nature lovers are getting out their vacuum cleaners, their concoctions of garlic, soap, water and hot peppers, their jumbo-sized boxes of ladybugs, their high-pressure washers—anything, indeed—with which to annihilate the pesky blighters.
While it is true that the tiny creatures can suck the life out of a rose or a greenhouse-load of peppers in a matter of days, what is also true is they are incredibly interesting. A moment or two’s reflection should be taken before extirpating countless generations with a garden hose or blow torch.
Did you know, for example, that if one were to dissect a female of the species (another sure-fired way to ensure the last suck she’ll take is an inhalation of air), you may be able to see another female, like a Russian doll, inside her beautiful green body? Yes, aphids give birth, not to eggs, but to live offspring, just like whales, elephants and humans. If that alone isn’t enough to stop the aphicide, there is more—much more—to this lowly creature that may make you press pause on your pathological derision.
Parthenogenesis in biblical proportions
Aphids are in such a hurry to make babies that sometimes, when it’s summertime and there’s plenty of sucking to do, they don’t even bother with the whole business of finding a mate, courting, procreating, obligatory après-cigarette, etc. They simply give birth without the use of a male or his sperm. Without Y-chromosomes, the offspring are always female, but who doesn’t love little girls, especially when they, too, can do this parthenogenesis trick to reproduce in numbers that are practically biblical in proportion?
This is not the only bar trick that aphids have up their proverbial sleeves. Have you ever seen an aphid with wings? Probably not, because you’re too busy squishing the bejesus out of them. But if you do look, you may notice that some are winged and some are not. This is because they can decide—or rather their proteins decide—whether they need wings or not. If it’s getting too crowded in one greenhouse and they think it prudent to set up shop elsewhere, aphids can produce offspring with wings. Although they may not win any awards for aerial acrobatics, they can harness an afternoon breeze to land on another patch of succulent vegetables, and before you know it, they’ve got a franchise up and running.
When I was a small child—before the time of Sputnik, Luna, and Apollo missions—little green men, I was told, lived on our cheese-made moon. In my imagination, the little green men – who were much smaller than the gullible Gulliver’s Lilliputians – kept aphids as pets and took them for walks using little tiny leashes. I would watch them for hours and imagine how small their food bowls and collars must be.
Would you like some honeydew?
Being quite scatological (a word I learned while taking my BA), Jonathan Swift would have been fascinated to know that aphids drink a kind of Milk of Paradise and they poo a kind of honeydew. Ants, having quite the sweet tooth, unabashedly lick up all the poo the aphids produce and encourage them to make more by herding them to more succulent spots. Ants have also been known to protect their herds of aphids by caring for them in their ant-homes during the winter and bringing them out to graze again in the spring, like any good farmer.
How I wish I could tell Swift that aphids have tailpipes—tubular structures on their hind ends that entomologists call siphunculi—out of which they can spew a sticky substance, either to gum up the mouth of a pursuing predator or to protect their bodies from being made into a host home by a parasitoid for its own offspring.
Right about now you are probably thinking that this is the stuff of science-fiction, but I assure you it is all true. I asked my sister to verify it, and though she’s a geneticist and not an entomologist, she knew most of what I said and was unsurprised at the rest. “Not enough work has been done on the aphid,” she said. “I should have gotten some of my students to research them.”
What did the aphid do in the bar-room brawl?
Research them they should! How else are we supposed to learn how aphids defend themselves against those that consider them lunch? So far scientists have learned that they are quite good at bar-room brawls. Being expert kickboxers, they can pummel their pursuers with their long legs or do the stop-drop-and-roll trick and make a fast get-away. They’ve been seen stabbing their enemies in the egg cartons, killing the next generation of insects in vitro. Some aphids develop spines so that their enemies find them difficult to chew on. Some are born soldiers and never grow past the nymph stage. Like female eunuchs, these particular aphids have a sole purpose in life: to protect the oikos, which they do to their death.
With a list of enemies that include ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, hoverflies and damsel bugs, not to mention the aforementioned (so-called) gardening environmentalists, I do believe we should study these unbelievable bugs before we bash or blast them into oblivion. Aphids may not be welcomed as pests in our garden, but they do, like all creatures great andsmall, deserve our admiration.
How to detect an infestation
If you see a sticky substance—the honeydew—on the leaves of your plant, look closely forgreen, pink, or even black dots. Chances are these are aphids. The leaves of the plant may have become misshapen, crinkly, or yellow from the sap being sucked out of them. Another possibility is that the honeydew may have attracted dust from molds. Still another possibility is that the plant has developed a canker sore as a result of all the aphid destruction.
What to Do
After you’ve appreciated your aphids, you can usually wash them off with the spray attachment on a garden hose. Failing that, squish them or sprinkle flour on top of them. The flour will give them indigestion, and they’ll move along. Other methods include wiping them off with a mixture of dish soap and water, or usinga spray of insecticidal soap. As a last resort, diatomaceous earth (DE) can be sprinkled on the plant, but don’t do this if the plant is flowering as it will be harmful to beneficial pollinators as well.
Plant something nearby that aphids don’t like. Aphids hate catnip, garlic and chives. Nasturtiums and mustards can be planted alongside to save broccoli, roses, lettuces, or peas. Check your trap plants often, and get rid of any aphids promptly before they attack the plants you want to save.
You can attract ladybugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings, or other beneficial bugs to your gardens by planting marigolds, alyssum, dill, mint, fennel, Echinacea, calendula and buckwheat.
I didn’t believe him when he said the fish could sing. I didn’t believe him when he said, in fact, that they could sing so loudly I should be able to hear them on land. That maybe I had heard them, but had mistaken their song for a generator, or some kind of weird engine.
I didn’t believe him when he said the fish had marks that were actually lights, and that these lights were so bright they could be seen at depths below 400 meters, which is where the fish live most of the time. Except when they mate in the intertidal zone.
The Yellow Point Ecological Society is starting a regular biweekly blog.
Would you like to try your hand at writing?
by Guy Dauncey
Choose a topic that is specific and tangible, such as the nuthatch, twinflowers, Roberts Memorial Park, a specific idea to solve one of our ten thousand ecological problems, or a personal experience. Make it sound intriguing, such as “The Secret Life of the Merganser” or “My Magical Moments in Hemer Park.”
Limit your blog to around 750 words.
Do your research, to include material that will be new and interesting to most people. Did you know that Midshipman Fish could sing, and that they breed in Ladysmith Harbour? Google your way to instant professorship.
Find an unusual hook to get the reader started. “We were amazed to hear not one but four barred owls calling to each other when we took the children for a night walk at Blue Heron Park a week ago.”
Understand that it is normal to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite four times before you get it right. All the best writers do it. Leo Tolstoy rewrote War and Peace (587,000 words) seven times, requiring his long-suffering wife Sofia to do the actual rewriting – by hand.
Avoid socio-consequential prosaic formulations that use long words and complex ideo-formulaic constructions. You are not writing an academic PhD.
Have fun. Be playful with your words and phrases. Let them dance and enjoy themselves – oh, you outrageous rollocking racoons!
Tell a story. “I was in my bedroom when my father rushed in and shouted ‘Come down! You’ve got to see this!’. I was eight years old, always willing to be excited, but never had I expected to see our dog with our kitten sleeping on his head. It was the start of a life-long devotion to the study of animal behaviour.”
Use links. You can embed one into the text by using control K to highlight a word or phrase and Control C then V to copy and paste the link in. Two, perhaps even five is fine, but not twenty. That’s a bit much.
Print a copy and read it aloud. This will tell you whether it flows along like a pleasant piece of music or clunks along like a reluctant blog that needs a trip to the repair shop. You could also ask a friend to read it before you send it off. You never know – they may think it’s great!
Don’t be shy to use spelchek. Don’t Use Capitals except for unique names. You wanted so desperately to visit a park you’d never been to before, so you settled on Eve’s Park.
Choose an image to accompany your story. To be clear about copyright, use Google Image search, click ‘Tools’, then ‘Usage rights’, then ‘Labelled for reuse’. If you want to be creative, drag the image into a Powerpoint page and play around with it to make something creative. Then use Grab or a screen-capture app to turn your new image into a jpeg.