Native Plants

I’ve become semi-obsessed with native plant species in the past few years – partly as a result of two awesome classes I took in undergrad, but increasingly also because it’s useful to know the ecology of places where you’re doing archaeology. And also because I have this dream garden I’m planning for when I have a house (which I don’t), and I’m very excited about the idea of using native flora to attract and support local fauna – birds, butterflies, lightning bugs, dragonflies, bats, frogs, toads, skinks, turtles…I’m interested in pretty much any wildlife that isn’t parasitic or deadly.

I decided to post about some of the native species I’ve encountered in the field this month, since I’ve come across some of my very favorite examples of why planting native is awesome. First, there’s this gorgeousness:

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Passiflora incarnata (Maypop)

It’s a passionflower, and yes, it’s edible, according to Temperate Climate Permaculture (they even give instructions for using the fruit and leaves in cooking and teas). Not only is it gorgeous and tasty, it’s also good for your friendly neighborhood local pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. And who doesn’t want butterflies and hummingbirds in their garden??? Local birds like the fruit, too, so you can consider this a self-filling bird-feeder that squirrels won’t ravage.

Even more attractive to butterflies are several (very pretty!) varieties of native milkweed, which can be hot pink, pale pink, dark purple, and orange (I’ve also heard of red and yellow varieties, but I don’t know if those are native to this area or not). In the field this month, I worked in two areas full of milkweed plants, and there were literally dozens and dozens of butterflies going crazy over the flowers. Hummingbirds and bees are also fans, but the swallowtails, red spotted purple admirals, and monarchs were definitely the most enthusiastic dudes at the concert.

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Swamp milkweed with Eastern tiger swallowtail (left) / Butterfly milkweed (right)

Native plants also support lightning bugs (who, like bees, are declining in population these days). Aside from being little twinkles of happiness, lightning bugs also EAT MOSQUITOES – so do dragonflies! So there’s an incentive for you to plant a rain garden of native species to attract lightning bugs and dragonflies.

I also met this horse last week, and there’s nothing that says Kentucky like a handsome horse, so here:

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This horse was apparently taught as a foal not to take apples from strangers, because he wasn’t having it.

Back When I Could Draw….

Once upon a time, around 1999-2003 or so, I used to be able to draw. I’m out of the habit now, although I still occasionally do an art project. But I’m scanning in some of my old drawings so I’ll have digital copies of them, which is a bit of a trip down memory lane. The two drawings included in this post were done toward the beginning (the tree frog) and end (the hawk) of my first semester of art class at Corydon High School, back in 1999. I have many good memories of learning to shade without scribbling in that class, most of them with a soundtrack of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, with many good conversations with my friends and with our awesome art teacher.

Something I learned in that class about drawing, I’ve also learned to apply to my writing: if you try to put a drawing together by drawing and shading each part perfectly, you’ll end up with a distorted (if well-shaded) image, essentially impossible to fix (short of erasing the whole thing and starting over). The same applies to writing a book – at least, in my experience. If you painstakingly perfect every scene as you go, you might end up with beautiful sentences or passages, but the pacing is terrible and the plot is too thin in places and too overdone in others. And you can’t just pull it apart and stick it back together so easily, because moving those lovely sentences into a different context usually takes all the power out of them. Having learned this the hard way, I compare my writing strategy these days to the process of drawing:

002 First, you sketch the outline. The outline is rough, vague, and leaves out the details and the shapes the shading is going to fill in. Then you write your rough draft, which is like the first pass at shading a drawing – get your contrast set up where you need it by filling in your darkest darks and marking off where your lightest lights will be, making sure all your proportions (pacing) are right. The second draft is blending – smooth it out, shade in your grey areas, and get rid of the pencil marks left over from your sketch. And in your third draft, you perfect your details, clean up, and bring out anything that needs sharper focus or more definition.

So that is how my art teacher from 16 years ago taught me both how to draw and how to write novels. Further proof, as if we needed it, that one kind of creativity informs another.