28 April, 2011

Once Every Thirteen Years: The Great Southern Brood of Cicadas

I am visiting my Mother in Georgia this week.  Spring here is verging on summer; the azalea blossoms  have already come and gone.  While I am sorry to have missed them, I did arrive for an event that happens only once every 13 years – the Great Southern Brood of cicadas is emerging!  The first clue of the emergence that I saw was a large number of exuvia along the trail I was walking with one of my oldest friends and her sister.  Amazing that I noticed them at all because it was dusk and we were busy catching up on each other’s lives.  But, as often seems to be the case, once my eye caught one, there were exuvia everywhere.  The next few days I was ready with my camera and took hundreds of shots.  Lucky for you, I ruthlessly culled them and am presenting only the best of the best here.  ;-)

First up are the exuvia, or shells, of the last larval stage from which the adult emerges.  When I was a kid we would hook them on our clothes as decorations.  Using their specialized front legs, the larvae dig their way out of the ground (where they have lived for the last 13 years) and climb up vegetation or the occasional handy fence post and latch on.
The exuvia are very tough.

Look at those front legs!

Then the case splits open and the adult emerges pretty quickly.  They are a pale cream color when they first emerge and their wings are small.  Sometimes they don’t manage to emerge all the way, but when they do, they usually hang from their exuvium as they their wings unfurl and their exoskeletons harden.  This one just below hadn't latched on securely enough and it fell to the ground almost at my feet, the exuvium popped open, and the adult flopped out.  I moved it over to the grass and it quickly crawled away.
"Hey!  What happened?"

"This is not my beautiful home."

"This is a little better."

I love their big red eyes.  They also have 3 small red eyes that are most obvious before the exoskeleton darkens.  Their wings are gorgeous fairy wings while they are still pale.  They wear their small, dark, wing covers as epaulets.  

Folks around here call these cicadas “locusts” although they are not at related to the grasshoppers.  Cicadas are more closely related to flies.  As I mentioned earlier, this is part of the “Great Southern Brood” in the genus Magicicada.  Each cicada brood is synchronized for the year of its emergence.  The Great Southern Brood is the largest in North America.  It emerged last in 1998. 
They do cause some damage to trees and shrubs because they lay their eggs in slits they make in young stems.  But what gets most people’s attention is the deafeningly loud noise they make; the hotter it gets, the louder they sing.  Only the males sing.  As I was out walking today, someone asked me what that loud noise was.  I told them it was the cicadas and they looked at me blankly.  When I said locusts, they knew what I meant.
The trees and shrubs are covered with cicadas.
There are thousands and thousands of them in a single residential block; you can hardly take a step without crunching a cicada or its shed case.  They are a feast for some birds, and in many part of the world, the larvae are considered a delicacy for human consumption.

See you again in 2024.

17 April, 2011

In our continuing efforts to make our house salable, Dennis and I undertook the “Great Closet Makeover” this weekend. We ordered the kit from a company called EasyClosets. They have a website where you can enter the dimensions of the closet and choose the components you want to use, then they ship it all to you. Our closet kit arrived less than a week after we ordered it. It came in 13 boxes with a total weight of over 400 lbs. We took out the old shelves and rods on Thursday, patched the holes, and put up one coat of paint. Saturday morning we started with the kit. The kit has vertical pieces that hang off a horizontal rail. Dennis was excited because he got to use his new laser level for the first time.

You can just barely see the red laser line on the wall and Dennis' hand.

It is a little easier to see the laser when it is stationary.
The level worked like a charm and we soon had the marks on the walls to get the rails mounted at the right height. Once we figured out how the parts worked together it went quickly – until we got to the longest wall. I had measured that wall 3 times before we ordered the kit, and each time got 101.5 inches. It may be 101.5 inches at that spot, but the walls aren’t perfectly plumb and we had about a quarter of an inch too much shelving to fit along that wall. It should be a simple matter to just cut some off, but this is a pretty complicated system with cam screws that tighten adjacent pieces together. But we were able to substitute one of the 3 sections along the long wall with a section that was an inch or so shorter and it worked well.
Tightening the cam screws.
Adjusting the troublesome shelves on the long wall.
Dennis had to use a hacksaw to cut 2 hanger rods a bit shorter. 

Notice the lovely wheelie bin worktable.
I seemed to spend a fair amount of time on the floor getting the cams on the bottom shelves tightened up.
Then we were able to use the longer section with a few adjustments. I think Dennis was secretly pleased that we had to make the adjustments because that gave him an excuse to use his fancy new Forstner drill bits to create new holes for the cams I mentioned earlier.
The Forstner bit ...

Drilling out the hole for the cams.  A factory-made cam hole was drilled out to use as a template.  The black line on the shaft marks the desired depth.

On the floor again ...
Dennis also had to shorten the cam screws used on the top shelves that link the corners of the room.  This was due to poor planning on our part, but we got it to work in the end.
Dennis wore out one hacksaw blade on this project.
With some creativity and adaptability we got the closet installed and it looks great. I love the shoe shelves. We even got some of our things back in the closet. 

We put a little piece of carpet on a shelf for Max.
Dennis has the righthand third and I have the lefthand two-thirds.

Not a bad weekend's work at all.

11 April, 2011

Almost Earless

(again - apologies to Christine for messing with the title of her blog Almost Fearless)

Back in February, we noticed a white-tailed doe that had one ear shorter than the other among the deer that come to raid the bird feeders.  Then last week I saw this one with 2 bobbed ears.  What is going on?  Were they injured?  Is some crazy person taking deer ears as trophies?  Is there a mutation generating bob-eared deer?  Finally it was still light enough when I got home from work for me to get a couple of barely passable photos.  She looks kind of sweet from this vantage.
The light was fading, so the shots are not sharp.  But if you click to enlarge the photo below you can see sore spots on the ears.

I believe what I had thought were 2 does is really just one slowly losing bits of her ears.  Perhaps her ears were badly frost-bitten during those bitter cold weeks we had and the dead parts are falling off.  Otherwise, she looks healthy.  Has anyone else ever seen anything like this?  I will keep an eye on her this spring to see how she fares.

10 April, 2011

Almost Ironic (with apologies to Christine)

Ten loads of wash, 8 big boxes of clean and neatly folded clothes, 3 boxes of “rags”, 1 bag of trash, and 2 trips to Salvation Army were yesterday’s culmination of an ongoing effort to get rid of unnecessary clothes prior to getting our house ready to sell so we can move to Belize next year. I didn’t realize I had so much. I had filled at least 30 feet (!) of hanging space with my clothes; some were 20 years old, some were older. Most things from the 2 spare bedrooms were pretty musty, so I washed and dried everything before I sorted through it all. I was heartless; my wedding dress – into the rag bag! That slightly too-small silk blouse of the most beautiful blue – into the box. The lovely long green skirt my sister made for me that matches the skirts she made for my other sister and herself one long ago Christmas – into the box. The black satin dresses that were my grandmother’s – into the rag bag. The Santa Claus suit that was hand made for my Father when we lived on Okinawa in the early sixties – into the trash bag (sniff). The gorgeous, semi-formal dress hand made for my Mother when we lived on Okinawa – into the trash bag. Well, I did salvage the fabric from the skirt; 3x10 ft of a beautifully hand-embroidered fabric that I entertain a notion of making into pillow covers if it isn't too rotten. The “keepers” still occupy 8 feet of hanging space, but some of that is taken up by winter cloths that I will need for next winter. Anybody need any clothes hangers? ;-)

This morning the title of an older post on Christine Gilbert's blog Almost Fearless caught my eye 10 Unexpected Costs of Owning Things”. I read it and some of the comments it had elicited. Still in the heady post-cleaning out state from yesterday, it resonated strongly with me and I resolved to rethink the many boxes of books I was planning on taking to Belize. But before I reviewed the book inventory on my computer, I made the mistake of reading my emails first. Oooh - here’s one from Amazon. There are some 400 thread count sheets at a very good sale price and lots of good colors to choose from. Quickly --  delete, delete -- no more stuff! It was a close call, but I managed to resist the temptation and decided to write this post instead.

Nearly 2 yards of embroidered tafetta, more than 50years old that I will try to salvage.