Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday Field Notes-- Scalawags on a Frosty Morning, and a Digression


Walking the kids to school this morning, I noticed the buds  were reddening on the weeping plums we pass on the way--when they bloom, I'll show you.

Prunus mume
 ...On the way to baseball practice last weekend, one of the plum trees I passed was already opening up.  I nearly went backward off my bike looking up at the blossoms.  So I got off and stood underneath to look at the flowers against the bright blue.

Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus

It was cold this morning--I could see my breath.  But it never gets so cold on the Kanto plain that the ground freezes--winter fields are planted with negi and hakusai and daikon (above).  Daikon leaves can be put into miso soup, and the large, white root (can you see it in the middle of the picture?  It sticks right up out of the ground) can be pickled or simmered or put into Tonjiru.  If I forget, remind me to post a (very simple!) recipe for Simmered Daikon.  I noticed on Wiki that there is a variety of seed that grows successfully in Southern England, so possibly there's a variety that grows in Canada or the States as well--if you can't get it at an Asian market in your area. Try it if you can get it--it's low in calories (3oz/85g=18kcal), yet filling, and contains 34 percent of the RDA for vitamin C.

Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis-- Napa cabbage

...a beautiful hakusai...

...leaves still sparkling with frost...

Chaenomeles japonica of the family Rosaceae

It hasn't been too cold here, so the plums and Boke are starting to bloom a little early.

I'd never seen Boke before coming to Japan, so I had to pester people 'til I found out what it was called (boh-kay).  Later I discovered that it's a flowering quince, which I'd never seen, but only knew the word form Edward Lear ("they dined on mince and slices of quince").

Boke can also be grown as bonsai...

Bushes with red flowers are common, but I love the pink ones... ...white and blush and rose pink all together.  Somehow they seem more delicate.  Fragile--like my grandmother's Haviland.  Pink Flowering Quince would be a lovely china pattern, don't you think?

Stopping to look at this and that, I'd forgotten that I was supposed to return the community center keys--the reason, in fact, for walking this direction back from the school.  Forgetful, I suppose, but, well, there you are.  I hate to be rushed and have no time to look about me.  Right--off you go, up the street.

...It's a smallish temple.  The monk and his wife live in attached rooms around back.  The cemetery abuts the mountain, up the steps and left around back of the temple.  Most mornings the sparrows are there, but this morning I could hear nothing but the Hiyodori squeeling--hooligans that they are ;-))

I walked around back to drop the keys next to the milk bottles sitting on top of the mailbox.  The big tree in back was a-flutter with Hiyodori eating berries that fell to the ground making small "thunks" that sounded as though a box full of Pachinko balls were being poured from the treetop....

 After a bit, a dark shape darted out of the berry tree and over my head.

Somebody had had enough, I expect, and went to sit by himself in the now leafless gingko tree, ruffed head feathers just visible among the sheaths from which next spring's leaves will sprout.  I remember full well the first time I heard Hiyodori--I listened for a good twenty minutes to raucous squeeling, unable to ascertain whether it was actually a bird I was hearing, or kids squeeling their car tires in the distance, or a large rubber something slowly deflating.  Hiyodori are an extremely common bird in Japan and East Asia, but unknown in North America, which must explain my utter inability to determine that I was, in fact, hearing a bird.  I'd never heard *anything* like the ruckus they made.

 A digression...

Gibt geheimen Sinn zu kosten, Wie's den Wissenden erbaut...

Forgive me for possibly boring you with another ginkgo photo--I love them so much, I tend to assume everybody else must love them as well and want to look at them as much as I do.  If that's not the case, I must beg your patience. 

 I first remember seeing ginkgos regularly in college--my university had several scattered about the campus, and two large ones  in the old crescent area of the campus.  The two big ones were male and female, and extraordinarily stinky in the fall when the seed fruits ripened and fell to the ground.  I didn't know 'til then that trees came like that--in two sexes, I mean. 

A number of years later, after I became a German teacher, I traveled back to Germany--to Jena and Weimar, in fact, where Goethe lived in his middle years.  There I discovered that Goethe, too, was fascinated by Ginkgos--and suddenly the cardboard-cutout literary genius,whose Faust I'd struggled to read bits of, became a real person.  An interesting person--a person I suddenly wished I could know and talk to.  I read Italienische Reise and learned how many different things he was interested in, how he studied geology, optics, biology--climbed Vesuvius, formulated a theory on optics, and hypothesized that Ginkgo Biloba represented the Urbaum (the "original tree", from whence all other species had sprung) many years before Darwin's Origin of Species.  Many years, in fact, before fossils recognizably related to the modern tree were found and dated to the Permian (the Permian! 270 million years ago!).  A living fossil.  That just sends shivers up and down.

Goethe wrote a poem to his girlfriend, Marianne von Willemer, about the Ginkgo (click on the link in the caption above for the original German and several translations), attaching two leaves to the bottom of the page.  This was roughly around the time that Ginkgos were re-introduced to Europe from China, hence (I assume) the exotic fascination they held for Goethe, and the poem's inclusion in the West-oestlichen Divan anthology.

...(end of digression)...
So if you're out and about, and you hear somebody squeeling "Hiiiii-yo! Hiiii-yo! Hiiii-yo!", rather like letting the air slowly out of a balloon, it's the Brown-Eared Bulbul.  See his brown "ears" (the brown patches on his cheeks)?

...All that noisy-noisy and scruffy feathers sticking up all over his head--what a scalawag...:-))

(p.s.--You know, Goethe gave poor Marianne that romantic poem on the occasion of their last meeting--he never saw her again after that day in Heidelberg.  What a scalawag ;-))


  1. Beautiful as always, Amy. It always nice to know there are parts of the earth that are not trapped under two feet of snow and ice. I admit the idea of a winter wonderland palls after a bit. So more than anything right now, I just love to see green thing growing and animals in any position other than huddling down to stop from freezing.

    I love North Dakota, I truly do, but sometimes even I look at climate change with a bit of longing :-)

  2. I really love ginkgo leaves, too. I'm fortunate to live in a part of the US South with a similar climate to mid-Japan so that cherry trees, plum trees, and ginkgo trees can thrive here wherever they are planted in the town. In the fall, I love to walk through the streets littered with the little fans everywhere and to look up at the ginkgo trees with their bushy yellow arms.

  3. KK--so glad to bring you some vicarious non-snow enjoyment:-)) Stay warm--I wish you a *pile* of books, a comfortable, chair, warm slippers, and a steaming mug!

    Aratina--Yokoso! Thanks *so* much for stopping by--I was, in fact, just now reading your blog, and I am in love with the Falling Snow Gnu! The snow changes directions when I move the cursor around! That is just 14 kinds of cool. So...are you going to change it to cherry blossoms in the spring? (please say yes!) Ooh--and twining morning glories for summer...and falling leaves (ginkgo!) for fall! If you're down South, you would have lots of the same trees--I noticed one time that Tokyo is on the same latitude as Nashville (and Yokohama is south of there), so I expect you get to enjoy them, too. Ginkgos are the best--if you like origami, I posted origami ginkgo leaves here, back in November Enjoy! Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

  4. Hajime mashite! I like the falling snow gnu symbol, too (I used the freeware program Inkscape to make the snow crests on the "A"--one of its default effects). It must have been a coincidence that the snowflakes followed your mouse because it is supposed to be pseudorandom with flurries. :) Changing it to cherry blossoms in spring is an excellent idea!! :D Maybe gingkos in the fall?

    Speaking of that, you might be interested in the recent comments gadget I made to replace the one listed in the Blogger gadget directory. Mine is called Last Comments and is available at for now since gadget submissions to the directory are on hold. It will correct the #39s and retrieves the most recent comments in real time so there is no lag between posting a comment and seeing it appear in the list after a refresh. It can be used with the old recent comments gadget you currently use if you want to compare them.

    Thanks for the links to the origami! I will try it out soon. I look forward to more of your neko series on JC's blog, too. :)

  5. Hajimemashite! I noticed that, actually--I'll try (possibly unsuccessfully--I am a computer dingbat) to download, as I think the gadget I'm using is not helpful. As soon as you post a comment, you get an error message in the Recent Comments space. Not exactly helpful...

    How is it that you speak Japanese (if I may ask)?

  6. I'll try to explain about that error you are seeing after leaving a comment (I believe it is "Request-URI Too Large"). I can't guarantee that it will not appear with my gadget because of the nature of the error.

    To understand the error, you need to know that Google (and thus Blogger) servers have a limit on the number of characters they allow in request messages. If a request message goes over that limit, the servers send back that error message instead of getting whatever was being requested. (In this case, the web page for the gadget is ultimately being requested to be displayed in a small frame on your blog page.)

    Usually, requests are under the message length limit. However, after a comment is posted if you look in the address bar of your browser you will see that the address (the URI) is extremely long and filled with seemingly random letters, numbers, and other characters. Normally a gadget gets the short blog URI ("" + the post title) appended to it, but after a comment is posted, that lengthy URI you see in the address bar of your browser is what is being appended to the request for the gadget.

    So after a comment is posted, what is normally a small request message balloons into a request message that exceeds the length limit allowed by Google servers. The error will go away if you click on a different page on the blog, on the post title, or on a comment permalink on the page because the address (the URI) visible in the address bar of the browser will become short again and make the request message shorter.

    Since the number of characters in the request message of the gadget depends on multiple factors that I can't control, including your blog's blogspot address and the post title (these all make up the URI visible in the address bar of the browser), I'm not sure if my gadget will solve that problem for you. I did design it knowing about that error, however, so if nothing else it might work on posts with short titles.

  7. And just for comparison, here is the link that was visible in the address bar of my browser after posting the comment above: link to an extremely long URI.

    If you click it, you will see that the Recent Comments gadget (and possibly the Followers gadget, too) shows the error, and you will see that the URI in the address bar is over 1980 characters long.

  8. And I seem to have triggered the spam filter with that last comment. XD

    As for my elementary Japanese abilities, I only have two years of college study behind me, but I love the language (especially the written part). My de facto husband is Japanese and because we are a same-sex couple, we were forced to separate after his visa expired. If he can't come back here, I might end up going there.

  9. Two years of college study is more than what I have :-)) I knew not one word when I came. Completely illerate--which is a weird feeling when you haven't been illerate since age 4 or so. I love writing kanji, too (favorite kanji to write: 乗る, noru :-)), and I took a little Shuji last year, so my hiragana look a little better...

    You were *forced* to separate?! I read a post about that on your blog, but didn't realize it was your situation! That. Is. Horrible! Not to mention traumatic--no wonder you said you use Skype every day. That law can't be changed soon enough--and conservatives gripe about government intrusion and privacy. Hypocrites.

  10. That's just what happened to your (helpful!thank you!) comments-- fixed! That's never happened before...

    I think I understand. So--I can just download your gadget and...add it to a section on the design page? (Blogger is blogging for dummies ;-))

    Thanks for your help!

  11. I've known several Japanese people who had similar experiences to you when they came to the USA (although they do teach English language skills in Japan), and they went right into college. In some ways, I think it would be fun to experience. :) (The closest I ever came was a brief couple day excursion to Mexico, but at least I could read signs and menus even if I had no idea what most of it meant.)

    Yeah, there is really nothing a same-sex couple can do in the USA about it right now other than having the non-citizen half hide out and hope they are not caught, which we figured would be disastrous seeing as how DOMA might be overturned in the next few years. *fingers crossed*

    As for the gadget, yes, I have links on the right of the Last Comments blog that will add the gadget to your Design|Page Elements page automatically. You just have to click on the link (which opens a pop-up window), tell it which blog to put it on, configure the gadget (or just use the defaults), push SAVE (which closes the pop-up window and takes you back to Design|Page Elements), and then drag-n-drop the gadget to where you want it placed on the blog (then push SAVE). You can remove it or configure it at any time after that by going back to the Design|Page Elements page and clicking the "Edit" link in the gadget's rectangle. If you do try it and have any troubles or suggestions, let me know.

  12. Dang, Blogger! I'm sorry, I didn't see this right away (grrr...)

    It *is* kind of fun, especially if you've learned another language (German and French, in my case) the other direction before--if only for the contrast in experience. Ahhh--language learning on the delivery table...(doctor: "oshite! oshite!" Me: "What?!" Husband: "Push! Push!" Me: "Oh! ") It can, at times, verge on the slightly ridiculous... ;-))

    Crossing fingers for you and your husband! Here's hoping the craziness ends *soon*! Nobody should have to go through that kind of emotional trauma when it's just unnecessary.

    Gadget--ok. (deep breath) I think I get it. I'll try it tonight after my three Interruptions (kids;-)) are in bed... Thanks!!
    And--that falling snow *does* follow your cursor. Really! I played with it for quite a while (easily amused creature that I am...)

  13. Language learning on the delivery table? LOL!

    The good news about my husband is that he might get to return in a few weeks for at least a year as a (non-paid) researcher. Everything seems to be working out so far.

    The gadget should be fairly easy to get working. If you were to go with the defaults, for instance, it is really just a few clicks of the mouse: on the link from my blog, on the "Add" button, on the "Save" button, and on the second "Save" button after you drag'n'drop it to the right location on your blog. And that's funny about the snow fall :) I'm easily amused myself and after I made it I did find watching it go strangely calming.

  14. Made ya laugh:-))

    Crossing more fingers for you and your husband! (what would he be researching?)

    Accidentally fell asleep last night with the kiddies...did not get gadget...sleepy mama...must try harder!

  15. :) Well, he got approval! (research field is education)

  16. AWESOME!!! *So* happy for you both! Here's hoping you can be together again *soon*!! Congratulations!