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MARTHA SEZ: House plants, hummingbirds and a special place in Hell

June 15, 2018
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

My friend Darlene's house plant is in heat. This is just one of the many strange natural phenomena observed at Darlene's house over the years.

There is something about Darlene, some openness to the vagaries of the natural world, that invites the unusual. The unusual is drawn to her.

Take the orange-throated hummingbirds. Every spring, a family of these rare little migrants comes to nest in Darlene's yard, where they partake of sugar-water from feeders she hangs in the trees. While it is common practice to add red food color to hummingbird feeders, it is not good for them. Darlene keeps the feeders clean and makes the food herself, scrupulously following a special recipe that does not include red dye.

Darlene figures these orange-throats are ruby-throated hummingbird mutants. She recognizes each individual, and will tell you that they are all members of the same family. When she moved from Elizabethtown to Lewis, she worried that her little friends wouldn't find her, but, the following spring, there they were!

The Orange-Throat family has dwindled in size, which concerns her. Once she found the lifeless body of one of the males in the road. Before burying him, she removed two brilliant orange feathers from his throat. She keeps them in a special treasure box, the way another woman might preserve a lock of baby hair.

Officially, there are no cougars in the Adirondacks, but one winter day, a young cougar came from the woods to the edge of her yard. She and her partner watched as it walked around in a leisurely manner, then left. It has not returned. This is disappointing in a way, but also a relief, since they have a miniature pinscher dog, Moose, and a tom cat about the same size named Peter.

Peter was feral at one time. He showed up at Darlene's door and decided to take up residence there. This shows excellent judgment on Peter's part, since he later became diabetic. Who else would take him to the veterinarian and dose him daily with the insulin he needs?

On my way to Darlene's house, I saw one logging truck after another. I am terrified by them, ever since a rogue logging truck lost its brakes coming down the Cascades into Keene and took the kitchen off the house my daughter, Molly, and I were living in. Molly had just gone to school; I was upstairs. As Molly pointed out, "Mom, it's a good thing you don't like to do the dishes, or you might have been standing at the sink when the logs hit!"

At the store where I work, customers sometimes say, "I don't need a bag. Save a tree!" We don't actually need to save trees here. For one thing, they grow like weeds. Also, trees are a crop, raised and harvested. You might as well tell a waiter to hold the salad, save a radish.

Rare tropical houseplants are a different matter. When I arrived at Darlene's, I saw that she had removed the plant from her kitchen to the patio. For months, she and her partner had been aware of a mysterious aroma. Dead mouse? Bad drains? It emanated from the kitchen, but only at night. The odor would disappear for a time. They'd think it was gone, only to smell it again, weeks later. It gave Darlene a headache.

She finally realized that it was the houseplant. At a certain stage, its flower clusters emit a powerful stench.

"I first noticed it last night," Darlene told me when I got to her house. "Look."

The flower clusters were dripping, sticky-looking droplets hanging from its hairy, pink, star-shaped flowers. It was 10 o'clock in the morning, and there was no scent.

"Would you like it?" she asked.

I declined, recalling that she had already given me a cutting, which is now in my kitchen. It hasn't bloomed yet.

I knew night-blooming jasmine and nicotiana give off scent at night, thus attracting the moths that pollinate them. I had also read about tropical flowers that smell like carrion, attracting flies, beetles and other insects. But why would a carrion flower ever be sold as a houseplant in the first place?

One last thing, on a completely different subject. I have just learned that Peter Navarro, an assistant to President Trump, said "There's a special place in Hell" for foreign leaders like Justin Trudeau. This is wrong and absolutely ridiculous. Canadians don't go to Hell.

Perhaps the reason Navarro knows about special places in Hell is because Trump has signed a contract to build them.

Have a good week.



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