Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Powell Gardens Picnic

See for more Powell Gardens photographs.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Natural Trap Cave, Wyoming

In 1975, while working for the University of Kansas, I was assigned to report on a dig in a cave in Wyoming. I didn't know the Miocene from the Eocene, but I was happy to be on the road, it was a week out of the office, and I wanted to get back to Wyoming.

It was thrilling, from the drive up the rock-strewn single-lane John Blue Canyon (below was the carcass of a Range River that didn't survive) to the descent into the cave either by rope or on the rickety scaffolding.

I soon got a crash course in paleontology. For thousands of years during the Pleistocene Epoch, mammals had fallen into an 85-foot-deep cave on the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains. Paleontologists from KU and the University of Missouri at Columbia were digging up the bones of thousands of animals, such as mammoths, cheetahs, camels, bison, bears and horses. (Some of these bones are now on display at the KU's Dyche Museum of Natural History.)

I lived for a week in one of a score of army surplus tents at "Armpit Camp," about a mile from the cave and the site of an old uranium mining camp. It was hot, it was dry, it was fabulous. The food was great, the scenery and views were spectacular, the crew was entertaining, and the work was fascinating. We didn't even miss showers.

In the first photo, I may not look too interested (I'm the woman propping up her chin, eyes closed, on the right), but a small group of us had been up most of the night exploring caves by rappelling. Dropping in is easy, jumaring out is exhausting.

The second photo is of nearby Horseshoe Canyon, which is about 900 feet deep.

The third photo is of the grate over the mouth of Natural Trap Cave, installed to keep modern specimens from falling in.

The bottom photo is of expedition workers waiting at the camp for the Cornish Game Hens to grill.

I've been hooked on paleontology ever since this trip. I don't mean that I love the dirty work of actually uncovering bones and fossils and trying to figure out what and how old they are, but the excitement of seeing discoveries made in exotic locales and learning about how these animals lived and died. I'm afraid that makes me a bone-digging voyeur.

For more photographs and information about Natural Trap Cave, go to my other blog,

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Pineapple Project

Eat Local. It's fresher. It saves on transportation costs. It might even be cheaper. But what if your favorite fruit is pineapple, and you live in non-tropical Kansas City? Grow your own, says Ryan Harvey.
Twist off the leafy crown of a pineapple. If done successfully, you'll only leave a small divot in the pineapple and a small amount of flesh on the crown.

Hidden between the bottom layer of spiky leaves on the crown are small roots. Gently tear off the lower leaves until you reveal the roots. (See bottom photograph) The leaves will be flat and dry-looking. Let the crown dry for a few days, then set it in a glass of water so that only the root area is submerged. After a few more days, the roots should be plumped up and ready to plant in a pot of potting soil. Bring the pot indoors during the winter.

Watch this blog for progress. Eighteen months now, we should have a new pineapple. "The long wait makes you really appreciate pineapple," says Laura Ludwikosky.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

I saw this caterpillar chewing on my fennel plant yesterday (9-9-07). My first instinct was to kill it -- but just for an instant. I knew it was the larva of a black swallowtail butterfly.
Years ago, the first time I saw a caterpillar like this, I was horrified. And there wasn't just one, but seven caterpillars devouring my only parsley plant. It's not that I needed the parsley so much. (Actually, I didn't need it at all...) But I was repulsed. I clipped off what was left of the parsley stems -- the clinging caterpillars still obliviously eating -- and squashed all seven.

Later, when I was flipping through a gardening magazine, I saw this ugly creature again in a photograph next to the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly that it becomes. Remorse overcame my revulsion. I read once that newly hired gardeners at a butterfly garden in Georgia were busily ridding the plants there of pests, when the supervisor stopped them. You guessed it. They were killing the butterfly larvae.

Like a lot of people, I've never liked crawly things. It's hard to get over a natural repulsion. But it's doable. Sort of. I'll still smash any tomato horn worm I find.

I still don't love worms and caterpillars, but I'll rescue earthworms on the driveway after a rainstorm. And I'm looking out for the black swallowtail butterfly larva as it munches on my fennel, hoping a bird doesn't make a meal out of it. I can spare the fennel. I want to see butterflies in my yard next summer, like the one I photographed (see above) as it floated around the neighborhood this summer.

Acorn Squash Sex Therapist

I took bees for granted. They were always a few bees in my garden working the blossoms, as I planted, pruned, plucked and picked. I kept a prudent distance, and I never got stung.

This year I planted six acorn squash. I'd never planted this kind of squash before, but I was already counting on a big crop like zucchini.

The male blooms came first, and a few days later the first female blossoms started appearing. I expected young squash to follow, but the tiny nascent squash on the female flowers shriveled. This went on for a few weeks. Why wasn't I getting any squash? What was I doing wrong? Not enough fertilizer? Not enough water? Too much water? Bad soil? What?

A gardening website solved the mystery. Bees are needed to move the pollen from the male to the female flowers. I knew I didn't have many bees, although I hadn't really paid attention. I started a count: So far this year, I've only counted one bumblebee and two smaller bees. (See photo of bee on a basil blossom.) The bee population has crashed throughout the country, and not just honeybees, but the native bees and bumblebees. A number of factors are blamed, including a virus. This could have serious consequences for our food supply. One out of every three bites you eat is traced to pollinator activity.

The gardening website suggested I do the work myself with a paintbrush. Soon, every morning I was searching for males to mate with females. Each blossom of both sexes is only open for a few hours in the morning before closing up shop forever, so you must be diligent, persistent and punctual.

I'd poke through the leaves, looking for partners. Some mornings, only males were open, sometimes only females showed up for the dance. Once, I found a blossom with both male and female parts. Sadly, it didn't produce a squash. It might have started a whole new species. Usually, I'd find at least one blossoming male, but not all males seemed to have pollen. Some mornings, male flowers were already spent by the females woke up. After a week of this, small squash began to form, and I was excited. I faithfully transferred the golden dust every day throughout the summer. Still, my matchmaking didn't turn out to be as fruitful as I expected. Only about ten percent of the females I pollinated produced fruit. Who knows why? I'd be happy to leave the work to the bees. Next year, I'm going to do everything I can to make life comfortable to keep the few bees I have.

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Laura with U-2 guitarist

Shameless Family Promotion: Here's my daughter, Laura Ludwikosky, shaking the hand of David "The Edge" Evans, guitarist of U-2, at her graduation ceremony on May 12, 2007, in Boston. Of course, she wasn't the only one who got to squeeze those famous fingers. There were more than 800 seniors -- I hope his hand survived the experience unscathed. She graduated with a bachelor of music degree in music business and music management, and music synthesis from the Berklee College of Music. "The Edge" received an honorary doctorate in music from Berklee, which he dedicated to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Steinberg, because, he said, "she always wanted her daughter to marry a doctor." Laura is now doing an internship with Brent Hoad, violinist of the Kansas City Irish band, The Elders. Laura has an Irish thing going on, but she's open to all kinds of music.
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WaterFire Show, Brush Creek, Plaza, Kansas City

For thirty years, I've watched the evolution of Brush Creek from a trash-strewn concrete open storm sewer to the pleasant-looking waterway it is today. Years ago, before a permanent stream was created, bands, such as Asleep at the Wheel, would play in the dry concrete ditch while thousands of spectators joined them in the creek or sat along the banks. Usually, it was very hot, and after about fifteen minutes, people wondered why they were sweating in the sun in a hot, dirty sewer. But we kept coming back, because we like to hang out in the Plaza. Maybe it's our Town Square. Last night (9-8-07)after sunset, when the weather was no longer simmering but stirring, crowds came to the creek to watch 85 bonfires floating on the shimmering surface of the water. Ethereal music composed by local music students floated in the air. It was romantic and magical, even when I tripped over a speaker and nearly toppled into the water as I took this photo.