Monday, February 26, 2007

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/25/07)

Charlotte Minor always wanted to be the first woman forester, but while studying forestry at NAU where her father was the founding dean of the School of Forestry, she discovered that she was ten years too late. Instead, she became a forest landscape architect for the Kaibab National Forest after securing her master’s degree from the U of A in landscape architecture. As a feminist, she’s not militant, rather committed. As a member of the Society of Friends (Quaker), militant wouldn’t quite fit the bill, but then neither does pacifist feminist. Whatever the paradox, she brings it off.

A tall, slim, witty, singularly attractive woman with an infectious smile, Charlotte means business, especially when it comes to the human impact upon the environment. She believes in “the unobtrusive,” as in keeping the artificial to a minimum. One might wonder why the Forest Service would hire a landscape architect since a forest can’t be landscaped without destroying it. Charlotte designs landscapes in the forest where artificial, human constructions intrude into the forest, such as, water tanks for cattle and camping sites for human beings. Her principles are simple: detract as little as possible from the natural setting and fit in as much as possible. Sounds like the same principles for a covert agent. “Don’t let anyone know you’re there.”

In landscaping residences, Charlotte’s mind turns about 180 degrees because in residential building a massive artifice has already intruded into the natural process. Her first concern is restoring the natural beauty as much as possible and stabilizing the environment which has been destabilized by construction. Another concern is the planned use of the property, even to the point of micro-climates in a yard, such as, the amount of sun, the presence of moisture, and the effect of the wind. As with any sensible person in the Southwest, she is concerned about conserving water, and, therefore, she advocates xeriscape landscaping.

In landscaping a yard, she thinks in terms of artistic composition, beginning with the big things, such as trees, which serve as anchors in a yard, much like famous department stores do in shopping malls. Then she works down through shrubs and flowers to the grasses. Of course, the most effective way to accomplish the design is xeriscaping a yard with native plants or plants which are adapted to the southwestern climate. The Flagstaff Xeriscape Council produced a very useful brochure “Flagstaff Fabulous Plants” on line at

Two of her favorite bushes are the bird-loving red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) along with the texture and color of the tree leaf sumac (Rhus typhina.) As for flowers, she likes the many types of columbine (Aquilegia), penstemons, and coreopsis. One of her favorites is the native rocky mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), a blue/purple iris resembling a miniature domesticated iris. It was discovered “toward the sources of the Missouri” by the famous botanist Nathaniel Wyeth in 1834.

Charlotte’s likes grasses because they are hardy and easy to grow, such as blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis) and “some of the Muhlys,” by which she meant species of the genus Muhlenbergia which was named after the Rev. Gotthilf Heinrich Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister and famous botantist. With a name so formidable, no one would chew gum in his class.

Landscape design seeks to mimic nature as much as possible so that a yard gives people a feel of nature, using the apparently random yet functional designs of nature to soften the harsh, rectangular designs of human beings. God apparently favors the paradoxical and ironic of meandering streams while human beings seem to favor the rationally sequential with straight-line concrete channels.

The grasses serve as a backdrop on which the flowers, shrubs, and trees can be placed, giving people an ease within themselves as though they are in tune with the natural process. While we leave more than footfalls in the forest, we can fit in as much as possible with our landscaping, making it a picture worth taking.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/13/07)

A distinctly modern ailment is the crashed computer. If a person is an e-mail junkie or an internet surfer or shopper, life as he or she knows it comes to an end with a crashed computer. Indeed, even mighty corporations have been brought to their knees by crashed computers. “How the mighty are fallen” (II Sam 1:3).

It is as though a connection to the great unknown, a secular vision of Rudolph Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans, is kaput. Disconnect! So it is with an infestation of aphids. Like terrorists, worms, and viruses, aphids come as thieves in the night, slithering with reptilian velocity. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (I Cor. 15:51), it’s all over. No merely vexing matter, computer junkies and gardeners are left with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, impotence, and fury.

As with liberty, fighting aphids requires eternal vigilance. Unlike grasshoppers, the Norse berserkers of the horticultural world, attacking in wave after wave like massed kamikazes, aphids slink in unawares. This means that gardeners have to play Dr. Snoop, bending over and peering into the underside of things, particularly leaves, scanning for aphids. Arthritis is no excuse. No pain, no gain.

The adversary is a soft-bodied, pear-shaped insect that sucks the sap out of plants with piercing apparati in its mouth. Not a pleasant sight. Not only that but with twin tail pipes (cornicles) attached to its hind end it emits a sweet slime hilariously called “honeydew.” The honeydew goo can ruin glass windows and the finish on automobiles. Also, a fungus called “sooty mold” turns the honeydew black. Grody to the max.

As with all subversives, aphids take on the coloring of plants from which they are sucking out sap. Generally wingless, they grow wings and take flight to other plants in vast clouds, oddly called blooms, when they’ve run out of room on a leaf they’ve colonized. Seemingly, they can colonize a plant or bed overnight. On roses they can be spotted right on the bud before it opens, turning it into a sorry deformed husk. On leaves their presence is signaled by curled and discolored leaves as they suck on the underside of the leaves.

Generally, as with all subversives, worms, and viruses, aphids arrive a few at a time. Winged aphids leave nymphs to suck the life out of the plant with their voracious adolescent appetites. These reproduce exponentially, reaching a reproductive age in seven to ten days with each aphid producing 40 to 60 offspring.

The first line of defense is the water hose. Using it as a syringe, aphids can be washed off the buds and from the underside of the leaves. No gentle sprinkling. Even with vigorous washing, however, this technique isn’t effective unless done repeatedly on an initial infestation.

In addition to washing off aphids with water, they can be sprayed with insecticidal soap, neem oil, and horticultural oils. Pesticides should be avoided because they kill the friendly insects as well as the enemy ones. Since the aphids are sneaks, these sprays have to be applied on the underside of the leaves. Because they kill only the ones on the leaves at the time, the spray has to be applied repeatedly.

Some of the friendlies that pesticides kill are ladybugs, which actually are beetles, non-biting parasitic wasps, lacewings, midges, and minute pirate bugs which have the wonderful scientific name of Orius insidosus. All of these, especially the ladybugs, should be let loose in the evenings just before sunset, lest they fly away, and in small groups over the spring and summer.

The happy news is that gardens with flowering plants attract aphid eating and disabling insects with the flowers’ nectar and pollen. As is always, beauty has the capacity to destroy evil.

Defense against the aphids is the result of eternal vigilance, focused and repeated counter attacks, and counter-terrorist insects. Sadly, there are no fire walls. The conflict is never over, least not until the first frost. However, some things are worth saving, such as gardens, no matter the effort.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2007