Goldilocks and the three dragonfly larva

Huevos rancheros for breakfast lately, but not with green chile sauce. Green chile is starting to look a lot like dragonfly larva camouflaged at the bottom of the pond.

My two favorite things about my new job are brainstorming nature education programs and doing pond dipping presentations. Few things delight me more than sharing the life cycle of dragonflies with visitors. I meet the nicest people huddled over a tub of duckweed and squirming midge larvae.

So it was just right when a family with five little stair-step boys in matching orange striped shirts and baseball caps came to the pond dipping. The oldest would have been glad to take over scooping critters out of the wetlands with my net. The youngest was recently out of diapers, but could catch tiny mosquitofish with his fingers. Yes, he tended to squeeze the little fishies a bit too (lethally) hard.

This group of little guys, plus a dad, grandpa, and an uncle were the perfect audience when the pond dipping began to look like Marlin Perkins attacked by a crocodile on "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom". I had just identified and shown them a tiny damselfly larva when the smallest dragonfly larva captured and ate it. Then a bigger dragonfly larva caught the little one. After quite a "wrassle"* the big one ate the little one. The kids in striped shirts were looking through magnifying glasses and eating this up! It was real life, not a video game.

Wee baby dragonfly larva with snail

Mama dragonfly larva
Big daddy dragonfly larva

Just right damselfly larva

REALLY big green chile dragonfly larva
“I bet, with my net, I can get those Things yet!”

*Wrassle is an infrequently used spelling of the word wrestle, which is defined as to tussle with or physically fight with someone.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Tickled pink, moths, girls, and snakes

The tiny red-haired girl with the plaid shorts and pink shoes was dancing around the Fibonacci curve. She was in ecstasy. She was surrounded by tiny flying butterflies that were also ecstatic about the globe amaranth flowers. It was pure nectar and ambrosia euphoria, and seriously contagious if it hadn't been for the simultaneous snake sighting two hedges away. Both events had Arthur Murray moments! One had dancing up on a garden bench.

The flowers are always a favorite of the little folded- and spread-winged skippers, hairstreak butterflies, honeybees, and tiny moths I dubbed "Fibonacci moths" until I find a better identification. Sunday they were joined by very wee sulphurs in several white and yellow varieties, all swirling about the garden with the tiny girl, all dancing to their own inner music.

Not sure which Greek root word applies to this situation.

ecstasy (n.) Look up ecstasy at Dictionary.com
late 14c., extasie "elation," from Old French estaise "ecstasy, rapture," from Late Latin extasis, from Greek ekstasis "entrancement, astonishment, insanity; any displacement or removal from the proper place," in New Testament "a trance," from existanai "displace, put out of place," also "drive out of one's mind" (existanai phrenon), from ek "out" (see ex-) + histanai "to place, cause to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet).

Used by 17c. mystical writers for "a state of rapture that stupefied the body while the soul contemplated divine things," which probably helped the meaning shift to "exalted state of good feeling" (1610s). 

euphoria (n.) Look up euphoria at Dictionary.com
1727, a physician's term for "condition of feeling healthy and comfortable (especially when sick)," medical Latin, from Greek euphoria "power of enduring easily," from euphoros, literally "bearing well," from eu"well" (see eu-) + pherein "to carry" (see infer). Non-technical use, now the main one, dates to 1882 and is perhaps a reintroduction.

enthusiasm (n.) Look up enthusiasm at Dictionary.com
c.1600, from Middle French enthousiasme (16c.) and directly from Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos "divine inspiration, enthusiasm (produced by certain kinds of music, etc.)," fromenthousiazein "be inspired or possessed by a god, be rapt, be in ecstasy," from entheos "divinely inspired, possessed by a god," from en "in" (see en- (2)) + theos "god" (see theo-). 

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Velvet Red Cake: Controversy is not usually my middle name

Speaking out against red velvet cake is as radical as I've gotten since representing the USSR at Model United Nations in college. Speaking out against beets was just rabble-rousing when my dad's meal trays featured the root veggie day after day. What would have occurred if a red velvet cake was delivered to the war room buffet table in Dr. Strangelove? You can't eat beets in the war room!

On Aug. 30, 1963, the hot-line communications link between Washington, D.C., and Moscow went into operation.

Beets are not the red ingredient in red velvet cake. A whole bottle of Adams Red food coloring give the cake that mildly toxic appearance with no hidden vegetable benefits. We can always justify another piece of carrot cake because we are consuming actual veggies that improve our night vision (and possibly delicious cream cheese frosting).

My history with beets is mixed. Pickled beets = thumbs down. Canned diced beets = satisfying building material pre-LEGO. Lovely stain, too, almost as beautiful as merthiolate and mercurochrome!

Vegetables sound better than mercury or insects in a dessert. A purple sweet potato velvet cake just needs some adjective rearrangement. Sweet velvet purple potato cake? Sweet purple potato velvet cake? Sweet purple velvet potato cake? Purple velvet sweet potato cake?

A Colorful History One common source of natural food coloring is cochineal, also called carmine, carminic acid, or Natural Red 4. The dye is made fromDactylopius coccus, commonly called a cochineal bug. It's a type of scale insect—tiny parasites that latch onto plants to drink their sap—that lives on cactus. "They kind of look like plant pimples," says entomologist Gwen Pearson, author of Bug Girl's Blog. "They don't have wings or visible legs; they're basically just little sacks of juice. Which means they need a powerful defense." That defense, in the cochineal bug's case, is a crimson-hued substance called carminic acid that tastes unpleasant to would-be predators such as ants. Humans have used this as a dye for centuries; the Aztecs put it in medicine, cosmetics, textiles, and even tamales, says Amy Butler Greenfield, author of the book A Perfect Red, about the history of cochineal. "It's the most intense natural red dye in the world, and it helped people and cultures in southern Mexico survive the devastation of the [Spanish] Conquest," says Butler Greenfield. "Nowadays it continues to be a key export for poor farmers in a number of disadvantaged regions. Big producers include Peru and the Canary Islands."
Slate's Dessert Map of the U.S. assigned red velvet cake to Arkansas, a state in need of cream cheese frosting with nuts. The over-the-top FABulosity trend of red velvet plus many years of preschool birthday cupcakes have driven me to take refuge on a safe tiny remote cakeless island. The only dessert on my island will be the perfectly roasted and golden brown marshmallow. I will be both queen and high priestess of the perfect marshmallow. You may bow or curtsy.

As to the problem of adjective arrangement, I offer this googlization of language example. Try searching the Go Big Red chant (performed by the Husker) drum line. You will get videos about fish (big red drums).

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder