White Powders

Where Diatomaceous Earth Comes From

Diatoms are single-celled alga which have a cell wall of silica. Many kinds are planktonic, and extensive fossil deposits have been found. When we were in the Garden this week, at the home gardening center, I noticed that many of the plants had been dusted with a fine white powder. I asked a gardener if it was an insecticide? In a sense is was and it wasn’t. It was diatomaceous earth.

Composed from the bones of millions of microscopic diatoms that over the millennia had built up into a sedimentary layer, diatomaceous earth is sold as a natural alternative to chemical insecticide. Its sharp silica bones act as an irritant to insects, getting into their exoskeleton’s joints and tearing them up. It is less dangerous to humans than conventional insecticides, but care in its handling must still be taken. It is much safer to the environment than most insecticides.

In the play that we saw this week, Mlima’s Tale, the actor portraying the elephant Mlima, first smears his torso and face with white powder, evoking the ritual body painting of African tribes. This powder has a way of transferring itself, as an emblem of complicity, as each player playing a link in the chain that is the illegal ivory trade, is marked with a white powdered handprint on their bodies. In this instance the white powder was likely talc, but I wonder if the choice of its white color was supposed to be evocative of powdered ivory. Powder created when the ivory tusks are carved into objects d’art, their final form.

Mlima’s Tale

Saint Louis’s Own Raja – An Asian Elephant

Anne, Joanie and I returned to live theater for the first time in about a year-and-a-half, with the showing of Mlima’s Tale, at The Rep. We made a night of it, with dinner and a show. There were a lot of oddities about this performance, some of them Covid induced, some from the relative novelty of the experience. The venue was not at the Rep’s usual fare in Webster. We were in U-City at COCA (Center of Creative Arts). We dined in the Loop and having already sampled our two favorite restaurants there, last weekend, we tried something new, Salt + Smoke, STL style BBQ. It was good and not too WW budget busting. After dinner, we decamped to the theater. COCA has a beautiful new facility that I had visited once before as part of a bicycle ride no less. I was on one of Trailnet’s community-art rides. These rides are where various art related venues are strung together by two wheels. We did improv on that first visit to COCA. On this night, we were all seated in the audience, which was a very lonely place, what with seating available for only 10% of capacity. Masks were required and the play ran less than ninety minutes, but at least we got our toes in the water again.

Mlima’s Tale is a play narrated by an elephant, a dead elephant at that. It tells the tale of how African ivory goes from poacher in the bush to wealthy art buyers in China. It is a searing indictment of everyone involved. This play uses a story like approach, employing the La Ronde¹-inspired device of relating its story in short episodes in which one character from the preceding scene appears in the next. There are only four actors in this play. Three performers play the multitude of characters, including the poachers, a park warden, a police chief, an African government official, a Chinese collector, a Vietnamese smuggler, a boat captain, a master ivory carver and a wealthy art buyer. It is through these characters that three of the actors rotate through. The fourth actor, plays only one character that of the elephant Mlima, who is murdered in the first scene. As a ghost or more corporally as his disembodied tusks, Mlima guides us through the rest of the play. Unwillingly, he leads us from one hand to another, in the smuggling operation that is the illegal world ivory trade. A trade that has already seen the African elephant population fall from 1.5 million to 400K, since the outlawing of ivory trading and is on course towards African elephant extinction in the next twenty year or less. There are no good guys in this play. Only one victim and a multitude of perpetrators of his murder.

  1. La Ronde takes its name from an 1897 play of the same name.

Origami in the Garden

Origami in the Garden – Master Peace
Master Peace Closeup

We were driving to Tower Grove Park for the second day in a row, when a thought popped into my head, “Why not go to the Garden instead?” After a last-minute course correction, we turned off into the parking lot of this adjoining greenspace. We were early, the Garden doesn’t open until nine, but people were already gathering. It turns out that on Wednesday mornings the Garden admits for free any St. Louis City or County resident. Normally, there is an admission fee or as in our case, as members, an annual membership fee. It was another gorgeous morning and as the opening moment arrived a Garden employee came out to organize the throng. Her efforts put us at the head of the line. First in line, we were soon chased inside by an army of moms pushing strollers and their children. Stopping momentarily to smell the roses, we were soon engulfed by this racing parade of strollers. We must have looked both dazed and confused, because one young mom yelled back to us, as she ran past us, “We’re all heading to the Children’s Garden to get tickets there before they sell out. It’s like the Hunger Games!” Note to self, don’t go to the Garden on Wednesday mornings. We chose a path less traveled and enjoyed a lovely visit at the Gardens. 

This summer’s show is entitled, Origami in the Garden. It features metal statues that were fashioned to look like folded paper. Above, is the Garden’s video advert for this show. I’ve linked to it on Vimeo. It features lots of nice drone work, which I am so jealous of, because the Garden doesn’t normally permit drone flying. While touring the Garden we also occasionally ran across one young woman, wearing the Garden’s uniform, who job it appeared was to photograph the Garden. Good work if you can find it. Anne wanted to ask her how she finds new things to photograph every day, but we never did. The Origami show’s signature piece is this tower of white cranes called Master Peace. Legend has it that if you fold 1,000 cranes in a single year, you will be granted a wish. Many people undertake this paper-folding pilgrimage in an effort to master peace. There are 500 cranes in the pictured tower, but if you include their reflection, you have a grand.

Always on a Wednesday

Écriture, N.Y., Jesus Rafael Soto, 1984

So far this year, we’ve started off with an insurrection, followed by an impeachment and then there was the inauguration. Those were the first three Wednesdays. This week’s Wednesday, yesterday, we had GameStop. What?!? You know the video game retailer, who hasn’t been doing too well as of late. The sharks of Wall Street, hedge fund managers, had planned on profiting from its down luck, but something happened on their way to the bank. Seeing GameStop down, these hedges decided to push it lower, by shorting its stock, wagering that its stock price would go even lower, but things didn’t work out for them as planned. Individual investors are often derided as “dumb money,” destined to lose their lot against the professionals who trade stocks for a living. But recently, many of these individual investors, followers of a popular Reddit page called Wall Street Bets, have upended the pros. Banding together these small investors put the squeeze on two hedge funds that had bet that GameStop’s shares would fall. These fund’s shorts, became a short squeeze and they were left in a pinch when their markers were called. I’ll leave you with comedian Avalon Penrose, who can explain it much better than I.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Anne and I are still waiting for our vaccines. We wait here in Missouri, which is fiftieth out of fifty, of states in vaccinations per capita, dead last. But heck, we have Josh Hawley, our own little Ted Cruz. What more could you want? Well, I want a shot, better make it a double, two rounds for the house. Alice and Chris have both had their shots. Alice is a doctor and Chris participated in a vaccine trial. He only had a 60% chance of getting the real deal, but has since learned that he lucked out. He even gets paid to get his shots. My brother Frank has gotten his first shot, but he has political pull. Anne’s father is scheduled to get his first shot on Monday. I’m trying to get a shot for my father. Where he lives, the county has a webpage, where one can sign up for an appointment, but they don’t have any spots left and there isn’t any way to even leave a name. To help him, I’ve hired a bot who will every five minutes look for any new appointments, if and when they become available. Anne and I are signed up through both our county and our doctors. They have taken our names, but we haven’t heard squat from them, but then we live in the state that is dead last in immunizations.

It snowed yesterday, only a couple of inches, but our first measurable snowfall of the season. Overnight, it turned quite cold, down into the teens. So, any snowmelt that we might have had turned to ice. Going out for the paper this morning, I slipped twice and fell once. Fortunately, I had my hand on the handrail, when I went down and landed without harm. A neighbor called out a warning to another neighbor, but that warning was already too late for me. So, how many more weeks of winter are there until spring?

Under the Sycamore Tree

American Sycamore Grove

Sycamore trees have those stark white limbs that on a late fall day, bereft of leaves and with a brilliant blue sky background, look like they are reaching up to heaven. Their roots penetrate deep into the soil, making them difficult to knock over in a storm. I am just religious, superstitious and mystical enough to grant these ghost trees properties of protection, divinity, eternity and strength. Especially while standing beneath a grove of them during a red-flag warning wind storm.

Among all of the vigorous tree swaying, we heard a rather audible deadfall while in the woods. This begs the question, does a tree really make any sound in the woods, when it falls and no one is around to hear it? What? Huh? What did you say? I didn’t say anything. Apparently it does, but it is doesn’t mean anything.

We drove out to Shaw Nature Preserve, checked-in and then drove up to the hilltop pavilion. There were people there, but once we set out, we didn’t see another soul until we returned. We did our walk of usual duration, but very soon Anne’s nature fix meter was pegging into the green. It was eerie at times being alone together in the woods, but this is one of most protected green spaces around. We got lost, found our way again, set off and explored new corners of the map. We made it down to the Merrimac, but then had trouble finding our way back. It was nothing more serious than a few bug bites for me, past mid-November yet! I was warm enough attired in shorts and a t-shirt, but Anne was overdressed to the nines. She wore her facemask continually, but not for virus protection, we never saw anyone, but as sunscreen. We eventually made it back.

On the way out, I had Anne check for traffic jams using her phone. There were none then, but on the way back there was a huge one where I had envisioned one. This is hardly a paranormal feat. The I-44/I-255 interchange is undergoing major construction. Accidents are foreordained. I think that most of the work is done at night, but most of the infrastructure is there all of the time. It was those crazy construction turns that probably led to the accident and the huge resultant backup that I had originally feared, but then only faced going the other way.