Archive for Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Shouts and murmurs: Learning from things around us

August 27, 2003

When we planted a wildflower border around our back yard two years ago, we didn't realize how the chicory would take root.
In this area, chicory plants can be recognized in the summer months by their tall spindly stalks with small blue flowers, similar to those that bloom along U.S. Highway 24-40. The blooms usually open in the morning and close during the heat of the day.
Because the aggressive chicory species rapidly choked out the other wildflowers within the border, I planned to thin them out this summer and early next spring.
That was before the goldfinches moved in.
For the past month, a flock of American goldfinches has dined on the chicory seeds -- seeds so small that I've yet to identify them in the dried flower pods. But they must be just the treat for finches. An added bonus during years like this is that the plants are amazingly drought resistant. When other plants wither, the chicory keeps on blooming.

If you enjoy watching wildlife, now's the time to hang up your hummingbird feeders. The little ruby throats spent the weekend at our house challenging one another for a seat at the feeders. Perhaps they're in the midst of a migration -- perhaps they've decided Kansas is a great place to summer -- but it's almost guaranteed if you hang up a feeder and watch, you'll be sure to see a hummer or two.

We hear of people described as survivors. What is it that makes some of those who appear to start out the farthest from success -- succeed?
I think of this every time I look at the cannas growing behind The Mirror office.
In the late 1950s, the building located where The Mirror sits today caved in. Through the early 1960s, this spot was marked by a cavernous hole in the ground. Later other buildings were erected and dirt and rocks were brought in to fill the surrounding area.
That's what makes it a challenge to grow flowers here -- not only do we have minimal time to devote to it -- the soil is rocky and there's very little dirt.
A year ago when we planted the cannas out back, the ones along the south side went in soil so hard a shovel wouldn't penetrate more than a few inches. They had little chance of survival.
Because of all they had going against them, we paid more attention to those particular plants. We mulched them, we gave them a little extra water, and much to our surprise, they bloomed.
Moreover, they're blooming again this year.
I've read that for a person to succeed in life he or she needs to have at least one person who truly believes in them.
Sometimes, like with that plant outside our back door, that extra bit of nurturing, that extra nudge is all it takes.
Newspapers carried reports Monday of an Illinois school district that is suffering drastic financial problems. Unit School District 46 spent $40 million building four schools and now cannot afford to open them. The buildings would have housed a total of 3,000 students this school year. The students are being shifted to other schools in the district. And, the district has already cut 600 teachers, trying to save $40 million, a district official said.
According to the news reports, the district would need $2.8 million to operate the new schools. One school board member placed part of the blame on the district's new financial computer software. A school official said poor accounting and staff training created the problem.
Obviously, taxpayers who live in the district were expecting something quite different in 1994 and 2000 when they approved the sale of bonds for construction.
Had the voters continued to stay in touch with their school district, and to study the district's financial situation, they might not have been blindsided.
I appreciate our leadership in the Tonganoxie Unified School District. I trust that, because of conservative spending practices, along with an increasing enrollment, the district's finances are in sound shape. But it would behoove patrons in school districts everywhere, yes, even in Tonganoxie, to get involved with the government of the local schools.
In Tonganoxie, attending board meetings and joining the district's facility improvement committee meetings would be a good place to start.

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