helpful Loki

So Much Mischief in One Small Genus–But For Once It’s (Mostly) Not Mine

The human female has traded the frustrations of ordering and riding herd on techs and grad students for the hair-pullingness of botanical scholarship. She is part of a team writing volume two of a book about the flora of East Texas. If it is anything like volume one, which she was also involved with, it will be hailed and lauded as a seminal work in the field abhorred for its sheer size and weight. There should be a warning on the frontispiece of tomes like this, an admonition to wear steel-toed shoes in case the book happens to fall afoul of gravity and plummet floorward.

At present, she is working her way through the draft manuscript on the largest, most contrary of the dicot family, the Asteraceae or Sunflower Family. There are a lot of them, their anatomy is fiddly and usually quite small, and the distinctions between species can be blurry at best.

For each genus, she has to check the description, test run the genus through the two keys to genera to make sure it comes out where it is supposed to, verify which species are in the region’s flora, and check the key to species, along with the supporting citations. For each species, she has to check the description and then see how the gazillions of specimens in the herbarium contribute to the stated season of bloom and the county dot maps that illustrate distribution.

As you may have guessed, it’s slow going. Today she’s working with the genus Hymenopappus, commonly known as wooly-white or old plainsman.

Accordingly, she has the genus pulled up in the herbarium database:

She has about a dozen very full folders of specimens out and is going through them, one by one, to make sure they’re correctly identified. In theory, it should be easy. One species has pink flowers, one has yellow, and the others have white. One prefers heavy clay and two like sand, with one known only from sands of a particular geological formation. Some have fat-lobed leaves and some have skinny-lobed leaves. Some have undivided lower leaves and some have very divided lower leaves. You’d think that would be enough to work with, wouldn’t you?

Ehehehee. No. I had nothing to do with it, but the pink and yellow pigments don’t always show up in pressed specimens. All the flowers have dried a sort of creamy beige. Many of the older specimens have no habitat information and thus no indication of soil type. Where the soil is mentioned, there’s no guarantee that the plant was growing on its preferred substrate and not being an opportunist somewhere else. A fair number don’t include the diagnostic lowermost leaves. Most have floral characters that are exactly in the overlap between measurement ranges. Some don’t even note which of Texas’ 254 counties they’re from.

Then there’s the nomenclatural fun surrounding some of the species. Locally, there is Hymenopappus artemisiifolius, with two varieties, var. artemisiifolius, which is widespread, and var riograndensis, which grows down in South Texas. We also have Hymenopappus scabiosaeus, also with two varieties, var. corymbosus, which is common, and var. scabiosaeus, which grows in Louisiana to the east and needs to be mentioned in case it takes it into its head to sneak over the border. So after checking the species ID, the human female has to deal with variety.

Now, here’s where the fun comes in: H. artemesiifolius used to be spelled “artemisiaefolilus“, so there are plants and records with the outdated spelling. In a book from the last century on the flora of the Southeast U.S., only H. artemisiifolilus was listed, so there are old specimens of H. scabiosaeus with the wrong name on the label. Later, other botanists combined the two species under H. scabiosaeus, so there are a LOT of specimens of H. artemisiifolius languishing under the wrong species name. There are old sheets marked H. corymbosus that need to be updated to one or another variety of H. scabiosaeus. There are a handful of old sheets labeled H. robustus, which is a synonym of H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered one, but the names can’t just be updated, the plants have to be keyed—and behold! All the ones in this collection are actually H. scabiosaeus. Another few have been identified as a species that doesn’t grow in Texas. Since the name on the label refers to a yellow-flowered species, one can only assume they belong to H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered kind that does grow here. There are older sheets of H. carrizoanus hiding in with other species, because H. carriozanus was only recently described.

Pick up a specimen. Assess the leaves. Look at the flower bits under the microscope. Compare to illustrations, known specimens, and online specimen photos. Consider the label data. Make a determination Correct the name on the sheet. Update the database. Over and over and over. At the end, go back a second time and see if anything needs a different ID, given that a hundred other specimens have now informed your mental image of the species. Refile, relabeling some folders that have been switched to


She has been at this for days. Slowly, she’s making sense of it. She’s been able to identify most of the specimens. There is a LOT of green in the database, indicating where the information has been updated, and because she’s a diligent rather anal-retentive worker, she has taken the time to enter the location and habitat data for specimens whose information wasn’t captured in previous databasing passes. Not to mention she’s found a good few that were never databased at all! And she’s “neatly” colored in a bunch of counties on the distribution maps:

So what is my part in all of this? I’ve been the one hiding the extension cord for the powerstrip for her computer, misplacing first her ruler than her pencil, kicking her ultra-fine red pen off the table and bending the nib, rolling the database up or down a row when she’s trying to enter data, hiding the stack of specimens that was right there, whispering in her ear that maybe the leaves are not quite divided enough for H. scabiosaeus and she should rekey it and all the other H. scabiosaeus, distracting her with funny/stupid things on the internet when she should be checking references, and suggesting that perhaps a nap would be good right about now.

I know *I* could use one!

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With Malus Aforethought

I think I know how to make the human female’s love of apples bear fruit. (Snerk!)

She really does keep track of all the different varieties she eats.  She even photographs them:


That’s just a sample.  And look!  She’s even had one of those ‘Winter Banana’ ones!

She keeps her tasting notes in a little book.  Actually, make that “books.”  She’s filled one completely up and is a good way into another.


She records their lineage, their appearance, and their taste. Her favorites get a little star by their name.


Looks like her hundredth variety was a good one.  I’ve made sure she hasn’t found any since.

She has no compunction about lambasting varieties she finds less than stellar:


These little books are like scripture for her.  Her memory’s not so good, so she really relies on them to help her remember which varieties she’d like to eat again and which ones to skip.  No one’s allowed to meddle with them.

Pffft!  Rules.  Let’s see if she notices my little addition…


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Cleaning Up One of the Human Female’s Mistakes

I want it on record that I don’t always cause mischief and break things.  Sometimes I actually fix things!  Today, for example, I am taking care of one of the human female’s blunders.  One of her coworkers has a quaint little penguin made largely of seashells, and the human female oafishly knocked into it and sent it hurtling toward the ground, breaking off one of its wings.  She’s too ham-fisted for delicate repair work, so I offered to help with the repairs, with Sigyn as my lovely assistant.

See?  Here is the patient.

broken penguin1

You will observe that on the right side he has a fine, healthy wing.

broken penguin2

Whereas on the left side—

broken penguin3

I know.  It IS very sad.  Poor, brave penguin.  But as you can see, I’ve got the wing.  All we need to do is reattach it.  I will prep the bird for surgery.  You go fetch the wherewithal to mend him.

broken penguin4

Mmmm.  No.  I don’t think that will hold.  We need something stronger.

broken penguin5

Well, yes, tape probably would get the wing to stay on, but, my love, we want to do this as invisibly as possible.

broken penguin6

Um.  Yes, all right.  This stuff would hold the wing on, but it dries rather rubbery and flexible.  We need a good, solid glue.

broken penguin7


Sigh.  You’re getting warmer, dearest.  Glue is definitely the way to go, but isn’t there something stronger in the house?  Go check in the catch-all drawer in the kitchen.  There’s bound to be something in there that would work.

broken penguin8

Bingo!  This will do the trick nicely.  Mister Penguin will have to sit quietly for a day or two, but he should be just fine afterwards.  We’ll have him recuperate in the garage, though, because by Idunn’s itty bitty apples, this stuff stinks!

There!  He’ll be good as new!  Sigyn, why don’t you lead him off to rest while I think of clever and delightful ways to affix the human female’s belongings to various inconvenient surfaces and objects…

Safety First! (Time Well Spent)

Part of the human female’s job is Safety.  

Yes, that word is Capitalized—at least around here.  It is her job to make sure the fire codes are followed, hazardous waste is tagged and disposed of properly, broken glassware is put into a special container, sharps ditto, the hallways are kept clear, and the Prep Staff are primed and ready to deal with any emergency, from breakfast-shunning fainters to students making bad choices regarding forceps and electrical outlets.

One piece of equipment the workgroup has but hopes never to need to use is the AED.  I forget what that stands for.  Angst-inducing Electrical Doo-dad?


It hangs on the wall in the hallway.  The human female is supposed to check every day that the pretty little status light is green.  Once per month, she’s supposed to make sure all of its various bits and contrivances are in good working order.  Sometimes I do this for her.

This red light will light up if the thing is actually being used to zap someone.


As with so many things, it would look better if it were green.  All it would take is one little spell…


Inside the box, there’s a hangy key.


If one is just checking the device and doesn’t wish to alarm everyone in a hundred-foot radius, one puts the key in the lock on the outside of the box and turns it.


Sometimes I “forget” this step.  The alarm is gratifyingly ear-piercing.

Next, I have to take the box out.  See?  Here’s that green light I was speaking of.   Hello, my lovely.


Do you see the white “bloom” on the housing, next to the locator label?  When the unit was installed, it was all right, but I changed this bit into that weird plastic that gets sticky and greasy with age.  Whenever the human female has to handle it, she always tries to avoid touching that part.  If she misses, she makes faces like she’s been tasked with touching baboon butts.  (Makes her look worse than usual.  Someone with a face like hers shouldn’t be so judge-y about baboon butts, if you know what I mean.)

But I digress.  The next step is to open the box and then push the yellow arrow button to open the shocky-part.



Or, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to say.  When she does the checking, the human female usually puts her hands over the speaker so that what comes out is more like


When I do the checking, I usually wait until the hallway is full of students studying for a quiz and then let it rip at full volume (and then some.)  All those exclamation points tend to have an effect on people that is just the opposite of calm.  I never get tired of seeing the more tightly-wound kiddos jump and startle.

After the shouty bit is over with, it’s a matter of simply initialing the check chart and reversing the steps to put the AED (Angry Exclaiming Device?) back into its locker.  I’ve left a little spell, and about half the time, the human female pinches herself on the snaps that hold the inner case shut.

The whole process takes under four minutes.   But since I can spend two and a half of those annoying the female whether she does it or I do it, it’s four minutes well spent.

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This One’s Yours

Oh, human female, I know you are perpetually trying to lose a few pounds.  Since the weather’s been bad and exercise is tough because your feet are still six kinds of messed up, you’ve been working on something you call “portion control.”  I know it’s been hard, because you really do love to put your snout in the trough and just inhale.

Now, I never try to lose weight, of course, because the more of me, the better, but I’m willing to help you out.   Never let it be said that I’m unsympathetic.

Take tonight, for example.  Sigyn is visiting her sister, but the blue-haired goddaughter is here for dinner, and we are having fish.  These potato-crusted fish-oid objects are actually pretty tasty!  I’ve used my magic to make sure you don’t over-eat by right-sizing the “fillets” remaining in the bag.

See?  Two for me, two for the human male, two for the blue-haired goddaughter, and this special one for you.


You’re welcome.

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A is for Aggravation

A is for Airborne Pollen.  A is for Allergies.  A is for Allegra, the human female’s anti-sneezamine of choice.  She used to get it cheaply by prescription, but I saw to it that when it went over-the-counter her insurance stopped covering it.  It’s not exactly cheap, even in generic form, so she hoards them and only uses them when she really, really needs some relief.

Today she is sniffling and sneezing and making other Undignified and Revolting Noises.  I don’t know about her, but I need relief, so I have demanded that she break out her emergency sample pack.

Here, you sniveling snot-bucket.  In the interest of some peace and quiet, I will even help you open it.


Non-drowsy formula?  Does that mean your post-lunch nap is off for today?


By Idunn’s apple dumplings!  Talk about over-packagingSelf-promoting over-packagingGarish, self-promoting over-packaging!  Let’s get this miracle pill out and hope it’s effective.  (If it doesn’t do the trick administered orally, I shall magic up two more and shove them up her nostrils.  Anything is better than listening to her honk and snort!)


Ugh!  This plastic is impervious to my impressive dagger skills.  Time to break out the big gun(gnir.)


Take that!  And that!



Here, mortal.  Take your stupid medicine.  I do hope this tablet lasts the whole 24 hours, because this is too much like work to want to do it again soon.

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Dear Human Female–A New Year’s Resolution

After some soul-searching, I have decided that perhaps Sigyn is right.  It is easier to accomplish one’s goals with the help of friends.   I resolve, then, to be a better friend to you.  I will stop passing judgment and forgive all the slights you have heaped upon me.  I resolve to be more helpful, starting now.

I will help you with your goal of finishing a book a week this year.


The lame priest did it.

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