Friday, July 31, 2009

Have you seen...

Selfheal or Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris

Beside your path,
beneath your boot,
the small flowers barely seen,
upon each spike, in turn, to bloom,
‘round each whorl, exactly six,
tucked below each purple bonnet--
ivory cheeks, and trembling lip.

Who thinks the mighty must be tall,
when one so small is heal-all.

Heal-all, or Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris is found on almost every continent and has been used in herbal medicine for almost every ailment known to man. It is presently showing promise in research for herpes, diabetes, cancer and AIDS.
Read more about Heal-all here.

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Butterflies that get away (SWF)

Gray-headed Coneflower

Just beyond this rise, on broad beautiful wings, a Giant Swallowtail weaves a path back and forth, into dim woods and out again, a needle through fabric--the black above flashing strongly, light beneath it, splashed with color. Like a small bird, she leads me from one to the next skipping along this edge, then suddenly plunges within and is gone.
Never before have I seen one, so large of these least common swallowtails—
yet there could be no other, her color, her size, her form.

Even on this bright afternoon, where the flowers of the field stand under strong sunshine, the woods lining this river basin are cool and dark, protected.
Tall stands of Pale Jewelweed dangle their yellow blossoms at eye-level.
Tap me on the shoulder as I pass.
They, too, are not the ordinary—
the commoner I’ve left at home.

Pale jewelweed, Impatiens pallida

Orange jewelweed, Impatiens capensis

Resting on a leaf beside the trail through these dark woods, a dragonfly finishes his dinner—a smaller damsel, with coal-black, lifeless wings.
Steady he stays, as I stand closely watching.
Beauty on wings—
some captured, some lost.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg, Dromogomphus spinosus
eating Ebony Jewelwing

See more Skywatch here.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009



I had filled the small pail almost without effort—
both hands working deftly down the woody, thorned stems in a race to beat the heat of the day.
Stepping past the poison ivy.
Moving carefully through the long, bent canes.
Selecting the plumpest black berries from the clusters hidden in the tall and tangled grass.
Dripping from beneath the wrappings of heavy denim, tall boots and bug spray.

And poured the bounty out onto a broad, flat tray indoors.

Once frozen, the piles of plastic packages containing the finest fruits of the field would warm an autumn morning, steal the chill from the coldest of winter winds.
Appearing weeks later in muffins, pancakes or jam, with the flavor of this summer day, the fragrance of a sun-warmed July afternoon.

And so, swapping a fresh layer of blackberries for the frozen glassy black beads poured out that morning, before going upstairs that night, I hastily scooped the frosted fruit from the tray and bagged it-- tossing odd shreds of stem, leaf or beetle aside.
One small, frosted snail shell fell off into the sink.

At first light, through a fog that was part morning mist, part sleepy-eyed stupor, I paused at the counter again, filled the pot for coffee and sensed a small speck moving slowly up the wall toward the light of the east-facing window. Hoisting her shell onto the white windowsill, long eye-stalks from a tiny, slender neck scanned back and forth, curiously looking, stretching, examining this strange new indoor world on the wrong side of the glass.
Defrosted—with not a blackberry in sight.

tiny snail on windowsill

I poured myself a cup of coffee, and, minus the wraps of the previous day, carried her back to the blackberry patch.
My freezer is almost full.

tiny snail and the blackberries

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Collision of Color

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Making Exceptions

Prairie blooms of Killdeer Plains

It brought a chuckle from the listeners—
a small group gathered for a workshop at Killdeer Plains, where experts in the field shared their knowledge of birds, plants, dragonflies and butterflies.

The basic rules to remember
to distinguish moths from butterflies,
when you stumble upon them in the field:

Moths usually fly at night; except when they don’t,
and usually have feathery antennae; except when they don’t,
and tend to rest with their wings held flat; except when they don’t,
and are of duller, drabber color; except when they’re not.

But within that lesson, a greater truth--
that the one who makes the rules, may break them.
Exceptions become the rule.

pink morph Bush Katydid,
Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, north central Ohio,

Katydid (from Encyclopedia Britannica)
"Any of numerous, predominantly nocturnal insects related to crickets and grasshoppers, noted for their loud mating calls. Katydids have large hind legs and are distinguished by their extremely long, threadlike antennae and the thick, upwardly curved ovipositor (egg-laying structure) of the females.
Often large and green," ...(except when they're not!)... "many katydids have long wings, but some common species are nearly wingless. Katydids are most abundant in the tropics—the Amazon rainforest is home to about 2,000 species—but katydids are also found in cooler and drier regions throughout the world; the United States is home to over 100 species."

Dr. David Horn of The Ohio State University Department of Entomology led a session about butterflies and moths for the Killdeer Plains workshop. It was followed by afternoon field trips for butterflies and a nighttime hike to see moths.
The pink katydid was discovered by Jan Kennedy, a participant, on Saturday, July 18, at Killdeer Plains.
More about its discovery at Jim McCormac's site here.
And the great moth display here!

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

At the Edge of an Ocean (SWF)

The fields surrounding Killdeer Plains are striking.
Freshly cut of their wheat crop, and carried away as golden bales of straw, this yawning space devoid of hills or homes, becomes a stage upon which dramatic skies dance.

And, as one from the more rolling and wooded corner of the state, I found it hard to not always be standing, looking up in admiration, as if I’d never seen these same clouds pass, just 3 hours south, though I know it must be so.

The ocean above,
greater than one of water,
I play at the edge.

Cutleaf teasel, Dipsacus laciniatus

Cutleaf teasel, Dipsacus laciniatus, is a larger cousin to the purple-flowered, common teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, of my fields, and lines the roadways here. Both invasive non-natives, the cutleaf's white flower heads stand taller and its fancier leaves spread broadly at the base and adorn a reddish stem.

Sturdy and up to 7 feet tall, a bird has nested in this one.

See more Skywatch here.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This American Dream

American Dream

We have lost much of what was America—
the prominent tallgrass prairies of our Midwest, the natural look of this land.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

Where, within open spaces dominated by the towering seedheads of big bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass, wildflowers on leggy stems emerged from between the broad, toothed leaves of prairie dock. Fields were sprinkled with shades of lavender in spreading stands of wild bergamot. Blankets of purple coneflower, rested beneath reaching rods of blazingstar.
And a lovely, wild lily was found here--
head nodding from a tall, slender stem.

Sullivant's Milkweed, Asclepias sullivantii

Wild Burgamot, Monarda fistulosa

Michigan Lily, Lilium michiganense

Onto fertile, black earth, the steel plow arrived, to turn and till these plains—
plant crops for a growing nation.
Until today, only fragments remain.
Of those hardy prairie plants, tough enough to withstand the droughts claiming others less well-rooted, the fires necessary for their survival.
Once covering more than a million acres, the wild beauties of Ohio’s Tallgrass have become a sight you, now, must search to see.

Trumpeter Swans and cygnets on lake

Past a small, yellow farmhouse and its neighboring cell tower straddling dense, deep rows of green corn, is Killdeer Plains, a remnant of the Sandusky Plains Prairie of long ago.
Its gravel roads and gated paths signify its place now—
a space set aside from the others.
Tucked between fields of winter wheat,
preserved and protected from change.

Purple Coneflower and Blazingstar, Liatris sp.

From across this wide sky, where clouds are stacked upon the horizon waiting for the full light of day, an eagle crosses before me. And takes his place in the dead tree on this prairie which now is his home.
If we could do things differently, would we--
redefine the American dream?

Bald Eagle over Killdeer Plains

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Got junk?

Cave Run Lake is, in a word, huge.
A giant watery snake, its 8000 acres wind for miles, past rugged shorelines, above them, nothing but the densely treed hills of Daniel Boone National Forest.
This wild and wandering place, wonderful to lose yourself within—
but it could really happen here.

Each bend unfolds to look
just as the last.

Each stand of willows, each sycamore, each sweetgum,
planted on a ruddy rock bank—
shows no mark to guide the way, for one paddling slowly along.

So, looking backward over my shoulder, as we broke from the edge and traced a course toward the opposite shoreline, I scanned for an object to remember upon our return—
a mark that would be an easy target, a blaze from across the water to guide us back to our camp.

And thought this large, floating refrigerator,
unsightly as it might be,
perfect for the job.
How could anyone miss that??

We paddled on,
and discovered another, and another…and another.
Each refrigerator, each water heater, each soccer ball—
having found its way to this great lake
from someone’s private dumping ground,
now floated at the edge,
bobbing in the wake of passing boats,
arranged beside rubber tire planters.

Because, once dumped,
it never really goes away—
it just goes somewhere else.

In our day on the water, we passed 7 floating refrigerators, 10 floating water heaters and 12 soccer balls.
Tires too numerous to mention bob within piles of bottles and other waste.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Missing a Mullein

Common Mullein, Verbascum thapsus

It is my habit to walk at night, after the day’s work, when the heat has passed and the sun leans toward the western sky, leaving the fields in coolness and still.
Along the lane between corn and soy, watching deer browse at the distant tree line, butterflies dance along the gravel path--this has become the routine.

But, last week I walked here early, as the sun was rising, the day bright and fresh.
To catch a few pictures before the clouds brought rain and strong winds to blow them away.

And I found it a different place, in the morning.
Tender blooms open wide, that, by evening, have passed--
never seen on all those other walks.

I must remember to break old habits.

Morning Roadside with Moth Mullein

Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria

(please click to enlarge)

I see Common Mullein often. Its wooly leaves and tall, spiky stem stand out easily along roadsides and vacant lots.
But, only in the morning, do the blossoms of Moth Mullein open broadly, revealing its place, too, in disturbed gravel shoulders lining the fields.
So named, because its petals resemble moth's wings, its stamens, their feathery antennae.

Read more about mullein here:

Common Mullein
Moth Mullein

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