Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the midst (SWF)

East Fork Lake
November 2008

East Fork Lake looks different now.
No longer the slumbering giant, lurking beneath last fall’s fog, left one morning as a bitter night dropped its chill onto warmer water, and hurried off toward dawn.

We paddled back, as far as the creek would allow, onto a wide gravel bar, covered densely with water-willow, side to side. The blooms now gone, the leaves stained with mud from summer rains that flood this plain. And after searching for a path across it and finding none deep enough to ride upon, sat to rest in the shade of a sycamore—leaving Red Canoe caught on the rocky bottom, waiting within view.

Across the expanse of water-willow, clear, small pools—constantly refreshed by a layer of rushing water, inches deep, dotted the field of green.
Crayfish scurried ahead of my feet, disappearing backward beneath the flat rocks, until only the scarlet tips of their pincers could be seen.
Small fish snuggled in to my sandals.
And damselflies a brilliant red, darted and dashed, waiting and chasing.
And I with my camera, stood in their midst.

American Water-willow, Justicia americana

American Rubyspot damselfy, Hetaerina americana
male above, female below

Spotted Sandpiper (?)

Double-crested Cormorant

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not just another pretty face...

Behind the Sunflower

A Golden Spiral

Look deep into this sunflower.
Do you see it?

The perfection of a Fibonacci Spiral--
the resulting form of an arc drawn connecting the corners of squares whose sides progress in the Fibonacci sequence, an order in which each new number is the sum of the previous two.
Like the Chambered Nautilus or the whorl of seeds on a pine cone.
The order in nature leaves with us a beauty that is more than just another pretty face.

Sunflower seed head

The Fibonacci Spiral

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who grows there?

Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

I could blame it on the weather.
Heaven knows it’s rained more this summer than ever before, or so it would seem. Weekly storms have left the ground saturated. And cool temperatures have taken little of the moisture away. The tomato plants, lush and leggy, have barely held their fruit for the time it takes to ripen, many times dropping heavy, orange orbs onto the damp dirt to rot, hidden from view in the coiling, bushy branches wrapping within each metal cage.
I could blame it on the woodchucks--all ten, who fed handsomely on dinners seasoned with freshly snipped dill and cilantro, after ducking beneath the electric fence to gorge on green beans and decapitate the tender tops of sweet potato plants each time the roots sent fresh growth out from each hopeful hill.
Or, I could blame it on my life, that teases me into thinking I have time to devote to a garden, remembering the tending and doting one demands--then picks up and runs off laughing, never looking backward over its shoulder to see that I haven’t kept up.
Truth is, all three have come together this year to leave us with mountains of zucchini and cucumbers, a nice plot of basil and little else.

So, determined to rescue the remnants of what had been 2 rows of green beans, now lying mauled and muddied beneath a heavy blanket of vines creeping in from the edge, I set off toward the plot, clippers in hand. Julie had heard that a heavy pruning of the plants could produce a second crop and was giving it a try.
For me, any crop, this year, would be welcome.

Snipping along, nipping and tucking my way down each row, bean stems here, vine stems there, I amassed quite a pile—tangled and thrown onto the grass, the few old, woody beans sadly hanging. And marveled at my new creation—a barren, brown strip. The 2 rows of plants, nothing more than short stems.

Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve
Do you see what I see?
(click to enlarge)

The vines, always eyeing an open space to conquer, had also found the corner stake, and had wound around and around each other up its metal bar, extending a ropey arm to the sky. From my spot in the grass, where I sat, pleased, now, in my new hope for the ravaged garden, I could see hundreds of tiny golden aphids along its length, each elbowing its neighbor, nodding and dipping as they sipped from the tender stem.
And a teeny, tiny stripy one, that wasn’t an aphid at all.

I knew, even as I rose to look more closely at what was barely there, what moved slowly along the stem.
His fine black and yellow-striped body.
The delicate whiplashes on either end.
Yes, the monarch caterpillars I had hoped to find in the milkweed patch beside the pond, were feeding here, instead, on the Sand Vine--and I had just plowed through their nursery.

Monarch caterpillars feeding on Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

Carefully, I unraveled the tangled vines from the pile tossed beside the garden, my eyes scanning for evidence of chewed leaves and tiny striped bodies and found two more, untouched by the trimming, wandering aimlessly amidst the wilting stems.
Gently, I inserted a new leaf beneath the silken attachments of their tiny feet, and in minutes, each inched forward onto their new climbing host plant.
In total, now seven.

No cilantro, no dill, no sweet potatoes, no beans—
but the garden’s just fine, if I might say so.
Some, in fact, say it's divine.

Monarch butterfly depositing egg on Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer's Sunset (SWF)

Summer's Sunset

Orange Sulphur on Queen Anne's Lace at sunset

There is a sense of waiting, as if suspended over a great space—
the final weeks of summer hang, so still and expectant.
This field, now empty of swallows, gone, as large flocks congregate and pass across the skies above the tree line, their backdrop, the tumbling clouds pushed ahead of what would be a welcome change.

I visit the gum grove, where, in other years I have found the wheel bugs, poised at the edge of the star-shaped leaves, patient for their prey--and curious of my camera. But, this year, do not find them.
A mantis hangs patiently instead, her strong forelegs grasping what had been a honeybee, drawn to the periwinkle blue of the chicory, fallen face-forward in gentle boughs across the grassy path. She munches her softly furred find, turning her alien head and sidestepping with the grace given her in four long, slender legs, behind the knotty stem.
Except for the intermittent drone of the cicada, all is quiet here.
The stillness, deep and discernible.
The giant hush has fallen.

Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia

At the edge of the pond--a new development, broad and billowing, to span 14 inches of prime, waterfront property.
In the center, waits a spider, her brilliant body etched in black shadow, riding an almost imperceptible breeze forward and falling slowly back.
A teneral dragonfly has taken her first breaths here, out of water, while her soft wings wait for readiness to fly.

Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia and Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis

Clever, waiting one,
to catch the winged dragon,
one need not have wings.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Elderberries, a portrait

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Saturday, August 15, 2009


By dusk, the white blanket has begun to settle in.
From every creek bed, it pours out onto the broad, low pastures to hang, swirling inches above the ground, turning and curling, before piling up in a soft drift and spilling over the ridge into the field beyond.
Quiet and cool, it is left to soothe the spaces this August heat has seared.
In the dark, I’ve walked here with a light—the air thick with katydid and frog song, my hair absorbing the soupy air until it gathers into drops that trickle down my face. Oozing richness and heavy with the frenzy of life on a summer night.

By morning, with the sun on its heels, it quickly rushes off, leaving nothing to hint of its reveling--
except a few broken strands of beads on the finest threads.

(click to enlarge)

Dew on seeds of Wild Lettuce

By mid-morning, the sun had erased all the dew, and its heat and brightness chased all but the hardiest deep into the woods to stay cool.
I was surprised to find this little Spring Peeper still here, though quiet, contentedly sitting on the leaf of a milkweed, shaded by another overhead. He had found the perfect perch from which to watch this summer morning.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fourth Grade (SWF)

I remember school days, early fall, and a heat on the playground so fierce that, once back inside the classroom, the teacher would tell us, “Heads down all around”—
the cold, flat desktop, a cool cloth placed on 30 sweaty heads and faces reddened with the racing games of 9-year-olds at recess.

Across the darkened room, rows of bowed heads on bent forms waited, silhouetted against the bright light of the windows, as teacher rustled through papers at her desk or her footsteps slipped out the door and trailed off down the hall, gathering things for class.

From beneath my elbow in the quiet room, I could see others’ eyes straining to find her, their cheeks firmly glued to the wonderfully cool slab. And one curious head, lifting and looking for a moment--before finding teacher’s eye and relaxing again onto the calming surface.
Until, with all rested and settled quietly to begin, she moved to the doorway and turned on the light.

Every head lifts and turns—
and follows her path around the room.

Morning dew
on spider web suspended from a sunflower

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Monday, August 10, 2009


I remember the seeds, and their slender pods—
that afternoon in March, cold and bright with sunshine.
How I fussed to capture them—lifted on the slightest breeze, carried effortlessly away.
Beyond the fields, still in the faded brown of winter, from their curling brick-red wraps tightly fastened to silvery bare branches, as winter held onto spring.
Beyond beauty, there was nothing more.

Hemp Dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum

In my summer field, again I find it.
Blossoms hint of long pods forming,
blushing stems with white-veined leaves that bleed a milky sap--
like milkweed, though it’s not.
Beyond beauty, intrigue.

Dogbane Beetle, Chrysochus auratus

A beetle sipping from the dew wears every color in his jacket,
walks the leaves red stems support.
And I learn his name is Dogbane—
of this plant,
with seed so light,
pods dangling,
red stems, white veins, and sap like milk.

Beyond beauty, finally, understanding.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

High Water Mark

The dry days of summer, this year have not come.
Even now, my path to the pond and beyond remains a winding one—
taking the higher ground, hugging the fence line as it reaches toward the field behind the barn—
never coursing straight across, for the lush green grass of an April day grows there still.
And through the blades, where each step would be quickly consumed, the heat of the day dances in small flashes of light, on inky puddles.

A crack has grown in the center of the gravel drive.
From a small trickle weeks ago, with each deluge, carving a deeper path down our hill, as the waters race toward the small stream roaring across the road. Removing one stone after another, widening the wash. Until a small canyon now welcomes our guests at the road’s edge.

Question Mark Butterfly, Polygonia interrogationis

Ebony jewelwing damselfly, Calopteryx maculata

But the higher waters can carry us , too.
Further back,
deeper than ever before,
into creek beds we’ve never explored.
Beyond the gravel bars that, on most August days, jut from the water—
draw a line you may not cross.

Here, with its only access the water,
a celebration seldom seen—
those flowers of the hidden summer streamside.

American Water Willow, Justicia americana

Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

Sharpwing Monkey Flower, Mimulus alatus

In a mass of roots on an exposed bank, a 4-foot long Northern Water Snake was well-hidden, too.
It looks as if he's chosen the roughness there to slough off his outgrown skin.

Can you see it beginning to loosen from the top of his head?

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