Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The road to a friend's house

From the southwestern corner of the state, I drive east, along a highway laid straight between planted farm fields all around. Flat and sprawling acre upon acre, they are green now with corn and beans or stand bare while the glossy stubble of harvested wheat fades to gray beneath the bleaching rays of the sun.

Mile upon mile, as distant clusters of barns and sheds tucked neatly between the broad expanses slowly disappear from view, a heavy flow of traffic travels this long straight path—a racing river of cars and trucks linking Ohio’s largest cities. Until on the horizon, from behind a row of trees, the hint of eastern hill country first appears in rolling pastures, steep slopes bathed in the amber glow of a summer evening, the steeple of a small white church that rests amid a stand of pines stepping down the ridge.

One after another, fellow travelers exit the highway. Four lanes have dropped to 3 and before long, shrink to 2. Aside from the few cars that trail behind, the road is mine now as it rises and falls along its heavily treed course toward the Ohio River.

From here I will take a smaller road that winds and dips, plunging into the hollows and returning to ride the ridge. Then meet the worn gravel road flanked by hay fields, sweeping a wide arc beside the uncut grassy meadow.

Because the road to a friend's house is never long.

Surrounded by a wildness that with each season brings new beauty—
by woods adorned with spring’s first wildflowers,
a meadow ripe with summer song,

katydid in grass

smooth sumac, Rhus glabra
in flower

flowering spurge, Euphorbia corollata

she surrounds herself with flowers that tell of her great spirit--

keeper of the innocent,

one who is gentle and kind,

one who is bright and warm.
(and smart and funny and strong...)

No, the road to this dear friend's house could never be too long.

Julie Zickefoose


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Friday, August 20, 2010

Robber Fly

Robber Fly with Kill

There’s a thief among us--
a predator who snatches one, then another, from her lookout on the rusty rail of the field fencing in my overgrown pasture.

She takes to the air and effortlessly grabs hapless insects in mid-flight, wrapping her spiny legs and clawed feet around some larger than herself, while some are smaller and easier prey.

Robber Fly with small wasp or ant

With little chance of escape, they’re instantly immobilized by a dose of neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes deftly delivered through the tip her dagger-like proboscis.
Within minutes, she’s drinking them down.
Robbed of the life within, an empty shell falls to the ground.

Robber Fly preying upon Common Whitetail Dragonfly

Robber flies are skilled predators of the insect world and, though usually of no harm to humans, able to inflict a painful stab if handled carelessly. Many genera and species exist worldwide, some fairly small and some rivaling bumblebees and dragonflies in size.
This particular individual may be of the genus Promachus or Proctacanthus, both large and aggressive, bearded robbers.

There are many dragonflies left in my field.

Common Whitetail dragonflies
2 males (above) and female (below)

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beautiful Buckeye

Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia

There is a gentle flutter against the glass. On this cool morning, each of a handful of butterflies begins its life upon wings and waits to fly in the first warming rays of the sun.
They’re my beautiful Buckeyes—found as caterpillars just several days before, as I walked the mowed path ringing a summer field filled with riotous wildflowers.
Absorbed in a torrent of insect song brought on by that steamy morning, I had walked into their midst, barely noticing their wanderings below on a patch of path 6 feet wide and stretching 15 feet down the trail. Their colorful but dark, softly-spined wormy bodies fed furiously at my feet on the short stems of plantain interspersed with cut grass.

Common Buckeye caterpillar on plantain

Tiptoeing between them and picking up one after another, I soon had a handful of brilliant wriggling worms reluctant to remain in my cupped hands while I hurriedly headed for home. Basically a solitary caterpillar, this spot of lawn had apparently been chosen again and again by an egg-laying adult, as she flitted from one food plant to the next—a single green egg left each time. And scattered densely along my daily walkway, I was sure this caterpillar nursery would meet with an unfortunate end.

Common Buckeye caterpillar on Ruellia

Safely tucked into my glass tank enclosure and stuffed with fresh sprigs of Ruellia and assorted plantains, days later 31 cryptic chrysalides hung from silken tethers around its lid.

Not yet warmed enough to take to the air, each turns, open-winged to sit in a spot of sunshine, then lifts from my finger and floats across the field.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Have you seen...

Garden Sunrise

A vine has covered my garden in the way that daylight creeps across the yard—
from the first tender rays in one corner, stretching and fanning out until only a few spots remain untouched, those safely hidden behind another.
If it were any other, I would pull it—yank its long reaching arms and winding fingers from my vegetable patch, where a few withering pumpkin plants struggle beneath the heat of an early August afternoon.
But it is milkweed.
Sand Vine.

Sand Vine, Cynanchum laeve
the other milkweed

This climbing milkweed, Cynanchum laeve, with its heart-shaped leaves trimmed pink at the stem and clusters of delicate white flowers spaced along its length feeds more Monarchs than the tough and leathery common milkweed standing just feet away in my field.

Sand Vine blossom

Sand Vine seed pods

In the first light of day, striped caterpillars cover it, coursing its twisted stems, cruising the pathway from one tender leaf to the next. Until, sated, they hang as chrysalides—luminous green charms across this heavy milkweed blanket.

Monarch caterpillar feeding on Sand Vine

Their appreciation is boldy stated—
orange wings cover my field.

Monarch nectaring on ironweed

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

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