Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nature Notes: What a Difference a Month Makes

Remember these?

This was the milkweed patch to the south of the house as of July 25. At the time, monarch butterflies were flittering around them, and there was the potential for caterpillars.

Same plants, taken August 19. It was disappointing to find no sign of monarchs, but I was impressed that these huge seed pods had grown so quickly.

Tree frogs seem to be everywhere all of a sudden, and they love to sun themselves on the broad leaves of the milkweeds. They blend in so well that it's hard to see them.

I love their brown hands; they look like they're wearing little gloves.

No clue what this is, but given the size of its pincers I wasn't about to get too close. There were quite a few of these on the milkweeds, too.

There seems to be quite a little ecosystem going on out there in that corner of the yard. It will be fun to see all those pods open and to watch the seeds fly.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nature Notes: I'll Get You, My Pretty

Tall Bellflower Blossom

If you have kids of a certain age, you probably remember the Pokemon craze. Pokemon were little fantasy creatures. There were hundreds of them, and the battle cry of the game was "Gotta catch 'em all!" The tykes who got sucked in drove their parents nuts in their quest to acquire every new critter the company made.

I have become similarly obsessed with wildflowers. I didn't set out to catch 'em all, but that certainly has become the goal. Every day brings something wonderful that I've never noticed before.

Wildflowers are ephemeral creatures. They are often subtle, small, and hidden, and they bloom for only a short while. Blink and you've missed one. So every chance I get, I'm poking through weeds, lying on my stomach in the mud, risking my neck climbing things for a better view. And on days I'm not prowling the property, I'm wondering what I'm missing.

Meanwhile, the vegetable garden is overflowing, there are clothes in the laundry we don't remember owning, and feral dust bunnies are breeding under the beds. I've taken to leaving the vacuum cleaner and a bin of cleaning supplies in the middle of the living room, in case anyone drops in. (I get credit for doing housework without actually having to do any.)

Capturing a wildflower isn't exactly easy, either. Too much or too little sun, and the colors are wrong. If there's a hint of a breeze, you can forget a sharp focus. If there is no breeze, mosquitoes are snacking on your tender bits.

The bellflower above has been the toughest customer so far. The stalk is tall, so it's never really still. They grow under trees, so lighting is patchy. Worst of all is that amazing, wonderful pistil that sticks out a good inch from the plane of the petals. No amount of fiddling with the settings will put the whole flower in focus. This is the best attempt so far, and I'm still not happy with it.

Of course, I could just cut them and bring them inside. No wind, good lighting, no bites. Dramatic black background. I'm sure the photos would be technically better, but it would ruin the experience. It would take the "wild" out of the flower, and it would take the flower out of the earth.

There's a quote by Malcolm De Chazal: "The flower in the vase smiles, but no longer laughs." I prefer my flowers laughing.

The collection so far is in a Flickr set, linked below, if you're interested. I'm still uploading entries, and I'll keep at it until frost puts an end to the project. Until then, please note there is a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room. Housework is in progress. Honest.

White Yarrow Flags

Downy Yellow Violet Dwarf Ginseng

*Wildflowers on

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Nature Notes: Gardening by Moonlight

Yes. I'm on about the moon again.

This time I've run across some articles about using the moon phases to plant, harvest, and preserve in the garden. I'd heard about the practice before, as I'm sure everyone has, but I never really thought about doing it. In the city, it seemed like a silly, superstitious practice. Now that I fall asleep by moonlight every night, the idea of living in harmony with moon phases feels perfectly natural.

In our garden this year, things got planted A. After the fence was up; B. When hubby had time to rent and use a tiller; C. When I found the packets of seeds I'd bought weeks ago and forgotten; and D. Sometime on the weekend, if our energy held out. Results have been mixed, to say the least.

I'm thinking that next time around, I'll follow the lunar calendar and see what happens. If nothing else, I'm sure following the moon would make me feel more connected with the earth, more attuned to the wonder of it all. I might even get better tomatoes.

So what do you think? Do any of you practice moon gardening? Here are some websites for you, if you're interested:

Planting by the Moon, by Marion Owen, offers an overview and general principles. This is a really nice one, too: Gardening by the Moon.

Gardening by the Moon, a calendar of what to do when from the Farmer's Almanac.

P.S. I'll be out of town for a few days, so I'll be a little late getting around to visit. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nature Notes: August

Here at the fading edge of summer, the lush greens and yellows of the fields have given way to breathy shades of cream and parchment.

Even the sound of the wind in the grass is different now, a dry rattle and a crackling underfoot where so recently it whispered and stroked us gently as we passed.

The earth all around is turning inward, even as it sends out seed for summers to come.

The vegetable garden, planted much too late, is producing a desperate deluge, an embarassment of riches in cucumber currency. Each day is a little shorter. The pumpkins may not ripen by frost.

The spring babies are on their own now. Young deer, rabbits, birds, and groundhogs wander about like teens at a mall, unwise and fearless.

Would they despair, I wonder, if they knew about winter?

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Say Hello to My Little Friend

Ladies and gentlemen, we have Monarchs.

Well, one of them anyway. He's only a quarter of an inch long, and all of his buddies are still just white specks on the milkweed, but he's here.

And he's lucky, too. This one milkweed stalk is the only one along the pasture fence path that didn't get mowed this week. Hubby has been duly warned to avoid it on pain of death. But I think, just to be sure, I'll put a tomato cage around it. Hubby can be a little "forgetful" about not mowing my favorite weeds.