The hospitable coneflowers.

The white echinacea were covered in blooms when I got home from my three weeks away. These flowers make striking backdrops for butterflies especially, and a Painted Lady was giving me lots of photographic opportunities yesterday. I’m sharing several pictures because each one highlights a different aspect of the exquisite form; the light changed slightly, the insect opened its wings wider…

The hairs on its body, and the translucence of the wings, the white tip at the ends of the antennae  — I couldn’t see these things at all in the glare of midday, but only later in the dimness of evening, in the digital image.

I’ve seen a few other critters on these flowers, but they were mostly in too big a hurry for me to study them with my camera. In the back yard, the narrowleaf milkweed that briefly hosted a single Monarch caterpillar last summer are so colonized by aphids that I can’t imagine any butterfly finding a good place to land, if she did want to try that place again. It was a little later in the season summer that the Monarch events happened last year; maybe there’s time for me to get rid of the aphids somehow, and hope that they’ve left some nourishment in the leaves for caterpillars…

My Golden Guide to Insects tells me that “The painted lady or thistle butterfly is reported to be the most widely distributed of all known butterflies.” And this may be because the many and varied plants the larvae feed on are also common — including sunflowers. That means, when those butterflies are ready, they can just flutter southward a few feet to find a spot on my nutritious and healthy Delta Sunflowers to lay their eggs. Until then, girls, you are welcome to drink at my hospitable coneflowers.

 

Lavender and little scythes.

The nuns at a nearby monastery harvest lavender every summer at various neighbors’ properties up in the hills and mostly at the end of long unpaved and/or winding roads. They had asked the young people from parishes in the area to help them today, and when some families had to back out at the last minute, several adults including me pitched in.

I had to get up before 5:00 to get fueled up and make the drive to arrive early enough for the sisters to give us a hearty breakfast. But even before that, we learned that Mother Anna who recently fell asleep in death had still not been buried, and we might go into the church and say good-bye to her. Mother Angelina was reading Psalms at the head of the casket when we went in; we all filed past and kissed the little icons that were next to her, and the Gospel. It was sweet to have this opportunity.

After breakfast and chatting we caravaned to the first and most scenic spot, where we picked from a big clump of lavender bushes stuck in a low spot among olive trees at a vineyard. We were given little scythes, which seem the perfect tool for any bush you want to grab hunks of and slice off, to shear it. I plan to get one for my own garden right away, so I can give a break to my finger joints.

As we were packing tools and water, and applying sunscreen and bug spray — the sisters said they had been “chewed up” by chiggers one year — Mother Tabitha was on the phone a lot trying to arrange for Mother Anna to be buried this afternoon.

One of the lavender friends, with the most to pick, cancelled our visit because they didn’t think their insurance covered children on the property, and they had seen a few rattlesnakes lately. But the monastery had already this season delivered 200 pounds of lavender flowers to the distiller, so they were not worried. Some of what we were tackling was past its prime and too dried out to use. We sheared it off anyway but put it in the discard pile.

We eventually filled the back of a pickup truck with the blooms. Bees were thicker on them in the truck than they had been in the field. The farmer lady gave us plums and peaches for a snack, and insisted that the sisters take buckets of dahlias and gladiolas for the burial of Mother Anna.

The second, smaller harvest was at a house that had barely missed destruction in the fires of 2017. Most of their lavender bushes, which had formerly lined the long driveway, had burned and not been replaced. To the south and to the north, close to the front and back of the house, were patches of blackened trees where the wildfire had swept through erratically.

Soon we were headed back to the monastery, hot and dusty, and again they fed us very well! But Mother Macrina drove the pickup load straight to the distiller, to have its essential oil extracted. The by-product hydrosol, the lavender water that is left over, they also use, to make sprays good for cleaning and dusting, and deodorizing. Next time I have a chance, I’ll buy some lavender products from them. And maybe tomorrow I’ll look at my own lavender bushes and see if they are ready to harvest!

She could not be negative or perfunctory.

I’m reading My Antonia again — actually listening for the second time, to the recording narrated by Jeff Cummings. Next time I’d like to hear a different narrator, because I think Cummings makes the adult narrator of the story, Jim Burden, sound like young Anne of Green Gables. And he reads too fast, which doesn’t suit the pace of life depicted in the novel, and does an injustice to Willa Cather’s evocative prose.

This may be the fifth time I’ve read the book, and every time is a fresh experience. A paragraph or a personality will jump out at me as though I’m encountering it for the first time. For example, the introduction to the Burdens’ Norwegian neighbors after they moved into town:

“Mrs. Harling was short and square and sturdy-looking, like her house. Every inch of her was charged with an energy that made itself felt the moment she entered a room. Her face was rosy and solid, with bright, twinkling eyes and a stubborn little chin. She was quick to anger, quick to laughter, and jolly from the depths of her soul. How well I remember her laugh; it had in it the same sudden recognition that flashed into her eyes, was a burst of humour, short and intelligent.

“Her rapid footsteps shook her own floors, and she routed lassitude and indifference wherever she came. She could not be negative or perfunctory about anything. Her enthusiasm, and her violent likes and dislikes, asserted themselves in all the everyday occupations of life. Wash-day was interesting, never dreary, at the Harlings’. Preserving-time was a prolonged festival, and house-cleaning was like a revolution. When Mrs. Harling made garden that spring, we could feel the stir of her undertaking through the willow hedge that separated our place from hers.”

The-Harling-House_Red-Cloud_1013763 (2)
The “Harling House” in Red Cloud, Nebraska