Category Archives: nature

A beautiful Pride, and the Cross.

One day during this week of the Cross, which comes now in the middle of Lent, I drove to the coast. It was cloudy but not as cold as inland. Here the north wind has been blowing, and a different night Susan even built a fire that I was so glad to sit in front of when I came home late. I will write about the beach on my Sea Log eventually, but here I wanted to post pictures of the Pride of Madeira echium that are so abundant out that way in this season.

In the past I’ve mentioned how my late husband and I, celebrating our wedding anniversary in March, often used to spend a night or two at the coast, and it was on those trips that I first encountered this plant. We were always delighted to see it again and again up and down the California seashore, for more than forty years.

 

It does grow a ways inland, even in my neighborhood, but it seems to prefer the coast. And the botanical cousin that I have in my back yard, called Tower of Jewels, I do not love as much, even if it is more rare. I’ve never seen so many and varied colors and forms as I did this week along one stretch of Highway 1.

I also wanted to share something of the wonderful homily, “In the Days of His Flesh,” which I heard on a podcast. Fr. Patrick Reardon gave this homily on the Sunday of the Cross. But I am too sleepy, so I’ll just leave you with the link, and this little quote from elsewhere:

“The cross stands in the midst of the church in the middle of the lenten season not merely to remind men of Christ’s redemption and to keep before them the goal of their efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved.

“‘He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ (Mt.10:38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ for those being saved (1 Cor.1:24).”

Mosaic is in the apse of the Church of San Clemente in Rome. Prompted by a comment from Jeannette, I have added a larger image showing more of the setting, here at the bottom.

My birthwort is modest.

I’m plant-sitting for a friend who is between lodgings, and one of the specimens in my charge is a pot of healthy nettles. The owner told me to be sure to snip and eat the leaves frequently, because she (the plant) likes that.

Yesterday I stayed home all day, and accomplished a lot of little tasks, including much puttering and pottering outdoors. Though at first I just sat in my corner by the guava and the olive trees, while eating a late breakfast, because the whole Creation had pulled me out of the chilly house into the garden to soak up its benefactions and warm my blood.

We have entered the season when I leave the garden hoses lying around untidily; it adds “human interest” I’m sure. All the lightweight collapsible hoses I invested in got leaks, and I have gone back to heavy and sturdy hoses that last. They are good for strengthening my arms, which is something Proverbs 31 tells us women to do anyway. The bushes with the new leaves that glow like the sun are dwarf pomegranates.

Nutmeg-scented pelargonium in greenhouse.

The day before yesterday, I had told myself, “You only have to do one thing after another — and keep doing it — and in that way you will make a dent in the disorderliness that represents a disheartening backlog of work. Even a little improvement will ease your load!” Of course it helped that I ran no errands at all and in that way avoided having any of those transition times coming and going, which seem to confuse my mind.

First thing: feed the poor lemon tree. I was taught not long ago that it wants feeding four times a year, and after I fed it only two times last year it gave me a good crop. Then I “paused,” and don’t know when it got its last feeding. Now I have set an alarm in my phone to remind me. After the feeding, I gave it a little trim, mostly on top. The photo is “After.”

Near the lemon tree is my little California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica, which I mentioned here recently. It is growing a lot and has several flowers and many new leaves. I read quite a bit about it last night and learned that it is native only to Northern California. It’s very modest compared to showier species of Dutchman’s Pipe, but it is exotic enough to me. I kept wondering what the flowers would look like when they open, but it appears that this is it! If you think it looks carnivorous, you are not alone; in the past people did think that, but it seems they trap but don’t eat:

“The flowers have an unpleasant odor which is attractive to tiny carrion-feeding insects. The insects crawl into the convoluted flowers and often become stuck and disoriented for some time, picking up pollen as they wander. Most eventually escape; the plant is not insectivorous as was once thought. Fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae) may prove to be the effective pollinators.”

They call this “pollination by deceit.” The flowers dry up and crumble and thereby let the insects out to do their bidding. There are over 500 species of Dutchman’s Pipe, known as birthwort, or Aristolochia. Equally exotic and gorgeous butterflies lay their eggs on pipevines all over the world. Do you have any growing wild in your part of the world? Here are some from Sumatra and Brazil:

The flowers are known to have a bad smell, but mine are few and hard to get at, so there is not enough scent for me to notice. It dawned on me that if a Pipevine Swallowtail laid eggs on my plant, and caterpillars hatched out and began eating, they would die of starvation very soon, and I would be sad about that. And if my plant gets so robust that it covers the fence and draws lots of butterflies because its many flowers are exuding stinkiness… well, that would be a mixed blessing. I guess I’ll just wait and see what happens.

Perennial Showy Milkweed coming up.
Yellow Bush Lupine background, lavender at right.

In the meantime, I took a whiff of these geraniums who are also in my temporary nursery section; they only smell delicious. For dinner I cooked up a modest mess of nettle leaves.

Birds and a Sailor

In my first view of the ocean upon arriving at the coast,
I could see whitecaps.

Velella velella

But the wind wasn’t too bad down on the beach, and I encountered new creatures: Long-billed Curlews and a By-the-wind Sailor (Velella velella). After I took a few blurry pictures of the wind-blown Sailor, a wave rushed up and snatched it back into the deep. Lucky for me I had seen a (much better) picture of that same species of “gelatinous animal” just last week. The one I saw in person was probably less than 2 cm. in diameter.

The curlews reminded me of the Godwits I’d seen last summer. But the bills of Godwits curve upward, and those of the Curlews curve downward. There are many other differences, I’m sure, such as, the Godwits seem smaller and leggier — but the bill was the thing that helped narrow my search. Here is a better photo from the internet.

Dozens of geese flew overhead in a ragged and strung out V. They were no doubt fighting the wind up there as I was doing below.

My drive to and from the coast was through lush farmland and pastures, with black-and-white cows grazing on green green grass. And mustard twice as tall as at my last viewing.

Oh, what a day! Glory to God!

Fairy houses and flowers.

It’s hard not to step on asparagus stalks when they are barely showing above the mulch like this one. Today I tromped on one that was much taller; I was trying to get a good picture of the irises. It’s the time of year when I need to make a point of going out to the asparagus bed knife in hand at least every other day, and not ignore them as I walk up to the front door.

Every day there has been some special garden-related surprise, including rain, which in turn brings out more sprouts and flower surprises.

This month my neighbors thinned some limbs of the tall Canary Island Pine that hang over their side of the fence — most of the biomass of the tree is on their side — and I am getting a little more sunlight into the back garden, without having to cut down my only tree.

My beloved pale yellow California poppies seem to be changing to orange as they reseed themselves year by year. I’m trying to pull out a lot of the orange ones, but I think it’s a losing battle. This is the only patch of yellow ones right now.

A week ago I went to the coast and updated my Sea Log page. (I fixed it to receive comments now.) One thing I liked about that visit was watching the little shore birds that I think are Sanderlings. I’m showing you this picture because it shows their size compared to sea gulls.

This week was so busy with other things, I couldn’t get away to the coast, but the cold temperatures out there might have kept me away in any case. The sun will shine and warm things up everywhere next week, so I hope to go again.

The day after my last excursion to the beach, I was oddly inspired to walk in my neighborhood. For the last year I had done that very little, choosing rather to vegetate between beach trips. This time I took a path to the east that I hadn’t been on in years; it follows the creek as the stream gets narrower, and the walkway used to come to a dead end pretty quickly. But now, I discovered that it connects with a new housing development and paved sidewalks.

As I was trying to take a picture of a pair of shy Mallards, I spied a little toy house on the other side of the water. Then another upstream, and another… altogether there were dozens of woodsy houses and scenes with gnomes, fairies and toadstools that someone had put a lot of work into. I am going to show you a sample.

A few like this one with the red door were built against trees, and some were nestled into the banks, mostly on the far side where I couldn’t easily go. One was built on a stump in the middle of the stream. They all looked a bit weathered, which made me wonder how they didn’t get washed away in winter storms. I guess it’s a sign of how little precipitation we got this season.

A gnome in a tree swing, fairies having a tea party out of doors… My very favorite was this “Fairy House Laundry” with its sign by the door assuring customers that when treated at their establishment, “Stains magically vanish.”

Another fun thing about my walk was meeting two strangers who were happy to talk to me, like in the old days. Though I didn’t have time to extend my outing just then, it appears that with the add-on to the old path, I could walk for miles toward the hills. Even if the “adventure” would mostly take me through a new subdivision of houses, the novelty of it appeals and I want to do it soon.

Back to the greenhouse, here are a couple of the sprouts I’m seeing:

The bottom one is nasturtiums. Last time I looked the summer squash and the calendulas were coming up, too. And now that we are in March, my greenhouse is getting a little sunshine in the mornings and afternoons. When I go inside, it always feels cozy the way seeds would like.

Last but not least, the Green Beauty snow peas are living up to their reputation for being big. I’ve picked three so far and they are over 5″ long, so I am very pleased. That “blushing” you might notice is natural to their personality. Though the calendar doesn’t say so quite yet, I know that Spring has arrived.