Tag Archives: milkweed

The ripe October light.

In the fall, the fresh air and thin, slanted light combine to put so many things in a new, or renewed, perspective. When I read the poem below, I found myself searching my surroundings for images that fit the poet’s words.

Down at the creek I had seen the leaves starting to turn, so I took their picture. But between now and then I’ve noticed so many other things even closer by that are infused with energy, and at the same time invite me to an intangible, but most real, resting place.

The sky bright after summer-ending rain,
I sat against an oak half up the climb.
The sun was low; the woods was hushed in shadow;
Now the long shimmer of the crickets’ song
Had stopped. I looked up to the westward ridge
And saw the ripe October light again,
Shining through leaves still green yet turning gold.
Those glowing leaves made of the light a place
That time and leaf would leave. The wind came cool,
And then I knew that I was present in
The long age of the passing world, in which
I once was not, now am, and will not be,
And in that time, beneath the changing tree,
I rested in a keeping not my own.

-Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir

A palace in the cosmos.

These narrowleaf milkweed flowers were the inspiration for the first draft of this blog post, which I thought to title “Wonders of the Universe.” Their intricacy and delicacy wowed me!

I had been thinking for some time about the gentle bombardment of the senses I experience in my garden, including how on warm days the space hums with the sound of busy insects. Just to sit out there is to listen to Life, and is a privilege. It’s also a sweet gift that God gave me, that I could have a tiny part in creating this environment, doing a little bit of planting and watering and seeing God give disproportionately generous increase.

I knew I wanted a Pollinator Garden, because I like the idea of helping the bees. But it was theoretical, and I didn’t begin to imagine what the physical reality would feel like when these fellow creatures buzzed their flight patterns in a rich tapestry of sight and sound throughout the garden. It fills my senses which in turn communicate with my soul.

“God is the Creator of the world. The world as cosmos, i.e. a created order with its own integrity, is a positive reality. It is the good work of the good God (Gen. 1), made by God for the blessed existence of humanity. The Cappadocian Fathers teach that God first creates the world and beautifies it like a palace, and then leads humanity into it. The genesis of the cosmos, being in becoming, is a mystery (mysterion) for the human mind, a genesis produced by the Word of God. As such, the world is a revelation of God (Rom. 1:19-20). Thus, when its intelligent inhabitants see it as cosmos, they come to learn about the Divine wisdom and the Divine energies. The cosmos is a coherent whole, a created synthesis, because all its elements are united and interrelated in time and space.” (From this site)

Now I often think of the book, My Family and Other Animals, which Gerald Durrell wrote about the Greek island of Corfu where he lived for a time as a boy. The one concrete image I’ve retained from my reading many years ago is of Durrell on a baking dirt road stooping to examine and collect whatever fascinating insects and other animals he could find. This quote I found I think is representative:

“…the incessant shimmering cries of the cicadas. If the curious, blurring heat haze produced a sound, it would be exactly the strange, chiming cries of these insects.”

I do not have cicadas at present. I have quieter bees and flies, and nearly silent butterflies, and cries and songs from the bird kingdom as well, adorning my garden. A day or two after I took the picture at the top, I saw a Monarch butterfly near the narrowleaf milkweed. I watched out the window for a few minutes and then… yes! She had landed on the plant. So out I went with my camera, and crouched nearby.

She fluttered away, and circled the garden to come back and light again, but only for a few seconds, mostly hidden by leaves, and then off she flew, nearly grazing my head as she made the same circuit, repeating this behavior many times! My knees got a little tired, so I lay on the ground waiting with my camera at the ready. But that didn’t give me enough flexibility, and I moved to the plum tree nearby and leaned my back against it.

Was she laying eggs each time she landed on those narrow leaves? I gave up trying to get close enough, or to catch her at rest, and began to take shots as she was flying. And this is the best one I have to show, proof to myself that she was there. 🙂

A couple of weeks later, back from the mountains, I found the minutest caterpillar on one of those narrowleaf milkweeds. Quickly I went indoors to attach my new clip-on macro lens to my phone, such as son-in-law Tom showed me how to use months ago but which I hadn’t taken out of its box. I hope my one-and-lonesome caterpillar does not get eaten by a bird, and survives to grow large enough to use my camera alone on, because this is the best I could do:

It seems this little lens is best for completely still shots, not flowers or creatures on long stems waving in the breeze. Here is a sharper image I captured using it:

Can you guess what it is?
Clue: It is a closeup of a flower I showed you in a recent post…
You’re right! It’s the center of a hydrangea bloom!

It’s another decoration of this palace into which we have been led by God….

But bees have preferences, and I’ve never seen them interested in hydrangeas.
What they love is the echium! Remember when it looked like this?

Its flowers just kept opening on the ends of what I don’t think would be called a stem… so that those parts got longer and longer, with always new flowers that the bees never tired of.

Until the Autumn Joy opened. Now the echium is deserted.

It has been two days since I wrote all of the above, and I’m sorry to say that my infant caterpillar has disappeared. If I’m around next August maybe I will bring some Monarch eggs into the house to safeguard the latter stages of this project of assisting the butterfly population. This year I will have to be content with having seen progress beyond the planting of the milkweed, my only direct contribution. I saw the milkweed thrive in its second season, I saw the Monarch laying eggs, I saw a caterpillar… and then, I fed a bird!

Popsicles and pastimes of summer.

“Grandma, look at that wasp!” This colorful insect was resting near us on a geranium leaf.

“I’m impressed that you know that is a wasp, Ivy. Lots of people call all bees and wasps ‘bees.'”

“Bees have hair,” she informed me, “and wasps don’t.” The supposed wasp had floated away to a lamb’s ear flower, but not before I’d snapped its picture, wondering why it was so lazy and unthreatening, unlike our ubiquitous yellow jackets who seem only to rest when they perch on the rim of my fountain for a drink. We zoomed in on my picture to see that indeed, it was pretty bald — but maybe not entirely. After looking at more pictures of wasps online, I’ve decided this is very likely not a wasp after all, but a syrphid or hover fly. It’s more like a fly in its shape and wings, and pictures of syrphid flies came up as “yellow jacket look-alikes.” On the other hand, this insect approaching the salvia has more the look of a wasp, with its legs dangling down:

But as an example of hairy bees, I showed Ivy a picture of my favorite bee of all, which you might have seen here recently in a slightly different pose. She definitely has the darling fuzzy hairs:

It’s always fun for me if the grandchildren are visiting during hot weather. Popsicles and water play and the play house keep them happy outdoors, where I can play also, doing little garden tasks and walking back and forth to the clothesline with the towels and swimsuits. And many pairs of shorts, because Jamie was too tidy a boy to endure having popsicle drips drying, as I thought harmlessly, on his clothes. Eventually I gave him a bib, a largish bowl for his lap, and a spoon, so he could enjoy the treat to the fullest.

When the sun is baking all the air and sucking up moisture, I think it the most fun ever to wash a little shirt or whatever in the kitchen sink and hang it on the line. One shirt didn’t get that far, but dried in no time draped over a pomegranate bush.

I clipped my fast-growing butternut vines to the trellis, and swept the patio while the children sat in the old galvanized trough we call the Duck Pond, named for its use in another time and place, keeping three ducks happy in what was mainly a chicken pen.

Ivy played in the “pond” by herself one afternoon while Jamie napped, and I sat nearby rereading passages in Middlemarch. She found the tiniest spider floating in the water and held it on her finger, wondering if it were dead. “Why don’t you put it on a hydrangea leaf, and maybe it will revive,” I suggested. Of course, I took a picture of it on the leaf, because neither of us could see the minute creature very well with our eyes only.

When I zoomed in on my photo, it revealed a flower with eight petals. 🙂

At the patio table a few feet away I trimmed my six Indigo Spires salvia starts that I had propagated from a branch I accidentally broke off several months ago; I’m reluctant to transplant them to 4″ pots during this hot month, but that’s probably what they need…

Having gained confidence about African violets from a Martha Stewart video that I watched a few weeks ago, I tackled my plant that had grown two baby plants, one of which was already blooming. The babies I managed to cut off with roots attached, and potted them up snugly.

 

We thought to walk to the library, but the tires on the Bob stroller were too flat and I didn’t feel like pumping them up, so we drove. It happened to be a craft day there, and Ivy wanted to do all the things — but first, to design a Loch Ness monster from clay, because she said she had recently watched a video about that creature. Jamie patiently held the monster and observed, while she went on to make a jeweled crown and a flag.

 

The children actually looked up unprompted into the dome of the kids’ room at the library, and we talked about the stories pictured. I picked out some books to borrow but wasn’t thrilled with the three we read later at home. What I did love was a book someone gave me recently — was it one of you? — titled Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback. I read it twice to the children, because they liked it, too.

Joseph seems to be a Jewish man, and his overcoat gets tattered, so he cuts it down to a jacket, and when that gets overpatched, into a scarf, and so on. When he ends up with nothing at the end, it seems he doesn’t exactly have nothing after all. Good-natured resourcefulness and humor make for a charming story. I loved the ending, and the proverbs and sayings, and the many unique outfits and beard styles and colorful details. Joseph looks like this every time he realizes that his garment needs altering>>

Some of the artwork includes photographs in collage. I think if I were Jewish I might enjoy the book even more because I suspect that the photographs might be of famous people pertinent to Jewish history and culture.

A typical proverb quoted in a frame on the wall of Joseph’s house,
showing barely over an inch square on the page:

Over four days I read lots more books, like In Grandma’s Attic, The Ugly Duckling, Finn Family Moomintroll, a Thomas the Tank Engine collection (not my favorite, but a chance for Jamie to share with me his vast knowledge about that series), and one that I’ve read more than once to them via FaceTime, How Pizza Came to Queens. I got out my collection of costume jewelry, much of which used to be my grandma’s, and which I keep in her broken down jewelry box; and my small group of Moomin figures, and puzzles that are many decades old, but The Best and treasured.

One morning we cleaned in and around the playhouse
before eating a breakfast of sourdough pancakes in the garden:

With more washing up afterward…

As I was showing Ivy some rosemary and oregano she might pick for pretend cooking in the playhouse, I glanced up and gasped so that she started. “My milkweed bloomed!” She looked on admiringly and I told her that I had seen the same species of milkweed growing wild near her house up north.

Ivy and Jamie departed with their mama this morning, and I’ve been transitioning back into my quieter life. They all were the best company for kicking off summer.

A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

FT P1090307

We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and cones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.