I stepped just beyond my front door only to put a letter out for the mailman, but I immediately forgot myself and stepped farther, to gaze upon that small part of my kingdom…
Carpenter bees were working at the white salvia that has filled out so well and become a definite feature of the landscape. Only carpenter bees were there. What about the other flowers? On the wallflower, grown to a prominent bulwark of purple in that area that is squeezed between the street and the driveway, buzzed a half dozen different sorts of pollinators, among them honeybees (I hope), stripey little bumblebees, and a species new to me, with bright yellow abdomens underneath.
And what a quietly “burning” bush — to follow the metaphor of the poem below — this creature is. I’m amazed that I saw him at all:
I spent a half hour studying them and collecting blurry pictures to help me see them better. I pulled out the orange California poppies that I am trying to keep from taking over my pale yellow plantation of them. After peering into the asparagus beds that are becoming a forest, I spied a few spears that could be cut, and managed to remember them long enough to bring out a knife with which to do that.
The rest of today promises to hold encounters with several bright and human epiphanies. My world is illuminated and shining full of these transitory and eternal treasures. Christ is risen!
THE BRIGHT FIELD
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the burning bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Some days the birds are so joyful in my garden that they appear to be beside themselves with exuberance. The finches and warblers gather at the chapel feeder, and then a few fly off into the trees to peck around, I assume for insects. A sparrow swoops toward the fountain, and then pauses, and twists midflight into a hairpin turn back the way it came. I have watched this fancy wing-work many times, as this morning from my spot by the table, which is now a sort of icon corner also. If the birds can have so much fun, maybe I should not worry about the way I flit about in my own little realm.
On a morning like today, when the sun is shining, it can be quite lively with titmice, chickadees and towhees, too. I’m afraid the hawks notice this activity; several times there have been brief encounters when they dive silently onto the playground of little birds, and the sound and size of their wings catches my attention — then they are gone.
But twice this month it happened. Once after the attack the raptor sat on the fence, backlit by the morning sun; I could see the shape and size of it, and the color of its breast. The next time I saw its dark gray back just before it disappeared. I think it was a Cooper’s Hawk. When I read about them, their habit of eating smaller birds was mentioned.
The last day of October is quieting my heart. I know, in the coming months it will be a struggle, to get myself outdoors as much as I know is sublime and profitable, but today was easy. Even the honeybees were enjoying my warm corner with the salvia that has many new little flowers on the ends of mostly dried-up stems. When I first sat down there, the bees were a little slow, but as the temperature rose so did their speed.
So many days of the month have been dreary and discouraging. I think at the beginning of it the plants were suffering from heat and smoke. Now they like the clean and cooler air. I forgot to water the succulents under the manzanita, and one poor specimen is showing just how it feels to be hanging on with one’s roots, conserving water, letting go of leaf after leaf while waiting for the gardener to bring refreshment.
But the majority are enjoying what might be their favorite, blooming time of year:
These last few hours of October are full to bursting with the beauty of the season. I know tomorrow will not be much different from today, in reality. But in our minds…. we remember that it’s time to turn the page of the calendar.
I love the little skippers. I had forgotten until I looked it up again just now, that the type playing among my salvia flowers is the Fiery Skipper. Which makes me think I should mention the currently fiery conditions in California. I am glad to tell you that my situation is still low-risk. But the smoke has been more constant the last week; I suppose it blows in here from various fires, but I don’t keep abreast of their details on even a daily basis. I just looked for an update, but there are so many burns making up the various fire complexes, it’s a lot to keep track of. Especially when acronyms generally are so hard for me to remember.
When I start to look up the fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I cannot for the life of me remember that those are not part of the SCU Complex, but rather the CZU Complex. “The SCU Lightning Complex Fire is composed of 20 separate fires in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties.” The LNU Complex spreads over six counties. See how it is? And I haven’t tried to learn anything about the fires beyond those three, in other parts of our huge state.
Wines of the 2020 vintage from northern California might be interesting: “The early fires pose a threat if they persist and heavy smoke blankets the region for several days before grapes are picked. That can lead to ‘smoke taint,’ an undesirable burnt taste in wine made from grapes with skins permeated by smoke.”
In some areas, as below, with San Francisco Bay close to the middle, the burn scars are so large they can be seen in satellite images.
What is it like for the birds and the tiniest creatures when the air is full of ash?
They continue to go about their business, doing their work, but are they slowed down by the smoke? Are their lives shortened? They don’t worry about longevity; they just keep going until they are struck down.
A man in my church lost his house in a fire near Lake Berryessa. He had sold it only three weeks before, but was still living in it. All of his belongings burned. He said he was very glad that it happened before the new owners had moved in, so that they were his things and not those of people who would have lost all their belongings and their new house. He is a single man and seems to feel content with being completely unencumbered.
I am continuing to do what I do… Last week my neighbor gave me a couple of quarts of strawberries that were left over after the food bank distribution that she helps with. They were perfect for making into popsicles. I found my ancient molds on a high shelf in the garage and poured in the sweetened puree. Several grandchildren will be visiting next month and I’ll be ready!
Soldier and Joy’s family are meeting me in the mountains for a few days, as part of our time together. They are flying to California, so I am trying to bring most of the stuff we’ll need in my car. Like books!
The sun will shine and we’ll be at the lake a lot… I hope it’s not too smoky up there. I also hope we will have thunderstorms, and it will be nice to be cozy and read by the fire. A fireplace fire, 100% contained.
This is a post about bees. If you find them icky or boring and don’t care which bee is a robber, I understand! I put a pretty flower at the bottom for you to look at before you leave.
One morning this week I went back and forth along the front walk, for fifteen minutes or so, stooping over the germander hedges to watch a bumblebee. It caught my eye because of its yellow markings that were not what I’m used to seeing, and also because of its nectar-gathering style.
Was it because of its size and weight, that it couldn’t manage the flowers near the tops of the germander stems? It seemed to get lost in the understory of that purple forest, but would eventually resurface, tempting me to try again and again with my camera to fix his image (I can’t help switching male pronouns so I will just give in to my inclinations and be unscientific, because of course I have no idea of “his” sex.) so as to be able to see his markings better.
Here are the best pictures I got. Bees are buzzy and usually vibrating!
My Yellow-Faced Bumblebee is funny-looking! In that middle picture sprawled on his back like a suckling child, his yellow face is more like a yellow toupee. Here is a clearer, more classic image of the bee:
It is from the page Bumblebees of California, which is where I realized that what I thought for years was the primary bumblebee enjoying my pollinator garden is not a bumblebee at all.
It wasn’t until that same evening that I was set straight. As the sun was about to go down, I was snipping spent penstemon blooms in the back garden when I saw one of these “bumblebees” visiting the non-spent ones. He was not trying to go in at the door, so to speak, but was busy at the top. Did he have a short cut to the nectar? Was he making a short cut?
Back inside, when it began to dawn on me that he was not a bumblebee, I searched for “black bees that look like bumblebees,” and soon realized that he is a carpenter bee. And on the first site I found they described what I had seen a few minutes before: “On flowers such as salvias, penstemons, and other long, tubular flowers the carpenter bee, due to its large size, is unable to enter the flower opening. Instead they become nectar robbers. Using their mouthparts they cut a slit at the base of corolla and steal away with the nectar without having pollinated the flower.”
I learned that there are 500 species of carpenter bees! Most of them are all black and hard to tell one from another. The easiest way to tell them apart from bumblebees is by their abdomens: The bumblebees’ abdomens are covered with dense hair, while the carpenters’ are shiny. This last fact I was well aware of, because it has been the biggest hindrance to me getting a picture of these bees that usually show up as shiny black blobs. But now that I have identified two bees in one day, and have blurry pictures to refer to when I forget, I will relax and move on.
But — early this morning I went out looking for Yellow Face. I didn’t see him, but I did see the carpenter bees, and what were they doing? Stealing nectar from the tubular white salvia flowers!
I wasn’t shocked, but pleased. And I don’t see why this should be called “stealing.” Is there a law of nature that says a bee has a right to nectar only if he pollinates the flower at the same time? Have the tubular flowers filed a complaint about the theft?
Last year I was trying to identify a strange-looking wasp, and I browsed entomology sites to no avail. Entomologists can’t even keep the thousands of species straight, and we common people who deal with insects our whole lives have strong and conflicting beliefs about their names and identities. I realized back then that wasps were a low priority for me; I’m sorry to say that I even hate some of them. But I feel otherwise about bees. Here is a photo from the U.S. Forest Service showing the smallest bee with the largest bee:
It is the Perdita minima on the head of a female carpenter bee. Wasps and bees, along with ants, are among the members of the Order Hymenoptera, but wasps are not bees any more than ants are bees. The first very readable paragraphs on this site I found helpful in refreshing my own memory on these creatures: Bees, Wasps, and Ants.
The tribe to which the 250 species of bumblebees belong is called Bombini. Isn’t that cute?
Okay, enough entomology for today. Here is that flower I promised you. It is my Belle of India jasmine that Soldier and Joy gave me for Christmas one year. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to make it happy, but now it is healthy and blooming and so sweet! I wonder if any Bombini will come by for a taste?