Friday, March 31, 2017

Stay Off the Menu

yellow wooly bear caterpillar

To the Virginian Tiger Moth on our front porch:

I remember last autumn, when you were a Yellow Wooly Bear caterpillar gorging on the plants in our flowerbed. Maybe you knew you'd be on a diet all winter. When your appetite was satisfied, you set out on the longest journey of your short life, trudging across the patio bricks with a purpose. You scaled the porch step, slogged across the porch, and climbed up the window frame all the way to the top.

There you found your perfect niche, and you constructed a fuzzy winter home.

Virginian tiger moth

This week, I noticed that the front of your dwelling had been opened, and that's when I saw you, 
pristine white, clothed in your miniature ermine coat. 

tree frog on window

You probably thought you'd chosen a safe place to rest, but I have a warning for you. On rainy nights, the green tree frogs that you hear singing from the pond sneak up to the porch to dine on creatures like you who are attracted by the house lights.

It's raining tonight. But don't worry, we'll leave the lights off for you.

Linking with Saturday's Critters

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lured by a Butterfly

Henbit in the Grass

Our wildflower meadow is a miniature one this time of year, with henbit, bluet and my favorite, 
Johnny-jump-up, scattered among the dormant grass.

Johnny-jump-up in the Grass

Here and there, a toothwort or rue anemone, at shoe height, tower above the others. The best way to appreciate this beauty, I think, is at ground level, and I've spent a little time there lately, laying on my sturdy old exercise mat. Besides providing padding, I've been counting on it to keep most of the bugs away (except for the pretty ones that don't think we taste good).

Falcate Orangetip on Johnny-jump-up

I wasn't just there to see the flowers. I'd been lured by an elusive butterfly. On a walk in the woods last week, I saw a male Falcate Orangetip for the first time. Flying at eye level a few yards ahead of me, he stayed over the path like a mechanical rabbit, and I had to pick up my pace to keep up with him. He was small and white with one bright tangerine spot on each wing. The female lacks the orange spot, but both of them have a delicate pattern on the underside of their hind wings. When a female appeared in the brush at the side of the trail, the Orangetip male abandoned me, and it was only then I noticed the single stemmed rose he was carrying.

Falcate Orangetip on violet

I saw their cousins in western Ozark County, about 8 miles from here, and also in our meadow, which is the main reason I was there, with my camera of course. But photographing them has been a challenge. They would speed by, flying erratically, like a house fly on steroids. When I finally saw one alight, it was momentary, on the delicate violet, Johnny-jump-up.

There's a state park in Connecticut called West Rock where people gather every year to see these butterflies. I can understand why they go to view such a sight, but now I can say with certainty, they ain't got nuthin' in Connecticut that we don't have right here in Ozark County, Missouri.

Linking with Our World Tuesday

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Goodbye, Sweet Prince

We hadn't had a dog for a while and didn't know we needed one until we met Barley. And he needed us. He came into our lives just under eight years ago on what would have been the last day of his life. How could we have imagined the joy he would bring us?

Barley was four years old when he arrived at our house, and his first four years hadn't been easy. We loved him from the moment we set eyes on him. It didn't take long to become accustomed to the comfort of his companionship. Looking out for him became as natural as breathing. You notice such things when they are gone.

Walking toward the house today, I glanced back for Barley. It was a momentary lapse, then reality hit like a blow. Barley died at home Tuesday morning, most likely from an embolism. It happened quickly and it was a mercy that he didn't suffer long.

As words are still hard to come by, I'm adding some pictures as a tribute to the dog whose paw prints are written forever on our hearts.

golden retriever running in snow

golden retriever behind tree

Linking with Saturday's Critters

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Botany and Barley

Stooping to free myself from a tangle of greenbriar on this early morning walk, I checked for Barley. Fifty paces back, he was a statue in the forest, nose glued to the ground, gathering information about the night shift. The level area around me was above the creek, where supple-jack grows in profusion, green and brown vines intertwined, the new green spirals winding around unwary cedars and dogwood trees. A thin spiral of supple-jack will start up a tree, subtle as sin, then grow and bring the tree to its knees before eventually uprooting it. Of course, the supple-jack comes down with the tree. Make of it what you will.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to disparage supple-jack completely. Many wild birds, including wild turkeys and bobwhite quail, dine on the fruit. The vines also make good perches for birds. A vine harvested last year formed an arching perch over our birdbath. It was broken recently, and the remains were useful only as something for Barley to carry around. I cut a few strands to take its place.

The walk up the hollow used to be an easy one, but since the 2009 ice storm, much of the area is obstructed with downfall, bleached bones of once stately trees. Searching for a clear path, I had turned up the bank from the creek bed and walked through shoulder high weeds along a deer highway that widened into a bedding area, then split off into narrow paths. One of the trails led back toward the bottom to the flat area where I now stood.

A few steps down from the flat was water, and Barley had come to life and found it before I did. It doesn’t take much to make him happy. A spring gurgles out from the rocky hillside and forms a creek that flows into pools where polliwogs and watercress grow. There are many springs here, but the kind that run all year are referred to as everlasting springs. The presence of watercress is a mute testimony to this.

Years ago, up a little further, I found wild hibiscus growing out of a rock ledge beside the creek. I’m not sure what I was hoping to find Sunday, but the clock turned me back before any notable discoveries were made. Though, on the way back, I saw several black and white feathers scattered on the ground, about 7” long. From the number of them there, it seemed likely that the bird they came from wouldn’t be needing them any more.

Back home, Don and I speculated about what kind of bird gave up the feathers. Don guessed a red headed woodpecker, or possibly a pileated. “Or maybe an ivory billed”, I suggested. “Good luck with that one”, Don grinned.

One of my college professors gave an assignment each semester for students to go out in the country on a clear night, lay on the ground for an hour facing the sky, and think about God. (The times were safer, and they didn’t have ticks there.) It was a worthwhile exercise, and I came away with even more awe of the One who scattered the stars in space.

I get the same feeling in the hollow, this place without distractions, surrounded by God’s creation. I came back refreshed, and with only one tick, a reminder that we are in this world and not the next.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Best of Days

We walk outside into a deep freeze today, and at lunchtime, fat snowflakes float in the air, in no particular hurry to settle on the ground. Birds mass at the feeders. So why am I thinking about wildflowers?

When I first moved to the Ozarks, I was impressed with its beauty, but I didn't feel like I belonged. On the west coast, where I grew up, I was used to watching anemones in the tide pools and searching the beach for sand dollars and Japanese floats. I listened to the cry of seagulls, breathed in the salt air, and found sand not just between my toes, but in my hair and clothes and even, occasionally, in my food. The greeting card I wrote came straight from my heart:

Seagulls on the ocean breeze,
Sandpipers and shimmering seas..
The best of days are made of these.


It takes a little while to make a new place home. After that first winter, when the wildflowers appeared, I started taking notice. I picked flowers by the armload and sandwiched them between 2 layers of tissue paper. The tissue paper went between layers of a wool army surplus blanket cut to size, and when I had a few layers stacked up, lasagna style, I pressed them all under a stack of heavy books. Before long, I'd purchased a microwave press to speed up the process and was using the flowers to design greeting cards.

purple coneflower

In doing this, I learned the flowers' names. After a few years, I knew the rocky hillside where I'd see the first toothwort, and when to start looking for the purple coneflower and bird's foot violet. It became somewhat of an obsession. While I was focusing on the beauty around me, something else was happening. This place was becoming home.

Bluebells bobbing in the breeze,
Buttercups and bumblebees...
The best of days are made of these.

Zazzle Floral Fiesta

I've moved on from my pressed flower phase, and on more than one occasion, have come close to discarding the 2 large binders full of now yellowing pressed flowers. I'm glad I didn't. Recently I was thinking it would be fun to create a gift wrap with bright flowers, and then I remembered those binders. I pulled them off the shelf and chose some some flowers and leaves to scan. In Illustrator, I turned them into vector images, and arranged them into a seamless pattern in Photoshop. This could get addictive.

Zazzle Smilesink Shoes

There are a lot of things you can do with a pattern besides gift wrap. I chose to put them in my Zazzle store on a variety of products, including a tote bag, fabric, a phone case, a pillow, and my favorite, tennis shoes. You can check it out here, if you like.

It's still cold outside, but the pressed flowers from my binders has made a bright spot where I work. Now I'm counting the days till the toothwort blooms.

Lidija Paradinovic Nagulov has written a clear and illustrated tutorial 
on making seamless patterns that I found very helpful. To see it, click here.