Divine Days: A log of a Cape Ann jaunt and the return home.

Wikipedia.

When last we met I was bidding you adieu so that I could continue the lovely, long weekend that my boyfriend and I were luxuriating in. Now, a quick swing back in time.

On Friday the heavens rained upon us from the moment we left the little studio apartment we were renting to the second we entered a distant cousin’s Gloucester bed and breakfast, The Inn at Babson Court, and fell into cups of coffee and a million stories. 

It was wet enough that, again, the majority of wildlife experienced was in the perfect haddock that I had for dinner. We were surrounded by so many secrets, though, as we soaked up rain along the sea: the jellyfish, the right whales, lobsters, clams, mussels, and sharks. There were hidden tidal pools with hermit crabs, fluttering barnacles, and cities of unbelievable microscopic shapes and means of living. Even when marine life shies away from me I am awed by its certain presence. I grew up on fresh water and visited with it intimately in my youth. Saltwater, of course, is a whole different ballgame. The dead jellyfish floating in Boston Harbor, the tiny, vivacious pools in low-tide Gloucester; they thrill me again and again, even on a day spent without a view of anything marine aside from waves through a window, models of ships, and a whole lot of gulls. Continue reading

Points North Ahoy!

cormorant

I’m on a little getaway with the boo so I’m probably going to keep pretty quiet on the blog front for the next few days. I kept a count in my mind of what I found yesterday, but fell asleep (this time during “Shark Week”–hoorah for airbnb cable!!) before I could jot it down. So a day late:

Boston:

Even more tiger swallowtails, gliding from one hydrangea to the next.

Gloucester:

Cormorants, three deep. “Hunters,” said Matt.

A million gulls. We kept thinking that we were hearing abandoned kids or fighting drunks but, in all but one occasion outside the police station, they were always birds, crying and calling and moaning in that weird, gullish way.

Plenty of common milkweed in parking lots and front yards. Not a monarch to be seen, but plenty of bright orange aphids.

A deer just standing around in the tree trunks on the outskirts of town.

Clam shells everywhere.

Mussels and clams IN MY FACE at the best seafood joint in town, Causeway. Mmm.

A crazy story from Mike, the guy sitting next to us at Causeway, about a right whale in the Marblehead cove that sidles his backyard. The whale was his neighbor for a week.

Also other stuff having little to do with things nonhuman, like the iconic sculpture of the Gloucester fisherman and his eyes that make me want to cry and also make me want to live better and also make me want to write more poems and Finally finish Moby Dick.

fisherman memorial face

See you in a few days!

The List

Catbird
Rabbits half the size of my fist
An invisible redtail
Jousting mockingbirds in the elderberry
A tiger swallowtail flying some stories up into pine trees
An unbelievably big bumblebee; a queen?

Also, on the domesticated side of things:
Buds on passionflower vine
Lemon cucumber sprawling
Hops cones massive
Swamp milkweed planted

Toad ghosts, literary butterflies, and coyotes

Dearest Readers,

I hope you hadn’t lost any faith if you visited Spokes and Petals yesterday to find a lapse in my Thoreauvian record. I was thinking of him, and you, and this, but had to go straight from work to a delightful burrito place by North Station to wish a friend safe Irish travels, and by the time I got home it was to bed with me. I listened and looked, though, and here’s what I found:

August 5th:

tiger swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtails. Source.

Almost enough yellow butterflies (grown from a lovage cradle) to make up a Marquez novel.

Wispy ghosts that ran like tiny soot sprites in the ancient root cellar, “the peach pit,” at work. As I walked through to get one thing or another the sprites would flutter fast and strangely, swinging under pallets piled with seeding trays, gasoline, and clutter. Despite my disbelief in such things I froze, wondering what spirits I’d seen. Because obviously they were spirits, and apparently ones that were a part of the Boston ecology. They kept moving, scattering below old wood, as I proceeded, cautiously, through the cellar. Finally I considered that if I looked ahead of my step I would see whatever supernatural being was there before it snuck out of sight. So I squatted and looked and found a “penny frog,” which is not a frog at all but actually a toadlet. (Toadlet: one of the most unexpected darlings of the English language.)  Not spirits after all. Oh well.

toadlet

A type of toadlet, on loan from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Rabbits; eastern cottontails. More rabbits than you could shake a stick at. Rabbits devouring the sacred basil I grew from seed, the dahlias that sprang there from their jellyfish tubers, and, shockingly, the bark that wraps the life within the Roxbury Russet sapling that I planted in May. The Victory Gardens have been taken over this year by the velveteen things, colored in shades of brush and ambling around without a fear, perfectly exemplifying the need for more carnivores in the urban landscape..!

August 6th:

dragonfly - eastern amberiwing (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern Amberwing, on loan from Glenn Corbiere

Dragonflies, spun and encrusted in amber, turquoise, emerald and ebony. Lace and wire, spots and eyes and darning needles. They glide over the potted perennials out back, perch on bags of garden soil, and hover, hunting, on thin woody branches.

Galansoga, one of the most impressive of the weeds, is blooming and setting off its seed throughout the farm, blending in trickily with the shape and structure of the sacred basil leaves in the herb patch.

I found evidence of mice in the kitchen and heard them scratching around after midnight. Between them and the tree-chewing rabbits you’d think it was November.

Lastly, I wasn’t lucky enough to see this, but my friend and coworker Itzi saw a coyote cross the road on the edge of the city. Its head was down, she said, as if it was trying to be as clandestine as possible.

coyotebus

Unfortunately I didn’t see this guy, either. Source

Summersweet.

ruby-spice-summersweet-86946

Today was Summersweet:

Clethra alnifolia, ‘Ruby Spice’,

Sweet Pepperbush,

Abloom like a bottle brush. Pink and white sorbet. The scent, a customer said, like lilacs;

a fragrance so oiled and heavy in its syrup and nectar

that it recalled May, but thicker

than those heady scents that devour the senses in spring

leaving only the shades of twilight that strike the eye sweetly.

Summersweet, Pepperbush: drinking hole of bees and butterflies,

hunting terrain for eastern amberwings.

Summersweet in the weight of August, its fragrance arresting walkers in their paths,

stopped and turning, searching for the scent that brought them honey and brought them

pink.

Day two: the iridescent, the wire singer, the soft leaved

cricket

A cricket. Source.

I have Fridays off, meaning that this day of fish fries often finds me lounging in sheets til eleven, reading, writing, perusing, and, best of all, sleeping. While I woke up a bit before eight this morning I proceeded to spend the day lolling about, doing computer work and leisurely cleaning the pantries in anticipation of high summer harvests. (There was also a lot of solo dancing brought on by the excellent summer mix that came in the mail from Mandy.) I didn’t get out except to take a fifteen minute promenade around our long block, and even that I didn’t do until day was done.

My partner Matt and I left the house around 6:30, joining an early evening communion of neighborly dogwalkers, clustered, porch-perching teenagers, and sweet, slow-strolling couples. Dogday cicadas were simmering their rattled measures, and the breeze ran gently through the Acers, oaks, and elms around us.

As we turned the first corner we found grackles, large to the point of near portliness, quietly pasturing the lawn at the Baptist College. I admired their girth and especially the iridescence that I had to be patient to see; their feathers, impossibly black, reward the eye with an oil puddle’s shine only when caught perfectly by the sun. When the light did touch them I gazed as a royal cerulean and silken, emerald green moved down their necks and along their wings.

grackle

Audubon’s (rather more rural) grackles. Source.

We continued walking, arguing over titles for real and imagined books, spied upon by a holstein-dappled cat and one thousand things we didn’t have the means or gumption to see. Turning a penultimate corner home, the air singing “Wild is the Wind” to my mind, I heard a bright theme and looked up. There I found a thick wire and a silhouetted cardinal’s crest. It stayed a moment before loping beyond an enkianthus shrub. It resumed its singing there, invisibly coloring the atmosphere red.

As I stepped from the street to the curb that brought me home I found a mullein rosette. August finds  many Verbascum thapsus specimens over five feet high and beginning to burst with chandeliers made up of hundreds of tiny, yolk-colored blossoms. This little plant, however, was a yearling. Instead of striving toward height and bloom it spends the summer concentrating on growing, pushing a taproot into the ground and unfurling new, soft leaves from a star-shaped center.

mullein

Common mullein. Source.

It’s night, now, and the lack of a streetlamp outside this window brings a darkness nearly as black as the grackle’s wing. I hear the springs of porch doors creaking, the glide of wheels on streets, the deep pulse of cricket chants, and the sawing chirps of katydids. It’s a good night for listening.

The Thoreauvian Challenge

thoreau

I invite any and all of you to join me in the Thoreauvian Challenge; a dare to keep a daily record of the August wilderness around us. You can do so online (on wordpress, facebook, twitter, wherever), privately (in letters, journals, your brain), or verbally.

If you choose to accept, write (or speak, or think) some sentences or paragraphs or syllables on what you encounter within your daily doings. These should be centered around interactions with the non-human as much as possible.

The goal is to be a medium. An open jar. To consider oneself as an accomplice–a breathing, locomotive, blood-pumping part within a home, a neighborhood, an ecosystem.

fireflies

So, I’ll start. 1 August, 2013:

I biked to work and introduced the summer camp kids to some medicinal herbs. We discussed the hedgehoggish appearance of echinacea; borage’s cucumber flavor; the stickiness of calendula; the gentle flannel of mullein. 

A hedgehog in a fieldechinacea hedgehog

Hedgehog vs. Echinacea

I found a tiger swallowtail butterfly trapped in the ceiling of a greenhouse. It beat itself against the opaque glass and seemed unable to differentiate it from air. I got a broom to try to shoo it away but was waylaid by customers.

There were so many honey- and bumblebees in the catmint. Orange aphids sucked on potted swamp milkweed and I killed them–the aphids, the color of butterfly weed blooms–between my thumb and first finger.

Falling asleep as I write. More tomorrow!

(Often) Urban Invertebrates in the News

As July draws to a blissfully breezy end I offer a collection of the most insectually interesting articles that I’ve come across this month.  moth-er

Elena Tartaglia with some moths of New York and New Jersey. Source: @SciFri.

NPR’S Science Friday did a lovely little story on National Moth Week (which just ended on Saturday). In it Flora Lichtman interviews the adorably awkward Elena Tartaglia on why moths are worth our appreciation (in case you weren’t already aware). She also explains why they are so obsessed with the light over your door. Flora asks Elena about her new favorite moth: the Rosy Maple! Hooray. Also of interest–a Science Friday video that explains how hummingbird moths are able to so resemble their avian counterparts.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum). Source: http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org

Xerces is helping to present a free webinar on dragonfly life and conservation which will take place on August first–tomorrow! There is a possibility of obtaining education credits, too. If you love dragonflies you can also participate in some citizen science for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, which is working to better understand their migrational patterns. 

alb

ALB. Source: Wikipedia.

These dog days of summer mean that the Asian Longhorned Beetle is out and about. If you live in New York state and have a pool you can participate in a survey to help control the spread of this destructive insect.

Bees have been big newsmakers lately, primarily due to tragedy. In the wake of the largest poisoning of bumblebees ever, Xerces has called for the end of the cosmetic pesticide that caused it, dinotefuran, aka Safari. There is also a congress-bound petition to stop Safari here

An article from Treehugger sums up new research regarding the increasingly disastrous relationship between chemically-ridden America and honeybees.

The researchers…collected pollen from hives on the east coast, including cranberry and watermelon crops, and fed it to healthy bees. Those bees had a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder. The pollen they were fed had an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one sample of pollen contained a deadly brew of 21 different chemicals. Further, the researchers discovered that bees that ate pollen with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.

bumblingtomato

Bumblebee all up in a tomato blossom. [Highly fascinating] source: http://pollinator.com/. 

 In less dire news, the Times published a truly fascinating story in which Carl Zimmer artfully describes the bumblebee, the pollen that it feeds upon, and the effect that this culinary act has on pollination. In short, when a bee lands on, for example, a tomato flower (or a blossom from one of the other tens of thousands of plants which rely upon bumblebees for pollination), it immediately starts working to find pollen to eat. “‘It sounds like a bee is giving you a raspberry'” as it is

“in fact…creating resonating vibrations to loosen the pollen grains inside the [flower’s] tubes. ‘The bees are turning themselves into living tuning forks.'”

As the bee holds and shakes the flower, it causes microscopic pollen within to pinball against the tubes’ walls. Eventually they “gain so much energy that they blast out in a cloud that coats the bee.” The insect then gathers the grains to sacks on its legs so that it may feed the hive’s larvae later. Some pollen, however, remains on the bee’s fur and will dust off when the creature alights upon another blossom, hopefully leading to the inception of a brand new Brandywine, Sungold, or other blessedly summery fruit.

monarch drawing

Source: etsy.

Lastly, I have a detailed post cooking on the current state of the monarch butterfly. Until it’s published, however, here’s a link to a board that I’ve put together on Pinterest, Monarch Life Support. It’s a growing resource on monarch education which includes plenty of information on ways that we common folk can help this beloved, yet struggling, creature survive. Please let me know of other resources to add to the board and I’ll pin ’em up.

Queens or Kings Necessary

Image

This. Because last year I was spending a large part of my time at home watching my little puppy of a monarch and its milkweed, and this summer I am looking at sometimes dried up milkweed flowers, hoping and praying for one of those bengal-striped beauties.

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