Maybe Dorothy Was Right

It’s been more than two months since I’ve written here. My absence hasn’t been because I don’t have anything to say, or anything to show you, but rather because I have too much to say and can’t figure out how to channel it into something good and uplifting. The turmoil in our society has become something that weighs heavily on me, and it’s getting harder to stay optimistic when there’s no end in sight.

Monarch on butterfly milkweed
Monarch on butterfly milkweed

My usual solution of going to nature for solace doesn’t always help anymore. But I cling to it, still, out of sheer determination to not succumb to despair. I admire my blogging friends who have been able to write regularly and optimistically. I know some of them will be reading this, and I am so grateful for their writing about nature. They are my inspiration to sit here now and try to put some positive energy out into the world.

I want to show you some bits of my native plant garden and the critters who live in it. After the early-blooming spring ephemerals are done, most of the other native plants in my garden don’t bloom until at least late June. I’ve had to be patient, but that makes it so much more exciting when everything finally bursts into bloom. I took this video of my biggest monarda patch yesterday, trying to show you the dozens of pollinators buzzing over it. This section is about 10’x3′ and there were easily a couple dozen bees working through the flowers.

You’ll notice how that bee in the close-up portion goes completely around the flower, making sure to get every possible bit of energy it can from it before moving to the next one.  That patch of monarda is about four feet tall and I can stand right up against it with my face only inches away from the buzzing bees, and they don’t pay the slightest attention to me. It’s such a calming, meditational thing to do.

One of my favorite plants is this Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum), with its cheerful lemon-yellow flowers and glossy leaves. This one is about four feet tall in its second year and looks fabulous. A friend gave me another small one and I can’t wait to see how big it will be next year.

Shrubby st john's wort

Anemone virginiana - tall thimbleweed
Tall thimbleweed flower, only an inch across

Last year I put in two Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) that another friend gave me. They’re blooming this year and I’m in love with their dainty little flowers and the “thimbles” that remain after the flowers are spent. This plant has large lobed leaves below bare, thin stems that tower a couple feet higher and support the flowers. When I’ve found thimbleweed on my walks in local parks, I’m always struck by how easy it would be to overlook it. So many native plants seem to be overly enthusiastic (“we’re gonna take over everything!”) that it’s nice to have a few that behave themselves better. I’ve got these at the front of a bed where they’re easy to see and enjoy, and they won’t get bullied by anybody else.

I found this little grasshopper eating a leaf on boneset. I watched him. He watched me.

grasshopper collage

One of the first times I noticed Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) was when I photographed a Snowberry Clearwing moth feeding on it a couple years ago as I hiked in a state wildlife area. I took a series of photos that remain some of my favorites. Here’s one of them from that day.

Snowberry clearwing moth feeding on blue vervain

I also found a dragonfly on this plant along the shore of Lake Erie last fall. Dragonflies aren’t pollinators and so it’s not common to find them perched on flowering plants like this Common Green Darner was during fall migration last September.

Green darner on blue vervain

And here’s a pic from my garden this week, where my own Blue Vervain is just beginning to bloom. The tiny purple flowers bloom from the bottom to the top of each spike, with just a few blooming at a time. I just adore this plant!

Blue vervain - verbena hastata

I’ve noticed that I often use the word “love” to describe how I feel about some native plants. Since I’m spending lots more time at home these days, I’m getting to know my plants more intimately, and I’m feeling very connected to them in a way that feels like love. I take care of their needs. I mourn when the rabbits chew a young plant down to the ground before it even gets a chance at life. I spend lots of time just wanting to be near the plants, to enjoy their beauty and the unceasingly fascinating world of the insects who come to eat them. The garden is my connection to something larger than myself, something intensely gratifying and life-affirming.

When the pandemic first arrived and we were just getting used to lockdown, I wrote about desperately missing my friends. As time went on, I wrote about starting to enjoy some time without a busy schedule. These days I see a few of my friends regularly (outdoors only, and always six feet apart). As my schedule has gotten busier again, I find myself wanting to hold on to as much of my “home time” as I can. Sure, there’s a lot to see “out there,” but this place is where my heart is, and where I find peace and a connection to the natural world. So I guess I’m a bit like Dorothy in discovering that you don’t always have to leave home to find what you need. #TheresNoPlaceLikeHome

Young rabbit in my yard
One of my resident bunny twins chowing down on ferns

Amateur Backyard Entomology

Crane Fly stuck in spider web on screen - my yard
Stuck to a spider web….temporarily

If you ever find yourself bored at home, I have a suggestion: Go into your yard or garden with a magnifying glass and/or a macro lens on your camera. Get down on the ground and spend some time investigating who’s crawling around among the blades of grass or under the bark of the tree. I guarantee you won’t be bored for long.

A few weeks ago, for example, I noticed this insect stuck in a spider web on the outside of my kitchen window.

I gently freed him, and he immediately spread his wings and gave me this great photo opportunity. This is a type of crane fly, of which there are many hundreds of species in North America alone. My amateur entomologist status doesn’t even begin to qualify me to attempt a more specific identification of this guy…or gal.

Crane Fly on my window - after I released him from spider web resized w sig

Adult crane flies only live a few days, just long enough to pass along their genes to the next generation. They’re completely harmless to humans — they can’t bite and they don’t even eat anything, despite their colloquial nickname of “mosquito eaters.” (Their larvae, on the other hand, can do some damage to your lawn–if you care about such things.)

I was in the yard the other day playing with my macro lens, and I found this common house fly. I watched him for a couple minutes while he fed on something too tiny for me to identify. I took some video, but of course as soon as I turned on the video, he stopped moving. So I got video of a completely motionless fly–aka, a photograph. The joke was on me that time, I guess.

House Fly in my garden v2 w sig

Isn’t it fascinating to see the minute parts of an insect like this? I didn’t even use a tripod for this shot, but you can still see the hairs, the antennae, and the veins in the fly’s wings. By the way, if you really want to have your mind blown by macro photos of insects, I suggest you check out Mark Berkery’s blog.

Box Elder Bug nymph (Boisea trivittata) w sig

After the fly flew (haha), I noticed quite a few of these little Boxelder Bug nymphs crawling around on the dying yucca plants. (I’m killing the yuccas on purpose because, well, they’re hideous.) These bugs don’t cause any damage that I’m aware of, and they’re pretty, so they can stay. I really don’t like to kill any insects unless they’re doing major damage that’s going to cost me a significant sum of money.  I do make an exception for mosquitoes though. I feel absolutely no remorse after slapping a mosquito on my arm. They. Must. Die.

Meal moth - in my house - uh oh - w sig

That being said, I just discovered somebody unwelcome inside my house. Yep, this is a Meal Moth, on my living room wall. Before I figured out what species he was, I was excited because he’s so pretty. But now I have to worry that my pantry might have more of them. I think I need to do some reading about them before I decide if I have a problem or not. But isn’t he pretty? He’s only about 3/4 of an inch across. I’m not sure why, but it seems weird to see him facing downward instead of upward. I don’t suppose it makes that much difference to him whether he’s facing the floor or ceiling, but it feels wrong to me. In fact, I almost rotated this picture before posting it, just so I wouldn’t be bugged by it. But then I realized that sometimes you just have to step away and let nature do what nature wants to do, so I left him upside down. 🙂

Ladybug pupa - not larva
Lady beetle pupa — it will grow up to eat many aphids in my garden. 🙂