Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dotted and Dashed

The gray hairstreak sports
orange spots dotted black,
orange, black, and white dashes,
upturned tails, orange topknot,
orange tipped antennae --
a thumbnail sized dandy.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ginormous Moth

Last weekend, my friend Tam called to tell me she had seen a "ginormous moth." She invited me to come see for myself a few nights later.

She set out two chairs facing her four o'clocks, where the ginormous moth had appeared two nights running. She offered wine or beer and insect repellent. She even invited the folks who had just treated her to dinner. We four gathered in growing dark and waited for the sound of whirring wings.

Sure enough, just as light fell, the moth buzzed in and dove at the clump of flowers, not once but twice. And then? Silence. We probably scared it off with our enthusiastic photo snapping. My one photo shows a whir of brown, but Tam got one terrific, clear shot, which she will download some day.Today, she invited me to see two caterpillars that will become ginormous moths. When we found the photo in my insect book, we learned the ginormous moth's name: Tobacco Hornworm Moth.Yesterday, I saw another ginormous moth in the Community Gardens in daylight. Desperately flying to get through two sets of chicken wire, it promptly disappeared into the grape arbor and beyond. And tonight Tam emailed that two other friends have seen a ginormous moth in their garden.

Now if just one of them would stop off long enough to be seen, I'd be happy to make its acquaintance!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Christmas in July

A return to Mary D's and Lydia's Community Garden brought unexpected pleasures.

Just as I bemoaned the absent Great Swallowtail and Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Mary D arrived and gave me a tour of her edibles: unbelievably enthusiastic beets, purple hull peas, plumping cantaloupes, green peppers, tomatoes of several varieties, squash, Chinese noodle beans, and Christmas lima
She gifted me with several delights, which I consumed as supper, among which starred the Christmas limas (or fagioli del papa or the Pope's beans). Like their other nickname, chestnut beans, their nuttiness matches their speckled beauty.
Oh, Christmas in July!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If I were a painter

I would paint the whisper of a small wing,
pink blush on citron,
weight of black,
burnt orange,
and flight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Merriam-Webster: twofer: something that satisfies two criteria or needs simultaneously.

Today's visit to the Community Garden resulted a in a twofer: the pleasure of photographing buckeyes, whites, yellows, black and yellow swallowtails, and American ladies and the heft of homegrown tomatoes, compliments of one of the gardeners.

Bountiful gifts, both.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Tiny Acrobat

In ten minutes, one teeny tiny bee cleaned one teeny tiny anther of all of its pollen. His saddlebags full, he performed a high wire act worthy of Ringling Brothers, and then moved on, no clowns required.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Thread of Neighborliness

Once my neighbors, Florence and Jere opened their house to me as family might: without judgment or closed doors. Even their dogs, Princess (now deceased) and Lady (now grizzled) stopped barking when I came to the door.

Fifty miles now separate our households, but a visit there overnight feels as natural, our friendship as stitched as the intertwining threads of blossom shimmering pink and purple in mid-summer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Palette of Peppers

Lately, I have been eating a Sonya apple every day. Three months ago, I had never heard of a Sonya apple. Then, suddenly, they appeared in my local Piggly Wiggly, along with a variety of other unexpected treasures ranging from local granola to Welsh spring water.The Pig is not a Publix or Earth Fare yet, but the produce and groceries grow more interesting, though not so colorful as those found at Saturday's Gardeners' Market. There, vegetables please the eye as well as the appetite.

How could one choose peppers from this palette?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blue Sky

Yesterday, while adjusting photographs, The Ellen Show playing in the background, I heard Ellen mention a seven-year-old Chinese girl hosted the day before. When asked what she liked most about the United States, the little girl said the blue sky.

How lucky I am to have plenty of sky and horizon to ground it, especially when blue turns pink.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Beauty of Aging

Oakleaf hydrangea -- as it ages -- retains its vigor -- pale green, pearlescent pink, fuschia, cornflower, violet, hazelnut -- each shade a stage worthy of first prize for beauty.

If only we, like the flower, were so lucky.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Old Fool

My day began with an email from an irate student who called me an "old fool." Why? Her composition earned a zero because it includes a plagiarized passage.

Late this afternoon, I attended a reading by poet Mary Jo Salter, whose poem "Goodbye, Train" reflects on another theme of young and old:

I'm stepping off the train behind a pair
of thirtysomethings with their baby daughter.

The father will stay fit for years, I think,
though here and there, his hair's a little thin;

the mother's confident in new jeans
she knows are sexy -- but carefully, tastefully so.

Seeing them floods me at once -- I can't say why --
with solicitude. Delight, and envy. Pain.

"Goodbye, train," the mother says, and then,
"say 'goodbye, train,' 'bye bye.'" She waves her hand

theatrically, the way we often will
with children , so nobody can find us

guilty, ourselves, of any silliness --
of joy in the trainman's cap, this ticket-punch.

The little girl is propped on her father's hip
and pointing vaguely at a world of things

she's just come to know, and which now must go away.
How grave she seems! -- a toothless oracle.

I see too how I look, if anyone's looking:
a weathered niceness, a trudging competence.

That's how I follow, twenty years ahead
of the parents, as I lug my bags behind them,

vowing to keep a stranger's proper distance --
as I did from those two lovesick teenagers

clinging in tears some stations back, when he
prepared himself to be left there on the platform

by a girl who swore it wasn't possible,
and both were stunned to discover that it was.

I think what luck it is, to be one who says
goodbye to trains instead of other people.

This afternoon at the Community Garden, two young yellows

battled a battered one over the zinnias.

If I am the battered one watching the thirtysomethings, that's fine: I have survived to tell the tale and I still ride the train, old fool that I am. Will they?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Afternoon Nap

If I were an enormous male bumblebee on a hot, humid day in mid-afternoon, I too might wish to sleep, clutching a dreamy green and purple passion blossom, shifting my position only to accommodate the occasional sentient companion, probing the flower for nectar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Lean Green Killing Machine

of the garden preys in a praying posture, but oh, the animals that come in its way. Even I was a bit intimidated by this insect, who polished off a bee in my presence and then tried to stare me down.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Watch Where You Walk!

When I was a little girl, my mother advised me, Watch where you walk.

I think she meant to look both ways before crossing a street, but because we lived between creek and forest, she may have meant watch for creatures, as in dangerous ones. Now more than 55 years later, I still remember watching her kill a copperhead with her hoe while she was gardening. She buried the snake and then continued her work in the rock garden.

Watch where you walk equally applies to me and my mouth. I often open mouth and insert foot, usually because I think I'm being ironic or funny. The audience doesn't always agree. I also insert foot by being honest. I should edit, people who love me advise, but editing isn't in my nature.

Witness yesterday: 399 photographs in about 75 minutes. Admittedly, I deleted most of them after checking them on the computer, but still: how many photos of swallowtails and buckeyes does one person need? Answer: none.

It's the taking that matters, and for that I must learn to
watch where I walk so as not to startle or crush the very thing I admire. Yesterday, I almost trod on a Red-spotted purple lying in the sidewalk (I chased it around the yard) and an Eastern Tailed-blue butterfly in Abbo's Alley grass, and today I almost crunched a little leaf-hopper resting on a grass blade.

Happily, they escaped, but I must continue to work on the watching lest I trod on something or someone and kill it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Spodoptera ornithogalli

The flower vendor pointed to this morning's prize and said, "When you finish, I'll have to kill it 'cause it's eating my flower!" I suggested she leave him be: "Someone will want to take him home!" I pleaded.

This little brown fellow, submerged in blossom, is a Yellow-striped Armyworm Moth (Spodoptera ornithogalli) caterpillar. If he becomes a moth, he will wear a spectacular wooly cloak of variegated tan and gray, looking like the first cousin of a fellow I photographed last November.

Pests to gardeners they may be, but the caterpillar reminds me of a lozenge butterscotch candy and the moth of a Dickensian character wrapped against winter.

I took my pictures and wandered back to my scone table, knowing that by the time I sat down, she would have carried through with her promise. A swift death, I hope, while still buried in gold.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Leafhopper Smile

Balanced on the Black-eyed Susan petal lip, the leafhopper assumes a bold stance, as if to ask And who do you think you are anyway?

He has a grand name: Graphocephala versuta. Sounds fancy, but translated it means (loosely): cunning one with writing on the head. Notice his sporty red front feet? The serrated legs? The madly frozen smile and steady eyes?

Bold, he may be, but also silly: an insect rendition of an elongated happy face. I can't help answering him, Who am I? Your admirer, your Clownship!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pursued by Torn Wings

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flew easily, confidently, lit on the orange zinnia, and spread its wings, revealing the rent at its hind end. Battered, I thought; it will die soon. But of course it will die soon no matter what. A week, maybe two at the most.

A quick trip to the library results in The Firefly Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders edited by Chrisopher O'Toole: "The swallowtails occur worldwide and typically have long 'tails' on their hindwings. These tails are part of an elaborate deception, for on resting adult butterflies they resemble antennae. At the base of the tail in many species is an eyespot marking that reinforces a perceived resemblance to the head end of an insect. Any attacking bird or lizard will go for its prey's head first, and thus it is common to see wild swallowtails with damaged tails, inciating that their deception has fooled a would-be predator."

A strong survivor! I marvel.

But the single wing, twisting in spider silk spun between my front porch rails welcomes me home.

Below, the tiny spider lies, satisfied with her catch.

The book grows heavy, and I turn into the house, pursued by torn wings.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Happened to Supper?

One of my great-nieces recently corrected me when I asked if she would like supper. "It's dinner, Aunt Robley," she averred knowingly.

In my father's childhood and certainly in his father's childhood, dinner was the main meal, eaten noonish. Children came home from school as did their fathers. At night, I suppose, folks must have had a little something -- a glass of iced tea and half a sandwich made with leftovers, and they called it "supper."

In my childhood, Thursday Night Suppers at St Luke's brought together families at church without the church part. Mothers laid out homemade dishes on a long table in the hall, more delectable for their very "foreignness" than any Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, which we, confusingly, ate in early afternoon. Every Sunday night, my family supped with the Chenoweths. Our weekly get-togethers sometimes brought waffles and chipped beef or New England boiled dinner in winter and Boston butt or Joe Mazzotti in summer. Sunday night supper ritualized our friendship.

When I search the Internet for hints about supper, I find this from Wikipedia: "Supper . . . is ordinarily the last meal of the day. Originally, in the middle ages, it referred to the lighter meal following dinner, which until the eighteenth century was invariably eaten as the midday meal." Then the entry becomes complicated: "In England, whereas 'dinner,' when used for the evening meal, is fairly formal, 'supper' is used to describe a less formal, simpler family meal, but also the fairly formal variety in others." In other words, the English have tea when others have supper.

Dinner wears cloth napkins and best manners; supper promises lightness of food and heart, gustatory pleasure enjoyed with gusto. Take tonight's private pile of plums and peach, fresh from an Alabama orchard, eaten ripe and raw from the bowl.

Fingers licked, I'd answer the great-niece now with, "Dinner? What's that? Give me supper any day!"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Tiltshift, a free online program, manipulates a photograph to create the effect of miniaturization.

Tiltshift a different photograph and my mind shifts. E at Christmas walks away like my own memory of childhood, the ever-changing sharp instant of being receding into the unfocused stream of time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

June Favorites

Oh, June: your vigor, your color, your intricacy! You mesmerize and astonish!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Rain

The first clap struck while, prone, I photographed a red-spotted purple butterfly clinging to a blade of grass.

I ignored the thunder.
But soon I could not. I trotted to the Abbo's Alley tool cabin (or work shed, Aedificium Ayredis) and then to the gazebo, where I waited out the storm, watching the rain and a spider, listening to the rolling thunder and sheeting rain and distant carillon.

A celebration for every sense, rain is worth the wait, when viewed from a place of safety.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Visitors of Small Size

A tiny white spider rides his silk strung among four feet of flowers, bunched for sale at the Gardeners' Market. Suddenly, he shoots across vast space and then straight up, rocketing above the vendor's white van, disappearing into sky.

Home, still stunned by the flight of the spider, I make tea, pour milk, and admire the determined hummingbird who has adopted my feeder as her own. A wary defender of the sugar-water, she perches on the empty flower box and snaps from side to side, ever on watch for the enemy. He appears, and she zaps at him like a machine gun, zips back, and assumes her station.

The doorbell rings twice followed by loud rapping. Mary, my 6-year-old neighbor, clatters her arrival with panache. She and her friend have just finished watching The Parent Trap (I've seen it before Mary announces, amazed, but she just saw it for the first time!) and have come to give me two bunches of her mother's just-planted flowers. In one week Mary has visited three times, and I look forward to many more rappings in the three remaining weeks of her annual visit.

Summer may be showy with big bugs and butterflies, but it's the small package that promises the most delight.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Season of Butterflies

Brown, yellow, golden, black, blue -- they flutter, tumbling and twisting onto blossom and stone and leaf.