Category Archives: nature

Hey there, wild strawberry.

When I say that all we could see were catbirds, butterflies, and a warbler, how many robins, cardinals, finches, and sparrows am I leaving out? How many of the fattest fat, reckless bumblebees? There were two today that buzzed across my path inches from my chest, but they’re not usually remarkable in both senses of that term. Certainly if we’re going on evidence that is not simply sight, this time of year any walk must take into account the overwhelming presence of cicadas. The ebb and flow of their chatter is a constant drone, coming from all places all at once, almost too loud to ever quite fade into the background of our attention. I saw a dying cicada today – the first I’ve actually laid eyes on one this summer. It buzzed and lay still; buzzed and lay still. I wanted to grab it and look more closely at it, but it was well lodged in some brambles and poison ivy. I shook the branches some trying to get at it, and it buzzed in alarm, fell a bit into the bramble, and was silent.

But it seems to be butterflies that I’m in love with this summer; that’s what I look for and what I notice. So like any lover, I’m trying to get a name. Today I saw a Delaware Skipper, so orange in that setting that it seemed that there was an orange world more real than our own pressing up against the green one. Incidentally, this is a great page for New Jersey butterflies – a field guide that is developed on an experiential rather than a taxonomic basis, and so very interesting at a number of levels.

This guy has also been catching my eye nearly every day as I walk along the stream back toward my street: an ebony jewelwing. But what I really wanted to put up here today were some thoughts about berries from an earlier point this summer:

Hey there, red sunburst of seed. You’re a wild strawberry.
I could eat you, but to say that you have almost no flavor
Would be generous. You have that to give, that there are other things
I might pick up from the ground, bush, or elsewhere that would be
Too bitter to eat – fit only for some other metabolism or constitution.
There is some value in that, in having some small benefit
To offer while giving no harm or no offense. Well, there are some
That are allergic and shouldn’t eat you at all. But they’re not missing much.

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Field report

The boy and I took the dogs into the town park late in the morning. Today is supposed to be the last day of a rather brutal heat wave, so none of us has been getting much exercise.

Other than the catbirds rustling in the bush, the only visible fauna out on the paths in the sun were tiger swallowtail and red-spotted purple butterflies. I did see a male black swallowtail and another that I was never able to get a look at because it never came to a rest. It had an unusual flying technique that seemed more concentrated and deliberate than the random, jerky, open-air glides of the other butterflies, always remaining only inches above the leaves and branches it was flying over, but too fast and chaotic to let the eye fix on it.

Passing by some likely high, dense bushes, I told the boy that I’d see if anyone would come out to visit, and I played a yellow warbler song. A common yellowthroat hopped out on a limb a few feet above and six or so feet down the path and sang to us for a while. It was about then that we realized that we had not seen the dogs for a while. I called for them, and the puppy came. I followed her back to the older dog, which was nosing around the carcass of a yearling deer folded up a few feet into the bushes at the edge of the path.

We were at that time coming out of the back trails in the fields that are cut through the brush and mowed despite being rarely used. This was clearly to our advantage, as the blackberries are just coming into season. Only a few at each branch were ripe, but the bushes were untouched. The berries we picked were still a little tart, but already soft, sweet, and flavorful. At least they were to me. The boy found them still too tart to be fully enjoyed.

Myself, I’d been experiencing some diverticulitis lately which I had suspected was from getting blueberry seeds lodged in my colon – I’ve been eating blueberries by the handful the last few weeks, and who wouldn’t. So I was a little apprehensive about the seeds from the blackberries, which are larger and harder. I tried to chew them down as much as possible, or even spit them out when I could. Growing old is not going to be a picnic.

I reflected that my age metaphorically is not that unlike the current point of the season with some good bit of heat remaining before the fall. Past the peak and full force youth. I am feeling a little bit dried-out and bug-eaten like the leaves are now, and slowed down a a little too as I might be from the heat and humidity. But that is about as far as I’m going to carry it.

We can expect only one point of comparison from our analogies, the one that allows us to make them. If we gain a second by the act of making it, that might be considered unexpected wisdom and we should be grateful for it. But we never learn anything by actively seeking additional points of comparison.

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Wildflower report: May

On the bulletin board above my desk, I pin up lines from favorite poems as reminders. One card has these lines from Gary Snyder’s “For the Children”:

Stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Snyder here is imagining life as a difficult hike up and down hills (“the steep climb / of everything”), and the advice is meant to carry the next generation through to until they, we, reach that easy pasture “in the next century / or the one beyond that” – or, in other words, always and always ahead of us. It’s a lovely metaphor, life as a somewhat dangerous hike through the wild: a reminder not to let those in your group, howsoever you determine that group, get separated and lost, nor to go off on your own without their support; to be observant and respectful of your immediate environment, even to the smallest and least consequential element; to be alert to beauty; to not overburden yourself, as it is the journey that is the thing, not whatever you drag along with you. And I’ve always treated it as a metaphor, and not as literal. I do not, honestly, know the flowers.

And now the flowers are everywhere. Last month I decided that I would familiarize myself with the flowers, and to do that I would document them by photographing them. The process of documenting them has become rigorous and even obsessive, as I’m determined to record every kind of flower I can find in the fields. Eventually I imagine I’ll want to identify them, but that’s slow and tentative work, and flowers last only so long. For now, it’s enough for me that I’ve documented them.

So I started even before the trees fully unfurled their leaves, when days were still a little cool and damp, mostly, and that is when wildflowers were suddenly blossoming everywhere. The fields and woods are hardly fixed, even within each season, and even within each month, so every day must present an entirely new mixture of buds and blossoms. There are many I missed before I started, and there are many that have blossomed and disappeared in the ensuing intervals between walks. Some plants seem to blossom all summer, and some only for a few days.

So a part of my unfolding obsession is to document them as a progression – month by month for now, with the recognition that this will be a project that takes up a couple years, because not only did I entirely miss some of my favorites, like the blossoms of the locust, which I caught just putting out its leaves only a few weeks ago, and a towering purple flower that resembles wild phlox, but I’m also not entirely successful in capturing the images. My equipment, a digital point-and-shoot equipped with a macro lens, has its limitations, but even more limited are my capabilities as a photographer. A number of times I’ve been unable to get a decent picture and have been unable to find the flower again.

locust

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