Tag Archives: butterflies

Field report

It’s high summer. We have had some reprieve from the heat, so days are merely warm to hot, not searing. Apparently a polar vortex, much the same as this past winter, is keeping us cooler than usual. If so, then the climate research at my place of employment, Rutgers University, indicates that these vortices may be the result of the increasing instability of the Arctic climate, and that likely means will be paying for this perfect weather eventually, years or decades down the line, when we’ve largely forgotten how stunningly beautiful this July has been.

Otherwise, it’s a July like any other, and at the store and farm stands, there’s still lots of pint containers of blueberries stacking up, and the peaches have been coming in now too. I bring them home a bit hard still so they get here without bruising, put them in a brown paper bag that goes on top of the fridge for a few days to ripen them, and then you only get them a little while before they become a bruised and soggy pulp even with the advantage of modern refrigeration, but you bite into that peach within that brief time of perfection, and they’re so ripe, succulent, and sweet that the taste just explodes across your tongue and cheeks and obliterates all other consciousness. There’s only peach and the craving for more.

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Field Report – Father’s Day, 2014

Nature and New Jersey may not be an easy association. One could write convincingly and well about nature living just about anywhere, though. The challenge of finding topics and finding them meaningful isn’t terrifically greater in an urban environment than a rural one, provided that one is looking for them as they present themselves.

But there is quite a bit of wilderness, or at least minimally managed nature, in New Jersey. The Pine Barrens of south Jersey remain one of the largest and most significant undeveloped areas along the East Coast, and the western portions of central and north Jersey along the Delaware River offer quite a bit of open space.

It’s a different experience, though, than natural areas in even other northeastern states. Excepting the Pine Barrens, both neighboring New York and Pennsylvania have much larger tracts of forest and the like. The most dramatically mountainous and possibly beautiful area in New Jersey, the Delaware Water Gap, offers some stupendous hikes, but on pleasant weekends in the summer there are so many people on the trails that it feels more like a social event than communing with the splendor of nature. I’ve seen a family of black bears there moving through the forest understory not thirty yards away while I was walking up a mountain trail with so many hikers in front and behind me that it more resembled a line for a ride at DisneyWorld than anything else.

Where I live, in the Delaware Valley of central New Jersey, there is ample parkland, and our previous house was quite surrounded by it. But as one of the agricultural centers of the colonial era and later, and even still, I imagine, a significant grower of garden vegetables, much of that parkland turns out to be smallish – several hundred acre – conjoined plots of old farmland. The result tends to be rather chaotic jumbles of different stages of reclamation and transition, plus a noisy understory of nonnative plants. But pleasant enough, and plentiful, and even on occasions a bit beautiful.

We were hiking in a gem of a tiny park this weekend. We were doing only a three-mile loop, but the day was a bit warm, and the boy, while at times a willing and hardy hiker, is only ten and tends to get fairly grumbly in the heat. It was our first time there, though it’s only twenty minutes from the house, because I think the trails were groomed for birders primarily and therefore not listed by two trail associations I depend upon for new area hikes. There was definitely a lot of bird racket coming from the bushes as we got out of the car and located the trailhead from the parking area. “See,” said my wife, “there are birds here.”  Yes, almost all catbirds and robins though. And that was just fine. Anyone expecting anything more exotic midday in June in a postage-stamp-sized park in central Jersey is bound to be disappointed.

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Summer notes

I picked up a yellow flesh watermelon from the farm as part of our share yesterday. I’m the only one here who eats melon (is there a genetic mutation that makes melons unpalatable? – otherwise I can’t explain it). So I had myself a snack.

yellow watermelonIn the midst of basil season, I’m not making pesto this summer. Pine nuts are just too expensive, for one. Are there any substitutions for them? I seem to remember coming across a recipe for a pistachio-arugula pesto that I filed away in my mental to-try folder, but that’s not answering the need. Walnuts won’t do for the other reason I’m not making pesto: the wife isn’t majorly into nuts to begin with.

So I’m making pistou instead. Which is to say, I making pesto without pine nuts. Pistou is apparently a Provencal basil sauce of garlic, cheese, and olive oil, so pesto without the pine nuts, but it seems a bit extravagant to invoke a whole alternate heritage for what amounts to eliminating the pine nuts and amping up the garlic. Here‘s the recipe that I started with, but it’s no rocket science. And when I say amping up the garlic, I mean I’m using a hell of a lot more garlic than this recipe called for. It’s like a garlic bomb it’s so awesome when you do it like that – just give it a little while for the sharpness to mellow. And, you know, put it in soups and on roasted new potatoes. And of course toss it into pasta. Salad dressings, too.

That, and I’m looking forward to my first basil gimlet of the season.

And, finally, another butterfly, a Gray Hairstreak. This one is small and easy to miss. Think of that and their considerable and broad distribution from Colombia to Canada. A massive invisible nation dwarfing all others, hovering only eighteen inches above the ground of the contiguous land masses of North and Central America.

In the last post I compared my new interest in identifying butterflies with love, and in a few upcoming posts, I’d like to explore a broader, and a bit more technical, philosophical and naturalist background to the comparison. But for the moment, I’ll just say that what turns my head to pursue a flash of color fluttering above the grass is very much like the experience of love. And then to patiently pursue the butterfly until it comes to a rest – which can be at times fifty to a hundred yards, man; to peer intently at it to identify as many characteristics as my inexperienced eye can before it flies away; and then patiently to differentiate and situate it amongst a variety of potential beloved. This one was a tiny pale flake, and without the desire to know butterflies a bit more intimately, I would have simply pegged it the ubiquitous Cabbage White and moved on. Now not only do I know the Hairstreak, I’m also aware of its similarity to the Eastern Tailed Blue, and the Summer and Spring Azures. A world in which to place it, and in which to attempt to place myself. And my eyes thereby acquire experience.

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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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