Tuesday, August 04, 2015

In Touch

Nothing puts you back in touch with the soul of nature like a ten-year-old.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Balanced Universe

The world "cosmos" means balanced universe.  If you are a little nerdy, as I was and may still be, you possibly remember the television show by Carl Sagan called Cosmos: A Personal Voyage back in the 1980's.   I tended to get crushes on nerds back then and Carl Sagan was fascinating to me, even though he sometimes seemed to talk as if he had marbles in his mouth.  He just knew so much!  The new 2014 science show called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a spin-off and presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson (a really cool name) who is that teddy bear guy who is also an astrophysicist(!) with the bedroom eyes.  If I was younger I would probably have a crush on him right now.  He also has a radio show called Star Talk.

This post has nothing to do with the television shows above but is does have something to do with their title.  It is about my own cosmos, the one in the Heliantheae (sunflower) Tribe.  I grow mine in a separate flower bed, because they tend to reseed and take over.  I have the common orange and a few volunteers of the sunny yellow, but the last to bloom with the most delicate leaves is the maroon one from new seeds I planted this year.   It struggles for sunlight against the other 5 foot high plants.  There are many varieties of cosmos and most come from Mexico.  There is even a cosmos that smells like chocolate!   I do not have that one.  Some of these fun flowers are double petaled like mine below.

The seeds must be collected as they are not winter-hardy in my area, so I replant them in the spring.   I also do not have the 8-10 hours of sun because I live in the woods, but I grow them anyway and they tend to get tall... very tall.  Remember the translation of their name means 'balanced universe.'  They do seem to grow with the flowers in orderly proportions like the expanding universe.   They are drought tolerant, easy to grow, good for poor soils, do self seed, can be cut for vases although flowers do not last beyond a week, and they can create a bed of "cosmic" proportions.  You might want to try them. 

Above is my flower bed with a volunteer sunflower or two.  These orange flowers are behind a wire fence to keep the bunnies and groundhogs at bay, but the plants have long since pushed through that barrier.  If I would have pinched them back in June, they would not have gotten so tall and maybe had more flowers, but lesson learned for next year.   I think below is our Painted lady, Vanessa cardui, visiting my cosmos...I am not an expert on butterflies.  They make a nice couple, though.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Milk Thief

The origin of the word butterfly is not clear. Since the term is pre-8th century we have little to go on. Some people like to think it came from a turn on the words 'flutter by', but that is most likely not the origin. 

Our version comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'butterfloege' (butere and fleoge) and some guess that a common yellow butterfly was the reason for this name as it reminded them of butter flying.  In Russian they are called 'little soul' and the Ancient Greeks call them 'Psyche' which also means soul. 

Some think the name came from butterfly droppings which are a yellow drop.  One folktale is that witches took the shape of butterflies to steal milk and butter when they came into the house.   Whatever, we do know that their name does not really reflect their beauty or fancy or mysterious metamorphosis each summer.

(Still waiting for that rare Monarch.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Addictive Attractions

My volunteer sunflowers are proving to be an addictive attraction for the goldfinch that I rarely see during the summer months.  One would think that with their bright yellow neon glow an observer would see more than the odd yellow leaf falling in the forest.  Yet I rarely see the goldfinch in summer months, and I have a number of year-round of this species.  (All photos taken through a window, so they are not as sharp as those from a good bird photographer.)

As I sit in the living room with my laptop, or reading or watching TV these little flecks of gold frequently catch my eye as they dart across the windows to the deck.

The mom, dad and a few little ones spend mornings, afternoons and early evenings at the sunflower heads.  They destroy the flowers ever so slowly.  It seems that the sunflower seeds ripen from the outside rows toward the center rather than all at once.  These finch pick and pull at the center and even grab a yellow petal and toss it to the deck floor if it is is in their way.  Since the sunflowers are in pots, they often wilt early with their huge root systems and I have to go outside and water and when I do, a flurry of yellow zips across the air into the dark green oaks trees in my back yard.

I watch a mother feed herself and then fight with a young(?) male when he thinks it is time for her to give him one of the seeds.  He grabs the shell held in her mouth and she shakes hard and he must release and then falls almost to the ground as she scolds him. 


At first I thought this was a young male in the photos below, but I researched and found they do not get full breeding colors until the second season, and since goldfinch molt twice a year, this might be just an adult male in molt.  He still looks very young!

He does seem babyish with all his tufts and soft head!  Such a cutie.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Keeping a Sunny Disposition

Every year with optimism and forgetfulness I plant sunflowers.  Sunflowers are not to be grown on a whim.  They take up lots of room, shade plants, and suck up water like a sponge.  Have you ever seen a sunflower root?  Some root balls are the size of huge platters.  Yet, these sunny plants are easy to germinate from seed, come in many varieties, and this year, I even got a few volunteers that fell into pots on my deck from seeds that I had the fed birds over the winter.

Now a caution.  My sunflowers rarely get even a foot high before they are eaten by groundhogs and bunnies.  Groundhogs eat them back to the stem on a summer's eve.  Bunnies sample leaves over several days until just the stalk is left.  So, I have learned to plant them in pots on my deck, and this year, my husband generously gave me some space in the vegetable garden which is behind a wire fence.  The sunflower behind his head is actually a foot taller now and not yet in bloom like the one next to it!

Below are sunflowers on my deck.  This summer there has been LOTS of rain and I have had a reprieve from having to water these beauties almost every day on normal summer days.

I have also learned that seeds from these flowers ripen at an uneven pace and the goldfinch show up and eat about a half dozen each day...even from flowers still in bloom.

He comes each day and visits and waits patiently for the crop to come in picking here and there on an outside row while watching my shadow against the window.

Now, for a tidbit of folk wisdom.  "Sleeping with a sunflower under your pillow will permit you to know the truth of any matter."

Putting this under your pillow might interfere with a good night's sleep!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Burnt Sienna

Burnt sugar spice
Warm smooth sienna 
Pulled molasses taffy 
Reveals that inner glow 
Copper colored wings 
Release the stillness 
On the smothered air 

Moving the sweet
Smokey smell
Of tangerine fog
Against another eternity
While the universe
Waits for the embers
To tarnish black
Or just melt
Into another
Shade of brown

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Written on June 30

It is hard to sleep.  Barefoot, I cross the wet grass on a late June night and see an almost full moon ahead of me just above the silhouette of the trees.  It hangs like a giant milky pearl just above the Eastern horizon chasing the sun which is long gone from the ink black sky.  The night is very still and almost quiet.  Even the frogs seem to be at rest.  It is as if all life on the planet is waiting and watching and anticipating, while the fireflies continue to dance at their ball 30 feet in the air only distracted by their own glow.

I have come to watch that bigger race/dance between Venus and Jupiter, the two largest planets in our solar system, because on this night they will hang side by side like best friends or the winner and runner up in a beauty contest.  Side by side, they glow and twinkle as if they were stars and not planets.  Eventually they will hug and kiss cheeks and then cross paths on their separate destinies and vastly different orbits.

I have read that this conjunction in their paths will not happen again for over two decades, and since I will, most likely, miss this space race another time,I am enthralled to see it tonight.  I wave back like a foolish fan.

As I turn to head back inside I see the white phlox glowing in the moonlight on the planet earth, and I pause to inhale her exotic fragrance and wonder if she is as amazed as I at this race that has gone on for millions and millions of years and seen by so much other life on this planet.