Capturing Wonder

I’m envious of friends who own acres and acres of land with layers of trail loops that provide a diversity of habitats for exploration. But then I remember that beyond our six acres there’s a vast forest that I’m welcome (well, I think I’m welcome–it’s not posted and in Maine that generally means I may trespass) to tramp through. For the most part, that’s my late fall to early spring playground. But we also live within walking distance of a large woodland park where I spend an equal amount of time. Of course, I tend to get greedy about it and think of it as my own. That’s how it felt this morning when I wandered there after church without encountering another soul. I went in search of wonder. And I found it both there and back at home.

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Everywhere I walked, or so it seemed, rice krispies lay scattered at my feet.

rice krispie

They are the newly fallen male pollen cones of our white pines. And yes, they are the size of rice krispies. Once mature, their sacs split open, sending pollen wafting through the air where some of it actually finds the female seed cones. And much of it covers our vehicles, driveways, lawn furniture and window sashes, like a coating of yellow snow. When their mission is completed, they turn brown and fall to the ground. Eventually, they’ll disintegrate, adding to the richness of the forest floor. Worth a wonder.

spruce gall

Further along, I encountered the rather cone-like shape that adorns the tips of spruce trees. These brown, prickly galls were caused by the Eastern spruce gall adelgid, which is closely related to aphids. Will the tree die? Perhaps. Certainly, it’s disfigured.

Eggs are laid in early spring and emergent nymphs begin feeding at the base of tender new shoots. The gall forms as they feed and completely encloses them like a warm, protective covering–keeping predators and diseases at bay. The galls I noticed are older as they are dried out. But typically, the nymph emerges from the gall in August, molts and flies to another branch to start the cycle again. The adelgids are parthenogenetic, meaning only females occur, reproducing without males. They typically produce two generations each year, with the latter overwintering as partly grown females. Worth a wonder.

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And then I came to a dry, sunny spot where common mullein stands tall, this one almost as tall as me. According to lore dating back to Roman times, it is said that the stems were dipped in tallow to make torches–either for witches to use or to be used against them. Thus, some know it as hag taper. Others refer to it as candlewick plant because the dried leaves and stems were used to make lamp wicks.

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It seems to me that it’s hardly common at all given its uses and structure. Over the course of the summer, five-petaled yellow flowers will bloom randomly in a dense,  terminal cluster.

Though it’s also called flannel leaf and bunny’s ear for its wooly leaves, they aren’t the only hairy spots. Check out those three upper stamens, short and extremely woolly. Apparently, they contain a sap that lures insects to the plant. The longer and smoother two lower stamens serve a different purpose. They produce the pollen that fertilizes the flower. Worth a wonder.

Goat's beard seedhead

As I headed out of the park via a different trail than I’d entered, I was stopped in my tracks by a plant that stood about three feet above ground. I think this was my favorite find of the day. I have so many favorites that it’s hard to choose one. But just maybe this is the one.

Meet meadow salsify, aka meadow goatsbeard. The latter name refers somehow to the fluffy seed head. Though there were not goats nearby for me to examine the similarity, these were beside a donkey pasture. (And donkeys are known to protect goats from predators.) The feathery down that will become parachutes during dispersal is finer than the finest spider web. And perhaps more beautiful. Worth a wonder.

Day lily--perfect.jpg

On my way home, I stopped to admire my neighbor’s day lilies–the first blossom of the season for this perfect flower.

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Back at home, it was the fuzzy coating of another summer flower that grabbed my attention.

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The flowerhead offered a show featuring a variety of presentations.

Milkweed 1

Ever so slowly, the pinkish flowers of common milkweed are beginning to open.

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In my mind, it’s an example of another hardly common common plant.

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The flowers are complex and invite a closer look. Overall, they droop in a globe-like umbel. What you see here is five upright hoods, each with a pointed, incurved horn.  Surrounded by those hoods are the fused column of stamens and heads of the styles–where the magic happens.

Since there is no scent yet, the insects don’t seem to have discovered it, but they will. It will nourish many with its nectar and pollen and provide shelter and hiding spots for others. I promise to keep an eye on it and all its visitors because it also is –worth a wonder.

I’m thankful that each day offers new opportunities to capture wonder.




4 thoughts on “Capturing Wonder

  1. The loss of milkweed in our developed society is said to be the cause of diminished populations of the Monarch Butterfly. Only a few years ago I remember seeing many milk weeds and many Monarchs. Today I see very few or none of each. Don’t think I have seen a Monarch in several years.

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    1. Exactly. And so those that grow in my gardens intended for other plants, welcome the volunteers such as these. It wasn’t that long ago that the monarchs covered our flowers. They say this past winter was a better season for them, but in no way are the numbers what they had been. I do believe that you had offered a mill hike in Waterford, Robert. Is that still a possibility?


  2. Robert Spencer – we had a huge field of milkweed across the road. I’d go every summer and get my fill of monarch photographs. Owners mowed the field of “weeds.” No more monarchs.

    LMACHAYES, I know quite well that you don’t need acres! You can spend hours on a square meter!
    Wonderful post as usual.

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