Time Well Spent

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.

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And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.

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Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.

b-ash tree 1

Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?

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And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.

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Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.

b-pigskin poison puffball (Earthball)

Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.

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I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.

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Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.

b-field dog lichen

On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.

b-spring tails 1

The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.

b-mealy pixie cups

And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.

b-pixie cups fruiting

And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.

b-lichen design

Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .

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and form.

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My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.

Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.

 

Power-filled Mondate

It may not have been a hurricane, but the storm that began as Philippe, left its mark as it whooshed through New England. Along its path, the world darkened. We lost power about 1am, but it was restored by the time we awoke this morning. And yet, many may be without electricity for days.

Our tentative plan had been to hike, but we realized last night that we’d need to consider Plan B. And when the sun shone this morning, we were rather oblivious to the havoc caused by downed trees and flooding. We did check the weather report, however, and saw that there would be a few showers and the wind would continue to blow. So, Plan B it was–yard work between rain drops.

For my guy, that began with work on the back screen door for a bang we’d heard in the night turned out not to be the grill or furniture sliding off the deck, but rather the door banging against a bench. And after that, it wouldn’t shut properly.

o2-bee on lavendar

While he worked on the door, I headed into the kitchen/cottage garden, which had become quite overgrown due to my lack of a green thumb. While my intention was to put the garden to bed, some flowers like the lavender needed to remain for they still invited visitors.

o3-spring tails

As I poked about, cutting some plants back, I made a few discoveries, including the sight of snow fleas or spring tails climbing a stalk.

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And buried beneath, I unearthed bird’s nest fungus, which look like such for which they were named, only in miniature form for they are no more than a quarter inch in height or diameter. Nestled inside the nests, like a bunch of eggs in a basket, are the fruiting bodies that await drops of water in order for their spores to spring out and find their own substrate on which to grow.

o5-beebalms last bloom

And then I approached the beebalm, where a few blossoms still bloomed on this late date.

o4-meadowhawk 1 on bee balm

Most of the beebalm had long since gone to seed, and today one structure became a resting spot as the wind blew. A male autumn meadowhawk seemed to hold on for dear life.

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Of course, I took advantage of his moments of rest to take a closer look at the divine body structure . . .

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from a variety of viewpoints.

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Gender determination is based on the terminal appendages. Male dragonflies have three, known as claspers, which they use to grasp and hold a female during mating. The upper or from this view, outer appendages, are called cerci, while the lower, or middle appendage, is the epiproct–meaning its the appendage situated above the anus. Females have only a pair of cerci, and I’m not sure of their purpose. That beebalm still stands–in hopes he’ll return again.

o9-quaking aspen buds and leaf scars

As I continued to work and observe the world around me, my guy found one project after another to complete–each of which required a trip to the hardware store. Hmmmm. And so, I too, decided to go for a trip–into the woods. Donning my blaze orange vest and hat, and knowing that I wasn’t going far, I took off. My first stop was at a branch below the quaking aspen that had fallen in the night. Though it had reached its end of life, the waxy bud scales and leaf scars were a sight to behold. The smiley-face leaf scar showed where the stem or petiole of this past year’s leaf broke from the branch. As the leaf pulled away, it severed the vessels through which water and food moved. The dots within the scar indicate where those vessels had been connected and are known as bundle scars.
o10-pathway in woodlot

In our woodlot, my trail was littered with pine cones and branches, but that was the extent of tree damage.

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I found puddles that invited me in.

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Some branches, decorated with a variety of lichens and jelly ear fungi also found their way to the puddles.

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At last, I reached the vernal pool and was surprised to find it only partially filled.

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Atop and within it, the mosaic of broad leaves and needles formed a tapestry of shape and color–in the moment.

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Nearby, I paused by a goldenrod that sported a bunch, rosette, or flower gall, for really, it resembles all three.

o15-goldenrod bunch gall 2

The Goldenrod Gall Midge, which is a tiny fly, laid an egg in a leaf bud, hatched into grub form, and prevented the stem from growing, though the plant continued to produce leaves that formed a tight cluster.

o16-maple samara between milkweed pods

I finally made my way home, and turned to other gardens on the eastern side of the house, where milkweed pods also needed to remain standing. I even left the sugar maple samara because I thought it was a fun place to land.

o-17-aphids on milkweed

Also at home on the milkweed were a hundred aphids all clustered together.

020-monarch chrisalys

But the best find of all–the delicate remains of a monarch butterfly chrysalis. I had no idea it was there, but presume it housed one of the monarchs that consumed my attention a few weeks ago.

Just after we headed in, my sister-in-law called to say her sump pump had conked out. Off my guy went again.

It wasn’t the hike date we’d hoped for, but our day was filled with power tools and powerful insects and power-filled love.

 

Moments of Awe

The garden hum slowed significantly in the last few days, with bee buzz overpowered by cricket chirps. But still they come.

i6-spotted cucumber beetle

The first insect I focused on wasn’t a bee at all, but a spotted cucumber beetle who paid a surprise visit. It’s been years since I grew cucumbers and I can only imagine that it was a couple of houses shy of my neighbor’s garden. Instead, it made do with the mint.

i1-hoverfly, haltere

A second glimpse wasn’t at a bee either. But I must admit that I’m forever mesmerized by  the tiny hover flies that frequent the flowers. Hover flies are true flies, so while they may look a bit bee like, they don’t sting. And they take time to enjoy the nectar. My, what big eyes they have–taking up most of their head space. And such short antennae.

i1-hoverfly-haltere

Since I was paying attention, I also realized that hover flies don’t have hindwings per say. Rather, as dipterous insects, they have halteres, which are a modified form of a hindwing. The halteres help with balance and guidance while in flight and are situated behind the forewings on the thorax or middle section of the body. Remember–head, thorax, abdomen. Here’s another tip: two wings fun, four wings run. Well, don’t exactly run, but get out of the way.

i2-sweat bee

One of my favorites in the garden mix, the jewel-like sweat bees with their metallic green heads and thoraxes, plus yellow and black striped abdomens.

i7-sweat bee

“Sweat bee” doesn’t strike me as the most romantic name for such a beautiful specimen, but they are so called because they’ve been known to land on us in search of a salty sip as we perspire. They will sting if annoyed.

i3-bumblebee face

But their sting isn’t as pronounced as that of the bumblebee; I thought about that as I  carefully greeted one face to face while he sucked with his straw-like proboscis. The bumbles were in constant motion today. Though they’ve been in a collection tizzy all summer, I had to wonder, do they sense the end is near? And still, they perform their job.

i4-honey bee, leg parts1

Taking its time in the collection process was a honeybee. Perhaps it knows the end is coming for it was much calmer than has been the norm and stayed in the same spot for several minutes, ever so slowly only moving its head.

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All the better for me to take a closer look, including at the segments of its leg. I’m fascinated by the claws at the base of the tarsus.

Each day, the sweet offerings diminish as do the number of pollinators. Long ago I swore I didn’t like insects, but the more I look, the more in awe I am. Even though I know there will be other things to focus on, I’m going to miss these moments of wonder.

 

 

 

Continued Wandering into the World of Wonder

I’ve spent most of the last two years wandering, not even taking time to seek the answers I thought I sought.

c-ichnueomon wasp female

But along the way, I’ve seen so many incredible things that have been placed before me from the female ichneumon wasp with a disc on her cerci and her body throbbing as she injected her eggs into an insect larvae on tree bark  . . .

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to a yellow-nosed wasp, so named by me for the pollen that was stuck to its antennae after it visited a helleborine flower . . .

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to a dragonfly emerging from its exuviae . . .

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to the folds of the earth at Pemaquid Point . . .

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and Mount Chocorua . . .

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to fall colors reflected on Holt Pond . . .

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and throughout Raymond Community Forest.

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The answers are wrapped up in the promise of blossoms to come . . .

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and seeds on the fly.

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It’s recognizing the swish of a porcupine’s trail in the snow . . .

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or the realization that a track I’d never seen before was visible in our woods—that of the opossum.

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And it’s all enveloped in the knowledge that mycelium cover the earth and through the process of decomposition break down most matter (all matter that matters, but not things we’ve created such as our ubiquitous plastic or even this computer).

l-wood fern with sori

It’s the realization that the Earth was formed eons ago and that the word eon refers to geologic time and that plates collided and continue to do so and pressures form and rocks develop. And plants like ferns . . .

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and club mosses were once dominate species and as tall perhaps as our trees. It’s this and so much more.

i-lady beetles canoodling

And all of this brings me to faith. And I realize I do believe in a spiritual being. But my spiritual being is not imbedded solely in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s more than that. In all times, we’ve found people to emulate and follow. The Bible offers one such example and its writers were brilliant. For Jesus was a common person who came into this world in a way I’ve yet to understand. Was Mary really a virgin? Or was she a young woman free of sin? Or?

i-damsel larvae

According to the stories, for that’s what they are, or perhaps they are tales, sagas, lore passed from one generation to the next until all was eventually jotted down and probably revised many times over and edited by publishers, Jesus was a carpenter. A common man. With wise thoughts and perceptions. I know many such people. And so, I think that the Bible offers an example or a way to live. And a way to think. And a way to behave. But, I don’t think it should be taken literally. I don’t know how the universe was created, but it’s too simple to merely state God created it in one day or even one week.

i-baskettail, common baskettail 1

I also don’t understand those thin places where one can see both this side of life and the other side of heaven—if that’s what thin places means. But I do know that I’m intrigued by the concept. Maybe I’ve experienced such without the realization. And maybe I need to practice awareness and be more open to offerings.

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I have discovered that heaven and hell remain the same, whether I walk through the red doors at the church entrance and partake in communion and fellowship or find my way along a wooded path where other revelations occur before my eyes. And so, after all these years, while I embrace a church service, I’ve learned to leave guilt behind on those Sundays I choose to worship outdoors rather than in.

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In either case, I’ve so much more to learn. So many things not yet recognized; so many questions not yet formed.

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And so today, I invite you to continue the journey with me—into this world of wonder. May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.

 

Belated Book of September: Butterflies and Moths

All month long books have been staring at me from their shelves, piles or baskets, a few begging for the honors. But each time I thought I knew which book I’d feature for September, a different month made a claim on it.

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And then, mid-morning, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a certain visitor nectaring at the flowering mint and instantly knew what book it would be.

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Bufferflies and Moths by Dr. Walter Robert Corti is an oldie but goodie that has graced my personal library since 1964. I don’t remember its origin, but think it may have been a birthday or Christmas present when I was in second grade–such was my wonder even then.

On the back, The Odyssey Library is described as “a new and exciting concept in book publishing, combining in convenient, compact format, texts by leading authorities and full-color illustrations by outstanding artists and photographers. Designed for the reader who wants to add a new dimension to his [or her] understanding of the world, these are books to enjoy, to study, to treasure.” Indeed, I’ve treasured it for over fifty years and referred to it often.

b-monarchs and others

Today found me examining the differences between “look-alikes” because I wanted to make sure that what was fluttering about the garden wasn’t a Viceroy.  They do look similar, but the Viceroy is smaller than a Monarch and its hind wings have a line that runs parallel to the outer margin. There are other differences, but that was enough for me to note. Another thing to note: the illustrations in this book were by Swiss artist Walter Linsenmaier.

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No such line existed on this morning’s beauty.

b-monarch map

Though the author states that in September, “large flocks” of Monarchs gather to fly south, and that was once the case, at least in my backyard it’s no longer true. This is only the second one I’ve seen this year, the first being in a field yesterday and it didn’t light long enough for me to snap a photo. In the past few years, I don’t recall seeing any. But . . . when our twenty-something sons were the age I was when I received this book, we did have large flocks that completely covered some flowering plants and shrubs.

b-monarch probiscus 2

Outdated though the book may be, some things haven’t changed. The order is still Lepidoptera, so named for the scales on their wings; lepis being Greek for “scale,” and pteron for “wing.”

b-monarch probiscus 1

Some cool features include the tongue or proboscis–can you see the coiled dark tube below the antennae? Once you find it, return in your brain to your sixth birthday party (if you had one–my next-door-neighbors, Pat and Kate always came for my birthday dinners, but we never had parties) and the blowouts that were curled until you blew into them and made noise.

b-monarch 6

The same thing happens with the proboscis (though it lacks a sound effect), which is actually two half tubes joined to form one, and includes muscles, nerves and the trachea, as it straightens out and penetrates the far reaches of flowers in search of nectar to suck.

b-monarch eyes

The book also mentions the faceted eyes–each compound and consisting of up to 17,000 “ommatidia,” or  individual light receptors with their own microscopic lenses. Think about what the world around them looks like. How in the world do they hone in on their targeted plants? They have their ways. Read on.

b-painted lady 2a

Prior to seeing today’s Monarch, I’d been blessed with many opportunities to observe Painted Ladies, which share similar colorings to a Monarch, though the pattern differs.

b-painted lady map

Dr. Corti describes their migration pattern, but mentions with all that migrate, it could be that it’s a second or third generation that actually completes a given journey.

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The outer wing coloration is what always reminds me that I’m looking at a Painted Lady and not a Monarch.

b-painted lady 1

One thing I’ve observed about the butterflies that I watch–nectaring can happen whether one is right-side up or upside-down. The straw works from any approach.

b-painted lady 2

The club-shaped antenna, common features of butterflies, are angled and work like radar to detect scents. And I mentioned the palpi, which are quite visible here as they are the small projections that protrude from the front of the head. These are covered with scent-detecting sensors as well. And actually, more sensors are located on the thorax, abdomen and legs. That’s how the butterflies find their sources of nourishment.

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One of the things I noted about the Painted Ladies that have graced my path lately is that they flit from flower to flower in constant motion . . .

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and seek goodness . . .

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from a variety of benefactors. I know Monarchs do the same, but today the one I watched much preferred the mint.

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An early season butterfly that some may confuse with the Monarch is the Fritillary.

b-fritillary 2

While its coloration is similar,

b-fritillary probiscus

its much smaller in size.

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Most butterflies feed with their wings pulled together, such as this clouded sulphur portrayed. I love the subtle blend of pink, yellow and green in this beauty, and especially the yellow-green eyes.

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Early on in the summer, white admirals flew about.

b-white admiral 2

Occasionally one posed. Noticed its tattered hind wings. Such is the life of a butterfly.

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We admire them for their beauty and they suffer for it–becoming easy prey. But until they succumb, they spend their days seeking sustenance. And bringing us joy.

As Dr Corti states, “The enchanting colors of their wings, their intimate commerce with quiet flowers, their modest food needs, the innocence of their courtships make them seem like fairy creatures from some unspoiled paradise. They are a delight to curious children, harmless idlers, contented topers, and strolling lovers wherever they appear. It is as if they were created solely to make the world more beautiful.”

Weren’t they?

I know there are updated butterfly guides, but I still love my first.

Butterflies and Moths, by Dr. Walter Robert Corti, The Odyessey Press, New York, 1964.

 

The Will of the Wasps

While doing some work on our house today, I suddenly heard a thump and then saw my guy down on the deck. Huh? He’d been on a ladder last I knew. I grabbed the phone as I dashed out the door.

With a grin, he assured me that he was OK, but that he’d been stung on the ankle, first by a bee and then a double sting by a wasp. Neither of us was surprised, given the wildflowers in the garden where the ladder was placed so he could reach a second floor eave.

I spend hours watching all the pollinators at work, getting to know them by species and habit. But . . . I stand still for the most part and they fly around me. His movements were much quicker and more intentional.

h-hornets nest 1

As we surveyed the garden and figured the best path for his return to it, we made a discovery–the wasps were building a home of their own right beside the narrow path my guy had been following to retrieve different tools. Notice the topaz-colored wing? It fluttered like mad, though that wasp stood still.  Was it sending some sort of message to others?

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If so, there were plenty of workers available to receive the memo–each doing its job of contributing to the construction project.

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Below and above, they came and went, the tools of their trade being within their mouths.

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They’d collected plant and wood fiber, mixed it with saliva, and chewed it into a papier-mâché of their own form.

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The location of choice for this latest construction was against an old tractor wheel that leans against the house. Over the years, we’ve found them building everywhere, but what my guy doesn’t know …

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is that a few months ago a queen began an umbrella-like structure in the back door jam.

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I watched the dangling nest slowly take form.

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Within each cell . . .

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an individual egg was deposited.

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Two wasps never seemed to mind that I pulled a kitchen chair over and climbed up to watch the action.

h1-horn 6

Work continued from morning to night, the wasps slipping away through a sliver of space in the outer door and then returning. Late in the afternoon, they settled on the nest and didn’t move until the next morning. Eventually, I knew I had to put an end to this construction project and while the adults were off seeking more fiber, I removed it. And felt guilty. But, I didn’t want my family to get stung–famous last words.

h-hornet on goldenrod

Paper wasps aren’t typically aggressive unless they perceive a threat–and today, much to my guy’s dismay, they felt threatened.

Despite the confrontation, we have to remember that they are beneficial to the garden as pollinators and predators.

My guy survived and for a bit longer, so will the wasps.

Home again, home again

Because we’d spent most of the summer at camp and I barely stopped at home, I hadn’t visited my usual haunts in a while. Today, that changed.

o-green cone sap

Into the woodlot I ventured, where green pine cones oozing with sap decorated the forest floor.

o-green cone midden

The remains of those serving as sustenance also lent a bit of color from the center cobs and deseeded scales left behind by red squirrels.

o-Inidan pipe from above

Most of the Indian pipes were past prime, but they remained beautiful with their flowers turned upright since being fertilized.

o-pine sap

The same was true for pine sap, which supported more than one flowerhead per stalk.

o-powerline

Emerging from the cowpath onto the power line, I found conditions to be as expected–anywhere I’ve traveled past such a line this summer, I’ve noticed that Central Maine Power has sprayed. I shouldn’t complain for I depend on that power and understand the need to keep the trees cleared, but it does make my heart cry for all that is lost.

o-sundew sad face

My sundews were among those that had suffered, brown and shriveled were they.

o-juniper

The white pines took a beating as well, but the juniper continued to grow and produce a bounty of fruits.

o-cicada

As I walked, the air buzzed with a chorus of cicadas,

o-field cricket

field crickets,

o-grasshopper

and grasshoppers.

o-red maple cotyledon

A visit to the vernal pool was a must, and in true vp form all was dry, but from the bottom new life sprang forth in the form of red maple . . .

o-vp, quaking aspen

and quaking aspen seedlings. It’s worth a try on their part, but I suspect they’ll be short-lived for soon enough the pool will begin to fill with water from late summer, fall and winter storms yet to be.

o-vp, red leaf

Speaking of fall, some red maples had already stopped producing sugar, thus the chlorophyll disappeared and anthocyanin formed–evident in the red hue.

o-vp feather

I found some other color in a small blue jay feather. I only saw two and didn’t think much of it, until . . .

o-blue jay feathers on stump

I passed by an old stump and did a double take. It appeared a young jay had served as a feast.

o-field succession

My next stop was the field, reached by passing through the two stonewalls that demark the boundary of our extended property. The field belongs to our neighbors’ parents and they recently had it bush hogged. At the western most end stood a fine example of forest succession, from mowed area to wildflowers and shrubs to saplings and finally the forest beyond.

o-small-flowered gerardia

Among the flowers at the edge I found one I hadn’t met before–small-flowered gerardia with delicate, hairy petals and needle-like green leaves bordered in their own shade of purple.

o-steeplebush

Being Sunday, it seemed apropos that the steeplebush reached heavenward.

o-meadowhawk above

As I continued to look around, a meadowhawk flitted about, pausing occasionally.

o-meadowhawk face

I knew if I stood still long enough, it would get curious and let me approach.

o-meadowhawk up close

And I was right.

o-home view

At last it was time to head in. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.