Smack Dab In Front Of Me

 

Sometimes I’m amazed at the wonders that are right before my eyes. OK, more than sometimes.

c-flower

For the past two years, I’ve noticed this plant as I sat on my porch rocker. The greenish-yellow flower tinged with purple doesn’t last long, but it’s delicate in form. If you look closely, you may see that it’s shaped like a slipper. The pouch of a lady’s slipper? No, but it is a member of the orchid family, thus the similar structure. This is a helleborine, which is actually a non-native.

c-helleborine stem

The hair-covered stem almost looks like it’s been coated with powder. With clasping leaves and that thick fuzzy stem, I keyed it out to Epipactis helleborine, aka broad-leaved helleborine. Strong and beautiful.

c-Rabbit-foot clover 1

Another non-native that is especially common along roadsides right now is rabbit-foot clover. I love this common name for it does look like the good-luck charms we used to have as kids–which were supposed to be a rabbit’s foot. Were they really taken from rabbits? Left or right, front or back?  Which pocket where you supposed to carry it in? And did it actually bring good luck? I don’t know, but the feathery structure and tad of pink among the white and green makes this flower appear as something more unique than common. Delicate and dainty.

c-Queen 1

A third non-native that I see blooming everywhere right now–Queen Anne’s Lace. Apparently, Queen Anne liked to work with lace and the red dot that you see in the center of the inflorescence represents the blood that dripped when she accidentally pricked herself with a needle. After the flower finishes blooming, its spoke-like branches curl inward and form a “bird’s nest” structure while the seeds develop. Legendary and intricate.

c-ant on pearly everlasting

Finally, a native. The flowers of pearly everlasting. And an ant. Notice its body color–shining iridescent in the sunlight. Yes, even ants can be worth a view. And while these flowers may look huge, think about the size of an ant. I just happened to be in their faces. Three cool things about pearly everlasting. First, the white “petals” are actually bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers. (Bracts are usually green and leafy.) Second, the flowerheads do look like pearls and those white bracts remain so that  even after the central disk flowers wilt, the pearl structure continues to exist. (They look great in dried flower arrangements.) And third, the lance-shaped leaves are cottony and have an aqua-white or silvery tinge that makes them stand out among green-leaved plants.  Unforgettable and forevermore.

c-dewdrops

Morning dew glistened like tiny beads on a sensitive fern frond this morning.

c-fertile 2

But one of my favorite finds later in the day was the fertile stalks of sensitive ferns. Check out the beadlike structure that houses the spores. These will stand tall all winter, turn a burgundy brown and after the spores are finally released, they’ll take on a lacy look. Notice how the beads appear on one side of the stalk. They look like they could be made of polymer clay. Prolific and creative.

c-damsel love

As I was looking about, a pair of marsh bluets demonstrated their mating behavior. He is the darker one and has grabbed onto her thorax behind her head with the claspers at the tip of his tail. She actually has species-specific grooves intended for this. And she has apparently decided he is the one for this moment because she’s lifting her body toward his to form the heart-shaped wheel, meaning she’s ready to receive his sperm. He’ll first check to see if she’s received any sperm from another male, which if discovered, he’ll remove before inserting his own. Once the mating is over, he’ll guard her to make sure no other males happen along. Curious and crazy.

c-whitefaced meadowhawk 2

One of my favorite in my face experiences today occurred when this white-faced meadowhawk dragonfly let me enter its personal space. It posed for moments on end and then flew off, only to return for another face-to-face meet and greet. The face of a young one is yellow to begin and changes to white as it matures. While the adult male has a red body, females and young males are yellowish brown. So this is one of the latter two. I swear it smiled at me. I certainly smiled back.

We were smack dab in each others faces–the better to see you, my dear.

 

A Closer Look

In my continued quest to capture spring, I spent the morning taking a closer look.

p-ph star1

Lest I take myself too seriously, let me begin by saying my inspection wasn’t always as thorough as it might have been. I was wowed when I discovered a four-flowered starflower. I know they can produce up to five, but typically I see one, two or three flowers. Um . . . I think this is actually two plants. Oops. The great discoverer I have yet to become.

p-ph sars1

But check out the wild sarsaparilla with its three globe-shaped umbels.

p-ph sars 2

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually noticed the green-petals that fold back. And it’s a tad bit hairy.

p-ph buttercup

Whenever I see the common buttercup I’m transported to my childhood–we placed it under each other’s chins. If your chin reflected the yellow glow that meant you liked butter. Mine never failed.  😉

p-ph foam1

And then it was the tiarella that pulled me down.

p-ph foam 2

Its terminal cluster of flowers is said to resemble foam, thus the common name of foam flower.

p-ph foam 3

Holy stamens! Each spray of a flower consists of five sepals (outer circle that appear petal-like), five petals that narrow as if they form a stalk, ten yellow-anthered stamen and two pistils, one of which is longer than the other. Amazing. And more hair!

p-ph gaywings

Because it’s equally beautiful, bountiful and birdlike–I couldn’t resist another pause for  fringed polygala or gaywings.

p-elm2

The next attention getter–the double-toothed American elm leaf with its asymmetrical base.

p-ph beech leaves

I love to contrast it with beech leaves. Apparently, both are quite tasty.

p-ph caterpillar 1

And I found a culprit. One of many. I know that the caterpillars and insects have to eat, but  it seems like the leaves work so hard to protect themselves only to be munched upon in a short span of time. So much for the protective hairs.

p-cinnamon2

What I really wanted to focus on, however, was the ferns. Last week’s crosiers are this week’s fronds and fertile stalks.

p-ph cinn2

I guess I’m most fascinated by the manner of the tiny green spore beads clustered together–in some ways they mimic the shape of a frond. Again, hair.

p-cinnamon 3

Already, a few are turning the cinnamon color for which they are known.

p-ph crane 2

Upon one, I found a crane fly. Check out those body segments and spindly legs. Adult crane flies, like May flies, don’t eat. Their mission in life–to mate and lay eggs.

p-ph interrupted 2

Because they like the same conditions, interrupted fern grows nearby. In this case, the fertile leaflets interrupt the sterile ones.

p-ph inter 3

It’s another beady appearance a tinge darker in color and the presentation is different.

p-ph royal 2

I think my favorite of all (don’t tell the others) is the royal fern. Maybe it’s because my friend Judy calls me the queen. I’m not sure what I’m the queen of, but I do love the crown that is beginning to unfurl.

p-ph royal1

Maybe it’s the elegant structure. Or that fact that no other is like it, so I can easily identify it. The spore cases are clustered at the tip of the fern giving it a bit of a crown appearance.

p-ph dew

The other fern that grows in this place hasn’t developed its separate fertile stalk yet. What drew me to the sensitive fern this morning was the drops of dew that gathered on the frond–and offered a magnification of its veins. A glimpse into its life-giving force.

I hope you’ll make time this spring to take a closer look and wonder about the world around you.

 

What’s Next?

I chose to walk intentionally today, pausing every few moments to look and wonder. I didn’t want to rush, always seeking the next best thing.

And so I began with a stop to admire the great lobelia that continues to bloom  despite the frost we’ve had this past week.

Great lobelia

But it was at a former log landing we can see from the kitchen window, that “what’s next” kicked into gear.

log landing 10+ years ago

While the field beyond our stone wall is mowed once a year, this area has been allowed to follow the order of succession for cleared land. Goldenrod, asters, meadowsweet, grasses and raspberries have filled this space. What will follow?

deer print

Further along, the deer and

moose prints

the antelope, I mean, moose play. No fresh bobcat or coyote prints after this morning’s rain, but I saw some scat from both. And I had to remind myself not to have expectations. That’s the thing. It’s so easy to get caught up in looking for the next best thing and forgetting to focus on the moment, the beauty and the complexity that surrounds us.

water droplets on big-tooth aspen

So I did–focus that is. On the big tooth aspen leaf decorated with rain droplets,

asters gone to seed

aster seeds waiting for their moment of dispersal,

barbed wire

a hemlock that long ago knew this forest as farmland,

autumn meadowhawk

 an autumn meadow hawk soaking up the late afternoon sun,

life on a stump

the variety of life growing on a stump,

hemlock saplings on stump

and hemlock saplings taking root.life on a tree 2

life on a tree 3

life on tree 5life on tree 7

My eyes were drawn to all manner of life growing on trees that are past their prime, from woodpeckers and sapsuckers to mosses and fungi, including violet-toothed, birch and tinder polypores, plus Jack O-Lanterns that glow in the night.

old tinder conk

I found an older tinder conk springing forth with life as it gleans sustenance from its host,

chaga

chaga, that hardened mass of hyphae that is proclaimed to be life-giving,

mossy maple

mossy maple polypores growing in a wound, as is their preference,

mossy maple mushroom:field dog lichen

and more mossy maple, this time covered with the brownish-gray lobes of field dog lichen, which typically grows on the ground. Huh?  Creation at work. Soil forming on top of the moss covered fungi–certainly a fertile ground.

quartz

I found quartz where I expected to find only granite,

royal fern

a small royal fern holding court on its own,

sensitive fern

and the bead-like fruiting stalk of the sensitive fern.

 red squirrel

I saw plenty of birds, including a few ruffed grouse that I startled as they startled me. This and other red squirrels chatted insistently whenever I was near.

beech tree captures late afternoon rays

And I saw the sun’s rays reflected by the beech leaves.

trail 1

Sometimes following trails, other times bushwhacking, I wondered what will become of this forest.

tree opening

Open spaces invite pioneers to settle down.

Pleasant Mtn

In other places, those that long ago gained a foothold continue to enjoy the view–of Pleasant Mountain.

4 birches

Making my way homeward, I found myself in the presence of the birch clan–paper, yellow, black and gray–how sweet it is.

fleeting moments of fall foliage

As the foliage enjoys its final fleeting moments, I intentionally move from wondering what’s next to enjoying what’s now.