A Butterfly Tips The Scales

Monarch butterfly

A Monarch butterfly in better days.

These early September days have achieved that rare temperate equilibrium where neither air conditioners nor furnaces have anything to offer comfort aficionados like our cats. Thermometer readouts oscillate ever-so-slightly from high 60s to low 70s in the lulls between weather fronts, and we throw open windows on all sides of the house so it may breathe deeply with every shifting breeze. The cats lie on the sills leaning into the screens, nodding their noses around in the feral air to awaken their dozing hunter appetites. And we humans follow the dog outside onto the terrace to lie out in it… just for a moment before afternoon chores… just while we digest lunch.

So, it was in such a perfect supine moment of tracking my eye-floaters around the clear blue sky that a Monarch butterfly crossed the field of view and disappeared behind the peak of the house in a matter of seconds. It was the only Monarch I have seen all year. Was it really just a muted orange fritillary, which have been few and far between, but present nonetheless in the gardens this year? No, the black and orange stained-glass markings were clear even in my passing glimpse of the butterfly. Continue reading

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Considering The Sessile Life

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick.

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.

A corkscrew hazelnut sits outside the back door in its winter glory. All the other plants and shrubs are looking pretty chastened, deceased even, awaiting their Easter resurrections. But this jaggedy hazelnut cuts a fine figure against the snow, having long-since jettisoned its drab, unkempt cover of leaves. Its electric personality is now fully exposed in its branches with all the manic excitement of a Harpo Marx, a Kramer, a Harry Lauder.

Oh? Never heard of Harry Lauder? Don’t worry. Almost no one has. The Scottish comedian/entertainer died in 1950, and the memory of him has faded — except for his funny, crooked walking stick. The fame of Sir Harry’s odd and ever-present stick has been secured, among horticulturists anyway, by the corkscrew hazelnut, which is known in most garden centers and catalogs as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Continue reading

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The Scarcity And Scattering Of November Light

Lake EliseIt is the law of supply and demand. The value of a commodity increases with its scarcity. So the increasing scarcity of light these days has made it silver and gold… deepening to violet and magenta at the margins of the day, when we travel to and from work in synchrony, for a few weeks, with the sun’s own daily commute.

In November, when the landscape drops its modesty along with its veil of leaves, nature dims the lights in a deft bit of physics and stagecraft as the woodlands bare all.

The light really does thin out and scatter at this time of year, and not just because the days are shorter. We aren’t any farther from the sun in the winter months. The earth’s orbit is only slightly elliptical, and remember, it is always spring or summer somewhere. The reason we have seasons at all is because of the earth’s 23.4 degree tilt relative to the sun. Continue reading

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Humming In The Honeysuckle

A ruby-throated hummingbird feeds on honeysuckle blossoms.

Summer thrums.

Life is ascendant under the summer sun, endlessly cycling in little eddies cast up in the wake of successively larger cycles of seasons, planets, stars, and galaxies. Each cycle has its own frequency, its own back and forth, hither and yon, its own signature in the guest book of eternity.

Einstein observed, “Everything in life is vibration,” which makes sense when you think about the pulsing physics of subatomic particles. If everything in life is vibration, then everything has a frequency, like the tone produced by a guitar string or piano wire. Summer days are strung tightly across the long heated expanse between dawn and dusk, relaxing only slightly through the night.

You can hear the tension of it everywhere, in the cicada’s song, in the caustic caw of the crow, in the whine of tire treads incessant on the interstate.  And in the afternoon heat on our back terrace, you can hear it humming in the honeysuckle. Continue reading

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The Light of the World

‘Tis the season for the pious and pagans alike to celebrate the light of the world in metaphor and in fact. The December 21 winter solstice marks the day when the tilting axis of the earth offers the full underbelly of the southern hemisphere to the sun, giving all of us here in the north the dark, cold shoulder of the season. We crave light – any light. So we put lights on trees. We put lights in our houses. We put trees in our houses and then put lights on them. Still, the margins of the day draw tightly around our working hours so unless you are some kind of slacker who is late to work and early to head home, dawn and dusk are your commuting companions.

The silver lining in all this December astronomical gloom is… well, a red lining. More people get to watch sunrises in December than at any other time of year. It requires no extreme early rising. On December 21, the sun will rise at 7:16 am. Many of us are already on the road by then, or at least sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window. The new day starts with a rosy glow at the horizon, overhung with the banners and buntings of clouds pinking up against the brightening sky. And there are moments in the most spectacular sunrises when the unseen hand of physics fiddles with the hue and saturation dials so that the whole sky ignites in reds and oranges and then quickly fades like burning tissue paper tossed on the fire. Continue reading

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