Savoring signs of life

DSC_0748Earlier this month, friend Kathy Doty taught me how to spot the difference between male and female Monarch butterflies. Visually, it’s really not that different than humans. I kept hearing that little girl who was a YouTube sensation several years back, her sing-song show-and-tell voice explaining to her classmates, “Boys have theses, see.” I’ve sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations about Monarchs. I know the right way to hold them as you apply a tracking tag prior to release. But no one has every told me who has what. Kathy also displayed a young Praying Mantis and a viable Swallowtail chrysalis, anchored in place by one tiny gossamer lasso of swallowtail thread. She spotted both eggs and caterpillars in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The sightings never cease to thrill.

Several days later, a steady stream of visitors to Summer 2019 Family Day watched monarchs, bumblebees and more dragonflies than I have seen since the June 2012 floor wax discharge decimated the variety of dragonfly nymphs one could sample in Riley Creek. It was hot, hot, hot in the sun. Steady breeze and ice water kept those of us anchored to the ground cool enough to take pleasure in flighted creatures who have the wherewithal to catch thermals.

With double-digit degrees less outside, Deb Weston walked the trails with her Debbie and a camera on Thursday. They spotted an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, a female Baltimore Oriole, a Painted Lady butterfly, a Monarch, and two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, birds I haven’t seen since I picked wild raspberries along the cut-off oxbow to sell at Andy’s IGA in Pandora.

I could wax on. How about I share Deb’s photos instead?

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To everything, there is

At the start of the 2000s, after we breached the wave of Y2K and its potential mania, we weathered another onslaught. Well, we did, but not everyone made it through the ride. The farm animal sanctuary was not even a thought and wildlife rehabilitation training was still a phone call away. Instead, we planted 100 trees. Because the trees were small and the ground was traditionally a farmfield, a passerby in his cups mowed all but three of the grassed-in trees down. So we let the turf grow, transplanting native grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, and switchgrass, all grown and gifted to us by Dennis Seitz. These, as well as wild asters and milkweeds, were slowly outpacing invasives like Canadian thistle. In the meantime, flocks of goldfinches cheered among the purple tops.

The pace wasn’t fast enough. One day, a township trustee arrived with a brushhog. He mowed through the thistle, Steve ran ahead of the blades. Praying mantis, adults and nymphs, clung to his hair, shirt and forearms. He stood in front of the driver, held his mantis-covered-arms aloft, saying, “See this? This is what you are doing.” With one tree still standing, insects and songbirds scattered, the tractor left. One neighbor asked us how this could have happened, here in America. It can and it did and we all lost.

_MG_9249That was 20 years ago. “Drift Zone” signs populate the neighboring fields. Local nurseries carrying various types of milkweed—and people are planting them. Several neighbors grow almost-acres of native grasses, wildflowers and Canada thistles poke their spiky heads up here and there as the natives are allowed to reestablish. Even so, anger still festers in me, 20 years after we were made to stand by and suffer a fool’s errand. Few mantids have turned their mystic heads my way since then and the goldfinches are still shy. IMG_1543

Today, my mother sent me two photos. A garter snake was soaking up rays on a weeping spruce at Red Fox Cabin this morning. It’s safe on its sunny bed, free from hungry chickens at our end and away from the road’s racing vehicles. The other photo is a mantis nymph, its image captured by Beth Scheckelhoff of Ohio State University’s Putnam County Extension. She saw a lot of mantid nymphs in the gardens above Cranberry Run. This makes me happy—even feel forgiving—though I’ll never forget.