Butterflies and Asters

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Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.

I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.

The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.

It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.

A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.

 

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Wandering Back to the House

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This morning after I saw the kids onto the school bus, I wandered back to the house. I worked at home today and I knew I would have a lot to do. I did not have many hours to accomplish all I needed to accomplish. So I wandered back to the house. Our driveway is about a quarter mile long so wandering is easy anyway. I took to the field, however, looking and listening, taking my time to attend to the duties I have accepted to make a living.

I saw five bluebirds land in a tree, with two chipping sparrows accompanying them. I heard a Canada goose honk in the distance and I wondered if it was alone. I stooped to look at the purple asters, some light purple, some dark purple. I looked under the milkweed for monarch butterfly caterpillars and watched the chaotic flight of one of those orange and black beauties.

The sun came out today for a few minutes this morning, but mostly it was just plain old cloudy. A few ducks flew off, blue wings flashing in the morning’s dimness. A breeze pushed the grass around in waves. I thought of the meadowlarks, so recently singing across this same field. I thought of seeing a crowd of them last October, late migrators stopping by our meadow. No meadowlarks sang today. But for the few cars passing and a handful of crickets, it was quiet.

I got back to the house too soon, of course. I would have been happy to lie down and to watch the clouds, to look for spiders in the goldenrod, to smell the dampness, to watch the ash trees flutter their fading leaves. Reluctantly, I pushed open the door and got to work. I was not too distracted by the glory of the day so I did mange to get things done. I met my obligations, indeed, but I would have preferred to have shunned them today. I feel that way often these days. I want to soak up the world while I can. I don’t want to miss the butterfly that stops to sip at the last touch-me-not. I don’t want to miss the squirrel squirreling acorns.

Each day passes and I miss most of it. We all do. We complain when the days are cloudy, but the cloudy days are as full of wonder as the sunny days. I have to choose to pay attention if I want to see it. I have to choose to be a part of the world, rather than to just watch. I have to choose to wander.

Crazy Nice Day

Millipedes were everywhere today

Millipedes were everywhere today

The family took a hike up Mount Philo today. We have a couple of nicknames for the place–Mount Dog Walk, Mount Fido. It lived up to its name today. We did not take the dog, but everyone else did. Or else, like us, they took their kids. There were some kids in backpacks, some kids in front pouches of various sorts, lots of kids on foot. Ours were on foot. They are way to big for some little pouch on the chest.

We saw some interesting stuff. The leaves are really popping out now. Trilliums were blooming in huge clusters. Columbine, apple blossoms, Solomon’s seal all busting out their stuff. We heard and saw a Chestnut-Side Warbler, Ovenbirds, lots of Robins doing their best to attract the ladies. The sun was shining and it was cool but not cold, warm but not hot. Couldn’t be nicer.

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We had a fine view at the top as well as a picnic lunch. Trader Joe’s just came to town (it opened two days ago) and we enjoyed Cookie Butter on pretty much all items in the picnic basket–bagels, strawberries, carrots, day old waffles. Those last ones were probably the best. Cookie Butter is deadly good. No wonder it is the best selling item at Trader Joe’s.

View from the top of Mount Philo

View from the top of Mount Philo

Once we topped ourselves off with the Speculoos deliciousness of Cookie Butter, we headed down. More millipedes, wind in the new leaves and gravity assist made us feel good. We saw a couple of Raven’s nests on the way down, on the cliffs of the Devil’s Chair Trail, and heard a Raven cronking away, out of sight. All in all, it was a spectacular day. I started it off with some morning birding and brought my county year total to 148. Now the sun drops below the hills. A day of wonder, start to finish. I even managed to get in some gardening, and in my late apathetic mood, that really makes the day a wonder.

Raven's nest on the Devil's Chair Trail

Raven’s nest on the Devil’s Chair Trail

Morning in Burlington

When I first moved to Burlington I worked at Abraham’s Camera Shop. I worked the standard nine to five shift, selling cameras and film. They had a great selection, although the owner was creepy. Actually, he was really creepy. He had an assistant in the upstairs windowless office whose job in part was to watch the security cameras. The cameras were to make sure no one stole anything, but they were aimed not out at the floor, where customers lingered, but behind the counters where the staff worked. They were watching me. Creepy.

That was a short job for me, however–only a few months. I was out of there as fast as I could go. I got a job at Photogarden around the corner, processing film. That was way more enjoyable. In both cases I did not have far to go to get to work. I lived on Hyde Street, in the old north end, so I walked or rode my bike to work every day. Those were not career jobs, but the commute couldn’t be beat.

Since I worked on Church Street, which is open only to pedestrians most of the day, I loved walking down this street in the morning. The street was bustling. Shops were being unlocked and deliveries were being made. Before 9:00 trucks would park on the street and unload. It felt like the world was clear and real and waking again to a new day. It gave me a sense of perspective–I was just one of many people with interesting or boring, exciting or mundane, happy or depressing lives. I felt good about my own life. I had health and friends and a good attitude and years ahead of me to fulfill my dreams.

I watched the boxes roll from a truck and thought about the man pushing the trolley. Did he have children? Did that Remington hat mean he was a hunter? I thought about the woman accepting the boxes. Did she own that place? Did her business mean as much as a relationship? I looked at the cute waitress serving breakfast at the restaurant next door. I thought about the future sometimes and often just lived in the moment.

Yesterday I walked down Church Street early. I do not do it often anymore. I had just dropped off my daughter at a photography camp program on lower Church Street (how things loop around) and was walking with my son to have breakfast in town. The scene has not changed much. I still wondered about the people on either side of the deliveries, and the waitresses don’t seem so cute now (compared to my wife, who could?) but the trucks were still lined up and the boxes still rolled off the backs of them.

I had some of those same feelings of hope and wonder that I had all those years ago. I felt proud of my daughter for trying something new and I felt happy to spend some time with my son, who is turning out to be a pretty great person. We walked up the street, some of my dreams now fulfilled, some still to be met, and I felt glad to simply be there, to be alive and to welcome the day.

Spiders in the Morning

In the morning these days, the sun catches the light across the field. The nights are cool, and that means dew on the leaves. The milkweed and grasses and goldenrod are covered in beads of water.  And if you look when the sun is shining at just the right angle, you see the spider webs. The light only lasts a short time and then they disappear, but if you catch it right you can see them everywhere.

There are hundreds of them, stretched between stalks, glowing in the morning light, their creators waiting for things to dry so they can have breakfast caught the night before, or so they can repair the damage and try again. There are too many to count.

Gazillions of Webs

I have been looking at them up close and took a few photos. Some are whole and some are broken. Each is amazing, a geometric wonder, woven by tiny creatures we usually don’t even see.

This One Liked the Black-Eyed Susans

More Perfection

This One Took Some Hard Knocks

And I found an orb weaver. This one has been settled in the flowers for weeks. They like to hang in one place for a while. Check out the zig zag below her. And check out how cool this spider looks. Kind of a combination of “don’t mess with me” and “don’t like I look beautiful?” all in one.

Queen of Her Realm

First Potatoes

A Handful of Beauties

I made a summer gratin last night–fresh zucchini we picked yesterday, onions, tomatoes, garlic I dug up right before mincing, and potatoes. I had asked my wife to grab some potatoes at the market when she went out. She came home without them, however, as there were no local tubers to be had, and she just couldn’t bear to buy some from California in the summer. So I had the thought that I might find a few out in the garden. I was richly rewarded.

Let me say that the gratin came out well. Hot and saucy and flavorful, with fresh herbs in the mix. The potatoes were the game maker, however. I stuck my hand in the dirt and–BOOM!–potatoes. One plant yielded all I needed, and we have many many plants. We will not have to purchase potatoes for a long time. While I was washing them and parboiling them and slicing them and then eating them, I kept thinking how incredible it is that one can pop a chunk of root into the ground and it turns into a plant that yields ten times what you planted.

These pictured are Purple Viking. I also planted Yellow Finn, which are white. I will go out soon and dig up some of those to see what we get. I’m thinking breakfast tomorrow, maybe, some home fries with eggs? That could work.

Still, I am amazed at how I can plant something and it grows and then we have food. I paid a total of 30 dollars for seed potatoes. I will without question get my money’s worth. If I save some of them to plant next year, I will double my investment. For the moment, however, I don’t want to think about next summer. I just want to savor the yumminess of this crop. And have a great breakfast. Or two or three.

End of the Day

Warm night. Lightning bugs dot the field. Children sleep their innocent sleep, half under blankets.

Summer has arrived. I watched the sun set on the lake tonight. The Adirondacks outlined in pink and red. Peepers still sing to one another in the darkness.

I am in love with everything around me–my wife, my children, this world. I am love with the lightning bugs and the sunset. My heart leaps up.

Dew settles as the air cools. The wind has the night off. The sun wakes the other side of the earth. Somewhere outside the house, a skunk searches for breakfast.

How can I sleep with such wonder? How can I sleep with such beauty? And what about love? That, too, keeps me stirring long after my family sleeps, long after I have risen and left my bed to gather the day’s dust.