Today is the first day of December. Unbelievable, really. Where has the year gone??? For the past several Decembers, in the spirit of the holidays, I have usually participated in some sort of Facebook® photo challenge…Day 1: Snap Something Red…Day 2: Find a Candy Cane…you get the picture (no pun intended). Now that I’ve gotten this blog off and limping and spent almost a year with my camera, I thought it would be fun to move my photo challenge here and share some of my most favorite outdoor shots from 2018! Many of these have not yet been posted on this blog, and several have not ever left my personal archived albums. I will share one photo each day with a fun fact or short story. Just a quick, easy way to pay tribute to some amazing experiences that I’ve captured and to give us all an opportunity to count down the last few days of 2018 together.
As you prepare for this holiday season, I wish you, your family and your friends the merriest of times, no matter where you live or how you choose to gather and celebrate. And may we all remember our lives as blessings and this planet as the greatest of gifts. Full hearts, everyone.
All the best,
I shot this image during one of my first practice sessions on capturing movement. Each winter the Ring-billed Gulls migrate south to our North Texas area, spending the season around our lakes and streams. This species nests and breeds along the northern borders of the United States and well into Canada, with each bird tending to return to its nesting site and often its mate. Once nearly eradicated in the late 19th Century by hunters, conservation efforts established during the early 1900’s have allowed their numbers to now measure into the millions. Birds reach full adult plumage at about three years of age.
“”Keep a good heart and all that is anything and everything will remember you,” said the Sphinx.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun
“You’ve got a lot going on this week,” said J., after I brought over a little pot of dirt, excitedly showing him the two treasures I had just unearthed. His sentiment alluded to the fact that I had already rescued an Eastern Screech Owl, earlier in the week, that hit my vehicle near my son N.’s school (but that’s another story for another day). Wednesday, though, I had just been minding my own business in the vegetable garden after work, attempting to dig up whatever rogue sweet potatoes I could find that might have matured from re-sprouted second-year vines. As I dug and slowly lifted mounds of soil, I saw something long that almost looked like a dried pepper. After carefully picking it up, I knew right away what it was, despite never having actually seen one in person. I gently set it aside and continued to dig. Within five minutes, yet another one popped up. Wow! This was my LUCKY day.
What treasures had I added to my trove, you ask? Sphinx Moth pupae, of course. Some might call them hawkmoths or hummingbird moths, for the way they hover over flowers. I remember the first time I saw one in flight, several years ago, and didn’t even understand what it was. It moved just like a hummingbird but clearly wasn’t a bird. It’s pretty rare to be in the right place at the right time to snap a photo of one in flight, but it’s almost just as rare to dig up a fully formed pupa, especially two of them!
This is because the caterpillar can burrow down about a half foot to pupate; and if he burrows in the fall, the plan is to typically overwinter, with the new moth emerging in springtime (at other times of the year, the hatch will occur within only two to three weeks). So unless you are a gardener out digging, and digging fairly deeply in the soil, you are unlikely to ever see one of these with your own eyes. To see two in one dig…almost unheard of.
So how did I immediately know that this was a Sphinx Moth? The number one clue is the size of the pupa. It’s massive.
My two measured just over two inches! The bigger the caterpillar the larger the house, and I already knew some Sphinx Moth larvae could grow up to 4 inches. What I wasn’t quite sure about was the reason for the little “pepper stem.” I’m accustomed to seeing Monarch and Queen chrysalises suspended from little stems, having hatched many of them, but this made no sense…these pupae were just laying underground. That’s when I did a little research and found Bob Dluzen’s article over at All Things Green. Bob noted that the “stem” is actually the housing for the long proboscis that the moth will form (its nectar-gathering tongue). This makes sense, because many species of Sphinx Moths have a proboscis extending the length of a foot or more! So the top of the pupa will break open and the moth will emerge, headfirst, pulling its tongue out of the hooked casing.
Carolina.com actually provides a very helpful diagram on its site about teaching life cycles which further shows all of the parts of the moth beneath the pupa shell; and if you scroll back to the top of this piece and look at my first photo, you can see every part!
But there are around 1,100 species of Sphinx Moths. So how can I possibly know which one I have? Through further deduction, I propose that the two guys who burrowed and formed these nice, cozy little houses were likely none other than what we all more lovingly term tomato hornworms. And now the peanut gallery groans.
Groans from the crowd arise because these little beasts are experts in devouring foliage on vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. So knowing this tidbit of information, and knowing that I just excavated these gems from beneath my sweet potato pile, which was, conveniently, located UNDERNEATH the remnants of our huge yellow pear tomato, leads me to this most probable of Sherlockian conclusions.
But now, what in the world to do with them???
Well, since I’m the excavator and this excavator is a “big picture” thinker, and, more importantly, she’s a pollinator proponent, the short answer is…they get a pass.
This Universe of ours speaks in mysterious ways, if you are willing to open your ears and listen to it AND you are willing to study it a bit. Wednesday morning, the VERY day of this dig, I happened to come into possession of some Datura seed that I thought I might give a try. It’s the lovely white Angel Trumpet you see in the photo above. It’s also known as Sacred Datura, receiving that distinction because of its history of usage for ritual intoxication in some Native American tribes. If you follow this blog, you know that I am a huge fan of the art of plant sharing, which I’ve coined as #plantsharenow. So to acquire some of these seeds for the first time was a fun happenstance, but to then dig up these pupae was a clear message.
The Datura is a night bloomer. Sphinx Moths fly at night. AND…drum roll…Sphinx Moths are one of the only pollinators of Datura. This is because Datura nectar is located in the well at the very bottom of the tubular flower. So only someone with a very long proboscis will be attracted to this flower in the first place to then pollinate it while moving along the top of the bloom. It is as if the Universe said to me, “You have been given. Now you must give back to this circle of life to make it all work.”
So, to the giving we go.
Again, if you know me, you also know that I like to practice sustainability, whenever possible, which includes repurposing whatever I can use. My pupae needed to go back into the soil, but I also wanted the chance to hopefully watch this process AND to confirm if my hypothesis on species was actually correct.
I found two old poinsettia pots from last Christmas, which are perfect because they have framing around the edges. The framing will provide a vertical structure necessary for the moths to climb up to properly unfold and dry their wings. I filled these with soil, and buried a pupa horizontally in each (because that’s the position I found them in) about 4 inches down.
Then I covered each with a mesh sack that cinches at the bottom. I commonly use these for our butterfly habitats both at home and at the school garden where I volunteer.
This time of year, as luck would also have it, my yard has no shortage of Elm leaves. So I filled the bottom of a Home Depot® bucket (“Let’s Do This” seeming appropriate) with Elm leaves and placed my pot on top, surrounding it then with more leaves and finally lightly covering the top with even more leaves. This should provide extra insulation now that the pupa aren’t actually underground. But, as J. pointed out, if you’re going to use buckets like this, it’s important to place them under a covered area on a deck or patio so that they don’t fill with rainwater. We don’t need any drownings on our hands!
So that’s where we are folks! I’ll be checking these buckets daily on our deck, because, as those of you from North Texas know, sometimes winter turns to spring a lot sooner than expected. I certainly don’t want to miss the hatch, and I definitely don’t want to hold anyone hostage! And if my hypothesis holds true, this is what should emerge…
…Manducaquinquemaculata, the Five-spotted Hawkmoth. Beautiful, isn’t she? And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be remembered by the Sphinx for my good heart. If not, I’ll be plenty satisfied if she can just remember me for the Angel Trumpet in my garden…and see fit to pollinate it.
All the best,
– All content photos, not credited, by Amanda J. Schulz
”The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”
– John Ruskin
Today is a big day! Not only is it the first day of early voting in Texas but it is also National Color Day! Woo hoo!!! If you know me or have been following this blog, it’s not difficult to see that I’m a lover of color…especially in the garden. When I design a garden I like to apply the same techniques that I use when painting. I decide in my mind where each color should live on each section of the garden canvas. I actually tend to begin more with color than with height, size, shape or flower type. The special key to proper pollinator gardening, as well, is that you should plant in mass. A solid stand of a particular species of flower will be much more effective in attracting butterflies from high above, for instance, than just two or three plants. Each honey bee worker also only collects from one species of flower per flight, so giving her a nice bundle from which to gather lots of pollen is also helpful. What can I say? It’s important to color block.
The funny thing about a good pollinator garden, though…it keeps changing. Like the Mona Lisa, year after year altered by the master, it’s never quite “finished.” This is largely because pollinator gardens beget seeds sown randomly without any thought or order. But that’s kind-of what makes every spring exciting, you never know where some things will pop up next!
In preparation for National Color Day, I spent a little time in my gardens this weekend capturing some of my fall favorites before they fade away to mere memories. So instead of the usual Morbid Monday series, let’s celebrate a little life today through color! I hope you enjoy my color share as you wrap up your Monday, and I suggest that you get out this week for a while and enjoy the beauty of this stunningly pigmented planet that we are blessed to call home. No need to go in search of the rainbow, folks. We’re living right smack dab in the middle of it. Enjoy!
All the best,
RED – Love and Strength
(Blanket Flower, Red Autumn Sage, Ornamental Pepper, Firecracker Penstemon)
“How does one become butterfly?’ Pooh asked pensively. ‘You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,’ Piglet replied.“
– A. A. Milne
Rain, rain, go away. Does anyone else here feel this way?
I can’t remember a fall in North Texas, in recent years, that has been this wet. We finally got a break today for several hours, not really sunny hours, but at least hours without water. If I was grabbing my camera and dashing out for a break, so were all the insects, gathering as much pollen and nectar as insectly possible before the down-pours of evening hit again.
Before I actually realized I should make a break for it, I happened to look out the window with baby A. E. at the pollinator garden. She exclaimed, “Buddafly! I touch it!” And there they were…Monarchs everywhere! We easily counted eight just outside the window alone. I knew as soon as naptime rolled around that I had to get outside. You see, if you remember from my very first post on this blog, J. and I participate in Monarch Watch by tagging butterflies each fall. Last year we tagged twenty-five, but these were all hatched from caterpillars we collected off of Milkweed in our garden. This year it’s a different story. Our Milkweed has not been prolific enough to support caterpillars, so, at present, we are forced to try and tag wild butterflies passing through. Sometimes this can be difficult and then sometimes it can actually be easy.
On a day like today, where a break from rain is a blessing for everyone, the butterflies are willing to sit for longer periods of time to nectar. In those cases, you simply come up behind a butterfly with its wings closed and gently pinch the wings together. Then with your other hand you take a small sticker, that has already been pre-placed on the end of a toothpick, and roll it onto the central section of the hindwing. Then you slide your pinching hand down a bit and just press the hindwings together to make sure the sticker is secure. Let go, and the Monarch then continues on its merry way.
I reviewed the 2017 tagging data today from Monarch Watch to see if any of our butterflies from last year had been located in either Mexico or other parts of the United States and Canada. Sadly, none of our numbers were retrieved. But there’s always this year, and we’re trying to double our chances by tagging fifty! So far, we are at nine. If this rain keeps up, my hopes might be dashed in reaching our goal. We’ll just have to wait out the storms and see. That’s half of life, isn’t it? The “wait and see.”
In any event, one thing was crystal clear today…with the Monarchs came a plethora of Lepidoptera. There were seemingly butterflies and moths and caterpillars invading all corners of our space. It was spectacular! I couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a flit or a float. So, in honor of the Monarch and all the flutter of fall activity, I have chosen my seven favorite butterfly and moth photos from today for my photography week in review.
I guess you could really call this a week in review in a day! Hopefully next week will open up greater artistic opportunities, but this post does go to show that you can capture some pretty amazing things in a very short period of time. In fact, while someone else takes a nap, you can literally take in the world.
”We were in the shadow of the mountains, the light was cool and quiet and no wind was stirring. The aspen trunks were slightly greenish and the leaves were a vibrant yellow.”
– Ansel Adams
My sister-in-law M. says I should be a travel writer. For years on Facebook® I have posted photos and accounts of the places I’ve been. M. says she always feels like she is right there with me. I like that. Keeping company with people across miles through words and images. But, being a working mom, I really only travel if I’m traveling with kids or, on occasion, with just my husband J. But every year I do slip away for a girls’ trip and take a little time for myself.
On Columbus Day weekend, I travel with a group of women to Telluride, Colorado. Telluride is a quaint little mountain town in the southwest sector of the state, dotted with fabulous restaurants, scrumptious bakeries, quirky shops and eclectic galleries, a place where you can walk to anywhere that you need to be. Now, undoubtedly, the best part of this trip is the female comradery without kids, but, for me, a close second are the Aspens. So let’s add a little travel to this blog and let’s talk trees.
This time of year, Colorado literally gleams in gold. On my first trip to Telluride, I couldn’t believe it. I had never beheld scenery so beautiful, so captivating. It was like poetry for the eyes. And despite the occasional sound of a passing car or the laughter from a coffee shop in the distance, the world was quiet…sheer silence surrounded by the quiver of leaves in the wind. I was hooked.
About 15 minutes outside of Telluride, on the drive in from Durango, is a look-out point. We stop there every year. It’s obvious why you stop. Everyone stops. It’s irresistible, really.
When you stand there and gaze out across that sea of gold and amber waves, melting into depths of forest green, and all of it submerged beneath rugged earthen giants scraped in white, you can’t help but know that there must be a God.
You don’t even have to get out of town, though, to soak in the scenery. Every picturesque home and every worn brick building seems framed in gilded glory, patriotic flags waving the red, white and blue in just such a way that feels a little more crisp than any other place.
On my first full day in Telluride this weekend, I spent a little over three hours out walking the town and the trails along the creeks and around the marsh ponds. Granted, Telluride this year has been a little more grey than in the past, but the grey still stands no chance of dampening the magic. The trails around town are speckled with bridges unique as snowflakes, all crossing lazy creeks filled with families of stone, jagged and smooth, catching shiny laurels in their baskets, as if intent on weaving Apollonian crowns for their heads. And the ponds shimmer in ochre reflections while ducks dive, bottoms up, to search below the surface.
Even little warblers flitting from tree to tree and skipping from pebble to pebble accessorize their feathers in karats. I mean, one MUST have a hint of color, right? Maybe all that glitters IS gold.
As I continued my walk, fog began settling in over the mountains followed by water-soaked clouds that could no longer hold in their droplets. Still waters suddenly welcomed the disturbing pelts, evidenced by tiny rings popping up here and there across the pond.
I had to duck for a while under a giant conifer to escape the damage of rain to me and my camera equipment. As I stood there, completely protected and dry, I pondered how my love of the Aspen tree runs far deeper than its shine. My brother-in-law C. B. introduced me to the story of the Aspen, after his first visit to Colorado, and here’s where I get to my talk about trees.
The Aspen isn’t just one tree, it’s a massive multi-treed organism. A colony of Aspen trees actually connects beneath the ground through a singular shared root structure. NationalForests.org describes this phenomenon as follows:
”One aspen tree is actually only a small part of a larger organism. A stand or group of aspen trees is considered a singular organism with the main life force underground in the extensive root system. Before a single aspen trunk appears above the surface, the root system may lie dormant for many years until the conditions are just right, including sufficient sunlight. In a single stand, each tree is a genetic replicate of the other, hence the name a “clone” of aspens used to describe a stand.”
These clones can cover a small area of land or they can stretch acres upon acres. If someone asks you to name the largest living thing in the world, stop thinking about whales and start thinking about trees. Utah boasts Pando, the largest Aspen clone and one of the most massive singular living things on our planet. It covers 106 acres! That is my true marvel of the Aspen, not it’s show but its share.
I stood there under that conifer, reviewing some of the shots that I had taken on my camera, and acknowledging, in amazement, that…
These are ONE, not many…
These are ONE, not many…
These are ONE, not many…
These are one, NOT many…
When you escape, you really get to sit on life a bit. I waited there for the rain to stop, thinking about the times we are in and where we are as humans, and I prayed we could be more like the Aspens. But then, in that moment of quiet with the rain falling down, God reminded me that we already ARE Aspens. We are connected by a root structure between us called humanity. I wholeheartedly believe that I could meet any person across this globe and find at least one point of commonality between us. Surprise. So could you. And inside us all we are the same structure of bones and blood and membranes and organs. Our struggle, though, is our willingness to get past the show and dig deep to the share. If we don’t start honoring the share and our connectedness, we won’t survive.
Well, the rain eventually stopped, as all rains do. I took a few more shots of the gold, now looking more like a wedding ring in need of a good polish, and one last shot of the town behind the trees. Then I wandered back.
Only a block or two from our house, the clouds finally lifted and the sun shone over the rooftops revealing the clearest of blue. It’s moments like this, when the sun shines brightly over the regal Aspens of Colorado, that you can only have hope. Hope for a better time. Hope for a better world. Hope for fulfilled lives that we can all live.
”Every storm runs, runs out of rain, just like every dark night turns into day.”
– Gary Allan
About this time last week I assumed our next step would be to build an ark. North Texas was absolutely pummeled with rain for days. And days. And even more days, it seemed. I have a hard time remembering a recent period in our weather history with more continuous rain than that. The showers sequestered sorrowful students indoors at the school where I volunteer as garden coordinator, and our home garden just sat, leaves and petals slouching under the weight of water. It’s no surprise, then, when “enough blue in the sky for a Dutchman’s britches” (as J.’s grandmother would have said) finally stuck its bottom through the clouds, that we all feverishly ran outside to check on life.
I think my camera might have actually gathered a little dust during the storm, but throwing that strap over my head this week was like riding a bike…I didn’t forget. And WOW was life alive! The temperatures had shifted from the sweat of summer to a pleasantly cool warm, and EVERYone sought to enjoy it. Newly hatched butterflies flitted and floated everywhere I walked. Bees began gathering their preparatory pollen for winter. Even a litter of bunnies emerged from a mulch hole in the school playground (much to the dismay of our Brassicas).
As I stepped outside this week and could finally inhale a long and deliberate gulp of fresh air, I thought about the storms we all go through in life. I happen to be braving some storms with a few friends right now. I’m like their umbrella holder. The rain is a torrential sideways downpour at the moment for them, with absolutely no hope of staying dry, but at least I can help by shielding a little water from their faces. Inevitably, though, just like a thunderstorm ends so does a life storm. They’ll weather the storm. We all weather our storms. And amazingly, somehow, all of the colors come out in the wash twice as bright as they were before…just like a cutting garden after a hard rain. The bees buzz, the buds bloom and life begins anew.
So if you are braving a storm right now, just know that it WILL run out of rain. You’ll likely get wet (hell it might actually flood up to your neck), but at some point the waters will subside. And I guarantee you that eventually, when the sound of splatters finally silence on your back, your umbrella will tilt just enough to let in a glimpse of blue, and you’ll shake hands with the Dutchman. Man…won’t it be great to finally greet him.
May you enjoy my seven favorite photos from this week of life, witnessed after the storm.