Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jewelfly and Blueflag

I went to have my trucks's windshield replaced and there was a 2 hour wait. So I took a stroll down a side road near the shop and found a very pleasant little trail off into the woods, and followed it down to the Little Androscoggin River. I soon found myself in a secluded spot on a flat rock, sitting with my arms crossed over my knees, when a jewelfly landed on my arm. I watched her, very close up, for a minute or so before she jumped up quick and came back and settled back on my arm with a kicking mosquito in her mouth. I watched her eat it (surprisingly quickly for such a large-ish meal), and then watched as she did it again and again - my own little bug repellent friend! Endlessly interesting to witness - and she really kept me from getting bug bites! We were like a team - I attracted the mosquitos and she gobbled them up. The 2 hour wait was over before I knew it. As I was about to walk away, she posed for me on this wild Blueflag Iris at the water's edge.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


At the end of a lovely getaway weekend near Rangeley, Maine, we packed up our gear and headed down to the warm, sunny little beach near our campsite to sip coffee and say goodbye to the lake. We watched a Common Merganser paddle by with her string of ducklings chasing along, taking turns riding on her back, and laughed at their fluffy antics as they appeared to run across the water as fast as they could to keep up. And then Clay noticed a big green dragonfly on the edge of the water in front of our chairs. There was something about its wings...they seemed normal enough stretched out in the light breeze, but they were tender and fragile looking, and I realized this dragonfly was brand new. So we looked around the beach and sure enough we found another brand new dragonfly. This one, the one in my photo, was so new that it hadn't finished emerging from the body of its nymph form. Amazing!
Dragonflies lay their eggs in water and the eggs hatch into tiny nymphs that spend as long as 5 years hunting for prey and growing. As many as 15 times in their underwater form, dragonflies will outgrow themselves and rip through their own backs, molting into a larger size. Dragonflies undergo a different sort of metamorphosis than butterflies, it's more gradual and skips the cocoon stage. With every molt, the hump on their back gets larger - a hint of the four wings to come. But it's not until they climb out of the water into a warm and sunny morning, that they rip through their exoskeleton one last time. This time with wings! Spectacular flyers and hunters, with huge eyes that can see from any angle and wings that allow for a stunning array of maneuvers that has inspired our own methods of flight.

They only live in this final, winged form for a few weeks to maybe a few months before they die - 5 years in the water to get a few weeks in the air. This makes me think of our own life cycle. How many of us look back at previous decades of our life and realize that we'd never have reached any heights at all without those years of growth and the inevitable pain that came with it. Maybe it seems like a rip off - to live so long completely unaware of what it feels like to fly in the sunshine, only to be allowed to experience it so briefly compared to all that time spent in the dark. But not every dragonfly nymph lives long enough to grow its wings. The statistics are not in the nymph's favor. Gradual metamorphosis takes time, and time is doled out differently for us all. So. If you see a fully developed dragonfly, recognize what a rare treasure you have before you. See in them all the years of pain and ignorance that, miraculously, led to that one bright morning when they bravely left behind the only world they'd ever known, bursting at their own seams to find some new way of being. Their outer shell was shed for the last time and their final and most wondrous form took flight - displaying the glorious potential inside us all.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Old Friends

Lemon-yellow Iris
Iris flavescens

I rescued these antique irises from an abandoned farmhouse in Sebago that was being demolished and leveled. That was in 1992. And this is the sixth home I've brought them to - leaving a trail of beautiful, lemon-scented beauty behind me :) I can't imagine a spring without their pale and pretty splendor any more, and I'm thrilled to see them thriving wonderfully here after having been transplanted last fall - they've grown happily everywhere I've planted them. They're called Lemon-yellow Irises (Iris flavescens) and were first developed in 1830. I'm not the only one who's found them forgotten - Lauren Springer in Passionate Gardening tells of collecting them from an abandoned homesite, and writes, “Perhaps someday it will be all that remains of my house and garden.”

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Yellow Flag Iris

Yellow Flag Iris
Iris pseudacorus

These Yellow Flag Irises (iris pseudacorus) are growing in the little drainage pond behind our house. This is a non-native ornamental iris that's escaped cultivation and invaded wetlands all over North America, choking out native plants including the cattails - an important species for many wetland animals. Yellow Flag have been banned in some states, including Massachusetts, because they're so difficult to eradicate once they take hold. But the plants are still widely available to purchase for gardens. Native to Europe, Great Britain, North Africa and the Mediterranean region, these hardy escapees can now be found growing wild throughout most of the US and Canada. They truly are beautiful, though, and brighten up the little frog pond nicely. There's no marshes around here so I don't think there's much threat of spreading, but I'll keep an eye out.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Queen of the Flowers

This queen was exhausted from banging into the dining room window all night trying to get outside, so I scooped her up and brought her out to the grass where I see lots of these. But she was too tired to move, so I stayed and guarded her from birds or whatever. She couldn't attack me so I had a chance to get real close, and we looked at each other for a long while.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trout Lily

Trout Lily

Erythronium americanum

We found some big patches of trout lily growing near the Appalachian Trail in Grafton Notch yesterday. These flowers take 7 years to bloom and the patches can be up to 300 years old. Their seeds have a special little tasty treat for ants attached to them. So the ants take the seeds to their babies and feed the special food to them and then, ants being a clean and organized animal, they take the rest of the seed to their designated trash heap. And the trash heap is the perfect fertilizer for new trout lilies to grow out of. This reminds me of a concept I've been pondering lately - how the dark, negative experiences of our lives can be metaphorically thrown onto a compost pile (once we've learned the lessons and important parts - the tasty treat) and from this rich, hard-earned fertilizer new and sweet and positive and beautiful things can grow.

Phoebes in the Honeysuckle

A while back a pair of phoebes nested in the eaves of our old house on a wall that was part of our dog pen, and we got to watch them fly back and forth caring for their eggs and then their nestlings. When their two babies fledged things got a little nerve wracking - they were terrible flyers and had no knowledge of the dangers of a trio of dogs. I first discovered them sitting on the top step in front of the door just as I was opening it for the herd of canines to plow through on their way outside, and had to scramble to yank the dogs back in before tragedy occurred. After that I kept the dogs inside and spent the day watching the sweet and beautiful babies practice flying, and kept an eye out for predators or some other calamity. After a while a gentle rain started and they ended up making their way to a sheltered branch in our honeysuckle where their parents would come and feed them.

I recently finished this painting of these two little fledglings and I call it “Phoebes in the Honeysuckle”. The whole process - from witnessing the event to putting color on canvas - was a wonderful blessing and a treasured experience.

Phoebes in the Honeysuckle

 9"x12" watercolor on canvas