Monday, July 30, 2012

light show with music

light show with music --
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
rapturous sunset

A light show with music, what could be better? I am sitting on the hilltop where Meadow Drive meets the meadow, watching the sunset-colored clouds morph in synchrony with the progression of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, from the powerful and sorrowful beginning to the equally powerful and joyful finale. Against the panoply of gold cirrocumulus clouds, a swarm of dragonflies swirl in time to the music. I, too, am swirling with the music.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

sun is shooting fire

sun is shooting fire
arrows through slits
in the aerial castle

This amazing sunset spectacle catches me on the way home, so I pull over next to a soybean field to watch the show. A wide altocumulus cloudbank looks like an aerial fortification with turrets topped by jagged crenellations and the sun is shooting fire arrows through slits in the walls. Appropriately, this cloud formation is called castellanus. The rising turrets show that the air is unstable and the clouds may develop into tall, stormy cumulonimbus. Perhaps more rain is on the way, yay!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

coral glow at sunset

coral glow at sunset
streaming out through the fingers
of purple-gray clouds

Cloud cover in the morning and then, hurray! Rain! The stratocumulus clouds hang around all day and give the light a palette of colors to work with at sunset.

metallic green bee

metallic green bee 
gathering nectar among 
pink mallus tassels

Metallic green bees are working the clump of pink mallus by our front door. Why are they so bright? A warning to predators? These native sweat bees, smaller than a honeybee, are also good pollinators. All the bees I see appear to be female, their entire body shiny dark green. The male also has a green head and thorax, but a black and yellow striped body. Today the females seem to be doing all the work.

The adults gather nectar and pollen to carry back to the nest, which may be burrows in dead wood or the ground. The female lays an egg on a ball of pollen in a cell which she also supplies with nectar. Pollen and nectar will feed the larva until they emerge as adults in the spring. 

There are some 45 species of Metallic Green Bee found in the Western hemisphere. It's a bit difficult to tell them apart, but I like to think that the gentle green bees gracing our garden are Agapostemon angelicus.

Friday, July 27, 2012

decked out for mating

decked out for mating,
a goldfinch on the lookout
from a sunchoke leaf

A flock of American goldfinches have been visiting our bird feeders for black oil sunflower and Niger thistle seeds. They like to perch on the ladder-like leaves of the tall sunchokes growing near the feeders, one of the few plants still green and growing. Goldfinches primarily eat seeds from grasses, wildflowers and trees, but due to this summer's drought they may be having a hard time finding enough seeds in the dry meadows and woods.
          Most of the year, both males and females are a dull olive, but in spring the male changes to bright yellow feathers and a shiny black cap in preparation for the summer mating season. Perhaps this jaunty fellow is on the lookout for a likely mate.
          I'm surprised that the sunchokes are doing so well in the drought, but these are hardy plants. I tucked a few tubers along the fence a year ago and they quickly multiplied to take over the entire south side of the garden. Even after the whitetail deer jumped the low fence and nipped off the tops of the plants, they just keep growing and now their goldfinch-yellow flowers are starting to bloom on top. Still, it's nice to look out the windows and see a green screen masking the brown grass beyond the fence.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

blue curtain of rain

blue curtain of rain
falling to earth, deadly rays 
shooting into space

I fall asleep after reading "Deadly Rays from Clouds," a Scientific American article about how thunderstorms give out powerful blasts of gamma rays and x-rays. For weeks I have been begging for rain, so a thunderstorm would be most welcome, as long as I'm not inside the cloud. At 4:30 am, volleys of thunder wake me. At first I think I'm dreaming, but then I hear the blessed sound of rain. It's been a long, dry spell.
          All day I keep staring at the white apparitions floating in the azure sky, as if I've never seen clouds before. A huge cumulonimbus off to the east trails a curtain of blue rain on a lucky field. Distant thunder reminds me of a startling statement from that article: "Next time you see a tall thundercloud, stop to remember that it is capable of shooting high-energy particles into space that can be detected on the other side of the planet." Life-giving rain falling down, deadly rays shooting up. What a strange world we live in.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

horse flies sucking nectar

horse flies sucking nectar 
from the prickly white balls
of Rattlesnake Master

Few flowers dare to bloom in this prolonged high heat and drought, but Rattlesnake Master is one of them. This odd member of the Carrot family looks more like some kind of desert plant with its long, strappy leaves and prickly balls of flowers. But it is actually a tallgrass prairie species with a deep root that helps protect it from drought, as well as an unusual flower arrangement adapted to heat and dry conditions. At the top of a long stalk, the plant divides into short stems ending in whitish green balls consisting of many small white flowers surrounded by prickly bracts. The flowers bloom in mid- to late summer and emit a strong honey-like scent in bright sunlight. Native Americans used the dry seedheads as rattles. Pioneers may have associated the rattle with rattlesnakes because they believed, erroneously, that the root could be used as an antidote for rattlesnake bite.
          Pollinators are equally hard-pressed to find nectar-bearing flowers, so it's not surprising that some of them are attracted to Rattlesnake Master. When I stop to watch some large, black insects crawling all over the white flower balls of a small patch of Rattlesnake Master, I am surprised that these pollinators are not Dark bees. Their fat black bristle-bottom bodies are unlike a bee's elongated body, and their broad face and large horizontal eyes do not look anything like a bee's heart-shaped face and angular eyes. With a start I recognize them -- Horse flies -- and I take a few steps back. From my past experience with Horse flies, they will bite painfully, usually on the back of the neck, and will suck blood. However, these Horse flies seem oblivious to my bare neck and arms, so I conclude that they are not the vampire females but rather the nectar- and pollen-feeding males. I step up for a few closeup photos and the docile males just continue busily sucking nectar.

Monday, July 23, 2012

tattered faded wings

tattered faded wings
spread wide, a Luna Moth rests
in the hot half-shade

Another excessive heat warning today. Even in the dappled shade of one of our tall shagbark hickories it's 110 F/43 C. Midsummer, yet the hickory nuts in their green husks are already falling, littering the dry grass. As I walk through the shifting shade, something green catches my eye, but it's not a hickory nut. 

It's a large, faded green moth with tattered wings. As I look closer at the eye spots on its wings, I figure it must be a Luna Moth, although only one of it long tails is still intact. It looks dead, spread out like that, not moving, and I wonder how it got to be so beaten up. But when I stoop down and touch it, the moth stirs and begins struggling through the grass.  Even in its frazzled condition the Luna Moth is beautiful, with lovely eye spots and a purple edge on its silken green wings, a fuzzy white body, dark red legs, black face and delicate golden fringed attenae. But this moth is clearly on its last legs. After leaving its cocoon, a Luna Moth lives just long enough to reproduce before it dies. It has no mouth and cannot eat, so it only survives in its beautiful moth form for one week. 

The moth is moving out of the shade into the full glare of the afternoon sun. I pick it up to move it to a shadier spot. The moth climbs along my hand and then flutters off, only to land on my pant leg. Slowly and carefully I walk to our front stoop and set the moth down on the stone step. 

The moth marches forward and falls off the edge upside down. It wiggles its legs but it can't right itself. Gently I turn it over, but in the process, its remaining tail breaks off. I leave it to rest on a green patch of creeping thyme, which is incongruously putting forth tiny pink flowers in all this heat and drought. 

When I open the door a while later, the Luna Moth is gone.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

sun rays fanning down

sun rays fanning down
through woolly gray clouds over
a still-green cornfield

After weeks of blistering sunshine in a cloudless sky, so surprising this morning to see a spectacular sunrise with crepuscular rays streaming through clumps of altocumulus clouds. I pull off a side lane to enjoy the ephemeral moment. The sun rays seem to be fanning a cornfield which is slowly being baked by a scorching wind which feels like being inside a convection oven. The tasseled tops of the corn are still green but the bases are turning a withered yellow from the drought. The clumpy cloud cover provides some relief from the direct sun but altocumulus are not rain clouds and by noon they've vanished into hot air.

Friday, July 20, 2012

in drought-stricken lawns

in drought-stricken lawns
untouched by mowers, hardy 
wildflowers blossom

Here in Iowa the high heat index warnings and drought continue, the worst since 1988. Field corn is starting to dry from the ground up, bad news for farmers.
          Grass has turned brown and brittle, so folks who routinely scalp their lawns every week have stopped mowing. Ironically, this has given hardy wildflowers like Queen Anne's Lace, bird's foot trefoil and cornflower a chance to spring up in places where they would usually be cut down. Looking like stars winking on at twilight, they blossom in profusion despite the lack of moisture.
          I'm playing a rain raga every day and turning over my Peruvian cactus rain stick to make that lovely sound of falling rain, but so far we've only gotten a tantalizing sprinkle, just enough to make splotches on the dusty cars.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

checkerboard rows

checkerboard rows
of purple, blue and yellow 
plums in blue boxes

Saturday at the farmer's market. White tents shade produce and people. A band with a fiddle, guitar and bodhrán plays jigs and reels. Parents with kids, babes in bright red Radio Flyers, boys being boys, girls sitting and chatting, farmers weighing produce on scales. Each tent shelters the farm's specialty, many with free samples: potted or fresh cut flowers, plums in blue boxes, blueberries in plastic containers, crates of green beans, summer squash in cartons, bunches of carrots, beets and onions, heaps of corn on the cob, piles of tomatoes, jars of honey. All of the produce locally grown, fresh from farm to city.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

a little princess

a little princess
on her third birthday gazes
into the future

On her third birthday, my granddaughter showed many expressions throughout the day. She was mostly happy and excited, with only one brief episode of tears during the big party in the evening when one of the children did something to upset her. This is my favorite photo, capturing her sweet, thoughtful gaze. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

portrait artist sketching

portrait artist sketching
two girls sitting in one chair,
one smiling at me

Two girls sit for their portrait during Artwalk, held every first Friday in and around the town square. The theme for July is Party in the Park. It's a clear, warm evening, so lots of folks turn out.

An entire family sits on one bench to share popcorn and listen to the band.

Teenage boys and girls gather in two groups, close but not yet together.

Two friends chat next to the bench with the statue of a Civil War soldier telling stories to a young boy.

A little boy wears a Frisbee on his head.

A magician amazes a group of children (and their parents) with a rope trick.

A tender moment between mother and son.

A father feeds his baby.

A grandmother holds her granddaughter.

Two boys play with two babies in a stroller.

A girl waits for customers at a concession stand.

A little girl enjoys a drink with two straws.

A toddler in a polka dot dress and shoes holds someone's blue shoe. I wonder whose?

A boy engrossed in playing with a green ball.

Two friends share a cozy moment at Flying Leap Art Gallery on the west side of the square.