Tuesday, September 15, 2015

curving back around

curving back around
a black-eyed susan, a monarch
caterpillar seeks
a twig to hang upside down
into a green chrysalis

I've been picking small fuzzy white caterpillars off of my goji berry vine outside our front door. They eat the leaves, so I carefully relocate them. But when I scan for creepy crawlies today, I'm surprised to see a large black, white and yellow striped caterpillar making its way slowly along one of the stems. It's really quite beautiful, with those striking stripes and curvy black horns on both ends. Almost as beautiful as what it will turn into, a Monarch butterfly. It's nice to know that there are still Monarchs around this area, even though they are threatened by all the pesticides applied to monoculture crops.

This specimen, born from eggs laid in September, is a fourth generation Monarch caterpillar. When it emerges from its chrysalis into an orange and black butterfly, it will not die after a couple of weeks of mating and laying eggs, like the first three generations that came before it this year. Instead, it will fly all the way to a warmer climate like Mexico, where it will live for six to eight months before starting the whole cycle again. 

I wonder if it is still looking for a milkweed plant to eat, or whether it's ready to turn into a chrysalis. The strange thing is, I have seen hardly any milkweed plants in our area this year. Usually the swath between the road and the trees is filled with milkweeds. I've looked and looked, but only found one small milkweed plant, with no flowers and no sign of the leaves being chewed by a caterpillar.

These photographs of the sequence of transformations of the Monarch from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly are from an excellent website, which describes the entire generational cycle: http://www.monarch-butterfly.com.

Perhaps if I had left the Monarch caterpillar on my goji vine, instead of placing it on a Black-eyed Susan for a colorful portrait, it might have attached itself to a goji stem, turned into a chrysalis and hatched into a butterfly. Wouldn't that be exciting? But the nights are getting cooler, and if frost threatens I may have to bring my potted goji inside. Then what would happen to the butterfly if it hatched inside? A warmer clime for sure, but no mates within thousands of miles!

Monday, September 14, 2015

end of summer corn

end of summer corn
ready for harvest, rural 
mailboxes, passing clouds

It's very much a typical Iowa scene: a rack of rural mailboxes against a backdrop of golden yellow field corn and a sapphire sky accented by a few little white clouds. 
          The only thing that spoils the scene for me is knowing that the GMO corn is destined to be fed to beef cattle and hogs. It's an expensive and unhealthy use of resources and land that was once covered with tall grass prairie instead of monoculture crops of corn and soybeans.
          Rural Free Delivery is still a good thing, even if the old humpback mailboxes are being replaced with locked cluster boxes to protect customers from baseball bat wielding vandals and identity thieves.
          The sky is still mostly unpolluted, though we do now have a huge grain elevator at the edge of town. And we just discovered that a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) is being built a couple of miles from our house, which will increase air pollution when manure is spread on fields, as well as pollution of our waterways from the runoff, and an increase in antibiotic resistance.
          What can we do to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the value of our property, which declines due to the stench? Be vigilant and proactive. Our group of neighbors are meeting in a few days to discuss how we can support JFAN (Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors, Inc.) to help the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) crack down on too much manure being applied to fields.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

belly deep in the pond

belly deep in the pond
a herd of cattle cool off, 
all except one

First day of school, but the weather says it's still summer, hot and humid. A herd of beef cattle stand belly deep in a farm pond, cooling off; except for one lone cow still grazing nearby. One of the black whiteface cows looks over at me as if to say, "Come on in, the water's fine." However, I prefer the reservoir, just over the hill, a bit less muddy. The pond is a typical Iowa farm pond, dug into the orange-red clay that can be seen around the edge. The heavy clay holds the water in the pond, but when the bottom is stirred up by cattle it makes a fine silt in the water. Not so much fun for swimming, but still, that clay is some of the finest clay in the world for building. The thick walls of our house are made with this clay, dug from the site and mixed with straw.