Wednesday, September 28, 2016

blooming in autumn

blooming in autumn --
bottle gentian, pried open
only by bumblebees

Late September, I am looking for the last blue blossoms of great blue lobelia to see if the seeds swelling along the stem are ready to harvest. Not quite. Nearby, the flowers of cup plants, once hoisted aloft on 3 meter high stems, have gone to seed, shattering at my touch. Almost hidden beneath the giant cup plant leaves on the ground, I discover a late-blooming wildflower, bottle gentian. Clusters of striped lavender blossoms, nearly closed at the top, look more like buds than full-blown flowers. Only the burly bumblebee is strong enough to push open the corollas to sip on the nectar inside the "bottle."

Friday, September 23, 2016

blooming between bricks

blooming between bricks
beside the iron streetlamp
bright pink petunias

A day past the autumn equinox, but it feels like the height of summer, hot and humid. No hand planted petunias here, but these enterprising flowers seem happy to keep on growing in a tiny bit of dirt between the brick sidewalk and the concrete base of the iron streetlamp. It makes me reflect that soft yet hardy plants will be here long after the iron streetlamp has rusted away and the concrete and bricks have broken into pieces.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

in the ditch between

in the ditch between
mono-crop fields and highway,
prairie grass and wildflowers

I love the deep ditches between the blacktop and the fields of corn and soybeans. Too steep to mow, they harbor prairie grasses and a parade of wildflowers. Right now, at the autumn equinox, the narrow strips are mostly bright yellow sunflowers and goldenrod, with complementary splashes of purple asters.

Harvesting has begun. Green and yellow machines like enormous grasshoppers are cutting down and scooping up the dry soybeans, raising clouds of brown dust, then disgorging the beans into hopper trucks. The field corn is still a little green, but it will soon fall to the sharp teeth of the combines. Both mono-crops are grown with heavy doses of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so perhaps it's no wonder that wild plants thrive where they do. But insects, especially honeybees and Monarch butterflies, take a heavy hit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

after the tornado watch

after the tornado watch, 
red-orange-purple sunset,
all quiet in the west

Tornado watch last evening, but we drove 20 miles anyway to Mt. Pleasant for chorale rehearsal. The sky was covered with an enormous blue-gray cloud like a lid hovering just above the horizon. Blue all the way around, except In the southwest, where there was a giant gray funnel. Not twisting, just a mile wide V of rain. While we sang Mendelssohn's Verleih uns Frieden, I watched the sunset turn pink, magenta, yellow, then red, orange, inky purple.

another way trees

another way trees
make leaves, pulp into paper
bound into books --
pages turned into compost
converted by trees into leaves

On the highway bridge over Pilgrim Creek, I keep passing what looks like the remains of a book sitting on top of the concrete barrier. Who would put a book out on a bridge, left to weather in the weather? Curious, I walk down from the mailbox to have a look. It's a service manual, open to page 7-42, Long Trip Highway Scheduled Maintenance. I pick it up. The worn, mildewed pages are stiff. The cover is gone, but near the front I find that it's for a 2001 Chevrolet, some sort of SUV. How did it get there?

Viewed on edge, the rippled, deckled pages, folding back on themselves, make a lovely still life. Some day a hard wind will sweep the book into the creek below, or onto the pavement. Either way, it will slowly decompose into compost, nourishing more trees to replace the ones that gave up their lives to make the paper for this book.

Monday, September 19, 2016

fallen hickory leaf

fallen hickory leaf
scarred by insects and fungus,
yellow turning brown

Nearing the autumn equinox, warm days, cool nights. Leaves already starting to fall. Old warriors, they have endured the challenges of frost and wind, bearing the scars of battle against insects and fungus. Now they return home to the earth that nourished their birth and growth, adding to the food supply for next year's leaves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

climbing the hickory

climbing the hickory,
autumn blooming clematis --
bees rising skyward

Mounds of white blossoms are piled on my neighbor's fences, arbors, doorways, sprawled over brush like low-flying cumulus clouds. But our autumn-blooming clematis, fulfilling its everlasting desire to climb up, has wrapped its vines around the trunk of one of our shagbark hickories, halfway to the top of the 80 foot tree.

The shaggy trunk looks like it is studded with stars. Honeybees, drawn by the sweet fragrance, rise higher and higher. Maybe they believe they are going to fly among the constellations.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

yellow jacket head down

yellow jacket head down 
inside a solomon seal seed
eating the soft flesh

Five days ago I disturbed a yellow jacket wasp nest. Got stung twice. I was removing the remains of a rusted wheelbarrow left over from the construction of our house many years ago. The handles and tire had fallen off. I used a stick to dislodge the tire, stuck flat in the ground. 

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain, right through the back of my thick cotton work glove. Then another, on the other hand. Automatically I hit whatever had stung me and saw two dead yellow jacket wasps still attached to my gloves. I ran for the house, trailing wasps. Inside, shaking, I pulled off my gloves. Felt something on the back of my shirt, so I peeled that off. Fortunately my husband was home and smashed that wasp.

First thing, took Rescue Remedy. Backs of both hands red and swollen. Dabbed on baking soda paste. Sat for 20 or 30 minutes with ice packs. Relief, but as soon as I took away the ice, the pain returned. Felt like a nerve had been stabbed, periodically shooting pain up my arm to my elbow. Disturbed sleep. Hands did not want anything touching them, like sheets or the mattress. Woke up unconsciously scratching the areas, which now itched like crazy. Not a good idea!

Next day, went to town for some homeopathic sting ointment. This helped with the pain and itching.Took five days for most of the pain and swelling to go down. Still a little raised red ring around both sting sites. It's Labor Day weekend. Some yellow jackets wasps are eating the ripe blue seeds of solomon seal just outside our front door. Lovely autumn weather but I'm mostly staying inside. 

The yellow jacket workers and drones will die after the first frost, leaving the queen to overwinter in her nest in the ground. In the spring she will look for another site, abandoning her old nest. Leave it alone and they'll eventually go away.

Why did we leave that wheelbarrow around so long? Old junk seems to be a part of rural life. Hard to keep up with all the work. Long ago I lived on a farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Like many farmers, the previous owner had a private dump in a ravine away from the house. I was picking up the rusted cans, foolishly not wearing gloves, when I felt a sharp pain on the tip of my right index finger. Felt like my bone was on fire. I thought I'd been bitten by a rattlesnake. Back at the house, I couldn't talk, just pointed to my finger. My husband drove me into the little town of Eskridge, population 27, to the local doctor. Examining my finger, he said, "Well, I only see one mark. Might have gotten you with just one fang. But I think it's more likely a hornet sting."

Next year for sure I'm going to haul that old wheelbarrow off to the town dump.