Changing seasons

Pacific clubtail butterfly?

Pacific clubtail dragonfly(?)

The passage of seasons becomes noticeable in August—always. As the days shorten to fall, I see a different quality, a softness, to the light, and perceive the harbingers of the new season.  I found a dry sycamore leaf in the garage last week, an early indicator of the changes that occur each passing minute to the trees, to the plants, and to me, as time marches inexorably on.

The tomato plants are droopy and the leaves are turning yellow—their sagging foliage reminiscent of the wrinkles on my aging skin.  They are here but for a short summer’s season—and they carry life, all the life needed within their tiny seeds to reproduce another year, to reemerge as seedlings which will again generate the vine-ripened tomatoes that bring me gustatory delight. Seeds, tiny miracles in an outer shell. The whole garden looks worn and raggedy while hiding the remarkable cycle of life-death-birth-renewal taking place.

The tomato plants will probably produce into October, however, and we’ll reap their goodness until the last possible day.  The serrano chile pepper plants haven’t given us the bounty we have come to expect.  I don’t know the answer—the plants didn’t seem to grow well from the start, but they are healthy enough, albeit sparse.    The crop is medium for the size of the plants but the peppers are only slightly warm, not the chiles picantes we expect.  I read that it is a good idea to stress the plants, that by lowering the number of watering days and providing less water the chiles will become hotter (because the heat comes from the natural compounds of the plant’s growth) but it doesn’t seem to be working.  Next year, next year….

While I contemplate the corn we are going to use for seed-stock next spring, and await our final corn crop, I observe two different life stages.  The rustling leaves on the upright stalks of the drying seed cobs reside next to the still-short verdant plants of our later crop.  Ages juxtaposed…it’s a snapshot of life cycles.


California sister in Healdsburg yard

California sister in a Healdsburg yard.

Monday, I wrote a blog post for Healdsburg History’s website; the title of the post is, “Serendipity finds me in Healdsburg.”

Yesterday afternoon, I swirled around in the northwest flowerbed chasing tiny butterflies, camera in hand.  Flickering visions of delight, the butterflies—the smallest ones are about the size of my pinky fingernail—were  a challenge to capture through my lens, as they danced their way from flower to flower and rejoiced in being butterflies.

The garden has provided me with butterfly riches this year—I’ve tentatively identified (with a lot of help) common buckeye, Western tiger swallowtail (although it has avoided the camera lens), painted lady, common white, fiery skipper, Acmon blue, California hairstreak, and common checkered skipper butterflies.  Eight species—eight!  Oh my.

After reading my post, but before knowing about my butterfly adventures, my friend Sheila, sent me a poem, which includes the following excerpt:

“Up they soar, the planet’s butterflies,
pigments from the warm body of the earth,
cinnabar, ochre, phosphor yellow, gold
a swarm of basic elements aloft.”

From a poem

by Inger Christensen
Translated by Susanna Nied

Butterflies—tiny delights of elemental sparkle, skipping through the air, playing tag, and frolicking across the flowers.  The world is theirs but for a day, a week, or a summer.  Sheila found my day in a poem—now THAT’S serendipity!

Introduction: Facundo Chulo

Facundo Chulo August 7, 2009


As the sun’s reflection shines in the dark pupil of his bulging eye, and the mosaic lines that constitute the lovely iris pattern, Facundo Chulo sits on a rock in a small, somewhat stagnant pond filled with water lilies and pickerel weed.  I see myself reflected in that same dark pupil as I snap photo after photo of my magnificent friend who keeps my garden bug-free and calls when he comes home after a jaunt.

The first time I encountered Facundo Chulo outside the pond, hidden in the allés of corn, bean, and squash plants—and appearing very, very fat—I thought he was dying.  He wouldn’t move, not even when I touched him, he would just raise one shoulder, and slide slowly back down as if he were completely uncomfortable and loathe to stir.  I delivered a shallow bowl of water to him, thinking he had been away from his water source too long, but he didn’t give it a glance.  He stayed hidden among the plants for three full days, and each day he appeared to be thinner and thinner.  I was sure we were going to lose this precious friend of three years.  On the fourth day, though, I heard his deep jug-o-rum call rumble across the evening’s twilight.  I dashed to the pond, and there he was, sitting benevolently and peacefully, in the pond, appearing to smile in contentment.  I welcomed him home, talking in dulcet tones to this precious wild beastie who has captured a piece of my heart.  I called out to my husband, Leonel, that Facundo is alive and well and in the pond.  My husband strode quickly to my side, whistling and jerking his chin at Facundo, as if to ask, what happened to you, my old friend.

As Leonel took up the vigil, watching, whistling, and talking to Facundo, I trotted into the house for my precious camera.  I know I must capture each froggy moment, as the awareness of Facundo’s fragility and mortality had assailed us during his sojourn in the garden.  Life in all its precious variety is at once fragile and temporal, strong and lasting.

As I form bonds with the goldfinches and their fledges, the dragonflies and damselflies, the butterflies (up to four species now), the mockers and their fledges, the scrub jays, and the trees, flowers, and vegetables I know life’s microcosm here and now is but a tiny representation of the ripples of life’s expanding universe.