All Things Lost and Found in Mother Nature's Kitchen Sink
I have been an aspiring writer since first grade, and a true wanderer since birth, often getting lost in grocery and department stores, no doubt giving my poor mom lots of early silver threads.
A mom to two beautiful human beings,myself, I am also a dancer, certified trauma and ashtanga based yoga instructor, free lance artist and owner of a face/body painting business, and unabashed dreamer.
I'm an eternal enthusiast of all things out of doors, lover of the leafed, furred, scaled, feathered, earthen, rock and sky peoples. I bend my ear, and heart and soul to listen to their wisdom. We are so infinitely and intimately connected with and to these beings on this beautiful planet, Mother Earth. From her we are born and to her we return and are born again. Feathers and bones, flowers and stones, turning, turning, returning.
In indigenous teachings, plants, among others, are viewed as sovereign beings. The more-than-human world is composed of many people, and humans are only one small part of this democracy of species, in which the personhood of each is acknowledged. ~ Robin Kimmerer
One of the gifts I have received through wandering, is the realization this world is full of beings living interesting lives. I’m not talking about the antics of us hairless monkeys or homo sapiens, but those of the billion other existences that share this Mother world.
From the furred, to the feathered to the scaled and finned, to the exoskeleton baring, the mineral encased and the leaf and bark clad folk and more, this earth is full of beings concurrently having an experience that we call life.
Recently it seems, that science is finally catching up to age old indigenous traditions and wisdom regarding the other living beings who also dance upon this waltzing sphere. Slowly, the academic world is beginning to acknowledge and explore consciousness and sentience in non human lifeforms.
The two unexpected guests now perminate furry family. How cute are they?
Puff the magic Kitten
Obviously of superior intelligence!
Whick our super smart border collie/ausi mix.
I feel like most anyone who has grown up with the furred, scaled or feathered as companions in the home, might offer a big, “no duh” to those in the academia who sometimes seem surprised to discover such facts.
But less deference and defense is, in general, given regarding the people who I call, the plant folk. That’s right, I do consider the leafed, barked and flowered to be a people all in their own right.
If you want to argue with me about it, we could have fisticuffs at dawn if you like, but first, I suggest you do some research and maybe wandering of your own.
Yes, I do fully believe these organisms have a self/collective identity, and can and do experience in a way that is not too different from us. Recent works such as “Finding the Mother Tree” by Forest Ecologist Suzanne Simard delve deep into findings regarding tree communication revealing that these beings are in fact, social, cooperative creatures that lead communal lives.
The Happy Tree. This is a tree friend of mine up Khyve peak. I’ve spent many hours sitting by this beautiful soul who shares their joy with me often.
View from the False Mahogany at the Red Tail Rocks
False Mahogany Tree at the Red Tail Rocks. This tree came to me in a dream actually, and resides in a place that I consider very special to me.
Furthermore, several recent studies and articles that discuss how plants can “see”, identify colors, feel pain and react towards other beings. You can read a few of these here and here.
In the past few years there has been a growing movement called “grounding/earthing” involving placing bare feet on grass and other such activities. And of course I am a proponent of most ideas that promote a person connecting to the plant world and to nature! But sometimes these movements, sadly, are attached to a monetary driven train that require you to buy special tools, infringe on indigenous traditions in a way that is more appropriation than appreciation, or encourage you to participate in expensive workshops in order to “learn” how to connect with nature or the plant world.
There is nothing wrong with furthering your knowledge through reading literature or taking quality courses on responsible foraging, wild-crafting etc. There are. in fact, many good books and resources out there. Some of them are free through local libraries or even on aps such as audible. I am currently reading an excellent book called “The Secret Teaching of Plants” by Stephen Harrod Buhmer. Another book I would recommend is “Braiding Sweet Grass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
But reading about something will only take you so far. And lucky for everyone, it is not hard to find a way to interact with the flora beings.
The best part about nature, is that nature truly doesn’t require any of these extras.
That is because nature itself, is the teacher you are looking for! Don’t believe me? Go out at give nature a go.
Sienna Listening to the Grass Chorus
Me having fun with the grass folk! Yes plant folk have a sense of humor and of fun.
Utah Blue Elderberry. One of the many plant folk who offer good medicine.
Mullein Flower Stalk
Another plant folk that offers a lot of medicine wisdom.
Every year I grow a garden for herbs, flowers and vegetables. Yes, I recommend talking to your garden plant folk.
The only requirement is your presence and attention. Put away your phone, take out your earbuds and deeply listen. Sit with your back against a tree, lie in a summer meadow or find a boulder to perch upon to enjoy a chorus of grasses singing with the wind. You may begin with simple observation. But slowly, or maybe even quickly, I am certain you will begin to see that the flora around you is much more than scenery, or sustenance. That these beautiful beings move and create and speak with an intelligence that is as miraculous and spell binding as your own.
“That we take plant words in through our nose or our skin or our eyes or our tongue instead of our ears does not make their language less subtle, or sophisticated, or less filled with meaning. As the soul of a human being can never be understood from its chemistry or grammar, so cannot plant purpose, intelligence, or soul. Plants are much more than the sum of their parts. And they have been talking to us a long time.” ― Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicine to Life on Earth
I’d love to hear your experiences with the plant folk. Please leave a comment below to share. Also, subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already, and you would like to be notified each time I post.
Suffused in a predawn glow, Utah Lake conjures a particular enchantment. The sun has yet to tip its cup and spill golden milk over the Wasatch peaks, washing the valley clean of shadow. In the flux of periwinkle, past and future mingle with the present – guests at a pop-up tea party.
I traverse a drought-expanded shoreline through this dream dance of time, shadow, and light. Old glass, fossils, stone artifacts, and other objects lie exposed, no longer in reach of the lapping waves. This waterline regression leaves an accounting, like inverse arboreal growth lines, in the sand.
O;d G;ass at Utah Lake
Grinding Stone and Partial matate
My gaze follows these meandering moisture marks stretching the length of the beach. In the distance a fuzzy figure, the future, waves from an arid, empty lakebed. It is an everyday apocalypse – one of many the future keeps in its back pocket.
Possibly, is its sole reply.
Turning back to the present, I attend to news from the night crew: impressions in the wet sand, disclosing the nocturnal activities of local fauna. Their footprints form an ever-evolving abstract, each creature contributing as brush, artist, and art.
Utah Lake itself is a footprint. Along with its sisters the Great Salt Lake and Sevier Lake, these dis-conjoined triplets are the progeny of a mammoth late Pleistocene inland sea: Lake Bonneville. I stand in its deep bed. The past suddenly rises before me, elevating the water’s surface to its epic peak. Nearly 300 meters above, the phantom titan expands, drowning the familiar landscape for hundreds of miles in its liquid reach. Like a child in a sandbox, it molds the earth, shaping the mountainous playpen. At last it overcomes its cradle, launching a centuries-long exodus, inscribing a geological signature extending from Southeastern Idaho to the Pacific Ocean. This dramatic breach marks the beginning of the end for Lake Bonneville. Time boomerangs forward. The climate grows hotter and drier. An epoch of aridification continues to diminish the primordial pluvial giant. Its evaporating body gives birth to the high desert lands of Western North America, until only the three remaining daughters are left in the wake.
All treading does not leave equal impacts. I reflect, following a set of prints that look like baby devil hands: raccoon. These diminutive impressions, punctuated at the tip by sharp little claws, grow faint in the shallows. I create competing wakes as I wade along. Within this rippling mirror, the past and the present grapple in similar confluence.
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Glyphs at Smith Anderson Preserve by Utah Lake
Lake Bonneville’s legacy thrived for millennia in robust ecosystems that evolved around its three remnant lakes. Situated against the border of North America’s desert lands, Utah Lake provided an invaluable freshwater resource for animals of all kinds. Petroglyph sites near the water indicate this lake has held a place of honor among indigenous peoples since prehistoric times.
Impatient, the morning slices through the twilight with a blunt yellow blade, illuminating the remains of several carp littered among paper products, plastic, and soda cans. With their bony mouths frozen into a defensive O, these morbid witnesses seem to form a dot-to-dot matrix of evidence and accusation. An invasive species, Cyprinus Carpio, was introduced to Utah Lake in 1882 after native populations had been fished to near extinction. This opening “environmental” intervention, committed on behalf of newly arrived colonizers, set the lake on an altered course. We, as antecedents and ancestors, are left to puzzle and reckon.
Carp Bones at Utah Lake
“It’s not your fault.” I assure the carp, answering the loud silence of their protestations.
The future, always the first to leave the twilight tea party, offers a nod. For a half second it holds my gaze. I see Utah Lake returning to health and abundance. Humans expand their efforts to reduce environmental loading. They recognize the lake’s intrinsic value, how it transcends, outweighs, and outlives shortsighted economic benefit. They become partners rather than puppet masters in its stewardship.
The future blinks. Utah Lake grows heavy, burdened by further pollution, disrupted by construction, misguided mitigations, and commodification.
Possibly, the future whispers, fleeing the sun’s chasing ribbons, disappearing back into the horizon of tomorrow.
Always retiring, the past recedes with less flamboyance.
A family arrives on the scene, returning me to the present. A handful of children run gleefully towards this natural water park. “Look, a seashell!” shouts one little girl. She offers up the spiraled shell of an ordinary pond snail. Her hair, tossing in a thermal breeze, forms a black halo, backlit by morning light.
I smile. The feather of hope lands softly.
If time is an arrow shooting ever forward, it does not fly straight. I am not a physicist, but something in me says it spirals. On the shaft of time, we travel around to meet again at certain places: crossroads, tipping points. If we have learned wisdom, we can use the experience gained in the past to nudge the future towards a better tomorrow – less distortion, tipping the scale in favor of creation and sustainability. A tomorrow in which Utah Lake is the jewel of Utah Valley, reflecting the sky, the trees, the animals, and us – part and participants with her.
Sunset at Utah Lake
Utah Lake Beauty
White Face Ibis at Utah Lake
Northern Harrier at Utah Lake
Cinamon Teal Feather
Sky Sea at Utah Lake
Asain Clam at Utah Lake
Sunset at Utah Lake
Pink Weed at Utah Lake
Turns Flying over Utah Lake
FloatingFeather in Utah Lake
Asian Clam Shell at Urah Lake
Utah Lake Mirror of Glass
Tree at Utah Lake
Utah Lake Stories
Last fall I answered a call for submissions from Torrey House Press who put together this beautiful chap book and online edition in defense of this irreplaceable life giving resource; Utah Lake.
I feel so honored to have had my non fiction narrative “Twilight Tea Party” selected to be included in the Digital Chapbook edition, under the subheading “Turn”.
Copies of this book and the digital edition are to be distributed to the Utah State Legislature in hopes that reading these selections will inspire the law makers of Utah to protect this lake as a natural resource and to advance policies that will continue to allow this lake to heal from years of human born and capitol driven mismanagement.
You can also purchase copies of Utah Lake Stories at Pioneer Book in downtown Provo.
This winter is feeling long. It’s been unusual in that frigid temperatures began in November, bringing consecutive days where the thermometer repeatedly dipped like a potato chip into a tasty spread. Only not quite as fun or delicious. Especially with wind chill.
December continued in this way until we were gifted a brief warm up just after Christmas that lasted into January. During this traditionally frosty month, we experienced a copious amount of rain in the valley instead of the usual snow. It seems November and January did a do si do on us. Switching places for fun and japes.
But not so fast!
By the end of January the icy cold returned and continues to linger deep into February.
Utah Lake, which in the recent past has had only has one good freeze, if that, had several this past year. In fact, it was so solid that on the day before Christmas eve, Christine, my fellow wanderer and podcast partner in crime, and I were able to venture a mile out onto its solid surface. You can see Christine there in the Panorama above looking back towards the distant shoreline.
Usually, by late February, we see a substantial if gradual warm up, with days climbing into the 40s on a more regular basis. Often, purple Storksbill and tiny four petaled Monkeyflower will be making a happy appearance as spring equinox grows ever near. Not so this year. Just this week, we got another 6 inches of snow in the valley. When wandering, any exposed skin is subject to being slapped scarlet by the extra long whip of this winter’s coat tails this year.
Every time the sun comes out, however, I keep hope that it will stay and prove to me that winter hasn’t planned to take up permanent residence just to spite my desire to dis-bundle more permanently from my winter wardrobe. This is that ever so posh way of dressing that I refer to as “the onioning” with its many, many layers of defense against the bitter weather.
Messy for certain, as I peel of each snow soaked outer layer and sweat soaked inner layer. Oh how I long for the days of tank tops and sunshine on my shoulders.
And Now For the Good Part
I have been thinking on this blog for a while. And like the feature of this title, my brain has flitted and danced around it never quite lighting long enough to write it. But at last I have made myself sit and actually put these words to ground.
Great Basin Fritillary
During the ubiquitous monochrome of winter gray, I miss the beauty of the butterfly; their lovely ephemeral existence in a variety of palates; their crack head flights that never seem to take a direction for more than few seconds; these wind-borne blooms mirroring their earth anchored hosts. Especially, in the midst of this long winter, I take a little comfort in reminding myself of something that I just learned this past year; that just over there, in that quilt patch of oaks, or in that cozy pile of leaves protected by a rocky overhang, one of these fully winged creatures might be tucked into a cozy crevice dreaming, along with me, of spring.
A full grown butterfly, you might be asking?
Yes, a fully grown, winged out butterfly.
Of course, many butterfly species winter over as pupa with a nice sturdy chrysalis to protect them from winter’s brutal hand, or as larvae buried into a warm cradle of soil. These await the song of the sun to dance them into and or through metamorphosis. Other species take wing in late summer, such as Monarchs, Admirals and Painted Ladies, migrating smartly to warmer places. (How I would like to follow them one year)!
But a few, including one of my very favorite species, Nymphalis Antiopa, or the Mourning Cloak, winter over as adults, tucked into tree bark, or nestled in old logs, or under a comforter of leaf debris. Here they will hibernate until the temperatures climb to an appropriate degree. For the Mourning Cloak, earliest of the butterflies to awaken from a winter’s slumber, this can be as low as 50 degrees.
These ingenious creatures have developed a clever adaptation. At the end of summer, they will go into a brief state of estivation. During this period the butterfly will lower it’s body temperature and metabolism, after procuring itself in a protected area, for a short period of time – about a month or so. Afterwards, the Mourning Cloak will re-emerge to make a surprise appearance in late fall, (ta da)! It’s mission is now to eat and eat and eat in preparation for the second, longer dormancy of overwintering. Kind of like what we do in late fall with all of the holidays and festivals. Only we don’t get to sleep it off over the dark and cold months, no fair!
When the temperature begins to drop into and below 40 degrees, the Mourning Cloak will go into a true state of hibernation. Unlike mammals who enter this state, however, they are not awakened by an increase in the hours of daylight, but rather by an increase in temperature. This is why you might occasionally see one in late February or Early March here in Northern Utah. (Yes, please).
When freezing temperatures arrive, these butterfly folk essentially become tiny little insect popsicles with a secret, magic ingredient. Morning cloaks are able to reduce the amount of water in their blood and thicken it with glycerol, sorbitol, and other agents. Together, these act as a form of organic antifreeze which is similar to the antifreeze we pour into car radiators. This lifesaving trick keeps their tissues from forming damaging ice crystals. In this way, Mourning Cloaks can withstand temperatures down to minus eighty degrees.
These winged miracles are a demonstration in resilience. Furthermore, they live relatively long lives for their kind. Along with their fellow overwintering nyphalis kin, the Angel Wing and the Comma butterfly, these insects can reach up to a ripe old age of 10-11 months. Which in human years is a cagillion years old…probably.
It may have have seemed incongruent, when first reading the title of this blog: A Butterfly in Winter; but now you know this is no myth. Butterflies remain with us even in the heart of this sometimes brutal season.
Protest at Utah State Capitol
A Butterfly by Any Other Name…
For me this winter started out in a very strange place. I’ve participated in in two protests, due to an indirect involvement I had in a family court trial that revolves around a broken and corrupt system. You can read about it on international blogger and advocate, Tina Swithen’s blog Onemomsbattle. You can also read about it here in this article from ProPublica.
I personally witnessed, what seemed to me, abusive and manipulative behavior from the G.A.L. involved in this case; watched in shock and frustration as an affidavit I wrote in defense of a contempt charge that had been filed against the mother was deliberately misconstrued and out and out lied about in court by the abusive(several substantiated claims by DCFS) father’s lawyer. I further observed the strange behavior and suggestions of the presiding judge at this same trial. This included a recommendation for starving children out of their rooms! I kid you not. I hope you will take time to read through the blog and article highlighted above in which you find more details about this story.
All of this made me feel like we must have entered another dimension because it seemed so outlandish and obviously wrong. But sadly, these same type of things have happened before in this court; Utah’s 4th district, Provo, not to mention in courts all over the country who haven’t yet adopted Kayden’s Law . I am hopeful that through this protest, our legislature may take a serious look at this issue and adopt this protection for the sake of this family and many others here in Utah.
This winter I have written several government officials in regards to these injustices as well as to express my dismay at the mal-advised bills that are passing into legislation, namely Senate Bill 16 in Utah which bans gender affirming care for transgender youth. I encourage all to read this article released in Scientific American magazine in May of 2022 explaining how trans affirming care has shown across the board to lead to happier, healthier lives for this population.
This is very personal to me as I am a mom of a trans daughter and I deeply am affected by these bills which seem based on, at best, a misplaced concern and at worst fear and hate, and not at all upon actual peer reviewed science, or what is wanted or needed by this population. The world seems much darker to me since I have become aware of these terrible situations, neither of which is limited to the state of Utah. I admit I have felt disheartened often throughout this correspondingly long winter.
Nature has always been my place of solace, my place of stillness and my place of deep instruction. To me the butterfly represents many significant concepts and archetypes as it has to peoples across time place.
Anise Swallow Tail
Western White Butterfly
To see a butterfly is to see a creature of incredible beauty and imagination, a creature that defies form and label in its miraculous metamorphosis, a creature who is fragile but holds a surprising resilience; like the children who are caught in and survive the web of evil and abuse known as “reunification therapy” and the “alienation” industry; Like the transgender population who personify transformation and who show us how life takes form in so many varieties all equal in validity and beauty.
To think of a Butterfly in Winter is to think of these things. It is to remember that the creative power to chose a better way remains with us. It is that unlikely loveliness, that delicate promise of hope sheltering in the human heart – enduring.
Read more about and or to show support for the kids and family who I protested in support of below:
It is November. Some how the summer got away from me. July folded and stitched itself directly to this month of declining light, leaving August through October tumbled in that shaded pocket.
Work keeps me very active late summer through Halloween. Family events, unexpected surprises and some pretty big life challenges, furthermore, made quick work of July’s crafting project.
One of the unexpected turns that came about at the end of September, is the addition of two new fur babies in the form of orphaned feral kittens. Yeah…I thought I was going to foster them, but who am I kidding? Long story short, Luna Rueyn and Mi Suri Bella (Misu) are not going to be leaving any time soon. At 10 weeks they are the sweetest bundles of smokey tortoiseshell mischief that this surrogate kitty mom could ever wish for. Even if I didn’t wish for them in the first place. Oh well…I’m sunk.
5 Weeks Old
7 weeks Old
Mi Suri Bella
10 weeks Old
November isn’t waiting around for anyone either and I am deep in the process of playing catch up and get ready as the holiday season is knocking at or rather knocking down the door, it seems.
Summer found me wandering in many novel (to me) places as I helped my brother and sister in law move from Fort Collins, Colorado all the way to Killin. Alabama. I’m still not sure I have forgiven them for that far away migration, but I certainly made the most of the adventure.
Who knew that the eastern side of Kansas, would be so lush and green? Certainly I didn’t! In my mind Kansas had always been one long stretch of flat dry prairie. I basically viewed it as a tornado runway where ones entire house might be lifted up and deposited in another dimension no matter where it was located withing the boundaries of this state. (Thank you L. Frank Baum and Hollywood). But this is not so! The geology seems to change about midway through, with flat land turning to gently rolling wooded hills which grow greener in intensity on through Missouri all the way to Bamy.
For the first time I experienced the vast and ambling waterscapes of the Great Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. The later of which whose shoreline I got to wander along. These two mammoth rivers flow so very different from the rough and ready tumble of the Provo and American Fork rivers along the Wasatch. My rocky mountain homegrowns seem more like creeks in comparison.
In the backyard of my brother’s new home, I fell into a wonderment of crimson – a curious cardinal, and became utterly enchanted by the ethereal flight of the lightening bug. I have been told there are such insects in Utah at certain times of the year. I might have to make this a quest for the future.
My daily walks around the country roads of Northern Alabama, were orchestrated by an ever present cacophony of cicada serenading from patches of wooded acreage. This is such a singular music, falling somewhere between buzzing of electrical wires and high tenor lawn mower. The cicada population of this year is an annual species and not the anticipated 13 (Magicicada) variety that is expected to emerge in 2024.
In this part of the country, long leaf pine, maple and beeches wear shawls of trumpet vine, morning glory and wisteria. This dense greenery echos the moss covered forest of the pacific northwest where I spent my teenage years. It feels familiar and appears so similar, yet remains distinct in flora and fauna from that found in the Willamette Valley and along the coast of Oregon.
While in the area I took the opportunity to visit the Florence Indian Mound and Museum. This indigenous built mound was first constructed over 1500 years ago. I climbed the steep stairway that allows visitors of the museum to explore the precipice. Always, I am humbled by these places, feeling a deep human connection, despite the troubled history of colonization. I walked the perimeter of the apex to gaze out over a landscape that stretched far to the horizon, unbroken or hemmed in by sharp peaks as it is where I live in the mountain west. The experience was beautiful, ineffable…
I, also, very much wanted to visit the Sacred Way Sanctuary. This invaluable interpretive center, horse refuge and trading post houses more than 100 Indigenous American horses whose lineages go back for centuries and hearken from several different tribal groups. The sanctuary is further home to the remnants of ancient equine species, 0ne that roamed North America during the ice ages long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived and introduced the European breeds to the vast grasslands of this continent.
I am sad to say they were not open for business while I was at brother’s house, so I was unable to actually participate in the tours and informative activities at the facility.
I had to settle, instead, for a drive out to the Sanctuary where I was, thankfully, able to greet a few horses that were grazing happily in a fenced pasture. One of them was particularly interested in investigating this strange woman standing along the fence-line looking on so longingly. As I have always had a huge affinity with the horse, this place is top of my list to visit when I return.
On my way back to Utah, I spent an extra week in Fort Collins, Colorado. During this time I was finally able to take my mom to Elk Mountain, Wyoming to visit the historic township and tour the wonderful Elk Mountain Museum.
My mom spent her most cherished childhood days rambling over the wooded terrain of this Wyoming giant; Her family taking residence in a tiny cabin, while her dad worked a local lumber mill. Throughout my own childhood, I have been happily regaled by tails of her adventures rambling around her beloved woodland home as a free spirited wilderness woman.
Elk Mountain juts dramatically from the surrounding grasslands through which the Medicine Bow River gently idles. Stunning and picturesque, this solitary inselburg and once sacred summit of the plains peoples, has been purchased by a single entity and proclaimed private property. No one is able to wander past the foothills these days without permission. Despite this, my mom and I drove up the hillside as far as we could go. We stopped to pick wildflowers and to collect rocks form this motherland; Touchstones connecting to that spunky, curious, wonderful child that forever shines from within my mother’s cornflower blue eyes.
Back home in Utah, we have enjoyed a spectacular fall. The changing of the leaves from summer greens to russet, amber and ocher set the mountains a flame by late September. This fiery display burned clear through October before cooling slowly to brown and crisping embers. The first snow took us by surprise just after Halloween, dropping temperatures over 20 degrees over night. This I did not love so much.
Through it all, I have continued to find respite, solace and beauty through wandering the wilderness spaces.
Along the expansive shoreline at Utah Lake this morning, storm clouds mist the wind swept water, as well as myself as I meander through the shallows. Suddenly I catch sight of a large dark shape skimming and then rising above the water line…to big for hawk or gull, it’s shape distinct even from the osprey I see in summer. This is a singular silhouette, formidable, with expansive wings tipped with fierce feathers splayed defiantly against a tempest shrouded sun.
The American bald eagle has left it’s northern abode to feast on carp and other fish abundant in Utah’s pluvial lakes. From now through February these beautiful raptors will find refuge and nourishment in these sheltered valleys.
It is a marker on the wheel of the year for me. This returning of the eagles. A visceral reminder of the invisible process; Time ever spiraling forward on the broad shoulders of a great and ghostly bird.
I can never seem to resist going down to the lake in a storm. I know I am not the only one. I see the odd car or two pulled in at the parking lot of Vinyard Beach , aggressive windshield wipers working hard to afford a view.
I encounter less human company out on the beach itself. Secretly (or maybe not so much) I revel in a first hand experience. There is something primal in that energy; wind and water, and electricity. It resonates in, and sometimes chills, the bones.
Usually placid or gently undulating, Utah Lake stirred by the invisible whisk of a forceful wind, roils and rolls. Because it is a shallow lake, waves peak and drop at an astonishing pace spilling the turbulence onto the shore in great ladles of froth.
Thunders kettle drums rumble and tumble through the canyons along the Wasatch Front, punctuated at last by the whip crack of lightening splitting the slate sky with its zig-zag flail.
Gathering clouds line up to dip and drop their heavy skirts in this meteorological dance. They release sheets of rain that wax and wane as they waltz across the lake.
A cavalry of swallows follows in each wake. The whoosh of their scything wings audible even through the storms cacophony. They catch a feast of insects that have been ungraciously toppled from their thermal rise by the sinking of barometric pressures. To read about a little more about the casualties of shifting barometric pressures link to my post “Lady Bug Wash Up” here.
The old adage Swallows high – staying dry does hold some validity.
Then, there is that moment when the brow of the storm, a formidable furrow of bruised cumulonimbus, begins to ease giving way to shafts of sunlight. Like the “eureka” after a troubled brood, it is a startling, sudden, relief: Illumination.
Overhead a variegated circlet, the rainbow, apparates. Sometimes mirrored, reversed and doubled, light, through water’s lens reveals a brief window into its invisible workings. Magic in the purest form.
“Why are there so many, songs about rainbows? And what’s on the other side”.
Being of a certain generation, this little verse, so nostalgically belted out by a little green Muppet almost always comes to mind. Yet, rainbows have ever been alive in the myths and lore of cultures and peoples.
Nature speaks to the senses of the sentient. Her whispers reaching beyond the obvious five to the five thousand secret senses that transcend human vocabulary. Her language is universal and without attachment to clan or tribe or classification of being.
Take the smell of rain. You know it. I know you do!
It is one of the most ubiquitously recognized and admired aromas. And one of the reasons I can’t resist being out of doors in stormy weather.
Though it hard to describe in a simple word, and perhaps has gone by many names, today we call it Petrichor. Petr for rock and ichor, for the sweet essence that runs through the veins of the Gods.
Austrailian scientist first to documented the process of it’s formation, in 1964. A further investigation took place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 2010s. This study gave an ingredient list of sorts, delineating three distinct processes that when combined create the ‘smell of rain’ or Petrichor.
Below is the recipe; home style. Not that anyone can simply whip this up. But for the sake of this blog let’s just pretend. For the fun of it, of course!
For optimal results gather in the following order.
1 Part Ozone: Split ditomic molecules of oxygen and nitrogen to create nitric oxide and ozone. This can be done by hurtling bolts of lightening through gathering storm clouds. You might have to make an offering to Zeus or Thor or beat a drum to call in the Cloud Peoples in order to accomplish this task. Whichever method you choose, the ozone molecules will attach themselves nicely to mist and rain which will eventually fall to the earth in a place near you.
1 Part Geosmin: Allow the ozone filled raindrops strike the soil forcefully. (Honestly, I don’t know how you might dis- allow this, but you could try yelling a firm “NO!”towards the heavens. However, as we want this to occur there is no need to test this out). Alerted by raindrops kindly knocking at their door, colonies of Actinomycetes, a bacteria living in the soil will begin secrete this this fascinating compound.
Just as a side note: Geosmin can be detected by human noses at less than 5 parts per trillion. It packs some pungent! Perfumers make use of its earthy tones in perfumes and in scented oils such as sandalwood, because of it’s powerful and popular appeal.
1 Part Volatile Plant Oils: During hot and dry weather, vegetation such as trees and shrubs, release oils that accumulate in dirt, rocks, concrete and dry wood. So just let the plants do their thing! Similar to geosmin, these aromatics are just waiting for rains percussive invitation to come out and play
Here in the Great Basin, sages, rabbit brush, wild rose, juniper, gamble oak, maples, and false mahogany among other high desert flora create a scent that is basically the aroma of heaven. In case you are wondering. But I digress…
That’s it! Mix the above together and you’ve got a delicious stew of petrichor to enjoy. At least through the olfactory orifices.
The scent of rain has been informing and delighting the children of earth, however, long before the word petrichor was invented or the ability to describe it’s process existed.
Natures lexicon is one that our grandmothers and grandmother’s grandmothers readily acknowledged. These are the innate wisdoms that have become obscured through the years as populations moved away from working in and with the land to put on the cloak of industry and progress. Yet they are not wholly lost to us.
Like the metaphorical pea hidden under a pile of mattresses, we still still feel their presence: When we sit in stillness out under the stars, or wander through a meadow blooming with wildflowers, or catch the first winter snow on our tongues.
Or when we are drawn out of our cozy houses at the sound of thunder to smell the rain and experience the raw power of a storm.
It is part of our inheritance ( just like the princess in ‘The Princess and the Pea’) revealing who we truly are.
I feel like the earth, astonished at fragrance borne in the air, made pregnant with mystery, from a drop of rain.
Feel free to tell me about your stormy experiences or to leave a question or comment , by filling out the comment box under Leave a Reply, below.
Until next time, happy storm chasing and wandering!
“Is a pelican considered a carnivore”? My fellow pod-caster/wandering companion, Christine, posed this question to me just a few weeks ago.
Christine has a brilliant mind resplendent with curiosity. I really admire this about her.
She works at a local middle school as a student advocate. Students and co-workers alike, have come to realize that if you want an answer to almost anything you can just ask Christine.
How does she know so much, because she asks ALL the questions no matter how out there or mundane they seem.
Is a pelican a carnivore?
Humorously enough, when the I put that question to my own mind, I immediately pictured a gargantuan pelican with a gaping maw full of dagger like teeth terrorizing the shorelines our local lakes.
This, of course, is an irrational image. Pelican’s don’t eat humans, or things that aren’t found swimming in the water, right?
This seemingly straight forward question, as any good question does, lead to me to ponder further about this remarkable bird: the pelican; In particular the American White Pelican which has so recently made it’s vernal return to Utah Lake.
So we will start back with my image of the terrifying “carnivorous pelican”, hungry for beach bound human flesh. Was there once a pelican ancestor like this?
It turns out, that during the late Triassic to the early Cretaceous period, a pterosaur, C. Hanseni, glided over the arid landscape of Utah, sporting a probable flange or wattle pouch, very similar to a pelican.
And yes, it did claim a mouth full of teeth. 112 plus four jutting fangs to be exact! And it’s wingspan was quite impressive…for it’s era.
Here is where my people eating version starts to break down.
C. Hanseni ‘s wingspan was about 5 feet – that is about 4 feet shy of the American White Pelican of today. And it probably existed on a diet of insects and small reptiles, not frightened humans or even mammals or their prototypes.
The American White Pelican by contrast can have a wing span of over 9 feet and weighs in at anywhere from 15 – 30 lbs. That makes it the second largest bird in North America next to the California condor! But it still it is not nor ever has been a people eater.
Despite this slight disappointment to my imagination, pelicans do claim an an ancient avian heritage having evolved some 30 million years ago into the modern birds they are today.
I have met several people in Utah Valley, where I live, who were surprised to learn that “briefs, “pods”, “pouches”, “scoops” and or “squadrons” of pelican, as they can be collectively referred to, inhabit Utah Lake for a season every year. And to be honest, when I first started visiting the lake regularly I,too, was surprised by this.
Having lived by the Oregon coast as a teen and young adult, I primarily associated pelicans with the ocean.
It turns out that, of the two species of pelican that live in North America, only the Brown Pelican is a salty dog. The American White Pelican is considered a fresh water bird, though, here in Utah, it gives a special sort of nod to its briny cousin.
Gunnison Island, a remote piece of real estate off the shores of The Great Salt Lake is home to the third largest White American Pelican nesting colony in North America. 10-20 percent of the total population of American White Pelicans use this isolated island as a rookery.
The Great Salt Lake, however, is devoid of the pelican’s main food source: fish. Hence the birds rise on the thermals each morning flying miles every day to catch dinner. Many of them go to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, but a few take the nearly 100 mile southbound trip to hunt in Utah Lake.
American White Pelicans have a very unique and effective way of feeding. They are fish herders!
That’s right, these clever birds, will flock together in the water, using coordinated efforts to force schools of fish into the shallows. Once there, the whole group, just dives right in to collect their tasty snacks.
Below is a wonderful audio description I am sharing from the wonderful Utah Public Radio Production: Wild About Utah.
What about those funny looking pouches, you might be asking? Do they store dinner whole, fish bowl style, while jetting it back to hungry chicks?
The answer is no. Although the pelican pouch can hold up to 3 gallons of water, once these birds engulf or “net” their prey, they drain the water out by tipping their heads before swallowing their captives whole.
Chicks are fed by the ever the so appetizing regurgitation method. Yummy! (I am being a bit anthropomorphic and human-centrist here). This method of feeding young, adopted by many avian species, is both practical and highly efficient when considering the distances these parent birds have to travel between nesting sites and hunting grounds.
The American White Pelican is impressive in many ways. It is spectacular to observe these pro flyers cruising above the water without flapping a a wing. Resembling some sort of power glider, they can travel this way for quite a distance until at last the wings rotate vertically and webbed feet extend just in time to execute a perfect water landing.
This cagey bird also secrets a showy surprise, visible only when wings are extended. A neat row of black flight feathers doubles as a dapper trim. Against the American White Penguins nearly ubiquitous snowy plumage, it recalls to my mind the spectator wing tip oxfords that were so popular in the swing era.
I wonder if the American White Pelican might have inspired the design? If you know the answer to this question, be sure to let me know through leaving a comment.
During the early spring, until about May, one might notice a peculiar hump or “horn” as it is often referred to, growing on top of a pelican’s beak. This unique appendage apparently makes an appearance only during the mating season. Occurring on both male and female birds, it simply falls off after young are produced.
Somewhere out on a sandy beach or rocky shoreline, there is a curiosity to be discovered; A pelican horn, kind of like a unicorn horn, only different! Here is a fun and informative blog I enjoyed about this funky feature.
I could go on and on about how interesting these bird peoples are, but that would make this blog quite a tome. And I will leave room for you, dear reader, to investigate further.
Before I end, however, I would like to rewind a bit and revisit Gunnison Island. Although American White Pelican numbers have generally been increasing in the U.S., they are certainly becoming a bird of concern here in Utah. During my research I learned that In 2020 the number of chicks produced on Gunnison island had decreased drastically from what used to be be between 4000 – 5000 chicks per season down to only 500.
Why is this happening?
There is no question that drought and climate change are effecting this iconic lake. Yet, the biggest hand in this environmental emergency, it turns out is the largely unbridled interests of big industry and agriculture. Aided and abetted by short sighted politicians, precious fresh water tributaries are continually being diverted away from the lake towards the unchecked demands of a growing urban population.
To read an excellent article by the Audubon Society about the crisis at the Great Salt Lake and the precarious fate of the American White Pelican be sure to click on the links at the end of this blog.
When I first began this post, I started with the exercise of writing a poem about the American White Pelican. I do not profess to be a great poet, but I love the practice of this art form. My mind (often a bit on the goofy side) could not resist the idea of writing a poem in canticle form – a “Peli-Canticle” if you will.
I hesitated, at first, to share this activity. Yet, despite the slightly silly title, I think this attempt does capture, at least a little, the current struggle that the White Pelican is facing here in Utah.
I hope you will enjoy it, and that it might give you pause to think and maybe ask more questions of your own.
Peli-canticle for the American White Pelican in Utah
The coyote knows a thing or two – like Moses
Coyote knows to sally forth at the parting of the sea
In this case the Great Salt Lake has birthed a briny passage
Gunnison Island, no more but aye, land! Ironic coyote laughs – poor
Pelican, it’s pallid rookery, brief colony of (once) isolated egg and young
The idyll of this Eden (as with all Edens) fate will not endure
In the sweating city, eternal fountains flow towards thirsty lawns who drink up and yawn,
It is a slow asteroid, for the modern pterasaur, in dryness raining down
Oh yeah! I almost forgot to answer the question posed at the beginning of this blog.
Of course pelicans are considered carnivores, mostly of the pescatarian kind – meaning fish eater. However, American White Pelicans have *also been known to eat a craw fish, turtle, an occasional duck or pigeon and yes, even small mammals! Who knew? I didn’t…
Questioning is the minds way of wandering. It is the blooming of awareness that brings us closer to understanding this beautiful world and our relationship with and to it.
Click HERE to read the Audubon article about the Great Salt Lake.
Click HERE to read further about the 2020 decline at the Pelican rookery on Gunnison Island
I have struggled this month, to find words to fit on a page. Possibly like many others, I feel a sort of shock into silence at the state of things that are occurring in our world right now.
It is hard not to feel the collective stress, deep sadness and near helpless empathy for the suffering of nations.
And while I realize that most days, somewhere in the world, there is warring between humans, with the current clash between Russia and Ukraine, I feel this drag towards a potential global conflict. It is not prophesy, just an undercurrent of things that might be. And I continually pray will not.
I have many thoughts that swirl.
I wonder about the human condition; If we as a species, on this beautiful living planet, have ever really evolved beyond base passions: greed, lust for power, desire to dominate.
I know some might go on about complexities.
And I get it. Such situations are knotted up with economies, old alliances, and balances of power that have been twisting and turning for years before they reach a flashpoint that breeds such volatility.
Ultimately, though, the behavior of the major players remains the same as that of the bullies in the school yard. Only now instead of whispered threats and sideways punches, weapons of mass destruction are hurled about as carelessly as spit wads.
Tragically, for the people who are caught in the crossfire, the cause will never be equal to the consequence. No amount of apologies, money, or retributions can restore the lives that are lost.
An Inventory, An Invocation
Even under all this upheaval, I continue to find solace, beauty and stillness in wandering. In escaping from the constructed world, into a more authentic space; Nature, who’s endless creation and abundance leaves me equally as speechless, but with wonder and beauty rather than terror, and depression.
Walking along Utah lake, I revel in a cacophony of birdsong: The red wing blackbird, spotted towhee, the white capped sparrow. Sweet is the sing song of their gossip as they perch and peak out at me from a sway of pussy willows.
Beneath the cottonwood, pairs of ring necked doves court and coo, dipping like gentlemen at a ball.
A single pelican drifts in the shallows; a cumulus cloud puffed and aloof, shadowing a din of ducks and squabbling gulls.
Over head, three sand cranes wing their way towards the southern shore. It is a graceful ballet of long necks and legs, wing-borne, I think.
So much life returning.
And yes, even the midgefly, followed sooner than later by their vampiric cousins (mosquito) – love them or not, are slowly unpacking their campers, ready to make the beaches home and nursery once again.
In the hills, red tailed hawk collide, tumbling towards earth until just at the last minute they release. Dangerous and dizzying, and completely exhilarating, they play the mating game. Powerful calls echo through the greening canyons where nests hold precious new life.
Purple corksbill, yellow monkeyflower, butterwort, and whitlow grass blooms, mirror the many petaled sun ascending towards its summer throne. Soon they will be joined by camus, sweet pea, doe lily, and the luminous little blues that flower beneath the budding gamble oak and maple.
Squirrels scramble up the still bare branches and scold passers by. “Don’t get too close to my babies”! These fierce little bushy tails chirp.
Heavy hoof prints, of pregnant deer, big horned sheep and mountain goat dot the hillsides, still muddy with melted snow. Soon a trail of smaller prints will follow.
White Sulfer Butterfly
California Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Blue Skipper Butterfly
Walking along these trails I welcome the white sulfer, california tortoishell and blue skipper butterfly, to be joined by many other butterfly folk, delighting the eye of ALL children – young and old. It is hard to be unhappy in such company.
Life is waking from its winters slumber…the hum of the earth is rising. It is a song older than time that dances this world into being each spring.
Such symphony, remains unbroken, undeterred and unbothered by the dissonance of mankind.
It is this tenacity, this consistency that soothes me…to know that humans aren’t in charge, after all, is comforting.
As of today, I don’t put much faith and or trust in humans as a species. We are too driven, it seems, by primal fears…though I keep hoping that one day, the human mind will enlighten enough to bring about a balance within the heart; Such that the destruction of each-other or that of another species or of an ecosystem will no longer seem needful and or acceptable as a means to survival.
This is my invocation, an invitation towards finding a way to make this possible.
In the meantime, individually, we can show support for each other and for the other beings that inhabit this planet. One way we cant do that is by volunteering with or sending donations to reputable organizations, that are personally meaningful. Below is a small list of the organizations that I support. 🙂 Feel free to share ways and places you support your communities by commenting on this blog post.
Conserve Utah Valley is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization committed to protecting and sustaining the treasured canyons, foothills, open spaces, and waters of Utah Valley. Conserve Utah Valley seeks to work collaboratively with all levels of government, the business community, and individuals to preserve spaces that add so much to our quality of life.
Hawk Watch International The mission of HawkWatch International is to conserve our environment through education, long-term monitoring, and scientific research on raptors as indicators of ecosystem health.
Mama Dragons Mama Dragons is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that supports, educates, and empowers mothers of LGBTQ children. Since 2013, it has grown from just a handful of moms to an organization that now supports over 7,000 mothers. Mama Dragons’ focus is on providing safe online spaces and educational programs where mothers can learn and connect with other Mama Dragons traveling similar paths as they learn accepting and affirming parenting practices that can help prevent LGBTQ youth suicide, depression, and homelessness.
If you are going to kick a hornet’s nest, it is best to do so in winter. In this case, I am not talking about a metaphorical hornet’s nest, which is unaffected by seasonal change.
I am talking about the real deal, an actual home of hornets, paper wasps, or yellow jackets the most assertive and well armed in the family known as hymenoptera vespidae, or wasp.
Yes, if you do wish to physically accost an actual hornet’s nest, winter is best. This is because winter is when these structures are most likely to be emptied of their prickly inhabitants.
Walking along the paved Provo River Park Trail heading east of Johnson’s Hole, it is easy to spy several good sized nest. No longer secreted beneath the leafy ruffles of summer’s skirts, these interesting structures hang from winter barren branches, like mummy wrapped footballs. The hexagonal hatcheries are enfolded in a variegated, D.I.Y. paper as protection from the elements, other winged insects and birds who like to prey upon the defenseless young.
It is this miraculous material that I am after.
Wasps, hornets, yellow jackets…what can I say? Next to tiny Nosferatu -mosquito (see my entry blog entry entitled Midgefly Mitigation) I am not particularly fond of these insects.
Though I haven’t been stung often, the few times I have played the dart board to this insects sharp barb, is more than enough for me. It really hurts! Further more, a wasp sting can lead to residual swelling, soreness, itchiness and just plain misery that can last for days.
The fact is that more than 90% of perceived “bee” stings are actually from, yours truly, the bee’s less bumbling and cuddly cousin, the wasp. This does not make them a popular guest at the pic-nick table, or in the garden or as a hiking companion.
So why write about wasps? The fact is that they really don’t deserve the bad rap they are given. Wasps play an important role in a healthy ecological system. You can check out their many benefits here.
The wasps or hornet that most people associate with painful probes, are social wasps and really only make up about 1,000 species out of the 30,000 varieties. The rest are referred to as solitary wasps and are much less likely to sting, unless seriously provoked.
In this blog, however, I want to relate some of of my own wasp encounters; What I have observed and learned about their remarkable behaviors and what I have found actually works very well if you end up playing the pincushion. OUCH!!!
One of the strangest insect behaviors I have run into, is that of the pollen wasp.
Growing along the sandy ravines from June through August, is a beautiful flower known as Wasatch beards tongue penstemon. A few years ago, I happened to stop to admire a some of these blooms, when I noticed what I thought was a familiar yellow and black bum protruding from one of the bell shaped blossoms like nature’s caution tape.
I froze, not wanting to disturb, dislodge or disgruntle this temporary tenant. However, after a few minutes of observing with seeming no effort on the part of the wasp to disengage from this floral garage, I began to get more curious. I carefully pushed the stem of the penstemon to see if the wasp would be encouraged to move on. To my surprise, nothing at all happened!
Hmmmm…curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.
Feeling a little more daring I decided to use a twig to gently prod this flower enamored little creature to see if that might elicit some response… any response. To my surprise, it did not!
Did these penstemon contain a sort of yellow jacket nepenthe or soma? I remember thinking. And how could I garner some in case of future unhappy run ins with less stupefied stingers?
Turns out, however, after a decent amount of digging around, that these florally amorous wasps are not yellow jackets at all, but an entirely different species known as the pollen wasps and of course what they are doing behind their petaled curtain is gathering pollen.
Though as to why they are so completely entranced and entrenched in their activity as to be seemingly oblivious to a human literally hoisting them up their petard, remains to be understood.
So if you are a wasp expert and understand the process of these solitary yellow jacket doppelgangers, I would love to hear more!
A Farewell to Wasps
As I mentioned at the beginning, the reason you should wait until winter to approach a hornets nest for any type of reason is that it is likely to be abandoned.
Where do all the wasps go, you might ask?
Well, the answer is to die.
All except for the new queens. These fortunate few will leave the nest to shelter in trees or other such dark cozy crevices to wait out the winter. Come spring they emerge like little lady Lazeruses to build a new nest, don their tiny little (metaphorical) crowns and begin their reign as the new queen bee of the wasp colony.
For every other wasp, it is then end of the line. I am going to make a bold (ish) observation here. I think, that often, the end of the line happens to be in a creek-bed. I don’t have any reference for this, just something I have noticed.
Year after year, in late fall, I have encountered wasps congregating lethargically on the rocks and damp soil of a creek bed ravine. No longer able to fly (much anyway) they seem to be just sort of wandering aimlessly until they succumb to stillness amongst fallen kin.
I am always caught of guard at the amount of empathy I feel for these once fierce and feared little warriors. They too are humbled by the ever sweeping broom of time.
On wasp Stings
Despite what you might think, wasps do not actually fly around looking for tender human skin to prick.
Most of the time a person is stung because they have wandered into nest territory or the wasps feels threatened in some way, such as being swatted at. Better to back away slowly or try to move on with a calm demeanor.
As I mentioned above, a wasp sting is really quite painful! Luckily I’ve only been stung by your average yellow jacket or maybe bald face wasp (they look and act very similar) and not the wasp whose sting is referred to as the “cow killer.”
This wasp doesn’t really look like a wasp at all, but instead it resembles a large ant with a luxurious taste in outer wear. For this reason it is known as the velvet ant. I have encountered quite a few in my wanderings.
With gorgeous crimson, azure or silvery coats, these wingless wasps lure unsuspecting humans into thinking they are fuzzy fancy friends. Okay, they don’t actually try to get you to pet them, But, either way do not be fooled or tempted! On the Schmidt’s sting pain index which ranks and describes insects based on one scientists evaluation of stinging insects, it is ranked 3 out of 4.
The good news is that the venom is not high on the toxicity scale and no known deaths have ensued from having been stung by the “cow killer”.
You can watch Coyote Peterson self inflict with a velvet ant on his you tube channel, Brave Wilderness here. Is he crazy? Just a little!!
So what do I do after I’ve been stung by a wasp or hornet? I couldn’t end this blog without a shout out to my favorite and quite effective remedy And that is a poultice made from Common Mullein.
Mullein, (Verbascum thaspus L) grows quite abundant in North America and can be found on sandy hill sides, along fence posts and in ravines, open meadows or abandoned fields. The first year plants form large rosettes of fuzzy oval shaped leaves that measure up to a foot long. The second year plants shoot a stalk straight up into the air that can be as high as 8 feet tall. Though, the ones around here are usally 3 – 4 feet in height. Along this stalk will bloom a beautiful array of creamy yellow flowers. While this plant has amazing healing properties, for many ailments, it is excellent for soothing and healing wasp and other insects stings.
Here’s what to do: Select a good sized clean leaf and mash or bruise with a rock or your hands then apply directly to sting site. You can use a bandage or cloth wrapped around to hold it in place. I like to reapply every few hours. Truly though, this herbal remedy works quickly to help lessen the painful sting and or itching. It’s miraculous!
Beauty and the “Beast”
Wasp Made Paper
Painted Wasp Papers
So why was I collecting a paper wasps nest this past month? For an art project! It turns out these tiny beasties, construct a beautiful medium for painting on, or for other nature inspired projects. My project is a gift that I gave to my mother for her 80th birthday this past week. On sections of wasp paper I painted images from a letter her mother had written about her childhood. Here is the finished project.
I am hoping that by reading this blog, and clicking on the links, I have dispelled some of the negativity that is in the general zeitgeist towards wasps. In reality, these insects are incredibly interesting and creative creatures. Some indigenous cultures even honor the wasps in their mythologies as creator beings and for good reason! Certainly wasp should garner our respect if not our love.
It is astonishing how many surprises a person can come across when wandering. From unique structures, to bizarre animal behaviors to interesting items left out in the wilderness. But every now and then you stumble across something so extraordinary, so outside of any sort of expectation that you know it is truly a once in a life time experience.
So much is the strange timing of it, that you realize that if you hadn’t stepped into this window somehow, you would have missed it all together. For that window is short and it’s opening narrow. And it makes you wonder….
Synchronicity is a concept first brought into the modern zeitgeist by one of the founding fathers of psychodynamic therapy, Carl Gustav Jung. (c. 1875 – 1961)He later developed this idea with in collaboration with physicist and Nobel laureate Wolfgang Pauli, culminating in a work entitled the Pauli–Jung conjecture.
Jung and Pauli defined synchronicity in several different ways, but the one that I find most resonant is this one which defines synchronicity as; “an acausal connecting principle”, “acausal parallelism“, and as the “meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved”.(Jung, Carl G.  2005. “Synchronicity“. Pp. 91–98 in Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal, edited by R. Main. London: Taylor & Francis.)
The Giant Purple Balloon
On a gloomy overcast afternoon in early March of last year, my youngest daughter, Sienna, and I were both feeling a little sludgy, stuck in the dull drums between late winter and spring in a state that I refer to as being in the “ humpty dumps.” To pick up our spirits, we decided to climb up a mountain, which is almost always my go to remedy, of course!
It was getting on towards evening so we decided to hike up a familiar pathway leading north above a natural sink, known as Johnson’s Hole. There we secured ourselves on a rock that overlooks the canyon gates.
To the west, the valley spills out; a once high desert wilderness, now become a river of industry fanning out into a wide delta of human habitation until it meets the shores of Utah Lake, where nature once again commands the scene.
Beyond the western shore, the sun, a giant salmon eye, had begun it’s downward dive, setting the lake on fire in it’s ember glow.
Tranquil for a moment, we sat in silence, as we often do when in this beautiful place. Suddenly, however, Sienna jumped up and pointed towards the crest of the hole.
“What is that”? she cried.
As the evening was darkening it took me a minute to adjust and focus my eyes. Finally I registered a large round object rising out of the depression like some specter summoned by the sweeping skirts of night.
Floating about 6 feet above ground a huge purple orb glided towards our general direction. The nature of it was so surreal that for a moment I couldn’t think of the word for ‘ floating ball thing .’
My daughter jumped up and started running down the slope towards the object, which was traveling, now at some good speed.
“It’s a balloon!” I finally managed, fully realizing that it was already evident to my daughter who was closing in on it before it slipped over the sharp eastward cliff edge.
The balloon was fast, but Sienna was faster! And quick as she is, she snapped up the ribbon to which it was attached just before our UFO reached the point of no return.
This was no ordinary latex birthday blow up…no average Joe Blow escaped from the confines of some pop up wedding arch. Nope. This was giant purple people eating meter wide helium powered machine!
We both laughed until our sides felt to bursting with disbelief.
Our balloon friend came home with us that day. It took up residence in our living room, until it decided to play a roll it was a natural for, as a unique birthday party gift, complete with added one eye.
To this day it remains a big question mark, however. The origin story of this strange entity.
The where, why and how did it find itself floating freely in a canyon miles from it’s natural habitat; car lot or real estate display. Late winter is a bit cold and early for a festival fugitive.
How it did not get tangled or punctured in the more than capable arms of the gamble oak thickets that are abundant in this landscape, we will never know.
Yet, somehow on March, 4, 2021, precisely around 6:15 p.m. Sienna and I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, to quite literally catch it.
Needless to say, the ” humpty dumps ” dissipated that day. And soon enough, spring arrived, bringing with it a renewed sense of energy for all living creatures, lifting the whole of us upwards and outwards from the dragging pall of winter’s coat tail.
As I write this, we have just barely stepped out onto the icy bank of the cold and dark season.
It is good to think back and remember that day in March of last year.
To remember that life can surprise us.
To know that sometimes things happen without having any rational reason to them. And yet, being without reason, it inversely increases in significance. And in so doing can, suddenly, hold all the meaning in the world. Who knew it could come in the form of a giant purple balloon?
As always, feel free to leave a comment or relevant question and join in on this conversation below. Also, don’t forget to subscribe, to be notified each time a blog or podcast is posted to this site. Thank you so much for stopping by and for reading.
*( This blog post is lovingly dedicated to my dad, who asked me last august, when I was going to write about the purple balloon. Well, now I have, and so I did. I hope you enjoy it, dad. Likewise I hope everyone else who might read this blog will too ).
There is that time when summer finally shuts its gilded door. And the shadow of it, falling heavily against the memory of warmth and light makes an impact – louder, in the silence of it, than it’s final closing thud.
That time when clinging tender greens are found upon a morning, studded with a coat of diamonds – icy daggers. Death, I think, should always have such poetic beauty.
That time when the green song of the earth decrescendos towards stillness.
This is the time when you go down to the shoreline at Utah lake, and it is remarkably silent, despite the regular staccato squabbling of gulls and the familiar lullaby of the lapping water. The spaces between the melody of these is suddenly pronounced.
You think, at first, it is strange and wonder what notes are missing from the chorus. And then it dawns. Gone is the drone of insect wings, the high incessant soprano whine of the tiny Nosferatu.
You know what I am talking about.
The one fanged vampire: Mosquito. Suddenly, his bloodthirsty longing has ceased.
And you for a moment are glad! Soooooo glad.
No more constant swatting, and or stinking of insect spray and still coming home with itchy red mounds that keep you up all night.
But then you remember the delight of the butterfly – madly dancing from bloom to bloom. And the inexplicable happiness of a ladybug sporting a shiny suit of red, pink, yellow, orange.
You find yourself, wishing for the coaxing bumble bee in the thistle, legs beaded with bright pollen – such a sweet promise that will be absent until a far away spring.
Blue Sulpher Butterfly
Lady Bug Landing
Orange Belted Bumble Bee
And the mosquito, and the midge fly? Too often the two are mistaken.
These, also, belong to the golden world that begins at that vernal awakening where LIFE! is not whispered but shouted. The celebration parties of spring and summer include all such guests, whether we enjoy them or not.
The midge fly…more than a few have I consumed by accident or insect suicide – I do not know.
How they flew up my nose or down my throat? But so they did and I choked them down, a thankless and equally un-thanked for nutrition.
The midge fly at Utah Lake, bite-less despite their resemblance to the tinier, meaner, mosquito, rise in reproductive columns like smoke signals winding up and up as the summer sun sinks low on the horizon. “We are here, and here and here”!
They are ubiquitous at the lake in these months.
People shout, “Mosquito”! and run. All the while baring and flapping dangerous arms at the clouds that seem To hover constantly overhead. It is a territorial war zone of sorts, after-all.
The midge fly continues to hover despite this mistaken exchange of aggression. A few may fall, and many be accidentally or incidentally consumed. Yet undeterred they persist all through the warm days and nights; The stone ever rolling away from the darkness of their watery incubation chamber, and like an army of tiny messiah they continue to rise, winged and ready to ascend.
Mitigation…that’s what they call it when they spray insecticide.
We will control the troublesome populations by population man–ipulation. Disrupt the egg production by spraying larvae, or sterilizing the adult.
Wanted dead, not at all alive for the horrible crime of annoyance.
Destroy the cradle and the grave appears more readily.
Problem solved. Population of midge fly down, population of smiling happy humans at the lakeside up. It’s what we want. Isn’t it?
It’s what we celebrate for just an instant in October or say November, when we at last realize that we can walk without any excessive exorcising of arms?
This is the natural order though, the cold and darkness – a part of natures tool kit.