Okay that’s a lie. Anyone who knows me has heard me grumble more that once about a forecast for the frozen white stuff.
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Every September I’m working those mindfulness skills double time; to be present; to stay tucked comfortably inside the warm hearth of autumn as it lights up the Wasatch range in all its fiery glory. This is because I know, despite a most stalwart determination, that at the first hint of frost I will be lured by those earliest of icy daggers down the dark hallway of pre-season dread.
For those of you who know, you know what I’m talking about!
Frosted Turkey Tail Mushroom
Frosted Oak Leaf
Hoar Frost at Utah Lake
Just say sNOOOOOOOw, and I am ready to pack my bag and head south. At least that’s what my imaginary self is doing.
As for the real me, I’m toughing it out in the foothills. Because even during these winter weather days I still find myself out there.
I often think back to my early childhood in Wyoming. Back to a time when winter did excite me. When I was very young, snowy days meant sledding, attempting to build snow men, making snow angels, and spending many magical hours immersed in a blanket of fallen stars.
Then, in my sixth year, my family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. And I missed the snow! I even prayed for snow that first winter and to my own and everyone else’s surprise, this prayer was answered: just for a single day. But it was enough accumulation to build a snowman taller than myself and to make one seven year old girl very happy.
So what happened?
We moved to north central Montana the year I turned twelve. Maybe if my family had stayed in Wyoming, this move wouldn’t have seemed such a harsh transition. But after six years of living in near constant sun, where winter temperature might dip to a tepid 60 degrees in mid January, my family and I were ill prepared for extended August to April winters with near constant winds that often drove temperatures to well below freezing.
Needless to say, the two years I endured in that climate forever affected my love of winter and of snow.
Fast forward a handful of decades. Having moved once again from a lovely temperate climate along the west coast of Oregon to a seasonally cold Utah, I still am working on resurrecting that inner child who once looked forward to and enjoyed winter and snow.
Like I mentioned above, I usually make my way out to the hills or to the shores of Utah Lake, even in the heart of darkness (winter).
Frozen Utah Lake
Utah Lake WInter Scape
Utah Lake in December
I may yearn for the golden, tank top days of spring and summer as I apply layer after layer of outer apparel. However, once I get myself out the door I am more often than not still surprised by wonder. I even find myself rekindling that sense of play that I worry might become diminished by the rigidity of age and an attitude that has trouble finding altitude during these cold months. Cold air goes down, not up after-all, so am I not just fighting a natural trend here?
Still, at the end of February, as we are standing on that seasonal threshold with one foot hasting into spring, I can look back on this past winter along the Wasatch frontand upon the previous ones and say, snow and ice can be pretty fun! And also just plain pretty…even breathtakingly so.
Juni and the Giant (Snowman)
Beauty in WInter
Icicle Chandalier over Creek
Me Skating at Utah Lake
Snow seal by Juni and Sienna
Stormy Sunrise Water Tower
“Snoctopus” by Juni and Sienna
Sienna Sledding in the Foothills
Looking back to the Lake in Winter
And I think I might even miss it the tiniest bit this year. Though I am not sure I will remember this once I am enveloped in the joyous robe of riotous spring. But then again, just maybe I will..
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.
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
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 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.