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..
One of my earliest recollections regarding a bird whose crossed star rises every fall here in north America, the turkey, occurs in Kindergarten.
One day, in late fall, My classmates and I were put to the task of coloring in a line drawing of a turkey, using crayons. I remember feeling awed by this handsome bird with a spectacularly fanned tail. Although, wild turkey do inhabit the windy plains of Wyoming, I hadn’t seen one in real life. (Hunting the elusive jackalope was my primary preoccupation when out of doors). Despite a lack of formal familiarity, however, I distinctly remember having a very clear idea of how I wanted to color this picture.
I began with blacks and browns over which I gradually built up layers of color; adding reds, blues and yellows. I wanted to create a sheen that shimmered like a magical rainbow over the dark base as seemed befitting of this bird. Unfortunately, the school grade print paper canvas was not up to the task. As I pressed harder and harder onto the over saturated surface, crayon flakes, like so many unruly autumn leaves scattered helter-skelter. This chaos of pigment left smudges of multicolored stains around the margins blurring the image. The harder I worked, the worse things got. I had aimed for a particular perfection, but what I ended up with was a perfect mess: Hands, paper, desk. The stern look on my teachers face, gave a final confirmation that my efforts had gone awry.
I had wanted to display, through my artwork, a nobility and beauty that I innately felt was true about this bird, but what actually appeared on the paper was an amorphous scribble obscured by cloudy smudges.
I find in this long ago memory a kind of metaphor for how this remarkable feathered folk has been perceived or rather misperceived by the general American public for the past three quarters of a century or so.
Today, I am about to right that long ago mishap, however and paint for you a better picture.
I’m flipping the bird.
Don’t get your knickers in a twist, just hold on tight to those tail feathers.
It’s time to turn ignorant stereotypes topsy-turvy, and bring clarity to the somewhat murky reputation surrounding this truly indigenous American bird that we call turkey.
Which comes to mind when you think about the American Turkey? Do you picture a lean, bold colored bird with with a keen, alert look in its eye?
Or do you picture something more like the buxom snowy tom aimlessly meandering the white house lawn in late November, ready to be pardoned for the sole crime of being a favorite “guest” at the holiday table?
Do the words, bravery, or fidelity, agility and cunning come to mind?
To be certain, in the current zeitgeist to be called a turkey or to label something a turkey carries a distinctly negative connotation; meaning something along the line of second rate, stupid or cowardly.
But let’s back it up a bit and take a longer view.
The American Turkey (meleagris gallopavo) bears such an ironic misnomer, as it does not and never has existed in the country it is rumored to have been mistakenly named for. The heaviest member of the galliformes, this bird has been revered for centuries by the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. To this day, the turkey is honored among different tribes as a clan name.
Domestication is nothing new to this bird. Mesoamerican people began husbandry of this ground nesting avian around 300 b.c.e. The huexolotl, as the wild turkey was called among the Nahuatl speaking people became the totolin; a domesticated version that was kept not just for meat, but also for symbolic value and for the use of their beautiful feathers.
Even after the Europeans arrived, the turkey did not suffer in reputation for centuries. Rather it was acknowledged as a valuable resource and a beautiful and unique American bird.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the reputation of the turkey took at tail spin.
The dawn of commercial farming instigated processes that would leave negative impacts on both the consumed and the consumer for generations to come.
Let me insert another memory here:
During my early teen years, I lived in a rural area of Montana. Just outside of the city of Great Falls. A few of my neighbors raised turkeys for meat along with other animals on small five acre farms. I quickly discovered that this was not the same majestic bird I failed to represent with waxy pigments in my grade school days. Although domesticated turkey can and do present with the rich array of feathers that adorn their free range counterparts, the Broad Breasted White (meat) turkey, is ubiquitously, well, white. This has something to do with how the pin feathers show up or don’t show up on a dressed bird. These unlucky creatures have further been saddled with developing overlarge breast, hence, they no longer move with the grace and agility of their wild kin. This is a burden which makes them appear far more clumsy than agile. I remember my peers telling me that turkeys were so dumb that they would drown in rainstorms because they ran around with their mouths open. This it turns out,is a widely circulated myth. From that day on, however, my opinion of turkeys subtly changed.
It wasn’t until years later, after moving to Utah, that I encountered turkey face to face again, wandering the hills of the Wasatch Front.
Nature always seems to offer a generous amount of wisdom and information if one is receptive to it. While I did not have the great fortune of being born into a community that holds a long traditional understanding and mythology of this incredible feathered being, I have, through my observances of and interactions with wild turkey, gleaned something of a window into their true and remarkable character.
Turkey are loyal and intelligent.
I once observed two wild turkeys assist a third to find a way to transverse a tall wire fence that separated the single bird from it’s mates. Because the fence was on a fairly steep slope, this panicked bird had a difficult time getting enough footing so as to launch itself high enough to clear the barrier outright. Continuously calling to their distressed kin, the two other turkeys located and lodged themselves in a tall fir whose branches happened to overhang the fence. After locating his mates, the frightened bird was able to fly to the lowest of the branches and make his way to freedom and back to its two relieved companions.
Turkey are naturally agile, and they can fly.
Watching a flock of turkeys run ninja like through thick underbrush, a person quickly realizes these birds are anything but bumbling or clumsy. It is a scientific fact that wild turkey have very keen eyesight and can travel on the ground at speeds ranging from 18 to 30 mph. On the wing they can reach speeds up to 60 mph. Though their flight paths are only for about 100 yards or so, they easily can wing it up a tall tree to escape predators.
Turkey have a complex language.
Turkey vocalizations, vary greatly in tone and inflection. Sometimes they are so subtle that you hardly notice them. The “gobble gobble” that everyone associates with turkeys is something I hear less frequently in the wild than I do the soft staccato notes that almost sound like drops of water, or the purling chortle of a hen to her chicks. This is an awesome video I found on YouTube regarding how intricate and advanced turkey language is.
Turkey are a bird of many colors.
Wild turkeys can display albinism, which means they can be mostly white, but that is not common. These birds actually have up to five different morphs from smoke, to cinnamon, to blue… The radiant variety of iridescen\e is truly breathtaking in these bird folk which makes their feathers one of my favorites.
But what about that strange naked head you ask?
Well, it turns out, that similar to vultures, turkey have evolved with a natural cooling and heating regulator, and that is the (mostly) naked neck. Also, the color of a toms neck, including wattle and snood – that top dangely bit – changes colors from blue to purple to pink to red to a mottled variation based on their emotional state. Move over mood rings!
This last fact, incidentally, is something my daughter and I discovered after rescuing a domestic tom from *abandonment in the foothills along the Wasatch front.
This giant white behemoth was so terrified that it didn’t take much to get him to hop into the car and happily hunker down on my lap for the ride home. As the car warmed and he settled, his neck and wattle morphed from shy salmon to a pacified periwinkle. What a surprise! What further astonished us, apart from the size of his feet, (the impression he left in the snow was reminiscent of a tiny T-rex, which is to say huge) was the affection and curiosity he demonstrated as soon as he felt safe. This goes to show that even the domestic turkey defy the stereotypes.
Our rescue tom eventually found a wonderful home with a dear friend who made room in her hen house for this giant “chicken”. He lived quite happily ever after to the ripe old age of at least 3 or 4. Which is quite old for a turkey meant to be dinner by 6 months of age.
I am currently in the process of taking an online Tarology class from Jungian Dream Analysis Scholar, poet, student of the occult, current PHD candidate and self proclaimed shape-shifter (sometimes she’s a cat…how fantastic!), Elianne El-Amyouni.
She is known in her social media accounts as Twitchy Witch and I highly recommend her content to anyone who is interested in Jungian concepts, alchemy, religion, poetry, music and middle-eastern studies.
Wait…what does this have to do with turkeys? I can hear you thinking this question…yes I can!
As Elianne puts it. Everything is a symbol. All the things we work with and experience most closely become our most important, personal symbols. Elianne further goes on to elucidate; “…a symbol is a sort of gesture to what is wordless, what cannot be bound in total linguistic comprehension, but can be felt”.
The chance meeting with a certain creature can carry a message that is as individual and mutable as life itself. It is in the relationship that is developed towards an individual creature or collective, through observation and interaction, that the symbol becomes revealed.
Just as the indigenous peoples from ancient times understood, I am understanding more and more that it is through this meta-language, that deeper knowing is recognized and higher knowledge is understood.
Wild turkey tom displaying his fan.
Wlld Turkey of the Wasatch Front
When I encounter the wild American turkey, I am reminded that community fosters bravery and fidelity. I am awed by language that is beyond my understanding but that is also universal in it’s aspect of communicating care. I am made aware that true beauty is not always evident but is revealed; through sudden shafts of sunlight igniting a hidden jeweled iridescence – through the astonishment that ever enraptures with every unfolding of the turkeys majestic tail.
As a collective and as a symbol, I honor this bird each time we meet and I hope turkey will continue to show me further wisdom.
As ever, happy wandering!
*A bit about animal abandonment and dumping in wilderness spaces. If you see this happening in your area please report it. This act is not good for the domesticated creature who has not been raised with the skills to thrive in such an environment, nor is it good for the environment as it can introduce disease or threaten natural populations.
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:
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.