Have you found yourself amidst a kaleidoscope?

Painted ladies dance

In joyful kaleidoscopes

Through warm autumn days

The color combination of butterfly and sunflowers is autumn perfect.

This morning as I walked, I found myself surrounded by butterflies. There were so many, I stopped in wonder. And in joy. They flickered in front, beside, and over me, carrying me back to my childhood on the farm when masses of butterflies were common.

A butterfly spreads its wings and catches the sun.

What kind were they? I uploaded a picture to Facebook, asking for help.

It’s wings folded, she has an entirely different look.

Then my mind wandered to what a group of butterflies is called. Are they drifts? crowds? flocks? sweeps? I asked my smart phone.

A kaleidoscope of painted ladies congregate on sedum blossoms.

The answers as delightful as the butterflies. Painted ladies, they’re called. A group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope.

As a child, I played endlessly with a kaleidoscope, pointing the tube toward the sun, turning it around and around to create new colors and shapes. How fitting that the butterflies, flitting about as they do, splashing color here and there, are collectively a kaleidoscope.

The painted ladies inspired me to write the haiku above. When have you found yourself in wonder and joy with nature?

Haiku to the arrival of spring

Spring inspires poetic thoughts and emotions. Here’s a Haiku tribute to the migrating birds I saw during a recent walk.

 

Cedar waxwings come.
Aristocratic bandits,
Harbingers of spring

 

A flock of Cedar waxwings let me get reasonably close for this picture. Several more flitted in nearby crab apple trees.

This photo is courtesy of Morguefile.com

The Cedar Waxwing is a social bird almost always seen in flocks. They particularly enjoy berries, according to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Though I have seen them almost exclusively in the spring, apparently they are around most of the year.

What says spring to you?

 

Ten million years – Sandhill cranes awe and inspire

Ten million years

The Platte River is wide and shallow. The perfect overnight spot for Sandhill cranes.

Sun shimmers on a river
one mile wide, three inches deep.
The Platte River stretches wide beneath the skies,
offering refuge to weary travelers,
as it’s done for 10 million years.

And the Sandhill cranes come.

From the broad expanses of Mexico and Texas
before there was a Mexico or Texas.
Choosing Nebraska before there was a Nebraska.
To rest and feed and dance and chatter.
Before searching out even broader expanses
in Canada and Siberia.

As they’ve done for ten million years.

Earlier we watched them in fields,
their feathers the gray of winter clouds,
eating to store power for the long flight north.

Sandhill cranes settle in after dark on the Platte River. Photo courtesy of Mary C. Gottschalk

The cranes dance with wings spread,
leaping in the air. Why?
For mating, for territory, for joy.
All the time chattering
to each other day and night,
their call the hoarse, throaty sound of frogs in a marsh.

Twilight beckons, and we line a bridge across the river,
searching the horizon, waiting, hoping.
Will they come here, tonight, to this stretch of river?
Will they bless us this one year out of ten million?

Smudges become faint lines in the sky.
Cranes leaving the fields where they spent the day,
to seek the shelter of the river,
safe from predators.

Cranes by the hundreds fly weave across the Nebraska skies.

Drifts of cranes, forming and re-forming
With all the permanence of smoke.
Line after line.
Groups of three, ten, a hundred, ten thousand.

The sunset so beautiful.
The river so perfect.
We will them to land.
But they do not.
This is not Disneyland, we say,
laughing to hide our disappointment.

Still the Sandhill cranes bless us
as they pass through this
narrow bit of the Heartland.
Fulfilling their life cycle.
Including us.
Migrating as they have
For 10 million years.

 

**The fossil record indicates Sandhill cranes have been migrating through Nebraska for 10 million years. This year, an estimated 500,000 cranes will make the trip. Modern farming has reduced wetland along the Platte River by 90 percent. We wondered how long abundant corn will be an adequate tradeoff for the wetlands.

Unidentified flying objects inhabit prairie

The prairie is a strange and wonderful place. Each time I visit, I discover wildlife from both the plant and insect kingdoms I’ve never seen before.

I’m not nearly as good at identifying the insects that inhabit the prairie as I am the plants, but as I explored the prairie this weekend, my eyes were drawn to the insects as much as to the plants because the air was a virtual O’Hare Airport of flying creatures.

It’s gratifying to see so many varieties of milkweed in the prairie and to see butterflies enjoy the blossoms. My prairie is only a patch, but I’m happy to do my part to encourage these insect beauties.

Here are a few insects I captured with my iPhone. Obviously, I need a camera with greater magnification (and either a steadier hand or insects that will sit still) to get better images.

Orange butterfly on Whorled Milkweed

Orange butterfly on whorled milkweed.

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The first time I’ve spotted this little black & white beauty. Less than an inch long.

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Monarch on butterfly milkweed. Finally one I can identify.

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A lovely black and yellow dragonfly. Look closely to see how big the wings really are.

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We never lack for bees or black-eyed Susans in the prairie.

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Two Japanese beetles do what they enjoy most on a purple coneflower.

Japanese beetles

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The second thing Japanese beetles do – make lace out of plant leaves.

Japanese beetles

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Two insects in this picture. Very tiny. Very fast. This is the closest I could get.

I'm sharing this Rattlesnake Master because I love the make, how weird the plant looks, and it's the first time I've seen it this year. No insects visible. here.

I share this Rattlesnake Master because I love the name and how alien the plant looks, plus it’s the first time I’ve seen it this year. No insects visible.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little visit to my prairie. If you can identify any of these unidentified flying objects, please leave the details in a comment. If you can’t identify them, leave a note anyway.

After the fire – Beauty

We burned our prairie this spring, and the fire my husband lit spread rapidly through the dried residue of the previous year’s grasses and flowers. Within minutes, we were left with nothing but a bare, black expanse.

The prairie was bare, but not barren. Within a few weeks, green began to show and now, only two month’s later, all evidence of the fire has disappeared. In its place are a multitude of flowers and grasses. After a burn, flowers are actually more plentiful. and we may see flowers we haven’t seen before. Here are a few prairie bright spots since the burn.

Fire moves rapidly through prairie residue.

Fire moves rapidly through prairie residue.

Spiderwort is one of the earliest flowers.

Spiderwort is one of the earliest flowers.

Butterfly milkweed is the only orange flower we see, and it's stunning.

Butterfly milkweed is the only orange flower we see, and it’s stunning.

This is the first year I've spotted whorled milkweed in our prairie.

This is the first year I’ve spotted whorled milkweed in our prairie.

A pale purple coneflower also made its first appearance.

A pale purple coneflower also made its first appearance.

Wild bergamot, butterfly milkweed, and common sunflower - beautiful in combination.

Wild bergamot, butterfly milkweed, and common sunflower – beautiful in combination.

A common milkweed blossom.

A common milkweed blossom.

Fire is a necessary element of a healthy prairie, and we burn ours every four years.

Have you walked in a prairie? If so, what was your experience? If you have not been yet, I encourage you to do so.  The prairie offers infinite beauty.

Saying Good-bye to an Old Friend

When my husband I moved to our acreage 10 years ago, I loved all the trees, but particularly the big old willow.  I frequently carried a chair and a book to the tree where I’d spend hours watching the graceful fronds sway in the breeze rather than reading, romantic notions of summer picnics and moonlit trysts playing through my mind.Willow tree - prairie planting

The willow was a landmark for people looking for our driveway. It marked the seasons with golden pollen in the spring and gold leaves in the fall, all the while offering inspiration: for a poem I wrote a friend struggling after a divorce; for our grandchildren who ran through the fronds that skimmed the ground, for photographs that hang on my walls.Willow tree - winter

The willow stood watch over the prairie patch I planted, a backdrop instead of the focus for my many photos of prairie flowers. It was a perch for owls and hawks that took to the highest limbs as they kept an eye out for their next meal.Willow tree - Blue Vervain

As the years passed, the winds of time took their toll. Dry rot claimed the center of the trunk, and limbs fell with increasing frequency. We knew the tree would have to come down. Even though we’ve lived with this tree for such a short time, when the chainsaws arrived, I felt as though I was losing an old friend.Willow tree - removal

The man who led the team was respectful of this gracious old lady. “She was older than any of us,” he said when we asked. “It was time.” I have yet to count all the rings on the stump, but there are easily 70.Willow tree - removal

The landscape is different when I look out my office window now. The willow occupied so much space and now it’s gone. I echo Bob Hope when I think of the willow: “Thanks for the memories.”

Going deep inside – Perspective 3

Carlsbad Caverns - "Curtains"

These “drapery” formations evoke a whale’s mouth.

Recently, I’ve considered perspective from high up in a hot air balloon and up close at Cadillac Ranch. I also had a chance to go deep with a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

I’ve been in caves before, but always in the company of others. I toured the massive spaces of Carlsbad Caverns on my own.

I walked to the Big Room (rather than take the elevator) via the Natural Entrance Trail, a steep descent of 1 1/4 mile that takes approximately an hour. I’d never been so deep under the earth’s surface. What would it smell like? Feel like? Sound like? Would I be afraid to be nearly 800 feet under the earth’s surface?

Carlsbad Caverns - Stelagtites

Stalactites connect to stalagmites and eventually form pillars.

With conscious dawdling, I let other visitors overtake and pass me on the trail, leaving me to soak in the experience alone.

The trail was dimly lit and impressive formations enjoyed greater lighting, but there were points where the space was darker. I found those places, stood still, closed my eyes and waited, exploring sensory input as it reached me.

Underground, no traffic, wind, or animal sounds penetrate. Would I be able to hear anything? I stilled the noise in my head and waited. Eventually, there it was, the sound of a water drop plinking into a pool. Not often, not regularly, but there.

Eyes closed, I soaked in total blackness. No street lights, no car lights, no sun, no moon. Impenetrable black. After a few minutes, still turned toward the darkest place in the cave, I opened my eyes. I could barely make out the black pool where the water drops fell. That was with the faintest trail light bleeding in. I wonder what else there was in the darkest places my eyes could not reach?

"Popcorn" created fairy villages and Oriental shrines.

“Popcorn” forms fairy villages and Oriental shrines.

Temperatures in the cave are a constant 56 degrees year around. At one point, I turned to look back up the trail and felt a breeze against my face. As I considered why they might be ventilating the cave, I happened upon a trail sign. As it turns out I’d come upon the one spot in the cave where a natural draft from the surface finds its way deep underground. I chuckled.

After an hour and a quarter on the trail, when I finally reached the Big Room, I had a passing thought that I’d seen all I needed to see. Could there really be enough to hold my interest? Oh, my, yes. The name ‘Big Room’ understates the treasures of a cavern the size of six football fields – a cavern large enough to house Notre Dame Cathedral.

Carlsbad Caverns - Pillars

Pillars as tall as Notre Dame Cathedral reached the top of the Big Room.

Walking the trails that wound through the Big Room took another hour. Along the way, I saw formations that were whimsical, naughty, majestic. reminiscent of Broadway shows and Biblical stories.

Rather than fear, I felt awe. These caves have been forming for hundreds of thousands of years. Some of the formations are still growing. Long before people existed. Long after people are gone. These caverns were, are, and will be.

Touring Carlsbad Caverns reminded me of the work memoir writers do as we dig deep in the experiences of our lives and try to make sense of it all. Memoir writers who do the hard work go into the dark places and discover unexpected treasures. The experience may make them laugh or cry. It may be irreverent or holy. But in doing so, the writer learns some of the truth of her life. With luck, she then writes a story that conveys that truth to the reader.

From high above – Perspective

It's a whole different perspective from the ground.

It’s a whole different perspective from the ground.

Hot air balloons float over my house in Des Moines with some regularity in the summer. I’ve watched from the ground and wondered what it would be like to go up in one. What would it feel like? What would I hear? What would I see? How would it be differing than looking at the ground from an airplane seat?

The soft arms of a saguaro reach toward us.

The soft arms of a saguaro reach toward us.

Being up in a balloon would provide an entirely different perspective. Of that I was certain. When I visited my sister in Tucson, we agreed it was time. A first-ever opportunity for both of us.

I’ll cut to the chase. The entire experience was magnificent.

Early morning light painted a soft fringe on the saguaro cacti. Were it not for this flight, I’d never have thought to describe a saguaro as “soft.”

Our shadow preceded us as we flew toward Sombrero Peak.

Our shadow preceded us as we flew toward Sombrero Peak.

Floating along at 400 feet, we spotted javelinas, coyotes, deer, and rabbits threading through the cacti, skirting around buildings, traveling close, but not too close, to each other. From this perspective, we saw them all exist in the same territory, aware of each other perhaps, but for the moment in a live-and-let-live mode.

I felt child-like delight watching the shadow of our balloon against the mountains as we drifted along.

Right over the top of Sombrero Peak.

Right over the top of Sombrero Peak.

With blasts of heat from the burner – the only sound disturbing the morning silence – we rose to 2,000+ feet and crested Sombrero Peak in the Tucson Mountains. Our pilot who’d been flying for 30 years had never flown directly over this peak. His delight made me think how wonderful it is to discover new pleasure in something you do all the time.

Light and dark shadows on the mountain range.

Light and dark shadows on the mountain range.

From greater heights, we enjoyed the patterns of fields, a quarry, and the mountain range – designs we could never take in with our feet on the ground.

Recently, I wrote about Cadillac Ranch and the importance of taking a closer look. There’s equal value to getting the “30,000-ft” view.

In life and in writing, it helps to step back (or in this case, ‘up’) every once in a while. To get away from the minutiae. To see how the larger pieces fit together. To gain new perspectives on what I thought I knew.

Thanks for joining me on this flight of fancy. How do you step away from the details and gain bigger picture perspective? Please share.

Can you believe your eyes?

Seeing something with your own eyes is proof. Right? At one time or another, most of us have said: “Seeing is believing.” or “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Drifts pile 20-30 feet high - ideal for sledding and snowboarding.

Drifts pile 20-30 feet high – ideal for sledding and snowboarding.

We’ve also said the opposite when reality goes against what we know or believe to be true – “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

I experienced a disconcerting disconnect between my eyes and brain when I visited White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Encompassing 275 acres of desert, White Sands is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.

Coming out of the snowy Midwest as I’d done, my brain was conditioned to to see white as snow. To expect cold. To be wary of ice.

Prefer to sled barefoot? Snowboard in shorts? Try White Sands.

Prefer to sled barefoot? Snowboard in shorts? Try White Sands.

As I drove further into the park, leaving vegetation behind, the 20-30-foot high drifts of white looked like snow. I grabbed a coat as I got out of my car only to remember it was 70 degrees out.

Graders cleared the roads, scraping away drifts of white, leaving packed white surfaces. I touched my brakes lightly lest I skid off the road at the next curve. I accelerated with great caution fearful my wheels would spin out.

White Sands National Monument - Silhouette

Reality is distorted in White Sands.

Visitors to the dunes did nothing to clarify. Barefoot kids in shorts played at winter sports, sledding and snowboarding off the steep dunes.

As a writer, I often draw on my own experiences for emotion and sense. My time at White Sands gave me a whole new well of disorientation from which to draw.

Even though I was in the park for five hours, I never did reconcile the reality of what was there with what my mind believed to be true.

I really could not believe my eyes.

Soaking in natural beauty

Some places encourage – perhaps even demand – that a person stop thinking, stop talking, and simply soak in nature. Sedona, Arizona, is one of them.

I had the pleasure of spending two days this past week in the natural beauty of red rock splendor. A Pink Jeep Tour was worth the money as we journeyed to remote locations and learned about the geology, botany, and human history of the area.

I invite you enjoy some of the beauty, too.

Red rocks reveal history of millions of years.

Red rocks reveal history of millions of years.

View from the top of Submarine Rock

View from the top of Submarine Rock

Cactus frame red rocks.

Cacti frame red rock spires.

Cyprus tree may be a 1,000+ years old

Cyprus tree 1,000+ years old

Pink Jeep Tours get two thumbs up.

Pink Jeep Tours get two thumbs up.

Writing take away? It’s no wonder so much art is created in Sedona. Nature inspires me when I take time to absorb what it has to share. Then  I return to the keyboard refreshed and with new insights.

Where do you go for inspiration?