Sunday, September 23, 2007

White Butterflies

I'm crazy about this poem by Mary Oliver, from her collection called "West Wind" (1997). In fact, I'm crazy about butterflies in general. Everything seems to be undergoing metamorphosis right now. My sons eat like caterpillars, cocoon, and burst forth with brightly colored wings every day.

On this day, the autumn equinox, we pose teetering between the seasons, day and night the same length, before we slide irrisistibly toward winter. My husband and I celebrated the equinox by buying plants at Flowercraft. While we were digging a spot for the raised bed frame, two white butterflies fluttered over and around us and on our grapevines. The photo is of a Cabbage White tasting the Mexican sage in front of our house.

Seven White Butterflies

Seven white butterflies
delicate in a hurry look
how they bang the pages

of their wings as they fly

to the fields of mustard yellow
and orange and plain
gold all eternity

is in the moment this is what

Blake said Whitman said such
wisdom in the agitated
motions of the mind seven

dancers floating

even as worms toward
paradise see how they banter
and riot and rise

to the trees flutter

lob their white bodies into
the invisible wind weightless
lacy willing

to deliver themselves unto

the universe now each settles
down on a yellow thumb on a
brassy stem now

all seven are rapidly sipping

from the golden towers who
would have thought it could be so easy?

--Mary Oliver

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Haiku for Withered Sunflowers

Spent, they hang their heads,
A vision of next year's flower
In each striped seed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

All in a Day's Work

Ta-da! The new raised bed, built yesterday. It doesn't have soil in it yet; we're hoping to get that delivered since we need a cubic yard. Those white tubes are for inserting PVC poles on which to drape bird netting.My husband built it mostly, but I helped and of course, procured the materials and provided advice. It was nice spending time in our backyard together on a Saturday. Usually we are completely taken up on Saturdays with soccer games and music lessons and other errands. But Older Boy is away for the weekend so things were calmer.

We talked about how we used to spend more time in our backyard, when our boys were smaller and could actually run around in it and throw balls and sit in the wading pool on hot days, and we had to supervise them every moment. Now they are too big for the yard--everything they want to do requires a soccer-field-sized space--and anyway we don't have to be out there with them. Also when we lived away from our house for a couple of years, and then during our remodel, our garden deteriorated. We do have bigger plans to bring it back to life, but they are moving slowly. The raised bed is giving us something to dream about and a reason to pore over the seed catalogs again. And a reason to hang out together in our backyard.

There are two hummingbirds who love our Cape Honeysuckle right now, and they drop by at least once a day. They came by to check out what we were doing, as did the Scrub Jay who regards our backyard as HIS yard. And one Red Admiral visited, too. We heard the rooster who lives next door and watched the constant trickle of pigeons flying overhead. They fly over our house all the time but never stop in our backyard. We also heard all the city sounds: the trucks in the supermarket on the other side of our fence, people in the parking lot talking, car radios, traffic on the busy street a block away. It's not a quiet garden but it feels like an oasis to me.

After the construction was done, we had a cocktail on the deck. Our retired neighbor who finds any excuse he can to chat with us over the fence called us "two lovebirds." I liked that.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Butterflies on the Mind

I'm been having a thing about butterflies recently. So much so that I went out and bought this great book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, by Arthur M. Shapiro and Timothy D. Manolis. It's the kind of book that I interrupt my husband while we're sitting in the living room after dinner (he on his laptop, me reading) to say, "Honey, did you know that Red Admirals enjoy carrion, garbage,and bird dung?" He just shakes his head. The way I found out about the book was from my local independent bookstore, Book Shop West Portal. I was thumbing through the Audubon butterfly field guide, when the bookstore worker came up and told me about this other really great book that just came in about Bay Area butterflies, except they were out of it. He was so enthusiastic I decided to wait a couple of days until it came in. I could have just ordered it (cheaper) from Amazon, but that just didn't seem right. And this way I could peruse it live, in my hand, before deciding which one to buy. This one was the winner because along with clear, precise illustrations it has specific local information about species and flora.

Anyway, I have already learned that yes, Red Admirals like the unappealing fare mentioned above. They also do not all fly off to their winter homes in South Texas; quite a few overwinter here in our mild climate. July to October is butterfly season in the Bay Area, although sadly San Francisco is not the best place for butterfly watching: too windy and cold. Even so, we have 68 butterfly species recorded in the city alone; "by California standards its a poor fauna," the author says, but it's 80 percent of the total number of species recorded in all of the British Isles.

Yesterday there were two Red Admirals on my sunflowers at the same time--a pair?--but none today.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Feeding on My Garden

The butterfly that was feeding methodically on my sunflowers yesterday was back today, or at least one that looked just like it. It is working its way down the row. I discovered that is a Red Admiral, common enough at this time of the year in San Francisco, but in winter they travel down to South Texas. Bees are also feeding on the sunflowers. The sunflowers and coreopsis I planted from seed back in May are at the peak of their bloom now, just before fall.

It's a good thing I don't have to feed off my garden. My carrot patch was not a success. My husband's diagnosis: I watered the surface too much, without letting the water soak deep enough to entice the roots downward. So my carrots made a tubby little ball and stayed there at the surface. My sons cackled wickedly when they saw this carrot and declined to eat it. Huh. I'd like to say it tasted good but it was a little woody.

Resolved: to built a proper raised bed for next spring and install a drip irrigation system. Today I spent two hours in Home Depot PRO (!) buying the materials for the "ultimate raised bed" a la Sunset Magazine. I felt self-conscious stepping in there among all the contractors with measuring tape hanging from their belts. "I'm just building a raised bed in my garden," I squeaked to the guy picking out 2x6s ahead of me. "Well, ya don't want ones with holes in them!" he growled, casting aside most of the planks and selecting the ones with the fewest knots, the cleanest edges. I followed his example and selected my redwood planks carefully, even if it was only for a raised bed. And who helped me select the most solid-looking 4x4 post? A young woman, very business-like, who also cut my lumber to order for me on the massive table saw. After that I felt like, yeah, I can be a PRO, too. My print-out from Sunset Magazine also called for PVC pipe (to support netting over the top) and hardware cloth (to keep out the gophers). We have never seen a gopher in our garden (only a raccoon, once, and lots of darn cats) but I got some anyway. Wouldn't you know, when we build the ultimate raised bed, the only gopher for miles around will come running. This is a joint husband and wife construction project. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Another September Haiku

Butterfly's long straw
dips in each golden goblet
late summer sipping

Sunday, September 2, 2007

September Haiku

New fall sunflowers
Eager schoolchildren in line
Face the morning sun

Thank you to cloudscome for the inspiration to pair a haiku with a photo.