Six on Saturday: Portraits

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Our garden buzzes and hums with the voices of hundreds of hungry bees and wasps.

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The butterflies silently float by, elusive and aloof.  A dragonfly lights on a petal, watching me, patiently posing while I take his portrait.

Our garden is filled with such beauty this week.  We are enjoying the butterflies and bunnies, expanding perennials, trees clothed in their summer colors, expanding ferns and flowers.  Oh, so many flowers opening each day.

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As we celebrate the summer solstice, our garden is still becoming fuller and fuller with each passing day.  Vines grow so fast we wonder whether they are under some magical, summertime spell.  Clusters of grapes on their wild vines swell, well out of reach, in the tops of some dogwood and rose of Sharon trees.  Our family of cardinals swoops through the garden, clearly playing tag, and watching for the opportune snack.

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I wander about with my camera, trying to capture a portrait here and there to savor the beauty unfolding all around us.  It is so much bigger and more expansive than my tiny lens will capture.  And so I focus on the details, the tiny bits of beauty we might otherwise overlook.

Here are six portraits from our garden today.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“When magic through nerves and reason passes,
Imagination, force, and passion will thunder.
The portrait of the world is changed.”
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Dejan Stojanovic

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

 

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Wild Life Wednesday: All Calm Before the Storm

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It was gently raining when we awakened this morning, but the sun was breaking through along the horizon by the time we made it outside into the new day.

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An early morning bumbly enjoys the sweetness of Rudbeckia laciniata.

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We are all very conscious of the weather here in coastal Virginia this week as we watch the updates on the progress of Hurricane Florence.  We are on high ground and so flooding isn’t a concern.  But we live in a forest, and any amount of wind can change the landscape here; especially when the ground is saturated.

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The Solidago, goldenrod, has just begun to bloom.

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It looks as though the storm will make landfall far to our south, and the track no longer suggests it might travel northwards into Central Virginia.  Yet Florence remains a dangerous storm, and is absolutely huge.  We may start feeling its outer bands of rain and wind sometime tomorrow or Friday.

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Rose of Sharon

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Which made today all the sweeter.  Do you know the Japanese term, Wabi-Sabi?  The Japanese find beauty in the transience and ultimate imperfection of all phenomena.  The impermanence and changeability of the world around us heightens our appreciation of its beauty.  We can appreciate things while feeling a deep tenderness for their inherent imperfection.

I was pondering these things this morning as I wandered through our upper garden, wondering how it might appear in a day or so after wind and heavy rain have their way with it.  Already, our tall goldenrod and black-eyed Susans lean over into the paths, making them almost disappear in the abundance of growth.

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It is my first time wandering through the garden like this since I got a nasty insect bite last Friday afternoon.  It is still a mystery what bit me, as I was fully armored to work outdoors.  It was a small bite at first, but quickly blistered and swelled up to a massive angry red blotch that stretched several inches away from the original bite on my knee.  It has been a slow process of tending it, and I stayed indoors until yesterday, hoping to avoid another until this one was resolved.

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Ginger lily with orbs

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But today I was out in the early morning wetness, capturing the beauty of it, and trying to ignore the mosquitoes greeting me along the way.  I wanted to see everything and admire everything on the chance that the coming storm will shatter its early September magnificence.  It was the beautiful calm before the storm, and we have taken today to celebrate it.

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The rain was past and the day gilded with golden September sunshine when we set out along the Colonial Parkway to see the sky and watch the rising waters along the James and York Rivers.  If you’ve never seen the sky filled with enormous, rain shadowed clouds in the day or two before a hurricane approaches, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful spectacles of atmospheric art.

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Yorktown Beach, looking northwards towards Gloucester Point and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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The clouds are arrayed in regular, rhythmic patterns, punctuated here and there with towering, monstrous storm clouds.  The sky is blue and clear beyond them.  They float rapidly across the sky, these outer bands of the approaching storm.  These days of waiting are moody, morphing quickly from dull to golden and clear blue to stormy grey.

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One keeps an eye on the sky while pacing through the rituals of preparing.   There is an edge to the mood as highways fill with strangers moving northwards, inland, away from home and into an uncertain future.  We encountered one today at the next gas pump who needed to tell us he was traveling, just passing through, on his journey to somewhere safer than here.

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We found a nearby parking lot filled this morning with state police, huge generators, Klieg lights, and emergency response trailers.  The lot was filled at eight, but emptying out just a few hours later.  We’re still wondering where the equipment will ultimately end up.  We hope not here…

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Jones Mill Pond, near Yorktown on the Colonial Parkway

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I wondered whether the butterflies would move out ahead of the storm.  But we counted more than a dozen as we drove along the Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown.   We saw mostly small ones, Sulphurs, but we were glad for their happy fluttering along the roadside.  We noticed the tide is already high along the way.  Jamestown Island is closed as preparations there continue.

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The rivers lap high up into the reeds, mostly covering the narrow, sandy river beaches.  The York River is already climbing the rip rap hardened banks constructed a few summers ago to protect the shoreline.  Small Coast Guard craft patrolled the river near Yorktown, but that didn’t deter a few families here and there, determined to enjoy this bright and sultry day at the beach.

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The York River, looking eastwards towards the Bay.

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The lizards were scampering around the drive and back steps when we returned home.  They’d been basking in the mid-day sun; our return disturbed their peace.

The squirrels had been at the grapes again, and we saw a pair of hummingbirds light in a Rose of Sharon tree nearby, watching us arrive.

It was too silent, though.  We didn’t hear the usual chatter of songbirds in the trees.  It was still, too.  Though the wind was blowing off the rivers, here the air hung heavy and still.

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Our Muscadine grapes are ripening over a long season.

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I believe in luck and omens, and perhaps that is why I planted a few little pots of Baptisia seeds this morning.  I’d knicked the seed pods from a plant I’ve watched growing all summer at the Botanical garden, and carried them in my pocket for weeks.

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With the seeds tucked into little pots out on the deck, I’m already thinking of the sprouts that will soon emerge.  Life goes on.  I believe that is the wisdom of wabi-sabi.

No matter the current circumstance, change is constant.  We can’t outrun it, or stop it.  Wisdom invites us to embrace it, observe its power, and find the ever-present beauty, come what may.

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This beautiful cluster of lichens was waiting for me beneath a shrub this morning.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*  *  *
“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect
is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.”
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Alan Watts

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“But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition?
Is the plant complete when it flowers?
When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout?
When everything turns into compost?”
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Leonard Koren

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Begonia

 

In Pursuit of Happiness

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“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage
with my books, my family and a few old friends,
dining on simple bacon, and letting the world
roll on as it liked,
than to occupy the most splendid post,
which any human power can give.”
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Thomas Jefferson
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“Do you want to know who you are?
Don’t ask. Act!
Action will delineate and define you.”
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Thomas Jefferson
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“Determine never to be idle.
No person will have occasion
to complain of the want of time,
who never loses any.
It is wonderful how much may be done,
if we are always doing.”
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Thomas Jefferson

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“The equal rights of man,
and the happiness of every individual,
are now acknowledged to be
the only legitimate objects of government.”
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Thomas Jefferson

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“Peace and friendship with all mankind
is our wisest policy,
and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.”
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Thomas Jefferson

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“There is not a sprig of grass that shoots
uninteresting to me.”
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Thomas Jefferson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“I like the dreams of the future
better than the history of the past.”
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Thomas Jefferson

Sunday Dinner: What We Learn From Our Fathers

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on Agastache

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“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies:

know more today about the world than I knew yesterday

and lessen the suffering of others.

You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

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“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character.

These are the qualities that define us as human beings,

and propel us, on occasion,

to greatness.”

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R.J. Palacio

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A Pearl Crescent butterfly feeds on catmint flowers.

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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch,

a smile, a kind word, a listening ear,

an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring,

all of which have the potential

to turn a life around.”

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Leo F. Buscaglia

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on our native buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Honoring the Fathers among us,
present and absent, 
yet alive and those departed;
biological Fathers and those
who become Fathers by affection and commitment. 
Being a real father is a choice. 
How would any of us be who we are today,
without their guidance and their love?

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Season’s Change

Daucus carota, from a grocery store carrot planted this spring, blooms alongside perennial Geranium in our garden.

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We feel the season’s change every time we open the kitchen door and step outside.

The air is soft and thick, perfumed by millions of tiny white flowers opening now on the uncounted Ligustrum shrubs surrounding the garden.  It smells of summer, stirring some nearly forgotten restlessness echoing across the years, from summers long, long passed.

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The sweetness permeates the warm breeze, full of promises and  vague intrigue.  In the early morning, the breeze holds an invitation and a dare, drawing us outside to ‘seize the day.’

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By noon it grows oppressive, rank with humidity and pulsing with summer’s heat.

The air buzzes now.  Bees mind their business, methodically working flower to flower, unless startled into a quick evasive maneuver out of range.

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Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, blooms along Jones Mill Pond on the Colonial Parkway.

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But mayflies and mosquitoes buzz in as close as they dare, waiting for a flash of skin to light and drink, waiting for a moment of distraction to attack.

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Birds call out to one another, chirping at the cat napping on the deck, warning intruders off from nests.  Ever vigilant, ever hungry; the swoosh of restless wings cuts the thick air, in pursuit of another bite of summer’s bounty.

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Our garden explodes in growth.  Warm, humid nights coax even the most reluctant perennials to pulse into life.

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Verbena bonariensis stretches towards the sky even as it spreads across the garden.

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Responding to the season’s magic, stalks rise and leaves open to the cadence of  croaked and clicked incantations wafting on the evening air.

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The air is thick with leaves, trees now fully clothed make living green walls and ceilings around our garden’s rooms.  Bamboo arises, thick and green, sealing us in from the wildness of the ravine.

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Flowers appear in every shade of purple and gold, white and ruby.  They sparkle through the sea of green, enchanting in their transience.

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Wildflowers nod along the bank of Jones Millpond on the Colonial Parkway in York County.

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Spring’s flowers have come and gone.  The last few foxglove, beaten down by the rain, limply bloom at the ends of stalks swelling with seed.

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A few Iris pods swell, too; overlooked in my pruning.  Daffodil leaves have grown limp, yellowing and fading to make room for something new to arise.

Summer’s flowers replace them, filled with nectar and bursting with pollen, a magnet for every sort and  size of pollinator.

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We feel the season’s change every time we step outside the haven of air conditioning and window screens.  When we dare leave the shade in the afternoon, a fierce sun burns down upon us.

We want the smaller shades offered by hats and sleeves; the relative safety of socks and gloves and thick jeans protecting us from ‘the bities’.

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Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown, where wild prickly-pear cactus bloom in summer.

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As the days grow longer and the nights warmer, we feel ourselves drawn to the top of the year.

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Mid-summer beckons, only days away.  Nature calls us to come out and join our own human voices in the buzzing, clicking, croaking, swooshing, chorus of life.

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This is the time of sweetness and abundance, full of promises, eternally youthful and energetic.

Summer at last.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXIII: October Blues

Can you help me identify this perennial? It is lovely, and I don’t know its name.

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Blue-violet lends a snazzy counter weight to the warm yellows, oranges and reds of our October garden.  Blue flowers and foliage shine and draw my eye with their cool elegance.

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Mexican sage, Salvia Leucantha

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After weeks of Indian summer, cool colors help us forget how hot and muggy the garden still feels many afternoons.  They promise that  cooler weather will soon blow our way.

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Agastache

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Blue-violet flowers also promise a good meal of nectar to the pollinators still buzzing about the garden.

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Salvias and Agastaches produce abundant nectar over a very long season.  Their generous natures support many creatures as the days grow shorter and nights grow cool.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Blossom XXXII: Apple Scented Pelargonium

Fabulous Friday: Visitors

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We don’t see everyone, ever.  And those we see, we never see all at once.  Often I don’t see them at all, until I spot them in a photo, later.

It fascinates me to take a photo seemingly of one thing, and spot beautiful creatures lurking in it, well camouflaged, when I study it later.

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Somewhere within the tangled mass of stems and petals, our visitors quietly go about their business.  Some, like the bumblies and hummers we may hear.

The hummers generally dart away before my camera finds its focus.  They have a special sense to know when you’re watching them, I’ve learned.

The bumblies don’t care.  They remain too focused on their serious business of gathering nectar and pollen to let my camera distract them.

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The butterflies and moths drift silently from flower to flower.  If I stand very still and quiet near a mass of flowers, I may catch their movement.  If they notice me, they may take off above the tree tops, waiting for me to move away so they can resume their sipping.

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We are spotting mostly Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies lately.

Yes, the Tiger Swallowtails and Zebra Swallowtails show up, too.  We’ve even spotted a Monarch or two.  But these beautiful black butterflies are hatching now from the caterpillars we fed earlier in the season, I believe.  I think they may be “home grown.”

Do you ever wonder whether butterflies remember their life as a caterpillar? Do they fly past the plants they grazed on earlier this season, and remember crawling there?

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We spent much of the morning out in the garden.  It was cool, and there was a breeze.

We enjoyed a ‘September sky’ today; brilliantly clear and blue, with high, bright white wisps of cloud.  It was the sort of September day which reminded me how blessed I am to be retired, and free to be outside to enjoy it.  The first week of school is still a special time for me; and I count my blessings that others have taken on that work, and I have left it behind.

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There are always things to do in the garden.  But I much prefer ‘not-doing’ in the garden.

‘Not-doing’ means wandering about to see what we can see.  I may notice what should be done later, but the point is to simply observe and enjoy.

Sometimes I leave my camera inside, or in my pocket, and just silently observe the intricate web of life unfolding around us.

But soon enough, I’m wanting to capture it all, frame it all, and share the best bits with you.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious,

Let’s Infect One Another!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
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Lao Tzu

Attracted

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Distracted, or focused? A short walk outside, into the garden, is all it takes.

Whatever my purpose, I’m soon distracted by the life of the garden around me.  A bird zooms from shrub to limb.  A butterfly hovers, a rabbit skitters off for cover.  My eyes search out new growth and newly blooming flowers.  I check the progress of the season.

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If momentarily distracted from the business of the day, my attention is re-focused on the beauties unfolding around me.

I make a quick observation of what needs to be done:  deadheading, staking, weeding, harvesting….

I can get lost in timeless loops of doing; of nurturing the many different growing things and buzzing things and skittering things and gliding things who animate this magical world outside our doors.

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Each time I step outside the light has shifted, the players changed:  goldfinches, skinks, turtles, hawks, cardinals, swallowtails, caterpillars, dragonflies and toads.

Each passing day brings flowers budding or fading; new leaves unfurling; new stems materializing overnight.

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The earth is wet, the earth is dry, the earth has covered itself with green or turned stubbornly hard and barren.

The unfolding drama of each day captures my attention entirely.

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The phone may ring, and I may fish it out of my pocket with a muddy hand; and distractedly connect the call.  Or perhaps I’ll silence it and send the message to voicemail while I frame another shot.

Such concentration it takes, to capture it all as the light shifts and the wind blows and the butterflies float away a nanosecond before my shutter clicks.

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I am hopelessly attracted by the wonder of it all.  I will wander the paths of our garden in sun or rain, dusk or broiling mid-day sun; the air so thick with summer that it is nearly liquid and dense with life.  The scent of ginger lilies permeates the evening breeze.

I hear the furtive rustling of a lizard behind a pot, or on the backside of a trunk; the call and response of crows; the sunset clicking of cardinals settling into their shelter as darkness falls; and bats re-claim the evening sky.

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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2017
For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Ooh, Shiny!

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“We are here to love.
Everything else is distraction.”
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Scott Stabile

 

Fabulous Friday: The Napping Bee

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I was trecking through the garden a bit earlier than usual this morning.  Thank the doe I spotted strolling in the lower garden, for that.  The cat and I were enjoying the best of early morning on our dew dampened deck when she strolled into view, gazing up at us way too innocently.

Not yet dressed for the garden, at least I had on some old jeans and a pair of deck shoes.  I took off for the back door, grabbed the long baton we keep there for such activities, and headed out to inspire her swift departure.  Since my camera was right there on the kitchen counter, I grabbed it too, and headed down the hill in pursuit.

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Mrs. Doe knows us well.  And she soon realized that since it was just me, she could lead me on a merry chase.

Across the bottom, back up hill, through the perennials in front; she thought she had found refuge by lying down under our stand of Mountain Laurel.  But I still saw her, still as she was in the shadows, and let her know it was time to go.

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Once she had leapt the fence back to the neighbor’s yard next door, I hung out for a while, taking photos and listening for her to try to sneak back in.

And that is when I spotted the napping bee.  These bumblies don’t have hives, like honeybees.  And it isn’t unusual to find them, sleeping still, in the cool of early morning, clinging to the same flowers they visited last evening.

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Breakfast at the Agastache…

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A few of its mates were lazily slurping their breakfasts nearby.  Perhaps their night time perch had already been warmed by the sun.

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Allium, Verbena bonariensis and Coreopsis all delight hungry pollinators.

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Our sunny perennial beds are planted to attract as many pollinators as we can. The Agastache, in its third year, has grown into a gigantic mass of nectar rich flowers.  It will bloom steadily now until frost.

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Agastache with white mealy cup sage, white Echinacea, purple basil, thyme, dusty miller and a calla lily offer plenty of choices for our pollinators.

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Looking around, the feast is definitely laid for the wild creatures who frequent our garden.  There are ripening berries and abundant insects for our several families of birds.  There are plenty of flowers beckoning bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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And, there are plenty of ants marching along in formation to feed the skinks who sun themselves on our porches.   A huge rabbit, maybe even bigger than our cat, was munching grass on the front lawn at dusk last night.  And we’ve found several box turtles, who eat most anything, sheltering among the perennials.

And how could the deer not look in through the fences, and use every brain cell they’ve got to find a way into the garden?  Sadly, unlike our other garden visitors, their munching harms the plants and destroys the beauty of the place.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, although native in our region, is still loved by hungry deer. This is our first year to enjoy more than a single bloom or two. I keep it sprayed with Repels-All.

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The doe who called me outside this morning was the third deer in two days, and she returned with a friend just an hour or so later, while I was brewing coffee.  By partner and I teamed up to help them both find their way back out.  That was a respectable work-out for both of us!

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The summer blooming Crinum lily is poisonous. This is one of the few lilies we dare grow, as it isn’t grazed and the bulbs won’t be disturbed by rodents. Hardy in Zone 7, this lily is long lived and the clump expands each year.

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When I went back outside, a bit later, to begin my day’s tasks in the garden; my partner took off to Lowe’s for a fresh bag of Milorganite.   Inches of rain, earlier this week, must have washed away what was left.

The Milorganite really does work.… until it doesn’t.  It’s not hard to tell when it’s time for a fresh application.  It might last as long as a couple of months, unless we have a heavy rain.

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I ended my morning’s gardening by spreading the entire bag of Milorganite, making sure to also cover that sweet spot under the Mountain Laurel where the doe believed she could hide.

By then, the sun was fully warming the front garden.  Our napping bee had awakened, and gotten on with the serious business of sipping nectar and collecting pollen.

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When I was young, I collected bumblies just like her in a glass jar with holes poked in the lid, just to observe the bees up close.  The delight in watching these creatures go about their work has never faded.

Now, it is fabulous to watch our June garden host so many wild and beautiful visitors.

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“The keeping of bees
is like the direction of sunbeams.”
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Henry David Thoreau
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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Wildlife Wednesday

July 13, 2016 garden close ups 032

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“Mindfulness is not the path of chasing.

It is the path of beautification.

When flowers blossom, the fragrance spreads,

and the bees come.”

.

Amit Ray

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 030

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“We need to return to harmony with Nature

and with each other,

to become what humans were destined to be,

builders of gardens and Shires,

hobbits (if you will),

not Masters over creatures great and small.”

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Steve Bivans

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 024

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 027

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“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’

and sitting in the shade.”

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Rudyard Kipling

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 004

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“It is not reasonable that art should win

the place of honor over our great and powerful

mother Nature. We have so overloaded

the beauty and richness of her works

by our inventions that we have quite smothered her.”

.

Michel de Montaigne

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 002

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