Sunday Dinner: Spirit Swans

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.

We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


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“One thing: you have to walk,

and create the way by your walking;

you will not find a ready-made path.

It is not so cheap, to reach to the ultimate realization of truth.

You will have to create the path by walking yourself;

the path is not ready-made, lying there and waiting for you.

It is just like the sky: the birds fly,

but they don’t leave any footprints.

You cannot follow them;

there are no footprints left behind.”




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“I once listened to an Indian on television

say that God was in the wind and the water,

and I wondered at how beautiful that was

because it meant

you could swim in Him

or have Him brush your face in a breeze.”


Donald Miller


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“We are all connected;

To each other, biologically.

To the earth, chemically.

To the rest of the universe atomically.”


Neil deGrasse Tyson


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“The power of human thought grows exponentially

with the number of minds that share that thought.”


Dan Brown


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Jones Mill Pond, along the Colonial Parkway, near Yorktown, Virginia


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“The Way is not in the sky;

the Way is in the heart.”


Gautama Buddha

The Power of Seeds

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“Seeds have the power to preserve species,

to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity,

to counter economic monopoly

and to check the advance of conformity

on all its many fronts.”


Michael Pollan 


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Seeds of Change

Milkweed pod ready to share its seeds:  Asclepias incarnata

Milkweed pod ready to share its seeds: Asclepias incarnata


“Only those who sow seeds of change

can hope to grow and reap a harvest.”


Andrea Goeglein


Photo by Woodland Gnome 2015


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The Butterfly Effect

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After a summer spent watching for butterflies, we celebrate each one which crosses our path this October.

I say, “Crossing our path” intentionally.  We  cringed each time a Monarch came fluttering towards the windshield as we drove along  the Colonial Parkway this weekend.

We believe they all survived, carried in the wind over the roof of our car and safely on their journey.

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Often, as I stopped to take photos, familiar orange and black wings lit somewhere nearby.

Monarchs and Painted Ladies  delight us as they flutter around our garden on these warm, late October afternoons.

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A Painted Lady enjoys nectar from Lantana in our garden.


Paging through the new “Winter” issue of Arts and Crafts Homes,  I was a little surprised to see a photo of Monarch butterflies crowded on an evergreen branch.  Since the butterfly is a common motif in “Arts and Crafts” decor, the decline in our butterfly population rated an article even here.

Artist Amy Miller is raising Monarch butterflies in her kitchen!

The article explains how Amy set up a “mating tent” made of mosquito netting in her home,  stocked with nectar flowers and fresh milkweed.  Amy brings pairs of butterflies to the tent, releasing the males back into the wild after mating.  Females are kept until they lay their eggs on the milkweed.

Amy carefully raises the caterpillars until mature butterflies emerge.  Thus far, Amy has released more than 500 adult monarchs back into the wild.  Her 27 acre property along Wisconsin’s Trimbelle  River, is a natural habitat for Monarchs.


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Also mentioned was fellow blogger Kim Smith, who initiated the Cape Ann Milkweed Project  in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Kim distributes milkweed seeds and  encourages homeowners to create more habitat for Monarch butterflies.

Kim often blogs about Monarchs and her efforts to support gardeners around the country willing to grow their host plant.  Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. Monarch larvae eat only milkweed as they grow.  Often considered a weed, few homeowners include it in their landscape.

Monarcch on Staghorns umac along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.

Monarcch on Staghorn Sumac along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.

As natural areas, and the native plants they support, disappear; and roads, neighborhoods and shopping centers proliferate across the landscape; we see the direct consequences in our dwindling butterfly populations.

Many of us in the blogging community have written about our search for Monarchs and other native butterflies this season.

Many of us share the concern that they haven’t visited our gardens in their usual numbers this summer.

This male Monarch has made himself at home in our garden, enjoying the Lantana buffet these last few weeks. Do you see the spots, near the body, on his rear wings? These spots indicate a male butterfly.

This male Monarch has made himself at home in our garden, enjoying the Lantana buffet these last few weeks. Do you see the spots, near the body, on his rear wings? These spots indicate a male butterfly.


Eliza Waters, another Massachusetts based blogging friend,  also documents her efforts to support the Monarch population in her gardens.

Much like Rachel Carson raised the alarm about our native birds in her 1962 Silent Spring, so our generation documents our concerns for the butterflies.  Carson’s book launched the environmental movement in the United States, bringing about sweeping changes in our laws; eventually  banning DDT and other harmful insecticides and pesticides.

And now, more than 50 years later, we witness a resurgence of the  environmental movement inspired, in part, by the loss of our beloved butterflies.

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We know that herbicides used in commercial farming, along with over development, play in a major role in the loss of both milkweeds and the nectar flowers Monarchs, and other butterflies, depend upon for their life cycle.

And although this problem appears very large, each of us can do our own small part to make a positive difference.

We can each have our own tiny “Butterfly Effect.”  Do you know the term? 

Edward Lorenz coined the term in 1961 to describe how one tiny change in the initial conditions of a system may dramatically effect the outcome.  It is an axiom of Chaos  Theory.


Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

And while we might feel helpless to have much effect against multinational corporations spraying herbicides on their GMO crops, or the energy giants building thousands of miles of new gas pipelines across our communities; we can create a safe and supportive habitat on our own properties for butterflies, frogs, songbirds, and the other beautiful little creatures whose presence indicates a rich web of life in our garden.


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Tiny insects on Rose of Sharon seedpods

We can plant milkweed for the Monarchs. And we can plant  fennel, parsley, dill, black cherry trees, and other native trees to host  the other butterflies we love.

Even those of us gardening on a condo balcony or patio can grow these simple host and nectar plants in pots.

Every tiny effort makes a positive difference.


Joe Pye weed, new in our garden this season, has fed many creatures over the season.

Joe Pye Weed, new in our garden this spring, has fed many creatures over the season.


We can stop using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers in our gardens, thus keeping them out of the water supply and out of the food chain.


Unknown larvae feed on Virginia Creeper vines growing on this Eastern Red Cedar.

Unknown larvae feed on Virginia Creeper vines growing on this Eastern Red Cedar.


We can include berry and seed producing shrubs and trees in our garden, and leave some untended “wild” places for creatures to nest and shelter.

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And we can support our neighbors in their efforts to create wildlife habitat in their own gardens.


MIlkweed pods bursting to release their downy seeds is a sure sign of October in Virginia.

MIlkweed pods bursting to release their downy seeds is a sure sign of October in Virginia.  These grow beside  College Creek in our community.


Let us all keep “The Butterfly Effect” in mind. In our seemingly chaotic world, every small act of kindness and goodwill has the potential to make an enormous difference as our story unfolds here on Earth.

Every milkweed seed we nurture may host hundreds of Monarch butterflies.

Every bit of garden we cultivate may feed thousands of creatures.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014


The Daily Post Writing Challenge:  The Butterfly Effect


The Butterfly Garden- plant lists



Butterflies, Dragonflies, and Bumblebees

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Eliza Waters is a wonderful advocate for wild creatures of all sorts, but she has a special interest in Monarch butterflies.

We have been corresponding this spring about the plight of the Monarch.  She has been involved in creating habitat for them.  And she responded to the post with photos of a Monarch  we found near Yorktown, Virginia, in late May.

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We found this Monarch on May 23, 2014. There was no sign of Monarchs today, sadly.

Eliza asked, earlier today, whether we had found any eggs or signs of Monarch larvae on the Milkweed by the pond where we have been watching for butterflies.

So my partner and I returned this evening, to see what we might see.

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We found the Milkweed plants just covered in bumblebees, feasting on their tiny flowers just as the flowers were opening.  And the bumblebees were so blissed out on the wonderful nectar, they were totally oblivious to my presence.

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Just inches away, they continued to feed while I took photos.

But in the entire time we explored, there was only one small butterfly or moth.  I don’t know its name, but suspect it is a moth.

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Not a single Monarch to be found.  And at Eliza’s suggestion, I searched for signs of eggs or larvae on the Milkweed plants.

I”m so sorry to say that I couldn’t locate either.  The Milkweed leaves look pristine- no larval munching.  I checked the closest Milkweed plants and found no eggs, either.

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Perhaps the Monarch did lay her eggs on one of these plants closer to the pond; one I didn’t climb down the bank to inspect.  Let us hope that is the case.

And we’ll continue to check back from time to time to see what evidence we may find as the summer unfolds.

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Today we were happy to find a brilliant blue dragonfly.

He was quite happy to sit still while I snapped off several portraits of him.

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He was watching me, but didn’t even flinch until I moved away.  He was a great sport, and I appreciate his patience.

The swans have moved on, too.  But we found Egrets wading further down the road.

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Early summer brings such a pageant of life to our community.

We enjoy the staccato music of the frogs and the basso continuo buzzing of bees under the melody of birds calling to one another.

So much life, and such beauty.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Monarch For Memorial Day

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This lovely Monarch was feeding along the Colonial Parkway, near Yorktown, at mid-day today.

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The entire bank of a pond was covered with purple milk vetch, Astragalus; butterfly weed , Asclepias; daisies, and grasses.

A perfect habitat for a Monarch to feed and to lay its eggs welcomed this little one on a perfect, sunny late May day.

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I didn’t see the Monarch at first.  My lens was focused on Mountain Laurels growing on the opposite bank.

And as we were pulling into the parking area, we spotted a family of swans.  You’ll see the swans in another post.

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While I was following them around, my partner, always the keen observer, spotted the Monarch.

He pointed it out as I returned to the car; both of us thrilled to spot a Monarch in an area where it can lay its eggs and expect them to survive to the next generation.

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This pond lies on Federal land.  The sunny bank of wildflowers is part of the narrow National Park, maintained by our National Park Service,  which skirts both sides of the Colonial Parkway.

These gorgeous wildflowers and all of the creatures who live here are protected.

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At one time Virginia, like much of the United States, was covered in wildflowers each spring.  Our rich soil and abundant rain support luxuriant growth.

Where land is regularly mown, many are destroyed before they can flower and set seed.  One of the joys of drives along the Parkway are the many species left alone to grow each year.

The purple flowered Milk Vetch is a member of the pea family.  If you’ve ever grow peas, or sweet pea flowers, you see the resemblance immediately.

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These plant improve the soil by fixing nitrogen, taken in through the stomata on the leaves, in little growths on the roots.  When the plant dies back or is cut, the roots remain to fertilize the soil with extra  nitrogen.

This stand of milkweed ensures the survival of the Monarchs as it is their preferred host plant.

All of these plants feed insects now, and later birds will eat their seeds.

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Wildflowers hold the soil against erosion, cleanse the air of pollution, and add to the beauty of this spot along the Parkway.

How much richer we all would be if more government and private land were allowed to bloom in wildflowers each year.  How much better for species like the Monarch, who rely on spots like this for their very survival.

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Although the adults will enjoy nectar from many flowers, the larval caterpillars eat milkweed leaves.

These will bloom in a few more days, adding to the beauty here and providing food for butterflies and other nectar loving insects.


“May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”

Native American Saying

“May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”
Native American Proverb – See more at:
“May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”
Native American Proverb – See more at:

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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