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Sources of Joy

Sunday, May 31, 2020

I came back from a morning run...yes, I'm at it again, tired of quarantine flubber. I have lost 6 lb and Curtis, 4.5. I decided to do a loop through the woods on our east 40. What did I find but a box turtle out and about?! Glad I had the notion!

Because I was looking through the phone and concentrating on the light, I totally missed the odd profile of his shell.

It's low and flat, indented. Concave.

I was so captivated by the runes on his side that I missed the scars on the top.

But look at this turtle. He's been mowed, many years ago. The pigmentation is missing; the scutes along the right top are irregular, and there's an indentation down the right side of the spine and a great dip on the left. Oh my God! what this animal has suffered and survived. With no help whatsoever, he crawled into the woods and set about healing from an injury that should have killed him.

His plastron is still cracked. But he's healed. 

Oh you fine old soldier, you walking survivor, may you avoid the blade and the wheels of man. 

I had plenty to think about in that scarred but surviving box turtle. Oh how cruel is man with his implements, his weapons for conquering nature. 

I got a little breakfast and jumped on my best weapon for fighting multiflora rose and honeysuckle: my John Deere. The irony did not escape me as I rolled out the orchard, planning to mow down the resprouting rose that I'd cut early this spring. See, I think I'm on the good side! Since about February I've cut so many rose canes--probably many thousands--that I've given myself a trigger finger on my right hand which makes it hard to write. Ah, what does a writer need with a functional right hand? I will say that it's changed morning journaling for me. Massages and stretches have helped, and I'm hoping it goes away, as one hopes about all things that might need surgery one day. 

I did get a nice set of hard muskles out of it, though. Just wish my right hand hadn't suffered so. You can be sure I'm trying to figure out how to use a boltcutter style pruner without clenching my right hand, but so far it isn't going too well. Also, how do you weed a garden or turn soil without clenching your right hand? There is still so much multiflora that needs to be cut and killed, so many weeds to be felled. Finding out you aren't bionic is a bummer, especially when you feel that way.

I was rolling out the orchard, looking with satisfaction and trepidation on the prairie we planted, seeing so damn much Japanese stiltgrass coming up amidst the expensive seed I bought...

and there was a feather, nay, a barred owl feather! lying on the prairie. I call these apports, gifts from the world beyond. Who lays them out for me to find? The owl, to be sure. But who sent the owl? It's fun to wonder.

You can see the noise-canceling fringe along the left edge. The whole thing is downy, overlain by fine noise-absorbing filaments.

 That's the prairie patch coming up behind it. Pray with me that flowers and native grasses rise over the Japanese stiltgrass, which has been on our land for only about five years. It was brought in on the tires of the four-wheeler that's used to visit our long-broken welljack. The oil company that owns the lease does virtually nothing to maintain its equipment; I think we're going into our fourth year with a jammed shaft on the welljack. And for this kind of service, we get stiltgrass, too. If the stiltgrass smothers my beautiful prairie plants, I will weep and rage. I don't understand why invasive exotics have to win every time, but it seems they do. I might be whistling into the wind with my dream of a native shortgrass prairie out here, but I've worked too hard to make it happen to give up now. It's a pitched battle between the stiltgrass and the bluestem, deertongue, black-eyed Susan, New England aster, and partridge pea. Who will win?

The Zabulon skippers are hatching out wherever I walk.
Each one I see in the orchard seems like a little victory to me. Skippers are so very rare any more. Butterflies in general are where one can most easily see the insect apocalypse at work. Diversity and numers, corkscrewing down. 

This is a male. That chocolate band on the inner hindwing, and the fairly smooth checkered outside border, are his marks. 

The female Zabulon skipper is chocolate brown, and she has a neat white line along the top of the hindwing.

Speaking of butterflies, I found a chrysalis in the meadow on May 28. It was clinging to the underside of a little pine stick I was about to toss off the path.

It was the most beautiful thing. I thought it might be a skipper of some kind. A duskywing? A Zabulon? Even a small wood satyr?

I had to bring it into the house so we could find out what it is to be.
I gave it to my Willowtree figurine, "Joy," to hold for awhile. 

The chrysalis keeps changing. These later close up photos were taken May 31. 

It has darkened a lot, and you can see the tiny segmented antennae running along the top of the chrysalis; the white hindwing border, and the eyes, which weren't as evident before.

Of course, I can't wait to see what it's going to be. I have a feeling it's going to eclose very soon, as dark as it's gotten. All these mysteries go  on around us. We can walk on by, or we can notice them and get involved. I now have the chrysalis' anchor stick in a lump of plasticine, on the softly padded floor of a small critter keeper, so we can see it should it eclose when we're not watching. But oh, we are watching. 


The end of May is a grand finale of joy fireworks for the naturalist. After the cruel clamp of rain and cold, everything is springing forth. Birds are starting over, many having lost their first nesting attempts. Here's a little overcompensation from a pair of bluebirds in a country churchyard that I watch over. Six eggs is a highly unusual second clutch, but this is a highly unusual year.

It's a bit more usual for tree swallows to haul off and lay a sixpack.This is their second attempt as well. The first clutch was thrown out by bluebirds, who lost their fledglings to cold then turned around and kicked the swallows out. The swallows reluctantly moved to the bluebirds' old box, and peace has settled over the meadow once again.

I find myself stopping at the Three Graces every time I go by. They are in their late spring glory at last. The black tupelo, far right, held off the longest, but even she is in full raiment.

And Iris Cora from the Adirondacks is holding forth with the scent of grape Kool-Aid, some Granny's  bonnet columbines sneaking up through their spires. Before the storm blew through...

and after, all bespangled.

This is just a little piece of late May. There is alwasy so much more than I can take in or tell about, but I feel I must try.

Don't forget to sign up for my live Zoom interview with Living on Earth. It's happening Monday, June 1, 2020, at 6:30 pm. Here's the link. 


I love coming across all of the tiny gifts of joy that can only be found while moving slowly. Can't wait to see what your chrysalis reveals itself to be!

Things happen so fast. One fragrance after another. Lily of the Vally, lilac, locust and even that dang invasive chervil has a sweet smell.

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